Last February, I decided to write a short story for my then-girlfriend. I took inspiration from books, games and TV shows that were dear to us, plus little in-jokes. I used Elements Method. It was going to be 3-4 pages long, and be a Valentine’s Day gift.
The story soon blew out to something much larger, when I realised it had a different calling. I had the idea that it’d be the way I’d propose. Then I was inspired, and decided to not only write a story, but bind it as a book for her. The entire thing ended up around 6000 words, so I’m splitting it up here into a size that lends itself more easily to digesting. I’ll post (and link) the subsequent parts later -and have tried to split things at places in the text where it felt appropriate to do so.
“Beauty is a manifestation of secret natural laws, which otherwise would have been hidden from us forever.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Three shifts. Three. It was exhausting. More than that, it was criminal. The bureau didn’t know what they were doing, and Grace had no hesitation in saying so.
“I’ve been on this job for eight hours now, Red. You are not putting me out there again when this is over.”
Red was anything but. A pale blond with dark eyes, he’d earned the label after a stint in the sun. Even if he wanted to, his team would never let him forget it’d happened. He raised a hand defensively. “I’m sorry Tamlyn, but my hands are tied. This comes from the director. We need you out here.”
Grace pointed a gloved finger at him, “You know this is bullshit. I don’t care what the news reports say.”
“It doesn’t matter what I think, or even the director for that matter. People are confused and they’re scared. They need to know the bureau’s in control.”
Grace stared at him for a moment, then turned away. The vehicle was more worthy of her attention. The bonnet flipped open, and a spurt of steam rose from the engine’s valves. “No alternatives?” she asked.
Red shook his head. “I ran the numbers myself. That’s why I came down here myself.”
“Then you’ve gotta get me a new Brick. I’ve been driving this monster for the past day without a break, and I doubt it’ll hold much longer.”
She looked back at Red, and saw his attention was elsewhere. A couple walking through in the distance, huddled away from the street lights.
“Not even an excuse?” she asked.
“What good would one of them do you? No evasion. I just can’t make it happen.”
“Probably better if I walked.” Grace bit her lip, and closed the bonnet, though she was sure that Red had heard the sight that came with it. “So people are scared of being taken by ninjas.”
“Or, I dunno. Ghosts?” She shrugged. It didn’t really matter. “And they’re out roaming the streets instead of boarded up at home?”
“That’s what they’re saying, Tamlyn.”
“If I ever see the reporter that started this shit, she’s going to have a broken jaw. Won’t even bother with the commendation.”
Red pursed his lips, “The citation?”
Grace shook her head, though a smirk came to her lips, “For stopping myself from shooting her?”
“I’m not ordering anything official, but keep it unofficial. Off the record.”
“Blood before bounty, Red.”
Hurst and Prime. Cross-streets from Hell, at least on a standard day. None of the past week had been anything close to expected. It would’ve been easier with Forte at her side, but a partner wasn’t part of the equipment today. The intersection was wide, but empty.
“No such thing as too quiet…” she muttered to herself, though the itch of her index finger made her doubt the words. Only four figures stood out amongst the walk-zones, and the road itself was free of traffic.
A figure walked past her. A man. Where none of the other silhouettes out came close to her, this one had no regard for proximity to Grace, or any others.
“Excuse me Sir.” She said with a firm voice, but a flash of eye contact was the only attention he afforded her before he continued. Across the work zone, and with the briefest of glances, stepped on to the empty street.
“You really don’t want me to run after you when I’d much rather have my weapon do it. It has a nastier bite than I do.”
He stopped, turned, and moved to only a few metres distances. Blue eyes, bloodshot, and a half-week’s worth of dark stubble. “Knox. Avery Knox. Remember it.”
He resumed his course as soon as the last syllable left his lips.
“I’m too tired for this bullshit” she said, though Avery gave no indication that he cared, or that he had even heard her. He stopped close to the middle of the road, just beyond the doubled lane marking, and knelt down. His palms smoothed out against the bitumen.
“This has got to be against some sort of regulation.” She unbuckled her holster cover and followed after him. As she inched closer, the sense of wariness because of the peculiarity surrounding the man had congealed into unbridled caution.
“I don’t know what you’re doing, but there’s something seriously wrong with you. You need help.” She said.
“You’re probably right,” he replied, but didn’t look up.
“Come with me. I can get it for you.”
Avery began to stand, and the ground lifted in front of him. It was his hands that moved it, that lifted the square of bitumen like an access hatch in the middle of the road.
Grace opened her mouth, but the words wanted to wait for her thoughts. They took a while. “What?” she said first, in protest at the shock. At the insanity. At the physics. She shook her head, and started toward the hole, her legs moving quicker. “No… what? Wait, what did you do?”
Avery looked over at her, and slid his legs down into the opening. “The world is in danger, Miss Tamlyn, and this is no time to preserve your illusions.”
Through the hole, where she had expected to see black and shadow, there was light, and the unmistakeable tick of clockwork. Her mouth pulled up in a sour motion, tightening her face. “What the hell did you do?”
His shaking head was the only answer, but it came with an uplifted hand. An invitation.
“This isn’t right. It can’t be real.”
“You need to come with me. The world depends on you coming with me, or we don’t have time.”
“For?” she asked.
“No. If you don’t come with me, time ends.”
She found it impossible to draw her eyes away from the opening, especially in that darker hour, when the rest of the two streets were drab and colourless. There were still people, but they were standing offside; watching with caution it seemed, stationary in the shadows. She realised they were still. No. No, that wasn’t it. Not still.
The rest of the sounds she thought she knew, that she expected to hear in even an empty street, were no longer there. It was only the clicks and tocks, chimes and bells that came from beneath the street. The road’s lid had lifted up, revealing a music box beneath the ground.
“What’s happening? What did you do?”
“Come with me, a strange man that defies the laws of physics down into a pit of unknown, and I will explain everything.”
Grace raised an eyebrow, and shifted on her heels. “Was that supposed to convince me?”
“Can you think of anything that would?” asked Avery.
She rolled her eyes, but knew he was right. Besides, if this was all a trick, she still had to see it.