Ancestral *NaNoWriMo Entry*

This science fiction novel will be set among a variety of post-apocalytic/future worlds where the protagonist Charlie is trying to find the origins of his home and existence. In each world Charlie takes on a different form. In each chapter, Charlie meets his nemisis 'C'. C is determined to kill Charlie, but why? In each world the mysterious ancestral symbol appears to confuse and tantalise Charlie (and the reader). Will Charlie survive? Why is C trying to kill him? Can one exist without the other?
****** Our class is writing this******

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3. The Box

Shrouding the sky from Charlie was a giant roof. It was warm as well. Tropical warm complete with the flies. He stripped off his jacket and sat up, staring at the gargantuan concrete walls on either side of him. Charlie frowned and brushed the dust off his shirt. For once in a long time he was thoroughly confused. In his short, miserable life so far Charlie had seen many things from death to the abnormal. This box was something completely different to anything he'd experienced. Not only was the box warm but it had actual grass sprouting out of the floor and palm trees shooting upwards and a giant lake in one corner. Above him hung the roof but when he looked closer he could make out puffy, white clouds and an expanse of sparkling blue. Grazing nearby were some horses with dirty brown hair.

Then, as if to make sure he was thoroughly confused, the scene blurred and Charlie found himself standing amidst the bustling traffic of an early nineteenth century town in Britain. He was leaning on a frosted lamp post that flickered dully on the bleached, atmosphere of the people. His breath came out in white puffs like the tendrils of smoke that came from a cigarette. And when he inhaled a million little needles seemed to cascade down his throat it was so cold. When Charlie tried to hug his jacket tighter around him his fingers felt like they were about to snap off. Small flakes of stray snow still fell from the concrete ceiling above and they landed gently on his shoulders where they rested quite happily.

“Where am I?” His voice had grown a slight English twang to it. When he'd lived with his parents they used to watch so many British murder shows and Charlie would always say he wanted to have an accent just like theirs. Now he wasn't so sure.

Some people stopped to stare at him with pity. Truth be told, he did look quite poor with his tattered brown coat and scuffed red boots but Charlie was just glad they were humans. His hand closed around a small pendant that was dangling from a chain around his waist. Then he began noticing weird details about them. Like their pointed ears and the weird way they hobbled everywhere. What was this place?

“Sorry,” a young girl said as he bumped into Charlie. The contents inside of the bag the girl was carrying spilled out onto the floor. It smashed against the road and littered the footpath with shards of a sharp material that glinted wickedly in the non-existent sun. “No!” The young girl knelt down and quickly tried to retrieve the pieces but they started to melt and soon all that left was a bigger pile of snow. “This ain't 'app'nin'! It can't be 'app'nin'! I'll be killed for sure! Now yer can stop staring at what just 'appended. It's what Gray calls a Replica vase. Ain't the real thing but nobody can tell the difference so we make money out of it. Gray designed them you see. Real genius 'e is. But now 'e'll kick me out! I 'ave nowhere else to go.”

Charlie placed a hand on the young girl's shoulder. “Are you okay?” Charlie asked.

“What're yer think yer idiot? Do I look okay? Does me vase look okay?” the girl hissed.

“Uh...” Charlie straightened and blinked. “Sorry?”

The girl's shoulders relaxed and he sighed. “It's fine. I just get a little worked up sometimes. The name's Caera. Sorry 'bout snappin' at yer like that. Didn't mean no disrespect. Like I said, I get worked up sometimes. What's your name, mister?” Caera was tall for her age- only eleven or so. She had mousy brown hair that hung around her face like a massive balloon and two big blue eyes. Upon her arm was a weird mark that looked like it had been burned there. The symbol looked exactly like the pedant Charlie seemed to own- a fish with its nose pointing upwards but she quickly pulled her sleeve down over it as if suspecting him looking at it.

“Charlie,” Charlie said.

“Yer sound to posh to be one of us. But yer look like you've been dragged through Gray's rubbish tip. Where're yer from?” Caera stood there with her hands on her hips. She seemed to have forgotten about the vase.

“Nowhere. I mean, another place. That's just not here,” Charlie explained. His throat felt so raw and sore by now from the icy air.

“Yer mean outside the Box?” Caera asked in amazement. “You've been outside the Box? What's it like? Gray says not much good lies out there but I don't believe him. Do they 'ave rabbits?”

“No...” Charlie said. “It's more like a wasteland. I guess this Gray was right. Not much good lies out there. I'm not even sure how I got here. I died, but that's all I can remember...”

Caera laughed. “Don't ya worry, Charlie. That's the same story as everyone else here. The old in'abitants 'ere died out not that long ago. We just appeared 'ere too. Maybe Gray'll be able to explain it better. Come on. I'll show yer.” Caera grabbed hold of Charlie's hand and began dragging him away from the bitter wind. Charlie gazed up longingly at the tall, two-storey buildings with smoke drifting up and out of the long chimneys. Strong wafts of thick stews and warm soups filled his nostrils and the familiar sound of a fire crackling in the distant filled his longing ears. It was different to what he was used to, however. It was inviting. Welcoming...

