Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Wednesday Writings # 46 - The Race Is On

Welcome to my weekly "Wednesday Writing" post. These weekly exercises serve as motivation to ensure that I spend at least 30-60 minutes each week doing some creative writing. In the ideal week, I will write every day. But at the very least, I will do at least one writing segment which I will share here on my blog.

These are very quick 'free write' sessions without editing, planning, etc.

I invite and love feedback - criticism, praise, whatever. Just let me know what you think.

I do this equally for myself and to share.


The Race Is On

Carmen had always scoffed at descriptions of muscles rippling and trembling with raw power and energy but as the animal had pressed itself to full height and let out it's ear shattering war cry the beast's muscles did just that. The few seconds she had watched at the creature had sent fear shuddering through her body. It's entire body had pulsed and flexed as it ominously lept across the ten foot chasm that jutted across the ruins of the throne room. As it landed, the entire tomb shook violently and crumbling stones fell from the walls and ceiling of the room. Beneath its huge feet crumpled the form of Dr. Samuelson, his entire body nearly completely hidden by the huge black feet that covered him. In her memory's eye she could still see Dr. Samuelson's left leg twitching from beneath the beast's foot.

Carmen remembered in horror watching as Doug stood paralyzed just a few feet into the room. She screamed for him to run. She violently shook the rope that stretched nearly twenty feet down to him from the upper corridor in which she stood watching the horrible events unfold. The animal had glanced up at her momentarily. As its steely smart eyes met hers, she felt as if the beast was somehow trying to communicate to her. As though it was calmly threatening her. Telling her to be patient. That the beast was telling her that it would be coming for her in a moment once it had disposed of the readily available prey standing near it.

Carmen's lip had quivered as the beast turned its gaze back to Doug. Carmen screamed again for him to run, frantically flapping the rope against the wall of the room. Doug turned and scrambled the few feet to the wall. He gripped the rope in his hands and pressed his feet against the wall before looking up and smiling at Carmen. She smiled back at him and for a moment the world felt almost peaceful as their eyes locked and she felt the gentle warmth of his eyes talking with hers. Then a snarl errupted from the beast and she looked up to see it scraping its claws over the remains of Dr. Samuelson before slowly taking a step forward. Its lips curled and a soft growl rumbled from between the gleaming sharpness of partially exposed teeth. Carmen looked back down just in time to see Doug wink at her and mouth the words 'I LOVE YOU'. Then he glanced back over his shoulder and Carmen could see his body grow tense with fear.

"Run Carmen! Get out of here!"

He shouted up at her without looking back up. She was about to shout back in protest. To tell him to just climb. When in a blur, the animal shot across the room and Doug disappeared beneath a flash of sleek black muscle and fur. Carmen felt her heart, stomach, and lungs all make a mad dash to the top of her throat. Meanwhile, her head spun and she felt suddenly dizzy. Without thinking any more, she turned and ran, fleeing as fast as she could from the grotesque crunches and gurgles rumbling in the throne room.

As she stooped to pick up her pack from the middle of the corridor, she heard the beast roar once more followed by a muffled crash and the scraping of claws against rock. Whipping the backpack over her shoulder, Carmen risked another glance behind her. Another crash echoed against the stone walls, accompanied by the harsh scraping sound. But what terrified her more was seeing a huge black paw with claws extended scraping along the edge of the corridor's opening into the thrown room. One claw caught the rope and started to use it for leverage for a split second before the rope strained and broke, sending the animal falling back to the floor with a howl of rage.

Not waiting for its next attempt to reach the corridor, Carmen had taken off at a sprint. She'd paid close attention to the map as Dr. Samuelson had presented it that morning, and yet she worried that she would be lost. That she would find herself at the end of a long corridor with no escape, waiting in fear for the beast to track her down. The first small passageway was easy enough to recognize and she was sure she was still on the right track because she exited right beside one of the flares they had left burning near the wall. But the second passage left her less sure.

She had to crawl through a small tunnel, pushing her backpack in front of her, for nearly ten feet before emerging in a hexagonal room with corridors branching off on the three walls in front of her. She remembered from the map that one corridor led back towards the throne room through a more circuitous route. Taking this route would eventually allow her to return to the surface, but in all likelihood it would place her back on the path with the beast somewhere between her and the exit. Another wound its way upward and connected back to the main large chamber they used to come down. This path, Dr. Samuelson had explained, was only partially excavated and had two portions where a person would have to squeeze between through and around collapsed walls and ceilings. She couldn't remember where the third corridor led.

