The Third Night, part 2

January 11th, 2009 - No Responses

Scritch, scritch.

The rat eyed them from atop an upturned bathtub. Its whiskers looked suspiciously like piano wire, and tinkled slightly when it wrinkled its nose to gnaw at the nickle clutched in its paws.
“I guess there’s life here after all,” said Peter. Startled by his voice, a flock of something with wings beaten from soda cans flapped lumberously away behind a shipping container.
“Of a sort,” said the rat. Alice stifled a giggle.
“Do you know, I wonder,” asked Peter, “if there is any place interesting around here?”
“There’s an alley over yonder,” the rat twitched its nose. “Back of a bar. Some good scraps there.”
“No, not an island,” says Alice. “What about in the junkyard?”
“There’s nothing in the junkyard. It’s all more of the same, isn’t it?”
They turned to leave.
“Except for the church, of course.”

A flutter of metal rang out — one of the soda can birds back to make a meal of the rat. With a scritch scritch it was away under a pile of shopping carts.

The Third Night, part 1

January 6th, 2009 - No Responses

Alice was crouched on the beach, building cathedrals in the damp sand when Peter arrived. He stood for a minute or two while she smoothed the last few grains from a steeple, then helped her to stand. He kissed her before she could speak.
“Not that I’m complaining,” she said, “but what was that for?”
“Something I wanted to do last night as you were getting in the cab.”
“Why didn’t you, then?”
“Didn’t want to rush things,” he shrugged. “People get hurt that way.”
“So why did you now?”
“We’re further along here. Speaking of here, any idea where we are this time?”
“The shore, of course. Where things wash up.”

Away up the beach, the sand gave way to dirt and grass and the occasional tree. In the other direction, through a shimmer only vaguely suggestive of water, the ground dropped away in a shelf to the junkyard. Peter walked down to the stuff-that-was-not-water and looked out. The pillar of flame, so large from up close, was but a speck on the horizon.
“It’s so… big.”
He laughed, punching her on the arm. “You know what I mean. I wonder how far it is to the other shore.”
“I don’t think it works like that,” Alice shook her head. “I think the only thing on the other side is nothing.”
“What about the church?”
“That’s out there somewhere. An island. Not the only one, either.”
Peter turned to her seriously. “How do you know these things? Have you been coming here for a long time?”
“On and off as long as I remember, but never so regularly before you. I just know, though. That’s how dreams work. It’s why you don’t question it when you can fly or become president or dance a samba with a potted plant.”
“Do you know why you’re here, then? Why I’m here?”
“No,” she frowned. “But whatever the reason is, it’s out there somewhere.”

The Second Day, part 1

July 19th, 2008 - No Responses

She had been three rows behind him during the lecture, but Toby lost sight of Ashlyn in the press of bodies as people left the hall. He was a bit disappointed as he packed up his books and joined the back of the crowd.

“You took your time, didn’t you?” Ashlyn was sitting outside the lecture theatre, and stood as he emerged. “I was about to give up.”
“Waiting for me, hey?” he asked.
“Mm, I thought you might like to take me out for dinner.”

“I had a dream about you last night,” Ashlyn said over her noodles.
“Me too, strangely enough,” said Toby.
“Oh really?” she raised her eyebrows. “Should my modesty be offended?”
Toby blushed slightly. “No! Well… I can’t really remember, to be honest.”
“Shame,” she smiled, and went back to her noodles.

The Second Night, part 5

June 24th, 2008 - No Responses

A voice rose out of the darkness; a voice like stone and metal. Peter couldn’t be sure whether he heard it through his ears or through his skin.

You are that which crawls upon the Earth. You congratulate each other on how far you have risen from the dirt, but this is only because you have the energy to spare in times of plenty. The society you wear is a threadbare cloak, to be discarded when times are lean. Underneath it you are all tooth and claw and bone. A winter comes, and no hive hast thou of hoarded sweets.

“I know what I am,” said Peter. “What are you?”

I am that which preys upon that which crawls upon the Earth.

The Second Night, part 4

June 23rd, 2008 - No Responses

The ladder ended eventually at a hatch – small, round, and secured tightly with a rusted iron wheel. Alice strained with the wheel for a moment, before shouldering the hatch open and disappearing through. As Peter followed he had the impression of a dark curtain falling around him, and it took him a moment to adjust.

