The Deeps (Book Three of The Liminality), Page 1A. Sparrow
Copyright 2013 by A. Sparrow, All Rights Reserved
Prologue: The Horus
And I looked and behold, a whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire engulfing itself, and a brightness was about it, and out of its midst as the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire.
A rumble like a distant and perpetual thunderclap heralded Karla’s exit from the Liminality and transition to the Deeps. She twisted through the null space that joined all existences, emerging in a deep and cold patch of pinkish dust as fine as talcum.
In a blink, she shed all her physical pain. Worm-like Fellstraw had tunneled into her spine and sent every branch of her nervous system jangling. But the agony they had inflicted was gone.
She lay on her side, knees drawn up to her chest, basking in the luxury of numbness. Not only did she feel no pain, she felt no discomfort, no pleasure, nothing—a complete absence of sensation.
If only her emotional distress could have attained such a state of ease. She overflowed with anxieties. How would her little sister Isobel survive without her? How could she cope in such a brutal world alone?
And James! Her last glimpse of his face lingered. His panic, pity and despair. She should have felt bad for making him feel so bad. But he was no stranger to tragedy. He would get over her. Her heart summoned tears, but she had lost the ability to shed them.
The distant rumbling grew to a din like a hundred oncoming subway trains. Lifting her head, she spied its source—a massive haboob—looming over the near horizon like a rolling mountain, a tsunami of dust.
She watched it come until the wall of thick, brown dust plowed over her, obscuring everything, while the droning engine of its animation remained unseen behind this heavy veil. This was no mere dust cloud. It bore the varied texture and the intricate activity of a living thing. Puffy billows tumbled and boiled in strands and sheets and layers; vertical, horizontal, slanting; parting and clashing; merging, disengaging this way and that, like muscles and sinew and hide.
Dust coated the insides of Karla’s nostrils and caked her eyes. Bitter, biting cold pervaded all. It had already sunk deep into her flesh, seizing her bones, penetrating their cores. She felt no urge to shiver, even though the frigidity went far beyond what a living human could survive.
If she wasn’t already dead, the cold alone would have killed her.
She realized she hadn’t been breathing and gasped for air, but found it wasn’t needed. Good thing, because there wasn’t much to be had. The atmosphere carried too little oxygen to sustain life. She commenced to breathe more out of habit than necessity, the rhythmic action a vestigial reflex, leftover from life.
Her body had changed. She had become less a biological entity, more a sham collection of dormant organs and empty veins. Her heart no longer beat. Her muscles functioned without fuel, her blood carrying no oxygen, no nutrient, no waste. This new flesh was a functionless, human-shaped receptacle for her soul, its former parts only approximated.
She lifted her newly dead flesh off the ground and took her first steps, striding blindly through the miasma of dust over dunes that rose and fell like ocean swells. She walked aimlessly, stumbling across the undulating plain, ankle deep through the frigid sand. The wind carried voices—organized chants, solo cries, even some singing.
She nearly tripped over another naked form, a woman with skin as gray as the slab of bedrock on which she reclined. She might as well have been carved from stone. Karla looked at her own hand and saw that she was the same. She was a Duster now, or whatever souls called themselves down here in the Deeps.
A roar like a thousand Niagaras thundered close, the precise location of the engine of its animation obscured by blowing dust. Curiosity made her stick around, even as her instincts told her to run.
She veered towards a brighter area, a thinning in the dust that enveloped her. She stumbled onto a crowd of people milling about aimlessly in the haze. Some knelt facing the source of the rumble, foreheads pressed against the soil. Some chanted and sang what sounded like prayers.
And then, as abruptly as someone flipping on klieg lights, the wall of dust peeled away and the world became completely and starkly transparent, the air so clear and sharp it could have been a vacuum. Rolling dunes and hills, devoid of vegetation, surrounded her, rising in all directions as if they were in the bottom a basin. The horizon looked blurry, the sky the same shade as the landscape. This was no basin, it was a bubble. That was land up there, not sky.
