[Fan Fiction] Testament

The Ghost of Ember 08-26-2006 11:53 AM
Testament

--

The ground quaked as the titans ambled about, destroying anything in their path. The old clock tower was melting, boiling away in response to the heat of the flames that immersed the city. I stood watching, riveted to the middle of the street. I would run, but where to? There was nowhere safe on the land, no sea could provide a barrier to these runaway deities, and the skies where filled with their brethren…

There was underground but…

I stared down at the manhole at my feet. In the darkness something stirred, and a deep sigh seemed to emanate from the hole. I screamed as the ground crumbled beneath me, something reached out from the shadows.


--

The nightmare ended abruptly, the foreboding shadows of the underground quietly shifting into the familiar darkness of the bedroom. The mad scramble to get out of bed that followed ended just as abruptly, as I fell and hit the floor hard. After a few moments of lying dazed on the floor, I righted myself and leaned against the bed to recover. My face and neck were damp with sweat, the result of such a disturbed and tumultuous dream. It played over again in my head, as I tried to convince myself that it was a dream, until I couldn’t bare it any longer.

I retreated from the bedroom, not bothering to look back.

In the earlier days of my youth, I might have calmed myself by taking a drive, or watching the sands of an hourglass flow. In recent times I’d begun to find solace in my typewriter. Taking a seat at the desk, I lit a cigarette and took a drag as I brought my hands to the keyboard, playing the typewriter as one would an instrument. The tapping of the keys and the snap of mechanical whirring from the machine were my music. I stayed like that for some time, sucking on cigarettes and drinking the occasional coffee, the memory of the dream drifting in and out of my consciousness as I typed.

My wife arrived as dawn broke. Her face was by all appearances unmarked by emotion. It was an easy ruse, one that I had long learned to see past... in it I saw the traces of annoyance, the slight changes in her features that marked her mood.

“Dee,” I pleaded, before she could start. My poor sleeping habits have always been something of a touchy subject.

“Why aren’t you asleep?” Quiet. Contrite. Monotone, even... but still carrying that carefully hidden tone of accusation.

“Nightmare,” I explained over the click of keys, “I’m calling in sick.”

Her face changed once more. This time it was the gentle and very slight down turning of lips, a tightening of the areas around her eyes. “This is the third time this month, darling.” There was a taint of sarcasm in her tone, and I could tell she was irritated by the fact I didn’t stop typing to speak with her. It was poor manners.

“So what? There are plenty of stock articles for them to run. Besides,” I added coolly, “they can find themselves another negotiator if they don’t like it.”

“You’re a reporter,” she corrected. I stopped typing and turned away, tearing the cigarette from my mouth. The motion broke her focus and brought undue attention to my newfound habit. “When did you start smoking?”

I didn’t respond at first. Maybe I was sulking, and maybe I felt a little guilty. The evidence was quickly smashed into the ashtray on my desk, and I tried to act as if nothing had happened. It didn’t work.

“When did you start smoking?” she repeated.

“Don’t remember,” I lied.

That didn’t seem to work either.

“When you where younger--” Dee started, as if she were under some unsaid obligation to delve into the past.

“When I was younger, I was an idealistic idiot who made up rules on a whim, and disregarded them just as quickly.” The outburst was uncalled for, but I was tired and grouchy and had heard enough of her condescending attitude. “I didn’t know how the world worked.”

I returned to the typewriter, tapping away at the keyboard at a more fevered pace. She stood there for a time, almost as if expecting me to address her once more. Before long she wandered off. Dee would to entertain herself however she saw fit at such an hour of the night. It was not my concern.

--

The coffee didn’t keep me up for much longer, but I wasn’t willing to return to the bedroom. I slept on the couch instead. The rest of the day was spent in an empty blackness, my sleep devoid of dreams and their meddling. I awoke as the afternoon was fading into evening, groggy and even more tired than before.

I stumbled into the kitchen, vague thoughts passing me by as I slowly became more lucid. More coffee. More Cigarettes. Take a drag, take a sip, sit, wait.

Wait for what?

I dismissed the stray thought. There were other things to worry about, such as sitting around feeling disheveled and exhausted. At some point or another I found myself seated at one of the stools by the counter. My wife seemed to materialize from nowhere, and speaking to me as she pushed a plate of food into my hands. The words themselves didn’t make it through the fog of my mind, but the smell of breakfast did. I put my coffee aside and my cigarette out and ate, the stray thought nagging at me all the while.

Waiting. It isn’t a bad life; it isn’t a good life either. Simply wait until something happens or it doesn’t. Either way you’re all right... all you’ve got to do is wait.

“Dee,” I said, poor manners dictating that I continue to eat, just as I had continued to work the night before. She glanced up from the stove, her face as placid as ever. Following my poor example, she carried on clearing away the dishes, and I found it strangely obnoxious.

I tried to revaluate what it was that I wanted to say. “Do... do you think we’re waiting?”

“Waiting for what?” she asked, pragmatic as ever.

I paused, thinking it over. “Just... waiting. Not only us, but this entire city. We’re just waiting.”

She reflected on it for a moment. “If you don’t know what it is you’re waiting for, how can you know if you’re waiting or not?”

I put the food aside and leaned back, staring at the bland colors of the wall. “I think we’re waiting.” She didn’t respond, but then again, I hadn’t expected her to.

--

The pipe in the basement was leaking, one drop at a time. Slowly and surely it would emerge from the pipe and fall down into the growing puddle on the floor. I didn’t like the basement. Large and foreboding, it seemed to have a feeling of lacking to it... like a chair that a long dead friend used to sit in.

...and it was below ground, where...

Gritting my teeth, I resigned to fix the pipe. It was simple, just some tightening nothing more. I had made it down the stairs, wrench in hand, only to fiddle with the lights and spend a few moments looking for a step stool before getting to the leaking pipe. It was in those wasted moments that my feelings of unease built up.

I turned the loose bolt until it was tight, and stepped down. Casually dropping the wrench on the ground, I watched the pipe for further leaks, and waited.

The water was defiant, and it still squeezed through the crevices. I watched as another drop formed and went along on its inevitable path to the puddle. It was in that instant of contact that the light flickered, and died.

I closed my eyes and exhaled slowly. There was nothing to be afraid of. I wasn’t afraid of the darkness. It was only an absence of light, no monsters or vile deities lurked within. Pick the wrench back up and tighten the bolt a little more, nothing to it.

I hadn’t seen where the wrench had landed, so I groped around in the darkness, eyes still shut. My hand touched the puddle, fingers trailing its wet surface; instinctively I withdrew my hand and opened my eyes.

My reflection was easily visible on its surface, but contorted by the waves caused by the water dripping down from the pipe. There was something else too, points of light reflecting from something. They looked strangely familiar.

The titan grinned at me from the dark, a smile made of light, tears of silver. It wept at the destruction it had wrought even as it laughed at the suffering of man.

I jerked back, leaving the wrench as I twisted around and fled. It was only a reflection, only a nightmare, just a coincidental pattern of lights and shadows, a random firing of neurons in the night. It couldn’t harm me, it wasn’t real... I fled all the same.

--

The clock ticks, the hourglass turns, the pendulum swings, and time passes. Hours like minutes, days like hours. The sands run down until there’s nothing left, and then it’s time for you to die. It’s not a bad life, waiting. It’s not a good life either.

Dee never inquired about my inability to fix the pipe, although I did earn an ever so slight questioning glance. A repairman was called, the burnt out light was replaced and the pipe was fixed without incident. The puddle in which the deity hid was wiped away without a second thought.

