Disclaimer: This story has not been revised, edited, or in anyway cleaned up (aside from things like spelling and grammar). It is a raw file that I am still working on for NaNoWriMo. I am posting it to get feedback to better finish my story arc as I reach for 50,000 words by the end of November. Please note that I will continue to update, edit, and write the story as I get feedback. I will probably be working on it well into the new year, though I hope to have at least a bare-bones ending of the story by November 30. That is all. :)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, is a bustling place, almost alive with the energy of its inhabitants. It has a personality: it is old, wise, shadowy in places, but where it is illuminated by the sun, it glistens. Its buildings and streets seem to have grown from the ground as naturally as its many trees in a casual triangle that mimics the shape of the three rivers that make up its boundaries. It's busy but calm, a welcoming city for all who inhabit it.
On Sunday, Pittsburgh is dead.
Its streets are cold and naked, its sidewalks wide enough and empty enough to threaten the possibility that they might swallow inexperienced passer-by. Sundays are dark, wide, and lonely. Sundays are bleak, closed, and lifeless.
Some people are certain that this is because Pittsburgh's economy is based on the comings and goings of the weekday office crowd, and the cultural folk of Saturday, but the reason is much simpler. Perhaps it is harder to believe, but these things tend to be.
You see, the truth is, on Sundays, Pittsburgh is dead. No, not a cold and bloated corpse, though in the winter, Pittsburgh's residents wouldn't find that so hard to believe. No, on Sundays, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania becomes a place opened up to the otherworld, a place where the veil is thin. On Sundays, Pittsburgh is still full of hustle and bustle. It's just that most of its occupants are no longer alive.
Lilla stood with her hands in her pockets, frowning gently. It was fall, not quite mitten-weather, but there was chill enough to make waiting for the bus mildly unpleasant. Especially when the bus was more than twenty minutes late. The Pittsburgh Port Authority busing system was never a thing to be marveled at, except perhaps in its inefficiency, but since the union of bus drivers had threatened to strike, the bus schedule was becoming less a list of times and places where buses should and would arrive and more a grand list of suggestions, as though riding the bus wasn't frustrating enough in its own right.
A breeze which threatened the chance of a fall rain tangled in Lilla's red hair and blew it across her face, curling it around her ears. Her hair brushed the bottoms of her headphones and quickly made scratching noises that invaded her music and then were gone.
Lilla sighed. The sky was overcast – not quite dark, but cloudy enough to sink the world into a perpetual evening. It had been sunny all week. Sunny every day but today, when Lilla had less-than-thrilling errands to run.
There was a grumbling to Lilla's left as a rickety old rectangular bus groaned up to the stop. Too cheap and too broke to buy a monthly bus pass, Lilla shoved two dollars into the cash slot and sauntered to the back of the bus, falling gracelessly into a seat as the bus accelerated suddenly. Lilla adjusted herself in the seat and leaned her head against the window, staring at the same houses that she stared at every time she made the fifteen minute trip downtown. She scoffed at some political yard signs and smiled hopefully at others. She reached into the front pocket of her purse for a chap stick, looking away from the monotonous scenery for just a moment to find and uncap the balm.
As Lilla looked back up, she saw a woman standing in the yard directly outside the window Lilla was sitting behind. Lilla squinted her eyes. Something about the woman just seemed wrong. She wasn't doing anything, just standing in what was presumably her yard, looking out into space, but for some reason, she seemed a bit unclear, like the glass in Lilla's window was too thick to see through properly in exactly the spot the woman was standing.
The bus lurched forward a bit, then stopped to allow a young man in scrubs to catch a ride, and Lilla strained to get a clearer picture of the woman outside. She wiped at the glass with her shirtsleeve, but the woman still seemed foggy. As the bus shuddered and began to move once more, Lilla shoved her face against the window in a last-ditch effort to get a good look at this woman, which was when Lilla realized that the woman was looking back. Lilla blinked, and the woman seemed to be bigger or closer, despite the bus slowly pulling away. Lilla blinked again, and the woman was gone, having moved out of Lilla's field of vision. Suddenly, Lilla felt relieved, even though she had not been aware of any sense of unease. Whatever the case, she shook her head, capped her chap stick and closed her eyes. She didn't look out the window for the rest of her short Sunday trip.
Faven has his hands clasped behind his back and he walked with his head high as he traversed Fifth Avenue. He stepped casually as he glanced in store windows at fall fashions, delicious meals, and new musical releases. Most days he would enter the first shop with anything that caught his eye, but today he had a specific goal. He walked to Sixth Street, which was darkened in small part by clouds, but more so by the closeness and height of several churches and business garages that pushed their way into the street-turned-alley. It was one of the churches that Faven was interested in, at least in part.
Hot Dogma was a small lunch-style cafe owned by one of Pittsburgh's many churches. It was blatant evangelism, but the food was good, even if some of the dishes were served with a heaping side of The Good Word, and all were welcome, regardless of faith.
