This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
By Philip Gilliver
ACT 1 - The Purple Land
And then there was silence.
Just after the accident, Jack and his little brother found themselves standing on a railway embankment, as still as silence, watching the police officers cover up their cold, bloodied corpses. Little Ross seemed oblivious to it all. He’d noted that the smaller boy, the one wearing the same coat as him, looked like him.
Jack instinctively covered Ross’s eyes with both of his palms. ‘It’s not something for your eyes,’ he said. It was obvious that Ross didn’t yet know he was dead. Then he was always slow to catch on.
‘Is he going to be alright Jack? the boy quivered.
‘Try not to worry about it!’ Jack wondered why it was necessary to be standing in front of their cold bodies. Perhaps somebody was telling them to face the hard reality of the situation before moving on. He didn’t want to look, he’d already seen enough after a few seconds. His body - no, it wasn’t a body anymore; his soul was locked to the spot like frozen air. He’d tried averting his gaze, but less than seven feet away was a man whose head was almost separated from his body. He had seen him before the blanket went on him. There was something thin, white sticking out of a hole in his chest where there was bubbling brown foam, one of the man’s ribs. It was Jack’s assumption that he must have been in the driver’s area when it happened. The poor man had been thrown through the window. Ross hadn’t caught on that his was the soul standing right next to them.
There were others on the embankment, five in all, two to their right and three to their left, each one in front of the body that until recently they had occupied. The sky, which was the oddest shade of purple, stained everything underneath the same hue, underlining the surrealism of the situation.
‘Why aren’t we going home?’ Ross whined. ‘Why are we standing here?’
‘Quiet Ross… I’m thinking.’ Jack didn’t mean to snap, the situation was making him anxious. He turned to the man on his right, a pale, thin man in a dark suit. ‘Excuse me, what are we supposed to do now?’
The man’s head turned very slowly. It took ages for him to speak, when he did manage to emit words, it was something like a nervous whisper. ‘I don’t know mate. This is the first time in heaven.’
‘Perhaps we should move. I don’t think I want to be here for much longer. If anybody was coming for us, they’d have come by now.’ In fact, Jack had a very bad feeling, that something horrible was about to happen, and right on cue, as if to speak his thoughts aloud for him, there came the most disturbing sound from the clouds, like a thousand people screaming all at once, only more animal-like than that, an icy hand stroked his entire body.
All faces turned to the sky, where there were now hundreds of dark shapes, too many to count, enough to turn day into night. Suddenly there was a voice in his head which definitely wasn’t his, yelling ‘Run!’
Jack glanced to his left and then his right. The sound appeared to have escaped the others. ‘Ross,’ he said in his brother’s ear, ‘when I say run, run!’
Ross’s head rubbed against his stomach like a nestling cat. Then he heard it again.
‘Don’t just stand there you idiots; the Screamers are coming for you!’
‘Excuse me,’ he cried to his right and left. ‘I think we’d better get out of here! I don’t know what that is, but it doesn’t look like a welcoming committee.’
The next time he viewed the dots, they appeared more alive, like enormous birds.
‘Run,’ he said to no one in particular and then yelled the words extremely loudly for the whole world to hear. ‘Run!’
Jack grabbed his brother’s hand and pulled him up the bank as fast as his feet would move. Ahead of them were woods. About half way, something in his head made him want to stop and turn, some morbid curiosity, to see what these weird hybrids would do.
‘No!’ yelled the voice. ‘Don’t look, just run!’ But by now he didn’t need to see, the screaming and the carnage behind him said it all. In the corner of his eye he could see flashes of light, as if a number of things were exploding at once. Something painful and evil was happening to the other spirits, and now it was too late for them.
‘Keep running to me, and don’t look back!’
‘What’s happening Jack?’ Ross panted. ‘Where are we going?’
‘I don’t know, but everything is going to be alright, don’t worry! Keep moving!’
Soon they were surrounded by tall firs. Just a few feet ahead of them there was another boy. He was waving frantically. Obviously, feeling that they weren’t moving quickly enough, he started running towards them. ‘Whatever you do,’ he cried out as soon as they’d caught up with him, ‘don’t let them catch you!’
The owner of the strange voice was soon apparent, a boy with a round face, a mop of blond hair and piercing blue eyes. He was about the same age as Jack, fourteen or fifteen only not as skinny. ‘There isn’t much time,’ he said and stretched out his arms. ‘Hold my hands, both of you and close your eyes. Think of nothing but darkness!’
Jack stared at Ross, who was already staring back. He nodded. ‘Let’s do as he says.’
