So, one of my online friends, Max Chis, wrote this, and I went through it and edited/rewrote almost every line. He still gets the vast majority of the credit for the ideas and characters, though.
Hopefully, Max will write it soon and I'll toss it in here to finish the story. Also, I don't know why some of the line spaces didn't work, even after I went back through multiple times to make sure they were all typed right. Someone should work on that.
The door creaked open, and Tom stepped inside. The man at the desk didn’t look up.
Tom coughed and began to speak:
Marshall's fingers slid a small collection of coins across the desk. Tom hesitated, then continued:
“I need your help.”
“I know you do”, Marshall said, eyes fixed on the coins. “Otherwise, you wouldn’t have come. Nobody does.”
Tom was silent, watching Marshall's fingers sort the coins into neat vertical rows across the desk.
Marshall continued. “Put them here.”
Tom nodded, though Marshall couldn't see it, and stepped forward. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out four coins and placed them away from Marshall's neat rows. Marshall's fingers flitted like a lizard's tongue and slid the coins in front of him.
“I have three 1901s already.” Marshall said “No 1902s, always 1901s.”
“Do you know how long it took me to find those?”
“I don’t sell my services based on how much effort you put into finding payment,” said Marshall, his eyes never leaving the coins, “My price is final.”
Tom grabbed Marshall's shoulder and spun his chair around, pointing a nine millimeter at his forehead. Marshall didn’t look at the gun.
"You won't kill me."
Tom moved the gun down to Marshall's groin, and their eyes met.
“I can get the last coin for you,” said Tom. “Later.”
Marshall held Tom's gaze for a long minute, then looked away.
“Fine.” He turned away from Tom and the gun. “We leave tomorrow morning.”
“We leave now.”
Marshall looked back at Tom, then, with a sigh, at the coins, “Fine,” he said, pushing himself out of his seat. “We'll leave now.”
He walked across the room to get his coat. “If everything goes right, we'll finish early tomorrow morning.”
“If everything goes right?”
“You don't know much about the other side, do you?” Marshall sighed as he slipped on his shoes. “Nothing ever goes right.”
Marshall stepped out into the brisk evening air, Tom following him, and immediately turned down the street.
“Where are you going?” hissed Tom. The gun bulged in his coat pocket.
“Where you want to go.” Marshall said flatly, not looking back. “Now follow me and shut up.”
He turned at 5th street, crossed the next intersection, and headed down 11th avenue.
At the next, straight. At the next, left down 7th street. At the next, he crossed the street, then turned back in the opposite direction. Tom ran ahead of him.
“What are you doing?”
Marshall sighed. “I know how to get to the other side. You don’t.”
Tom dug his hand deep into his coat pocket. “We just came that way!”
“Again: I know how to get to the other side. You don’t. Now follow me.” Marshall stepped around Tom and continued. “If it was as straightforward as you expect, anyone could find it.”
Tom kept his hand on the gun, but kept following him.
Left on 11th. Right on 8th. Left on 12th. Turn back at 12th and 9th, again at 12th at 8th. Right on 9th...
Tom lost track of the streets as the sun began to set. One blurred into another, but Marshall kept moving without pause. The street lamps were coming on as they turned off of 7th and started down 36th again.
“Wait...” he began, but Marshall didn't slow down. “We were just on this street!”
Marshall turned right down 18th.
“Stay quiet and follow me. Do not make eye contact with other people. Right now they can't see you, but they will if you look into their eyes. Look only at me.”
Tom focused on that as they turned onto 3rd, then 40th, then 9th.
Tom saw something out of the corner of his eyes, but he blinked and it was gone. He stared at the back of Marshall's coat.
“He could be leading me into a death trap,” Tom thought, “and I can't do anything about it.”
They turned left down 17th street, again on 4th avenue, and a final time on 1st, then stopped.
“Don’t look away.” Marshall said without turning around “We’re going into the building to your right. Follow me, but don’t touch the doors. Let me hold them for you. We’ll go through the lobby and into an elevator. Don’t touch the walls. If anyone else is in the elevator, don’t touch them either. And look only at me.”
He turned towards the building to his right, then pushed the door open and lingered as Tom passed through - looking only at him - then let it close behind them.