The nightmares came again; steady as the sands of the hourglass, jarring as the alarms of the clock. I didn’t sleep the next night either. This time I didn’t call in, and returned to work weary and dazed. The day wore on in a tedious daze as I sat at my desk, tapping on the keyboard, and sipping lukewarm coffee.

--
pen1300 08-26-2006 12:27 PM
Oooou. This is very good. Very poetic and connecting from one thing to another. The meshing of identites. The questions.

I don't know how else to write my review, but I really enjoyed it. [Submit to ParadigmCity!! Please?]

Later,
Pen1300
The Ghost of Ember 08-26-2006 12:33 PM
(Thanks, it's actually complete, just couldn't post more thanks to the restrictions on posting. Here's part of the rest: )

--

Officially, my position with Paradigm is called ‘opinion column journalist’-- an arrogantly over stated title-- but it’s always been negotiating to me. I don’t simply relay the facts in dry indifferent prose. I give the people of Paradigm a complete picture, and then try to convince them of the truth.

My editor is a clipped and stodgy man of fifty or so, with the conviction that he has all the wisdom of the world. Not the carefully collected wisdom that earned through years of studying and education, but the rough and jaded street smarts that comes from a life of struggle. He’d never set foot outside of the domes. What could he possibly know about difficulties?

He was a bought man-- the type who realizes it is on the coattails of others that his comfortable existence rides, and is unwilling to do anything that might endanger it. Rejecting controversial articles written by a resentful employee was no problem, which is why I wasn’t exactly eager to see him.

I walked past the latest pretty blond secretary, purposefully ignoring her as I entered his private office. Yet another attractive woman to adorn the building, I sometimes wondered if he actually slept with them, or just kept them around as an ego boost. The latter would fit better into his neatly ordered clockwork world.

The room was dimly lit, packed with shelves and cabinets; each neatly labeled and precisely placed. A single desk dominated the décor, with my editor behind it and an uncomfortable looking chair in front. He’d been waiting, thumbing through a large binder with an indifferent expression.

After a moment he motioned for me to sit down, and then set the binder down on the desk. “This,” he said, looking at me for the first time, “is a collection of copies for every article you’ve written for the Paradigm Press.” There was a carefully placed pause, as if he expected me to say something. “Half of them have required substantial editing, a quarter were not run at all. What do you think about this?”

There were quite a few thoughts I had about the subject, but they were mostly inappropriate and not very gentlemanlike.

After a brief silence, the editor leaned forward, peering at me through the darkness, the creases on his face furrowing in annoyance. “As you are undoubtedly aware, Paradigm Press is a subsidiary of the Paradigm Corporation.”

Of course I was aware. The Paradigm Corporation. Everywhere I go, that name haunts me... in this city it is God, State, and Enforcer. For so long I’d disowned the Paradigm Corporation, and now I was simply another one of their employees. What had caused me to go down this path? Was it that Rosewaters resignation hadn’t been the fatal blow I’d hoped it would? Or had I always been part of it in some way? Even in the years of my dispute with the company, I had accepted more jobs from subsidiaries like Paradigm Press then I cared to admit.

“The Corporation does not believe in digging up memories for distribution to the general public,” he goaded, leaning back into the chair. “You, on the other hand, seem to have little problem with it.”

“Paradigm itself spends much time and money investigating memories,” I snapped back.

“...and it does not publish it’s conclusions.” He returned, matching my anger with a calm, reasonable tone.

“Then why should Paradigm have any say in what’s published here? There is freedom of speech and press.” I knew this was skirting on dangerous ground, but the built up resentment was getting the better of me.

“We are still a subsidiary. Regardless of our relationship to the Corporation, we are inclined to agree with them. The memories of the past are not something to be taken lightly, and certainly not something to be serialized for the daily consumption of the masses.”

“So, that’s it then... Paradigm has a monopoly on truth? It figures, they own everything else in this city.” I glared at him, unabashed. “Including the people.”

The editor smirked sublimely. “You don’t seem to understand that your job is at stake here.”

I bit my tongue.

“One of your recent articles has caused some... discomfort among the executives. As a result, we reviewed your records and came to the conclusion you needed confronting.”

I tried to remember which article that was, but my mind drew blank. “What choice do I have? Shut up and be a darling little reporter, or get thrown out?”

“Hardly. There are those of us at Paradigm Press who recognize the need for reporters like you. Reporters who can shake things up, and keep the people interested in the news.” He waited a moment, to let this sink in before continuing. “We’ve decided to give you a paid vacation, a chance to think things through. What happens afterwards is up to you. Return and give up this nonsense about memories, or retire. In fact,” he shut the binder with a thump, “you’re well overdue for it. We offer a generous retirement package.”

“Can I refuse? Quit?”

“No one would stop you, but think of what a waste that would be. I personally would prefer if you decided to stay on with us. You are a popular communist, ‘Mr. Negotiator’.”

“I’ll think about it,” I managed, gracelessly standing and starting out of the room.

“By the way... about that article,” he persisted, stopping me in mid-step. “It’s multipart, yet you’ve only submitted the first segment. Tell me, have you finished the others?”

I paused, considering the question. “No,” I said before quickly retreating from the office, stumbling out the door and nearly colliding with the secretary. Courtesy required a mumbled apology as I moved with ever increasing haste towards the exit. I remembered what article I’d submitted. A ‘multipart’ never intended to go beyond the first half, I expected it to be intercepted... not out of any memories contained, but rather from it’s absurd content.

It had been a transcription of my nightmare, the stalking visage of the vile titans.

I practically ran out of the building.

--

I exited the press offices at a slower pace, winded from my retreat. The artificial sun glared down from above like a stage light. I closed my eyes and wondered what it had been like before this city lost its memories... when the sunlight was real, freely giving its light and warmth to all.

For a moment, with my eyes closed, I pretended that the warm glow came from the real sun. The shade was from trees, massive and flourishing, rather than the imposing shadows of construction that populated the domes. Everything would be all right in the end.

I wasn’t convinced.

Something touched my hand, and the memories of the basement came rolling back. I snapped my eyes open, prepared for any number of imaginable horrors... anything except for the pretty blond who stood only inches away. It was the secretary from Paradigm Press. She was smiling, her face uncomfortably close to my own.

Startled, I jerked backwards. How had she managed to catch up to me? Was this a disturbing new twist that my editor decided to add to his sweet little set up? I glared at her suspiciously.

She returned the glare with an offended look in her eyes, but made no comment. Instead, she stepped aside, allowing me a clear view what was on the curb behind her. It was an obnoxiously pink sports car, quietly awaiting a driver and passenger. I stared for a moment, a growing feeling of unreality gnawing inside as I turned to look at the pretty blond secretary once more.

It was her. Her car. The two of them impossibly unmarked by time.

The angel had reentered my life just as abruptly as she had left it, and I was frozen without any way to manage. She walked around to the drivers’ side of the car and opened the door, unimpressed by my shock. “Well, are you going to get in, or are you just going to stand there?”

I got in.

--
The Ghost of Ember 08-26-2006 01:40 PM
--

The car was an overpowering assault on the senses-- the lush pink upholstery, the faint, clinging smell of smoke, the upbeat jazz playing softly on the radio. The car was just as I remembered, the same feel, the same driver. Unwilling to look at her unnatural youth, I stared down at my hands instead, folded uncomfortably on my lap as they were. She pushed down the gas pedal and we started down the streets of Paradigm.

