Shriek: An Afterword–Alternate Start to the War

A report by Janice Shriek that never made the final draft. It just didn’t fit and the emphasis was wrong. Just because there’s a possible dramatic moment doesn’t mean it adds drama. There was also something odd about using words like “receptionist” in the context of the novel. And using this approach to open Part 2 would have been too immediate. In sectioning off a novel into two halves, it gives you the opportunity to draw back and provide some perspective–thus I drew back to Janice thinking back to a recent interview a young reporter had done with her about the war, which allows her to immediately go into an account of the doomed opera–something that although slower to develop has a higher interest level overall.

Jeff

VERIFYING AN ACT OF WAR
By D.J. Shriek

On a clear, crisp morning three days ago, Christopher Severe walked into the lobby of the Voss Bender Memorial Mental Hospital, near the docks. It was a busy day at the hospital; the halls were full of doctors, patients, and visitors.

Severe smiled at the receptionist, sat down in the chairs opposite her station, and pulled what looked like a small red apple out of his pocket. The receptionist remembers that he winked at her. Severe is about five-foot ten, has blue eyes, and brown hair. In all ways, the receptionist recalls him as “unexceptional.”

With a practiced ease, Severe set the “apple” down on the ground next to his chair. He then straightened up, gave a quick glance round, and stood. Calmly, without a backward glance, Severe walked out of the hospital.

The receptionist remembers staring at the apple, staring at Severe’s retreating back. She decided that he must be coming back. Three relatives of patients and two discharges then took her attention for the next several minutes. Approximately twelve minutes later, she remembered the apple. Severe had not returned. The apple still lay beside the chair. A tiny old lady now sat in the chair next to the apple.

The receptionist, a woman named Rebecca Gransvoort, noticed something odd about the apple. It could have just been the light, or the presence of the tiny old woman, but the apple seemed bigger. The red had become tinged with green. An admittance then distracted her for another fifteen minutes, or she might have investigated at that moment. No one can blame Rebecca. She thought it was an apple—and no one else in the lobby, not even the security guards, had noticed it.

When Rebecca did finally look at the apple again, it had turned completely green and become as large as a balloon. The old lady had disappeared. A child stared at the apple speculatively, but then followed his moth into another room. Rebecca stared at the apple for more than a minute, trying to understand what it meant. She noticed a strange smell. Cinnamon mixed with rotting flesh? Rotting flesh mixed with sandalwood? She could not tell whether it came from the hospital or from the apple.

As she stared, not sure what to do, the apple moved. It wobbled, spun, and settled down again. The smell grew stronger. She could hear a kind of droning whine. Several passersby, including a doctor, stopped to gather around the “apple”. This movement obscured Rebecca’s view of what happened next.

Whatever did happen next, it scared the onlookers, because they drew back. The sound got louder—much louder. It was a kind of singing, a kind of song. High-pitched. Screeching. But whatever had alarmed the crowd must have subsided, because the doctor and the others took a step toward the “apple,” which, from the quick glimpse Rebecca got of it, now resembled a huge, green, furry melon.

The song became a hum, which became a roar. The smell broke over Rebecca in two consecutive waves, making her nauseous. The people surrounding the object underwent a horrible transformation.

As Rebecca watched, they turned brittle, as if all the water had been sucked out of them. Rigid, they struck poses, fell, and crumbled into dry pieces on the floor. Simultaneously, the “apple” exploded, driving wedges of itself into the floor, the walls, the ceiling. This occurred with great velocity, and anyone who had not already died suffered terrible wounds as the wedges cut through them. Rebecca escaped injury by ducking down behind the check-in counter.

When she stood up again—to a scene of chaos, with survivors wounded and screaming, many knocked to the floor by the blast—she had difficulty believing what she saw. Wherever the wedges had struck part of the building, deep emerald green veins had begun to appear: fissures of fungi, that, like limbless muscles, pushed their way into the stone. The smell had been transformed, from rotted flesh to thick perfume. It made Rebecca sneeze. It covered the entire corridor in a purple haze.

Rebecca remembers that, although afraid, “it was also mesmerizing.” She just watched as the veins of fungi spread across the walls and ceiling, as the stone began to crack from the strain, and then fall, each crack seeming to encourage the fungi: the speed of colonization increased with each new victory.

When chunks of stone began to fall, crushing some of the wounded, Rebecca, like many others, ran—and didn’t stop running until she was far away from the building.

Less than an hour later, the Voss Bender Memorial Mental Hospital collapsed into tiny pieces, burying anyone still left inside, including members of the Ambergris Volunteer Fire Department who had come to the rescue. Less than an hour after that, the process was complete: an entire city block had been reduced to a fine rubble, to stones no larger than a child’s marbles, interspersed with the now dying green fuzz of the fungi.

Rebecca remembers the shock of onlookers more than the carnage she witnessed inside the hospital. “People just kept looking at the spot and looking away and kind of pacing back and forth in front of it, as if they just couldn’t believe it.”

Many of the city’s finest creative minds, booked into the hospital on a strictly voluntary basis, died in the collapse.

And, although many people at the time had no idea what had happened, or how, a few facts have since been revealed to this reporter.

Christopher Severe has been identified as an agent of Frankwrithe & Lewden, acting on F&L orders. The “apple” Severe carried was a fungal structure bomb bought by F&L from some element within the gray caps. F&L targeted the hospital because Hoegbotton & Sons owned the building. The attack was therefore the first hostile act within Ambergris proper in what has since become known as the War of the Houses.

How Frankwrithe & Lewden reached an agreement with the gray caps remains unknown to this reporter.

On a more personal note, Rebecca Gransvoort does not know if she will ever recover mentally from what she saw that day.

Comments

  1. says

    Interesting how a piece of writing, perfectly fine on its own, can detract from the purpose and effect of the larger piece that’s supposed to contain it. Most of us don’t usually work on a scale where this can become an issue, but even so I know how hard it is to cut something you’ve written well. Kill all your darlings.

    I like this: “A child stared at the apple speculatively, but then followed his moth into another room.” Was it on a leash, maybe? And which one is the pet? An extra element of unintentional surreality.

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