• A.D. Stephenson

Freedom of the Sewers - 500 Words Story Four

The sirens faded and vanished as Maxwell lowered himself into the putrid stench below the streets. The acrid smell of excrement and rot and darkness was hard to bear, but it was better than what awaited him on the surface. He carefully replaced the manhole cover and the stench intensified further, burning his nostrils. Bile rose up in his throat; he gagged. A single beam of sunlight pierced through the metal cover that hid him from the law that pursued him, its presence the only reminder of normality in this most forsaken on places.

He climbed down the ladder, counting his steps, not knowing how far away he was from the bottom. In the end, a gentle splash and an unmistakable wetness seeping into his shoe told him when he’d reached the corridors of escape that he longed for. A low rumble sounded, reverberating through him. In the darkness, he felt his heart rate rising. He told himself it was no more than a car passing overhead, but his mind raced. Something was down there. He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out his phone to light his way. The beam did not reveal much – a never-ending tunnel in both directions. The stench was incessant; the dark was worse. He felt his hair stand on end; he shuddered and started to walk.

The lapping sound of the shit and piss as he walked was his only company. Then, a panic as his phone light failed. He froze, listening to his own breathing, large gasping breaths, drawing the stench into his lungs. He fumbled again for his torch light, cursing himself for feeling so scared of the dark, and so desperate to get the light back on quickly. He longed for the safety of a police cell.

His phone light shone out again and he breathed a sigh of relief as the black brickwork reappeared. He stopped still and tried to compose himself. A pitter-patter of feet echoed through the tunnel. Maxwell froze once more. Fear gripped him tight. The pitter-patter grew louder until he felt something run across his feet. He shot back, held himself against the tunnel wall and shone his light at a rat.

And then it was gone. Another rumble came from behind him. He swung his light round and watched as the floor writhed and swelled. More rats, perhaps hundreds, running towards him. He dropped his phone, watched in horror as the light flickered green beneath the scum and film on the surface, and then went out. Groping about beneath him in vain, the rats hit him, running over his hands and arms, up onto his back and his head as he knelt in the dark. The rumble sounded again, morphed into a roar. The rats were gone, ahead of him in the tunnel, fleeing something terrible. Maxwell stood up and peered into the darkness from where he’d come. The sunbeam that shone down onto the water disappeared as something large moved beneath it. Maxwell fled.

* * *

Definitely a bit out of my comfort zone today with this one as I attempt to write some mild horror. I've always thought that the best horror leaves as much as possible to the imagination and plays on the human response to the unknown. In all honesty, this one might be a bit clichéd and formulaic, but I've got covid and wanted to have a go at something different...

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