Monthly Archives: January 2014

London Labyrinth: Prologue

Why did I not think to post this before?  And it’s been two months!  This is the opening for an adventure-cum-horror story that I wrote a few months back, although I thought up the idea years ago.  I’ve gained comments on it from my writer’s group, but haven’t yet had the chance to incorporate them into the text.  With luck, I’ll come back to the story soon, then develop and polish it.  For now, enjoy, but I recommend you keep the lights on.

 

London Labyrinth

 

Prologue: A Glimpse of Terror

 

It was a seemingly ordinary night in London, as Wednesday evening slipped peacefully into Thursday morning.  Along the banks of the Thames streams of lights turned night into day, illuminating the way home for those citizens with no conception of weeknights and a cocktail of liquors in their bloodstream.  Wealthy executives slept on in their waterfront apartments, blissfully immune from the stresses of work and family life in their state of repose.

None of this touched restaurant manager Paul Rogers, as he sat somewhere underneath Lambeth on the last tube train south to Morden.  He was a creature of habit when it came to these late night commutes home.  The carriages were virtually always empty when they rolled into Waterloo station.  That meant he was free to select the most central seat he could; the middle seat in the middle row of the car as close to the middle of the train as he could judge.  It took his mind off the solitude of the ride and the pangs of guilt at not being there when his girlfriend laid her head on the pillow.

Poor Maxine, he thought, as he stared at the wires snaking across the black walls of the tunnel.  We’ve got a good thing going, it’s hard on her not having me around on evenings like this.

Still, Paul reasoned to himself, it’s probably worth it.  The restaurant had been doing great business, and with Christmas and New Year just around the corner, bookings were bound to shoot up very soon.  Once the rush was over, he would buy Maxine a ring and leave the late shifts to someone without his commitments.

Paul’s eyelids began to grow heavy.  It had been a tiring shift and the soft cushions of his seat felt very inviting.  His head started to loll, but he forced himself awake with a grunt.  There was no way he was going to miss his stop and be forced to take a taxi back up to Tooting from Morden.  Maxine had slept in an empty bed for long enough tonight.

Kennington station disappeared past the edge of the window.  Darkness surrounded the carriage once more.  Paul head started to feel like a rock attached to his neck.  It swayed from side to side as his vision fogged over.  His eyelids began to close to slits as his cheek brushed the fabric of the seat.

No!  He snapped back to the waking world, shaking his head and forcing himself to look upwards out of the window.

All of a sudden, Paul gave a gasp of horror.  He jolted into panic-stricken alertness, his hands scrambling to find the arms of his seat as he struggled to straighten up.  Once his hands had a purchase on the armrests, he pushed himself up to a standing position and snapped his head to his right, trying once more to locate the terrifying vision he had just seen.

Of course, it had disappeared.  The train had simply been moving too fast for the object to remain in view of more than an instant.  Yet Paul could not shake the image that had filled his vision for that half-second of time.

Staring straight at him, from outside the carriage in the inky depths of the tunnel, had been the most horrible pair of eyes that Paul had ever seen.  They had burned with malice, seeming to cut straight through his chest and slice his heart in two with icy abandon.  And worse yet, they had not been human.

Exactly what he had looked into the eyes of Paul could not tell.  It did not matter; he had to tell someone at once.  Yet his carriage was as empty as when he had boarded.  His eyes alighted on the emergency cord above the door and he was just rising to go and pull it when he felt the train start to slow down.  They were coming to a station.

A new idea came to Paul.  As soon as the carriage doors opened, he leapt out onto the platform and sought desperately until he found a round white Help Point.  He dashed over to it, jabbed the emergency button repeatedly and waited for the device to connect him to an operator.

I just hope someone’s on at this time, he thought desparately.

Luckily, the speaker crackled a moment later and a woman’s voice came through.  “Good evening, you’re through to the Transport For London helpdesk.  What station are you calling from and what is the nature of your emergency?”

Paul hesitated before he replied, so keen to get a word in edgeways he missed his cue when it came.

“Yes, hello, I’ve just seen something in the tunnel.”

“Pardon me, sir?”

“I’ve just seen something in the tube tunnel,” Paul repeated.  “I don’t know what it was but…”

“Which station are you at, sir?” the operator chirped in perfunctory manner.

