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American Atheist: # 14

by Nelly 

Posted: 28 July 2005
Word Count: 6629

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Dekel paced frantically through the dark, muttering to himself and gazing up at the tower, searching the sides with a quiet desperation. He froze in place in these moments, his face a taught mask of fear, becoming as still as the stone walls around him, even holding his breath until his lungs ached. Only after failing to see what he searched for, would he wring his hands and continue.

Unita hadn’t returned. It was possible that Nasargiel -he refused to call her Iron Maiden- had met Unita and the two were even now flying back to America. All would be well and he was playing the fool. But he doubted it. In his heart he was deeply troubled. Something was terribly amiss.

He glanced back towards the ladder and as before he saw nothing, save the velvet cushion of night into which the ladder ascended.

Perhaps he should climb up and take a look? She might have injured herself? Why hadn’t she cried out for help?

Questions on top of questions, but none of the answers he needed. Each one compounding his indecision. He forced himself to stop and took a deep steadying breath. One thing was for certain; he wasn’t going to find any answers waiting here.

Dekel reached over and grabbed the ladder, then immediately withdrew his palm.

Her shouts for aid would have been in English. Her broad American accent acting as a siren, a beacon for anybody who remained nearby.

Anybody still hunting them.

Whatever had happened on that rooftop, Unita would not be waiting for him to rescue her. He sighed; no matter how much his heart wished it were true. She was unlike any girl he had met so far: she possessed a natural beauty and was fiercely independent, had a strength of character that shone through her eyes and empowered him, stoked a fire within his chest so that it swelled with heat and became a furnace. She was a natural leader and he would not – could not - leave her in trouble.

He grabbed the ladder again, determined to see for himself, pride be dammed. Nasargiel could have performed any number of deeds upon Unita by now. She would have been defenceless while he dithered down here in the alleyway like some fool. He wouldn’t allow her to be alone.

Behind him, in the shadows, he clearly heard a gentle thump, like a cat landing on a tin roof. He glanced hurriedly around and saw the main road and entrance to the alleyway had disappeared. In its place the shadows had gathered, pooling together into a collective darkness so dense, it resembled a solid wall. He had never seen the night so deep -it felt unnatural.

Then it moved, drifting like smog up the lane towards him.

He rubbed his eyes, blinking in rapid succession as if to clear the illusion. But nothing had changed; only the wall had drawn nearer. He could faintly hear sounds coming from within: a creak of leather, the faint rustle of robes, harsh drawn out breath. He knew what this meant; the Cardinals had found him.

Dekel jumped for the ladder and started to climb. A scraping of metal caused him to look up into the face of another Cardinal. It clambered eagerly down towards him, like an obscene spider scuttling down a web. Gasping in shock he let go of the ladder and fell to the floor. A moment of blind panic followed as the darkness rose over him like some vast wave. “No,” he whispered and the black wall fell upon him. Immediately all light vanished. It wasn’t just merely dark, but blacker than the depths of despair, where an absence of light necessitated a void. The lingering heat of the night was gone, in its place a bitter cold that reached through skin and clutched at his heart.

Dekel tried to scream, but even that sound was denied him. The dark swallowed it up, smothering the noise completely. Yet he could clearly hear the sound of the Cardinals: the faint snicker off to his right, a sharp draw of breath close to his head. It was as if they wanted to be heard.

The cloying smell of turned earth and decay assaulted his senses, he gagged, attempted to rise, but pain exploded across his back. Claws tore into flesh, and blood poured from the wounds. He struggled to stand, but a heavy blow smashed into his temple and he simply knew no more, slipping into darkness even more profound than that in which he lay.


Death wasn’t what he had assumed it to be.

For one thing it smelled of stale sweat, dirt and rust. It was also loud. It seemed that many people were walking close by. Their shuffling footsteps and the low murmur of fear tinged voices, forming a constant backdrop of noise for him to ponder. He lay on a hard surface of carved blocks, uneven in their design, so the edge of one stuck sharply into his back. When a foot jarred him uncomfortably in the ribs, he finally decided that he really wasn’t dead. Apprehensive of what he might see, opened his eyes.

He was in jail.

