The Monolith

A Short Story

The Monolith

As far back as memory will afford me, I know only two things; the Monolith and that I am compelled to climb it. A tower of cold black obsidian-like night bereft of pale moonlight. Spanning acres, puncturing the grey rain clouds above and emerging from dark, vast waters below. Waters that ebbed and crashed and roared with shocks of white sea spray defining each wave and ever-rising with incessant downpour. The Monolith is both my port in a storm and a prison. My mausoleum.

I do not recall what year it is or how old I am for the days are barely distinguishable from one another. I have no future and no past. I can't even remember what I look like save for a furrowed brow, a full head of hair, and a thick mane of a beard. My knuckles, my joints all weathered raw and emaciated beyond their time nonetheless still fulfill a necessity.

I sit, huddled in a dark blue cloak, my rifle slung over my right shoulder, in a doorway leading inward. I dare not venture in for fear of becoming lost. I looked in only to see each corridor splintered off into dark, labyrinth-like hallways and I knew if I did go in that I might not return. Each threshold and stairwell is deliberately carved with purpose into the facade of this mighty structure; simplistic and yet almost grandiose in design. I cannot help but admire it with a kind of fearful respect. I look out and see in the distance the peak of a mountain that once stood proudly above the land now eroded and frail, break off and slide into the ocean disappearing from view as the smell of salt water is becoming stronger. Time to move. Every bone and sinew, creak as they may, must serve their function now or surely I will perish in the depths below.

I gingerly press my weight against the wall behind me to get to my feet and I set off for the stairs just left of the doorway. Each step has razor's edge and is hard underfoot. My ascent is hazardous because there is nothing to hold onto should I fall, so I must maintain a steady pace as not only to assure my safety but conserve energy for the climb ahead as it coils upwards. My legs turn to stone with each step. It feels as though my blood has turned to mercury, stinging, burning as it courses through my veins. My only sustenance has been the insects crawling along the wallsand crevices of the monolith.

My muscles cry out for rest and I know I would be it not for my own impending doom. Beads of sweat begin to form and grow across my brow, oblivious of a northerly wind blowing, and run down through lines of worry. I fear my imagination may be getting the better of me or that mad dreams are seeping into my waking moments but I swear I have seen a large, black dog stalking the grounds of the monolith. Its fur is thick and untamed, its ears are pointy and attentive, its eyes shimmer a deep gold never revealing its intent. These deceiving hours feel like days and what feels like miles has only been a matter of a few flights of stairs. I can focus only on the pain as it builds and builds to a crescendo, my attention sapped from the mindless task at hand. My head swims. The hopelessness of my circumstance comes bubbling to the surface and sets in; climb or die. It's climb or die from now until I succumb to the fragility of old age. Climb or die. It's difficult not to feel embittered. A rage comes with it.

I lose my footing, my shin bone bears the brunt of my fall and what pain in my muscles before now feels meager by comparison to what can only be described as a sharp hacking feeling. Brought low by a step. I drag myself to the top, clasping at the pain and muffling any groans. I lift my trouser leg to find several trickles of ruby red blood oozing from a wound no bigger than a few inches across. Upon closer inspection, I can see that it's not a very deep cut but is nonetheless excruciating. A possible fracture. Cautiously putting weight on both legs, I clamber to my feet and carry on with a limp. I can only think of how pitiful I must look right now as I manage to make it to the next floor before giving up to rest. I settle inside another doorway and apply pressure to my wound. An eerie feeling comes over me and the sound of the roar of waves and wind retreat as though they are a million miles from me now. It seems like some unseen danger is upon me and all I can do is sit there, paralyzed, cautiously, senses heightened. A deep breathing grows louder, almost panting. A large, terrifying bulk of a shadow speeds past me. It is the dog. I see it as clear as I can see my own limbs but it does not see me. It is fixated on something else.I am jolted awake, sputtering, on my side in inch deep icy water. The sea has crept up and is now staring me in the face. I must have passed out at some point, hunched over, dead to the world. I am in dire need of reaching higher ground. My cut hasn't healed properly and is burning from the seawater and my drenched clothes work against me, weighing me down. Shivering, fatigued, feeble.

I make it up a few floors before I have to slump against a wall, water draining from my clothes, punching the wall in my frustration.

The wind begins to pick up. It howls and shoves me around like a creature playing with its food. I am wholly insignificant to its power. It has been a struggle to even get to this point. I would like to think I have fought well to get this far but in my heart, I know that this is a battle I will eventually lose. I try to put it out of my mind but it is always there.

As I cling to a frame of an entrance I am able to look inward and unlike before, the pathway seems brighter. Still dim though it would appear there is a light emanating from within and I am drawn to it. I can either take my chances in there or risk being thrown over the edge out here. Another gust of wind makes my mind up for me and I reluctantly venture in.