It was obvious why I hadn’t recognized her. She was the same woman, just as blond, just as voluptuous. Not a wrinkle or gray hair adorned her. Over such a gap of time... it was impossible, not even my wife remained that well preserved.

“It’s been a long time,” I finally managed.

“It has,” she agreed, not taking her eyes off the road. “You’ve changed.”

“You haven’t.”

There was an awkward silence, an unbearable one. I cleared my throat after a few moments. “Where are we-”

“So, you’re a reporter now?” she interrupted.

“I’m a negotiator.”

“Sounds like you’re really enjoying it. Did your wife make you take that job? It does seem a little out of character for you.”

“No, I-- well. Damn it. Where are we going?”

“...I can imagine it now. She’d look at you, with that dour face, and say ‘you’re done playing hero’.”

“I was the one who took the job. She was against it.”

“You’re a terrible liar.” Her voice was cold, lacking the charm and sincerity it once had. So at least one thing had changed, and it wasn’t comforting. If I looked into the mirror and saw her eyes, would they be as cold and empty as her voice?

“I wasn’t lying.” It was, at least, partly true. I didn’t like this reunion; it was digging up uncertain memories filled with fear and confusion.

“Of course. What’s the real reason?”

“...A letter a dead man sent me.” I tried to clarify. “It was a part of his will...”

“What was in it?”

“Mostly prattle about memories and imagination, empty talk about an old mans passion and ‘negotiating with the people.’ Trying to convince them to see the world through another light, to search for the truth.”

“How did that turn you into a journalist?”

I laughed, realizing how little my explanation clarified. “It was after you left. I had abundant time to think about my life, and I guess I just slipped into the role.”

“Mmmn.” She nodded to show her understanding. “Was that all?”

“Yes,” I lied.

“Didn’t I tell you to stop lying? You really are awful at it. Stick to the truth, it suits you better.”

“I’m not lying.”

...but the memory was already bubbling to the surface. I fought desperately to put it back down, to think about something else and forget. Forget the bad and remember only the good. To wait forever, wait and die. It’s not a bad life; it’s not a good one.

“Are you really that afraid?”

I glanced up to the rearview mirror. I could see her brilliant blue eyes in the reflection, their piercing gaze searching my secret thoughts.

It was just an illusion. I wasn’t afraid. Fear is an illogical emotion for which there is no basis. I shook my head, trying to clear the haze.

“You are afraid,” she observed, chuckling slightly.

I remember, I lie, but the truth is always present... haunting me like the ghost of a man hiding behind a mask. “There was a short story, a parable.”

She was wrong, I wasn’t afraid. How could I be afraid of a story? It didn’t make any sense, and yet... “It was about a little boy who wanted to go to his grandfathers’ house. He wanted to learn the knowledge of the world. And, well, there’s this dark and terrible forest in-between his house and his grandfathers. His mother doesn’t want him to go, and he’s terrified of the forest, but he goes anyways.”

She seemed shaken. “How does it end?”

“It doesn’t.”

--

We rode in silence for a while after that. I tried to speculate where she was going, but the route was an unfamiliar one. Strange, that there are only so many roads in this city, only so many paths one can take... I should know them all by now.

Retelling the story from the letter left me disordered. I tried to sort out my jumbled thoughts, only succeeding to come back and back again to the question I’d asked my wife. “What are we waiting for?” I muttered, releasing the words that were running through my head. “What are we waiting for?”

“Death.” The Angel responded. It was hard to tell whether or not she knew that the question hadn’t been directed at her, or if she cared either way.

“Death?” I asked.

“It’s the only thing that’s guaranteed to happen eventually.”

“Why?” I wasn’t sure what it was I was really asking.

“Why death?” She didn’t quite understand the question either. “Or do you mean, why are we waiting?”

I shrugged. “Does it matter?”

Her cold smile seemed to creep up again. “That depends. Are you trying to dig up the truth about this city?”

“It would be a worthy assignment for a reporter.”

“I thought you were a negotiator.”

“And I thought you were going to answer the question.”

She shook her head. “Don’t waste your time, negotiator. You can’t dig up the truth of Paradigm in this condition. Fear won’t let you.” Quickly changing the subject, she continued. “We’re almost there.”

“I’m not afraid. Now answer the question,” I demanded, increasingly annoyed by her toying around.

“Are you going to try to fight against fear? It’s a fight you can’t win. Fear’s been around since the beginning, long before even this city existed. It holds a power greater than me.” She glanced over her shoulder at me. “That’s the answer to your question. It wouldn’t be this way if I had any real say in it... but I can only direct people to the right course, not force them to do what I want.”

Unable to help it, I burst out in laughter, my hand reaching up to my forehead as my body shook. “And what course of action is that? Tell me, are you guiding them to the light, or seducing them to the dark?”

“I’m that type of Angel.”

“Which type aren’t you—Demonic, or Celestial?”

There was no response. The laughter subsided, drifting off into an uneasy silence.

“Angel,” I asked again, earnestly this time, “what are you?”

“I’m just an ordinary woman.”

Her answer set off another round of laughter. How could she show up one day, ageless and acting as if she’d never vanished a lifetime ago, talk of fear as if she chatted with it on a daily basis, and claim to be nothing but normal?

There was an abrupt stop. “We’re here,” she announced, her cold voice wavering. I glanced out the window, half expecting to find myself in some other world...

“This is where we started,” I stated incredulously. “This is the Paradigm Press.”

“Back where we started, no wiser, no happier. Just a little older, and a little wearier. It’s amazing how many journeys end like this. A little sad too, don’t you agree?”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. It doesn’t mean anything.”

It was just like her assertion that she was ordinary. Of all the things I should feel, it was concern that came foremost. “Are you alright?”

“Just tired.” She didn’t elaborate, and after a moment I reached for the door. “Before you go, I’ve a favor to ask of you.”

“Yes?” I half expected her to ask me to stay, to join her on another uncomfortable ride around the city.

“Get me a cigarette. There’s a box in the glove compartment.”

It was not what I’d feared, and I stared at the glove compartment for a few seconds before opening it and grabbing the half empty box of smokes. I handed her one, and hesitated. She produced a lighter from her coat pocket and lit up, then offered the lighter to me. I silently took one of the cigarettes and took her up on the offer.

“You have changed,” she said, after I’d returned the lighter.

“So have you,” I replied, taking a drag on the cigarette as I opened the door and climbed out. No sooner had I shut the door, than the Angel flew off in her obnoxiously pink car.

She’d parked over a manhole to let me out, and my gaze settled on it as the car disappeared into the distance. It would be so easy... I could just open the manhole and climb in, find out what was really going on in the city. I could find the reason for my nightmares.

I’m not afraid. Why should I be?

I took a step forward.

A deep sigh emanated from the underground, and something stirred in the darkness.

I took several steps backwards, and then turned and walked away in hasty retreat from the manhole. Overhead, the clockwork sun puttered along on its motorized track.

--
The Ghost of Ember 08-26-2006 07:42 PM
--

The buoyant light of the afternoon had faded into the brooding darkness of evening. I walked through the barren rooms of my house, reflecting. The riddles brought up by the Angel, the dark reflection in the basement, the Titans that haunted nightmares... were they memories?

It didn’t seem so. They were not dusty, meaningless, like the memories that stirred within me as I stalked the hallways. These were something else. The living personifications of the past.

I scowled at myself. What past? There was no past! There was no point on dwelling on things long buried; it was better to focus on the future!