Tom saw something inky and black moving out of the corner of his vision... Were those hands? But he kept his eyes on Marshall's coat as he walked across the lobby and pressed the button for the elevator.
Someone — or something — came up to Marshall and stood beside him. Marshall didn’t turn to look, and neither did Tom. Out of the corner of his eye, he couldn't tell if the thing had extra arms, or just one pair moving abnormally fast. The door opened with a ding and they stepped inside, Tom taking a spot in a corner, putting Marshall between himself and the thing.
Marshall made eye contact with Tom for only a moment, then turned his eyes to the floor; he didn’t push any buttons.
With another ding, the door slid open and the thing stepped out. Marshall didn’t move until they closed again. He pushed the button marked “65”.
“What was that?” Tom asked.
“It's not important.” Marshall replied, looking up at him. “What’s her name?”
Tom took a deep breath before speaking. “Jane. Jane Rodriguez.”
“I’ll find her.” said Marshall. “Look only at me. Nowhere else, until I say so.”
Marshall leaned in, close enough for Tom to smell the onions on his breath. “Not even at her.”
Tom held the stare. “I understand.”
Marshall stepped back, his eyes not leaving Tom's. “You better.”
A final ding and the door opened again. Marshall stepped forward and Tom followed him, eyes glued to his back.
They could hear shoes clacking against the floor, but not from either of them. Doors to large metal cabinets slid past the corner of Tom's eye. They reached the edge of the row of cabinets and crossed over to the other side.
Marshall stopped him. “Here.”
He reached for one of the cabinets. The lock clicked and he slid it open, pulling out a long metal tray.
And there she was, just out of his focus, but so close to him.
Marshall leaned over her motionless face, mouthed “Come with me” and extended his hand. It was taken.
Tom couldn’t help but look at the woman holding it. “Jane!”
His eardrums nearly burst from the sound of countless voices screaming in unison.
Marshall yanked Jane out of the slab and onto the floor. Her arms trembled and she coughed. “I told you not to...” He began, then decided it wasn’t worth finishing. “Grab her! We're leaving!”
Tom grabbed her other shoulder and pulled her up. Her face was ashen pale and covered in goosebumps. Instantly he was deafened by the noise again, and looked up just in time to see a mass of body parts charging towards him on hundreds of legs, hundreds of arms flailing in the air, hundreds of heads rising from the mass, and mouths open in hundreds of screams at once.
“Get back to the elevator!” Marshall shouted, just above the din.
The two ran as fast as they could carrying Jane across the tiled floor, her feet dragging behind her, as the mass of bodies bounded closer. They reached a dead end in the elevator. Tom turned to face the thousands of rotten teeth inches away from devouring him...
And Marshall's head exploded.
With a low, guttural roar, a mass of fleshy tentacles burst from Marshall's throat, lashing out as the bodies, sending blood flying. Countless mouths shrieked in pain, countless limbs scrambled in the other direction.
The tendrils kept whipping at the creature as it ran, some twice as long as Marshall’s body.
Tom tried to pull Jane away but Marshall's hand held firm, keeping her in his grip as the elevator door closed far too slowly.
Almost immediately the tendrils receded back into Marshall's neck. An instant later, as if nothing happened, his head was back to normal. Tom's grip tightened around Jane's shoulder.\\ Marshall looked ominously at him.
“No one leaves this city unmarked.”
He reached across Jane’s limp body and hit the Emergency Stop button. An alarm rang out and the elevator lurched to a halt.
“Let her go,” said Marshall, loosening his grip on Jane and letting his side of her slump to the ground. Tom stared at him with wide eyes.
"I won't let you hurt her"\\
Tom picked up the side Marshall dropped. Jane’s head slumped forward, eyes open but unfocused.
“I'm not going to. She needs space.”
“What?” Tom said, not taking his eyes off Marshall.
Marshall tilted his head down and looked up at Tom. “I could’ve killed you both already. But I didn't. Now let her go.”
Tom was thinking of an argument when he was interrupted by a hoarse voice from below him.
“You heard him. Let me go.”
