PDA

View Full Version : Life Versus Death, chapter one



Micholeon
February 6th, 2014, 03:05 AM
Chapter One – The End, Part II

Like every other morning in downtown Chicago, traffic crowded the streets and people crowded the sidewalks. The city was alive with the hustle and bustle of people trying to get from one place to another, preferable someplace warm, as they trudged through light snow. Unlike every other morning in downtown Chicago, the place most people were trying to get was to safety, as an enormous winged serpent rose frantically into the sky, shaking dirt and pebbles off its back. Its green scales shimmered in the sun as it turned back around to roar a breath of fire into the panicked crowd fleeing down Michigan Avenue. Some victims dropped dead, and those lucky enough to survive began stopping, dropping, and rolling, simultaneously thinking “thank you kindergarten for this once-thought-useless skill,” and “holy shit dragons are real?!”
A particularly lanky man made it safely around the corner onto Randolph Street and hid behind the Millennium Park Plaza tower. He breathed a sigh of relief moments before a gigantic pale white snake erupted forth from the pavement beneath his feet, swallowing him whole before landing on the ground. It slithered, satisfied, down an alleyway and past a pack of two-headed dogs chasing a few businessmen.

Three friends stood atop a lonely hill in Douglas Park, a few miles west of the carnage.
“Jesus…” said Paul, the man who stood in the middle of the three. He frowned at the scene on the horizon. The details were not clear to him from his distance, but the screams and blazes of flame told him enough of what was happening. As his gaze drifted to his closer surroundings, he saw another one of the all-too-familiar giant white snakes making its way down 13th Street. He ran his hands through his coarse red hair and dirt fell from his head.
The sickly-looking blonde man next to Paul brushed the snow and dead leaves off his hoodie. Feelings of confusion, fear, anger, sadness, and hunger all clashed inside him when he heard the screams and saw the monsters loose in the city. He suppressed the feelings expertly. “Man, we sure screwed up this time, huh guys?” said Brendon.
Paul’s eyes, previously heavy with melancholy, narrowed as his eyebrows furrowed. “’We sure screwed up’?! How can you say that, like we’re in some shitty sitcom? God damn, dude, thousands of people are dying! Earth is swarming with monsters, someone is actively trying to end the world, we’re hanging out with someone from the goddamn future, and all you got is ‘we sure screwed up’?!”
“Just trying to lighten the mood Paul.”
“This mood can’t be lightened. We’re responsible for this.”
“Well if it’s anyone’s fault it’s Gary’s,” said Brendon.
“Gary saved us, you ungrateful ass!” snapped Paul.
Their third ally regained her composure. “If I may,” said Jenna, the aforementioned someone from the goddamn future, “I believe I have a plan.”
“Yeah…?”
“Let’s get the hell out of here.” Jenna turned and began carefully walking down the hill, but Paul did not follow. He stood, rooted in horror.
“Just…how did…how did all this happen?” Paul asked, mostly to himself.
“You should know, you were there,” said Jenna matter-of-factly. Brendon nodded in agreement.
“I know, but I mean…just a couple days ago, I did not see my life going this way.”
“Well a couple days ago, you weren’t even-“
Paul cut Jenna off. “You know what I mean.”
Brendon said, “but now you’re back. Lucky you!” He turned away from Paul and followed Jenna down the hill.
“Yeah. Lucky me…”


A COUPLE DAYS AGO. A FRIDAY.

Although Paul Truman knew how important he was, he did not take pride in the fact. He did not boast and he did not gloat; he simply did his job because he knew it had to be done. He said so to the man sitting next to him at the bar.
“What is it that you do?” asked the man.
“I protect the president from demons,” said Paul proudly.
The man nodded in quiet understanding as if this were a perfectly ordinary job. He took a sip of his drink, set it down on the counter, and signaled to the bartender for his check.
The stranger maintained the same calm composure as his skin dissolved off of his body to reveal layers of muscle tissue. The muscle tissue pulsed as blood trickled down over it, and then it too dissolved. Once the man’s body disappeared, a three foot tall impish being with dark red skin stood in his place on the bar stool. Paul watched the transformation with self-righteous disgust.
“…Demon scum,” he muttered.
The creature pointed a tiny finger at him. “Argh! For the last time, we Ichaloids are not demons!”
It reached behind its back, wielded a rusty dagger, and leapt at Paul, who effortlessly smacked the imp out of the air with his beer mug. He pressed his foot down firmly on the defeated creature and took out his phone to call in the attack. Instead of ringing, however, his phone beeped loudly in his ear.

