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15 July 2010 @ 01:21 pm
just trying to work out where to go from here - possibly next nanowrimo
15 December 2008 @ 04:48 pm


Written by
Alexandra Marshall
Written for the National Novel Writing Month

01 November 2007 @ 09:51 pm

“It has been my experience that people are, in general, strange creatures. Each beady eyed individual has about them a unique manner. Eccentricities that can be traced back to their environment, profession, or simply the natural state in which they find themselves plague their every thought.”

A miserable room is poorly lit by the dull glow of a computer screen. Beside it, the battered shade of an office lamp threatens to rip free of its metal frame and fall to the concrete floor. The steady tap of typing is interspersed with the distinct sound of the Backspace key being hit violently. The room is small and cell-like with no tangible connection to the outside world.

“Sometimes these behaviours are thought of as ‘problems’.

“A business professional in full Armani get up leaps to avoid a crack in the pavement. A passenger on the train taps out the rhythm of their music device, humming to the growing annoyance of their peers. An employee on Wall Street hurls his laptop from the twenty-sixth floor, continuing to shoot at it on its way down.”

A scrawny man sits at his desk, glaring intently at the screen while he types. Nick is clearly not evolution’s favourite creation. His eyebrows twitch, set high above his supraorbital ridge while his ears reach out in defiance of gravity quite honestly making him look like a sub-species rather than super intelligent member of homo-sapien.

Despite this, Nick slides his heavy-set glasses back up his nose, swears and hits the Backspace key.

“Nick is a man with a problem. He likes to talk. A lot.”

Nick’s mouth moves but no air is allowed to brush his tonsils. He frowns, pausing to re-read a section of text. A distinct snarl is followed by a series of lip movements.

“Not to others of course. That would be far too unusual for a man of his social calibre. Instead, Nick much prefers the company of himself. To that end, he finds himself rather amusing. The rest of the population however, find that his rather moderate stature and love of all things obscure provide suitable entertainment, especially in the events of ill-advised Christmas karaoke parties.”

A horrible scene suddenly replays in Nicks mind. He is donned in a Hawaiian shirt with a microphone clutched drunkenly in one hand while a suspiciously empty bottle of Strawberry Vodka slips from the other. The love theme from Titanic erupts from his soul without consent before the table he is standing on collapses.

Nick shakes the memory off, pounding the Backspace key harder.

“He is, by all degrees, normal. Normal, something claimed by billions of exceptionally non-normal beings. Then, as is the case of every normal being, something totally and completely non-normal happens to him.

“The following is the tale I survived to tell...”

02 October 2007 @ 12:30 am

Chapter One

Nick and the Darkness


“You’re going to break a perfectly good keyboard.”

Nick snarls at the smug blue of his computer’s death screen. All processes are non-responsive, even his faithful Backspace key fails to dent its eerie glow.

“Don’t talk to me when I’m programming,” he scowls to the empty room. “In fact, don’t talk to me at all. From now on, that’s going to be the new rule. Absolutely no talking to one’s imaginary, sentient conscious.”

Nick’s subconscious, nicknamed ‘Subnic’ much to its despair, is hurt and mildly revengeful. “Is this going to be a brief insult or should I sulk behind your aorta?”

“I’d go for the second one,” replies Nick. His screen remains defiantly blue, raising his blood pressure to a blinding series of pulses. “In fact, we’re not even talking. Stop talking.”

Subnic metaphorically winces as its physical counterpoint refuses to stop his infernal tapping. “It’s that woman again, isn’t it? You are always like this on Thursdays. I should buy takeaway, rent an Arnie movie and bugger off to Cuba until your brain cavity expands. Instead, I’m stuck here competing with your ego for life support.”

“What are you, my mother?”

“More like conscience.”

“‘Con’ is right...” Nick increased the distance between his index finger and the keyboard so that he has more chance of reaching terminal velocity before his finger hits the key. “Freaking piece of –”

Without reason, the office and Nick’s deathly blue screen are swept into darkness. A ghostly rectangle shines until the pixels’ memory fail and there is nothing left to see. The whites of Nick’s eyes emerge, searching out the void in confusion.

“Ah...” Nick’s finger hovers expectantly above the keyboard.

“No sympathy.”

