A glimpse of Meridian and the City of Talos in which THE GODGAME takes place...
Saul, who has lived his entire life on the edge of the Copperton Forest--known for its strange and unusual wildlife--knows little about what stalks him. He knows only that it is dark, and powerful, and unnamable--and that it has stolen his nine-year-old son, Ezzy, from him.
Now he must travel into those ethereal woods, further upriver than he's ever gone, into a wondrous, yet surreal and nightmarish world unlike anything he's ever known, to recover his son from the shadows, if he can survive the journey...
"Shadow Animals is a nightmare journey into the realm of the fantastique. Deininger's surreal narrative is a live wire of suspense that crackles with tension. Who'd have thought the gates of hell were hidden in the New Mexican wilderness?"
~ Michael McBride, author of Burial Ground and Fearful Symmetry
"When I began reading Keith Deininger's new book, Shadow Animals, I thought, 'Wow, this reads a lot like Neil Gaiman.' By the time I was finished with the story I wondered if perhaps Neil took a trip into the ninth circle of hell and met Clive Barker there where, together, they spawned off the demon baby that is Shadow Animals."
~ Darkness Dwells
"Keith's writing and vivid descriptions keep you glued to the page. At times I had to wince, as they were so vivid!"
~ Wistfulskimmie's Book Reviews
"...a creative piece of work that I enjoyed and would recommend to fans of dark fantasy and horror. I am hoping that there will be more stories set in this world in the future, because this novella could be the bare bones of something truly wondrous."
~ Horror After Dark
"I have read four of [Deininger's] works, and continue to be impressed. This may be my favorite, but to be honest, I think I also said that after reading his others... this novella is gripping and very entertaining... Highly recommended."
~ Anthony Hains, author of Birth Offering and Dead Works
~ ONE ~
CITY OF TALOS
From endless storms to oceans vast, from arid wastes to the peak of this crimson mountain, his first glimpse came as the trolley shuddered upward and then, halting for a brief moment at the very top, plunged alarming down the other side. Yet even as his heart leapt into his throat, he could do nothing but stare through the cloudy window at what sprawled before him, filling every opening, every crevasse, every square of available space for as far as the eye could see…
The City of Talos.
It had been many days, yet each rise and fall of light might have been a year, a rebirth, an entire life lived in a series of awed gasps, and then darkness with the promise of new wonders on the morrow. For Eli Sol, who had only ever experienced the artificial lights of the Machine, each day the comet rose, filling the world with light and warmth, was a celebration.
He had fled blindly, a large part of him thinking he was as good as dead, doomed from the start—he would perish beneath the ceaseless rains of the Maelstrom. He had abandoned the safety of the Machine, of the world and the life he had always known, with only the vaguest of convictions and sense of duty. Outside of the Machine, there was nothing, they’d told him. The moldering letter from a distant ancestor, tucked in his breast pocket near his heart, provided his only instructions to the contrary. He carried a small pack slung over his shoulder containing a few scraps of clothing, some Machine-made energy cubes to sustain him, his threadbare copy of the LibroMachina, and the wooden box that had been passed down to him, from father to son for innumerable generations. The box was ornately carved, marked in a language he could not read. It held several strange items, including those long ago forbidden by his people. One of the items was an ancient weapon, a hand-held firearm, a “blunderblast” his father had called it, showing Eli its polished wooden grip when he’d been old enough.
“But the blunderblasts were banned by the Machine. They were all given to the furnace,” he’d said to his father, unable to tear his eyes from the dangerous weapon.
His father had smiled grimly. “A few were saved,” his father had said. “For the members of the Society of Saint Neil.”
“There are others?”
His father had looked away. “Yes, I believe so.”
“Who’s Saint Neil?”
“I don’t know.”
And that was all he could remember. His father, if he’d known more, having carried such knowledge to his death and to the furnaces of the Machine.
But there was another item in the box of far greater rarity and value than the blunderblast. It was smaller, its greatness less evident, easily missed among the other trinkets and clues: a tiny stub of paper, a ticket. It was to board the trolley that, according to the letter he carried, ferried travelers from the Machine to a place outside the Maelstrom.
And so he had fled the warmth of the Machine, almost certain his fate was to die alone and cold among the sharp and barren rocks beneath the unending torrent of rain from the Maelstrom above. If he did perish outside of the Machine, he knew, his body would be forever lost. Will my soul be able to return to the Machine? he wondered. Will the Machine still allow my essence to recycle without my physical body to go with it? He had only his ancient letter and box of archaic trinkets to guide him, these things and nothing left to lose. Except my soul, his mind insisted.
