Friday, November 26, 2010

Chapter 33

The Sarrgoset Hotel

Mike had to back the car through the bridge, as the invisible wall that kept them from escaping the doom-haunted town of Murgent left little room for any kind of U-turn. This he did with great care; though the going was slow, and was no help to their already jangled nerves.
Once they were free of the bridge, Mike turned the car back towards the way they had come; back towards the center of town.
“Okay,” he said, “Brace yourselves.”

However, as it turned out, they had no further problems with the townspeople on the way back; as they seemed to have returned to the state they were in before Mike hit the horn.
Still, Mike had to drive cautiously, and occasionally stop to allow a batch of them to cross the road in their slow and shambling gait.
“Whatever you do, Mike.” Callie whispered tersely, “Do not honk the shigging horn!”
“Thanks for the tip.” Mike muttered.
“Would you two shoosh?!” Edward hissed from the backseats.
At last they got past the townspeople, and reached the empty main street. They drove up to the Sarrgoset Hotel, and parked the car.
“Let’s go.” Mike said, as he took the keys out of the ignition, and opened his door.
Once Callie and Edward were out of the car as well, Mike hit the lock button, closed the door, and pocketed the keys.
The three walked up to the hotel’s front door, and rang the doorbell.
“Oh man,” Edward said, with a shaky voice, “I don’t like this at all. Not one dang bit.”
“With you there, Ed,” Mike said, “If there was any other way…”
“There isn’t, and we all know it.” Callie said, her voice as nervous as Edward’s, “Whatever the hell is going on in there, let’s just try to stick together and work it out, okay?”
Mike and Edward nodded.
There came then the sound of someone on the other side of the door turning the handle.
“This is it.” whispered Mike, “Here we go.”
“I don’t think the door was even locked---” Edward started to say, but cut short his own sentence as the door was opened.
On the other side of the doorway was a boy of about Mike’s age, staring back at them. Although young, his eyes had a weary cast to them.
“Hello,” the boy said, “My name is Egann Ackbe.”
He moved aside, to allow them room to enter. Once they were in, he closed the door behind them.
“Zedda’s been expecting you.” he said.
Mike, Callie, and Edward followed Egann down a long arched hall, furnished with tapestries and hung with burgundy cloth. The hall was lit with rose-colored light, which gave it a surreal quality, then opened up into a large foyer. The front desk was parenthesized by two gold-painted banisters which met at a second floor balcony, from which dozens of kids looked down at them. All of them with the same weary eyes.
There were more kids, lining the twin stairways, and entering the foyer from side doors.
“EEEEGANN!” a horrid and shrill voice from the second floor called out, “Why deedn’t you tell me they were heeeere?”
The voice belonged to a tall, stick-thin figure rushing down the stairs in a manner that could only be described as insectile. Kids shrinked back as the figure passed near them.
“That’s Mr. Balooda.” Egann said, “Do whatever he says. You DON’T want to see him mad, believe me.”
Mr. Balooda wore a shiny black vinyl-raincoat-looking-thing, which went down to the floor and covered his whole body, down to his feet. He was hunched over, and his hands were extended in front of him like a praying mantis. He was bald, except for a tuft of bright red hair at the top, and he wore thick spectacles that magnified sickly eyes already much too big. But his most disturbing feature was his huge grin, which showed off long, rectangular teeth.
Mr. Balooda reached them, and clasped his hands in pleasure.
“What brave leeeetle boys and girl!” he cackled, like a witch in a fairy tale, then turned towards the stairs. “Follow meee, pleeese. Meestress Zedda wants to meeeet you!”
His exaggerated accent sounded more like an affectation than an actual speech pattern; but follow him they did, up the stairs past the other kids, to the second floor.
“The rest of you get back to work!” Mr. Balooda turned and snapped.
The kids in the gallery, stairs, and foyer scattered.
Mr. Balooda led them to a smaller, less impressive stairway, which led to the third floor. This floor was empty and silent. They passed through a hallway of closed rooms, to a door. The door was painted black, and had symbols drawn all over it in red paint. The central design was a circular seal, with another symbol inside of it.
There was no knob on the door.
Mr. Balooda murmured, “Maqwa tevvis geffah jammuk!” while tracing the circular seal clockwise with his finger. The door opened wide on its own, without even a “click”.
That might be useful to remember, Edward thought, and tried to memorize the words Mr. Balooda had just spoken.
Mr. Balooda entered, and the three followed. The door closed noiselessly behind them.
The room they entered was big; ballroom big. It was also dark; the windows were covered up and the only light was that coming from candles flickering at the far end. The candles were placed in a semi-circle around a luxurious red velvet couch.
The couch was empty though.
The right side of the room was lined with tables. On those tables were cards, stones, sticks, bones, crystal balls, and all manner of objects of the divinative arts; as well as a tripod upon which was placed a marble basin of some liquid that shimmered with an eerie green glow.
The left side of the room was taken up with viciously spiked sculptures of mysterious black forms, of tenebrous design.