Some part of me conflicted, without a past there is no future. If the entire history of the world could be wiped out in a single fire-filled night, then a person’s legacy could not extend beyond death. Life would be nothing more than a fleeing moment of existence, a short pointless wait before being thrust once more into the void.

I heard the faint sound of my wife’s piano. She was playing some obscure classical tune. The noise shook me from my vague meandering thoughts on existence and forced me to contemplate the more immediate problems of the here and now. I still had yet to tell her that I’d be accepting a forced retirement. I needed to find some way to break the news without her forcing the truth of the ultimatum out. If she did, there was the danger that she might talk me into taking it.

But when I reached the foyer she barely glanced at me, focusing instead on the music. It was an oddity and I paused at the door. Perhaps she was just waiting to finish that particular song? But when she wrapped up the tune, she led straight into another.

Unsure of what to make of this behavior, I decided to ignore it. I walked into the room and found my way to the desk and typewriter. Taking a seat I noticed that something was off; it was somehow transformed, different. It took a while for my sleep-deprived mind to catch on.

“This isn’t my typewriter.”

The music stopped. “Do you like it?”

My old typewriter had years of wear and tear, and while this one had seen its fair share of use, it was in better condition. The brand name displayed on the front coincided with my style of journalism. It looked lighter and classier than my old clunker.

I reached over to touch it, but the chair twisted out from under me. I fell over backwards, the chair toppling and hitting the carpeted floor hard. My wife glanced up from her piano for the first time. “You could have said you didn’t like it, there was no need for theatrics.”

I shifted around and rose to my elbows. “I like it. That was an accident, forget it.”

She watched as I stood up and righted the chair, and our eyes met. I tried to read the slight expression on her face, but it was difficult to register. Concern? Fear?

“What’s the occasion?” I wasn’t sure if I wanted to hear the answer.

She turned away. “You don’t remember?”

I hadn’t slept in two days, and any sleep before that had been dubious at best. I tried to remember, running through dates of every sort over and over, but no answer came.

“It’s our anniversary,” she explained in a voice steadily flat even for her.

My mouth opened and closed, and my mind ran off into several different incoherent directions. It was jumping for a solution, to come up with something, anything to resolve this situation. There were no answers, and I stood their choking on my own folly for several seconds. “Dee, I’m sorry, I...”

“It’s alright,” she said, her hands returning to the piano keys. “It doesn’t bother me.”

We didn’t speak to each other for the rest of the night, and I retired early. My bed-- nightmare-ridden as it was-- was comforting. The dreams at least were a problem that I was familiar with, a dilemma in which I knew where I stood.

--

Fire falls from the heavens. The city crumbles in the inferno, the clock tower melting away. The Titans above watch their brethren tear the land asunder as they call down the flames.

I stare pleadingly at the heavens, praying for some sort of deliverance… but there is no relief for the damned. All that descends is the darkest deity, the mother Titan. She hovers above the city, smiling down with approval at the destruction that her children have wrought, even as she weeps.

A sigh emanates from below me, and I begin to run as the ground starts to crumble beneath my feet. A staccato sound rang out, an urgent scream coming from nowhere.


--

The nightmare broke to the sound of the piano. I groaned and reluctantly stumbled out of bed. This routine was normally a source of irritation, but on this morning was a blessing. It had spared me from the rest of the dream, and it meant that my wife was not completely ignoring me.

The clock informed that I was already late for work, before I recalled that there was no job left to go to. Unwilling to try sleeping in a little later, I grabbed my robe and made my way to the dinning room, where cold eggs and lukewarm coffee awaited me.

My wife was at the other end of the table, sipping dutifully on a cup of tea. She didn’t look at me, and I couldn’t tell if she was surprised at my apparent tardiness. This frosty detached manner was the normal retaliation against my stupid mistakes. There was little use in pushing things.

I had finished the eggs and started on the coffee, when she finally put the tea down and deigned to look at me. “Did you call in again?”

“No.”

There was a pause, as various small ticks of emotions played across her face in muted, yet intricate, motions. “Are you trying to get fired?”

I scowled and put down the coffee, but didn’t respond.

“Becoming a reporter was your idea,” she said quietly, as if reading my thoughts.

“I seem to recall you strongly encouraged idea.”

“You needed it.”

“For what? Finances have never been a problem.”

“Not that. It was... a confusing time. You needed something to keep occupied with. Something to keep you focused, and rebuild your confidence. I’d thought the choice of journalism was a bit... odd. However--”

“Please don’t bother attempting to spare my feelings. We both know that for all I carried on about ‘disowning’ Paradigm, I was never anything more then their lapdog. A fool, and a hypocrite.”

“I didn’t mean--”

“Well I do!” I said, standing and slamming my open palm on the table. “I’m done with Paradigm. No more double standards, no more meaningless rules.”

She stared down at the teacup for a while, and I slowly sat back down, this conversation apparently done. “What will you do then?” she asked finally.

“I don’t know.”

We sat in silence. I finished my coffee, and then filched a cigarette from one of the stashes hidden in the room. Before I could light up, my wife made a face. “Please, not in the house.”

So I went and smoked on the balcony, shivering in my robes during the frosty morning.

--

After I’d finished my cigarette, I cleaned up, got dressed, and left without telling my wife. I needed time to alone, time to calm down and to think... time to figure out what I was going to do, time to type without interruption.

At first I simply drove around, without purpose or heading, passing by familiar sights and wasting gasoline. After a while my madness eventually gained method, and I found myself on the shadier side of town.

It was hard to believe that there could be bad neighborhoods inside of the domes, but this place was just as dangerous as any slum in the illegal residentials. Here was a place where a person could really disappear, where questions were rarely asked and answers were costly to obtain. I eased on the brake, scanning the unmarked buildings that lined the street. There was a building that I recognized, a small, nondescript apartment complex with a few boarded-up windows. Not too long ago there’d been an expose, and I’d covered the story. Now the details eluded me... had it been location of a drug ring? A place where married men met their mistresses? Were there Memories within?

I parked and went in, looking conspicuous by trying a little too hard to look discreet. The landlord was in. A bored looking man who barely looked at me, with no regards to references or contracts, he accepted a deposit on a one-room apartment.

The room was a horrid affair, furnished with nothing more than a cot and a small desk. Bathrooms were communal, as were the showers. Linens on the cot looked as if they hadn’t been changed in ages. They were coated with all sorts of dried fluids, everything from sweat, to what looked like patches of blood. The desk was ready to fall apart. It was hardly paradise.

Still, I stayed there for most of the day. I spent most of my time thinking, and occasionally dozing off while seated at the desk-- I wasn’t quite willing to touch the cot.

I didn’t dream.

--

I left in the afternoon, walking down the street to my car. I was wary and keenly aware of my age. I could probably hold my own against a lone ruffian, but years as a reporter had taught me the full scale of gang activity.

A motion in the periphery of my vision caught my eye, and I turned to see what was going on. It was a manhole; the cover trembling slightly as if someone had just gone down it... or perhaps something was trying to come up. In a brief moment it settled, complete and utterly still as if it had never moved at all.
The Ghost of Ember 08-26-2006 08:56 PM
I don’t know what compelled me. Morbid curiosity, perhaps? Or maybe, it was the cold condescending affirmation Angel had given that fear ruled me. Either way, I found myself walking to the manhole. As I grew closer, I began to second-guess myself. Wondering if the rattling cover had been a figment of imagination, an illusion brought on by compiled stress and sleep deprivation, I carefully stepped through the debris that had collected around the drain.

