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Archives for : Volume IX

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5. Testing Devotion

I was thinking back to the last thing I had written about. To when they’d beaten Dusk. Since then, more had fallen. We’d taken down some of them, but not nearly enough. It was getting worse, and fast. I thought back to where I was, holding Dusk’s hand, his blood staining my fingers. I remembered Colt’s downcast expression, the look of hopelessness in his eyes. I remember all that as I coughed up my own blood, looking at hands stained red with blood from my veins. Those memories seemed so distant. I wasn’t in danger then. I wasn’t dying.

I’m not dying, even though it feels like it. I’m just in so much pain it hurts to breathe. It’s been days, maybe weeks since they raided the circus and beat up Dusk. They caught me right off the street outside the bar, a whole troop of them. Linkon came over, dropped a coin in my case and looked up. And I knew as soon as I locked eyes with him that it was done for. That I was his. That there was no way I’d see home tonight. And I was right.

The rules of war shifted. Instead of just beating kids at random, each side has started taking prisoners. To trade. They’re hoping that in doing so, one side can force the other into trading the leader – ending the conflict. It might work – then again, the sun might decide to fizzle out tomorrow. I’ve been here for a while and I don’t think it’s worth it. Cough up more blood. I wonder how much I’ve lost. I wonder how much more I can afford to lose. I wonder if anyone’s being traded for me. Whose life equals my own?

I heard the steps coming from awhile away. I was in a room, dirt floor, nothing in it, walls, no windows. Just the door. There was nothing really in here. I had been relocated a bunch of times. The door creaked open. I was curled up in the corner, leaning on the walls. They stepped closer to me, kneeling down to my level.

This was Linkon. He was the leader of the enemy, the driving force of the opposition. But he was compassionate, just as Colt was. He took a flashlight and tipped my head up with two fingers, carefully. He looked at my eyes, had me open my mouth. He turned my face side to side.

“How do you feel?”

I looked into his eyes for a moment, feeling the hatred burning through him. I coughed, holding my stomach, showing him the blood that came up. He got up and stepped back a moment, watching my body lurch and shake from the stress. I stopped coughing and closed my eyes, breathing in slow, deep breaths. He just stood and watched me for a while. He knelt down again, daring to get closer.

“I’m sorry. This wasn’t supposed to work out this way.”

I merely glared at him in response. He looked around, collecting the thoughts for his next statement carefully.

“We…they were just supposed to bring you here. This wasn’t…they had no permission…I never ordered them to do this.”

I glared at him, trying desperately to suppress my coughs. He looked around the room again, reconsidering his options. When he’d reached a decision, he dropped flat on his knees. And picked me up. And carried me out of there. I closed my eyes for the trip, slipping between consciousness and delusion; hope and despair. He brought me to a room, not the best kind of place, but a room with a window and a bed. He set me down on it carefully, not a simple drop.

“Why?” I coughed. He looked around, sitting on the edge of the bed.

“Mr. Brogan has us all wrong. See, we don’t want this war any more than you guys do. But he’s losing control. Someone must keep order. Someone must rule with an iron fist. There has to be control somewhere. And he’s just not keeping up.”

“No. Why…me.”

“Because you’re important to both Brogan brothers. While one confides in you, the other…well, he loves you.”

“Liar.”

“Why do you think he acts so big and tough around you?”

“I just want out.”

He leaned over and kissed me on the forehead. “No such luck in this game. I’d have thought you’d have learned that by now.”

“I left the last town to get away from you, Linkon.”

He smiled as he got up to leave. “I know.”

“How’d you set up shop so quick?”

And he moved towards the door, thinking his answer over carefully. “I’m just a figurehead. You’ve not yet seen who’s pulling the strings.” And he left, with that hanging in the air, and the sound of the door locking behind him. I turned over and went to sleep, despite the pain. There was nothing else to be done but wait. And I would do so.

And I did. For days. Until Linkon returned. And I was helped out of bed and led away, out, to a chair. Where I sat. I wasn’t coughing up any more blood. Linkon had sent a few girls to come by and clean me up a bit. He figured that they would seem like less of a threat. I still felt like I’d been run over, and probably looked just as bad. I was seated at a table, in the middle on one side. At one end of the table sat Linkon. Across from me was one of his lackeys. And at the other end of the table was Colt.

I sat slumped over, my hands on the table, holding my body up. Colt looked exhausted. He must have been doing a lot of running around these days. He had Dusk standing next to him.

“We want an exchange,” Colt demanded, his voice even.

Linkon nodded. “Understood, and we’ve met your requirements. Who are you prepared to return to our good graces that is worthy of such an exchange?”

