The Preliminaries

The Preliminaries

A Chapter by Domenic Luciani

             I slammed my tray down on the black obsidian table in front of me. The large square room was dimly lit with torches whose fire glanced ominously about strange medieval-looking weapons and walls that made out of roughly cut stone blocks. There was no door in this room, no way out.

            There were a few other tables of equal size in the dark room; all occupied with children around my age and all with frightened looks on their faces. They all seemed to know why we were here, but I didn’t.

             On my tray, there was a sad piece of bread that looked like it was more mold than anything. I looked down at it disgustedly, then took a quick glance around the room for someone who might have a few answers. I saw a boy on the far side of the long table from me, looking at his equally moldy bread with the same expression I had.

            As I approached, the dark haired boy looked up. He wore the same ragged, dirt encrusted clothes that I wore, but when I came close to him, the boy jumped as if I were a ghost.

            “I don’t want to die!” the boy yelled. I put my hands up as a gesture of peace, but the boy seemed to be convinced that I was after his life. He backed into a corner of the room; an area where the torchlight barely reached, and became nothing more than a dark smudge against the immaculate darkness.

            I turned away, fully expecting to see all the eyes of the children on me, but nobody moved from their sad spots on the dark benches. They sat with their heads bowed as if in prayer. It was nothing short of a depressing sight.

            A girl, one of the few, with downcast eyes even worse than the rest of them, and hair so full of grease and dirt that her natural hair color was unrecognizable, pecked weakly at the green-caked bread in front of her. Noticing this, I realized that almost none of the other children were actually eating, and they were just staring at the meager piece of food.

 I made my way over to the girl, hoping that I would not receive the same reaction as the first child.

            Sitting down next to her, I felt the cold shock as my skin made contact with the frigid bench through thread bare shorts.

            “Hey,” I whispered to her.

The girl didn’t say anything. She didn’t even acknowledge my presence.

“What’s going on here?” I asked.

Again, the girl didn’t move. I sighed and made to stand up, but the girl suddenly grabbed my arm and forced it down so that my head was next to her.

“Eat the bread, when it starts, don’t move, then run into the center and lay down in the sand.” Said the girl. Her voice was raspy, as if she had spent half her life screaming her lungs out.

“Ah, what?” I asked, utterly bewildered, but the girl let go of my arm and refused to speak anymore. She returned to her pathetic bowed position. I stood up and went back to my tray, where the moldy bread sat; untouched.

I followed the girl’s advice hesitantly, stuffing the bread into my mouth, chewing as fast as I could, trying to get it over with fast. The bread stuck itself in my throat as it went down. It didn’t have much of a taste, but the texture was nothing short of vile.

I sat back down, cringing and continuing to swallow in an attempt to get the entire loaf down. There I waited for something else to happen.

 Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before something did.

Quietly at first, but then the sound got louder, the sound of heavy beating on drums. They went on, ringing through the room, and whatever lied beyond. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. The methodic beating grew ever more ominous. The children began to rise from their seats, the frightened looks on their faces evolving into that of pure terror.

Some scuttled to the far wall, while others like me, stood their stupidly without any idea of what was happening.

Then, figures dropped from the black space where the ceiling should have been. They landed silently, purposefully, and menacingly. I first thought they were cloaked, but as they stood up from their stooped positions on the hard floor, the figures revealed not only their massive height, but also that they were enshrouded in a dense veil of black mist. Their towering figures became indistinguishable silhouettes.

Nine figures in all, they circled around the room, causing the children against the far wall to pack in closer, while the stragglers and I were herded towards them.

One by one, the figures moved on the children, looming over them. Bits and pieces of their disgusting pale bodies protruding from the mist, then silently returning to the shadows.

The scared children tried to cram themselves further into the corners, their frail bodies tripping over one another in a futile attempt to escape their captors.  I moved toward them, figuring that if they were going to attack, then I had best be with the pack instead of being out in the open.

I moved into the group of frightened children, and one by one, the figures moved in and wiped their grotesque hands delicately over the children’s eyes. Some of the children screamed, others had obviously gotten this treatment before, and stood silently sobbing. The first boy I had talked to was among those who screamed, while the girl was among the few that were silent.

When it was my turn, I accepted that there was no place to run, and waited for the inevitable.

It wasn’t as unpleasant as I thought it would be, my eyes closed and I felt the slightest tickle of wind touch my face as the hand passed over my eyes. The only indication that the process was over was the slight shift in my senses as the demon moved away.    

However, as I opened my eyes and realized I was blind, I understood that they had done their job.

 

We were herded forward. The demons kept on both sides of us, guiding us with their horrid auras down a dark hallway. Far off I could hear a steady trickle of water as it hit the stone floor, and the quick, short breathes of the children behind me, but other than that, there were no signs of life.

Twenty minutes passed by, and we simply continued to walk. I was beginning to think they demons were going to walk us to death, when suddenly, the lot of us were shoved forward into something soft, warm, and gritty.

Sand.

As soon as we were able to stand up, the blindness wore off, and we could all see again. However, all there was to see was sand.

