Hello, Dear Reader,
I am on a SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION kick where I thought I might provide some samples of what I write to see if I can tempt you beautiful reader-types to buy my work. A girl HAS to pay some bills, right? I need you. I want to entertain you. If you are fans of different types of SciFi/Fantasy (and sometimes a touch of Horror), then you have come to the right author. I am told my stories are unique. I would LOVE for you to take a look.
Today, I am providing an excerpt of my novella, “Urbania.” It is a dystopian (or Utopian, depending on whether your a citizen of Urbania or not) … but it’s SciFi with strong Fantasy elements. It was originally published as a novella by Sam’s Dot Publishing in February, 2006. It is the first book of a trilogy based on Urbania, The Great City.
Without further delay, I present “Urbania.”
Hugs are on the house,
By L.A. Story
My taxi stopped at the curb in front of Urbania’s massive gates. I grabbed my bag off the seat next to me, got out, closed the door and then stood for a long moment with my hand on the car’s roof — keeping in touch with what was left of my world.
The desert’s summer sun painted me in late afternoon glow. I gaped at the gate and an arid breeze snaked its way into my mouth, French-kissed me and ruffled my hair.
Urbania — a mysterious city enclosed by a fifty foot brick wall like the ancient Jericho of Biblical fame. Urbania’s only entrance was a mammoth gate that looked very much like a metal tapestry of loosely woven iron lace embellished with glittering, sculpted rods of gold and silver.
I recalled the legend that the gate was not to seal in Urbania’s seven-million inhabitants — but to keep the rest of the world out. Urbania liked her secrets.
I spoke to the taxi driver through the open passenger window, “Please, wait for me a moment.”
The driver ignored my request. He gave the Great City’s entrance a fearful glance just before he screeched away from the curb and left me stranded.
I clenched my fist in an effort not to shout after him. The city’s guards missed nothing and they would have to be convinced of my sincerity if I were to be allowed to enter. This sincerity would certainly be doubted if the guards saw me run after my taxi — begging the driver to stop.
I scanned the area in front of the gate and saw fifteen Sentinels, ten men and five women — all dressed in the same type of uniform, which consisted of a black, belted robe with a gold tunic and black pants beneath. Each guard had a different insignia embroidered in gold on his/her shoulders and back. The pants were tucked into black combat boots. The guards managed to look both elegant and deadly.
The guards were painted golden-pink by the sunset glow. The romanticism of the color did not dispel their menace. I chose to address the guard nearest where I stood on the cobbled sidewalk. I got within nine feet of him when he raised his rifle and pointed it at my chest. I dropped my bag at my feet and raised my hands above my head.
“What is your business here, foreigner?”
I tried to remember what I was supposed to do. “I want to enter the gates of Urbania,” I said as clear and fierce as I could under the circumstances.
Fear coiled inside me like an asp. I needed this to work in my favor for more than one reason and I scanned my memory for the last news report of a petitioner being shot at Urbania’s gates. It seemed it had been at least three years. I did not know whether to be relieved or worried — Urbania might be due for another intruder assassination.
The guard looked me up and down. I wondered what he saw.
I tried to picture myself from his point of view — a thirty-something man who looked athletic (if a bit soft); above-average height. I considered my other features through the guard’s eyes — big shoulders, slight paunch, pleasant face, dark blonde hair and hazel eyes.
After my personal assessment of what I thought the guard would see, I decided he would not be all that impressed. Hell, neither was I. In any case, I could not tell what the guard thought as his expression was carefully blank.
“What gifts would you offer our city?” The guard asked.
“I am a writer,” I stated, simply. I knew this would win points, although I left out that I was not the literary type — I was a journalist. That snippet of information would get me shot on site.
Urbania did not take kindly to those who would rob her of her precious secrets. Much blood had been shed before the city gates — on the cobbled sidewalk — in the seventy-five years since the city was established.
“A wriiiiiiteeeeeer,” the guard repeated. His face still held no expression, but he said “writer” soft and slow as if it tasted like the richest chocolate. After a moment, he said, “Why would you leave the world and become a Great Citizen?”
I knew this was critical. Ketch had told me so. My fear, combined with a dusty memory from a college drama class, served nicely to cause me to tremble. I managed to work up some tears (my growing terror made this easier). Ketch had told me to use as much truth as I could in what I said. This would help make the sincerity ring clearer.
“I’m tired of the world ….or maybe it’s grown tired of me. I’ve dreamed of this place — dreamed of it ever since I was a small boy. I’m sick to death of forced traditions, religion, conditional love, hatred and the leash that is our government — it has choked me. I just want the peace and freedom to be who I am … please … please … don’t deny me this chance,” I sobbed. My heart raced. My tears were suddenly true and that frightened me.
I lowered my hands and fell to my knees, prostrate, before the guard and his fourteen comrades. I cried into the cobblestones, “Please let me in … I have no other home.”
With my face so close to the sidewalk, I could see there were bloodstains in the mortar between the stones. I shivered.