The next thing Paul saw was his bedroom ceiling. He reached over to his phone and turned off the alarm to stop the loud beeping.
“Ugh…”
Paul always assumed he’d get used to these early mornings, but this was not the case; he never quite mastered his morning routine. He reached a long arm down to the floor and felt around under his bed until he found a spiral notebook. The words “dream journal VI” took up the cover, and he flipped to a fresh page. He began writing:

March 2nd, 2012
I sat in a quiet bar, talking to a man. I failed to hide my pride for my unusual line of work. It felt too good to be important…

Once he finished recalling the dream, Paul prepared himself for another day of work as a software engineer. He decided that today would take a considerable less amount of preparation, since he also decided that today would be his last day at this job. He planned on striding into his boss’s office at five o’clock, with his shoulders back and his head held high, and telling him, “I quit.” He considered just not going to work today and quitting in that fashion, but he decided that wasn’t good enough. Paul wanted closure.
Paul grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but decided to stay in Chicago after he graduated from Northeastern Illinois University. He liked the city. The city was full of loners, so being alone here wasn’t seen as such a bad thing like it was back home. In a city so diverse, even someone like Paul felt like he could fit in.

As he stepped out of his apartment building onto Roosevelt Road, the cold weather bothered him less and the sun seemed to shine brighter that day. When he reached his bus stop at the end of the block, the strangers who he saw every day seemed a bit friendlier. And as he rode to work, the ride seemed to go by faster. Paul got off the bus and walked to his office.
The three-story gray brick of a building sat on the corner of the block, the words “Lincoln and Associates Life Insurance” spelled out over the door in big black not-so-friendly letters. Paul had dreaded walking into this mundane building every weekday for the past three years, but since he knew that this would be his last time going in, he felt that today would be a good day.
A few hours later, Paul had to face facts and admit that today was not a good day. And when the clock finally struck five, he headed for the exit with his shoulders slouched and his head down.
“Have a good night Paul, see you Monday!” said a co-worker who’s name Paul still hadn’t learned. She looked like a Janet.
“Yeah, you too...” he continued to hang his head as he walked out of the building and to his bus stop.

Once Paul got off the bus, he drudged back up to his studio apartment on the fifth floor. He dropped his coat onto the floor, tossed his keys onto the counter, and plopped himself onto his patchwork-covered couch in front of the TV. The highlight of his night would be when The Daily Show came on at ten. And after that it was time for bed.
The loud sounds of aggressive love-making on a creaky bed in the apartment above him made falling asleep often difficult for Paul. At least Mr. and Mrs. Campbell seemed to have a healthy relationship. He sandwiched his head between two pillows to stifle the noise. Before finally falling asleep, he decided that tomorrow would be his last day at his job. Yes, things are gonna change.

A large vulture-like bird soared aimlessly through the clear blue sky. She spread out her long tattered wings and some feathers threatened to fall off; the bird looked ill, but flew triumphantly nonetheless. She looked down on the ground and scanned the desert floor but saw nothing out of the ordinary. An occasional dune rose out of the ground here and there, but nothing to get excited about.
This was the bird’s home, and although it was barren, she made the most of it. She flew onwards. Wait! There, on the ground! A body? Indeed, a red-haired young man lay in the sand below. She dipped into a smooth dive to get a closer look. Dammit. It moved. The bird rose up into the air once more, disappointed.

