This collection of short stories is dedicated to my darling daughter Aerona, who is and shall always be my inspiration and drive to succeed.
“We find the defendant, Kyle Brann, guilty, your honor.”
Just one word and my life was finished. I had been sentenced to expulsion from the Grand City of Alexandra, exiled to live in the wastes beyond the walls. No one survived outside of the cities.
If the hunger and thirst didn’t get you, the Creatures surely would, and that was a death no one deserved; especially not me.
As the soldiers marched up to the stand in the courtroom, the crowd cheered, their shrill cries for “justice” lost in the meaningless of the trial. They had sentenced a man to death because he had eaten a steak meant for a “noble”. To make it worse, I had not stolen it. The steak had fallen on the floor, and I had waited to see if the maid would pick it up. She did not, so I took it.
But a tinker from the Lower City is not permitted to partake in the fineries of life on the Plates.
Ah, the Plates; the artificial floors that sustain the sanctuary and subjectivity of the so called “Grand City”. To think I have spent my life repairing the pillars that hold those damnable metal discs in place.
Three discs, each one slightly smaller than the next, holding the lives of those of a higher stature than myself. I should have let the pillars buckle. Then they would have seen how important we “lower scum” truly are to their lives.
But none of that mattered anymore. Within a few short hours I would be given a backpack with some bread and cheese, and taken to the Northern Gate of the Lower City.
The soldiers wrapped the hands around my arms, pulling so hard that they dragged my body across the courtroom and out through an ornate oak door.
Even the courtrooms and confinement hallways seemed luxurious on the Plates when compared to the squalor we live in down in the Lower City. You see, the Lower City is called that because it is exactly what it is.
The Plates were built above the ruins of a city from the Old World known that was apparently called London. The Lower City, however, is made up a section of the ruins that has been walled off from the outside world.
The sunlight barely makes its presence known to us, as the wall and the Plates above block its light, leaving us to live in perpetual darkness. On top of that, all the factories used to make the automatons for those on the Plates are in the Lower City.
Imagine breathing in all of the smoke, grime and dust created from those wood and coal burning stoves on a regular basis. Then imagine going to sleep in a building that is all but collapsed, probably with little to no roof. The streets are often laced with the sewage from the Plates, and disease is rampant.
The more I thought on it, the more I am started to believe exile might actually be the better option. In a sense, that was correct, but only in a sense.
The sun was setting on my sixth day of exile, and I was already starting to feel the hunger. My bread was stale, and I had already finished the measly portion of cheese I was given.
They had told me that my portion was quartered because of the fine steak I had eaten. Apparently, that steak was supposed to keep me from being hungry from months, as far as they were concerned. Those people have no care for anyone but themselves.
I shuffled my way along the streets of the Old World, moving further away from Alexandra with every step. But it would dark soon, so I needed a safe place to spend the night. I had been lucky so far; I had not seen a single Creature. However, you never know when they will appear.
Each house I walked passed was a wreck, blasted into near-nothingness by The Fire that consumed the Old World. Shells of old vehicles lay strewn across the ground, and an eerie silence filled the air. It was nothing like the Lower City.
In the Lower City there had been light from the oil lamps, the constant bustle of life and the music from the brothels. Out in the wastes, there was only emptiness.
After walking for another hour or so, I came upon a large vehicle carrying a metal container. Deciding it would be my best chance, I slowly twisted the handle on the back of the container, and the door creaked open, revealing a large, empty void. I stepped in, and placed my backpack on the ground to use as a pillow before closing the door again, feeling lucky that there was a handle and a lock on the inside.
I was awoken by a clicking sound outside of the container. It was close, but I could not tell exactly how close. I lay still, not wanting to make a sound.
That clicking noise was the way the Creatures communicated with one another. It was the same as you or I speaking to a friend. They had not realized I was there, and I wanted it to remain that way.
Footsteps became audible; moving passed the side of the container before they were overcome by the sound of scraping metal. One of the Creatures was running its hands across the container. I gasped, before catching my breath again. Then came more footsteps; hundreds of them.
Creatures always travel and hunt in packs; the boffins on the Plates thought it was some residual sense of community from their lost humanity. This pack had me surrounded, until a scream echoed all around me.
The Creatures had been hunting someone, but it was not me. The scream, distinctly deep in pitch, had come from the North, further down the road than I was. I could hear as the Creatures scrambled over the container, the banging drilling into my ears as they screamed their hunting cries.
There have been many attempts at defining the Creatures, with the most commonly accepted being based upon the “zombies” in the stories of the Old World.