Dusk disappeared into the shadows and came back, pushing a girl in as bad a shape as I was. She was bigger, like an older model of myself, all the finishing touches made. She was pushing the whole way in. They had her hands bound behind her, but she still pushed and tried to slip away from Dusk. He had a good hold on her, even though he didn’t look to be in the best shape either. There were still scars and bruises from when they caught him.

He stopped when he got next to Colt. He stood up and rested a hand on the girl’s shoulder and she stopped fighting. They exchanged looks. Linkon nearly jumped the table when he saw her. He turned away, took a few deep breaths, and turned back.

“Deal.”

And I was pulled out of the chair while Colt led his prize over to Linkon. They shook hands and we all turned to part. Colt had an arm around me, holding me to his side the entire time on the way out the door.

“Why’d he jump at the chance?”

“Because that is his baby sister.”

“I don’t understand…how he could be so careless?”

Colt smiled down at me, kissing me on the cheek. “She was never really on his side in the first place.”

“What?”

“It’s a set up. She conveys information to us about them. Don’t worry about it. Let me handle all the particulars. You just get home and rest.” He handed me off to Dusk once we were back on the street. “Take her home, look after her, and don’t leave. Understand?”

Dusk’s arm replaced Colt’s, and we were on our way. We all bid our farewells in the middle of the busy street. I hugged Colt tight before we left, holding onto him like I’d never held onto anyone before.

“Thanks,” I whispered. And we all split and departed. I know he’d never cop to it, but there was a tear in his eye during all that. My eyes were dry. From lack of caring, lack of feeling.

Dusk took me home. And when we got there, he made sure the door was locked. I kept walking, moving to my room, dragging my feet, desperate for a shower and a change. I could hear Dusk’s footsteps. He was checking windows, any other way into the place. I heard shades come down. We’d risen in respect for one another since this all started. He would make sure the place was safe. And I would clean up. And sleep. And he would watch over me, just as he was told. He would do as his brother instructed. In this case above all.

I got a change of clothes, and moved off to the bathroom to start the water. I went out to the living room, finding Dusk standing in the middle of the room, arms folded. He was watching the door like a hawk. I crept over to him, sliding a hand on his shoulder slowly so he wouldn’t jump. He turned his head a little. And I kissed him. We separated. And I went off to shower. And he went back to the night’s watch.

Not another word was said. Nothing was questioned. We slept in the same bed, fully clothed, myself locked in his embrace, safe from the world in his arms. I can’t explain how or why we ended up that way, why not one word passed about the kiss, or the sleeping conditions…but that’s just how it worked out.

It didn’t matter anyway. When all things are put into perspective.

But for one moment, nothing mattered not because we were pessimists bent on the world’s destruction. No. Nothing mattered because we were at peace.

Just…peace.

4. Chain of Command

I talked with Colt more. I don’t know why he was easier to relate to. His brother, Dusk, was more involved in the show. He had his girls, his drinks and drugs – he was a hazard to my health. I knew this when I met him. I kept my distance. If anything went wrong, I went to Colt. He was just more…sedate. Like he was above and beyond all this. He was protective of me for some reason. The fact that I had no home, no family, no past…it was the typical lost puppy syndrome. I don’t know why I took comfort in him really. I never needed or wanted comfort before. But it was nice to have. Security. Something to fall back on. And when things with his brother got…complicated, he had me relocated to an apartment in his building. I didn’t know what to do with all the empty space, living alone. It was just…different.

Things seemed to be moving fast. Or maybe I seem to be vague. In my mind, there were no important details. I was a girl from the mist – I had nothing to return to. I was going nowhere fast and I didn’t care. I was headed in any direction the wind took me. And I seldom stayed in the same place for too long. Being I was here, being I had security, I decided to start keeping track, to write things down. This’ as far as I’ve gotten. I still play on the street for money, I still help out the circus push comes to shove. But for the most part, Colt takes care of me. But I can’t stand the dependency – I need to have my own life. My own income. Hence, I work. I have morals, contrary to popular belief. I had limits, just like everybody else.

I was sitting in the empty apartment one of the many nights I spent at home. I worked during the days for the most part. I tried to keep a constant sleep schedule, but to no avail. When I wasn’t writing, I was playing. When I wasn’t playing, I was coming up with more to do. I stayed outside the bar mostly, where it was safe. There was a gang war coming, the first in a long time. There hadn’t been one in ages. Since the Fallen passed on. Since Cicero Merrick died. There was no competition. There was the ongoing cycle. Here, now, where the gangs have no names and there are only us and them…this is the new world. This is the new war.

