I did not look back.
Though it was only two weeks from the day I’d first gotten lost in the eerie, deserted streets of the abandoned neighborhood, it felt like another lifetime.
Probably because it was.
The Mac who’d followed a woman’s outflung arm into an urban wasteland that day had been wearing a killer outfit of pink linen, low-hipped, wide-legged capris, a silk-trimmed pink T, her favorite silver sandals, and matching silver accessories. She’d had long, beautiful blonde hair swept up into a high ponytail that brushed the middle of her back with the spring of each youthful step.
This Mac had shoulder-length black hair: the better for hiding from those monsters hunting Mac Version 1.0. This Mac wore black jeans and a black T-shirt: the better for potentially being bled upon. Concealing her Iceberry Pink manicured toenails were tennis shoes: the better for running for her life in. Her drab outfit was finished off with an oversized black jacket she’d swiped from a coat hook by the front door as she’d left: the better for concealing the foot-long spearhead tucked into the waistband of her jeans (tip stuck in a wad of foil), the only silver accessorizing this carefully selected ensemble.
There were flashlights jammed into her back pockets and more stuffed into her coat.
Gone was the energetic step that had bounced so prettily on air. Mac 2.0 strode with determination and focus on feet that were rooted firmly to the ground.
This time, as I moved deeper into the Dark Zone, I understood what I’d been feeling my first time through: the blend of nausea, fear, and that edgy, intense urge I’d had to run. My sidhe-seer senses had been triggered the moment I’d crossed Larkspur Lane and unwittingly begun traversing the missing eighteen-block section between it and Collins Street. Though the Shades retreated during the day and went somewhere utterly dark, their lightless sanctuary had to be here somewhere in this forgotten place. All around me I could feel the presence of Unseelie—as I had that day—but I’d not yet known what I was, or understood what I’d been in the middle of.
This time, there was something more, too. I was willing to bet the little map I’d drawn myself would prove unnecessary. Something was tugging at me from a southeasterly direction, both luring and repelling. The feeling made me think of a nightmare I’d once had that had left an indelible impression on my memory.
In my dream, I’d been in a cemetery at night, in the rain. A few graves over from the sepulchre where I stood, was my own tomb. I hadn’t actually seen it. I just knew it was there with that irrefutable dream-kind-of-knowing. Part of me wanted to run away, to flee the rain-slicked grass and stones and bones as fast as I could, and never look back, as if merely beholding my own grave might seal my fate. But another part of me had known that I would never have another moment’s peace in my life if I was afraid to walk over there and look at my own headstone, stare down at my own name, and read aloud the date I’d died.
I’d woken from that nightmare before I’d had to choose.
I wasn’t foolish enough to think I was going to wake from this one.
Fixedly ignoring the dehydrated human husks blowing like tumbleweeds down the fog-filled, deserted street, I left the map I’d drawn myself in the left front pocket of my jeans, and gave myself over to the dark melody of my personal Pied Piper. I saw the abandoned neighborhood a little differently this time as I walked into it.
As a graveyard.
I recalled Inspector O’Duffy’s complaint the first time I’d met him: There’s been a recent spike in homicides and missing persons like we’ve never seen before. It’s as if half the damn city’s gone crazy.
Not nearly half by my count, not yet anyway—although I could well imagine his consternation over corpses such as the one the Gray Man had left in the pub the other night—but here were O’Duffy’s missing persons.
All around me. I was passing them, block after block.
They were outside abandoned cars, in neat piles. They were scattered up and down sidewalks, half-buried beneath litter that would never get collected again because these streets didn’t show up on any maps used by city employees. Though a conscientious sweeper or trash-collector might occasionally take a look while passing by and say, “Gee, what a mess down there,” it was no doubt followed swiftly by a “not my route, not my problem.”
The danger of the Dark Zone was this: Although these lanes and avenues wouldn’t show up on any map, there was nothing to keep people from driving down them, or walking in, just as I had on my first day in Dublin. As close as it was to the Temple Bar District, there was a lot of foot traffic, and I’d seen myself just how much of that traffic was tourists too inebriated and full of craic to notice a radical change in environment until it was too late. A car might have a decent chance of getting through at night, with headlamps and interior lights ablaze, so long as the driver didn’t stop and get out for any reason—like to indulge in a drunken urination—but I wouldn’t take that gamble myself.