A Sandman's Tale


Sam Zaslavsky

~ Prologue ~



I've been sitting here for most of the day now. Not that the daytime looks much different from night time. Just a different shade of gray I suppose; and maybe some more people.


I hate my job. For the last four years all I do is sit here day in and day out and keep track of tallies. I suppose one could call this 'safe', but then again it's damn hard to keep your mind straight. It's corporate hell; only difference here, is that the CEO's don't retire, you don't get promoted, and oh yeah, you're dead.


"Huh? What? Oh, hi boss."

I sputter like a clumsy idiot. I doze off sometimes, but like I said, there's not much to this job when you get the hang of it. Just count the Oboli and make sure everything checks out. The sooner you finish your load, the sooner you can leave.

"Got some more coin for you," he says as he dumps another sack right on my desk. Guess I won't be going anywhere for a while.

Why don't you just quit? C'mon, it won't be that difficult. Just march right over to the Anacreon, and tell him he can take his Oboli and shove it up his ass. I'll even help you.

'Least my shadow manages to keep himself entertained; albeit at my everlasting expense. Truth is, though, I can't quit. Like I said, I've been in the Shadowlands for about four years now, and if you know anything, being a fresh reap is damn hard for those first few months, so you do what you can to survive.

I've been lucky compared to others, though; I managed to get a pretty decent deal out of my slavery. Like most "enfants," I was ripped from my caul by some freakish-looking guy with a mask, who slapped chains on me before I could ask too many questions. I was never a big guy back when I was alive, so my would-be captor just stuck me under the "forge-fodder" category. I would have ended up there, too, if it wasn't for the Ferryman.

Ferrymen: if you've ever met one, this next part probably won't surprise you. As we got closer to the Necropolis we saw him coming up the path. As it turns out, my would-be captor must have pissed them off or something, because the next moment he forgot all about us, and bolted right in the other direction. I would have followed suit, except that with the chains still on me I was having difficulty standing upright, much less running.

I thought I was dead for sure, but rather than take my head off with that scythe of his, the Ferryman ripped the chains off. And by "ripped," I mean he put his bare hands on the shackles, gave them a yank, and they fell off like strings.

I suppose I should have thanked him, but I was having difficulty formulating a coherent sentence with my jaw hanging loose. Then he walked away. Didn't say a word or anything, just kept on moving as if nothing had happened. I still wonder why he even bothered with us, but I suppose I shouldn't question a good thing when it happens.

By the time we came to our senses, we were confused, lost and scared shitless - a very dangerous combination for wraiths in our position. Good thing there was an older ghost with us {I don't know how he got himself shackled, and it's not like it occurred to me to ask}.

Anyway, this guy, who went by the name of Ten-Second-Tom, filled us all in on the basics of being dead. Now I suppose most people throw a fit after they hear that, but it didn't really surprise me. I don't know why, but somehow it sank in pretty quickly.

So after half the group had run off screaming in denial {and I never did heard from them again} there were three of us left. Among other things, Tom mentioned that without a Haunt, or some kind of shelter, we'd all end up Spectre-food by week's end. He pointed us in the direction of the local "administration" office, where we could "register."

As you can pretty much guess, we had no idea what the hell we were doing.

To make a long story short, we ended up getting an advance in Oboli in return for "prolonged service." In other words, we were the Anacreon's property. On the bright side, we managed to rent out a small little Haunt {hierarchy-owned, of course} on the outskirts of the city. Since then, all of us have been working for meager wages every day, making just enough to slowly lose our minds from boredom.

Oh well, it could be worse.

If you take one look at me, you could tell I wouldn't last a single day as a Legionnaire. I do learn fast though, so I got a little spot here in accounting. Most of the day I manage to finish up by the evening, which gives me just enough time to take care of what's really important: family.

Most would call them my fetters, the stuff that links me to the lands of the dead, but the word doesn't seem to do them justice. I don't watch over them because I have to, I watch over them because I love them.