Before they got to the empty couch, a tall shadow separated itself from the general darkness around them, and spoke.
“Thank you, Mr. Balooda, I’ll take it from here.”
Unlike Mr. Balooda’s shrill voice, the shadow’s voice was deep and throaty, with an undercurrent of threat.
“Thank you, Meester Blessure.” Mr. Balooda replied courteously, but not without a shading of irritation.
He turned and stomped off.
“Follow me.” the shadow named Mr. Blessure said, and led them the rest of the way. Once they reached the warm glow of the candles, they got a better view of him.
He wore a black greatcoat, and a matching broad-brimmed hat. He seemed to be even taller than Mr. Balooda, but perhaps only because his back was not bent. His face was an impassive pallid mask.
“They’re here, Mistress.” he said.
“Thank you, Mr. Blessure.” A hoarse voice called out from all around them, disembodied and reverberant, “Would you please remove the coverings from the windows, so our guests can see a little better?”
Sheets were dislodged from their places. Light entered and illuminated the room.
They still couldn’t see their hostess, until Edward yelled, “LOOK!” and pointed up.
Floating near the high ceiling, like a feather on a light breeze, was a woman. She seemed to be somewhere in her mid to late thirties, and a bit on the obese side. She had long black hair that floated all around her, and some kind of dark stain on her forehead. She wore a red satin robe that billowed and fluttered beautifully, as if she were underwater.
Despite her physical appearance, there was something quite gorgeous and fantastic about her. Mike, Callie, and Edward stared at her with open mouths as she slowly descended.
She floated down into a sitting position on the couch before them. Once gravity took over, her hair and robe stopped their billowing, and slumped down, as if a switch had been flicked off.
Only now could they see that the dark stain on her forehead was some kind of oversized birthmark, or mole. The skin there was bumpy, and its outer edges seemed to have little extensions, like “feelers”, that made the thing look like a black splat.
Or, perhaps, a spider.
“All three have tasted despair in their lives,” Zedda said, “This one especially…” she pointed to Edward, “But the other two are slim pickings, I’m afraid. Hardly worth draining, except for information. Some time under Mr. Balooda’s care should change that, though.”
“Perhaps a visit to the Ick Box.” Mr. Blessure suggested.
“Yes.” Zedda smiled, “That always does the trick. Though Mr. Balooda tends to overuse it, methinks. He’s getting lazy.”
“Uhhh, excuse me---” Mike started to say.
“NEVER INTERRUPT ME, BOY!” Zedda snapped, and Mike was thrown back violently, almost all the way to the door. He stumbled to a painful stop. Callie and Edward ran to him.
“I’m okay, I’m okay,” Mike assured them, as he got back to his feet, “Just got the wind knocked out of me a bit. Didn’t see it coming.”
“We do things a little differently here,” Zedda said, “Like not speaking unless spoken to. Since you three are new here, I’m cutting you a little slack, this once.”
“You call this ‘cutting us a little slack’?!” Callie asked.
“Careful, girl. Unless you want to go flying too.” Zedda said, “First things first: you…” she pointed to Edward, “Come here.”
Callie stepped in front of Edward.
“He’s not going anywhere.” she said, but was knocked sideways and out of the way; struck hard by an invisible hand. Mike moved in to protect Edward, but himself was knocked aside.
Edward turned to run, but felt himself lifted off his feet. He was turned around in midair, floated over to Zedda, and set down before her.
Zedda put her hands on his shoulders, brought his face close to hers, and gazed into his eyes. Edward tried to turn away, but the pull of her eyes was too strong to resist. They were hypnotic in their power. Before he knew it, he was lost inside of them.
Mike and Callie got up and started running over towards Zedda and Edward. They saw that Edward was no longer struggling and looked to be in a trance. Zedda’s eyes were open wide, taking something from him; and the black stain on her forehead rippled and darkened like a thing alive.
“What the hell is that?!” Callie cried, “What is she doing to him?”
“I don’t know, but we have to stop it.” Mike said.
The two almost reached Zedda’s couch, but Mr. Blessure was there before them in an instant. He grabbed Mike and Callie by their necks, and lifted them up.
“You’ll have to wait your turn.” he said.
He set them back down on their feet, but did not let go of their necks. Mike and Callie fought for release, hitting and kicking at him, but to no avail; he was as unmovable as a bronze statue.
“EDWARD!” Callie screamed.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Chapter 32


It was late morning when Edward woke. He found himself alone on the backseats; Callie must have moved him. The car was not moving, but it was clear that they had done some driving while he was asleep. They were stopped at a gas station; Callie sat in the front passenger seat, Mike was outside somewhere.
Callie turned and saw that he was up. “Well good morning, sleepy-head!” she said.
“How long have you guys been up?” Edward asked.
“Oh, some time now.” Callie said, “You were so deep asleep, you didn’t even stir when I picked you up and moved you over to the seats.”
The driver’s side door opened, and Mike popped in. “Hey Ed! You up already?” he asked.
“Good. We’re gonna stop somewhere around here and have breakfast.” he said, as he got into the driver’s seat, closed the door, and started the car.