However, I never could accept that idea. These Creatures were not dead. They hungered for flesh, true, but they were not mindless husks stumbling around. These were intelligent predators that ran at the speed of a velocycle and leaped and climbed off obstacles. And now, they were speeding away from my container and toward whoever it was that was stupid enough to scream. I was safe once again, but I knew that I would need to find a weapon sooner or later.
The hours passed very slowly that night. I was not able to sleep again after my close encounter. Instead, I had sat awake in the pitch black, listening for any signs of the Creatures’ return.
Finally, the sunlight crept through the gaps around the doors of the container. The Creatures do not like sunlight; it seems to cause great pain for their eyes, so I knew I was safe now. I picked up my backpack, and stepped out of the container. For a few moments the bright light outside blinded me, but after my eyes adjusted, I decided to head North.
I had heard two gunshots before the dying screams of the man the Creatures hunted. Perhaps his weapon was still with him, or whatever was left of him.
I had never thought I would be picking corpses for supplies, but there was I, planning to loot a dead man for his weapon and any food he had. It is funny what the thought of death does to your moral code. I closed the container, looking around for a landmark so that I could find it again later in the day. There was a statue that was missing its left arm and head; that was memorable enough. I caught my breath again, and started North.
His remains lay in the middle of a crossroads, on the bonnet of a black vehicle with “taxi” written on it. I took his goggles, his ragged mantle and his pistol, before opening his bag to look for food and ammunition.
Inside were tins of various different fruit and meat, and a single box of bullets; far better than nothing.
I stood up, and gazed upon the man, giving a silent prayer that he find peace now and thanking him for the supplies. No human should have to go out like this; no one.
Turning around to leave, my foot banged into something on the floor; an engine crank. The poor man must have been trying to get back to his vehicle. I scanned the area, catching sight of a velocycle amongst the burnt out cars of the Old World. I was lucky that day.
The wind rushed past my hair. I had been travelling for about three hours, and Alexandra was a distant memory. The velocycle trundled along, the steam escaping its exhaust warming the air around me.
I was still heading north, deciding that it would be best to try and find some far out town or village. I would have preferred to leave the Alexandria Empire’s lands entirely, but that would take months of travelling, even with a velocycle.
So, I headed north, following the roads of the Old World as they twisted and turned along the ravaged wasteland the world had become.
I had heard the scholars on the Plates talking about how this land was once covered in greenery, with forests and animals in abundance. Now, it was closer to a desert, with the odd tree still holding onto life.
The Fire had consumed all of the beauty this land once held.
I pulled off the road and turned down a trail toward a lake to filling up the water tank on the velocycle. I glanced around and could not see or hear anyone or anything, so I decided now would be a good time to take a bath.
I moved the velocycle to a cave nearby to keep it out of sight, and took of my clothes, strolling into the lake with them in my hand.
Whilst washing myself and my clothes, I heard the sound of engines getting closer. I rushed back to the cave, throwing my clothes back on and taking the pistol out of my backpack.
The engines were roaring over and over, as if they were speeding up and then slowing down again. As they got closer, I could hear laughter, and cries for help. From my cave, I saw a young girl running, screaming, whilst a group of men on velocycles and driving a steamcar surrounded her. Their hair was ragged, their skin dirty, and the look in their eyes horrifying.
They laughed as they threw the girl to the ground, shouting about it being their lucky day. It was the most vile display I had ever seen, and I could not stand to watch anymore.
I moved backwards so that my velocycle lay between myself and the men, and aimed my pistol. I had wanted to keep the ammunition for the Creatures, but this was too much.
My first shot hit the large, fat man who was holding the girl down in the arm. Not a great start, but it got him off of her at least. The others noticed me then, and all drew their own guns. Perhaps this had been a bad idea after all.
Bullets began to rip through the air, and through my velocycle, as gunshot after gunshot rang out. My cover was working well, aided by the darkness of the cave.
Finally I managed to land a shot, hitting one of the men in head. As he fell, my luck continued and his gun went off, shooting another of the men in the face. That left only three, one of whom was already wounded.
I continued to shoot, my bullets quickly getting low as I reloaded a third time. The men moved closer, running forward then dropping to the ground to make it harder to aim at them. Over and over, they did the same thing, until they were almost at the cave.
One leapt up, running directly toward me, jumping onto the velocycle. Thankfully, I managed to get a shot off before he did. As he fell, I grabbed the knife in his belt and prepared myself.
Until that day, I had never killed another man. By the end of the day, I had shot three, stabbed another multiple times and cut the throat of the last after he had launched himself onto me. With the men dead, I walked out of my cave toward the girl, who looked at my eyes before bursting into tears.
