Below is an excerpt from a novelization of Sevara that I am experimenting with. Please let me know your thoughts…
by Damian George Wampler
“Let the Humilitorium begin!” cried an eerie voice. Sevara couldn’t make out which one of her sisters had made it. And the sinister ring to it made her hair stand on end. Then she felt the prickly needles of an old broomstick jab into her right side. She stumbled and spun, subconsciously reaching up to her face to take off the blindfold.
“No peaking Sevara.” another called out. Laughter echoed off the cold walls, making it impossible for her to know which way the voices had come from. She put both hands up tentatively, and began a nimble step forward. A pain shot through her nose and front teeth. She covered her mouth with both hands now, squeezing her eyes shut so tight that tears came.
“Come on, you can do it,” shrieked another girl, and laughter again washed over the long hall. A broomstick pole in the spine prodded Sevara forward, towards what she didn’t know. On her next step, something bit her left inner thigh, gently at first and then with such a force she jerked her leg into the bent position. Her leg was wet, and knew it was probably an ice cube the girls had made in the freezer. She felt it on her other leg, now vulnerable, and she opened her moth wide to gasp for air. Someone stuffed something inside.
A dozen girls cried out laughing A burning sensation began to wash over her face, and the rubbery substance froze her jaw. Huffing through her nose, furious, she tried to spit out the goo. The taste intensified, numbing her cheeks, until she recognized the overwhelming flavor of pinkberry fizz, she most sugar loaded of all marshmallow cakes sold in Plexus. Except they must have stuffed half a dozen in her mouth. She was forced to chew them up and let the gum slowly dissolve in her mouth.
She felt another broom on her shoulder, and another on her calf. Then a feather tickler her ear, making her head jerk away. Chewing, hopping and convulsing, she made her way through darkness, surrounded by hoots and hollers of her future dorm mates. Moist hands grabbed her shoulders. Fingers tore at the knot at the back of her head. As the blindfold came off and she squinted and looked at the floor. All she could see were the pinpoints of a hundred candle flames set on a white wall, and the feet of a figure in a white robe. As her eyes adjusted to the light, the figure came into view, and then more, and then more. Each wore a white robe and a deer skull mask, each held a book, and in unison began to shriek and wail. Sevara tried to look away, but a hand forced her head to turn look straight ahead at the centermost tormentor.
“It is time for you to choose the rope or the spike!” And with a sweep of its arm, Sevara was pushed into the center of a ring of candles. There stood a single wobbly cafeteria chair, the kind she had been sitting in for the last fourteen years. Sharp fingered hands pushed her on top until she was standing, knees shaking, hands clasping her own sides. Then a hairy ball, about the size and texture of a coconut, hit her in the back. The force pushed the air out of her lung and her body seized up. The chair teetered, and the witches laughed. Sevara tipped forward about to fall, and finally saw what was below her on the floor – a wooden coffin, filled with glinting metal spikes. Each spike pointed up, waiting patiently. Sevara’s arms flailed. A dozen hands gripped her legs, some keeping her up, some pushing her into the coffin, some pinching her, some tickling the backs of her knees.
She stayed on the chair only by twisting her torso and grabbing the thing which had hit her. A giant knot of rope dangled from the ceiling, and below the know a loop just large enough for her head. A noose. All fell silent now. The lead witch bellowed again. “Now Sevara, choose how you’d like to die. The rope or the spike.”
There wasn’t much time. Fingernails began to rake her legs, and a pole was shoved into the backs of her knees. She tried to hold onto the rope but more hands kept them pinned down. “That’s for your neck you fool,” a voice shot out, and Sevara felt her body get heavier and heavier. In horror, she watched the spikes grow larger and larger. Unable to move, she closed her eyes as the brittle chair when skittering away from under her legs. She tensed all her muscles, knowing that the heat of the steel would only hurt for a moment before she died.
It was the creaking of the bed rib beams that she recognized instantly. After sleeping on the same bed for fourteen years, you know the sound, you know the hardness of the padding, you even know the smell. Even as she crashed into them, she knew she had fallen onto three, maybe four of the slim youth beds mattresses. How she hadn’t been killed by the spikes she didn’t know until she opened her eyes and felt one pressed against her face – tissue paper, nothing more than tissue paper sprayed with a metallic paint. Surrounded by flying feathers, Sevara sat up and looked around. The hall lights were on and the A building girls were all around her, clapping loudly. A paper kings crown was placed on her head while four girls formed their arms into a seat and carried her down off the mountain of mattresses. The robes and skulls and candles were gone, as were the noose and chair and then even the mattresses.
“You were wonderful,” said Zukan, “I was a terrible mess during my initiation, I peed my pants!” The girls hugged Sevara more warmly than she’d ever been hugged before. “Here, wash your mouth out with this,” said another girl, and Sevara felt a mug of warm plum milk pushed into her fingers. She took a sip, and the bitterness helped wash away the sugar in her teeth. A third girl wrapped a warm blanket over her shoulders, and they all walked together out of the sleeping hall and into the recreational lounge.
“Welcome to A building,” said Orly, probably the one who had been the – “yes I was the nasty witch there at the end, sorry about that but my you should have seen your face when you went off the chair!” And they all laughed together, even Sevara.
As the girls of A building guided Sevara to several other rooms, she relaxed her shoulders and began to look around. The high plaster ceilings made the old structure more majestic than it deserved to be, and the opaque windows let in ample light without actually letting you see outside. The girls had done there best to liven the space with personal touches – a painting here, a cloth decoration there. Sevara smiled as they led her into one of the sleeping rooms.