For generations, there was peace. For years, ages, there was a calm. I am on the side of the field that I just happened to stumble onto. There is nothing to say that where I am is wrong or right. But I am here. And here I shall stay. Not because I don’t know any better. Or because I don’t care. No. Because I find comfort here. This side is the side of the constant. The side of the ongoing cycle. We continue the trend where others have faltered. I say “we” as though I belong – I am an outsider. I am not from here. A foreigner. And yet, Colt has made me feel welcome. At home. I belong here. I wrote until I was bored then put the pencil down, looking around aimlessly. After I’d smoked a few, I gave up trying to come up with new ideas. And I trooped upstairs to see what Colt was up to.

I knocked on the door, not too loud, not too soft. I didn’t want to be too obvious. I didn’t want to alarm him or anything. I heard some scuffling before the knob twisted slowly. He looked behind me before looking me in the eye.

“Hey kid, what’s up?”

“Nothing…busy?”

He took a look inside, thought about it, then shrugged. “Not really, come on in.” He stepped aside, letting me sneak by him. I counted the seconds in my head, how long he’d wait until closing the door. Checking the halls. He was especially nervous these days. I looked around a little, coming to a canvas standing against a wall, painted in parts and pieces. I wheeled around, realizing just now that Colt was covered in paint. He gave me a sheepish smile.

“They sent me to a therapist once…he said I needed an outlet for my emotions. Anger especially. He said I should get involved in the arts. So…I paint. Usually when I’m trying to clear my mind. I guess it’s a hobby.”

I laughed and hugged him. “It’s okay, you’re only human. I write when the mood strikes me.”

“Oh, really? I wouldn’t know that, being you’re only writing every time I drop in to check up on you.” He poked me until I let go, smiling back. I looked at the canvas with him. It was easily taller than he was, and Colt wasn’t too short.

“What is it?”

He turned his head to one side, then the other, looking at it from different angles. “Well…what do you think it looks like?”

“Right now? A mess.”

“Well, there you have it. Entropy.”

“That’s chaos?”

He smiled. “If I want it to be.”

I took a few steps closer to the canvas, looking at it from different angles. “It must be nice to have that kind of control.”

I could imagine him nodding behind me. “Sometimes.”

The piece made no sense, then again, very little makes sense these days. That’s just the way it goes. I turned away from it to sit down somewhere. I felt like I’d been standing for an eternity, even though it was minutes only. Colt moved over and sat nearby, not too close, not too far. I looked around the place that was becoming a familiar sanctuary.

“What’s on your mind?” I questioned. He shrugged.

“The usual. The business. The family.”

“What’s the latest?”

He looked down, thinking his words over carefully. “I’d suggest that you keep your head down, don’t swear loyalty out loud, and don’t stray too far from the bar. When outside at night, keep someone with you, okay?”

“That bad, huh?”

He nodded quietly. “A few of my better guys got jumped. I already gave Dusk this talk, but…well, you know Dusk.”

“Yeah, he’s a fairly stubborn bastard.”

“Keep an eye on him for me? I told him to keep one on you as well.”

I turned and glared at Colt. “Make sure that’s all he keeps on me.”

He laughed. “Yeah, he got that talk as well.”

“Good, I wouldn’t want to have to hit him again.”

Colt laughed harder this time. “I have to admit, that was humorous, if for nothing else but to see the wonderful color he turned from shock and embarrassment.”

We both laughed about this, looking around aimlessly.

And back to silence.

“What’s his name?”

“Who?”

“The leader, of the opposition. The enemy.”

“Linkon, why?”

I shrugged. “It’s just good to know.”

He moved off to find himself something to drink, shooting a look over at me. “Want anything?”

“Not really.”

“That’s not a real answer. Yes or no?”

“Maybe.”

He laughed. “You’re a brat.”

And I got up from where I was sitting, special, to bow for him. “Naturally.”

He fixed me something anyway.

And we sat and talked about a few things here and there. How things were going. He was especially careful to avoid the truth. His operation was falling apart. We all knew it. Since the Dragon was reduced to ashes…let me explain – The Dragon was the old tattoo parlor, it was one of our centers of command. Since it burned, things were shaky. Colt had come into power at a very rough point in our history. And yet he made it work, climbed to the top on his hands and knees, and commanded order. And what’s more, they listened to him. He wasn’t a creep or anything. He had a fairly decent reputation. He was a pretty trustworthy and honest guy considering the kind of business he ran. His word was law, and it was enforced justly. He was one of the few in the line that anyone could dare to call “just” and be accurate.

