Author Topic: At the Door - Excerpt (<2000 Words) [Content: Some Graphic/Horror Violence]  (Read 1544 times)

Offline WillYum

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Hello there, I haven't posted in a while but I did kick around in the poetry review section for a little while. Getting to the point, I've written a short story which has not been particularly polished or anything. I just rattled it off yesterday evening and thought I would share and maybe look for a little constructive criticism. I'm not going to make the claim that it's great or even good, but it's my first time writing something that falls into the Weird Fiction genre. I hope you enjoy, and without further ado:

At The Door

Our footfalls echoed off the cobbles in the darkness and joined the far off noises of that sordid place. Such noises came from that gloom before us, speaking of wet and woe and eyeless terrors lying in wait just beyond the bend, intent to set upon us. The tunnel stretched onward, before and behind us, with naught a light to see beyond the faint and feeble shedding of our lanterns. Such darkness has never since set upon my eyes, and I can only hope beyond all hope that I shall never see the like of it again. None spoke, for we were terrified, it would not have taken some beast to smell the fear even above the filth and dank of that once forsaken place. We were five in all, myself included, yet in that place five felt so woefully few for the task.  Where my companions grasped to hilt or hand-cannon, I could but hold close this dusty tome and lift my lamp aloft as we pressed on to the expedition’s end. The air was thick, and the darkness fell upon our meager light such that the structure seemed to press in about us. As the journey grew longer our party huddled closer, but this did not ease our discontent. Margaux drew yet closer to me, and though I’d grown so fond of her she could not numb the abject dread which had begun to scratch and gnaw at the back of my mind. I could not turn back, as much as I longed to, for I could not return empty handed to The Marquis. Nor could my escorts afford to turn back, for their payment was pending in kind.

The flickering of the lanterns played upon dormant stone walls casting our strange and austere silhouettes upon them, but a vacuous space always remained above us. The light would never touch the strangely unsettling height of the arched ceilings which seemed at odds with the narrowness of the passage itself. I found my eyes drawn to the darkness, despite the trepidation which it inspired. Just as I began to lose myself in it, a new and strange noise sounded from ahead of us. It was low and quiet, barely audible even over our timid footsteps. At first I could not tell what it was but it made my blood run cold nonetheless. As we moved onward it only grew more clear: a labored, fell and rasping noise vexatious to the ears, like a creature only half alive. The others stepped in front of me, and Victor set a faster pace to find the source. We walked on a long time, although it was impossible to say just how long it had been, before we finally came upon it. Before us sat something which was difficult to call a man. It was desiccated like a corpse, wrapped in tatters and squatting in its own filth. It continued to make those wretched noises as we approached, and its stench was so overpowering that I very nearly made sick. Wrapping a kerchief about my face I turned to look at the creature before us. The others looked on, crestfallen, dispirited, and disgusted in equal measure at such a site. Still its utterances continued unabated as its chest rose and fell below our lamplight, pale paper flesh pulled and stretched over the bones in such appalling fashion. It was then that I realized what the noise was: the laughter of an unsound mind yet deformed by an unsound body.
The wretch looked up at me with the blind and clouded eyes of ages and said “Why look at you, ye who wander so readily into the dark…” The laughter returned for but a moment as more of a cackle, and he continued “What did you hope to find here, ye who follow in the footsteps of those who came before? You always follow the passage, always inwards, always downwards, always searching and for what? do you not wonder why none of the tracks lead back from whence you came?” He did not blink, and began to laugh once more. For the life of me I could not tear my eyes from his sightless gaze. “You will not like what there is to be found. Even now you are lifting the veil, only slowly now, but faster soon, always faster. you won’t be able to help yourself.” Here he cracked a certain semblance of a smile before continuing “And I’m afraid you will not like what lies behind it. How cruel it is to sing so swee-“

