Friday, April 22. 2011
They saw the banner before they saw the station. Draped across the building it shone through the mists. The symbol emblazoned across it was unfamiliar. Indeed it shifted uncomfortably under Angela's eyes. The station could not match its splendour. Did not match its splendour. When more than just the frame became distinct. The frame was all that was left of it. What had once been a fine red brick building was a bombed out wreck. The surroundings were scattered with debris, half sunken into the grey soil. Closer still, Angela could see it was alive. People worked on the walls, clearing junk and repairing cracks.
“Did a storm hit?” she asked.
“Probably,” Orpheus grunted back.
Guards lined the entrance. They were nothing like the men of the outpost. Their armour matched, their guns were maintained and their eyes followed the pair endlessly. One held out a hand to Orpheus as he started up the steps.
Orpheus took a step back, drawing further beneath his cloak. He thrust a hand out, offering a scrap of yellow paper to the soldier.
“Here,” he said gruffly.
The soldier took the page and gave it a thorough reading.
“What about her?” he said, pointing at Angela.
She was getting good. All it took was a glance to know Orpheus was swearing silently.
“You reaped her?” The guard's tone went from flat to suspicious.
“And you have a permit for that,”
Orpheus mumbled something she didn't catch.
The guard looked up the steps. “Get Adameus down here,”
They hung there on the steps watched and surrounded.
A huddle of guards burst from the station. Oprheus tensed. Angela flinched. They halted before they reached them though. The leader offered his hand, hidden within a green glove.
Orpheus took the hand, shaking it slowly. The green gloved man looked pleased.
“Please call me Adameus. Come, come,”
He dismissed the guards and led them inside.
The station had been a grand old building once. Now it was a shell. Blast marks marred the floor. Cracked tiles lay everywhere. Only the platform was clear. A few couples loitered there, loaded down with luggage. They peered at Angela curiously as she passed. There were workers inside too, sweeping the floors. Angela had the opportunity to spy one up close. Strangely it was a teenage girl. She was still dressed in a school uniform, downcast expression focused on sweeping the floor. Before a guard could usher her on Angela realised what was wrong. There were chains on her wrists and legs. The girl glanced up and Angela knew something was very wrong. Then they were herded away.
They halted in an old office. It too was in ruins, its fittings blown away. A new door had been installed, roughly bolted into place. It creaked ponderously as they entered. Inside two clerks worked feverishly at a makeshift desk. Adameus led the way over and nodded curtly to them. Neither looked up.
“We'll need a 76a boys,”
A form was produced. To Angela's surprise Adameus offered it to her.
“Welcome to the afterlife,” he said. “If you fill out this application we can issue you a temporary pass,”
Angela glanced over the form. “And that will allow?”
“You'll be able to pass through any stations or checkpoints until you get to a main office. There they'll sort you out with a full ID,”
“Why don't you head outside and fill it out?" said Adameus cheerfully. The guards steered her toward the door. "If you need anything just ask,”
“Thank you,” Angela said, but she was already outside.
She didn't have a pen, but the form itself was not paper. She wrote her name with a finger and it appeared, neatly conforming to the boxes. She scanned through it briefly. Even in death there was bureaucracy.
“Hurry up. We have to make the train,” Orpheus paced the floor impatiently.
Every so often there was a click or a creak from the guards, as if reminding the pair of their presence. One gave her a glare when she stared too long. They were testy, like Orpheus. Surveying the burnt out surroundings Angela supposed they had reason to be.
Angela was almost done with the form when she noticed someone else approaching them. The girl with the brush. She neared with each pass, until close enough to touch. The guards ignored her. They were intently watching Orpheus, whose pacing had grown erratic.
“I knew you'd come back,”
The whisper startled Angela. The girl had her eyes fixed on the floor, devoted to her work.
“46 said you would. He said he'd seen you,” There was an urgency to the girl's voice.
“Who are you?” whispered Angela, trying to look nonchalent.
The guards shifted again. One almost looked in her direction.
