Prague on Fire (A Short Story)
Prague was on fire-
Or was it me?
The only burn I feel anymore is the last drink before I say is my last, that turns into a whole night of one last drinks.
That's what this job will do to ya, endless nights of crime fighting off the tech of this city. They said it would keep everyone in line, a peaceful city. Well I'll tell ya... Prague was the city of dreams. Until the Nightmare came.
The Nightmare, as the media calls them, running this town in a murderous fury. Before the Nightmare you couldn't even look the wrong way since Tech knows who you are, where you are, and knows all you know.
I shoulda known the end times were coming when Tech moved in. That's when the drinking started, or really took off. Prague was known for its drinking community. Travelers passing through but leaving their exotic booze behind for safe travels through the city.
I was head of Travel Department. Meaning I get all the alcohol that enters this city. Tech wanted to keep the city safe and "clean" from any harm. One drink doesn't harm...but a whole night of drinks will.
The night the Nightmare first struck there was an usual confiscated liquor that came my way. It glowed a blue so blue you didn't have to take one sip, just looking at it you could see your future and it didn't look so pretty.
The clock in town stopped ticking, at first we all blamed Tech, we knew theyve been tryin ta get that clock to stop for decades now but it was the only reminder of the beautiful city Prague used to be. A city with beauty like none other, now a city painted blood red from the Nightmare running this town.
You can't do anything in private, Tech knows all. There's no crime, only the crime Tech commits by stealing all privacy.
So how does a drunk detective like me get a whiff of something suspicious with this Nightmare case? Well I'll tell ya...
About 2 nights into the Nightmare's killing spree I recieved a bottle. A single bottle with black liquid. I thought hell yeah, this shit'll knock me out for a week, let Lenord take over for once. I get home and crack the bottle open uncontrolled venom of adrenalin running through my veins. I take a swig of the black liquid except...
What the fuck was this?!
I shake the bottle out not a drop, but I hear a rattling at the bottom. I slam the bottle off the counter knocking over my back up liquers, I'll pay for that later. I pick up a small crinkled letter but when I open it up, I'm more confused then ever, I'm too fucking sober for this.
I pull out a bottle I know will get me good and wasted at the count of 2, I pull apart the crinkled edges of...a map? A blueprint? Something that was meant to come my way.
My grandfather was in the blueprint department of the city. I grew up looking at blueprints to every corner of this city, but once Tech came along the blueprints weren't the only thing they wiped out.
I pull a light on in my corner desk, pull out my grandfather's magnify glass and try to put together what I can. Shit... maybe I shouldn't ha had that half bottle, words are lookin like numbas I tell ya...a whole different language I'm staring at. But wait, some making in the lower left corner catches my drunk ass. It's an arrow, but not any arrow, its the arrow off the clock from ol town center. The moon half. I scramble straight outta my chair grabbing for the only blueprint I could save.
I keep it safe in a trick compartment in my desk. Under the last drawer theres a secret compartment. I pull out the blueprints and sure enough its an exact match. I can feel the alcohol hit me like a second wave. I slump into my chair, how the hell did this come my way? Who ever sent this knew it would get to me, but who?
I didn't know who but something in the pit of my gut was telling me this would solve the mystery of the murderous Nightmare. I pull out the flask of my grandfather, filled with his favorite whiskey. A whiskey that's no longer made because it reminds people of the good ol times before Tech.
Tech destroyed my family. Took my grandfather and all his blueprints. My family ran this city until Tech decided to end the life of the city we all knew.
I gotta get to that clock but the liquor in my gut telling me something different. Next thing I know I'm grabbing my leather invisible jacket, the only perk of working for Tech. Being on the clock meant being invisible to the rest of the city, but not to Tech. I turn my location off, im sure a Tech drone will catch a wiff of me and be right on my trail in no time, i needed to work fast.
I pass through the dark filled alleys that used to be filled with vendors and endless chatter. Now its filled with eerie fog and the occasional Tech security guard at every major corner.
