On Character Agency
 

On Character Agency

Article

 
The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan
 

The Gutter Prayer

Review

 
NaNoWriMo 2019: My Personal Experience – Part Two: I WON!
 

NaNoWriMo 2019

Part Two: I WON!

 

Monthly Short Story Winner: Abandoned Places

We’ve been getting such good feedback for the short stories our members have submitted in our Monthly Short Story Competition that we have decided to post them on the main site at a rate of one a week. The task this time was to write a story using pictures of abandoned places as inspiration.

Abandoned places. The term implies that there had been days when they were filled with human life, when the buildings hadn’t been derelict ruins and people were happy there. But something happened to change that. Mostly so long ago that nobody remembers or even knows of the place. So by nature, they’re mysterious and one never knows what they contain. Treasure? Monsters? Let’s find out!

This month it’s your job to get the inspiration for the story from one of the following pictures. All are abandoned (or not? *adds creaky sound*) with a history that brings humans back from time to time – or makes them rediscover it (and its secrets).

Each has a special atmosphere – try to grab it and make the best you can.

Path to the Gothic Choir by Raphael-Lacoste

“Path to the Gothic Choir” by Raphael-Lacoste

Passage by Thierry Doizon

“Passage” by Thierry Doizon

scary town by peterconcept

“scary town” by peterconcept

Cavern City by ClintCearley

“Cavern City” by ClintCearley

When the museum become history by Bence Kresz

“When the museum become history” by Bence Kresz

Tristram Cathedral by Drawgoon

“Tristram Cathedral” by Drawgoon

Rules:

1. This can be prose or a poem.
2. The story must be inspired by one of the pictures and preferably (partly) take place in one of them.
3. Ignore this rule, it’s not really here.
4. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
5. Poetry must be 100-500 words long.
6. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits, full stop. That’s why they’re called limits.
7. Your entry can’t be published somewhere else before.

October’s winning story was by Giddler and is called “The Rookery” and was inspired by “Scary Town” by Peter Lee.

Congratulations, Giddler!

You can find all our entries here. You can also get updates on our monthly contests on Twitter by following @ffwritingcomp. And now on with the story!

– – –

“The Rookery”
by Giddler

“As the new century began, social unease was at an historic peak. The atrocities committed against wealthy families during the Riots had left the affluent of London feeling vulnerable and angry. The daytime curfew put in place to restrict the poor from prosperous areas did much to ease the mood, but was merely a temporary solution.

Lord Leyton came to me one day in 1912 with a fantastic proposal: foot-tunnels underneath London!

At once, my mind was afire with possibilities. I would build, I naively believed, a network of tunnels rivaling the London Underground. I wanly dreamed of securing my name amongst the great builders of London like Wren and Fowler.

Leyton quickly dashed my hopes. I was to build a warren for poor folk; a rat’s-maze that common workers would use to get around Mayfair without offending the sight of rich Londoners.”

– Interview with Walter Lewes, patient at Rampton Secure Hospital.

Shona stared, her drink paused halfway to her mouth. The bar she’d chosen to meet Dean in was already packed full of office types braying loudly across each other, which had caused her to miss his previous words. Or, so she hoped.

“Sorry, say that again?”

“I’ve found a hidden town underneath London,” he repeated.

Shona began to suspect she had wasted her evening. “Whereabouts under London?”

Dean swallowed nervously. “Mayfair.”

Shona took a breath and released it. “Well, that’s obviously complete crap. Goodbye, Dean.”

She stood and stuffed her notebook and audio recorder back into her bag. Dean’s eyes bulged with alarm, and he scuttled after her out of the bar.

“I’m serious! I can show you, right now!” His face twisted like a toddler being denied a treat. Shona scanned the traffic for a taxi.

“Look,” he said, “just give me ten minutes, okay? What can you lose?”

Shona looked at him thoughtfully. If nothing else, she reasoned, she could write a sympathy piece about Dean himself.

“Alright, convince me.”

* * *

He led her to the basement of a hotel on Piccadilly, which turned out to be Dean’s place of work, to a tattered door in between two enormous washing machines. Dean turned with an ungainly flourish, pulled open the door and ushered her through.

The passage was too dim to see. Dean produced a torch from his pocket and lead them through the blackness. After a time, Shona lost her bearings.

“Does anyone else come down here?” she asked.

