Extract: The First Crack in the Wall
I figured it was about time for another extract, so here’s what I was just working on. Presently, it’s scheduled for the second episode, though I can’t say for certain how much of it will remain because it might drag on too much… this extract is 1,600 words (only half the scene), while the previous draft was half that (first drafts are almost always rough, broad strokes, and I fill in the details later – very much as I would approach a piece of artwork, in fact), and my aim is to bring in each episode under 20k (so I’m not overworked). But we shall see. Is there too much detail? Too much meandering about? Not enough actual plot? Let me know what you think!
I: The First Crack in the Wall
A scene, played out so many times before.
The first crack, spread like one reaching wing.
“I know crowds ain’t your thing, man, but this is a proper Dante scene. Real individuals, like. None of those faceless sheep bah-ing about after one another like you get in town. This is the underground, where they can’t see us. Give it a few drinks and I bet you’ll be barging your way around the dance floor with the rest of us.”
Dante shrugged. “Maybe.”
He had yet to justify allowing Joel Gibson to drag him down into this murky nest of Ravens he called ‘the World’s End’. Was it for the ‘experience’? So he could smirk at the childish antics of the subterranean hedonists? Certainly, it wasn’t to see Emily Fomalhaut’s band perform. He could already taste the bile in his throat as he thought of those poor girls paraded about on stage, while lecherous young men such as Joel whooped and jeered and defined them as little more than objects, possessions to be won in drunken trades of flirtatious compliments.
“C’mon, don’t look like that, man. Put on a smile for the ladies!”
He realised he was scowling, and tried to hide it, but his lips betrayed his true feelings towards the hovel of an ‘entertainment venue’. The name was apt. ‘The World’s End’ looked as if civilisation had collapsed, leaving behind little more than a slum of dirty walls covered with foreboding graffiti artwork. ‘Kill the Sophist Pigs!’ ‘Fuck Malkuth!’ ‘Theia Falls!’ the scrawling of the angered youth painted a picture of a world lost to violence and moral decay. A world reflected, Dante noted, in the names of musical troops littering the carpet of fliers about their feet, such as ‘Slaughterhouse Five’, ‘DEATH BASTARD!’ and ‘Angel Crusher’ (which someone had attempted to change to ‘Anal Crusher’, telling him all he needed to know about the clientele). Looking closer at the wasteful reams of discarded paper, Dante spied a familiar quartet of girls, and bent down to swipe the tattered sheet from its grave.
‘Thermal Whale’, it read, ‘fuck with us and we’ll castrate you’. It didn’t seem such a harsh line coming from the diminutive-but-lethal Liera Byrne, nor the smug posturing of Kaori Shimomura, but both Shelley Ewart and Emily Fomalhaut looked out of place, even in their corsets and knee-high boots.
Joel appeared drooling over his shoulder. “Mate, if you think they’re hot there, just wait until you see them on stage. Man, the things I’d do to—” he cleared his throat, “—ah, don’t tell Shell I said that, okay? Or Liera. I don’t want to test see if that threat there is real or not.”
Dante crumpled up the flier and tossed it into one of the many growing trash piles about the nightclub’s entrance. Ahead of them, guarding the giant stone doors, stood a single muscular man, patterned arms scarred from years of service in the local militia. He gave Joel a curt nod of recognition, then swung the doors aside as if they were made from the same paper littering the floor. The boys passed through and into another world, where a thumping bass reverberated about the cracked walls, threatening to bring the subterranean shelter crashing down on their heads. Joel started to bop along to the rhythm. A classic, he insisted.
The lobby stretched out before them, devoid of all but a handful of garish Ravens crowding the reception desk. Dante’s eyes followed the strip lighting around the walls, past a lonesome man guarding a cloakroom, and fixated on a single, barred door marked with a familiar-yet-unfamiliar emblem.
“Mate, you wanna avoid that place,” said Joel, his voice sounding distant and distorted as Dante’s attention zoomed in on the twelve-winged marking. “Nothing but bad mojo down there, man. Ba-ad mojo. C’mon, join the crowd.”
Joel tugged at his sleeve, guided him over reception, where Doyle Kennedy slouched back with leather-booted feet planted firmly on the desk. The former-militia trainee and their fellow student raised a large hand in greeting, then noticed Dante trying to hide in Joel’s shadow and sat forward with a look of amazement on his face.
“You actually got Dante down here? Man, that earns you a brewski.”
They bumped fists, Doyle’s bronze boulder against Joel’s frail skeleton.
“Even Dante couldn’t resist Emily’s charms,” said the gurning ginger guitarist.