She was far too exhausted from running to get anywhere safe that night, but I knew she had to have come from somewhere. I helped her up and walked her to the cave, giving her my backpack to rest her head on.
Using the steamcar the men had come in, I blocked the front of the cave so that we could spend the night there, as safe as possible.
The next day, I awoke before the girl so I gathered some wood and started a fire, boiling some water so that I could cook the tinned pasta I had collected from the dead man near Alexandra. Whilst I was focusing on the food, she stirred.
“Good morning,” I said, trying not to sound like I was being sarcastic. She rubbed her eyes and looked up at me, her hair flopping across the soft skin of her face, the brown color complemented by the dress she wore.
“Good morning, sir,” she sputtered out nervously. “Thank you for helping me. My name is Clarice.”
“And mine is Kyle.”
“I am most fortunate you were here, Mister Kyle-“
“Please, just Kyle.”
“Very well,” she said with a slight smile on her face. “I am most fortunate you were here, Kyle, but why were you in this cave?”
I chuckled a bit when she asked that, wanting to find an excuse that did not seem as pathetic as the truth, but I could not.
“I was having a bath in the lake.”
“Having a bath? Good god, do you not live near enough to have a real bath?”
I paused, not wanting to let her know that I had been exiled.
“I do not have a home anymore,” I said.
“No home?” She looked at me in utter confusion, her bright green eyes driving their way into mine. “Well anyway, you have helped me more than I can ever say, so I will not allow you to bath in a lake. You will come back to Burgh with me.”
And so I did. I could not refuse the offer of a real bath from such a lady, although, to be honest, I was more interested in just reaching a town.
It took us an hour’s walk to get to Burgh. We had to abandon my velocycle due to the amount of bullet holes in the water tank. As we came over a hill, I saw a wall made of wood and steel, and knew that I had found somewhere safe.
A guard stood atop the metal gate, and signaled for the gate to be opened when he saw Clarice. Apparently, they had been searching for her when she had not returned from her walk.
She explained what had happened, and I was instantly invited into the town, with handshakes and hugs being forced upon me.
The town itself was built in a circle, with a well in the middle. The houses were covered in steel and iron, with steam pouring out of the engines chugging along to keep the homes warm. A man sat on his porch, screwdriver in hand, tightening the fixtures of a pocket watch whilst a group of young boys were piecing together an automaton from scrap metal. Burgh was a tinker’s town.
I traipsed through the mud to the well in the middle so that I could get a better look at the town. Sheep were being herded around by farmer’s and their sons, crops and flowers were being tended too and machinery was undergoing maintenance.
“So, this is the man?”
The hoarse voice caught me off guard. I span around quickly to see a well-built man with the thickest beard I had ever seen standing before me.
“Yes, papa,” said Clarice. “This is he.”
“I heard what happened, young man, and I owe you a debt of gratitude. Tonight, you will dine with us, and stay as a guest at my house.”
Dinner that night was beyond compare. Perhaps it was because I had not eaten properly for a few days, or perhaps it really was the best cooked lamb steak I had ever eaten; either way, I wish I had accepted the offer for seconds. If I had known that I would not taste a meal cooked by Clarice again, I probably would have.
But then again, no one could have imaging what happened that night.
I sat down with Clarice and her father, Michael, for an evening of homemade ale. Their house, although small, felt homely. A fireplace in the main room illuminated the whole building, the light reflecting off of a number of paintings on the brown walls.
It seems like I had found a place I would want to stay. Sadly, my luck had run out. The ground shook violently.
Within seconds, the peaceful evening tranquility had been replaced by the manic songs of chaos and panic. Michael and I jumped to our feet and ran outside to see what was happening. When I looked out, into the darkness, I could not believe what I was seeing.
Velocycles and steam-cars had smashed down part of the wall, with men jumping out of them with guns blazing. Just outside the town was a larger vehicle, its cabin tall and its trailer long. It had eighteen wheels holding it up, with a motorized catapult on the trailer. It was launching debris into the town.
Michael pushed me out of the way as a piece of shrapnel fell where I had stood. Musket and pistol fire echoed in the dusk as pieces of metal crashed into the ground around Burgh. Then, from outside the wall, the clicking and the screaming came.
The attack had drawn the attention of the Creatures, who were now climbing over the wall, desperate to feast.
Michael pulled me into the house, slamming the door shut behind him. He ran over to a chest in the corner, flinging it open and pulling out a musket.
“Kyle, do not let those things get in here. Do not let them get Clarice.”
Before either myself or Clarice could say anything, Michael sped out of the house again, closing the door behind him.
