Part 1, Chapter 1
When I started writing Digital Darkness, I intended to write a book that continued the story begun in Gods of the Dark Web, expanding the mythos and answering some lingering questions. But there was a problem: Gods was written in 2016 and the writing of this would-be sequel commenced in early 2020. The world had changed, but more importantly, I had changed. I’d become a father, changed jobs, got nominated for a Splatterpunk Award, and that’s just the stuff I’ve shared publicly. On the global front, the Covid pandemic and all the baggage that entailed had just kicked off. We increased our time online, decreased our time outside, avoided the fleshspace, and seemingly watched the world burn. I don’t think anyone has mentally recovered from that time period; I know I haven’t.
During those years, I started to see my work-in-progress was less of a self-contained book and more of a never ending and constantly changing art project. I released the full text (so far) last summer in paperback and digital. However, in the interest of retaining my original vision for the book (or more appropriately, the book’s original vision for itself), I’ve decided to serialize the full text here, in addition to my weekly writing updates. That way, it can change, it can grow, and it can go on without ending. So, yes, you will see the original text, but there will also be more. This is an ever-changing mythos, perpetually taking shape, and you get to watch it happen.
If you’d like to support this project, simply completing the ‘Like-Share-Subscribe’ ritual will suffice. However, you can also buy the current form of the book on Amazon, or you can upgrade to a paid subscription here on Substack if you’re feeling generous.
Twenty-three-year-old Vanessa Hardesty woke next to a stranger in a place she didn’t recognize. This was nothing new for her. While the rest of her squad seemed content to embrace a new puritanism, she was more free-spirited. She liked to drink, and she liked to hook up. Because of this, her current circumstances should have been completely normal.
The abnormality rested in the details.
First, the stranger was an early-thirties white dude wearing a cop uniform. While slightly older partners were NBD, she never hooked up with dads as a rule and most certainly never cops. Second, the place itself was a shabby building with peeling pink and sky-blue paint, concrete floors, and mostly devoid of furniture. Its windows were bashed out, shards of glass jutting from the frames like broken teeth. Dirty spider webs dangled from corners and dead light fixtures, and spiny, colorful weeds had grown through cracks in the floor. Everything smelled damp and rusty.
From tents in the woods to hay lofts in a barn, she’d awakened in strange places before. But this was just unlike her. At the very least, she always tried to bed down somewhere comfortable. Sketchy abandoned buildings were not her style.
She tried to recall the events of the previous night. She remembered heading to East Austin for a house party. A vaporwave musician named Crusty Cory Jay was supposed to play in the living room. She remembered entering the small but crowded house. She remembered trying to squeeze through a sea of people to get a drink, then … nothing.
Had she been drugged? She did feel a little off.
But that couldn’t be right. She didn’t even remember getting a drink, just going to get a drink. And she hadn’t pre-gamed at all.
The cop stirred beside her. His uniform said his name was Werth. His gun was missing from its holster. The skin around his left eye was prune-colored. Someone had hit him. Vanessa pawed at her face for signs of bruises or abrasions. She didn’t feel anything, aside from grogginess and disorientation.
Her clutch was nowhere nearby. She checked her pockets for her phone. It was missing too. She scanned the rest of the room. She and Werth weren’t alone.
Curled against a moldering counter, a twenty-something Asian-American woman wearing loud colors snored gently. Her snores were the only sound save for the creak of a door swaying in the light breeze.
A middle-aged woman with bright blonde Karen hair slept sitting against the opposite wall. Flecks of paint dusted the straps of her gray tank top, and a massive turquoise purse sat on her lap. A teenager with face tattoos lay sprawled at her feet. His black T-shirt had a purple-shaded skull and the words Letting Out the Devils emblazoned across the front.
Last, she noticed a forty-something male curled up on one of the windowsills, dressed in a sports coat and clutching a pair of glasses. He looked like a stereotypical college professor, gray at the temples and bearded, with a severe brow even as he slept. She could practically hear him say “well, actually,” even though no one had spoken yet.
Vanessa pulled herself to her feet, using the ruined counter for support. An ice cream machine caked with dirty sugar sat on a bar opposite her. It was decorated with the faded face of a clown. A soda machine sat beside it. All the labels had long ago peeled way. Straws, plastic spoons, and a vintage cash register also sat on the bar. At the far end stood one of those claw machines. It still had stuffed animals inside its glass enclosure. A washed-out sign said TRY THE CLAW in bubble letters that might have once been bright purple.
Behind everything on the counter, the wall was a mirror flecked with dust and spatters of syrup. The ghost of a sweet smell drifted to her. It reminded her of carnival treats like funnel cake, cotton candy, and fried Oreos. She caught a glimpse of herself in the glass and wished she hadn’t. Her chestnut hair was matted and knotty. Dark circles ringed her eyes. At least she still had her clothes on, even if they were smudged with dirt.
She turned away from the troubling image and faced the swaying door. Everyone else was still asleep. She thought about waking them but decided against it. What if they were dangerous? She had no idea who they were. How they had ended up in this place with her. If one of them was somehow responsible for all this, like in that Saw movie her father liked.
Whatever this is.
She headed for the door, stepping softly and carefully. When she reached the apparent exit, she glimpsed a sprawl of cracked asphalt. More dilapidated structures stood with colors as faded as those inside the abandoned ice cream bar. Among the buildings stood the rusty skeletons of amusement park rides.
“What?” she whispered, unable to stop herself from asking aloud.
As a teen, she’d gone down a YouTube rabbit hole looking at abandoned amusement parks and dead fairgrounds. This place may have even been one of them. Something about the images relayed via these virtual tours made her feel a way she had trouble describing. Nostalgic for a time and place she’d not been present came close but wasn’t quite right. Still, these places were hypnotic in a way, as she’d explored them from the safety of her bedroom. Standing in such a place herself gave off another vibe entirely; these grounds were haunted.
All the energy from everyone who’d visited this park when it was alive had never left. She didn’t need to be a psychic or medium to feel the charge of this place. Add the fact she was brought here against her will by mysterious means, and a nauseating terror took hold. The notion that she might be in real trouble ripped away her previous wonder and curiosity.
Logically, she knew she had to leave this building, find the park’s exit, and then find a phone to call for help. But something held her back. She didn’t know what was out there. What if leaving this building played into the plans of whoever brought her here? What if it took her out of the frying pan and into the fire, as her father used to say?
Vanessa looked back into the room at the sleeping figures. Some had shifted positions, but none showed any sign of waking anytime soon. Nothing in the space seemed helpful. Just a bunch of old junk and sleeping people with unclear motivations. She didn’t have much choice. She stepped through the door.
Something shrill and warbly pealed through the air when her foot crossed the threshold. Her legs locked into place. Her chest clenched around the escalating hammer of her heartbeat. The abrasive alarm continued through busted loudspeakers. Fuzzy bass notes and ethereal, high-pitched … singing? Yes. Someone was singing, though their voice was so heavily processed, she could make out none of the words. She backpedaled into the ice cream parlor and shut the door. Unable to latch, it swayed open again.
Outside, hundreds of black lumpy shapes crawled from the shadows of disrepair. Their matted fur glistened in the brilliant sunlight of high noon. They were rats, and they were headed her way.
Stay tuned for Chapter 2, or you can pick up the book in its entirety here.
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Loved Digital Darkness and God's of the Dark Web.