In the time it had taken for their eyelids to come together, all three of the boys had been transported into a dark place, a musty place that smelt of damp peaty earth. But it was warm, safe and comforting somehow, like parent’s embrace.
‘We’re underground?’ Jack quizzed.
‘Be quiet!’ the boy whispered. ‘If they catch you they will do terrible things to you.’
‘Like what? What can they do to us no we’re...’ Jack paused, thinking about his brother, ‘here?’
‘Believe me, there are far worse things that can happen to you here. Now be quiet!’
Jack did as he was told, and waited for the terrifying noises to pass by before speaking again.
‘How did we get down here so quickly?’
‘It’s something most of us can do. In time, you might be able to do it too, as well as other things. You have to be here for a while first before you know.’
‘I’m scared!’ said Ross, ‘it’s too dark.’
‘I’ll look after you mate,’ said Jack, ‘I always have haven’t I?’
‘It’s safe now!’ said the boy, when the commotion passed over their heads, then added, ‘I’m Finch by the way. Excuse me for not introducing myself earlier, only our souls were in danger of being ripped apart.’
‘I’m Jack and this is Ross. What the hell was that? What were those things?’
While he was talking, Finch did something else magical that made the roof of the hide dissolve into sky. Everything was now clear, although significantly purple-grey again. The clouds resembled pink worms inching along dirty sand.
‘I told you,’ said Finch, ‘They’re Screamers, and if you see them again and you will, run like hell, and don’t stop until your legs drop off, or you can’t hear them anymore, and be careful of sharp things. In Deadworld even objects can destroy you.’ Finch grabbed one each of their hands again. In the blink of an eye, they were back above ground.
Destroy? Ripped apart? Isn’t dying enough? There was so much that Jack wanted to ask now, such as what these Screamers really were, where they were supposed to go now that they were dead? Was there such a thing as being safe in this place? Could he visit the living, and if he did, could they see him? Mostly, he wanted to ask what it was that could possibly happen to them that was worse than death.
From what he had seen so far, there was nothing positive to hang onto at all now, no angels, no harps, no rivers, no divine light. He wondered if this was purgatory, or hell. If so, what on earth had he or Ross done in life to deserve to end up here? All these questions had to wait.
As in the last year of his life, Jack kept his brother close to him. Since their parents died, it had become habitual and because he wasn’t all that sure how much they could trust their new found benefactor. Trust, he’d always thought was something that had to be earned. He had trusted their father and been wrong to do so.
Where they were going now was still a mystery. Jack asked several times on the journey through the woods, but Finch wasn’t all that forthcoming. They moved along the dirt path in single file until they reached what resembled an empty area of ground.
‘We’re here!’ Finch announced.
‘Excuse me,’ said Jack, ‘where? We don’t appear to be anywhere.’
‘Watch this!’ Finch stretched his arm out, and seemed to touch something. More curiously, his hand disappeared from sight. ‘Follow me!’ Then he vanished completely into the air.
As this was happening Jack felt his brother pulling away, as if he had no idea that he was just a ghost of what he was just yesterday.
‘It’s alright,’ he told Ross, ‘nothing is going to happen to you, I’ll make sure of it.’
They walked into the space that Finch had, and ended up in some large room, with chairs and tables, cushions, books, normal things, and there were more children, who viewed them suspiciously.
‘The house is not really here,’ said Finch as if to confuse matters further, ‘it’s a small pocket in nowhere. You can’t see it from the outside. Xandra discovered it.’
‘And that’s a good thing?’ asked Jack, ‘being nowhere?’
‘The Screamers can’t get us here. I would say that was brilliant.’
The two boys were quickly encircled by strangers. There were four around them, mostly the same age as Jack. Sitting curled up in an alcove was a fifth member of the group, a girl with long blonde tied in a tight plat. She looked slightly older than the others although something about her suggested that she wasn’t.
Ross clung to his brother tightly. ‘I’m scared!’ he whimpered.
‘It’s OK,’ Jack whispered into his ear, ‘they are just weighing us up, working out if we can be trusted or not.’
Finch addressed the others. ‘This is Jack and Ross. I saw them arrive. There’s been a crash where the tree fell in the night. There are bodies everywhere. A right mangled mess it is.’
‘They still could be spies.’ said the tallest of the boys.
‘I doubt that, Lucas,’ the girl pitched in, ‘if they’ve just passed over what time have they had to become recruited?’
‘Recruited by who?’ asked Jack.
‘The Screamers,’ said the girl, ‘they can’t catch everyone so they need to persuade us to do it. That is why we can’t take any chances. There’s too much to risk.’