Paul groaned inwardly.  In his desperation, he had just jumped out of a train and not even noted what station he had disembarked at.  He glanced up at the wall and looked for the telltale red and blue circle.

“I’m at Oval,” he told the operator.

“Which direction were you travelling, sir?” she replied.

“South, I was southbound,” Paul said, this time without hesitation.

“And what was it you saw in the tunnel, sir?”

For the first time in minutes, Paul paused to gather his thoughts.  What was it he had seen staring at him from the grimy blackness of the tunnel?  He had been going by too fast to register its shape clearly.  All he recalled was that it was taller, bulkier and more misshapen than any human could be.

Another notion crept into his mind; what if he had dreamt what he had seen?  What if he had dropped off accidentally and thought he had seen something in the tunnels, so closely timed were the dream and his waking?  He knew he would feel pretty foolish admitting something he dreamt about was in the tunnels.  But would anyone else believe him even if it was real?

“Sir, are you still there?”

The operator’s voice jolted him back to the realisation he had not finished his report.

“Yes, I’m still here.”

“What was it you saw in the tunnel, sir?” the operator continued.

Paul decided to say the most believable, if unlikely, thing he could think of.  “It was a wild animal of some kind.  A large one; I didn’t get a good look at it, but I saw it look at me as the train went by.”

“I see,” said the operator, sounding a little sceptical.  “Did you think anyone was in danger from this animal?”

“No, I didn’t,” Paul said earnestly.

“Alright,” chirped the operator.  “We’ll send someone down to have a look at it.  Is that all, sir?”

Paul was neither reassured or fully satisfied by this conclusive remark, but he said it was anyway.  He was beginning to doubt his own version of events anyway.

“Thankyou for making your report sir,” said the operator.  “Have a good evening.”

Paul sighed as the speaker clicked off.  There had been no urgency in the operator’s tone and no request he give his contact details, or to stay just where he was.  The operator had found his story as fanciful as he himself was starting to.

Oh well, he thought.  At least it’s made this evening a bit more interesting.  I’ll be sure to tell Maxine when I see her.  Now what time does the next train…

His heart sank.  The overhead electric billboards were no longer switched on.  There were no more trains running after the one he had been riding.  And he was six stops from home.

Paul trudged listlessly up the station steps into the air, praying that there would be a night bus to Tooting he could jump on.

 *****

Linus Skyros was walking along that same tunnel two hours later, with a powerful torch in one hand and a toolkit in the other.  A small stepladder sat in the crook of his left arm.  Greek by descent but a second-generation Londoner, he had worked as an engineer with the London Underground for twenty-six years now.  He knew this tunnel system intimately and prided himself that thanks to his efforts, everything ran smoothly on this stretch of track.

Twenty-six years was more than long enough to encounter some extraordinary tales about the underground.  There had been Chris’s the hygiene officer’s tale of the discarded packet of penny sweets that someone had left a gold pendant in.  Engine driver Duncan had claimed that he had once seen a homeless man helping his girlfriend give birth in an alcove off one of the tunnels.

But this one?  Someone had told Linus on his portable radio to keep his eyes open for a large animal loose in the tunnels while he checked the signal lights.  A large animal, indeed!  What kind of large animal would that be?  How did it get down here and what would it live off?  It’s not as if the mice and rats who lived under the tracks needed much food.

The operator claimed the man who reported it had sounded weary and unclear anyway.  It was probably all a misunderstanding.

Linus reached one of the overhead signal lights and set his stepladder up to take a look at it.  Carefully he switched the light on and off again, looking for any signs of a fault.  Satisfied that the light was working, he began to descend the ladder.

At that moment, a thunderous growl rumbled through the tunnels.  Linus froze.  Surely someone wasn’t about to run a train through here, or a maintenance vehicle?  He scrambled to the bottom of the ladder and raised his supervisor on the radio.

“Rod, it’s Linus,” he announced.  “Is someone running a vehicle through the southbound tunnel past Kennington?”

The crackly response came, “Linus, are you alright, mate?  There’s nothing moving in that tunnel except you and a few hundred beetles.  Why do you ask?”