“They took it. Told me I'd get it back. Told me I had to pay my due,”
“Who?” repeated Angela.
“I was here when they bombed it. I thought we'd be free but they came with guns. Left nothing but darkness,”
“I'm sorry,” whispered Angela.
The guard looked at her. “Hey!”
The office door slammed open. The clerks ignored it. Adameus turned, a bright smile upon his face. “We have it all made out, just need the form and your name,”
One guard held Angela, arm twisted behind her back. It took two to push Orpheus inside and neither seemed keen on touching him. Adameus' smile faded.
His attention redirected to the guards. “What happened?”
“Caught her passing messages to a thrall,”
Adameus tutted. His gaze passed from Angela to Orpheus. “You brought this in. I'm afraid that makes you responsible for her actions,”
“We were just talking,” tried Angela again. Her arm was twisted further.
“Shut up,” warned the guard.
Orpheus glared at her coldly. He'd cut her loose. He didn't care. She was just a bloody ghost.
“She was just talking,” he said.
Adameus marched up to Orpheus and wagged a finger under his nose.
“And the ones who came before you, they just wanted to trade supplies. Then they bombed the station and tried to murder everyone who fled!” His voice trembled momentarily before regaining its friendly tone. “No, friend. Fool me once they say,”
Orpheus drew himself up. Both of his escorts took a step back. “This is ridiculous,”
“Ridiculous? No, you are ridiculous. Cowering beneath that cloak, what is it you're hiding friend? More explosions?”
“We just want to get on the train,”
“And wreck that too? Do you savages know no bounds? Will you tear down the very land and hurl us into Oblivion?”
One of the guards grabbed Orpheus' shoulder.
“Fuck you. You're no fucking saviours. I know your little empire. The slavecraft, the death camps, the oppression of unions-” Orpheus paused in mid-sentence. He had to. There was a gun in his face. The guard behind it scowled.
“Thank you,” said Adameus calmly. “And thank you for revealing yourself. Only a traitor would look upon such things as wicked. Everything we do is for the betterment of the dead,”
He switched to the guard with the gun jammed in Orpheus' face. “What of the thrall she spoke to?”
“The overseer has her sir. He'll make her talk soon enough,”
Adameus nodded pleasantly. He walked around the two clerks who all throughout had never ceased their work. Angela saw now their chains.
“Perhaps the pain will educate her. Remind her of her place in the Hierarchy,” Adameus intoned. He finished circling the slave clerks and took a watch from his pocket.
“Strip them, search them, then send them to be collared,” The watch went away, it seemed he had no time left. He departed through the door.
The gun was lowered from Orpheus' face. His escorts began to drag him out.
“Damn it all!” shouted Orpheus. “We just want on the train!”
Angela was dragged too. When she stumbled a rifle butt hit her face. She tried to rise but was struck again. Her nose hurt, she tried to shield her face but the guard was on top of her growling. Then he fell away. Angela looked up through a mask of pain and Orpheus' hand was there, helping her up.
Three guards lay on the floor. Angela hadn't even seen it happen. The clerks looked equally dumbfounded. The one that had hit Angela had a hole in his head. He mouthed helplessly, body sinking into the floor. Orpheus snatched the rifle from him. He thrust it into Angela's hands.
“We got about ten seconds,” he said urgently.
“Hey,” It was one of the clerks. “We're with the Resistance,”
He held up his chain. Orpheus took only a second. A slash of metal sliced through the chains and they fell in pieces. Seeing this the other clerk rushed forward. He too was freed. They grabbed weapons from the fallen guards.
A yell came from outside.
“Get as many as you can and get on the train,” Metal slid over, Orpheus' face, covering it like a mask.
A safety clicked. It was one of the clerks. He was worn and haggard, fingers stained with gauze. He nodded grimly.
The door began to open. There was a glimpse of guard on the other side, then Orpheus exploded through it. Angela and the clerks rushed to the doorway, pointing guns out either side. Two guards lay on the floor, it was a momentary work for Orpheus to incapacitate them. The station erupted into chaos, guards appeared from every corner. Adameus was there, directing them into a line of rifles, all pointed at Orpheus.