As soon as Paul woke up, he realized something wasn’t right. His first sign of this was that instead of staring up at his bedroom ceiling, he was looking up at the sky. His second sign was that although the sky was bright, the sun was missing. In fact, the sky seemed entirely empty, save for a large bird flying away. He lifted up his right arm and watched as sand fell off his skin. His lips formed the words “what the hell,” but no sound escaped them. At least he still had his pajamas on.
Paul planted his palms on the ground, pushed himself to his feet, and surveyed his surroundings. He attempted to take them in, but his surroundings did not offer much to take. Nothing but sand and sky as far as he could see. He wandered if perhaps he was still dreaming; he vaguely remembered having a strange dream just moments ago. But even if that were the case, he certainly didn’t want to just sit in one spot until he woke up. Well, no use waiting. After brushing the sand off his body, he began walking.

Two hundred and fifty miles above Earth, a team of astronauts underwent Expedition 30 aboard the International Space Station. The 837 cubic meter satellite was currently only half-staffed with three personnel. Those three were: Dr. Lydia Wiggin, 30, docking module pilot; Dr. Harold Chiao, 29, general flight engineer; and Dr. Thomas Poole, 33, life support specialist. They had been onboard the station for 146 days, and in two days a full crew of six would arrive to replace them. Tom didn’t want to be replaced.
Although Tom was blessed with the brain of a scientist, he was also cursed with the heart of an explorer. His motivation for joining the station’s crew was fueled by this heart; space is the final frontier, after all. He remembered literally leaping for joy once he heard the news that he was selected for the expedition. He remembered excitedly telling his therapist all about it and all about what he would do aboard the modern marvel. He remembered grinning during most of the flight to the station from Houston.
Tom’s grin, however, had long since faded. Throughout the duration of his stay, he had been conducting research in fields such as physics, biology, astronomy, and meteorology. Lydia and Harold, however, chose to pursue research in fields such as romance, interpersonal relationships, and irrational argumentation; against all recommendations, the two of them started a relationship shortly before leaving Houston. The relationship did not last long, as they broke up only four days into the expedition. Worse still, they could not stay broken up. Last night they got back together for the eighth time.
Tom stood in his getaway room: the Cupola, the station’s small observation module that gave astronauts a clear view of Earth. Most astronauts found the view of Earth important to maintaining their mental health; looking at the planet they called home gave them both relaxation and inspiration. Tom leaned his forehead against the borosilicate glass pane and looked not at Earth but past it. He looked longingly out at the stars.
He sighed and whispered to himself. “I belong out there…”

After an uneventful three-mile walk, Paul’s surroundings remained completely unchanged. He grew more tired of the sand than he was of walking. Actually, he wasn’t tired of walking at all. This surprised him at first, but he attributed it to the possibility that he was dreaming. A rumbling from beneath the ground surprised him even more. He looked all around himself but saw no source of the sound. Suddenly, a patch of sand in front of him began swirling, much like a toilet being flushed. The ground opened up to reveal the toilet’s plumbing, and sand poured down into the resulting hole as the rumbling grew tremendously louder. Paul stood still like a deer in headlights. He decided to file his fear under the possibility that he was not dreaming.
A gigantic beast of a snake erupted forth from the hole, its body initially almost perpendicular to the ground. The creature was a pale white, but its eyes were a deep black. Paul gazed in awed fascination as the snake launched into the air, then turned and ran in awed panic as it fell back to the ground. It slammed against the desert floor with a sickening thud, but Paul didn’t bother to turn and look. He kept sprinting. The unbelievable monster slithered closely behind him, and Paul felt that this was the end for him; that is, until he heard the snake let out a painful moan. Paul’s curiosity got the best of him. He stopped, spun on his heel, and looked. The snake’s face had a wooden arrow stuck in it, and soon two more arrows soared brilliantly from behind Paul and sunk into the snake’s face. It ended its rampage and burrowed back into the ground to safety.

