Sewer City

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Clinging on to life in a post-apocalyptic world, where humans hide from the sun in sewers and rats are currency, a man is troubled by visions, and wonders if he is going insane. Fearful of an IT, an Insanity Trial, he hides himself in the lost suburbs.

Submitted: December 30, 2008

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Submitted: December 30, 2008

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The Fall (Sewer City)
Part 1
 
 
A
 harsh dry wind rattled though the city’s deserted streets, whipping up the dust, debris and ashes of the decaying city. The sun, dirty red, was beginning to rise over the barren mountains to the south.
Noticing its arrival, what life remained scurried to sewers and basements, shunning its cancerous rays, but secretly wishing they could stay. They had memories of what it had once been, of what it had once meant, and the memories wouldn’t die.
The sun, which had once been the source of all life, was now the cause of all death. Its ozone layer a memory, Earth was left defenceless against its cancerous rays, and what was becoming once again a sterile rock.
One figure remained above ground to watch the dawn rise; intoxicated by the light, in spite of its danger. He leaned against a crumbling wall and surveyed what had once been Dublin’s main street.
Its buildings now bleached white by the omnipotent sun, road and pavement now one under a blanket of white dust.
Everywhere the dust. Buildings were crumbling into dust; soil had become dust; the human race itself just a stone’s throw from dust. 
He looked down at the newspaper he had scavenged from a building. Its headlines read: ‘Crops Fail-Famine!’. It was published late in September 2020 and had been one of the last things published before The Fall; before the food riots and the collapse of organised society.
Governments had melted away, grabbing what resources they could before disappearing down a hole never to be heard from again. They were one of the first groups to start scavenging, an organised military type of scavenging. They had taken the best before anyone even realised that the rats were about to leave the sinking ship.
Without a police or military, there was nothing left to stop the full blown orgy of rioting, arson and violence that reduced this city, and probably all cities, to ruins in a couple of nights. It was called The Madness.
When there was nothing left to burn, when there was nothing left to destroy, those who had survived The Madness emerged from the shadows and shuddered at what little remained: burnt shells of buildings, glass strew pavements, charred corpses.
There was to be nothing new after 2020; no new crops, no livestock, no industry. Everything stopped and all there was left to do was feed on the corpse of the old world. There was less and less to feed on, and three years after The Fall, only the most talented scavengers still survived.
He tried to see the city as it once was; to lose himself in Dream World. His trance was cut short by a hunting companion, anxious to close the man hole and return to the Sewer World and escape the Old World. The boy had seen others mesmerised by sunrise before, seen them wonder off into it, and found their scorched corpses the following night, unless the rats had found them first.
 
“Come on, M,” he said. “Leave it to the Dream Time. I wanna get to the Market, before the queue gets too long.”
 