“This is your new home, your last home in 126. you’ll bunk here with five other girls, it’s a bit crowded but we gave you the good mattress,” said Orly. “And remember, from now on you only have to listen to Betty and the Curator, the other custodians don’t have any say anymore now that you’re here so just ignore them.” Sevara smiled and ran her fingertips over the fabric of her mattress. “Welcome to A building, Orphanage 126, Sector D, Zone 7, the city of Plexus, Continental Center, Earth, 3,914 years after the End of the Common Era.
Sevara placed her small backpack on top of the bed. “Is that all you’ve brought?” another girl said. Sevara didn’t know all of their names, since the A group didn’t mix with the younger kids.
“Are you reading something?” she said, plucking a small book out of Sevara’s pack.
“I’m not reading anything, I mean, I’m reading something, but not this, something else, this is my diary.”
“Hide it, or else the Curator will peek at it while you’re at school.”
The lights began to dim, and all the girls slid into their beds. Sevara took her night gown from her pack and used one foot to slip off her other shoe.
“Just slip it on top of your clothes.” Someone whispered. Sevara looked around. All five other girls were in their beds, eyes screwed shut. “Just do it, quickly.”
Sevara did as she was told, pulling the gown over her head and down to her capri orderlies. Heavy footfalls echoed through the main hall. Sevara recognized the sound of ivory heels chirping against the hardwood floors. The woman checking to make sure the girls were asleep would surely awaken every last one of them. Regardless, Sevara and the others huddled under their bedding until the beast was gone.
“OK, all clear,” said Orly, and the whole mass of A building slid from their rooms and out into the main hall.
“What’s going on?”
“We’re going into town of course,” said Zukan, “take off those silly pajamas.”
Sevara’s gown got caught on her clothes, and she wrestled it over her head with a grunt. When she looked up, the others had disappeared. She stared into the abyss of the long hall.
“This way quick, or we’ll miss our balloon.”
Sevara followed the voice from straight in front of her, but in a few steps she was lost. She could see nothing. She put her hands in front of her, but felt nothing.
She took three more steps, expecting to smash into the plaster wall at any time. Then a hand grabbed her ankle.
“Down here you silly fool, its just a hatch. We’re fresh out of magic doors.”
The other girls laughed. Sevara bent her back to twist into the tiny crawlspace. A few girls guided her into a large wicker basket, the size of a massive chest, large enough for this last group of eight girls to curl up in. A rope came through a whole in one end and out the other side.
“Pull,” they said in unison, and all hands were on the rope pulling. The basket lurched forward, humming down a narrow tunnel. Ahead, another basket rumbled along. Sevara grabbed the rough hemp, but it slid out through the exit whole, slamming her hand against the basket wall.
“Careful for rope burn, grip it tight, pull fast, and let go quick.” That was Tanner, she seemed to be the most helpful of all of the girls so far. Sevara tried again, waiting for a free space far enough ahead to get a good grip. This time she got a good pull, and could feel the basket accelerate. The whole rig shook as the got up speed.
“Ready the hooks,” someone said, and Sevara felt an arm reach past her and move a metal bar into place. The raced out of the whole into an open space, and just above them Sevara could make out the shape of a massive balloon moving at about the same speed. The huge whale sparkled in the moonlit sky, close enough almost to touch.
“Gotcha!” said Tanner, and Sevara let go of the side of he basket instinctively. The vibration was gone. They were flying.
Sevara got to her knees and peered over the edge. The whole city of Praxis lay below them. A half a dozen other baskets swung under different parts of the balloon, and Sevara could make out Zukan and Orly in one of them.
“Is this your first time up in one of these things?” Tanner asked. Sevara nodded. She swung her head to the other side, then up to the balloon itself. It had a pointed nose, small wings and a fishlike tail. A complex assembly attached to the side of the craft that extended miles and miles towards the center of the city. Other spokes came out of the city’s central hub, with other balloons attached to them, and they all circled around like a giant carousel. Some circled in a clockwise direction and dipped down to the earth, while others circled counterclockwise and flew up to avoid the clockwise ones. From each balloon, lines when down to the ground and back up again. Tiny baskets zipped up and down some of the lines. Men rode on top of cars and trolleys and hooked onto the ropes to power their vehicles, seeming to swinging from rope to rope like a chimpanzee in the jungle while their carts stayed firmly on the ground.
“It’s my first time outside of the orphanage.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll be back in time for breakfast. We simply have to show you something since it is your birthday.”
Below them, dozens of smokestack vomited black fog, gas lamps illuminated a web of streets, and steam powered gondolas navigated the murky canals. The network of wires, riggings, canals and streets all met at the city’s center, a massive hourglass shaped building that spun slowly on a giant base. Its long fingers spread out over the neighborhoods like an umbrella.
Even from up above, Sevara saw the devastation from the war between Plexus and her aligning states and Bangun and its confederates. The city was pockmarked with craters, while some factories and warehouses had holes in the sides or caved in roofs. The direct war ended almost a decade ago, but was still ongoing in the proxy states on the fringe of the empire. The custodians chattered incessantly when a Bangun war criminal was found and publicly executed, or when a Plexian mother brought the body of her dead daughter to the steps of the mayors office, pleading for Bangun to be brought to justice. The girls circled the city once complete rotation and came back to the other side of the orphanage.
“This is our stop!” Orly’s voice echoed, and Sevara looked ahead. Each basket was plucked from the balloon by a scoop like arm that pinched the metal bar that supported them. Now the descended on a vertical conveyor belt that took them to street level. It took all eight girls to stash the baskets in the trolley bin, but Sevara just watched as her team folded the sides and locked the bar hook in a complex maneuver she thought she’d never be able to master. Then, the made their way back to their secret door in the field on the other side of the complex and crawled back to their dormitory.