Only a few steps away and there was a muffled crunch under foot. I hesitated to look, and after a moment of consideration, bent down to brush aside wet, half-decomposed newspapers and cigarette butts.

It was a memory, discarded and forgotten amidst the street garbage. The theater mask was broken in half, partially crushed by a careless pedestrian. It struck a familiar note within me, and I carefully reached out to pick it up. My fingers caressed the smooth, slightly worn material, drifting along the glass set into the remaining eye.

While I had no use for the thing, I couldn’t bear to leave it there. Quickly stuffing the mask into my jacket, like a child pilfering candy, I straightened up and continued towards the manhole as if nothing happened.

The ground beneath me rumbled, a deep threatening sound.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, then once more crouched down to grab hold of the cover. There was little of the edge exposed to hold on to, and my fingers ached as I lifted the heavy object. I grunted and tossed it aside, only then did finally dare to open my eyes.

The dim light from the streets provided little illumination; all that I could see before me was the top of an inbuilt ladder and the sharp descent into darkness. I hadn’t brought a flashlight.

Turning around, I put one foot on the top rung of the ladder, and began my trip down into the darkness below the false light of Paradigm.

---

The light from the manhole was visible the entire length of the tunnel, although the ground beneath me was cast in shadows. Climbing down the ladder was easy, not knowing what lay just beyond those shadows the difficult part.

I carefully looked around, my breath loud and ragged, whistling in my ears. It would be so simple to just climb back up at any time. Grimacing, I turned my attention back to the ladder and started down once more.

It was several feet down that my feet finally touched something other than the cold steal rungs of the ladder. I probed it briefly with a free foot. It didn’t feel like the floor, more like a pile of rubble, old bricks and broken cement mixed together. It was most likely caused by something collapsing. Aware of the fact that it may not be stable, I edged myself onto the pile of wreckage, and held onto ladder until I was sure of my footing.

I stood there for several seconds, simply feeling relieved. There was comfort in the knowledge that I could return to the surface at any time, I had accomplished what I’d set out to do. Everything else was merely curiosity. I moved cautiously around the rubble, examining my surroundings.

The walls of the tunnel where mostly intact, except for one with a crack that widened out into a decent sized hole. Beyond that, the tunnel was nondescript, the entrance to the lower sewers sealed by debris. I moved towards the hole, and could vaguely make out the room beyond. Curiosity got the better of me, and I crouched and squeezed through to the other side.

I found myself staring at train tracks.

No, that was wrong. I remember... someone told me about this place. It was… the subway, a long forgotten labyrinth of trains that connected the city underground. I stepped between the tracks and stared up at the ramp. So long ago people stood there, waiting for their rides. Where were those people now? Dead, most likely, only the derelict trams leaving notice of their passing.

There was a motion to my right, and I quickly spun around to see what it was. The mask fell from my jacket and landed with a clatter on the ground. Distracted by the noise, I cursed silently and bent to pick it up, glancing upward to see what had moved.

Far down the tracks was a red smudge, the distant form of an approaching figure. Very little of the light from the manhole made it down in the adjoining room, and I suddenly longed for a flashlight, a lighter, or anything that would illuminate the dim tracks. I forgot the mask for the moment and stood erect, facing the figure with as much composure as I could muster.

“Who’s there?” I called out to it.

The figure continued forward, heedless of my question, still indistinct in the darkness. Much farther beyond it, lights seemed to flicker, the effect of straining eyesight in low light. They seemed to form a pattern, a familiar arrangement that I had seen before…

The Titan, the Deity, the vilest creation of god and man, it cried and laughed and reached out, seeking its prey.

I shook my head, trying to shake away the vision. It was only an illusion, a figment of my imagination. There was nothing to fear. I took a step forward, although a retreat seemed the best course of action.

Then a deep sigh emanated from the walls, and it gradually rose in pitch and fervor into a verbose howl. Wind seemed to spring from nowhere and whirled in torrents around me, picking up pebbles and pelting me with them. The conflicting streams and whirlwinds grappled me like tiny claws, trying to drag me down into the jowls of its master. I raised my hands in an attempt to ward off the winds and pebbles, the vision of the titan, the approaching stranger. My youth had left me and my strength left with it, my body quaked under the onslaught, and I was afraid.

I tried to take another step forward, but my legs buckled beneath me and I toppled over. Unable to break the fall, I turned and landed on my side, shoulder taking the brunt of the impact. The mask I’d carelessly dropped was sitting only inches from my face, its blind eye staring in dumb curiosity.

Macabre visions of my eminent demise played across my minds eye, as the wind seemed to die down. The figure was not so far away anymore, her feminine form now obvious. Would she produce a gun and end it all here and now? Or, perhaps the lights would turn out to be a titan after all, and the creature would devour us both?

My body hadn’t stopped trembling with the dissipation of the winds. How could I save myself-- call for help? There was no one down here but ghosts, and no one above would dare descend to help me. It left me with the choice of waiting silently for execution, or rising to meet my fate.

I was paralyzed, I couldn’t choose, I wouldn’t choose. I waited.

‘Der Junge, der alles wissen möchte,’ someone said. I recoiled at the noise. Was it the red-cloaked woman? The voice was hardly feminine. The words were familiar, yet foreign. A bizarre feeling of surrealism overtook me, and I stared into the single eye of the mask, which in turn stared back.

“The letter,” I hissed, the words of the dead man coming back to me. They were the words in the letter. The words he’d written so long ago...

‘Der Junge, der nichts weiß.’ The unseen voice continued, its unexplained presence mocking me. The more I stared at the mask, the more it seemed that the mask itself was speaking, and not a man. Some part of my brain was still rational and told me this was impossible, that it was an illusion caused by the fear, part of that dreamlike feeling.

’Wenn du groß bist, verstehst du, sagt die Mutter,’ the unseen commentator observed philosophically.

The woman hadn’t stopped walking, and the Titan hadn’t stopped in its silent observation. The fear told me to run, to flee, but in the depths of terror I did not want to admit to my fear. I was ashamed but I could tap into no courage, so I waited. Waited and pretended that I had been subdued by the winds.

‘Der Junge, der alles sofort wissen möchte.’ The mask-- no, the voice-- continued to recite the letter. Had there even been wind in the first place, or had I simply imagined it? Was it another excuse, another lie, another illusion to hide behind?

‘Tief im Schwarzwald, der Großvater, der alles weiß!’ I had fought fear so hard and so long, thinking that it had no effect on me... except I was only making excuses, blaming my terror on external things. Under the guise of courage, I’d made so many choices born of fear.

Even knowing this I could not retreat, could not give up and flee. There was nowhere to go. There was only waiting, waiting for death.

‘Um den Großvater zu suchen, tief im Schwarzwald!’ The voice roared, booming and echoing through the deep halls of the subway. It was either oblivious or uncaring of my plight.

Was I even his intended audience? I would assume, because of the letter...

But I didn’t know for certain.

Maybe he thought it would give me courage, or allow me to capitulate. Here I was damned, caught between the descent into absolute terror and the dispelling of it. Paralyzed, waiting, it seemed that death would take me before I could find the right path. It wouldn’t be a good way to die.

‘Aber er Kann den Großvater nicht finden,’ the dead man said, his voice subdued once more. ‘Der Junge, Immer weiter, immer weiter sucht er, als...’

