Thursday, February 25, 2010

FailSafe - Mirare (Part 13)

There's no one around. I hold out the sword and step out of the elevator. I look left, right, then up. Nothing but the generic carpeting, furniture, and décor of an expensive office building. I walk slowly down the hallway, not sure what I'm looking for, bracing for surprises. I do know the portal is around here somewhere on this floor. I hear nothing but the low hum of the air conditioning.

I walk into an open space full of hundreds of cubicles. The huge floor and maze of putty colored cubicles seems to go on forever. Everything looks brand new. Still, I hear nothing. I glance into one of the cubicles and even the office supplies have been laid out neatly in each space. Each desk has exactly one black pen, one blue pen, one notepad, and a pad of small post-its. There's a generic looking red mouse pad too. Each station has a big flat screen monitor. I walk out of the cubicle, still looking around. The building feels eerie and wrong. Nothing is out of place and nothing looks used.

I keep walking down row after row of generic cubicles, glancing in front and behind me. When I almost reach the center. I glance into one of the cubicles and stop. The yellow note pad has what appears to be a rough drawn map. There's a path through the maze of and it appears to disappear down staircase to my left. I look up and see the staircase exit sign.

SCREEEECCHHH! I drop down to the carpet in the cubicle pathway at the loud sound. “That didn't take long,” I mutter out loud. I stay low and dragging my sword after me, run as fast as I can to the staircase. I don't know if this is the right way to go but I'm going to have to trust this story. There's a crash and I glance above me. It's a bit low for someone to be flying in here but I wouldn't put it past her to try. I'm coming out of the maze now and the door is right in front of me. I run straight for it without looking back and I can smell the rotting before it reaches me. Demons. Flying behind me. Without even looking I jump and turn, slicing off the head of the demon behind me. As my feet hit the floor, I see now there are scores of them coming at me. I swing again and again, slicing the nearest ones to me in half. Black rotten blood is splattering everywhere, their bodies are flying apart in halves. I manage to get to the door and reach for the door knob, and rush down a very narrow hallway. There are a bunch of white doors, and they all look the same. It reminds me of that long hallway in Matrix 2. I run and run but the demons are crowding the narrow hallway and I don't see how I'm going to get away from them. I try some of the doors but they're all locked then I have an idea, a really good one. I reach into my backpack, grab the bag of Sevens, all 14 of them, wait until the nearest demons get close enough and throw them into the air.

The demons stop in their tracks even as the Sevens, with their unmistakable shimmering, fall to the ground. A moment later, they're grabbing and shoving for them. The narrow hallway only makes the situation worse as they climb, fight each other for them. The grotesque sounds of wailing, snarling, and demonspeak fill the air, hurting my ears and making the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I look around the hallway, wiping black blood from my cheek and try to think of what to do next.

"Maybe it's like with the Archivist," I say out loud. I look up at the nearest door and say "Portal." Instantly, the words glow in white on the door and the door unlocks, slipping open. I glance back and see that the screaming and tearing of demon bodies has gotten worse. It will take Ravelle a little bit of time to get through them. I go inside the room, feeling for the lights, and close the door. I hear it lock behind me.

I'm in a closet. And I hear the high musical sound of Ravelle's scream outside. I look frantically around for a light but there is none. I'm literally standing in tiny janitorial closet. Maybe she won't know where I've gone, I think, then I laugh at that thought. There's a pounding going on outside now. I feel panic rising in my throat and I try to hold the sword out in front of me but it's too long. If she catches me in this small space, I'm done for. I tilt the sword down and back up to give myself more room. I run into a bucket at the back of the closet and hear a familiar “ding.”

There's an elevator behind me, like in that movie “I'm Not There.” The doors open, I walk in, and press the only button which has no number, just a sunburst pattern. As I move upwards smoothly I wonder where I'm going. This building is over 500 floors tall but I was at the top floor so who knows where I'm going now. I can hear a banging below me but it's starting to fade and the elevator continues its silent, steady ascent. There's a faint shudder from below but then nothing.

The elevator has mirrors lining the walls, there's an handrail around the walls and it keeps going up and up. There's no little computer screen showing latest news or the weather. It just keeps moving. I lean against the mirrored wall and wait. I think about Mr. Gryphon and wish he was here with me. In fact, I really wish he was here in real life. I look at myself. I'm a little trimmer than I am now, I still have my long hair, I'm wearing boots, a black t-shirt, and green fatigues. I have no jewelry on, not even a watch. I don't even have my cell phone. No reception here.

I sigh and look around wondering when the elevator is going to stop. It keeps moving and then see a flash out of the corner of my eye. I look again and there's another flash to my right. I examine the mirror. The flash is actually a flicker, and it seems to be coming from the mirror itself, at fairly regular intervals now. There's nothing opposite of the mirror that could be causing the flash. I walk up to the mirror and look at it more closely. Meanwhile the elevator keeps moving upwards. There it is again. The flicker. I can see it if I stand to the right of where it seems to be coming from. It flashes again and I press my hand to the glass. There's a gentle yielding and I pull back in surprise. I pick up sword which was leaning on the mirrored wall and adjust my backpack, then I press carefully at the space again. It yields gently again. The mirrored wall is hard and cool but the pliable. I push my hand slowly through until it's inside the mirror above my elbow but I don't feel an other side. I pull my arm back. The elevator has still not stopped. Not knowing what else to do, I take my sword and swing at the mirror. The blade slices through as easily as butter but doesn't not shatter or break. When I pull the sword back, the mirror slips back together without a crack or mark.