M took one last look, one last hit from the opium of memory, went down the hole and closed the man hole after him. It made a loud clunking noise, like a prison cell closing, a noise that Mark had never grown used to, and hoped he never would.
The boy, whose name was Ciaran, but who everyone simply called ‘The Boy’ was by far the youngest inhabitant of Sewer World. He had only been 11 at the time of the Fall and had witnessed his own father slaughtered in the brutality of The Madness, but he had survived, hiding with his mother, like so may others, in the relative safety of the countryside until The Madness had subsided.
There was something primal in the boy’s eyes that told you he was a born survivor, that he would be there until the very end.
Nevertheless, it had been a bad night’s hunting for both of them. In their hunting bag there was only the emaciated remains of a single river rat, its yellow pus-filled eyes and blood-soaked paws telling them it had died of the Plague, and really shouldn’t be eaten at all. But they were ravenously hungry and hadn’t eaten anything the night before.
Mark left the Boy at his section of the Sewer, which was called Fly Street. He said hello to the boy’s mother but she didn’t respond. She was wearing a loose and filthy band of rags and sitting, crouched in a foetal position, against the oval wall of the sewer.
The square shards of light from a nearby manhole cover showed nothing of her face, hidden as it was in cloak, but Mark was not inclined to look at her face anyway. He had seen her yesterday, and her twisted haggard features had told him then that she had not long left before the Plague would leave her too weak to defend herself. Somehow the rats knew when you were too weak to fight them off. They could just sense it.
As he said goodbye to the Boy he told him to keep all of the rat for himself and his mother. The Boy appreciated this act of generosity, and also knew that he might need Mark’s support if his mother died.
He decided to repay kindness with kindness and from a bag hidden in the Sewer’s wall, he covertly took out what smelt like a piece of relatively fresh meat and gave it to Mark, nervously checking to make sure that no-one had seen where his flesh-stash was hidden. He also knew his mother was in no position to defend his stash.
Mark thanked him and stole away quickly. His mouth salivated wildly at the thought of his first meal in two days, and his first non-rat meal in weeks. When he was sure no-one was looking, he took the meat from under his cloak to better see what it was. He could hear but not see a few rats to his left, obviously excited by the smell of flesh.
He felt a wave of nausea when he realised what it was. A human hand was looking up at him and Mark remembered that the Boy’s second cousin had died of the plague a few days previously, and that this hand must have belonged to him. The boy must have been left all or some of his cousin in the Body Will.
It would not have been the first time Mark had eaten human flesh, but he was still revolted by the thought of cannibalism. Instead he went to the Meat Market in Butcher’s Lane to see if he could bargain it away for something else.
He approached a Flesh Dealer he knew a little; his normal dealer having mysteriously disappeared about a week ago. It was a dangerous business being a Flesh Dealer, and one had to make enough of a profit to always have enough Minders to protect you and your merchandise from jealous eyes.
 
“How ya doin’ Mark? Got anything nice for me today then from up above?” the Dealer enquired.
“I don’t suppose you’d be interested in a copy of one of the last ever newspapers, would you?” Mark enquired.
“Now you know as well as I do there’s only one thing we trade nowadays, don’t you? And it ain’t pleasantries, is it?! If you ain’t got meat, don’t take up the seat-that’s my motto.”
Behind the dealer a minder had come into view, brandishing a knife. It was only a warning, of course, but it was an effective one. Mark produced the hand of the Boy’s cousin.
“Now that’s not a bad piece of meat there friend,” the Dealer said, casting his expert eyes over the waving hand. He gave it a quick sniff and showed his knowledge of the product.
“Two…no three days old. Death by plague, I’d say, judging by the spots. But nothin’ a good boiling won’t sort out. Fry it up in a bit of rat oil and that could be quite tasty, so it could. What are you looking for in exchange then Sewerzene?”
“Two healthy rats,” Mark stated boldly, knowing that one had to start bartering high and then reduce one’s price gradually.
“Two whole rats! Do I look like I’ve got Sun Fever or somethin’? ‘Two rats’, he says! An’ healthy ones, no less. If they were bleedin’ healthy we wouldn’t be able to catch ‘em, would we?!”
“OK, OK, One rat, normal Plague victim, but I’ll want a fat one. Not a starved one.”
“Now everyone knows I don’t deal in starved rats. Takes more calories to digest ‘em than you get back from eatin’ ‘em. What kind of rip-off merchant you take me for?
You should count yourself lucky I’m taking human flesh at all. Bit of a glut in the market in human meet, ‘cos of the Plague an’ all. Some Dealers won’t touch it now, y’know.”
“No disrespect intended, Dealer Dave. Throw in a couple of maggots and it’s a done deal”
 
