Yesterday, despite a migraine that made me feel sick as a pig, I got on like a house on fire with In Paradisio, the third volume of the Wormholes series. In the cold light of a post-migraine morning, I can see that this story is not exactly a seamless web—we seem to have gone from William Blake to Bladerunner. Migraines do have an effect on the writing style and content! See what you think.
He turned back to the path, a pale, sandy line in the darkness, and in a few moments, the ash, the yew, and the star were lost among the forest shadows. Within a few more minutes, the ‘forest’ petered out. Carla recognised the signs of an industrial wasteland, with dilapidated hangars, oil drums, plastic bags spilling their vile-smelling contents across the scrubby grass, and the quick scurry of rats. Memories of the mall and the hordes of rats that infested the rubbish heaps came back with a sharp shock and she stepped backwards. Harut held her firmly.
“You said you wanted to see other worlds.”
“But nice ones! This is too much like what Earth became.”
Harut’s teeth glittered in the wan moonlight. “Your Earth became like this, at the end. Some worlds have been like this for centuries.”
Carla shivered, dreading what the shadows of the crumbling warehouses concealed.
“Now keep quite.” Harut whispered in her ear. “We don’t want to attract too much attention. Even if we are armed.”
“Of course. Remember the first exercises you ever did? What do you think you were supposed to do with the energy you transformed?”
“Self-defence, I suppose.”
Harut snorted. “Yeah. You’d better be prepared to defend yourself, then. And definitively.”
Carla looked about nervously
“There’s never much action here,” Harut whispered. “Let’s go into town.”
The pale moonlit sheds disappeared, replaced by the oppressive mass of tall buildings, some in complete darkness, others lit up like Christmas trees. A six-lane highway cut a wide gash between the buildings, joined by tiny dark alleys, not wide enough to walk two abreast. Vehicles whizzed past silently, and a skytrain flicked by on a rail that ran down the median strip. Apart from the muted sounds of rubber tyres on asphalt, there was little noise.
“Where is everybody?”
“Everywhere,” Harut replied. “Watching.”
“Anything that moves in this place is suspect. Look.”
The shadows moved in one of the dark alleys at the far side of the highway, and something slipped into the flickering light of a passing train. Something that ran on two legs, then dropped to four. Whatever it was darted down the next alley, dragging a bag of refuse behind it. Carla started to ask a question, but Harut hushed her with a tightened grip on her arm. A scream of agony followed by a long drawn out howl broke the expectant silence. Moments later, two more hunched shapes broke from the alley, bent over cumbersome bundles, and disappeared into the darkness.
“Let’s go see,” Harut said, leaning into a running pose.
“No!” Carla hung back. “I really don’t want to get close to whatever went on there.”
“C’mon! It’ll be fun, you’ll see.”
Reluctantly Carla was scooped up in Harut’s aura to the far side of the highway, to the dark entrance to the alleyway the first creature had entered. She wrinkled her nose. It stank of something rotting, the smell that lingers in the bottom of dustbins, and the smell of corruption, of things long dead. Harut strode forward, his hands working as he gathered energy from the light sources, the electricity humming in the train rails, the fear Carla felt in the air all around her.
“There. Behind those waste containers.”
Harut pointed. At first it looked like a bundle of plastic bin bags. Until it moved. A hand reached out and clawed the ground, trying to get a hold on something, maybe to stand up. An arm reached out, a shoulder lurched from the shadows, then a head. Carla gasped. The head jerked and eyes opened, fixed hers, dark and glittering. Blood poured from the head, the shoulder, running along the arm, dripping from the fingertips. The face was the face of an ape. It grinned in terror. Its teeth were as bloody as the gash in its forehead. It scrabbled in the dirt, grabbed a bag and clutched it to its chest.
“It’s been eating man flesh,” Harut said. His voice was cold, but Carla sensed his rising excitement. “In the bag. What the other two left.”
Carla turned her head, not wishing to see what spilled out of the bag when Harut threw a fistful of power at the creature. She heard the soft splat as the bolt hit home. She heard the beginnings of a scream of agony that stopped, strangled in the throat by death. She dragged on Harut’s hand, but he shrugged her away and strode into the alley to inspect the remains. There wasn’t much left to inspect.
“Let’s go get the others,” he said, as he strode past her back out towards the highway.
“Why not? They’re vermin. If we don’t get them, they’ll only jump somebody else.”
“You mean, in the bags, it was… it was…”
“Yup. It was person.”
“Harut, let’s go back. I don’t like it here.”
In the dark, in the intermittent flashes of passing cars, Harut’s face grew cold. “You said you don’t understand why Nisroc wants to keep out the hordes of dead souls. You seem to think all spirits are peaceable just because they’re dead. Well, it’s time to open your eyes. Come on!”
Carla tried to hang back, but Harut took her in his arms and she found herself at the end of another dark alley. The walls, black with filth rose so high the night sky was lost to view. The same stench caught at her throat, making her gag. Harut crept deeper into the sinister ginnel, listening for the movement. When she heard the furtive sound of whispering, Carla stiffened, getting ready to run, but Harut leapt forward with a cry, the twisted mesh of energy in his hand glowing, lighting the huddled forms cowering against the wall. The same ape-like faces, dark and malevolent, or was that dark and terrorized?
The energy leapt and the two creatures flew backwards in a sheet of flame. Skin sizzled, hair glittered like ruby light, and the screams of agony were brief. When the glare faded, Harut stepped up to the carbonized carcases and kicked one. His boot caved in the shrivelled ribs. He drew back his foot in disgust.
“That makes three more dead souls crying to get into Paradisio. That’s the kind of thing you want to have walking the green valleys with you? Filthy cannibals?”