Allison looked down the long, dark corridor and trembled. She knew that he might come back any minute. She reached up to her neck and touched the crucifix, reassuring herself that it was still there. He seemed to be afraid of it, although she wasn't sure whether his fear was real or just a way to lure her into a false sense of security. She knew she couldn't count on the things she'd seen in vampire movies to protect her from him. She'd already seen him walking around in broad daylight.
He'd seemed so charming and debonair when she --
* * *
Garbage, thought Jeremy morosely. A single paragraph and it's already garbage. Vampires. Bleah. And a charming, debonair vampire at that. Double bleah.
* * *
Allison looked down the long, dark corridor and trembled. It seemed to stretch before her endlessly, although she couldn't see very far. The torch in her hand cast a small pool of light perhaps five feet ahead of her, that diminished quickly and before long gave way to utter and complete blackness.
She walked forward slowly, straining to see, to hear, to feel whatever may be ahead of her. She had no clear idea of where she was, whether she was still in the basement of the old abandoned hospital or whether she'd wandered into one of the tunnels that connected it with the other buildings that once made up a busy medical complex. She had no idea where Rick was, or even if he was still on the site at all. Perhaps the whole thing had been Rick's idea of a sick joke, talking her into exploring here, getting her lost and then abandoning her.
No, Rick wouldn't do that, she told herself. He did have a sick sense of humor sometimes, and she had to admit that he even had a mean streak when it came to enjoying pranks and the like, but she was pretty sure he wouldn't have done that. She had just been stupid and had gotten herself lost. He was looking for her now, she was sure, and she just hoped he didn't get lost himself. That way, if he didn't find her, he could go get help. She had a feeling she was going to need help.
* * *
Much better. He still had no idea of who Allison was, but he had some idea of where she was. He didn't know if the old City Hospital -- which was being turned into condos now after sitting empty for a couple of decades -- really had tunnels underneath it or not. He knew the Barnes-Jewish complex on Kingshighway did, a whole network of them on two different levels underground. And he knew that City Hospital had been both added to and augmented by several other buildings nearby, just as Barnes and Jewish Hospitals had become a complex of half a dozen different locations within a few blocks of each other, so it made sense that they would have been connected in the same way.
So he knew now that his story was set sometime in the last 20 years, in the empty City Hospital complex, in the possibly imaginary complex of tunnels underneath the hospital connecting the different buildings, and that his heroine was carrying a torch, lost in those tunnels. But what was she doing there?
* * *
"C'mon, it'll be fun."
She should have known better. So many problematic "adventures," even a few near disasters, had started with Rick uttering those words. It's true that he had also proposed outrageous sounding things that had, as it turned out, indeed been fun. But it only takes one really bad day to ruin your whole life. They both knew that. Rick's best friend Bobby had been paralyzed from the neck down when he crashed his car into a tree after a night of drinking. "C'mon, it'll be fun," he had no doubt said before heading to the bar on the east side he'd been returning from.
She'd suspected that what Rick really wanted was to get her alone in the dark, but while that was almost certainly on his mind (she knew from experience that sex was seldom very far away from Rick's conscious mind), it certainly hadn't been all he'd been thinking about. He had a genuine desire to explore the place. They'd found several rooms that seemed to have been recently inhabited, some with mattresses, some with evidence of fire, lots of trash and graffiti and drug paraphernalia of various kinds, but they didn't run into any other actual people.
The elevators hadn't worked of course, and indeed even Rick was smart enough to stay away from them, because they saw from pretty far away that some of the doors opened onto empty shafts.
* * *
Wait a minute. Did he say "torch" earlier? He'd been thinking Dungeons and Dragons, then, like Allison was a character in a D&D game working her way down a dungeon tunnel. Why would she have a torch? He went back and changed it to "flashlight." Then he continued.
