This isn’t technically part of the Snowflake Method, but I’ve written it, so why not post it, right? This is the first chapter (?) of the story I have in mind. It needs fleshed out and some other editing, but I’m trying very hard not to fall into an editing rut. It’s about 1,800 words and starts after the break. As always, I welcome comments and criticism.
Crynn Thompson dropped his last armful of wood into the loading crate and tugged the rope, signaling the deckhand to begin lifting the load. He wiped the sweat from his brow and then looked up to find the sun. It stood just above the marker on the ancient tree in the clearing where his crew hand landed for the day.
Just about time to wrap things up, he thought.
“All right, boys,” he called out, “we’re above quota today. Let’s start rounding up the stragglers and the first round tonight’s on me!”
A chorus of approval went up from the men and they dispersed into the woods to spread the word. In short order, the crew was gathered, the crates filled with the last of the days collection and the men began climbing into the ships. The sun had dipped low in the sky by the time everything was finished, but Crynn was pleased. It had been a good day. The holds were full, his crew was safe, and they were ahead of schedule.
Crynn’s second, Jorus Olvirett, approached. “Everyone’s present and accounted for, sir, all ships reporting.”
“Good.” Crynn took his place at the wheel. “Send the order to weigh anchor and stoke the fires and let’s go home.”
“Aye, sir.” Jorus turned and began barking orders and the men jumped into action. Mooring lines were loosed and a dull roar sounded from the belly of the ship as the fires were coaxed back to life. The deck jerked a bit as the anchor ripped free from the ground, but none of the men on board even seemed to notice.
“Anchor’s aweigh, cap’n,” Jorus called.
The HMS DeVron was free of the Earth once again, and as Crynn scanned over his small fleet, he could see all the other ships pull away and he allowed himself a small smile. Today was one without incident, one of the few days like it, and Crynn felt he was allowed a moment to enjoy that.
The moment was shattered, though, when a cry of “Man overboard!” went up from the deck.
Jorus immediately began shouting orders. “Bellows, stop! Close lift pipes! Vent steam!”
Crynn followed the gazes and fingers of his crew, trying desperately to understand who could have fallen in such a simple liftoff.
To his horror, he realized no one had fallen. A boy was standing in the clearing, waving his hands frantically above his head, an overfilled barrowload of logs tipped on its side in front of him.
“It’s McCreedy’s boy!”
Crynn’s mind was racing too fast to recognize the speaker. He glanced at the sun and his stomach dropped. It was already touching the peaks of the distant mountains.
“Order all ships to descend!” Crynn shouted and immediately started venting the ship’s balloon. “Send the order to drop anchor as soon as the ground is within range!”
Jorus, to his credit, didn’t hestitate. Many of the crewmen near enough to hear the order, though, were struck dumb.
“But, sir,” said the first to regain his voice, “the sun’s almost set! With anchors down, the crawlers will be swarming the ships in no time!”
“I’m counting on it. Jorus, you have the conn.” Crynn’s face was set, hard and dispassionate. He grabbed his gun belt, fastening it about his waist as he headed below deck.
“Jackson! Lewis! Trumain!” Crynn called out the names of his ship’s best riflemen. When they’d joined him, he continued, “I’m going to need some covering fire. Keep the crawlers off our backs.”
“Yes, sir!” Jackson spoke for all three, and they were gone.
Crynn reached the anchor. “Open the hatch,” he ordered. “Engage the spikes.”
Levers were worked, cranks turned. The hatch irised open and large flat-topped spikes sprang out all around the massive conical anchor. Crynn put a hand to the anchor to steady himself and looked down through the opening. The ground was still a few hundred feet away, but coming up swiftly. He couldn’t see the sun through the hatch, but the gloom was unnerving. This was going to be close.
When he judged the ship to be about a hundred feet from the ground, he lifted himself onto one of the spikes. With a grin to his crew, he nodded at the anchorman and gave the order. “Drop anchor.” The anchorman nodded and pulled the lever to disengage the lock.
The chain lurched, and then Crynn was clinging to the spike as the anchor dropped. He leapt away from the spike, trying to tuck himself into a roll as the anchor crashed into the ground. Despite his best efforts, Crynn still hit the ground hard; the wind was knocked from his lungs and a bright searing pain blossomed in his chest. He rolled three or four times before coming to rest about twenty feet from anchor.
