Monday, 31 October 2011

The Labyrinth

Here's my 'scary story', as promised. It's not a typical ghost story, more of a quest-type thing, inspired by Greek legend, and, like most of my stuff, it's aimed at children.

The Labyrinth

I stare at the entrance. The empty blackness gapes back at me. The back of my neck bristles. I feel sure the darkness hides a horde of otherworldly beasts watching, waiting for me to enter their murky realm. I shuffle towards it, my body shaking. An evil stench washes over me, making me gag. Every nerve in my body screams to turn and run. And I want to, I really want to, but I have no choice. I must enter the labyrinth.

My shaking fist holds a small torch which burns with a bright, white light. It was given to me by Andor. He said it should last at least an hour, but will it be long enough? I start to sweat. It reminds me of the first, and last, time I entered the copper mines near my village. I was only a few strides inside when the earth shook and dust fell from the roof. I turned and fled, running until I had no breath left. When I finally returned to the village, my father laughed and said it was nothing serious, but I was still sure that I would have been buried alive if I hadn’t got out fast enough.

But here I am, about to go underground again. My heart hammers against my ribs as I move closer to the yawning dankness. The stench forces me to cover my nose and mouth with my scarf. I gasp for air, forcing my body forwards, until I find myself inside.

Within a few steps the wide tunnel becomes a narrow passage, far too narrow for my liking. I creep forwards, trying not to think about what lives in here and what it could do to me. There could be any kind of evil thing lurking around every corner. Andor said gigantic worm lizards with razor-sharp teeth bored out these tunnels over a thousand years ago and their ancestors probably still live here.

My chest is so tight I can hardly breathe. I stop for a moment and try to slow my breathing, until it is almost normal again. I must not stop for long, or I will run out of light. And then all will be lost.

‘The amulet lies at the heart of the labyrinth’, said Andor, ‘It has been there for over five centuries. The prophecy says that only those worthy are able to find it and take it.’ Am I worthy? I hope so. For the sake of everyone I care about.

I continue inching along the narrow passage. The constant reek makes my eyes water. The torch lights my way for about two arm-lengths, but the blackness beyond makes my eyes swim trying to see through it. Fear wells up in my chest yet again. I've come this far, I can't turn back now. If I succeed, this will be the most important thing I have, and probably ever will, do. I keep moving, my heart pounding. The tunnel takes a sharp left, and then I have a choice. Do I go straight ahead or turn right?

I stand and stare, then a memory comes drifting back to me – I’m very young, sitting on the grass outside my home, playing with a wooden puzzle. As I turn the puzzle this way and that, I can hear a marble ball moving around the maze hidden inside. The aim is to move the marble around the maze until it reaches the centre and drops out of a hole. After countless attempts, I solve it by making the marble follow the outside of the maze in one direction, making it go back only when it hits a dead end and slowly but surely working it towards the middle. Forcing my mind back to the present, I decide to go straight ahead.

The air in this tunnel is even more pungent and the blackness seems to bore into me. Thank Eos for Andor's torch! I press on. The tunnel widens. A screech tears through the darkness. Something very much alive brushes my cheek! Screaming, I duck and drop the torch, shielding my head from whatever it was that touched me.

What on earth was it? I crouch down, grabbing the torch and spin my head around wildly. I hear squeaking and flapping. Bats! There must be a whole colony down here. Relief washes over me, almost making me laugh out loud. I’ve never been keen on bats, but better a hundred of them than the other creatures Andor said I might meet. Why I couldn’t have brought a few warriors with me, I don’t know. ‘The chosen one must enter the maze alone. This is the only way to lay claim to the amulet and harness its true power,’ he said. ‘It is written in the prophecy.’

Blasted prophecy! I wish I’d never heard the damn thing in the first place. As I mutter to myself, a chilling thought creeps into my mind. What if it is just a story and there is no amulet? Or what if it has already been found? And, even more likely, what if the torch goes out before I’ve escaped the labyrinth? The thought makes me quail. I think about turning back. But I can’t; there are too many people relying on me. I have to try. I hunch over, bowing my head forwards, in case another bat swoops at me, and shuffle on.