* * *
They'd gone up as high as the third floor, but she wasn't going to climb all the way up to the 8th or 10th or however high it went. She knew it wasn't as tall as Queeny Tower at Barnes, but it looked plenty big from outside, and she wasn't interested in going any further up. Rick reluctantly agreed. He seemed to want to explore the whole building.
"You never know what we might find, Ally"
"Rick, look at this place. People have been here. Maybe hundreds of people. Homeless people. Junkies. If there was anything of value left behind, they'd have taken it long ago."
Rick shrugged. Facts and reason seemed to run off him like water off a duck's back.
It had been his idea to try the basement, and when confronted with a bunch of different tunnels leading in different directions, it was Rick who pointed out that they'd get "done" faster (whatever "getting done" meant to him) if they split up. Each one should go forward for 500 paces or until he or she found something interesting, or came to a dead end, whichever came first, and then come back here and meet the other one. If they found something interesting, they'd investigate it together.
Except her tunnel had branched, and branched again, and then again, and she thought she'd kept track of which way she'd gone, but when she tried to backtrack she couldn't find the place where she'd left Rick.
She was lost.
* * *
Jeremy stopped. He had no idea where to go. His burst of inspiration had suddenly dried up. He shook his head, put his fingers back on the keyboard, but nothing happened.
What kind of story did he want to tell?
No, he realized. That wasn't the question. The question was, what kind of story did this want to be.
* * *
Suddenly, she heard a moan from up ahead. She rushed forward, thinking she had found Rick at last and he had hurt himself.
But it wasn't Rick.
She came out of the corridor into a large open area. Her pitiful flashlight beam barely penetrated into the gloom. But it didn't have to. In the middle of the room, perhaps fifteen feet away from her was a glowing white figure, something that twisted her stomach in knots and made the hair on her arms and neck stand up straight. It was vaguely of human shape, but it wasn't human. She wasn't sure it ever had been. Whatever it was was making the sound that she'd mistaken for moaning, but it wasn't issuing from a mouth that she could see. The creature didn't have a recognizable face, just a mass of dripping, oozing tissue that defied description. Her mouth opened to scream, but no sound came out. She was frozen with terror, unable to move a muscle, unable to even breathe.
It came towards her, and then she did scream.
* * *
Jeremy got up and walked away from the computer. He crossed over to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, took out a beer, and drank half of it. He felt tired and drained yet at the same time energized and exhilarated. It had been more than a year since he had written anything creative, and here he had written three poems and the beginnings of a short story in just . . .
"What time is it, anyway?" Jeremy wondered. He looked at the clock and was suprised to see that it was past midnight. He'd been writing for 12 hours straight. It seemed like just 2 or 3 hours.
Now that he'd stepped away, though, he realized he was hungry. Starving. He took out a frozen dinner and popped it into the microwave. While it cooked, he finished his beer. He had no idea where this story was going. He was literally making it up as he went along. Part of him knew he should go to bed soon, probably he should just eat and go to bed and get a fresh start tomorrow. But another part of him felt like he needed to keep going, that if he quit now he'd wake up tomorrow with no idea where to take the story next and it would just die, never to be finished.
He ate his meal, looking over the poems he'd written earlier, scratching out some words and replacing them with others, marking other places for future revision. The first one was the best, and by the time he finished he was almost satisfied with it. There was still a problem with the turn, though.
He finished eating, washing it down with the last of his second beer. The moment of decision had come. Bed or more story?
* * *
The glowing creature stopped, and it's head -- or at least the lumpen mass that stood up in the middle where it's head should be -- tilted a bit, as if it was regarding her quizzically. It moaned louder. Allison screamed and screamed. The noise seemed to keep the creature at bay, and she was desperately afraid of what would happen when she ran out of breath. She suddenly realized there was another tunnel behind her. It wasn't the way she came, she had no idea where it led, but wherever it led was away from the . . . ghost? monster? Whatever it was, she wanted to get away from it. Still screaming, she turned an ran into the darkness.
