Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Peter ran, swatting at his clothes, his hair, high-stepping through the horde like a dancer. The squealing din of insects and the frantic tapping of his shoes covered the noise of the countless exoskeletons he was crushing beneath his feet. The racket did nothing, though, to alleviate the physical sensations of the black bodies giving in under his weight, of the pressure of hundreds of tiny pops under his shoes. Nor could it erase the pain of the bites. They were like swords, stabbing at Peter's flesh, and claws, tearing at his skin.

Arms flailing, he gained the narrow terraces. Looking up, he knew that his chances of staying ahead of the swarm as he tried to climb back into the orange canyon were slim. If only he had reacted sooner to the black folds – fled from them, not into them . . .

He ran. With a slight hop, Peter grabbed the lowermost ledge. He felt something round and sharp, but not warm, beneath his fingers. He crushed it as he pulled his frame upwards, felt it explode across his knuckles like a misplaced sneeze.

First his eyes -
the bugs were all over the ledge -
then his arms and shoulder -
he laid his forearms on the stone -
then his shoulders and his torso -
as he steadied his legs on the ledge, he noticed the flattened and torn fragments of fat segmented bodies clinging to his forearms, his knees, his chest, the sides of his hands.

He pulled himself over another ledge.

And another. As his head crested the third ledge - so near the top of the hole - he saw that the bugs were already swarming even this high up. They flooded over his face as he rose, and he could do nothing but keep pulling himself upwards until -

He screamed and clawed at his face just a moment too soon - it had bit him in the bloody eye, stabbed into the flesh of his eye orb with a tiny sucker needle that Peter had seen coming in a blur, but only too fast to react to - he slipped - slid down to the next ledge - caught himself - wrenched his face.

His arms were burning. Had he been able to see them through the tears and blood, Peter would have seen a wreck of flesh on his arms, his hands covered in bites and swelling thick around his finger nails. Things were biting him all over, inside his clothes, writhing into indecent places, cutting, swelling, bleeding.

"No!" he yelled at the bugs and pulled himself higher again, and then higher still.

“No!” his own voice called after him from somewhere down the passage.

The crushed monsters - monsters!, not bugs, not insects – and their ichor mixed with Peter’s own fluids and straying bits torn from his body. He yelled no words, only a hollow roar of fear as he grasped the lip of the hole and clung. Peter found himself stumbling to his feet in the midst of the orange radiance.

He tried to run. Peter leaned forward, his legs swung beneath him, leading him along on two, three, four, five rises and falls before his weight, clumsy under the pain and blood –
blood, he was covered in his blood, in their blood –
dying they were dying as he swatted weakly at them, he was dying as they ate him, drank of his fluids, tore pieces of flesh from his body, from his face, gnawed away at what he thought was . . .

Peter let out one last, loud sob. Terror would allow nothing more articulate to escape his lungs but the meaningless wail of an animal at the chopping block. His eyes rolled about like those of a rabbit under the claw of a wildcat.

With that last scream, his strength had left him, his eyes could not bear the curtain being pulled over them. He felt something push its plump cold body into his ear. Another pinched at his scrotum. His eyes shut. Peter felt his knees, his shoulders, his face hit the cool, moist floor of the Library. He felt the monsters die beneath him as he fell upon them, into their frantic jaws.

(Two climbs, one allowed per round, would have gotten him out of the hole. First climb roll passed, second failed, third passed. Round one damage: -1 hit point. Round two: -4 hit points. Round three: -3 hit points. After emerging from the hole, one round of flight would have out him in the clear, but round four damage was too much for him: -2 hit points. Peter fell into unconsciousness and was unable to defend himself against the black mass. Peter has died. Continuity picks up in "Guests on Frederick's Street", and action continues in ”Unheimliche”.)

Friday, May 1, 2009

On Life in the Arcade

By no means did Peter feel that the time was dragging. No, nothing like that – the time was whipping him more like, for his attention could only dwell on its passing for a short period before it was distracted by some sound or sight. Over the course of another hour or more his awareness of the library's contents had grown more and more acute. The great canyon or cavern, he had come to realize, was populated. The Librarian was there and was, probably, a living thing. The same could have been said of the domed molester.

A few of the visible artifacts seemed to have been once-living creatures, preserved specimens perhaps. Peter wondered if there were organic components to some of the devices he saw, or if perhaps what appeared to be a biological specimen could possibly be another tool for storing data. What was the human brain if not that? It was not inconceivable (not at this point, in this place) that what seemed to Peter to be a worm in a jar might have been someone's phonograph.

He had not yet seen anything quite like a living specimen, however – the closest he had come to that had been twenty minutes before, when he and the Librarian had passed by a lower level shelf apartment which had apparently been filled with a giant aquarium. All that remained was jagged sections of glass, as tall as Peter, jutting up from a metal and plastic frame that had been set into the compartment itself. Inside, there looked like there was still about a foot of greenish water standing. In their path, away from the shelf (which Peter had little interest in exploring further), lay a brown, segmented, flatworm-like creature. After a moment of thought, Peter identified it to his satisfaction as some kind of finless, armoured fish. He did not have much time to inspect the throwback – he had heard of the body impressions of such creatures found in the cliffs of Dover – before it disappeared under the Librarian's cloak. There was a brief sucking sound, an expansion and deflation as before, and nothing left of the fish but a trail of pungent smelling moisture in the Librarian's wake. What the aquarium had demonstrated was that there were both living things held captive here, and that there were, perhaps, forces or beings here with the will, possibly the need, to devour them.

There were other creatures, Peter knew, though he had not seen them. There had been the squeaking noises which he had first detected at his entrance to the gallery, and which periodically resurfaced in sudden waves of chatter that quickly faded into a few stray squeaks and then silence. There had been other noises, too, from somewhere in the orange glow above, long, solitary whistles. He had thought he had heard the flapping of wings as well.

But, yes, the question could be asked – and what else would Peter do as he followed his loathsome guide at distance – were these things living? Surely they moved, uttered foul noises, and at least one of them ate or performed some function analogous to it, but were they alive as animals and plants?

The spaces between shelves were on the scale of highway intersections. Burdened by the certainty that he and his guide were not alone in this arcade of relics, Peter found passing through these intersections a dreadful experience: he felt terribly exposed.

The Librarian had come to a stop, right in the middle of some hundredth intersection like this. It abruptly leaned leftward, into the space between two of the edifices. There was a smacking sound from somewhere underneath the cloak and, as if following a scent, it set off in that direction with no hesitation.

Encouraged by the prospect of coming to the end of his journey, Peter followed.

The Librarian was moving more quickly than usual, and Peter began to jog to keep up. "Is it this way?" he called ahead, halfway to the canyon wall. His shout was thrown back at him, "This way!"

The ground rumbled. Peter felt and heard a long-wave humming. Ahead of him the Librarian seemed shorter for a moment – no, it was descending – there was an opening in the floor, a square, man-sized portal, cut right from the floor with no embellishments. His guide disappeared down the shaft.

(Peter failed a sanity check for the progressive strain of being in the arcade: -1 sanity.)