This is the beta version of my novel. New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.
“This is the price. Are you sure that you can pay it?”
Artie nodded once, her bitten lips pressed together.
She hugged her elbows in close and followed Gorth into the covered alleyway. Deep in shadow two large rusted hinges and thick, peeling paint held up a crumbling door. It opened at Gorth’s touch. He gestured her through it into the dark.
Artie paused on the threshold. She looked up at Gorth. The soft, brown eyes, which she had thought so kind when they had first met, were hard. They roved and thrust into the surrounding darkness.
“In or out? Hurry.”
His words cut the night. A low, throbbing growl replied from the far end of the alley. Artie saw a low shadow move – a guard dog of some kind.
She hurried through the door and fell into blackness. The floor dropped away. She jarred her ankle and clutched at the wall to prevent herself from falling any farther.
Centre-worn stone steps were dimly outlined before her. Then Gorth closed the door. She heard the rasp of a bolt. Her foot felt for the next step and the next. The rough wall tore at her palm, but she could not let go and trust herself to the darkness.
“There’s a door to your left.” Gorth’s words were hot on the back of her neck.
Artie reached out and found the edge of the doorway. An electric snap. Light bruised her eyes. She screwed them up and dug her nails through her jacket into the skin of her forearms.
She blinked and took a step back into Gorth’s chest. From the grimy camp bed unfolded against the far wall a man stared at her from stagnant, black eyes. Gorth put his hands on Artie’s upper arms and moved her into the room. The black stare rose over Artie’s head to Gorth.
The man unfolded upright and slunk past them to the stairs. His eyes were beetles on Artie’s skin. She stared at the floor until he was gone.
“Take of your top.” Gorth slid past her to a brashly orange plastic toolbox balanced on a stack of cardboard boxes.
Artie shrugged her shoulders free of her jacket. She looked around. The cellar was long and thin. The ceiling curved in elegant and ragged arches. Stacks of boxes stamped in an unfamiliar alphabet crowded in on her.
Her eyes took a spiralling path around the room. Slowly, reluctantly they came to rest on the centre: on the bed. The thin, bare mattress lay askew on the frame. The pattern of the fabric was designed to hide stains in its strong colours and confusion. It failed. Artie could see smears and speckles of brown.
“Take the rest off as well.” Gorth withdrew a brown glass bottle and a syringe from the toolbox. He drew the liquid up from the bottle, upended the syringe, flicked the air bubbles loose and pushed them out. All the while, he appraised Artie’s skin as she revealed it piece by piece.
“You’ll be needing this first.” He gestured with the syringe towards the bed.
Artie crossed her arms across her bare chest. Goosebumps prickled on her arms and back. She perched on the mattress; the metal edge of the bed frame pressed cold into the back of her legs.
Gorth sat beside her. With a gentle hand he unfolded her arm into his lap. Artie closed her eyes. She felt the needle slide though her skin. She felt the uncomfortable stretch as its contents were forced inside of her.
She felt nothing.
She felt everything.
Her skin stung. Her eyes rolled open. The dull, dead cardboard and stone surrounding her had come alive. Their shadows reached for her, tore at her.
Artie drifted backwards into the mattress. She licked her dry lips.
“I don’t think I should do this.” The words rasped through her cracked throat.
Her heart faltered, fell down, then got up and sprinted. She jerked with each sharp breath. Gorth returned to his toolbox.
Artie’s edges slipped away, becoming fluid. She did not know where she ended and the infinite everything else began.
“It’s too late for second thoughts.”
Had she spoken those words, or had Gorth? He was beside her on the narrow bed. He cupped her face in a warm hand and looked down at her with those soft, brown eyes, chocolate in the sun. Maybe he looked remorseful. Maybe.
“The pain will be excruciating.”
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