Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hollow City (Part 5)

The lithe figure atop the stone outcropping rose slightly into a rigid crouch, clinging tightly to his makeshift knife in one gnarled, greasy fist. His prey moved ever closer, step by painstaking step. His breathing quickened unconsciously as he prepared for his ambush. Closer and closer, only a few more steps stood between him and his next meal. A bead of sweat rolled from his ragged brow, stinging his eye as he waited in tense silence for just a moment longer.

When the plump creature was nearly beneath his hiding place, he hurled himself from his hiding place. He plummeted directly onto his victim, his bare feet crashing down on the creature's shoulders and sending them both sprawling to the ground from the force of the impact. He landed hard, spread-eagle in the middle of the narrow road. His bone knife skittered away across the rugged stone pavement. Flipping himself over nimbly, he saw his target rising unsteadily to its feet. With a ferocious snarl, he launched himself at the fat form, tackling it to the ground. They rolled off the path into the thick weeds on the shoulder, gouging and grappling with one another as each struggled to climb on top of his opponent.

Suddenly a terrific blow caught him in the gut, knocking the breath from his lungs. Small spots of color began to swirl across his vision as he gasped desperately for air. He felt dizzy, he head swimming through a sea of blackness, accompanied by twirling neon glimmers. No longer could he even tell if he was being struck, as his consciousness wavered and his flesh began to grow numb. His head limply fell back into the brush, and all the world fell silent.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hollow City (Part 4)

Further north, where the lake's shore began its eastward curve away from the crumbling buildings well before reaching the great stone courtyard at the city's northern tip, fleeting traces of activity began to emerge: the agonized squeal of an ancient rusty hinge, a glimpse of a shadowy form scurrying from one gaping doorway to another, the slopping sound of a slimy meal echoing from some hidden recess.

It was toward this scattered activity that the creature from the edge of the lake now shuffled, slowly working its way around jagged gorges ripped into the earth at sporadic intervals across the narrow, weed-infested paths which laced their way like spiderwebs through the rubble along the putrid lake's muddy shore. It clutched its oozing cargo close to its chest, glancing nervously about in all directions.

Several hundred yards ahead, a colossal slab of smooth green stone jutted out from a patch of overgrowth, leaning ominously over the path. Stretched out atop this stone, with his eyes fixed on the trail below, was the same ragged figure which had raced this way from the broad northern courtyard the previous evening. His eyes narrowed as the waddling figure came into view, and he dug into his rags, withdrawing a long, sharpened piece of bone. After a morning spent waiting in silence, he would finally eat.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hollow City (Part 3)

At long last the sun rose slowly in the east, casting glowing amber light across the dense fog swirling in a thick, turbulent blanket across the surface of the deep lake at the city's eastern edge. A chill breeze stirred the wretched scent of stagnation emanating from the brackish water. Occasional sloshing broke through the silence, its dark origin hidden somewhere beneath the dense coat clinging to the water.

Beyond the lake, the eastern horizon was obscured in a dun haze. Only one discernible point marked the divide between land and sky, a black, skeletal spire shooting jaggedly from the earth to staggering heights. Only its vague silhouette was visible from the shores of the stagnant lake, so great was its distance. As the sun climbed laboriously into the sky, the ghoulish ebony finger was again lost in the brown curtain which hung lifeless and unending above the land. That same all-concealing haze had, over the course of many long years, wrapped its way around the whole of the horizon, a great python choking off the city from any world which may have remained beyond its hideous coils. The lone tower was all that remained to signal the existence of anything from that world, and only for a scant time each morning.

The dark surface of the lake emerged from the strangling mists, revealing a low series of battered limestone wharfs along its western shore. With a soft grunt, a squat, sallow figure hauled itself up onto one of the lichen-encrusted slabs and stared blinking into the daylight. A hairless head sat with no visible neck atop a bloated, unclothed torso. Long, thin arms hung from its knobby shoulders, cords of sinew standing out tightly against its skin. Strong, gnarled hands with swollen knuckles reached its knees as it stood on short, twisted legs. The figure turned and waddled into the crumbling remains of a low hut. Moments later, it emerged wearing a burlap sack with holes torn for a head and arms to stick out through. Pausing at the water's edge to retrieve a small bundle wrapped in sopping grey rags, it turned and began picking its way north along the shore.

Hollow City (Part 2)

The sun vanished in the west, leaving the sky bruised and purple in its wake. The faint glow shriveled, a wilting rose giving way to a lifeless husk. Darkness encased the ruined city. The colossi standing voiceless watch over the courtyard faded from view. Still and silent, the city lie enveloped in blackness.

From some hidden recess deep within the crumbled corpse of the city, a faint pulse emerged. Slowly at first, it was more to be felt than heard. With excruciating hesitance, the low sound of a drum began to grow. It reverberated along the battered stone faces of hollow buildings, following the crooked tangle of streets as blood through the arteries of a great suffering beast. As the stars gazed balefully down from the cold void above, a second thumping call joined the first. Yet another emerged from some distant corner of the night, and in moments they were met with a chorus of followers. The dreary pounding rose to thunderous height, echoing wildly back upon itself as it throbbed through every dark recess of the city. Further and further it spiraled upward, the furious hammering growing to deafening levels as it built to a rapturous crescendo.

They stopped. For a few moments the mad recollection of hideous pounding echoed through the streets, and then silence. Interminable minutes passed before, somewhere in the distance, flapping sounded briefly from a pair of heavy wings. A fetid scent rose, hanging palpably in the deadly still air. Not another sound was to be heard for the rest of the night.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hollow City (Part 1)

Shadows stretched languidly across the ancient stone courtyard, cast in the late evening sun by the spectral figures of decaying architecture. These long-deserted, monolithic ghouls loomed several stories high to the north and west, their gaping black windows staring horribly across the smooth flagstones into the crumbling expanse of deceased masonry beyond. Tight clusters of rough, blue-grey weeds had forced their way up through the cracks and gaps in the granite pavement, rising over the years to a height of several feet and forming a crazy checkered pattern wherever space permitted. The cracked remains of a colossal marble archway stood at the southern edge of the circular courtyard, its center long since collapsed, its thick white pillars standing bright and tall in the remaining sunlight, set in stark relief against the cluttered darkness beyond. A cold wind moaned through the carcass of this once-great city, carrying with it the chill of approaching winter.

Silently, amidst these tattered remains of civilization, a dark figure picked his way furtively across the western edge of the courtyard, halting occasionally to huddle along lichen-encrusted walls against cruel clutches of the biting wind. He was wrapped in the barest of rags, and crusted in dirt and grease. Stringy locks of grimy black hair hung limply down his back, though the crown of his head was bare. Dark eyes sat deeply above hollow cheeks, with his gaunt, thin-lipped face fading away, pitiful and grey, beneath the hateful intensity of his gaze.

The sun slipped further toward the hazy horizon, lengthening the ominous fingers of shadow cast by those horrid stone leviathans looming behind him. Night was fast approaching. With a quick, anxious glance around him, the lone figure scurried away into the vast maze of dilapidated ruins beyond the pillars. Scrambling like a giant cockroach, in mere moments he had vanished into the rubble.