Directly overhead hovered a small and dim orb with an orange-brown cast—what passed for a sun in this place. And there, barely a mile off but moving away fast went a gnarled and twisted shaft of dust and wind, a gargantuan tornado beneath a flat-topped mushroom cloud. It dragged a ragged shroud, a skirt dark with dust around its point of contact with the land. It looked and sounded like a bomb exploding infinitely.
“Rats! Missed us again,” said a man whose skin hung from his arms in shreds.
“It just wasn’t our time … yet,” said a woman who looked youngish by virtue of her lack of weathering.
“It never is,” said another man, wearing scraps of what I hoped was leather covering his loins. “Never will be.”
“Don’t say that!”
“It’s always teasing us. Testing our will,” said the shredded man.
“Shut up, all of you,” said a woman with eyes lodged far too deep in her sockets. “Everyone, get down and pray. Maybe it will come back.”
“Pray? To that thing?” said Karla. “But it’s just a storm. A dust storm.”
“Not just any storm, you foolish thing,” said yet another man, kneeling, who had thus far remained silent. “It’s the Horus.”
“The Horus. Our last hope or final doom,” said the shredded man.
“Blasphemy!” said a woman with eyes too deep in their sockets. “I know the Horus to be bliss. Pure bliss.”
“Heaven’s gate,” said the un-weathered girl.
“We hope,” said the shredded man.
Chapter 1: Deported
The Border Agency van rolled through terrain, green and familiar. Through the misted windshield, the rumple of the hills in the west made me think of Brynmawr. The sight of them made me pine for my friends at the goat farm. I wondered if I would ever see them again in this life. Not that I was expecting to die anytime soon. It was even worse. I was being deported.
Turns out, you need a special visa to work in the UK or to even stay in country beyond six months. I knew all that. I just hadn’t bothered with the formalities. I never expected to stick around Cwm Gwyrdd farm as long as I did.
As one who commuted regularly between the realms of life and death, the whole idea of visas struck me as ridiculous. Earthly borders were a meaningless abstraction. No one needed a stinking passport to visit the brink of Hell, and there were certainly no limitations on how long you could stay.
Showers pissed down through clouds layered in sheets and wisps, burnished in every possible shade of silver and gray. I studied the road signs for familiar names. Neither Crewe nor Nantwich rang a bell. But I was getting all excited over nothing. We were probably nowhere near Brynmawr. The hill was just a hill.
It wasn’t like we could just drop in for tea, anyhow. I was in custody. My itinerary was in the hands of Mr. Osborne and Hank, the middle-aged, mustachioed Border Agency guards tasked with getting us out of the country.
I shared the back of the van with two Jamaican guys, Frankie and Rudolph. None of us were considered a flight risk so we weren’t handcuffed or anything. I don’t even think they
carried any weapons beyond their cans of mace. They were basically a glorified, one-way livery service.
I considered making a run for it. What stopped me was my failure to imagine a single positive outcome. If I ran, I wouldn’t get far. The UK was a freaking island for Pete’s sake and I had no cash on me, whatsoever. A stunt like that would only delay my deportation a couple of days and ensure that I was transported out of the country under much less amiable arrangements.
Still, the idea tempted me. How nice would it be to have one last meal at Cwm Gwyrdd farm.
Hank proved quite the Leonard Cohen fanatic. He had kept a ‘best of’ compilation running on continuous loop ever since we pulled out of York. I had never paid much mind to this Cohen guy before. Everybody knows ‘Hallelujah,’ from Shrek if nothing else, but I had managed to go through life completely unaware that he had written anything else.
The guy can’t sing worth a lick. The last thing I expected being force-fed his stuff in the back of this van was to be turned into a fan, but that’s exactly what happened. Those brooding lyrics and melodies bored into my brain as surely as Fellstraw.
