Working Title

MY WORLD | FICTION

It’s good to be busy but with so much on, prioritising has become an issue: what a nice problem to have.

All potential paid work is with the editor, pending approval or redrafting; or rejection. The Paradoxicon novel is being serialised in the webzine for which I regularly write and I’m earning modest royalties. At the same time – paradoxically – the original is being revised by another editor, whilst I simultaneously work on an expanded edition and write a synopsis for a sequel, as well as a query letter to a favoured agent. It’ll take a while, so buy the original and get a first edition. I’m also earning royalties from COGS’ publication in print Therefore, I need to look at the – currently – unpaid projects in hand and therefore self-promotion. I can knock out a short story in a couple of days, so the background projects are jostling for position: further work on the first book, or the second, non-sequential one.

So I’d value opinions on a working title:

Bloodstained Knaves

Chapter One



A Note From Below

You’ve heard of underground publications, right? Why is it that everything “underground” is considered bad? Just because the very word suggests subterranean? Well it not only does but it is. What you’re reading came from underground, quite literally. It is the very definition of an underground publication. I wrote it, therefore it is published, albeit self-published. I wrote it underground; beneath your feet, where I live. The fact that you’re reading it means that it made its way out. You are reading an underground publication.



Beneath your feet: I’m lower than the shit on your shoes. If I were above ground, you’d probably look down on me, if you noticed me at all. But you don’t notice me because I’m underground; deliberately, where you can’t see me. But you wouldn’t want to, so I’m doing you a favour by staying down here.



We may be below your feet but if you ever took the time, you might realise that there’s more to us than meets the eye. But you can’t see us. Whether that’s by choice or circumstance is irrelevant.



You see, since we’ve been down here we’ve learned a lot. That’s partly why we’re down here. And there is so much down here you don’t know about, or probably wouldn’t want to know about. If you chose to seek us out, you would judge us. Among many delusions, you would probably assume that we can neither read nor write. You’d rather remain blissfully innocent of our existence. But you’re reading this: I wrote it.



You’re probably wondering who I am. Well, ask yourself another question: why are you reading this? Because you want to. You have the freedom of choice. Well so do we. We’ve chosen to stay down here and if you really want to keep on reading, you’ll find out why.

Chapter Two



The City Without History

The city was different now. Jess knew, yet she hadn’t seen the metamorphosis as she was living away at college when her parents moved here. She had no memory of how things used to be; only the photographs her parents had left behind. They were gone: her parents and their city.

There used to be public squares, parks and recreation areas. Now the city is just a square, with groups of buildings on each corner separated by wasteland. Work to rebuild the city is ongoing, with gangs of builders arriving at construction sites every morning. New buildings are appearing  at a rate of about one per week.

Every morning, Jess takes the same route to work, leaving her apartment in the residential quarter and walking counter clockwise around the square city, past the police station and jail to her office in the commercial quarter. Every evening, she walks clockwise past the hospital and back to her home.

The police station is lit but there is no movement inside or out, likewise the jail: two steel ghost ships, floating on an asphalt sea. There is no crime in the city. There are perpetrators of acts which would once have been considered criminal but they are no longer criminals under the New City Order laws. The police station and jail were temporary structures erected in the new city to quickly process those who broke the many laws hastily passed, then dropped. Disposable people were needed and the two facilities served as a processing plant: condemnation and abattoir.

Jess could take a bus. Buses run in both directions around the square. She could use The Loop; an elevated railway around the city. She chooses to walk because in doing so, she takes personal charge of her destiny without entrusting it to public transport and the passengers thereon. The underground metro rail system was abandoned following The Event.

Every morning and evening, a hand-written note protrudes from the same storm drain cover. Usually it’s just requests for food and water; pens and paper. The notes state that these items are to be left by the drain cover under cover of darkness. Jess obliges, purely out of curiosity in the hope that one day she may glimpse the author of the notes. She watches and waits but always has to leave her gifts where she placed them. By morning they are gone. Sometimes the note is just a friendly greeting or thank you. This note was different: it was as though it were attached to someone and not just some anonymous begging note. This had personality.