“I just heard something that sounded like machinery,” Linus went on.

“Probably just the pipes or the wind,” said supervisor Rod Soames dismissively.  “Don’t worry, Linus.  If anything’s worth reporting down your way, we’ll let you know.”

Linus thanked him and rang off.  He took down his stepladder and hefted it under his arm, not entirely reassured, but comforted that at least Rod was there for him.  He lifted his toolbox and torch and started walking down the tunnel once more.

Suddenly Linus stopped dead in his tracks.  The growl came again, louder and more fearsome this time.  Linus shuddered with fear.  The sound was not like any machinery he could think of.  He knew the sounds of these tunnels as well as his own wife’s voice, but this one was alien to him.

Linus quietly and carefully put down his stepladder and toolbox.  The shadows of the tunnel now seemed much blacker than before.  Their silence was more terrifying than the noise he had just heard, for the uncertainty and anticipation he felt did not seem as real as the shock that the noise had brought.

Quietly and carefully, Linus swung his torch beam around the tunnel, looking for who or what was making that chilling rumble.  Another sound reached his ears; was that footsteps?  It sounded like they were close by.  Where did it come from and who was making them?  He almost called out, but stopped himself.  The presence in the tunnels might not be benign and a shout would draw it to him.

Linus turned around completely, checking every shadow carefully, until he had turned back to face forward again.  Nothing.  He decided to shake off his fear and continue; those signals wouldn’t check themselves.  He stooped to gather his equipment.

The unfortunate man just had time to register something coming towards him before he was simultaneously winded and knocked off his feet by an almighty blow.  Such was its force he flew eight feet upwards towards the ceiling.  As he started to fall, he braced himself for impact with the rails, but then a second blow stuck him before he hit the floor and catapaulted him backwards.  His torch flew out of his hand in the opposite direction, coming down beside the rails with a clatter.

White hot pain registered even before he reached the floor.  Linus felt like someone had crushed his chest in a vice and he was sure that several of his ribs were broken.  His shoulder blades slammed agonisingly into one of the rails and with a sickening groan he crumpled to the floor, his body feeling like it was one great bruise.

A guttural snarl made Linus look up painfully slowly.  The sight he beheld as he did made him go rigid with shock.  The scream he might have uttered was strangled by his terror.  Lumbering towards him was a towering humanoid figure, fists the size of bowling balls swinging by its side, hot breath jetting out of its nostrils as if it were a steam engine, every inch of it heaving with steely muscle.

Yet what terrified Linus most was not the creature’s size, power, voice or aggression.  This creature brought him back to the tender age of seven, when his parents had taken him to Greece to visit his relatives.  While they were there, they had made a boat trip around the island of Crete, where they had walked up into the hills to look down on the crystal blue sea.  It had been up in those hills that his Aunt Stefania, a consummate story-teller, had told him a tale that had given him nightmares; the tale of a flesh-eating monster that had once lived right beneath their feet.

Linus wanted to push himself upright so he could get to his feet and run away from this demon of his soul, but his injuries were too severe and the pain was horrendous.  Even breathing hurt.  As the creature stepped within ten feet of him, Linus was sure this was the moment of his death.

Suddenly, the silence was broken by a crackle and then a voice.  “Linus?” it called, “Are you still OK?”

Linus snapped out of his petrified trance.  His radio!  It was Rod calling him back.  A wisp of hope entered Linus’s heart and he pressed down on the call button.  He had to get a message through.

Powerful hands seized him around his midriff and hefted him into the air.  The pain of those mighty digits digging into his shattered ribs was like a thousand red hot swords being thrust into Linus’s side.  He could bear it no longer.

Try as he might, Rod Soames would never forget the agonised shriek that came through his radio a moment later, or the triumphant bellow that followed it.  Worse yet, as Linus’s radio tumbled from his hands it happened to land in such a way that the call button remained pressed.  That meant Rod was treated to a cacophony of his friend’s screams as he scrambled around trying to find a telephone with which to summon help.

Deep beneath South London, an unspeakable scene was enacted in the blackness of the Underground tunnels that night.  It was to be the first act in a brutal chain of events that would shock the nation and test a young man to his limits, as the Beast claimed the first of its victims.

 

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