He shouldn’t have been surprised. He had been here before, three years ago, when the Swiss Guard of the Vatican had caught him in the temple of Hercules. The Guard had been as shocked as he was when they discovered each other creeping through the temple halls. Dekel had been stealing artefacts, while the Guard -it later transpired- where on a sightseeing tour. One of their young recruits had never been to Rome before and the older members of his squad took it upon themselves to show him the sights of the Capital. Dekel had been caught and spent a week in jail before it was decided he was too young to join the Papal Army. He had been severely whipped before being sent back to the Ghettos. The pain of those beatings was still an unpleasant clear memory, but he strongly doubted he would be lucky enough to receive a similar treatment this time around.

They had been herded into a large dusty hanger. Its original intention had been to house aircraft, but its dilapidated condition eventually saw it handed over to the Home Guard. That would put him, he guessed, in the east quarter, far from home and his family. It meant he was effectively stranded with no help of rescue, as this was just one of many such hangers on the city’s outskirts.

The jail was little more than a large cage. One in a row of seven, with two other rows running in lines across the building’s length. A stone wall had been built halfway down its centre, the white sandstone in stark contrast to the sheet metal that composed the main bulk of the hanger. Dekel assumed that beyond the wall, the interrogation chambers were located. Above the cages, walkways ran the length of the hanger and cut across each row. Low hanging lamps allowed in scant illumination and as such everything lay draped in shadow and was lost in obscurity.

The cage was filled with men. So many there was barely room to move. Each face was sombre and drawn, dark circles lay beneath their eyes, silent testimony of the horrors they had endured. They had already been broken; each resigned to the fate that awaited them. He wondered what their crimes were -if any. They, like him, had been brought here without charge.

He had long ago learnt to live with his disappointment and bitter resentment at the treatment of his people. Now he locked it away, deep inside. Not forgotten, just stored for the day when it may be of use.

Dekel worked his way towards the front of the cage and peered out into a dim corridor, searching for guards.

Two were nearby, dressed in the grey cloth of prison wardens. Snub-nose machine pistols slung loosely over their shoulders. They had been talking quietly amongst themselves, sharing a cigarette, but both turned to regard him with cold empty expressions. Dekel glanced quickly down, busying himself in wiping dirt from his trousers – a pointless job. The wardens returned to their conversation and Dekel moved away. He had been hoping for hired hands, they were notorious for bribery; he may have been able to talk his way out. But not the wardens, they were different. The wardens felt pride in keeping Rome free of the flotsam of the underclass; there would be no getting through to them.

He crouched back down and considered his options. They were depressingly bleak. At some stage they would charge him, or use him as a guinea pig for a new law. Then they would offer him a chance to see his sentence out working for the Army and they may even pretend he had a choice. He would be shipped out of Rome to wherever the front line of the Papal States was, and because of his beliefs, their commanders would no doubt ensure he would not be returning.

He was determined not to let it happen.

So that left escape. Still an option, just not an easy one, his best bet would be to play along, agree to whatever they offered and then make a break for it when their guard was down.

He was a good swimmer; perhaps he could jump ship once they left the docks.

But what about Unita? The Cardinals must have captured her. He thought of his struggle at the tower and abruptly remembered his injuries.

Tenderly he touched the back of his shirt and found it torn in three places. He felt the skin. It was unbroken, not a mark or the slightest suggestion of a wound ever being there.

But that was impossible, he should have been gutted. He could remember the claws sinking through flesh; blood pouring from the wounds. Why wasn’t he dead?

Dekel wrapped his arms tightly around his legs and settled down to wait. The answers were out there, he must trust in God to provide.


Morning was heralded by a subtle change in light from the pitch-black of night to the grey wash of dawn. By day the cages looked even worse, a fact Dekel had thought impossible. With no sanitation the men had been forced to go about their business from the sides of the cage and the stench had become intolerable. Most had fallen quiet, either trying to sleep, or like Dekel, sat where there was space to contemplate their fate. Close to him, a large man with broken glasses, wearing only his pants and vest leant against the bars. His face was red, his left eye swollen, the skin a creased yellow like old parchment. Bruises covered his arms; some purple and blotchy while other more recent additions were large jet-black affairs.

“How long have you been here?” Dekel asked, trying to keep the pity from his voice.

“ I speak poor Latin and I tired, please just let alone.“ The man responded, his voice soft with a French accent.

“<Even for one who can speak your language? >“ Dekel asked, drawing slightly closer.