The town they were in was called Praxa, and there they went to go eat at a fast food joint called BurgerMeister.
The place was busy. After the three ordered their breakfasts, Callie went to hunt down a table while Mike went to the soda fountains to fill their cups. Edward, meanwhile, snaked his way between tables to get to the napkin and condiments tray. A hand from one of the tables to his right shot out suddenly, and grabbed his forearm in a death grip.
Startled, Edward turned and faced a wizened old woman with mad eyes and a demented smile, sitting with a family. She pulled him close, and whispered in his ear: “Bubba Death can smell you!”
“Dammit, Gladys!” a man’s voice said, “Getter off ‘im!”
The man was obviously the old woman’s son-in-law, and husband to the old woman’s daughter; who sat between the two, and across from the four kids too busy stuffing their chubby faces to comment on the contretemps.
“Sorry, kid,” the husband said to Edward, as “Gladys” tried to pry her mother’s nigh-skeletal, yet unyielding, hand off his arm, “But SOMEONE,” here he glared at Gladys, “Forgot to give Gramma her crazy pills!”
“Dammit, Ma!” the red-faced Gladys said, “Let ‘im go!”
“He’s coming for you!” Gramma cackled, as she finally let go of Edward’s arm, “You and your friends!”
Edward hurried away. 
“He’ll probably get you first, old bag!” he muttered under his breath.
When he returned to Mike and Callie with the napkins and such, he told them of his little misadventure. They all shared a good hearty laugh; Bubba Death notwithstanding.

After breakfast, they were back on the road.
At lunchtime, they stopped at a small town called Erinville; and ate lunch at a small diner called Erinville’s Only Diner. True to its name, it was Erinville’s only diner.
“They’re gonna hafta change the name if another diner ever opens up there.” Callie joked.
After Erinville, the towns they passed seemed to get smaller and smaller, until they seemed to run out completely.
Not that there weren’t homes here and there, and the occasional ranch; but many of these looked lonely and decrepit.
In time, the landscape gave way to tree-spotted plains, in between patches of light-to-heavy woods.
It wasn’t until later in the afternoon, that they hit another town.
A bullet-holed sign on the side of the road read: MURGENT, in blunt black letters. Mike felt a strange fluttering sensation in his stomach as they passed it.
“Whoa!” he said.
“You felt that too?” Callie asked.
“Like I just left my stomach behind.” Mike said.
Callie nodded. “What about you, Ed?”
Edward nodded as well. “It was kinda like that feeling you get, when the rollercoaster takes a big nosedive.” he said, “Only not as fun.”
“Whatever it was, it’s gone now.” Mike said, “So that’s good.”
They passed through a time-worn wooden bridge, over a lake of filthy looking water. The bridge groaned a little, under the car, and they were all relieved when they made it to the other side.
“They better get that fixed before someone gets killed.” Mike said, “That lake don’t look too hygienic either.”
“That’s the least of their problems, Mike.” Callie said, “This place is all wrong. Look at the trees, the grass, the weeds---everything’s dried out and used up.”
Callie was right. Everything in Murgent had a desiccated and bleached look to it. Even the houses looked that way; they rotted empty in the sun, looking ancient, sentient, and evil.
In the town’s main street, the stores and places of business looked like they had met with violence at some point in their past; their windows broken, their facades charred.
The only place that looked alive was a three story building up ahead, with a wooden sign proclaiming it: THE SARRGOSET HOTEL.
It was the only place that didn’t look abandoned. Its lawns were green and lush, and its trees and flowers flourished in a circle of vitality around the hotel’s premises.
“They’re looking at us.” Callie said, in a spooked voice.
“What?! Who?” Mike asked.
“The people in that hotel.” Callie said, “Don’t you see? There are eyes peeking out of the windows at us.”
“She’s right.” Edward said, “I can see faces in some of the windows, but they’re young faces…”
Kids.” Callie said.
Without warning, a figure ran out from behind a gnarled tree and threw himself under the wheels of their car. Mike didn’t react fast enough, and they felt the hideous bumps as the car ran over him.
Mike hit the brakes, and brought the car to a stop.
The three rushed out of the car and over to the ragdoll-like figure lying behind it.
“He came out of nowhere!” Mike stammered, “He was under the wheels before I could even think!”
They were all then startled to see the figure, an old and frail gentleman with a bald pate and a stick thin frame, get up to his feet like he hadn’t just been run over. He seemed brittle enough to have been broken by the fall, much less the two sets of wheels that should have crushed him; but there he was, standing.
“Sorry…so sorry…” the old man muttered, “Shoulda known, though. Worth a shot, though.”
“Are you okay, mister?” Mike asked.
“So sorry, though.” the old man continued to mutter, smiling mirthlessly, showing his blackened gums, “The name’s Merro, though. Merro Lhaisuber, though. Thanks you for stopping by, though. Sorry for you, though. So sorry…”
The old man pointed to the Sarrgoset Hotel with a shaky hand and bent finger. “There you go, though. There she is, though. End of the road, though. Soooo sorry…”
He limped away, still muttering his apologies.
“What the hell is going on here?” Mike asked.
“He’s insane, Mike.” Callie said, “This whole place is insane. We’ve entered Crazy Town.”
“I vote we get the freaking hell outta here.” Mike said.
“I second that emotion.” Callie said.
“Ditto.” said Edward.
The three ran back into the car post haste.