“Don't you go thinkin' up a fantasy for yourself. It'll never 'appen. Slum folk like us never bother to try and get those rich snobs to take pity on us,” Caera spat.

After a few more blocks Charlie began to notice changes like how the houses seemed to be more decrepit and the streets grew narrower. Caera stopped outside a reasonably well kept house. She shoved the door open but stopped dead. “Oh crud!” Caera exclaimed. “The vase. Gray told me to bring it tonight so 'e could sell it! He'll kill me. He'll kick me out!”

“So it was a valuable vase?” Charlie peered through the doorway and took in a cosy living room, small kitchen and three beds in the corner.

“No,” Caera said. “It wasn't. It's just that that vase was paying for our food this month.”

“Caera is that you?” A voice said.

Caera glanced sideways at Charlie. “Don't say anythin', yer hear me? Gray's got one mighty temper when it comes to slip ups.”

Charlie nodded fervently.

Caera scurried into the house and disappeared into a small room at the back. It was warm like the grassland Charlie had been in. He could smell a small bowl of stew cooking in the corner. Almost immediately his mouth began to water. To avoid his saliva messing up the carpet Charlie dashed over to the room and crept inside. Caera was sitting in a chair with her eyes looking guiltily at the ground.

“Who's that?” a voice asked sharply.

Caera didn't reply.

“Is it another one of yer friends?”

“It's a boy named Charlie. E' says e' came 'ere like everyone else. Appeared. 'e 'as seen outside the box, Gray.” Caera kept her head down.

“Gray is it?” Charlie piped up.

“A posh one are yer?”

“Yeah. No. I don't think so.”

“So it's Charlie right?”

“Yep.”

Gray stood up and smiled. “Well, it's nice to meet yer Charlie. Now, Caera 'bout that vase.”

Caera's feet shifted uncomfortably. “Yer know, Gray...”

Gray raised an eyebrow. “Yer broke it didn't yer?”

“No...”

“Ah it don't matter. We got enough money for a week or so. Got a small job at the bak'ry. You're lucky.” Gray shrugged. “Now. 'Bout this newbie, Charlie. I'm goin' to show 'im 'round the place. Caera, you're on dinner tonight.”

Caera seemed to exhale a giant breath that she'd been holding. Gray smiled at Charlie. “So, Charlie yer ever been to 'The Other Place' before?” Gray asked excitedly.

Charlie shook his head.

“Well,” Gray grinned. “This is goin' to be fun.” He placed a hand on Charlie's shoulder. “Has Caera told yer 'bout what I do for a livin'?”

Charlie shrugged. “From what she told me I guess you're a...an engineer of some sort.”

“Yeah,” Gray said. “Somethin' like that.”

 

§§§

 

Gray seemed to hesitate as soon as they reached the richer parts of what he called 'The Box'. Charlie couldn't see what was wrong with it. There were small grates of public fires crackling in one corner and the small shops with doors that had bells that tinkled when opened, in the other. A small bakery had fresh bread and pies scenting the air. Charlie couldn’t see what could possibly be wrong with it. There were actual living things and snow! Along, the way Gray had stated how “’orrible and stuck up all those posh people are” as he put it.

“The Other Place is just ‘round the corner,” Gray whispered. He crept out of the shadows and wandered out into the firelight that illuminated the street. “You stay there.”

“But-”

“Yer know too many a question can earn a head chopping,” Gray warned.

Charlie shut his mouth. “I get it, but I’ve been meaning to ask what are you people?”

Gray snorted. “Definitely not people, Charlie. More like humanoid creatures. I’m not even sure what our species name is but we’re no humans. Now shut it.”

Gray strode over to a bunch of shops sitting huddled at the end of the street and disappeared around the corner. Charlie felt his skin grow clammy. He wasn’t even sure where he was and he was trusting a complete stranger. Plus, he wasn’t even sure he was the same person. Ever since he’d woken up in ‘The Box’ he’d noticed how his voice was different and his height was different. And how could he even be alive. He’d died.

“Come over ‘ere.” Gray beckoned to him from behind the Tailor’s.

Charlie tried his best to not fall down in the thick snow covered road as he ran. Upon collapsing at Gray’s feet he experienced a sharp pain in his side from a certain foot.

“Get up. We need to go. Normal people ain't allowed where we're going.” Gray hauled Charlie to a standing position and helped him limp over toward a wall on the either side of the shop. “And get a bit fitter why don’t you. Slowin’ us down you are.”

“I’m hungry,” Charlie complained.

