The In-between – Part 28 of 31

Okay so I’m doing M’s prompts going to try and do a full month as one long story with no planning. Today it is “Hickory Dickory’.

The instructions are to simply write for ten minutes or so each day and that’s about it. It’s certainly taking me longer than ten minutes and now looking like I will probably do all 31 as one long story. Who’d have thought eh…


Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 Part 11 Part 12 Part 13 Part 14 Part15 Part16 Part 17 Part18 Part 19 Part 20 Part 21 Part 22 Part 23 Part 24 Part25 Part 26  Part27

 

Sometimes we do things that define us, that shape us and that show what we are truly capable of.  They are a measure of the very core of our character and speak of the nature of our person.  They are the fork in the road that dictates our path evermore and picking up the device from Plumduff’s desk and shoving it inside my jacket I considered that this could well be that moment for me.  I also considered that it was a particularly foolish idea and would almost certainly result in something quite terrible happening to me.

Before I had chance to second guess myself I slipped out of the office and into the courtyard with it.  It wouldn’t be long before McCann and the Gadzooks realised that I had disappeared with the device so I needed to move quickly and as I passed through the gates, heart racing, I slipped the ring from my finger and shoved it inside my pocket.

All around the my reality began to fade away, grey replacing the world around me and the still familiar sense of nothing filling my senses.  Once more I felt alone and lost and with no reference points for up or down my head began to swim.

“I wondered if I would see you” came a voice through the nothing.  I could hear it but I could feel it also, deep inside me as if trying to escape.  “I had so hoped you would heed my call but such are the hearts of men that your unpredictability is both your greatest strength and a weakness that so often betrays you.”

“Who are you?” I asked.  I could feel her clawing at my mind, exploring my thoughts. 

“You know of me Armitage, let’s not pretend, you came here looking for me and we met long ago when you first walked this plain.”

It had felt like mere days since I had first encountered her but I was in no way inclined to argue given all I had seen since I last stood in this sea of grey.  I spun around searching, and as quickly as the world I had known had faded to grey she was there, towering above me.  A feint hum filled the air and standing close I could see a blue light coursing through her.

I pulled out the device from inside my jacket and held it out in front of me.  It was cold and heavy in my hand and as the petals unfolded as it crackled, shimmering with the same blue light that flowed through her.  “I need your help, my friends are in trouble.”

“You busy yourself with such toys and trinkets Armitage, would you not rather stay here with me instead?”  she said as I looked up through her branches.  Though there was no sun to be seen I was suddenly now bathed in dappled light as it flooded through the canopy above and a sense of warmth and safety flooded over me.  “Let me give you respite from this reality.”

I could feel her presence surrounding me, speaking to me from inside my head.  But my friends need me” I replied, every fibre of my being straining to resist the draw of the promise of rest.

“There will be a price, you must pay if I am to help you Armitage.  Are you willing to pay what is due if I am to help you find them?”

Without waiting I answered that I was and that I would do whatever was necessary should she help. 

“It will be a heavy price Armitage” she continued “and I will insist on payment”.

The more she spoke the more I found myself growing impatient, she seemed intent on labouring the point and my concern was for Plumduff and O’Rourke and not for the dramatics she quite obviously enjoyed.

 “If it’s okay with you I really do need to be getting on” I replied.  “Are you able to help me get to my friends or not?”

“So be it” she said, her tone immediately harsh and cold.  The sunlight filtering through the leaves disappeared and a chill spread through me.  “Place the device at your feet and step back.”

Without waiting I did as she said, the hum in the air growing louder and the blue hue around the device pulsating and brightening.  The energy flowing through her began to pulse faster in time with the glow of the device until, with a loud crack, a bright arc of energy leapt from the tip of one of her lower branches to the core of the device.  As a second and third arc fizzed through the air and attached itself  a portal opened to the side of me, a deep orange circle cut into the air and beyond was the high banked river bed and the ramshackle wooden settlement I had seen back in the hanger.

“It’s time Armitage, go find your friends.” She said, her voice cold and angry, and without another question I ran and jumped through the portal.

Landing on the other side I was taken somewhat by surprise given everything was still grey.  The portal remained open and I could see the blue flickering light but apart from that everything was the same.  Gone was the river bed and the sloping hill, there was no collection of wooden buildings, just more grey. 

“Well that’s just great” I said to myself. 

I walked back over to the portal and peered through, my head in one reality and my body in another.

“I’m really sorry about this” I said feeling a little embarrassed, “don’t mean to trouble you again but I can’t seem to see anything at all.  Is something broken?”

For a moment there was no response other than what sounded very much like a sigh.

“Put the ring on Armitage” she answered.  “It’s in your pocket.”

“Oh yes” I said reaching into my pocket.  “Thanks.  Really.  I erm…I’ll just get going now” and turned back to my own side of the Portal. 

Slipping the ring onto my finger there was an explosion of colour as the grey nothing receded to my periphery, and in front of me I could see the settlement near the top of the hill that stretched away before me.   Above the sun shone bright in a blue sky and looking down at my feet I noticed, and by this point could feel, that I was ankle deep in the shallows of the river that crawled across the landscape. 

