When I agreed to read a short story at the second of Steelhead Library halloween events, little did I know how much it would at first scare and then exhilerate me! I decided to write a story for the occasion, but with RL being a pain I ran out of time halfway through (I’ll finish it soon and post it here – never waste anything!) I decided to edit together my recent blog tale, The Mysterious Note, and read it out in… *gulp!*… VOICE!
I’ll leave out the details of how much trouble and hassle it was getting voice to work for me, suffice to say that it only snapped in 30 seconds before I was billed to start – talk about working up a sweat! I actually read as Ryne, after all it was he, not me, that fought the zombies in New Babbage’s sewers and as he’s from the same part of the world as me, my RL voice fits him rather well, I think (1).
I had to leave after my tale for the Tri-Cities Halloween Parade, but then I returned (as a sauve HBA) in time for the first of for Dio’s readings – RL took me away before the second but I really enjoyed what I managed to catch (go and read them here) and I’m looking forward to the next event Riven puts on
(1) I was amazed to hear so many other Steelheadian’s voices – I *love* an American accent – always sounds so… cool And I guess the various ages at 40′s & 50′s (maybe a couple beyond?) which is something that constantly amazes me about SL. I think the older ages helps make SL, at least my SL, a more mature place and I like that – after all, I’m an old fart myself
Steelhead Short Story – Death in the sewers!
Dear fellow citizens, let me assure you that the tale I am about to impart is in no way manufactured and remains as real and as horrible to me here now as it did that on fateful day a mere three weeks ago. In all truth, the day had started so innocently with no indication that within hours I would be fighting for my very life in the filthy sewers of New Babbage, but before I leap ahead too far let me start at the beginning with the note I found and the two assumptions I made which, in large part, led to my peril with the unfortunate creatures cruelly overlooked by Death and his minions.
It was a Sunday morn and despite the fact it was a day of rest I had left the slums behind and headed into the city to pick up vital supplies. As I found myself passing the town hall, and recalling that I had heard rumours of some proposed new building developments, I decided to wander in and study the town map displayed in the foyer. The town hall itself was quiet and empty and I studied the map in peace for many long minutes before I turned to head back home. It was then that I saw the note lying on the floor. I looked about for someone who might have dropped it, but the town hall was, as I had mentioned, empty save me. So, feeling somewhat like a snoop, I picked up the note and read it.
I am not going to tell you again! Make the delivery to Salde Outfitters. Leave it in the basement. You’ll need the code to get in: 1253echo. Just say it to the console or the door. You shouldn’t have any trouble as long as you follow my instructions. Just don’t lose this note, ok?
My mind raced! What on earth could this ‘delivery’ be? Why would it be locked in a cellar with a secret code? Could there be agents of the Bing Kong, the tong running every nefarious criminal activity in the slums, working all this way out in the city? And if so, what evil could they be spreading? I had to find out and my first port of call had to be this Slade Outfitters!
Here, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you both of the erroneous assumptions that were to put me on a path with near death (and worse!) beneath the streets of New Babbage. The first incorrect assumption was that of tong involvement, which served only to blind me to any other possibility as my hatred of my adopted home’s cruel and merciless masters is fierce beyond measure. The second incorrect assumption was that Slade Outfitters had a shop in New Babbage alone. If only I had known that I were but mere feet from the newly opened Steelhead branch I could have saved myself a considerable amount of trouble, not to say terror.
Alas, I was blind and ill-informed and therefore already committed to a path and incapable of veering off. A few hours later I was onboard the Clockhaven Queen and sailing for that most fair city to uncover just what the vile Bing Kong tong were planning.
The journey was pleasant enough, the day slipping into late afternoon and then into a brilliant sunset as the all-but-deserted ferry pulled in to port. I disembarked and walked along the stone quay towards the nearby shop. Above me seagulls cawed and squawked loudly, no doubt looking for scraps to feed upon. Something in their manner, something odd about their calling, caused me to glance up and I gasped with surprise to see them being joined by birds of all types. From crows and ravens to the humblest starlings and sparrow, the darkening sky was filling with all manner of flying beast and all of them without exception flying out to sea, away from the city. I stood with the sailors and watched them go until the cacophony of their cries subsided to nothing, before I turned to look at the city from which they had apparently fled.
