Afterfall

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Afterfall

Post by Quix on Thu Mar 21, 2013 5:24 am

I am trying to get a right feel for the opening of this story, so I rewrote it. Lemme know what you think.

The fog tickled at the boy’s feet as he climbed the metal beanstalk.

Denver’s abandoned streets were masked by an omnipresent white that rose above even the Republic Plaza. Dex was not afraid of heights, he relished his time climbing the buildings in the Mountain district, but even he feared the abyss. Primal screams punctuated each pause for breath as he pulled himself higher. The boy gulped and his arms tensed up each time he heard a shriek. There he was, several stories above the streets, and still worrying about what hid below. Collecting in the Banks was designed to be a job reserved for the brave or the hopeless.

Dex was one of the few that met both of the criteria.

The boy jammed his heels a few feet higher with each motion up the building. Well, he was not quite a boy anymore. His windburnt face was still youthful, but his piercing brown eyes and determined stare betrayed the ambition of a man.

Don’t look down. A familiar, grating voice egged his thoughts. Even if it was annoying, it was difficult to resist. The only thing he would see was the brick wall. It would just be a distraction. He told himself. He needed every ounce of his concentration to focus on not sliding down the pipe he clung to.

Higher he went. It was close now. The fog made it difficult to see even three feet above him, but the metal melody became clearer as he climbed. The sound was a siren’s call that wrapped me into a fool’s trip. He sneered, but kept climbing. The artifacts in the city were running dry after decades of scavenges and now only the most reckless were still finding anything worthwhile. Desperation was driving him towards absurdity. Adding insult to injury the Collection houses made no effort to adjust their prices for the added risk.

Just a few more feet. The estimate was based solely on instinct. It was likely that Dex would be feeling around the outside of the window sills for a few minutes before actually finding the chimes: an unfortunate side effect of being blinded by fog.

Dex shimmied along the edge of the sill, holding himself up with the tips of his fingers. This was always the challenging part. He tightened his grip on the edge, jammed his right foot between the wall and the metal pipe, and his left into whatever seemed willing to hold it still. Shit. He lost his balance. No hold for his left leg. His instincts kicked in and he swooped his left leg up and tried to jam it into the farther sill. This kept him steady, but ruined his leverage. Why did they even put these dang things up here? He thought. Sane people didn’t risk life and limb for a clinking bauble. Well, at least Beforefall.

With his weaker left hand he began feeling around along the top of the window. His muscles shook and his wrist wrenched forward as he tried to stabilize. Fortunately, his arms had outpaced the rest of his body and gave him an added reach. Just enough to graze the cool touch of metal. He adjusted his right foot just a bit higher up the pipe and clasped onto one of the cylinders. Pushing the metal up and to the right, he unhooked the rest of the chimes from whatever frame kept them in place. Success.

Already losing strength and balance, Dex slid his pouch to his front and stuck the chimes inside. He resolved that using the stairs, even those inside the abandoned building, would be more prudent than trying to get back down outside. Using his left hand again, he lifted a tenement window open half way, more than enough to let him inside. He pushed himself through the window with his legs and landed on the carpet with a loud flop. His arms would be sore for days, but he was satisfied. A body healed and grew with time, but metal was not so flexible. Metal had greater limitations.

The amateur collector did not take long to shake himself off and hop to his feet. People that wandered the Banks were sparsely separated, but he knew bandits and desperate collectors did not hesitate to kill those they did see.
The room that he had fell into was stripped bare. There were holes in the wall where the refrigerator and stove should have been. Blank spaces where TVs and paintings used to hang. Old papers and opened letters littered the counter tops and furniture and lottery tickets labeled “The Expedition” were strewn everywhere, many ripped apart. Everything permanent was removed. All of the buildings in the Banks were the same—dead. Yet, he could feel something alive there with him.

Not feel: smell. It mixed in with the mustiness of the room at first, but he noticed it as something distinct. Something raw, rancid, and inhuman.

This was a mistake.