The man looked shocked and then smiled with relief. “< Thank God, I sound like such an idiot when I speak Latin. You have no idea how refreshing it is to speak my native tongue again. My name is Leonard... and you? >”

Dekel took Leonard’s outstretched hand, “< Dekel. Pleased to meet you. How long have you been here? >”

“< Four days I think, they picked me up at the Coliseum. I made the mistake of cursing God in front of the guards. They had already taken a dislike to me and were just waiting for an opportunity to act. >“

“<Easily done>,” Dekel said to reassure him. “<Speaking profanities about God in public places usually carries a hefty fine, but because you’re not Roman I expect you may get a whipping before they let you go>.”

Leonard paled. “<I can’t carry on like this, they have beaten me every day. The pain is too much; I haven’t done anything wrong. >”

“<I understand, but you have to get through this, it won’t last forever, just keep your head down and you’ll be able to walk away. That’s better than some, believe me. >“

Leonard did not seem convinced; he struggled with his emotions, taking two deep breaths to steady his nerves. Once back in control he asked. “<Have you heard about the German officers? >“

Dekel shook his head; “<The Germans are here? >“

The Frenchman gave a small nod of agreement. “ <They are to build two camps between here and Venice. Specifically set aside for the likes of us. >“

Dekel didn’t like the way this conversation was going. “<Camps? >” he questioned, although he suspected he already knew the answer.

“<Concentration Camps for Jews, or a better name for them might be death camps, for none ever come back. >“

Word of the camps had begun to filter through into Rome about five years ago. They were concentration camps, which traded in human misery and death. The idea had initially been a British one, championed by Churchill before more reasoned minds had prevailed. The Germans adopted it when the Nazi party rose to power. The rumours were that Germany had cleansed the Jewish people from their borders in something that was referred to as The Final Solution. Had it been so effective that the Church was now following suit? He couldn’t believe it. No matter how bad things had become, they would never send people to their deaths in such a blatant manner.

“<Not even the Pope would agree to this. It is madness.>”

Leonard smiled thinly. “<Let us hope my young friend, that you are right.>”


An hour later the sun rose. Its unrelenting heat beat onto the hanger roof and the temperature inside soared. Tempers flared, as their situation grew more desperate. People pushed and shoved, jostling for room, while others pressed their faces between the bars and begged for water. But none arrived. Dekel was determined not to panic, this would end soon enough, they couldn’t keep men in these conditions without providing some basic food and drink. He just had to wait it out and bide his time.

A short time later, seven Wardens approached the cages, five of whom had unslung their machine pistols and kept them levelled at the men. The others carried two wooden buckets: one filled with water and the other with a congealed mass that smelled vaguely of beef. They stopped before Dekel’s cage, unlocked the door and ordered four men out. Dekel tried to worm his way back into the crowds, not wanting to be chosen. However everybody else it seemed had the same idea and all he found was a press of bodies. One warden, a large man with short cropped black hair and unpleasant countenance pointed a stubby finger towards him. “Forward, “ he barked.

Dekel had no other choice and reluctantly walked out. Despite his apprehension it felt good to be out of the cage.

The warden gave an appraising look and dismissed him. “This one and him,” he said pointing to Dekel and Leonard. Leonard had equally been unsuccessful in blending in.

Non,” Leonard said, “you choose me all time, try one other, not me!”

The warden reached in and grabbed Leonard roughly by the hair, Leonard screamed and the warden dragged him out. Dekel started forward and was given a sharp rap on the back of his head with the butt of a gun. Once Leonard was out, they beat him around the legs until he fell forward and began to cry. The wardens’ looks of malicious glee made Dekel realise that this had been their intent all along.

Eventually they stopped and dragged Leonard onto his feet, pinching his skin and slapping at his face until he would support himself.

The two other men were given the task of feeding the prisoners, Dekel did not much care for the food –if indeed that’s what it was. His thirst was terrible though and he inched forward, closer to the bucket. A warden stepped before him and shook his head. Dekel’s stomach lurched as he realised they had other plans for him. Then before he had a chance to think on it further, one gave Dekel a shove in his back and both he and Leonard followed the Wardens down the row. As he passed the other cages, he caught the frightened and sometimes pitying stares of the prisoners. Most just turned their heads refusing to meet his gaze.

He was led through a door and into a narrow tunnel. Strip-lights hung loosely from the ceiling, which sparked and hummed with noticeable dips in power, failing completely when they were halfway down, so they had to stop and were forced to wait before the lights spluttered back into life. He passed three more doors and at the second, Leonard was turned away and marched through. The Frenchman shot Dekel a look of fear and then vanished from sight. Dekel prayed he would come to no harm. He had no choice but to continue on until the corridor ended at a large iron door, set upon thick metal hinges. A single hatch stood closed in its centre and Dekel wondered what lay beyond. He stood outside while the guard knocked and a voice heavy with a German accent said, “Enter.”