Every day I walk back to my old home and check on my mother and sister. I make sure my house is still standing and that my journal is still in my old room. My Shadow often takes these moments to remark at how powerless I am, should something actually happen.

That's cause you -are- powerless Marcus. I mean c'mon, you couldn't even save yourself when you were a skin, much less save someone else from across the Shroud, no less. Last I checked, wasn't it your sister's love bunny that did ya in?

"Shut up"

Exactly! I'm just being realistic here. Let's face it - you're a joke, your mom's a manic depressant, and your sister's a junkie who's dating your killer. If you ask me..."

"I'm not asking you. What I am doing is telling you to shut up or it's off to the Castigator."

Fine, delude yourself. Don't say I didn't tell you so.

I hate it when he starts ranting like that. He seems to love reminding me of how I screwed up, but I may as well put what he said into perspective.

I lived with my mom and sister in a crummy neighborhood in the more rundown part of Indianapolis. We stayed in a small apartment, just a block away from the local public high school. To say the area had a gang problem would be a gross understatement - you were pretty much categorized from the moment you showed your face outside.

By the time I hit high school, I was quite firmly classified as a geek. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm a pretty small guy. I didn't like sports, I got the grades easily enough, and look like your average white suburban Joe. The fact that I also had a voracious appetite for all things fantastical made determining my social standing an easy one.

Honestly, though, it never bothered me too much. I kept to myself, hung out with what few friends I had, and generally got by without too many problems.

My sister however... that's a whole different story.

She's smart, witty, beautiful, but unfortunately rather impressionable. So you can pretty much guess what happened the moment she hit high school. Every guy in some gang or another ended up hitting on her, and with all that attention, she ended up falling, hook, line and sinker for the biggest asshole in the bunch - Jason Sanchez

He's got a reputation for having the hottest ride, going to the best parties, hanging out with the coolest friends, and oh yeah, being a drug-dealing prick.

G-d dammit, I should have done more. I tried to keep her out of trouble, but she was just so stubborn. It was either listening to a geeky older brother, or fitting in with the right crowd. I didn't stand a chance.

Now, the sensible thing for me to have done was to talk to her: let her see what a scumbag he really was, maybe convince her to leave him. Well, I did kinda mention it to her, except, now that I look back on it, maybe I shouldn't have done it right in front of him. Of course, I wasn't exactly thinking clearly at the time.

I had caught her smoking some kind of shit out of a pipe in the school gym's storage locker. This was the senior prom night: Jason was also there, along with his buddies, and he wasn't about to let me take his girlfriend away from the party.

Now, by nature, I'm not a violent individual, and mostly have a good sense of self-preservation. So I don't think the guy was expecting me to call him a piece of shit right in front of everyone and then slug him. I must have made some kind of a commotion, because the school's custodian came in and broke up the fight before they all had a chance to thoroughly kick my ass. Funny how one mistake is all it takes to land you into a whole load of trouble.

The next day, while I was heading home after school, they caught up with me. I don't really remember which one of them threw the first punch, but I do remember being on the ground the next moment. I don't know how long they spent kicking me, but after a while I stopped feeling the blows altogether; that must have been before everything went black.

The next thing I recall was waking up with a freakish guy standing over me, locking me up in chains, and you know the rest.

After a few weeks of getting adjusted to the fact that I was well, dead, I did a bit of digging. Turns out the fucker who killed me told my sister that it was some rival gang who did it, and that he'd 'take care of her'. Since then, I see her sleeping with him every night, at least when she's not getting high.

I can see where this is going; I want to stop it, oh g-d how I want to stop it but I can't.

Dammit man, you are a pussy.

I keep reminding myself that he killed me, that he's hurting my sister, that he's killed others before, but I just can't do it. I can't explain it any better then to say that some part of me, this gut feeling, keeps telling me that it's wrong.

