Endless twisting roads. I kept running, ever conscious of the footsteps behind me, its march keeping to the drumbeat of my heart. I took a left, almost falling from skidding on the torrential downpour. Tap. Tap. Tap.
After my recent submission to a collection curated by messrs McIntosh and Bergen, I took my leave for Bruges. I had heard much of the Belgian air’s restorative effects, and I was tired from my studies, and so I found myself but 3 days ago leaving the comfortable bosom of London for the continent. The journey was largely uneventful, although I found myself attempting to leave the train at Aalter, as if in a trance, unthinkingly taking my luggage and walking to the door. I came to as I had nearly stepped out, and returned to my seat. I now wish I had not, and allowed whatever providence to succeed in its attempt to save me.
Upon reaching Bruges, I attempted to find my lodging, a small boarding house near one of the city gates. I had procured a map while in London, but none of the streets seemed to quite match, and were named differently when they did. I walked at least one circle of the maze, the trudging of my feet like a shambling chant, walking out some kind of prayer to be shown rest. But as that thought crossed my mind, the architecture yielded, and it was before me, where surely it was not before.
I checked into the hotel, and went for a simple dinner in the small square a short walk away. The mussels were delicious, the escargot divine, the beer rich and dark. The streets, previously desolate and foreboding, were now filled with all kinds of people, bustling and scurrying to avoid the rain, suddenly pouring from the sky as it was. I idly watched them to and fro, before the sky darkened, the rain stopped, and they disappeared. I paid and left, and found myself stood on a bridge looking out over one of the many canals, and shuddered. The river, its black mass seething and writhing beneath, gurgling as if digesting its last victim, hungry. Even though it has no eyes, I knew it watched me pass. It watched, and I shuddered, with something even more primal than fear, something that left me transfixed, held as if by the hand of God Himself, if such a thing can even exist in the face of this… thing below. By the time I returned to my body and came to my senses, the shadow in the water was gone. I stumbled back to my lodgings, shaken.
The day that followed was agreeable, visiting local collections and enjoying delicacies. The rain left me soaked as I walked, and I often found myself at a loss attempting to comprehend the geometry of the place, but suddenly it was refreshing, almost comforting in a way I can’t quite describe but felt so assuredly.
There was one moment of unease, however. Within a collection devoted to showcasing local produce, I came upon a scene of such macabre intentions I can barely comprehend. A vision of a man consuming his own flesh, as if overcome by madness, not for want of food, but of such warped senses as to find it appetizing. Next to them, a woman offered up her child, like a basket of delicious fruits, insane and twisted. Confused and unsettled, I moved on into the safety of the rain.
I woke the following morning, packed my things, said my goodbyes, and started toward the station. I inevitably found myself lost, the maddening layout mocking me as I walked in circles again. I could not even try to ask a local for guidance, as the streets were once more empty. After an hour of this, the sun beating down on me, I tried to stop for a lunch, or perhaps one of the Trappist brews, but found no-where open. A bell tolled in the near distance, hidden behind the walls of this maze, so close and yet obscured and concealed.
I turned, looked at my map, turned again. Everywhere, a winding road of esoteric yet uniform architecture, devoid of any kind of life. “Gieterijstraat”, “Witteleertouwesstraat”, “Minderbroederstraat”, the language as arcane as the streets themselves, seemingly assembled without form or reason. It was at this point that I knew. The city had caught me, and now it was simply playing.
I walked and walked, growing tired and hungry. I longed for the rain, to cool me in the sun and as reassurance that time was truly passing. But with it came the footsteps. When I first heard them, I felt joy, but it soon turned to terror as I saw what was making them, for I had seen it in the eyes of the man feasting on himself. I turned and ran. The footsteps followed, with a slow yet constant pacing, never matching my speed but always growing closer. I ran and it followed, waiting for me to tire and fall.
The rain lifted, and with it went the footsteps. I was safe, of a kind, but just as trapped as before. I rested for a few moments, before stumbling forward in hope of finding a gate before the rain returned, my body aching.
But it rained again. And again, and again, through day and night. I do not know how many frozen cold wet nights I ran for. It never quite reached me, but it was often close, its scent lingering, mixing with my own newfound smell of decay. Even though I knew there was no exit from this foul place, I kept running, hope alone keeping me mobile.
Days turned to weeks, and I collapsed, exhausted and starving, not even having the strength to fear anymore. I willed it to catch me, to consume me through myself. When the rain came that time, I did not hear the footsteps.
I am told I spent only 3 days abroad, although they will admit I looked somehow aged. I escaped with my life, but I am less sure of my soul, and know I have lost my mind. My nurse chatters to herself as she tidies my bedsheets and nightstand. I pick at my skin and start to salivate.