A little while ago I wrote a short story for the L. Ron Hubbard "Writers of the Future Contest". I did not win, and I know why, my story is really more horror than Science Fiction or Fantasy. But I decided that I will post each chapter here on my blog. There are 37 very short chapters, for a total of 15,000 words, about a fifth of a modern novel. Here is the start.
The area was dimly lit.
“Well that sure as hell was perilous, ominous, creepy, foreboding… oh, hell, if I had my thesaurus it would be a great many things.”
“So you’re saying it sucked, Wil?”
“In a manner of speaking, Max. Clair, are you all right?”
“Yes.” A weary-eyed head rose up from the ground. “I guess. Little dizzy, kinda sick, really hard to focus.”
"Did you hit your head?" Said Maxwell.
"I'm guessing we all hit something," said Wilton. "Clair, just sit still. Try and get your bearings. When your head feels clearer maybe try to do some of that voodoo you do so well with your premonitions."
“Anybody have any thoughts as to how we aren't dead?” Max was remembering the fall and the amount of gear he had been carrying, and looking around he saw evidence of neither. "Or where all our stuff is?"
“I don't know, Max.” Wilton looked up, expecting to see the hole they had been descending into, but instead finding only a cave ceiling in the shadowy area. “Though it might be related to why we are currently in a cave, rather than a hole.”
It was at this moment that Clair's head stopped throbbing, fading down to a dull ache in the back of her eyes. She began to take in her surroundings, finding that while the area around the group was a dead end, it was a dead end only in three directions. The fourth direction appeared to taper off into a winding cavern from which the little light that was present seemed to be coming from. “I think we need to go that way,” Clair said, pointing down the cavern.
“Well of all the ways there are to go, that would seem to be the one that actually exists,” Wilton said, picking himself up and brushing himself off. Then he held out his hand for Clair, who took it and had to be almost lifted off the ground, steadying herself on Wilton afterword.
Max lazily stumbled to his feet to follow Wilton and Clair. They then proceeded down the clean and dimly lit cave.
“So… any theories?” Maxwell queried.
“None,” answered Wilton.
“Any psychic premonitions?”
“Sorry Max, no,” Clair responded, one hand on Wilton's shoulder, the other hand switching back and forth between massaging her temples and her eyes.
“Anything I should do?”
“We’ll let you know,” Wilton answered, trying, between Maxwell’s question marks, to gather his thoughts.
As the group proceeded down the brightening and presumably subterranean area they each in turn allowed theories to bounce around in their minds. Max was mentally a doomsayer, recalling various bits of story that he had heard about the Underworld. He held it together by peppering the air with inane questions like "Do you suppose this cave was dug, or is it natural?" and "If someone left us without our gear here, why not leave us with something else aside from our clothes?"
Clair's mind worked differently. Rather than trying to grasp harder at her surroundings, she tried to let them become more fluid and insubstantial. She didn't talk and instead entered into a haze, her eyes glazing over and faraway ethereal echoes touched her mind's ear. Clair counted the steps they took and kept time with Wilton's swaying shoulders, allowing herself to be as close to meditating as she could while still walking; she was nearly hypnotized.
Wilton mostly just tried to use Maxwell's questions as jumping off points for his own theories, and started recalling the caves he had visited in Egypt and that shadowy thing he had talked to in those catacombs. He thought back further to his own childhood and the stories he had read about survival and cave diving and geology and anything else he could dredge up that would make this situation somehow more manageable, but this wasn't same old same old, and that made him grouchy, and his answers became more biting toward Maxwell, and nothing came of either's speculation.
"Max," said Wilton. "Let's talk about something else aside from this cave."
"Doesn't this kind of demand our full attention?" asked Maxwell cocking an eyebrow and pursing his lips.
"I am a big believer in the cross-polinization of ideas," said Wilton. "Unrelated ideas and fields can link up in unexpected ways, give you new approaches."
"Someone looks at something for too long," said Wilton, "they can't see a bigger picture. If they allow themselves to take a step back and get some perspective on the whole thing, they might see a fresh approach."
"Okay," said Maxwell. "That makes some sense. How about... What were the White Hats like when it first started up?"
"Hmm, well I wasn't one of the first guys," Wilton replied. "But I met them before they went online. I had just graduated and was working in a rare book library. They came in to see an original copy of 'The Hammer of the Witches' for reference.
"Turns out that book had been stolen. I helped them to find the local loon who was using it to identify, torture, and kill local people he thought to be witches. We were in the newspaper, my coworkers and I were then fired for the book having been stolen to begin with, and I decided to work with the original guys who started things while looking for a new job. Turns out we didn't need it because the paper got us sponsorship. We worked as antiques appraisers and private detectives in New England for a while. Then we went viral with our website."
"That is awesome," said Maxwell.
"Thank you," replied Wilton. "A little while later I recruited a friend of mine who used to be a cop and he introduced me to Clair."
"What?" said Clair, blinking quickly and focusing on them.
"Nothing, Clair," said Wilton. "Just talking with Max. Feel free to keep poking around."
The group continued on in quiet for a while longer.