Sooner or later, one of them would end the other’s misery.
September 28, 2013
A VG Serial: Night Side of Dark
The darkness wavered as though someone had turned on an electric light switch somewhere beyond the clouds, which was absurd since the night sky was empty of clouds and always had been.
Maybe it was lightning, Lincoln thought. It did sometimes come with the rain, but where did the rain come from, and why was the ground dry where it had fallen? The rain was a question he could not answer. It was a question Lincoln quickly forgot.
A dagger of light stabbed the street below and spread back like tiny fingers probing down the alleys, washing the structures around them with a pale and sickly yellow glow.
Lincoln instinctively looked for a glimpse of the sun.
It had not returned.
He saw in its place great metal towers, tall enough to touch the far rim of the sky, and their arms stretched for miles, each of them aglow, he figured, with an odd configuration of vacuum tubes filled with either halogen or sodium or whatever had been chosen or manufactured to chase away the night.
Morning had come to a place where only dark felt as if it belonged. The city was illuminated with daylight, hand-made daylight, created by men who had neither sun nor solar energy and chose to play God with wires and tubes and lamps that would not last as long as man himself.
Lincoln looked out across a barren landscape that rolled on beyond the limits of a city whose streets ended where the molten red lava rock began. A single one-lane highway cut toward the crest of the highest of the mountains.
It was empty.
A solitary railroad track wandered aimlessly among the massive obsidian boulders, the black face of the rock splashed and streaked with gray ash.
The train had either come or gone.
It was nowhere in sight.
Lincoln glanced up at the towers.
The light was blinding.
The morning around him was lit.
But it was silent.
And the streets were no longer empty.
Crowds spilled out of every doorway, wandering down the streets of cobbled stone, their heads bowed, all of them shading their pale eyes against the harsh glare of artificial light. Men and women alike, thrown together and yet wedged apart by time, coincidence and happenstance .
None were speaking.
No one had made eye contact.
They were dressed in gray, tunics and trousers, the color of their skin pallid and waxen.
Lincoln glanced down at himself.
He was dressed in gray, too.
He did not remember changing clothes.
He wondered about Gusarov.
Had he been dressed in gray as well?
It would have been difficult to tell in the dark.
Lincoln instinctively reached for the Russian M1895 revolver in his belt.
It was gone.
His smile turned wry, then crooked.
Gusarov had taken it.
He wavered for a moment and trusted the Russian, and yet he still carried a slug from the Russian’s Mosin Nagant sniper rifle in the small of his back. It was wedged between flesh and bone near his spine. The doctors said he should have died and might be paralyzed someday if the twisted metal ever pry itself loose and cut through the cord.
They should have let him die then.
They only prolonged the agony.
The battles he was fighting now would have all been behind him by now.
He would have probably lost them, too.
They crowd was heading shoulder to shoulder toward a massive metal dome on the backside of the terminal where he had registered and watched a British Captain go to wherever the second death takes the ragged remnants of mankind.
Lincoln reached up and touched the base of his neck.
Somewhere between the registration and his fight to escape the banker, his skin had been burned and sketched with a tattoo.
He had no idea.
He had no memory of it at all.
Gusarov was probably right. The Russian said the General had referred to him as a dangerous man trying to make sense out of a world that kept a tight leash on its dangerous men. But why didn’t the General terminate him when he had the chance? Why did the Captain die with a single shot at the base of his brain while he remained alive and free? Or was he alive? And was he free? And where were the shadows and were they watching him?
Who could be afraid of him? Or, perhaps more correctly, who was concerned about his sudden arrival in a black hole where the dead were no longer dead, merely worthless, vagabond souls trapped and hanging precariously between a world that no longer wanted them and a world that no longer had any use for them.
It was a short journey.
It had a long bridge.
Some would never cross.
Some would never want to cross.
Perhaps only Ambrose Lincoln knew there was a way home.
He had no idea where it was, how he had found it the first time, or if the hole between here and there, now and eternity, forever and after even existed anymore. He gazed beyond the lights from the towers and saw a black sky that had encased the land with a funeral shroud. Somewhere out there hidden in the abyss was a tear in the fabric of time itself. Perhaps it only opened as an eye opens after a long sleep. Perhaps it had not opened since. Perhaps it would not open again.
In the end however, Lincoln knew that there was only Caples Gusarov to consider. It had always been that way. The little man with the big gun. He sold his cool, calculating, and meticulous ways to the highest bid and had never fought for nor owed any allegiance to any flag.
Misery was the one common thread that held the two men together.
Gusarov had saved his life in Austria.
He had almost killed him in Bavaria..
He had no regrets when Lincoln survived.
He would have no regrets when Lincoln died.
Sooner or later, one would end the other’s misery.
Both men had been trying for a long time.
If anyone had the right to judge him, it would surely be Caples Gusarov.
He was Number Three.
Ambrose Lincoln had killed during his lifetime, and now, if his assumptions were correct, and he had no reason to doubt them, someone or something had killed him. And his body, real or imagined, had been jerked into a land where darkness was a sentence handed down by a judge whose only rulings dealt with mercy or malice, never guilt or innocence, and night was eternal.
His soul had been up for grabs.
The General took it.
The General wanted it.
The General could have eliminated him at any time.
Why hadn’t he?
Why had the General kept him?
Lincoln searched through the charred fragments of his mind.
They had not changed.
His mind was still darkness, a wall he had never quite been able to climb, but on it someone had scribbled in chalk, blessed are the meek, and drawn a line through the word blessed.
Chapters of Night Side of Dark will be published on Saturday and Sunday.
Please click the title, Night Side of Dark, to read more about Caleb Pirtle III and his novels on Amazon.