This kind of thing probably happens to every lame-ass, lovesick kid, but there were moments I was convinced those songs were written about me and Karla. She and Isobel were the ‘Sisters of Mercy.’ Her old chamber in Root was where she, like ‘Suzanne,’ fed me tea and oranges that came all the way from China. And even though it made no sense whatsoever, the third time through the cycle he had me believing that I was the guy with the ‘Famous Blue Raincoat.’
Frankie coughed and tapped Hank on the shoulder. “Mr. Henry, sir, could you please put on something more cheerful?” said Frankie. “I mean, anyting. Even Tom Jones. Elton John. The white boy here looks like he is about to cry.”
“This is my van and I am the driver, thank you very much,” said Hank. “You two can listen to whatever you want once you’re back home in Kingston.”
“I am serious, mon. I tink you’ve killed my cuz.” Rudolph’s cap was pulled low over his eyes, temple propped against his palm, head wobbling with every bump like a bobble head doll. He gave his cousin a jab with his elbow. Rudolph shrugged fitfully and growled, before settling back into his stupor.
Frankie and Rudolph Barrett had come to the UK on a lark. They had scrounged enough money to show up uninvited on the doorstep of an aunt in Manchester, only to be completely astounded to find her door slammed in their faces. No one back home in Jamaica ever bothered to tell them that their fathers were persona non grata amongst the UK branch of the family.
So they roamed the north of England, accepting whatever casual labor came their way, crashing in the flats of distant cousins and college students they managed to charm.
Frankie was by far the bubblier of the two. He reminded me of Karla’s late friend Linval. Both shared a certain savoir-faire in the presence of doom. Linval kept calm and collected right up to his last hours on earth despite having endured a series of beatings far more brutal than mine. The circumstances didn’t compare, but Frankie was similarly accepting of their imminent deportation.
Rudolph might as well have been the Stone of Scone for how little he spoke. Frankie said he was taking the deportation very hard. Apparently, there was a girl involved. Isn’t there always?
Rudolph didn’t show his eyes much, but when he did, I had seen livelier expressions in the bargain rack of a fish market. I knew that look. This was someone who knew Root.
I wondered if Rudolph knew his cousin was suicidal. I wondered if I should tell him.
Frankie finally succumbed to the music, slumping in his seat, snoring all wheezy like a girl. When he collapsed against my shoulder, I nudged him back firmly but gently against his cousin. His clothes carried a pungent musk, as if he hadn’t showered in days. At least I had gotten to wash up at the NHS hospital before my release.
I was pretty much all healed up now. Those NHS docs had patched me up good, managing to avoid any major surgery. They let me keep my spleen and kidneys despite some nasty bruising and lacerations. They told me I would be achy until my splintered ribs fully healed but there would be no lasting damage.
Karla’s death had mystified the docs. Natural causes were the best the pathologist could come up with. But I knew better. The causes were far from natural. And I couldn’t help but feel responsible. She had been looking for me when she stumbled onto that Fellstraw. I had watched it all happen in front of me. If I could have shouted just a second or two sooner, I could have warned her.
We passed a sign for Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford, coming up on Birmingham. We couldn’t be more than a couple hours away from Heathrow and our free ride across the pond. The State Department still listed Florida as my home of record, but I had no intention of going back to Ft. Pierce. I didn’t care where I ended up. I didn’t plan to spend much time on earthly business anyway. My soul had a promise to keep. I had an appointment with the Deeps.
I had no clue how to go after Karla beyond the obvious—to off myself. For now at least, that was off the table. I was still hoping for an easier way to get to the Deeps, something more reversible.
Urszula had been there and back again, like all the Dusters. She got all squirrely, though, when I tried to pick her brain. All she would say was that no one came that way anymore, that the way was closed.
I was hoping for more info, something that might tell how I might open things back up. But she said it was impossible from this side. It was only something that could be managed from the Deeps. She wouldn’t tell me what she meant by ‘way.’
I tried not to think about what poor Karla might be going through in the Deeps. Not that I had the faintest idea what the place was like. Urszula wouldn’t talk about that, either.