Mark handed over the hand and took the rat in exchange, which he had cooked for him in return for 5% of the flesh-the chef’s usual rate.
It was a tasty rat and Mark slept better than he had done the night before on an empty stomach.
He woke abruptly to the sound of rats scurrying in the distance. Everyone slept fitfully now and with one eye open, constantly ready to defend themselves against a ratak, a rat attack. Over the last couple of months, the rats had grown ever more desperate and ever more daring.
Shortly after humans had retreated to the Sewers, the rats had deserted them en masse, fearing this ravenous intelligent hunter who had suddenly invaded their own world.
However, having all but exhausted the food supplies in the city above ground, they were returning to the underworld, driven by hunger and attracted by the smell of flesh.
After waking Mark made a brief stop on Shit Square, a tarpaulin-covered wide square above ground near the River. This was where Sewer World’s inhabitants routinely defecated.
It was a busy place in spite of the smell and had become the nearest thing Sewer World had to a focal point, a centre. Around the edge of the square, hunters stood waiting for rats which were irresistibly drawn to Shit Square, but easily picked off by the opportunistic hunters who lay in wait for them. At least in daylight.
The night rats were harder to spot, in spite of the flames of the torchlight, and they were beginning to hunt in packs too, making the Rat Hunters of Shit Square a nervous group, ever watchful lest the unseen rats launch for a ratak, clutching their emergency whistles in the dead of night, peering into the shadows thrown by the torch flames.
The rats were not attracted by the manure itself, but rather by the colony of maggots and worms that lived off it. You were paid for making a deposit in the Shit Reservoir, so the worms always had a fresh supply of food.
The amount of worms and maggots you received was determined by the weight and quality of your faeces, and as Mark’s stool was quite a healthy specimen today, he received 2 worms for his trouble, which he swallowed without any real relish.
He never really enjoyed Shitworms, but he never turned down food of any description. He wouldn’t have survived so long if he had. One of the things that humans and worms had in common was that in extraordinary times, they are both capable of practically anything, and this adaptability kept the two species alive-the last of the mammals.
After eating the worms, he looked for a ‘good match’. Like everyone else in Sewer World he was infested with head lice, and after a brief head inspection, he found someone who was equally louse-ridden.
They ate each others’ head lice quickly, expertly picking even the smallest louse from each other’s head. There were not that many calories to be obtained from lice, but they sucked calories from you, and it definitely worth keeping them under control.
After the louse swap, he said goodbye to what he had assumed to be a man but was actually a woman. It was a common mistake since it had become difficult to tell one gender from another; dressed as everyone was in filthy ill-fitting rags, their faces blackened with ground-in dirt, and everyone covered in the omnipresent dust.
Nightfall was now only a few hours away, and he wandered around the outskirts of Sewer World alone. It was a waste of calories and he knew it. There was no food to be found here, but he was restless and couldn’t seem to settle into the torpor that best conserved energy.
It was also dangerous. A ratak was much more likely when you were alone and far from the centre of Sewer World. Originally the humans had occupied almost all of Sewer World, but over the last couple of years their numbers had shrunk dramatically, the human population decimated by hunger and disease, and now humans, who numbered less than 500 in the last ‘census’, inhabited only the centre of Sewer World.
There was also the danger of human attack. While cannibalism was now common, it was still illegal to murder another human, under pain of being boiled alive, but there were rumours that hunter gangs had in fact turned into hunters of men; hunters of hunters. More and more hunter groups never returned after an evening’s scavenging. Paranoia was everywhere.
For all of these reasons Mark knew he should not be here, alone in the suburbs of Sewer World, walking aimlessly and without a destination. He knew he shouldn’t be here, but he didn’t really care. Something was calling him into solitude, calling him away from Sewer World.
In the distance, he saw a figure climbing out of the sewers. He called out to it, finding it hard to masque a tone of fear in his voice. There was something disturbing about the figure. People rarely left the Centre and they very rarely went anywhere alone.
The figure also seemed move strangely, but it was so far away that Mark couldn’t make anything out clearly.
There was no reply when he called out again, and in spite of what the rational side of his mind told him, he slowly went towards the man hole the figure had left through, a slanted red beam of light coming though it, a witness to the setting of the sun above.
 Mark dragged himself up through the man hole, his heart beating quickly, fighting against a fear he could not really justify but could not stop feeling. 
Standing above the man hole he surveyed the suburb he found himself in. Lost as he had been in his own thoughts, he did not know which suburb it was, and even above ground it was difficult to tell. The further away from the Centre one went, the more dust there seemed to be, and the more hopeless things appeared. The city itself was being swallowed and would eventually be covered and forgotten. Not a trace of it or the species that had built it would remain.
The dust seemed to be eating the half-covered houses, drifts of it drunkenly leaning on walls and windows. He was near the edge of the city now and beyond it there was only the dust, vast oceans of it flowing off into the distance, into the eternal night.
There were no clouds in the sombre red sky as the sun sank behind him, casting a black shadow on the dust before him. The sunset made it look eerily red, as though it had been doused in blood. Everywhere there was the smell of burning, the stench of the embers of a baking world. In the day, the surface of the Earth was somewhere between a furnace and a microwave oven, and at nightfall, it always smelt like baking cinders.
As night banished day, the aurora began, its solar wind blasting into the decaying atmosphere, its vast swirling green waves illuminating the night sky.
Mike stared into it, lost in its terrible beauty, but suddenly froze when he heard a voice from behind him; a soft female voice. It was a voice from before The Fall, when beauty was more than a memory, and life went beyond maggots feeding off a corpse.
 