I sneak my way through town straight to the clock. I'm standing in front of the cathedral giant wooden doors looking up when I realize, the clock only has the hand of the sun. No moon. Clock permanently stuck at 10 degrees Libra. Shivers run up my spine. I pull the crinkled liquor bottle paper out of my pocket. Something about the writing on it looked different, I lift it closer to my face when I notice under the moonlight there's glowing letters. I rotate the paper between my shaking my hands until something starts to make sense. I hear a noise from behind me and I freeze. The sound grows closer sending another wave of shivers up my spine.
I slowly turn to face whatever was waiting for me. The fog has settled and standing not 15 feet from me stands a tall hooded figure with the moon arrow hanging from his hands scrapping across the town old brick.
He shouldn't be able to see me with my invisible jacket on, but every fiber of my being knew he could.
With every step closer I could feel the alcohol pumping through my veins but my feet were cemented to the ground. I couldn't move, I couldn't breath. What felt like seconds suddenly The Nightmare was standing in front of me but I couldn't see a face, just a slim figure in a hooded robe. We stood there for what felt like hours but must have only been seconds before the ground beneath my feet started to rumble.
How did it know my name? In a voice like steel cutting through the midnight fog it was as clear as the warning alarms that should have been going off by now but no thanks to my invisibility coat there wasn't going to be any alarms. Just the deep panting of my breath.
I stood there waiting for Death to greet me, but again seconds went by that felt like hours, Death never came.
Again, The Nightmare called my name.
"What do you want from me", I demanded, "How do you know my name? Who are you, WHAT are you?! Are you the devil come to end us all?".
A deep noise came from The Nightmare that I could only assume was something of an evil laugh.
"No, James, I'm not here to end all. I'm here for you. I need your help. You see I've been following you around for a while now. It wasn't easy, every time you wear that protective jacket of yours, though protecting it doesn't seem to do." His evil laughter echoed through the streets. I knew no one could hear or see us, but I shivered as though the whole town was watching.
Again, I demanded,
"How do you know me? Why do you need my help, I can't help you, I'm here to kill you."
"Kill ME?! You couldn't even if you tried and you need me as much as I need you to end the Tech regime. You see James, you and I are very much alike, so much alike one could say we are one in the same..."
"One in the same? Yeah right, I could never be a monster like you." I grumbled. The tension and anger was growing and I could feel my hand reaching down my side to my secret weapon. The weapon that never misses its target but also alerts Tech.
"I'd think twice before you try to use your laser on me." The Nightmare called out.
"You're going to regret ever stepping into my city. But before I send you to your maker I need to know one thing- why Prague?" I wasn't going to let my anger get the best of me yet, I needed answers first.
The Nightmare coldly laughed, "YOUR Prague? You say? This was never your Prague, or even the people who live here. I'm here doing all of you a favor and you don't even see that yet."
"A favor? How the hell do you call mass murder in my city a favor?" I demanded, hands fulling gripping my laser, "Our city was in peace and you show up and cover this city in blood, blood of innocent people." I snarled through clenched teeth. My hands gripping tighter on my laser as I pull it out from my pocket.
"You can shoot me now, but you'll never find the answer you've been looking for. But go ahead, if you think killing me will save your pathetic home, then shoot me." The Nightmare was still holding onto the moon arrow, but with a sudden clash, he dropped it. Not an echo ran through the city, just cold silence.
I lifted my gun aiming for the perfect shot but something inside me couldn't pull the trigger. Why, why now would I freeze up? This city has been harassed for too long, Tech or no Tech, I'm ending this tonight.
I take a big inhale of the cold night and close my eyes as I pull the trigger. I immediately felt regret that burned stronger than anything I've ever drank. I open my eyes to see The Nightmare still standing across from me.
No alarms, no Tech.
"Now are you ready to listen to what I have to say?" The Nightmare directed at me, "Because I have answers to everything you've been searching for. Yes, I know exactly what you are looking for, James, because I am you."
I don't know if my gasp was from me dropping my gun or from his confession.
"What do you mean you are me? Tell me everything you know right now before I shoot again."
"You can't shoot me because one, your gun is on the ground, and two, your gun is useless to my power. Now we need to get out of here before someone we both need to avoid shows up."
I could hear alarms going off in the distance, Tech. Tech was on their way, do I stay and let them handle whatever this thing was in front of me, or do I trust this cold blooded murdered who might kill me the way he's done to this town?