I was suddenly aware of just how awfully empty the streets were. A chill wind blew between the silent buildings, a strange keening sound only just evident over its whispered hiss. I was certain I picked up a familiar scent wafting in from the city too, a sickly sweet smell that I knew all too well. Death, it would seem, was in the air. Suddenly I did not want to be there and I hurried off as I resolved to find out what I could and wait back on the Queen for a return sailing.
The shop I was looking for was on the waterfront and the note had said to look out for a console or door which would open with a voice command and grant access to the cellar. I searched high and low but could find neither – the front of the shop was simply open and given the shop’s position on the quay any cellar there was likely to be a very damp affair indeed. The only door I could find in the shop was a curiously placed porthole at the back, but there was no console nearby and it opened perfectly well with a simple pull. I say curiously placed for the simple fact was that it opened, by the smell of it, into the sewers of Clockhaven, the wide, covered canals which took the waste of the city away into the sea and were rightly regarded as an engineering marvel across the steamlands.
But was this the cellar door the mysterious note alluded too? If so were the sewers the means of delivery for the Bing Kong? And what were they delivering that was so important? There was only one way to find out: I had to enter the sewers and see where they led and to do that I would need a boat. There was only one place in Clockhaven I knew of where one could find such a vessel and I turned on my heels and headed into the darkening night.
The shadowed streets of Clockhaven were narrow and echoed with my lonely footsteps. More than once I was certain I heard distant shouting and unclear sounds of some commotion or other. The strange keening. howling sound I had detected as I disembarked the Clockhaven Queen had grown steadily louder and I was sure now it was more than simply just the wind whistling through the alleyways.
The alleys themselves proved disorienting to the point I was convinced I was lost. I fought hard to hold my rising sense of panic down as time after time I turned, sure I was being followed, only to see no one in the gloom. I hurried on, desperate to reach my goal, a large brick building where small steam boats were made, and found myself nearly overcome with joy as I came upon it. My joy was short lived however as I saw it was as dark and as quiet as everywhere else in this eerie ghost town.
I toyed with the idea of leaving, of forgetting the whole damn foolish endeavour and returning to the relative safety of the slums, but it would be another two hours before the Queen would slip out of harbour again so I was going nowhere. Beside, I chided myself silently, I was letting my fears take hold of me. I pushed my shoulders back and made my way inside to where the boats were launched into the sewers. Looking up at the launch ramp, to where the small metal-hulled vessel for one was waiting to sluice its way into the waters that led to the sewers, I had the feeling that it was going to be a bumpy ride.
I was not proved wrong! The launch was a decidedly uncomfortable affair with many a bump and jolt as I slid down the helictical trough and into the basin. The steam engine behind me hissed as the drive gear slowly pushed me forward into the gloom of the brick tunnels. Slime and other unmentionable detritus could be seen all around and I knew that to fall into the water would be almost certainly fatal, so with a renewed effort to keep the small steam skiff on an even keel I gingerly coaxed it forwards in what I estimated was the direction of Slade’s. Sure enough, a few tense minutes later I did indeed come to the brick step that acted as small dock to the shop but even here, aside from a small sign indicating I had indeed found Slade’s, I could find no discernable clues that in anyway corroborated the contents of the note.
Maybe I was too late? Maybe the illicit goods had already been delivered and moved on? Maybe, just maybe, I told myself, I was barking down the wrong sewer and on the end of an elaborate practical joke. I was just toying with that thought when I heard a loud splash, as though a substantial weight had hit the water, followed by a long, low, near-animal moan that turned my blood to ice. It was a sound I hoped I’d never hear again. It was a sound I hadn’t heard since the fall of the second Lincoln Line back in ‘85. It was the sound of a soul trapped between life and death. It was the sound of one no longer human. It was the sound of one of Feg’s own. It was the sound of a Zombie! And it was here in the dark sewers with me!
Fear gripped me tight and by the time the paralysis lifted I had steamed past Slade’s dock and into a narrow section of tunnel that precluded any thought of turning the small skiff around. I desperately twisted and pulled at various controls on the engine, but in my panic I simply could not find a reverse gearing system. The small boat, and I with it, moved with grim inexorability towards the moaning and splashing monster somewhere in the dark sewer ahead.