He shook his head and shrugged. “Everyone assumes that the door is some other department’s responsibility. I guess it’s the same everywhere else. People just stop thinking about it after a while.”

They came to a junction into a wider tunnel and Dean turned right. An official sign bolted onto the wall stated:

“Any violation of the Residential Access Act will result in prosecution
– by order of the Borough of Westminster.”

“What’s the Residential Access Act?” asked Shona.

“A law banning poor people from walking the streets in rich districts,” explained Dean, “because of all the violence against the wealthy at the time. That’s why these tunnels were built: to link Mayfair to the poor areas like Whitechapel and the Docks. All the servants and labourers came from those areas, you see? But, because of the paranoia about anarchists, they had to walk though miles of tunnel to get to work. From what I’ve read, the conditions were pretty terrible.”

Dean led Shona on through the dark. The air tasted brackish and foul. He shone his torch around, and Shona’s pulse quickened as she took in the scale of the chamber they entered. They had found Dean’s hidden town.

Above them, a buttressed ceiling soared away into darkness, further than the torch beam could illuminate. All around them were the ruins of buildings ravaged by time and the subterranean damp. Broken shanties jutted out of mounds of rubbish and mould like driftwood in a swamp. Shona shone the torch beam through a shutter, playing the light over crudely made furniture. A cot lay on its side and she recoiled in disgust as a large rat scuttled away from the glare of the torch.

They made their way tentatively along the slimy passageway between houses. Further down the twisted path between the ravaged dwellings, she saw a larger building made of scavenged bricks cannibalised from the surrounding architecture. It had collapsed in on itself, slumping like a dying man. What the purpose of the building was, she could not tell.

The silence was oppressive. Both she and Dean made as little noise as they could, although neither of them could have said why.

“Public opinion turned sour when people heard about the conditions down here,” Dean whispered. “The tunnels were closed down, and the government publicly blamed all responsibility for the mess on the architect, Walter Lewes.”

A sudden noise at the edge of hearing made Shona turn, the circle of torchlight piercing the gloom between the dead buildings.

Dean clearly didn’t notice, as he continued, “Lewes reacted badly; he had some kind of breakdown and was committed to a mental asylum. Then, one day he escaped and fled down into the tunnels. He hid down here sabotaging the work of the demolition crews, even setting traps for the workers. Eventually, they abandoned the demolition and just off sealed the Mayfair tunnel entrances.

After a time, people began to move into the tunnels from the entrances in the east of London. Prostitutes, opium addicts, wanted criminals, anarchists – all the desperate poor of London; hundreds of them came down here into the dark. They loved Lewes for what he’d done; worshipped him. They stole materials from the docks and built a town down here.”

“Did Lewes ever go back to the surface?” asked Shona.

Dean opened his mouth but before he could speak, the faint noise came again.

“What was that?” she whispered, piercing the torch through the blackness between slums. The light flickered as the battery started to fail.

“Probably rats,” Dean shrugged. “Anyway, to answer your question: yes, Lewes came back to the surface when the squatters were evicted by the police. After his arrest, he was committed to an asylum where-”

He stopped as the noise came again, nearer this time. A furtive whispering, like the muffled giggling of a child playing a hiding game.

“You heard it that time?” whispered Shona.

There was no reply. She turned to find empty space where he had been standing a moment before. Panic flooded her as the torch finally died and the light slowly faded to black.

For all the triumphs of his career, Lord Leyton once confided in me, there was never one which eclipsed the shame at his treatment of poor Walter Lewes. “The man was an artist with a mind of rare genius,” Leyton once described him.

However, Lewes was entirely unequipped to deal with the mauling he received from the press which ensued from Leyton’s condemnation of his work.

When Leyton heard of Lewes’s escape from Rampton, he was in no doubt where he would seek refuge: the gloomy sub-London underworld he had been so briefly ruler of.

Sometime afterwards a message arrived at the house, delivered by hand by a street drab, according to the maid who answered the door. On it was a single phrase:

“Keep out of the shadows, Leyton, and pray I never find you.”

Lord Leyton and his family left the capital for the Colonies soon after for an ambassadorial post, and never returned to England.

– Personal notes of Andrew Hores, personal assistant to Lord William Leyton

– – –

Congratulations again to Giddler! If you’d like to enter our monthly writing contest, check out our forum for more information. Happy writing!

Title image by ClintCearley.

Share

Leave a Comment