I have never posted fiction on my blog before, partly because I prefer to seek paid markets for my work, and more probably in large part due to my obsessive perfectionism that prevents me from ever finishing anything (discussed here).
As part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, however, I have decided I will post two short stories, written specifically for the challenge, to be broken in to 2 – 4 posts to keep them short. The demanding timeline of the Challenge has forced me to leave off my perfectionism for once, so these stories are effectively in first draft format, with perhaps the benefit of one or two quick edits by myself only.
To kick off the event, today I’ll be sharing the first quarter of the first story. The remainder of this piece of fiction will be shared on this blog on April 5, 8 and 11, so keep a sharp eye out if you want to know what happens next!
A siren screeched in the bowels of the prison. Colonel Drada furrowed his aching forehead against the sound. The prison guard escorting him looked to the steel door, a few yards ahead, and back towards the stairs spiralling down into the dungeon depths.
‘You can find your way out, sir? I really should…’ The guard glanced towards the stairs again and shuffled his feet.
Drada flicked thick-knuckled fingers. ‘Go, man. The door’s right there and I’ve been this way dozens of times. I’m sure I’ll be fine.’
The guard snapped off a hasty salute and disappeared into the dank recesses of the dungeon. The flames of the sparse torches flickered in the breeze of his passing.
The siren screeched unabated in the distance. Drada combed fingers through greying black hair and stepped towards the door.
‘Psst!’ A hand beckoned from a door to his left, cracked barely wide enough to reveal a bloodshot blue eye. The crack widened, exposing a hooked nose and creased face.
Drada hesitated. One finger flicked the gold braid on the opposite sleeve. Noticing, he forced both hands to his sides, jerking the jacket of his uniform straight and squaring his shoulders militantly. ‘Gan? Sergeant Gan?’
‘Shhh! Don’t be telling everyone I’m here.’
‘I haven’t seen you in months.’
‘We’re not allowed to see anyone.’ The eye rolled wildly in each direction.
Drada glanced up and down the hall; there was no one to see. ‘Not allowed?’ Drawn on by fascination, he drifted closer to the door and its eye. ‘By whom? What’s the siren?’
Gan swung the door open wider. He wore chain mail over the prison guard uniform, but no weapon hung from his belt. ‘Keep your voice down. It’s the escaped prisoner alert.’ The sergeant waved his hands as Drada reached for his sword. ‘There’s no escaped prisoner. I set it off to get you alone.’ He pulled Drada through the door, ignoring the colonel’s raised eyebrows. Closing the door, he leaned against the wood, barrel chest rising and falling rapidly. In another man, Drada would have said it was panic, but Gan didn’t panic. Drada looked closer. Gan’s skin was grey with exhaustion, his hair lank and tangled; more white now than iron-grey. He had aged years in the months since Drada saw him last.
‘What’s going on?’ Drada’s voice firmed, the voice of a colonel expecting an answer and no longer that of a man talking to a long-absent friend. In the distance, the siren cut off mid-shriek. Drada shivered in the sudden, ominous silence.
‘People are disappearing. Prisoners, mostly. Some guards. The ones who ask the wrong questions.’ Gan’s blue eyes flickered left, right, and left again. They were in a long, unlit service tunnel. Dust and debris littered the floor. It was dark, except for a solitary candle fixed in a puddle of melted wax on the floor. ‘Amlay. Sawsey. Randlin.’ He rattled off a list of prisoners, some Drada knew, some he didn’t.
‘Sawsey was transferred. I signed the papers myself.’
‘Of course, there has to be a legitimate reason for absent prisoners. But he didn’t get on the wagon; I was there. There’ll be an ‘accident’ en route to the new prison, a body provided, and he’ll be marked down as dead on arrival. He might be dead, but it weren’t en route.’
Drada’s mouth worked but no words came. Gan was a stalwart soldier, a man formerly of his own command, reliable to a fault, but this… If it was true, it must encompass a huge number of people, not only here, but on the transport wagons, in other cities… too many to tally. ‘This is a lot to take in.’
‘You have to believe me!’ Gan thrust his face into Drada’s, his breath hot on the colonel’s skin. ‘I can show you. I know where the prisoners go. I know what they do with them.’ A shudder wracked his big frame, and a haunted look flashed through his eyes. ‘I wish to the gods I didn’t.’
You can find other A to Z participants here. Tomorrow is the letter ‘B’ post, and don’t miss the next installment in Drada’s story here.
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