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The Thread: Our Darkest Hour

By Parteepants

I’ve been involved with Lit.org for several months now, and the one thing that has always impressed me about this site is its community-like atmosphere. It really is a special thing. One that we should not take for granted.

That said. This story, and hopefully the many collections that will follow, is going to use the above-mentioned atmosphere in a way that is unique to this site. Its success or failure depends on the involvement of each member, so I hope that every one of us will participate.

Okay, so what is it? Below you will read a few short paragraphs, which are the beginnings of a story. I have purposely kept it short and vague.

Why? You ask.

Because that is where you come in. From this point on, I would like different writers to add short, interesting installments. These passages will be added in the “comments” box to create one continuous story.

Does that sound intriguing?

I hope so. We have many new writers floating around here and it’s a great chance for them to strut your stuff. And as for the old timers, let’s show these young bucks what a lit.org-er can do.

Just a few rules for us to play by:

1. If you’re interested in writing the next section, please come to the forum named, “The Thread,” and leave a note. This is to avoid having two or more writers working on the same section. You could say something like, “I’m gonna do the part after Beckett Grey.”

2. Keep you sections to fewer than 500 words. I’d like many people to be able to participate, and this should enable it.

3. End your section with the characters on the verge of an “event.” This will make it easier for the next writer to pick up where you left off.

4. Follow the characteristics that have been established for characters. If in one section “Johnny” has blonde hair, then he should still have blonde hair in your part too.

5. Do not post comments in the comments box. That space is for the continuation of the story. If you wish to leave comments, please do so at the forum.

6. Above all else, have fun, be creative and get involved.

Thank you. Now on with the story.


Our Darkest Hour

He stumbles across the rocky terrain that is as dry as his throat. Beneath his feet, the bones of his fallen friends and foes create a crunching sound similar to crisp, fall leaves.

Still, he pushes himself forward. He must reach the doorway to the last human sanctuary. It is just ahead. He can see it through the blood that drips into his eyes. He had fought too hard and learned too much to simply let the information pass into the dust of a decomposing brain when he is so close.

Afterall, that is why he had left in the first place, to search for knowledge, answers, and hope. Though he isn’t sure if he found any one of those things, maybe can pass on something useful.

Or so he dreams.

As he takes the final steps to the dented and bruised door, he feels a sense of satisfaction. He has beaten them, those nameless things, even if he dies before the next morning. Despite their best efforts, he has done something that no human has in quite some time. He had left the barricades and wandered the Earth. And most importantly, he made it back alive.

He raises his bloodied and bruised arm, and bangs it against the heavy steel door, while he thinks, “Hurry, I have much to tell you.”


------
If you have no questions or fears about your abilities, then you will learn nothing from your mistakes and know nothing about your limitations.


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The following comments are for "The Thread: Our Darkest Hour"
by Richard Dani

pt II
The sound of his banging hung in the air for several moments followed by what felt to be an eternity of silence. Weariness permeated his being, coaxing him to just lie down and rest.
“What is taking so damn long?” he croaked.
The muted sound of shuffling feet was evident behind the massive steel door. He waited patiently as locks were turned and bolts slid. After several moments the massive door swung inward just a crack to reveal a warm glimmer of light and the silhouette of a man’s head. The face remained in shadows, backlit by the flicker of torchlight. Eyes within the depths of the shadow scanned his weary frame, with great scrutiny.
“Horace?” the voice inquired, ”is that you?”
“Yes.”
The door swung wide to reveal three armored men, broadswords at the ready.
“Quickly, get him in here!” The first man commanded.
The second and third man leapt forward to gather him up, their grips gentle but firm. The third guard, a short squat man with a wild beard, eased Horace’s arm over his shoulder lending extra support to his weary and damaged carcass.
“I got ‘im Geoff, you get ‘is gear.” The third man barked.
Geoff, a youth of respectable height, gathered up Horace’s pack, which had dropped to the ground.
The two men quickly pulled Horace through the portal, allowing the first man to secure the door. There was nothing uniform about the three men. Their armor consisted of mismatched plates of steel and Kevlar, fastened to chain mail jerkins. The acrid stench of unwashed bodies assaulted Horace’s sense cause his nose to involuntarily crinkle. Fear was a tangible thing here. Had things gotten worse since he’d left?
The leader of the three, Horace recognized as Marcus. Marcus had been just a foot soldier when left on his journey, and now he seemed elevated to a position of authority.
“Tog,” Marcus spoke addressing the man supporting Horace, “help him down over there.”
“I must speak with the others.” Horace spoke, refusing to sit despite his weakened condition.
“You can’t”

( Posted by: kross [Member] On: December 6, 2001 )

Part Three
“What??”