“And that,” said a gruff voice from behind Paul, “is what we call the worst welcome party ever.”
Paul turned and saw a short, stocky man with dirty blonde hair down to his shoulders and a face that looked as if it took regular beatings from a shovel. The man sat perched atop a tall stool on the back of a crude motorcycle.
“The name’s Todd,” said the stranger. He lowered his crossbow and climbed down from his bizarre vehicle. “Looks like I found you just in time.”
Paul tried to speak, but he had a million questions and didn’t want them to all come out at once. He finally figured out how to prioritize them. “What was that?”
“Dunno if they have a scientific name, but I’ve always just known ‘em as snakes. Or big uglies.” Todd backed up to get a good look at Paul. “First time to the afterlife, eh?” He appeared as if he was holding back a grin as he said this, but he failed. His smile looked almost as ridiculous as his bike.
“Eh-excuse me?” muttered Paul. “The afterlife?”
Todd’s smile quickly vanished. “Well yeah. Naturally.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Okay, to be specific, this is the Torrid Desert, in the southern region of Kranuk. We’re pretty stumped as to how ya ended up all the way out here.”
“And here is…the afterlife?” Paul sat down on the ground, his legs unable to bear how crazy this man sounded.
“Sure is. The afterlife…as in after life. Sorry about dying, kid. Happens to the best of us.” Todd tried to sound facetious, but his tone gave away his true feelings of concern.
“But I didn’t die. This has to be a dream. I am dreaming, right?”
“Ya know, I was once told that you can’t focus on anything for too long in dreams. So if you ever think you’re in a dream, you just stare at your hand. I guess if nothing happens that means you’re in reality.”
Paul raised his hand in front of his face and stared at it. He picked a line, and followed it as slowly and carefully as he could. He kept waiting, no, hoping, for something to happen. Maybe it’d disappear, or maybe his fingers would turn into worms. Or maybe he’d just wake up.
Nothing happened.
“I don’t think I’m dreaming,” said Paul at last.
“You aren’t,” agreed Todd.
Paul suddenly felt as if he’d been married for twenty-six years and his wife suddenly left him with not so much as a note.
“…Shit.”
“’Shit’ is right,” agreed Todd again.

InstituteMan
February 6th, 2014, 04:44 AM
I liked this. Your ability to turn a phrase in an unexpected way makes for fun reading. For example, the description of the pair of on-again, off-again lovers in orbit cracked me up.

I think that the formatting does your twists and transitions a disservice, but I suspect that may just be inherent in the limited formatting capabilities.

a few of other nit picks:
- the use of the work "crowded" twice in the first sentence seemed odd to me; not wrong, but certainly repetitive,
- in the first paragraph, I think that you want "preferably" instead of "preferable," and
- I would definitely end the first paragraph before "unlike every other morning" to highlight the difference.

I confess that those nits at this very beginning made me think, 'jeez, should I continue?', But I am glad that I did. The piece hangs together well, with several gems in a good start to a story.

Micholeon
February 6th, 2014, 05:03 AM
Ah, the "preferable" was just an honest typo, thanks for catching that.

And I purposefully kept the "unlike every other morning" in the same paragraph to *not* highlight the difference. I thought it'd be kinda funny, as if I'm saying "oh it's just a slight difference," when really it's a huge one.

Thanks for the compliments! I actually have the next eleven chapters written out, and I have chapters 12-25 outlined. I don't wanna post it all at once though.

Micholeon
February 6th, 2014, 05:06 AM
I think that the formatting does your twists and transitions a disservice, but I suspect that may just be inherent in the limited formatting capabilities.


If you're referring to indents and paragraph breaks, I agree. I'm writing this out in Word and it looks/reads much nicer there, but for some reason I can't seem to copy it to these message boards properly.

InstituteMan
February 6th, 2014, 10:56 PM
If you're referring to indents and paragraph breaks, I agree. I'm writing this out in Word and it looks/reads much nicer there, but for some reason I can't seem to copy it to these message boards properly.

Yeah, that was what I thought was probably the case.

On the "unlike every other morning" question, bear in mind that I am just a schlump on the internet who likes to read and write. :witless: That said, I can see what you mean there. You could potentially go down that road of casually mentioning other very stark contrasts even more to strengthen the beginning even more.

Regardless, I look forward to seeing more of the story. Cheers!

J