From her window in the third floor of the Sarrgoset Hotel, Zedda Stanetta watched with interest the exchange between her new guests, and Lhaisuber. It was Merro’s umpteenth suicide attempt, and he still didn’t get the picture. She had to keep an eye on him, though. Even in his insanity, there was still a sliver of the old Merro left in those squinty eyes, blade-thin nose, and down-turned mouth.
She would have him stew and flail and burn in his madness, until that sliver was bleached out. Him and the others.
As for her new guests…
“Shall I bring them in?” asked the tall shadow standing in a dark corner of the room.
“No, Mr. Blessure, they will come to us.” Zedda said, “When they see that they have no other choice.”

“They’re kids alright.” Mike said, as they drove slowly by the front of the hotel.
From the windows of the first and second floor, young faces peered at them through curtains. Their faces were difficult to read. Were they fearful? Hateful? Apathetic? Callie couldn’t tell.
From a window on the top floor, Callie saw only one face peer out at them, but it wasn’t a child’s face. She couldn’t tell if it was a male or female face, but there was something about it she definitely did not like; something in the eyes. A hunger.
Soon, and with some relief, the hotel and its mysterious inhabitants were behind them.
They left the main street, and entered the more residential part of town; and at last got a good look at the citizens of Murgent.
“Good gods…” was all Mike could say, and it was barely audible.
Callie and Edward’s mouths opened, but made not a sound.
The townsfolk came and stood by the side of the road, like gawkers at a parade; and watched them pass by. Some laughed, some gibbered, some sobbed, some just stared with blank faces. Some seemed to have clawed out their eyes, and moved their heads at their passing in a mockery of sight; watching them with their horrible black pits.
All bore the mark of madness.
“What happened to these people?” Callie whispered.
“Mike, hit the gas. Let’s just go!” Edward pleaded.
“I’m afraid to,” Mike said, “What if they start throwing themselves in front of the car, like the old man?”
“It won’t matter,” said Callie, “Look!”
Some of the trees on either side of the road were decorated with bodies swinging from nooses; bodies that still moved.
“What the hell IS this place?!” Mike shouted. He banged his fist on the steering wheel, and accidently hit the horn.
As if switched on, the townsfolk all seemed to wake from their trance-like state upon the horn-blast, and began to run wildly after the car in a rabid froth.
They threw their bodies against and under the car. A few jumped on the hood, and banged on the windshield. All of them screamed like the damned.
Those inside the car screamed as well.
“LOCK THE DOORS!” Mike yelled, swerving not to hit any of them. Failing that, Mike heeded Edward’s advice, and hit the gas.
The ride grew bumpy, as they ran over those throwing themselves under. These would then get up and join the others in chasing the car.
Callie locked her door, then closed her eyes and put her hands to her ears to drown out the sights and sounds. Edward looked back and saw a woman grinning madly at him through the back windshield as she held on somehow to the back of the car. She lost her grip and fell off, into the crowd behind them; tripping many.
Soon, the bumps stopped, as the townspeople thinned out and were left behind.
“Are they gone?” Callie asked, opening her eyes.
“Yeah,” Mike said, “They’re gone.”
Behind them, Edward poked his head out from under some blankets.
“You okay, Ed?” Callie asked.
“I’ll live.” he said, but looked doubtful.

