Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Fame and Escapism

Nevada waited for the right moment and then yanked the handles sideways, sending the plane swerving off to the right. A bullet flew past the window, missing the plane by inches.

“Far out,” Nevada growled. “We almost got hit then.”

Houdini was silent, his finger deftly checking through his parachuting equipment while his eyes were trained on the gunner squatting on top of a skyscraper.

A round of bullets sounded and Nevada sent the plane into a dive, straight for the murky waters of the Thames. The bullets splashed into the water around them as the plane levelled out and began to slope back up towards Tower Bridge.

“Watch out London,” Nevada muttered, pulling the handles as far as she could from the dashboard, causing the plane to put on a burst of speed.

The plane shot through the gap in Tower Bridge, heading straight for the Olympic Stadium.

“Is your parachute ready Ms Tyrelli?” Houdini asked, finally satisfied with his equipment.

“Yes,” Nevada said, lying through her teeth.

“Get moving Ms Tyrelli.”

Nevada ignored him and put a bit of pressure on the brake as they got closer to the stadium. She had a quick look in the rear vision mirror and saw several planes in pursuit. She pressed the autopilot button and began checking through her parachute straps.

“One,” Houdini said, unclipping his seatbelt. “Two,” he threw open the door and the plane began to beep like crazy. “Three!”

Houdini leapt out of the cabin, Nevada not far behind him. There were a few moments of terrifying free fall before Nevada pulled her cord, the parachute flew open and she was wafting slowly towards the ground.

The plane exploded in a flash of white light as a bullet smashed into the fuel tank, igniting the avgas. Smoking hot shards of metal fell from the wreck, burning her skin and hair before she shook them loose.

Nevada looked up. The parachute was now littered with holes, but seemed to be holding her weight. Below her Houdini was floating just above the entrance to the stalls and as she got closer she could see a hundred hands reaching out to grab him.

Nevada grabbed a second cord dangling from the parachute bag.

“If this crazy invention doesn’t work,” she whispered. “I will kill Houdini myself.”

Nevada waited a moment longer until Houdini’s feet just brushed the waiting hands, and pulled.

A cloud of white powder rained down on the spectators and they began coughing and spluttering, bumbling about blindly as their eyes watered. Two parachutes descended onto their heads, adding to the confusion, and by the time security had sorted the mess the offenders had simply disappeared.

Nevada hurried to keep up with the boy as he manoeuvred through the crowds.

“You’re lucky that worked,” she panted. “Now wait up!”

Houdini ignored her and kept ducking, sliding and slithering through the throng. Being an escape artist certainly had its perks.

“Houdini!” Nevada exclaimed. When he didn’t turn around she muttered, “Imbecile.”

The boy soon stole off into a maintenance room and Nevada slipped in after him. Houdini had left the air vent cover lying on the ground and she swore as she crawled in after him, wondering why he had to take such a way. It was dark inside the tunnel, but she was able to follow him from the faint rustle of clothing ahead. Houdini could be so annoyingly smart; he’d usually be silent on a job but he’d realised she would need a guide. Nevada sighed. She’d have to put up with him for a long while yet.

Nevada saw the sunlight before she found the air vent with missing cover. She climbed out noiselessly and looked about.

Houdini was standing beside the Olympic torch, carefully attaching some kind of device to the side of the dish that held the dancing flames. Around them the crowd went wild as a man pole vaulted his way into the history books.

“How long do you think we have before someone notices?” Nevada asked, hand on hips, looking out at the arena.

“Not long Ms Tyrelli,” Houdini replied. “So I suggest you let me get on with the job.”

Houdini soon had everything set to his satisfaction, and stood up from his crouch, stretching his legs. He held a small black box in his hand with a red button in the centre and Nevada wondered what is for. Houdini never told her his entire plan, only the part that she needed to carry out. Sometimes it annoyed her, but other times she realised that he was only being sensible.

A security guard hurried over, noticing the pair.

“Stand back,” Houdini called, waving the box threateningly.

The man stopped, a worried look crossing his face as a million ideas ran through his head as to what the box could do. Finally he decided exactly what Houdini had wanted him to think. That the big red button could trigger an explosion and destroy the whole stadium.

“You could kill everyone, including yourself,” the guard said, holding his hands in the air, his sun glasses glinting in the sun. “Is that really what you want?”

