Well, NaNoWriMo is almost at an end, and I am most definitely not going to be a winner, hovering as I am at barely more than twelve-thousand words. I made what I now realize is a classic NaNo mistake: I got way too invested in the project. As I noted in my warm-up short story, I have a tendency to labour over every piece of prose, which is something I rather enjoy doing but not a habit that jives well with writing 1,667 words a day.
That being said, I am quite absorbed in my work so far and I have no intention of stopping. In part I’ll be relying on the readers here at Stranger Than Truth to keep me motivated: your eyeballs and your feedback are much appreciated. Tomorrow I’ll be back here on the blog with a recap of what we’ve all done during NaNoWriMo, and a look at some of our plans moving forward. Until then, please enjoy the next unedited slice of my ongoing novel!
(If you missed the beginning, read that first. Otherwise this will be even more confusing than it already is.)
A Sticky City Story—Excerpt
by Marcus Carab
7. Crisis Log, Friday (PM)
One piece of good news: Needy isn’t dead. Turns out he did exactly what I did: after we came to and split up, he bought some A.D. time almost immediately. Like me he knew something wasn’t right, even if we weren’t sure exactly what it was—and like me, he has a rule: in confusion, find seclusion. Think things through. Come out guns blazing, but only once you know your target.
I found out about Needy through Mercer Kick, whom I’ve also hired to be my eyes and ears in the city. I’m checking out of here tomorrow night and then I’ll be back on the corner of Wellway and 2950, just outside Liplock, but for now I’m five-hundred artificial miles away. I need to get as much information as I can in the time I’ve got, and if that means paying that degenerate Kick to ooze about Sticky City for me, so be it. Sad as it is, he’s the only one left I can trust—and that’s just because I’m a paying client, which is not a common thing in his world.
He had some other information for me, in addition to the fact that Needy was alive. For one thing, apparently what happened to us is not unique. Kick has heard two other stories of basic jobs going sour at the last second when someone unexpected showed up, but he doesn’t have any details yet. I’ve told him that’s his top priority, followed closely by the question of what exactly those records were and why Melon wanted them. Anyone who sees Mercer Kick in action can immediately tell he’s a terrible detective, and he smells awful to boot—but if they watch him a little longer, they will be mortified to discover that he usually gets what he wants.
After some deliberation, I also decided to call in a favour—an old one that I’ve been saving for some time. So I sent a message to Ivy. I wonder if she’ll answer. I wonder if she’ll even get it.
8. An Incident Worthy of Wartime
It was a tough choice. Removing the bicycles would take all day, but getting the corpse out like this would be hazardous. The Constable had already clambered over that tetanus-trap once and he wasn’t looking forward to going back—and he didn’t have to to manage a stretcher with the corpse of a two-hundred year old man on it, so he understood the paramedics’ objections. Still, the Seargant wouldn’t be happy about sending heavy machines out for the sake of one dead squatter, and where would they dispose of this much worthless metal? They’d need to ship it out of Sticky, that’s for sure—and when the department got that bill they’d have his badge.
No, he was in command and the meds would have to suck it up. But there was no rush, so he let them take a vape break first, and they puffed on their atomizers while he and the junior officer tried to get the door open. It was clear the old man had been living in there: the small space between the bicycles and the wall was set up like a patio, and he’d even torched a crude mail slot through the steel of the door. But he also locked it down from the outside with a padlock as thick as a baby’s arm before he sat in his lawnchair. He died clutching something to his chest, but they hadn’t the heart to pry open his fingers and see what it was just yet. There was a dead parrot on the ground beside him.
Nobody wanted to go back to the car for bolt cutters, so the Constable finally let his young partner show off the lockpicking skills he’d been boasting about for months. He set at it with a grin, claiming he needed only two small bits of metal, which he quickly selected from the tangle behind them. It took the better part of an hour, and while the officer worked the Constable watched two parrots who had arrived to perch on the windowsill above. They were unusually quiet, and they seemed to be staring at their kin’s carcass where it lay on the ground. The Constable pondered this, and thought about the gunfight that killed his last partner, and all the things he had wanted to do in that moment when he saw the body crumple as though suddenly deflated. A loud click recalled him from the memory, and he turned to see his new partner smiling with the open lock dangling from his fingertips.
“Well, let’s see the spoils of a life like this one,” said the Constable, glancing at the dead old man. The paramedics came over to watch as the two officers rolled the rusty door up into the ceiling, unveiling spartan living quarters arranged inside a furnace room. Stepping inside revealed that the space was larger than it seemed, but half of it was filled with teetering towers of crates stacked nearly to the ceiling. Before they could move to examine them, both men heard a low, angry rumble and turned to look at the furnace: it had begun to wobble on its supports with the growing, shifting gait of a waveform trying to find itself. The Constable and his partner glanced at each other for an instant, then leapt back through the door just as the stove’s belly burst, throwing them to the ground and toppling the stiff old man and his chair. A flying hunk of shrapnel struck one of the paramedics on the temple, and he collapsed instantly in a growing pool of blood while the other crawled to him. He glanced at the wound for only a split second before shaking his head.
