Sunday, September 20, 2009

Chapter One: Part 1 - Hatchling

Albert Ross laid in bed while a boulder balancing on toothpicks loomed in the darkness overhead; he could feel its gravity tugging at him, tightening the muscles in his chest and arms, making the act of drawing a breath an act of will. He didn't really fear that the fragile supports would fail and send the boulder crashing down upon him. Somehow, he knew this wouldn't happen. No, it was much more likely he would no longer be able to resist it's pull, that he would cross some invisible event horizon and smash into the jagged surface like a meteor pummeling into a planet. He would shatter into a thousand tiny shards amid a plum of dust and debris; once settled, there would be no more trace of him. Everything that made him who he was would have disappeared into the crater and only a warm indentation on his pillow would remain to prove he'd ever existed . . . and even that would cool in time, the pillow slowly regaining its shape as it forgot the weight of his head.

He reached up into the darkness and stretched his fingers until he could feel the grainy surface of the boulder beneath them. Tracing along the bumps and valleys, he gradually began to realize that something was written upon this stone. No, not written really . . . more like carved or chiseled. He followed the contours of the individual letters like a blind man and soon they began to string together into words: responsibility, honor, commitment, duty, obligation.

With this realization, he also noticed something else. What he had originally mistook for a boulder actually seemed to a be a large, round egg. He could sense something moving inside, could feel the vibrations tingle through his fingertips as an unseen beak tapped away at the interior walls. Far from being random, however, the pecks seemed to follow a definite pattern: three quick raps followed by three slow ones and then three more quick ones. Almost as if the creature inside were testing the strength of the barrier that separated it from the outside world.

Images flashed in Albert's mind like snapshots from the dreams of a madman. He could see the beast within the egg: sparse, white feathers that glistened with slime jutted out from a body as shriveled and dark as mummified flesh; where its side should have been was only a jagged hole through which he caught glimpses of curved bone amid a sea of murky, green jelly that oozed and bubbled with the creature's movements; spindly legs were pulled beneath its body in a manner that seemed to suggest the thing was coiled tightly, waiting to pounce when a chink had been chipped away from the shell.

Albert's heart hammered within his chest, seeming to match the rhythm of the bird-like creature's pecking, and the sheets beneath him suddenly seemed moist and warm. He wanted to yank his hands away from the egg, to cover his eyes with his palms, to pull himself into fetal position and lay as still as the dead in the hopes that the monstrosity wouldn't sense his presence beyond the albumin. But it almost felt as if his flesh had fused with the shell, as if he could pull until his biceps quivered with exertion and still not separate his hands from the egg enough to even slide a piece of paper between the two.

Inside the sphere, it was almost as if the creature had been whipped into a frenzy by the drum-like pounding of Albert's heart. It still pecked out the same rhythm but it's head was nothing more than a white blur, the sickly yellow beak smashing again and again against the interior wall like a jackhammer.

A sheen of sweat now covered Albert's body and his mouth was flooded with the metallic tang of fear. He knew that if the creature managed to break through, it would launch itself directly at him. He could clearly picture its wings battering the sides of his face as webbed feet scrambled for purchase on his neck; the empty eye sockets would be so close to his own eyes that he would gag on the stench of rot and decay wafting through them, would feel the sticky plop of maggots raining down on his cheeks and lips as the beak stripped away ribbons of flesh.

“Please God, no, oh please, please, please . . . .”

He wanted to cry, to release the pent up pressure in his chest with hitching sobs, to scream his wife's name until Melanie bolted upright in bed and flicked on the lamp.

How could she not hear the pecking? How could she simply continue sleeping on and not, on some level, perceive the danger lurking just feet above their mattress?

The entire egg was shaking from the force of the attack and shock waves traveled along Albert's arms, tingled like an electrical current in his neck and shoulders; how much longer until he heard the first crack, until little bits began falling away like plaster from a crumbling wall? How much longer until the hatchling's head poked through hole and he heard a sound like the screech of a tortured demon erupt from its disgusting mouth?

Please . . . .

How could he defend himself against a creature that, by all laws of nature, simply should not exist?

Please, God, no . . . .

How much longer?

1 comment:

  1. Nice intro. Very descriptive- I can invision the scene clearly.

    I like the parallel between Albert Ross' name and the 'Albatross', especially since you already set up that Albert felt connected to it.