He passed through the door into a circular room that had a series of pipes running along its far wall; they shook and groaned as water surged through them. The room carried the strong damp smell of iron mingled with rust. Water trickled from two of the lower pipes and pooled into brown puddles upon the floor. It was unusually hot, worse still than the stifling heat of the cages. In the centre of the room a single man sat behind a desk: he was unusually tall with wide blue eyes and perfectly combed short blonde hair, flicked neatly over to one side. He studied Dekel intently, his eyes bright and intelligent. Two stacks of paper were set before him and an ink pen waited in a pot to his right. In perfect English he said, “Sit down.”

Dekel didn’t move. It was an old trick and he wouldn’t fall for it.

The German smiled; more of a spasm that lifted his top lip so the overall effect resembled a sneer. He switched to Latin. “Sit please. I am Lieutenant Hans Gerber, you will refer to me as Lieutenant Gerber, is this clear?”

Dekel nodded in agreement and sat down, grateful for the chair.

“Name?” Lieutenant Gerber asked.

“Antonio,” Dekel lied.

The Lieutenant arched an eyebrow.

“You are a Jew?”

Dekel shook his head, “No, I’m a Catholic.”

Gerber looked puzzled. “But you were brought in by the Cardinals?”

“Yes, I was out for the night, strolling down Cunfida road when they attacked me.”

“I am given to understand the Cardinals don’t make mistakes?” Gerber said, a faint hint of amusement creeping into his voice.

“I must have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, “ Dekel shrugged his shoulders, “these things happen.”

“Yes how… unfortunate.” Gerber’s eyes shone dangerously and Dekel knew it hadn’t worked.

“Quite,” he muttered.

Gerber shifted through the stack of papers, stopping when he came to one in particular.

“Ah here you are.” He slid a yellow parchment over. “This is you?” the German asked, his voice flat and emotionless.

“No,” Dekel continued to lie, “it’s not me.”

“I see.” Gerber sat back in his chair and made a barely perceivable nod of his head to the other guard in the room.

Dekel had a chance to glance around before the butt of a rifle smashed into his upturned face and threw him from the chair. He landed awkwardly, blood running from his nose. He tried to stand but was too slow and the guard placed a heavy boot into his ribs that blasted air from his lungs and brought stars to his eyes. He rolled across the ground clutching at his stomach, desperate to breathe again.

Lieutenant Gerber looked down impassively. “Right,“ he said, “lets do this again. You will not lie to me. If you do, this guard will beat you. Do you understand.”

Dekel nodded.

Gerber looked at the guard. “Pick him back up,” he said coldly.

The guard dragged Dekel back into the chair.

“From the beginning,” Gerber said in clear tones, “what is your name?”

“Dekel,” said Dekel, spitting out blood.

“And you are a Jew.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yes,” Dekel replied anyway.


A short time later, Dekel was transferred to a holding cell. His options had been made starkly clear, join the army or die in the care of the concentration camps. Not that it was much of a choice. The Papal army used Jews as little more than cannon fodder. He had heard of entire battalions dying to simply soften up the enemy. Added to the fact that the war might not even be real, left Dekel with a bitter choice indeed.

In the end he opted for the army, he reasoned he might be able to escape given the right opportunity. No one ever came back from the camps.

The cell he waited in was empty, just four walls with a narrow window letting in the dust of the city. A large broken strip of cement ran past the window, a haze of heat rising from its cracked surface. An old beaten open topped jeep rumbled past, the type Dekel had often seen in the depots out past the hills where the military bases were, of course those up in the hills were of a more recent design, but still as dusty. The driver was stripped down to just his shorts and his other two passengers wore their shirts open and weapons -long bulky looking rifles- left easily on their laps. They shared a joke as they passed, their loud raucous laughter lingering long after they had vanished from view. A dust cloud hung suspended in the air from their passing and when it finally settled, Dekel saw for the first time three ramshackle huts, across the strip, barely standing, leaning against each other for support. Two fig trees, their bark split and falling, pushed up around the huts, their long thin branches forcing through the broken windows and entwining through the gaps of their doors. Everything looked old, worn down and decayed, even the trees seemed to have only the most tenacious grip on life. He tried tugging one of the bars, hoping it would crumble away with age, but they appeared solid enough; there would be no escape that way.

