The Fallowing – The Fourth, Part I

by Steppen Sawicki

I have completely typed up this novel!  Now for the long process of editing editing editing.  As always, if any readers see anything that’s off or that they just don’t like, please let know!  I always appreciate constructive criticism and I’ll never yell at you for saying something against what I write.

Now, on to this chapter, the longest one in the book.  I couldn’t help it.  I love this particular “monster.”

Novel: Occult Adventure

Approaching on Lake Michigan, Chicago looms out of fog and haze slowly, silently, only the creak of the ice under your boots to sound its coming.  You’ve been out on the water for weeks with no fire to dull the cold nights, and you’d think you’d welcome the view of some place warm and populated.  But it doesn’t seem warm, doesn’t seem populated.  It looks dry, dirty, filthy even, all dull and gray.  And you look at it and think of cold nights huddled in insulated sleeping bags with those dinky little thermal heater packs to deep a slight bit of the chill out.  Because that’s how it looks, cold and lonely.

A little closer and it’s night again, time to camp again.  Sleeping bags and heaters and booming ice and you can look to the side and see lights far off, forever away.  They might as well be stars.  They’re dim but they seem to promise a thousand heated rooms with hot meals on dinner tables, and suddenly the city doesn’t look so cold.  So the next day after packing up you look to the dim city like a drowning man looking up at the surface of the water.  Just a little further, and there’ll be air.  There’ll be warm rooms and warm meals and warm people.

As you get a little closer you start to follow the long open cracks sawed into the ice by the fishing companies.  It’s like walking along a cliff’s edge, with the freezing cold to swallow you up should you slip and fall in.  Then you see an icebreaker and, closer and through your binoculars, people.  They look at you through their own binoculars and wave to you over the railing and touch fingers to their hats as if doffing them before returning to their tasks on the ship.

Another four hours and you start to come across the fishing shacks and fishing holes, men and women bent down with their poles and nets waiting for bites.  They nod at you and then turn their attention back to waiting.  One of them asks if you’ve traveled far and you say Yes, far and wide and where does one stay in Chicago?  The fisherman, bundled in his fluffed coat and blanket, looks over your clothing and provisions and wonders aloud whether you have the money to stay in Chicago.  You start to argue with him, until your companion pulls you away towards the buildings growing ever more substantial.

Finally, once the buildings become black and tower over you, you walk among the skaters and the skiers, and the occasional polar bear plunger.

Then you’re on solid dirt and snow ground, and then you get to see just how warm Chicago really is.  Which is, not at all.

I entered the first hotel we came to that looked like it might accommodate travelers like Sam and I.  We weren’t stupid; we could look in the windows of most places and see people all spruced up for a night out in sweater dresses and sweater vests.  We went along the streets, further from the water, until the fancy restaurants devolved into eateries.

Yes, I was overcome by the sheer size of not just the city, but of the square feet of electrified light and heating.  Electric lamps shone in every window beside us and every other window above us.  Neon signs buzzed and blinked, inviting people in to look at fresh food and designer clothes and even high-tech gadgets and computers, custom made.  Every so often Sam would haul me away from a shop window and direct me forward where he wanted to go.  It was nothing to him – he had been to Chicago before.  He probably noticed natives glaring at us with derision at that point, but I was drinking in the light and life.

So I rushed into the hotel and set hands on my hips, surveying the surroundings – mostly a desk and a potted plant (a real potted plant!) – and enjoying the heat blasting my exposed face.  The man at the front desk eyed me over his newspaper.  A newspaper!  I beamed at it.  Chicago Tribune!  All the newest news fit to print.

The man was thin as the paper and as pale and gray.  He sniffed at us and in a tremulous voice said “Got money?  We don’t take in no heat-seekers in the lobby.”

I was taken aback for a moment.  I’m prepared for any hidden blade or flying bullet but hadn’t expected such a withering greeting.

My hesitation gave Sam a chance to ask how much for a room.

“Two grams per person per night.  And no bills or change.  We don’t take that trash in this city.”

“Two grams!?” I shouted.  “That’s extortion!”

“That’s not what extortion is,” whispered Sam to me.  Then to the man, “We’ll take the rooms.”

“One room,” the man said, voice shaking not in fear or anger but as if he were constantly holding down a coughing fit.

“Four grams for one room?” I practically squealed, but Sam was already fishing silver out of his pack.  “Sam, it’s a city.  We can find better.”

The thin man only sniffed at my comment.

“This is a good location.”  Sam set silver on the counter and the man sniffed again as if smelling it.  “And I’m tired.  I want a bed.”

There turned out to be one bed, so Sam was relegated to the floor.  I told him not to complain – there was heat after all – but he grumbled anyway.

“Then maybe you shouldn’t have handed our money over so readily,” I told him.

“It’s a good location,” he repeated.  “There are a few apartments he could be working out of.  This spot is sufficiently far away from all of them.”

“So we’re gonna sneak up on him.  Nab him before he can nab us.”

“Sort of.”  He was looking out the window as if searching for the monster already.  “If we can get the watch back…”

“Or break it.”

His head whipped around.  His eyes were wide and shocked.  “No.  No, we don’t know what would happen.”

“What do you mean?  He would lose his powers, wouldn’t he?”

“The watch doesn’t just effect Atsel.  It can affect the world around him too.  All he has to do is concentrate.”

“So how do we sneak up on him?  Last time we went to an apartment we kind of lost the element of surprise.”

“First we get some sleep.”  He flopped down on the blankets on the floor and rolled up in them.

“Bath first for me,” I said.  “Running, heated water.”

“Fine.  I’ll shower in the morning.”  He already sounded half-asleep.

I shook my head as I stepped over the carpet (Carpet!  Dirty but warm.) to the bathroom.  I saw the toilet and tub and breathed a thank you to whoever might be listening.  Then I turned the tub tap to HOT.

We had discussed Atsel on the way to Chicago, over the long trek over Lake Michigan.  But we still had no plan.  Sam only told me again and again how dangerous it would be.  He tried to be sneaky about it; he knew that I had decided to go after this next monster with him, and he knew what it meant when I made a decision.  Still he tried in small ways to convince me to turn back.  He would die, I would die, I would be dead before I saw Atsel, I would be frozen in time and never see him coming.  I brushed it all off.  And I could swear I saw relief on Sam’s face every time I did.  I know for certain I saw fear in his eyes every time he had looked to the city’s skyline shimmering over the lake as we neared Chicago.

I tested the water with a foot and pulled it back sharply.  I had made it too hot.

Well fine.  It’s dangerous.  We’re going to die.

Let’s go down fighting.