Sunday, October 10, 2010

Just the Dust - A short story from Casting Shadows

This story is the opening one in Casting Shadows. I am publishing it here today because today's date, ten-ten-ten (10/10/10) features in the story, so it seemed appropriate.

Would anyone like to review Casting Shadows, by the way? If so, please send an email to
joleenkuyper (at) gmail (dot) com

I don't have any hard copies at the moment but you can have the PDF, I'd love to get another review for the collection especially as it's coming up to Halloween! It's a mixture of stories and poems, mostly horror-speculative-dark fantasy genres. By Joleen Kuyper (me!), E.J. Tett and Jo Robertson. If it sounds like the kind of thing you'd be interested in, send me an email!

Just the Dust
Ashes. Nothing left, just the dust swirling in the air. Too light to touch, but choking and dark. It blocked out the light.

Her voice was croaky, and it echoed as she called for help. There were no replies. Her mouth tasted funny. Blood mixed with the smoky taste of the dust. She swallowed. A wave of nausea came over her.

What happened? The question came to her mind suddenly. Immediately, others followed. She couldn’t remember anything else either. Who am I? She wondered. For some reason the terror of that thought made her shudder more than the situation she found herself in.

She tried to move her legs. They were trapped under something. Whatever it was, it was heavy. The air was still too thick for her to see. She coughed, her chest hurt. She called for help again and again until her throat hurt too. There was no answer. There was nothing; just her and whatever was pinning her down.

Her head hurt as well. A tear rolled down her cheek. I’m going to die here, she thought. She sobbed until her head felt it would burst and a mixture of tears and blood from her cuts rolled into her mouth. She wondered if her own blood and tears dribbling into her would save her from dying of thirst. She didn’t think it would.

Her throat was too raw now to even shout and she didn’t think she had the energy to cry. Strangely, as well as desperate and terrified, she felt bored.

Think! She told herself. I have a name, I have a life. I must have. No answers came. The air didn’t hurt her nostrils anymore but she still couldn’t see anything. She couldn’t be sure if it was dark or the air was still clogged up.

I’m bored. What would I like to be doing? She asked herself. Something with my hands. Maybe I’m an artist? She wondered, then frowned. No. That wasn’t right. Busy hands, always moving. Something to do with a computer, she realised. I type quickly. A hundred words per minute. How can I be so certain of that and not know my own name?

She felt like drifting off to sleep, tried to force herself to stay awake. Remember something else. Something that might help, she instructed herself firmly. There must be someone looking for me, missing me. I’ve been here hours, she thought. It must be hours. A mother or father, brother or sister, friend or lover? A child? She wondered. Am I gay or straight? How can I not know?

She tried to think of celebrities, which images turned her on. Angelina Jolie came to her mind. Lesbian? She wondered, but soon imagined both Angelina and Brad Pitt in bed, with her. In her mind they had faces, she did not. Bi, or bi-curious, she mused, forcing away the fear at not knowing what she looked like. “How can I know who they are and not myself,” she muttered in a coarse whisper.

She tried touching her face to figure out what her features were. All she could feel was the dust and scrapes. Her nose felt big, she realised after she poked and prodded at herself more. And her lips were narrow. She felt down. Large chest, medium waist. Her legs were still painful, though it was more a dull ache now. She thought they were long but she wasn’t sure. “Quite tall,” she muttered. She still couldn’t picture what she looked like. Her hair was dry with dust and matted with blood, and she couldn’t remember what colour it was.

“What day is it? What year?” she asked herself aloud. Hearing her voice helped her concentrate. “What accent am I speaking in? Where am I from?”

“Ten, ten, ten,” she said suddenly. “October tenth, two thousand and ten. That must be the date, today’s date. Or maybe a date important to me.” She could see her hands suddenly, inputting the date into a computer. Slim fingers. Today’s date, she thought.

“Seven, seven, eighty-two,” she said after a moment. My date of birth, she thought, something told her she was right. “I’m twenty eight,” she said aloud, gravity in her voice, as if it would unlock the puzzle and set her free. Nothing happened.

I’m getting somewhere, she thought. If I can just work out who I am and why I’m here, maybe I can get out of here. She knew that she couldn’t afford to go to sleep. Knew that could mean never waking up again.

She tried to focus on the image of herself tapping away on the computer keys, remember what data apart from the date she was inputting. Am I at work, she wondered, was there an accident? A terrorist attack maybe? There must be someone looking for me! “Help!” she shouted, her throat raspy and sore. No response, no sound, nothing. Just dark emptiness.

“Six-o-six,” she said aloud then. A train, a train home? What route? What line? Victoria? “I’m in London,” she said, nodding to herself. “London,” she repeated. It felt good, to know where she was. The tube. Some kind of accident, I’m buried in a tunnel. They will come to dig me out. Why don’t I have a mobile phone? She wondered. She had nothing but the clothes on her back. No gadgets, no handbag, no purse or wallet.