The open pipes coughed flame around the room and the fire spread quickly; when the Constable heard the second explosion, lying with his face in the dirt, he realized what must have been in the crates. The alley was barely three feet wider than the open door, offering no cover to the sides, and the only way out was blocked by a field of what suddenly looked like razorblades, stretching for what suddenly looked like a mile.
“Close it! Now!” he bellowed over the roar of the fire. All three men stood and fought to approach the door through heat that bent light and warped their vision, but when they seized the handles their palms bubbled and turned black. Screaming, the Constable attempted to rip off his sleeve to use as a glove, but before he could tear it free another explosion flattened him back to the ground. As he scrabbled at the pavement a series of sharp bangs announced that the fire had reached bullets, and then there were more and more until the room became a hellstorm of ricocheting lead that spat potshot screwballs out into the alley. He heard a loud squawk and the bleeding corpse of a parrot hit the ground next to his head, while above it’s brother cried “Golly-gee!” An moment later a weight fell on his back, pressing the air out of his lungs, and as he grunted and shouldered it off he felt a wet warmth trickle down his neck and realized it was the body of other paramadic, caught like the bird by a stray round.
Realizing he had only one choice, the Constable thrust his raw palms against the ground and forced himself to his knees, searching for the strength to meet what lay before him. When he lifted his head, his eyes found those of his partner: the explosion that knocked him to the ground had sent the young officer flying backwards into the thicket, and now he lay impaled, with the scalpel-tipped polearm of a snapped bicycle frame jutting from his chest. The colour had left his face but he still struggled and gurgled as his blood poured down through the latticework of spokes and crossbars. Gritting his teeth, the Constable crawled forward and climbed over his partner’s body into the tangle, already feeling the bite of a thousand rusty teeth on his arms and legs. As he raised himself to move further, a stray bullet burrowed into the base of his skull, and he collapsed into the waiting nest of spikes and skewers.
The surviving parrot stood fast on its perch on the windowsill, bullets chipping the surrounding brick, until the heat began to singe the tips of its feathers. It looked down at its dead fellows—one struck with a rock, the other with a bullet, both starting to blacken in the brickbound oven—then leapt and arced into a dive. It shrieked as it plummeted, and all the adopted tones of humans and machines melted from its voice, leaving only a raw animal note that deafened the flames and woke the ghosts of the dead below. With a twist of its wings it spiraled and leveled and careened through the door, disintegrating in the firestorm with the shriek still rich in its throat.
9. A Tirade, Delivered by a Madman to Absolutely No-one
How many coincidences in a connection? How many correlations in a cause? These are the conversions I seek. This is the math with which I struggle. O that I could sit aloft with parrots and know the mosaic, not swim in sticky grout. Fragments of a picture! Pressing ever tighter by continental drift. How many ones in a many? How many in a one? Am I missing some constant that will balance these equations? Am I missing a slice of Pangaea? This convergence is off-kilter, this wholeness unwholesome. But it is here, and the boundaries are collapsing! The borders are bleeding! The lines grow muddy and we all diffuse like ink in water! Were you the India? Was I the Sepia? There will be no telling!
I cling to cohesion, but my thoughts are fissiparous. Who has made this so? It was to be me, leading all the world into itself in the grand and unifying collapse! Some other has taken my torch and set the city aflame—too fast! too fast! We’ll mingle as ashes not axioms, if they don’t take greater care. These are people, not birds! They will sooner serrate their selves than shed them, and then what will we have, hmm? Snapping turtles boiling in their shells! Bursting geodes! Mollusk fossils!
It’s only just beginning now but o how surely it begins! Perhaps it could be stemmed but every moment gives it new momentum, brings it closer to Escape Velocity, to Critical Mass, to the Event Horizon, to the Point Of No Return. Then there will be blood and I daresay we will find blood comforting, for there will be worse things, too. I’m sure the first victims have already been claimed, but who knows which of this city’s countless deaths were theirs? It will all be clear soon, painfully soon, unless it’s stopped in time.
There is time, yes, but what to do with it? Where to begin? And how, even then, to leave this cage? Worse still, and already too clear: I am the weaker spark. If Hazel were here, if she were anywhere, if I could hear her still—then things would be different. Might be. But no, I am one and weak and all walled up. Sticky City will have to figure out how to fend for itself.