Hi, it’s David Wright here with the introduction duties. When I was a kid in the late 1970’s, there was this show I loved on TV called Cliffhangers. Each hour-long episode featured three or four stories that unfolded over the course of the TV season. One story was about an underground futuristic city and another was a vampire story. Each mini episode within the hour left you hanging until next week, hence the title, Cliffhangers.
Every week, I grabbed some cookies and milk and curled up in my bed with the lights turned out, waiting for the next exciting installments. This show in a word, rocked my striped tube socks!
The show didn’t even last a season, as I recall, and I was pretty sad when it ended without resolving the cliffhangers!
But it had a lasting impact on me. I LOVED the feeling of building suspense and leaving people hanging and wanting more. In high school, I started writing short stories which I passed to a few classmates. I’m sure the stories were pretty bad, but they were good enough to get the desired reaction. People who normally didn’t talk to me were suddenly coming around and asking for the next installment of whatever story I was writing at the time. It was an amazing feeling!
Now that I have a slightly wider audience, and I’m a more capable writer, I want to recreate the magic which left me spellbound as a child.
I’d been sitting on this story, Available Darkness, for a long time when I met Sean Platt. I love his writing style. I decided to re-write a few chapters of my long stagnant story and send them his way to see what he could do with them. He turned my stale prose into magic. We began passing the text back and forth, each of us adding some ingredients to create what we have here.
This experiment in presenting serialized fiction on the web embraces both the spirit of collaboration that makes the Collective Inkwell and the spirit of creativity-driven community we are fostering here.
We hope you enjoy this story as it unfolds over the course of the next several Fridays. Please leave feedback, help spread the word on your blog and Twitter, etc… Go grab some cookies and milk and get enjoy the first installment of Serial and Milk : Available Darkness.
The memory rose like a bubble in the darkness.
He was a child, not yet in school, when he first learned of monsters.
He was lying in bed, pillow clutched over his head, trying to drown out the muffled sounds of his parents fighting downstairs. His father was drunk. Again. The threat of violence was palpable in the air, alive like electric currents, causing his hairs to stand on end.
It wouldn’t be long now before the sounds of screaming were replaced by cries and the sickening sound of flesh pounding flesh. Perhaps his father’s blood lust would be sated. Or, perhaps the boy’s door would burst open and the battle continued on the second floor.
He prayed in vain to a God he long ago stopped believing in. A child should not have to lose faith so early in life.
Please, stop him.
Suddenly the house was quiet. That meant one of two things. Either his prayer was answered or, more likely, the monster was coming for him.
The boy pulled the pillow from his head and strained to hear the sounds of footfalls on stairs. He closed his eyes tightly and braced for what was to come. He would pretend to sleep. Sometimes it even worked.
He heard the door creak behind him and tried to camouflage his shortness of breath. Real sleepers breathe deep and heavily. He wouldn’t fool the monster with his rapid breathing. He concentrated and made an effort to slow his breath as best he could.
Light washed the wall in front of him and he heard the door close softly. He waited to hear retreating footsteps, but heard nothing. He was certain the monster was in the room with him. Waiting. He could feel his father’s hateful eyes on him.
He wasn’t sure how long he feigned sleep, but it seemed to be forever. Suddenly, he heard his father’s voice downstairs, followed by his mother’s crying out.
Surprised, the boy figured he must have fallen asleep and missed his father leaving the room. Yet, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t alone. He slowly turned over, pretending to still be asleep. He waited a moment and then risked opening his eyes.
And then he saw the shadow in the corner of his room. A shadow that was not a shadow, but not quite a man.
The boy screamed.
The bubble rose and broke as it crashed into the surface…
The man woke amidst the black, breath barely budging from the shallow prison of his angry lungs. He tried to inhale but only doubled back into a rasping, retching pile of sod and vomit. He attempted to lift his leaden head, but could raise it barely an inch. Gravity seemed to crush him from all sides; his arms, he realized with a horrifying dread, were fixed against his sides as though shackled.
His mind scrambled to pull sense from his surroundings. A horribly long minute later, he realized he was captive in a box. Buried alive and left to rot beneath the crumbling earth.
I’m not dead, his mind started to scream.
His mouth would only make sounds that refused to render into words. Nothing but a raspy gasp and a rolling tumble of soil and spit fell from his lips.
Panic set deep and his whispering breath climbed further toward a pant, echoing against the narrow walls of his tomb, keeping time with his furiously pounding heart.
What happened? Why am I buried?
His voice found its way through the suffocation and he heard his own whimpering cries of “no,no,no” as he tried to shake life into his limbs. The voice was not his own, but that of a frightened child. No, a frightened animal.
His body bristled from a billion pins and needles, impeding his thought and dulling his motion. With a strength he didn’t know he had, behind a panic that could only be borne beneath the bilious earth, he shoved his forearms madly against the cap of the casket. With a reluctant snap, the nail wormed its way through the wood and the lid of his prison shifted a quarter of an inch.
He clawed, scraped, and pushed at the darkness above him with blunt, awkward blows, blotting the bulkhead with blood he could not see but could smell. He desperately fought his way upwards, using first his arms and then his knees, finally his head; anything to give him leverage. And then his arms shot forward, no longer meeting resistance as the lid lifted and fell to the earth beside him with a thick, muffled thud.
The moon mocked his confusion. He collapsed into the cold dirt, sucking crisp air into his stale lungs in bottomless mouthfuls, then exhaling the old wind in hot gusts of steam which evaporated into the frigid air of midnight.
His body tensed from the nearby sound of movement and he pulled himself upright to peer through the darkness.
He was in the midst of thick woods. Tree branches pierced the gloaming like ink stained daggers, barely illuminated by the pale silver moon. Shivering, he finally registered his bloodied bare arms and chest. All he wore were jeans, blood soaked jeans.
He would have screamed for help, but something – he wasn’t quite sure what – stopped him cold.
He pulled himself from the casket, his numb foot sinking into the cold soil. Beside him lay a hole, five feet deep and wide enough to swallow both he and the casket whole. A shovel bulged from a mound of dirt; an invitation for whoever had started digging to come back and finish the job.
Jesus Christ, he thought, I was drugged, kidnapped, and Lord knows what else.
Another sound of movement. A branch breaking.
He realized with a horrible certainty that whatever psycho had dropped him in the dirt, was not yet gone. Not yet done.
He glanced again at the shovel and swallowed.
He forced his body into an awkward sprint, legs wobbly as he stumbled blindly into the night.
He prayed not to run into whatever monster brought him here to die.
to be continued…
Read the rest of the chapters as they are posted each Friday. Links to each chapter can be found here.