Doyle’s eyes lit up. “Not many of us can. Man, even Byron’s dragged himself back down here, and he hates the place. This gig’s gonna be awesome. I am proper stoked.”
Dante’s gaze wandered from the bantering buddies, across the superfluous fliers pimping bands, gigs and worse, and returned to the door with its twelve-winged emblem. As Doyle and Joel’s attention digressed to girls and secret lusts – Joel moaning about his girlfriend Shelley, Doyle about Liera’s staunch chastity – Dante thought maybe the door, and the Dark beyond, was a better place. Better, certainly, than this shallow, vacuous hovel and its single-minded gathering of egos and insecurities.
Joel punched him playfully in the arm. “C’mon, Dant, quit the scowling already,”
“That’s what growing up with those tree-hugging lezzers does to you, mate,” said Doyle. “Makes you think you’re a tool, proper crushes the manhood it does. Not that I wouldn’t say no to one of them witches…”
“Give ‘im a chance, Doyle. He hasn’t seen what’s on display yet. One eyeful of Emily in that corset ought to sort out that lesbian indoctrination.”
“I wouldn’t mind some ‘lesbian indoctrination’…”
Dante rolled his eyes and made for the door, stopped only because Joel’s bony fingers hooked the hood of his cloak and dragged him back. “We’re kidding, man. Kidding! C’mon, let’s get you inside.”
Doyle’s attention had, it transpired, been diverted by the arrival of several colourful young ladies with more flesh on display than they had clothing. They smiled at Joel, but reeled in fright at Dante, as if his very disdain had manifested itself as a frightful demon.
“You need a drink, big time,” said Joel as he led Dante down another stairway, the bottom of which flashed with blues and reds and purples coming from the chamber beyond. The thumping music grew louder, and then it hit him full on, as if he had stepped into the brunt of a gale.
“Welcome to the jungle,” said Joel in time to the music, “we’ve got fun and babes.”
Strips of neon purple wound their way about the walls, imprisoning the den of raucous bodies in a surreal twilight punctuated by a swirling aurora of colours that danced above the ceiling with more co-ordination than anyone who dared throw themselves about the dance floor. And what people they were! Joel had sold this place as ‘representing the true spirit of humanity, holding on by its fingernails as the conservative elite tried to stomp civilisation into conformist submission’, and if this really was the repressed human spirit then Dante hoped the world was indeed nearing its end. Hedonists of every creed slouched and lazed and swaggered their way about the club, a mass of leering eyes and heaving cleavages, of drug smoking and drink downing savages, of bodies painted, pierced and punctuated in a myriad of ill-fitting styles and shapes. Joel, a gurning skeleton in a garish silk shirt and jeans so tight Dante was surprised his feet didn’t fall off, looked sensible.
“C’mon, mate, I’ll get you a drink,” he said. “You after any poison in particular, or will you be leaving your concoction in my capable hands?” When Dante shrugged his disinterest, the ginger’s face split with that inane, yellow-toothed smile that foreshadowed imminent disaster.
The girl behind the bar smiled as Joel reeled off his order – whiskey, vodka, other names both alien and alienating to Dante – and soon occupied herself with brewing whatever magic potions he had ordered. Dante thought her perhaps twelve years old, thirteen at best. Just another lost child dragging her way through this misery mire of immorality. How this represented ‘the spirit of humanity’ he couldn’t guess. If anything, it demonstrated their most heinous sins, and made the political shipwreck of Torsten look like a Malkuthian utopia.
He thought of his mother, and the other fortunate few deemed worthy of escaping this depraved hell. How life must be different in such a world! A world where a twelve-year-old girl could enjoy her innocence, and not be forced into an overworked life of false smiles and sordid attentions. Such a world would surely be a paradise.
Joel thrust a chalice of black liquid in front of his nose. “Here, stop daydreaming and start downing,” he said, that face-splitting grin growing ever wider.
Dante tried a sip and winced, as the foul-tasting liquid scorched a blazing trail down his virgin throat. Joel, who by now had already knocked back his own brew, pulled him in close, as if to reveal the very secrets of the universe in a hushed whisper.
“Mate, people’ll think you’re weird if you do it like that,” he said, eyes shifting left and right as if suspicious someone might try eavesdropping. “You’re fifteen, man, not five. Drop your bollocks already.”
Dante stared at the drink, and at the reflection of lights dancing in its sloshing surface. If he held it just right, he could almost see the form of a face, wicked and cruel, leering at him from the Dark, mocking his attempts to blend in with the crowd. There was no place for Dante Orpheus in the crowd, it might have said. He stands alone.