He sat down and curled up in the corner, hugging himself while weighing his options. He wondered what had become of Unita, and prayed she had escaped with Nasargiel.

No, that would be wrong. Nasargiel only had her own interests at heart, not Unita’s, whatever game the armoured woman was playing it would serve only her selfish desires. Otherwise why bring her to Rome at all. Why not send her back to America? He wished then that she had escaped not just Rome, but Nasargiel as well. She may even be back at the farm with her mother, laughing about the whole experience.

He would have no such luck.

The minutes dragged by, turning into hours and the day moved slowly along, charted by the faint shadows slowly facing west. His stomach growled for food, he could not remember the last time he had eaten. At least in this cell there was a bucket, half filled with water, he drank from this sparingly, unsure of when he would receive more.

Finally more from boredom than anything else, he began to pace the room, occasionally looking up to the window, struggling to listen for any sounds. But all was still, only the faintest of breezes touching the higher branches of the fig trees. He sat down in a slump, facing out of the cell and into the long corridor beyond. He couldn’t conceive of a time where things had looked so bad. His life was in effect over, one way or the other he had lost. He wished bitterly that this wasn’t happening, but it was.

Movement caught his eye.

He assumed it to be a rat, he had seen several in his time here, so ignored it. It threaded a path towards him and he only really began to take notice when it crossed before the light.

It glowed, briefly golden.

Now his curiosity aroused, he watched as it continued to advance, taking in detail and shape. It appeared to be a huge golden cockroach, ten times the size it should be, more on par with a cat or small dog. Two slender golden feelers protruded from its rounded head, and it swayed back and forth as it ran, as if testing the air.

He felt instant revulsion at the sight and backed away from the door. Immediately as he moved, the creature let out a small squeal and picked up speed, heading straight towards him.

His revulsion turned to fear and he pressed his back into the wall.

The golden cockroach made it to the door and stopped. It sniffed around the bars and then latched on, starting to climb. Each golden segment of its body overlapped and it seemed to leave an oily residue as it went.

Despite his revulsion, he watched fascinated as it made its way towards the lock and then paused.

Each segment flared with light, so intense that he hurriedly adverted his eyes. It was followed by a wave of heat that brushed his face even from the far side of the cell.

Where once the cockroach had been, there was now a small ball of spinning silver, which flashed with tiny bolts of light, like an lightning storm in miniature, somehow contained all within the globe.

Where the lock once was, there was in its place a hole, perfectly smooth and glowing red with embers.

The ball rose languidly up into the air and abruptly shot off at speed down the corridor and out of sight. Leaving a stunned Dekel doubting his own senses. But he couldn’t deny the evidence of his own eyes. There really was a hole in the door, which, as if on cue, creaked ajar.

Gathering his courage he stepped up and pushed, the door swung easily open and banged against the far wall. He was being given a choice, he realised, or another way of looking at it, he was being given a way out. As much as he didn’t trust the strangeness of his circumstances he was not about to miss this opportunity.

He stepped out of the cell.

Immediately a klaxon sounded, a powerful blast, three times in quick succession. Dekel jumped and ran back inside.

From the corridor a swarm of guards emerged, shouting frantically amongst themselves. Each held their gun to the ready and Dekel feared the worse, but when they ran towards the main hanger, he relaxed and managed a sigh of relief.

He stepped back out of the cell, nervously at first, only going a few feet, his heart raced and a heavy sweat rolled across his face and dripped from his chin.

A short burst of small arms fire sounded somewhere ahead. Dekel knew the sound all too well; having heard gunfire many times growing up in Rome. He cringed as many others joined it; the sound roared the length of the corridor, incredibly loud.

Some kind of attack at the hanger, but he didn’t know of any resistance groups that were organised in such a manner, or had the necessary strength of arms to complete such an endeavour. And whom would they try and rescue anyway? There were no political prisoners held in the cages.

His questions were jarred from his mind by an explosion that rocked the ground and caused three of the strip lights to fail. Men screamed in pain and the gunfire now seemed less intense, more sporadic than before.

He had to get out of here, before the fighting spilled back into the corridor. He ran towards the doors and started to open them one by one. The first two were just offices and the third a staff room. No other doors lead out and only the staff room had a window, far too small for him to climb through. Reluctantly he turned the bend in the corridor and saw with relief the door to the main hanger was still closed.

