Last night, I knew I had to fix some continuity errors in Hollow. There were some inconsistencies in how I represented the Fallen versus the creatures from the abyss, and who could be used for a collection. The more I wrote about the different groups and how they existed on the earthly plane, the better I tied up loose threads. So, this is the sixth draft of the first scene, but I think it’s very close to what I want the scene to be. Enjoy!
Brooks slipped on the thick leather gloves and flexed his hands. He knew that the collection would be bloody. Collections and renewals never wanted for blood or screaming, and the coward held between the two thick-necked enforcers had screamed his voice raw as they dragged him through the dilapidated parking garage. The enforcers shared a nervous glance as Brooks approached and tightened their grip on the squirming collection. The enforcers stood head and shoulders over their charge, but they still had to look up to meet Brooks’ glare.
The chubby little man raised his head and opened his mouth to scream, but Brooks moved faster. The knife drove deep, missing the necessary nerves and organs and releasing a torrent of blood with thin strands of buttery yellow light. The same glow flickered in the little man’s eyes, and the two enforcers let him drop to the cracked concrete. Brooks glowered at the error, the scowl on his face deepening as the two meatsack thugs backed away with wide eyes.
“Let ’em go, Mr. Brookstone.” A slender figure in a long trenchcoat tipped back the brim of his fedora. He twirled a surgical scalpel between gloved fingers as he approached the bleeding heap on the ground. “Silk’s muscle can run if they can’t stomach it. We can take it from here. Set it up, if you’d be so kind?”
Brooks grunted agreement and hauled the collection up by the front of his shirt. The bottom half of the gaudy tropical print had turned red, and the glow in the eyes had started to fade. The crumbling concrete walls exposed rusted rebar at a convenient height. Brooks slammed the unlucky man against the nubs of metal and pushed. The resulting scream became more of a groan with the rush of air and the bubble of crimson that trickled from the man’s lips.
The man in the trenchcoat gave a disapproving twist of his lips and crossed his arms over his chest. Brooks noticed the expression and paused, his elbow against the collection’s windpipe. “Something wrong, Mr. Cheshire?”
“It’s not pure enough. Not enough light in the eyes, not enough brilliance in the blood.” A woman’s alto voice answered the question. In the emergency lights of the garage, the woman lifted her hand and gestured toward the victim half-hanging from the rebar. The slender gold bracelets on her wrist clinked with the movement. She pushed herself off of the hood of the glossy black sedan. The heels of her black boots made a hollow click-click against the cracked asphalt.
The collection opened his mouth to say something. Instead of words, a gurgling sound spilled from his lips. Cheshire frowned and used the edge of the scalpel to scrape at the sticky blood. The fading strands of light flared at the touch of metal, but they darkened in seconds. “She’s right,” he agreed, wiping the blade on the sleeve of the collection’s shirt. “Light’s not bright enough. This one’s too far removed from the bloodline. I thought Silk said that this one was only one or two generations from the first. Didn’t she say that, Brooks?”
The big man nodded. Karina approached, the battered red cooler in one hand. She could look the collection in the eye, and she came within inches of his face to study his eyes and lips. Brooks knew that she would have the final word in the collection; as the most established member of their cell, Karina could choose to let the man bleed out or instruct Cheshire to begin the collection. She pursed her lips. “Silk chose her own collection, didn’t she? This one, she picked it for herself and sent her own muscle after it?”
The slender man grinned and twirled the scalpel between his fingers. Brooks knew there was no love lost between him and Naomi Silk; while the Stitcher had to fulfill his role in the collection, he didn’t have to make it easy for Silk if she made mistakes along the way.
Karina wrinkled her nose and flicked a finger at the dying collection. “We don’t have much time to cut the heart free. Body is too far removed from the legacy, otherwise the blood wouldn’t be fading out this fast. She really told you this one was only two generations removed?”
“From Jude himself,” Cheshire answered in a smooth and easy tone that put him at odds with their macabre surroundings. “Guess numbers aren’t her strong suit. Unfortunately, we’re on a tight schedule given the circumstances. There’s no telling if those meatsacks brought in the collection without being tailed. We’ll just have to hurry. Brooks?”
“All clear.” No one else had entered the garage, and the enforcers had taken off at the first sign of the light-streaked blood. The legacy of the Fallen and the power of the celestial plane had infiltrated into the urban legends of Las Perditas, and those touched by neither the celestial or the abyssal planes distanced themselves from the light. Brooks inhaled and focused on the chill air that surrounded them. The heart that beat within his own chest gave a few dull throbs as if to remind him that he would be on the receiving end of such a collection soon. Although weakened, the corrupted muscle allowed him to sense those who moved on the other side of the light. The descendants of the Fallen would have liked nothing better than to catch a vulnerable Stitcher and cripple the cause. “Clear for now, of course.”