Especially on Sundays.
Faven pushed open the door casually and stepped into the post-church lunch crowd. His good temper allowed him to blend in easily, in spite of a crushed velvet waistcoat, lace ascot, and lack of a right eye.
Slipping past the hungry masses, Faven made for a door set behind a table that looked very much like a section of wall. He pulled the door open and was out of the restaurant before anyone even had time to wipe the relish from their chin.
Faven trekked down a twisting stone staircase with on hand cautiously touching the wall to keep his balance. Candles were lit and had been placed in brackets on the wall, presumably to help those on the staircase find their way, but the flickering effect of many tiny pricks of light was actually quite disorienting, especially to someone who had jst come in from outside. Doubly so for Faven, who had an inexplicable problem with his depth perception.
The staircase descended about thirty feet under Pittsburgh's streets and opened up into a wine cellar, which was only the first of many rooms in this underground space.
"Brother Nicolai?" Faven called out. A slow shuffling answered him, a signal that Brother Nicolai had heard Faven's call. Faven let the old monk take his time. He did not believe in rushing his elders, and certainly not when the age difference was as great as this.
"Faven, my boy, is that you?" Brother Nicolai's voice was gritty but not unpleasant to listen to, and his Russian accent somehow made everything thing he has to save have so much gravity, even if he was usually just complaining about rats, dust, and the living.
"It is, Brother Nicolai," Faven responded. The old monk approached Faven, his dusty brown robes gently sweeping the floor and completely covering his bare feet. His hood was back, resting on his hunching shoulders Brother Nicolai's face was long and softened by wrinkles, and yet his hair was still black and his blue eyes still shone, even after three hundred years.
"Ah, Faven, young man. How passes the day?"
"Good, Brother Nicolai, thank you. How have your days been?"
"Oh, these days Faven, they all seem quite the same. I don't go above to often anymore. Even the Sundays seem to be more and more crowded with that sort. I'm glad for the winter coming, though; maybe the cold will keep them inside, eh? Not like it bother us, eh, Faven?" Brother Nicolai chuckled and shuffled over to one of the tall wine racks, inspecting the bottles. "Ah, well, I should think you're here for your monthly pick-up?"
"Yes, Brother, Nicolai," Faven flashed a bright smile and nodded his head, then brushed a stray hair out of this eyes with a pinky. Faven was an attractive man, and he knew it. The loss of one of his green eyes nearly ninety years ago had at first been a major blow to his pride and vanity, but he quickly adapted, learning that women were drawn to him just as much if not more by the mystery of the missing eye as they had been by the beauty of two intact ones.
The old man took two bottles of wine down from the rack. They had no labels on them, only wide rubber bands around the necks that had Faven's name written on the. He shucked them into a paper bag, crunched up the top of the bag, and handed it to Faven.
"Have a drink for me, young man," Brother Nicolai insisted, "but I must get back to my books."
"Brother, you've been down here for centuries. Why not come up and enjoy the air? Fall is the best time for this city, and it is Sunday, after all."
"Dear Faven, there will be many more Sundays and likewise, many more falls. I'm sure I will see at least one more of each. Go, enjoy your perpetual youth, my friend. I myself may tire of my books one day, but today is not that day." He gave a brief, dry chuckle and vanished back into the maze of rooms beneath Hot Dogma.
"Enjoy I shall, Brother Nicolai."
Faven set off with a smile and a brown paper bag.
Lilla stepped off the bus into Gateway Center and took a deep breath. Of all the cities she had been to, Pittsburgh always smelled the cleanest. Cleaner that Richmond, cleaner than Columbus, and much, much cleaner that Cleveland, not that the last one was surprising. The only place she had been that could compare was Williamsburg, Virginia, but you couldn't call that much of a city, beautiful though it was. Lilla suspected it has something to do with Pittsburgh's abundance of trees and many sources of fresh, flowing water. Whatever the case, Pittsburgh always seemed fresh, new. With fall in the air, the smell was tinted with a rich, cool sweetness, the smell of decaying leaves and moisture, and Lilla loved it. Fall was her favorite of seasons. Everything seemed to have so much potential in autumn. All of the trees were giving their last dying breaths to be nothing more than beautiful. The weather was cool enough to be comfortable and not yet so cold as to be painful, a period which didn't last long in the town between three rivers. During fall in Pittsburgh, you could achieve anything.
Walking down Liberty Avenue, Lilla lit a cigarette and planned her path through the city. She had to return library books, get to a mailbox, stop at the ATM, and grab a cup of something delicious from Crazy Mocha, to make the trip worthwhile. She decided to make a big loop around the city, ended back at Gateway Center with coffee and bus fare in hand.