His family was gone, his daughter and his wife drowned, his friends killed when there had been a breach in the Machine’s foundation. In the depths where he worked, by the glow of the artificial lights, he had witnessed something that, after centuries of slow decay, had weakened and cracked, with a soft groan followed by a larger sound, an explosive scream of metal grinding against metal, exploding pipes, and then water that had gushed suddenly from deep below. He had been the only survivor.
He had awoken in the medical sector of the Machine. The doctors had told him sector nine was now completely beneath water. One of them, whispered out of earshot of the others, had also told him there were rumors of the water levels continuing to rise, slowly, but steadily.
He had been in shock for several days, stricken with grief. Only slowly had he remembered the ornately carved wooden box his father had given him and the letter that went with it. He had read it several times, dismissing its admonishments, expecting to dutifully pass it and the box on to his own son when he had one—or to Pia, his daughter, if he didn’t have a son—but he knew the letter mentioned something about “signs to look for” and “failings of the Machine.” It also said something about “The Flood.”
When he had recovered enough to return to his living quarters—lonely and sterile, which no longer possessed that feeling of home without his wife to lay her copy of the LibroMachina, which she’d been reading, down as he came through to door, to smile up at him from the couch—he had locked the door, slunk to the bedroom closet, and recovered the ancient box from its hiding place. He’d brought the box to the living room and stared at it. After a while, he’d carefully removed the letter from its envelope and opened it gingerly. It was soft like fabric, a burnt umber color. He’d read it by the glow of the light tubes that ran along the walls. When he was done, he’d read it again.
The Flood is coming…
And thus this suicide mission had begun. If his wife had been alive, or even one of his friends, he might have shared with her or him what he had been thinking of doing, but there had been no one. He could, of course, have gone to Father Etheridge—whose HaloMachina services were fierce preaching to the power and benevolence of the Machine—for advice, but then he would have had to admit to harboring contraband and the punishments for such crimes were severe.
He had, instead, left the Machine, his meager jacket instantly soaked beneath the rains of the Maelstrom that filled the sky with swirling eddies of gray. He had negotiated the treacherous rocks filled with crevasses eagerly opening before his stumbling feet, threatening to twist and snap the brittle bones in his ankles with every step. His progress had been slow and soon he’d been exhausted, but he’d forced himself onward. When he’d become too tired to continue, he’d hunkered down against the largest rock he could find, wrapped his arms tight about his shivering body, and passed into feverish sleep for an hour or two. Then he had eaten an energy cube, dragged his body up, and kept going.
At one point his feet had slipped out from under him and he’d fallen. He’d rolled onto his back and stared up into the rain. My end has come, he’d thought, just as he’d imagined it would, and he’d closed his eyes and intended not to rise again. But, sometime later, he had still been alive and found he still possessed some will to live. He’d risen, mustering himself, moving one foot forward, and then the other, and if he hadn’t, he never would have seen the wonders that were to fill the next several days.
Sometime later, just as his legs had begun to quiver uncontrollably, threatening to spill him to the rocks for the final time, he had come within sight of the trolley depot, a small building, its many windows shattered long ago. He’d realized then that a large part of him hadn’t believed he’d ever find it or that it had ever existed. He’d staggered into the depot, found a chair and passed into unconsciousness once again.
When he’d opened his eyes, the trolley had been pulled up to the station. He’d fumbled through his pack, unwrapping the wooden box from the plastic sheeting (made by the Machine) he’d used to protect it from the rain and, as if in a dream, watched his fingers sift through its contents. When he’d finally found the ticket, he’d rushed forward, afraid the trolley would leave without him. The door had been sealed shut, but there had been a thin slot much like those he’d seen in various places about the Machine. He’d slid the ticket carefully into the slot. There had been a shredding sound as the ticket was destroyed. His entire body had tensed as he waited. If he’d given the ticket to the wrong slot, there were no more in existence and he would have been left to die in that forlorn trolley station at the edge of the world.
But just as his heart had begun to sink, the door had begun to open, trundling aside reluctantly. He’d leapt through the opening. The door had shut behind him, and soon after the trolley had begun to move, slowly at first, and then faster and faster.
The next days he had spent gaping through the windows.
There wasn’t much to see in the trolley car, he’d soon come to realize. There were two rows of seats bolted to the floor with a narrow aisle between them. There were doors at either end of the car, but they were sealed shut. The walls were old metal, lined with round porthole windows of thick glass. Yet he was protected from the rain and the air was warm. There was little he could do other than to stare out one of the windows, but all he had been able to see at first was the Maelstrom, gray fog and rain. He’d closed his eyes and slept.
