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by David Ian
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Chaz’ story

It is dark underneath the streets of New Belfast. The tunnels were once used by both sides to gain access to the other, do the dirty work, and then to slip away. Traps and pitfalls, landmines and tripwires riddled the underground pathways, and scouts were used to lead the way through the maze. The forays were slowed down by the booby traps, but “The Cause” was always worth the risk.

The patrols don’t go much there anymore, now. The scouts refuse to do the runs to map and remap the way. There was a new element below the streets, worse than patrols, worse than newly laid mines, worse than the breakaway floors and collapsing ceilings. This new element was given a name, and the name turned into a force, and the force quickly turned into a legend, and the legend turned into a nightmare. “The Midnight Terror of New Belfast” was its name. At first thought to be a mercenary from the “other side” with “seek and destroy” orders, it quickly became understood that both sides were equal game, that it favored no side, and it gave no quarter. “The Midnight Terror of Belfast” was a demon-monster that lurked in the sewers.

And it was always midnight under the streets of New Belfast.

* * * * *

Little Boy blinked in the darkness. He felt his head that ached and rubbed his bruised sides. His knees and elbows were skinned, too, and they felt wet whenever he touched them. The ball had gone into the drain, and he had squeezed his way through the grate in order to get it, but the footing crumbled underneath him, and he found himself hurtling down a shaft that had fallen away under him, and when he opened his eyes, he found himself here, in the darkness. He began to cry out, but was answered only with echoes. Deep echoes that seemed to go on forever.

Little Boy stood up, and looked around, seeing he was in a small opening with four brick tunnels leading out. Looking up, he could only see darkness, there was no climbing back the way he came. His eye finally caught the small ball he was going after, which stood before one of the exits. Little Boy started down that exit.

Little Boy didn’t know enough about politics or revolutions, or why there was a constant war going on; all he knew was not to venture out too far from the house, and never go out when it got dark. The dark tunnels made Little Boy nervous, and he moved with nervous steps as he felt his way along the brick tunnel. The sewer tunnels were dry from disuse, and the brick was crumbling from ages of disrepair.

Fear was welling up inside him, and he was about to fall to the ground and cry from despair when he caught the glimpse of a light up ahead. Little Boy started running towards the light when he felt himself picked off his feet and held in a dark nook of the wall. He tried to struggle but was held fast, and heard a hissing in his ear, a fierce hissing that he knew to be not threatening, but a warning of danger. As Little Boy ceased his struggling, he felt the grip on him relax, and the figure slowly lowered him to the ground. He turned around and saw the figure lowering to his eye level, but caught his breath when he saw the face.

The face was a man’s, but wild like an animal’s, with an unkempt mop for hair and dirty throughout. But the eyes were intense, not wavering, fixed upon the boy. It held a grimy finger up to its lips to indicate quiet, then jerked its head toward the light down the tunnel, and shook its mane and wrinkled its nose as if to indicate “not good”.

The Dark Figure grabbed the boy’s wrist and taped something out upon the underside, then nodded the question “understand”? The boy looked bewildered, and so The Dark Figure tapped again on the boy’s wrist. When the boy didn’t change expression, The Dark Figure wrinkled up his nose, and seized the boy by the back of the head and placed his lips to the boy’s ear.

“You follow,” it whispered barely audibly. Then Little Boy was taken firmly but gently by the hand and after a short walk The Dark Figure indicated with emphatic motions Little Boy was to step exactly where The Dark Figure had. In this way they made their way up the tunnel quietly, The Dark Figure every now and then tapping onto Little Boy’s hand. One hard squeeze meant stop, a quick squeeze and a tug meant go, a gentle long squeeze meant go slow, two quick squeezes followed by a very hard squeeze meant The Dark Figure was going to let go and walk forward for a short bit, then come back, and Little Boy was to stay where he was.

Soon the light was close enough Little Boy could tell it came from a side passage on the right, the wall they were moving along. The Dark Figure put his hand on Little Boy’s chest and backed him against the wall. He seized the boy’s head again and whispered in his impossibly silent voice, “You stay here, Patrick.”

Little Boy did as he was told, but wondered why The Dark Figure called him “Patrick”. That wasn’t his name. He never told him his name. Little Boy looked and saw The Dark Figure lay out flat on the ground, taking short peeks around the corner. Then, backing up, drew up to his full height again. He pointed at Little Boy and motioned him flat against the wall again, and then, surprisingly drew out two pistols, covered in oil and grime. Around the corner The Dark Figure disappeared, and Little Boy stood frozen against the brick wall.

