A few reasons to keep your breathing regulator by the bed…
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I really shouldn’t have been burning that incense so late at night. I often burn candles next to my desk while I write or edit—helps me think. But the ash was just a little different, from this incense. I mean, I should have expected that—I did get it from a second hand store, so quality was bound to be variable. Still, the faint silver of the dust should have been a giveaway.
So, here I am. It’s damn dark down here, and I have never been that great with the dark. Overly active imagination. Something that’s troubled me since my childhood. In the dark, I saw shadows and shapes. I worried about what was in it—not just ghosts, but monsters.
At the thought, I start to shudder, and I just can’t stop. “Hello?” I squeak. I’m known as a brave person, but bravery has its limits. “Hello? Anyone there?” I reach out gingerly and touch something next to me. Earth and cement, from the rough feel of it. I can’t see a goddamn thing. Except—wait. Maybe…
I walk forward. There is a faint light somewhere. I head towards it gratefully. It’s a real lantern—not electric, but run on oil or wax, something like that. I admire its brasswork as I get closer, but my pounding heart is a distraction.
Looking around, I can see the walls curve. It appears that I’m in some sort of tunnel. “Hello?”
I call again. There’s an echo, but no answer. That’s when I almost wet myself. I’m underground.
Think, Michelle, I say to myself. My heart is pounding. I’m not claustrophobic, but how the fuck did I get down here?
There’s a light, and I hear voices in the distance. A group of people are coming, based on the sound—but it’s very soft. My mind goes into defensive mode, and I hope I’m not going to be mugged. I don’t have any weapons on me—not even my purse, which has a Swiss Army Knife—so it’s a matter of sticking up my fists if things go bad.
I heard them coming, but just barely, and then they’re in front of me. A small patrol of three people in helmets and glowing goggles is standing in front of me. One of them moves the goggles and a breather away from her mouth and face. A stern, tallish girl with a solid and attractive build is in front of me and scowling. Her black suit is tight, made of neoprene or something like it, and lined with small LEDs. They follow her shoulders, waist, and line the sides of her legs. The goggles look home-made; they’re nice, and the lighting around them cuts through the gloom very well. Oddly, her waist is festooned with a holster and belt, and her leather boots have an archaic look.
I look closer. The suit is zipped up in front, but a bit of ribbon is peeking out of her collar.
“What are you doing down here?” demands the young woman. She has features that are more handsome than pretty, but it’s hard to tell with that ferocious scowl. Her eyes seem to be brown or olive, and her hair is about shoulder-length.
My heart is hammering even faster, and my mouth is dry. “Janelle?”
She manages not to look startled. “You definitely don’t look like a ganger. Not in that skirt, anyway. Where are your lights? There’s something wrong with your clothing.”
Hm. Well, maybe I am dreaming. I’m in my usual peasant skirt and a sweater, but they don’t have the ornamental and functional lights that are normal down here. The more I look around, the more it hits home.
“Ah, I ended up here by accident. It’s…I have extremely important information for you, Janelle,” I say, switching tacks. I look her in the eyes. I know what she looks like naked, I know her deepest secrets, and I know what she does when she’s upset. I know her favorite things. She’s no lover of mine, and to call her a friend would be a misnomer, but I know her better than almost anyone in her life. “Please,” I say. “I can’t tell anyone else.”
She looks back at me, and there’s a faint spark of recognition. “Fine. What do you have to say, and what do you want? If you want to talk to me, you can do it in front of my crew.” I wonder which Crows she has with her.
I hold my arms up. “I’m not armed. Believe me. Just a messenger.” Janelle leans back on a hip and gives the slightest of gestures.
A short girl—Asian, as I can see through her goggles—comes over and pats me down. It must be Jaycenne. She’s fast and polite, and of course, I come up clean.
“Okay. She’s good,” confirms Jay. The other one, a Crow I don’t know, leans on a hip.
“Can we talk alone? I…this is important. It has to do with everything,” I stammer. Damn, I’m usually a smooth talker. Then again, I’m pretty out of my element down here.
“Parmi, go back to base,” says Janelle.
“Are you sure?” the other girl asks.
“I…I’m sure.” She studies me. “I have a feeling I can trust her.”
Jay and Janelle talk very little as they lead me down into the city. We’re close to the Hub, its pipes dangling with charms and invocations. It smells earthy, as you’d expect, and it smells like spice and like people. There’s a bit of a stink, to be expected, but it’s wholesome—the same way horse stable smells.
“Can we get something to drink?” I say.
Janelle’s helmet is off. “I don’t usually take breaks on duty.”
“Make an exception,” I say, teeth chattering.
She picks up a very scuffed walkie-talkie from her belt and presses a button. “Una, I have a situation here…over.”
A smooth voice crackles back. “Is it a reason for concern? Are you in danger? Over.”
“Neg, but I…need to talk to someone. Going off-duty. Over.”
“Copy that. Do your thing. Over and out.”
Janelle looks back at me. Even over the com, her wife’s voice is cool and commanding. “All right. Let’s talk.”
She leads me through the Hub, the charms in the crossroads clattering against my head, and down the main road. Everything about the houses looks very cobbled-together; the doors sticking into the tunnel are colourfully painted, their rust pierced by small ornaments. Bits of metal, tile, and glass are cemented around the entrances, wedged right into the earth.