Suddenly there was another splash somewhere further along. And then another. More moans, guttural animalistic cries of hunger, joined the first. I was facing at least three zombies and found myself armed with nothing more than my satchel and this boat.
The boat! Of course! I had been desperately trying to get the boat to go backwards and away from the terrors that lay ahead when I should have been looking at it as my source of escape and protection through them!
The stench of the sewer, whilst always bad, increased in its foulness as it mixed with the terrible miasma of rotting flesh. The tunnel ahead was dark and heavy with shadows that seemed to peel from the walls and flee ahead of my boat only at the last possible second.
And the seconds in this vile place felt like hours as I crept forward seeing nothing in the gloom until! There! In the sewage before me a creature loomed large, its arms stretched out in front, a shaft of wood thrust fully through its body and, most terrible of all, an axe buried in its ruined skull! Its dead eyes fixed upon me as its slack jaw released the unmistakable howl of a flesh-hungry zombie!
With a spine of pure ice, I opened the little boat’s steam valve as far as it would go and kept a steady hand on the tiller as I began to speed through the foul water. I aimed squarely at the poor devil and braced for impact – there was a dull thud as his head hit the hull and the boat leapt up in the air, riding over him as if over a ramp! I held on tight, fearing I would be thrown from my craft, or worse still, it would capsize and sink, but the steady vessel came down true and splashed back into the murky waters.
Almost immediately the engine began to protest and I turned just in time to find the unfortunate had his hand trapped in the gearing system. The strong little engine squealed in protest but didn’t stop, it pulled the creature into its grinding maw inch by terrible inch, snapping bone and rending flesh as it did so. Drawn in by its arm, the zombie was soon up to its elbow and then its shoulder before the gears began to bite down in the poor devil’s neck. All the while its undead, unblinking eyes glared at me and its free hand grasped and clawed as it desperately tried to reach me and pull me into its terrible mouth.
In horror I noticed that the creatures efforts were tearing it free of the boats gears! Skin and muscle tore away, bones cracked and snapped free as it began to pull itself out of the engine and towards me. With a heavy heart and the words “forgive me” on my lips I swung my satchel at its face and with a single blow pushed its head backwards into the gears whose terrible teeth took one bite and refused to let go again. The engine wheezed briefly, redoubled its effort and with a wet crunch I shall never forget cracked the zombie’s head like an egg. Blood, brains and gore erupted behind me and the creature’s body, now finally lifeless and at rest, sank to the bottom of the vile sewer. I was safe!
Ahead of me, in the inky blackness, the moaning started again. I set my jaw, eased back the steam valve and spluttered forwards once more…
The journey through the sewers, the killing of more undead souls, the flight through the panicked streets of Clockhaven are events burnt into my mind forever by the sheer horror of that night. I can not bring myself to recount them all and I trust you will forgive me if I leave my tale of terror where it rests, at the bottom of a sewer in a foreign city whose people lost so much in one terrible night.
Yet please allow me, by way of an ending to my tale, to tell you that I did escape, as you can clearly see, and I did so unscathed. I was ushered onboard the Clockhaven Queen, this time far from empty but rather filled with the injured and dying. The smell of death and of burning was everywhere. As the Queen sailed out to sea, I remember clearly looking back to the fair city of New Babbage and seeing the night sky alight and stained red with fires that burnt all across her.
I had seen the fires before.
I had heard the screams before.
I had sorted the living from the dying and the merely dying from the never dying before.
I had looked into the eyes of the cursed and whispered “forgive me” as I killed them before.
When Lord Slough Feg and his armies had overrun Manchester I had seen what hordes of hungry zombies could do, and what little men and women could do in return, and I’m here to tell you all that whatever you hear about that terrible night in New Babbage, whatever horror stories you are told, bear in mind that when faced with such overwhelming evil, good people are forced to make terrible decisions and do terrible deeds in order to survive. If you meet a survivor of that night, I trust you will look upon them kindly, ask no questions and understand the shadow of horror behind their eyes.