To Shatter The Shell: Chapter 2

To Shatter The Shell: Chapter 2

A Chapter by JPDonelan

The Watcher seeks information from the cleansers and gets an earful.


Close to an hour had passed since The Watcher returned to his position atop the retaining wall and resumed the pained perusal of his novel. In this time, he read no more than three pages in-between bouts of blank staring. He was far too distracted by his thoughts. Far too concerned and paranoid. He kept asking himself, how deep do the roots run? Where do they end? Were they the roots of a tree or a bush, or perhaps of a weed? Perhaps what they had come across earlier was little more than a stroke of ill luck, a storm unforecast by any whose nature revealed would render his cynicism nothing but an unhealthy exercise. He shook these thoughts from his head over and over again, but they always returned.


The Watcher managed to keep his thoughts away long enough to read a fourth page before he saw them approach from the corner of his eye, accompanied by the gleam of several flashlights directed toward the hotel. He counted twenty-three of them and could not have been gladder to see Galloway at the head of the group. He made a mental note to thank Ms. Bartholomew for her success if only to have an excuse to talk with her.


The cleansers gathered briefly at the body of the chitinous monstrosity, which Galloway gestured at a number of times, before splitting up. Ten members of this troupe approached the broken entrance of the hotel, checked their gear, and entered. Eleven of the remaining thirteen set about examining, photographing and dismantling the monstrosity under the supervision of a woman The Watcher recognized as Galloway's second-in-command but whose name he could not recall. As for Galloway himself, the man gave the dirt an idle kick near where The Watcher clashed with the beast before heading toward the retaining wall.


The two of them had a long history, so there was no surprise Galloway knew just where to find The Watcher. If one person understood The Watcher's tendencies, it would be him. Galloway was a tall, lean man with a head of long, wild brown hair and grey eyes that shone with excitement and a hint of barely bridled lunacy.


The Watcher set his book aside as Galloway ascended the retaining wall and drew near.


"We-ell, how are we doin', Watcher? Heard you had a bit of fun, but didn't like the price? Shame that. Should've asked for a discount." The man's crude speech mirrored his unrefined appearance. His tongue wasn't stuck in such a way as to always produce such words, such boorish sounds, he often just didn't care to speak straight and proper. He would make a forced exception, of course, for when he addressed certain individuals he thought best to not upset.


"I am well, Gallows. I am well. It is good to see you. I suspect you have seen more than you heard considering your lollygagging down there. Surprised you didn't try to hide your approach. You usually leave your subordinate, what's her name, to do the delegating for you. What made you give the orders tonight?" The Watcher asked with a weary gaze.


"You make it sound like I impose on dear Tabby. So cruel, Sentry. So unnecessarily cruel." Galloway cast his gaze down in an overly dramatic fashion, letting his eyes scrape the ground for a moment before they shot back up with an excited gleam that almost surprised The Watcher. He didn't have to wait long to find out what thrilled Galloway out of his act.


"If you're gonna be that way, Observer, I'm gonna have to poke your brain a little. I see you've been reading on the job again. No surprise that. It treatin' you well?" Galloway spoke with a tone that emphasized his genuine interest and commenced their traditional meeting ritual.


"It has been abusive. Don't think I have read more than a couple of pages while I waited for your group or whoever Bartholomew could get."


"It by that author you're so fond of?"


"Yes and that is what makes it such a shame. Story is atrocious, splintered and fragmented to the point of inconsistency and incoherence. So unlike her prior works. Let's not make me dwell on the story, Gallows. What of you? I'm sure you've had some spare time to flip a few pages?" The Watcher inquired, continuing the ceremony.


"Oh, yes. Good one too. Horror piece about genetically engineering a superhuman through the means of gene splicing an obscure, unknown alien race in. Rolls down hill real quick from there. Lots of mystery to--agh, hold on," Galloway groaned as he gave his earpiece, the same model The Watcher had in his ear, a couple flicks with his middle finger.


"What do you want, Tabs?"


