Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Cartographer

A Writer's Extreme Creativity Challenge: Write a story a day, in May. That's it:

#1 : The Cartographer

I permit the Cartographer to speak:

“In the forty eight years since we arrived on board, this entire space ship has been mapped by myself and my father. Seventeen decks, four and a half kilometers long and just under two wide. No other life forms have been encountered on board aside from the botanical gardens on the upper decks. We have been unable to locate or identify any form of controls, computers, or engines. The styling of the majority of the majority of the ships fixtures and furnishings appears to be early edwardian, and in most areas the actual hull can only be reached by removing faux brickwork”.

The three others in the candlelit room are nodding politely. This is pure exposition of course. We know all this, but the Cartographer has asked us here for a reason and considers it vitally important to re-iterate the facts as he sees them as often as he possibly can. It is how he keeps things under control. He gestures towards his drawing of the ship in profile.

“Except in this room. You will note that as far as our maps are concerned, we are currently at the lowest point on the lowest deck”. He walks over to a large book case which dominates the wall.

“However...” he pulls on one of the leather bound books, and steps back. The bookshelf rotates rapidly on its vertical axis revealing a chamber beyond. The Cartographer turned and faced his audience expectantly.

They are already getting to their feet, so let’s introduce them:

The fellow with the cigar is Robin Talbot. The second oldest person in the room at sixty eight, he looks much older, having located a store room filled entirely with what are apparently exceedingly good cigars in year twenty three and never looked back.

Nicholas Day is in his twenties, so he was born on the ship. He’s the stupid chap peering into the darkness of the chamber.

Frances Day is also in her twenties, I think, though it would be rude to ask, and I haven’t been counting. She’s slightly brighter than her husband, illuminating the darkness of the chamber with a lamp from the wall.

The chamber is a small, dusty, wallpapered room, about two meters square. It contains two things that mark it as distinct from the six similarly hidden chambers on the Library deck. Firstly, a corpse in a smoking jacket. Secondly, a wooden spiral staircase with a fragile looking banister leading downwards into a brick well.

The Cartographer continues: “My father and myself found this chamber yesterday, you see it exactly as we found it, Doctor Ellis, would you care to examine the body? Frances, Nicholas, could you bring it over to the table?”

I, Doctor Ellis, the eldest and wisest in the room drag myself slowly from the comfort of my green leather armchair, a kind that appears dozens of times throughout the ship in most of the rooms I have visited. I have recently decreed all such armchairs property of Doctor Ellis, though magnanimously overcome my irritation at the needyness of other people and permit them to use them.

By the time I have struggled to my feet, the body has been brought to the table for my joyous perusal. The corpse is male, dressed in a smoking jacket, probably in his forties, and has been dead at least as long, the skin having became cured rather than decomposed by the dry air of the ship.

“Have you been down the stairs?” says Nicholas.

“I took a look, yes, though I didn’t reach the bottom” says the Cartographer “the staircase continues like that for at least thirty yards downwards, with no sign of ending”.

Nicholas takes the lamp from Francis and begins his journey down into the darkness.

Looking closer at the body, it has two puncture marks on its neck. Considering this spacecraft's affectations, I consider the potential presence of one or more vampires as utterly unsurprising. Tedious even: vampires are incredibly boring though at my age I consider the possibility of eternal life with some curiosity. I announce my findings to the group.

“Vampires? Preposterous!” says Robin, coughing.

“We’ve known for some time that the ship will respond to people’s desires from time to time, though we are unable to know when and how” says Frances “It provided me with the pink floral wallpaper for my room. Beautiful though this is, the ship has not provided us with a means of obtaining reliable hot water on tap, so strength of desire cannot be a factor”.

Robin is looking at the corpse. “I remember this man” he says, and everyone looks at Robin, except Nicholas who can be heard tapping away down the stairs.

“He was one of the first people to wake up, a few folks people went off on their own to explore the ship. He never came back” said Robin.

I look at the body. My memory isn’t what it was. Robin could be right. The ship was very dangerous in the early days. Until the Cartographer created his maps, the interior was almost impossible to understand and seemed as though it could change at a moments notice. People could get lost for weeks. I wouldn’t like to say for certain that the Cartographer mapped the ships interior or actually took a hand in designing it as he was setting it all down.

Vampires are boring, and would barely be an improvement to the day to day tedium of life on this ship. If something was coming up those stairs to try to kill us all, I’d rather it was something vastly more interesting than a vampire. Potentially infinite staircase into darkness: surprise me.

And we hear Nicholas scream from some distance down the staircase. As the others begin to panic, a complex rhythm of tapping on wood and brick echoes up through the stair well, I return to my very comfortable leather seat. Francis shouts down the stairs for Nicholas but the sound that echoes back isn’t human.

Something interesting is coming.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this story, do you think you would ever make more of it? It has potential I think. I found the description "the skin having became cured rather than decomposed by the dry air of the ship." particualrly striking.

    Overall I enjoyed the mxture of horror and sci-fi elements.