Mother of Crow
By Jenny K. Brennan
This Sundered World - Book 2
A spirit-punk steam-punk tale we don't know where, maybe not even why, and most certainly not how.
Draft exclusive to House of Imp. Copyright 2017 Jenny K. Brennan - All rights reserved.
Chapter 5 A pleasant little townLast updated: January 14, 2019 at 13:52 pm
Gabriel listened with half an ear and none of his attention to Jesse’s pointless conversation with a mindless town official in the dirty little office. It had taken them less than a minute to realize that any hope of finding any sense or useful information would be a complete waste of time. The one good thing about it would perhaps be that no one had shown even a hint of hostility toward them. On the other hand, the delusion these people were in was maybe even more disturbing than killer birds and lunatic thugs. This building had the appearance of normality, so far as Gabriel understood what normal should look like. The Mayors office had seemed a good place to find answers, but Gabriel had learned nothing. Jesse didn’t want to call it quits yet so Gabriel let her do her thing. Instead of frustrating over the pointlessness of their visit and despairing over the disappointment burning him, he watched through empty window frames at the street below. So much death and half baked construction, dysfunctional re-makes, broken down automatons, unfinished projects where apathy marked any human face. Dreamy purpose marked others. Those who came and went, carrying empty baskets and women smiled lovingly at lumpy bundles of faded fabric. Gabriel shivered in the reek of the stagnant community that didn’t know what had hit them. Those not dead ate when others gave them food. Those with instinct to survive grew crops of corn and tended pots of grubs. The water collectors leaked and around the base sprouted tendrils of brown vines. A woman picked a vine and dropped it into a basket. She turned and walked away. After a few steps, she crumpled the vine into a ball and stuffed it into her mouth. She chewed slowly, watching the ground before her. Then she looked in her empty basket and slowly made it back to the water canister and picked off another strand of the slimy brown plant. Gabriel looked away from the emancipated woman and looked at Jesse who was still trying to show the mayor that his town wasn’t at all how he told it. Gabriel shook his head and turned to the mayor. “So you are quite proud of this town then.” He said with a smile that made Jesse stare at him.
The mayor lit up and swelled visibly of pride and smug satisfaction. “Oh indeed.” He waved expansively at the town beyond his window. “My people, Isn’t it marvellous?” He continued as he stuck a finger in the bowl of corn mash and sucked it clean with a moan of pleasure. A clerk appeared at the desk and cleared his throat. With a deep bow he placed a small piece of paper on the desk in front of the mayor and disappeared back to a dark alcove where a machine hummed and crackled behind a pile of similar bits of paper. As Gabriel watched, the machine creaked loudly and produced another card that appeared empty.
The mayor looked quickly at the paper on the desk without touching it. “Ah. This is marvellous. My loyal clacker will bring me the answer any moment now.” With a content smile he placed a finger gingerly on the piece of paper and dragged it to the edge of the desk where it fell. It fluttered down to the floor in a heap of similar pieces of paper.
“The answer?” Jesse said carefully.
The mayor looked at her seemingly surprised to see her there, but he answered readily with a shrug. “The answer we all need of course.” As if it was obvious.
“Yes, of course,” Gabriel said quickly, “the answer to the question.”
“Ah, certainly to the question.” The mayor nodded and glanced at the clacker feeding the analytical machine. “The question.” He mused.
“But what question…” Jesse started but at the look of the mayor’s dreamy blank gaze, she tightened her lips and decided on a different strategy. To shut up. It made no difference as the mayor kept talking without the need for prompting.
Gabriel caught movement in the corner of his eye and turned to see a thin figure supporting a voluminous wig staring at him in wide eyed astonishment. As the Mayor kept astonishing Jesse with one pretty anecdote after another, Gabriel stopped listening to the pompous little fat guy and moved closer to the wigged character. The pale little man trembled slightly and shook his head not in warning but as if clearing the wig from powder and his mind from an unpleasant dream. The man suddenly grinned, looked around the decaying office. The grin faltered and he frowned. But then he looked at Jesse and the grin returned. He glanced at the mayor before meeting Gabriel’s eyes And blinked. He gave Gabriel a hint of a nod toward the window and raised his eyebrows. Gabriel looked around the office and caught the shadow of a bird vanishing through the front doorway. When looking back at the man, he was too disappearing around a corner, hurried footsteps quickly disappearing.
