Synopsis: All Mally Winstead ever wanted was to be a cellist. When she accepts a contract from a man by the name of DeLayne at an art house gig, she is utterly unprepared for the grief that would follow. Running from home after a tempestuous row wither her parents and the destruction of her prized cello, she collapses in a nameless back alley…only to wake up seven years later with no money, shelter, or friends to call on. Desperate and without hope, she hides in a drainage tunnel to wait for her death, only to find that the man who handed her everything holds the deed to her soul and is coming to collect the fee. All seems lost, but a greater plan of the divine is on the move.
Above ground, Jerry Lewiston has problems of a different sort. Derided and bullied all his life for having the wrong name and ignored by his parents, he was content to live his life as a slacker in a world of fantasy. With no dreams or goals in mind, he coasted through high school by the seat of his pants without friend or purpose. After being diagnosed with cancer, he finds himself restless and lonelier than ever, wanting only a chance to prove himself as good as anyone before he is taken from this life. When he finds himself taking an unexpected detour past an ominous drainage tunnel, he is caught up in a race against time to save the soul of a girl he has never met from an enemy whose malevolence will take them to worlds and ages unknown…
A cold, damp wind howled in the dirty concrete drainage tunnel where Mally Winstead hid, her pale frame collapsing from despair and shock as she slumped against a curved wall. All the strength had gone out of her. Darkness slammed into her face. Her eyes hurt from the light glaring in from the gray and overcast afternoon outside, never letting her sight adjust to the dim that surrounded her and hiding the far reaches of the sediment-caked walls. The drainage tunnel went deep and disappeared into the shadows, and it was fine with her that it went unseen. She didn’t want any more of the world after all, not the one she woke up to, and as near as she could tell it was done with her all the same. For all she knew this was the world, whole and complete in this cavernous maw which drank up the remnants of humanity’s want-not in a gentle and polluted stream, passing the gutter-trash down to depths unknown. She wanted to be far away from it, whatever it had become on the outside. For a moment she thought she heard a whisper, something forlorn and dark from the long passage ahead, but she ignored it as memories trying to tear up through the surface as she tried to rationalize her reason for being there. Nothing like crying yourself to sleep in an alley, she thought, a whole other story to wake up seven years later. Her mind refused to accept it, but her heart told her otherwise.
It was the fight that made her run. The pain of arguments for weeks prior still ached in her stomach, the painful words of her family’s disapproval ringing loudly in her ears until they finally built up to an explosive crescendo. The family fired the first hail of arrows over her night life. “It’s not like I’m some tramp!” screamed Mally, and it was true. It is not that she was doing anything unscrupulous, though the same could not be said of her company. She only wanted to talk to her idols. But parents only see the worst when they’re afraid of what could happen, and they pressed into her to give up her lifestyle. It seemed that going home was no different than staying in this cold and wasteful place. This is where they would find her, long departed from her life. But if she decided to leave, the world she woke up to was no longer the same. Last night had been terrible, she thought. Mally looked to her left away from the light, where the stream disappeared into the darkness, and listened to the splashes that echoed up from the hollow distance. Where does it all go? She thought. Will it take me home? She wrapped her arms around herself and wondered exactly how long she’d been out of her mind.
Mally took stock of her condition for the first time that morning. Her white dress was tattered around the dirty hem, stained with large streaks of street grime which faded in with the sickly yellow taint of sweat marks and mold. The black cape jacket she wore around her shoulders was torn and patchy with mildew. She felt something in the pocket of her black cape jacket that crackled like old paper at her touch. A long forgotten scribble, she thought, or a receipt left there from some disremembered diner. Might as well look at it, she thought again. I’ve got nothing else to do. Mally unbuttoned the flap with long, elegant fingers, the kind that looked perfect when pressed over the strings of a cello or dancing across the keys of a concert grand. She worked the button through the hole and lifted the flap, and upon reaching into her pocket pulled out a receipt. Rather anticlimactic. It was the receipt for the jacket she wore about her shoulders, once fine and fashionable, now worn and patched with gray spots of dirt and dust. She looked at the incredible price she had paid, an over-indulgence illuminated with radiant hindsight. She remembered how good it felt to know she had it when walked out of the store that June evening. It was now September in a cold snap. It was impossible.
A whisper of a breeze blew from the shadows against the wind that came in from the outside.