A mistake here could mean certain freedom. She was nearly positive that the hall on the far right was the unknown pathway but she couldn't remember which door led out, the left or the center. It had taken the group nearly thirty minutes of walking to travel from the entrance to the throne room. According to Dr. Samuelson the less traveled routes would remove nearly ten minutes from their time but would involve numerous tight passageways and a few areas that may have caved in entirely. Still, in order to escape, Carmen knew she had to take the shortest possible path.

Burying her face in her backpack, she smelled the soft scent of Doug's shirt tucked inside. She had closed her eyes and willed him to help her. To guide her. No such inspiration came. Her body trembled as she heard the distant roar of the animal. The thick stone walls both muffled and echoed the noise making it impossible to determine not only how far away it was but through which corridor it was approaching. Steeling herself, she pulled the pack over her shoulders and sprinted through the central door. The uneven path meandered softly back and forth for a hundred yards like a slow moving river.

Then the hall turned tight to the right and sloped downward so suddenly that, due to her speed, Carmen scuffed and skidded nearly a dozen feet before being able to stop herself. Glancing ahead and behind she was uncertain as to what she should do. Based on the steepness of the slope, she was almost certain this path would take her deeper into the tomb. Her memory of the third tunnel provided no hope of it reaching the exit but she couldn't remember if it arrived at any other location that might provide her safety until a rescue party came for her. IF anyone came for her.

And yet if she turned around and returned to the hexagonal room to take the other corridor, she would be backtracking and giving up any time advantage she had on the beast. She had been forced to crawl through the passageway to that central room. She was nearly certain that the animal would not be able to follow her through the short tunnel. Nearly certain. Still, she'd seen other feline creatures squeeze their ways into difficult spots and she wasn't willing to risk running straight into the waiting claws of her predator. Instead, she turned and raced downward along the corridor.

The incline was so steep that she didn't dare sprint fully for fear of falling over. After nearly a minute of downward progression, the dirt floor evened off and began to circle to the left. Somewhere behind and above her, she still heard echoes of the beast working its way through the halls searching its prey. Searching for her. The noise was more quiet and distant which gave her renewed hope. Her breathing was haggard and her muscles ached so she pressed her back against the wall and leaned over, her hands on her knees for support. She breathed in deeply through her nose and exhaled slowly through her mouth, focusing on steadying herself. On preparing for the rest of her escape. Images of Doug and Dr. Samuelson kept trying to form in her mind but she forced them away, pushed them down, in order to calm her mind. With one final breath she turned and started to jog along the corridor.

The path continued to turn to the left ever so gradually and Carmen was sure there was a soft upward incline as though she was working her way back to the surface. Her earlier fears began to dissipate as the incline grew steeper and curved more sharply to the left. She felt her calves strain work harder as they climbed and she reveled joyfully in the added work. She was almost certainly on the path to the exit. She was sure of it.

Somewhere ahead she heard another rumbling. Not the animal. This sound was low and constant. Suddenly she remembered the river. An underground river that ran beside the main path about a third of the way into the tomb. Exhilerated by the promise of escape, Carmen sprinted up the hill. The corridor stopped curving to the left and flattened out. She heard the sound of the river somewhere ahead of her. Her feet pounded against the uneven dirt floor, the sound of her footfalls echoing off the earthen walls. Then, somewhere to her left, she heard the explosive roar of the beast. The sound was so sudden and loud that it almost stopped her. Indeed, it slowed her down to a steady jog. Shaking her head she pressed herself back to a run and continued on.

A moment later she came to a crossroads. Two openings cut off the main path, one to the left and one to the right. She paused momentarily to look down each. Neither looked particularly unique. The one ambling to the right appeared more hazardous as part of the wall was collapsed a few feet down the path, but otherwise they were non-descriptly identical to the path she was currently on. Hearing the sound of the river somewhere ahead of her, she raced forward. She didn't remember a crossroads on the map, but Dr. Samuelson had probably just glanced over it.

Finally, the path widened and opened into a cavernous room formed of earth and rock. Rocks and a few logs lay strewn about the floor of the cavern. Carmen's heart lept when she saw, ahead and to her left, the rushing movement of the underground river. She raced forward and half giggled in joy at seeing the water rushing by. Her joy faded immediately on looking across the river and seeing a well worn earthen path twisting alongside it. And in the middle of the path glowed the reddish pink flame of the flare she had set down as they descended to the throne room. Somehow she had gotten on the wrong side of the river.

Frantically she looked left and right, scanning for some way to cross. To reach the main corridor. Far to her right she saw her own cavern shrink down and disappear into the darkness of another passageway. Despair wrapped around her heart and squoze tightly with each beating of her pulse. She tipped her head back and let out a wailing scream of frustration. As she glanced around to determine her options, she realized the mistake of her futile scream. An enormous roar erupted in the distance from somewhere in front of her. She stared in horror across the river and listened to the quick pounding footfalls of something heavy bounding through the tunnels on the other side. She shuffled a dozen steps backwards, her eyes focused on the flickering flame of the flare.