Blood splattered over the windows in all directions, the screams of the townspeople ringing out like a chorus to the damned. Clarice was hyperventilating, and I sat there with my pistol pointing at the door. It burst open.
One of the Creatures stood in front of me. Its skin, like all of them, was burnt and peeling. However, its eyes were not. They were blue, and they were staring straight at me. It screamed and bent its legs, ready to leap. As it pushed off, a piece of shrapnel crushed its head. The catapult was still firing.
“Come on,” I shouted as I grabbed Clarice’s hand and pulled her to her feet. “We have to get out of here, now!”
We ran out of the house and into the battlefield. Bodies were flung through the air, whilst the Creatures toyed and played with their prey. The houses were stained red, and the ground covered with the dead. I pulled her again, and headed for the gate.
“Whilst the Creatures are in here, we can escape,” I shouted to Clarice. She froze.
Next to me foot was Michael’s head, but only his head. Clarice was shaking. I pulled, but she would not move. She just stood there for a few seconds before yelling out.
That had been her mistake. Her yell was loud enough that it was heard over the screams of the other townspeople, and that brought the Creatures. Five of them landed on her before I could react. I could not watch, so I ran, imagining what was happened to her as her screams turned into gurgles, and finally silence.
I could see the gate, and knew I could get there in time as long as the situation did not change. But of course, it did.
Over the top of gate, like a tidal wave, hundreds more of the Creatures poured into the town. The structure of the gate buckled under the weight, collapsing. A bullet flew past my head, hitting one of the creatures in the face.
I turned to see the attackers fighting the Creatures as well, their desire to assault the town quelled whilst there was a common enemy. But I knew there were too many of them.
Launching into a sprint, my feet squelched through the mud as I ran for cover, deciding that if I could get to one of the velocycles or steam-cars, I could probably get away. As I ran, I felt a sudden pain in my side and the next thing I knew, I was face down in the grass and mud.
I rolled over to see that I had been cut across the side by one of the Creatures who was now preparing to pounce. I fumbled around for my pistol, getting a hand on it just as the Creature leapt forward. The bullet hit its target, and the Creature came crashing down on top of me, taking the wind out of me. I watched as the people around me were ripped about, their cries burying their way into my brain. It had started to rain, but in the panic, I had not realized.
Rivers of rain and red flowed through the town as the Creatures feast. I heard a clicking to my right, and readied my pistol. The Creature was close, but had not noticed me yet. I slowly slid out from under the mutated body that had landed on me, and aimed carefully and quietly.
The pistol was empty. But the Creature had heard my movements and now turned to face me. Its eyes were bloodshot and its skin resembled a chicken left in to the oven too long. It skulked toward me, its arms swaying like pendulums but its eyes never leaving mine. I felt my chest tighten, wondering how quick death would be.
The Creature moved so close, its face almost touched mine. I could feel its breath as it moved around me, circling me. But it did not attack. It began to click again, but something was different this time; I could understand what it was trying to say. That was when I remembered the stories; “if they do not kill you, they take you.”
I had always imagined that the stories meant the Creatures take you away to eat later, but I was wrong. I knew that now.
I looked into the Creature’s eyes again, hollow and cold, knowing that mine would be the same soon enough. I had found my sanctuary outside of Alexandra.
“Come on, Benjamin! We are almost there.”
Doctor Marion Richardson called to her partner as she held up an oil lantern, the flame’s dance illuminating the dusty room. She brushed her hand across a metal table, cleaning the dust from a map of the tunnels they were exploring; the London Underground as it was called in the Old World.
“Sorry, m’lady. I am here.”
Benjamin, a resident of the Second Plate in the Grand City of Alexandra, was dressed in tattered overalls that certainly did not flatter his well kempt hair and fair skin. Marion, on the hand, wore a finely detailed ladies waist coat over a white blouse, with leather riding trousers and boots. She could not bear to dress in the awful clothes of peasants like Benjamin had.
“Good. You certainly took your time, did you not? What were you doing?”
“I heard a noise, m’lday, and went to investigate it. It was only a rat.”
“God forbid we should suffer those vile vermin to live,” she sputtered, before pointing to the map on the table. “We are to travel down the red tunnel. The scouts reported that the cave entrance was located on that route.”
They had come down from the Plates to investigate reports of a cave filled with technology from the Old World. If the claims were true, Marion would be able to take the technology back to her residence for study; she would be able to repair the damage to her social status by repairing the technology.
Her status had been forever scarred when her husband had publically admitted to an affair with one of the ilk from the Lower City. This was her chance to show that she was a far superior member of the Alexandrian Empire than her husband. This was her chance to be rich.