A pistol-shot cut through the final words snapping the wretch’s head back against the wall, painting it with blood and grey matter. The sound had been deafening in such an enclosed space. It resounded off the walls as my ears began to ring. Victor’s man, the portly one named Webb, stood there over the body a moment with wild eyes and mouth agape before dropping the sidearm and running back into the dark from whence we came. Victor shouted some muffled curses after the fool, but I could only half hear them as I clutched at my tortured ears. If nothing else, the sound had seemed to bring me back to my senses, back from the brink of what had felt like a vast ocean to be found in the clouded and pale eyes of the madman. There was no more of the “laughter,” no more far flung dripping noises and echoing footfalls, only the fast fading wailing of my ears. I looked around to Victor, to his man, and for Margaux, and I realized then that she was gone. On the floor behind me her lantern lay on its side, cracked glass and bent frame, extinguished and leaking its oil over the mossy cobbles. I called out to her, and no answer came, the ringing in my ears still fresh as I broke into a run. Past victor, now arguing with his other man, I pushed on deeper, further in, calling her name again and again. I could not simply leave her in such a dreadful place, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t do it out of love. I’d spent too many sleepless nights with her, and like some romantic fool I charged in to save her from the dark.

I ran on through the darkness, unarmed, unaided, not pausing to question where she might have gone, not stopping to gab with Victor. The darkness only grew closer, thicker, more oppressive, but I pressed on. The lanterns of my compatriots disappeared in the distance behind me and still I pressed on. I remember thinking to myself: how long have we been down here? How long will my lamp burn? I didn’t have the answers, but reckless and impetuous with youth I did not relent. It was then that the passage began to widen, and I began to slow. Soon the passage was wider than I could see, and my lantern cast an island of light about me. Without the walls to guide me, I had no way of telling whether I were even continuing straight any longer, yet I tried my best to stay the course. Squinting and peering in front of me, eventually the lantern’s light found a wall, a great slab of some unnaturally black stone. Immense, as wide as the bell tower of the Eldham Cathedral, with no telling how tall it might be. Suddenly the dread began to creep back into me, up my spine into the back of my mind once more in that now familiar gnawing fashion. As I reached out to touch the slab, that sensation intensified, yet I was powerless to stop myself, gazing up to the place where my lamplight ended and the darkness consumed the rough-hewn stone above me. Then, just as I thought I might lose myself once more in that darkness, I heard a muffled sound to my left. I called out for Margaux, but no answer came in kind. I walked along the wall in that direction, my right hand never leaving the stone. Then my hand caught a crack, stopping me at arms-length as my palm stayed pressed against the cool surface. Turning to look, I saw that the crack ran upwards, cleaving the slab in two. Finally prying myself from the wall, with great effort, I looked up to marvel once more. Soon a muffled laugh came from behind me and, turning quickly, I was not prepared for what I saw. There kneeled Margaux, atop a pile of human remains, a pile of countless skeletons and ancient corpses. Nearer the bottom pulverized bone sloughed from the pile under her weight, like a fine sand.

“Margaux!” I called to her, like an idiot child, “Come, we must go!” I said as though I had any say in the matter. Her face was twisted and contorted evoking both mania and terror, as though she were caught in some kind of tortuous rapture, her gaze transfixed to the dark schism above and behind him.

She laughed a laugh all too familiar and cried out to me, as if from faraway “Can you hear him? The voice from beyond the Door?” She laughed once more and I turned to look at the slab, and that’s when I saw it: a massive gate, the mountainous Door. “He sings such sweet musings,” she said, as I began to climb to her. “Can’t you hear Him?” she said, turning to look at me before returning to face the Door. It was then that I noticed the blood which poured from where her ears should have been. As I looked on she plucked her dagger from her belly and drew it across her neck. I halted, unable to avert my gaze as I watched her bleed above me, her blood anointing the fetid flesh and bleached bones upon which she perched. The twisted expression of her faces did not change, even as she fell forward, and was motionless. Tears stinging my eyes I could not force myself to look away. Behind me, some guttural sound erupted from the door, and the massive slabs grinded some small distance over the floor before falling silent once more.

I collected Margaux’s corpse as the light from my lantern began to flicker and die. As I touched her corpse my mind began to reel, as it did when I touched the Doorway, but overcome with grief I tried my best to ignore it. I carried her back in the dark to the tunnel. My intention had been to carry her out, but her body was heavy in death, and my mind was growing weary. I left her there, in the dark, by her broken lantern, by the dead wretch, and began the walk back in utter darkness. How I reached the end of that tunnel I do not know. How I navigated the ruin, I cannot say, but I managed to find Victor and we returned to Eldham. He seemed pleased to hear there was one less share. Yet I fear none of us can forget it the walls, escape that passage, indeed I cannot even drive it from my waking mind let alone my dreams. Thoughts and inklings which do not feel like my own worm their way into me and it is all I can do to resist them. The more I try the harder I find it to ignore the Door, which ever sits in the back of my mind. It’s begun to sing to me of late, as Margaux said. Its voice intones such wondrous things. The song is a nightingale’s call on a cool morning. It is my mother’s tender lullaby before a roaring hearth. It is the sound of waves crashing on familiar shores. It is Margaux calling out to me in the night, and in my dreams I can see it is but the idle breath of Him confined behind the Door.

hillwalker3000

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I've written a short story which has not been particularly polished or anything. I just rattled it off yesterday evening and thought I would share and maybe look for a little constructive criticism.