Another guard came running over, speaking urgently into his walkie-talkie. A few seconds later Nevada heard the unmistakeable buzzing of helicopter. The security guards had managed to convince Houdini to come away from the supposed bomb and have a little chat, but Nevada stood where she was, waiting to carry out her part in the plan.

There was a hiss as four men descended from the helicopter on ropes, their gloves taking the damage. They jumped to the ground and secured cables dangling from the helicopter to the sides of the torch. They stood clear as the helicopter pulled the ropes taught and the torch began to rise off the ground. Nevada took a running leap onto the dish and landed with a metallic crash before she scrambled up the cables. By the time she had forced the door open the helicopter already had the torch a metre off the ground.

The men inside were startled by her appearance and she made quick work of them, elbowing one in the neck and punching the other in the jaw, both immediately out cold. She undid the pilot’s seatbelt and shoved him out of the seat before securing herself in his place. She took the controls and leaned as far forward as she could to get a good look of what was going on below. There was a frenzy of security guards and reporters, the latter recording every word that came out of Houdini’s mouth. Soon she was as close as she could get to the boy, the torch almost scraping along the ground and the down draft from the helicopter whipping at his hair. He jumped aboard the torch, holding one of the cables for balance and the helicopter began to rise up out of the stadium.

Houdini waved at the shocked security guards and feverish reporters, knowing that his plan had succeeded. He had made London look like a fool in front of the world. The name Houdini would be remembered for generations to come, and he could now rest in peace while his fame lived forever.


Liathny wandered along the bank of the river Styx, her sword trailing in the dirt behind her. She could see Charon’s black gondola in the distance, its lantern lighting up the gloom. Cerberus’ three heads were all focused across to the underworld, his serpent tail curled around his motionless body. Liathny shrugged her lyre back into her shoulder, its reassuring weight reminding her of the threat. While Charon may be mildly friendly with her, the last time she had met with Cerberus he had left a long scar down her side. The lyre had been used once before to send the three headed dog to sleep, so Liathny had decided to take one with her, just in case.

Charon held out a hand for his payment and Liathny deposited a few coins into his bony palm before climbing aboard. Charon began paddling across to the underworld, his thin body completely shrouded in his black cloak, his face hidden in the cowl.

“So, how’s work been recently?” Liathny asked.

Charon was silent.

“That’s good,” she continued. “Glad you’ve been busy. I’m sure it can get boring otherwise,” she said, pulling a book and pencil from her pocket. “Here’s a book of Sudoku for when you have some free time.”

Charon didn’t reply as she sat the present on the floor beside him. The gondola bumped against the far shore and Liathny jumped out.

“Thanks for the ride,” she said. “Have fun with the Sudoku!”

Charon gave her a nod as she walked off, waving her sword to a catchy tune.

The land of the dead, or the underworld was not as bleak and desolate as it sounded. From the other side it appeared to be veiled in mist, but now she was there Liathny could see the luscious green grass and rolling hills, ghostly spirits lounging in the pale light that radiated from no visible source. She followed the pebbled path through the hills, never once stepping from it. There could be untold dangers stepping from the path, and Liathny didn’t want to try her luck.

She reached the top of the hill where she had agreed to meet, pushing open the orchard gate and stepping inside. The apple trees were in bloom, their flowers gorgeous pink and white. She walked among the trees, the wind gently ruffling the leaves, until she came to a white bench seat where a young girl sat.

The girl’s chestnut hair curled down her back, her deep, lusciously brown eyes on the twirling flower in her hand. Her outline shimmered in the way that all ghosts do, adding to the beauty of her flowing white dress. She looked up as Liathny approached.

“Sister,” the girl said quietly. “It’s nice to see you again.”

“Orara,” Liathny replied, slipping onto the seat beside her. “How’s death been treating you?”

Orara smiled.

“At least I’m not getting any older,” she sighed. “I do miss the real world though. I’m the youngest spirit here, as no one has given anyone a proper ceremony in hundreds of years at least!”

“They can’t be all bad,” Liathny said, jiggling her sword up and down. “I mean, there must be millions of people. At least one of them must be nice.”

“I haven’t met that one yet,” Orara replied dryly. “They’re all so boring, talking about what is was like when they were alive. Half the time I can’t even understand what they’re saying.”