It was the junkyard again. Piles of car husks, umbrella spines, filing cabinet shells, and coat-hanger claws towered on all sides.
“We’re here,” said Alice.
“We were headed here?” Peter asked.
“I guess so.”
There was a momentarily deafening roar, the ground shook, and a bloom of fierce orange spread briefly across the sky.
“Hang on,” said Peter, “I just remembered. Last night, when you fell, what happened?”
Alice’s brow creased. “Nothing. I woke up before I hit the ground, I think.”

The roar began again, then cut off abruptly as Peter jumped and found himself in darkness. His first thought was that he had woken and he was in his bed in the small hours of the morning, but he knew that was wishful thinking. He was still standing, the ground was hard and uneven underfoot, and Alice was gone, but there was something else in the darkness with him.

The Second Night, part 3

June 12th, 2008 - One Response

It had started to snow again, and the boat was soon lost to their view. They climbed in a snow-globe, just the two of them and a short stretch of ladder fading out above and below. The ladder had black rungs and white rungs, arranged seemingly at random, and Peter accepted unquestioningly the fact that he couldn’t grasp the black rungs with his hands nor stand on the white rungs with his feet. Half of his attention was on this problem, and most of what was left was trying to distract him so he didn’t accidentally (or purposely) look up and catch a glimpse under Alice’s skirt.
“So why didn’t I remember you yesterday?” he asked. The question had been on his mind for a while.
“I’m no expert, you know.”
“You just seem… I don’t know… more comfortable with all this, I suppose.”
“Well,” she said, “what did you dream about the night before last? The night before that?”
“Fair point. Did you remember me?”
“Not really. I remembered dreaming you, but not what the dream was about.”
At this, he did look up. “That didn’t seem weird to you?”
“No, not particularly,” replied Alice, looking down at him. “I noticed you in class a few times last week.”
“Oh,” said Peter, blushing.

The Second Night, part 2

June 7th, 2008 - No Responses

Out of the endless white and grey, a speck appeared. It blossomed into a line and steadily grew until it seemed to tower above them. Peter had begun to wonder if they would ever reach it when the boat stopped with a dull clang and unseated him. He flailed for purchase and found himself holding something thin and flat. Their boat had struck the line, no longer as distant as they had thought.
“What is it?” asked Alice, clearly excited.
Peter leaned carefully over the side of the boat and, now no longer seen from side-on, the line resolved itself into a ladder stretching up into the sky.
“It’s our stop, I think,” he said.
He held the boat steady while Alice clambered over him, gave him a stern glance he assumed pertained to the skirt she was wearing, grasped a rung, and began to climb.

The Second Night, part 1

June 4th, 2008 - No Responses

“You’re late,” she said. She kicked a bucket towards him. “Start bailing.”
Peter took a minute to absorb his surroundings. He sat in the bow of a small rowboat of unpainted, untreated wood. From what he could see the hull wasn’t even caulked. The horizon was a straight, unbroken line on all sides: grey above, white below. There was light to see by, but no bright spot in the sky to indicate where the sun might be hidden. Indeed, at first at seemed there was nothing at all except the boat and its two passengers. The other passenger was rowing, though it was hard to tell whether it was having any effect. It was the girl again.

“Why am I dreaming about you again?” he asked.
“You’re not,” she said.
“I’m dreaming about you.”
“Ah,” Peter nodded. “No, wait, what?”
“Never mind that. Start bailing.”
“In a minute,” he said, picking up the bucket as a conciliatory measure. “It’s you, isn’t it?”
She looked herself over in mock examination, lifting first one leg then the other, but keeping up her hands on the oars. “Yes, you’re right, it is me.”
“No, I mean it’s you. Ashlyn. From yesterday. I thought you said your name was Alice.”
“I thought you said your name was Peter?”
“It is, here.” He hadn’t meant to say it, but once he had he realised it felt true.
“There you go, then. Now start bailing, unless you want us to sink.”
He frowned, but hefted the bucket anyway and started ladling mounds of pure white snow into the boat.

The First Day

May 31st, 2008 - No Responses

Toby woke with a start, sitting bolt upright in bed. His face and chest were covered in a cold sweat. He had to… had to… had to do something he was sure, Had he been dreaming? The memories were wispy, and when he tried to grasp them they fled. The alarm by his bed blared into life and he jumped, slapping it silent in irritation. He dragged himself to his feet and headed for the shower. Monday morning. He had a class to get to.