The shriek of crashing metal exploded out from the hanger and Dekel stood stunned as the chaotic noise was filled by many men screaming, only to be silenced abruptly as if someone had simply turned down the sound.

Trembling with fear he tried to run for the remaining door but his legs didn’t seem to work, he half stumbled across the corridor and threw it open, praying that this may lead out. But it did not. This room was bare except one single chair set under a light. Tied to the chair was Leonard. The Frenchman was dead. His face caved in so that most of his mouth was missing. The back of his skull was gone and gore dribbled across his vest.

Dekel backed away and vomited. They had killed him, tortured him for days. And his crime had been speaking profanities at God?

They had killed him for that?

He slowly became aware that the noise in the hanger had stopped. The silence rang in his ears, loud to the point of being deafening.

He needed to escape, but there was no other way out. He didn’t want to go forward but he couldn’t remain where he was. Fear following his every footstep he stepped up to the door and nudged it slightly open. It met with resistance. Uncertain, he pushed harder and stumbled into the hanger as the door flew open.

A large carcass had leant against the door, like one might expect to find in a butcher’s shop, only it wore a jacket. His mind went blank and absently –in much the same way as one would notice a shoe lace untied- he observed the arms, legs and head had been forcibly removed and that this had once been a man, but now resembled just a mass of pulped red meat. His mind caught up and he twisted away, repressing an urge to scream.

The hanger had been painted a crimson red; it dripped from the ceiling and ran in small streams across the floor, collecting by his feet. The thick stench of iron lay heavy in the air. Small chunks of meat –flesh he was forced to accept- lay scattered about the floor directly before him, some were hairy, some smooth, others contained pieces of ragged bone or muscle. He lifted his gaze and saw a hand draped over one pile of flesh, just the hand and nothing else, as if it had been placed there and the owner would be back in a short while to claim it. Across from the hand a boot lay on its side, old and worn, a leg from the calf down still inside. Further on a single finger with a thick gold ring lay abandoned, its broken nail coming free and floating away to nudge against the boot before sinking from sight.

Body parts lay everywhere, arms and legs seemingly just thrown at random. The further into the hanger the more there were, until he noticed an uneven mound in the centre. Ten feet high from which blood still drained. He couldn’t be sure of what he saw, of what he thought it was made of. He stepped closer, edging nearer until there could be no doubt.

The mound was composed of dead bodies, all mangled and broken so it was impossible to tell where one started and the other stopped. They looked fused together as if a terrible heat had wielded each man to the next; their faces locked in moments of abject suffering.

The cells were torn open, the metal bars twisted out of shape. Some had been cast up into the ceiling as if a child had discarded a plaything. One cage remained in the roof, wedged tight with its door wide open. At some point they must have hit the walkways, shearing through the support columns and sending the whole thing crashing to the floor in a mass of broken metal.

On the floor before him, a machine pistol glistened red in the evening light. Dekel picked it up, unsure of what use it might be, but feeling reassured by its presence.

The hanger bay doors were now open, like the cages they had simply been torn off and cast asunder. The way out was waiting; he just had to pass the bodies. Feeling as if he was in a dream, Dekel walked across the hanger, trying to keep his eyes locked ahead, determined not to see the macabre details. Only his mind betrayed him: strands of fat hung from the darkness, a head leered from the shadows, bereft from the body, a single eye, the pupil dilated, drifted lazily past.

“Please,” he whispered, “just let me walk through.”

As he neared the mound, he clearly heard a sucking sound, like draining the remains of a drink with a straw. Something still lived in this. His footsteps slowed, but gradually it came into view.

A woman carved in a suit of exquisite golden armour sat upon the pile of the dead. In her six fingered hands she held onto the German officer, Hans Gerber. Hans’s left arm had been removed from its socket and the flesh was slowly corroding, turning black and rotten. Steam rose from the top and the flesh began to slip away. The smell of burning meat drifted towards Dekel and he was reminded suddenly of over cooked chicken and retched. Hans trembled and Dekel realised that he still lived. There was no doubt in Dekel’s mind that this was Nasargiel, the Iron Maiden of Unita’s world.

Nasargiel thrust her hand into the Germans chest, the soft flesh yielding as if she had put her hand into nothing tougher than butter. She appeared to rummage around before pulling out a black organ, which dripped blood. It shuddered as if still beating and Dekel knew it to be Gerber’s heart.