She hadn't gone far before she realized that she was running blind, the tunnel so dark she couldn't see the walls or floor, could barely detect her own hand held inches from her face. She looked back and saw the glowing creature in the doorway -- looking at her? She had apparently dropped her flashlight back in the room or hall or lobby or whatever it was. Well, she wasn't going back for it.
She moved to the right-hand wall and put her hand on it, using it to stabilize her balance as well as inform her steps. She walked more slowly now. The creature didn't seem to be following her, its glow receding into the distance behind, so speed became less important than not tripping and falling. She still moved fairly quickly, though, and turned back every few steps to make sure, though, that the glow stayed in the doorway, and kept getting smaller.
What she needed was a stairway. She needed to go back up to ground level, get the hell out of here. With Rick or without him. She wasn't sticking around to look for him.
What if there were more of them? What if Rick had already run into one? What if there was another one up ahead the way she was going? She shivered. Don't think about that, she told herself. Just keep walking, one step, two steps, three steps, four.
The moan came louder. She turned back. Oh, God. It was coming toward her, down the hallway. She started moving faster, finally breaking into a run, not caring if she fell and broke her ankle, because if it caught her . . .
Well, she didn't even know what it might do if it caught her, but she knew she didn't want to find out.
* * *
Jeremy stopped. He deleted everything back to Allison's scream. Continuing had been a mistake. He'd start fresh tomorrow morning. He shut down his laptop and went to bed.
* * *
That night, he dreamed the rest of the story, in vivid detail. He knew exactly what the creature was, and it was not a monster but a tragic ghost whose story, when she heard it, tore at Allison's heart, so that she resolved to do what she could to help lay this creature to rest, and with Rick's reluctant help she would solve a 50-year-old murder mystery, and finally in the end lay an old photograph of the ghost's lost love on his grave.
He woke up in a fever and finished the story, typing from 2 or 3 in the morning (he didn't notice the time when he got up) until past the dawn and on until noon - 24 hours of writing with only one break for food and a couple of hours sleep. But when he was done he knew -- he knew -- he had his first salable story, one so much better than anything else he'd ever written that it made him blush to think he'd thought of himself as a writer before. He hooked his laptop up to the printer and started printout out the story.
It still needed cleaning up, he knew. Rick was an empty cipher of a character up until near the end, where he finally started to develop a real personality. He'd need to go back and put some hints of that personality in the character from the beginning. Otherwise, Allison ending up with him seemed forced and false -- the reader wouldn't want her to end up with a lunkhead like Rick seemed to be early on.
Still, the story was strong. Definitely the best he'd ever written.
He wanted to show it to someone. Actually, he wanted to show it to Liliana, but that was of course out of the question. He had no way to call her, and besides, it was the middle of the day. He wouldn't yet admit to himself yet that she wasn't an ordinary human being, but he couldn't deny the evidence of his senses, which told him that she only turned up at night.
"Maybe she's a vampire," he joked with himself. Whoever and whatever she was, he was sure Liliana was no vampire. She'd had plenty of chances already if she'd wanted to suck his blood.
No, what Liliana was was a muse. Not necessarily a real muse, like some immortal creature from ancient Greece who had waved some magic wand and inspired him to write, but in some fashion it seemed clear that her coming into his life almost had to be related somehow to this burst of creativity.
Just that quickly, as soon as his thoughts turned towards her, Jeremy began to miss her terribly. He longed for her, ached for her. He walked over to the park, even though the last time she had been in his apartment and he didn't really expect to see her in the daytime anyway. He just had to do something that would at least provide the comforting illusion that he was doing something toward getting her back into his life.
As he expected, she wasn't there, but he felt comforted, nevertheless, as he sat on the rock where they had met and stared out over the pond. It seemed placid and serene today, untouched by wind or trouble.
He went home and made himself a supper and went to bed early, feeling like he'd just done a week's hard labor in a single day, which in a way he had. He didn't see Liliana that night, either in person or in his dreams.