Into the Blank Where Life Is Hurled
A sudden, sharp increase in the room’s temperature signaled the Fallen’s arrival, and William scrambled to the floor to prostrate himself. He averted his eyes, hearing the door the open, and waited as the sweat trickled down his sides. Soft footfalls passed his desk and he risked a glance up. The Fallen strode through the office, arrogant and nude, the stubs on its back twitching as if with memories of flight. William held his breath as it opened Fisk’s door and slipped inside. Then, he waited to a count of twenty and returned to his desk.
The un-crowded newsroom remained silent though a hundred questions begged for asking. The Fallen…here? Why? Did you see its eyes? No…never, never the eyes. The temperature dropped a hair and William went back to the paper he’d been doodling.
He’d intended it to be a poem. The words rarely came to him but when they did, his fingers looked for release to no avail. In this place, pencil leads broke, words ran together, ink faded and all lines of literary endeavor bled into a meaningless puddle of bits and blotches. The only stories he wrote now…the only stories he was allowed to write…were the meaningless drivel the Gazette required of him.
Long ago, before the War that brought him here, he remembered a blossoming career as a novelist. Tales of the fantastic and supernatural. Now, words haunted him like unrequited love.
For five minutes longer, he fiddled with the paper. The temperature shot up as Fisk’s door opened again and William joined the others on the floor. The Fallen rarely traveled to this ring and to his knowledge, they’d never visited this building before today. This was the second he’d ever encountered.
He waited, listening to the footfalls, heard them stop at his desk, and forced his eyes open to confront the bare feet before him. The Fallen hissed, then continued on its way. As it left the building, the scattered collection of reporters and support staff released held breath and the temperature returned to normal.
“Hodgson…my office. Now.”
William climbed slowly to his feet and let them carry him to toward Vernon Fisk’s voice. The others looked at him, faces still pale.
“Be a good chap and close the door,” Fisk said from behind his desk, waving half of a cigar at an empty chair. William pulled it shut and sat down. “Still taking stabs at your passion, eh?”
Surprised, William realized that he still held the pencil and scrap of paper tightly in his fist. “I’m sorry, sir.”
“No need, no need.” Fisk leaned forward. He was a fat man, his face pocked and perpetually slick with sweat. “I was a brewer you know. Brewed great beers. Even won an award. Of course, down here it comes to nothing. I tried for years before giving up.”
“Well, enough of the past. On to the future.” He nodded towards the door. “You’re probably wondering what that was about. Special assignment…from the top, or from the bottom if you prefer.” He snorted at his own joke. “Story of the century for us, it is.”
The Gazette printed little that was news. During his time with the paper, William had interviewed new arrivals, promoted local gossip, and churned out propaganda on demand.
Fisk stubbed out his cigar. “Story of the century. Somewhat of a celebrity I’m told, too. I guess you know him; he was after my time.”
“Why…Harry Houdini, that’s who. Just arrived and already at it.”
William’s mind lurched him back to the turn of the century in a different life. A Blackburn stage, an angry mob, an arrogant showman and the equally arrogant young man William had once been. He could still hear the clinking of the shackles.
“Smug bastard,” William said in a low voice. “I’m not surprised.”
Fisk looked up. “Yes, it said you’d met before. I trust it wasn’t a favorable encounter?”
“I was young. He made a challenge; I took him up on it. Went over two hours, he did, but in the end he got out of it.” William chuckled. “Of course, I didn’t see it. Afraid of the mob. I fled the scene and hid out.”
“Well, you’ve got the story. They insisted.”
“An interview then, sir?” Dread crept into him…this was the last person he wanted to sit down with, even for half an hour in one of Hell’s more tolerable rings.
Fisk belly-laughed. “More than that, Hodgson. It seems Mr. Houdini has announced his run for the Ear. You’re to accompany him, chronicle the journey, and return with the story.” Fisk paused. “Well, no guarantees on returning. It is the Ear, of course.”
William knew little about the Ear. Somewhere on some abandoned edge, it supposedly stood alone. Whispered legends traveled the rumor circuit: Few had seen it, few had spoken into its cool, crystal surface. Some believed Michelangelo had carved it on some great Assignment of Grace from Above, guarded by angels as he worked tirelessly. William believed it was most likely bunk.
“But sir, I’m not sure I’m the best – “
Fisk interrupted. “You’re not the best. But They want you. And who am I to deny Them?”
William swallowed. “He’ll take one look at me and that’ll be that, with all due respect.”
“How long’s it been since you met him?”
Time was hard to count here. He did the best math he could. “Over twenty years.”
Fisk grunted. “I’ll book you passage on the Titanic. You’ll leave at dawn for Hellsmouth. Two weeks…enough time for you to grow out that beard of yours, I should think. I don’t think he’ll know you, Hodgson.”
William stood. A heaviness fell over him. Two ghosts rattling their chains from his past. Houdini and the sea. It couldn’t get much worse.
Stay tuned next Thursday for Part 2 of Ken Scholes’ award winning story “Into the Blank Where Life is Hurled”. And if you like this story, consider buying the Writers of the Future Release Package at a special price.
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