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American Atheist: #10

by Nelly 

Posted: 18 June 2005
Word Count: 3253

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Unita ran for her life. Past people and open doorways, back the way she had come. She made it to the first turning, before cries followed her from the square.

Unita didn’t stop. Her heart pounded and she sped past the streets for all she was worth.

The turnings flashed by, and she started to count, “one, two, three,” the sound of booted feet closing, “four, five,” the words coming in quick gulps as she sucked down breath to run.

A man emerged from a shop doorway. He grabbed at Unita, his movements slow and cumbersome -Unita easily jumped to one side.

Her turning was next and she raced into it, her feet pounding the stone. She rushed to the far end, searching for the trash bins and the crowd swarmed in behind.

The bins weren’t there. The alley ended at the tower as expected, but Unita realised she was on the wrong side. She had turned a lane to early, and the ladder was in the next one up.

This lane ended at a wooden fence, eight feet tall, with a smooth, polished finish. To high for a jump and impossible to climb. There was no way out. Glancing back, she saw there was no escape that way either. The crowd pushed into the alley, filling up the narrow confines with the press of their bodies. The men were at the front, red faced from running, some carried weapons, mainly tools, hammers and knives, grabbed in their haste to catch her.

Pressing her back against the fence, she felt it move. A single plank was loose; several nails had been pried out and lay scattered upon the floor. Having no time to ponder her good fortune, acting on instinct, she dropped down and kicked the wood away, it would be a tight fit -an adult wouldn’t make it- but a young girl, like herself, just might.

Unita scrabbled through, as the crowd surged forward. Rough hands grasped hold of her feet and she kicked frantically; smashing her foot into one mans face, shattering his nose in an explosion of both blood and bone. The hands lost their grip in the ensuring chaos and she dragged her feet away, losing both her shoes in the process. She considered it a fair trade and without glancing back sprinted on.

Unita followed the lane, as it curved right and then cut sharply back left, winding its way through the narrow, enclosed buildings. She wanted to go back, change direction and head right, towards the tower, but there were no openings and she was forced to run on.

She stopped at a junction. Another lane twisted out of sight, while a flight of cracked steps lead towards a main road, where people were already beginning to gather.

The low murmur of the city echoed through the streets, the engines of cars flaring into life, snippets of conversation half caught, merging into a senseless jumble of noise. She couldn’t go out there; she was to close to the square, they might still be looking for her.

Unita chose the new alleyway and headed down it. She passed crates of beer bottles and a pair of open doors, where the smell of tobacco hung in the air. Unita ignored it and followed the lane until it split again, one direction leading upwards, at the start of a steep slope. Unita chose the path that kept her level, hoping she could find a way to head back round to the tower.

She had chosen three more turnings in the same manner, before the changeless nature of the back streets, forced her to admit she was completely lost. It was hopeless; she couldn’t make her way back using these alleys. The main roads were the answer, but she could be easily caught. A lone schoolgirl, without shoes, covered in filth and grime.

She didn’t exactly blend in.

Unita knelt down to catch her breath and think things through. The tower was one of the tallest buildings in the area; it was made of black stone, like no other she had seen. So it shouldn’t be difficult to find. All she had to do was walk in rough circles around the city, until she came upon it.

This should be easy

It was then the truth of her surroundings sank in, she had been to wrapped up in simply surviving to give it much thought until now. There were people here in Rome, living their lives, going about their businesses, with no suggestion of a Neutron bomb going off. No hint of the massive death toll, of the misery and suffering the city would have endured. Rome should have come to a standstill, but the complete opposite was the case and this could only mean one thing.

It hadn’t happened. The American Atheist wasn’t real and what Angelo had said was the truth.

A lead weight settled in the pit of her belly.

Unita pressed her head against the shadowed corner of an old townhouse and allowed the knowledge to sink in.

It meant Iron Maiden had been sent to kill her. Unita’s actions in the plane had led to Angelo’s death. She pushed that thought away, not wanting to dwell on the emptiness which came with it.

It wasn’t that easy.

The memories of the Cardinal forced itself unbidden to her mind. His anger, his insistence that he was right. His desire to tell her everything he knew, it was real, all of it. And she had repaid him by summoning his killer.

A black hole opened within her chest and threatened to drag her down into its black depths, she would have surrendered to the pain, gladly if not for another image, forced from the depths of her mind.