There came a pounding on the door at that moment in time, before either of us could move towards it, a crew of people stormed in. I recognized Irish and Gin from the bar, both of them bloody. Between the two of them was Dusk. His entire body was limp; they had to drag him into the place, blood trailing after him. The rest of the lackeys I didn’t know, just the usual faces in and out. Colt jumped up and ran over, holding Dusk’s bloody face up to the light.

“What happened?”

Irish spoke more. She was older, had known Colt longer; she’d been involved in this longer, even though it was inadvertently. She tried to quit the game. But this’ a lifetime commitment. The girls let go, allowing Colt to bend down and pick Dusk up clear off the ground, bringing him over to a couch to lay him out. He was still breathing, blood running all over his face in rivers.

“They raided the circus.”

Colt bit his tongue, holding down anger. This wasn’t in the rules. This was a break in procedure. The circus was our sanctuary, our safe haven away from the real, or surreal. It was the holy land. It was the one place that no enemy dared tread. This was a declaration of war. And we all knew it. Dusk’s breathing patterns changed. Colt looked around, pointing at the guys lounging around by the door.

“Get the Doc, now. Girls, what’s the damage?”

Irish hung her head down. “It’s bad…we’re still working on clean up.”

“Then I’ll let you get back to more pressing matters.”

They both nodded at him, turning to leave. He nodded back, his eyes locked on Dusk. I watched the scene in silent horror. Gin went out the door, Irish turned back, lingering behind. She crept over to Colt slowly, putting a hand on his shoulder carefully, so as not to scare him.

“They need a leader now.”

He ducked his head. “We need an army.”

“Don’t start this tonight, you’re not prepared. They will demolish you. Please.”

He turned around to face her, putting his arms on her shoulders, locked onto her. I couldn’t figure out if he did this to keep her from running away, or to keep himself standing. His stance wavered a bit, but Colt remained on his feet.

“I’ll take care of this. Clean up the casualties. Scatter them – bring no more of them here tonight. Compile a list of fallen. I’ll visit the wounded and we’ll bury the lost, but for right now…this has to be handled. We can’t let them see us running scared.”

She nodded her consent. He bent down and kissed her softly, more of a promise lost in the action than for any other reason. She squeezed his arm, he let go of her, and she was gone. I sat at Dusk’s side, squeezing one of his hands in my own. As long as he held onto me, I would hold onto him. I looked up at Colt from there.

“You need to get out of here, this…please. Go home. I’ll send word when the coast’s clear, when all’s ended.”

I held onto Dusk tighter. “I’ll stick this one out.”

Colt’s body shook for a moment. “Please, you’re just a…”

“Child?” I finished. His body heaved at the offense. I had finished his sentence, concluded his insult. And he was wrong on top of it. He shook his head, trying to think, to backpedal, apologize. Nothing would work. He knew, right then, right there, he was stuck with me through this. All we had was each other. Us. And them. The enemy. The war started tonight.

The peace of the streets, a calm that’s survived decades…has ended.

Another turn of the wheel.

3. Of the Vulgar

And I was back to sitting on my suitcase, playing guitar halfheartedly. I was outside the bar. A few weeks had gone by. And he was right – I did decide to join the show. I was elected into the office of public relations. I would sit outside, despite the weather, and play to my heart’s content. I could get whatever I wanted from the bar, and when I was tired, go back to the underground to crash. It was steady. It was secure. I had a nice place to sleep, and that was the most important part. Beggars can’t be choosers. It was a home. It was safe. We had a city under a city. A city of freaks, outcasts, misfits. It really was a circus. There were acts and everything.

Dusk was the ringleader. He told me about it. The first male since its establishment.

I caught people’s attention, being outside, playing in the rain. The lost would ask questions. That’s what they were. Lost. The wanderers. The outcasts. Misfits. Freaks. Public relations meant I gave directions to those who could not find their way. I wore a hat that matched Dusk’s, just less elaborate; he said it was the symbol of what we were. It would draw more attention – it would be a sign to the wanderer.

I had been part of the show for a while. Every so often, if the mood struck him, Dusk would sit outside with me. Usually the kids from the show would be in and out. The more time I spent, the more I came to know. More or less, I kept myself to myself. If I had a problem, I would speak to Dusk, but besides all that, I was still alone. And it was comforting in itself.

Something had happened, I was out on the streets for hours, playing all over the city, drawing in the crowds as best as I could. It was early morning when I got back to the bar and continued to play. It was nearly three, and the rain only got worse. I had been up for hours, days. I was soaked to the skin, but still I wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what we were fighting for, why we had to pull the whole team together, but it was something. I had been playing for hours. I was exhausted but wouldn’t quit. I was in the middle of a song when I stopped. The rain was gone. No, not over. Just, gone. I glanced over to find a slightly older, bigger guy holding an umbrella over my head. He smiled over at me. I finished my song, smiling back. He stayed.