They came to a bridge almost identical in design and age to the one they had passed upon entering town.
Mike had to slow down the car to cross it. On the other side was a weed-strewn clearing that prefaced the start of a dense wood. The road continued on into the woods, like a long snake in high grass.
There was a sign in the clearing, at the side of the road. It read: YOU ARE LEAVING MURGENT. SEE YOU AGAIN SOON!
“This is it.” Mike said, “We’re getting out of this damn town.”
“Thank the gods!” Edward said.
Upon reaching the sign, the car hit something solid, and came to a complete, sudden, and violent stop. Mike, Callie, and Edward were jerked forward a bit. 
“Is everyone okay?” Mike asked.
Callie and Edward nodded.
“Lucky we were still going slow from the bridge,” Mike said, “Otherwise that might have been bad.”
“What did we hit?” Callie asked.
“I don’t know. I didn’t see anything. Let me back up.”
Mike put the car in reverse and backed it up a tad, but still couldn’t see what it was that they hit. There was nothing there.
“Let’s try that again.” Mike said.
“Slowly Mike.” Callie advised.
Mike took the car out of reverse and drove them ahead slowly, as Callie had said; and again seemed to come up against an unseen, and unmoving, obstruction.
“Oh, what the shiggedy crap is this?” Edward wailed.
Mike and Callie looked at each other.
“We’re gonna hafta get out and see, you know.” Mike said.
“We lead interesting lives, don’t we?” Callie retorted.
“That we do.” Mike said, and cut the engine.
The three scanned the area behind them for any sign of townsfolk. Once they were sure that there weren’t any close by, they got out of the car and began to look around.
“I don’t see a damn thing.” Mike said, before walking into a wall that wasn’t there.
“Oww! What is this?!” Mike said. He placed his hands against something solid as stone, which could not be seen.
He turned to Callie and Edward. “Invisible wall.” he said with forced calmness, “So help me, we are now dealing with an invisible wall.”
“Thanks for clearing that up.” Callie said, as she and Edward felt along the wall, looking a bit like mimes.
“Nothing is ever easy, is it?” Edward said.
“This has to be some kind of magic…umm…thing.” Mike said.
“You think so?” Callie snorted.
“How high up do you think it is?” asked Edward.
Mike, the tallest of the three, jumped and slapped his hand at the wall. “It’s higher than us.” he replied.
“I’ll bet it encircles the whole town.” said Callie, “Remember that weird pit-of-the-stomach feeling we had when we entered?”
“I see where you’re going.” Mike said, “A magical mouse trap. We mice come in, but we can’t get out.”
Callie nodded.
“Which means we’re trapped here.”
“Certainly the townspeople never got away.”
“But who did this?” Edward asked, “And why?”
“I have a feeling we’re going to find out.” Callie answered.
“I think we all know where we have to go,” Mike said, “The hotel. It’s the only place that looks alive in the whole town.”
“You mean just show up at the door, knock, and say ‘Hi! We’re just passing through. Could you maybe show us the way out of this hell-hole’?” Callie asked.
“Basically, yes.” Mike said.
“Does the possibility occur to you that whatever messed up this town and its people is maybe inside that hotel, and will probably do the same to us?” Callie asked.
“Don’t say I never take you anywhere.” Mike replied.
“That means we’ll have to go through the townspeople again.” Edward said with a shudder, “Doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” Mike answered, “I’m afraid it does.”
The three looked back toward the town, which waited for them in eerie silence, in the haze of the afternoon sun.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Chapter 31

Someone of Consequence

It wasn’t until about forty-five minutes after leaving Metromax City, and their Dreadnik friends, behind; that Mike and Callie discovered they had a stowaway.
They had been driving in silence for some time, when the distinct sound of snoring could be heard, coming from the back seats.
Mike glanced at Callie, and with a quick head movement, motioned her to check out the sound. He pulled over to the side of the road and brought the car to a stop, as Callie removed her seatbelt and climbed over to the back.
There, on the floor of the car, hidden under the blankets and pillows Rynza and Carissa had given them, Callie found Edward curled up in a fetal position; sleeping soundly.
Callie twanged his earlobe with a flick of her finger.
“Oww!” he said, as he woke.
Seeing that he had been found out, he smiled sheepishly.
“Hi Callie!” he said.
Callie grabbed him by the ear, and brought his head up so Mike could see who it was.
“Mike, we have a problem.” she said.
“Okay, you got me,” Edward said, “Let go!”
Callie released his ear.
“Edward?!” Mike said, “How are you here? WHY are you here?!”
“I like you guys!” Edward said, “We’ve been through stuff together. I wanted to come with you, but I knew you’d say no.”
“Yeah, for a REASON.” Mike said, “What are we supposed to do with you now?”
“Take me with you, what else?” Edward said, “Unless you want to drive all the way back to Metromax.”
Mike and Callie looked at each other.
“I say we leave him here and let him walk back.” said Mike.
“Sounds good to me.” said Callie.
“C’mon, guys! I could be a real help to you. An extra pair of hands and feet; something you might need in a sticky situation!”
“More like a fifth wheel.” Mike said.
“Another mouth to feed.” Callie added.
“Come ON!” Edward reiterated.
“Edward, it isn’t that we don’t want you around; it’s just that we’re driving into unknown dangers.” Callie said, “We don’t know what crazy crap we have waiting for us. There may be no coming back.”
“I understand that, Callie. I saw your father bring Kitty and Corrina back from the dead! I saw the black snakes! I was there with you. What I’m saying is that I want to help.” Edward said, “Is it so hard to believe that you might need me?”
“What about the Dreadniks, Edward?” Callie asked, “What about your friends back there?”
“I love them, I will miss them, and I will be forever grateful for all they’ve done for me.” Edward answered, “But they don’t need me. Not really. You two do. I can feel it.”
Unspoken sibling communication passed between Mike and Callie with a single look.
“Okay, Edward,” Mike said, “If you want to, you can stay.”
“Yes!” Edward said. He bounded up and down on the back seats with great enthusiasm.
“Don’t celebrate too much,” Mike said, “You may come to regret this decision, and it's too late to turn back now.”