“Now’s good enough.” Cheshire grinned, showing a smile full of neat white teeth. “If you would be so kind to assist?”
Brooks reached out and tore off the soaked shirt to expose the man’s chest. The area above the bloody hole in the abdomen remained unmarked, a blank canvas for the Stitcher to begin his craft. What bit of life remained in the body made it writhe. The eyes dulled as the light rushed to the open wound, then they widened as Cheshire’s scalpel met flesh for the appropriate incisions. Testament to his experience in assisting during these collections, Brooks had avoided the most important organs. The man’s chin quavered and he drew breath to scream, but Brooks delivered a fist to his throat with enough force to crush the windpipe. The big man neither smiled nor grimaced with the action. Collections were just another necessity in their survival on this plane, and he no longer took any delight in the retrieval of another Fallen for the greater cause.
Cheshire worked quickly while Brooks kept watch on the street. He didn’t trust Silk’s thugs to have brought the collection quietly. In Las Perditas, they didn’t worry about law enforcement interrupting their work, especially in this part of the city. The locals who worked the corners and back alleys, shipping product and selling skin, they knew better than to approach business that didn’t concern them. Living another day meant turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to those agreements and negotiations. Like so many cities where those not of the earthly plane fought for dominion, Las Perditas survived because the gangs kept to their own territories and didn’t question what they could not explain. Powers greater than petty vengeance owned the streets, and they directed the gangs and businesses to meet their specific needs.
The police could pretend that they affected crime and street violence with their meager efforts. They could tell the public that their attempts at soup kitchens and socially conscious clinics kept the dealers from running the latest designer crystals and powders through the streets and selling sex in the back rooms of pawn shops and takeout restaurants. Brooks watched the local law enforcement go through the motions every day. The suits and badges would rather believe that the proliferation of drugs and prostitution happened at the hands of some small-time crooks than admit that a more sinister force controlled the streets. Naomi Silk directed the activities of the various cells that peddled vices to the crumbling city’s residents, and those vices put the inhabitants of the earthly plane at the mercy of those who hailed from the abyss. Silk, like the three engaged in the collection, required a heart replete with the celestial blood of a Fallen to remain on the plane. That requirement necessitated the skills of the Stitcher.
“This is going to be close.” Cheshire wheezed and strained, pulling apart the ribcage with inhuman strength. His gloves kept the yellow-streaked blood from touching his skin. The strands could burn, even as weak as they were in this collection. “This one is more than a few generations removed, and there’s not a lot of the light remaining. We’ll need to move fast. Baby, you got that cooler ready?”
Karina purred at the pet name and cracked open the red and white lid. Only Cheshire could get away with that kind of language. She had brought both of them out of the abyss centuries ago, and while she kept both of them close, Karina kept Billy Cheshire closest with a companionship that Brooks both admired and envied. She arranged the ice inside and lifted the thick white cloth. Hands cupped beneath the towel, she made a face as Cheshire lifted the organ from beneath the bone and muscle and deposited it on the clean fabric. It turned rose, then crimson, and Cheshire prodded the underside of the heart with the handle of his scalpel. In response, the heart made a feeble attempt to contract and expand. Brooks could see the strings of light that mingled with the blood in the thick veins that surrounded it. This one did not have the soft glow of an aged celestial.
They had to hurry. He had witnessed hundreds of collections, most at Cheshire’s side and all under Karina’s guidance, and he knew the signs of a suitable Fallen heart. The unaware and uninitiated would have mistaken the strands for pus. Karina must have noticed the same thing. She wrinkled her nose and wrapped the cloth around the heart. “This might not keep for long, gentlemen. We’ll need to hurry.” She arranged the ice around the delicate parcel and locked down the cover.
With the heart removed, what remained of the husk sagged on the rebar, the blood still trickling down the concrete wall and pooling on the ground. The Fallen and their descendants had nowhere to go after their time on this plane. Brooks didn’t know if a soul existed within them, but the abyss wouldn’t claim them. The abyss only retrieved its own kind when the time came for them to return to the cold dark.
Brooks kicked the remnants of the tropical print shirt beneath the body. Whoever stumbled upon the remains would find a carcass in a surgically dressed state hanging from a few impromptu metal hooks. It would provide fodder for the police, but it would also get the attention of the Fallen in the area. “We better go before someone starts looking for our donor here. Silk had better be ready and waiting.”
“Absolutely.” Cheshire wiped his gloves with a fresh handkerchief and tucked the last scalpel into his holder. Ever the gentleman, he waited for Karina to rest her fingertips in the crook of his elbow before making his way to the car. “Otherwise, it’ll be her turn to slip to the screamers, and I don’t think Amos Suede wants her gone yet.”