The floor started to buzz with vibrations and his eyes darted in all directions. It was time to leave. His hand reached into his knapsack and grabbed the baseball bat sticking inside. He scrambled over the papers on the floor that flicked in all directions as he ran. The front door of the apartment was ajar and he kicked it all the way open.

As the smell got closer, it became difficult to breathe through his nose. He heaved, overwhelmed by the mixture of dead flesh, blood, and filth, as he tried to run through the hallway towards the emergency stair. The monster was behind him now. Its hooves cracked the flooring sending splinters of wood in all directions. “Almost there.” He gritted between his teeth. “Don’t look.”

The boy reached for the door, but a familiar jingle rang out between the grunting and cracking. The bag was left open. The chimes had fallen out. It only took a split second for him to make up his mind. He was not leaving empty handed. Dex turned to face the beast.

The creature dwarfed the boy at over seven feet tall. Smoke exhaled out of its nostrils and large tusks protruded out of its face. Fur stretched across its body and despite having a humanlike posterior, its two legs were that of a hoofed monstrosity. It could be a dream, but Dex dismissed that hope when he saw its very real hoof crushing one of the chimes.

Dex darted forward and to the side, while simultaneously swinging his bat at the beast’s leg. His bat was swept away by the creature’s crashing stride and his arm snapped back with it. He heard no bones crack. Yet. He latched onto the crushed chimes and cocked his head towards the door.

Its nose scrunched up and its red eyes glared at him. It exhaled with an echoing grunt and smoke curled out of its nostrils. It then charged again. Dex’s face flattened in shock. Scrambling at his knees, he tried to push himself against the wall. He strained to shut his eyes and then bit his teeth into his sleeve.

The beast’s vision was imperfect and it glazed over the motionless figure. Its claws scraped towards where it thought Dex was and ripped into his back. Dex’s face paled and screamed in pain, but he made no sound. A second later, he stopped clenching his jaw on his arm. The beast hung oppressively over Dex, but it hesitated, its bloody claws suspended in air. Seizing the moment of pause, he sprinted toward the exit. This time the beast was mere inches behind him.

Dex slammed his shoulder into the door, giving himself enough space to enter, and then jammed it closed. The creature’s foot followed and kept it ajar. The smoke from its nose fumed through the crack and Dex bolted at the stairs when he saw it. Don’t look back.

The smell started to grow more distant and he heard it clumsily clomp down the concrete steps. This did not keep him from sprinting. Even when he reached the streets he kept his pace. A mask of terror kept his eyes wide and his mouth agape as he fled through the grey.

It was only when he saw the neon lights through the fog and the house was now several blocks behind him that he buckled forward to his knees and caught his breath.



Last edited by Quix on Fri Mar 22, 2013 10:21 am; edited 4 times in total
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Re: Afterfall

Post by Quix on Thu Mar 21, 2013 12:14 pm

Reddy patted his hand with the metal pipe like a gentle drum. He patrolled the outsides of the queue, making sure no one was robbed while in line and nobody left without paying. At well over six feet, with a branded M on his clean shaven forehead, and a hand that could fist a grown man’s skull, a casual glance from Reddy set most people straight.

Phillip, pronounced Fill-leap, stood inside of a shack with a smelter in the forefront. Metallic objects and trinkets hung behind as a gentle reminder of his wealth. The smelter itself took up half of the shack and the glow warmed Phillip as he worked. The entire plaza smelled like a mixture of sulfur and seared steak, no doubt due to that swirling pot. In the front of the shack, was Phillip’s desk filled with assorted measuring tools including a magnifying glass, balance, and even a thermometer; in front of the desk was a screen that Phillip spoke through and a depositing box where the trinkets were stuffed. A diaphanous cloth embroidered with “SMELTING STAFF ONLY” was the only barrier between Phillip and an angry Collector. Reddy acted as another line of defense. A duty he took no pleasure in. While the flowery scum coming out of Phillip’s mouth left no visible marks or residue, Reddy still felt unclean after being downwind of it too long.