With another terrifying roar, the animal emerged from the side corridor and planted itself forcefully on the ground beside the flare. It was turned to the side such that Carmen could view the full profile of the beast. The dancing light of the flare reflected off its sleek black coat giving a shimmering shine to its fur. Carmen watched for a moment as the animal sniffed and snorted at the air then turned to look across the river. Their eyes met once again and Carmen could feel the hatred bristling through the creature as it surveyed her. The river was nearly fifty feet across and moving rapidly. On the cat's side there was nearly one hundred feet of accessible shoreline but on Carmen's side only twenty feet of her cavern opened to the river. She wondered for a moment if the beast would attempt to cross the river. Then it snarled at her and vanished into the darkness. It was gone so fast, Carmen wasn't sure which direction it had run.

She looked quickly at the two exits available to her. Returning the way she had come once again seemed more dangerous. So she turned to the right and raced through the black corridor. The darkness quickly became stifling and Carmen had to stop and pull her pack in front of her. She riffled in the front pocket and pulled out a glow stick. With a sharp crack and a quick shake, the corridor glowed an eerie green. She flung the pack back over her shoulders and tied the glow stick to one of the straps and began to run again.

The tunnel began to slope downward again. The passageway started to narrow and the ceiling inched its way lower and lower. Carmen felt her breathing grow shallow as she felt the anxiety grow. Her legs were burning from the constant running and her lungs were on fire. She paused for a moment, considering the fact that she was just running towards her own death. That regardless of which way she went, she would meet her own death. Perhaps it would be better to walk slowly and deliberately. At least then she could approach it with her head held high and her body feeling strong and confident.

In her mind flashed the final memory of Doug, staring up at her and whispering that he loved her. Courage flared in her heart again and her resolve surged. She pushed herself to a sprint and lunged through the shrinking passage. She tried to listen for sounds of the river. Or perhaps of the beast in pursuit. Instead, her blood pounded in her ears. The din in her head muffled any sound coming from the world around her. The path flattened out again and rounded softly to the right before emptying into another large cavern. This one presented a number of exists, none of which looked any more promising than the other.

She shrugged and laughed then extended her hand and pointed to each passage in turn.

"Eenie. Meenie. Miney. Moe. Catch a tiger..."

It wasn't a tiger that pursued her, but the word caught in her throat all the same and a shudder ran through her body. She cleared her throat and straightened herself against the darkness. Then, as if in defiance against her pursuer, she started towards the passage she had just labeled as "tiger."

Before she reached the entry to the passage, a rumble burst around her and the ground began to shake. She looked around in confusion. Green shadow and light danced off the jagged cavern walls. She fell to her knees and began to crawl in panic towards the side of the cavern. She'd grown up in Southern California. She'd been through so many earthquakes she'd lost count. As she neared the cavern wall she screamed back at the shaking rock around her.

"If I'm going to die today, it's not from some earthquake! I could have done that back home!"

In spite of the angry confidence in her voice she slinked to the floor, pulled her legs to her chest and waited for the shaking to stop. She heard the crashing and shifting of rocks and earth somewhere nearby and prayed that the walls around her would stay as they were. A moment later, the world was still. She stared up at the walls around her and laughed.

"That's right. You'll stop shaking if you know what's good for you."

As she pressed herself to her feet she decided she was delirious from the fear and anxiety of the past ten minutes. A cool breeze blew through the cavern and she shivered in spite of herself. Then she paused and cocked her head. A breeze meant air. And air meant an opening. She raced ecstatically through the passage and welcomed the feeling of cool air racing towards her. This was it. The way out!

The passage was short and skinny, but it continued on ahead of her as far as she could see which wasn't very far since the glow stick didn't provide much light and what it did provide had a hard time penetrating very far through this darkness. As cramped as the passage was, Carmen had to slow to a soft jog. But the feeling of the cool breeze on her cheeks reassured her that she was close enough to escape that slowing her pace was acceptable. And since she was no longer running, she decided to stop and retrieve her flashlight from the pack.

As she did so, she heard the roar of the beast behind her once again. It was still distant enough that the sound was muffled. But hearing it let Carmen know that it was still on her trail. That, for whatever purpose, it still hunted her. She flicked on her flashlight and shone it down through the passage in front of her. The passage continued to grow wider and wider until it was nearly as wide as the main passage she had come through with Doug and Dr. Samuelson. The flashlight was powerful, built for this kind of exploration. And yet its beam still died out before making contact with any wall at the far end of the passage.