The German stopped moving, his eyes went dark and his mouth fell open, a single grunt of pain escaping his lips and easing him into death. Nasargiel watched his final moment of suffering intently and when he fell back in her arms she cast him away, turning her attention to Dekel.

“Watch,” she said, her voice dusty and old.

The Lieutenant’s heart began to beat afresh, pumping blood from its arteries. It shook in her hand and then changed size, shrinking and becoming denser, looking more like a lump of coal or obsidian. She placed this onto the Germans leg that was now just bone, pure white and devoid of any lingering meat. The bone also changed shape, reducing in size and growing five small sections, like teeth.

When Nasargiel had finished, in the place of the Germans leg and heart, a bone white key remained, its head shining the deepest of blacks.

“You will need this,” she said standing up and moving towards him.

“No” Dekel said, lifting up the gun.

“That won’t do you much good,” she waved a hand towards the mound, “look how far it got them.”

Dekel tried to back away, but slipped on the blood and fell. “What do you want!” he cried.

“What I have always wanted, since coming to this realm, the destruction of the Plan and my lover returned. Tonight I shall have both.”

“The Plan?”

Nasargiel looked at him oddly, her wide alien eyes studying him as one might regard a worm crawling through a garden.

“You know of whom I speak.”

Dekel’s eyes widened in astonishment, but then Nasargiel leant down and with one hand lifted him up effortlessly from where he lay.

“Please don’t kill me.”

“No, I shall save you for another,” she replied, “ you have a job to do first.” Taking the key she reached into Dekel’s pocket and placed it there. “This will see you inside the Holy See, it will lead you to Unita. You do want to rescue her, don’t you?”

Dekel didn’t respond, he shivered and whispered a prayer to God.

“Oh she can’t hear you. She’s dead; she died not long after the flood. Her age was too great and she became mad. My lover put her out of her misery.” A suggestion of humour floated on her words.

“You are mad,” Dekel hissed, “you are no Angel, you are a machine.”

“Very astute, but I am an Angel, or at least your race has thought of me as one since you climbed down from the trees."

“You are not that old,” Dekel felt a small twinge of courage return.

“You’re right, I’m older. Older than this world or any other, so old in fact my origins are lost even to me. I have been driven to the edge of reason and beyond, only to be drawn back to sanity time and time again. I have watched the endless cycle of creation and am no longer impressed by the infinite design. So when you say old, you cannot conceive of what it means, age is relative to the species and your kind lives for such short bursts of time.”

“Other universes, there is only this one, no other! You’re a machine, perhaps even part human, a superhero for America, nothing more.”

Her hand tightened into a fist and pressed down onto his chest, Dekel felt the bone start to give and pressure build upon his heart. “Please…” he managed to whisper, “you’re killing me.”

“How little your kind knows. There are many realms, all close enough to feel, but yet far enough away that you will never reach them. You should count yourself lucky in this, you would not wish to see the other Earth’s inhabitants, you would find them deeply unpleasant and they would find you… a momentary distraction.” She sighed, a faint whirr like an old cassette running out of tape. “But you will rescue Unita, wont you?”

Dekel still said nothing, but his eyes shone with fierce determination.

“Go then,” and she released her grip.

Dekel didn’t waste a moment and fled, running past the hanger, past the dead and out into the city beyond, he never looked back, he just ran for everything he held dear, and for his life.

The sun had set and the first of the summer stars were out. A gentle breeze blew through the ancient streets of Rome and in the distance the lights of the city flared into life as another night began. He didn’t stop; he never even slowed. There was no doubt in his mind that he had been in the presence of evil, so strong and pervasive it left its taint upon his skin. Who knew what it had cost his soul? This evil would be heading for Unita and he had to warn her. The key pulsed white-hot, but so caught up in his dark, frantic thoughts he was not even aware of it; Dekel changed direction and headed towards the Vatican, certain she would be there.

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Comments by other Members

Argyle at 09:33 on 29 July 2005  Report this post
The whole thing flows really nicely, the transition of the chapter moving from scene to scene. But there were times when I read a sentence, then had to go back over and read it again. Not because it was incorrect, but because I needed to make sure i had read it correctly.

The first part of the chapter has lots of semi-colons and colons. At one point it feels like the text is stopping and starting all the time to tell story, add info, tell story, add info etc. I know it's not incorrect, but at that point it feels like it is drawing away from the pace of the action. Then, after the first part of the chapter, the rest of of the chapter is almost void of colons and semi-colons. Almost as if you changed your writing style.