“The wind the souls of the departed carries
A place free of fear and violence
A place of peace
Release”
 
Mike turned around and saw a figure covered in a black cloak. He was mesmerised by the cloak. It appeared to be made of silk, something he had not seen since The Fall, and even more astoundingly, it was free of the dusk. Not a speck of white clung to the inky blackness of the cloak.
“Who… are… you?” Mike managed to ask with difficulty, fear rising within him, choking him.
“I am the beginning, the middle and the end
I am the One beyond time,
Beyond pain, beyond death
Let”
Mark was tempted to say something flippant to defuse the tension he felt within, to break this woman’s spell, but he could not bring himself to do it.
Suddenly he heard a noise from the nearby housing estate and the woman disappeared. Her image flickered into non-existence, taking with her a feeling of hope and optimism that he had not known in many years.
The noise was made by a small band of hunters perusing a family of rats. They skilfully cornered and caught them and a cheer went up from a nearby street. Shortly afterwards, Mike saw the hunters coming down a dust hill; one of them holding the smashed bodies of the rats and the others wielding blooded baseball bats, tarred and covered in smashed glass.
He knew them by sight but couldn’t remember having ever spoken to them before, and he felt afraid. In the world after The Fall, fear sometimes seemed to be the only emotion left. Out here in the Suburban Wastelands, there would be no witnesses and they could easily kill him, cook him and eat him before dawn. No-one would ever know.
They saw him, looked to see who he was with, and finding no-one, looked at each other quizzically. It was rare enough to find someone alone these days, but to find someone alone in a suburb, in their suburb-that was unheard of. They weren’t sure if he was mad or hiding something. After a brief and awkward pause, in which they all stood looking at each other, the leader of the group spoke.
 
“Now look mister-we don’t want no trouble, but you’re on our turf. This estate’s ours, like. You’ll have to scavenge somewhere else.”
“How many of you are there anyway? Mike asked, wanting to confirm, even though he already knew it, that the cloaked figure was not one of them.
“Why d’you wanna know in anyways, eh?” one of them asked, menacingly tapping the baseball bat against his tattered Doctor Martin boots, and keeping an eye out for unseen allies of this strange man, who appeared to be completely unarmed.
“What’s yer bloody game!” he demanded to know menacingly.
 
