I knew it would happen before it did. I could smell the death on her. I sensed her only a split second before her knife sliced through the air and dug into my neck.
My hope that I was mistaken dissipated when I felt blood begin to gurgle. I tried to see if she was still there, but I was quickly distracted as my panicked mind shifted into images of manic memory searching for something that could save me.
All I could remember was apply pressure, apply pressure.
There had been rumors for months. If you paid attention, there had been rumors for decades. I always paid very close attention.
Make the blood stop.
I initially had built my career on investigating the stones, but I had given it up after Joe died. I knew it wasn’t what he would have wanted, and I hated myself every day, both for making the death of my business partner meaningless and for betraying the people of the city. I felt guilty—I had lost nothing but half of my left ear.
My god, pressure, towel, clean it.
It was only when the journalist had died that I knew I couldn’t be a coward anymore. I couldn’t avoid the destruction around me anymore. I had blown the dust off my files, attempted to reengage old contacts and tried to stay safe. I had apparently failed.
Where are all the clean towels? Too much blood.
I could have gone wrong anywhere. I could have been seen talking to the journalist. I could have exchanged a few too many scraps of food for scraps of information with that kid.
The damage had probably been done when I put a desperate ad for the symbols in The Pulp after hitting my last dead end. I had hoped that the symbols could be found before I was found by her knife. I had hoped that the truth would come out.
Legs. Where are you?
The truth was that we, the people in this city of horrors, were not damned. We could save ourselves; all we needed were the symbols. But the one thing I hadn’t figured out was what to do with them when I got them. I didn’t even know what they all looked like beyond the one that was made of stone and rumored to be some kind of key.
Part of a key, just a part.
We were not supposed to be in the clouds, constantly choking on thin air. We were built for a place where plants grew without being forced, where animals lived and where humans didn’t exist to destroy each other.
Maybe just a lie down?
No, don’t sleep. Apply pressure.
These truths have been denied to us by a government that I discovered is made up of a group of criminals who stole the city and hid it in the sky. They kept the majority of the population underfoot so that we didn’t find out what was happening, so that we didn’t learn what’s actually in the fertilizer, and so that we couldn’t overthrow the government and return the city to the ground. They wove a careful web of destruction and insecurities that kept us all in a state of confusion and fear.
Damn eye-lids. No sleep. Brain.
I had been so close. If only I had lived a little bit longer. I could have told someone who could do something. I could have started a rebellion against the government. I could have brought us back to the ground. I will never know air thicker than this.
Pressure. I can’t move my arms. Apply…
Now here I was, bleeding out on my pathetic excuse for a carpet as any knowledge I had was swallowed by oblivion.