Then the rumbling starts. It’s faint to start with, but it soon grows louder. I pray to Eos that it’s not a giant worm lizard, or anything else that might chew me up and spit me out without a second thought. The stench is getting worse. I keep walking but stumble as my legs start to buckle. Dust falls from the tunnel roof. I turn and try to run, but I trip and fall headlong, dropping the torch. The rumbling grows louder. The walls shake. I close my eyes and pray.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Scary story

To answer the writing group 'Hallowe'en Challenge' I've reworked a short piece which may or may not be any good. It's part of a bigger story and I'll just have to see what the others think about it. Once they've critiqued it I'll share it on my blog.
The house situation is looking up - provided we can agree the right deal, we're about to buy an 'invisible house'. So, there's a good chance we could be moved in by the spring. It means we'll finally have the family home we've been craving and I'll even have a writing room!
Anyway, I can hear R. stirring, so I'd better get on with my motherly duties. I've got to get us off to playgroup and the whole house needs a tidy/clean before the valuation I've arranged this afternoon. There's no way I can do it all, especially with R's mortal fear of vacuum cleaners, but I'll just have to do my best!

Friday, 28 October 2011

The Ravine

This is a short piece I wrote ages ago - it's from a story I haven't written yet and is supposed to be aimed at children aged 9 or 10+...

The Ravine

The trees provided us with good cover, but the way forward was no easier. I could see the others ahead. Spiky, tangled weeds carpeted the forest floor. They wrapped maliciously around our legs as we struggled through the trees. It became harder to move as our strength, sapped from days of pursuit, was fading fast.

One of the malignant weeds wound around my leg so tightly I fell headlong onto the ground, spiking my hands over and over on the thorny menace blanketing the earth. I bit hard on my thumb to stifle my scream. What if they heard me?

We had to keep moving. The light was fading and our pursuers were getting closer. I did my best to pull the spines from my hands and freed my leg from the spiteful vine. We had to find shelter before nightfall. A horn echoed through the trees. We were being hunted like animals. So we would have to become like animals. We had to make a den, but to be sure we weren't found, first we needed to lay a false trail.

We tore strips off our clothing and attached them to branches and undergrowth, then, after about fifty or sixty paces, we retraced our steps and made off in another direction. I hoped this would throw them off our scent, but it remained to be seen.

As we stumbled on, the tree-flanked banking on either side rose and the path grew narrower. Not a single ray of sunlight touched the ground and the thick moss made the path slippery and treacherous. I cursed as I lost my footing and staggered to the side. Thankfully I stayed upright, as there was nothing to stop me from landing on the cold mossy rocks below. That would make me easy prey.

The others were slowly leaving me behind, but my feet were raw underneath and each step became more painful. Each time I slipped, the jolt made me almost yell out. As I climbed over slimy logs infested with oozing yellow fungi, I could see the ravine grew deeper ahead. But I staggered on, determined to keep moving. I didn't want to be caught and I certainly didn't want to die here. The air became dank with the putrid odours of decaying plant matter. The sky above was almost a memory. Our voices and movements became muffled.

There was a muted shout ahead. The others had stopped – pointing at the way forward. The path ahead was more treacherous and looked impassable. We looked around us for an escape route. Our only choice was to climb an almost vertical bank about eighty arm-lengths high. It was strewn with dead trees and mouldy rocks. We could see it would be hard work. But we had no choice if we wanted to get out of this fetid, fungus-ridden gully.

I gathered the last of my strength and launched myself at the bank, scrambling after the others. But the moistness of the soil made it impossible to get a sure foot-hold. Dead branches broke off in my hands and I frantically scrabbled at the soil, trying to seize anything I could. It was no use. I began to slide back down into the putrid ravine...

Why is it that Life takes over just when you're starting to get somewhere with your writing?

I've been at a standstill for some weeks now, bar the odd scribble in my 'ideas book'. Too much has been happening on the Life front, making it impossible to focus on my writing at present, but I'm sure it will provide some useful material in the future.
Perhaps the task I've been set by my writing group will get me kick-started? I've been set the challenge to come up with a scary story for Hallowe'en this Monday, but I'm just not feeling inspired! I'd better read a couple of ghost stories and/or watch a scary film to get me into the right frame of mind.
On the plus side, I'm £50 richer than yesterday, thanks to a bank mix-up. So, yesterday's 'wasted morning' where R. and I spent an hour in the bank waiting for the Business Account bod to turn up turned out to be rather worthwhile after all!
All we need now is somewhere suitable to live. The housing market is so stagnant we're contemplating a part-ex on a house that's not even built yet - now that's a scary prospect!