Maria

rating: +166+x


Maria was being hunted.

She had been chased before, by boys as a child at school. She'd been pursued, by bigger boys outside clubs; she'd been stalked, even, by men with designs on her money or her body.

This was different. Not a boy. Not a man. Not human.

She had taken a wrong turn, somewhere, and the streets of Bogotá had turned against her. First the people had vanished. Then language had shifted, the words in the windows melting and reforming into strange shapes. Then the buildings began to lose distinction, bricks and doorways flowing together into a river of urban slurry. Cars remained, but in the absence of their pilots they had become leaner; emaciated fiberglass hounds that darted back and forth with hummingbird quickness, never stopping. Only the road remained.

And the hunter.

She had her phone. Her fingers reached for the buttons.

'Police?'

'What's your address?'

'I don't know. I was walking home, but now…'

'What buildings are you near? Can you see any signs?'

'I'm not… I must have been drugged. Nothing looks right.'

'Where's the last place you remember being?'

'I left work, at my club; I was walking home. But I'm not there now…'

'Describe what you see.'

'The buildings have melted. The cars are like dogs. There are no people. But something is hunting me.'

A pause.

'Please give me the address of your club.'

***

Local police - Bogotá, Colombia
Key words: hunt, melted buildings
Possible instance of specific anomaly (78% confidence)
Operative to evaluate

Sofia had worked for the Telecommunications Monitoring Office for almost a month now. In that time she'd listened in on all kinds of calls, from the distressing to the strange. The calls coming from her city, though, still gave her pause. Knowing the caller was nearby made what she did here feel real.

The section of the call that had tripped the algorithm played first. A woman, probably twenties or thirties.

'The buildings have melted. The cars are like dogs. There are no people. But something is hunting me.'

Melting visuals and paranoia were all the hallmarks of an acid call. Judging by the lengthy pause, the police dispatcher agreed. 'Please give me the address of your club,' he said.

The woman did so, her voice pitching up as Sofia wound the call forward; the location details weren't her business, and she wanted to catch up to the live call.

'..that was the last street I remember recognising. From there it's been all wrong.'

'Try to stay calm.' said the dispatcher. 'Is there some place nearby you could feel safe to stop?'

'No.' the woman said. 'None of this is safe. There is something after me.'

'Perhaps if you found somewhere quieter to…'

'It IS quiet. Quiet enough that I can hear it breathing.'

'Hear who breathing? Is someone with you?'

The woman sounded mournful, like she was on the edge of tears. 'Not who. It. And it isn't with me, it's still far away. But I can hear it anyway.'

'Miss, that doesn't make any sense.'

The woman took a deep, shaky breath. 'Its body is far in front of me. But its breath is here, right behind me.'

'You've seen it? What does it look like, miss?'

Her voice was now a whisper. 'I can't not see it. It's still there when I close my eyes. A human-shape, but not human. No features. A shadow. But.. solid. More solid than anything else here.'

Sofia had heard enough. This woman needed to be helped, and the police would be useless. She clicked POSITIVE, to escalate the call.

It didn't go.

ALERT
No tier 2 operatives available
Tier 1 operative to intervene
Emergency disclosure of file SCP-9112… APPROVED

Sofia blinked. What?

A window opened on her screen.

Level 1/9112 - Restricted
SCP-9112
Special Containment Procedures:

Then a few paragraphs.

'Hello?' said the woman. 'Are you still there?'

Sofia took a deep breath and adjusted her headset.

'Hello.' she said. 'I'm here to help.'


'So this almost certainly won't happen,' Carlos had said, near the end of her first day, 'but just in case: if a case ever can't escalate, because all the tier-twos are busy, you might be asked to talk a caller through an experience.'

He'd leant back in his chair, gesturing widely around his cubicle. 'If it happens, which it won't, just follow the instructions you're given. They'll tell you what to tell them to do. And don't let them know who you are, obviously. Make sense? Cool.'

He stretched. 'Now let me show you how to get doubles out of the drinks machine.'


'You aren't the man I was talking to.' said the woman.

'No.' Sofia said.

'What happened? Are you with the police?'

'I'm here to help you.' Sofia tried to change the subject. 'What's your name?'

'Maria.' said Maria.

'Hello, Maria. I'm just reading about .. about your case here. Bear with me, okay?'