“At least you had a good life,” Liathny said. “Not everyone does.”

“Being run over by a cart is not having a good life,” she snorted. “At least you’re still alive sis.”

Liathny grinned at her.

“I won’t be if Cerberus gets me again,” she said, undoing her jacket and lifting up her shirt to show off her scar. “Look what he did last time!”

Orara was wide eyed.

“What happened?” she asked.

“He mistook me for a soul trying to escape,” Liathny said, shrugging. She tapped her lyre. “At least I’ve got something to protect myself with now.”

Orara looked at her, disappointed.

“You better get going,” she said. “You can’t stay here much longer or you won’t be able to leave.”

Liathny stood and took her sister’s hand.

“See you later,” she said, giving her a wink. “Have fun.”

With that she sashayed off out of the orchard. Orara watched her leave, a smile on her delicate face.

“I wish you well sister,” she whispered.

Liathny leapt aboard the black gondola, the little craft bobbing as she did so.

“Have you tried the Sudoku yet?” she asked, eyeing the almost blunt pencil.

Charon said nothing, but even under his cloak she could tell he was embarrassed.

“Can I see how you went?”

Again there was no reply as Charon began to paddle, so Liathny took that as a yes and picked up the puzzle book. She flicked through it eagerly.

“Wow, you’re good at these Charon!” she exclaimed. “You’ve got five right and I’ve barely been gone half an hour!”

Cerberus took one pair of eyes from the land of the dead to stare at their little craft, his eyes as black as night. Liathny eyed him nervously and slowly took her harp down from her shoulder.

“If you even sneeze I’m going to unleash this upon you dog,” she warned. “So you better watch it.”

The gondola bumped gently against the far back and Liathny climbed out, her eyes on Cerberus all the while. She nodded to Charon in thanks and crept silently past the three headed monster, one head following her every move. A twig snapped and she whirled around to see a man stalking up behind her.

He was not a bad looking man, but his clothes and hair soaked as if he had just stepped out of the river and his fine facial features were distorted by a grimace. Liathny, casting a glance up and down, noticed that the trouser hem around one ankle was completely dry.

“Who are you?” Liathny demanded, her eyes steely in annoyance.

“I am Achilles,” the man replied, holding out a hand.

She refused to take it and waved her sword under his chin.

“What are you doing here?”

“Whoa!” Achilles exclaimed, his hands up in defence. “I was only going for a swim!”

“In that?” Liathny asked. “The Styx river is not just for paddling in.”

He rolled his eyes.

“You think I don’t know that?” he replied. “I’m a warrior. I come here to make my skin impenetrable.”

“Are you going to let me go on my way then?” she asked.

Achilles shook his head, his hazel eyes sad.

“I can’t,” he sighed. “You returned from the land of the dead. You have to go back.”

“I went to visit my sister,” Liathny replied.

“The underworld is not like a hospital,” Achilles said, exasperated. “You can’t just go visiting people for the fun of it. Imagine if everyone did that. How would we keep track of who was allowed to leave and who wasn’t. It’d be chaos!”

“Well if you’re not going to let me go, I suppose I’ll have to fight my way out of here.”

Achilles wrapped her in a determined bear hug as soon as she swung her first sword stoke, grabbing the blade as if it was blunt and pulling her in to his arms. Liathny squirmed out of his grasp and ducked low, aiming for his ankle. The man was fast, blocking her with a knee before grabbing her short hair in his hands.

“No fair,” Liathny panted, trying to ignore the pain.

Achilles, his conscious getting the better of him, let go. That was a mistake. Liathny lashed out and managed to cut deep into his ankle, leaving him staggering before her collapsed on the ground, crying out in agony. She turned to leave.

“Don’t go,” Achilles begged. “I’ll bleed to death if someone doesn’t help me.”

Liathny rolled her eyes, walked back over to him and grabbed the back of his shirt before dragging him down towards the river.

“Go put it in your precious river,” she said. “That’ll save you.”

With that she stalked off, leaving him alone. Achilles stared after as he let the sacred water lap against his ankle.

“Women,” he sighed. “What would we do with out them?”

As he turned back to the river her heard Liathny’s laughter behind him and knew she’d over heard. He shook his head.

“And she never even told me her name.”