The Collection district itself was asleep at this time of night. The line stretched to about twenty people instead of the usual fifty. Large lights extended in the air and lit the plaza at all times, but in the dark they became especially luminous and gleamed against the concrete. The billboard climbed one hundred feet above the Beforefall library it perched atop. The city had gone dark many years ago, or so it was said, but the Collection district still shone brightly; a beacon of the past in a shrouded future.

The words in the sky were far less inspiring: DEPOSIT METAL HERE.

The resident drunk and hustler, Jeremy, made sure to fill the empty air with an inordinate amount of insults, booze, and piss. He could hear him hassling the new entrant, “The child is empty handed again,” before moving on to another unlucky visitor. Jeremy would have been evicted if Phillip’s father was still around, but Reddy had a feeling that Phillip liked having someone else around to wear down the Collectors’ confidence.

In line, most of the Collectors stayed quiet, their feet shuffling forward, and their eyes mostly downcast. Occasionally, Reddy would catch one glancing behind anxiously or glaring at him or Phillip. When a non-Collector tried to engage in small chat they were usually met with tightened lips and a steady stare. They knew Reddy couldn’t always protect them if a Collector got too greedy. In fact, he was encouraged by Phillip to let minor disputes resolve themselves. Blood on the streets made lines move quicker.

The latest customer came trying to pawn the last of his family’s jewelry collection. Phillip’s formula was simple: build up and then tear down. At first, Phillip lauded the pieces, calling them works of art, going on and on about how wonderful they would be in the Collection. Not a minute later, he offered the man four measly Bits for everything. His family was hungry the man pleaded, four Bits would only feed them for a month. Phillip countered: grams were read off from a scale, figures were dissected, and brief consolations were offered. The man took the money bitterly. Reddy watched as Phillip put the man’s wedding band on after he left. Bastard.

Reddy could at least respect the last manager. Phillip’s father was demanding, plain, but generally honest with his hatred. When he beat you he didn’t grin. There were no illusions of freedom or rewards for good behavior, but there were no promises either. Phillip’s father despised Reddy. Phillip pretended not to.

A smaller boy, no more than five and a half feet, eyed Phillip with obvious distaste and furrowed brows. At first glance, Phillip appeared garish and flamboyant in a neon coat. Most residents saw him as a noble son forced into swindling at his father’s behest. The Collectors and Metalheads knew better.

Reddy glanced at the boy as he hobbled to the counter, his back leaning forward at a slight angle. The boy wore baggy clothes, patched together with various fabrics, and with new holes already appearing. The back of his shirt and left pant leg were stained dark red. “Good afternoon, Phillip,” Dex said.

“Oh, hello there, Desster. What did you bring for me today?” His accent was thick and presumably was what Phillip thought foreign people sounded like. His unique dialect emphasized very long vowels and exaggerated s sounds.

“Chimes.” The boy said.

“Those are like bells, yes?” The ‘yes’ was protracted and enthusiastic.

Dex nodded, “They are. People used to hang them from windows.”

“Well, show them.” Phillip tapped the counter with the tips of his fingers. The boy opened up his bag and put the chimes in the depositing box, wincing as he did so. Phillip didn’t notice the boy’s pain. He was clearly enamored with his new treasures. He lifted his magnifying glass from the counter and started running it along the surface, “In truth, I have never seen these chimes as you call them. The metal is good quality, very little rust or oxidation, so that is good.” Dex barely smiled. “Ah, Dess you make this very difficult. I want to encourage more unique discoveries such as this…” The manager trailed off. He tapped on one of the chimes.

“Yet, I cannot condone such damage to my acquisitions. It looks like something sat on top of it. No, no, no more than five Bits.” Phillip finished.

“I understand.” Dex said. He deflated and didn’t raise a finger in protest. What happened to him out there?

“Metalhead: give the boy five Bits.” Phillip spat the words at Reddy.