Sofia scrolled through the document. There were a few headings: Special Containment Procedures, Description, some Addenda. Everything other than the Procedures was missing, blank, redacted.

Maria laughed. It was a little strained, but even so it was a rich, deep sound. 'I mean sure, I'm not in a hurry.'

Sofia frowned. 'I'm sorry. I believe that you're in danger. I think I can help. I'll go as fast as I can.'

'You believe me?'

'Yes.'

Maria let out a breath. 'Thank you.'

'I haven't helped you yet.'

'No, you have.'

Sofia smiled, and then bit her lip. She scrolled back up to the Special Containment Procedures.

No method of fully containing SCP-9112 has yet been devised. Containment focuses on concealing the true nature of deaths caused by SCP-9112, via dissemination of cover narratives and falsification of coroner's reports. As SCP-9112-1 predates on isolated individuals, there are usually no eyewitnesses.

'So, what can you tell me, mystery girl?' said Maria.

'I'm reading about… about what to do.'

'You got instructions back there? A manual?''

'Something like that.'

'All right. And then you help me, right?'

Survival rates of people targeted by SCP-9112-1 are estimated at 4.8%.

Sofia swallowed.

'Yes.'


Maria had been walking - jogging, really - as she talked. She had no direction in mind and it didn't seem like it would have mattered if she did: the man-shape in her eyes stayed the same distance away wherever she looked.

It was slowly getting bigger, the breathing louder. Everything in her body told her to move, to run, even though there was nowhere to go.

So she clung to her phone, ran down streets with no name or shape, and prayed that the mystery girl was a quick reader.


In the event of having entered SCP-9112 and being targeted by SCP-9112-1, the following survival strategy has been identified:

  • Attempt to gain altitude.

'It says you need to gain altitude. Is there a way to get up high?'

'I could try getting inside a building?'

Maria tried a nearby door.

'The handle came off in my hand. It's.. soft. The buildings have gone all mushy.'

Despite herself, Sofia smirked. 'Uh.. mushy?'

'Yeah, mushy. Like.. mush. All goopy.'

Why's that so adorable? Sofia thought. 'So.. no fire escapes or anything?'

'I mean, I think my foot would go right through them, mystery girl. I can't climb soup.'

Shit. 'Uh..'

'Look, what's the next bit?'

  • Wait until SCP-9112-1 is close enough that you can feel its breath and it fills your vision.
  • When you feel SCP-9112-1 is touching you, leap from altitude to the ground, so that SCP-9112-1 absorbs the impact of the fall.

This should temporarily incapacitate the entity.

Sofia froze.

'It, uh ..' She swallowed, hard. 'It says you need to jump off and have.. have the thing hunting you, it breaks your fall.'

Maria said nothing for a long time.

'I'm meant to throw myself off a building?'

'Yeah.'

'Because you said to?'

Sofia wanted to burst into tears. The office felt very cold, suddenly. 'I'm sorry. This is all I've got, and there's no-one else. There's usually someone else who knows more, but… right now there's no-one else.'

'Hey, hey, it's okay.' Maria said. 'We'll.. we'll figure it out.'

'You've got nothing to climb…'

Maria looked around. The shadow obscured half of her vision, but she could still see the street, with the hound cars darting through, humming with a contained menace.

'Right, but I just need a sharp impact, right?'

'I.. I guess? It doesn't say.'

'Then I guess we'll find out.'

'You have to wait, though. Until… you feel its breath, it fills your vision, until you feel it touching you.'

'So.. I've got to wait until I'm blind, the thing has grabbed me, and then I'll walk into traffic.'

It was Sofia's turn to be quiet.

'I think I've only got a few minutes until then, mystery girl.' Maria continued. 'So, just in case it doesn't work… you gonna tell me your name?'

'I can't. I'm not allowed.'

'That's a shame. I bet you have a pretty name. You sound young. Can you tell me anything about yourself?'

Sofia's mouth was dry. 'Not… not really.'

Maria sank to the ground, which was still mercifully solid. 'Then, listen.'


Sitting in the street, Maria told Sofia about her life. She told her how she'd just moved to Bogotá; about her job, dancing in a club; her life growing up, how she'd hoped to travel. The people who would miss her; a mother, far away in a small town; a few friends. A short list.

'Could you get a message to any of them?'

Sofia said nothing.

'I thought not.'