The pair forced open one of the metal blast doors that had been added to the tunnels during The Fire that burnt the Old World. Their oil lanterns shone bright, revealing the long, endless tunnel.
Silence prevailed underground, as did darkness. The only sounds were the footsteps of Marion and Benjamin, and a constant dripping.
Insects crawled out from cracks in the wall whilst water dripped from the ceilings. The tunnel had been left to complete disrepair; the Empire had declared them useless and barricaded them. The only reason Marion had been able to access the tunnels was because the scouts she had hired had dig a vertical hole and used a single person elevator to get down.
“M’lady, are you sure you know where you are going?”
“Are you questioning me?”
“No m’lady. Never! I just feel that it is easy to get misdirected in this darkness.”
“Cease your cowardice and moaning. We are perfectly safe down here.”
The pair followed the tunnel as is twisted and turned, stepping over rubble and debris left from the earthquakes during The Fire. After a long few minutes, they came to a gaping hole in the side of the tunnel.
“This is it,” Marion declared. She peered into the hole to see that a cave stretched off into the darkness, heading downward. Her prize was so close, she could almost hear the cheers she would get from the other members of the aristocracy.
She stepped forward, Benjamin following behind, and walked through the cave. It did not take long before the cave opened up, revealing a large cavern filled with metal boxes and crates. The scouts had been right and now the salvage belonged to Marion. A smirk crept onto her face as she imagined the expressions those who had mocked her would wear.
“Benjamin! Open that crate,” she demanded whilst pointing to the largest metal crate in the room, sitting right in the center.
Benjamin approached the crate careful, glancing around constantly.
“Hurry up, you fool!”
Marion watched as Benjamin flicked open the latches on the crate. The sound echoed through the cavern.
“Now the next one! Come on! Hurry up!”
Marion was getting agitated now, but Benjamin did not move. Instead, he stayed still whilst glancing around with his eyes.
“M’lady, do you hear that?”
“Of course! An echo is to be expected down here.”
“Yes, m’lady, but an echo fades.”
A shiver took over Marion as Benjamin spoke. He was right. The clicking had not faded. In fact, it had remained at precisely the same volume. Her hair stood on end; she could feel someone watching her.
A small stone tumbled down the side of the cavern having fallen out from one of the smaller holes. Then the clicking stopped, and the screaming began.
“Run, m’lady,” screamed Benjamin as on the Creatures crashed down on top of him. There was an almighty crack as his legs broke from the weight, and the Creature started to feed. The squelching sound was repulsive, but Marion found that she could not move. She just stared at the Creature as it gnawed through Benjamin’s lifeless body.
It did not take long for that meal to end, however, and as with all Creatures, this one was not satisfied. It turned toward Marion, still screaming its war cry. She was shaking, knowing she had to run. She flung herself around toward the cave and sprinted. The Creature followed, its scream echoing in the tunnels and her ears.
There was no chance she could outrun a Creature; no one can. The Creatures’ mutation allows them to run almost the same speed as a velocycle. However, she had to try.
The Creature was closing in, and she heard when its feet pushed off from the ground. Marion dived to the ground and the Creature flew overhead, crashing into the wall. Marion shot up to her feet and continued down the tunnel, using the Creature’s daze to her advantage. Reaching the tunnel again, she froze as her lantern’s oil ran out and the flame flickered away.
How am I going to see? She was shaking again now, knowing that the Creature would be coming for her soon. She moved to the side of the hole in the tunnel and sat down against the wall. If there is no light, perhaps the Creature will not see me either? She breathed deeply so that she could hold as much air in her lungs as possible, whilst picking up a rock that lay next to her.
Hurried footsteps began to come closer, the sound billowing out of the cave. The Creature was coming. The screams grew louder and louder until finally Marion could feel the Creature next to her.
It stopped screaming, and returned to its normal clicking sound as its footsteps faced forward. She could hear it running its hands across the wall on the other side of the tunnel. It knew that the tunnel went in a different direction to the cave. Marion kept still and quiet.
The Creature was moving back and forth, judging by the sound of its footsteps. It had not left the area, so Marion knew she had to draw it away. She launched the rock from her hand, down the tunnel as far as she could. It crashed down on the ground a fair distance away, the sound instantly catching the Creature’s attention.
The footsteps sped off down the tunnel; the Creature’s clicking turned to screams once again. Once the screams were far enough away, Marion let out her breath. I have to reach the elevator.
The dream of bringing the salvaged technology back with her would have to wait until she could return with armed guards. For now, she had to get out of the tunnels; she could not improve her standing if she were dead.