“Surrender,” His voice was cold.
Orpheus undid the cloak. It fell away. Angela could scarcely look at him, so brightly did he glow. It faded somewhat until there was but an aura of light about him. It emanated from every pore and Angela knew.
One of the clerks gasped. “He's alive,”
The guards lowered their weapons, mouths agape. But Adameus growled, his hand made a pass and something rippled toward Orpheus. The metal erupted from his arm, blocking the black missile's passage. It was enough to shake the guards free. They opened fire. The bullets rattled off him harmlessly. They pinged against the floor, bouncing of hidden steel. Orpheus charged.
The clerks picked their way through the station, seeming to know the way.
“Just like old times,” said the haggard one fondly.
They found what they were looking for. Guards watched over the gathered thralls, the battered form of the girl among them. They were distracted, all eyes peering at Orpheus where he leapt among their compatriots. Angela fired at the ceiling.
“Give me the key,” she said simply.
They gaped at her, then levelled their rifles. The clerks stepped out behind her.
“Give me the key,” she repeated.
“You'll go to the hellforges for this,” their leader snarled. There was a baton stuck into his belt. A bright cap sat on his head with the word OVERSEER sewn on.
“If you don't give me the key now, then he'll come over here and take it,” She pointed to where Orpheus was slamming a soldier's head into the ground, two others beating at him uselessly. Adameus was screaming something in the background.
Chains wrapped around the overseer's throat. The girl was there, hissing in his ear. He staggered back, dragging out the baton. The other guards turned.
We don't breathe.
She knew what had to be done. The trigger squeezed. The overseer slumped, his struggles ceasing. Two bursts of gunfire flanked Angela's ears. The other guards crumpled. The girl still held her chains taut, squeezing and snarling until Angela took her by the arm. Angela unwrapped the chain, studying the girl. Her face was swollen and oozed pale fluid. Beneath the bruises were marks of older beatings.
“I knew you'd come back,” she whispered, audible despite the battle. Angela calmly snatched the key from the whimpering overseer. She tried not to look at him, or the fallen guards to either side. The girl rubbed her eyes and Angela blinked fiercely.
“Come on,” Angela said to her, testier than she meant to.
“Are you alright?” asked a clerk, the barrel of his rifle innocently occupying the Overseer's face.
Angela shouldered her gun and unlocked the manacles.
A shrill whistle entered the station. From far off an approaching engine chugged.
The other thralls crept forward, offering up their manacles. The hope on their faces made Angela sick. She was the centre of attention and sought to divert it.
“Free them already!” she yelled at the haggard clerk. She promised she'd ask his name when this was over. He took the key meekly and set to work.
The train burst onto the platform in a cloud of steam. Great headlights burned away the dark as the engine rushed by. Rattling carriages followed, grating to a halt. Their noise drowned out the fighting and only when they settled could shouts and the clash of blades be heard again. The doors slid open to a stream of passengers.
“Go!” yelled Angela.
They broke cover, Angela in the lead, her motley clerk soldiers a step behind.
“Out of the way!” she yelled at the people milling in confusion.
They scattered at the burst of gunfire fleeing back onto the train. One stepped aside as she passed. He was in the same armour as the station guards and the freed slaves trampled him.
If there were more on the train they was screwed. They crammed through the nearest door, Angela slowing. She lagged behind and looked over to the fight. The station lay in utter ruin. The guards were dead or fled. Only Adameus remained. With mere waves of his hand chunks of wall split and hurled themselves at Orpheus. He shrugged off the blows, fighting back with spears of molten metal. Angela moved to the train and stepped on board. He'd be there in a moment. Then she saw them.
They were bright and strange as you please. Jerking like puppets on bad strings they leapt from the train. A dance began, a whirl of motley colour and frenzy. The three harlequins took their performance across the platform. Orpheus and Adameus were too locked on each other to notice.
