(Serious) Author's Note: This is the third story in A Series of Alternate Events, so most of this won't make sense unless you've read the first two stories in the series, 'The Sinister Schism' and 'The Frightening Fortress'. I'll mention again that this story uses a Snicket-style narrator who is not actually Lemony Snicket. Lemony Snicket the character feature heavily in this story, so using him as a narrator too would just get confusing.
I'd like to mention this story has an introduction based on the opening paragraphs written by Daniel Handler for 'The Miserable Mill', and that the three stories quoted (in order) are J.K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone', Suzanne Collins' 'The Hunger Games' and Philip Reeve's 'Mortal Engines' a series from which the inspiration for several characters in this series has come from.
With all of that sorted, I hope you enjoy the story :)
(Fictional) Author's Note: Dear reader,
I hate to inform you that you are reading a most unpleasant story, but I have ensure that you know that to be true. The Baudelaire children are in no way unpleasant themselves, and are in fact bright, charming children, but they seem to have a tendency for finding themselves in the most unpleasant and unfortunate of circumstances.
Within the words of this story, the Baudelaires will face such unpleasantries as a terrible fire, a run-down helicopter, an incomplete autobiography, a transparent disguise and heavy rain.
I understand how this tale may not be suited to every reader, so please feel free to leave this story and read something more pleasant, if you feel so inclined.
With all due respect,
I have often heard that the first sentence of a story can often be taken to accurately reflect the narrative contained within the novel. However, this is not always the case, and even if it is, it rarely tells the whole story.
For instance, the sentence "Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much" would suggest that the story may contain something extraordinary happening to someone completely unaware of their circumstance, but that in fact is only half the story.
Other opening sentences give away almost nothing of the plot to a story, such as the sentence "When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold." It may suggest loneliness or hardship, but really little is given away about the epic (and, indeed, harrowing) story told within the book.
Other stories begin with almost too much information, as though to intrigue the reader. For example the sentence "It was a cold, blustery day in spring, and the Traction City of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-up bed of the old north sea" appears to be quite revealing, but actually gives away almost nothing about the tale of action, adventure, morality and love that still keeps me awake at night if I recall its events too late in the evening, even though it is several years since I first read such a gripping tale.
But this story begins with a sentence that does none of these things. In fact, the opening sentence of this novel is "Lemony Snicket was grieving", and it gives far more away about the nature of this story than any of the sentences quoted above. It is a simple sentence, but it has stylistic consistency with the rest of this novel, a phrase which can be used in this context to describe how the opening sentence of The Inescapable Inferno sets the stage for the events that follow almost perfectly.
I'm sorry to tell you of the melancholy nature of this tale, but that is how the story goes.
Lemony Snicket was grieving.
He was behind the wheel of his small car as it trundled along through the dusty roads of the Hinterlands in the morning sun. The Hinterlands was a dry, barren place, with seemingly infinite flat, dusty land stretching out in all directions. In the summer, the heat haze rose over the baking hot ground, making the landscape almost seem like an illusion. But it wasn't the summer, and now that summer was long gone all Lemony could see through the dust-covered windscreen of his car was a vast, flat nothingness. Often such a eventless landscape would be seen as a source of boredom, but for the man of forty-two behind the driving wheel, it served as no distraction from his inner turmoil.
For behind him the back of his small car sat three children, recent associates of his. Klaus Baudelaire, the youngest of the three, sat on the left, gazing out of the window at the endless landscape of the Hinterlands. Being a well-read boy of twelve, he knew all about the desolate place that he had found himself travelling through on this cold morning in late October. He knew of the complete inhospitability of the Hinterlands and of the legendary blue Hinterlands sunsets that drew tourists to the region from all around.
Klaus' elder sister Violet Baudelaire, who sat looking out of the window on the opposite side of the small car, also had a great deal of knowledge concerning the Hinterlands, although she had gained this through her experiences rather than through research. The memories of that summer were still clear in her mind, when Klaus and herself had found themselves negotiating the Hinterlands on foot not once but twice. She knew of the unending horizons, the dusty, lifeless ground and the almost unbearable heat that July would bring to the desert. They were memories that did not sit well in the mind of the eldest of the three Baudelaire siblings, as they are so strongly associated with the beginning of the struggle that had led Violet to be in the back of Lemony Snicket's car just three months later.
Having had me mention that there are indeed three Baudelaire siblings, I'm sure you would be surprised when I tell you that the person sitting between Violet and Klaus Baudelaire was not their younger sister. Instead it was a young man of almost sixteen called Arlo Thursday, an apprentice member of an organisation known as the Volunteer Fire Department, and of whom Violet Baudelaire was particularly fond. Like Violet Baudelaire, he was very interested in inventing things, and Arlo had spent his childhood building rather dangerous flying contraptions, in the Verdant Valley, where his father worked for V.F.D., as it shall be called hereon in. It was no surprise to anyone that Arlo and Violet got on like a house on fire when the two elder Baudelaire siblings arrived at the V.F.D. base in the Verdant Valley.