The clock ticks, the pendulum swings, and the hourglass turns. The woman advances with murderous intent, the Titan watches with eternal patience, and I lie on the abandoned tracks between terror and bravery. The sands run until they run out, then it is time for you to die.

The red-cloaked woman reached out, saying something incomprehensible. Then everything faded into darkness.

--
The Ghost of Ember 08-26-2006 10:02 PM
--

The world is burning and thousands are dying, nobody knows and nobody cares. I stand a silent witness, watching the final testament of humanity. A single fire filled moment and the almighty power of the Titans, mankind’s last Memory.

I feel a twinge of pain, and look down to see the cause. A small part of my jacket has caught fire. How foolish it had been to feel as if I was only an outside observer, that I was somehow exempt from the nightmarish vision before me. I shed the jacket and toss it aside, and it is consumed quickly in the inferno. It is too late, the flame has caught elsewhere, and I am engulfed in the torrent. I can feel the flames licking my flesh, my lungs filled with smoke. I fall to the ground, realizing that my own Memory is fading away, that I will be forgotten.

The ground beneath me crumbles. The monster from beyond the darkness was waiting, and it takes me in its hand, plotting to devour me.


--

Awareness came gradually, filled with fleeting moments of clarity and confusion. So many things flickered past: waiting, time, memories, titans, angels, fear, and hatred. Then my eyes opened. It was dark. My jacket was missing, and for a few moments reality and fantasy mixed.

Was I still in the subway, or had the deity dragged me elsewhere? I looked around; eyes still covered lightly with the film of sleep, and then slowly sat up. The red cloak was draped across my legs, the broken mask set carefully in the middle of the cloth. I was outside, lying besides the manhole. The lid had been replaced. Everything looked as it had first when I first laid eyes on it; evening shadows the only thing showing the passage of time.

I stood up, scooping up the cloak and mask as I did. I checked my wallet and found it untouched. After a minuet or two trying to gather my wits, I limped to my car, every muscle aching. The vehicle was also untouched, and I locked the doors after climbing in. Then, slowly, I started the car and drove off, wondering what I was going to tell my wife.

--

By the time I returned home, I’d put together a sorry half-attempt at an excuse to explain my absence. It turned out to be a wasted effort, because Dee’s only question regarded the items I brought with me.

She eyed the cloak speculatively. It was not something I would-- or could, for that matter-- wear, but I’d always had gifts carefully wrapped and packaged before presenting them. “Is this for me?” she wondered.

“Hmmn?” I was heading for the desk, where my typewriter waited for me, as well as the dregs remaining in a drained cup of coffee. I paused and glanced at her.

“The cloak. Did you get it for me?”

“Yes,” I lied. My wife studied my face for a second, and then seemed satisfied. I walked over and draped it over her shoulders, and by some remarkable chance it fit. We were both a little surprised by this, my gifts where normally a size or two off. She adjusted it and offered small, barely noticeable, yet decidedly smug smirk.

“It’s red,” she noted, the casual tone not quite covering the hint of conceit. “I believe there was a certain rule about that kind of thing, darling.”

“Red was always the exception,” I replied quickly, brushing her sarcasm aside. I wasn’t in the mood for the petty banter that used to be our staple of conversation. Thankfully she dropped the subject, and turned her attention to the mask I still held onto.

“What’s that?”

I shrugged. “It’s a Memory.”

“Pardon?”

“It’s a mask. At least, part of one.”

She plucked the mask from my hand. Holding it up for a better look, she turned it over in her petite hands, a dim light of recognition playing across her face. “A half-mask, from the theater,” she observed. I refrained from mentioning that I’d stepped on it. “This is from a show they played long ago.”

“Really?” I asked, curiosity piqued. “What was it...?”

“It was worn by a ghost,” she said slowly, recalling bits of memory that drifted in her mind. “A ghost that haunted a theater. At first he was driven by compassion to guide and mentor the heroine, but was eventually overcome by obsession. It drove him to madness.” Here she paused, thinking as she ran her fingers along the broken edge of the mask. “Instead of guiding, he became the adversary, seeking to destroy that which he’d helped create. He wore a mask to hide the defects in his face.”

“Ah,” I said. It sounded far too contrived for my interest. Then again, I was never much one for theatrics.

She set the mask on the nearby side table. “Now that I think about it, this isn’t the same mask. That one was white.”

--

I returned to the apartment the next day, and the day after that. I took the typewriter with me. It helped break the monotony. The apartment did not improve from my patronage, and my own trash began to accumulate: cigarette butts, coffee cups, discarded scraps of paper, all piling up in their own respective areas.

My wife didn’t ask about the typewriter. She didn’t ask about much of anything any more. She’d always been quiet, but what little conversation existed in my house had died. All that was remained was the tune of the piano and the clicks and whirs of the typewriter.

The nightmares came and went, and I eventually found it easier to catnap throughout the day than bother with disturbed sleepless nights. Sometimes, while walking to the apartment, I’d pass the manhole and wonder. Then I would remember the titan, the red-cloaked woman, and hurry on inside.

It’s not a bad life, waiting. We all march to our inevitable demise.

--
The Ghost of Ember 08-26-2006 11:03 PM
--

The bar was crowded, which was unusual this early in the day. At least, that had always been the case when I was a regular. I squeezed my way through an obstacle course of tables, chairs, and bodies. I headed for the back, looking for a certain person of wisdom who’d inhabited the establishment years before.

Honestly, I had no idea why I was searching for him... or even if he was still alive. He was old when I knew him, and it had been so many years since we last met. Still, it was something to do.

Most people offered only a passing glance before going back to their business, but the bartender and a few patrons stared unabashedly. It was to be expected, considering how unkempt I looked. My hair hadn’t seen a comb in a while, and shaving was no longer worth the effort. After my jacket went missing, I stopped wearing suit jackets altogether.

To my surprise he was still there. Like the angel, he was perfectly unmoved by time. Sitting in the same old seat, drinking the same old whiskey and reading the same old newspaper.

The chair opposite of the table was inexplicably unoccupied, so I took a seat and lit up a cigarette. “Does anyone but me grow older in this city?” I asked, at length.

The informant smiled, never looking up from his paper. “Some of us grow older in different ways. You can’t just judge by appearances, Mr. Reporter.”

I didn’t respond.

He flipped a page of his paper and continued. “Did you have any other questions for me, or is this just a social call? It’s been awhile.”

I hadn’t expected him to be here, much less thought out an entire line of enquiry. A small part of me hoped for an easy way out, that he would just offer up the answers to the questions of the city, of the nightmares, of fear. The questions I needed to ask refused to formulate in my mind, they could not be put into words. There was only one thing I could ask: the same question I’d posed to the angel.

“What is this city waiting for?”

“If you want to live a happy life, you don’t ask questions like that. Haven’t I told you that before?”

“I’ve followed that false promise of the future all of my life. It’s propaganda, nothing more. Nonsense produced by Paradigm Corporation to feed to the lapdogs and fools of this city, to make them feel better about the lost Memories. Time keeps flowing, and the future does not seem as bright as promised. There is no future without the past.”

“Indeed? Are you thinking of following in the footsteps of that other reporter? He went insane, in case you forgot.”

I shook my head. “Who judges sanity? It doesn’t matter. It isn’t the question at hand. You’re the informant; tell me what this city is waiting for.

“This city is nothing more than a stage, and we are actors who play out our given roles. We wait for our required actions and then pass on. Nothing more, nothing less.”