I stare at the mirror for a moment more looking for seams then sheathe the sword. I push myself through the mirror and slip easily into it. There's some resistance but the hard metal is as pliant and yielding as thick well kneaded dough. I glance behind me as I pull my foot through and the mirror closes behind my foot. Now it looks like I'm standing in a mirrored bubble. It's very strange. I have plenty of room above my head and on my sides. I can breathe just fine and my breathe isn't fogging up the glass. I can see my reflection everywhere and I have no idea why there's still light or where it's coming from. It doesn't seem to be coming from anywhere.

I hear a slightly muffled “dink” behind me and the sounds of someone entering the elevator. I turn and keep moving towards the flickering light which I can see quite clearly now. The floor of the mirrored bubbled is straight and flat. I'm moving easily enough though I think it would be better if it was a tunnel. I know I'm making progress because the sounds in the elevator are fading behind me. I keep walking, wishing I had a camera. I don't know why I never bring cameras into these stories. I resolve then to throw one into my backpack for next time.

The lights flicker and I stop walking, looking around, then the light fades slowly. A fear grabs me and I start running. The thought of getting stuck here in the dark seems like a terrible fate. I run and the cold smooth metal yields easily to me, the bubble staying intact around me. The lights fade to barest light, flicker again, and then I'm in the pitch dark. I stop and try to calm down but I can't. I have thoughts that I'll be stuck here forever, clawing at the smooth walls. I force myself to stop panicking and listen to the only sound I can hear. I tilt my head and realized the sound is my own heartbeat. I hadn't realized how quiet this place is. The sound is reassuring even it's beating fast. I reach out to the sides, feeling the walls so cool and smooth. I pull off my backpack and rummage around for the green stone in the front the pocket. The reassuring green glow lights my space. I'm glad I still have it.

The gentle glow is beautiful in this bubble of mirrors. I pull on my backpack and keep walking. There's no breeze but I keep walking anyway. I walk for a while, not hurrying, the panic now gone. I think about Nick, I think about Mr. Gryphon. I wonder how this story is going to turn out and why I had to write it down. My thoughts whirl around. I think about Mr. Gryphon and how much he loves me even if he is an imaginary friend. I suppose real love is unconditional even among fictional characters. Even with them it never fails.

I stop looking at my darkened reflection in the bubble of mirrors, a tear running down my cheek. I hope. I hope I can get everything back. And I hope I'm strong enough for what's coming next.

I wipe away the tear, then I hear a faint sound in front of me.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

FailSafe - The White Tower (Part 12)

I walk on through the winding streets. I can see the White Tower ahead of me, a giant skyscraper, gleaming in the dark light. It's the largest modern building I've ever seen. If modern man had wanted a tower of Babel this would be it. Looks tall enough to scrap the roof of Hell. It's not clean, by any means. The lower floors are blackened from a fire. The winding streets are getting wider and there aren't as many people or cars. The air here seems to less sulfuric probably because I'm farther away from the flaming rivers. Souls look curiously at me as I pass but I ignore them. I feel renewed from my baptism in the heavenly sea. I'm probably glowing or something.

I know I need to get inside the White Tower before Ravelle does but I don't feel like I need to rush. If Ax was telling the truth I should have no problem getting inside. He had given me his finger and the key.

I wonder about Nick. He is probably on the mend and definitely in a safer place. It was a mistake thinking I could do this with help. I should have started out alone. I shake my head, tears springing into my eyes. Suddenly, I miss Mr. Gryphon like I've never missed him before. The pain makes me stop in my tracks on the sidewalk. I do wish he was here. We have been apart for far too long and I've been feeling his absence even in the real world. I square my shoulders and keep walking. I'm getting everything back, including him, even if the Boss unleashes Heaven's fury on me. Let him. He will find that I've still got some fight in me, and that I can be merciless.

I get closer to the White Tower. For such a huge building it looks empty. It's only two blocks away when I hear the alarms going off. A deafening, mechanical voice announces “There is a BREACH of the security code section 27(a)(5)(iv)! You will cease your activities immediately or risk being arrested. Once again, there is a 27(a)(5)(iv) security BREACH! You have been put on notice. You have been put on NOTICE!”

I turn just in time to see Ravelle in full battle angelic regalia, flying towards me with shield and sword drawn. She is beautiful and awful, the expression on her face enough to give anybody nightmares for the rest of their life. But not me. Not now. And not ever. I run as fast as I can the last two blocks. In a moment, Security will intercept her but I must get to the White Tower anyway. I'm a half a block away when I hear Ravelle scream, a high musical sound. The whooshing sound of her wings breaks past me but I don't look back. I reach the giant front glass doors, and only then do I turn to see the stunning scene of Ravelle in an airborne sword fight battle with five demons, also in full battle armor with swords and shields. I wonder when the last time that happened. Everything and everyone has stopped to watch the fight. As spectacular as it is, I don't hesitate. I remove Ax's severed pinkie and push the tip of it at the door sensor. The doors slide open without a sound and I run into the building.

The air is cold with the artificial blast of arctic air conditioning. I run to the elevator bank. No one seems to be around. I press the button as Ax told me, walk into the elevator, insert the tiny tarnished silver key, and press the top floor. As the elevator moves I heard the glass doors shatter. I hope I can make to the top of the building.

It takes forever to get to the top and as I'm passing the 275th floor, the elevator shudders then there's a jolt and the elevator stops. The power flickers and goes out. In a moment, the backup generators switch on bathing the elevator in dim light. I draw the sword and shove it into the doors, trying to pry them apart. There's a crashing sound below and I shove the sword to the side again. The doors part and I see the elevator is between floors. It's too high for me reach. I look around as the elevator rocks back and forth. It slips upwards a couple of feet but is still too high for me to reach.