Tom lowered Jane gently. She began to retch, then fell to the floor on all fours, taking deep, raspy breaths, and vomited.\\
Tom reached for her shoulder, but she pushed his hand away.\\
He stood back and watched as slowly, arms shaking, she pushed herself to her knees, then to her feet. She wiped her lips with a shaking hand and looked from Tom to Marshall with bloodshot eyes.
She coughed, then rasped: “Where am I?”
“Processing.” Marshall replied flatly.\\
Above them, the roars of the bodies echoed down the elevator shaft.
Jane looked at him. “What?”
“Jane...” Tom began, “Do you remember the accident?”
“You were crossing the street after the restaurant closed.” he continued, “There was a speeding truck, and-”
Jane cut him off. “What are you talking about?”
“Ms. Rodriguez...” Marshall sighed, “I’ll explain.”
“This is where they keep the violent deaths. They store them here until God-knows-when, for God-knows-what. But until that happens, you can be brought back.” He turned to Tom.
“That’s why he hired me.”
“They? Who's they? What are you talking about?”
“'They' are the ones who brought you here. You’re one of the ‘violent deaths.’ Do you understand?”
There was a thump from above them, and Marshall's brow lowered. “We don't have time to discuss it. There’s something up there that will come down here and kill us all. Do you understand that much?”
“Then just stay with us.” Tom said, touching her shoulder, but trying to reassure himself more than her. “Stay with us and you'll be safe.”
Jane squinted at Tom. “Who are you?”
“You don't remember me?” he said, moving closer. “I’m Tom. Tom Hawlett. I'm one of the chefs. I gave you the orders sometimes...”
Jane hesitated. “I think so.” Her eyebrows furrowed. “Why do you want me back?”
“I...” he hesitated, then looked away. “No time. We need to figure out a way out of here.”
The shriek of metal tearing punctuated his sentence.
They turned to see Marshall standing over a fresh hole in the wall of the elevator, a mass of tendrils slowly forming back into a hand. Light poured through the hole, revealing a yellow maintenance ladder. \\
“Climb through here. The ladder will end in the underground garage. It's less crowded during the day, so we may be able to sneak past.”
“To where?” Jane asked.
“The sewers. There's a grate a few blocks from here they never bolted down. It's a short walk, but there's no telling what we'll run into on the way.”
“Wait...” Jane’s eyes widened, and she raised a hand to her face. “You mean there's more of those?”
“No,” Marshall said as he climbed through the hole, “But there are other things. Just come on!”
Marshall climbed down out of sight. Jane hesitated, looked back to Tom, then climbed through and down after him. Tom went last.
The shaft shook with the roars of the beast above them. As they climbed down away from the light, the shaft grew pitch back, and Tom felt his way down rung by rung, hoping to God that he, or neither of the others, would misstep.
After what felt like hours, he heard two feet hit the ground, then two more, and finally there were no more rungs to climb down. A moment later, Jane spoke.
“So wherever we are... And whatever you're talking about... Can we fight it?”
“We wouldn’t want to,” said Marshall, a bit irritated. “These things don't follow the laws of your reality.”
“But if we need to... Can we?”
He was silent for a moment.
Again, the screeching of metal.
“This is rebar. Do you know how to use it in a fight?.”
More screeching metal, then a length was shoved into Tom’s hands. He gripped it, getting used to the feel.
“There’s light in here, said Marshall. "Stay here, I'll find the power."
They heard the beast roar above them... Closer.
“I won't be long.” Marshall said, from farther away.
Tom stayed silent, listening screams and trying to judge their distance.
After a long pause, Jane found something to say.
Jane shivered, although it wasn’t cold. “If you're right, and all this is real, and I died... Thank you for coming for me.”
Tom felt himself start to sweat. He tried to think of something to say, but all he could come up with was “oh.”
Fluorescent lights flickered to life.
They found themselves in a large, concrete, and empty parking garage. Marshall was walking back towards them. “Come on. The sewers are this way.”
“We can't take the streets?” Jane said as she began to walk, Tom following after.
“The streets are more dangerous than the sewers,” Marshall said, leading them across the garage.\\ “There's a lot you don't know about this place.”
“Like... That we're not on Earth anymore. At least not how you would know it. This place, this entire city, is a gateway between two worlds.”
“The one you know, and the one you - like most people - don't.” He reached for a black door, opened it, and walked through. “It's kept hidden. For a good reason, I’ll add.”