“Well, we’ll ‘ave plenty of food when we get back. Now, don’t get freaked out when we walk right through-”

They passed through the wall. Gray let go of Charlie and let him fall forward onto soft grass. Charlie scrambled to his feet and stared.

“This is where I was before! Exactly where I was before! The horses and everything!” Charlie gaped at Gray who sniggered.

“I told yer not to get all excited. And besides yer can’t ‘ave possibly been here. Charlie-I mean Caera wouldn’t have allowed it,” Gray said.

“You said Charlie. Did you say Charlie?” Charlie said suspiciously. “'Cause I'm right here and I didn't tell you anything of the sort.

“No,” Gray replied hastily. “Anyway, I would’ve taken food from here if I could’ve but it’s like this all just a hologram. I tried once and all I got was air. Same with the water.”

“Okay…how did you find out about this place?” Charlie observed the roof which had grown clouds and a fake sun that shone mercifully onto them, toasting Charlie's feet.

“Charlie told me.”

“There you go again. Who’s Charlie?”

Gray shrugged. “Nobody. Now I’m goin’ to have to show yer the ‘orses. Pretty little things even if they aren’t real.” His eyes seemed to have glazed over like he wasn’t really there anymore. It was worrying. “’Ello.” He stretched out a hand and stroked one of the horses’ noses, not realising that his hand was simply going right through it.

“Ah, Gray? Your hand?” Charlie said.

Gray waved him off. Charlie frowned, which he figured out that he liked to do, and took a step back. He was starting to make Charlie think that this hadn’t been such a good idea.

“Gray.” Charlie waved his palm infront of Gray’s face. No reaction in the slightest. “Gray!”

Gray shook his head. “Yeah?”

“Are you feeling fine?”

“Now that you mention it Charlie I’m not particularly. Let’s go back.” All the time he talked his face stayed the same stoic expression. Then when he moved his movements seemed stiffer and his strides more restricted. “So, you like it there?”

“Sort of. I have been there before though. I have.”

Together, Gray and Charlie stepped back into the cold town. “Oh much better,” Gray smiled. His eyes seemed to brighten. “I 'ate the 'eat.”

“I love it at the moment. This place is so cold!” Charlie shivered.

“Yeah well, when summer 'its you'll be wishin' it stayed nice and crisp. Besides, you’ll say yer wish it were winter tomorrow. Last day of snow. You'll get used to the seasons though. We need to get back. Food’s probably ready by now. Caera doesn’t like waiting.”

It was as if Caera was the more of the leader by the way he said that. And who was C? Charlie still couldn’t remember who that was but it sounded so familiar and if this was really the early nineteenth century then how did he know about holograms?

 

Caera looked up when they got back with a smug grin. “I stole some ‘erbs from old Bailey. Tastes real nice with the lamb.” She pointed at a pot, which was boiling happily over a wood fire.

“I told yer not to steal anythin' for a while. They'll get suspicious,” Gray chided. “But it does smell good. We visited The Other Place...” Gray's eyes glazed over again. “Charlie said he'd been there before.”

Caera glanced up sharply. It had occurred to Charlie a while ago that even though Caera had been implying Gray was in-charge it was, in fact, Caera. “’E can’t ‘ave! Everybody wakes up ‘ere. I made sure of that.”

Charlie felt a sense of growing horror welling up inside of him. He placed a hand behind to steady himself and it landed in a bowl of vegetables that tipped over and spilled. When Gray had been talking about C he’d meant Caera. C. Why did that letter make him feel like curling into a ball and hiding behind a bush? He began to back away towards the door.

“And where do yer think you’re going?” Caera asked. She whipped around to face him.

“I feel like some fresh air,” Charlie lied.

“Not hungry?” Caera asked.

“No. No thanks. Looks great but no.” Charlie turned on his heels and made a break for it. And only when he felt the recognisable crunch of the white snow he relaxed. What the heck was going on? He found his way over to the wall where they’d passed through to The Other Place. Charlie collapsed and rested his back against the cool concrete. During the time he’d been here the snow was starting to melt and his hair and clothes were slowly collected drops of water. It felt refreshing on his skin. After a while of thinking he finally concluded that he needed to get out. Where ever this ‘Box’ was, he had to escape. Charlie stood and stepped into the grassland. The sun was warm against his skin that he wanted to fall asleep. Without Gray around it was almost like a completely different place. The horses whinnied at him.

“I can’t pat you. You’re hologram thingys…” Charlie’s voice trailed off. Why was this place a hologram in the first place?

The horses whinnied persistently. Charlie sighed and reached out a hand. The palm of it appeared on the other side of the horse’s nose. “See?” Charlie said.

The horses whinnied again.