Maria stood up. 'It's right in front of me. Or behind me. Both. All I see is black. The breathing is loud. I think it's time.'

Sofia nodded, uselessly. She opened her mouth, but no words came out.

'Talk later, yeah?' said Maria.

In her headset, Sofia heard a crunch, a wet thud, and then silence.


Once SCP-9112-1 is incapacitated and no longer suffusing the visual field, SCP-9112 itself can be escaped through use of visualisation. A specific location in the city from which the individual was taken must be visualised in detail, which will cause the individual to return to that location.

That was the end of the file. Or at least, the bits of it Sofia was allowed to read.

She waited, listening to nothing but the sound of her own breathing, for five minutes that might have been hours.

There was a scraping and crunching noise, as the phone was collected, picked up, brought to an ear.

'Still there, mystery girl?' said Maria.

Sofia's heart leapt. 'Are you okay?'

'Feels like I got hit by a car.' Maria said. 'The shadow has gone. So what's next? Do I wrestle a tiger? Because I might need a minute.'

Sofia smiled, tears in her eyes. 'You have to think about a place in Bogotá. Somewhere you know really well. Picture it in your mind.'

Maria let out a deep breath. 'I don't know anywhere here well. I got off a plane this week.'

Shit, thought Sofia.

'Then… close your eyes, and I'll tell you about my apartment.'

Sofia told her about the crappy walk-up she'd lived in for the last three years. She told her about the peeling paint, the creak of the floorboards, the two and a half rooms, the shower that never worked, the futon she slept on because she'd never gotten around to a proper bed. The pot plant she'd forgotten to water, the coffee table scavenged from the street; her one window that looked out onto a brick wall.

As she did so, the world reshaped around Maria. The indistinct slurry of the city separated, divided, shifted, regained colour and form. Stone and steel flowed and recrystallised, an ice cube melting in reverse, forming around the image as Sofia talked.

'..and that's it, I guess.' Sofia finished. 'That's my room. Can you see it?'

Maria opened her eyes, looked around, and laughed.

'Mystery girl! I'm in it.'


'Try not to be nervous. This debriefing is not disciplinary. You did your job well, and you are not in any kind of trouble.'

Sofia was trembling, as she stared across the room at the grey-haired woman who'd interviewed her a month ago. As she was now allowed to know, her name was Beatriz.

'I'm not nervous. I'm angry.' Sofia said.

Beatriz made a note. 'You felt underprepared?'

'You could say that.'

'Your supervisor has been somewhat lax during induction. It will be resolved.'

'Not that. What are you doing giving me a document I mostly can't read?'

'The Foundation operates a strict information security policy. Information is revealed only to those cleared for it, on a need-to-know basis. You were given everything you needed, and you succeeded admirably.'

'That's crap. I had to talk to a terrified woman…'

'And you did, and it worked. Further information would only have been a distraction to the task at hand.'

Sofia clicked her tongue. 'What happens now?'

'The woman will be extracted from your apartment and returned to her own lodgings, and given any medical care she requires. You will forget about her, and she will forget about you. The work continues.'

'And that's it?'

'That's it.'


She'll forget, Sofia thought. Not likely.

She thought about it.

The Foundation was, she was coming to realise, a big thing, and it dealt with a lot. They could easily be dealing with a hundred things like this. How were they keeping it all quiet?

She made a decision.


Maria heard the door get kicked open. Two men in grey suits were framed in the mystery girl's doorway. One carried a large duffel bag with a cross on the side. A medic.

'Maria Castillo?'

'Yes?'

'We're from the police. We're here to help you. Are you injured?'

She nodded. Liar, she thought.

They applied antiseptic to her cuts, checked for fractures, bandaged her up. They gave her a pill to swallow. Then they asked her what she could remember.

'Nothing.' she said. 'I just woke up here bruised. I guess I must have been drugged.'

They agreed. They asked more questions as they checked her over with various instruments. They led her out of the apartment, bundled her in a car, took her to the flat where she was staying. They set her down, asked her again what she remembered - 'Just leaving the club, and then it's a blur.' They nodded to each other. They left.

Maria spat out the pill. It was white, oblong and etched with a B. She turned it over in her hands.

She retrieved her phone, dented and scratched, screen cracked, and reopened the message, from an unknown number.

DON'T TAKE WHAT THEY GIVE YOU

Maria was being protected.

rating: +166+x
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