Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. (Click here for the Table of Contents.)
At the end of Part 54, Allin and Matthias had been captured by the merskers, the things that live in the dark. While being carted toward an unknown destination, the world began to fill with light: ghost light.
The Only City Left: Part 55
At the sight of our ethereal entourage, Matthias was impressed despite himself. The number of ghosts drawn into our wake had grown into the dozens if not the hundreds.
“Very odd. You say you’ve encountered this before?”
“Kind of. The last ghost I ran into was Doyle himself, so that doesn’t exactly count.”
Matthias nodded at me to go on. He knew all about Doyle’s peculiarities already, I was sure.
“Before him, I ran into some ghosts who were really angry with me, like I had wronged them somehow. But then they also kind of saved me from Doyle.” I neglected to mention how the ghost had held me in place and dampened my coil’s light, for fear I would sound crazy. It was the stuff of horror stories, not real life. “I don’t know what I did to attract their notice, but ever since that run-in, my life has gotten pretty strange.”
Matthias made a hrmph sound that meant either “How interesting” or “You’re boring.” I assumed the latter, because he went back to ignoring me. I returned the favor.
It was disturbing to be followed by ghosts, but I was happy to have their light. The merskers, on the other hand, sounded perturbed and I noticed the carts start to pick up speed. The ghost light dimmed as we pulled away, and I began to feel cold and alone.
I badly needed some human contact. Matthias would have to do.
“Why’s Doyle so crazy to get a hold of me?” I asked.
“I don’t read his diary. All I know is, he wants you taken alive, and what Doyle wants, Doyle gets.”
“He’s not getting me. I know you can’t make any promises, but I’m warning you: don’t try to stop me once we get out of here.”
“If I weren’t already trembling in my boots from cold and shock, I would be after that speech.”
I gave up on talking to him after that bit of sarcasm. I could count on Matthias to do what was best for Matthias; I’d have to work around that obstacle as best I could.
I lay down again and we spent the rest of the trip in silence. When I felt the cart stop, I sat up and looked around. The merskers had parked their carts in a clearing surrounded by a village of squat huts. The pale creatures set to work unloading their haul, moving with an efficiency that made me believe this was not their first time at this. Looking around in the dim light (for the majority of the ghosts had not caught up to us yet), this was easy to believe. The entire village was constructed out of scrap parts, and between the huts there were great bins into which the merskers sorted the goods they brought back. Past the bins and the huts, hills of garbage ringed the village. They were scavengers, like me, but they had settled down.
My sightseeing ended when I noticed a pair of merskers approaching our cart with an intent look on their faces. Despite my protests that I could walk, they yanked on the net and pulled Matthias and me to the ground. Matthias managed to roll onto his good leg but he still let out a roar of pain when he landed. From there, the merskers dragged us in front of a particularly foul-smelling bin full of all sorts of once-living but now-rotting creatures: rats, fish, tentacled sacks of goop, and other carcasses that I couldn’t identify.
I did not want to be dumped into that morass of bio-matter, so I started yelling and doing the best I could to dig in my heels. I needn’t have worried, though, because the merskers worked the net off of us and left us in front of the bin before leaving to unload more carts.
“That’s odd,” I said. “I guess they don’t have a bin for prisoners.”
“Gah, the smell,” Matthias said. “Help me move.”
It was pretty bad, so I reluctantly helped him hobble away from the reek. I half-expected some merskers to run over and force us back to our assigned place, but now that we were in their village, they didn’t seem to care about us. The feeling was mutual until I saw one of the merskers carrying something near and dear to me: my cocoon bag! In all the chaos, I hadn’t given it a thought other than to assume it was forever lost to the abyss. I roughly lowered Matthias to the ground and sprinted toward the mersker holding my bag.
“Hey you, that’s mine!”
A pack of spear-wielding merskers disagreed. I skidded to a halt with a half-dozen sharpened wooden points aimed at my throat, while the mersker with my bag continued on his way to a bin, oblivious to my demands. I held up my hands, palms out, and spoke in a reassuring tone while backing away.
“Okay, okay, not mine. I get it. No need for violence.”
I retreated but noted the location of the bin where my bag ended up. I will get it back, you little trolls, I thought as I returned to Matthias’ side.
“See something of yours?” Matthias asked.
“Well, I see something of mine,” he said, and pointed.
I looked and saw two merskers carrying a body toward the pile of dead and rotting bio-mass.
It was unmistakably Guppy, his head skewed to a fatal angle. The merskers dumped him unceremoniously on the pile and walked away.
“You do nice work,” Matthias said.
“I didn’t mean to hurt him. I just wanted him to let me go.”
“Don’t be ashamed of your killer instinct, boy. You’re an Arcady. It’s in your blood.”
“I’m not a killer, and neither was Dad,” I said heatedly. But I had my doubts about that, given what Banshee had told me and what I had seen in Glin’s Rising. “I’m sorry about Guppy. I wish he had just left me alone.”
“Don’t be sorry. Everyone looks out for themselves in this world. No one will leave you alone,” Matthias said, his voice serious. “You have to be a killer to survive. And you, Allin Arcady, are a survivor. I can tell.”
* * *
I had been putting off starting to write Book 2, so last week while I was waiting for the oil to be changed in my car, I used the time stuck at the dealership to just do it already. It was a slow start but it worked. I am off and running, although as you can see from my tracking sheet below, it is in fits and starts because 1) I ended up starting it at a time when I am going to be extremely busy for at least 3 weeks, and 2) after an initial writing sprint, I hit a wall. First, my stats, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.
Yes, I like to keep track of my writing day-by-day, to make sure I’m not falling too far behind my goals. Which I am this week and probably for the next few weeks, but at least it gives me something to work toward. What I needed to remind myself after the 27th and 28th is that I am doing this for fun! I let myself be overwhelmed by the imagined importance of the work and that paralyzed me. Let me tell you, Chapter Two as it stands now is pretty awful. But it exists to be edited and I can now move on to Chapter Three secure in the knowledge that Two can be fixed or entirely rewritten later. Having something, anything, to edit is more important than worrying about getting it right the first time, especially if that worry keeps you from writing anything.
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