When he’d woken, what must have been several hours later, he had at first thought, I must be dreaming. He’d rubbed his eyes and stared. His mouth had fallen open, gawking.
Through the porthole window, outside of the train, he had seen light. It had been bright and shining unlike anything he’d ever experienced before, shimmering on the green surface of water that stretched infinitely into the distance.
He had spent the next several days unable to look away. The trolley had taken him skimming across the surface of an ocean mesmerizingly green and then a deep lapis, the sky a lighter shade of blue above, with only thin wisps of cloud to mar its surface. Then there had been land alive with greenery like he’d only ever seen in printed illustrations in books. He’d seen some sort of animal watching the trolley fly by with eyes huge and yellow. Then all around had been flat, green giving way to yellow grass that wavered in the breeze, and then to barren dirt pocked with craters. He’d seen bubbling pools of a substance thick and black, and strange-looking plants with needles growing from them. He’d seen slicks alive with flame and several odd creatures, one with a long snout and skin covered in protective scales; another with its body surrounded by a ponderous shell, dragging itself through the sand with claws that protruded from gaps at its sides. Days had passed and he’d forgotten his weariness; he’d forgotten to eat. Then the arid landscape had fallen behind and there had been another ocean and then mountains, the trolley climbing steadily upward.
The mountains had resembled the jagged rocks that surrounded the Machine, but unlike those rocks, these were covered in giant, leafless trees that crawled through their crevasses, clinging vermillion branches like constricting snakes. For endless hours, his sight through the cloudy porthole window had been filled only with these growths, with this singular flush of color, leaving his eyes strained and dry, as if they had begun to rust, forcing him to blink and look away.
And then the trolley had reached the apex of the mountain and every wonder he’d seen previously on his journey seemed to lose significance: he had reached his destination...
At the beginning of his journey, as he had climbed to the top of a small outcropping of rock just outside of the place he had always known as home, he had taken one last look back. He had gazed upon the Machine, built among the mountains. It was a towering compound, chamber built upon chamber, snaking interconnected corridors and observation domes. It stood massively, as it had always stood, its squealing gears grinding on and on, hissing steam, furnaces boiling, molten bubbling metals forged into all manner of strange objects, their purposes long forgotten. From the outside, it was an impressive sight, awe-inspiring, easily deified.
Yet now, as Eli stared through the trolley’s tiny window at the City, whose existence he had only a few days before thought impossible, he could not help but to think that if the divine engineers who had raised the Machine had one day focused all their ambitions on this sprawling valley, and for countless centuries thereafter worked tirelessly carving alcoves and building walls as the groundwork for these thousands of humble houses, gabled towers and ornate mansions—and if, after having erected a great pyramid of ascending steps whose peak rose higher than even the tallest of the Machine’s jutting pipework, they had built space for gardens and aviaries and astrological towers—then their efforts, once filled to overflowing with millions of scrambling citizens, might have approached the majesty and complexity of Talos.
The trolley caromed and shuddered along the track beneath his feet as Eli took in the immensity. Talos blanketed the landscape as far as the eye could see, rising in tangled heaps. It was an amazing sight. Everywhere a disorder of styles, structures on top of structures, accumulated ruins repurposed again and again, tier upon tier, angular platforms, precarious stairways, and towers of haphazardly stacked blocks. Everything covered in grime. If there was one distinguishing feature that defined Talos, it was its walls, parallel and perpendicular, some high and some low, some lined with spikes and others with twisting curls of razor wire, giving the City a labyrinthine quality. The hovels at the base of the gargantuan pyramid at the center of the City clung feebly to the outer walls like fungus from the earth. Further inward, the buildings became increasingly elaborate, yet always scuffed and worn-looking, from gated corridors lined with fine mansions, to domed structures, to groves of marble pillars, and then on to the highest peak, stairs that came to an apex upon which there appeared to grow a lush garden. Yet the pyramid was only a small section of Talos, the rest of the city and the geometry of its walls spreading like a purple and parasitic blight over the land, so that the actual center of the City must lie well beyond the base of the pyramid.
Despite its grim homogeny, however, Eli found the city of Talos a wondrous sight, its grunge eclipsed by its vibrancy of light. If people could worship the Machine as it clanked on and on beneath the relentless rains of the Maelstrom, he reasoned, surely they must also deify Talos beneath the light of the comet that blazed in the sky above.
