CHAPTER 17: Showtime

If you’re coming in late, the novel starts here: CHAPTER 1: Some bugger steals my sushi

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At that moment, my chair started rattling, just a little at first, and then steadily from side to side.

For some reason, I didn’t quite grasp what was happening, and my brain just sort of sat inside my skull watching but not recognising, even though my body registered the shaking and goosebumps were rising on my limbs. It wasn’t until Daniel said, “Earthquake!” and ran for the desk, that my mind connected the dots, and my body moved into action, as though something had released a trigger in me.

I followed Daniel to the desk, as did the Dean and Athena Papadopoulos, and the four of us dived then scrambled under the Dean’s massive wooden desk, trying to squeeze in alongside one another as the shaking increased.

Bits of plaster started to fall from the walls and ceiling and then – a terrifying sound – the noise of window panes cracking and splintering, and glass crashing in the room across the floor, shattering into pieces, dusty green and blue and bottle-cream.

Outside in the hallway I could hear screaming, and next to me, pressed up against me in the small space under that desk, Athena gripped my bicep so tightly in fear that I thought she’d leave bruises on me once it was over.

The shaking got worse and worse, and seemed to go on an eternity, although it can’t have been that long really – just seconds maybe. And I’m not religious, and we were in a Cathedral, but I swear I was so afraid with the noise and the screaming and the tearing of stone and smashing of glass from every direction that it felt like the devil was coming up out of the earth to claim us.

The whole room was swaying and buckling beneath us, and nothing was solid – there was nothing to hold on to except each other. And I looked into the faces of the others, as we huddled under the desk and the floor shuddered beneath us, groaning and screaming as rock tore against stone, and all I could see in their faces was fear.

“This isn’t supposed to happen!” cried Athena, practically having to scream into our ears to be heard over the increasing noise, as the earth moved beneath us and we began to slide and skid on the floor under the desk. “Not until tomorrow! There were no quakes on the 29th of January!”

Then, suddenly as it had begun, the quake stopped. I realised that even though the ground had stopped moving, I was shaking. “I guess somebody forgot to tell the earth that,” said Daniel dryly, dusting himself off, and crawling out from under the desk. “Is everyone okay?”

We were all fine. “I’d better go check the damage,” said the Dean, getting up from her knees. “And see if anyone is hurt.”

“I’ll come with you,” I said quickly, hoping I might get a chance to see my parents.

“No – you stay here,” said Athena. “This was NOT supposed to happen! Time is changing again, shifting…”

The Dean opened the door to her office, and gasped. Standing in the doorway, covered in dirt and bleeding at the temple, was the Bishop. Quicker than I would have thought it possible, he grabbed the Dean roughly by the shoulder and threw her up against the crumbling plaster of the office wall.

Athena reached down for her pistol, which was lying down on top of her bag where she’d left it, at the foot of her chair, but the Bishop kicked the pistol out of the way with a single swift movement, and produced a knife from that huge woollen coat of his, which he held at the Dean’s throat.

All of this, faster than I could register or react. He’d caught us completely by surprise.

“What are you doing here, John?” said Athena Papadopoulos quite calmly, even though she’d been caught at a complete disadvantage. “You know members of your level in the Order are not permitted to time-skip.”

“I think I won’t be answering any of your questions right now,” he replied, regarding Daniel and me. “You’ve deliberately concealed a Host, Miss Papadopoulos, and disobeyed Order Command. You’ll be coming back with me, and bringing these two young men with you.” He looked at the Dean, who was breathing heavily, her throat constricted by the knife. “As for you, Martie dear, I think – unfortunately – your end is nigh, don’t you…?”

Quickly, and without warning, he slashed at the Dean’s throat once, sharply, with his knife. Bright red blood spurted out on the shattered glass at her feet. Her eyes glazed over, and she fell without a word, making a horrible gurgling noise as bright red blood continued to pulse out with every heartbeat across the floor.

“No!” cried Athena, and rushed forward, attempting to wrestle the knife from the Bishop.

