Read Nail - A Short Story Online

Authors: Kell Inkston

Tags: #fiction, #literature, #fantasy, #dark, #postapocalyptic, #dystopian, #thematic

Nail - A Short Story

Nail

Nail

Kell Inkston

Chapter 1

A bright haired, fur-dressed man of
about twenty years steps into a clearing. In front of him lies
great walls of metal and wood. He glances down to the piece of
paper holding the directions and description for only a second
before he slides it back into his page-holder. It’s just as the
woman described. A silent city of metal— one that has no
doors.

The boy, Ralic the Fifteenth, steps up
and knocks— no answer. He clears his throat.


Hello!” … no answer. Ralic
draws a deep, powerful breath. “HELLO IN THERE!” … but still he
receives no answer. He raises a brow and taps his foot as he
overlooks the great wall a moment. He then turns away and starts in
a circle.

Ralic makes a lap around the
walls, taking about five minutes as he scans for any place he could
scale to enter. Eventually he comes all the way around, spotting
nothing, and just decides to use his rope. After notching the lasso
and about twenty minutes of consistent failure and effort, the rope
catches something on the other side. “
Yes!
” He exclaims loudly as he tugs
the line tight and begins his ascent. He manages to haul his self
over the wall in only half a minute’s time, allowing him to rise
and peek over. Along the lookout rafters there’s not a soul to be
found.

Ralic gathers up his rope on the other
side and returns it to his pack before he begins to explore.
There’s an eeriness to this place that he can’t quite put his
finger on. Outside the walls the birds sing cheerfully, and the
forest sways with life; but behind these metal-girded walls, it's
like there’s something that defies all of it, somewhere in here.
Ralic wonders if he should go get some more men— he wonders if,
were he to go down and look through the houses, he might not leave.
He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath; he remembers the beauty of
his home in Qetaine, and opens his eyes again with renewed
determination. He’s certain he’ll be known as 'Ralic the Fifteenth—
the one that entered the depths of the dark fortress and returned
unscathed'. He does like the sound of it, though it doesn’t really
roll off the tongue the way he wishes it would. Regardless of
titles, he’s certain he’ll manage.

He descends the guard planks into the
city center— not a person or sound anywhere in the main square.
Ralic knocks on various doors, breaks into various houses— but time
and again, the result’s the same. Each time he opens a new door,
his sense of dread mounts higher. Somehow, he knows he’s being
watched; his gut feeling is rarely off point. Halfway through the
search of the old homes, he notices something strange from his
quick peeks inside. There are no beds, no plates or bowls, no
decorations— it’s as though people not only don’t live here, but
these buildings are not even meant to be homes. There’s no sign of
anything but industry. There are forges, scrap materials,
workbenches; yet coat racks, windows, and even weapons are all
missing.

Ralic mulls over the possible reasons
in his mind as he reaches the last house; after this one, he’ll
have searched everything save for the large object covered in a
long sheet, situated in the center of the town square. Opening the
door to the last house, he finds a workshop like all the rest; but
as he steps through to search for anything that could help shed
some light on what happened here, he steps over a bending set of
planks. Ralic jolts back— the feeling new to him. After a moment of
confusion, he inches up once more to the offending area and eases
his boot back onto the board. The boards press down as if
connected— creating a weird, annoying sound like the few times
Ralic’s had a back ache and made too sudden and extensive of a
movement. He kneels, reaches into the boards and lifts into a
little handle that depresses when he lifts. The grouping of boards
open to reveal an intricate set of hinges and springs— he’s never
seen anything quite so ingenious. He moves the hinges up and down
in a moment of childish fascination before he takes to the ladder
leading down into the dark.

A full minute of climbing down in
perfect silence, in perfect darkness, follows; he bates his breath
and readies himself for anything. He hits the bottom of the ladder
with a tap of his boot and shifts onto what feels like a wooden
walkway. He reaches into his bag again, takes out his lantern and
lights it. In a flash, he illuminates three dirty, muscular men
surrounding him from all sides. Ralic starts; in each of their
hands is a strange combination of wood and metal which he doesn’t
quite care to inspect at the moment.


H-hello! I’m Ralic the
Fifteenth, from Qetaine!”

The man to his right, a red-bearded
giant of a person, seizes his arm alongside along the other two as
he gives a loud scoff. “That is a likely story, spirit. We’ll just
see what the elder has to say about you.”

Ralic grunts, holding fast as he shakes
off the grip of one of the men. He dances his fingers upon his
sword’s hilt. “Gentlemen, I don’t mean you harm. I’ve merely come
from another town to inspect-”


That reveals you right
there,” the great man says, pointing his strange wooden and metal
device right at Ralic and forcing him, for the first time, to take
a deeper notice of it. “There are no other towns outside; you could
only be a spirit.”


No, sir! I’m not some
spirit, I’ve come here to understa-” Ralic’s cut off again as he,
with the help of one of the men, finally
inspects
one of the devices so closely
that it produces a large lump on his head and knocks him out. The
last moments of sight are of the trio picking him up and taking him
down somewhere in the black tunnel. His vision fades to black the
same moment his lantern’s flame does.

Chapter 2

Ralic awakens in a warmly-lit, though
cool, room; a woman sits in a chair patiently beside
him.


You’re awake, I see,” the
grey-haired lady says as she starts serving soup into a bowl from a
strange fire-creating device next to her.