Jerry Lewiston reached back and shoved his one-strap backpack onto his shoulder for the twelfth time that afternoon, which made steering his bicycle a merry chore as he managed to avoid the highway traffic. The other strap was torn off, the result of a wipe out weeks prior that left a lasting reminder in his aching right knee. The pumping of the pedals was becoming impossible due to pain, as was weaving around helpless pedestrians who would sooner die than give way on the crowded streets. He overslept the bus in the morning on certain occasions, which meant missing first period at Elmont Community College and having to make up during lunch hour. On those mornings he knew that justice hadn’t smiled down on him, and it would be a date with the red relic for too much of the day. Jerry Wilkins wanted to stay in bed today. But a small ping of guilt spurred him against the weight of another gray day with nothing but his homework and his thoughts, his afternoon to be spent in an all too quiet home where working late was the holy grail. He arrived at the 256A exit, signaled to turn right onto the semi-walled off bike lane, and eased onto the tarmac path. Even here there was crowding, as construction work left a smattering of debris and no lane closed blockade to warn him off. This was good in light of the news he had received the day prior. In two weeks he would be dead. He was glad there was no road closed sign, that his knee ached, and his backpack only had one strap.
Mally only heard the whizzing of car wheels over grooved concrete pavement pass over her head now, the droning of machinery buzzing through the underground. Sometimes she felt the air pressure sink when an eighteen-wheeler charged across the overpass, and it was frightening to behold. The forceful weight of the thing sent waves beating through the concrete structure that made it feel as if her life would end beneath several hundred tons of concrete. Yet it wasn’t often enough to scare her out of it. No, she wasn’t any kid of helpless animal, no sir, but enough would be enough eventually if the damp cold didn’t do it first. She then felt a twinge of hunger, and realized she had no money. It all came crashing down like a ton of concrete. She was alone. A waft of air rushed out of the darkness, warm and humid. Mally’s skin dotted with goosebumps, the warmth offering chase against the shivers. It felt like an invitation.
“You didn’t listen?” said a deep and airy voice. Mally closed her eyes, her face tight against emotion. I am not insane, she thought. “You’re not crazy, Mally.”
Mally looked into the darkness yet again, teeth gnashed. She new the voice.
“You took it from me!” she said, voice straining, threatening to become a scream through the anger boiling over. “I hate you. Give it back.”
“I have taken nothing from you that you did not freely give,” said the voice. “But you defaulted on our agreement. You forgot to play.”
Jerry was half way home as he stood on the path. The only detour was down the hill a mile back and along the Aurora Avenue route which would take him another hour on top of backtracking. He looked behind him at the distance, stomach rumbling with hunger in spite of his nausea, then toward the torn bike path. Could walk it maybe, he thought. Carry my bike I guess. He stood there, wondering how much if it really mattered. Two weeks left and stuck on the four-lane without even owning a car. He looked out over the side of the freeway toward the valley a few miles off where all the socials lived. Where he used to live. He broke away from the sight, not wanting to remember where he could never be again, looking downward at the narrow drainage canal that emptied into a gulley. A sixty foot drop to the bottom. Not so far away. As he swept his gaze behind him once again, he looked at the steep grassy incline that led down to the bottom. The drainage canal was narrow, but it was built into a hill with a space roughly eighty feet wide made of concrete. The incline on the other side was not quite as steep. There was a service walkway that led around the thing that could get him past the bike path, but he couldn’t be sure. He never had a reason to venture down there until today. He turned around and started for the gulch.
“I couldn’t play!” screamed Mally, voice echoing powerfully down the throaty tunnel. “It wasn’t my fault.”
“And the same from millions more,” said the voice. It was spoken from a silver tongue without compassion. A businessman out for collections, like the ones who don’t care if you lost your job or cannot feed your children. “Bargaining only stalls, and shows you haven’t truly pondered your position. Did I not give you a gift of fame? Do you think I could not have also given you a new piece of fragile wood to make ears bleed?”
“I worked for that cello,” said Mally, her voice now unsteady. “I earned it. It was part of me and my father ruined it because of you!”
“Come with me, Mally. We can make all of this go away. Come to me, and it’s all back to normal for you.”
“C’est la vie.”
Mally felt a strange tug in her core as a cold, empty sensation entered into her spirit. She felt her legs urging her forward as Mally stood her ground with all the strength she had left, but the awful temptation to move scuffle forward grew. She could see him now, standing there in that black suit, the same charming face he wore that night so many years ago. She wanted to scream and run, but she also wanted to go to him. He could save her from this. She took a step forward.
To be continued…