I smashed the cigarette I’d been smoking into the ashtray on the table, a growing feeling of outrage simmering inside. What nonsense! “If we are actors, why are there Memories? What’s the point of emotion, of the vast interplays of our internal existence?”

He folded the paper and placed it in the never-growing pile besides him, then pulled out another from the bottom. “Can you prove me wrong?” he asked in a neutral tone.

I opened my mouth, and then closed it. No, there was no way to prove him wrong, and I couldn’t help but feel even more enraged at the prospect that he’d pointed it out. No arguments could be made because no research had been done, beyond what was locked behind seals of classification in the Paradigm Corporations vaults.

“Why do you want to know, anyways?” the informant prodded.

“I went down into the subway recently,” I replied. “When I came back, I wasn’t quite the same person who’d gone down. It’s not the first time I’ve been down there.”

“Why do you go down?”

There was the question, the one that had no answer. Was it to face my fear? If so, I never succeeded. Was it to find the truth? I had found no truth underground. Was it merely some primordial compulsion, some hard coded part of my genes or psyche? Then there was no such thing as freedom of choice. “I don’t know.”

“Before you start trying to figure out this city, you might want to try figuring out yourself. Actors don’t need to understand the script, just deliver it properly. They can’t do that if they don’t understand their character. For instance, why did you start smoking?”

“I don’t know.”

“You understand, don’t you?” He flipped through the pages of the paper. “Is there anything else you wanted, Mr. Reporter?”

I got up, not looking at the informant as I dropped a wad of cash-- always cash-- onto the table. I started walking away, feeling angry, weak, and violated.

“One more thing, Mr. Reporter. Don’t bother trying to look for the truth of this city,” he called out after me. “You won’t find it. And even if you do, truth is always less satisfying than the lies we tell ourselves.”

I pushed through the crowd, aggressively this time, making my way towards the exit. The door swung open just as I got there, and a brash looking youngster stepped in. He strutted around in a flashy black suit, as if he owned the city. He was a mirror reflecting my past. I continued forward, refusing to adjust my course as the youngster walked towards me, barely aware of my presence.

He ran into my shoulder as we passed, and for a moment seemed to wake from his illusionary world of rules and ego. He glanced at me and a brief look of contempt flashed over his face. “Oblivious dome dweller,” he muttered.

“Imbecilic lapdog,” I countered and walked out the door, allowing the child to return to his fantasy world. He’d have a rude awakening some day, and as I left the bar my only wish was that I could be around to see the look on his face when he did.

--

A Memory had found itself a home in my apartment as well. The broken mask usually shared the rickety table with my typewriter, but when I entered late one evening, it was being held in the hands of an Angel. She ran her fingers over it, mindlessly toying with the thing as she sat perched on the edge of the cot.

I paid little attention to her as I walked into the room. Arriving at the desk, I turned the chair around to face her and took a seat, waiting patiently for her to explain her presence.

She smiled, but didn’t speak.

“I’m sorry, I forgot that you can’t initiate conversations anymore.” It came out more of a sneer that I’d intended. “What are you doing here?”

“Quite a place you’ve got here,” she avoided the question, her reply equally harsh. She reached across the empty space and set the mask down on the table, then settled back.

“It’s late, I’m tired. I only came here to pick up the typewriter. What do you want?”

“I was curious to find out how your attempt to defeat fear had turned out.”

“It turned out....” my words drifted, failing to come to any conclusive end.

“I’m sorry, I forgot. You can’t finish sentences anymore.”

How dare she throw my own words back at me? “Sarcasm is the refuge of the ignorant,” I spat back through clenched teeth.

“That doesn’t stop you.”

“I never claimed to be an all-knowing Angel.”

She folded her arms and gave me a disapproving look. “I never said that I was all knowing. Anyway, I came here because I needed to return something.” With that, she turned slightly, reaching behind her to a bundle that lay on the cot. It was a big black piece of clothing, and for a moment I failed to recognize it.

“My jacket,” I said. It was the same one I’d lost in the subway. “You were down there? You were…”

The red cloak, the feminine figure.

“Do you want your jacket, or not?” She offered it with outstretched hands.

“No, no! Look, if you were down there, then... you can answer so many questions! You know!” I was almost pleading, but pride was beyond me now. “Tell me what happened. I can’t go down there, but you can. Don’t you see what this means?”

“Are you sure you don’t want the jacket back? It’s your last chance.”

“No. Please, you can help me.”

She sighed, and placed the jacket on the bed. “I won’t be your crutch Mr. Reporter. I can’t face the fear for you. It’s not my role.”

“But... you can find... the truth. The city...! The memories!”

“Some of us aren’t interested anymore.”

I sat in silence, too stunned to react. What could I say? What could I do to convince her to search for me? The silence stretched on, awkward and heavy.

“I have a present for you, Mr. Reporter,” she said finally, and produced yet another piece of clothing from behind her. Where my jacket had been carelessly wadded into a pile, wrinkled and forgotten, this was neatly folded with a pastel pink ribbon pinned to it.

“What’s the occasion?” I asked suspiciously, taking the article as she pushed it into my hands. It was brown. Unfolding it revealed a vest, nicely made, the fragment of an incomplete three-piece suit.

“If I remember, your anniversary was a few days ago. Please send my condolences to your wife.”

“Condolences?”

“Pardon, I meant congratulations.” She paused for a moment, watching me fiddle with the vest the same way she’d toyed with the mask earlier. “Try it on. I think it’ll look good on you.”

I nearly replied that anything would look good on me, but staring at the vest, I felt uncertain. It was brown.

The cloak had been red. I was a man of rules, but I’d told Dee that red was an exception. Only now I realized, making one exception to a rule was to invalidate it. I pulled off the ribbon and put the vest on. It fit nicely, and it made me feel a little more composed.

Angel stood and gave me a quick nod of approval, then headed for the door. “Take care,” she said, as she slipped out of the apartment.

--
The Ghost of Ember 08-27-2006 12:04 AM
--

Through some miracle, I managed to stumble into the house. It was late, later than I’d ever returned after staying at the apartment. The world seemed to sway up and down with each step. It was the disorientation of sleep deprivation mixed with inebriation from the consumption of far too much cheap wine. Cause and effect. I never drank this much when I was younger, how did Angel always manage to do this to me?

I staggered into the foyer, the typewriter a dead weight in my hands. When I tried to drop it onto the nearest table, my fingers refused to function, clinging to the typewriter as if it were a lifeline to reality. After a few attempts it fell with a heavy thump, gouging the tables surface. I’d catch hell for that later.

Alone in the middle of the living room, I leaned against the couch and waited for the world to stop its erratic sway. I’d expected my wife to be waiting, stern and immobile as she ever was, but she was nowhere in sight. Deciding not to worry about it, I tried to settle down onto the couch, but my knees would not cooperate.

So I stood hunched over and clinging to the arm of the couch, and watched the rain splatter against the balcony windows. It was only a drizzle at the moment, but was slowly building momentum.

There was a flicker of red in the bleak and dreary world outside.

In an instant I knew it was my wife, bundled in that red cloak, standing on the edge of the balcony. I slowly straightened up and walked to the door. Sure enough, she was there. I fumbled with the latch and pushed open the door. Once outside I walked carefully and deliberately, trying desperately not to slip. It took a few moments to make my way over to her, standing there indifferent to the wind and rain.

“Are you cold?” I asked, my voice slurred.

“Are you drunk?” she returned my question with her own.

“No. Yes. What difference would it make?”

“None, really.”

