Only a drop has to force its way through, and before long, cracks are spreading like ants running from a nest. Each imperceptible hairline is squeezed open into a gash, a fracture, a chasm, and then everything bursts at once, and you're hit with a crumbling hail of... whatever it was that used to protect you, and then drowned by a terrible flood of... whatever it was that it used to protect you from.
It began, as not so many things do these days, with bullets. Or at least, that's what everyone assumed, until, in the interminable investigations that followed, they found out about the poisonings. Back when only molecules could fit through the gaps, pinpoints of arsenic and curare and tetrachloride found themselves in people's bloodstreams, at first causing only inconspicuous heart attacks and later grotesque muscle spasms; but it wasn't until the bullets got into the world, slipping through at the speed of sound, that anything was noticed.
As the cracks widened, people were found with pork skewers through the eye, or with crowbars lying next to them matted with blood and hair, or with electrical cables cutting into their pasty windpipes like twine into bound chicken. Soon, with the weapons, came the secondary paraphernalia of serial killing: Tarot cards and shredded photos and plastic Virgin Marys, scrawled notes and gory daubings and even, apocryphally, an answering-machine message in a leering, indescribable voice. By this time twenty or thirty people were dying every day. By a month later, as you know, it was more like a hundred, sometimes continents away from where the deaths had begun.
The objects were getting bigger, and that was all we knew. Eventually, we worked out what was going on. We finally realised that there had been enough films, enough documentaries, enough paperbacks, enough comics, enough fears, enough fantasies, and serial killers had become something more than they were.
Concepts take hold. They more than take hold - they begin to grasp, clench, and crush. Millennia ago, we now believe, bartering ran so deep in our societies, the nexus of crude, shifting values was wrapped so tightly around our minds, that currency broke through from the space of abstracts. A handful of coins suddenly were, and whoever found them must have known, without even needing to realise, what he should do with them.
Religion became even more fundamental to human consciousness, and miracles were the earliest physical manifestations to come over to this side. Some even maintain that the first prayer-tablets, even the first temple, found their way to us intact, ex nihilo. The power of the idea was too strong to let them be held back. And it only took a few of these things for people to learn to imitate and reproduce them.
But serial murder was different. When Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, or David Berkowitz killed, the facts hit the world like a spray of blood, onto printing presses and cathode rays in the flutter of a beetle's wing. The media fed and vomited and digested and defecated and smeared, and primal terrors shot through with mundane details took on a new power. From the very first Whitechapel death, the concept went from mind to mind too fast, feedback blaring, something in the essence of urban life making us more receptive to it than we ever could have known, and the dam was demolished too early and too completely.
This time, it wasn't anything new, just our own awful methods thrown back at us. Eventually, though, just as rupees and bezants arose out of barter and liturgy and visitation arose out of religion, when enough lives had been claimed, something unknown had to be born out of the idea of serial killing.
And so it was.
Now that life itself has been shown to be something we could never bear, and death has shown to be nothing we could ever imagine, I write this, and hope it still makes sense. Back then, we were shocked at ten thousand deaths in a day, and we at least tried to protect ourselves from the bullets and knives and cars that came from nowhere. Now we understand that murder is far more to our species than money or manna ever were. That there is nothing strange about the few hundred that are left of us dying a trillion deaths a day. That there is nothing we can do to stop it, or could ever have done to stop it, except not to be human.