A man awakens in a filthy bedroom with no recollection of who he is or how he got there. Seeing an old Gideon bible on a nightstand, he finds a name to call his own - Temple. IMMORTAL is the story of Temple's quest for identity and purpose in a dying, decaying world. He is no romantic knight, no Sir Gawain, he has no sword and no armour, and in this broken world no one he can trust. He turns his back on everyone and everything as he embarks upon the quest for his own Holy Grail, and tempted by demons and gods every step of the way, he must confront the terrible truth about who he is and how he came to wake up in that damned hotel room.
He was fashioned in one explosive act of terror, a good man transformed into Death.
Temple comes, not upon a pale horse like his eternal brother, but on foot, tired, broken, and sick to the soul.
The Walking Dead meets The Road. You don’t want to be my kind of hero, trust me. – Steven Savile
"A story about Death written by a man who has clearly consorted with devils."– New York Times Best Selling Author T.M. Wright
"READ IT BEFORE THE END OF THE WORLD!"– Kevin J Anderson, international bestselling author of The Dune Prequels, Hellhole and Saga of the Seven Suns
The night was a bitter black. There were no stars. The last star – the one they had stupidly called Hope – had faded away months ago. All that remained were layers of choking fog where not so long ago there had been thousands of points of light. It wasn't pretty or romantic. It was just the new world.
Temple watched a sad-faced girl making a boat out of folded paper. Her hands trembled as she set it down in the gutter and let it sail away with all of her hopes and dreams stashed aboard. The paper boat bobbed and bounced up against the kerb, tumbling over the rapids of rain as they washed down the drain, and for a moment it looked like it might make it. The girl didn't care. Even before it floundered she shrank back into her doorway. She pulled the collar of her threadbare coat up around her throat. The wind had that familiar cutting edge to it. Any day now, snow.
Someone pushed past him, head down.
Their grunt of apology or accusation was lost in the folds of their scarf.
He didn't care. Reaching into his pocket for his tobacco tin and the makings of a cigarette, Temple sat down on the stoop of a crumbling tenement. A washer woman's mop sloshed around his feet, suds soaking down through the cracks in the pavement. He could smell cabbage boiling somewhere. It set the hunger pangs going again. Ignoring them, and her, Temple watched the girl.
Her fingers moved through some kind of sign, he realised. It wasn't just a random twitch. Her fingers were signing a subliminal message to her soul. He had seen it before. Give up, it said in the language of the streets. Curl up in your doorway and die. Close your eyes on the end of this world and open them again on some fantastic place. He drew a deep breath into his lungs. Held it. Counted silently to eleven in his head then let it raft up slowly over his face like a veil of ghosts.
At least she wasn't one of the silver-eyed dead yet, he thought. He had started seeing them all over the city. He had started thinking of them as The Soulless. At first it had been a case of one or two a day. He'd see them standing on street corners, just looking out into the middle distance. But in the last week he'd counted more than thirty of them. They were his personal entourage of ghosts. People beaten down by the city. He wasn't the only one freaked out by them. He had overheard people talking. It was some sort of new drug on the streets. An escape. Temple shuddered at the thought of that kind of escape and just what it must have meant for the people they had been once upon a time.
While he smoked wrapped-up bodies shuffled in and out of the small soup kitchen that had been the Kristus Church back when people still had the resolve to pray. They were like the animals coming two-by-two, clutching their tinfoil trays of mashed potato and meatballs, and drinking in the steam of the hot food. The spectres of the Lady Hamilton Hotel and the lead-stripped spire of the old church haunted the maze of dirty streets.
The city had changed beyond all recognition in the short time he had been here.
Temple exhaled another wraith of smoke to haunt this ghost town. In the distance the bells of the meat wagons played their nursery rhymes, taunting the living, still breathing corpses. The plague still had its teeth in the city. They were talking about burning down the outlying houses and confining everyone to the one central island. That was the only good thing about the place: burn down two bridges and the entire city centre was quarantined.
Kids crawled over the husk of a car, half-in half-out of a shop window, caught between the glass teeth of shopping mall, and behind it, shelves naked in the darkness.
Temple ground the butt of the cigarette out beneath his heel.
He knew he ought to feel something, but he didn't.
He listened to the cries of "Bring out your dead! Bring out your dead!" and just as easily could have imagined he was listening to a circus barker crying "Roll up! Roll up!" because they weren't his dead. They had no claim on his soul, on the emptiness working like a worm chewing its way from his insides out.
If that made him a bad man, then so be it.
He had never claimed to be a knight or a hero or any other kind of damned fool. He was a survivor. That was all there was to him.
A cannonball had lodged itself into the second storey of the street corner. It was an odd little detail – a relic from a war more than five hundred years old – but it stuck with him.