The action is what drew me into this chapter so quickly, and it works really well. The descriptive texts are great and the dialogues seem very natural. I'm intrigued by this world, and will make myself go back and read the earleir chapters when i get time so i can better understand what is going on!

Nelly at 16:43 on 29 July 2005  Report this post
Thanks for looking through and your constructive input, I'll have a look back at the semi-colons and colons and see what I can do.


paul53 [for I am he] at 08:50 on 30 July 2005  Report this post
Hi Neil,
This is a very good upload with plenty of atmosphere and well-imagined locations. Good pace and greater depth. You handled the horror well; just enough to feed the reader’s imagination, but not enough to put them off. This story could now veer off in many directions, and I am intrigued to see which direction you will now go. Thanks for reminding the reader the period in which this is set. I keep going off to the future, whereas it is an alternative past.
There are a fair few errors this time, but mostly the normal sort passed over in the rush to get it set down. You would have caught them yourself later with a sedate redraft.

save the velvet cushion of night, in which the ladder ascended.

save the velvet cushion of night into which the ladder ascended.

She was a natural leader and he wouldn’t –couldn’t- leave her in trouble.

She was a natural leader, and he would not – could not - leave her in trouble.
I think losing the abbreviations gives emphasis to his resolve. Note also the spacing around the hyphens.

but even that sound was denied him. The dark swallowing it up, smothering the noise completely.

but even that sound was denied him - the dark swallowing it up, smothering the noise completely.
but even that sound was denied him. The dark swallowed it up, smothering the noise completely.

assaulted his senses, he gagged, attempted to rise, when pain exploded across his back.

assaulted his senses. He gagged, attempted to rise, but pain exploded across his back.

he finally decided that he really wasn’t dead and apprehensive of what he might see, opened his eyes.

increase the tension with:
he finally decided that he really wasn’t dead. Apprehensive of what he might see, he opened his eyes.
Shorter sentences are like a fast beat in music; the reader gets the sense of tension through them.

They had been placed in a large dusty hanger.

Who? The soldiers or the prisoners? If the prisoners, then “They had been herded into…” or similar. If the soldiers, “They were billeted…”

and was lost to obscurity.

and was lost in obscurity.

Each of their faces were sombre and drawn

Each face was sombre and drawn

My name is Leonard and you?

My name is Leonard . . . and you?

jostling each over[?] for room, while others pressed their faces between the bars and begged for water

should be “jostling each other for room”, but as there is another “other” just “jostling for room” will do.

A short time later, seven Wardens approached the cages, five of which had unslung their machine pistols

five of whom…

He was lead through a door and into a narrow tunnel.


He passed through the door into a circular room that had a series of pipes running along its far wall, they shook and groaned as water surged through them.

Semi-colon or new sentence instead of comma.

“At the beginning,” Gerber said in clear tones, “what is your name?”

“From the beginning” ?

He stood beneath the window and felt the warmth of the sun shining down from between the bars.

As the rest of this paragraph describes his view through this window, it would best not to imply it is high up and hard to reach.

It glowed briefly golden.

Either “It glowed briefly, golden.” or “It glowed, briefly golden.”

Some kind of attack at the hanger, but by whom? He didn’t know of any resistance groups

better: “Some kind of attack at the hanger, but he didn’t know of any resistance groups…” Let the reader ask the questions.

the chaotic noise was illed [?] by many men screaming, only to be all abruptly silenced

… only to be silenced abruptly …

Dekel picked it up, unsure of what use it may be,

It might be

He didn’t stop he never even slowed.

He didn’t stop; he never even slowed.


Nelly at 10:17 on 30 July 2005  Report this post
Thanks Paul for reading through and I'll edit in to reflect your points.


Patsy at 17:22 on 30 July 2005  Report this post
Hi Neil,

Really liked this section despite the fact that you made me wait to find out what happened to Unita!
This really builds the tension. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop until the end.

Paul took care of any corrections I found, so I won't repeat.

What is this Plan that Iron M. talks about? Is that something you have talked about before and I missed it? (Am still reading through your first few chapters, :( sorry it is taken so long)

Still waiting patiently (not!) to see what happens to Unita, have become rather fond of her. Send more

Patsy :)

Nelly at 22:59 on 30 July 2005  Report this post
Cheers Patsy,

The Plan is new to this chapter and fully explained a little later on.

Don't worry, I come back to Unita next chapter.


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