“What's going on here?” A beak nosed man in a bellcap thrust his face into hers. “I hope you're not planning on using that here miss,” He tapped the rifle's muzzle with a pencil.
Angela took a deep breath. She had to help him. The voice screeched in her ears.
I can't do this. I'll die. This was what he wanted. He doesn't need our help.
She froze, paralysed by indecision. It was right. She was right. She couldn't. Her legs wouldn't move. The three fell upon Adameus. He howled but his magics fell away. Then he did too They circled his melting body then twirled toward Orpheus.. Now she saw it. His movements were dulled. The metal flashed in his hands but slowly.
Let it go. Let him go. He could never help me. Never save me. I'm dead. He's dead.
The train gave a warning whistle. The conductor, distracted by the scene, poked her shoulder with a frown.
“Shut up,” he said.
The voice vanished. Angela's legs jerked. “Hold the train,” she said urgently.
“That man's alive. Hold the train!” She leapt onto the platform.
The three surrounded him. They moved as in a dance. Their dull weapons seemed at odds with their bright clothes and they twirled about Orpheus delightedly. He lashed out with metal but they batted it aside.
“There’s no point fighting,” one said.
“We are not your enemy,” said another.
“But you will burn brightly,” said the last.
Angela fired from the hip. One of them turned. Its face was paler than anything she had ever seen. Pure black bulged from it, eyes that bored and made something black well up inside her. In those eyes Angela saw herself, crumbling away into darkness.
I can’t fight them.
The voice sounded so strong and her feet felt so heavy. One of the shadowy things drew close, its gnarled hands open. Angela screamed. She slammed the rifle butt into its face and fired wildly. Bullets embedded themselves within the things form, leaving ragged holes in its garments. It barely shook. They hummed to her, a soothing tune that dizzied her head.
Angela grabbed Orpheus by the scruff of his neck, keeping the gun trained on the things.
“Come, come on,” she moaned.
He rocked on his feet, fists clenching. When he did not move she began to drag him. There was blood staining his shirt. From afar he'd seemed so indomitable. The train was miles away now and she struggled with every inch. The bright spirits followed her followed her every step, singing to each other. They flowed in front of her, standing between her and the idling train.
“No one’s leaving,”
“We’re going to talk,”
“Make you see things our way,”
She sprayed until the trigger snapped then threw the gun itself at them. Faces lined the windows, every one in mourning. The conductor peered through the door, the train's whistle sounding. He was shouting something but she could not hear over such pleasant song. A black weight pressed her head down. The ground looked inviting.
The voice was filled with sorrow, tendrils of darkness burrowing into her mind.
“Help me!” She roared. No one answered.
The spirits approached, manic smiles upon their faces.
“Pocket,” gasped Orpheus. He tapped one of his bags, fumbling with the catch. There was blood lining his lips.
She tore open the bag. Its contents spilled and she fumbled. Her fingers caught something glass and gripped it tightly. Everything else was lost, rolling away under the train. It was so close. She lifted up the glass jar. Etched into it was a stylized figure. He carried a torch down a mountain. Inside the jar sat a small blue flame, suspended in nothingness. It had a neat metal lid. Orpheus leaned heavily on her, gulping air. She unscrewed the lid, baring the flame. It looked very nice and utterly useless Then she threw it and the lid at the three ghosts.
The lid bounced off. The jar shattered against his breast. The fire clung there, a tiny flame that burned nothing. He was so close now, reaching out for her. He brushed the flame absent-mindedly, quelling it with his bare hand. But when the fire touched he howled. The flames surged outwards. They ran beneath his clothes, searing his pale face, and burning away his skin. The other two hesitated, their dance interrupted. Angela felt the anchors on her mind fade. She gave the burning ghost a kick to the side. He staggered into a fellow and the flames caught hold. The two of them fell shrieking, burning beautifully in brilliant flame. Angela hauled Orpheus those last few feet onto the train. As soon as she put one foot on the step the conductor was there. He helped her carry him aboard. The last ghost stood mesmerized. Drawn in like a moth the flames consumed him too.