Dex muttered, “forty-eight” as Reddy handed him the coupons. Reddy smiled and watched Dex limp inside.

Phillip cursed at Reddy for not paying enough attention to the people in line and he snapped back to his duties. Jeremy cursed at the rotund man who refused to give him a Bit and called him a fatty. Another man in line cursed at Jeremy and told him he would kick his head in just to get him to shut up. Phillip cheated another customer and the customer cursed on his way inside the Collection house.

Forty-eight Bits. Dammit. It might as well be a lifetime away.


Last edited by Quix on Fri Mar 22, 2013 10:53 am; edited 3 times in total
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Re: Afterfall

Post by Wons on Fri Mar 22, 2013 8:37 am

This is the first, long-form story I've read off of an RP forum in a while. Absolutely fantastic, Quix.

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Re: Afterfall

Post by Chief on Fri Mar 22, 2013 9:14 am

Wow.

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Re: Afterfall

Post by Quix on Fri Mar 22, 2013 10:22 am

Thanks for reading.

Also, edited both of the scenes. More stuff later.
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Re: Afterfall

Post by Quix on Sun Apr 07, 2013 1:58 pm

The first chapter has been mostly rewritten after I changed some things about the story and protagonist.

Chapter 1: A Siren's Call

Kyle held a torch close to his chest as he traversed the ruins of Denver. Fog stretched around him obscuring the city in a blanket of white. His torch pierced the veil three feet ahead and behind, but past that--nothing. Kyle paled at the moisture condensing and immediately freezing on his forearm hairs.

A patrol of men in white uniforms trudged in front of him a few feet past his line of sight. “I walk through the valley,” Kyle shouted.

“Of the shadow of death!” Two voices returned in unison. They’re still there. At least something is. Kendel said the White Wall was going to herald new life, yet the streets were eerily quiet.

“Two o’clock turn in ten feet.” A voice from the front of the pack ordered.

Kyle lowered his torch to watch his feet. After ten paces he stopped, turned slightly to the right, and said again, “I walk through the valley.”

Nothing.

“I walk through the valley!”

A female voice whispered into his ear, “Of death.” A chilled knife wrenched into Kyle’s upper back. The soldier screamed sharply, but stopped as a comforting warmth started flowing down his spine. His agape mouth closed and turned into a thin smile. Not so cold anymore.

---

The fog tickled Kathryn's feet as she climbed the metal beanstalk. A harsh white engulfed her small body completely. For fleeting moments she imagined she was climbing through a cloud. The girl curled her neck backward and inhaled the mist. Vertigo woke her up from her daydream and she suddenly clung to the gutter as tightly as a lonely child tugs on his father's pant leg. Muddled emotions and thoughts raced back into their proper positions and a soft metal melody bit its teeth into her consciousness again.

A man had screamed, she remembered. Less than three blocks to what she thought was the east, she heard a man call out into the night, call out to her. She ran a block or two and brushed her finger tips against the wall to keep balance and in the middle of an alley she had found a pipe to climb. Then good fortune had made the climb worthwhile and offered every Collector's siren call: the sweet sound of metal.

Just a few more feet, she reckoned. Years in the fog had attuned her ears to measure distance by sound, but even so, Kathryn was used to feeling around outside for a few minutes before finding anything.

Sure that the chimes were just above, she shimmied along the edge of the closest sill, holding herself up with the tips of her fingers. Now, the hard part. She tightened her grip on the edge, jammed her right foot between the wall and the metal pipe, and her left into whatever seemed willing to hold it still. Shit. She lost her balance. No hold. her instincts kicked in and she swooped her left leg up and tried to jam it into the farther sill. This kept her steady, but ruined her leverage.

With her weaker left hand she began feeling around along the top of the window. Her muscles shook and her wrist wrenched forward as she tried to stabilize. Fortunately, her arms had outpaced the rest of her body and gave her an added reach. Enough to graze the cool touch of metal. She adjusted her feet a bit higher and clasped onto one of the cylinders. Pushing the metal up and to the right, she unhooked the rest of the chimes from whatever frame kept them in place. Success.

