The Grey City XIII

Tuesday June 06, 2006 @ 02:04 PM (UTC)

The Grey City I
The Grey City II
The Grey City III
The Grey City IV
The Grey City V
The Grey City VI
The Grey City VII
The Grey City VIII
The Grey City IX
The Grey City X
The Grey City XI
The Grey City XII

Button Street was a narrow brown place with slight buildings leaning against each other like a drunken chorus line. Ragpickers yelled to and at each other in an odd trade patois which both girls felt they were one thought, one moment from comprehending. Dessicated old women sat outside, using the last daylight to piece together bits of many ruined shirts into one whole one.

Their brown fingers were pricked into roughness by the trade, and their milky eyes could barely see the tiny stitches they made by rote. Carys hoped she would never be such a crone, then shivered. As things stood now, she would need luck to reach such an age and station.

“It’s almost twilight, Carys,” Eirian said. “Will we reach Uncle Iestyn and Bopa Marged tonight?”

“I don’t know, Eirian. We must keep walking, and we shall see.”

“But the Spectre said—”

In-spector, sweetling—”

“The Inspector said we must be in a house tonight.”

“So he did, so we must hurry on, and hope to be in a house, or to remain unseen, either one.”

So Eirian marched after Carys, keeping her sulks to a minimum, as they walked from the poorest part of Button Street to the most affluent, and back into the only mildly squalid; from evening into twilight.

They turned on Orchard Street, which despite its name was quite urban, rows of expressionless, decaying storefronts; and Brewery, where great red brick buildings gaped at them with all the ghostliness of day-busy places seen by night.

For it was night, now. The girls walked quickly, the cold breeze clutching at their stained skirts and pulling at their heavy bags. But the wind carried more than discomfort. Carys stopped and held out a hand to stay her sister. “Footsteps,” she whispered, feeling fear rise around her like the fog from the River.

“They’re running,” mouthed Eirian.

“To be taken in if not properly housed by next evening.” “’Ouse where they works you.” “You’ll be moved on when the Runners come.” “Wermin!” The approaching footsteps bounced clearly off the high brick walls.

Carys suppressed a sob, and turned. They ran back down Brewery and turned onto Orchard, arms aching and knees battered by the suitcase and trunk.

“Carys!” cried Eirian, pointing. Ahead on their left, the grey buildings fell away, leaving a decrepit plank fence. Behind it, bare branches straggled up into the night sky. “An orchard!” she said, and surged towards an inviting gap in the boards.

“I am quite sure that wasn’t here,” Carys gasped, but followed. They pushed the trunk and carpetbag past protesting slats, and grubbed in after them themselves.

They stood at the edge of a vast orchard. Moon and starlight diffused throughout the clouds overhead, and drifted down to earth in a pale uniform glow. Ahead of them, the lines of trees diverged, straight and infinite. Eirian walked a bit to one side, and different lines opened up, just as long and unchanging. She shuddered.

Carys looked around. “Come back!” she hissed, and Eirian wandered back. “This orchard is a great deal larger than it looked, dear. We mustn’t lose this spot, for who knows where else the fence may let us through?”

This seemed like good sense, and the two girls excavated great armfuls of dead, crisp leaves, leaving a dark, bare stripe of loam which pointed to the gap in the fence. Now they were even grubbier than before. Sighing, Carys scrubbed a bit at Eirian’s little face, and retied the ’draggled ribbons of her bonnet. They had spare aprons in their luggage, but those could wait ’til morning, since sleeping in an orchard was unlikely to be a clean experience!

They walked a few feet into the trees, and sat down on the thickly fallen leaves. Around them, the grey trunks stood in ranks, silent save for the far-away clicks of branch upon branch in some unfelt wind.

“Carys? Isn’t it March?” said Eirian, staring at the web of twigs above.


“Shouldn’t the leaves be soil, and the boughs be in bud?”

Carys sighed. “We are a long way from home, dear. I scarcely know in which direction the sun sets here.” And the girls, nestling into each other’s arms on their crackling bed, shut their eyes and went to sleep.

Eirian dreamt that she was back on the Alcyone, belowdecks, lurched back and forth in the senseless tussle of the waves before she gained her sealegs (or, as she had called it, her ‘seahead’.) The black deckboards blurred and grabbed at her stocking feet; it was dark water and she was going to drown, pressed in by the blackness. She woke up to Carys’s screams. They were drowning, in a morass of dark, twining arms.

The Grey City XIV


I’m getting a bead feeling about this. Like I did while watching ‘The Thing from Another World’ and they put that vegetable guy inside the arctic station. Why not just keep it outside? But nooo, they had to drag it inside, where it was warm...

You have made me CHORTLE, but I fear I havena seen this ‘Thing’ from this other world. Is it a MST3k?

I must admint, I have no idea. I do know it’s a sci-fi classic, though.

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