“Like that... thing?” Jane said as Marshall flicked on another set of lights and turned towards a stairwell leading down.
“That’s one of many.”
He flipped another switch, and the parking garage above them went dark again.
“Why’d you do that?” Tom said.
“Joining us again, are you?”
Marshall turned to the two of them and smirked. “By the way, some things are connected between the two worlds... An action in one can affect the other.” He chuckled, for the first time Tom had ever seen. “I imagine there’s a very confused security guard wondering why the lights in the garage are turning themselves on and off.”
They reached the bottom of the stairs and walked into another room, a rail separating their concrete floor from the sewer tunnels. Marshall effortlessly climbed over the rail and plopped into the murky water below.
The other two stopped to look at each other, then down at the goop, then back at each other, until a well-timed scream from above reminded them of the alternative to heading in.
“So if this is secret,” Jane said as they trudged through the muck, “How do you know about it?”
Marshall smiled “The way anyone finds out about it. By accident.”
- Note: Either write the scene where they fight the sewer monster, or let me know so I can cut the whole rebar bit out. -
A few minutes later, a few blocks away, a manhole cover clattered off. Marshall came out first, then Tom, then Jane.
They ducked into a nearby alley and slumped against the wall. Marshall gasped, swallowed, and gasped again, then slowly pushed himself to his feet. He took a long look at the manhole, then looked away. “You can get home from here, Hawlett.”
Then he turned to Jane. “But you’ll have to come with me.”
“You need a new identity,” Marshall began. “A new birth certificate, a new driver's license, and possibly some reconstructive surgery.”
“People can't be seen alive after they die,” Marshall continued, a bit exasperated. “They say a carpenter came back to life two thousand years ago, now he’s worshipped by billions. Can you imagine what would happen now?”
“So... You're telling me I can't tell anyone about it?” Jane stood up. Anger was creeping into her voice. “My friends? My family?”
Marshall’s brow lowered, and he looked her directly in the eyes.
“You don’t have ‘friends’ or ‘family’ anymore. You may be alive, but nobody can know it.”
“So... I’m just supposed to abandon my life? Everything?”
“The world can't know about the other side.”
“And what if I refuse? What if I just walk away now and tell the first person I meet?”
Tentacles emerged from Marshall’s arm and wrapped around her neck. “Then you won't even reach the street.”
“You stay away from her!” Tom shouted, jumping to his feet.
Jane went slack and stared at the ground for a long time, before mumbling: “You took away everything...”
“No!” Tom cut her off, desperately. “We gave you a second chance!”
The tentacles withdrew into Marshall’s hand, and there was a terrible silence.
“You might as well have left me dead.”
As a general rule, Tom was too proud to beg, but this was the closest he’d come.
“Please, Jane. Please. Don’t say that.”
“My life is still over. I’m nobody, and everyone I loved is gone. What else is there to live for?”
It took another minute of silence for Tom finally found the courage to say it:
“I love you!” Tom was almost screaming. “Don’t you get it?! I did this because I love you!”
Jane stepped back in shock, and the color drained from her face.
“You're beautiful.” Tom wanted to stare into her eyes, but she wouldn’t take them off the ground. “Beautiful, and smart, and kind.”
“You don't know me.” Jane sunk her face into her hands. “How could you love me?”
“I do!” Tom shouted. “I loved you the moment I met you!”
Jane slowly shook her head.
“No. You don’t.”
“Please!” Tom’s pride was gone, and he fell to his knees and grabbed her hand.
“I can prove it to you, I can show you-”
“Get the fuck away from me!” she screamed.
She turned to Marshall.
“Did you know about this?”
His face was entirely blank. No sympathy. “He paid me, that's all I needed to know.”
Jane punched the brick wall. Bones fractured and blood splattered. She screamed, grabbed her wounded hand, and her knees gave out. She sat on the ground and cried.
Finally, she stood up, looked at Tom breathing hard on the ground, then looked to Marshall.
“OK.” she managed to say, her voice cracking and barely audible.
Marshall nodded once and began walking down the street. Jane took one look back at Tom, who said nothing, just stared at her, on the verge of tears, pleading with his eyes.
She turned around and followed Marshall out of his life.