Elytra – an extract

The lights started to come back on. At first they were incandescent bursts which ripped through her unconsciousness before fading back into darkness. Then, slowly, the bursts became less violent, longer-lived, until she began to see.
The pain at the back of her neck was sharp, visceral and raw, and yet this pain seemed to lie on top of a dull, heady ache. She rubbed at it with the palm of her hand and winced as the pain increased, intensified, sharpened.
She pulled herself up onto her knees groggily and looked at her hand. There was blood. A wipe of fresh, glistening blood alongside the crust of the earlier bleed which her hand had disturbed. Her head hit the floor hard as the lights went out once more.
This second awakening was more gentle, more the lifting of the veil of unconsciousness than the stabbing of her awareness into life. She saw the blood on her hand, the blood that had seeped from her nose after the second passing, the pain now more evenly distributed. The blood no longer shocked. Just intrigued. She tasted it. Licked it from the tip of her finger.
Her vision slowly improved until she could see more than merely the bloody hand in front of her face. She was in a dimly-lit alleyway. She was dressed well, albeit sparely. Her dress, red, short, and of a very soft material, was rucked up around her waist, exposing her naked body beneath. One of her shoes had come off. She could tell that some part of her brain was asking some sort of question about pain in other parts of her body, but she felt nothing other than the searing heat that filled her head, neck and face. Nothing else.
She was alone. She looked up and down the long passageway from which her particular alley formed a spur, but there was no sign of life. ‘The club, Lydia, get to the, er …’ Lydia saw her memory of what she had been doing disintegrate, as first the Undergrounder who had been guiding her was drawn as if behind a screen, the light he took with him fading away before the screen collapsed, its material turning liquid as it hit the ground and drained away, taking with it not just itself but every screen, and everything Lydia had known or believed was hidden behind a screen away with it. The Undergrounder, likewise, as he vanished, plucked the concept of Undergrounder from her consciousness, dragging with it all the associated assumptions, prejudices and phobias from deep within her subconscious, revealing Lydia’s true nature before joining the deluge.
Lydia’s life flashed before her eyes: Lydia died at the moment the last part of her drained away and the drain itself folded and vanished along with it.
She stood. Carefully. Hanging onto the wall. She moved from hanging to leaning. She remained leaning for a few minutes until the dizziness stopped, and then took a few short, tentative steps into the main passageway.
She mumbled, addressing no-one in particular. She addressed herself quite particularly. Her name, however, had followed her destination.
Her steps were a little slow, a little unsteady. She stretched her hand to rub her aching neck, but instinct stopped it before it made contact. She gained speed as she gained balance, and as she walked she became ever more confident. After a few minutes, she was practically striding. The blood had stopped flowing, and the sharpness of the pain had relented.
She reached an open space into which the noise of life spilled: ‘Don’t ask me, I don’t know.’ She heard. She followed the voice, and reached a small archway. The life was through there. She could feel it as much as hear it, almost taste it. She hesitated for a second before striding in. What greeted her eyes surprised her but seemed oddly familiar. A man moved towards her, a concerned look upon his face.
‘Well, what on earth happened to you?’ He asked, leaning over the bloodied woman.
She looked directly at him. He led her to a corner, where the barman handed over a small glass and a wet towel. It was almost as if he was used to such occurrences. She took the glass. The first man sat her down on a stool by the bar, took her jaw in his hand and raised her face up to his. ‘Any ideas?’ he addressed his companion.
She let herself be cleaned, wincing as the rough cloth abraded her broken skin. She poured the liquid from the glass down her throat. It burnt at first, but the fire soon subsided, replaced by a warmth which wrapped itself around the ache and slowly smothered it.
The man felt the material of her dress between his finger and thumb. He smiled. ‘What’s your name?’ He asked. She didn’t answer. He didn’t look concerned. He continued. ‘Well, I take it you’ve heard … otherwise …’ She nodded. ‘Good, good. What is your pleasure? Do you have any credit?’
‘I dono.’ She said.
‘Well, we cater for practically every taste here. We even have some experiences that will doubtless be new to a lady such as yourself, but without credit, you’ll have to earn them. What can you do, er, I didn’t catch your name …’ the words hung in the air as he smiled winningly.
‘I don’ kno.’ She said. Simply. Directly. Convincingly. To no-one. The man’s demeanour changed. He looked confused. Almost shocked. The way she felt she ought to have felt on entering this … place.
‘Don’ ask me, I don’ kno.’ She repeated. And lost consciousness.

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