“Damn you,” I mutter, then I shove the sword into the wall in front of me, and with some difficulty I start sawing away at the wall to the floor below. I tell myself I only have make a small opening. The sword has no trouble cutting through the wall but it's still awkward and time consuming. I make the opening big enough and as I start to crawl through, something lands on top of the elevator. I look up and then move as fast as I can, scrambling through the hole and falling six feet to the office floor. The elevator screeches and then falls as Ravelle cuts the steel cables holding it up.

I don't wait for the elevator to crash. Instead, I run to the stairs, running through the doors and take the stairs two at a time. I hear and feel the crash of the elevator slamming into the ground floor as the building trembles from impact. I know I can't run for very long and I'm running out of time. I think hard about what I can about that but can't think of anything else to do except keep going. I run and run passing the 284th floor. My legs are cramping but I keep going. When I pass the 298th floor I come to a stop, bending over and panting. Ravelle is standing in front of me. Her face, armor, and wings are stained with demon's black blood, the rotten smell is rising off her like black smoke. Her green eyes are sparkling with a sociopathic fire.

“It stops here, Miss Turtle. I've been sanctioned to use all means necessary. All means.” She holds out her sword towards me, still dripping with the stinking blood of the demons.

I say nothing, instead I reach into my backpack and draw out a 9mm, a smaller one. I don't bother aiming. She's only three feet away. I'm not trembling. I'm not even afraid like I was that one time when I stood at the firing range and held that loaded semi-automatic in my hand, forget which kind. It felt so heavy. Even with the headphones on, the sounds of the gunfire terrified me like nothing else. The acrid smell of the smoke seemed like smell of ruin to me. And I couldn't pull the trigger then. Instead I had to put the gun down and I cried much to the annoyance of the person who was with me. Not this time. This time I pull the trigger, concentrating on her face, once, twice and then again and again. The bullets pound through her beautiful face, ripping obscene holes in her perfect flesh. One of her eyes goes flying. I empty the magazine, reload, and keep firing. The sound echoes painfully in the white stairwell. Now she's on the ground, on all fours, crawling in my general direction. I back up until I can feel the wall and I keep firing at her head. Bits of bone, sweet scented amber liquid, flesh, and black hair are flying everywhere. I empty that magazine and reload a third. Her head is now a lump of torn apart flesh and bone, the white, wet of her skull gleams in the fluorescent lights. She grabs at me one more time and then collapses. I unsheathe Nick's sword and decapitate her again, then I kick her head down the stairs. I run into the next floor and press the button for the next elevator. I can't hear a damn thing.

Just a little more time. Just a little,” I mutter. The elevator door opens and once again I insert Ax's key and press the button for the top floor. I lean my head against the cold steel of the elevator walls because I'm suddenly shaking from having to shoot someone that many times especially someone who looks like a perfect version of me. I thought I was tougher than that, I need to steel myself because it's only going to get worse. I'm thinking this as I take several deep breaths and place my shaking hands on the elevator walls. Even if she is an angel and can't feel pain it's still difficult.

“What a fucking bitch, “ I mutter, hanging onto my anger for dear life. The elevator stops at the top floor and the doors open.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

FailSafe: A Quick Note

The story is about to get more violent. Just a warning.

I finally got around to rewriting and posting the missing chapter. The rest of the story is finished and just needs to be cut & pasted and edited.

I wanted to make a comment on the writing. While this is an actual story it still falls under the category of blog post for me. As I mentioned before, everything that happens in this story was written as it was happening. There was no advance planning at all and there's been very little editing to the story. I only had a vague idea about how it was going to turn out. I didn't really know much about it, I just knew it had to be written.

I've been working steadily on my novel which means finding the story, putting it together, and then extensive editing and polishing. These blog posts are usually written down off the top of my head, edited a bit to make it more readable, and then posted. My point is the writing in my novel and any other story that I don't consider "personal" is different than these blog posts. How different, I'm not sure. I don't think I'll know that until I've finished the third draft of my novel (working on the second draft now).

Thanks for reading.

FailSafe - Ravelle (Part 11)

We are walking down one of the crowded side streets leading away from the huge square. About six blocks away there is a giant, black stone arch. The arch is wide enough for three lanes of traffic with the occasional semi rumbling through it. The traffic turns to the left about four blocks ahead of us. There are demons in the distance directing the traffic. The arch doesn't look like it's made out of black stone, instead it looks as though it's been blasted with black soot for not all the stones are black. Or maybe the arch burned at some point and the black stones are burn marks.

There's a blinding flash behind us and then an explosion that knocks us both off our feet. The souls blow away like bodies in a nuclear blast but Nick and I slam into the cobblestones. The buildings around us start shedding bricks, pieces of wood, and glass. Nick throws himself over me, attempting to shield me from the falling debris. We can hear the shouting of the souls and demons alike, then the wrenching sounds of demons wailing fill the air.

“She's here!” I shout at Nick, whose warm body covers me, “Nick, get up! We have to leave!”

Nick does not move. I push at him and then extract myself from underneath him. With effort I roll him over. He still alive, thank God, but unconscious. I shake him.

“Nick, wake up. Please!” A panic is filling me. I don't know what I'm going to do if he's seriously injured. The screams get louder. “Nick!” He does not stir and I look behind me. A roaring wave of demons and souls are running to get away from her. She'll be here in a moment. With difficultly, I remove Nick's sword, remove the ingot, and slip it into his pocket. I stretch out my hand, willing for the infirmary in my Library. The reassuring blue door appears and I push the door open, and drag Nick through. I look quickly around and my Library staff is running towards me.

