The resonant sound of the cork being skillfully yanked from the bottle filled the room. It was a sound I hadn’t heard in some time. It was welcome and nostalgic for me. I watched the dark, amber liquid gracefully fall from the mouth of the bottle and splash into the tumbler. The scent was rich and sweet and strong. The beams from the one light hanging in this otherwise shadowy room cut through the glass and cast a bourbon-tinted shadow onto the hard surface which danced casually as the rippling liquid began to settle.
“You look like you could use one of these.” The Magistrate standing across the table slid the glass towards me. The familiar sound of a tumbler rushing across a wooden surface was welcome. I sat in my chair, and just watched the whiskey swirl a bit. “Go on. It won’t bite you.”
“Thanks.” I returned, as I picked the glass up and brought it to my nose. I breathed in the aromatic fumes. It almost made me dizzy. This was the good stuff, surely.
“Neither will I, ya know.” Still wearing her large hat, she pulled her arms out of her robes, and draped them gracefully across the chair on her side of the table. She wore a red leather vest over a white button up shirt – the sleeves rolled up to her elbow. Her fitted pants were black. “Bite you, that is. I promise I won’t, Sweetie.” She pulled at the fingers of her gloves one at a time, loosening them as she sat down. As she removed her gloves, she revealed nails painted bright red. She slapped the gloves onto the table next to the bottle of bourbon and began to pour herself a glass. She took a drink, taking time to appreciate the powerful beverage. “So, what do I call you, Sweetheart?”
I didn’t know how to answer her. I took a deep drink of the bourbon. It was smooth, and as rich and bitingly good as it smelled and looked.
“Not much of a talker, are you?” she asked.
“No. Not really.” I returned.
“Do you even know what you are, Darling?” She kicked back in her chair, the tumbler perched delicately in the fingers of her right hand. I did not respond. “How long you been awake? A day? Two? You look like hell.”
“I think a day or more. It’s hard to say, considering how many times I have been concussed.” I answered.
“It’s rough in Laurentia, Baby.” She leaned forward resting her elbows on the table, holding the glass with both hands. She raised her eyes to meet mine. The brim of her slouch hat still shadowed much of her features, but piercing brown eyes locked on me. It was unnerving. “But you’re tough, kid. Tougher than you know.”
“I just want to get to the surface. I just want to survive.”
“We all do, Baby. Survive, that is. . . But what we want and what we deserve are seldom the same.” her eyes narrowed with an unsettling understanding.
“Doesn’t make the wanting go away.”
“True enough, kid.”
“So can you do it? Get me to the surface?” upon hearing my question, her eyes glazed over with what I could only assume was frustration.
“The surface? You know, I barely remember it. I was only seventeen at the time of the descent, as the locals like to call it. My whole adult life has been under the surface – only my childhood was above. I’m twenty-seven now. I think about that sometimes. My childhood. It’s like a dream. I hardly believe it actually ever happened most days. But I suppose it must have. I remember the plunge. Most people don’t, but I do. Whatever you Harbingers did to us before you sent us into the gaping jaws of this abyss has messed with them – in a profoundly disturbing way. They’re all there, still. But it’s jumbled something fierce. It’s like you took all the words in their stories, put them in a jug and shook it all up, and when you spilled those words back out onto the page, it’s all turned round. Much of what they say is incoherent drivel. I’m sure it makes sense to them in their sad little world, but you turned these people into sheep – really violent and chaotic sheep, but sheep none the less. How else could a seventeen year old survivor single-handedly build a civilization down here in Davey Jones locker, huh?”
It was hard for me to listen to her whole story, I was still digesting her age. Twenty-seven? That meant I had been lying under a cabinet in the science ward for a whole decade! That was impossible. I did my best to remain composed. “So I take that as a ‘no’ then?”
“Sheep need a shepherd, Harbinger. God knows you had abandoned them. Out of the crucible of hopelessness can sometimes rise the rarer gem of opportunity. We had died – all of us – from the moment we came crashing below the black waves you damned us to. And yet, here we are. You are drinking my bourbon, Baby-doll. Ten years after your death, here we sit laughing at the prospect.” she chuckled to herself.
“I don’t find it as amusing as you.”
“You will. Give it time. Another ten years, maybe more, but one day you will wake up here in my Laurentia, and it will strike you as damn hilarious that you once asked the Magistrate how to be resurrected – when you had already unwittingly cheated death. Why would you want to play that game again? That’s all the surface offers you, Harbinger. Resurrection – only to die all over again.”
“It’s my life. I will go out on my terms. And I want to see the sun again.”
“It’s good to talk to an adult with a brain for a change. Despite your naivety, you are still in control of your faculties. I would find your ignorance annoying, but considering how much you have had to come to terms with in the past forty-eight hours, it’s forgivable.” She relaxed back in her chair, resting her head in her hands which she stretched behind her neck. “So the surface? In time you will find that an utterly vain request, but for now, I will play along, Sweetie. I know how to get you there.”
“If that’s true, why haven’t you left this place.”
“This is my home, Baby.” she winked at me from beneath her hat. “Sheep need a shepherd.”