The tunnel widens, and we hit a larger, more open space. The bedrock we’re walking through has been opened by excavation machines, as I know, but the floor and walls have been smoothed by hundreds or thousands of passerby. Dug into one niche is a café. The Den.
Janelle leads me in. The sign with currency is hanging above the counter, and the welded-together-junk that serves as chairs and tables is as sparkling clean as rusty chrome can be. Steam and an iron stove puff behind the counter, and sardonic waitresses stop by the tables.
I order a tea, and it’s fungal and earthy. I shouldn’t be surprised—they don’t really have tea down here, as such; the stuff I am used to is a luxury.
Janelle is staring at me. “You’ve done well in the Crows,” I say warmly. I can’t help smiling like an idiot at her, but she scowls again.
“Who are you?”
“Let’s just say I knew your mother and I know your father. And…I know a lot of your friends.”
She shakes her head. “I would know you. I would have heard about you.”
“I don’t want to tell you my name. I do want to tell you…” What do I want to tell her? What the hell do you say to someone you made?
“First…I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I’ve done to you and for what I’m going to do to you in the future.”
She looks intently at me, leaning forward over her mug of chicory coffee and the chequered cloth. “What do you mean by that?”
“You’ve done really well for yourself,” I say. “I’m proud of you. You’ve done things I…well, I don’t know if I could. I didn’t expect you to be this intense, though.” I stir my tea. “Uh, look. I’m sorry for being cryptic, but if I tell you what happens, it will mess everything up. Just…know I’m proud of you and that you’re going to need every bit of your courage. Keep your friends close and…and don’t falter.”
She looks mildly alarmed, mostly annoyed. “I don’t really do mystical stuff. What are you talking about?”
“Your future,” I say. “The Dust. I know it seems like it’s over, but it’s not. And worse is coming.”
She snorts. “Anyone could say that.” She looks at me carefully. “But you’re not anyone, are you?”
I consider touching her hand for reassurance, but I am scared of waking. “Treasure the time you have with your loved ones. Keep an eye out for unrest.” I sweep a hand around, gesturing at the café, its ramshackle and cobbled-together décor of salvaged things. People around me are dressed in loose cotton clothes. Some of them have canes and are hobbling. From the corner of my eye, I see a medium-height Asian man walking in. He has a smile that could light up the room, and when it does. When he comes in, all eyes are on him. Janelle’s, too. She looks happy and excited.
I can’t bear it anymore, not when I see how happy she is. All of this, this wonderful stability, is in terrible danger. “Watch out for the—“
And that’s when I wake up. I’m lying in bed next to my partner. The cat is curled up at my feet. I sit up and pound the pillow with a fist. Why couldn’t I warn her? Perhaps it’s for the better, but I feel awful. Janelle has had some hard times along with the good, and her life is about to get much darker.
Read more about Janelle’s adventures in The Underlighters! And don’t miss Monsters and Fools, coming out in approximately 2014!
Nightmares are bleeding into her waking world. Children are going missing. To save them, she must overcome her wreck of a personal life and a closet full of skeletons. She doesn’t know if the horrors in the shadows are real…or if she is going mad.
18-year-old Janelle Cohen is an electrician in an underground city. The world above has been swal-lowed by mind-destroying Dust. Her small life changes forever when a dragon attacks her on the way home from work.
Her friends worry that she has the Fever, Dust-induced insanity. As more monsters strike down citizens, they change their minds. A terrifying trip to the surface of the world, the ancient and abandoned Up, deepens the nightmare. With no world left above, she and the other Crows cannot afford to fail…
5 stars: “…You will be rewarded with a dive into the depths of imagination that may leave you questioning, breathless and inspired.” –www.TracingTheStars.com
5 stars: “… Engaging, ground breaking prose that is not afraid to test the reader’s boundaries. “—Sara Celi 5 stars: “…A wonderful read that is full of life, nightmares, fear, and dreams.” –Casey Peeler
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Meet the Author
She was born in a smallish town in Southern Alberta and now lives in Calgary with her partner. When they’re not not saving the world from hipsters or riding their bear cavalry to work, we can be found on the internet or with our friends.Michelle is a published science fiction author with a love for talking about the end of the world, silver jewelry, nightmares, and chocolate. Michelle is also a full time editor who’s new business just launched a new website. Need an affordible editor? Follow the link below.
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All titles by Michelle Browne
The Underlighters by Michelle Browne
The Meaning Wars by Michelle Browne
The Love, The Lost, The Dreaming by Michelle Browne
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Ever wonder what happens if you were to break into your world build and sit down and have a beer with your main characters? I think I would love to have tea with Jane Eyre, or discuss the best way to take care of vampires with Jane Yellowstone…maybe having Susie Shotgun take me out for some Angels Tears…
Interested in being part of Cabin Goddess’ Fourth-Wall Friday? Sign up for a limited amount of spots open today. (Sign ups for July – December 2013). I have a few spots open for special events, such as book releases and tours. Contact me at [email protected] for more info. I hope everyone (authors and readers alike) takes time peruse the archives and find out just what other authors have done and enjoy a lot of amazing world builds! Or check out the PINTEREST board with every Fourth-Wall Friday pinned!
Allow yourself as an author to open up a new avenue of sharing your AUTHOR PERSONA & WORLD BUILD in a unique and creative fashion.. Just take a chance, write fluidly and from within that “place” you hangout at with your muse. Or perhaps walk in the door, tuck into a corner & watch your characters get into trouble before you take a chance and talk to them…