“You take requests?”

I nodded a bit. “Maybe, depends on if I know it or not.”

He smiled. “Come inside, dry off.”

“I don’t believe I know that one. I have a job to do.”

He nodded. “I understand; I have a job to do as well. And I can’t just allow you to die of pneumonia out here. Come on, just for a while. I promise, it’s all right.”

“You do huh? And who are you to make such a promise?”

He held out the hand not holding the umbrella, which I shook slowly.

“My name is Colt Brogan.”

He slipped a hand around my back, ushering me closer to him, out of the downpour and into the bar. The place was mostly cleaned up. It wasn’t theoretically open, but there was always someone there. He led me in, closing the umbrella, shaking it off at the door. I wandered in awhile, sitting down at the closest table. I put the guitar back in its case. My suitcase still had my life in it. I never got too settled in one place at one time. Colt shook himself off and sat down.

I knew who Colt Brogan was. Everyone knew. Colt was the street leader, the head demon, the latest in a long line of them. He controlled the streets. He knew everybody and everything. All in all, he was a very powerful guy. I’d say he was in his early twenties. He wasn’t as active on the street, but he was considerably involved. Dusk was his brother. Together, they ran the streets and the circus. Colt was bigger, older, faster, wiser. He was more respected. His younger brother was more troublesome, cunning, a terrible liar. But they both had a lot of power. And that was important to keep in mind at all times.

There was a girl behind the bar, wiping things down here and there. Colt went over to her, said a few quiet words, and she gave him a bottle. With it, he got two glasses, some ice, and came back over. She nodded, looked around one more time, and walked out the door. I could hear it lock behind her. In the time it had taken to watch her lock the door, Colt had poured himself a drink. When I looked back at him, he was working on pouring me one.

“You must be new.”

I nodded quietly, sipping from the drink he’d poured, watching as he held his own but took not a sip from it. I wasn’t all that new, but if he thought so, I’d let him think whatever he wanted. If it suited him, fine.

He took a sip, thinking a bit. I could feel the shivers all over my body from the rain. I was drenched to the bone. He cocked his head a bit, sliding his jacket off and handing it across to me. I tried to refuse but he was persistent.

“Take it. You’re shaking the table.” He smiled a bit and I took it and slid it over my shoulders, careful not to become too attached.

“Thanks,” I muttered.

“So what exactly do you do for the organization?”

I laughed. “Organization?”

He shrugged. “What would you like me to call it? Asylum? Freak show? The gangs? The drug trade? Pick something.”

“I work in public relations.”

“Really? What kind?”

“The lost.”

Colt smiled. “So you’re not all that deep into it yet.”

“No, I suppose I’m not.”

He gazed around the empty bar, nothing here but us two. When he was able to focus again, he looked me dead in the eye. “Good. You’re a lot better off.”

I tried to play ignorant; I tried to pretend I had no idea what he was talking about. I smiled back at him over the glass.

“What exactly do you do?”

And he grinned. “Everything.”

I took another sip, thinking about the circumstances. I belonged outside, rallying more troops. But this was the boss. He made the rules and he could bend or break them as he saw fit. It would be considered unwise and impolite for me to refuse his offer of rest.

“When was the last time you slept?”

“Huh?”

“You know, sleep? That thing where you close your eyes and everything fades to black? Sometimes you wake up feeling better. It’s really something, you should try it sometime.”

I shrugged. “Maybe.”

Colt laughed. “Maybe? As in, maybe you’ll try it sometime? And if so, when? Sometime…next year?”

I shrugged again. “Hey, you never said when, you just said ‘sometime’. Nowhere in there did you suggest a time.”

He laughed again, more of a chuckle. “You’ve got me there.”

“What do you really want?”

He was glancing around a bit, pouring more alcohol into each glass. “Figured me out, huh? You’re quite the sharp one.”

“You’re stalling.”

Colt smiled again. “You really are on top of this. Let’s just say…my brother can be…pushy and reckless. I wanted to make sure that things were…suitable. I usually meet most of the lost that acquire positions of trade, yet he didn’t formally introduce you to me. I was most curious to learn why.”

“So here I am. What have you learned?”

He thought about his answer for a moment. “That you’re very talented.”

I quirked a brow. “How so?”

“Because we’ve been sitting here talking all this time…and I don’t know a damn thing about you.”