The lecturer was late. Again. Toby picked a seat at random, wishing he had stayed at home in bed like most of the class clearly had. His bag made a halfway decent pillow on the desk, and he was just getting comfortable when he heard someone sit down next to him.
“You can bet if he was here on time and we were late he’d kick up a fuss,” a female voice said.
He assumed it was talking to someone else, maybe even itself, and didn’t open his eyes.
“Second week and already people are giving up on Monday morning classes. It’s just us left,” it continued.
Toby opened his eyes and looked around. The voice was right, the few stragglers who had been here just a few minutes ago had clearly given up and gone off to seek greener pastures. Or at least softer ones.

He turned to his left to see a girl sitting on the desk of the row behind, her legs dangling over the edge. She looked familiar.
“Have we met?” he asked.
She smiled a private smile. “Doubt it,” she said. “I only just started here. I’m Ashlyn.”
“Toby,” he replied, and shook the hand she offered.
“I thought someone should tell you it doesn’t look like he’s coming before you fell asleep.”
“I think I could have used the sleep,” he laughed. “You too, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“Rough night,” she said. “Anyway, if you go back to sleep who’s going to come and get a cup of coffee with me?”

The First Night, Part 2

May 17th, 2008 - No Responses

As he walked down the street, houses loomed out of the gloaming on either side. They were now indistinct, now perfectly clear but somehow wrong, now indistinct again and passed away behind him. His footsteps took him faster than they should have and soon, without noticing, he was on another street; one that was not his own. Looking behind he could not see where he had come from. Looking ahead a cathedral, tall gothic edifice, loomed menacing under the glow once more blooming in the sky. High above, a large circular stained glass window. The picture was unclear from this angle, but light flickered from behind it that was not the light in the sky.

The main portal was barred, but those to the sides were not. Inside, hundreds of candles lined walls and floor. They flickered as one as he swung the door closed with a dull boom. He craned his neck upwards, but still could not make out the stained glass. Lowering his gaze as he moved into the cathedral proper, he gasped for the first time. The nave extended ahead of him some fifty feet, lined by candles and pews, then ended abruptly, giving way to only void. As he moved forwards the glow bloomed again, its source visible to him now as a distant pillar of flame that rose and fell from somewhere far in the distance. It cast into stark relief the torn edge of the cathedral: walls and roof and floor jagged as if some giant hand had torn the rear of the building off in a fierce rage. He came to the edge, and could see arrayed far beneath him what he could only assume was a junkyard. Towering piles of jagged shapes, their size impossible to judge but clearly vast, were all that could be seen from here to the horizon where the pillar of flame flared once more. Directly below, the ground was lost in darkness.
“Impressive, isn’t it?”

He jumped, thankful that he had not been leaning outwards at the time, and turned to the left to see a girl sitting with her legs dangling over the edge. She had been hidden from sight behind the pews as he had entered.
“I come here sometimes to look at it. I don’t know what it means, but I think it’s impressive,” she looked up at him with a strange expression on her face. “You’re the first other person I’ve met here, though.”
“Have we met before?” he asked. “You seem familiar.”
She laughed. “Even in a dream that’s a lame pick-up line.”
“I wasn’t…” he started.
“We haven’t met,” she interrupted, standing and extending her hand. “I’m Alice.”
They shook hands, then turned back to regard the junkyard. Peter was about to open his mouth again when the pillar of flame flared once more – violently this time, twisting and leaping upwards with a low roar that seemed to grow as it echoed. Alice grabbed his hand. She turned to face him but the ground lurched and anything she said was lost as the roar turned deafening.

The ground bucked and shifted and Peter tightened his grip on Alice’s hand, beginning to back away from the edge. It was too late. A horrible lurch and he was on his stomach and she was over the edge. Their grip still held, and Peter scrabbled to maintain purchase, but he could no longer see her – no longer see the hand that held her. The roar began to subside and he strained to pull her upwards. His hand came into view, then hers, then the ground gave one last heave and suddenly he was holding air. He hurled himself to the edge, drew breath to shout, then woke in a cold sweat to his own bedroom.