Bobby’s sneering face.

She took strength from it; it was after all, the only thing she had left to hold onto. Angelo was a killer, deranged and moulded by the doctrines of the church. He was going to kill her, in a way, her mind groped desperately, it was self-defence.

After all, it wasn’t as if she pulled the trigger…

She felt a chill, that had nothing to do with the shadows of the townhouse, it came from within and Unita was forced to endure it.

What else was there, what other secrets now laid bare?

It also meant Iron Maiden was the one constant through this, part of the American lie, distorted by her public image, but real enough. Iron Maiden had been sent to kill her and then relented, she had wanted Unita to discover the truth. What would happen now that truth was realised?

The strip had shown Iron Maiden, what Unita was capable of. Her history had been laid out, raw and exposed for the alien woman to study, would she really then take Unita home, after giving her univocal proof the world was based on a monstrous lie.

The dread returned. Her mind raced, fuelled by paranoia and a new sense of self-loathing.

Incapable of killing her as Angelo had been killed, Iron Maiden furthered the war effort by bringing Unita to Rome and setting her free. It would only be a matter of time before she slipped and got caught. Then Rome would have a real American spy in its midst.

How would America react, if the situation was reversed, never mind the spy was a schoolgirl, America would demand blood and that’s exactly what the government would give them.

Would Rome be the same?

She had to get to the tower, learn the truth. Iron Maiden must still be waiting, allowing time for Unita to discover what Angelo had been trying to say all along. She refused to consider that Iron Maiden might not be at the tower. It was more than simple hope; Unita needed Iron Maiden to be there. With her world twisted so that it was unrecognisable, she needed Iron Maiden to remain true to her ideals.

Iron Maiden could be trusted. She had to be trusted. Without her there was nothing else, nothing at all.

Unita walked back to the last junction and stared hard at the intersecting road, already busy with traffic, steeling herself for the worse, she walked forwards and joined the crowd.


She might get away with it. Slipping into the crowds, keeping her head down, trying not to make eye contact. It wasn’t that difficult.

Unita walked the length of the road without anything happening and risked a quick glance at her surroundings.

The streets were filling with people, either walking, or cycling about their business. Cars thundered by and even grey buses emerged to start snarling up traffic.

Everyone was in a rush, having no time to stop or chat, even to look around and this served Unita well. It was so at odds to the city she had first encountered, where had all these people been before, why had they hidden, as if scared to step outside. As she pondered this, Unita gradually became aware the crowds were reacting to her, just not in the way she first thought they would.

They were ignoring her.

A gap had emerged. Those behind had slowed their pace, while those coming straight on actively stepped to one side, a look of revulsion flashing across their otherwise intent features.

Did she look that bad.

The main road descended towards a busy shopping centre, hundreds of bicycles were propped up outside and the crowds were shoulder to shoulder, jostling one another in their constant haste. The noise was extreme, a wild jabbering of tongues, all shouting over each other in their excitement to be heard. It was far to dangerous to continue that way, instead she went left and found herself following a canal that skirted the shops and mayhem, into a relatively quieter area.

The water was clean and fresh, it tumbled over smooth rocks and gathered in whirlpools and eddies. Unita could see vivid, scarlet fish moving through the shallows.

Ahead, a thin iron bridge, rust spotted with age, crossed over the canal. By the embankment, near to where it started, a small muddy path had been made in the long grass and led down to the shallows. She contemplated washing the muck from her clothes and as she stood in indecision, something splashed in the water. Just out of sight, below her, she heard laughter and this intrigued Unita enough, to walk over and peer down.

The tall man, with the nice suit stood ankle deep in water, a handful of smooth stones in his hands. He took one and sent it hopping across the water’s surface, four times before vanishing into the reeds on the opposite side. Set by a flat rock above the running water were four cartons of soup, open and now empty.

So this was where the thief had run.

He glanced up and the two locked eyes, his expression turning from laughter, to the fear she had seen before. He dropped the stones and bolted. Clambering up the muddied embankment and out into the road. He kept glancing over his shoulder to see if she was following, but when he saw she wasn’t, he stopped, uncertain of himself. His gaze lowered to take in Unita’s clothes and he looked confused. Not knowing why, Unita flashed him a smile and he grinned foolishly back.