It was as if we had entered some sort of underground desert. The sand glowed brightly, like sunlight was shining down upon it, but the walls and the ceiling were just blank, black space, just as the ceiling of the previous room had been.

The vast room wasn’t completely empty though. Scattered everywhere across the massive desert were these huge boulders the size of vans. They were spiky and scaly, but the oddest thing about them were the large, perfectly circular holes in the center of them. The holes faced out perfectly horizontal and seemed to be facing one another in some way.

I gazed upon the scene in awe. Then, a voice came over the entire area. It sounded like a game show host, the way every word came out with an upward inflection.

“Welcome to your first challenge of the day folks. Looks like by luck of the draw, you ended up with the Vasselic pit, good for you! Now, all you have to do is survive for ten minutes and you get to move on to the next challenge! Yeah! But watch out, the Vasselic get pretty hungry if they’re not properly fed every thirty seconds! Well good luck, and let the challenge begin!”

The speech was not followed by applause or cheer from some unseen crowd, only the quiet whimpering of the children.

A growling began to sound throughout the desert room. Rough and threatening, and growing louder. The panic that spread throughout the children was almost immediate. They started sprinting in all different directions, trying to keep ahead of whatever they thought would be coming after them.

I stood there, bewildered at what was taking place. Every instinct I had told me to run, to hide, to escape this situation any way I could, but my body wouldn’t move.

Suddenly, a muffled scream came from far off. It came and went as if whoever it had come from was suddenly picked up and carried far away. The same sort of sound came again, and again, until I could see flashes and blurred outlines of strange gray shapes as they launched out of the boulders at the children, and when the blurs were gone, so were the children.

I was frozen, scared out of my mind. I thought I was about to die, and I didn’t know how or why. Then, I felt a sudden grip on my arm. I was pulled forward by the girl I had spoken to earlier, she led me towards a spot in the sand that looked brighter than the rest.

All around us, the grey shapes were moving at incredible speeds, and every time one of them flew, another child disappeared without so much as a drop of blood to mark their deaths.

The girl threw me forward onto the slightly brighter patch of sand. I landed on my back, completely taken by surprised by the girl’s strength even though she was a day away from emaciation.

“Just stay down!” she said in a forced whisper as she landed beside me. I was in no mood to question, I would have followed advice from a three year old at that moment. I laid there stock still, hardly breathing, waiting for it to end. Then there was a shadow looming over me.

The Vasselic was about half the size of the boulders scattered around. It was the same gray color, and scaly like a lizard. It had no eyes, only strange scaly flaps where its eyes should have been, it face was instead consumed by a massive drooling mouth. The body was long with four legs ending in stumps branching out the sides and strange tooth looking things at the top of each leg. The thing hovered over me, small bits of drool flowing onto my outstretched arm that I was too afraid to draw back in. Had I had anything to drink, I probably would’ve peed my pants.

I didn’t know how the girl was doing, I felt like the slightest turn of the head or twitch of a muscle would set the beast off.

The thing bent over to put its head closer to me. My heart was beating so fast I thought that if I looked down I would see it pounding against my chest. Flaps on its nose opened and closed as it sniffed the air. This was it, I thought. The end.

However, the Vasselic wouldn’t move any closer. It looked up, apparently finding a more appetizing target and flew off with the speed of a train.

“What the hell was that!?” I yelled, lifting my head up a fraction of a inch.

“A Vasselic, obviously.” She responded.

“Well why the hell didn’t it eat us?”

“It’s the sand, its softer than the rest of this place. The Vasselics won’t step on it because it can’t hold their weight and they sink.”

“How did you know that?” I asked, my fear calming down slightly.

“My brother told me.” She said.

A grey blur flashed over our heads and the two of us went silent. We spent the rest of the time tensed up to point where I had cramps, and stared at the black ceiling until death or something better took us.

“Alright then! Times up! How’s everybody doing? Fantastic, alright. So, let’s take a quick look at who survived. Looks like five of the original eighteen have survived, really great turn out this time folks! So, let’s go over the play by play. Looks like the boy and the girl over there made it by hiding in the soft sand pit, that boy over there managed to crawl under a pocket beneath one of the boulders, very original! And those two over there managed to survive on pure luck! Fantastic everybody. Alright, we’ll take a short break, then we will be on to the semi-finals! Yeah!”

The announcement faded into silence, and the grey blurs returned to their caves. The girl and I sat up, brushing dirt off our ragged clothes. Suddenly we were surrounded by more of the demonic shrouded figures, and received the same blinding treatment as before.

This time, we were led away from the sand, back to the hard stone floor. We walked down another hallway, this time, it was completely silent. The four remaining children and I walked silently, almost in mourning over those lost in this cruel and confusing competition. I didn’t know what we were competing for, why or how. I didn’t even know what this place was.

All I knew was I was stuck in this mess regardless of whether I wanted to be or not.

            The ground shifted and swayed, and I knew we had stepped onto a boat. The five of us fit in on the thick wooden seats and sat down uncomfortably. The demons hovered over the water around us, and soon, the boat left whatever ground there was to leave.

            It was a strange experience; being on a boat while blind. I could sense that we were in a massive space and things were happening all around us, but all I could see was darkness.