It escapes Nick’s attention that the environment of his lowly office has changed slightly. The lack of light disguises the shift from concrete walls to loosely woven metal mesh. Above, the roof has lifted while the floor beyond his desk ends in a staircase.

“You know,” says Nick to himself, “it could just be a blackout.”

“Shall I put the bacon on to simmer or are we in for a roast?”

“Stop giving me obscure choices,” he pouts. “Man, if this isn’t some huge, life altering emergency, everyone in this ruthless company is going to die.” Nick pauses, as if considering something, “Bacon.”

Nick stretches back into his chair, cracking his knuckles in preparation for mass murder.

“Sure,” says Subnic, not surprised. “You’re position in this business is obviously so vital that they’ve given you the room with the best view.”

Yawning, Nick looks around the darkness of his windowless office. “Note to self, steal backup generator after slaughtering person/s responsible for power failure.”

As Nick rises from his Op-Shop office chair, Subnic is not impressed. “Well,” he says as Nick’s body protests, “maybe not steal.”

“More like borrowing.” Walking around his chair, Nick begins to cross the room carefully. The only things present within it are Nick, his desk, laptop, and chair. Nick dodges right and then left where he knows his desk juts dangerously out followed by an ill placed lamp. Nick stops unwisely close to the edge of the newly formed staircase. His hand reaches out for the handle of his door, but misses. “Damn.”

Edging forward, Nick is cautious not to crash nose first into the door he knows should be there.

“More like borrow, indefinitely?”

Nick’s hand swishes about dumbly, finding nothing but air.

“How moral of you to conceive, evaluate, and carry through with such a moral distinction.”

Subnic suddenly notices that there is nothing but a dark, black abyss where the door used to be. “Wait,” it says, as Nick steps forward again.

Nick’s feet meet with copious amounts of nothing. “Oh holy...” but he is already falling down the sinister staircase head first.

Each impact leaves scratches across his modest body, some of which begin soaking his office shirt with a warm, red substance. Continuing to fall, Nick’s head impacts multiple times with the narrow railings while his feet drag along the solid surface of the wall.

His accidental fall quickly mutates into a rolling action as he hands encase the fragile shell of bone around his brain. Muffled thuds from the impacts come to an end with a final thump onto a corrugated floor.

Nick lays on the ground in shock. It is difficult to decide what hurts and for several minutes he remains on his back, winded and unable to roll off his injured arm. Small, pant like sounds escaping from his mouth are swiftly followed by successive gasps as his lungs busily replenish his blood-oxygen levels.

Desperately trying to regain control of his breathing, Nick opens and closes his mouth. Busily tossing up the benefits of coma, his eyes peer into the absolute blackness surrounding him making it impossible to tell the difference between awake and sleep.

His breathing eventually slows into a natural rhythm. Nick’s movements start returning and with this skill, his sense of pain intensifies. Rolling off his bloodied arm, Nick is reasonably sure that it is not broken. If anything, it is bruised where it hit the step. His chest, however, is a mess. Lines of blood slice across it. He can feel them with his fingers through his ripped shirt. Some of them are bleeding quite badly while others are mere scratches. One or more of his ribs feel cracked having taken the bulk of the battering.

Disoriented and injured, Nick does not see the sharpened edges of the metal steps glint in a new emergence of low light. Somewhere in the distance, a faint dripping marks out the rhythm of the universe.

Nick’s eyes and face tighten in pain. A drop of his blood rolls down from his brow and under his eye.

“Ow,” he groans, “that hurt.”

Nick wipes the drop of blood away and examines it, rubbing the sticky fluid between his fingers.

“Next time I think about stealing, I’ll think about stairs.” He rocks himself onto his stomach and, in a blinding moment of pain, manages to push himself off the ground. His ribs scream and he stumbles a little on his knees. “And falling down them.”

Nick’s subconscious has survived unharmed and is already busy cataloguing their new surrounds. “Hang on,” it says, “stairs? How could we fall down stairs when we’re six stories underground locked in your pitiful office? There is no more down.”

Nick thinks. “There is no more down,” he repeats dumbly.

Three sets of eyes blink in succession and then vanish into the darkness.