“Take care of him. I have to go!” They grab him and I run back through the blue door, shoving two souls away who trying to scramble through. Then I'm back in the middle of the blown up street. The Stranger is standing in front of me. She makes no move to get through the door. I glance back to ensure the blue door is fading away. I unsheathe the sword and stand facing her.

There is no battle. Not this time.

Instead, she moves towards me with supernatural speed and grabs my arm. I raise the sword and the blade slices through it, the flesh parting with no effort at all. Her severed arm clenches tightly to my forearm. I see her stretch out her hand, the blue door shimmering into view, then she uses her other hand to grab my wrist and shoves her way through the blue door, pulling me after her. The sulfuric smell of Dis is whooshed away like a blast of the freshest sea breeze when the door slams shut after us. She drops my wrist and I fall to my knees into soft pure white sand.

I grab at her other severed arm and extract it with difficulty. She stands a few a feet from me, keeping her distance. I throw the arm at her. She picks it up and shoves the arm back into the sleeve of her robe. There's a squelching sound and she opens and closes the previously severed hand. I don't take my eyes off her. I stand up very slowly in the sand, a little unsteady. The sky is a stunning summer blue, the clouds are puffy white perfection. The roar of the sea waves are melodious music. Tears come to my eyes because of the magnificent light and I wish for my trusty Raybans as I squint. She backs up slowly a few more feet and then puts her emaciated hands to her hood and pulls it away. The entire robe falls away like cherry blossom petals falling to the ground. The Stranger is unveiled to angel. She looks a lot like me but an impossibly perfect version of me. Her eyes are dark green, her hair shiny pitch black.

I take a step back and stumble, a rush of awed emotion flooding me. I fall to the sand, my eyes tearing up at her angelic presence. I feel a bittersweet sting in my heart, an ancient ache, that seems to rise up from an unknown place.

“Surprised?” she asks me. Her voice is gorgeous. I think with envy that her singing voice must be beautiful.

“A little,” I say my hand in the sand. The sand feels perfect, silky. I squeeze some of it. The grains slide through my fingers and a warm feeling of satisfaction flows through me. I could squeeze the sand for hours, it feels so good.

“Come on. We need to talk,” she says and I follow her up the beach towards a shimmering staircase in the side of the white cliffs in front of us. I look down at the worn steps and I'm amused that the steps are made of worn gold in need of polishing. We get to the top of the cliffs and I look around in awe.

Spread out in front of us is a magnificent plain. The light is full of a unearthly grace. The most glorious city is stretched out in front of us. High above the city is a perfect shimmering White Tower. The Stranger bows to it. I don't. We can't see the top of the Tower, it's covered with clouds. I can hear the dulcet tones of beautiful voices and a marvelous music can just be heard.

She directs me along the cliff path. I see the most magnificent birds flying overhead then I realize they are angels. No seagulls. No pelicans. I frown a little.

“How do you like Heaven?” she asks. The warm sea breeze blows through her beautiful black hair, lifting strands here and there.

“It's pretty but that's all it is. You got a name?” I say, feeling my stubbornness rise up in me like a security blanket. I look around some more, feeling annoyed. “Where are all the animals?”

“My name is Ravelle. No natural habitats here, Miss Turtle. We have a magnificent zoo, though.” The perfect sea breeze smells sweetly fragrant.

I grit my teeth, resolving that the all the animals in captivity in my world will be set free to roam as they please, including all those in the aquarium.

“Man was made to rule over the animals. Since we rule over man it makes sense that all the animals be in a zoo," she says. I keep looking at her. I tell myself that it's because I need to keep an eye on her all the time but it's also because I can't help looking at her, I want to look at her.

“You make me sick,” I say. She glances quickly at me, obviously surprised at my anger. I feel it settling into my bones, spreading out. I take a deep breath, letting the anger ground me as it never has before.

We are walking along the path and the beach narrows steadily until there's nothing but the lapping sea against the rocks. The walk reminds me of the most perfect version of Wilder Ranch in Santa Cruz. In the place were the pelicans would be hanging out there are none. The water is mostly crystal clear below us but I can see there are some deeper places too. She is still keeping a respectful distance.

“The Boss wanted me to send you a message, Miss Turtle. He's most unhappy with you,” she says.

“Where's April?” I ask, ignoring her statement. I have to consciously unclench my jaw.

“She's safe,” she says, the sea breeze flutters her glowing white robes. I put my hand on the sword. I don't care about their damn rules and regulations.

She glances at my hand. “No need to do that, Miss Turtle. We could have disarmed you when you arrived but we decided to make a good faith effort with these negotiations,” she kicks a perfect rock in the middle of the path. The rock rolls off the cliff and lands in the sea with a beautiful plop. She still looks serene but something about that little gesture bothers me.

“The Boss, he doesn't like the world you've made so he sent me to make an example of you," she says, not looking at me.

“For whom? For whom am I being made an example of?”

“Everyone,” she says, still not looking at me. She's looking at the ground. She is so beautiful that it makes me hurt to look at her. My anger is swelling like a rising tide.

“The Boss is going to destroy your little world as punishment,” she says. Her voice sounds a little faraway, sing-song even.

“Why? You're not making any sense!” I've stopped and am looking at her but she seems to getting a little weary.

“For everything. You can't just do what you want like that," she says, I watch her more closely and it's like she's a wind up toy slowly winding down with her slightly fading voice and weary walk.

