MINERVA: Episodic, Single-Player Half-Life 2

Juvenilia 4 - Vex Not His Ghost -

A ghost story, written for a competition but (I imagine) never submitted. I probably still have the original digital copy somewhere, trapped on a 230MB SCSI hard disk. I'd boot the old Atari ST up again, only it has no ports or disks in common with my current computers. Floppy drives are so passé, you know? But here it is, retyped just for you from my carefully, lovingly typeset 1996 original...

Vex Not His Ghost

Gareth Marshall closed the door, shutting out the torrential rain. He fumbled for the light switch, uneasily staring into the darkness. Upon finding the switch, an old, brass dome, he pushed the lever down. A single, bare light bulb hanging from the high ceiling lit up, casting a dim, yellowish light over the hallway. He had been living here for some months now, ever since he had left home. It was an old, semi-derelict farmhouse, built out of stone and brick, perched upon the side of a large, empty hill. According to one of his friends, it was the site of some sort of Neolithic settlement, although Gareth could not be bothered. He hated the place, but it was much closer to the town than where his parents, Arthur and Janet, lived, and it was all he could afford.

He began to mount the narrow, steep stairs, wary of the rickety handrail, cursing the rain which had begun to drip through the ceiling. He looked up, to check the extent of the leakage, when there was a huge, blinding flash. He stumbled, the after-image filling his vision, and a deafening crash shook the house. He fell, banging his head on the rotten handrail, and came to rest at the bottom of the stairway.

When he came round, there was complete darkness, and the relentless hiss of the rain outside. He picked himself up, balancing himself on the old, wooden chair near the doorway. 'Oh, damn you. fuse box!' He cried out loud, feeling his way along the hallway towards the kitchen door. The darkness made everything seem strange, and unreal, as if he was in a dream.

His already aching head hit the door with a resounding thump, and he cried out in pain. He opened it, recoiling against the damp, musty smelling air. He had never been able to remove the smell from the kitchen, despite cleaning, air-freshener, and keeping the window open whenever possible. He opened a cupboard door, and took out an old torch, and turned it on, its faint, yellow light barely reaching the wall. Then he knelt down on the floor, his knees resting in a small puddle from the ceiling. He pushed his fingers into a gap between two of the bare floorboards, and began to lift.

Several miles away, Arthur Marshall closed his newspaper, and settled back into his armchair, the distant rumble of thunder filling the air. His dog began to whimper uncontrollably, its eyes flickering towards the door leading outside. 'What's up with you, Stan?' He heaved himself up, patted the dog on its back, and dragged himself towards the door. When he got there, he looked out through the small, stained-glass window, straining to see if anything was there. A sudden flicker in the corner of his eye made him start, when suddenly the door broke open, as if something very heavy had been thrown against it. Arthur fell backwards, amid a huge flurry of splinters, rain and leaves, and landed heavily on his back. 'Janet!', he cried, as something shadowy billowed into the room, almost like smoke.

Gareth had discovered that the fuse box was ruined beyond repair, the old bakelite casing burnt and distorted. He put the floorboards down again, after deciding there was no risk of fire, and got back up. The smell was getting quite strong, he wondered whether some dead animal was rotting beneath the floor. A distant flash of lightning filled the kitchen with light, and he saw for the first time that the door of the refrigerator was open, and that something dark was inside it.

Janet heard her husband's cry as she was climbing the stairs to bed. She turned around, careful not to twist her arthritic leg, and began to go back down again, putting most of her weight on to the bannister. 'Coming, Arthur. What's wrong with you this time?' There was no reply. 'I said, what's wrong with you?' Her thin voice echoed around the stairwell, but there was still no reply. She suddenly felt cold, for a damp, musty-smelling draught blew around her feet.

Gareth froze. What could it be? A cat that has got in without him noticing? A badger? A rat from the sewer? He slowly bent down, without taking his eyes off where the fridge must be, and picked up the torch. He turned it on, and pointed it towards the fridge. The bulb flickered, and faded, leaving him in complete darkness. He began to tremble, and backed towards the door leading back into the hallway. Perhaps it was just food he had left there? He couldn't remember doing so, as the fridge was generally used for drinks, as he ate almost exclusively out of tins. He began to move slowly towards the fridge, determined to overcome his fear. His feet standing in a puddle of water, he lifted up his arm, and put it inside the fridge. His mind crowded with thoughts concerning what it could be. He felt around, noting everything he came across. A small, vacuum pack full of bacon, a packet of sausages, a tub of margarine, something cold, and hairy. Gareth was still determined to find out what it was, so, gasping for breath, he plunged his other hand into the fridge. With this had, he felt another part of it. It felt smooth, and soft, and a large lump with two small holes at the base of it.

...

Continued tomorrow!

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