Dodging construction and perpetually closed sidewalks, Lilla noticed that Pittsburgh seemed a little more crowded today than it did most Sundays. A Pens game? No, she would be home watching it if that were the case. A Steelers game. She couldn't say for sure, but she thought not – people either sequestered themselves in their homes or in bars on the North Side during Steelers games. Maybe the city's occupants had decided, like Lilla, that they needed to get out of the house before they killed their roommates, too, regardless of the fact that almost nothing downtown was open on Sundays.
Yes, Lilla decided. That must be it.
Taking a drag off of her cigarette, Lilla opened the journal inside her head:
"I don't think Maggie has ever washed a single dish in her entire life, or if she has, she must have undergone some extensive brainwashing therapy and forgotten how to do it just before she moved into the house. I swear to God! And it' not just that – how many forks ido/i you need to make an omelet? How many bowls? One? Two? Yeah, that's what I thought, too. Turns out, Diary, we were both wrong. And then that bitch has the nerve to get angry with me when she doesn't have anything to eat off of. Who gave her the right -"
Simultaneous, Lilla nearly walked headlong into a telephone pole and her cellphone vibrated, momentarily causing her to stop dead in her tracks, unsure of what to do. She gave the telephone pole a crooked, accusatory glance, then cast her hand into her pocket to retrieve her Envy. It was a text from her mother, inquiring as to when Lilla would be coming to visit. Lilla resisted the urge to respond with a hasty, "Never!" and instead did not answer at all, letting the phone slip back into her pants pocket. She sidestepped the phone pole, flicking her cigarette at it, and continued down Liberty, leaving her mental diary closed to avoid anymore near collisions with poles or passers-by.
At the intersection of Liberty and Smithfield, she picked up a City Paper and as she closed the paper dispenser, a man caught her eye. He was walking aimlessly down Smithfield Street in Lilla's direction. Something about her seemed familiar. He was completely out of the ordinary, with a mauve jacket and hip-boots, but there were plenty of characters in Pittsburgh. No, it was something else. He gave off an air, an exact opposite air from the woman Lilla had spied out her bus window, but somehow the same. He too seemed blurry, but in a different way. All his colors seemed bright somehow; he appeared overexposed, especially for an overcast day.
Acting on an impulse, Lilla waved at him.
The man stopped, looked behind himself, to his left, his right, and then back a Lilla – he pointed his thumb at his chest and mouthed, "Me?" Lilla nodded, then shrugged dismissively. They man waved uncertainly, and then -
Lilla wasn't sure what happened, but one second the man was there, and then he simply wasn't. Lilla opened her mouth, as though having her jaw in this new position would help her reason, but this solved nothing and so she shut her mouth again. She quickly surveyed her left and right before stuffing the City Paper into her bag and walking up Smithfield as planned, but now with a wary eye to all who passed her.
If Faven hadn't been flustered enough by the random wave he had just received – from one of ithem/i nonetheless – he was then jerked through a closed storefront by a swift and strong tug on his coat sleeve, which wouldn't have knocked him down but for his previous surprise. He toppled immaterially through the locked door and onto the floor of a breakfast diner, narrowly avoiding smashing the two bottles in his left hand.
Pulling his free hand over his face to protect himself from whatever had thrown him into the restaurant, Faven cried out, "The hell!?"
"Dude. Dude. Man. Dude."
Faven paused, then wiped his wrist across his forehead, and without opening his eyes, Faven mumbled, "Barry..."
"Dude, man, yeah! You seen old man Nicolai today?" Barry was a long, lanky young man who had overdosed on acid in nineteen seventy-three and whose vocabulary had not increased since the day he passed on.
Faven stood up and dusted himself off, setting the brown paper bad down on what would have been an occupied dining table any other day of the week. He adjusted hi waistcoat and corrected his friend.
"He's a monk, Barry, not just any old man. At least do him that respect and don't refer to him like he's some nutter who lives in a shack in Appalachia. But yes, I have." He motioned to the table.
"Awesome, dude, awesome. So when -"
"Barry, shut up for two seconds, would you?" Faven stared out the glass door he had been pulled through only moments before and hoped the woman who was walking past didn't stare back. It was that girl who had waved to him on the street. She was alive, alright, there was no doubt about it. But there was also no doubt that she had seen him, and there was no doubt that he was dead. He couldn't take his eyes off of her as she walked past. She was different, she could see him...
"She's pretty," Barry muttered. "Who is she?"
"I have no idea."
But he meant to find out.
A young woman carefully descended the steps from Hot Dogma down to Brother Nicolai's sanctuary. Her name was Janine, and she was a psychic. She would be the second person to learn what Pittsburgh was about to become.
"Brother Nicolai, I have your lunch. We ran out of mustard, I hope you don't mind..."
There was a panicked rustling of paper from just beyond the wine cellar, and a sound like a book being slammed shut.
No longer confined to a shuffle in his haste, Brother Nicolai rushed from his library to the cellar, almost knocking Janine down in his rush.
"Forget lunch, Janine. There are more pressing matters at hand."
"The veil has begun to thin."