A scuffle broke out in the food line. A metal tray clattered to the floor, the food wasted. It didn't take long for lupus-disfigured hands to scrabble after it, people shouting as others stuffed the scraps into more than one hungry mouth.
Temple watched it all with a sense of dislocation.
It was the play of every day life but it didn't matter. It didn't touch him. There was nothing here for him. These unforgiving streets weren't his home. These hopeless actors weren't his friends. He was one of a new breed. The Dispossessed. But in a way he was just like them. He was just another type of scavenger feeding off the bloated corpse of this not so brave new world.
He hadn't seen any real traffic for weeks. Since before the Centennial Clock on the wharf stopped ticking. We're not so different, you and I, he thought, watching a fat bodied rat pick a path through the mound of faeces steaming on the street corner. The rat was just another breed of survivor.
Temple pushed himself to his feet and turned his back on the black rat. He took up his place in the line with the rest of the thin-faced crowd, clutching his food tray.
The eastern edge of the square was a corrugated iron fence. Rust pitted gates hung like the broken wings of a fallen angel. The Gates Of Heaven some forgotten wag had painted across the ripples of iron. Someone else had spray-painted HELL over the heaven. And they might just as well have been. Headless statues of long dead statesmen stood either side of the gates, keeping a blind watch. Through the gates loomed the ruin of the old King's Palace where the politicians buried their heads in the sand while they waited for a miracle that wasn't coming.
An old tank rumbled slowly along the line of the iron fence, its caterpillar tracks eating the rubble and rock dust of the road. A snake of street boys danced in its wake. Their faces were painted white and tattooed with spider webs. They had come to loot the corpses. Their wordless whooping chant ululated through the Old Town.
An olive-skinned boy threw himself in front of those relentless tracks, light and flame engulfing his corpse as one of the web-faced street boys poured gasoline on his blue jeans and another ignited it with a carelessly tossed match. It was as quick as it was brutal. Others turned away, but Temple watched the boys' burning dance, fascinated by the slowly charring skin and the blisters that wept beneath the flames. It was one of the ugliest things he'd ever seen. At least he assumed it was. There was so much he couldn't remember.
A pretty young girl – twelve, younger, maybe, or a little older, it was difficult to tell with kids these days, they all looked the same – moved down the food line, offering her wilted flowers for sale. Her brother worked the subway entrance, polishing shoes and hoping for a miracle in silver. It was getting more and more rare to see kids these days. They seemed to be the worst effected by the sickness. As she moved by Temple he wondered how long it would be until there were no more kids on the streets, and just that would mean for humanity? The hunger was plain in her watery eyes. At least they aren't silver. Not yet. He thought. But who knew what colour they would be the next time he saw her? Temple could only shrug when she offered the sad blooms, and swap a dull coin for a brighter smile.
Like a magician, he drew a second coin from behind her ear and pressed it into her hand. "Take it and feed yourself," he whispered, looking at the emptying trays of food further up the line. "But go somewhere—" he was going to say nice but checked himself. "Better than this."
When it was his turn, Temple took a ladleful of the swill they were serving, and five meatballs the size of his knucklebones.
He picked out the black flecks of dead insect as he ate.
Done, he licked the tray clean and buried it beneath the folds of his long coat. Temple cupped his hands around his mouth and blew a funnel of warm air back up over his face. He stamped his feet, trying to force the blood to flow before he started another lonely walk between the dead buildings and their baleful ghosts.
Of course, they weren't real ghosts.
They weren't the spectres of dead fireboys burned beneath the eyes of the street kids, or the wraiths of hope cast adrift on a gutter sea in paper boats.
These were the ghosts of celluloid and memory. Of newspaper cuttings and a life that belonged to someone else. He had nothing and that was just the way he needed it.
What is identity anyway? What's in a name? What is the power of it? What makes it so important? Does it matter who I am? Does it change what I am?
He'd asked himself all these questions and more a thousand times, but the face he saw distorted in a store window didn't have any answers for him.
Was it a question of self-worth and ownership? Or something deeper? Something more profound?
There was a hole where his life should have lived, and in that hole he was left to invent himself, his dreams, his past.
How long had passed since he had awoken in that fleapit motel, bills paid four weeks in advance, with nothing more than the clothes on his back, a peculiar golden egg that was warm to the touch, and line of bruises and track marks marring the inside of his left thigh? It wasn't a real egg. It was some sort of jewel, but it pulsed as though alive. He kept it in his pocket, not knowing what it was, only that it was important. That is was the key to who—or what—he was. The only hint of the person he had been was a string of numbers tattooed in a ring around his wrist like some concentration camp label. 530120 180049. It was conceivable. His back was a mesh of scar tissue so he had obviously been tortured or burned at some point, too. All of these things had to mean something. But what? It was the only clue he had as to who he was. He hadn't just lost track of the now of his life, he had lost the then as well. All of that stuff that came before.