Already losing strength and balance, Kathryn slid her pouch to her front and stuck the chimes inside. She resolved that using the stairs, even those inside the abandoned building, would be more prudent than trying to get back down outside. Using her left hand again, she lifted a tenement window open half way, more than enough to let her inside. She pushed herself through the window with her legs and landed on the carpet with a loud flop. Her arms would be sore for days, but she was satisfied. A body healed and grew with time, but metal was not so flexible. Metal had greater limitations.

Kathryn did not take long to shake herself off and hop to her feet. She knew people that wandered the White Wall were sparsely separated, but bandits and Union soldiers did not hesitate to kill those they did see. Like the man in the night, she thought.

The room she fell into looked barren, like everything permanent had been stripped away. There was a gap with a gas input where the stoves should have been and damp lottery coupons and ripped receipts littered the floor like discarded dreams. In the connecting hallway, a dim emergency light flickered. The place felt like most consumed by the White Wall--dead. Yet, she could feel something living.

Not feel: smell. It mixed in with the mustiness of the room at first, but she noticed it as something distinct. Something raw, rancid, but human.

This was a mistake.

An emergency light flickered outside and a shadow shuffled forward along the wall. “Ring ring ring, dinner bell stopped ringing,” A raspy voice chanted, “King king king, the king best start eating.”

Kathryn reached into her knapsack and grabbed the baseball bat sticking inside. She scrambled over the papers on the floor that flicked in all directions as she ran. The shadow grew as she ran past the doorway and towards the emergency stair. The man's stench got closer and the mix of excrement and flesh made it difficult to breathe through her nose. She heaved and coughed as she raced forwards towards the stair. The man continued to sing his almost rhyming song. Kathryn gritted through her teeth, “Don't look.”

The girl reached the door, but a familiar jingle clinked on the ground. The bag was left open. The chimes had fallen out. Those baubles were her ticket to food and medicine for a week, so she turned.

The vagrant's scabbed, scarred face smiled at her. Mounds of puss and flesh peppered his uncleaned jaw line, blood leaked from the edges of his mouth, and his teeth were rot. He jigged toward her suddenly, like a jester would at a fair, and his stained blood red rags bounced with him. “I am the King of Spring Heights Apart--Kingdom and you stole my mommy's dinner bell. What you have to say?” Kathryn evaded the urine looking spit erupting from his lips.

“You are compelled to speak when the King speaks to you.” He held a bone tipped spear like a king's scepter and pointed it towards her.

While the situation was unexpected, she felt relieved the man was more pitiful than scary. “You are one ugly king,” Kathryn said.

“The King looks as he pleases and no matter how he looks you bow before your king.”

"I said bow!" The King jammed his spear into the floor and wooden splinters flicked out. “Very well.” The King licked his chapped lips at Kathryn.

“Fine,” She said. After two heart beats she curtsied awkwardly in her jeans and looked up toward him, “Is that it?”

“Deeper. Kiss my feet, pretty,” He said. He gaped his rotten teeth and like a ballerina he pointed his toes and balanced on his other foot.

She went brought her curtsy lower and stopped at his sternum. “Ah, go to the other hell,” She said. Kathryn swung the bat into his ribs.

The King looked rabid. He jabbed his spear towards Kathryn's stomach and she barely avoided the tip. The dodge forced her to bounce against the wall and she used the forward momentum to push The King away. “You will regret touching me,” He said. His eyes lit up and he cackled. Spit and grime spewed from his lips and he started shuffling towards Kathryn again.

Kathryn turned and tried to flee. The smell was too much, she couldn't concentrate, and her muscles were tight from the climb. And he kept laughing that insane laugh. She shuddered at the thought of what he would if he did kill her. Not a moment later, she felt her muscles rip as his spear pierced into her calf. She couldn't help screaming and turning again to face her aggressor.