“Why not? This is my world. It has its own logic, history, everything. I created it!”

“He doesn't like it,” she says. She hasn't looked at me in a few minutes and I sense...sadness? The white cliffs are sloping upwards now. I glance down at the beautiful sea again as we start to climb up the path.

“He doesn't like the sword. None of you do,” I say. She turns her stunning eyes towards me.

“Of course, we don't. It's goes against everything that is holy. It's a terrible weapon and you know it. It's not sanctioned, Miss Turtle.”

“But machine guns and nuclear weapons are sanctioned. You just don't like it because it can destroy you too. It's high time that your lot got a taste of the fear of death or oblivion,” I kick a perfect rock into the sea, mimicking her. It seems to take forever to land with another perfect plop.

“It's not just death, Miss Turtle. It's total obliteration. Even the particles will be destroyed. Can't you see? Not even those particles can be recycled. They simply cease to exist!” her shimmering eyes are wide with fear.

“Precisely. Your lot needs to take your place among all the other creatures and learn what it's like to be afraid like that,” I say, surprised at my cold voice.

“Miss Turtle, if you don't take me to that sword I'll systematically dismantle your entire world. It's been sanctioned and ordered by the Boss himself. I have been given all the full permissions,” her voice has risen a little, "If you give me the sword willingly, we can all go home and leave each other in peace." We have stopped walking and are facing each other. She is standing up straight and perfect, no trace of weariness now.

“Where's Mr. Gryphon's head?” I say, ignoring her threat.

She smiles beautifully. “The Boss said he would be your weak spot. We have it in a safe place. Take me to the sword, Miss Turtle. The Boss wanted me to bring you these terms as an attempt to resolve this situation peacefully,” she says. She opens her wings now and they fly out from her shoulders like perfect snowy blasts. She reminds me of how Mr. Gryphon opens his wings when he's alarmed or angry.

“Fuck your sanctions and terms. Fuck you, Ravelle,” I say. In one quick motion I unsheathe Nick's sword and cut off her head. Before her body can collapse I slice her body in half at the midsection then I kick the lower half of her body into the sea. Her head has rolled into the soft sand on the side of the path. She is moving her mouth at me but her vocal cords have been severed so I can't hear anything but a gurgling. Her headless torso is crawling towards me. I shove the sword into her chest, her torso lurching. The sound of bones crunching and squelching of tissue makes me sick. I step back, knowing I have no time. I don't feel bad. She doesn't feel pain nor does she bleed. I only did it to buy a little time.

The wound in her chest is already starting to heal. I throw myself off the cliff into the blue sea. I splash down and the water is warm and wonderful. The exhilarating feeling of being healed and purified fills my every pore. I gulp down some water so it gets into my body, then as I swim I suck down some water into my lungs. My body tries to choke but then settles, letting the water flow into my lungs.

I have little time to disappear and so I swim downwards towards the lower depths. I know I can't last long. Maybe I'll drown and die like I did in my last story. I feel a pang of sadness as I think of Mr. Gryphon but I push the thought away. I'll grieve over him when I'm not trying to escape the clutches of Heaven.

The water is getting darker and I swim towards the rocky white cliffs. I stretch out my hand. I need to go back to Dis. The blue door materializes in front of me. I grab the knob and push my way through along with a great deal of sea water. I stumble back to the place on the broken boulevard, Heaven's seawater gushing into the streets. I'm choking, the water being expelled from my lungs but I need to do something about water filling the streets. I try to throw my weight on the door but the water pressure is too much. Still coughing I stand back and will the door to disappear. Nothing happens. I'm feeling fairly alarmed now. With a leak that large they'll know exactly where I've gone, not that it wasn't already obvious before.

The water is sparkling and glowing in the dark light. Souls and demons are all staring at it, transfixed. I can't do anything about it now so I run down the broken street towards the black stone arch in front of me. The traffic has stopped and all the windows are blown out in the cars and buildings from the earlier blast. Glass is being carried away along the flowing water. The demons are getting out of my way as they run past me towards the gushing blue door.

More shouts behind me now. I glance back and see souls are jumping in the water and becoming whole. They whoop in delight. I also see that angels are coming through the open door, drenched but still beautiful. I move on and allow myself to be swallowed up by the throng. I cross under the black arch. I can smell the old burnt bricks.

I keep walking, having decided that running will only draw more attention to myself. Heaven's sea water with those strange cleansing properties is flowing on the cobblestone, filling the cracks. It's running down the middle of the street ahead of me. I keep walking, drenched, leaving the sounds of shouting angels and demons behind me.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

FailSafe - Expository Interlude (Part 10)

The crowd gets louder and then a pair of demons come rushing through the crowd, throwing souls aside like they're so many rag dolls. They stop in front of Nick who has drawn his sword. One of the demons is very tall and thin. His skin is yellowish and he has pitch black eyes. He nods at Nick's sword. “Put that away, little doggie, there's a good boy.” His voice is silky and beautifully refined. He smiles at Nick, his dark yellow lips spreading wide across his face. His teeth are chiseled and pointed, and he has very long, black hair braided into tiny braids. He doesn't smell as bad as the others. Nick grips his sword and then slowly sheaths it.

“Now, what's the problem?” asks the demon, looking around, “Other than that these two are still alive?” “She has a seven! A SEVEN!” shouts a vaporous soul, a young man when he died. There's a loud murmuring of the crowd. The demon's head snaps back to look at me.