And all I could do was laugh. As hard as he tried, as obvious as it was, all the lies fell apart and every facade shattered. And in the end? I was figured out.

“I should get back out there.”

He checked the time. “You should get to sleep. You’re not the only one trying, kid.”

“Kid?”

“Yeah. How old are you?”

I smiled at him. “How old do I look?”

And Colt laughed. “Oh no, I know better than to answer that one. Either way, if I’m too high or too low, you’ll be mad.”

“Try me.”

And he raised a brow, smiling this sideways little grin. “Really?”

I coughed while taking a sip from my glass. Just the way he said it, and the look on his face, his mind was on other ideas. I watched his eyes wander while I coughed.

“18,” I muttered.

He nodded. “I’m 23.”

I nodded and the silence returned.

“Come on, go on home, change, rest.”

I shook my head. “Not tired.”

“That’s bull, you look exhausted.”

“How I look and how I am are two completely different things.”

He looked around for a minute, considering his options. With a start, he got up, shaking the table. I watched him take my guitar, as well as the case I’d been sitting on, and he locked them in a closet somewhere. Then he turned his gaze back to me.

“Now what are you going to do?”

“I can sing without music.”

He smiled again. “I’m sure. Let’s go.” He had a hand out to me. I finished my drink and took it, slipping out of the chair. I wasn’t really trashed or anything, but some of the lines were a little fuzzy here and there.

He put an arm around me and led me out of the place, and I went. I don’t know why. I don’t know why I trusted him, why I didn’t walk away or quit. And it wasn’t even a matter of trust. I was just…there. I was in the now and this was it. He was the boss. He literally was the top of the chain. I was working for him, when you got down to it.

And here’s to getting down to it.

2. From Dawn Till…

I had been outside playing for most of the day. I still hadn’t found a place to crash. I desperately needed one. It was still raining, I tried to stay under the building overhangs. Keep the guitar dry. The case sat open, inviting the merciful to contribute. Every little bit helped. This had been my lifestyle for a while now. It was what I did. I played my own music, made my own limits, sang what I felt like. It was just how things worked. And the coins came in. Dollars too if I was real lucky. Today I got one of the more important bits of information instead.

I had been playing for hours when I saw the kid drop a piece of paper in my case. I was about to go after them, lecturing about how my case isn’t a garbage can, but instead I reconsidered. The kid turned and looked back at me, shooting me a look and a slight wink then kept going. I picked up the paper shard, unfolding it. It said:

“Shelter for the lost. Welcome to the Gothik-Serkis. Find a door of no point and purpose, and it will bring you warmth.”

I looked around. What the hell did that mean? I continued playing, wracking my mind for where a door might be. I couldn’t figure it out. I played until the early hours of the morning, retreating back to the bar for another drink. I was very sparing with my alcohol consumption. With such limited funds, I had to be careful. The place had mostly emptied out. The same girl that had been here when I first came in was around. I had lost track of days and such, I assume this was a different shift. She was wiping down tables. The place was mostly run by girls. I could feel myself dozing off where I sat.

“Wake up.”

I shook my head, trying to wipe sleep from my eyes; it wouldn’t work. I looked over to find the waitress wiping down the table I sat at. I had slipped off. I got up, muttered some sort of apology, took my stuff and edged toward the door.

“Hold on. You’ll need a place to stay, won’t you?”

I nodded halfheartedly, more of a subconscious effort than anything else. She pointed next to the bar, to a little doorway in the back, hidden away.

“Go. It’s for the lost.”

And she edged away to finish up. I went to the doorway she pointed to; finding it unlocked, I passed through. The hall beyond was dark. I trudged on anyway, desperate for anything, just somewhere to rest. I didn’t care the cost at this rate.

I walked on for a while, setting my bags down when I hit light. There was another doorway, the words shining overhead. Sure enough, it said Gothik-Serkis. There were candles lit everywhere, illuminating the doorway. I had walked down a bit; it looked like I was in a sewer. I looked around for another person, someone, something. Just the sound of water dripping somewhere; the wax running in rivers from the candles. I sat down on the ground next to my bags, leaning my head against the wall. It was damp, slightly cool. My eyes rolled up in my head, far from this. I let my mind wander. I hadn’t bothered to knock on the door. This would do just fine. This was…perfect.

I woke up elsewhere. I woke up to the dripping water and the damp atmosphere, but this was different. This wasn’t the empty doorway that I had curled up in. This was soft, a mattress – it wasn’t water soaked or disgusting. There was a blanket; the more I looked, the more I learned. This was a home in itself. This was a place beyond other terms. This was a haven beneath the streets, beneath the realm of reality. I got up, looking around shakily. There was a dim bit of light here, enough to see around. Someone lived here. I got up and walked out, or left; it wasn’t really a room. Some sort of curtain cut it off from the rest of the pipes. Outside I found the wonders of the underground.