“All aboard!” yelled the conductor.
The doors slammed shut and the train rolled away.
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That you claim you were struggling with this chapter is a fact of which I'm aware. Unfortunately for you, I am mean. Therefore:
" The station could not match its splendour. Did not match its splendour. When more than just the frame became distinct. The frame was all that was left of it. What had once been a fine red brick building was a bombed out wreck. " Ahhh! ... are you getting paid by the sentence?
[Too many short simple sentences can make your writing appear unsophisticated and your ideas seem disconnected.]
Cower in the face of my copy and pasted creative writing advice.
"She didn't have a pen, but the form itself seemed made of gauze. She wrote her name across and it appeared, far neater than her own handwriting. She scanned it up and down. It looked remarkably ordinary. The only thing sure in death was bureaucracy. "
~How did she write her name if she didn't have a pen? What looked ordinary and in what way? And "the only thing...etc" is superfluous; The reader is aware of your point about bureaucracy- you've illustrated it very well. (I understand this is in contrast to me bitching about you not including the demon in your list of 'group of four', but the difference is in the first 'demon' instance you said too little, and in the 'bureaucracy' instance you say too much.)
"They were bright and strange as you please." An interesting line. Makes it almost sound like the narrator is orating. I don't know if that's what you're going for or not....
"Then she threw it and the lid at the three ghosts. The lid bounced off. The jar shattered against his breast."
~This feels odd. You've got 'his' describing 'three ghosts'. I dunno the technical term for it, but it's like ..... subject confusion! heh
It's like saying "There were three trees. My arrow pierced its bark." Like wah? Which one? (A nagging thought, but wasn't Orpheus leaning on her heavily?)
Other than some tiny typos like missing periods or missing italics, it's good. Normally I wouldn't be so picky with someone's writing, but you seem like you're looking for that? If you want me to lay off, and the goal was just a sounding board for whether it was entertaining or not, or plot idea generation, I can do that instead. Perhaps get your writerly compatriots to critique my critiques. That would put me in my place!!
I can see you struggled. But no worries, because the whole concept was engaging. I loved the 'reaped' scene. It was a strange surprise with all the shooting, but that's probably because it's such a contrast to the rest of the story which was sort of "woooooo spooky pooh, what's gonna happen... are we dead? what to do!" thing. From what you've been saying I get the impression that you want to go somewhere with this, but something's not working out with it - and instead of setting it aside you're adhering to some crazy enforced timeline where you HAVE to write, perhaps even at the expense of the work.
Don't do that! swat
Write what engages you and holds you at the time. Last I checked you're not working at a newspaper. If you feel like you MUST write something and keep deadlines, then give yourself short exercises (like that cliff-side murder thingy which ROCKED) to fill in those gaps. I wouldn't put a hardcore deadline on publications until you get your first advance!
Anyway, just my lengthy, droning, uninformed, ignorant "advice". Don't bother critiquing my crap blog entries with the same strict standards. God knows I certainly don't. I know - it shows.
Man... I really just wanna ditch my blog. It feels like a large, rusted iron yoke around my neck. :/
Can I take back the last two years of my life? Please?
PS: Yes, it took me a LONG time to write this. I think gifts of frankincense and myrrh are in order! Not gold though. Have you seen the prices lately? Shew.
I set my own deadlines true. But I'm tired of writing short pieces that go nowhere. Lent was a good excuse for me to strive. That I failed is not so bad, as long as I can learn from it.
Yes a blog often feels like a ball and chain, like a second job even if you post to it once a month. For me that's what makes it worthwhile though. From all the hassle comes something that I am vaguely proud of.
And thank you for the criticism. It will be extremely helpful when I rewrite this.
Anyway, you didn't 'fail'. Don't be so bloody undervaluing. Why all the self punishment? If there's punishment to be meted out, I'll give it to you.
I'm not actually proud of my blog, so... you're one up on me there.