What lurks beyond the shadow city? This question is the title of my new project, which I’m finally moving full-steam ahead with. It’s been quiet, I know, I know, but a divorce, foreclosure, new life and making up for lost time for the last year and a half will do that to a person. Now I’m back in Philly with my new love, my new writing room/desk all set up, and I’m writing not one, not two, but three novels at once…or at least, that’s the plan, as ludicrous as that may seem. I’m enjoying the bleed over and contrast, and if ever I hit a block in one, I can carry over to another.
In addition, I currently have two novels out on amazon now, with my third, The Skin Collection, complete and planned for release as soon as I finish with editing and cover design, as well an older young adult horror novel that I’m polishing, so while you haven’t heard from me, and I’ve been quite lazy if I’m being honest, I haven’t been sitting completely idle.
That ends now of course, as I have What Lurks Beyond the Shadow City?, The End to the Dawn, and The Eanigmus (a sequel to my first novel, Doguhn) in works. I’ll reveal more about all three as I progress and I’m sure I’ll be posting excerpts as well. If I’m feeling especially ambitious I might even pick up the movie and game reviews, or fun articles and lists again, but one step at a time.
So with that, I’ll leave you with the first Chapter of my work in progress. Let me know what you think (PLEASE), and thanks SO much for reading! I love you guys and gals!
“I can’t remember the last time I saw the sun.”
Those ten words kept going round and round my head, the words of a dying old man, a revolving vinyl memory, and despite my looming dread—I’d drawn the short straw—the needle wouldn’t leave the lines the old man had unintentionally etched across my mind. I never found out his name and for some reason this bothers me. After speaking with him for some time, I realized I hadn’t asked his name, or maybe I had and he’d told me and I’d already forgotten, but either way I was too embarrassed at that point to ask incase I should already know.
“I can’t remember the last time I saw the sun.”
The poor bastard was too frail to traverse the ladders and catwalks leading to the rooftops. Living in a dilapidated apartment on the inner walls, his windows telling only tales of bricks and concrete and fluorescent light, and with no living family or friends, he held my hand and begged me to take him above to see the sun, just once before he died. I can’t stomach begging among adults. The desperation in an action that would bring disgust if performed by a child breaks my heart when delivered by the shaking voice of a broken old man.
So when he said, “I can’t remember the last time I saw the sun,” I was obliged to take him above and grant an old man’s dying wish. I held his hand and promised him I’d take him topside.
The sun hadn’t cast its warmth on these streets in many years. Though each morning the sun would rise over this city just as any other, the labyrinthine network of buildings and catwalks, like metallic spider webs, allowed no light to penetrate its weary foundation. Even with the sun at its crest these damp alleyways require artificial illumination to ward off the city’s shadows. When the city was still relatively young, a census would one day report a population of over fifty-thousand in just over seven acres of space, but it wasn’t an entirely accurate approximation, as there were many unreported births and deaths and then there were the lower levels below the city that very few knew existed, and those with the knowledge would never dare venture for a mere population count of a city the world had all but abandoned.
This was not the first city of its type the world had ever birthed. Many years ago a city much like this one had stood and fell on the other half of the world, after thriving for some years in self-sustained anarchy. Though its ancestor had peaked at fourteen stories due to falling within the flight path of a nearby airport—constructed without permits or proper engineering—this city saw no such limitations, if planes even graced the skies any longer. At current, though the population has begun to decline along with our life expectancy, the teetering walls of the city have grasped for the gates of heaven as well as the depths of hell, building house upon house, store upon store, then digging below the city, creating a network of caverns below the earth whose suffocating darkness knows no bounds, and where only the most desperate and depraved take up residence.
Unlike our ancestor city, this is where we live not because we want to, but because we must. We’re exiles, the lower class, the scum that no one wishes to see laying upon their shimmering streets, so we were cast out to the shadow city, surrounded by endless desert for such a time that those who had once lived outside the city and remembered the sunlit streets have long since died, relegating the outside world to that of fables and bedtime stories. No one who has ventured beyond the vast sand fields has ever returned to speak of what lay beyond. Those who braved the sand and ruins are assumed dead, either by the elements or by those who had once upon a time sent us to this plot of land.