The car journey was long as the day wore on, and it was a car journey that would seem odd to anyone who had somehow gotten inside the car with the four passengers on that lonely road. I'm sure that most of you have been on a long car journey yourselves, and you will know that there are times when the car is full of conversation, and there are times when the car falls quiet. However, nobody spoke at all on the long journey north, as each passenger was wrapped up within their own problems.
Klaus, who'd had a few troubled months since the terrible fire that had destroyed his home, wondered if his father's condition would have improved in the month since he last saw him, as Klaus had been away on a mission for V.F.D. with Lemony, Arlo and Violet. His father had been injured in the summer in an altercation with a despicable man named Count Olaf. Olaf was an aging man who had once been a member of V.F.D. himself, but defected to become part of a separatist group known as the fire-starting side, or the Firestarters, who have been waging a war against the volunteers of V.F.D. for decades.
Violet wondered whether her mother and sister were unharmed, having been captured by Olaf not once but twice over the course of the summer. She had only found out that her parents had been a part of the schism that split V.F.D. when she was dragged into it herself, only to find herself separated from her parents before her family's biggest secret could be fully explained. Having been held hostage by the Firestarters in Bladeridge Castle, demanding a ransom for their release, Violet and Klaus had joined Arlo, Lemony and his elder brother Jacques in a mission to rescue them. It had taken weeks to put together, and for a few moments her mother and her younger sister Sunny had been in their custody, but the mission at Bladeridge Castle had ended in tragedy, and the Firestarters had managed to escape with Beatrice and Sunny. It had taken months to put their plan into action, and Violet wasn't sure how long it would take for the volunteers to find her mother and sister again, and how long Count Olaf's patience would last before he resorts to violence to get his ransom.
Arlo, who was sitting between the two Baudelaire siblings, was in a tough situation. For everyone else in the car, there was a personal connection that made them determined to play a part in the ill-fated rescue mission. For Arlo, there was only a desire to complete his role as an apprentice to Lemony Snicket, one of V.F.D.'s most valuable and longest-serving agents. However, the melancholy atmosphere in the car that day had infected Arlo, too. He'd be the first to admit that part of it was that he didn't want to accept that he had failed on his very first mission for the volunteers. he felt as though he had let himself down. More than that, he felt as though he had failed everyone, especially Violet, who he cared for more than he would often like to admit. It saddened him that she was in such a troubled state, staring out of the window into the nothingness of the Hinterlands, lost in her thoughts.
In the front of the car, Lemony was alone, concentrating more on his emotions that his driving on the straight, flat road that now ran parallel to the Stricken Stream, which was the main waterway through the Hinterlands. Over time, the road meandered to and from the side of the road, and it served as yet another constant in the journey, as Lemony's journey would end at the beginning of the Stricken Stream's journey, high in the Mortmain Mountains. A lot of debate could be caused by arguing over who the most distressed passenger was in the car that afternoon, but I'd argue Lemony's case. Not only was one of his oldest and dearest friends, Beatrice Baudelaire, once again in the hands of the despicable Firestarters, but the attempt to free her had cost the life of his elder brother, Jacques. As the car trundled along the rough road, Lemony quietly paid his respects to his brother, to the life that he'd had and its untimely end at the hands of Count Olaf, just twenty-four hours before.
But life goes on, and by the time that the sun began to sink low over the Hinterlands, Lemony was back to himself. At least, he tried to convince himself that he was. But on the way through the Hinterlands to the V.F.D. Headquarters in the Mortmain Mountains, he had one more thing on his mind, that had been troubling him somewhat since the day that he had first travelled to Bladeridge Castle with his apprentice, his late brother and the two Baudelaire children.
Violet only noticed the change in direction when the small car passed a large wooden sign. It was badly burnt, with only the smallest of traces of the bright paint that once covered it present. Looking past the charred sign, Violet could see a sight even more sad, where the burnt remains of whatever had once stood here covered the ground. Lemony stopped the car and all four passengers stepped outside into the crisp evening air, as the sky gained its first tinge of blue as the night drew in. Violet noticed that the ground was scattered with ashes, a few pieces of charred wood standing here and there, and an eerie metal structure further away, twisted beyond recognition by the heat of the flames that had once been here. Violet and Arlo, who stood hand in hand surveying the wreckage of what may have once been a great sight, had to cover their eyes and mouth with the high collars of their coats when the wind picked up, spraying dust and ash in their faces, causing them to cough.
Lemony trudged slowly through the ashes, looking down at his feet, occasionally squatting to pick up some object that had survived the blaze with varying degrees of success.
