Jonathon Postlethwaite ran as he had never run before. Soon his pounding feet would carry him far away from his home of fourteen years, as he travelled swiftly through the shadowy tunnels of filth that twisted through the Underworld of the City of Dubh. He was running for his life.
Danger lurked behind and ahead of him. Few able-bodied or sane people ventured to the lowest of Dubhs’ inhabited levels. For those who lived on the Upper levels there was the constant threat of disease and attack from the creatures that hunted and haunted these lost and half forgotten subterranean realms of darkness and depravity. Yet ironically it was those from the Upper Levels who offered the most serious danger to the young boy, yet his journey took him towards them now.
So, following his grandfathers instructions he covered himself in a greasy, woollen cloak and protected by the historically protective chant of the leper, Jonathon became one of them for a time. In his guise he was ignored or avoided, safe as a member of a paradoxical fraternity of the depraved and the diseased. Here he was temporarily part of the fellowship of living shadows that lurked in deepest pits of a corrupt and malevolent city; shadows who preyed only on the healthier specimens who strayed from the higher levels. “Unclean! Unclean! “Jonathon shouted and even the hungriest of morons and cretins ignored him.As he moved among his unlikely companions, Jonathon saw sights to curdle the stuff of the soul, the corruption of mind and flesh was everywhere, as if here in the forgotten lanes and tunnels of depravity beneath the surface streets, here the corruption of Dubh was distilled. The stale underworld air and ether were rank with it. He scuttled quickly past a group of grey, gaunt women, who sat around a fire feverishly gnawing on blackened bones. An aroma like pork reached him, but he knew their victim was not a pig. At regular intervals, he had to skirt around the corpses that lay in pools of unctuous filth. Their demented eyes stared wide above twisted terminal smiles frozen by rigour mortis, their last memories the drug or disease induced hallucinations of a world that cried out for compassionate end. Here the unclean copulated in the inky shadows, moans and groans echoing around him as he sped past.
Jonathon closed his eyes to the physical manifestations of corruption around him as the spirit of this world assaulted his soul, enveloping him with a spiritual caress so different from his Grandfathers.
“Join with us.” it hissed inside his head, “Become!” it cackled. “Be free!” With a great effort, Jonathon managed to cut the invasive voice out of his mind. The voice had chilled his bones. At every stairway, he moved quickly upwards from the threats that inhabited the lower levels.
Through grim level after grim level, he moved onwards and upwards toward his initial goal of the surface streets of Dubh. As he moved upward the number of inhabitants increased. Here they appeared physically healthier, but still they exhibited the slow degradation of the soul that was rife in this malignant metropolis.
If they had sensed what he was he would have been seized immediately. He was a prize they all sought - that of innocent, young and yielding flesh. He would have been repeatedly raped and abused, then ended up on the roasting knives of those grey, snickering, denizens of the deepest, darkest pits of the Underworld, or worse. However, they saw him as a leper. Even killing a leper had its risks of disease beneath the city, so he was given a wide berth and relatively unhindered passage.
Finally, after hours of twisting and turning Jonathon reached a level where the shadowy, underworld warrens opened out to the lackluster, sour lemon light of an artificial, sky which seeped in between the gigantic, towering tenements of the surface levels.
The streets here were packed with screaming, bellowing crowds. People milled around in a state of drunken and drugged release. Crowded alehouses lined the streets, their occupants spilling out to be consumed by a churning, clamouring mass of humanity, a tumultuous sea of shifting and vying flesh.
This scene was always repeated when a work shift was returned from the forced labour beyond the Great Gate. After weeks of hard labour in an uncompromising world and under the incessant whips of the Tans, the work slaves of Dubh returned for their day of liberty. On this day they celebrated their survival and now they attempted to escape into pleasure for a while, before being returned to the draining toil of the mines, farms and production plants beyond the Great Gate. They were little more than slaves, slaves to their Tan Overlords and slaves to their own acute Hedonism. To work meant life, food, and the occasional release to rest and pleasure.
The pursuit of that pleasure was evident everywhere. Prostitutes of every sex and age were paraded to all that passed by, absolutely every taste catered for and new tastes developed daily. Dubh was the ultimate market for all physical desires. Huge muscled pimps discouraged those who could not pay, those unfortunates lying bruised and battered, bones broken, in the gutters alongside those overcome by the excesses of drugs and alcohol.
Here Jonathon quickly discarded his bell and cloak, lepers were not tolerated in this part of the city his grandfather had instructed him. Here, it was not unusual for the diseased or merely odd person to be shot or beaten to death for sport. He pushed his way through the sickening throng, following the shadows wherever he could, avoiding the moaning, entangled forms who had secreted themselves in every doorway and darkened niche they could find.
Jonathon was terrified by what he experienced here, before he had always had Cornelius his Grandfather to protect him, a skilled psychic who deftly used his powers to avert hungry, seeking eyes from them both when they travelled. Now he was alone; and he already felt something hideous stalking him.