That had been the worst of it by far; not knowing himself. Not owning a history. A personality. Values. All of these things that made a man a man and he had none of them. He had stared at his naked body in the mirror with no memory of who he saw being who he actually was, and forced himself to pick a name from the pocket Gideon bible on the nightstand because he needed to be somebody.
"My body is my Temple," he whispered out loud, tasting the rightness in the bitter irony of the words. His body was all he had, and so he was reborn: Temple.
It was as good a name as any.
In the memories he gave himself, Temple had prayed for immortality as a child, when the nightmares had seemed so real, when the night itself was the loneliest time and simply making it through from one side of it to the other was a small victory. Walking through the crowds of Shuffling Dead, Temple knew this kind of mute eternity wasn't an immortality worth craving. He needed to find a new dream. One worth living.
A beady-eyed black bird watched him from the window ledge of the old Rigoletto cinema. Rubble and broken stones lined the sidewalk. Through the rubble a baby's arm clung to the life it was yet to live. Temple dropped to his knees and began pulling the stones away, throwing them across the street as he desperately tried to dig the baby out of its premature coffin, moving urgently at first but then slowing as the hopelessness of it settled over him. What was he doing? Delaying its death by a day, maybe two. He couldn't feed himself let alone another mouth. He stood, dusted off his bleeding hands and walked away, leaving the baby to what he hoped wouldn't be a lingering death. He hated himself for it.
The sense of utter uselessness life had thrust upon him still hurt. What sort of man was he? "The sort of man capable of leaving a kid to die," he said bitterly.
The bird watched it all. And maybe through its bird eyes it could see the baby's lifeforce slipping away as the threads binding soul to skin and bone unravelled. Why else would it stand vigil? It needed to feed as much as every other wretch in this damned city.
The baby's cries followed him down three streets before they quieted.
Gritting his teeth—hardening his soul—Temple walked on.
A hospital tent had been set up on the corner of Stora Nygatan, beneath the awning of the Grey Monk Cafe. People queued for their weekly fix of rehabilitators, slack skin and sharp bones denying the promise of healing offered by the red cross on the side of the dusty tent. The air quality was so poor these days that they were giving out inhalers almost as frequently as they were giving out nutritional supplements and cognitive dampeners. No-one wanted to think anymore, because thinking meant understanding what was happening to them. Above the queue, the night sky was full of phosphorous stars on strings, cheap two-dimensional lies less real than the old celluloid ones that had lit up the city like a bonfire before the Fall.
That was a pretty way of saying the end of civilisation—or at least all things good about it.
His first few days awake had been the worst.
He'd seen the mask of humanity slip from the death's head of the world, and beneath, the bone grin, the bloody teeth and vacant sockets of chaos eager to be unleashed. There was electricity for the precious few with the wealth to command it or the strength to take it by force of arms, just as their was oil and all of the other natural resources—but there was precious little of it. Not enough to go around. Not enough for the common man. Each according to his means meant starvation, privation, desperation. It meant every man for himself and damn the rest. The military peacekeepers had some fuel, but not enough for any kind of show of strength. Thieves with sticks and stones were more intimidating. Gangs held sway. Groups like the Spider Boys and Fire Boys ran the streets. They took what they wanted and destroyed what they didn't. And all because the system ran on faith, and with a failure of faith the collapse of the system was inevitable. It wasn't faith in God that went, not at first, it was faith in all of the new gods, money, technology, the things people had taken for granted and raised up to the heights of necessity while the sum knowledge of the world moved on from the basic functions of survival to skill sets that depended upon oil and power. Strip the world of that and mankind was reduced to scrambling about on its hands and knees praying for the day its computers and cell phones and televisions and satellites would save them.
It was grim.
That's when Nina had been born out of the ruined face of a movie starlet on a poster. Nina, with her eyes so full of sky and diamonds and promise. Her name was still on the billboards and hoardings surrounding the Rigoletto but time and the elements had combined to break her fake plastic smile down the middle like her fake plastic heart. Her right cheek lay in pieces on the floor, ground in to the dirt of the street. But no amount of rain could wash away those diamonds. He had dreamed a world where she was his lover and confidant. Through that she gave him hope. In return he gave her all of his love, did fall in love and did feel the need and the ache that went with finding himself alone again now that she was his. Because that was what she was. His. One of his dead. She didn't need silver eyes.
It wasn't about the corpses stacked up waiting for the meat wagons. His dead were the memories he'd made up and fed off daily. They were the ghosts he couldn't escape. Every building, every street and alleyway sheltered spectres he'd created and couldn't kill.