“Is that right,” his voice is all serious. The shorter demon still has said nothing but is staring at me with unnerving focus. The tall demon steps around Nick, looking at me up and down. “How many do you have?” he asks slowly. He is deadly focused on me, his eyes not blinking. I feel an unholy chill, I want to leave.

“Just one,” I say, almost whispering.

“Where did you get it?” asks the tall demon. The short demon glances at the taller one now but the thin one shakes his head without looking at him.

"I found it while I was transitioning,” I say, “I didn't know what it was at first, but I had to pick it up.”

“Of course, you did. What creature wouldn't?” He leans close to me, his silky voice low now, “What do you want for it?” His voice is a soft seduction.

I swallow. “What makes you think I want something?”

He steps back and laughs. “You really want me to believe that you and your little doggie came here not wanting something? Or for some reason? What live soul would come down here otherwise? AND how would they know how to get down here in the first place? No, no. You and the puppy are here for a reason. Am I right?”

I say nothing. Neither does Nick but he still has his hand on the sword handle. The thin demon walks in a circle around us, the crowd widening to give him room. “Are you looking for someone? People who make it down here are usually looking for someone. Or are you looking for someTHING,” he says this last word close to my ear and I jump. His unblinking black eyes are strangely beautiful. He has long, thick lashes. He must have been a real beauty before falling.

“I want,” I stop and then speak on, “I want 2000 dragnets and the location and ability to enter the White Tower.” It's not a good idea to bargain for a Seven but I know it happens all the time. Still, the nature of the object gives you the feeling that you shouldn't.

“DONE!!!” the demon shouts, all smiles now then his smile abruptly vanishes, “To make it truly official I will even give you the pass code to the building.” The demon produces a curved knife with a spectacular jewel encrusted handle but before he can cut himself, I tell him I want the knife too.

“You drive a hard bargain but the answer is yes.” With that he cuts his pinky off to the first joint and hands it to me. It does not bleed blood but a fruity rotten smell fills the air as the flesh closes the wound. He winces and then smiles slowly. I reach into my pocket for a handkerchief and wrap the pinky joint up, slipping it into my pocket then he pulls out a bag and hands it to me. The dragnets jingle inside. I look at them quickly and hand the bag to Nick.

“There might be a couple more than 2000 in there,” he says.

“Thank you,” I say, “You were probably off to a tournament.”

“Indeed and now I'm late but this entire transaction makes it very, very worthwhile,” he says. He gives me the curved knife in its sheath and then leans close and whispers in my ear. He tells me the location of the White Tower and how to get inside then he hands me a small key, all tarnished silver.

“Isn't this your only key?” I ask. I don't know why I'm concerned about that.

“Nah. We lose them all the time, see how small they are? The boss doesn't care anymore. And now, the Seven, miss.” He stands slightly away from me and holds out his hand. The little demon holds his breath as reach into my pocket. Everyone is holding their breath, I realize. I pull the Seven out and then slip it into his palm. The Seven sits shimmering in his palm. I hear a sob from behind me. He closes his hand over it, blinking away a black tear himself. He bows, “Thank you for this transaction. If you need anything my name is Ax.” I nod at him and both Ax and the short demon make their way through the crowd. Nick and I look after them and then we turn to walk towards the middle of the square. No one bothers us.


Nick walks in silence for some minutes. I stop at a vendor and buy box dinners for both of us. We find a small table nearby and sit down as the hordes of souls walk back and forth. The box dinner has magnificently prepared steak, fluffy mashed potatoes, and a very rare, huge perfectly steamed artichoke with lemon mayonnaise.

Nick doesn't eat, he only looks at me.

“If you're worried about eating something here and not being able to return back home, don't worry. Things don't work that way.”

“So why is it in a myth?”

“Because Persephone spent six days in bed with the God of the Underworld in ecstasy. She belonged to him after that. That's why they say it's six pomegranate seeds.”


“Hm yourself. Eat, Nick.” I slice off a piece of steak. It melts in my mouth. Nick's dinner is vegetarian and includes a beautiful assortment of vegetables which makes his dinner even rarer. He is clearly impressed and eating eagerly. When he slows, he puts his fork down and looks at me.

“So Miss Turtle are you going to tell me what a Seven is?”

I sigh, feeling reluctant. “A Seven is a unit of money from Heaven, that neighborhood.”

“Wait a minute! They have money in Heaven?”

“Yes, but the souls there don't need it. The Sevens are issued in Heaven and used here and in other places.”

“What other places?”

"Purgatory. Transitional spaces. Recreational places."

“Huh,” says Nick. He is looking at me like I've lost my mind.

“If you get seven Sevens you can bypass the usual path to Heaven. If you show up at St. Peter's Gate with seven Sevens he will let you in, no questions asked. And it doesn't matter what you look like or whether you're a demon or human or whatever. You still get in and you still get saved.”

“That sounds weird. Capitalistic. I mean, you are saying you can buy your way into Heaven.” Nick picks up his fork and starts eating again.

“That is indeed the case. A total of seven Sevens gives you the grace of God, automatically. All your sins, problems, prior record, all washed away. And that's not all. If you can get 10 Sevens you can exchange them for an ingot which gets you into Heaven and allows you free access.”

“Free access?” Nick picks up his fork again and pokes at some squash.

“Yes. Free access to everywhere. That means you can come and go as you please. Even in Heaven. Very few have free access. Even the archangels, who can go anywhere else, can't come down here. You still have to observe the usual rules, though.”