He had arrived. The ancient letter he carried in his breast pocket had not lied to him. This was the place where he was supposed to go. Somewhere, on one of those narrow streets, in one of those structures, he would find the man to whom he must deliver his message: The Flood is coming…
He had only his blunderblast, the wooden box with the trinkets it contained, and the name of the man he must find: Marrow.
Nominate THE GODGAME on Kindle Scout to receive an early free copy when it is selected for publication.
Nominate THE GODGAME on Kindle Scout to receive an early free copy when it is selected for publication.
This is my dark vision, the beginning of a series of books filled with enigmatic technology, ancient wonders, and realistic characters. For years I have been collecting notes and ideas and, finally, I have something to share with the world. I have submitted this first book, THE GODGAME, to the Kindle Scout program. If you would like to see it published, please nominate it on this site. All you need is an Amazon account and then when the book is selected for publication you will receive a free Kindle copy.
Nominate THE GODGAME on Kindle Scout. And thank you!
And everywhere books. Along every wall, stacked in every crevasse—some moldering and old, others still glossy and never-read—on shelves above deck and below, in massive piles by Marrow’s totem head engine and in every cabinet and cupboard, their titles and subjects as varied as their origins. Marrow’s Aerial held perhaps the single most extensive collection of books in all of Meridian, more so than even the famed Library of Halencia had kept in its day, far more titles than any person could hope to read in a single sapien lifetime. How many could even Marrow, in his immortality, have read? A lover of books could easily become lost among the multitudes, stumbling about, unsure of where to start, until finally collapsing, exhausted, lifting a tome at random, to begin a futile journey, an exploration doomed from the start. Doomed as every book on the ship was doomed, several titles fed daily into the maw of the totem head, fed to the furnace, burned in the engine that powered the ship and its countless machinations, and perhaps Marrow himself.
You've made it this far,
why not further?
Come along now,
come and see.
NUNTIUS EX MACHINA
(MESSAGE FROM THE MACHINE)
At the center of Meridian, consumed by the unending rains and murky grayness of the Maelstrom, a vast compound of spires and interconnecting tunnels, of vents belching steam and domes blurred by sluicing water, of massive girders and gears, it continued to stand, as it had for countless generations: the Machine. Within, metal ground relentlessly against metal, ironworks clanked and hissed—oily smoke and tar—its machinations maintained by its citizens, who worshiped its power and its strength without question or understanding of its true purpose or origin. The Machine created and the Machine destroyed. There was nothing but the Machine.
Immense halls and endless corridors circled and turned in labyrinthine patterns, coming round and through row upon row of cramped living units, then upon tunnels of odd, multicolored lights—sometimes coming to abrupt dead ends with seemingly no purpose, or spiraling downward before opening into spaces dark and dank and abandoned—plunging into huge factories where machines with mechanical arms toiled to construct and paint, conveyor belts hummed, glass was blown into various shapes, things spun and twirled and flew. And in each sector, no matter its purpose, a common room in which people gathered for meetings and discussions and, most importantly, HaloMachina, weekly services in which the Machine was celebrated and worshiped, the largest being the cathedral in sector one, deep within the Machine, at its very center, in which a strange device long thought to be no longer functioning began to blink and ring, having been silent and still for innumerable generations…
* * *
Bill Trident noticed it first while sweeping the floors. He stopped what he was doing and walked over to it. The light was a greasy yellow, blinking slowly, as if with a great effort, but the ringing coming from the mesh set into the wall behind the podium, beneath the great window of colorful glass depicting David the Enlightened, was shrill and insistent. Bill blinked at it and ground his teeth, as was his habit when faced with a situation in which he wasn’t sure what he should do. He propped his broom against the wall and reached his hand out. The device vibrated as it rung. He lifted it with a click and the ringing stopped. It remained attached by a wire to the wall. Bill waited a moment, then, when nothing happened, he placed the device back into place and shrugged. He picked up his broom and was just about to continue his duties when the ringing began again. Bill dropped his broom and ran to fetch Father Bodum.
Father Bodum lived at the end of a long hallway, an offshoot of the cathedral, windowless, terminating in a single round door, like the entrance to a vault, although it secured only modest living quarters. Bill rapped his knuckles on the metal, then, when he remembered the buzzer, pushed it once and then again and again.
After a minute or two, Bill could hear the lock being drawn and the door swung inward. “What?” Father Bodum said, stepping into the opening, looking strange, to Bill, in his civilian clothing.
“What is it, Bill?” Father Bodum said, a greenish light blinking from within his chambers.
“There’s, ah, something making noise.”
Father Bodum brought his hands up and put his fingers together so that they mirrored each other. “Yes. The Machine works in mysterious ways. Now, please let me be.” He began to swing the door shut.