"The fire that burned all this down must have been massive," Klaus deduced, walking behind Lemony, although he knew what "all this" was just as much as his sister did. "There are still embers in places." Lemony merely nodded and walked on through the wreckage, becoming more and more desperate to find whatever it was that he was looking for. Eventually he reached a mound of burnt wood sticking out of the remains and sat down on them, the wood crumbling slightly beneath his weight.
"Caligari Carnival," he said to the Baudelaires, gesturing to the ruins around them.
"What was this place?" Violet asked, feeling slightly uncomfortable in the remains. She had never known this place, but the sight of the effects of fire on such a large scale reminded of of the morning that her home burned, and the trauma that it caused her. How many people must have been here? she thought. The people who were here have suffered as much as me.
"As its name suggests, it was a carnival," Lemony replied, smiling sadly. "I knew the woman who run the place once," he continued. "Olivia Caliban, her name was. A good volunteer, by all accounts."
Violet and Klaus nodded enthusiastically. They had seen Mrs. Caliban at the V.F.D. Headquarters just a couple of months before. "What happened to her?" Klaus asked after a pause.
"She died," Lemony said grimly. "When all this burned down. She posed here as a fortune-teller, under the name of Madame Lulu."
"Why was she here?" Arlo asked.
"Because she owned the carnival. In its day it was quite popular, but it had fallen on hard times in the last few years. Because of this and its remote location all the way out here, it was a perfect location for V.F.D. to make use of."
"And that's why we're here?" Arlo asked. "Because there is something of importance to the volunteers here?"
"Yes," Lemony replied sadly. "Although it would be of equal importance to the Firestarters. I am certain that this fire was their handiwork." Lemony sighed, looking around at the dismal remains, ashes lingering the blue evening air. The evening was getting colder, and Violet had to reach into her pockets to pull on some gloves, letting go of Arlo's reassuring grasp for just a moment.
"There is nothing left here," Lemony said. "I can only hope that it was destroyed in the fire. If the Firestarters were to have it, it could alter the balance of the schism." Lemony paused again, as if he was finally admitting a difficult truth. "These are dark days for V.F.D.," he said slowly after a long pause, the three young volunteers around him hanging onto his every word in the twilight. "Our enemies are growing in numbers. Our safe havens are falling to the dastardly deeds of the Firestarters, who will reach new lows to get one over on us. V.F.D. is supposed to be a noble organisation, but with every treacherous act committed by the Firestarters, more of our members feel ready to retaliate. But 'retaliate', I mean-"
"To use the tactics of the Firefighters against them," Arlo finished. After spending a couple of months in close company with his chaperone, he was starting to pick up on a few of Lemony's quirks of personality. "To fight fire with fire, so to speak."
"Unfortunately, quite a few of our number would like to take that expression literally rather than figuratively." Lemony said sadly, turning his hat over in his hands. "In my youth, i was considered to be far more radical than the other volunteers, and although my approach hasn't changed through the years, I am now one of the more pensive members of our organisation. 'Pensive' is a word which here means 'thoughtful'."
"More and more of us our willing to react," Arlo said, confirming Lemony's fears. "I noticed it in the Mortmain Mountains this autumn. Many of our members are ready to retaliate."
"We need to bring back the old guard," Lemony said. "My sister Kit and I. The Denouements. Your parents, Baudelaires. Peter Quaqmire and Dr. Montgomery. Your mother, Arlo."
At this, Arlo flinched, as he was not yet used to discussing his mother. She had died when he was young, fighting for V.F.D. His father had never told him how she had died, and Arlo did not want to find out. He hated when the older members of V.F.D. said that he reminded them of her. He meant no disrespect to his dead mother, but he wanted to be his own person, not a character defined by the loss of his mother and a quest for answers he would likely never get. So he had shuttered off that part of his life completely and tried to carve his own future as Arlo Thursday the inventor.
"I know that it still troubles you, Arlo," Lemony said carefully. "But she was a brilliant volunteer, and a great friend of mine, at one time. We were unfortunate to lose her." After that, the conversation reached an awkward pause, which Lemony eventually ended himself.
"Sitting here isn't going to serve much more purpose," he said with a tone of authority. "I'm too tired to travel on through the dark, so we'll sleep here for the night. Help me get the tents from the back of the car."
With that, Lemony stood up and walked back toward his small car, with Klaus and Arlo following him through the twilight. However Violet stayed where she was standing, worried that Lemony's words were actually true. After all she had been through, could there be darker days lying ahead? Really, she didn't want to think about it, but she knew that she would have to embrace the future, whether she liked it or not. However, it seemed to her that the fortune of V.F.D. had taken a turn for the worse since the Baudelaires became involved in the schism that split the once-noble organisation once more.
For the first time, Violet wondered if the Baudelaires caused more trouble than they were worth.
(Serious) Author's Note: And so ends Chapter One! I hope that you all enjoyed it :) Regardless of what you actually made of the chapter, I'd love to get feedback via review, and I'm not afraid to receive constructive criticism :)
I'm hoping to post Chapter Two within the next two or three days :)