Content warning for the below chapter: mention of human remains.
“It’s you, shit.” Hands landed on both of Veronika’s shoulders and pulled her backwards. She let herself be pulled backwards, until even her toes were out of the sunlight. “Do – do many people scream up here?”
“No.” She thought it was Two behind her, but that voice was coming to the side of her. She glanced over – Two was frowning at her. “No. Usually, they don’t scream at all if they make it that far. You managed to pull yourself out and to scream.” She shook her head. “I figured it was Four, maybe, or maybe uh, one of the older ones who sometimes forget. I didn’t think you’d come way over here,” she added, accusation thick in her voice. “This isn’t the way to Supernatural and Occult.”
“It is if you’re trying to see as much of the Bellamy as you can without taking too much time,” the voice behind her commented. So similar, just a little smoother. One moved over to Veronika’s left, flanking her. “But you might have noticed that can be dangerous here.”
“There-” Veronika fought with her voice. It wanted to quaver. She did not want to be quavering. “-There are. There are bodies. Mostly skeletons. They’ve either been here for a long time, or there’s something in here that, that can skeletonize a body very quickly.” She barked out a short laugh. “Or time moves differently in that sunbeam, and I hope I haven’t been here for days already.”
She looked at Two, but the woman was looking at her really oddly. She glanced over at One. One was also looking at her weirdly. “What?”
“You’re dealing with this really well.” One’s tone was strange, bland. “You’re handling concepts that should have you sitting on the floor blubbering.”
“Well, I’m sorry I’m not quite blubbery enough for you,” she snapped. “It’s not really done, though, is it? To start crying on your first day of work? Even if you want to? Even if you feel like the rug’s been snatched out from under you and everyone is laughing at you, even if you feel like people have gone to extreme lengths to make sure you do cry and run screaming from the building. You can’t do that, especially when one needs a job. Especially when one will never find another job close to, within a fathom of the job one wants if one runs screaming from the Bellamy.”
She glared at both of them, panting. “Especially if everyone is looking at one, waiting for one to crack. So tell me those are plastic bones. Tell me it’s a strange joke for new fish who wander off the beaten path, why don’t you? Or tell me what’s going on around here.”
One chuckled. It was a short sound, almost enough to trigger a scream out of Veronika, but almost, the way she cut it off, the way she was smiling.
“They’re probably not plastic. They might be, but if they are, we didn’t put them there, Two and I, or Three. Telling you what’s going on here, that’s going to take a long time.”
She reached to her hip and handed Veronika a flask – silver-grey, with a black lid. “Just a sip. You’re doing well. Let me start with a few facts, all right, and Two and I will walk you to Supernatural and Occult.”
Veronika couldn’t help but giggle, a weak and hysterical giggle that bubbled out without consulting her.
“I think we’re already there.”
“See?” Two smiled. “You’re getting it. The Bellamy is like that.”
“Like – like skeletons in the sunlight and, and sunlight that wants to eat you?”
“Well, that’s part of it, yeah,” One muttered. “But it’s a lot more than that. There’s all of the mysteries that nobody else has. There’s all of the history that every place else has forgotten, and all the beautiful things. The other side of the skeletons, the side that leads to beauty. We’ll have to call the clean-up crew – I suppose that answers at least one of the questions of the disappearing trainees.” A guilty expression flashed quickly across One’s face and was as quickly gone. “You weren’t running away, were you?”
“No.” Veronika frowned. “I was – it was like you said, actually. I was exploring a bit. I wanted to see more of the building, since it seems like I’m meant to learn about it.”
“Meant to learn about the safe parts,” Two muttered. “You’re not meant to be sent off into dangerous areas, certainly not alone. This sort of thing is for people who’ve had experience -” She must’ve seen something in Veronika’s expression, because she hastily tacked on, “I mean, you did well. You did really well.”
“That’s doing really well. That’s pulling yourself out of the grasp of that thing long enough to realize something was wrong. These two, they didn’t.”
“Why is this, why is this even here, where someone can – ah. Be trapped by it?”
“Because where it was, it was killing more people and more innocent people.” One was harsh now, almost angry. “Because it was in a college, and people going to university don’t sign up for the same things that people at the Bellamy do. We – they, we weren’t here yet – had it installed up here, because up here is staff-only, and we, they, did what they can, we still do. But when you sign up for a job at the Bellamy, you’re – well, at least once you get past your training,” she muttered, “You’re supposed to know what this place can be like. I suppose you’re learning early on in the training, is all.”
“Can’t tell if Miryam wants to spook her off or reel her in,” Two added in a mutter, as if Veronika couldn’t hear her. “I mean, could be either way, the things she’s sending her for.”
“Come on, there’s always weird shit on the finding list. If there wasn’t people would think they were just coming to work for-“
“Someplace ordinary? But not.” Veronika cut in. “The best archive in the nation, possibly in the world, something that makes the Fillion look bush league and makes something like my local archive look like a kid’s collection in a shoebox – which I also still have,” she added. “But they might think they were coming to work for someplace that wasn’t supernatural, because who lets things like ghosts into a world-class place? Or they might thing they were coming to work for someplace that wouldn’t kill them on the first day.”
“There’s not much here that can kill you,” One cut in, frowning. “I know that sounds ridiculous when you’re looking at – well, one of the worst things in the building. Shit. Two, can we put a railing around it?”
“Wouldn’t help,” Two opined. “We’d need to put a wall around it, and then, then, you remember what happened with the wall. It has to feel like it has a chance.”
“It’s doing more than feeling like it has a chance right now,” One countered. “It’s eating trainees. Although that might be – have we seen Zinnia Forest lately?”
“Wait, it’s sentient?” Veronika glared between the two of them. “It’s a sentient beam of sunlight that – what happens if – no -” she shook her head. “This place is fatal. It’s supposed to be a world-class archive and, oh, Blast Dewey and all he stood for.”
She sank to the ground holding her head in both hands.
“It’s a world-class archive,” she muttered again. “It’s a world-class archive. It has everything. It’s a world class archive.”Want more?
“It has everything.” Maybe not quite, but I figure it gets closer than most (all?) other places. And _everything_ seems to encompass a whole lot more than one would ordinarily think…
Lucky for us. Not quite so lucky for those skeletons that used to be people.
Certainly closer than many places! In this world which… which.. um. Which? I have no idea much about this world except that “oh there’s ghosts in the Fillion” is annoying and weird, like “oh the Fillion painted their walls all stripes” not like “OMFG there’s a GHOST!”
Yeah, your own… fuzziness about the world comes through and makes it hard to judge in places how weird the Bellamy is compared to the rest of the world or at least compared to the Fillion, and thus how freaked out Veronika should be as opposed to how freaked out she actually is.
But, although I generally detest sloppy world-building, I’m actually surprisingly OK with this. In fact, it feels like you’re striking a good balance with the weirdness, and the readers’ lack of a calibration point for the weirdness scale kinda enhances the story instead of detracting from it.
Thank you! (I think)
I tend to worldbuild by writing my way through, which is trickier in the middle of the Bellamy.
I admit that was a bit of a backhanded compliment, but you *are* doing good here, and more than merely good, as far as I am concerned. Please consider any generalized negativity in that regard not as a judgement of the story but as a mere expression of my frustration over the lack of secure footing you provide not just to Veronika but to your readers as well. 😀
I’ll drink to that! Or I would if I had anything richer than water within easy reach.
“…and makes something like my local archive look like a kid’s collection in a shoebox – which I also still have,”
Yep, I think she’s going to fit in here.
Isn’t she fun?!