Horace’s eyes narrowed. He mustered his fading strength and pulled away from his rescuers (or was it captors, now?).

“I’ve come through fire and hell to bring my information to you. The things I’ve seen, oh the things I’ve SEEN, would’ve driven any of you mad! And now that I’m here, now that I have arrived to tell the secrets of the outside world you’re going to-.”

“They’re dead.”

Horace paused in mid-rant, his eyes wide. “What?”

“They’re all dead, Horace. A lot has happened since you decided to go haring off into the outside world. The three of us, maybe one or two others, we’re the only guardsmen left.”

Suddenly, Horace felt the strength go out of his legs. A gray mist slowly started to creep across his eyes, and from some distant place he heard someone yelling.

“Quick, catch him, men!”


He awoke to find himself in what was once a sterile hospital room. Years of poor maintenance had taken its toll on the place, and everything seemed to have a thin layer of filth clinging to it. Sniffing the air, Horace could still detect a lingering odor of whatever it was that made hospitals smell like hospitals. Probably never quite go away, he thought.

At length, a thickly bearded man in horn-rim glasses and a dirty white lab coat pushed open the door. He stared myopically around the room, his eyes finally locking on Horace.

“Ah, good, you’re awake. How do you feel?”

“Like I’ve been sent through The Press,” replied Horace. Every inch of his body ached, and he had a sneaking suspicion his teeth were beginning to rot in his head. “What can I do for you, Doctor?”

The man tittered at this. The sound seemed to drill painfully into Horace’s ears.

“I’m not really a doctor, sir, but thank you for the complement. Anyway, I’m here to give you your shot.” He removed a sizable syringe from inside labcoat, uncapped it, and strolled over to the hospital bed. “Now, if you could roll up your right sleeve, please…”

“What’s in that?” he asked, motioning toward the needle.

“Vitamins,” replied the not-Doctor. “Good for you. Now roll up your sleeve.”

The command held a note of impatience in it. Horace discovered that he was frightened.

“I’d rather not, doctor. Thank you.”

The doctor’s countenance grew dark. His eyebrows fell, and one side of his lip drew itself up in a sneer. “Fine, then. You want to do this the hard way, we do this the hard way. Guards!”

Two big, unwashed men pounded into the room. “Please secure this man’s arm, while I give him his shot, gentlemen.”

The guards tromped toward Horace, well-nigh murderous looks on their eyes.

Wonderful, he thought to himself. Just wonderful.

( Posted by: Beckett Grey [Member] On: December 6, 2001 )

Part Four
Horace pried himself out of bed, if you could call it that. Sitting up, he rubbed his arm, and then his jaw. The shot hurt like hell, but at least his aching head was distracting him. Still feeling the hazing effects of the drug, he pushed himself to stand. He wasn't sure what he had told them, but he was sure he didn't tell them everything.

Horace looked around the room. The door didn't seem to be locked. His pack was lying beside his bunk. When he looked up, he shot back, startled. He nearly tripped over a chair. How could he have missed him lying there. The noise woke the sleeping stranger.

"What the hell is all this noise" gruffed the sleeping man, throwing his covers to the side and jumping up. "Can't I sleep for once. Wait, I know you". The guy stood up, a good foot taller than Horace but quite lanky.

Confused, Horace regains his composure. He was kicking himself for being so jumpy, but he could blame it on the drugs.

"I almost didn't recognize you Corilis. I've been gone too long."

Horace extended his arm to shake the man's hand and Corilis grabbed him and pulled him in, hugging the man firmly.

"But your back now. Did you find what you were looking for?"