There was an entire community here. A whole world of misfits – lost and alone in a world that had no place for them. No point or purpose. For a moment, I felt like I belonged. But they were young and free. I was…I don’t know. What separated us from each other? I felt like a foreigner, lost in a strange land. I was still staring out at the crowd of milling teenagers, running around, getting things done, when a stranger appeared out of nowhere.

“Hello stranger, have a peaceful rest?”

I blinked, looking him up and down. I couldn’t figure out who this guy was, or what he was playing at. He was about my age, decked in the most bizarre fashion. He had a top hat on, black, a little dusty from the underground. There was an Ace of Spades attached to it. He smiled at me, this bizarre show business kind of grin. He had a smoke hanging out of his mouth as he spoke, which he took out for certain dramatic emphasis at times. I smiled back at him.

“How’d I get here?”

He smiled more. “Well see, we found you outside the gates and decided to adopt.” He pulled the smoke out from his lips, exhaled a bit, then returned it, looking me up and down. “Girls like you don’t drop into our laps every day you know.”

I raised a brow. “Girls like me?”

He laughed a bit, coughing up smoke. “Please, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Dusk Brogan,” he replied simply, taking the hat off and performing a low, courteous bow. I put a hand out to him when he straightened out again.

“Pleasure to meet you.”

“Don’t I get a name out of you?” he frowned.

I merely laughed. “Girls like me don’t have names.”

He smiled back. “I think we could find a place for you down here.”

And I grinned wider. “What makes you think I’d want a place down here with you misfits and lunatics?”

He laughed a bit. “Now that’s a bit harsh. Come on now, you going to stand there and honestly tell me that you’ve got somewhere better to be? If you did, you wouldn’t have been curled up at our doorway. Stay awhile, if you get to be part of the show, you’d have a good bit of security.”

“What show?”

And he turned around, waving his arm in the air, demonstrating the crowd, the people, everything. “Welcome to the circus, Babe.”

I took the smoke straight from him, took a long pull, and blew it in his face. He smiled forcibly, teeth bared.

“Don’t ever call me Babe. Got it?”

He nodded and I finished his smoke, grinding it out under a heel. He slipped a hand around my shoulders, leading me away from where we’d been standing in the depths of darkness. I tried to shake him off, but his fingers curled and dug into my shoulder.

“Allow me to welcome you to our home. To your new labyrinth.”

“I didn’t know I’d made a concrete decision yet,” I muttered.

He just kept smiling. “Oh, I trust you’ll make the right decision.”

I looked back at him, the foolish grinning face, the confident manner. “I’m supposed to trust you?”

He pulled out another smoke from somewhere, lighting up thoughtfully. He shot me a thousand dollar smile. “If you dare.”

1. Abandonment

I was sitting on the suitcase – one of those old fashioned hard cases. It was on its side, vertical, so I could sit straighter. I had the guitar case next to me, sitting on the ground. I couldn’t remember if I was coming or going. I couldn’t think if I’d gotten off a bus or I was waiting for one. I think I was waiting. I felt like I was always waiting for something. For this life to end. For the next to begin. One way or another, I was always waiting. I looked up and down the street, the usual business. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing but me. And even I wasn’t all that extraordinary. I simply was. A girl sitting on a suitcase with a guitar. Nothing more. Just a girl sitting alone at night, waiting on nothing, smoking just for the smell of it. I wanted to destroy something. So I started with myself. I’ve been working my way up ever since. Or maybe it was down the whole time. Then again, either which way, it’s somewhere.

The bus came, the last one. I’m always waiting for the last stop. Always waiting. And always for the end. Always for the final show. I couldn’t remember how long I’d been waiting, I simply…was. This’ the middle of nothing, the beginning of nowhere, the end of anything. Pick it and it is. I am. That’s life. That’s how I’m going into this. The bus comes and I board. I’m alone. Naturally. But it doesn’t matter because I’m here in this. In the now. And fuck everyone else. I’m better off alone. It’s more…secure. I saw myself off. I watched myself leave. I saw my own shadow get smaller against the horizon. And I smiled to myself as I waved myself goodbye. In my mind it made sense. Feel free to turn your back anytime the scene bothers you.

