The Dark Thorn - By Shawn Speakman

The rat glared with beady black eyes at the broken man’s approach before scurrying away into the darkness, a lone vestige of life among the dusty bones of death.

Richard McAllister ignored the rodent’s departure and probed the deep shadows of the tunnel ahead, a ghost given the substantive aspect of life. All was still. Faint light from the city filtered through squares of purple glass set in the sidewalk above, revealing the subterranean remains of unhinged wooden doors, rusted steel beams, and piles of dirt and mummified refuse. Brick from the turn of the previous century lined the building’s wall on his left, its windowless panes gaping maws of mystery; on his right, the retaining wall of the city street’s foundation was thick and mortared, unyielding. Dust and aged spider webs covered all.

The drip of distant water was Richard’s only assurance that time had not frozen altogether.

He grew more accustomed to the weak light. It had been weeks since he had been called to the depths within which he now stood, but it was as it had been for the twelve years he had watched over it—a forgotten world by all save a few.

And those who existed in Annwn.

Wiping sweaty palms on his dirtied jeans, Richard moved forward to catch unaware what had entered his ward, his tight-laced boots barely a whisper on the uneven concrete floor. Despite wearing thermal underwear and a thick flannel shirt, a chill ran down his spine. In all the years he had guarded the city, it never got any easier.

Richard took his time down the passage, eyes seeking, body tense and ready for anything. He peered into every darkened cranny. He found nothing. Something had come through at midnight though and he would not let it pass. Couldn’t. Only two had during his tenure and he regretted those failures every day of his life.

“Where are you?” Richard hissed.

No response came. The air was as dead as when he’d entered.

He had come into the city warrens through a door at the bottom of a staircase from the sidewalk above. With a word and a touch the door unlocked, giving him access where others would not go at night. The dark building embraced him as he left behind homeless wrapped in sleeping bags, the odor of stale exhaust, and watchful police. The world that had all but disappeared with Seattle’s rebuilding after the Great Fire greeted him and, with the exception of an underground tour during the day, no one ventured here. The world of employer and employee, government and political party, kings, presidents, dictators, and subjects was left behind.

No such hierarchies existed beneath the streets. You were either hunter or hunted—or dead. The roles changed, even the last one at times, but they were the only ones that existed.

He gave his life to keep the two worlds separate.

He was about to turn the corner of the tunnel to continue on, navigating the debris on what used to be Seattle’s sidewalks, when the echo of deep voices reached him from behind.

He cursed inwardly. In his haste, he hadn’t relocked the door.

And put innocent lives in danger.

Two thin shadows separated from the gloom, hesitantly stepping into view.

“Ya down here, Rick?” White eyes gleamed from a black face bearing a scraggly beard.

“Leave, Al,” Richard growled. “You too, Walker. Now.”

“Letz git outta here, man,” Walker squeaked, his haggard pale face smudged with dirt, his drug addiction plainly marked upon him. “Dis place givin’ me jeebies.”

“Shuddup, Wakkah,” Al said. “You a gurl or sumthin’?”

“You do not know what you do!” Richard said firmly, moving to escort them back to the surface, a cold sweat springing up on his skin.

“Whatcha doin down here then?” Al questioned, ignoring Richard and looking around. “Nuthin down here but big ole rats. Warmah though, spose.”

Richard had almost reached them when the sharp scraping of claws against stone chased him through the air, followed by a low, reverberating growl. He spun, unsure of what he would find, his eyes probing the darkness ahead for the sound’s maker. It wasn’t evident; all appeared as it had for years. But the odor of new fog coupled with dewy grass, purple lilacs, and vibrant growing vines and trees filled the air, overwhelming the underground’s century of misuse, the precursor to what he knew was coming for them.

The growl came again—nearer—painful to Richard’s ears with its implications.

“Whatz dat?” Al warbled with fear, taking a step back.

“Get the hell out, Al!” Richard yelled, his focus fixed on the tunnel before him.

As his