There are remnants of the world that once was all around us—hollow buildings, decaying cars and piles of bone-dust—before they slowly moved away to more hospitable environments, further from the exiled city and its inhabitants, but the sands have inflicted a superstitious fear among the residents of the shadow city and no one dares traverse the threshold into the sun without good reason.
The sun cannot reach the city streets, which are a series of maze-like, claustrophobic corridors no more than six feet wide, choked with piles of garbage and illuminated by fluorescent lamps, running off power leeched from the abandoned power plant a mile beyond the city limits. Occasionally the plant would require maintenance, and straws were drawn to determine who would make the journey to its humming doors.
I’d drawn the short straw last night. I should be terrified, but still my mind keeps running the words of the old man round and round. And so I wonder, why do we stay here? Is it really dangerous to leave the walls of the city? Tomorrow night I might just find out.
On a particularly clear night, from the rooftops of the city, one might see the distant glimmering lights of the thriving upper class beyond the sand fields, like a carpet of fallen stars that had drifted softly to the earth and hovered there, above the soil that could still bear fruit. But on most nights it was shrouded by fog and dust storms, invisible to the naked eye.
I wasn’t sure if I envied the residents of that distant city, or if I despised them, or if it even mattered. For all we knew, the lights were merely burning embers of a city that once was.
“I can’t remember the last time I saw the sun.”
So I carried the old man, whose name I failed to learn, or perhaps I had and had simply forgotten, on my back like a wrinkled old backpack. No one paid us any mind. My living sack of flesh and bones went unnoticed that morning, even as he let out gas with each rung of the ladder I climbed. He couldn’t have weighed more than ninety pounds, and I certainly didn’t weigh much more, but somehow I carried him up the ladders, across the catwalks, up the stairs, up and up and up until we reached the rooftops where I hoped the sun would be shining brightly. As luck would have it, the sky was clear and blue. I’d have killed the old man myself in frustration if it had been overcast.
The roof was empty that day, and so I sat the dying old man in a torn lawn chair (a remnant of when there were actually lawns) and held his hand as he looked up at the sun and smiled his toothless smile. You’ll go blind I told him and he told me he didn’t care. He was half blind anyway and damn it, he hadn’t seen the sun in over a year and it’s all he wanted, it was what he needed, before he died. The sun burned his retinas as he looked on for hours. I never let go of his bone-white hand, must be going soft, I think I even cried. It took him a few hours to die as he went blind looking at the sun—caught myself risking my own eyesight before I’d even noticed—but he was smiling when his heart stopped and the entire time I kept trying to figure out why we stay here.
Is it worth it?
We have a library here, stocked with books that tell of the world that once was, but no one ever uses it other than myself. They’d likely have burned the whole damn room if not for it being the only link to our past. Curiously, any photographic references to our past had been omitted, and so I had to use the words (being one of the few who could still decipher them) and my imagination, to form an approximation of our past. At one point when I was sixteen they’d talked about destroying the words as well, but I had put up quite the fight, even turned physical, and in the end they decided to keep the books, moving them to an even smaller space where they’re stacked from floor to ceiling, unorganized and uncared for. But at least they’re there.
And I’ve read about what’s out there, or what was, and I long to see it one day. So why do we stay here in this shadow city from birth till death. I realized it had been a few weeks since I’d seen the sun myself. Would I end up like that old bastard; a sack of crumbling bones, tears in my eyes, forgetting what the sky looked like, sitting in my own shit in an apartment not much wider than a horse’s cock?
Fuck no! That wasn’t going to happen.
The old man died yesterday morning. I doubt anyone’s even noticed yet. The flies came before I left his side and his body is likely a feast for the maggots right now, decomposing in the sun. I think he’d be happy with that. I hope so.
If I was going to die, I’d want it to be in the sun, not in these goddamn piss-stained streets. Tomorrow, perhaps, I’ll have my wish.