30 September 2007 @ 10:51 pm

Sitting uncomfortably, Nick realises that the room is not pitch black, but rather shifting between faint variances of blue and purple. Turning his head, he sees a small, flashing light at the edge of the banister no bigger than the power light of a computer monitor. It flickers, blue – purple – blue.

Using this as a guide, Nick is able to see the edge of the banister and the floor directly beneath of him. A drip echoes in the room, unnoticed.

Nick examines the corrugated floor by running his hand along it, his fingers dipping into the surface of each hole. He can feel a slight breeze rising through it.

“You know,” he begins breathlessly. “I don’t think we are where we were before.”

“No shit.”

“And,” Nick squints at the empty blackness around him, “it’s dark.”

Subnic wished it could grunt, “If I had a desk and a head, they would be connecting.”

“Lighter!” Nick reaches into his inner breast pocket to find his faithful possession. He had never smoked a day in his life, but he still found the smooth silver device an intensely useful commodity. It then occurred to him that he was not wearing a jacket. He had taken it off when he sat down after returning from morning tea and now it was...

“Oh...” Nick bends his neck, looking up to the unexplainable flight of stairs. Somewhere above, his light cotton jacket hangs from his chair. The sharp edges of the stairs between them glisten with Nick’s freshly spilt blood. Another drip buries itself in the darkness.

“Perfect,” Nick mutters, taking a firm hold of the railing. His hand slips a little as he pulls his weight off the ground. A smear of dark blood trails behind his hand as Nick steadies himself.

Now on two feet, he realises that his left leg is absent of feeling and more or less unresponsive. He waits for his blood to find its way back down his crushed veins until –

“Ow, ow ow,” Nick shakes his leg, glad that no one is present to witness the event.

“Except me.”

Ignoring his evil subconscious, Nick begins ascending the steps. This close to the stairs, he can see their almost serrated edges. Their surfaces are polished offering only a modest traction with his shoes while the railing turned out to be two thin pipes better designed to keep him from falling onto the ground beside rather than steadying his ascent. Sliding, Nick gripped the railing tightly. The last thing he wanted was another tumble down the staircase of death.

“I think you cracked a rib or two.”

Nick held his other free hand over his left chest. “Yes, thank you for pointing that out.”

In the absence of significant light, Nick’s senses came alive.

“Do you smell that?”

Nick’s subconscious rolled its non-existent eyes.

“It’s like the air conditioners need a clean or something.”

Reaching the top of the stairwell, Nick’s body pauses. His hair moves around his face in the steady artificial breeze.

“Are you saying it smells worse than your house?”

“Look,” Nick pants, “if you don’t like it, move out.”

“Consider this your three week’s notice.”

Nick rubs his chest, wiping his hand on his shirt. “Whatever.”

Nick finds his jacket hanging loosely off the back of his chair. He slumps into the battered object which rolls along the floor before reaching into his jacket pocket to retrieve his lighter.

He flicks the lid open and in one swift movement, a flame lights up his face. It burns steadily as Nick’s pupils shrink to points in the sudden brightness. A large cut sweeps across Nick’s forehead which shines.

A halo of orange surrounds his silhouetted figure. Nick finds himself encased by the three walls of an otherwise empty room. To his left, there is a narrow hole in the wall. He cannot see beyond its sharp rectangle. On his right is the staircase falling away to the lower level. A flimsy balcony constructed of the same pipe-like railing of the stairs, separates his level from the dark nothing below. His char is in the middle, completely out of place.

As Nick leans around the table, he realises why his computer has stopped working. The power cord ends abruptly in a clean slice. No power, no computer. The walls and the ceilings of this unknown location are made of the same corrugated metal as the floor and they stand roughly seven and a half feet high. Plenty of head room for his unassuming height. Along the ceiling is a metal rectangle, presumably the air system of wherever this was. There were lights stationed beside it, but they were either broken or off.

“Where the hell am I?”

“Not where you were ten minutes ago.”

“Yeah,” replies Nick, “I got that.”

“You should really think about doing something about this whole talking to yourself thing.”

“Shut up.”

A droplet hits the metal fall and creates a series of sound waves which bounce about the enclosure. In places they annihilate one another as the physical embellishment of the sound propagates. Nick goes rigid as he hears the noise for the first time.