I have to walk along with one hand outstretched as my eyes gradually adjust to the dark halls. It gets warmer and warmer as I go in and surely the light becomes stronger, making out shapes in front of me. My hand hits a wall and I feel my way along to another corridor where the light is even stronger than before. Its intensity almost blinds me when I turn the corner and walk through to the other side to a vast, open room. The interior is a different color, like sandstone with a greenish tint in places where plant life is growing and strange markings are etched into the floors and walls. It looks like some kind of temple long abandoned by its keepers. The grandiosity of the exterior now pales in comparison to lifetimes of craftsmanship laid before me. It must be that the Monolith is hollow, from top to bottom. In the center, there is a large square shaft allowing celestial beams of light to cascade down through the ceiling. Peering over the edge I can see water is pouring through aqueducts in the walls, still rising. There is another flight of stairs not far from me that lead into a small room.

What moment of calm is interrupted by the sound of rolling thunder below the surface of the water. There's something in it. A dark figure quickly becomes more prominent as it approaches and breaks the surface of the water. I just manage to jump back from the ledge in time as a powerful surge continues up the shaft of the tower unabated. The water, however, comes crashing back down dragging me helplessly with it. I can feel myself being drawn to the center and the momentum of the wave is picking up as it goes back over the edge. By some grace, I am lucky enough to catch the strap of my rifle on the ledge where I stood before and I am able to cling to it. My arms, already weak, are pushed beyond their limits to an unspeakable pain. Water is dripping off the side and down onto my head and in my eyes. The strap cannot bear my weight. I have to move. I am able to hoist myself up, grab the ledge, and get a footing just as the strap comes undone and snaps, falling into the abyss, gone for good. I have to rest but I can only lie on the flat of my back, sputtering, gasping for air, and in an agony I never thought possible. There is still a sliver of resolve within me and I go on as much as it pains me. The room up the stairs adjacent to the great hall is unusually warm, but a welcome change. At the other end, there is a stairway that coils up in an angular fashion. Its steps are dry and dusty. Looking back, I see that the water is still rising, and so my ascent is far from over.

These stairs seem to go on and on, but I am grateful that, this time around, I am shielded from the elements and yet they remain in the back of my mind, like a threat. Their effects have not been forgotten.Eventually, I reach the top floor and can go no further. I stand in another great hall and a chill comes over me. There are giant rectangular windows perforated into the side of the Monolith allowing warm air to rush in and another set of stairs leads up to one and, I assume, back outside.Looking around I see what looks like an old wooden canoe lying close to the edge of the center shaft. Upon inspection, it seems seaworthy. There is a finely crafted oar tucked under one of the slats. There are no visible holes or cracks or splinters. It is remarkably pristine. On its bow is a figurehead of a serpent or some kind of beast. Looking over the precipice of the shaft I can see that the water is still rising and it's only then that I realize. I cannot hear the rain; it has stopped!

This is most peculiar, but it gives me an idea. The wood from which the boat is made is lightweight enough that I may drag it behind me without difficulty as I walk up, what I hope is, my final flight of stairs. The sound of serene waves crashing grows louder and I can see blue skies overhead as I come over the crest of Monolith's walls and I am nearly blinded by a sunbeam. Just as I had guessed, I am outside again. The water that had been dark and cold before was now a beautiful blue with glints of green where the light hit it.

With the rising tide I had hoped to set off in this boat, but now that I am here, I am reluctant. Reluctant to venture out into who knows what. In the distance, I can just make out what appears to be another Monolith, this one much taller than mine. I can see several, in fact, and maybe my mind is cheating me and they are nothing more than illusions. Still, my curiosity is piqued. Another eruption of water spews from the hole in the floor of the great hall behind me and it would seem as though my decision is being made for me. The sea may look inviting now but I am still hesitant to trust it, granted, I do not have the luxury of options right now. Nor have I ever for that matter.

The water comes up to my ankles and while it is refreshingly warm, that is still not enough to ease my qualms. I remove my cloak and stuff it inside the canoe. The water climbs up a little more and seeing that the boat is buoyant as I had hoped I decide to climb in and push off from the side of the Monolith and over what would've been its edge. A myriad of feelings swell within me; apprehension, fear but most of all freedom for I am no longer shackled to the Monolith. Looking over my shoulder I can see its pointed dome protruding from the waves. I take a moment to study it and though it may still be visible it is gone, to me, in my mind and I look forward again. I am free now. I gently retrieve the oar from under me and begin rowing aimlessly. It is a struggle at first but I quickly come to grips with it just as I had learned to climb before and soon enough it is in my nature. I turn to place one of the other Monoliths straight ahead of me and begin rowing.

fantasy
C. Raymond Martin
C. Raymond Martin
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C. Raymond Martin

Aspiring script/book/graphic novel writer and avid NFL fan. Likes rainy days and walks on the beach but my biggest turn on? Honesty.

See all posts by C. Raymond Martin