"And then some Corilis. You wouldn't believe the things I've seen. Hell, I don't believe the things I've seen"

Horace shook his head. He looked at Corilis for what seemed like forever. Neither man knew what to say next. Horace wasn't ready to tell him what he had seen and Corilis wasn't about to ask. The silence was broken for them.

Marcus opened the door but didn't make it very far inside. Horace tackled him, dropping his full weight into the cold metal floor. Corilis jumped back out of the way. The room was scarcely big enough to sleep in, much less conduct an old fashioned ass kicking. Horace pounded him over and over before letting his head drop with a thud.

"Why, Why did you do this, How could you do this?" Horace yelled as he stood up.

Marcus slowly rose to his feet. He brushed himself off, stepped over to the tiny basin and spit out a mouth full of blood. He turned to again face Horace and looked him square in the eyes.

"Things aren't like they were Horace, and you would do well to accept it. I'm not the whelp you left so many years ago. And I'm not your whipping boy now. But I am your friend Horace, I didn't do this to you. You know why this is happening"

Horace shook his head. He knew Marcus was right. Still, he had to take it out on someone and Marcus made himself an easy target, as always.

"Horace, you have to decide

( Posted by: Chrispian [Admin] On: December 6, 2001 )

Part Five
Part Five


"…decide."

The word continues to reverberate in Horace's brain as his body again grows weak, and the strange mist fills his vision. Oddly, he feels as if he is traveling a great distance until his nose is again assailed by the putrid stench of armored men.

He is awoken from his fugue state by Marcus's begging command, "Horace! Move, damn you! You'll not leave us yet."

Horace lifts his arm to rub his aching head while he tries to acclimate himself to the new surrounds. As his paw passes over his grimy face, he notices the open sores and tiny incisions that criss-cross this domain. A vague image jumps into his mind's eye, and he briefly envisions the small, animal blades that caused them.

Frightened, he sits upright like a child in the midst of a nightmare and his eyes fall full on Marcus's happy face.

"Hah!" Marcus shouts, "You are still with us, my brother. Tog, get this man some mead, or will you have thirst still take him!"

However, Horace does not share Marcus's pleasure. Instead, Horace's dark, deep-set eyes fill with rage as he resists the urge to continue the pummeling he had begun in unkempt hospital.

"Is it possible that Marcus is both friend and foe?" The question teases Horace as Tog hands him the wooden mug of thick mead. The acrid taste of the crudely, fermented beverage washes over his tongue and soothes the burning of his dehydrated throat.

When the cup has no more to offer, he rudely passes it back to the grey, bearded Tog, and barks, "More! And bring me something to eat. Are you blind, man? Can't you see I'm starving?"

"Hahaha! Gladly sir, and I have a special treat for you." Tog's voice is scratchy from years of drunken revelry and the various vises that accompany such behavior, but it is warm and genuinely friendly.

In the corner of the small room, whose every portal is buried beneath an avalanche of hammered boards and broken armor, Horace sees the three small fires and turning spits that they caress.

He swallows hard as he again grows accustomed to life in these troubled times. Above two of the cooking blazes are human limbs slowly roasting.
"Damn them," he curses the oppressors who have forced them to choose between starvation and cannibalism.

But, it is the third spit that offers the meal that Horace most desires. To a stranger, it would appear to be a large over-cooked bird leg of some sort. It has three toes, each adorned with talons as long and wide as a rhino's horn, but sharper than any skewer made by man. It is covered in flesh that is as ebony as the loneliest voids in space, and yet, Horace's stomach grumbles at its crispy, chewy sight.

With his mouth watering he orders Tog, "Bring it here and tell me how you captured this black legged bastard!"

In his meaty palms, Tog pulls the beast's appendage from the fire and as he carries it to Horace, he says, "It's a sad story, comrade, and be glad you weren't here to see it first hand."

( Posted by: Richard Dani [Member] On: December 7, 2001 )

Part Six
Tog begins to speak:

"Not two day agone, we were scouting out by the Tansau Pass, hoping to find a hidden reservoir of clean water. Tomick was on guard while we went down into the Pass, but you know how Tomick was, even before you left."

"A gods-cursed head-in-the-clouds," muttered Horace. "Continue."