Breathing shallowly, he holds the lighter higher in the air.

“What now?”

Nick is too busy listening to the subtle changes in the ambient noises of the room. Now he thinks he can hear a sound disturbingly similar to that of metal sliding against metal very quietly. Nick raises a finger to his lips.

“Don’t tell me to shush.”

This time there is a drip, loud enough to hear above the ignition of his lighter.

Hearing it too, Subnic lowers its voice, “What was that?”

“Maybe if you were a little less ‘noise’ and a little more ‘shush’ I could tell you.”

The drips overlap. Nick gets up and edges his way toward the staircase. Looking down, he holds his lighter out, trying to see into the darkness but the area below goes on forever in a black void. “It’s coming from down there.”

“Of course it is... You could always go down that tunnel instead.”

Nick hates enclosed spaces at the best of times. “And leave without finding out what that noise is? I don’t think so.”

“It sounds like plain old dripping to me.”

“Dripping and scraping,” Nick corrects himself.

Nick takes hold of the railing again. It creaks uncomfortably. He clears his throat, “It’s not so bad. Go down the stairs, find out what’s leaking, turn around, and come back.” His feet lower gently onto the first step, “Easy.”

The light from Nick’s lighter warms the wall as he descends the stairs carefully. As he does, he sees the evidence of his earlier fall over the steps and wall. “Nothing,” he says confidently. “See, this is easy. Putting my mind to rest.”

“I am your mind. Trust me, this isn’t at rest.”

With the bottom of the staircase not yet visible, Nick hears the drips come in a regular beat. Four or five drips are followed by a distinct scrape. Nick’s initial courage wanes as the darkness continues and the noise grows louder and closer. The whole situation is overwhelmingly surreal, not allowing him to question it, until now.

Subnic hisses meanly at Nick, hoping to stop his progress. “Be sensible. You are a grown man. Show a little butch.”

“By my standards,” replies Nick defensibly, “this is very butch.”

“Glad to hear it, even if you are scrawny and weak.”

“I didn’t need to hear that.” His hand shakes slightly causing the light to flicker. “Next time I want to have my self esteem shattered, I’ll talk to a real person.”

“You don’t know any.”

“This coming from you.” Finally, light hits the last step and drips onto the floor. The dripping gets louder.

            “Quit thinking about alien.”

Nick’s lighter catches a pool of blood at the base of the stairs where his head met the metal floor. “I wasn’t.”

“Don’t make me remind you how totally and utterly pointless it is lying to me. The metal teeth were larger, by the way.”

“I thought we agreed that you weren’t going to talk?”

“I believe you said that, ‘we’ weren’t going to talk. It’s an entirely different thing altogether I assure you.”

“It doesn’t matter anyway,” says Nick, “because soon I’m going to wake up with little imprints of my keys all over my face. My computer program won’t be lost to the matrix of chaos and this is all going to be a bad dream. Just a really, really, weird and bad dream.”

“So, if this is all in your head, (which it isn’t because I am your head), why play along?”

“You just – do...” Nick was still clutching the railing tightly. “I’ve never heard of anyone turning to their dream and saying, ‘screw it, I’m just going to sit here and you can do whatever you want’. It doesn’t work that way.”

“Why not?”

“Uh, I don’t know. It just doesn’t.”

Subnic smiled, “Why not?”

“I don’t know. Look, can we talk about this later?”

Nick walks diagonally away from the staircase until, after twelve or so paces, two walls converge. In this corner, a puddle of liquid ripples as another drop joins it. Without thinking, Nick raises his lighter up, pointing it toward the corner of the ceiling.

He stops all forms of life to whisper, “Oh god.”

29 September 2007 @ 12:44 am

Above Nick’s head, the horrifying scene unfurled. Curled up in the corner of the room is a sleeping creature. One of its protruding legs hits the wall as it breathes. The dripping is a dark substance coming from within its folded, segmented extensions. It is viscous enough to make a small pile on the floor. This creature is the size of a small pool table in its carefully packed position. Its black, shell-like covering dully reflects part of the light from Nick’s cigarette lighter.

It looks nothing like the alien in Alien. Maybe if it did, Nick might have been able to move. Instead this thing, for lack of a better description, is a spider-like creature. Ten legs fold into its body while two project forwards, resting on the floor either side of Nick. Each of these ends in a smooth spike, one of which is twitching.