Late afternoon found the three travelers parked at a rest area.
Nearby pavilions with picnic tables beneath provided a place for them to take a break from the road, and eat the food Rynza and Carissa had provided them.
Mike noticed Callie staring past the food in her hands with a grim look on her face.
“What’s got you so glum, Cal?” he asked, “Besides our impending doom, that is.”
“Huh? Oh. Just thinking,” she said, “Exactly one week ago today, at about this time, I was preparing supper for Dad. Just like every other day in my stinking life up to that point.”
“Has it been a week already?” Mike asked, “Damn, it feels like that was months ago.”
Callie nodded in agreement.
“Call me crazy,” Mike continued, “But it almost feels like our lives didn’t really start until that day; like we were living in a fog, or something, before then.”
“Friday I bashed Dad on the head. Saturday we took off.”
“Reached Kraddock on Tuesday night.” Mike added.
“Crossed the Rough Country Wednesday, reached Metromax City, met Rak, lost the wagon, met Jon and the others. Found the wagon yesterday, got it back.”
“And then lost it again today.” Mike said, “But the Dreadniks lost more than that. A whole lot more.”
Callie sighed. “I really kinda hoped…”
“That it would last?” Mike asked.
She nodded. “At least a little while longer.” she said, “Yet here we are, running away again. Our friends scattered and imprisoned.”
“Turned into black snakes…” Edward added helpfully.
“And where are we? Eating sandwiches on the side of a road.”
“Callie---” Mike started to say.
“I don’t mean to interrupt,” Edward interrupted, “But night will be coming soon. Where are we going to sleep when it gets dark?”
“In the car, of course.” said Mike, “Like Callie and I did on our way to Metromax.”
“Yeah, but you had a wagon then, and there were only two of you.” Edward said, “We, right now, have a car, and there’s three of us. How do you suggest we work this out?”
“Well, you’re just going to have to sleep outside.” Mike said.
“I can’t sleep outside!” Edward exclaimed, indignant.
“You should’ve thought of that before stowing away.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“You can always sleep under the car.” Mike replied.
“Or on top of it!” Callie added, her somber mood now broken.
“Then again, there’s always the trunk!” Mike grinned.
“Come on!” Edward said, horrified, “Really?”
Callie laughed and mussed up his hair with her hands. “Just kidding, silly!” she said, “You can sleep on the floor of the car, like before. You seemed comfortable enough there earlier.”
“Thank you!” Edward said, relieved.
When they finished eating, they got back on the road.

Still far off, was the town of Murgent.
In the heart of Murgent, in the center of town, stood a three story building that had once been, in better times, the Sarrgoset Hotel. For the last five years, the building had served as the home of Zedda Stanetta; Murgent’s tormentor.
On the top floor of this hotel, Zedda had her divination room. She was there now, drawing the stones.
From a brown cloth bag she drew, one at a time, nine flat jade stones with a different symbol carved into each. She took these stones and placed them on a small, ornately decorated, table. On the tabletop was carved and painted a red circle with a square inside. The square was subdivided into nine smaller squares; each with its own symbol drawn in its center. Each symbol had its own meaning, and each stone drawn was then placed on a square in a prescribed order.
Zedda studied the layout, and frowned.
Like all the other divination methods she had tried of late, the Majisrune stones gave her contradictory readings. The Dragon stone lay in the House of Belethene, the Phoenix stone was placed on the House of Passenon; while the Tasmata, the stone bearing her own symbol, had landed, inexplicably, in the House of Nelloquim.
The last time the Majisrunes had been this cryptic was three months ago; a day before the Nurrek had fallen into her net.
The only thing the stones assured her of, without contradiction, was that someone of consequence was coming, and soon.