Marion slowly rose to her feet, trying to make as little noise as possible. She picked up another rock before carefully heading in the opposite direction to the Creature. This was the way I came, she thought to herself as she retracted her steps as best she could in the darkness. I really wish I could see where I was going.
Marion stopped in her tracks. She was being so absent minded; she could see where she was going! She reached into her pocket and pulled out the locket her “darling” husband had given her. It was a delightful piece that had a small lightbulb that was powered by gears. He had bought it from a tinker on the First Plate, who had told him that the gears would work when it is shaken from the carrier walking.
The tinker had referred to it as a “pocket lantern”.
Marion pressed the brass button on the top of the locket, and a flap opened revealing a steady stream of light. She breathed a sigh of relief, but it was cut short when she heard the screams behind her coming closer once again. The light allowed her to see, but also allowed the Creature to see her.
Marion looked ahead of her, noting that the tunnel bent to the right and that there were three large pieces of rock along the way, before turning off the light. She would have to use the light sparingly, using the darkness to hide.
She ran forward, her left arm held out to find the first rock. As soon as she felt it, Marion dived behind it and stayed still. The Creature rushed passed, now between her and the path to the elevator. Marion pressed herself against the side of the tunnel, her body bent with the curve of the wall, and slowly shuffled herself across it, heading both in the general director of the elevator, and the direction of the Creature.
She could hear the clicking moving around. The Creature was searching for her. I have to be quiet. She slid herself across the wall again, but found that the wall ended and she fell backward, landing on the floor with a bang. The Creature turned.
Marion fumbled for her locket and turned on the light, seeing that she had fallen into a crevice with a blast door behind her. She scurried to the handle, turning it to unlock the door and jumped inside, locking it behind her as the Creature smashed into it.
Trapped. She could no longer go out through that door, as the Creature continued to smash into it. Using the light from her locket, she looked around the room, noting a large steam engine. It was in suspiciously good condition. Various pipes and cables came from it, disappearing into holes in the wall. On the front of the engine there was a brass control panel with three switches; light, doors and cages.
As the Creature continued to bang on the blast door, Marion moved around the room, away from the engine, and spotted a table with documents and a bound book sitting atop. She picked up one of the document, which had faded a great deal.
Trial number one: failed. Only those four words were still legible, so she turned her attention to the book. The bind itself was just string, and came off with ease; the book was definitely not meant to be hidden and protected. However, being bound with a leather outer sleeve, the writing inside had survived.
This diary belongs to Lord Daniel Merriweather. Marion gasped. Daniel had been her mentor during her time studying the Old World’s texts. He had fallen from grace with the Empire after it was found he was helping men from the Lower City reach the Plates, disobeying the Law of Status. Marion turned to a random page of the book.
Day 34. Charles managed to bring another subject today. I do not know how he manages to trap the Creatures, but I am most grateful that he can.
I am sure we are making progress now. Test subject 17 seems to be regaining cognitive understanding. Teaching these Creatures is very similar to the act of dog training. Now that 17 understands what to do when I tell him to “sit”, it is only a matter of time before I am able to teaching him how to serve a tray of food, or clean or room.
This will be my salvation. They will have to forgive me when they see this. I will have my life back.
Marion dropped the book on the floor and stepped backwards, almost losing her balance. Daniel had been collecting and experimenting on the Creatures in an attempt to win back favor and status. Marion looked down at her hands, covered in dust, and now permanently stained with the blood of Benjamin. He had died because of her. She was the same as Daniel.
The blast door began to bend slightly, the Creature still smashing into it over and over in a blind rage. Where are the rest of them?
Marion walked back over to the engine, paused for a moment, them flicked the switch marked “cages”.
Nothing happened. The engine, whilst in good condition, had no fuel to burn. How could you do this Daniel? How could you put the entire of Alexandra in danger by gathering those things right beneath the city?
The banging continued. Marion looked around and saw another blast door, moving swiftly over to it and going through. She found herself on a platform standing over a large room. Her eyes widened as she noticed the overwhelming clicking.
There must have been at least a hundred of the Creatures, all packed into one room. She looked around the platform she stood on, and noticed a body slumped against the wall, a pistol in its hand. It was Daniel, long since dead. In his hand was a letter.
To whomever finds this,
I have failed. I had hoped to domesticate the Creatures in the same way the people of the Old World domesticated wolves and lions. I wanted to turn our greatest predator into our greatest ally. But I failed.