I've seen other wraiths - murder victims fresh out of their cauls - go out of their mind with rage. The unfairness, the desperate need to extract revenge - most of them fall to their shadow within a few months, while the others get nailed by Legionnaires for violating the Dictum Mortum. Believe me, their fates end up being a lot worse then my own.

Ah but we both know that the Legions couldn't track us. It wouldn't even look like a murder. "He just died in his sleep" is what the official reports would say don't you think. Who would know?

I would know, and that's enough. I've had time to learn a few new skills since I got here, and I'll admit, if I wanted to I could simply go into his dream, rip his soul out and be done with it. Many would call me a wimp {including my Shadow, who often does so} but I refuse to use dreams for killing people.

I help, I heal, I even weave them to make money, but as far as I'm concerned, to murder someone like that makes me no better then the bastard who put me here. I may be dead, but I'm not a monster. Just because the guy deserves to die, doesn't mean it's my place to pass judgment.

*Sigh* So much potential, all going to waste. A lot like your life, don't you think?

"Didn't I tell you to shut up?"

No. No, I don't think I will. Castigate me if you want, but you're gonna hear this, anyway.

You got all this power you can use, and you don't do shit all with it. You just sit here whining and crying. "Woe is me - I'm an impotent little wraith who couldn't stick up for himself then, and can't do it now." Bullshit! You're a fucking coward. You were scared then, and you're scared now!

"Alright, dammit! Fine, so I am scared. I'm scared of putting her in any more danger with my presence, I'm scared of the fact that I might draw attention to myself, but most of all, I'm scared that I'll become like you."

He's silent now, though I can still feel him laughing in amusement. So here I am, sitting at my desk, counting coins, and wondering what the point to all of this is. Day in and day out, I do the same thing over and over.

Everything in these lands is so bleak, so lonely. So sad. What else is there for me to do, then, but to dream? And maybe share those dreams with others.

I have to believe. I have to keep hoping that there is something better then all of this. That maybe some way I could make a difference...

And then the next sack of Oboli falls on my desk, snapping me back into the present.

"Hey Markus", I hear the boss call again. "When you're finished, there's someone downstairs waiting for you?"

That seems odd. No one ever comes to see me. It's not like I'm all that important, and my friends know not to come around while I'm working.

"Who is it?" I ask

"How the hell should I know? He just said he wanted to talk to ya."

It takes me a few minutes, but I finish counting up the rest of the money and head downstairs. The second I get down there, I'm greeted by a guy wearing a shoddy old hat and trench coat. If I didn't know better, he looks like he came straight out of one of those old 1940's detective flicks.

"Markus, I presume?" he asks.

I nod, and we end up shaking hands. His face seems sunken and hollow, almost like he's been working just a bit too long. His eyes though, are a totally different story; sharp, intense and almost glazed-looking.

"My name is Rudolph Jerfo," he says as he hands me his card: "There is some business I would like to discuss with you?"

"What kind of business?" I ask apprehensively. One of the fist things you learn is that you can never be too careful around here.

"Guild business. The Sandmen require your services for a period of time" he says, casually.

That doesn't really come as a big shock. I learned most of my Arcanoi from them, so I expected them to call in their due, eventually. What does seem weird is why they would summon me during my work hours.

"I realize you may have questions, and I'd be happy to answer them, in a more private setting, of course."

"Wait a minute? You tell me this is guild business and you don't know where the meeting places are?" I retort quickly. This is getting really weird.

"I am not from these parts, and although I met with only one other from the guild before coming straight to you."

"Uh huh" I say: "Ok fine, we can talk in the main house."

If he is planning on trying something, he won't do it with other Sandmen around. That, and I could verify his identity with the guildmaster himself if I have to.

He could be lying just to get me off my guard, but then again that makes even less sense to me. I've never even met this guy before, and I certainly haven't had the chance to engage in the kind of activity that would get me a lot of enemies.

Although somehow, I get the feeling that's all about to change.

* * *