So this was an attempt at several things. Firstly, writing in first person present. I thought that this might help with the second thing: writing something tense and/or scary. I’ll go into a bit more detail later.
I couldn’t find the damn Prompt Image (this is a story that I began writing weeks before this blog), but I’ve added something similar for effect. Sadly the room’s a bit small, the generators are about two or three the size I imagined them when writing, it’s not as decrepit as I would like, and there’s barely any debris… but this was pretty much the only image I found that showed a vast room with bits of old machinery. Just make sure only to use it as a vague visual aid!
The sound of the faulty generator fills my ears as I crouch in my hiding place, listening intently. Folded up as small as I can make myself, trying to calm my heart and my breathing, I wait.
My buckled leathers dig into my flesh uncomfortably and the butt of my pistol is jabbing me in the kidney, but still I do not move a muscle. I strain and I strain but still no sounds of footsteps, screaming voices, or creaking metal doors reach me. The only change in my vision comes from the gently flickering lights that illuminate the immense room, and I constantly scan its decrepit contents looking for any sign of movement.
Huge girders arc across the vast ceiling like the ribcage of a giant. Between those ribs alternate the light fixings that cast their strange glow down upon me, and huge holes that were once covered with glass but have since been shattered open to the elements. The tall walls are covered in brittle paint that has flaked away over the years to carpet the floor with its beige hue.
Walls and floor alike are riddled with gaping cracks, allowing the untamed wilderness to creep inside to writhe over the stone floor and scale the immense height of the inner walls. As well as climbing upwards, the vines also cascade down through the broken ceiling windows, reaching inside the room as if to wrap their greedy tendrils around the contents of the factory and slip away into the night with its ancient treasures.
Other than nature’s inescapable conquest and time’s general decay, this place remains strangely untouched. Although, after what just happened, maybe the fact that no sign of humans can be found it is not so strange after all.
The only parts of the room that are not at least somewhat overtaken by nature are the generators, rusty as they may be, thrumming away constantly in this ghost town.
I so desperately want to move from this spot to a more silent place where I can better listen, but I cannot risk it; here I have the best view of the expansive factory floor and can better see them coming, although what use the forewarning will be to me I do not know. I have two pistol shots left and my rapier at my side, but I can only hold off such violent foes for so long.
Still no sign of my pursuers. My only hope is to wait for the Antaquis to arrive, and pray to the Gods that those things do not find me before my friends do. Taking the Locatrus from my pocket and flicking the engraved lid open reveals the location dials inside, and behind them the cogs and wheels that work in ways that may as well be magic to me. It is a beautifully designed and crafted piece that is uniquely mine, for the swirling patterns on the gilded case contain the story of my life and my place in this world. I usually admire it whenever I use it, but I have no mind for beauty now, only survival.
I study the dials. Backup is still at least twenty minutes away, as we had not expected any trouble in such an old place. I curse softly and shut the lid with a sharp snap that echoes around the room, even over the sound of the broken generators. My eyes widen in shock and every sense switches to high-alert as I try to establish whether or not I was heard.
Still I hear nothing other than that sound. Does that mean there is nothing there? Have they gone? That is unlikely. They know I am here and they know they can beat me. I remember their yellow eyes full of bloodlust peering at me out of the darkness of the basement, and I shiver. The sounds of their gnashing teeth, inhuman screeching and sharp claws scratching on the dank cobbled floor still echo in my mind, bringing back the fear in sick waves.
What was it in this old factory that created them, I wonder? My eyes scan the rusty equipment and the debris scattered around the room like a child’s abandoned playthings. I recall the plans for this place to my mind’s eye and find nothing suspicious in them – no new or unusual technology that had any risks attached. If those beings choose to live down in that basement rather than up here, the cause is probably down there too.
Still no new sounds. Perhaps they are still in the basement. Why do they stay down there, I wonder? What do they eat? It cannot be what we class as food, for nothing of that sort will grow there in that darkness. They could eat fungus, though their dagger-like teeth suggest another source of sustenance. Maybe they do not eat at all. I cannot imagine too many humans or animals venture into those depths; only stupid ones like myself.
I do so wish for the safety of a lab where I could study these beings without risk, for nothing of their kind has ever been discovered on this earth before.
Perhaps they are down in that basement simply because they like the darkness. I pause in my thoughts, frowning. Perhaps they physically cannot live outside of the darkness. Chewing my lip in concentration I try to remember the exact moment I lost them. I recall the pure primal fear that consumed me as they chased me through the linear tunnels with such speed and agility. I fired shot after shot and slashed and slashed with my blade but it only slowed them as they ran along behind me or grappled along the floors and ceiling with their claws. They were unstoppable.
