As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I will be starting out a writing experiment by writing a chapter a week, or thereabouts, of a random story that I have no idea, yet, what will be about. So, here goes, and cross your fingers it goes smoothly! Oh, and I think this is dystopian, but who knows for sure? The direction may chance on a whim.
Chapter one: Who Am I?
It was dark. So dark, in fact, that I couldn't see my hand when I put it in front of my face. Looking around was obviously no good. And the only sounds I could hear was the incessant dripping of water and the sound of air moving around me. The air felt damp.
Underfoot, I knew the ground was a mix of sloshy water and mud. I could feel my boots sticking in the muck, like so many suction cups were trying to keep me from moving. What I didn't know was why. Why was I there? And where, for that matter. Was I alone? Or were there others there with me? I couldn't remember.
The last conscious thought I had was of staring up into a bright light, shading my eyes from the intensity before it blinded me. I knew there were others near me. I could see them out of the corner of my eye. What I didn't understand was why, or where that light had come from. Or what I'd been doing before it came.
I decided to take inventory of myself. Patting down my body, I felt that I was wearing rough pants made of some thick material. Maybe it was some kind of canvas. The boots I could feel weighing down my feet laced up well past my ankles. And I knew I was wearing some kind of long-sleeved shirt that didn't have any buttons or other fasteners. It had to be some kind of pull over.
Around my waist, there was a tool belt of some kind, with irregularly shaped pouched all around. I hoped for some kind of flashlight, but my luck wasn't that good. I realized that my pants had those deep cargo pockets, also filled with contents unknown. And on my head, there was something like a scarf, only more rough. It tied my hair back, which I could tell was in some kind of rough ponytail. The final, and most reassuring thing that my fingers discovered was that I was intact, at least bodily, curves and all. I couldn't vouch for anything else.
A sudden sound startled me and I almost fell to the ground. I managed to save myself by pinwheeling my arms like mad. The sound came again, like metal striking metal. The sharp ping echoed around me. But, if I focused, I could hear the initial sound before it began to echo. Doing so, I realized where it was coming from, somewhere behind me.
I turned, slowed by the squelching of the muck beneath me. Even when I squinted, I still couldn't see anything. Was it better to go and see? Should I stay put and hope someone found me? Or should I head in the opposite direction?
Indecision weighed heavily on my shoulders as I continued to peer ahead. The sound came again, now at regular intervals, as if someone were hammering something. If only I could tell if that sound came from organic sources, or automaton. It would make my decision that much easier. Automatons were not to be trusted. Organic, usually, was much better.
After several more minutes, the noise stopped. I could hear the whoosh of steam rising in the air, as if something hot had been dropped into cooled water. That decided it. I had to find out what was going on.
trying to move as stealthily as possible, I worked on sliding my boots along the ground, with perhaps more success than I would have had otherwise. The going was still slow though, and I had to put my hands out in front of me, like a blind man.
Thankfully, nothing appeared to be obstructing my path, but I did fear running into protrusions from the ceiling, or possibly the walls. As things were, I think I felt the whiskers of plant roots or some kind of hanging algae touch my fingers as I reached upward. I didn't want to know if spiders were involved with that, so I focused on what was ahead.
The further I went, the more sounds began to manifest. There was a higher ping of metal hitting metal, like someone was using a fairy hammer. The slight gurgle of water also began to fill the air around me. There had to be a source nearby. I could also make out the almost indistinct sound of fabric rustling, heavy fabric.
A few more steps showed me that the path had started to curve. I could feel it under my feet. Perhaps I was in some kind of tunnel, or giant pipe. Did they make pipes that big? Not anymore. It would be too easy for refugees to hide from The State. And they definitely didn't want that. No, if I were in one of those giant pipelines, it had to be an old one, one never found by the government. There was no other explanation.
I moved forward several more feet, realizing that I was beginning to make out small details around me. There must be some kind of light source around the full bend. I could see that I was indeed in some kind of curved structure, very much like the pipes I'd thought about. Curious, I reached out a hand to feel the surface. It was cold, metallic, and rough. Except where odd plant growth had started. I didn't know plants could grow without sunlight.
Ahead, roots dangled from above, looking almost like an ethereal curtain of faint green. But when I looked towards the curve, I could make out an almost orange quality to the air, like fire supplied the light I headed towards. But that was impossible. No fire could burn in this filth. I wiggled a boot, making the water churn around it, as emphasis to my thoughts. Not unless there was some dry surface for it to burn in.
My heart began to pound painfully in my chest. Did I really want to continue? Was my curiosity worth the potential risk? What would I find if I went on? I wished I had some kind of reference to work with, but my mind was blank. I just knew that adrenaline ran through my body like quicksilver, and that I was soon going to hyperventilate if I didn't calm my breathing.
Then the loudest sneeze in history launched down the tunnel towards me. Its massive attack echoed down the length of the pipe, then back again, as I just stood there. I was rooted to the spot in shock. That was no automaton! It had sounded human, very human. Unless the usual creatures had somehow developed the ability to sneeze like a grizzly bear, an animal that had been extinct for decades.