Number 17, my pride and joy, had tricked me. These Creatures are not the mindless beings we think they are. They are smart. They communicate with each other. They play games with their prey, making them feel they are safe, but leading them into a trap.
Number 17 tricked me. I thought he was listening to my commands, but instead, he had been watching me. He knew which switch let the others out, and he threw it.
Now they are all free, running around the tunnels.
I have already used dynamite to cause cave ins at the different exists from the tunnels, so that should hopefully keep them from getting into the city.
I am so sorry for what I have done. Forgive me.
Marion torn up the letter and threw it onto Daniel’s body before picking up his pistol. There was a ladder leading upwards next to him, so she climbed, knowing it was the only way forward.
She found herself in another room, and made her way out to the tunnel. She needed to head north, so she turned left and turned on the light from her locket. The tunnel was empty, so she ran, hoping to reach a way down to the tunnel with the elevator.
How can I condemn you, Daniel, when I came down here for the same reason? She followed the tunnel around a corner, reaching on of the Old World’s stations. There were metal stairs heading down. Is this who we have become? People who put our status before the very lives of everyone else?
Marion descended the stairs, looking down the tunnel to see if the Creature was there; she could not see it. How can we live like this?
She ran through the darkness of the tunnels, back towards the elevator, the thought of scavenging the technology of the Old World a distant memory.
Benjamin, I am so sorry. Please forgive me. She was getting close to the elevator now. She followed the tunnel around another corner, only to be greeted by the Creature that had been banging on the door.
Enough of you. I will not suffer you to live! Marion opened fire, hitting the Creature in the chest five times. It screamed and ran toward her. She turned off the light from the locket and dived to the left, hearing the Creature pass through the air beside her and roll across the ground.
She leapt up again, switched on the light, and fired three more shots at the Creature, watching as its screams began to weaken until it finally fell silent.
Do not worry, the risk of your kind that have been given residence beneath us will join you soon enough.
Marion walked down the corridor to the elevator. She threw the pistol on the ground and gave a sigh of relief as she pressed the button to raise the elevator.
I will inform the city guards of this. Those things need to be removed.
The light of the Lower City’s gas lamps began to find its way to her eyes as the elevator creaked and climbed out of the tunnels. As she reached the back alley where her “scavenger hunt” had begun, she paused for a second.
Goodbye Benjamin. You were a dear friend.
She stepped forward into the dusk and smog of the Lower City as horse drawn carts rolled along the streets and starving people in ragged clothes shuffled to work.
These people, they have no idea how much danger they are in, and no one on the Plates will care.
Marion shook her head. We are a disgusting, selfish people. She looked at herself in the reflection of a shop window, and tore off her waistcoat. No more. She opened to door to the shop, stepped inside and walked over to the shop keeper. Wiping the dust and dirt from her face on the sleeve of her blouse, she smiled at the aging man.
“Do you have any openings? I am new in town.”
I refuse to live like those on the Plates. I refuse to put status before life.
Lena sighed heavily. Another room and another dead end. Darkness would fall soon and a dusk blanketed the burnt out husk of a house as she carefully stepped over the ash and shattered glass. As she reached the gap that would have once been a doorway, she noticed something sparkle amongst the rubble on the floor; a silver locket with a pair of lions engraved on the front casing.
“Oh wow! This should sell for a pretty penny!”
As she picked it up and ran her fingers across the rim, she found a button and pressed it. The locket burst open, revealing a faded picture of a young girl in a red dress and a man in a suit and tie next to her.
“Well, whoever this is, I doubt they will need it anymore…”
Lena stuffed the locket into her vest pouch, wiped the dust of her goggles, and headed out of the house. Outside, the street was in shambles, with the roads cracked and split, vehicles of the Old World now lying still, dead memories of a world that once was. The sun was setting, and the cold evening air send a chill down Lena’s spine as she hurried over to her velocycle, cranking the handle to start up the Evap-Engine. Another chill came over her, and she paused. It wasn’t the cold. Something was watching her.
That was when she heard it. That subtle clicking that every scavenger fears. How long had it been going on? How long had she not noticed it?
She began to crank the handle of the velocycle faster and faster, but it was too late. The clicking turned into a howl, echoing throughout the ruins, piercing her ears; they were here.
“Where is she?”
Karl paced back and forth through the smog, guided by the dancing flames of the oil lamps he stood between, his backpack banging against him with every step.
Along the rubble and cobblestone a cart trundled past and two ladies stumbled down the street, their faces battered.
“I guess they got the bad clients tonight.”
He took a step forward, toward the two ladies, before stopping and stepping back once again. He didn’t have time to help them tonight. What if Lena came back and he wasn’t there? After all, he was the one with the fence, and they both really need to get some more coin.