With the tunnel wider now, Carmen returned to a brisk jog. She held tight to the flashlight and kept the light shining ahead of her, hoping for some signal that would indicate her proximity to an exit. At one point a small passage jutted to the right but a quick shine of the flashlight showed that it was mostly occluded by a pile of rocks barely ten feet down the passage. So she continued on.

After another minute, she heard the animal roar behind her again, louder this time. Another small burst of cold air whisked through the tunnel and turned the sweat on her arms and neck to small prickles of icy cold. She shivered and continued on.

Another roar, louder still. Carmen turned her brisk jog into a solid run, glancing briefly over her shoulder but seeing nothing through the darkness. Looking back ahead of her she saw her flashlight beam hit solid rock perhaps twenty feet ahead as the tunnel veered to the left.

Carmen spun around the corner and stumbled to her hands and knees as the uneven floor sloped upward, her backpack strap snapping as she fell. She felt a twinge of relief as she saw, far in the distance, a faint glimmer of daylight.

Her relief was quickly overcome by her urgency as she felt the tunnel walls tremble and heard a deafening roar explode somewhere behind her. The overpowering volume of the sound made it impossible to determine exactly how far the beast was behind her. Still she wondered how it had caught up with her so fast. How had it crossed over to this side of the river and still managed to catch up with her again. The animal was huge, powerful and fast. But most of all, it was determined. A flood of fear and adrenaline pulsed through her body, pushed her to her feet and sent her sprinting forward once again.

She dropped the flashlight as she ran, its beam shining blindly against a side wall. Her heart pounded against her chest as fast as her feet beat against the floor. The pinprick of light in the distance grew gradually larger with each step.

Another roar came, even louder than the last. It was very close now. Could it see her? She didn't dare look back for fear of seeing its hideous face bounding through the darkness. The backpack bounced unsteadily from one shoulder, the broken strap doing nothing for support. She let it fall behind her, sliding gently down her arm as she raced on.

Another roar errupted behind her. Carmen didn't have to look back to feel that the beast was nearly upon her. She almost felt as though its hot breath was burning against her back. The opening ahead of hear grew larger with each stride. She could see her freedom approaching. She was nearly there.

Fifty feet.



She began to distinguish shapes silhouetted against the white light of the opening. A hint of a tree branch, its leaves shimmering.

The animal snarled. She heard the footfalls as it flew along the passageway. She heard the rasping and scraping and tearing as it tore into the discarded backpack.

Ten feet. She could see the exit clearly now. Not as big as the entrance she'd come through with Doug and Dr. Samuelson, but a way out.

Five feet. She heard the angry pursuit of the beast behind her. She saw the crisp brownness of the earth and sharp greenness of the leaves and grass just beyond the cave.

She pressed her chest forward and raised her chin like a sprinter ready to cross the finish line and break the tape.

She burst into the sunlight and stumbled into a rolling fall down the rock cragged hillside. As she slid she heard a whooshing of air and looked up to see an enormous black shadow of muscle and fur flying through the air a dozen feet over her head. It had burst out of the tunnel just after her and plunged itself into a full powered leap at her, not realizing the sudden slope of the hill.

She flailed her arms and legs to grab at roots and rocks and stop her from sliding further. She focused her gaze on the animal as it continued its strange arc through the air. As she stopped, Carmen took in her surroundings and felt her breath catch in her throat as she watched the enormous animal soar for another half dozen feet before disappearing over the edge of a small ridge. Just beyond the ridge, Carmen saw the rushing water of the river, snaking its way towards the edge of the mountain where it disappeared into a large cavern.

With a splash and a snarling growl, the animal was gone. Pain and exhaustion surged through Carmen's body. For the next few seconds she worried that the beast would crawl up the side of the river bank and be back for her. But after a minute had passed, her fears swam away with the river. She gave herself a couple more minutes to regain her composure and then stood and began walking upstream to find a way across the river before the beast returned.


logankstewart said...

Another great exercise. You do an excellent job with climactic scenes and stuff that gets the heart pumping.

"squoze." Is that a word? I'm assuming the past-tense of squeeze, but I think that's squeezed. Still, squoze is fun sounding.

Great job. I enjoyed this!

Okie said...

Good call logan...I chalk it up to writing while overly drowsy and going too fast. Squoze is a funky sounding word though, yes... :)

Brian Miller said...

ooo intense my heart going there...i like it.

Jen said...

It's rare that I read every word of such a long post. This was great. Even as a cat-lover, knowing this is not how any feline would behave...I still loved it.

Okie said...

@Brian - Thanks

@Jen - Thanks...and I do agree that the basis in reality is definitely stretched with this feline. I started out with a nondescript mental notion of some huge snarling beast...but then as I got going, I wanted to be tied more to reality and so I envisioned a sort of Puma...but still wanted the intensity of some crazed monster. If/when I go back to revise, I'll have to address this contradiction