My God, what made me think I wanted this so badly? Was a story worth risking my life? But, I knew it was worth it. Urbania was the story of the century. I felt the press of a gun barrel to my temple. The guard now stood over me.
The guard asked softly, “What did you see … when you dreamed of Urbania?” His voice came from high above me. I did not dare look up.
My tale of the dreams had been true a long time ago; I desperately raked the coals of my mind to stir the memory. After a moment, there was a quick impatient prod from the gun barrel at my temple.
“I dreamed of a creature with gleaming eyes that creeps around at night. I never see it full-on but I remember its eyes as it chases me through a field, where I’m running blind. … I also remember a woman with black hair … she protects me …” my voice trailed off. I simply could not remember much more than that.
The guard above me was quiet. I got the impression he was looking or signaling the other Sentinels. He taunted, “Your dream has impressed me, foreigner, but we can’t just let you pass the gate so easily. You might get the impression that Urbania’s guards are easy like whores.”
The others chuckled. I spared a brief glance up and found it strange — laughter without smiling.
“I think you need to earn your way in … maybe by performing some menial task …” Above me, the guard’s tone was thoughtful.
My terror expanded. I felt I had lost the battle.
“I know …” the guard said. He came to stand directly in front of me. “I think my boots need to be cleaned. I want you to clean them, foreigner.”
“Whatever you want,” I said with a glance up at the towering figure.
The guard managed a small smile — the first expression I had seen cross his features — and my own fear nauseated me.
There was something else. For a moment, I thought I saw a strange pinpoint of golden light where the guard’s iris should be. It was gone before I could be sure.
I raised a hand to brush the guard’s boots — an award-winning journalist on my knees preparing to clean a man’s boots with my bare hands. To keep my mind off what I was about to do, I mentally drafted my acceptance speech for the Pulitzer. The guard abruptly moved his foot from my reach.
“No, foreigner,” he said as he leaned down to address me. “I want you to lick them. Lick my boots clean like the dog you are.”
I felt my face blanch. My jaw tightened and the guard saw it, unfortunately. The gun’s barrel slid from my temple and down the side of my face. The barrel was jammed painfully against my jaw.
The guard spoke low. “I guess you don’t want to enter Urbania’s gates badly enough.”
“Then you don’t know me too damn well, do you?” I rose up on my knees and screamed at him, surprising myself as well as him. “You can’t keep me from it! I want to be part of Urbania!”
The guard put his boot back within my reach. “Prove it.”
I clenched my jaw in a lingering moment of stubbornness. My chest heaved. I breathed heavily through my nose and fought back the throat-swelling thickness of tears. My eyes did not tear up, but my nose ran. I un-tucked my shirt and used it to wipe my face.
I lowered myself back down to my hands and knees. I stared at the boot closest to me and finally I brought my face close. When I decided to do it, I went all the way. It was the way I did everything. “In for a penny, in for a pound.”…As my foster mother would have said. So, there were no delicate, timid strokes of the tongue. I licked the guard’s boot clean of its light dusting of desert dirt with long, lapping strokes.
Like a dog.
There was no drafting of any speeches to escape the moment. I blanked everything out of my mind — I simply drifted off to some neutral place as I often did as a child. I did not allow myself to taste the dirt and I tried to block out the reality of grit as it was slowly insinuated between my teeth and backed up in my throat.
When I was done with both boots, I instinctively knew spitting on the cobbled sidewalk would not be taken lightly, so I swallowed with the same blankness of mind I employed during the cleaning process.
When I finished, I sat back on my haunches and glared up at the guard. He nodded slowly at the next guard in line. The woman approached. Her face was not so neutral. What slight emotion I read indicated she did not approve, but she also looked resolved to follow orders.
With a series of hand motions, the male guard signaled the others to spread out. He motioned for the woman to come closer.
“Now, clean her boots as you did mine, foreigner,” he ordered.
I crawled on all fours to the woman. I lowered myself to her right boot and repeated what I had done before. I briefly wondered if she could feel the strokes of my tongue through the thick material of her boot … then I closed my mind off.
My tongue was dirty and dry by the time I began to lick her second boot. The dirt choked me. I desperately needed a drink of water. I did not even have enough spit to swallow. Most of what I managed to do on the second boot was smear the dirt around with my filthy tongue. I did the best I could and then sat back on my haunches.
“Have any more cleaning for me to do, Sir?” I said. My voice was an odd, dirt-choked croak.
The guard considered me for a long moment, and then slowly shook his head. “No, that won’t be necessary.”
He signaled the woman and another guard, “Indigo and Saul, assist the foreigner up.”
The two Sentinels each grabbed one of my arms and hauled me to my feet. I wondered if the “head” guard was about to execute me. I managed to numb my mind enough to accept anything.
“What are you called, foreigner?”
“Richard Shelton,” I rasped.
“I am Nestor, Richard Shelton. Welcome to Urbania,” he said with a gracious bow. Then he turned and sent out the call, “Open the gate, we have a new citizen!”
Urbania’s mammoth gate shuddered on its tracks as it began to slide. I watched in wonder as the gate opened and I thought it was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.