The velocycle sped along the remains of the tarmac, darting passed the wreckage of a bus. Lena looked back; something a scavenger should never do. The Creatures poured over the bus, their screams loud enough to make your ears bleed. They clawed at one another as they leaped along the street after their prey. They were so close now, Lena could see the skin peeling from their bodies as they chased her.
She had to do something. If they got too close, she didn’t have anything to stop them. She could probably handle a few, but it looks like there were a few dozen behind her, all wanting to feast on her flesh.
She slid the velocycle around a corner, the force of the turn almost throwing her off the vehicle. As she steadied herself, she pulled out her pistol. It was a custom built model that she had made by combining an old revolver with a drilled out harmonica. She fired, the bullets flying wildly through the air. She never was a very good aim.
Karl slid open the viewing hatch in Alexandra’s outer wall, the steel and rubble construct built to keep the Creatures out of the city. It was pitch black outside, the glow of the Lower City’s oil lamps contained within the circular wall.
“You’re late, Lena. What’s going on? Where are you?”
One good thing about being a scavenger and living in Alexandra; it’s impossible to get lost went going home. The upper plates of the city were always illuminated against the dark. Even now, she could see the light from the Palace on the Upper Plate, which meant she was close. But so were the creatures. She could almost feel them breathing down her neck.
She took a left, just as sharply as before, turning onto the straight that lead back to Alexandra’s Lower City gate. Just a few more minutes. That was all she needed.
A light came into view, getting closer with each second. Karl knew it was Lena, but she seemed to be coming too fast. Suddenly, he heard the screams. The Creatures were after her. He threw his backpack on the ground, rummaging around in it frantically. He had to do something. Taking out a collection of metallic objects, he began to click them all together.
“This better work!”
He hadn’t even had time to test his new design for a bolt rifle, but it was the only option he had. Karl pointed the barrel through the hatch in the wall, resting the back of the rifle on his shoulder. He poured the gunpowder from his pouch into the gunpowder tank, and threaded the belt of nails into its slot.
Looking down the barrel, he could see the puffs of steam coming from Lena’s velocycle. She was almost in range, but the Creatures were right on her tail. She needed to get a little closer.
Lena pulled on the throttle, trying to get as much power from the Evap-Engine as she could. The Creatures were right behind her, flowing over one another like a tidal wave. But she could see the gate, and the gatekeeper could definitely see her. But the gatekeeper was a notorious coward. Would he actually open the gate to let her in with the Creatures behind her? She had to try.
She leaned forward, trying to get more speed. The gate was getting so close now, she could actually see the rust on it. She looked back to see how close the Creatures were, just in time to see one launch itself directly at her.
Something shot past her head, and the Creature flew backwards, landing in the swarm behind it. Lena turned her head back toward the gate as more nails flew past her, one after another. She pressed the lever on her goggles to bring the magnifying lens down, and could see Karl through one of the hatches in the wall.
More nails cut through the air, taking down the Creatures behind her as the gate began to open. The darkness of the night burnt as the light from Alexandra’s street lamps forced its way out. She could hear the Creatures crying in pain right behind her ears as the nails tore through their bodies, and she tore through the gate. The whirling of the gate’s engines filled her ears as the steel construct closed, a few dead bodies of the Creatures crashing onto the cobblestone ground whilst the rest smashed into the wall.
Lena turned off the engine of the velocycle and breathed a sigh of relief. She looked up to see Karl walking over to her, his bolt rifle slung over his shoulder.
“That was close,” he said as he smiled at her. “I hope you got something worth all those nails.”
“Does your man like silver?”
“Of course,” replied Karl. “Everyone likes silver.”
“Then I’ve definitely got something. Come on, let’s go get our coin.”
The Creature Collection is a free ebook that contains three short steampunk horror stories, introducing the Creatures of Gareth Torrance's steampunk world. Each story expands on part of the history of the Creatures, whilst also showcasing how violent and dangerous these once-human hunting machines have become. Exile tells the story of a man who is banished from the city of Alexandra to live outside the walls, in the wasteland. He searches for a new home, whilst having to deal with the Creatures and the vile side of mankind. Scavenge follows a noble woman trying to find relics of the Old World in order to regain her status, before coming face to face with monsters both inside and out. Salvage, the shortest of the three, shows how the Creatures hunt, as you join a young girl from Lower City trying to flee a pack of them. These stories help to expand the world of Rhythlan, Gareth Torrance's steampunk "world after ours". Look forward to more free short story ebooks on different aspects of Rhythlan in the future!