In a street of nightmares, Spyder saw the Black Clerks.
The street had been roofed over, like the souks of Morocco. The soun_ttracted Spyder to the spot, a strange and deliberate animal wail—scream_xtracted with mechanical precision.
Inside the dark, cramped street was a gallery of horrors. Men turned ove_onfires on huge metal spits. Women were crushed under rolling boulder_tudded with surgical blades. Children screamed as spiders and over-sized ant_ore at their young flesh. Terrified people were tormented up and down th_ength of the street, shrieking and tearing at the arms of passersby as the_ere chased by snarling animals or angry mobs. Spyder took a breath an_eminded himself that none of this was real. It was just the collectiv_emories of bad dreams, the night terrors these poor saps could never forget.
It reminded him of paintings by Bruegel and Goya, and, while he tried to wor_is way around the thought and not let it invade his consciousness, th_emories of the paintings made him think of the underworld. If this is wha_ell was going to be like, Spyder wasn't sure he could take it. Of course, h_as going to be blindfolded so, unlike here, he wouldn't have to actually loo_t Hell. It was a small comfort, but Spyder was ready for any comfort he coul_et.
At the far end of the street, Spyder spotted the Black Clerks. At first, h_ook them to be part of another nightmare and stopped to watch them pullin_he guts out of a cop who had been crucified across a writhing pile of drug-
starved junkies, their withered limbs (oozing pus and blood from runnin_ores) strained against the barbed wire that held them together. The hea_lerk, the one who always held the reptile-skin ledger, looked at Spyder an_eckoned him over.
"You are quite a long way from home?" said the Clerk, in his peculiar singson_adence.
"You see me. I thought you were someone's bad dream."
"We're as real as you?"
"How about him? Is he real, too?" asked Spyder, inclining his head toward th_ormented cop.
"He thought he could escape us," said the Clerk. "Sometimes it is not enoug_o take what is ours from the body, but to insinuate ourselves in the mind an_emory. A warning and object lesson for others? This is our burden."
Spyder started to walk away.
"I hope you aren't running away, trying to cheat providence?"
"No way, José2e I'm true blue," said Spyder.
"You don't wish to stay and watch us work?"
One of the Clerks had placed an elaborate metal brace into the policeman'_pen mouth and was studiously sawing off his lower jaw.
"Why would I want to see that?"
"Because you're lying. And most people want to know their future."
Spyder backed away and quickly left the street of nightmares.