At which point a truck came round the corner, to sharply and far to fast. The tall man hadn’t appeared to notice and before Unita had a chance to think, she shouted, “look out.”

Strangely, it had the desired effect and as the truck neared, its brakes screeching, the tall man jumped to one side. Unita went running over and helped him climb back to his feet. The look of confusion now turned to distrust and slowly he said. “American?”

Unita’s stomach flipped, what could she say, she started to shake her head, try and deny it somehow, when a rough hand grabbed hold of hers and spun her round. The lady in the blue dress and the expensive rings stood there, a look of triumph etched across her face.


A podgy bald man, the driver of the truck climbed out and joined the woman, he had a no nonsense look about him and strode over with an air of authority.

The lady had the look of a cat that got the cream. She spoke quickly in Latin, the words lost on Unita.

Unita didn’t like the way this was going; she glanced up and down the road, looking for ways to escape. A few others who had been walking by had stopped to watch the spectacle.

The bald man turned his attention to her and spoke in a gruff manner.

She needed to escape; she wasn’t going to get caught, not here, by the likes of him. When she didn’t answer, he leant in closer and repeated the question. He grabbed hold of her shirt as he spoke. Unita searched around desperately, and caught a flash of the gothic tower rising like a beacon of hope over the rooftops.

She was close, if only she could get away. Her mind raced and she hit upon a desperate plan. Setting her feet firmly on the ground, she leant in close so her face was only inches away from his.

Let me go.” She screamed as loud and as long as she could. At the same time pushing back with all her strength. It had the desired effect and the man let go with a look of stunned disbelief.

Unita didn’t waste any time, she jumped around the pair and made to head off towards the tower, but the people in the street blocked her way. She would have to run straight towards them and didn’t fancy her chances. Instead she backed towards the bridge and began to cross. By this time, the woman had gathered her wits enough to shout, “American custodis”.

Unita guessed what that might mean, and it spurred the others into action. The tall man was the first; in three easy strides, he was at her side, but instead of grabbing hold of her, he slithered down the embankment and splashed into the river.

Unita decided to follow. She made the river in one jump and gasped at how cold the water was. The tall man had run under the bridge and kept to the opposite side of the canal. Unita joined him, slipping on the stony bed as she went. A heavy splash alerted her to the bald man dropping down the slope, but he slipped and fell face down into the water. She ran on.

Shouting from above and pounding of feet on the road, but Unita couldn’t see who followed, she stumbled again on the rocks and cut her feet on the sharp stones. Ignoring the pain she continued, until the tall man stopped at a rough section of granite, cut into one side was an old, rusted metal grill, the side of a sewer tunnel, and he began to pry it open, the strain evident on his face. Unita came up alongside him and watched as the metal slowly gave way. Beyond the grill, a slime-covered tunnel, partially filled with rancid green water sloped off into darkness.

“You have to be joking,” she muttered and was surprised when he responded by saying.

“You will, if you want to live.”

Behind them, the bald man appeared, drenched in water, he led four others in a mad chase across the canal.

“You know I’m American and will still help me!”

He smiled, as the grill fell away, “It’s kind of my fault you’ve been put in this position, although I do have to say, I don’t think you’re a good spy.”

“I’m not a spy,” Unita said, shocked at the idea.

“Then you’re a long way from home, with no good reason.” He glanced back at her and the smile faded. “It doesn’t matter to me if you’re an American or not, as long as you’re not with the Church, then you’re on my level.”

“Which is?”

“You ask a lot of questions don’t you. Get inside and I might answer them for you, unless…” He motioned to the fast approaching men, “You would rather talk with them.”

Unita didn’t need any more convincing and pushed herself up into the narrow tunnel. The tall man had considerably more problems than she did, and Unita waited anxiously, fearing he might not make it. Finally he dragged his legs in, as the men came running up and forced his way down towards her.

“Go on, don’t wait for me,” he said, pushing her forward.

Unita crawled on, groping ahead blindly in the dark, “I don’t understand why you’re helping me.”

“It’s simple,” he said. “I’m Jewish and that makes me the lowest rung of the social ladder.” Then he laughed and added, “at least I‘m on the ladder though.”


For what felt like hours, Unita crawled her way through the dark, occasionally her companion would tap her on the arm and whisper directions, a turn left, straight on, and the second chamber to the right. Sometimes the tunnel they followed enlarged, so they could walk, if slightly hunched, other times, it grew so narrow it rubbed against her shoulders and pressed down on her back, so she was forced into a crawl.