Nick stares at the sharp claw taps against the wall and the liquids drips onto the floor with that familiar echo.

“I ah, hate to disturb you but there is this nagging issue of imminent death to address.”

Nick stands transfixed by the creature whose masterful form might have been beautiful under different circumstances.

“Termination of carbon unit extremely probable. Subnic watches the delicate motion of the sinister creature through Nick’s eyes. “Please use one – or more – of the available exits to avoid undesirable result.”

“Look,” it continues with growing frustration, “sooner or later this thing is going to wake up and it’s not going to be happy to find a small, edible life form gawking at it.” Subnic knew that the smartest thing to do at this point in one’s survival is to run. The very real problem was, where to?

“This is dumb,” muttered Subnic as the light flickered around the creature’s steadily breathing exoskeleton. “This is dumb, this is stupid, we’re going to die. This, more importantly, means I am going to die. Just turn,” it instructed, “and walk.”

Tapping its food, the sticky substance continued to leak onto the floor. “Fine, don’t turn, just walk. Anything is better than –”

The fragile flame of Nick’s lighter flicked off. In front of Nick, three pairs of eyes opened. “Not good,” he whispered.

Survival kicked in, propelling Nick into an awkward stumble backwards. Blindly, he fled in the direction of the only thing left visible – the tiny flashing light at the edge of the staircase. Behind him, Nick could hear the scraping of metal. He imagined the creature unfolding its legs and lowering itself onto the floor ready for pursuit. Nick made the stairs, griping the railing with renewed strength. Remarkably, he did not slip as he took the dangerous incline two at a time.

Reaching the top, Nick continued running into the utter blackness until he sent his office hair flying from an impact with his left arm. The shaky object clattered to the floor, its wheels spinning. Determined not to fall, Nick pressed on. When the expected impact with the wall did not come, he reasoned that he must have run into the hallway he had seen earlier.

Daring to waste a second, Nick clicks his lighter. Light invades the hallway in front of him, though the walls are slightly blurry at his pace. The action does little good. All Nick can see now is the dark space in front of him, tapering into obscurity and nowhere else to run but into the darkness. Worse still, he cannot tell where the creature is. There is no noise beyond the pounding of his feet and heart.

In front, the corridor comes to an end, forking out in two different directions. Nick’s options are another flight of stairs or a long corridor.

“Up is good,” says Subnic breathlessly.

Nick merely nods and takes hold of the railing. He swings himself onto the steps with what is the last of his waning adrenaline. The pain of his fall is returning and Nick is having particular difficulty breathing through suspected cracked ribs.

In his haste, an air current rips the light from his lighter. Nick clicks it with his spare hand, over and over as he nears the top of the staircase.

“Work,” he growls, coming to the end of the flight. Nick oversteps, falling flat to the top level. “Ow.”

“Going to die...”

Nick shakes his head, “Right.”

Picking himself up off the ground, Nick forces himself move through the nothingness. He pushes his hands forward, probing the way where his eyes fail. Moments later, light is restored and Nick rubs his thumb over his lighter’s surface affectionately.

This corridor, he notes, is exactly the same as the last one except for small amounts of blue splattering across the ceiling. Each random bundle glows when the light leaves it. Nick does not have time to ponder its origin, at the moment, his number one priority is life and the many reasons why he wishes it to continue.

“Even though no one would miss you.”

Nick tries not to listen. His conscious was usually helpful, sometimes hurtful, but on rare occasions it overstepped play in favour of cruelty.

The hallway continued on with no doorways or passages. Lulled into an uncomfortable security, Nick’s pace slows. The threat of death by giant things was not as imminent. Indeed, Nick was hoping that soon he would wake up and find the whole experience to be horrible joke at his expense.

If the creature was real, and not a product of his imagination, (which Subnic liked to remind him of frequently), then it was not doing a very good job of following. The brightly glowing blue splatters became more frequent but their iridescence was ruined by his light.

Now jogging, Nick continued through the corridor. The ceiling in this passage was lower than it had been in the previous one, not by much though. It was lined by the same heavy mesh as the other walls and was re-enforced by a thick under layer.