The first time it happened, all that Jess saw was a rolled up sheet of paper, protruding only slightly from the metal grille as rain water flowed around it, like a periscope tentatively looking for something above an ocean. The river of water flowing into the drain was as grey as the drain cover itself, broken only by white bubbles and carrying debris from the curbside. Bus and train tickets; cigarette ends and spent matches; lottery tickets and receipts; all carried like white water rafters on the river downstream.

On that first occasion, the rolled up sheet was just a protrusion into Jess’s space. White against grey, it was out of place. Jess had stepped into the road and into the riders, as though into enemy territory and pushed the tube of paper into the drain: a discarded sheet, carelessly dropped and washed by rain water into the drain cover but with it’s progress impeded by the iron portcullis which guarded the watery world below.

The riders are demons on wheels, risking their own lives and those of others, riding their cannibalised machines at far in excess of what used to be a speed limit on the roads. Now there are no limits, not even physical ones that the riders observe between road and kerb. Mostly they growl and roar along the edge of the road but occasionally they violently mount the kerb, screaming like human sirens at anyone in their way. Jess had seen walkers knocked down, the riders having no concern other than being paid for each delivery of human blood, organs and body parts. They are couriers; messengers to the devil.

If they had time, the riders would stop and pick up their fresh kills to be harvested for spare parts. Far easier were the jumpers: people made redundant, who had hurled themselves from buildings, rather than be dissected while still alive and without anaesthetic, to provide organs and limbs to the needy classes. The riders collect the roadkill and carrion, then ride pillion on their bikes with their cargo slumped over the handlebars.

A job in the city is something you hold onto for life, in more ways than one. Once a job is lost, invariably so too is a life. Jobs are never advertised.

Jess arrives at the building which houses her office and hundreds of others. Some occupy entire floors, or share with others: law firms, accountants and the offices of various trades, mainly allied to the construction industry. Most – like Jess’s – are single occupancy. There are no plaques on the doors; just numbers. What goes on behind those doors is open to speculation. Jess only knows what happens in hers. But actually she doesn’t. She knows what she does but she doesn’t know why she does it.

As the door onto the street closes behind her, the relative quiet in the building is somehow louder than the noise outside as the inside provides room for thought. The riders on the street and the pavement still growl, roar and scream. The other traffic provides a background hum, broken only by the air brakes of a bus travelling either clockwise or counter clockwise around the square city and letting out a mechanical sigh of relief as it disgorges its passengers. The screech of metal on metal from The Loop subdues as though being shut in a box as the door to Jess’s daytime concentration camp settles in its frame.

The elevator reluctantly collects Jess from the entrance hall, it’s doors opening slowly, like a vertical metal mouth yawning. She reciprocates by reluctantly stepping in. Then like a piston, the elevator quickly takes Jess to the fourteenth floor and yawns again as she steps out. Before entering her office, she takes in the view outside.

The city looks so different from up here: The Loop a model railway and below it, toy cars, buses, taxis and motorbikes; model people too. Where once stood high rise steel and glass office towers, now hastily-constructed concrete monolithic syringes pierce the clouds of dust which hang overhead, their rooftop communication antennae injecting propaganda into the ether for distant extraterrestrial civilisations to pick up, long after humanity destroyed itself. Welcome to our world. Put another way, this is our world and you are welcome to it.

Chapter Three



QED

Jess’s office is number 1442: fourteenth floor, room forty two. She’s been employed here all of her working life, since leaving college aged 21 after The Event, two years ago. She swipes her ID card through a reader on the door, presses her hand against a palm reader, then enters her office. Then she does the same inside the office, where she will remain for the rest of the day.

The walls and ceiling of the small room are painted white; the spill-proof carpet is grey: neutral decoration, just like her apartment. The walls are bare apart from a filing cabinet against the rear wall, a mirror hung above it and a clock over the entrance door. In the centre of the room is a desk and chair. On the desk is a computer and next to the keyboard is a pile of papers: the day’s work.

Every day a fresh pile of hand-written papers is waiting on the desk and she has just one job to do: type them up and send what she’s produced in electronic form to an unknown recipient. She knows neither the identity of the author, nor that of whomever she sends her typed versions to.