But then, when I burst through the door into the bright artificial light of the main factory floor, I lost them. I assumed that my pursuers had not been able to track me as well without the linear tunnels to help them, and that they would search the building fully for me, but perhaps I was wrong. With their inhuman speed there is not a chance it would take them this long to do a full sweep. My new theory is the most likely explanation.
I gather my courage to myself and wear it like the armour of old as I get to my feet quietly, muscles tensed for action and senses still hyperactive. With my back against the wall I slip out from behind the generator and the bubble of noise it created. I feel every stone, every twig and every shard of glass beneath my feet as I move. A decaying metal girder grazes my fingers as I slip past it and I feel the rust flake away at my touch, scattering its ancient fragments in my palm and over the floor. Sticks crack as I step on them and the sound bounces gently around the empty room, tugging at my already frayed nerves.
I know not the shape of my enemies, only their sickly, glowing eyes, so I cast my gaze over the ruined room to look for any hint of that awful yellow. I still hear nothing other than the clicking and whirring of the generators and I feel my tension begin to ease, though my ears still feel desperate to prick up like a dog’s to improve their function even a little.
The high entrance sits at the other side of the factory, at the top of fragile looking metal staircase that is partly disintegrated. A cold feeling of dread wells up inside me as I realise that when the Antaquis approach the building they will likely do as I did: enter through the lower door first. And when one enters through that lower door they must pass through the basement to reach my position.
The creatures know that man has invaded their sanctuary and they will be ready this time, ready to use those claws and those teeth and any other hellspawned weapons they have at their disposal to rip my comrades limb from limb. I make my decision fast and increase my speed as I creep along the wall, passing other broken generators that make the same familiar noises as the one by my hiding place.
The pathway between wall and generator is blocked by a chunk of rubble that fell from the crumbling wall, so I must leave its protection. Sweat prickles on my brow and I begin to shake despite my confidence that these creatures can only live in darkness, but I know that I must brave the open room. I crouch low to the broken ground and move out as quickly and silently as possible, eyes darting rapidly around the huge room, heart in my throat. The noise of the generators surrounds me and cocoons me as I creep along.
The sudden silence roars in my ears and my breath catches in my throat as the lights go out with a plink. I am too far from the doorway. I can see nothing in the sudden blackness. My heightened senses hear a horrible clicking, a scritching, a sickening skittering that grates on the soul. A cry quite unlike any other echoes up from the depths of the basement, and more voices join it in a repulsive chorus from some Godforsaken opera.
I break into a run, trying to free my grapple-hook from my belt as I go, but the cloudy sky covers the light of the moon and the darkness foils my escape plan. My foot catches on a piece of rubble and I topple to the ground, crying out in agony as I feel something pierce the soft flesh of my thigh and snap from its home.
Still the terrifying scritching echoes around the factory, making my insides itch with its otherworldly sound. It feels as if it is a part of me, like their claws are raking my brain. I am sure that the sound is getting louder, closer.
Tears of pain blur the pathetic amount of vision that I had, and I scramble desperately backwards in the hope of finding a hiding place before they come. Trying to wipe the tears away only rubs into my eyes the rust that coats my hands, and I choke on despair as the tears increase their flow.
This is it. I am going to die. I continue to scrabble blindly backwards until my back hits the slowly cooling surface of a generator. I tense and wait for the end.
My heart rate and breathing begin to slow. I gingerly feel my way to where my thigh was hit and retch as I feel rusty metal, sticky with blood, protruding from my flesh. I pat the floor around myself and establish that my grapple-hook is gone, but at least I know that I need only retrace my scrabbling to find it. Perhaps this is not the end.
My tears have washed away all the rust, and I wipe my eyes with a handkerchief. As I am dabbing the last of the moisture away, every hair on my body suddenly stands on end. Bile crawls up my throat and I freeze, petrified, paralysed by fear. A terrible sensation creeps up my spine. I begin to shake madly. I cannot breathe.
Slowly I move the kerchief away from my eyes to look ahead of me, and this time I know for sure that it is the end. Inches from my face a pair of piercing yellow eyes meet mine, and I gaze into hell.
So the reason I wrote in first person present was partly because I was still practicing first person, but also because I felt that it increased tension. I don’t know if this is the conventional wisdom or not. I thought that writing in first person present would help draw the reader into the situation and make the fear more present, but also that not knowing the protagonist would be okay would add to the fear that they would not come out of this alive. I hope the mystery came across as deliberate rather than shoddy writing.
The setting was vaguely steampunky to allow me to combine the modernity of a piece of machinery with a fantasy setting, and I enjoyed writing that setting. I actually really enjoyed writing this whole piece, probably as much as I enjoyed A Medieval Tavern! I would like to write something like this again.