Stuck. Short Story.

So this was it, he was stuck. Mark looked down at the remains of his device, cracked and shattered on the ground. Maybe it wasn’t all that bad, maybe it could be fixed. He knew as he leaned over to pick it up fixing it would be almost impossible, but the hope remained. He brought the device over to a short wall and sat down, carefully placing it on top of the stone. Every so gently he started to move wires, trying to see inside. He didn’t have any tools with him, not ones that would help him fix this anyway. He could see shattered nodes and crystals inside. Those would need replacing. The wires seemed to be all intact, a few of them might have been loose, but that wasn’t too bad. He had always thought of them as sturdy. He was always careful with it, made sure not to drop it too often, but any time it did fall it was fine. He had only ever heard of one breaking once before, Sarah, she had been rescued though. It wasn’t difficult to track her down, she always left little traces of herself here and there. Mark was much more careful, he didn’t want people following him and he hadn’t told anyone that he was going anywhere this time, he just took off. They might find him though. It could happen. He looked around the small plaza he was in, then sighed. No one was going to find him. Maybe he had heard of the devices breaking before, he just hadn’t known it. How many people went missing? At least one or two a year, most of which were never found, it was always assumed that they were killed or captured, he looked at the broken device, feeling betrayed.
Mark stood and started to empty his pockets, seeing what he had with him. It wasn’t much. A wallet, a pack of gum, some loose change, a set of keys and a small pocket knife, he hadn’t planned this to be a big trip. To his left there was a small fountain, water poured freely from the faucets so he wouldn’t dehydrate. He had brought back samples for testing before and it was clean. He suspected it wouldn’t run out of water, though he had no confirmation of that yet. His biggest problem was food. Around him were houses, but access to them all was impossible. Each door and window would bring him somewhere entirely different and he had no way of knowing what was on the other side now that the machine was broken. He had never seen any birds here, nor any other animals. Patches of flowers grew in baskets, but he had no idea what kind they were, they could be poisonous for all he knew and eating a bunch of poison berries was the last thing he needed right now. He looked at his wallet, it was made of leather, could someone eat leather? He pushed the thought from his mind for now, maybe later, when he was desperate.

 

Mark could hear the gentle sound of the sea in the distance, he had never noticed it before, though it was seemingly the only background noise beside the fountain. Perhaps he could make his way towards the water, there could be fish in it, that would sustain him for a while, the only problem was getting there and getting back. He knew this fountain had fresh, safe water, but the others might have different sources. It would be too easy to get lost in the mazelike city. The first time he had arrived he thought that leaving the plaza just brought him back to it, but each plaza was completely identical, right down to the small cracks in the tiles. He looked at the keys, then picked them up, experimentally he tried to use one to gouge at the tile on the ground. It made a small, thin line. He could make his way with arrows using the keys. Mark went to the fountain and brought back a dripping handful of water, he allowed it to fall over the scratch he had made and waited for it to dry, when it did so the scratch was gone. He looked up at the too-bright-blue sky, there were no clouds, there were never clouds, but that didn’t mean it might not rain. This place didn’t follow natural laws, what if it fucked with him? Made sure he was lost. He had never been here for long periods. Hell, he’d never even been here at night, did nightfall ever come?

 

Mark left a small stack of change sitting on the edge of the fountain, so he would know when he had come back to his original spot. He scratched “beach following arrows” beside the change, should someone come they would be able to find him hopefully with ease. He started walking, going what he thought was east, towards the sound.

 

It took almost three hours of walking before he finally arrived at the beach, he knew that the return trip would be faster as he wouldn’t be scraping arrows. When he did arrive his hand was sore and beginning to cramp. He stepped from the plaza and suddenly found himself standing at a wall. His head spun for a moment. Just before he stepped outside the plaza all he could see was another space, identical to the one he was leaving. He took a deep breath and steadied himself. He had made it to the sea, now, he could see if he could make some kind of fishing line. He blinked twice, trying to understand what he was seeing. It looked like there was a smooth wall of water in front of him, obviously some kind of optical illusion. He looked down, expecting to see the spot where the water met the wall, but there was nothing, just a deep, black pit with no end in sight, all along it he could see that wall, until it too faded into darkness. It was like a giant aquarium tank. He could see a small amount of water dripping down the glass, slopping over from the edge above. Inside he could see creatures swimming, strange-looking fish with fins and tentacles, spikes and bright, staring eyes. A few were looking at him. The water was clear, impossibly so, he could see for what felt like miles. In the distance he could make out large shadows. He shuddered, those creatures had to be gargantuan. He took a small step back from the wall, just in case. The gap seemed to be about ten to fifteen foot across, it was hard to tell. He took a piece of gum from his pocket and threw it at the wall, it didn’t clack against the glass as he expected, it didn’t make any noise, it slid through. The creatures around it looked at it for a second, then began to fight over it, the edge of the water rippling slightly. When it was over, three of the creatures had been torn to shreds, throwing murky blood and viscera into the water, the one who won the prize sped from the wall, diving at an angle. One of the dark shadows was moving, getting larger. Mark stood watching, it was moving at an incredible speed, his heart was hammering in his chest. The form started to become clearer, more distinct. Mark shuddered, turned and ran from the edge of the impossible ocean.
Mark ran until he couldn’t run anymore, he leaned over, panting and coughing, hoping the thing couldn’t move onto land. It was definitely large enough to easily bridge the gap. When he got his breath back he stood and started walking at a quick clip until he reached his own little plaza. His coins were still neatly stacked, his machine hadn’t moved. He ignored them all and he started to drink. A sudden thought flashed across his mind, what if the water came from the sea? But he found he was too thirsty to care. When he had drank his fill he sat down heavily at the edge of the fountain. Fishing was definitely out. None of the fish had looked remotely familiar and he wouldn’t know which ones would be safe for him to eat. He looked up at the still bright sky, at least it wasn’t cold in this place. There was no wind, but the air remained fresh rather than seeming stale. He wondered if there were ever storms, if that barrier ever broke. He shuddered again. He had already accepted that he’d never know anything about who or what created this place, they had to have some way of knowing what was behind the doors, some kind of back up plan for if someone got stuck. It had to be made by intelligent beings, nature couldn’t craft an entire city, could it? Maybe he was right about it being a maze, maybe there was some kind of pattern he wasn’t seeing. He could examine each plaza, try to create a map. As soon as the idea came he dismissed it. Make a map with what? He had no pen, pencils or paper. He looked around the plaza, wondering what he should do, they say if you’re lost in the woods you should wait exactly where you are until someone finds you. Seeing no option, Mark decided to stay put. He felt a strange kind of finality once the decision was made.

 

He looked around the plaza again, wondering if he was looking at his own tomb.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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