           

            Ten minutes later, we were guided off the boat onto an unfamiliar land mass. I didn’t even remember the boat touching land, but we were off to some new place where who knows what would happen to us. The ground felt more earthy and soft, and I could feel the brushing of light twigs against my legs.

            Then it changed back into the stone floor, but it felt smoother than before. It was here that the blindness wore off and we were able to see our surroundings.

            The place we were in could best be described as a modern hotel. A large intricate chandelier hung overhead and gave light to the large lobby, a massive red rug sprawled over the marble floor all the way to the front desk where a strange looking man sat looking at us with his head resting on his folded hands. A stairway led up to the right of the desk.

            We were shoved forward again by an unseen force and continued walking towards the man, not knowing exactly what we were supposed to make of this place.

            “Well, hello! Welcome to the Hotel Styx where our winners will be staying. I’m Chiron, manager, host, bell boy, announcer, entrepreneur, tour guide, and conveyor of all goods underwordly, all that good stuff. Now, I require your names over here.” The man said as we approached, and I realized from the sound of his voice and the way that he spoke that the voice we had heard in the Vasselic pit belonged to this man, Chiron. Chiron was tall and pale, with white, comb-over hair, and a black suite, and his eyes were deep red and cunning.

            “Let’s go, soon to be champs! You have to sign in so you can get some rest and food and prepare for your next challenge!” Chiron motioned over to a doorway behind the desk.

            I moved first, trying to show that I wasn’t as afraid as I was. Reluctantly, the others followed, while the demon figures flew up into the ceiling and were gone.

            Inside the room that Chiron ushered us through, there was a single desk, with a single candle giving off a blue flame, and a single book opened to a page about mid way through the old thing. The candle light showed a black binding and black pages with silver writing. I approached the book cautiously, not sure what to expect.

            Chiron moved swiftly past me towards the book, pausing as he got to it to look at it lovingly and stroked the pages lightly.

            “Now,” he said, turning to us, “Just sign your name using the pen between the pages, and your name will be recorded for the rest of eternity that you were a participant in this honorable competition.”

            I wanted to scoff, but I knew better.

            “What is this thing?” I asked.

            Chiron laughed. “This is the River Styx. Well, the book version, not the river version. The explanation of what it does and how it works is a very intriguing tale, however, it is, incredibly long winded and I have neither the time, nor the patience to tell it. I’ll tell you what, you win, I will tell you, but for now, just sign.” Chiron reached down and handed me a silver pen. I took it and looked down at the page.

            “Just one more thing.” I said in a low voice so that the others couldn’t hear me. “What do I get if I win?” I asked.

            Chiron chuckled then bowed in so his mouth was next to my ear, then he whispered, “Immortality my friend . . . Immortality.”

            I paused for a second, then signed my name on the page and watched the letters flash, then settle into the page, where they would stay for the rest of eternity.




© 2010 Domenic Luciani



Author's Note

Domenic Luciani
ignore the grammar mistakes please. This chapter was the very first enstallment of the book, even before the prelude. It was never intended to be anything longer than a story and the idea to turn it into a book was the result of a last minute brainstorm, a thrill of the moment, if you will. That is why it may seem somewhat stand-alone.

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Reviews

nicely done. So far there are some unusual original twists on common themes - fascinating work so far.

Posted 7 Years Ago


this seems to be an interesting piece. i look forward to reading the next chapter

Posted 7 Years Ago


That was pretty cool. You are very good at keeping your readers reading.

Posted 7 Years Ago


You have a knack for getting the reader immersed in your story.
Needs a little work as previously stated but I enjoyed it.

Posted 7 Years Ago


Interesting- I would try to avoid cliches in writing, and perhaps spread out the description a bit more, but otherwise this was really good. Nice piece, looking forward to reading more! :)

Posted 7 Years Ago


I enjoyed this chapter a bunch. You changed the river styx almost ti resemble the book of life. Very creative

Posted 7 Years Ago


Good continuation. I felt like the main character would be a bit more confused considering the circumstances, but that's just me. The action was nice, and it reflected the quickness of the vasselics. Overall the calmness of the children at times is a bit odd, but other than that great read.

Posted 7 Years Ago


I'm enjoying the experience of reading this. There are some areas that need to be tightened up, some of the sections had too many cliches and commas. I do enjoy your dialogue.

Posted 7 Years Ago


you went a little overboard in a couple places, but the imagery and dialogue is excellent. You got a real talent for dialogue.

Posted 7 Years Ago


A little excessive with the commas in some places, but that you can iron out in the final draft. For I am enjoying the read. You set the hook and snared me with it. Now time to start reeling. Again the imagery and dialogue were well done and pace was smooth. Nice work.

Posted 7 Years Ago



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Added on March 25, 2010
Last Updated on April 11, 2010


Author

Domenic Luciani
Domenic Luciani

Buffalo, NY



About
That is my real name, and that is really me in the picture. Like Patrick says, I'm not in the witness protection program. I mostly write books and stories. I like fantasy, or fiction, but if.. more..

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Chapter 1 Chapter 1

A Chapter by Domenic Luciani


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A Chapter by Domenic Luciani



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