Mike could feel the danger in the situation, and knew he had better leave this place soon. If they felt he was a threat, they would kill him, eat him, and call it self-defence.
If he told them about the cloaked figure who had disappeared, they would certainly consider him insane, and then bring him back to the Centre for an IT, an Insanity Trial.
There had been an alarming increase lately in ‘Insanity Trials’ recently in Sewer City, and no-one seemed to be safe from the charge of being IDC: ‘Insane and a Danger to the Community’.
Custom dictated that society conduct a brief and perfunctory Insanity Trial before boiling and eating the accused, but since all those involved in the trial got a share of the meat obtained from anyone put to death for the crime of insanity, there was a vested interest in finding someone guilty of insanity, and few who were accused ever escaped. It was usually the silent who were accused; those without powerful allies and strong social networks.
Not for the first time, Mike realised what an easy target he would make for a mob under the guise of an Insanity Trial. He had few friends, rarely spoke, and avoided physical displays of power and violence. In a world in which the weak were increasingly going to the wall, he could see his name clearly written on it. It was not a question of ‘if’; it was a question of ‘when’. He hastily left the suburb, wishing the hunters a successful evening’s hunting.
Wandering though the sewer’s largely unlit outer suburb, navigating largely through instinct, he questioned his own sanity. Although ‘other-worldly’ he had no doubt that he had actually ‘seen’ the cloaked figure, but he also knew that she could not have existed in any real sense. People simply did not appear and disappear, and therefore surely it must have been just a figment of his imagination.
And yet she had seemed so real to him, so meaningful; more real and meaningful, in fact, than anything he commonly experienced in the dreary and gruesome Sewer World.
He got so lost in his own thoughts that he walked straight into a wall. Stunned and confused, his nose bloody, he realised he didn’t have the slightest idea where he was. Realising the danger he was in, he found the nearest man hole and went above ground again. The smell of fresh blood would attract rats from a mile around, and it would be easier to see them coming above ground.
Judging by the position of the moon, Mike thought it must have been about 3am, and he saw that he was still in a suburb, but he had no idea which one. It was difficult to tell one from another. He saw what he always saw: Line upon line of silted houses basking in the full moon’s silver glow; the charred remains of burnt-out cars, and everywhere the dust.
As hard as Mark tried to listen, nothing permeated the silence. The deafening silence.
His eyes were drawn to the stars. The aurora had disappeared and the stars looked down on him instead; uncaring, distant and infinite.
The hair on the back of his neck rose and without even looking he realised that she was there again. Mastering his fear, he turned to face her. She was as before; a cloaked figure, something from before The Fall, or perhaps even beyond The Fall.
He waited for her to speak, but she said nothing. She didn’t move. She was beyond immobile-fixed and immaculate.
Afraid to speak and even more afraid of the silence, Mark’s mind raced in ever-decreasing circles, falling in on itself, imploding. His thoughts broken and unfinished, unworded and unscripted, he knew that he had to do something, but had no idea what.
“Am I insane? Are you real?” Mark asked the cloaked figure out loud, vocalising his fears.
When she replied, he was again intoxicated by the sweetness of her voice, which seemed to know no malice. It fed him.
 
“I am beyond sanity, above reality
A love that does not bind
A hole in time’s prison
Emotion’s prism
Schism”
 
When he thought about what she said, he realised that he did not understand it. This troubled him, the feeling of euphoria disappeared as quickly as it had erupted, and he spoke to her again.
 
“I do not understand your answers. What are you? Speak to me plainly so I can understand you.”
“That which is more than thought
By thought cannot be enslaved
What is unknown cannot be known
I flow without water
Daughter”
 
It suddenly occurred to Mike that the figure had no form. He looked into the hood of the cloak and saw nothing. It went beyond blackness-he saw nothing, pure and unadulterated nothingness. It did not scare him.
He glanced up again at the stars and asked the shadow creature, this time with a new-found sense of confidence.
 
“Are you from another world?”
“From all worlds and no world
Word of worlds
Folds in time
Finds”
 
As before the words meant nothing to Mark at a cerebral level, but he realised that if he looked inside himself he could feel them, and he felt that their conversation was coming to a conclusion.
 
“Why have you chosen me?”
“Escape from pain
Your time has come
A Joining of Others
Solar Wind Aurora
Flora
 
Another wave of joy flooded over Mike, but he didn’t know what it meant nor what had caused it. He still didn’t understand the Shadow Creature’s words but he felt something beautiful was about to happen, something that would take him away from the Sewer World and all its horrors.
 
“I am death
Bringer of life
Ender of strife
Life”



© Copyright 2020 Phillip Donnelly. All rights reserved.

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