Saturday, November 30, 2019

Shared Storytelling: Advent Ghosts 2019

There's one in every camp. That has to be the most frightening part.

A single madman or cracked woman can be handled, managed, even forcibly silenced in the end. After all, no one knows exactly what roams in the echoing, long-abandoned subway tunnels above, but we do know that things are hungry. A little insanity is to be expected. When you measure the last time humanity saw the surface in generations, you don't find yourself surprised when psyches start to slip. The sight of yet another toddler's legs bowed by rickets. The sooty stench of perpetually burning perimeter fires. The scrabbling, squamous sounds of something with too many limbs skittering through an access shaft. (Or is it somethings?) It's enough to shake even the strongest minds.

But these aren't twitchy crazies, the kind poisoned by paranoia, twisted by the psilocybin they sneak into and out of the grow rooms, peeled back to skin and bones as the simple act of eating becomes increasingly effortful. No, they always seem calm, rational. Until they start to speak.

Male or female, eight or 80, high-town whore or paramountcy chief, they all start talking about the same thing: the hepteract. You'd never made it past basic sums, let alone any geometry. Neither had they, truth be told. Neither has anyone. But they describe it with such vividness that you can almost see its form taking shape in your mind's eye, boggling in its complexity, seeming to glow, to shimmer, to breathe. If you listen to them long enough, they'll begin to detail the hepteract's 128 vertices. Let them finish with that, and they'll start reeling off the coordinates of its configuration matrix as they sketch them in the dust or chip them into a length of depot concrete or (if they find no other materials at hand) scratch it into their own flesh. Always the same numbers. Always the same mandala-like polytope. Always the same words muttered in between the numbers.

"The light. We must return to the light."

The same pattern, and the same end. Down here, few make it to their fifth decade even with every effort bent toward survival. When the paramountcy sends you, none of these last much longer than 15 minutes.

Still, you suppress a shudder as you prod the latest still-warm body with your boot and watch it twitch as you crank the hand pump on your pneumatic pistol. The surface, with its swathes of irradiated rubble, the merciless sun scorching those dry and waterless places. Only horror waits up there — or is it hope? And in the end, which is more terrifying?

Greetings, reader, and welcome to Advent Ghosts 2019, the tenth annual shared storytelling event at ISLF. Does combining spooky stories with Christmas sound a little odd to you? Well, it shouldn't. As Smithsonian Magazine has noted, "It’s no coincidence that the most famous ghost story is a Christmas story — or, put another way, that the most famous Christmas story is a ghost story." For the past decade or so, a group of otherwise unconnected writers has been trying to keep alive the tradition established by Charles Dickens and M.R. James. Won't you join us? All are welcome, and our only rules for participating are ...
1) Email me at ISawLightningFall [at] gmail [dot] com.
2) Pen a scary story that’s exactly 100-words long—no more, no less.
3) Post the story to your blog on Saturday, December 21 and email the link to me. Hosting on ISLF is available for those without blogs or anyone who wants to write under a pseudonym. (You’ll maintain copyright, so don't worry about that.)
4) While you should feel free to write whatever you want to, know that I reserve the right to put a content warning on any story that I think needs it.
What to know what previous years have looked like before you start scribbling away? Read last year's collection of stories.

(Picture: CC 2016 by Matt Perron)

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