The Seeds of New Earth (The Silent Earth, Book 2)By: Mark R. Healy
I pushed forward, noisily kicking and bashing through the remains of the door, then stopped to listen to determine if the racket had elicited a response from above.
Nothing. All was quiet.
My boots brushed against the steps and I began to ascend. Almost immediately I heard it again – the scraping. It was louder, closer, more defined. I was closing in on it.
With more urgency, I thumped my way up onto the next floor and out into a long, dark hallway. In the gloom I could make out the mottled and cracked form of the walls and ceiling where paint had peeled away, the flakes collecting on the bare floor in chunky strips like an accretion of fallen leaves. Half a dozen doorways lined either side, disappearing at the end of the passageway where it fed into the tenebrous innards of the building.
The noise abruptly stopped.
I clenched my fist involuntarily, unsure of what to do. Was it lying in wait behind one of these doors, its breath stilled, poised to strike should it be cornered? Had it laid a trap somewhere and now patiently waited for me to fall into it? Or had it found itself at a dead end, standing there helplessly as I closed in?
I’d come this far, and I’d never been this close to capturing it, to discovering the nature of it.
Don’t turn back now.
I entered the passageway, the paint chips crackling as they yielded under my boots, my jaw set firmly, my synthetic muscles coiled and ready to respond to whatever might cross my path. I paused at the first doorway, my hand hovering over the knob. I grasped it gently and twisted. It was locked.
Further down I could see that only one of the doors in the passageway was open. Listening at the first door for a moment longer, I heard nothing. I kept going.
Pausing briefly at each entrance, I listened for sounds of movement, for that distinctive scraping noise, but it seemed to have retreated. I could no longer find any trace of it. Had I lost the watcher, or was it still here, having fallen silent?
I reached the open door and looked through, into the room beyond. Inside it was brighter than the hallway, and as I eased across the threshold I saw the dull light from outside spilling in through an open window. The room itself was in tatters, a small bed rotting away in one corner and a filthy, dirt-smeared kitchenette in the other. The darkened recess of a lavatory appeared as I entered further, but it was empty.
I moved across to the window and looked out into the street, the cool evening breeze caressing my face. There was no movement out there. Gripping the windowsill I leaned out more, craning my neck this way and that, but could see nothing aside from the great concrete and steel expanse of the city and the stars above.
As I leaned back inside, my fingertips brushed something sharp, and I looked down. The wooden frame of the windowsill had been splintered and gouged, with four distinct gaps lined out across it like great claw marks. Something had come through here. Something had gone out.
Lifting my hands away and brushing at the splinters of wood that clung to my skin, I realised it had eluded me, stealing off into the night and out of my reach. Whatever purpose it had in mind, whatever its reasons for following me, would remain a mystery for now, for once again it had managed to stay out of my reach.
This game of cat and mouse wouldn’t last forever. There would come a time when it grew tired of waiting. One day soon I’d find it, or it would find me.
As luck would have it, the light that filtered down from the half moon was enough for me to find my way through the hushed and darkened streets. There were moments when it slipped behind clouds or the bulk of skyscrapers, inky black and immense against the starry sky, obliging me to pick my way along more carefully. On the whole my progress was adequate. I’d been confronted by conditions worse than this in my time and still found my way.
Upon clearing the downtown district I was able to look out upon the moonlit sprawl of the outer suburbs from a rise, seeing clusters of dim shapes where low-rise apartment buildings and houses all melded together into one wrinkled tapestry. At this time of night I couldn’t see the decay, the extent of the ruin, but I knew it was there. This place that I would have once called beautiful had now been ravaged by war and by the Winter and left to slowly crumble away. Those curves and glistening surfaces, the perfect lines and architectural marvels, were now jagged and unrecognisable caricatures. That was the way of the world I now found myself in.
I knew this path out into the northern suburbs well. I had travelled it many times before and could almost have made it without the aid of any light whatsoever. I instinctively knew all the turns and the bumps, all the obstacles, and my body responded without hesitation, eating up the kilometres with essentially the same assuredness I would have exhibited in broad daylight. My footsteps echoed through abandoned neighbourhoods, the sounds chasing each other along walls and through empty building interiors like wraiths fleeing into the night.
A lonely place, one with an awful and desolate past, but not one without the promise of something greater. There was a future in these broken structures, I thought adamantly, a chance for something beyond these decrepit remains. That was why I was here, after all, the reason I’d been created: to restore life to this desolate world. If I could fulfil the potential within me and make those changes a reality, then maybe one day soon these streets would be alive again with more than just shadows and lonely echoes.