Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Roundabout bits and pieces

Doing some significant editing on the roundabout work Chapter 2, effectively

Any observer lucky (or unlucky) enough to be wandering the city streets that night would have seen that same figure casually sauntering down the asphalt swinging a sack over one shoulder. Whistling the same tune, his gait was only broken by the occasional click of his heels. The sound of sneakers on wet asphalt was a muffled hiss combined with the staccato click of wood and metal objects concealed within his vest.
He turned a corner, walked up a flight of stairs, took a handful of lefts and halfhazard rights before walking down a dark alley. Enough rubble had piled up against the walls of an abandoned street to turn it into a crevice barely wide enough for a grown man to walk comfortably through. The figure, with his slim frame, fit easily between the black-molded plywood and rusted metal. For a moment, he disappeared entirely into the shadows. His face was finally brought back from the night by the orange lamplight hanging above a door.
It had once been a pub, back when that sort of thing was fashionable. It still served its original function, but now catered to an entirely different clientele. Housed within the Shadow District’s fetid womb was the Bloated Mug, the pub of choice for the discerning lowlife. The front windows were blacked out, and the entire outside of the pub was a diseased combination of tar and the collected dregs of the nearby docks. Inside was not much better. More of the same orange lights that secretly announced the entrance to the pub also hung above the bar. Hunched over the bar, perpetually cleaning the expected glass with the stereotypically indiscernible rag was Georg. No one knew exactly what it was that Georg was trying to be, but the general consensus was that he approximated humanity enough to be qualified to serve drinks. One good eye watched each customer as he, she, or it entered the pub while the other kept a neverending vigil over the cash register. Behind Georg were several shelves, home to dusty bottles of liquids that were better left unnamed. Further back from Georg’s questionable presence, the bar faded into darkness. Here and there pools of light floated in the darkness, depending on the tastes of the customer. Most of the customers, however, preferred to take their drinks in the dark.
The door to the pub opened, letting in a sliver of starless night. Georg’s eye watched the stranger walk into the bar, swing his sack down, and sit down at the counter. Careful not to let his hands touch the questionable countertop, he motioned Georg. Nodding, the hunched barkeep shambled off to prepare a drink. This customer had particular tastes, and required from Georg something that most of the other regulars would not consider drinking.
Gerog placed a glass of water in front of the youth, and moved away. This customer, like all other frequenters of the pub, enjoyed his privacy.
The young man picked up his glass, inspected it, and, having found nothing too deleterious, took several experimental sips. He settled down after a minute or so, and reached into his vest to pull out a small, metal ball. He began turning it over in his hands, checking numerous small switches and panels that were barely noticeable on its smooth surface. He seemed completely oblivious to the world around him; tinkering with the orange-sized sphere and taking the occasional sip form his glass. When a piece of the shadows rose up behind him, detaching itself from the rest of the darkness to loom over him, the youth did not bat an eye; not even when the shadow began to speak in a low, rasping tone.
“You the one, ain’t you?” the figure drawled from somewhere deep inside its dark frame. “You the one that offs us bogeys, ain’t you?” It moved closer to the light, the dim, orange glow outlining its shaggy frame. Two peg-like horns on its head gleamed in the light. White, flickering pinpoints served as eyes. “You the one that kills us for money.”
The youth’s eyes did not leave the silver sphere. “It’s not the money,” he answered, his tone hinting at nothing else, an expectant pause filling in the blank. There was a hush through the pub, as the dark corners of the room fell silent.
“You the one who’s been killing the fangs, and the paws, and the night-callers,” the monstrosity said, an impossibly wide mouth dribbling a thin, green ichor.
“Twelve fang-faces, six dogs, and one succher who got cocky,” said the youth, taking a sip from his glass.
“What about my kind?” The shaggy beast rose taller, the air around him filling with an awful smell of stale sweat and other things too foul to mention. “You ever kill bed-crawlers?”
“Fifteen closet-cases,” he replied, matter-of-factly.
The boogey-man moved closer, his face, or lack thereof, filled with sharp, irregular teeth. “You the one called ‘Roundabout,’” he snarled, breath like the underside of an outhouse washing over the youth. The young man’s hair blew back in the rancid breath, and on the countertop, the glass of clean water turned yellow and fetid.