Crynn groaned as he pushed himself to his feet, the pain flaring in his chest again, and saw that the boy was running towards him. The boy (Erik is his name, Crynn thought) had been on the far side of the clearing, and still had a lot of distance to cover. Crynn pushed aside the pain and started running towards the boy. He could feel the earth shudder as other anchors slammed down around the clearing.
“I-I-I’m sorry, Captain!” Erik stammered, stopping as he met Crynn. “I…. I—”
“We’ll worry about it later, boy. Be quiet now.” Crynn scanned the clearing. The shadows had gotten very long, indeed. Then he could feel another tremble beneath his feet, this one less pronounced, but far more insidious. “Shit.” Crynn drew his pistols and gave the boy a shove. “Run, boy!”
Erik didn’t ask questions. They both ran, and as they ran, the ground began exploding around them. Otherworldly shrieks and chirping filled the air. Crynn knew better than to look around him. He could hear the popping sounds of rifles being fired and the death cries of things far too close behind him. When they’d reached the point where Crynn had first landed, the ground in front of the anchor exploded upwards and something burst out at tremendous speed. It shrieked at the two of them, bared teeth glinting in what little light there was, and then Crynn fired both pistols into it’s mouth and the creature fell away.
Crynn shoved Erik towards the anchor. “Climb on!” Then he shouted up at the ship. “Weigh anchor! Order the fleet to weigh anchor!” Jackson, who had been firing at crawlers from the hatch, shouted something into the ship. Whether he’d heard the order or simply saw his captain at the anchor, Crynn didn’t know, nor care. He was focused on keeping the crawlers at bay. He fired at anything moving that came near them. The chain grew taut and the anchor began to pull free from the ground with agonizing slowness.
Then, Erik clapped his hands to his ears, and Crynn cried out as a screech louder and more shrill than a steam whistle broke through the general bedlam. A dark shape rose against the trees at the clearing’s edge. Crynn figured it was as much as 15 feet tall. Then it slammed to the ground, and Crynn could barely make out it’s shape racing towards them. The anchor was free of the ground now, but it wouldn’t be high enough to escape that thing. He could see any crawlers too slow or stupid to get out of the way get trampled and crushed beneath the thing’s enormous weight.
Crynn was just about to leap from the anchor (better to sacrifice himself than to risk the entire ship being brought down by the unexpected weight of that monster) when the thing was bathed in bright light. It stopped short, about ten feet from them, and reared up, caught off guard. Crynn looked up and realized the crew had fired up the ships running lights. Jorus must have pulled out the spotlight, and just in time, too. The monster looked up and screeched again, causing Crynn’s ears to ache. Its black scales shone in the light, undulating in ripples all along its body. Its legs worked the air frantically, clawing at nothing, soil and crushed crawler bits flying about.
It opened its mouth to cry out again, rows of teeth gleaming like black daggers in the bright light, when a loading crate crashed down onto it. Crynn could see the monster’s upper end fold like an accordion, gore and ichor spraying out in all directions. Erik cried out, then the beast’s back snapped and it fell over. The back end of the thing writhed about, crushing more crawlers under its weight as it protested the death of its upper half.
The anchor continued to rise, the ship doing the same, and they were finally well out of reach of any crawlers. Crynn breathed a sigh of release, and grimaced when pain stabbed through his chest. A couple broken ribs is probably the best I could have hoped for from this, he thought.
Then Crynn looked to Erik, the boy’s cry coming to mind as other priorities faded away. He looked over to see Erik hunched down on the spike he was grasping, his back turned to Crynn, one hand around a massive chain link, the other clutching his head. Before he could speak, they were inside the ship, the hatch irising closed and Erik fell hard to the deck. Jackson rushed to the boy’s side, rolled him over and shouted for water.
By the time Crynn had lowered himself from the anchor, Jackson had removed his shirt and was scrubbing at the unconscious boy’s face. Crynn could smell the acrid scent of cloth and flesh burning away. When he leaned over Jackson’s shoulder, he could see the right side of Erik’s face was covered in blisters and burns, his right eye was swollen shut, and then someone ran up with a bucket of water, and Crynn left. He could do no more here, and he needed to find out the status of his other ships.
As he headed above, he silently cursed himself for feeling lucky.