The City of ’s parasitic geist waxed and waned with the coming and going of the shift workers from the Great Gate. They were its sustenance. That spirit was like the heartbeat of some gigantic and yet insubstantial beast, that consumed yet sustained, always wearing down the uninitiated with its lure of uninhibited pleasure. There where few uninitiated in Dubh and Jonathon’s soul burned in the midst of this dark forest of withering spirits like a beacon.
The corrupting being was always here, even when the shifts returned back through the Great Gate. It whispered in the minds of those who remained, in those exempt from the Tans’ labour conscription, and schemed with those permanently resident in the dark underworld streets through which Jonathon had passed to reach the surface levels of Dubh.
Now it had felt Jonathon, but could not touch him since Jonathon had inherited some of this Granfather's pshycic skills and was able to keep mind closed to its attack. It became angry, its silent wail of frustration causing a thousand revellers, in whose minds it presently worked, to clutch their heads and stare and scream in unconscious accord.
Jonathon kept up his mental defences. He was tired, but dared not rest. He had already narrowly escaped being accosted by numerous men and women as he had struggled through the crowds, all of them intent in practising their own unique brand of perversions on his young and desirable flesh.
He pressed onward with his journey through the narrow and winding streets of the surface levels and, after hours of following the landmarks given to him by his Grandfather, Jonathon realised he had arrived close to his destination. It was growing dark and the advent of a synthetic dusk accelerated the city’s inhabitants into renewed and most debased of hedonistic frenzies, the city echoed with the howling of thousands.
Now Jonathon was moving away from the crowded centre. He felt safer and relaxed his guard as he walked down an almost deserted street toward a bridge over the black, silent river which marked the boundary between the Upper and Lower cities of Dubh.
He crossed the bridge quickly, not daring to look over its sooty, weathered parapets and moved into the tenements beyond. As he slowly ascended a steep street, its cobblestones shining darkly with the wash of the City’s perpetual misty drizzle, he could see the far boundaries of the Dubh. The gigantic Halls of Machines were silhouetted against the eerie dome of an apricot sky and beyond them, the Towers of the Tallmen thrust their nine mysterious, phallus like towers upwards into the carbon monoxide smog which mantled them.
Jonathon shivered as he looked to the horizon. Although the air of the city was always warm and humid, he felt cold. He knew that one day, in the not too distant future, he would travel to the great Halls of Machines where his Father had worked when Jonathon was younger. Jack Postlethwaite had worked beneath those cathedral-like domes as a mechanic, a privileged Mek, as they where known to the less fortunate citizens of the Lower City where Jonathon now stood. That was before his sudden and unexpected dismissal.
Jack Postlethwaite was soon to learn that he had become a rare commodity - skilled labour, uncommon in the Lower City - and hence became the human merchandise in a business deal between the Hall Engineer and the Tans, the tyrannical rulers of the Lower City.
As soon as he and his family had been expelled from the Upper City, the Tans had taken him and his wife. Jack was quickly transported to supplement the Tan’s skilled labour force beyond the Great Gate and his Mother sold into one of their brothels in the midst of the Lower City.
Jonathon had escaped abduction, left in the care of Cornelius for that day. He was safe with his Grandfather, but it was with him that he suffered the grief of his Mother’s death and the beginning of his Father’s insanity.
His Mother died three months later at the hands of sadistic pervert in the Tan brothel. His Father, in revenge for his abduction, had cut off his fingers in a rotating fan whilst at work, the act of revenge making him useless to them. Then he escaped whilst being prepared for execution, only to hear of his Wife’s death which drove him over the edge of sanity and into the vile and welcoming embrace of the City’s corrupt soul. Jonathon stared at the distinctive domes of the Upper City and wiped a tear from his face. Anger swept up suddenly, a raging fire heated by the revived grief at the loss of his Mother and the new anguish from the death of Cornelius and his Father.
It was the latter that he ran from now. His insane Father had been killed by Cornelius defending Jonathon from him, and now Cornelius was dead by his own hand. The last thing Cornelius had done was to send Jonathon away to a place of safety, to meet friends at a pre-arranged destination. Now all Jonathan’s family were dead and he knew who was responsible. It was a man known as the Black Gaffer.
He directed his hatred at the man he saw as the author of the grief carved deeply into his being; a man who ruthlessly pursued his unrelenting appetite for power in the Halls of Machines; a man who would come to know and curse the young Postlethwaite as a thorn in his side and man who would, in the future, find his insane ambitions threatened by the son of a victim he did not remember at all.
This man the ‘Black Gaffer’, whose presence the young Postlethwaite was always aware of like a permanent shadow on his soul, their destinies entwined in a way they would both soon discover.
Jonathon could not resist the temptation to send out his mind and seek out the mind of the man who had filled him with a grief and anger so deep it seemed as if it flowed through the marrow of his bones like a dark faith.
He gasped and recoiled in shock. The Black Gaffer was less than an individual, less than human; he was now an instrument and extension of the city’s perverted soul, bent to its whim and will.
Pre-occupied with his anger and grief, Jonathon had unwittingly stood too long and too still in the night of a corrupt and dangerous place. Something in the shadows noted this and giggled and slobbered in perverse delight and expectation. The watcher grinned sickeningly, licked its sore riddled and pus laced lips, then slid silently like liquid shadow, towards its young and unwary prey.