In the basement of the Sarrgoset Hotel was a large wooden box, a cage, surrounded by magical circles of containment.
In that cage was imprisoned the only thing in the world that Zedda Stanetta still feared. 
If the promise of great power it presented wasn’t so grand, she would have had it destroyed on sight.
In it’s box, the Nurrek dreamed it’s mind free, soaring over the very building in which it was caged. From there, it launched itself beyond Murgent, beyond Zedda’s sphere of influence. On and on it went, for miles and miles, until it found itself over a road; drawn to a single car.
It’s mind came closer to the car until it was right on top of it. There were three children in that car, two older than the third.
Their path would inevitably bring them into Murgent.
“The time is near…” the Nurrek thought to itself, and grunted horribly in it’s sleep.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Chapter 30


Jon remained silent throughout Bear’s telling of the events that had transpired during his absence. Bear could see that he took hard the deaths of Corrina and Kitty, as well as Rak’s misfortune. Had Corrina succeeded in killing Callie, it would have broken him.
“This is all my doing,” he muttered, “All of this.”
Bear and the others tried to talk Jon out of this notion, but he wasn’t in any mood to listen. When at last they arrived at the Caprice Motel, they all clambered out of the Longstreet’s station wagon, and helped Rynza to her wheelchair. Carissa and Rak were waiting for them at the room.
This was Jon, Dom, Wes, and Peggy’s first glimpse of Rak in his current state.
“I’m sorry I let you down, Jon.” Rak said, his voice tightened by pain, “You were right all along; about the Holdfast, about me going off by myself…I should have listened to you.”
“Just hang in there, buddy,” Jon said, patting him softly on the shoulder, “Don’t worry about any of that right now.”
Jon turned to Bear and Rynza. “How do we help him?”
“Rynza thinks this Rufus Kantry guy is the answer.” Bear said.
“If anyone can help Rak, it’s him.”  Rynza said.
“Then we have to get Rak to him as soon as possible.” Jon said, “Bear, get Dom over here. The four of us need to have a talk; and you’re not gonna like what I have to say.”

A short time later, there came a sharp rap on the door. The door was unlocked and opened, and Spencer and Woodrow stepped in.
“What the hell happened to you two?” Bear asked.
“We got lost,” Woodrow said, “But it wasn’t our fault.”
“My friend gave then the wrong directions by accident.” Siana said. She stood at the threshold of the door, but did not come in. “I have to go now.” she said.
“For what it’s worth, thank you for your help.” Jon said.
“I was just helping myself.” Siana said, “Our aims happened to coincide. And for what it’s worth, take my advice. Once I’m in as Crellat: do not cross my path.”
With that, she turned and left.
“Boy, that’s a scary broad.” Dom said.
“I wouldn’t worry about her.” said Bear.
“Why?” Jon asked, “What do you know?”
Bear motioned to Rynza. “Tell him.” she said.
“Let’s just say,” Rynza said, “That woman will never be Crellat.”

It was time for a meeting.
The eleven people crowded in the room quieted down and gave Jon the floor.
“Bad news first. This will be the last time I preside over you as palabrin.” Jon said.
Like before, there was open dismay amongst the Dreadniks; but now there was an air of resignation to it.
Jon went on. “Nothing has changed in my decision to hand over the reins of this group to Bear and Dom. If anything, recent events have solidified my resolve. And certainly Bear has proven herself more than capable of running the show.”
There was a smattering of hoots and handclaps for Bear.
“Anyway,” Jon continued, “As you have probably guessed, I still intend to go after Callie and Mike. I have their station wagon, and I intend to get it back to them. But before then, we have another matter to deal with: getting Rak to Rufus Kantry. Rynza has volunteered to lead a small group into the Rough Country to find him.”
“If anyone has half a chance of locating Kantry in the heart of the Rough Country, it’s me.” Rynza said.
“Are you sure you wanna do that, Rynza?” Peggy asked, “Shouldn’t you discuss this with Carissa first?”
“Rissa goes where I go; she’ll tell you that herself.”
“In what?” asked Wes, “If Jon is taking the station wagon, what are you guys going in?”
“I’ve already called my friend Clyde,” Rynza said, “He agreed to loan us his pick-up. Dom has already volunteered to drive, as neither Rissa nor I can. Well, I used to, before the accident…” she pointed to her useless legs, “But not anymore.”
“You’re gonna have to lay up somewhere along the way, you know,” Jon said, “There’s no crossing the Rough Country come nightfall; and you will not get there before then.”
“I know,” Rynza said, “I just hope Rak can hold out.”
“And the rest of us?” Peggy asked, “What do we do?”
“We go on, like always.” Bear replied, “Tomorrow we start looking for a new place.”