A female voice shouted from the emergency stairway, “Is everything okay?”

“This girl is a traitor! Kill her!” The King pounded his foot on the ground like a toddler throwing a tantrum. Kathryn knew this was no time for a fair fight. She seized The King's distraction and brought the bat down onto his skull. Blood spurted and flowed from The King's forehead and his soot colored face paled to snow white. The man crumpled onto the wood flooring with a thump.

“Uh,” A girl said, as she walked towards Kathryn, “What in the other hell happened?”

Kathryn's looked up at the girl with red eyes and said, “He attacked me.” Kathryn jabbed her finger at the vagrant.

“Why?” The girl asked. Her green and brown blouse was well stitched and looked to be made of wool. On the left shoulder she had a beaver embroderied in an attacking stance: Cascadian Army.

“None of your business.” Kathryn shuffled through her bag, put the chimes inside, and then pulled out a roll of toilet paper and masking tape.

“I can make it my business, ya' know?" Nicky pursed her lips as if to whistle.

"I took something of his, some chimes, and he attacked. That's it. Can I go?" Kathryn wrapped the bandage around her calf, wincing as she did so.

“He got you pretty good in the leg,” The other girl said, “My mom's a doctor and she would tell you shouldn't walk on with a bleedin' leg like that, even if he didn't get to bone. You'll bleed all over she'd say. She would also tell you that you shouldn't be wandering around the White Wall alone in the firs' place.”

“Your mom is probably right, I don't have much of a choice.” Kathryn popped open an aspirin bottle, pursed her lips on the pill, and then swallowed it dry.

“Like I says, my mom would say it, but I'm not my mom.” The girl smiled slyly. The girl knelt closer to Kathryn and she smelled a faint waft of soap pierce the bubble of awful stench. ”My brigade is camped not too far from here. We'll be heading to New Denver tomorrow and I would be glad to help you hobble there with us.”

“Thanks for the offer, but I really need to get back tonight.” Kathryn forced a smile.

“Hmph, the hurry better be worth the potential infection.” She said with a hint of sarcasm. “Anyways, if you change your mind we're five blocks directly North from here. Just ask for Nicky. Shouldn't be too hard to find someone who knows my name, on account of my unfortunate popularity with the bootlickers.”

“Okay then,” Kathryn said. She almost made it up to her feet in one shot, but it took an extra second of balance to steady herself all the way. “Nicky,” She added.

A few voices shouted from outside. “That's my cue,” Nicky said, “I'll see you around.”

“Wait--before you go. I heard, well I thought I heard, a man scream in the streets a quarter hour ago. But the streets are always dead quiet round this part of the Wall. Do you know anything about that?”

“I might.” Nicky bit her tongue.

“It's what got me starting climbing in the first place,” Kathryn said, “I would feel more comfortable if I knew exactly what happened or what was out there waiting.”

“Nah, I can't. You might be working for the enemy and all. Somebody who attacks homeless men in the night? Sounds like Kendel.”

“I'm not a soldier--I'm a Collector. Now, tell me what happened.”

“Okay okay, damn you're persistent. My patrol went to investigate it soon as we heard the scream. Their torches were still burning when we got there and we could see their outlines from fifteen paces away. Grisly scene, Collector. Two of Kendel's men on the street with their throats slashed and I saw the blood pooling on the streets.”

“Then I heard noises up here and thought it might have been the attacker. Hard to tell friend from foe out in the white stuff." Nicky had a knowing look in her eye. A look that said Kathryn would owe her later.

A young soldier in the same uniform as Nicky shouted from the emergency stairwell, “Come on, Nicky! Us 'assholes' might just leave you behind if you take any longer.”

“Yeah yeah, hold your pants up,” Nicky said to the soldier. “I didn't say nothing to ya'.” Nicky winked at Kathryn and headed back through the emergency exit.

It was going to be a long walk back to the Collection House. One thing still egged her thoughts as Kathryn started down the hall. People can't scream when their throats are cut.
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