"We can stand here all night James, but it will only end bad for you." The Nightmare started to turn away.
"Wait," I called out, "Follow me."
We quickly ran through the city down to my secret dunker below my apartment. It was my grandfather's room that I never went down to, the pain was still too real.
We lock the doors behind us and only light a candle. The Nightmare puts the moon arrow on the table and turns toward me. He takes off his hood to reveal his face, my face. I could have all the lights on in the city and I would still see my face starring back at me.
"Now do you want me to start from the beginning, or where we left off back at the tower?" The Nightmare asks.
"How about you tell me why the hell I just saved your ass when I should have left you for Tech." I demand slamming my hand down on the table between us.
The Nightmare sighed, "I told you, because I am You. You are me. We are one half of each other split by Grandfather."
"Grandfather? What do you mean?"
"I'm only going to say this once so listen carefully. I have put a protection spell on this house so Tech won't sniff out we are here. But by morning you will be more wanted than I am. Are you ready for what I'm about to tell you James?" The Nightmare asked.
"Yes, tell me now or else I alert Tech and they finish you for good." I add with cold venom to assure The Nightmare that I am not on his side and that I still work for Tech.
"Alright James, I will begin the night they came for Grandfather. You remember Grandfather used to work for Tech right? Rather the Church before the church gave in to Tech. Grandfather worked in the tower, he kept time of the clock and all the surrounding cities. The last 4 years of his work he was documenting time moving faster in a way the clock couldn't keep up with. People were expanding, technology was overtaking the cities, life was changing at a speed it wasn't suppose to. Tech was growing and taking over the city at a speed that could only end in disaster. So Grandfather left the tower, left the church, and left the city. Tech was after him, they wanted him to build an even bigger tower with a stronger clock, Tech wanted to control time. Control time, control the world and not just this world but worlds happening in different dimensions. Tech though the clock was a portal to alternate dimensions and they wanted to destroy is before anyone could come in, or come out. Grandfather was the only one who could. So he ran, but as you know you can't outrun the Tech. They found him outside a neighboring city and brought him back and tortured him until he agreed to the job. You remember when Grandfather went away that summer? And you spent all summer up Father's ass asking about him. You were young but you could have killed us all. When Grandfather returned you wouldn't leave his side thinking he would leave again. So you went with him every day to the tower."
The Nightmare talked on with vivid memories coming back to me in flashes and emotions so deep I didn't realize were mine.
"Winter was closing in on the city, Winter Solstice, and Tech was waiting for that day when the tower was at its strongest power. You demanded he take you with him but he yelled at you to stay home. But what did you do? You snuck out. And you followed him to the tower. You hid in the corner where you did all summer when Tech would visit, being sure not to even breathe. You thought it was just another check up, but even Grandfather knew this was different. You overheard them talking about opening the clock but someone needed to stay on the other side to close it but you knew you couldn't let Grandfather stay behind. So you slowly crept around the room until you were behind the clock. Grandfather was fighting with Tech about not doing it, leaving the tower closed, saving the city, but Tech wanted none of that. They wanted to be in control so they forced Grandfather to open the clock. As the clock was opening you came out from behind the clock yelling out to Grandfather. He had a look of horror when he realized you were in the way of the opening. The leader of Tech snarled at the sight of you, telling Grandfather if he didn't close the other side of the clock then he would make you. So Grandfather agreed. But right before he could take a step, you jumped in front of him. Grandfather reached out to pull you out but the clock was already starting to close. He had on hand on you telling you to grab on, but instead of grabbing on to him, you grabbed onto this." The Nightmare placed the moon arrow on the table.
I stared at him and arrow in complete disbelief. How could I have forgotten that?! How did I forget all of that? I shook my head in confusion. I started to ask myself how, but he held his hand out to silence me.
"By Grandfather pulling onto you, and you holding onto the arrow, you broke the arrow off the clock. Grandfather had pulled you back into this world and just as the clock was closing, he jumped in your place. Somehow during all of that we were separated into the two we are today. Tech grabbed you, wiped your memory and put you in Tech Official Training, making you who you are today. Anytime you would ask about that day they would erase your memory. But I escaped. I held onto the arrow and somehow it got me out of the tower. I started working with the arrow and learned how to control its powers, powers of speed and invisibility. Just as your coat does to you. But as I suspect you can do that without the coat."