Daniel flashed a glance at me, but I could see he was as shocked as I did, and didn’t, couldn’t, get involved. My limbs felt frozen and numb, and I could hardly move – I felt like a member in an audience, watching a movie, letting the action unfold before me on a 3-D screen, unable to react or intervene in any way.

After a brief struggle, in which the Bishop lost control of the knife and Athena sent it arcing across the room, then spinning across the floor and underneath the desk, the Bishop managed to overpower Athena and throw her to the floor, against the Dean’s body, which lay twitching in a pool of blood that continued to spread across the floor and seep into a small rug. Athena stared up at us from next to the Dean’s pulsing body, pleading “Get out of here! I’ll hold him! Go! I’ll find you later!”

The Bishop was unarmed. Daniel seemed to suddenly snap to alertness and awaken, and he grabbed me by the forearm, and practically dragged me past the Bishop, pushing hard to get through the door and avoid the man. On the way through, as he pushed past, he kicked the Bishop – hard – in the knees, and watched him collapse to the ground with a groan and a thud.

Then we ran for it, out into the portrait gallery, outside of the Dean’s office. The side door to the Cathedral, leading outside to the garden, was blocked by two bodies, both of whom had been crushed by falling masonry. They were both quite dead. The sight wasn’t pretty, and I had no stomach to climb over them. Inside the portrait gallery, every single painting seemed to have fallen from the walls, creating an obstacle course that took time for us to navigate.

It felt odd, but we had no choice – simply stepped on the paintings, our boots ripping the canvasses and wood backings, and trashing the ancient artworks. But there was no other way forward – most of the portraits were so tightly wedged in with debris that moving them and creating a pathway between them was not an option – especially knowing that we had to get out fast.

We ran up a marble staircase that formed the corner of the Cathedral building and into the church itself, upstairs from the Dean’s office. The stairway was reasonably clear. Even so, bits of fallen stonework blocked our way, and an old metal grating that presumably used to form a lockable door was completely broken from its attachments and almost completely barricaded the way up, but we made it to the top, and into the Church.

The building was almost empty, apart from a few people who were still clearly recovering from the quake. Some were injured, and were lying on pews, being attended to by others. One man had shards of glass sticking out of his face – I didn’t look too closely. I began to realise that, tucked away near a supporting pillar of the Cathedral’s concrete frame in the Dean’s office, we’d been fortunate and had been well protected when the quake had struck. Looking around, it seemed that other people had not been so lucky.

Instead, knowing that I could not help the injured, I took a quick look around the church, to see the damage and look for an exit.

I saw that the great stone pulpit was completely destroyed, its steps broken off and leading half way up into a space where, presumably, something had existed only moments before. Bits of shattered stonework lay scattered all around, and amidst the wreckage were flowers – the remnants of the latest floral tributes from some local family, or maybe decorations for a planned wedding.

The back end of the church, where it became a semicircle, was almost completely destroyed – the walls were collapsed sideways, as if some great and ancient giant had take a swing at it with a massive hammer. No way out there. The roof was fallen in, completely gone, and into the open space a light drizzling rain was starting to fall.

Above me, to my immediate left, was a vast open space to which clung the tatters of what might have been a huge and beautiful stained glass window standing over the main entrance to the building. Whatever it had been or represented, it was trash now, and shards of glass of all colours – red, and purple and bright gold – dusted the floor like razor-sharp stalagmites. I was glad I was wearing thick leather boots.

The Cathedral was a mess. I had no idea why the quake had struck today instead of tomorrow, as it was supposed to do according to history, but it was pretty clear that this was no small rumble. This was a major disaster.

“Where next?” I said, breathing hard. I was aware that the Bishop might be right behind us.

“Out,” panted Daniel in response, and started picking his was through the rubbish towards to main double doors, one of which stood hanging on a hinge, barely still attached. “Watch your footing,” he added, indicating the shards of stained glass that covered the floor.

