The Walking Shadow by Max Griffin

by Max Griffin

 

Enoch leaned into the freezing wind and plodded through snow drifts on leaden feet. Snow needled his cheeks and hid the street in a white miasma. He clenched his jaw and ignored the pain in his fingers and toes. Frostbite, probably. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered if he didn’t find Noah. He couldn’t remember anything else. He might be a walking shadow, but he knew his objective.

The brick wall on his right loomed over him. An obstacle hidden in the snow caught his foot, and he stumbled. He tried to right himself, but it was too late. He tumbled into the snow and lay in a tangle.

He sighed and struggled to his knees, then gagged at the frozen body extruding from the drift. He brushed away snow to reveal a mutilated, blue cadaver. The limbs had been hacked off, leaving bone and sinew exposed. Enoch hissed at the gruesome expression frozen in the man’s features. “Grue,” he whispered. This corpse was their work.

He struggled to his feet and backed against the wall, gasping. The frigid air blistered his throat. A cough wracked his body, and loose phlegm filled his mouth. He spat, then peered left and right, everywhere but at the dead body. The world disappeared into the whirling snow.

They were out there, somewhere, he knew. Daylight would linger only a while longer. He should be safe, at least until sunset. Darkness brought out the grue.

Enoch edged forward; one arm pressed against the bricks for support. He had to find Noah, who had walked this city and knew its ways. Noah would save him.

Gloom darkened the relentless storm. Enoch’s teeth chattered and his chest rattled with each breath. Noah hadn’t been at their first planned rendezvous, the lobby of the FBC International Tower. The grue had turned it into a shattered ruin. Fitting, since FBC’s genetic engineers had created them in a venture gone wildly astray.

The house on the hill had been their backup meeting place, but it was a burned-out husk. No sign that Noah had ever been there.

His last chance was here, at the control house for Lock and Dam #3.

The wind keened and carried with it the howl of a grue.  Shadows flickered, and fear jittered down Enoch’s back.

The bricks ended. His fingers slipped across a smooth, metallic surface. The door! Enoch fumbled with the latch. Footfalls thumped in distance.  Claws scrabbled against the snow-covered streets. The ghoulish howls of grues, dozens of them, echoed off the canyon-like streets.

The latch gave way, and the door swung open. Enoch dashed inside and slammed it shut. He twisted the dead bolt just as heavy bodies thudded against the surface. Muffled screams penetrated the room. A brass lantern sat on the ebony-tiled floor casting a dim effulgence.

He’d escaped grue for now. But the grue were everywhere. More waited inside, here, ready to destroy him. It was the way things worked.

He picked up the lantern and swung it about to illuminate the room. What looked like a sword from antiquity lay on the floor, and passages led off in all directions.

A broken display case caught his eye. Jagged glass in the wooden frame glimmered in the dim light. Enoch stepped forward, drawn by a scrap of paper hiding in the dust.

It was a clue, a note from Noah! No, it was a map. Even better.

Enoch held the map in one hand and the lantern in the other, rotating to orient himself. There. That corridor was the one Noah had marked on the map.

A grue howled from the depths of the building. Where there was one, there were certain to be dozens.

Enoch picked up the sword of antiquity. It was better than nothing. He had to find Noah, and soon. Time was running out.

Armed with the sword, the lamp, and the map, he set off down the corridor.

The control house for Lock and Dam #3 consisted of twisty-turny little corridors leading off in all directions. At least it was warmer here. In fact, it was too warm. Sweat drizzled down Enoch’s brow and burned his eyes.

The path spiraled downwards, into the depths. A putrid smell fouled the air. Enoch wrinkled his nose.

The cries of the grue sounded closer. The scrabble of dozens of clawed feet sent panic skittering down Enoch’s spine. The map showed two more turns. Noah would save him.

At last, the corridor opened into a cavernous ballroom with a domed ceiling. Red and gold tapestries covered the walls, and crystal chandeliers flooded the interior with brilliant light. Someone had set the room up for a banquet, with tables, chairs, and fine china for hundreds.

Noah stood behind the bar polishing its granite surface, a broad grin on his face. “Hey, Bud. That was way exciting. I didn’t think we’d make it.”

Enoch shouted at him. “The grue are right behind me. We’ve got to get out of here.”

Noah pulled a key from his pocket and unlocked the cash register, revealing a huge red button inside. “Yeah, I know. We screwed up this run.”

The screams of the grue came louder. Enoch yelled, “They’re coming, man. Get us out of here.”

Noah’s cheshire grin broadened. “Hey, no sweat. I’ll just push the reset button. We’ll play again tomorrow. I think we should have entered the basement of the house on the hill.”

“What are you talking about?”

A dozen grue lumbered into the ballroom, ichor drooling from their fangs.

Noah glanced at them and shrugged. “You know. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and so forth. Look, you’re an awesome AI. I won’t let anything happen to you. I’ll just reset the game, and we’ll try a different strategy. You won’t even remember today.” He paused, and his eyes glinted. “Like the manual says, ‘In Zork, life’s but a walking shadow.'”

Noah pushed the reset button and Enoch’s world disappeared.

 


 

About the Author

 

Max Griffin is the the pen name of a research mathematician and academic who resides in the southwestern US. Max has published novels with Dreamspinner Press and Purple Sword Publications in varied genres, including science fiction, suspense, mystery, and horror. Whatever the genre, Max’s fiction focuses on characters you care about. Sometimes ordinary, sometimes quirky, sometimes downright evil, the conflict between the characters’ goals and the obstacles they face drives the story.

Max’s website is at MaxGriffin.net, and he has a blog at MaxGriffin.net/blog. He can also be found on Writing.Com at Mathguy.writing.com.