The Watcher turned his eyes toward those breaking the beast down and caught Galloway's second in command, whose name he remembered to be Tabitha Royse, facing them. Tabitha was a woman of above average height with a pale complexion that sharply contrasted her raven hair that she kept in a high, loose bun. Her brown eyes sparkled with intellect behind her thin-framed glasses even as she looked, or rather glared, at The Watcher and Galloway.


"Calm down, calm down! Just makin' sure the man isn't knottin' his head! He kind of needs it!" Galloway responded to some unknown words spoken by the woman. "Now that's just mean!"


"Hangman, what frequency are you on? Let me sort this up," The Watcher said as he brought his hand to his own earpiece.


"Sixth channel I think. The one Whise keeps hollerin' at me for muckin' about with. Can't recall if it's six or seven, though. No, I am not tryin' to change the topic on you, Tabs, calm your eye sockets!" Spouted the man of colorful and bizarre vernacular as he fumbled his way through two simultaneous conversations.


The Watcher recalled Whise's frequent and half-hearted admonishments of Galloway's fiddling about with the communication channels and so switched to channel seven, knowing full well which of the channels he's drawn to. The switch came just in time to miss a verbal bombardment from Royse, as indicated by the cringing and subsequent relaxing of Galloway's gaunt visage.


"Ms. Royse, I do apologize if I have distracted your superior from some greater duty or focus. Is everything alright down there?"


"Watcher, it is good to hear from you. But please, do not try to assuage me when we both know full well you are a willing participant in your poorly timed book club meetings. I needed him to get you on this channel minutes ago; our teams have managed their way to the fourth floor and I want them as prepared as possible before they go in to clean out any remaining pests."


"Are all of your people on this channel?"


Six different voices responded in affirmation, meaning Galloway's scolding was broadcast to the whole of the cleansing squad. Talk about a late night show.




The channel went quiet as The Watcher began his report. He told them how he directed the insertion teams to the fourth floor after he caught sight of the target. That the teams found the target, the Griyrlk they had almost been dealt with five months ago, hollowed out with no signs of a shift. He skirted around the details of the insect beast and noted only that the creature attacked and had to be put down.


The Watcher finished with a heavy, rasped sigh. His eyes followed the cleansers tasked with taking apart the insect beast as if he expected the remains to come to life and make a further mess of the night.


"My warning for those of you inside, keep your eyes sharp. While I haven't seen any movement that doesn't mean the place is empty. Not much I can see in there. Assuming the bug beast didn't do the Griyrlk in, whatever did may still be inside." The Watcher killed his feed and turned his eyes toward the hotel again, doing his damnedest to keep from looking at Galloway.


"Thank you, Watcher. Alright you lot, I want that floor swept clean. Anythin' not dead should be. Anythin' that is dead, make deader. Locate the husk of this Griyrlk and bring it to Tabs for examination. Periodic reports, as usual," Galloway killed his feed and slapped a hand down on The Watcher's shoulder, a friendly gesture he hoped would comfort his fellow.


"What's your plan for after they've cleared out the fourth floor?" The Watcher asked without turning to face the man.


"Have them do a sweep through the rest of the buildin', look for anythin' left behind or any hideaways that pests could be shelterin' in. Then we burn the whole buildin' down and purge away any signs that we were here. Just a bit of arson in an abandoned structure. Probably kiddos." Galloway grinned as he considered how many times they've pulled this off.


"Police will play the fiddle a bit, sate outside interest, and eventually file the incident away in that cold, lonely drawer where similar files are hidden in shame. Almost makes you feel bad for them. Almost. They don't have to deal with the horrors. If they did the feds would be involved faster than you can say 'Area 51'."


The Watcher chuckled.


"Too much focusing on fiefdoms would do them a great disservice in such a case. Get more than a handful killed and wouldn't stop a thing." The Watcher let his legs dangle over the side of the retaining wall as he spoke, eyes locked on the cleansers who hauled away the last few segments of the beast that had Simons for a last meal.


The earpieces came to life for a report in the quiet that followed The Watcher's words. "Husk found, preparing for transit. Will have to Royse's location in five."