“What rules?” Nick is looking at me with an enraptured expression. He is fascinated by my bizarre world. He is leaning forward eagerly, holding a forkful of vegetables. I glance around. Souls are walking by us, not stopping, but they are looking at us with frank envy. Some are glaring but none bother us. The strange, dark light of this place gives the impression of being in an eclipse all the time. It feels unnatural.

“The usual rules. In transitional zones, for example, there's a no weapons rule. Of course, in all the major zones there's a no weapons rule, but people used to use their weapons in transitional zones all the time and there were some nasty wars and battles fought there. Most of the rules relate to when you can use and draw your weapons.”

“What about me?” he asks. I frown at him. I hadn't thought about it. Nick has been using his sword throughout this story but there have been none of the usual alarms and restrictions.

“Could it because I'm still alive?” I still say nothing wondering what to do about this discrepancy. It doesn't sit well with me and I don't want to rewrite this story.

“I don't know. It can't be your sword. There's nothing magical about it as far as I know. Let me see it.”

He hands it to me. The sword is relatively light. I hold it in my hands and look at the handle carefully. It's a jian, a double-edged Chinese straight sword, very fine. There are magnificent etchings on the steel blade. I turn it over and my hands stop. There's a gold inset and it's glowing with an unnatural brilliance. I can't believe I didn't notice it earlier.

I don't bother removing the gold inset. I hand the sword back to Nick and lean towards him.

“You have an ingot underneath this gold insert,” I say speaking low. Nick reaches for his sword. “No, don't remove the insert. It will cause a riot here.”

His eyes are glowing. “How do you know?”

“You can tell by the glow, but since your hand is almost always over it and it's facing your body when the sword is sheathed it's difficult to see.” I sit back looking at him. “Who gave you the sword?”

“Your Dead Version,” he says. He has put down his fork and pushed his plate away. I'm about half way finished with my artichoke. I place it on the bread plate in front of us, gesturing for him to take a few leaves. He picks up leaf and slips it into his mouth.

I smile, thinking I should give her a proper name. “Well, she of all people would know when such a thing is warranted. No matter what, Nick, you cannot give up that sword. I'm amazed that the demons at the jail cell missed it. If you have to, abandon the sword and take the thing out. It's a guarantee.”

“I've never seen it glow like that. It usually looks like plain gold to me,” he says as I hand the sword back to him. And even as I'm looking at the sword again it's glowing is gone. I frown, then hold out my hand. He hands it back to me. The glowing starts again. I give it back to him and he puts it back on.

I lean towards him again. “I have 14 Sevens.” His eyes widen. “They are there in case we need them but only in case.”

“So why not just exchange the 10 for one of those things?” he asks.

“Can't. Have to do that at the Pearly Gates in Heaven and I haven't been to Heaven yet. I've only gotten as far as Eden.”

“Oh,” says Nick, frowning at me. He takes off his glasses and wipes his lovely eyes then he runs his hand through his hair, making his hair stand on end. I love that about him.

“This eating/expository interlude has gone on for far too long, Nick. Time to move on.” I get up and shoulder my backpack. He stands up brushing off his pants. We look around the huge square. I look for the nearest landmark Ax told me to find and start walking towards it.

FailSafe - The Square (Part 9) (Okay, this one was missing sentences but it's all fixed now)

When Nick and I run through the blue door we are not in The White Tower. Instead, we are still at the Black Gate of Dis, this time at the bottom of the gate. We find a place to hole up in a small area not far from the exit. The black concrete is crumbling in places and we find a place to sit together. Nick doesn't speak as I check my arm for problem injuries. It's merely sore so I rub it.

Do you think we can get April back?” Nick asks finally. I sneak a sideways glance at him.

Why do you like her?” I ask him. As soon as the words come out of my mouth, I regret saying them. I follow up my gaffe with, “I'm sorry I shouldn't have said that” before he can reply.

He looks at me carefully. “This is your world, Miss Turtle. Of course, I like April, same as I like you but this is your place.” My body sags and I'm tired, really tired for the first time.

You're right,” I take a deep breath, thinking of the situation at hand, “Yes, we can get her back. And we will.” He nods, pushing up his glasses. I am still rubbing my arm and he repositions himself closer to me.

Here let me for a while,” he says taking my arm. He begins to rub my shoulder gently and then with firmer strokes. He has large hands, his palms seem big and ruddy. The memory of his hands sears my mind and then I push the thoughts away.

I smile at him. His referral to my imaginary world as “home” feels flattering and hopeful to me. “No, it's more like a giant office building. And, oh!” I stop speaking, remembering.

"What is it?” asks Nick, leaning towards me. We hear more guttural sounds and we both freeze when we hear the sounds of the devil's speak. Even after hearing it so often it still sounds harrowing to me. I suppose there are certain things a human should never hear. The demons run by without seeing us.

"Do you know what they're saying?" he asks.

"No, can't say I ever wanted to learn,” I laugh a little. It sounds uncomfortable, a small bark. “Anyway I wanted to tell you there's a portal there to another place. And I have a feeling we'll find the sword there, hidden I assume.”

"Where does the portal lead us to?" he asks.

"To a church in New York City, on Lexington Avenue,” I say. He is too surprised to comment for a moment. Indeed, even as I write those words the very idea sounds bizarre but that's where I last saw the sword.

"It's not so much of a stretch. The sword was found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you know," I say. He has stopped rubbing my arm. We can hear demons in the distance now. I wonder where The Stranger is.

"No, i didn't know. Look can't we go to the church in the real world, and find it that way rather than continuing through this place?"

"Well, I don't know if I could get your real self to agree to go with me to be honest and, more importantly, we have to go through the portal to find it. It might have something to do with being able to see the sword when we go through. I don't know. I know for sure we have to go through the portal.”

