Statement of an outbreak. Audio recording by the Archivist, in situ.
There is a village where the sting of rot is carried by the breeze and the buildings are warped by more than age. The inhabitants never touch each other and are covered from head to toe in thick black fabric. They speak in hoarse and wet voices from behind their masks as they reassure each other how wonderful the village is, or at least how wonderful it used to be.
In the centre, a maypole stands, covered in strips of mildewed cloth and the base of the pole is ashen and charred. The air is thick and soupy, swarming with a thousand contagions.
The disease begins as a small patch of discoloured skin. It is a mould that burrows deep and returns no matter how many times it is scrubbed off. It grows on the inside and seeks to worm its way into the bones of its victim.
The villagers hide in their thick coats, concealing their sickened flesh. The illness has always been in the village, festering it its dark corners, but behind their masks, the villagers speak of a better time. They know the sickness was brought by outsiders, that this was the work of those who envied their perfect lives. Yet they speak quietly, ever unsure if the face behind the masks around them is a villager or an outsider.
By the village council’s decree, outsiders who come to the village seeking refuge from the horrors beyond are beaten, stripped, and checked for any sign of infection. Those without sickness are treated the worst, the villagers are so certain in their belief all outsiders must be infected that they are decreed to carry an invisible illness. They are caged and observed, they can perhaps be tolerated if their skin blossoms with the hues of the mould but those who remain clean of the rot cannot be endured. They are brought to the village green to be burned at the maypole.
The villagers watch the flames, fearing they too will be branded as outsiders and the fear unites them against the world outside the village. Every night, plague-marked doors are painted white, but even as the villagers take extra care to hide their infected skin, they all know they have been marked the deepest by the rot.
The village council wears ivory white coats and masks of blue, red, and white as they oversee all. They strive to preserve the proper traditions of the village and speak of the infection as punishment for those that have allowed their way of life to be compromised. No one would dare accuse them of infection and those that displease them soon find themselves accused in turn.
Head of the council is Gillian Smith. Her ancestor carved the maypole that watches over the village and none dare stand against her if she has someone burned at its base after declaring them infected or foreign. Beneath her white gloves, every inch of her is covered in a cerulean mould that reaches deep into her body and she has no terror deeper than the thought she might be discovered. By night, she peels herself with a straight razor, desperate to reach the pure flesh she is certain must still be underneath. As her living room piles high with discarded skin, she stares out the window at the house of her neighbour, Mrs Kim. She is certain Mrs Kim is not infected and hates her for it.
Mrs Kim has only been in the village since her grandfather's time and she is scared. She fears being declared an outsider or someone smelling the rot on her skin. She wonders if she should accuse someone else but knows it is already too late when she hears shouts from outside. She is dragged to the maypole and lashed to its base.
As Gillian Smith watches the fire consume Mrs Kim, the mould reaches her bones and Gillian blooms. She swells and bursts into a cloud of violet spores that envelops those around her, embracing them in the rot that long since seeped into the soil of this land.
Martin is worried that they’re infected after the village but John assures him they’re not, he simply Knows as much. When pressed on the issue, he admits that he feels like he has more control over his Knowing now and he is not sure what his limits are, he might know everything. To try it out, Martin starts asking him questions.
He first asks what his middle name is and John is shocked to learn that Martin has none. Next, is Basira alive? She is, and she is not trapped in a nightmare. She is looking for Daisy, who is bestial and carving her way through the domains of other powers. Basira thinks she is going to kill Daisy like she promised, but she is conflicted. John cannot see what will actually happen as the future is off limits to him.
Martin continues; how much further do they have to go? A long way, through many dark and awful places. How are the others? John gets the sense that Melanie and Georgie, are alive and possibly in London, but he cannot really see them. Elias in the panopticon, The Tower. John can feel him in there but he cannot see inside as his Knowing is somehow tied to the panopticon and an eye cannot see inside itself.
Are they safe travelling like this? Yes, they are something between a pilgrim and a moth, and they can walk through the nightmares while remaining separate and untouched. Who was calling on the payphone? John thinks it was Annabelle Cane, at least, The Web was wrapped around the phone but he cannot actually see Annabelle at all.
John is starting to feel self-conscious about being a post-apocalyptic Google so Martin asks his final question. Can they turn the world back? Yes, if the Fears were removed, but they cannot be destroyed while there are still people to fear them and they cannot be banished back to the place they came from as it does not exist any more. John is a somewhat overwhelmed by the question as trying to Know things about the Entities directly is a bit like looking into the sun.
They decide to stop the questions and go slow for a while but Martin slips in a final one: where is Helen nowadays? John chuckles and asks Martin to turn around, Helen’s door is right behind him. Disgruntled, one of them knocks and Helen cheerfully greets them. She had no problem finding them as she can always find those who have crossed her threshold. She claims to be there just to say hello and to check up on the happy couple.
She is delighted by the changed world yet admits that she can take no credit for it as it was all Jon’s doing. She suspected what Jonah was trying to do but all she really did was refuse to help. Helen thinks they should all be friends and finds John dreadfully dour when he is not amused. Martin wonders if they couldn’t use her corridors as a shortcut and Helen offers to take him but not John. She explains that John has grown too powerful for her, it would end badly for both of them if he attempted to travel through her corridors now. John points out that it would mainly end badly for her but either way, Martin is not about to leave John on his own.
Much as she enjoys their company, Helen has a lot on her plate and leaves through her door again. Martin thinks being friends with her might not be a bad idea. She may be a cruel, vicious monster, but who else is there?
- In his eagerness to ask about the payphone ringing, Martin references an age-old creepypasta meme, stammering out, "Who was phone?"