We made it to the main steps leading down to the Octagon, and ran down them to the roadway, dodging broken bits of glass and masonry that had fallen and shattered the steps here and there. At the bottom of the steps a crowd had gathered around another injured person – a woman – and some attended to her muffled cries, while others gazed up in awe and horror at the broken Cathedral teetering above us, its huge smashed windows like a hideous grin of broken teeth in a shattered face.

We didn’t know where we were heading, but Dan and I made our way through the streets, which were crowded full of people who had spilled out of their shops, homes and offices in fear of further tremors, and were now milling around aimlessly, or sitting on kerbs, talking and comforting one another.

One of the trams that runs down George Street had toppled over to its side, and the rear end of it had been crushed like it was made of tinfoil when a whole street frontage had toppled onto it. I didn’t want to look closely to see what was inside, but dozens of people had gathered around, and were trying to pull people from the wreckage. In front of the tram, on the roadway, the ordinarily straight rail lines rode a crazy zigzag back and forth across the pitted tarmac, emphasizing just how severe the quake had been.

There was no sign of electricity anywhere in the city, and in places the water mains had burst, spitting geysers up into the air from newly created holes in the ground, creating a slide of mud and filth that was washing down the gentle slope of the roadway. We pushed through the crowds, thankful that we might more easily lose the Bishop should he be following us, and headed north-east.

Without thinking, we were heading for Tina’s house. Which was crazy – Tina might live there, but she’d be just a baby right now, unable to help us.

As we were crossing Cumberland Street, another quake hit, throwing us both to the ground as cleanly as if we’d been whacked by a three ton sledgehammer in the back of the knees. It was all I could do to keep my raise my head upright and watch as the world turned upside down for the second time in the space of an hour.

This time, the rumbling seemed to come from inside me somehow, from somewhere hidden in the backmost, innermost part of my brain – a place so hidden and so deep that I didn’t even recognise it – catching every nerve and fibre of my being and dancing with my soul and self in hideous rhythm.

It had been truly scary in the Dean’s office when the first jolt had happened – I tried not to think about the Dean lying there in her own blood, or the Bishop so casually, so needlessly and ruthlessly, drawing the knife across her neck – but out here, in the open street, surrounded by people, the second earthquake was terrifying.

Like everyone around us, we rushed to the center of the crossroads, as far away from anything built up as possible, and were thrown on our backs on the hard asphalt by the earth’s movement. Dizzy, shaking our heads and trying to reorient ourselves, Daniel and I grabbed at each others wrists, and watched in horror as half the hospital collapsed in upon itself, the exterior walls facing Cumberland Street bulging outwards. A split second later they exploded across the road in a maelstrom of brick and plaster and concrete.

On the opposite side of the road, another building’s facade simply peeled away, like the skin of an orange, collapsing in a pile of dust. The world had become a surreal battleground, and nowhere was safe. As sudden as it had begin, the earth stopped moving again, and once again I felt disoriented – not by the movement beneath my feet but by the sudden solidity under me.

“We’ve got to get off the streets,” said Daniel, coughing in the dust that was settling and expanding in a thick grey-brown cloud all around us, filling our airways with grit and dirt. “We can’t stay on the roads in the city. It’s too dangerous.”

“Tina’s then?” I said, taking a quick look around to check that no-one was listening. The nearest people to us were a hundred metres away, and still rising to their feet, far more interested in checking their bruises than in anything we might be saying to one another.

“Yep,” said Daniel. “Her family have owned the place for decades – remember her telling us?”

“She’ll be a kid, a baby,” I said. “She won’t be able to help us. And who knows if her father is still alive in all this? And if he is, how do we tell him about his Tina’s mum? How do we tell him that she’s been murdered?”

“I don’t know,” he answered, dusting himself off, and beginning to walk northwards. “I don’t know any of this. I don’t know how to get home. I don’t know what this…fricking ‘Order’ is. And I don’t know how to get home, or how to get my own, insane life back. And Christ, I need a coffee.”

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READ ON: CHAPTER 18: Full body migraine

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One thought on “CHAPTER 17: Showtime

  1. Pingback: CHAPTER 16: Death and taxes « Leanne's NaNoWriMo

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