"Okay, Miss Turtle,” he sighs, “As much as I like being here I do want to go home.” I feel a pang as he looks at me directly. “I don't belong here, and you know it. There are things I need to do. You understand?”

"Yes, I do. Of course, I understand,” I say, “My arm feels better, thanks. We should go now.” He helps me up, and holding my hand, leads me out into the sulferica that is Hell.

We are walking through the narrow cobblestone streets of Dis. The buildings are beautiful and old even in the harsh red light. The smell of sulfur is everywhere but we've both gotten used to it. Souls of varying ages look at us as we make our way through the crowds. They look at us curiously but don't impede our progress. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, gambling establishments, bars, and shops.

"It's twisted but this place reminds me so much of Old Town in Prague. It seems wrong to locate it here, though.” We are moving along with everyone else. My feet are hurting again because of the cobblestones. My clothes are dry but stiff from the salt water.

"Why all the shops and eating and drinking places? Do dead souls buy things? Eat?” Nick asks. Right then he's jostled by a large almost solid soul of a man. He glares back at Nick and then moves on.

"Sure they do. They have houses and possessions like any living person. They tend to buy more when they're dead. As for eating and drinking, it's all about the same thing.”

"What's that?” The crowd is taking us to the huge square in front of us. It's about ten times larger than the real square I had so much fun exploring on my own.

"Nostalgia. These souls can't really eat or drink but they try.”

"What happens to all the food and drink?” Nick stops as the crowd opens up in front of us. There are at least six churches surrounding the square, all of them old, all of them very Catholic and huge. His mouth drops open and I sigh shaking my head.

"Much of the food and drink goes to waste, I'm afraid. This is Hell, after all, but they do recycle it and use it to help power the City even if they don't really need to. The churches are a bit of a stretch, I'll grant you, but you won't believe how many people attend church with regularity here.”

"I think I can imagine people wanting to be in church after being dead and ending up here.”

"It's a prayer for salvation, I suppose. The folks upstairs supply them with the plans and sanction the items needed for such worship. As they correctly assumed, people wanted their religious trappings more than ever down here."

"The folks upstairs?” Nick is sounding incredulous now. I sigh again, wondering about my own mind and why it works the way it does. Churches in hell! What a concept!

"Yes, God, Heaven, Angels, that neighborhood.”

Nick can only stand there on the edge of the massive square, thousands of souls walking to and fro, small mechanical carriages rolling by. We spot a demon strolling along on the other side of the square. We smell one walking behind us but don't turn towards it.

"The demons won't bother us. They're taking a break and going to gamble,” I say as I give his arm a tug. We walk into the square. We can smell the meat and pastries being sold by the vendors. I'm starving but don't have any money or at least I don't think so. I check my pockets and locate a couple of dragnets. I check my backpack and pull out a handful of Sevens. I quickly put all but one away and close my fist around it, but the graceful glow is unmistakable in this place and everyone stops and stares at my hand.

"What you got there?” asks a wrinkled old black man with a difficult to place accent. He moves closer and Nick reaches for his sword.

“Stop it, boy. No need to threaten here. Just want to see, is all," the old man says, glaring at Nick.

I open my hand slowly and the Seven shimmers into brilliance. There is silence. And then shouting as everyone reaches for it. People are offering huge amounts of dragnets for it. A hand thrusts towards me, holding jewels. Nick gets in front of me, drawing his sword.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Re: Inferno, Reimagined - A Response to Mark's Comment

I was going to leave this in the comments section but decided to post it here because I was having too much fun writing it.


So good to hear from you. Folks have been borrowing good stories, like Inferno and Greek mythology, to create video games and other forms of entertainment and they have been doing so since we started telling stories to each other. Inferno is ripe for such treatment because the landscape and geography of Hell and its inhabitants are fascinating. Witness my own "FailSafe" which borrows heavily from Inferno and Purgatorio (though not Paradisio).

American McGee's Alice" is my favorite video game of all time. I LOVE it and I'm so happy to know that you've played it yourself. I've played all levels at least 3-4 times each. The "Nightmare" level is my favorite. I thought the creators did a pretty good job pulling some obscure Carrollian references into the game. In fact, the game is the source of my gmail handle "dormy." In the book, the Hatter says "Dormouse, wake up. Dormouse, wake up." In the videogame, the March Hare is saying "Dormy, wake up, wake up Dormy" while hanging from a couple of torture machines. For those of you who don't know, this game goes to some dark places.

As for your comments about about films, I'm looking forward to Tim Burton's upcoming "Alice," so interested see what they do with it even if it does sound like a variation of "American McGee's Alice." Also, I read there's going to be a sequel called "Alice II" though the video trailer on the this website was made by a fan and is not official. I might be forced to have to get an Xbox just so I can play the game. What a terrible thought!

Speaking of Greek mythology, I was actually a little thrilled while watching the trailer for "Clash of the Titans" having loved the original movie and been an long-time admirer of Ray Harryhausen. The question is, how good is the gorgon Medusa going to look when the original was so fantastic? Here's a clip from the original "Clash of the Titans" to refresh your memory. Damn, I watched that clip just now and it gave me CHILLS. She is sooo cool crawling along the floor like that, shaking that rattler tail of hers. As a child Medusa was my favorite Greek mythological monster along with Cerberus, the three-headed dog.

Lastly, I found this trailer to "Dante's Inferno" game the other day and I have to say it looks fantastic.

Thanks for commenting and please leave more thoughts about the subject if you want.