Gabriel scratched at a healing burn on his cheek and turned to Jesse. With a nod at the mayor, he offered Jesse his arm and excused them both from the most fruitful of honourable encounters. The mayor smiled and waved them off with a satisfied smirk and turned back to his bowl of grub.
Clack waited for them at the edge of town where neglect transformed into neglect of a different kind. Terrytown was the first populated town they had come to after leaving the train station where they had picked up Clack and left carnage and a fresh set of bad memories behind. The others waited a mile down the road to the South. Gabriel nodded to the scar-faced captain and then immediately shook his head. To Clacks unasked question. Jesse was silently staring at the dusty road at her feet, unwilling to give away her thoughts. Clack glanced at her and then he sighed and put a hand on Gabriel’s shoulder.
G”Gone huh?” He cleared his throat. “Their minds I mean.”
Gabriel nodded and then shrugged. “ Not as far gone as,” he hesitated and glanced quickly at Jesse but she didn’t seem to listen. She hadn’t been talking much and despite everything, Gabriel found himself missing her sometimes irritating chatter about all of Gabriel’s many failings. He looked back at Clack. “The gang back there.” What he really meant was ‘Your gang back there,’ but he didn’t feel that was called for. Clack had saved them from his own band of lunatics as well as the guardians. He had been as long gone as the others before Morette made Gabriel bring him out of it. He knew what Clack was thinking now and shook his head. “I wouldn’t bring some of those people back if I could.” He grimaced, opened his hand and shook it as if that would remove the sensation of the mayor’s sticky handshake. “I mere touched one man. A greeting I well could have been without. I think that was enough for us to know.”
Clack grunted. “Nothing.” It wasn’t a question and he was not surprised.
Clack nodded and glanced back toward the town. He frowned. “did you know you have a tail?” At Gabriel’s blank stare he shrugged. “Well, someone’s hoofing it this way. That fellow is either murderously wanting to get us, or he is getting away from this town in a fucking hurry. Let’s get moving.” He urged them further down the road and to the side. Gabriel and Jesse followed without question. Gabriel squinted against the glaring sun and saw someone running toward them. Someone with ta huge white head. “Yeah, maybe. Must have slipped my mind.”
“Something like that?” Clack snorted as he watched the running man appear to pick up speed. “I don’t know about you, Kid, but I wouldn’t forget such a character easily.”
Gabriel shrugged. “Wasn’t the only odd character….” he mumbled as they approached a stand of scraggly elms at the side of the road
“Oh Mother, what is that?” Next to him, Jesse suddenly swore under her breath and moved behind a tree to watch.
The skinny man from the office, struggling to hold his absurd wig in place as he ran full speed toward them, was screaming. Gabriel thought at first that the man was screaming in terror. But the man rushing toward them and then dashed past them was grinning. Not pausing a second in his sprint as he yelled at them wit wide eyes and gleaming teeth slamming together hard between the gasping words. As he rushed toward them and past in a whirlwind of dust and flapping robes, frenetically pumping limbs and a toppling wig. “Good people! If I may…” gasping, passing.
Clack pushed his companions behind him. The running man shrieked louder as he ran down the road and away from them. Away from the town. “I would strongly advice…” Gasp. “you good people…” he stumbled, regained his balance and continued, “to join me in…” Gasp. “removing yourselves from the road.” With that, he turned and upended himself into the ditch beyond the grove of trees and disappeared out of sight.
Gabriel finally glanced back at the town but didn’t have time to interpret the running mans message before Clack jerked them both off their feet and he found himself face down next to Jesse, both pinned down by the big cursing soldier.
“I knew this was a bad idea. I fucking knew it.” Clack growled.
Then, for the third time in Gabriel’s recent past, the world blew up and everything turned too bright, too hot, and utterly fucking miserable.
About the author
Jenny K. Brennan is a Swedish/Canadian vocalist, songwriter, and writer living in Ontario, Canada since 2002 with one husband, one dog, and unfinished projects in the thousands. Find her on
The House of Imp,
kompoz.com, and anywhere else Mr. Google can locate her. She studies English and braille at The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually impaired. On her free time, she learns Wordpress by trial and error, audio production using Apple Logic Pro, and carpentry by association.