I am writing this fantasy chapter-by-chapter and posting the chapters. The first chapters concern the building of an underground cathedral from an abandoned coal mine. Prisoners are trucked in, and within a chain-link enclosure, begin to carry out the building of great pillars. Events, however, go awry.
Chapter 5 of “The Cage”, by Finley J. MacDonald
The cage jingles, electric guns crackle, and wood snaps as Mouse wanders, hammer in hand, among score-settling old schools like battling ghosts in mist: swaying, drunken figures that face off and bounce on their toes and circle each other. Fists smack. A man scrambles and rolls and takes blows and kicks out like a swimming frog. Between bonfires slumps a bearded immigrant, mouth open like a battered carp, a path of blood below one eye and rivulets down his body. A mass of men topples past Mouse. An immense arm crooks, squeezing a head.
Outside the cage, a tank truck with a snout like a locomotive lugs and looms. A reel rolls round and round, and a black python lolls out over the helmets of screws. A blast of water bursts through the mesh, and droplets rain down from the lights, splattering Mouse’s head and shoulders. With a roar like a revving engine, the throng of politicos charges the walls of the cage, and some go crawling up the mesh like enraged monkeys. The roving beam water knocks them off like heavy fruit. Someone wields a board like a lumberjack and is caught and kicked back. The stream drives on, battering, breaking up churning pools of revolt. A blast catches Mouse at the knees, and he trips forward and crawls about, groping for his hammer.
Soaked, stumbling, crawling bands collect on the firm field of mud like seals on a slate isle while water crashes and fans across the blue surface. Outside the grid, beyond the black necklace of screws, heavy motors rumble and axles squeak in a train of fleeing civilian trucks, mules, and men. Run away little sisters; run away to mother before we slice off your pizzles, screams one inmate. The thick, spreading lance of water droops and wanders among fountains of oily smoke. The bull horn is barking. Lie down, lie down in rows. Every mother’s son gather on that pad. You will come to order immediately. Noncompliance will be met with severe penalties. Lie down. Lie down flat. Knit your hands behind your head.
A bear is lumbering about on the slab: Martin Strings crawling from band to band of soaked, shining, surly politicos. A few creep off on errands. The bullhorn goes on announcing, uselessly. Missiles and fragments of brick are passed along and hefted.
Drop all objects. Lie down where you stand.
A hail of stones and broken bricks arcs over the fence, bouncing among the screws near the hose. The hose whips loose, springing into an ecstatic, spilling, flinging, mounting dance, shaking its head, and climbing the wire. Martin strings gives a war cry, and again, men charge the walls. Mouse stands with his hammer. He watches the frenzied, unreal, encircling hoard. It is an extended ballet under red lights, a rhythmic ritual, like lovemaking. The smell of blood and smoke and bash of bodies is a rough drug—a savage dream of masculine forms pressing and bonding, faces snarling and brown, tattooed arms swinging. The wave draws in around him and then expands meet the steel mesh and black, surrounding band of helmets and sticks. Electric guns sizzle. The wave slips back, fulminates, and expends itself again, clashing against the sparkling limits of the cage.
A hand slaps the side of his head. Martin Strings, his face soot-smeared and contorted, is stooping over him, bellowing into his face.
“You stupid, boy? We got a war on here. What you think you going to do with that hammer?”
Martin Strings pulls the hammer from his hand.
“You go to that burn pile and get boards, planks, anything like that. You bring them over where we building a ram! You got me?”
“Got it, Strings.”
Mouse dashes to a sodden, steaming heap and works out a plank. He hoists it, slippery and charred, to his hip, and he lopes back toward the platoon gathering around Martin Strings before today’s trampled, ruined pour. Among the crowd of men, Pumpkin-goatee is there, bleeding down his neck. He and another take Mouse’s plank and slap it on a stack spanning two piles of bricks.
“Need a metal nose,” says Martin Strings. “Wood maybe too soft to break wire.”
“I got a cook pot.”
“Give that over.”
Spandarian is across the pile from Mouse, his ear and shoulder covered in blood.
“Help me out with this wire, son.”
Spandarian hands the roll of wire to Mouse, and Mouse passes it underneath. They wind and cinch and pull the boards into a tight missile, moving up the stack toward Martin Strings, who is hammering the pot over the nose of the ram. Two others follow, wrapping with twine. Spandarian crouches low.
“Mouse, see what I’m doing here? Make a loop on that side, down at the bottom. Anybody get a two-by? Slide her through for a handle.”
Long nails in his hand, Martin Strings, drives a spike through the pot, bends it over, and follows it with another. Around them, the voices of men form one, unending shout, interspersed with the jingling of the cage, yapping of dogs, and the crack of striking bats and bricks. The guard towers crack and roar.
“They killing us, Strings.”
“No. Just salt-and-peppering us. Now. You five take up a handle with me. We break through, don’t nobody drop the ram. Watch the man ahead. He falls, step over and don’t you drop it. They going to shoot you up with electricity. They going to set dogs on you. Hang on. Go in low and take out the feet. Try for the guns. You, you, you—you get you some bricks and cover us. Stay close. We lose a man, you run right in and grab a handle.”
Martin Strings handed Pumpkin Goatee the hammer.
“You beat off them dogs.”
“I’ll crack open their little brain boxes.”
Mouse snatches a chunk of brick and follows as the battering ram rises with six men at the handles, turns like a compass, and forges toward the fence, picking up speed.