No one responded; affirmation came through the silence. A silence that felt much warmer than the last one The Watcher had heard after a report from the fourth floor of the hotel. Less tense. And for that he was happy. He welcomed any source of joy at this point.


The silence sat less well with Galloway, who had been looking at the back of The Watcher's head since they halted their conversation. He had begun to fidget and dance in place much like a child trying to retain bladder control. He wanted so much for The Watcher to turn, catch him vibrating, and ask him what he was doing in that sarcastic tone of his. This release did not come.


No longer able to stand the silence, Galloway instead acted to free himself from his anxious state.


"Watcher, question for you."


"Go ahead."


"What do you intend to do once we finish this on up? Surely you've somethin' dancin' in that cranium of yours. Did say I was gonna poke your brain and so I'm givin' it a prod, a knock. Askin' you to let me in," Galloway said with a wry, knowing grin.


The grin almost went missed by The Watcher, who turned to look at Galloway. The man clearly had an idea what he planned to do; probably heard it from Ballast in one way or another.


"I keep trying to forget that grin of yours, Galloway. Have yet to succeed, but I do try." He let loose a laugh. "As for what I intend to do, I intend to poke the brains of others, just as you are doing of me now. Maybe pick up new shoes on the way. The soles of mine appear to have been eaten through."


It was Galloway's turn to laugh, and the laugh was as knowing as his grin. "Then I have you well covered, my friend. Knowin' you, I have prepared a pair of shoes in just your size. Good thin' too, had a feelin' you would be needin' them after I saw the three-foot holes you had dug in the ground over there."


The Watcher, not comforted by this news, gave Galloway a cautious look. What bothered him wasn't that someone had brought a pair of shoes for him, but that Galloway brought the pair. There was no guarantee these wouldn't be gaudy things meant for a laugh.


He never got the chance to respond, to snark and accuse, as his earpiece came to life before he could open his mouth.


The voice that followed the earpiece's distinct racket was one thick with exhaustion as if the speaker fought back a yawn with each word. "This is Corbin with the hotel team. Fourth floor is clear. No hostiles engaged. No indication of further hostiles seen. Incendiary charges have been set. Moving to prepare the rest of the building for a fiery cleanse. Out."


The Watcher's attention returned to the hotel grounds, drawn by the reminder of the ongoing operation. The timing was excellent, as it allowed him to witness the final stages of preparation for an autopsy.


"Royse, I see you are about ready to begin the autopsy on the Griyrlk." The Watcher focused his attention on the scene. While he couldn't see many of the details, and even if he could he wouldn't know what he was looking at, he still hoped to glean information through observation.


"I was about to inform you of that. Keep forgetting about your eyesight, Watcher. I blame our infrequent interactions. We really should spend more time chatting, perhaps over coffee or tea. Without Galloway of course." Royse's voice took on a sweet, mocking ring.


"With the knife, Tabby. Always with the knife! Just twistin' and pokin'! You hurt me so!" Galloway killed his input, his wiry grin now broad and jovial.


 As lights were focused on the autopsy area, The Watcher caught Royse shaking her head, which he assumed was her response to Galloway's broadcasted antics. He turned his head to look at the still grinning Galloway, knowing full well the man couldn't see his subordinate's response due to the distance. Galloway caught his glance and gave him a toothy grin that stretched ear to ear. With a humored exhalation, The Watcher turned his attention back to the autopsy space in front of the hotel. He began to fidget, not that he noticed. His curiosity had taken firm hold of him and he could hardly wait for Royse to begin. He resisted the urge to pester her over the communication link.


As if to reward this patience, Royse moved over the body of the Griyrlk and began to cut.

© 2017 JPDonelan

Author's Note

This bit is a bit dialogue heavy (at least in comparison to the first). Feedback is encouraged and appreciated. -Update- Split the chapter in a spot I thought worked. Please let me know what you think.

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Added on October 31, 2016
Last Updated on April 6, 2017
Tags: Fiction, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Low Fantasy




Currently working on a larger project that has put the editing of the follow-up to "Tome of Reality" on hiatus. My stories tend to reach toward five thousand words, which can be made to look longer.. more..