Finding himself unrestrained, Ralic
sits up and takes the bowl; he quickly notices that his armor,
sword, and gear have been removed. “I suppose I am.” He takes a
full sip from the bowl. It’s bland, just like the soup from home,
but filling. “So… my name is Ralic the Fifteenth.”

She smiles.

I’m sure
,” she
says in a way that he can easily parse the sarcasm from.


I’m from the town of
Qetaine. I’ve been sent on a quest to investigate a weird walled
area. I’m inside those walls now, underground—aren't I?”

She raises a brow. “You certainly are
underground within the safety of the walls, demon.”

Ralic takes another sip. “I guess I
won’t be able to persuade you that I am otherwise… Regardless, tell
me about this place if you will have nothing else. Are you the
elder?”

She scoffs sweetly. “No, I’m just the
caretaker. Apparently the tunnel-guards were a little rough with
you when they dragged you to the village so they could be sure you
wouldn’t escape.”

Ralic hums as he eyes around the small
wooden room, particularly the small window next to the door with
curious aged faces peering in. “Well if you’re not the elder, then
who is? Won’t I meet this person?” He takes another sip as the old
lady nods.


You will soon enough. The
elder does not enjoy the village the same way we do. He spends his
time out in the deeper caverns and only returns once a day to check
up on us.”

He squints in thought; this
Ralic is a more perceptive lad than The Twelfth.

Oh
? Is this elder…
a human?”

A couple snickers come from the window
as the old lady sighs. “Of course he is! He guides us with an
unerring hand in our protection of the ancient secrets.”

“…
Like?”

She closes her eyes and bows
her head slightly. “
That’s
a secret, young spirit.”

Ralic shrugs, crosses a leg,
and takes another deep drink from his bowl. “Alright. Then am I
just to be kept cooped up until this
elder
arrives?”

The woman stretches her wrinkles in the
form of a contemplative frown and gets up. “Let me find out.” The
lady leaves for a half minute, affording Ralic enough time to fire
an obvious glare out the window. Just as the gazes from outside
shift away, Ralic can hear the woman’s slow, light footsteps
returning her to the room. “There should be no problem so long as
you’re escorted. The men said you weren’t troublesome at
all.”

Ralic smiles, not sure if her words are
meant to be a compliment or an insult. “Yeah, alright. Thank
you!”


Of course, spirit.” She
opens the door wider to allow passage.

Ralic puts aside his bowl and starts up
with a smile, certain he’ll make the village of people see it his
way. As the very same red-bearded man from before steps up from
outside to follow him, Ralic jolts in awe.

He, and the village itself, is all
within an underground complex. Wood from the outside is used to
build warm, cozy ramshacklings that stack upon each other and are
connected by various boardwalks and platform lifts. He spots a
thin, metallic aqueduct network that funnels oil into at least a
hundred lanterns overhead drop by drop.


Name’s Zell’Ahn; I’m the
head of the tunnel guard and the fifteenth Zell— the hero of the
village, tasked with ensuring that all production is efficient in
both speed and cost. So don’t cause us any trouble, spirit— we can
kill you any time if you make trouble.”

Ralic’s gaze is still pointed upwards.
“Wow.”

Zell draws back in a humored interest.
“What’s the matter, spirit?”


This isn’t like Qetaine at
all. Do you live down here all the time?”

Zell nods. “We get along well here— we
have all of the spirit lumber that we require for construction
along with any other things we needed from your little world.
Mushrooms and such don’t need much light, so that’s the big part of
our diet along with some bugs and a kind of cave fish. What would
you tell me your home is like, spirit?” He asks, looking over Ralic
carefully and noting his strange clothing and peculiar tied-up
hair.


Well,” Ralic looks down to
marvel at the rest of the town. “It’s above ground, first of all.
We cut down trees to build houses and write often.”

Zell squints. “Write?”

Ralic pauses in surprise. “You know,
jotting things down?” Zell’s squinting intensifies as if in a
complete lack of understanding. “Uh…” Ralic makes a handwriting
gesture. “Like, saving knowledge, you know?”

Zell scowls in disgust.

Saving knowledge?”

Ralic looks about.
“Uh…
yeah?


How, and for what reason
would you do that, Spirit?” Zell asks, a brow raised as if he’s
spotting a bevy of flaws in Ralic’s reasoning.


To preserve knowledge for
the generations to come. Don’t you think a society would be in
danger if the new comers weren’t taught how to live within
it?”

Zell draws back with a
hearty laugh. “New generations bring nothing but ignorance, spirit—
that’s something we
both
know. They’ll just question everything and try to
bring about their precious ‘change’ to delude the values of our
already perfect society. I don’t understand how one would preserve
knowledge, but it sounds like a fantasy. We do have
some
children, but they
are few— as we only need enough to ensure the next generation.
Every year, we must assure that the foolish young are outnumbered
by their wise elders. They’ll become wise one day, and then they’ll
be the elder ones. Make sense?”

Ralic hums. “You don’t think that more
people would bring more ways of thinking?”

Zell scoffs. “It would—
and
that
is the
danger of it, of course.”


Because new ideas are
dangerous?” Ralic says as a sickly man passes by.

Zell nods. “Precisely; you learn quick,
spirit.”


Well, I am open to new
ideas.”

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