“Looks like you got me at a disadvantage, buddy—you know my name, and I don’t know yours,” said Roundabout, pulling out a small cloth and beginning to polish the flecks of monster spittle off the ball.
“The name’s Jurgur—but don’t bother trying to remember it, you’re not gonna be talking to anyone anytime soon,” said the beast called Jurgur, rising to his full seven-feet of height. Long, bear-like claws glinted through matted fur. They gleamed sickly in the pale light, stained with unnamed fluids.
‘Jurgur, the closet monster of the late Nancy Vermeer, formerly of 102 Cranberry Lane?” asked Roundabout, his hands slowly pocketing the polishing cloth. Slowly sliding off the barstool, he turned to face the monster, the top of his head barely reaching the distended lower jaw of Jurgur.
A thick line of spittle slid slowly down Jurger’s chin as he laughed a slow, horrible chuckle. “Late, is she?” said Jurgur. “Last I checked, she was alive.” The bartender, with an extraordinary moment of prescience, quietly took down the many fragile bottles lining the shelf behind him.
Roundabout looked up at Jurgur through his bangs, his dark eyes glinting. “She killed herself. On November 2, 2004, Nancy Vermeer hung herself in her kitchen—the only room in her house without closets.”
Jurgur leaned in low, his entire mouth as large as Roundabout’s head. He hissed, his breath saturated with vomit, meat, and malice, “I made her scream.”
There was no sound, no sign of Roundabout’s first blow. His fist caught the monster just below the jaw. More out of surprise than actual pain, Jurgur lurched back. Without hesitation, Roundabout planted his hands on the countertop behind him and planted a double-kick to the monster’s gut. Jurgur’s breath whooshed out in a horrible wind as he stumbled back into a table, smashing down backwards on it. The table broke into splinters around him as the slim youth back-flipped to land in a crouch on the bartop.
“You’ve been a bad monster, Jurgur. And bad monsters need to be put down.” He grabbed an empty tequila bottle on the counter and sent it flipping through the air at Jurgur’s head.
The bottle shattered in a spray of glass as Jurger swung a chair through the air. Swinging it experimentally, he advanced on Roundabout. “I’ll eat your face, you little bug. Then I’ll throw your body in the dark and watch it rot, and I’ll put in the closet of the next little brat, and scare them to hell.”
Roundabout leapt forward again, aiming both feet at the chest of Jurgur. This time the monster was ready, though, and caught the boy in midair with the chair, sending him flying across the room in a storm of splinters. He landed on a table, and the two dark men sitting at the table leaned back cradling their goblets of blood protectively.
“I’ll sell your bones to the Dark Quarter, and they’ll give me a hundred little girls to keep in the dark . . .” he laughed, reaching forward with his dark claws, glistening with dried blood.
“You’re not gonna touch another little kid, you sick bastard,” coughed Roundabout. His hand flickered inside his vest, and with a quick motion of his wrist, flung the small, sliver sphere at Jurgur. Catching him in mid-laugh, the sphere disappeared down his throat. Swallowing reflexively, Jurgur choked as a blue mist began to pour out of his fanged maw. Soon he was cocooned in smoke, his clawed arms flailing.
“You like that, don’t you?” said Roundabout, one arm cradling his side. “Ammonium Persulfate—it reacts with iron in any form, burns long and hot. Guess what’s in all that blood smearing your fur and your claws." There was a hiss from the dark figures sitting around the pub as the foul smell of burning hair filled the dark room. The boy slid off the table and walked forward menacingly. "Guess what’s filling your insides right now?”
There was a pestilent shriek from the cloud of smoke that was Jurgur and an accompanying gout of blue fire. The burning figure collapsed to the floor, and Roundabout stalked forward, his advance lit in a peculiar stop-motion by the blue flame. As the body stopped moving, the flames died, and Roundabout kicked the smoldering form once.
“I was saving that for a fanger. Damn you for making me waste it.” Raising a foot, he brought his heel down on the charred horns on the dead monster’s head until they broke off. “The police will be happy to see these, but probably not as much as Mr. and Mrs. Vermeer.”
He gasped in surprise as one of Jurgur’s arms, charcoal clinging to blackened bone, grabbed his ankle. Jurgur’s dead eyes burst into flame as a hollow voice issued from his smoking maw, “Your black soul belongs to the Dark Quarter, mortal . . .”
The blue light remained long enough to catch the expression of confusion on Roundabout's face before the darkness of the pub engulfed him.

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