My hand reaches up to grab the collar of the jacket. I think back to when I got the jacket but my memory was all a blur.
"I don't remember any of this," I sigh, "This makes so much sense but at the same time none at all. How should I believe you? How do I know what you are really saying is the truth?" I demand, though my throat was tight with emotion.
The Nightmare looks at me for a second and nods his head.
"Because I have this." He holds out his hand. In his hand he has something small and gold...No...it couldn't be...
"Grandfather's watch?" I look at the piece in his hand. I would remember that with my whole heart. I got it for Grandfather the spring before at a market.
"How do you have that?" I ask, reaching out to take it.
"A few days after the tower closed, I went back. Hoping to find a blueprint or book or anything of Grandfather's to help explain what happened and how to get him back. But all I found was this. I never stopped looking, researching, questioning, all of it. Grandfather was set up by Tech and I'll never forgive them for that."
"So why all the murders then?" The steel in my voice returning when I snap back into the reality of the situation. Tech had to be close by now. It felt like hours have gone by when really just moments.
The Nightmare sighs.
"Tech really has this city believing I'm the bad guy. But you have to understand. I spent all these years hunting down every single Tech Official Original. Demanding they tell me what they knew, anything and everything. But when they wouldn't comply with my demands, I did to them what they did to Grandfather. You can't sit there and tell me you wouldn't have done the same."
He had me there.
"I just don't understand how Tech has riled up the city this way. That's not something they would do."
"Listen to me James, you don't know Tech. Anything you know and think about them they have brainwashed into you. They are horrible scary people. The kept you prisoner all these years, even when they "accepted" you into their academy. They had you right where they wanted you, all the while they've been hunting me down. I've been trying to find you and communicate this to you but everywhere you went, tech went. Everywhere Tech went, you went. We don't have much more time, so you need to decide right now. Are you staying, or are you leaving with me?"
"Why would I leave with you?! Grandfather's watch or not, I still can't trust or believe any of what you are saying to me now."
"James, I know this is hard to understand, but I am telling you, Tech will be here in the next 2 minutes. I know how to get out of the city in a minute and a half. Are you coming with? Or are you going to stay and forever be a slave to the people who did this to your family, did this to you..."
I shake my head, "How do you even know how to get out of the city? I thought there was no way in and no way out?"
"Because that's what Tech has told you. I can't convince you and I can't force you, but I am guaranteeing you a safe and quick way out. We can start over a safe new life else where. But once we leave, there's no coming back. And no coming back for Grandfather."
My hands shaking I run them through my hair.
"James, they will be here in a minute. You need to decide right now." The Nightmare, or rather, my other half, gets up from the table. He pulls his cover over his head grabbing the arrow off the table. He turns toward the door and without looking back, grabs the door handle.
"WAIT-" I call out, "What about all the stuff Grandfather left behind?"
The other me turns halfway to speak, "I can create a distraction. But only momentarily, go and grab what you can and what you need. Meet me back at the tower in 6 minutes." Without looking back, I watch him step out into the night. The sounds of sirens blaring closer echoing through the room.
With pure adrenaline pumping through my body, I rush up the stairs and into my office. I grab my leather book bag with my Grandfather's initials on, grabbing his old journals and blueprints and filling the bag. I grab his magnify glasses and pen, and take off my Tech coat. I grab the only other coat I own and take one last look around the room. I don't know if I'll ever be back, but if I'm not, then I've grabbed all I needed.
The sirens were getting louder by the second. I kill the lights and run to the door when something shiny catches the corner of my eye.
All the alcohol Tech had me drinking, drinking to erase my memory. In a fit of pure rage I knock all the bottles off the counter and onto the floor. How dare they erase my memory. With bloody hands I grab my backpack and head out into the cold dark night towards the tower. I can see the lights from the sirens as I duck into a side alley and run as fast as I can towards the tower.
Towards safety and a new life; but I would be back. Back to save Grandfather.
- A short story by Moonleight