I’m in the process of editing ‘Shapers,’ the sequel to ‘Course of Mirrors,’ my first novel, awaiting release this year. By no means the final edit-round of Shapers, any feedback to this sequence from chapter eight is appreciated. Gart was called Rufus in Course of Mirrors. He re-appears in a future society. This is the beginning of a kind of night-sea-journey, where Gart is tested for a role he may or may not fulfil.
Having shut down his craft, Gart looked up to the late light falling into the cave. He felt dwarfed by its lofty height. A sliver of pale moon shone through a crescent-shaped opening in the roof. A glimmer in the rock before him caught his attention. Stepping close, he distinguished the carving of a spiralling maze. Intrigued, he tried to determine its flowing pattern towards the centre, but soon felt dizzy. His head was not right. Odd – it had not occurred to him to ask Oruba why he was sent on this underground journey. Rats, he thought, rats had consumed his mind when the tunnel was mentioned. Here was his chance to meet real rats. He had never questioned why Leo kept providing him with banned books on these creatures, instilling this obsession. Governors were not known to forge relationships of interest, or confer weighty authority onto their staff. Gart smiled to himself. Leo lacked influence, not just politically. He relied on him to exercise command over the Guardian army.
The entry to the tunnel was narrow but gradually opened out. He chose his steps with care. Not trusting the rough ground, he switched the glower’s setting from its sharp beam to diffused light. Deadly still and cool air enveloped him. Every now and then a section of steps lowered the path. There were bends where the tunnel narrowed only to expand again. After an endless straight stretch, a cairn rose like an apparition, its stones stacked up higher than his head, with a rock sticking out like a crooked finger pointing to the right. He strained his ears to identify a sound underlying the silence, a faint drone. And there was another sound, whisperings, behind his back. A shiver in his neck made him turn to cast the light of the glower along the walls – nothing. He loathed the dark. Was this really his choice, or had the black man lured him into this tunnel? Willing himself forward, he counted several cairns that looked alike until his map showed he had reached a halfway point. Dragging on, his linen sack with provisions got snagged by a jutting rock – food – the thought made his stomach growl.
He placed the glower on the ground, rested his back against the rock, and pulled a tin from the sack. It contained biscuits. Chewing relaxed him, and his taste buds declared: moreish. The water in the flask was fresh, with a hint of lemon. An acute sense of pleasure spread throughout his body. Every single cell was drunk with joy.
The sensation astounded him. He took his time over another biscuit, letting the crumbs melt slowly on his tongue, closing his eyes to savour each morsel. A bird – it could not be, not here – yet it was. A bird sang sweet notes in the branches of a blossoming tree under which he sat and played with stones and shells. A round-faced woman appeared, with a warm smile, tousling his hair. She handed him … Gart’s eyes snapped open. Disorientated, he stared at the opposite wall. The rock glimmered as if alive with tiny creatures, shifting and heaving. Shapes emerged – a nose, a mouth, a beard – the features of a frightful man with a savage scowl. Gart flinched as piercing eyes fixed on him. He heard a voice pleading – his own – please don’t leave me here, don’t leave me in the dark, I’ll be good, please. He curled up and sobbed. He was alone, utterly alone, facing a black abyss. The only control left was to play dead.
He woke with a shudder and cold limbs. Dampness from the tunnel floor had seeped through his uniform. From the rim of his consciousness a sound returned, the drone under the silence, and, close to his ear, a squeak, and another squeak. Speckles of silver danced before him. Something moved in the dark, and then shot through the ring of light cast by the glower. The creature stopped in a shaded nook. Tiny eyes gleamed there. Gart had swift recognition. A rat! He carefully pushed his back up against the wall. Without losing sight of the rodent, his hand felt for another biscuit. ‘Curious? Are we?’ The rat had not moved an inch. Gart broke off a small crumb and tossed it to land just within the faint radius of light. The rat twitched its nose. ‘I might as well have some more myself. Manna from heaven, or hell, my friend, whatever, it’s not a taste one forgets.’
He grasped a truth. Oruba had laced the biscuits to animate his dull senses. His new friend liked the crumbs too, and demanded more. He never had a friend before. ‘I’ll call you friend.’ It was the best he could come up with, and it sounded sweet to his ears. In response, the rat seemed to grow in beauty and size. Such intelligent eyes, making him feel special. ‘You understand, don’t you? I’m offering you alliance. That’s a precious deal, for me anyway.’ Rat nodded. He was sure of it. ‘Tell me about the man buried in the walls here, who smells of death.’ A shot in the dark, but a pressing question on Gart’s mind.
‘He’s buried in you.’
‘Buried in me?’
‘You caught his hatred of the world. You must release him.’
Without warning, the drama of this man tore through Gart’s mind like a tree growing crooked in painful fast motion. A boy called Rufus was scarred by this twisting. He sensed that boy was him. No knowing when and where, the sensation was real, vivid. ‘He betrayed my birth right.’
‘He, too, was betrayed. He should have been king of Itaka. Then again, kingship is an inner state. Become king of yourself. Absolve your resentments, and become kin to a family of heart-species.’
This, Gart reasoned, was no rat talk. Whose voice was talking to him?
‘Look at me as a guardian to you, Guardian. Empty your heart of misgivings and what must be done will appear as clear as a diamond. You choose the shape of its setting.’
The image returned, of a garden, bird song in blossoming branches, a woman tousling his hair and handing him … it struck Gart that the Shapers knew more about him than he did.