‘Is that it?’ Hortense de Vitriole stopped and pressed her hands into her hips. She hoped to create the illusion of contempt, but, in truth it was to try and defy the double stitch that climbing to the escarpment had given her.
‘Indeed,’ intoned her Companion. He, she, whatever, Hortense couldn’t decide if the skeletal, spectral scythe-swinger was real or some trick of her subconscious. ‘The Magnificent Miasmic… thingy.’
Hortense sneered at the becloaked figure. ‘Thingy?’
‘I’ve forgotten the word. It happens when you get to my age.’
‘Oh yes? What do you admit to?’
‘Plonker.’ Hortense mumbled, knowing that if, as she suspected this wasn’t a complicated practical joke, she was as well not to push whatever luck she might still have.’
‘You don’t,’ it said.
‘Have any luck left. You spent it all.’
Hortense shook her shoulders. She wanted this over. ‘Come on, then. We’re here and you said when we reached the crossing, you’d explain.’
‘Yes, I did.’
She waited. I suppose these otherworldly beings have their own ways of working, she thought. They had stopped twenty foot back from the edge beyond which the porridgy gloop of a mist filled the void and, well, everything. It was a really odd effect and while she’d been pretty certain, ever since she give up on the Catholic Church, that the passing across wasn’t a real thing, merely a pompous construct to scare the masses, a little part of her retained the suspicion she might just be wrong and there was a purgatory. If so, she mused as she wandered towards the edge, she was in for a long stint with all the wailers and gnashers.
Hortense was an entrepreneur straddling the old and new schools. She wrote poison pen letters to order and had scared and scarred two major royals, a royal major, fourteen tv presenters, five bishops and above, an oleaginous DJ, three quarters of the Cabinet and a ventriloquist’s dummy. Since the advent of the online trolling fraternity, she had rendered mute two fashion brands, a social media baron and ten influencers. Not the best of her kind – odd word, that, in the context, she thought – but by no means the worst. Now, she suspected, the combination of her ingrained misanthropy and linguistic abilities had brought her to this place, and a final reckoning.
She turned round, wondering why the thing hadn’t answered her question. She blinked. Lined up, facing her were what appeared to be a large proportion of her victims. As she scanned the long, sour-faced selection of misbegotten humanity she noticed her Companion had pushed back the heavy hood to reveal its – his – identity: Roger Polaroid the former Prime Minister who she’d pinned for several crimes and misdemeanours, none of which were either true or disprovable and he had only managed to survive the mob and retain his golf club membership by donating a kidney to the then current national treasure.
‘Oh, this is just too scrumptious,’ she scoffed. ‘Who set this up?’
No one moved. She narrowed her eyes. The Miasma must have drifted across and she’d not noticed because each one seemed to be becoming more indistinct by the minute. Something made her look down; as she did so she could barely stifle the scream that bubbled to her lips. Somehow she must have stepped back because the ground that had previously been solid beneath her feet had dropped away, leaving a void of impenetrable murk and whose bottom was unseeable and, she knew, unknowable.
As she began to fall, the faces of her victims followed her over the edge chasing her into the Chasm.
Back on the top, Roger spoke into a phone and the mist began to disperse. Behind him, the images of one hundred people disappeared as the projectors stopped. A pony-tailed twenty-something geeky hippy with a missing tooth and a listing gait looked up from his tablet. ‘That okay, man?’
The geek looked towards the cliff. ‘And she’ll be okay? The safely net stuff was all in place, yeah?’
‘Oh, assuredly. I think you’ll find Hortense has spent her career plumbing the depths without ever reaching the bottom and I doubt things will be any different for her now.’
‘That mist stuff’s impressive. How’d you organise that?’
Roger glanced across the divide at what appeared to be some curious rock formations in the shape of craggy heads. The nearest one winked. ‘Oh, I was in politics, you know. I met some people who knew some people.’
‘Must have cost a fortune to get that foggy screen all the way up.’
The young man nodded. ‘Wish I knew how. I’d sell my soul to be able to do that.’
‘Yes, well, that’s pretty much what happened… Look, nice knowing you. I think I’m wanted.’
To the surprise of the geek, Roger wandered towards the cliff edge, whistling.
The geek turned to another skinny youngster who was winding up some cables. ‘What’s that tune, man? The one the old geezer is whistling.’
The two youngsters stopped and stared as Roger tipped over the edge.
‘I think it’s Going Underground by the Jam.’
This was written in response to this week’s #writephoto prompt