It would have been so much better if you had taken a little more time to make this as good as you believe it can possibly get before posting for feedback. Rattling something off then posting it a few hours later smacks of boredom rather than a passion for writing and a desire to improve.

For what it's worth, I read it and found the first 125 words overdrawn. It quickly becomes monotonous. You're in a tunnel, it's dark and there are noises. We don't need to have this point driven home with a sledgehammer.

But once you introduce your party things improve. I assume you're trying to mimic the style of Poe or Lovecraft - in content and vocabulary. You manage to make it poetic without being too pretentious so well done.

Paragraph 2 falls back into the trap of tedium. I appreciate you're trying to drag out the suspense but sentences like this are no more than ballast:
We walked on a long time, although it was impossible to say just how long it had been, before we finally came upon it.

The creature's dialogue might also sound wonderfully mystifying but it's borderline gibberish in places:
You always follow the passage, always inwards, always downwards, always searching and for what? Do you not wonder why none of the tracks lead back from whence you came?
For the record, the word 'whence' means 'from where' so there's no need for the word from.

Other than that, there's room for tightening but it's well enough written for the genre. My only fear is that it comes across as a pastiche rather than a tribute.
I also tend to think you spent more time on polishing this than you're letting on.  ;)

H3K

Offline WillYum

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Hi Hillwalker!

First, thank you for giving it a read, I hope it was somewhat enjoyable. I didn't mean to offend when I said I hadn't spent very long refining it. However, It was written in a stream of consciousness and I have done little to change it since then, aside from pruning some superfluous sentences (such as the one you mentioned in your post, though I thought I had caught that one initially).

I agree with you about the pacing at various points, as I said in my preamble this is my first time trying to write something with this sort of tone. It's difficult to try and convey the sense of foreboding or dread I was trying to produce without it becoming overlong or seeming verbose. I suppose this is a form of practice, or a means of stepping out of my relative comfort zone. At the same time I felt that a certain degree of establishment was needed at the fore end in order to develop the scene, plain though it may seem. In the future I'll try to make that sort of establishing scene more interesting to the reader, your criticism is valid and appreciated.

Similarly with the madman, you are right, the language feels a little clumsy. I was simply having trouble developing a voice for such a character, as again I feel it's more a signal of inexperience. Pardon me, though for the grammatical mistake regarding "whence," I'll make sure that it won't happen again, it's not really a word I use often (considering it's somewhat archaic).

In your opinion, what could I do to write something more faithful to the genre, rather than seeming like a caricature of it? It wasn't my intent to write something satirical.

Anyway, thanks again for the feedback, I really appreciate it.

hillwalker3000

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I didn't mean to suggest you were satirising the genre. The problem is, it's 2017. If you're trying to write in the style of Dickens or Austen or even Poe it's going to take a great deal of preparatory reading. Less is more - and that applies here. Write it as if it was happening today then bleed in the occasional word or phrase that makes it clear this journal was written some time ago. Very few authors are successful in capturing the voice of a bygone age without sounding pretentious.

H3K

Offline WillYum

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Thanks for the input, Simple Things, it's much appreciated. I would agree that my efforts to make the darkness seem present in the writing end up coming off as redundant and somewhat forced. That wasn't my intention, I mostly just wanted to remind the reader of the darkness' presence, but in hindsight I can see the problem. You're right, first person narration can be difficult, I mostly have only ever written in third person in the past. This piece that I'm working on is something I'm using to try and expand my horizons and improve as a writer. I suppose another issue with the excerpt is that it doesn't do all too much to directly develop the protagonist, which could be easily remedied if I put a little time to it.

Hillwalker, thank you for clarifying. I'll take that into consideration, and probably dial back the archaic language and sentence structure. Perhaps it's coming off as too forced, which is at odds with my intentions.