She’s thought about it before; questioned motives, been unable to arrive at a conclusion and just carried on with what she’s paid to do. She has a job and it pays: it pays well and she’s not redundant. A sum of money arrives in her account every month and she has no reason to question where it originates. She’ll wonder again. It’s easy for the mind to wander when the job is so monotonous: touch-typing at eighty words per minute with rarely time to pay attention to what’s actually being typed.

She has never been shown nor signed a contract of employment. She has no contractual hours, so works a stereotype, Dolly Parton day, nine to five: the same time that the computer is operational for. The work is always finished before she leaves the office and she could be at work for shorter hours but the self-imposed working day seems reasonable to her and hopefully therefore to her unseen employer. She doesn’t send an email; she just has a word processor with a “Send” button on screen. After typing, the original papers are filed in the grey cabinets.

There are two small rooms off from the main one: a kitchen with a microwave oven, a kettle and a sink; and a bathroom with a toilet and wash basin. They are nondescript, of the same decor as the main room and merely functional. She makes a coffee, sits at the desk and notes the time on the clock above the door: two minutes before she can start. She looks at the computer screen: blank apart from the reflection of the mirror on the wall behind her.

Most of the documents Jess is given mean little to her: lists; columns of numbers; reports on mundane subjects; minutes from meetings. Each is apparently one part of a greater whole. Today is no exception:

Post Holocene 4/5



1a. Law:



Judge

Chief of police

Rank and file police officers



1b. Defence:



Army



1c. Medicine:



Surgeons – general

Nursing staff



3a. Construction:



Builders – general

Bricklayers

Electricians

Plumbers

Carpenters

Foremen

QED: quod erat demonstrandum; “Which had to be proven.”

Chapter Four



A Fresh Delivery

The sound of a siren is rare in the city. Accidents are rarely attended, the dead and injured instead being collected by the riders, sounding their own vocal sirens.

When an ambulance speeds through the city it pierces both visibly and audibly. A white, sonic knife through the metal fat of traffic clogging the city’s arteries and preventing a heart attack. Vehicles move aside, engines idling briefly as the ambulance passes, drowning out all other sound.

Jess treads the usual route home: familiar, yet changing almost every day. Today a new office building has been topped out and a coffee shop has appeared on West Street, nestled between two building sites. The construction workers form a fluorescent yellow snake in their high visibility overalls as they wait for buses. They will have downed tools at five O’clock and are now headed home before the city shuts down for the night.

Jess’s day ended as her office clock ticked to five O’clock and her computer shut down. She’d already filed the day’s hand-written papers, swiped out of the office and wondered as she walked home about the QED paper she’d typed and sent to its unidentified recipient: which had to be proven. What had to be proved? It was written in the past tense: how was whatever which required proof, proven?

As Jess approached the hospital, the ambulance had overtaken her and was now parked outside. Two paramedics wheeled a stretcher down a ramp from the back, quickly turning the stretcher and rushing through the automatic doors of the hospital. Then two riders arrived, bearing cargo. Finally, a car: black, like all ambulance chasers.

The sounds of the city subside as Jess nears the residential quarter. It’s as sudden as ever, like being followed by a blaring beat briefcase and the carrier turning down the volume out of consideration for someone approaching. In less than an hour after Jess leaves work, the city is almost silent.

Then the sound of paper on metal, like the gentlest fingers on a nail file. The daily note:

Should I continue?

2 thoughts on “Working Title

  1. Steve I think that you should definitely go on with this book as I was pulled into the story straight away. It reminds me more of Paul Auster’s writer than the Paradoxicon did and this excites me. In fact the description of your city is very like the book you loaned me to read ‘ In The country Of Last Things’. As in your story has Jesse fending for herself in a broken down city that is still managing to survive. If you don’t carrying on writing then I will be left frustrated not knowing the rest of the story that is somewhere in that creative brain of yours. I want to know more about the underground people and if ever Jesse befriends them so please please keep writing this story.

    Like

    • This and other responses have aided the decision-making process and I shall indeed focus on the next book, until something better comes along. Everyone knows I can’t be pinned down.

      Paul Auster is indeed an influence and the comparison is taken as the compliment I assume it was intended to be.

      How did the city come to be the way that it is? Will Jess’s curiosity get the better of her? What awaits below, should she decide to descend: salvation or greater incarceration?

      We’ll see…

      Like

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