Even more curious now, I almost rushed forward, but caution pulled me back. Even if the sneezer was human, there was no guarantee that he or she was friendly. It wouldn't do to run into the hands of, say, a massive murderer. Sadly, they still existed, despite The State's attempts to eradicate them. Human nature was still human nature, even with the bad parts.
I moved forward once more, noting that the watery mix of mud on the ground was changing to more water and less mud. That was, in my mind, an improvement. It also warranted investigation. One last section of curve, I was sure. The light was growing stronger the closer I came to the bend.
And suddenly, it was the end. the tunnel straightened out, but ended a dozen or so feet ahead. I could see where the outline of the pipe formed a giant O shape on my horizon. And beyond that, light! Blessed light! That flickered and danced in such a way that only a fire could have produced it. The sound of metal against metal also increased in volume, though I couldn't yet see what was making it.
A wave of heat soared around me as I started down the stretch, heading to whatever lay beyond. It gave me a moment of pause before continuing. What could cause that amount of heat? It almost felt like my skin was baking inside my clothes. But the water continued to trickle beneath my feet so I moved on.
As I neared the lip of the tunnel, I began to realize that whatever lay beyond was a lot larger than I'd anticipated. I could hear the fire now, roaring like a freight train at high speeds. I could hear the rushing of water behind that roaring, and the continued ping of metal on metal. Shielding my eyes, I took the last few steps to the edge and peered out.
I had come across some kind of cavern carved into the natural stone. A fire pit reached out from inside a massive kiln of some kind. And next to the licking flames, a man stood. He had a very impressive set of muscles that were covered in sweat. I could see the sweat flying off of his arms with every swing of his hammer. What I couldn't see was his face. I had no idea how old he was.
More mounds of what I guessed were homemade brick filled the cavern. Maybe some of them were cut stone. I couldn't be sure. They reminded me of pictures of Eskimo dwellings, before they had been taken into camps and integrated into the rest of society. Could those be dwellings? Or were they used for storage? I didn't see any other people around. Just the blacksmith. The word popped into my head as I watched him work.
From the distance I maintained from that forge, I wasn't sure what he was making. But whatever it was, he was working it with a furry. Blow after blow fell from his hammer as he swung down on what I thought was some kind of anvil. Sparks flew all around him. I wished he'd turn around so I could see his face. Was it old? Young?
"Well, are you going to just stand there all day, or are you going to come in," I heard someone ask. I'm pretty sure it wasn't that smith, though. His attention seemed consumed with his work.
Looking around, I didn't see the speaker at first. In my defense, I was still dazzled by the roaring flames and unusual display before me. Such forges were only found in story books and history lessons. But, after focusing a bit, I made out another figure standing off to one side, closer to my position on the lip.
This other man was not as well toned, but looked as though he'd seen his share of hardship. His hair was a bit stringy, but probably only because he hadn't bathed in some time. I think his hair was black, though it might have been a really dark brown. And his face showed that he was somewhere closer to my age, however old that was.
"I..." My voice cut off as I realized that his eyes were probing mine. They were dark brown, like melting chocolate, with little flecks of amber. Did people have eyes like that? Or was it just a reflection from the firelight?
The man walked towards me, never breaking eye contact. "We don't get many visitors down here," he commented. "Most folks don't know we're down here. And we like to keep it that way."
I felt like I was having a stare down with a potential enemy. I didn't dare blink, afraid that he was either a mirage or some kind of trick. I hadn't seen another human in... I couldn't remember.
"Well, don't just stand there and gawk," he said as he came right up to me and grabbed my upper arm.
His fingers pinched into my flesh and I yanked away from his touch. "Don't touch me," I growled, cradling my arm against me. I was sure his fingers had left miniature bruises along my flesh.
He raised his eyebrows at my behavior, taking a step back, though I noticed that he gave a quick glance down the tunnel I'd traveled. "Alone?"
I couldn't help but look back the way I'd come before looking back at him. What was it about his eyes? "I don't know," I stammered. "I don't know anything. I don't know who I am. I don't know where I am. I don't..."
Tears began to leak from my eyes and I felt my body shudder with them. Why was I crying? Was I having some kind of emotional breakdown? I had nothing to use as a basis for comparison. I only knew one truth. I didn't have a clue who I was.
"Hey!" He caught me before my knees buckled, holding me against his strong but lean chest. "Hey, it's okay. You don't have to cry about it."
I heard the crunch of boot steps coming up on us from the side, but I didn't turn to see who was there. "Shame on you, Garret! Making a girl cry!" The voice was feminine.
"I didn't do a think," Garret protested. "She did that all on her own! All I did was ask her if she was alone!"
The woman tisked. "And scared her halfway to her grave, by the looks of it," she scolded. Before either of us could respond to that comment, she had pulled me away from his very warm arms and was escorting me towards one of the stone huts. "There, there. It's okay. Don't mind him," she crooned.
What was going on? And who was this woman? The events from the past who knew how long swam before my eyes. Walking down the tunnel. Taps echoing down the corridor. Firelight blinding my eyes. I felt my feet falter and my body become heavy. My head swam and I swayed. The next moment, my world went black.