The following is a bit I wrote back in 2011, when the Unearthly Northwest stories were just a gleam in my eye. I always intended to develop this into another in the series, but it’s not going to happen now.
So I thought I’s post it, just for fun. It’s about as horror-y as anything I’ve ever written, which is to say barely at all. Enjoy or not as you see fit.
It’s called At Perigee.
I keep thinking about that dream I used to have where I was trying to escape from a big old wooden building with all sorts of passages and stairs and dead-ends while being chased by something so terrible I don’t even know what it is. By candlelight. So on top of everything else there’s the fire danger.
It’s all so dried out and weathered to a silvery gray and the floorboards creak and I’m so afraid I’m going to fall through one and get stuck and I don’t know what would be worse – burning to death from dropping the candle or being caught by whatever it is that’s so determined to catch me.
Oh, and it’s pitch black outside. No street lights, no glows from nearby windows, no other light source except the distant, unfeeling stars. My breath is catching in painful gasps, the sweat burns into my eyes, the hot wax is dripping onto my hand, my hair keeps waving closer to the flame as if it wants to catch fire, and I can’t find my bloody way out.
Endless corridors, more stairs, broken banisters, nails sticking up in odd places. I’m not dressed for this, either, in flimsy sandals and shorts and a tank top. If I wasn’t sweating from exertion, I’d be shivering from the cold. As it is, I’m swiping sweat with my free hand, making it slip when I try to use the half-broken banister to pull myself up. I round another corner and come up against a blank wall. Not another one. I can hear the – whatever it is, I don’t know if calling it a monster is literal or metaphorical – thumping after me, catching up to me, only one floor below now. I think. Not any further away, and surely not any closer. Please not any closer. A sliver of light glows feebly at the baseboard in front of me. I don’t have time to figure out secret doorways, but I’m desperate. I shove on it. I don’t have time to go back, either. The thumping is getting closer. I shove on it again, lower down. Gods, open. I shove at the bottom with my feet, earning a splinter in my toe and a broken strap on my sandal.
The thumping is, louder, closer, up to the stairs I just climbed, when, without my even pushing on it a fourth time, the wall swings wide, like a door. On – oh, gods, it’s – nothing. No floor, no balcony, just unsupported air.
Something like the wind, if the wind had hands, pushes me forward. I teeter on the sill, grabbing futilely at the door jamb, trying desperately not to fall into the abyss. The door – there was a door? – behind me bangs open, jarring the whole building. I lose my balance. I can’t hang on. The sandal with the broken strap falls off my foot. I teeter forward again. The air – pushes. I don’t dare look back. I don’t dare look down. I squeeze my eyes shut. I drop the burning candle. I lean forward. And I let go.
I don’t know what happens after that. I never got even that far in my dream. In my dream I’m still running, climbing stairs, reaching dead ends, never getting anywhere by the time I wake up.
Now it’s all a blur. I’m not sure the monster, literal or metaphorical, hasn’t killed me. I’m falling, sort of. It’s almost too soft to call a fall. Almost like the seesaw effect of a feather floating to the ground. The wind still has hands. Arms. It feels as if I’m being cradled by dozens of them as I float endlessly. I’m afraid of what they look like, what they want of me. But at least they don’t seem to want to kill me. They’re gentle, not grasping, not grabbing. Not painful at all, in fact. I wonder if it’s because they know I can’t see them. I squeeze my eyes shut even more tightly. I hear a soft whooshing sound as if the wind were trying to laugh at me. At least I know I haven’t been deafened. Surely I’ve fallen much farther than even all those staircases I climbed.
I have to open my eyes someday. I screw up my courage, but when I open them they might as well still be closed. Pitchy, pitchy black. No stars, no lights, not a single thing to orient me. I’m not even sure which way is down or if I’m floating instead of falling.
Except that right that moment, I land with a thump. I half expect it to be viscous, gooey, to suck me down, but I can’t see or feel the surface, not even when I drop to my knees and stretch my hands out. It’s as if the wind has solidified just enough to hold me, but not one bit more. I thought I’d been disoriented in that maze of a house, but it’s nothing compared to this.
I stand, or at least stretch out my body in a standing position. Just one sandal makes my stance awkward somehow. I kick it off. It disappears into the abyss. I can’t see it no matter how hard I peer for it. Just past where it should be – where it is, dammit, it can’t just disappear – I see a speck in the darkness. It flickers, but I can see it. I haven’t gone blind after all, either.
I step forward onto the air. I don’t see it as a leap of faith, more like a baby step of bewilderment. The light – beckons. I take another step. A second speck appears. Before I know it I am leaping. Not with faith. But definitely leaps. Towards the ever-receding light.