* * * * *

Freedom Militiaman Sean Mulligan placed the last of his motion sensors in the corners of the chamber, along with laser trip wires and grids. Patrol Charlie was going to succeed in its mission, and they were going to take care of this Thing once and for all. This Thing is an enemy of The Cause, and that’s enough for him, it had to be destroyed. He and the other men of Patrol Charlie worked quickly and efficiently, they had twelve other chambers to set up before surfacing today. And the sooner the better.

The patrol sat in the cross-chamber, four entrances into the square area which they were working. Lights illuminated the walls and floor so that they could do their delicate work, and strong focused beams knifed down each tunnel to watch for intruders. There was the possibility that another patrol might happen upon them, but that was not foremost on their minds. No one would speak the name, it was forbidden on underground assignments, but every time men would catch each other in the eye and look away, they knew what was on their minds: The monster-demon that lurked beneath the streets. It moved silently, and killed without warning, and no one was ever left alive. No matter how many troops were sent down the result was always the same. Larger numbers just seemed to make things worse.

Traps were now being set with the monster-demon in mind, wide area charges, deadly gases and burning chemicals, all to no effect. The underground of Belfast belonged to The Midnight Terror, and there was precious little they could do about it. The sewer network was once an integral highway for “The Cause”, now all but useless. The plotters wanted it opened again, the surprise factor would be invaluable.

Patrol Charlie was assigned to setting cameras and infrared photography equipment. The thinking was if there was a picture of the man-beast, monster-demon, whatever it was, they could better trap and kill the thing. It would also put to rest wild stories of “The Midnight Terror” being giant a serpentine snake-like thing, or a flying man-bat that never set foot on the ground, hence the uselessness of traps, or whatever wild tale was circulating among the ranks these days. The thing existed, and if it existed, it could be killed.

The men of Patrol Charlie worked well together, each knew their job and worked efficiently and silently. They rehearsed their mission above ground so they wouldn’t waste any time or make unexpected noises as they set up their work area, rigged the chambers, and broke down their detail. The lights were a necessary evil, such fine detailed work required it. It was decided that if they only illuminated their work area, they’d blind themselves to the immediate darkness, and there was no question to leaving scouts out by themselves without someone to watch their backs.

When all was said and done, their equipment would ignore the rats, but nothing much larger. Whatever this thing was, man or beast or slithering thing, Patrol Charlie was going to succeed in capturing it -- at least an image of it. Of that, Sean Mulligan was sure.

* * * * *

The Dark Figure stood at the corner of the tunnel, the light shining down designed to illuminate and blind on comers at the same time. Years of dark eyes made this tactic formidable, but not invincible. Speed and surprise, speed and surprise, always the weapons for those who lived in the dark. He pointed at Little Boy and motioned to flatten against the wall. “Stay there, Patrick,” he clicked in signal with his teeth. “I’ll take care of this,” he clicked again, and drew out two pistols. Soundlessly, he slipped around the corner and into the light. He knew there would be the hesitation, the uncertainty, there always was.

Under and over went the guns, arms stretched out in front of him, hands turned to the side and wrists locking into each other, butts of the pistols resting together. One bullet and the light was out, a quick scan showed the scout on watch, silhouetted against the light of the chamber behind, a second took him down. Now quickly, quickly close before they can use grenades down the tunnel, that would be certain death, and Patrick was alone behind him.

He could see them scrambling for their weapons, the surprise nearly complete. Everyone looking to save their hides, no one thinking of the power. Light was his ally now, too many to keep track of by sight or sound or smell. It would be over, it would be over soon.

Breaking through the entrance he folded his arms tight to his body, barrels pointing out to the sides and found one beside him against the tunnel’s wall, two shots to immobilize him, a waste, but necessary. Arms still folded, he moved through the chamber to the opposite wall firing as he went, bringing leaded death to his right and to his left. Arms outstretched at right angles now, the scouts in the tunnel before him, to his left, one shot each, and a pivot to the last. Tunnel lamps crash to the ground, a change in shadows. Bullet count, enemy count, the chamber is small. Two in a corner he missed on the first pass went down quickly, and one high above on a ledge drawing a revolver.

“SHAMUS!!!” The Dark Figure screams as he fires both guns repeatedly into the last figure on the ledge. It is pinned repeatedly to the wall, a macabre dance before it falls to the ground.

And all is quiet again.

The Dark Figure rummages about quickly for clips and food. “I’m coming, Patrick,” he mutters to himself silently. “And I’ve got food that’ll last us a long time.”

A quick destruction of the lights and a check for survivors. He sniffs, he listens, he tracks the three other tunnels, then returns down the first passage.

“Shamus won’t bother us again, Patrick, I promise...." he mutters, teary eyed.

"I promise…”

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