Where is everyone else? If I was on the train it must have been crowded. There must have been other people. They can’t all be dead, surely? Panic gripped her as she started to fear being given up on, her breathing became fast and shallow and she felt her eyes grow watery again. Can’t cry, or I’ll get dehydrated, she told herself as she brought her breathing under control, forced herself to calm down. I have to figure out how to get the hell out of here, never mind who I am, that can come later in a nice clean hospital bed with a shrink or whatever.

She took a few slow, deep breaths and leaned forward as far as she could until the pain was too much to bear. Holding her breath helped a little. Whatever was on her legs was metallic and very heavy. She thought they were probably broken; she had some feeling in them but couldn’t manage to move her toes. A memory came back to her of having broken her leg at school; before being taken to casualty the teacher had taken off her shoe and sock and asked her to wiggle her toe. She could hear the teacher in her mind, speaking her name, but couldn’t make out the word.

“Never mind that,” she muttered to herself. “First things first.” She thought that maybe it was a part of the train carriage that was on her legs. It was heavy and though her legs were probably broken she couldn’t feel any wounds in them, no jagged shards poking out. She summoned up her strength and heaved, but she couldn’t get the right angle, couldn’t manage to shift it even the tiniest bit.

Spots appeared before her eyes as she exerted herself, and when they cleared as she took slow, deep breaths again she realised the air was clearing, there was a light in the distance somewhere. “Here! Please, help! I’m trapped!” she called as loudly as she could manage, which wasn’t as loudly as she would have liked. There was no response, no movement. No sound. Just a light in the tunnel, she thought.

She tried lifting again, then using her hands to tug at her legs but she couldn’t get anywhere. The silence disturbed her more with every minute that passed. The light down the tunnel blinked a few times, then went off. Complete darkness again.

There weren’t any animals either, she realised. There should be rats or something, surely, in the tunnels? There was nothing. Just her.

A wave of nausea came over her again as blood trickled down her throat from the back of her nostrils, and she gagged. Blood dribbled down her nose as well now, and she wiped it away with her sleeve. It too, was covered in dust.

She squirmed around some more, feeling for something that might be able to help her. A wedge of metal lay behind her head and she dragged it over her, little by little, and jammed it under the other piece, then rolled onto her side to push down on it with the weight of her body. She felt the pressure on her legs give way a little and once again reached for them with her hands, pulling them out. This time, she managed.

Which way? She wondered as she glanced around her. She wasn’t even certain anymore which direction the light had been in; the darkness was disorienting. She lay back down, her legs on top of the sheet of metal now rather than beneath it, to get her bearings. She started to crawl in the direction of the light, dragging her legs.

She was definitely in a tunnel, she thought as she made her way along a solid wall. It suddenly gave way, prodding with her hands she realised she’d reached a flight of stairs. She hauled herself up a couple, found it excruciatingly difficult. Her legs were a dead weight behind her.

A few at a time she made some progress. There was still no sign of anyone else, dead or alive. Just the dust.

She reached a plateau. A floor that was smooth beneath the coating of ashes, it was easier to move along. She wasn’t really thinking about anything but moving when the word iodine popped into her head. Iodine? She wondered. What’s that about?

It was still dark, though not as dark, but she still couldn’t see anything. The only difference was that now it was grey rather than black. A sickly kind of grey. She could just about see her hands, they were covered with sores, blood oozed out of her.

Suddenly she stopped; she heard something. Something scuttling, moving quickly toward her. She screamed as it passed over her hand. A huge beetle, maybe a cockroach. Just one. “Calm down, Lisa,” she said aloud suddenly. “Lisa! My name! I’m Lisa!” A wave of elation hit her. “It’s all coming back,” she thought.

“Calm down, Lisa,” she muttered again. Someone had said that to her. A man, older, her father perhaps? What had she been doing? She saw a newspaper article. Nuclear hostilities a possibility. She felt her panic on that day.

“Scaremongering,” her father had said. “They said that all during the cold war, we’re still here.” She took the iodine tablets anyway, the ones they sent out. Bought more on the internet, dosed herself with them.

Conspiracy theories. Ten, ten, ten. Today’s date. The end of the world. It was all over the internet. She looked at her hands again. The sores were getting worse, she thought. Even iodine couldn’t put off the inevitable forever. She’d run for the tunnels, not to catch a train. To hide from the blast. None of her friends had believed her.

She looked around again. Knew where she was. London, St. Pancras. Except there was nothing there. Just dust. She heard another cockroach scuttling around nearby. More of them, behind her now. They were coming for her. She pulled herself further along, but they came nearer. She winced as a piece of skin peeled off the palm of her hand. Heard the roaches eating it as she moved onward.


Em said...

This is my favourite one of yours. :)

Joleen said...

Really? Cool, thanks! I didn't know that!