I was a girl with a suitcase and a guitar. I had my life in my head, on my back, wherever it needed to be. And I’d hack it out there. I wasn’t sure how. I had enough cash for a bit. No security. Nothing sure. No contacts. Nothing. I was just here. I had stood on the brink of oblivion for the chance at a gasp of fresh air. And when I tired of waiting, I stepped over for the thrill of the fall. The thrill, the shock, everything. I had walked to the ends of the earth and when I found nothing there, I just pressed on. There’s nothing else to be done. Sitting down and crying won’t make it stop. Don’t lose time to tears. Just soldier on. There’s nothing else to be done. Pack up your life, leave with a smile, and make the best of the little left in the ashes.

The ride was for hours. Like I said, last stop. Last bus, last stop, last life. It’s all relevant in this seemingly…irrelevant way. I just don’t understand it, but I don’t think I’m meant to, so I don’t pretend to try. I just get up and move when things bother me. When the movie’s bad, when the building burns down, when someone dies. Pick up, move, start over. There’s only so many times to start over, so many places to go. No. That’s a lie. With the world at your feet, there’s always somewhere to go. In terms of income, that’s the trick. Money really does make the world go round. But hey, swing it right, set it up, it’s not that big a deal. There’s all kinds of ways to make money in this world. Tons. Some of them are more accepted than most. But hey, there’s a lot of things more accepted than most in this world. I bet you there’s more people that accept a religion than don’t. Check the numbers. I don’t think the atheists are going to take over anytime soon. Then again, I could be wrong. Don’t quote me. I don’t know. I seldom do.

The driver doesn’t say anything either. I don’t care. I can hear music in my head from the last show, the last place I can remember sound. I can hear whatever I chose to, not the continuous loop that most people find themselves stuck in, dancing around absentmindedly to one stupid song. No. I can rewind, fast forward, select track. I can do as I wish. After all, it’s my mind. I should be able to. I’ll admit, it did take years of experience. A lot of careful training. It’s not easy to cage something that has absolutely no desire to be caged. Just like you can’t save the damned. I’m not damned, exactly. I’m just…in limbo.

 

I don’t sleep on the bus. I don’t believe in it all that much really. Sleep. I mean, you only get so much time to live, why waste it sleeping? Sure, sleep’s necessary and all, but I only crash when I really have to. Otherwise, I’m awake. A large majority of the time. Or at least catatonic. There’s various states of rest or waking. I was in between right now, allowing my mind to wander like the road the bus stayed on. My mind went beyond the asphalt, beyond the greenery, the trees and bushes. Between the lonely streets and quiet houses. Wandering idly, trying to find something to grasp onto. There was nothing. I was headed nowhere fast, but at least I was headed somewhere. No matter how I got there, it was somewhere.

And hours later, various thoughts and ideas and theories later, all forgotten the moment I stepped out of the bus, I was here. In a new time, a new place. A new city. My new home. This would be the latest in the series. The new and improved model. No. Change that. New. Never improved. As hard as I try and as much looking as I do, there is no improvement to this life. There is no other. Only this.

I was on a crowded street. It was early morning and the streets were already crowded here. Something told me they would always be this way. There was no calm period. No time for rest. I looked up and down from where I stood. Which way should I go? Where should I try my luck? I could go anywhere from here. And that was the basis of the appeal of starting over. There was literally anywhere to go. I looked around once more and picked a direction to wander in. My method was simple. I would wander until nightfall. Wherever I was by then was where I’d be. I’d stay there, I’d work there, and I’d make ends meet. Everything was a clean slate. Every minute was another chance to turn it all around. I carried the two cases squarely as I walked among the crowds, trying not to bump into anybody.

I found myself outside a bar. The atmosphere was inviting, the crowd had shifted in its context. I ducked inside, finding a table kept in the back, away from everyone else. I put my stuff down carefully, trying to clear my head. I felt tired, but it was just exhaustion setting in. I’d need to crash at some point. I’d collapse otherwise. I brushed the hair out of my face, ordered a drink when the waitress came over. The place wasn’t exactly dark, but it had a kind of atmosphere that was almost cozy. It set my mind at ease, sitting here, waiting. I was genuinely tired. The girl came back with my drink in record time, she crept through the place stealthily, scaring me when she reemerged. She set it down on a napkin, giving me a kind look. I smiled back at her, nodding my thanks. She moved off to another table.

Just another face in the crowd. Just another nameless identity. Nothing more than a friendly smile. I sat quietly thinking, trying to consider where I could crash. I would stay in the bar until it closed. It was nice in here – warm. Outside the world was shown in shades of gray, the people included. It was also raining out. I was soaked when I came in.

The place was called the Drowning Raven.

And I had come to drown.

Coming Soon

Please be patient, Volumes VI – X will be available in 2014.

Check back for regular updates starting February 2014.