“Bugger” I exclaimed and slopped out onto the bank.  I could see there were knots of trees on each side of the hill but my instinct told me that I needed to head straight ahead. 

Scrambling up the river bank with the sun on my back I headed as quickly as I could up the hill until approaching the brow I stopped for a moment against the first ramshackle building.  It was set back some way from the others and as I peered out from behind it I could see nothing but desolation and destruction before me.  

A strong smell of burning drifted through the air, with the old wooden buildings scorched in places and completely destroyed in others and debris was strewn across the worn dirt paths between them.  It was eerily quiet and the sound of my own breathing was all I could hear.

“Where are you Margaret” I mumbled to myself as I continued down an overgrown path that lead towards the a small grouping of four buildings at the heart of the village.  Standing between them I looked about , they grey of my periphery revealing more buildings stretching away back down the hill, most of which looked to have been completely destroyed. 

As I approached the largest of the four central buildings, a double storied construction with a wide veranda and heavy doors that hung crookedly off their hinges, I was startled by a pair of large black birds that burst from one of the broken upstairs windows.  They disappeared into the distance and my heart raced.  I laughed, the madness of the situation not lost on me, and as I stood hand on hips to catch my breath I caught the feintest sound of voices.

As quietly as I could I hurried over to the side of the main building and pressed myself up against the wall just below a tall window.  The glass had been broken from the inside and I winced as it crunched beneath my feet.  As the sound of my own breathing calmed I picked out the unmistakable sound of Thrumhall and O’Rourke, it seemed to be coming from upstairs and though it was hard to make out what they were saying, from the tone I could tell that O’Rourke’s luck might have run out.

I walked back around to the front of the building and stepped onto the veranda, keeping as close as I could to the front of the building.  It was at this point, as I prepared myself to push through the gap between the doors, that I realised that I had in my possession exactly nothing that would be of any use in a fight.  Looking about I picked up one of the spindles that had previously been part of the balustrade in to the front and weighed it in my hands. 

“Great, and what exactly do you presume to do with it” I whispered to myself feeling wholly out of my depth.  Obviously I should have brought McCann and the other Gadzooks but I’d had enough of other people getting me out of trouble.

As I squeezed through the gap in the doors I could hear stomping from the floor above, and Thrumhall’s laugh boomed out.  The room had a large dark wooden table that ran from one end to another and upturned chairs were scattered around the room.  On the walls there were tattered remnants of banners and brightly coloured flags and A cooking fireplace sat against one wall.  Towards the back of the room was a single staircase that lead to the floor above.

“Not got such a big mouth now do we Cardinal.”

“I will have you know that this is not even in my top five beatings you fish headed son of a swine.”

The footsteps stopped and there was a loud crack and I could hear O’Rourke gasp.

“Okay, okay, top five” he said, his voice shaking “but you’ve a long way to go until you get top three.”

Thrumhall roared with laughter.  “I like your spirit, even if it going to get you killed.”

“Again” replied O’Rourke.

“What?”

“Again, killed again.  The Prussians beat you to it but you’re welcome to have another crack at it.”

Thrumhall struck him again.  “Do you ever shut up?”

My heart leapt as I heard Plumduff shout, that familiar matronly tone in her voice.  “No he doesn’t.  James, just be quiet will you.”

With the baton in my hand I tiptoed across the floor stepping over the broken chairs and other detritus that was scattered about.  I moved onto the stairs and slowly, step by step, ascended –  holding my breath each time the boards creaked.  About half way up I could see enough to look into the room and the first thing I saw was the back of Thrumhall and a glimpse of O’Rourke beyond.  Plumduff was nowhere to be seen.

“Let’s do this then shall we” said Thrumhall pulling his pistol from his holster.

“Thrumhall, you don’t need to do this” Plumduff shouted. 

“Oh but I do Margaret, I need to most definitely do this and once I have done this then I’ll deal woth you and the rest of the Office of Entropy.”

“Come on you big freak, do it.” Shouted O’Rourke. “Do it, do it I can’t be killed don’t you know.”

He raised his pistol.  “We’ll see about that shall we.”

It was at this point that I did the only thing I could think if and taking the last few steps two at a time burst onto the upper floor with the baton raised and ran for all I was worth towards where Thrumhall was still talking.

O’Rourke saw me before Thrumhall heard me. “Oh you’re in for it now” he shouted straining against the ties that held him to a heavy wooden chair.  At that point he must have heard my advancing footsteps and turned bringing the pistol to bare on me just as I brought drove the baton into his face right between the eyes.

The weapon discharged as he fell to the floor, the sound deafening.  As Thrumhall fell at my feet motionless I collapsed on top of him screaming, a searing pain in my left shoulder and my head spinning.

I heard Plumduff call my name as I fell and as I hit Thrumhall and twisted I looked up to see her rushing across the room.  Perhaps it was the pain or the adrenaline but I was pretty certain that there were two of her.

 

 

Part 29 is coming soon