‘Don’t talk to them!’ Lucas demanded. ‘I’m in charge. I say don’t trust them until they’ve proved themselves.’
‘And what do these spies get in return?’ asked Jack.
‘Their freedom!’ said the girl.
‘Why can’t we be free anyway? We’re_’ Jack stopped before he said the dreaded D word. ‘He doesn’t know. I’m going to tell him when the time is right.
‘I’m still not sure,’ said Lucas, ‘we need establish the facts before we let them stay.’
‘We don’t even know where we are.’
‘Neither do we,’ said the girl. ‘Lucas calls it the Mortex, that’s because he’s a smart arse. You know, it’s supposed to be a play on words - mort for death and vortex. The rest of us call it Deadworld.
As Lucas seemed reluctant, the girl introduced everybody. ‘In order,’ she said, ‘you’ve met Finch. Next to him is Malen, Lucas and Simo. Simo is the loud one – that’s a joke, he’s really quiet. I’m Xandra with an X. It’s short for Alexandra. Don’t ever call me that.’
Jack addressed this Lucas chap. ‘So, if you’re in charge, what are we supposed to do now we’re here?’ But his words seemed to have dissipated before they’d reached the ears of others.
Obviously sensing the tension in the room, Xandra suggested that she took the others outside for a private discussion. They agreed albeit reluctantly and followed. During their absence, Jack took the opportunity to prime Ross.
‘Mate, I don’t know where we’ve ended up, or if we can trust these kids, but this place is safe. I think we should just do whatever they say until we know what is happening.’
The others returned a moment later led by Lucas.
‘Alright,’ he said, his tone was different now, slightly friendlier. ‘So you’re not spies.’ He held out his hand to Jack who after a thoughtful pause shook with him. The same offer was made to Ross who did the same.
‘We’re all happy then?’ said Jack.
Malen, the short, angry looking one, shook his head in a slow and patronising manner. ‘Not quite, there is a little matter of the initiation test.’
‘And what does that involve?’ Jack frowned.
‘You have to get something for us, nothing too taxing, nothing heavy. In fact it’s as light as a feather.’
‘What is it?’ asked Jack.
‘A feather, stupid!’ said Malen.
‘Just get on with it will you!’ added Finch.
For the first time since his death, Jack had this overpowering urge to sit down, but he wasn’t all that sure it was possible when you are a ghost. It was force of habit. There were some chairs by the wall. A curious thought came to him. He wondered if he tried to sit if he would fall right through the seat the way they did in cartoons. So when Lucas offered he gratefully declined just in case the latter was true.
‘So what is so special about this feather then?’ Jack asked.
‘It belongs to a Screamer,’ said Lucas. At these words Jack began to panic.
‘You mean those things that earlier wanted to rip us to shreds’ he bellowed. ‘No thanks, I think we’ll leave.’
Jack started ushering Ross towards the door, where they were stopped by Malen. He did the special trick that Finch did in the den and made himself appear in the doorway.
‘Is all this necessary?’ Lucas asked. ‘It’s all so, ludicrous.’
‘Not to mention childish!’ Added Xandra.
‘You don’t have to worry too much,’ said Finch, ‘I mean you don’t have to pluck it from his wing or anything. They fall out sometimes. There will be some around his house.’
‘Gallow’s house!’ said Lucas.
‘He’s a renegade,’ said Xandra, ‘a fallen one. They say he tortures children’s souls like the others do. He doesn’t mean to, he’s just used to it. He can’t fly. He’s been forbidden by his council. They took that away from him. So you will have some sort of a chance.’
‘If you go you have to be back before dark,’ said Lucas, and added again, ‘this is a very bad idea.’
‘And it gets dark very quickly here.’ Malen snorted ‘darker than anything you would have ever seen, the blackest black. That’s when it’s most dangerous. Just because you can’t see things, it doesn’t mean they can’t see you.’
‘Don’t let him do this Lucas,’ said Xandra. ‘They’re not spies!’
‘You’ll know it’s about to get dark when you see the veins in the sky,’ said Xandra. ‘When you see them, run and hide.’
Jack thought for a while. He looked down at his brother and around the room. ‘What would be our chances away from this place?’ he asked.
‘None!’ said Xandra, and of all of them he believed her the most.
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JWalker: I loved this story from start to finish! It flows at a really nice pace and the story world feels so real. The fight sequences are a treat especially when Isanfyre is training to become a warrior. I found the names really cool and thankfully easy to pronounce. Personally I have always struggled w...
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FreakyPoet: "you made me laugh, made me cry, both are hard to do. I spent most of the night reading your story, captivated. This is why you get full stars from me. Thanks for the great story!"
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