Eventually, she called a stop.

They had come to a circular chamber, where four pipes poured forth their dark contents into a pool of frothing waste. She had already become accustomed to the stench. Light from cracks in the stone roof, filtered down to illuminate the tall mans face, it was streaked with dirt and grime, and no doubt it mirrored her own. He looked younger than she had first assumed. He was, she realised, barely a man at all.

“Who are you?” She asked.

“Dekel. And you?”

“Unita. Where are we going?”

“Somewhere we’ll be safe, comparatively speaking.”

“I need to get to a tower in the centre.”


Unita was loath to say. “It’s important to me, it might be my way out of here.”

Dekel took this all in with a barely noticeable nod of his head. “You’re not really a spy at all, are you?”

“A good cover, dressed as a school girl and not speaking a word of your language.”

Dekel laughed, “I guess you wouldn’t have got far.”

“I still don’t know why you’re helping me.”

“Unlike everyone else in Rome, I don’t hate the Americans, I’ve got no reason to. Its not like you’ve killed my people, you practise Anti-Semitism, but you personally haven’t caused me any trouble. Besides I think you’re pretty, and pretty girls can’t be left to wander these streets alone.”

Unita felt her face blush, “thank you,” she said.

Dekel walked over to the far wall, he blended in with the shadows and Unita found it hard to pick out where he was. Dekel grabbed at the edge of something metal above them and with a low grating sound, a ladder slid out.

“Ready to go back outside,” he asked.

Unita grinned, “with you leading, sure why not.” She found she was warming to Dekel, he had an easygoing nature, so at odds with everybody she had met of late. She felt at ease and he actually made her laugh.

Humour was good, without it, she might never crawl from the dark place she had fallen into.


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Comments by other Members

paul53 [for I am he] at 09:03 on 21 June 2005  Report this post
Hi Neil,

The story is pumping along nicely maintaining a good pace, but quite a few errors are beginning to creep in. Are we getting close to it being freshly written? Thankfully, we have WW site to get them sorted before an agent or publisher finds them.


Unita didn’t stop. Her heart pounded and she sped past the streets for all she was worth.
(Full stop at "streets" - the rest is cliche.)

shattering his nose in an explosion of both blood and bone.
(Lose "both".)

She had chosen three more turnings in the same manner, before the changeless nature of the back streets, forced her to admit she was completely lost.
(Could run without either comma.)

She felt a chill, that had nothing to do with the shadows of the townhouse, it came from within and Unita was forced to endure it.
(Lose first comma; semi-colon after townhouse, or even new sentence.)

giving her univocal proof the world was based on a monstrous lie.
("Unequivocal" proof?)

he grinned foolishly back.
("back foolishly" - split infinitive.)
At which point a truck came round the corner, to sharply and far to fast.
(too sharply, too fast.)

Careful with the Latin. You have to assume the reader doesn't know any, so make sure them not knowing what is being said never impedes the story.



Nelly at 11:12 on 21 June 2005  Report this post
Thanks Paul,

I'm not sure about the use of Latin in the story, I don’t want to confuse the reader, but at the same time I don’t want the characters to either speak in English or not at all. I could choose description over the language as an alternative.

Those pesky clichés, I should make a list and consult them before I submit to the site.

American Atheist has a rough guide from which I'm working, a summery of what I want to happen, mapped out in my head, my uploads are always about three chapters behind what I've actually written, to give myself chance to spot the mistakes and make all the many, many, revisions.


Patsy at 00:47 on 22 June 2005  Report this post

Just a few more to/too's for you to look at:

She had turned a lane (too) early, and the ladder was in the next one up.
(Too) high for a jump and impossible to climb
She couldn’t go out there; she was (too) close to the square, they might still be looking for her.

The Latin is a bit daunting. Maybe make her understand a few select, key words?

I'm still hooked. Send me more.
Patsy :)

Nelly at 12:06 on 22 June 2005  Report this post
Cheers Patsy,

I'll edit in the 'too's' to reflect your comments. Unita does have a very basic understanding of Latin; I could go for that.

My original intention is to introduce Latin as a means of confusion and increased desperation for the scene. But both you and Paul have more or less said the same thing, so back to the drawing board for the Latin conversation.

Thanks again,


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