"Well, we're on our way back up, and we get hit by this blast of air, out of nowhere. Then we hear this surprised, panicky screaming from up top. It's Tomick, of course. We get back up to see this thing, this bastard thing, with its talons buried in his back. It was picking him up! It sees us, and all of the sudden, whoosh! We get plastered again and the thing takes off into the air like an ornithopter on ferrip. Well, Tomick was in pain, you could see that. He was screaming his head off all over the plain and the bird was leaving a little trail of blood from his back as it flew. Well, what else could we do but try to shoot the thing?"

"Are you trying to justify this to me, or yourself?" says Horace, suddenly.

"Statchkga. Go to hell."

Horace grins. "Been there, Tog, remember? Finish the story."

"Well, we shot at the bird, and well, I'm a pretty good shot even in bad conditions...I hit the bastard in the head and it goes 'SQUAAAAAAK!' and drops Tomick. Only, well, Tomick was way above the Pass by then and he fell...down and down...screaming horribly. There was nothing I coulda done. He smashed himself to goo on the rock."

Tog buries his head in his hands. Marcus does not move to comfort him, nor does Horace. This is Tog's own demon. He must exorcise it himself.

The three of them are startled from their reverie by a young, bedraggled boy whom Marcus recognizes as an emissary from the Protector. He stops before their makeshift camp and stands, shifting from foot to foot as though he badly needed to relieve himself.

"Well?" says Tog, breaking the silence. "What is it, boy?"

"Message for you, sir. The Protector wishes to meet all of you in the Sun Gallery, immediately. Sir." The boy continues standing nervously.

"Right," says Marcus. "Thank you, boy." He picks a piece of cooked human flesh and throws it at the boy, who catches it mid-flight and gobbles it like candy.

They watch him leave in silence.

"Well," says Marcus. "We'd best go. What the Protector wants, the Protector gets."

( Posted by: Beckett Grey [Member] On: December 7, 2001 )

Part 7
Horace finishes off the last of the black bird leg as Tog and Marcus head for the tunnel. The underground passage is the safest way to travel from the barricaded guardhouse to the Protector’s fortress. Geoff is left behind to stand guard, but he hardly seems to mind. He’s already taken the human thigh from the spit, and after lubricating his throat with a mouthful of mead, he takes a massive bite from the flame-broiled flesh.

“Fortress,” Horace laughs to himself. It is more like a prison with its windows and doors sealed tight. As the three men wander into the passage, Horace remembers the time when men strode freely about the courtyard. “Ahh, good days,” he thinks while picturing the many hours he had passed partaking in lively conversation, sporting bare knuckle brawls, or just courting the ladies.

But those days disappeared the moment the first black bird appeared in the sky. Of course, bird is just the word they have come to use, but they are as much reptilian as they are avian. Most of the giant beasts possess long thin snouts with rows of jagged teeth. Their eyes shine so brightly yellow that they can be seen in the night sky even when the monsters are soaring at a height of 500 lengths. But it is their talons that most men fear, because it is with them that the beasts whisk them away.

“How many friends have they taken from me?” Horace asks himself and shakes his head to remove this train of thought. His eyes return to the two men staggering before him as they travel through the tunnel that has also become a shrine. Just before Horace had departed, this passage had become a memorial to their fallen brethren, as well as a reminder to the living of the price that they must be willing to pay. It had been years since Horace had last traveled this corridor and now there are scant few places where a white head bone isn’t glancing back at you. In the old days, each skull had its meat boiled from it, and following a short ceremony, they would be mounted. Horace can’t help but wondering if any of the ritual remains, or if the men just look at their dead as a welcomed meal.

Then a new thought worries his brain. It is not born of flying beasts, armor and broadswords, but of a hospital, drugs and how that world must play a part in this one.

“Marcus,” Horace screams as he realizes that he is the only constant. “Damn you man, tell me…”

But before he can finish the command, it is lost as the mist shrouds his eyes and the sounds of a rolling gurney fill his ears.

( Posted by: Richard Dani [Member] On: December 7, 2001 )

Part 8
He woke to find himself staring at the ceiling, which was whizzing gaily by. He was in motion. He made to push himself up, to tell the person wheeling him along the flat, sterile corridors to lay off, he could walk already. Therein lay his first problem. He couldn't seem to get his hands to work. Craning his head down uncomfortably yielded the obvious explanation: He had been strapped down to the gurney. This worried him.