About twenty minutes after Rynza called him, Clyde Diggins sent one of his people down with the pick-up, and another in a car, to pick up the first one and drive him back.
“Good luck.” Jon said to Rynza, once she, Carissa, Dom, and Rak were in the pick-up, ready to go, “Any last words of advice for me?”
“I’d advise you not to go, if I thought you’d listen.” Rynza said, “So I’ll give you this advice instead: take care of yourself. Mike and Callie walk upon some very dark roads. I’m not sure anyone is meant to walk with them. Watch yourself.”
“I will.” Jon said, and waved them off. The pick-up rolled out of the motel parking lot, and went out into the world.
When they were gone, Jon turned to Bear.
“If we never see each other again, Bear” he said, “I want you to know that you’ve been the best friend I’ve ever had. You were there before anyone else. I wouldn’t have survived without you.”
“Likewise.” Bear said.
The two hugged for a long time.
“The Dreadniks are now in your hands, palabrin” Jon said, “Take good care of them.”
“I will, Jon.” Bear said, “You know you can trust me. Go on and find your girl. We’ll be alright.”
Jon gave each of them a final hug. When he hugged Peggy, she whispered in his ear: “Tell Mike I’m sorry I couldn’t come with him. This is the only family I have, and I just can’t leave. Okay?”
“I’ll tell him.” Jon said.
“Oh, and give him this for me.” she said, and gave Jon a soulful kiss.
“I’ll tell him you said hi.” Jon said, when he regained composure.
That was that. Jon got into the Longstreet’s station wagon, waved his friends goodbye, and drove away.
The remaining Dreadniks filed back into the motel room, only Bear remained outside.
“It’s been a long day.” she said, and sighed.

As for Siana Nandehl, she got what she wanted. Mallacharr was indeed fired by the Vignach, who needed a scapegoat to absorb the scandal after the Judicial Complex incident.
That Monday, after the week-end, Siana Nandehl was called to the Vignach’s office to be officially promoted to the position of Crellat.
Unbeknownst to her, the disgraced ex-Crellat, George Mallacharr, entered the office behind her; loaded gun in hand. The Vignach looked up at her, then at him. His brow furrowed and Siana turned around, to see who Freath was looking at behind her.
She had one blessed second to realize how all her machinations had come to naught; then Mallacharr blew her head off.
Blood and brain matter splattered all over the Vignach and his office, and Freath managed to take his final stammering breath, before Mallacharr took his head off as well.
Mallacharr saved the last bullet for himself.

As for Siana’s friend, Herb; he had to make do without the cushy job Siana had promised him, but he had no reason to complain.
In the chaos and confusion caused by the sudden vacuum of power at the top, and the bitter internal power struggles that came after; the investigation into the Judicial Complex affair ended up being heroically inept.
Herbert Macwadden, and the nameless others who had helped Siana pull strings at Judicial were questioned, but none were ever implicated in anything.

Early Saturday morning.
As Dom, Rynza, Carissa, and Rak met with Rufus Kantry in the heart of the Rough Country; Charles Longstreet, back in a motel room in Metromax City, came to wakefulness in slow waves.
For a time, he did not know who he was or where he was; nor did he care to know. Recollection eventually returned unbidden, but he was still confused. What time was it? How did he end up on the floor? Why did his face hurt?
He looked down the length of his body, and saw the empty hypodermic sticking up out of his side.
Now he remembered.
Just how Rak had broken the chains of Malevolencia, he could not fathom. From his own experience, once it was in you, it rolled over you like a tidal wave. Resistance was unthinkable. Sooner would a flea think to resist the will of the gods.
And yet, somehow, Rak had done it.
Longstreet removed the needle; it slid out quite easy. A thin streamer of black blood followed the tip out like a strand of dark hair.
He got up. There was a moment of dizziness and nausea, but it soon passed. That hung-over feeling, however; did not.
He went to the bathroom and washed his face with cold water. He looked at his reflection in the grubby, but intact, mirror. The kid had worked his face over pretty good.
He went ahead and took his long-awaited shower.
Once out, he packed his things quickly. Mike and Callie were headed toward Cathim, and they had a helluva good head-start.
Luckily, Rak had not taken the car, and by nine-thirty am, Charles Longstreet was ready to go.
The room across his, on the other side of the pool, was already empty. Its temporary occupants had left early.
Had he known of their presence, the enormity of the coincidence might have given him pause. Perhaps a hand greater than Sinestri’s had it’s fingers in this affair, he might have thought; perhaps deeper issues were at stake, than anyone suspected.