A piece of lint on the door handle was curling and uncurling like it was alive. I didn’t think much of it at first. It could have been the humidity. But then I noticed that the fibers were moving in time with my breath. I could stop and restart the curling at will. It never occurred to me that my powers of Weaving could cross between worlds. Good to know. It might come in handy someday.
A sign came up overhead:
M42. London. M5. The South West. Worcester.
We exited towards London. This was the point of no return. I was certain now that I would never see Cwm Gwyrdd Farm again. My deportation order specified a ten year exclusion from the UK. I would be long gone from this Earth, if I had my way.
Hank drove us straight to Heathrow. I never even got to catch a glimpse of London proper. We pulled into this gray windowless alley with metal walls and no windows. Airport security was expectant and waiting for us at a utility entrance.
They shepherded us though a staff security checkpoint and gave us an opportunity to use the loo and wash up in a sink. They brought out some bins of left and donated clothing, used but clean, some neatly folded, some tangled in knots.
I managed to find a pair of brown jeans and a Manchester United T-shirt that sort of fit me. A swatch of black cotton caught my eye and I practically dove onto the table to snatch up an oversized black hoodie, just like the ones I favored. I couldn’t believe my good luck.
Frankie chose a pair of painter’s pants that were about four inches too long. Rudolph came out looking quite natty in a sport coat over dress slacks that were only a little bit too tight.
We had our own private waiting room, no windows, no clock. They brought us a nice box lunch with some kind of salty lunch meat on stale bread.
“Hey, Mr. Osborne. How long we got to wait?”
“Wish I knew,” said the guard. “They’re still trying to scrounge some space for you on a flight.”
I wanted out of here now. I wanted to crossover to the Liminality and tea with Bern. Because I wanted it so much, I knew it would keep me out.
It was a tricky thing, this crossover business. You couldn’t be too eager to reach your destination or else it would buoy your mood enough
to gum up the works. It worked better if you could just make yourself feel bad and let it take you wherever you wanted. You tended to end up in the last place you had been, which was generally a place you wanted to be, unless you regressed.
Any sort of optimism and longing seemed to make the forces that controlled these transitions skittish. You had to lure them close, fool them into thinking that you were the one being trapped.
I stared at the eight-pointed Home Office patch on Hank’s shoulder, undoing the threads holding it on, one by one.
“Hey, Mr. Osborne,” said Frankie. “Are you and Hank coming with us all the way to America?”
“Nope. We’re going straight back to Yorkshire as soon as we hand you off. Some private security types will be escorting you the rest of the way.”
“They’re running late,” said Hank, whose shoulder patch now dangled from his jacket.
“Any chance they are putting us on Virgin?” said Frankie. “I hear they have a video screen on every seat.”
“Who knows?” said Mr. Osborne. “Could be anything. Charter. Cargo flight. Whoever has got the space. Depends on how many other miscreants are headed across the pond today.”
An airport official ducked into the room. Hank and Mr. Osborne had a hushed conversation with him before Hank nodded and went off with him.
“Well now, gentlemen,” said Mr. Osborne. “Looks like you’ll be flying commercial. No restraints since you’ve been so nice and cooperative. We put in a good word for you. And you’ll get a hot meal like everybody else. You’ll be boarding soon. They’re just waiting for a young lady the Reliance folks are bringing over. Looks like it’ll be just the four of you today.”
A door opened and a sleepy-looking security guard in a white shirt and tie came floating in.
“Speak of the devil!” said Mr. Osborne. “All rightie, then. My friends will take it from here. Guys, it’s been nice havin’ you, but please don’t come back anytime soon.” He dipped his brow and stepped out of the room.
A tired-looking girl in a purple bandanna entered. A female guard led her to a seat next to Frankie. She had big eyes, a beak of a nose and long, strawberry blonde hair that was a bit stringy and unkempt but not unclean. She wore a suede leather jacket, slick at the elbows and cuffs from wear. Her jeans had patches in places you wouldn’t expect them, for color and character more than repair. She had a streetwise urchin look about her, though she seemed more on the wholesome, trekker end of the spectrum.