The conversation lapsed into silence; the rain grew heavier, and beat down on my shoulders.

“I ran into her today,” she said at length.

“Who?”

“Who else? I know you’ve seen her too. She hasn’t changed... I don’t understand it. Is she an android?” There was a pause, and she answered herself. “No, I would have known. Something else entirely?”

“I don’t know. Maybe she really is an angel.” I laughed, but Dee was unmoved.

Her soft voice grew quiet, barely discernable over the rain. “She said you’re going away.”

“Maybe I am, she seems to know.” We fell silent. For a moment we were standing in the past, quietly enjoying each other’s company as we had for so many years. “Look, it’s dawn.”

And it was. The artificial sun had started up, its dim light filling the dome. The valves that controlled the rain were closing off, and the rain began to fade. My wife stirred on the parapet.

“Please don’t.”

“Don’t go away? Maybe I have to. I need to find out, Dee. If there are no memories and we’re just actors, then how can anything matter? There’s got to be an answer, a truth behind it all. I think I can find it.”

She turned around to look at me. “Can’t you see what’s happening?”

“All I see is the course I should’ve taken since the beginning, the things I desired but hesitated to act on-- because I was afraid.”

Another silence followed, this time strangely bittersweet. Dee turned back to look at the clockwork sun. “Goodbye then.”

She took a step forward, off the balcony.

“Dee!” I cried. But it was too late.

She was already gone.

--

The insane rampage of the Titans continues unchecked-- there is no place to hide from their power. The world has been consumed, devoured by the flame and the power of god that the Titans symbolize. There is no place to hide. They are sky, earth and sea. There is the underground, but...

I stare down at the manhole at my feet. A deep sigh seems to emanate from beneath it, as if some foul thing was stirring in the manmade caverns and exhaling its blasphemies into the world. I need to run, need to get away, but my legs will not move. The ground crumbles beneath me, and I land in the darkness of the underground.

There it was in the shadows. Staring at me as it always did, laughing and crying as it always has, cursing the world since ancient times. Too late I screamed and tried to get away, but there was no escape.


--

I jerked from the nightmare, thrashing and screaming. Banging my feet against the table and the typewriter, I tried to get away from the monster in my dream. The clang of the typewriter brought me back to reality, and my tremors subsided. I was stretched out on the couch, with no recollection of coming inside and lying down.

Dee...

There was nothing else left for me here. My head a little clearer from what little sleep I’d gained, I realized how cold and wet it was outside. I left the couch and headed down the hall, to the closet. It was nearly empty-- my heavy black wool coat was missing, Dee’s tailored dress coat was gone, the red cloak...

Only a few musty gray housecoats occupied the closet. I hesitated to take one, what little sense of fashion I had left holding me back. I didn’t exactly want to be seen going around in a butlers uniform, but the chill from the early morning rain had already settled in. It would be foolish not to wear something warmer.

Coffee would be good right now, I thought, digging out a cigarette and lighting up. Pushing aside the housecoats, I saw a long-forgotten brown trencher. Mostly likely an absentminded guest had left it behind, back when we actually entertained anyone.

It fit well enough, so I went back for my typewriter and then left.

--

Part of me expected to find Angel waiting at the apartment, but I wasn’t surprised when I stepped into an empty room. She was gone, just as the nightingale was gone, as the negotiator was gone, as the reporter was gone. None of them existed within this city anymore. All that was remained in the void was a dead man and a memory.

I set the typewriter down-- carefully this time-- next to the mask on my desk. It stared up at me, mocking in its silent ethereal laughter. I stared back into the lone glass eye, daring to ask the questions that fear had forbidden me to speak.

The words from the letter came back to me, clear as if the mask was reading them aloud. It was obvious now. Everything that had transpired, all led carefully to one conclusion. Death had been a ruse, a disguise. The author was still alive, somewhere underground-- the prophet was still searching, continuing his quest for the truth.

Maybe he had found it, maybe he could tell me.

I picked up the mask and stuffed it into my pocket. Then I left the apartment, knowing that like my house, I would never set foot in there again.

There was only one thing left to do. Grandfather would know the answers.

--
The Ghost of Ember 08-27-2006 01:05 AM
--

It was late in the morning now. The mechanical sun bathed the streets of the city in an eerie and beautiful light. It was tempting to close my eyes as I walked along, and to pretend that the light was real. To imagine that deliverance would come from the clockwork motions of Paradigm. To wait.

I understood waiting now. People wait because of delusional concepts such as courage. Courage, the idea that action is in spite of fear rather than because of it, that fear is something to be faced down and defeated. That is a mistake; fear is the true reason for all human triumphs. Science was born of fear of the unknown. So-called ‘courageous’ acts are born out of fear for the safety of others.

If you fight fear, you find yourself severed from you own primal motivations, unable to take action.

I was tired of waiting, tired of fighting fear, and I was tired of the nightmares… I wanted to find the reasons, the truth behind the city.

Der Junge, der alles wissen möchte

The city burns, a blaze of ignorance.

Der Junge, der nichts weiß


I walked over to the manhole and lifted it again. The rungs of the ladder awaited me. Another descent to darkness, a journey I’d taken so many times before. Would this end in like all the others? No wiser or better, just older and more tired?

Wenn du groß bist, verstehst du, sagt die Mutter

As the people wait apathetically, the titans come. Destroying us with ease because we had stopped fearing, had dared to presume ourselves Gods of knowledge.

Der Junge, der alles sofort wissen möchte


I began my way down the ladder, no longer afraid of the darkness. On the other side of the shadows would be another light, a light of truth, a blaze of hope in this city of fallacy.

Tief im Schwarzwald, der Großvater, der alles weiß

I’m on fire; I can feel the flames licking my skin. The smoke is all around me, suffocating me, embers falling like snow. The ground beneath me rumbles menacingly.

Um den Großvater zu suchen, tief im Schwarzwald


I entered into the darkness, the light of the city fading behind me. The terminal, the tracks and the derelict trams, the ghosts of ages past lie ahead. The ground beneath me rumbles, and a deep sigh emanates from the walls, like foul blasphemies from a dark and vile god.

But I wasn’t afraid this time, even as the world of the underground seems to darken around me. The faint light from the false sky that had filtered down into this shadowed world disappeared from it forever. Even the ground beneath me had faded away, disappearing into the dark.

I stretched my arms out, testing the limits of my newfound prison of shadows. In the distance, I could almost see lights, arranged in a specific pattern. Before I might’ve seen them as a mere coincidence... but I realized now what they really were.

Aber er Kann den Großvater nicht finden,

The ground beneath me collapses, and I fall into the den of the titan, the darkest deity. Its smile is twisted and inhuman as it looks at me with weeping eyes. It was a disgusting thing, a creature of loathing and hate, a dark spot in the world.

Der Junge, Immer weiter, immer weiter sucht er, als...


“I want to know now. I’ll give anything, just for the knowledge, just for the truth. Grandfather, I know you’re alive. Please, tell me.”

But the only sound to be heard was the echo of my own voice, twisting slowly into condescending chortle of a long dead man.

--

The clock ticks, the hourglass turns, the pendulum swings, and time passes. Hours like minutes, days like hours. Time for this city is running out, the sands running down. The people hovel together in their ignorance, mesmerized by the ticking whirring mechanisms of Paradigm.

The wait is almost over, and time is running out. During the interim between the beginning and the end I shall not be known as Negotiator or Reporter. For the time being, you may call me Schwarzwald.