“Are you sure this is right?” Jake asked. Nala hesitated at the unfamiliar ring of his voice, then nodded, her green eyes radiant. They stepped inside, bolting the door firmly behind them. Wooden benches lined the wall opposite the ticket desk. A large poster proclaimed “Make way for the future!” in bold, red gothic letters.
Tickets in hand, they squeezed through a narrow gate in a metal barrier and moved towards the stairs that wound down to the Deeper Reaches. Above the roof arched upwards, darkened with time and soot. The place smelt of steam trains. Traces of old stories. Their footsteps echoed softly off the brick walls left and right like a hushed crowd under way.
A violent crash broke the peace. Horrified, they spun round to look. A second crash followed. Someone was trying to ram down the door to the ticket office. The door flew off its hinges and smashed into the ticket counter, shattering at the impact. Light from outside streamed into the office through the broken door as a hoard of burly thugs erupted into the tight space. “You go. I’ll lock the gate,” he shouted. Not waiting to see if she’d gone, he moved quickly back to the gateway and fished the key from his pocket: the one they’d found earlier. He fumbled with it for a moment and then it slid into the lock with ease. He turned it and the lock click closed. As he stepped back, his relief was short lived.
Roaring. Swearing. Clambering over each other to get at him. A seething mass, all shiny black leather and studs and acrid sweat, twisted hands, hobnailed feet, bared teeth, clawing, pushing, shoving their way towards the high metal barrier that separated them from him. “That’s the blighter wot did it.” “Grab ‘im!” “’Es the one wot ‘urt our young Tom.” “Grab the bugger.” They threw themselves at the gate in the barrier like a raging sea. But it didn’t give. Furious, some smashed their fists against the metal, sending blood squirting over the floor beyond. Others ransacked the office. Anything they could lift was hurled against the barrier. He shrank back into shadows, edging closer to the steps that led down to the Reaches. He didn’t get far. A heavy paperweight hit him full tilt on the shoulder. He gasped and staggered. The pain was excruciating. When he collapsed to his knees, an unearthly roar rose from beyond the barrier, throaty, sickening, like beasts foaming at the mouth, out for the kill. “Blood!” A new wave of savages flung themselves against the weakening barrier. A second flying object bowled Jake over, sending him rolling down the stairs until he came to halt against a wall at the bottom. Silence came now and with it a bitter blackness.
The Reaches is the first book of The Storyteller’s Quest by Alan McCluskey (Buy the book).