“Ringing,” Bill said. “It’s ringing!”
Father Bodum sighed, holding the door. “What’s ringing?”
“Something by your podium, beneath the window.”
“There’s something ringing beneath the window? Beneath David’s Trial?”
Bill nodded his head vigorously. “Yeah, that’s right.”
Father Bodum held up his hands in surrender. “Fine,” he said, stepping out into the hallway and pulling the door shut. “Show me.”
* * *
Father Bodum bent to examine the device more closely. He squinted at the blinking yellow light. He reached for it, then drew his hand back. “Did you touch it?”
“No,” Bill said, shaking his head. “No way.”
Father Bodum sighed. “Good. It is a sign from the Machine.” He closed his fingers around the device and lifted.
The ringing ceased.
Bill looked on, eyes wide.
Father Bodum dropped to his knees and held the device up before him. “Let us pray,” he said. “Hallowed Machine, protector and provider…” He stopped and scowled at Bill.
“Oh,” Bill said, taking his knees beside Father Bodum.
“Sacred Machine, guardian in which we live, we thank you for this sign. It is by your machinations we are gladdened.” Father Bodum brought the device up to his face and kissed it lightly. “Amen.” He stood and prepared to replace it on the wall.
Hello? Anyone there?
Both Bill and Father Bodum jumped, startled.
“What?” Bill asked. “Who’s that?”
Father Bodum held up his hand for Bill to be quiet. He glanced upward at the window, at the depiction of the prophet in glass. The voice was coming from the mesh in the wall. “David? Is this David?” he asked. “This is Father Bodum.”
I must speak with Eli Sol, the voice said.
Father Bodum looked at Bill, who shrugged and shook his head. “There is no Eli here,” he said. “What may we do for you?”
Get me Eli Sol.
Father Bodum placed the device back into its cradle. “Stay here,” he said to Bill. “Do not touch it or let anyone near.”
“But where are you going?” Bill asked.
“I must seek the advice of others,” he said.
The device, once more, began to ring.
* * *
“It’s been ringing like this all night?” Gregor asked, the head engineer for sector one.
“Yes,” Father Bodum said, “unless you lift it up and then a voice asks for Eli Sol.”
“Eli Sol? Who’s that?”
Father Bodum lifted his hands and shook his head.
Gregor stared at the device. “Should I lift it up then?”
Father Bodum made a sound of exasperation. “You’re the engineer. You tell me.”
“We’ll wait for my team,” Gregor said.
They came minutes later, Gregor’s team of machinists. There were five of them, looking sleepy, their gray jumpsuits dishevelled. “What’s that, boss?” the one known as Henry asked.
“We don’t know,” Gregor answered. “We’re trying to figure that out. Any ideas?”
The machinists, three men and two women, leaned forward. When Henry began slowly to reach his hand out, Father Bodum said, “Stop that! This is a sacred place.”
Gregor sighed. “What would you like them to do?”
“I would like you to tell me what you think I should do about it,” Father Bodum said.
“Why don’t you go ahead then,” Gregor said, motioning Father Bodum forward.
Father Bodum stepped up between the huddled machinists and lifted the device from its cradle. “David? Are you there?”
Hello? Eli? Eli Sol?
Gregor and his team stared at the wall from where the voice was coming.
“Well?” Father Bodum said. “What’s next?”
Is Eli there? May I speak with Eli?
“I think we should find this Eli person.”
It was Father Bodum’s turn to sigh. He scowled and looked at the clueless faces before him. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, let’s do that.”
They washed him, shaved his face, trimmed his hair. They gave him clothes, cream colored shirts and pants, and a robe the “color of midnight” with a star bursting from the end of a quill embroidered on its front. No one asked him any questions, and his own were ignored or met with dismissive grunts. He was taken through corridors and into various chambers and told to wait, once with a young man dressed as he was and looking just as bewildered, but his name was called before he had a chance to talk with the young man and he was taken down another hallway, this one opening, its walls festooned with paintings of all different styles, some that appeared very old. One that caught his eye was a portrait of a man in a white suit of armor, holding a bulbous helmet by his side, the luminous moon filling the background behind him. But he only caught a glimpse, and then his feet were treading carpet the same color as his robe and he was brought before the largest woman he had ever seen, filling an entire couch like a chair, a plump and effeminate man standing by her side, a visible pistol at his belt, whispering conspiracies to the woman, who laughed uproariously through a mouthful of food.
--from work in progress, THE BLOOD OF TALOS, The Godgame, book II