“I can’t- you’re not wanting a pat are you? You’re trying to tell me something else.” Charlie looked up at the sky. Great big black gaps in the clouds were forming as if the sky was melting just like the snow. The grass was slowly turning a light brown. Even the lake had turned a sickly green. Charlie yelled out and tried to get back to the wall but when he pounded his fists against it all he felt was solid brick. “What’s going on?!” Charlie yelled. “I died. I woke up. Now this is happening? What’s going on? I don't understand!”

The whole room flickered and all at once pitch blackness fell like a heavy blanket over him. Charlie stopped hitting the wall and reeled back. He felt sick. He doubled over and emptied his stomach of all the worry and fear he’d been keeping there. When he’d finished he closed his eyes and wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. He must've been delirious from the nausea because he thought he saw a small flicker of fire.

“Charlie? Yer there?”

Charlie sat bolt upright. “Yes!” he said.

A small beam of light lit up the darkness. Caera stood infront of him with a sneer on her pretty face. “Enjoying it 'ere?”

“Caera what’s happening?” Charlie asked.

“Yer see…yer can never really trust anyone. I for one, ‘oped you’d learned that by now. Yer really disappoint me, Charlie. We gave yer all these clues and yer never figured it out. This place isn’t real,” Caera clicked her fingers and they were back in the streets, “it was all a ‘ologram. A trick. A ‘allucination. To disguise what it really is but more on that later. I designed the box yer know? Marvellous genius on me part, but I guess I’ve always been smarter than you. Oh Charlie, don’t pretend yer don’t know me. I’m Charlie- your doppelganger. Surely you’d have known. I slipped so many times and yer never noticed. By the way I'm Charlie not you. Get it.”

Charlie was frozen. “Sorry?”

“While yer were all alone in your little world-”

“You’re me? Seriously?”

“I just said that yer, Numpty!”

Charlie doubled up with laughter. Tears filled his eyes.

“Stop it. Stop laughing!” C yelled.

Some people poked their heads out of their windows to see what the commotion was all about.

“Stop it!” C repeated. “Gray, make ‘im stop laughin’.”

Charlie hadn’t taken any notice of Gray’s looming figure. But when his arms were seized and gripped behind his back his laughter faulted and he cleared his throat. “I can’t believe it’s you. You're my brother right?” C had been like Charlie’s brother since he’d been one year old. And then on their twelfth birthday C had died in a car crash. Wait a minute… “You died. I died. We both died.”

C shrugged. “Yeah. I guess you could say that.”

“So what’s going on?”

“Ah. About that. Sorry to say none of this is real. So when yer wake up say ‘ello to me. Charlie I mean. Not you. Me. Stop calling yourself by my name. It's not nice.

“What?” Charlie tried to twist out of Gray’s grip but the guy had a firm hand.

“Exactly what I said. I’m a good actor aren’t I?” C mused. “Makin’ you think Gray was in charge of all of this when it was me. I set up The Box as a sort of earth adaptor. Every season it changes settin’ to ‘adapt’ to it. I didn’t mean to scare yer Charlie. I really didn’t. The Other Place just sort of malfunction. It was the control room of this whole thing but I had to disguise it so if any unsuspectin’ person were to stumble across it they wouldn’t know what it was and go straight back the way they came. The horses were the alarm for when the engine was actin’ whack. This body is quite fond of those creatures.”

Charlie eventually managed to twist his way from Gray. He staggered backwards. “Wait. So this is like a dream machine?”

“Ah that’s one way of puttin’ it,” C nodded.

“Can you die in a dream?”

“I was 'opin’ that I wouldn’t find out, yer know?” C’s shoulders sagged. “See yer later, Charlie.”

Charlie’s eyes widened and he reached out to push Gray away so he could escape. C held up a gun. The people from the windows gasped. “But those people up there are real?” Charlie gulped.

“Of course,” C said. “They’re all dreamers like you. Stuck here in my little dream box. I made up great lies didn’t I? You’re so gullible. I’m sorry again. But have a nice day.” C clicked the bullet into the chamber and aimed at Charlie's chest. “C,” C added as an afterthought. Then a loud bang resounded around the street.

Charlie grimaced from the pain and the loss that he was already starting to feel. His whole body was growing colder than the ice. Bit by bit. A pain at the back of his head told Charlie that his brain was stopping. His body gasped for air. Charlie’s face landed in the snow first with a thud. Windows slammed shut in disgust and shock. C gently kicked Charlie’s dead body to make sure it was dead. “Gray?” C asked.

“Yes boss.” Gray stood to attention.

“That was fun.” C tucked the gun back into her pocket and smiled. “Thankyou.”

“For what?”

“I don't know what, actually. I'm feeling a bit forgivin'.” C patted Gray's back. “Now for some dinner. I can actually eat something knowing that he's not dead. I'm glad really. I don't want him to die.”

“Pardon? 'E looks dead to me,” Gray said.

“Trust me. I have a feeling 'e isn't.” And they left Charlie lying in the snow for the morning to come and melt him away.

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