"Nurse," he croaked, appalled at the sound of his own voice. "Doctor, whatever you are. Talk to me."

There is no answer, but instead, the unseen hand wheels the gurney into a cramped, white room where four men in identical Plague Suits peered down at him from what seemed a great height. For a moment, there was total silence in the room. Then the center-most of the men, the one he had already dubbed Doctor 2, spoke.

"Can you understand me, sir?"
"Yes, yes, I can understand you! Why am I being restrained?"
Doctor 2 looked flummoxed. Doctor 1 leaned down, breathing a cloud of air that, even though his Plague Suit, smelled heavily of antacids. "You mean you don't remember any of it?"
"Any of what?" he asked, suddenly suspicious.
"Very interesting," intoned Doctor 1. "Mr. Mallory, could you please fetch the videotape made of hours four through thirty-one? Thank you." Doctor 3 strolled from his field of vision.
"What is it?" he asked, almost fearfully. "What have I done?"
"You shall soon see." said Doctor 1. "Mr. Mallory, play the videotape!"

( Posted by: Beckett Grey [Member] On: December 8, 2001 )

Part 9: It's All Over!
Horace laid still as the television screen flickered to life. It showed the small unkempt hospital room where Marcus was spitting blood into the tiny basin. Corilis, with his sunken face, stood nervously behind Horace. Then Marcus spoke, “Horace, you have to decide.”

Instantly, Horace was filled with dread as he watched himself perform actions he neither remembered nor thought he was capable of. In his mind, he had been transported back to a time of flying beasts and broadswords, but his body was functioning normally. Well, abnormally.

He had immediately lunged at Marcus with the savagery of a tiger. Horace’s hands gripped Marcus’s hair while the attacker ripped a mouthful of flesh from his victim’s throat. Red blood began squirting from the wound like water from a hose, but still, Horace continued his assault. His teeth ripped into his prey’s face, nose and ears until the bloody dying head bore no resemblance to its former self.

Unfortunately, Corilis decided to act. He grabbed Horace by the shoulders, and tried to stop the carnage only to find himself apart of it. Horace dropped Marcus, whose dead body fell to the floor creating a wet smacking sound, and he gripped Corilis by the throat. Horace smiled with red and meat stained teeth while glaring with the demented eyes of a shark.

Corilis looked back through frightened eyes and with mouth agape, but the death grip on his throat prevented him from screaming. Again, Horace began to bite without mercy. His mouth was pulling flesh from bone quicker than he could swallow and as a result, he was forced to spit out chucks of pink meat between each new assault.

From his table, Horace watched in disbelief and his body grew cold. On the tiny screen, he saw himself strip off his clothing and smear his victim’s lifeblood on his face and chest. Then his macabre twin sat with his back against the wall and began rocking, laughing and whispering of monsters that roam the Earth, apparently unaware that he was one himself.


The tape was stopped, and Doctor 1 said, “Fortunately for you, our society has ruled the death penalty to be illegal.” He paused and flashed a devious grin. “However, lobotomies are not.”

Horace could not move. He was frozen more by the videotape than his binds, and the doctor continued to speak, “Though if I have my way, you won’t survive this procedure,” he commented while pressing the gas mask firmly against his patient’s nose and mouth.

Immediately, Horace began to feel sleepy, and as his eyelids started to close, his ears again filled with the far off sound of clashing broadswords and the plaintive screams of former friends. Or is it future meals?

____________________________________


That’s all folks! I hope you enjoyed it, and judging by the hit count, I’d say so. At any rate, I’d like to thank Crowe and Kross, whose participation added to this piece’s success.

A special shout of gratitude goes out to Beckett, whose voracious appetite for writing is only equaled by his creativity. Whoop! Whoop! Whoop!

Finally, the curtain has fallen on this story. So feel free to write comments in the box. Don’t be shy. Tell us what you think, and maybe in a few weeks we can start a whole new “Thread.”

Later,

Parteepants

( Posted by: Richard Dani [Member] On: December 8, 2001 )





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