The Only City Left: Part Eight
I locked eyes with the ghost for a moment. This was the best look I had gotten of him since my flight began. He was humanoid but not human. In fact he looked like nothing less than a giant dog, his snout full of wicked-looking teeth that snapped at me in frustration as he fought to force himself into the shaft. He had one arm raised above his head and I could see the claws at the ends of his fingers dripping spectral blood. His other arm was pinned to his body as he struggled to push himself further up.
Great. Giant monstrous corporeal ghosts chasing me around aren’t bad enough, mine had to be a werewolf, too. I kicked out again and my foot caught the ladder, so I shifted my weight to my feet and let go of the wheel lock.
The sound of straining metal filled the air and I looked down to see the spectral werewolf pulling himself up the shaft on the ladder, one-handed, each rung bending downward under the pressure. Time to go.
I reached up and turned the now-loose wheel lock until it clunked to a stop again and then pushed on the hatch. It resisted at first but then the seal broke and I was able to push it open. One hand on the hatch, the other on the lip, I climbed out of the shaft and tumbled onto a dust-covered floor, inside of some sort of shelf-lined maintenance room that was lit only by the glow of my lantern coil.
I lay there panting and shaking for a few seconds before I could convince my body to move again. Something was wrong, it was too quiet. Rolling over onto my stomach, I got my knees under me and leaned over the open hatch to check the progress of my pursuer.
“I smell your father on you, boy,” said the now-human ghost who was looking up at me from only a few rungs down.
My heart slammed against my rib cage like it was trying to break free and my vision darkened for a moment. The translucent blue hand rising up over the lip of the open hatchway brought me back to myself.
“What’s your name, cub? We’ve never been properly introduced?”
I stood up and looked down at the ghost who was now poised just inside the open hatch, one arm over the edge, pulling himself up.
“Go to hell,” I stuttered as I slammed the weighty hatch down.
As the hatch fell, the ghost transformed, one second a man, the next a ravening beast. The hatch door was unimpressed. It nestled into place with a ringing gong, neatly slicing through the fur and muscle of the ghost’s extended arm.
I threw myself onto the hatch and turned the wheel lock until it jammed to a stop. Beside me, the ghost arm fizzled away into wisps of smoke which flowed, not up, but around the hatch itself, trying to find an opening to reunite with the rest of its body.
Even through the thick hatch I could hear the roar of the ghost beast, and the hatch started to buck below me. I knew I couldn’t stay here forever holding the wheel, so I jumped up and ran to the nearest set of shelves. They were metal and free-standing, and with some effort, I was able to pull them down onto the top of the hatch. One after the other I collapsed the shelves onto the floor, creating a jumbled pile of heavy debris above and around the hatch.
Satisfied that I had done all I could, I found the door out of the maintenance room, opened it, and ran for my life. I had no idea where I was or where I was going, I just knew I needed to get as far away as possible. I barely saw my surroundings. Instead, the same picture kept replaying in my mind. The ghost’s face as I slammed the hatch shut. His anger, his transformation into werewolf form. And how, as a human, he looked uncannily like my own father.
* * *
Some time later, I was well and truly lost, which was fine by me. Lost is my normal state of affairs. Lost means I have never been somewhere before. If I recognized my surroundings, it might have meant that I had doubled back, and since I hadn’t heard from the big bad wolf-ghost in a while, doubling back toward the site of our last encounter would not be good. Maybe my attempts to cover up the hatch had kept him at bay, maybe not. For now I just needed to stay ahead, stay alive.
So this is how Mom and Dad must have felt. Dangerous people, dangerous things, always on their tail. Maybe the same one who was pursuing me, since he seemed to know Dad. Hell, he looked like Dad. What was that about?
So many questions but no one around to answer them. Welcome to my life.
With the adrenaline of my flight leeched out of my system, I realized that I was in just as much danger from freezing as from the ghost, maybe more. My wet clothes had not warmed up in the cool, stale air of the complex I ended up in. Where had I ended up, anyway? Another residential block, from the looks of it, but not as packed in as the one I had started out in, some unknown number of stories further up. Up. That reminded me of my failure once again to ascend through the city. Sometimes it seemed like there was a barrier between the lower and upper portions of the city, like maybe the undercity was buried and forgotten at some point, and I could try for a hundred years and never find a crack in the armor between the two. Maybe I should have a new goal instead: head down. At least that way I’d be succeeding.
* * *
Achieve your own success by reading Part Nine (or stick around and read my commentary below first.)
4/8/2012 News: This week I wrote more words of notes and backstory than words for this post, which is due to the fact that now that I have put some pieces in place, I am starting to see connections I had no idea about when I started writing the story. I know some writers have intricate world-building and plotting done before they write one word of their story, and I think that is great, but it can get boring for me as a writer to do that. I like discovering the world as I write. The flip side is the danger that I could write myself into a corner. I think writing the story and the backstory in parallel from now on will help me prevent that from happening.
On another note, as you may have noticed, some fantasy seems to have fallen into my science fiction. There are ghosts, werewolves, and more to come. This was the plan from the start. I want a big, jumbled-up, throw-in-everything fantasy adventure story set in a sci-fi, planet-sized, run-down city. (Whew, I’m almost out of hyphens now.) I may be able to “explain” the fantasy elements in a pseudo-scientific manner (that’s my last hyphen, I promise), but I’m not sure if it really matters to me so long as it is fun.
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