This is a rough teaser for Part 2 of the Legion book. My pulse increased just writing, which is saying something for a sleep deprived, workaholic, father of two. 🙂 Enjoy.
Gasps and sighs passed through the dining room of a swank downtown restaurant, expressions upon the two hundred or so faces betraying every bit of joy, every bit of nostalgia, some much obligatory guilt, and facets of jealousy and malice toward what some female diners deemed as a lack of romantic planning by their own significant others – all in unsubtle reaction to the young man on one knee, posed before a tear stricken girl with one hand on mouth and the other on breast. The man was trying not to appear frantic as he worked to remove cake and frosting from a small object, which began to shine more like a ring as he whittled away what remained encrusted on it when his date found the expensive little token that was planted in her dessert.
The ring was placed upon finger, couple embraced, and much applause was heard about the room, sounding mostly from older women, as the younger women with bare ring fingers clapped politely while bitterly eyeing their own dates, and the men for the most part barely paused from their munching on pricey steaks and shellfish.
Such events were common in this particular restaurant; the same was true of many restaurants in the district. And even as the diners continued their evening, some glowing, some sulking in the aftermath of the marriage proposal, each held in common a complete indifference toward a foul Beast that crept through the streets nightly, and though they paid it no mind, they were all at least slightly aware of it, for they certainly depended on it to make their merriment possible. This because, for every heavenly morsel consumed, at least two were left on plate, and in the way of our common age, all these uneaten parts were cleared from tables, to be replaced by more mountainous portions that could scarcely be consumed by an average human, and all these wasted bits of food would eventually be gathered and thrown together into large containers in an alleyway, where they would rot and coagulate into a rotten brew. And since the presence of this filth could only sustain for so long before the same overfed lot within the adjacent restaurant would eventually begin to smell its pungency from the windows of their lofty quarters in the neighborhood high-rises, the Beast would be allowed to come forth to deal with the mess.
The Beast was never alone, for it required minions to scurry through the tight confines of the backstreets, where it was too large to fit with its bloated, rusty ribcage. One such minion, barreling through an alleyway with a limp sheet of burlap laid upon his shoulder, drenched in sweat raining from the base of a dingy cap and cursing under his breath as he approached the backside of the steak and seafood restaurant, nearly stopped dead as he was slapped in the face by an odor he never grew accustomed to – that appalling stink that pours forth when seafood is allowed to rot into soup. And every time he came here, whenever he found himself in this particular spot in this exact alley, reluctantly inhaling the aroma of putrid fish guts, he would pause just a moment from his typically hurried pace and wonder what went so wrong with his life that he would find himself in this place.
The moment of painful reflection never lasted long, for this minion had little time; the Beast awaited; its other minions were rapid in their duties. He pushed his misery aside, laying his battered sheet of burlap upon the ground before hoisting one huge barrel of food waste into the air and upside down atop the sheet, which instantly disappeared beneath a pile of decay. Retrieving the sheet’s four corners, he pulled them together in his gloved fist and swung it around his body, allowing his back to support the cargo while he simultaneously wheeled about and plunged back from where he’d just come. The alleys in the neighborhood were nearly a maze, and he’d actually gotten lost his first few times down there, but he was an expert now – a doctor of rubbish collection, and within minutes he emerged from the catacombs into the gaze of streetlights upon *Main Street.*
Approaching a green and rust colored garbage truck, coined “Beast” by his fellow rubbish doctors, he hurled the pack of waste into the compactor, but he was not cautious enough with his motion, as something pointed with a jagged edge, buried too shallow beneath the burlap and food mush, took grip of the polyester work shirt he wore, began to yank it upward, and since he was moving too recklessly, mind too preoccupied with the two remaining barrels of waste he’d yet to retrieve from the alleyway, he had no time to react before the jagged thing extended past his flimsy garment and plunged itself into the delicate flesh of his back, stealing a chunk of epidermis as it tore free on its way to the belly of the Beast.
The trash man managed little more than a stifled yelp, and only one of his fellow minions caught the sound of it – paid it little mind until he saw the guy turn back toward the caverns in pursuit of another meal for the Beast, and he was able to make out, before shadows overtook him, a crimson hue mingled with the dark patches of sweat upon his dark grey uniform. As the wounded one disappeared into blackness, he couldn’t help but think the guy half allowed the injury on purpose, as if punishing himself might work to punish Someone else.
For his part, the wounded man jogged forward through the dark, soiled burlap in tow, thought occurring that the excruciating gash in his back was almost a pleasure to him as one who’d for so long felt nothing but numbness. Then followed thoughts of a person he’d met years ago – one who often used pain to find pleasure and with whom his brief acquaintance had led to such agony and then the eventual lack of feeling he allowed to become his companion. Even now, that warm blanket of numb was threatened, as many times it was, by the reality that seven years had passed since the end of all joy, and he inexplicably found himself mere blocks from where his world came to an end. This was his life, the reality of this doctor of rubbish – ignore the pain, embrace the numb, push through and fulfill the duties cruelly placed upon him by society and Creator.
In minutes, his designated alley was emptied of waste; he boarded the tail of the Beast, gripping a u-shaped handle. Across from him, the same man who caught sight of the injury to his back, spoke “Geez, Chuck, you gotta death wish or somethin?”
“You the school nurse tonight?” he responded, and the other chuckled more loudly than the joke seemed to justify. His laughter briefly soothed the rubbish doctor’s depression, and the two continued a shouting banter from the back of the large trash hauler until the whine of the truck’s engine became too loud to yell over.
As their short exchange faded to silence, the wounded one focused his gaze upward, catching a large portion of a full moon emerging from behind a haze, and he muttered to himself under his breath, “What are you doing here, Charlie?”
The garbage truck turned a corner, barreling through a pack of winged disease carriers that were pecking at chicken bones in the road. One such pigeon, elusive enough to avoid certain crushing by the giant, cold hunk of wheeled steel, found itself in a narrow passageway between buildings. This passageway was cold in a far different way, as if the air within it had become a void where warmth and light were unable to penetrate. There, the animal found itself paralyzed by something it could not see, but only sense. Unable to free itself from the cold’s invisible grasp, it was pulled into the void by a scarred and twisted hand. There in the dark, a Beast of a more ancient, more terrible sort, cursed the scrawniness of its newly captured meal – then cursed the sky, with that same full moon, cursed himself for being alive, cursed the World and the Maker of it all.