Another favorite writing exercise of mine is a setting vignette, a short piece of fiction narration that lays the groundwork for stories to explore and build upon. I imagine them as often being the back cover of a book or the lead in text scroll or voice-over narration in a film. There is no set format or length, things being just what they need to be to convey the message.
The oldest fear of mankind, written into our genes over countless millennia, is a fear of the unknown darkness. We drove back the physical darkness first with the flickering light from our tribal fires. Then we evolved our myriad sciences to retrieve knowledge from the dim recesses of ignorance. Somewhere along our journey, the celebratory sounds of our own successes drowned out the warning our bones were shouting at us from the past. We pushed onwards with assaults on the very fabric of space-time using high-energy physics. All in an attempt to open what we felt were the final few doors hiding our rightful knowledge of the inner workings of the universe. These reckless efforts indeed opened doors hiding some of the universe’s secrets. These secrets though have informed us of a dark gulf of knowledge deeper than we thought possible, one where our universe wasn’t alone and certainly wasn’t ours. At first, the tears in the walls of our reality were just a few, microscopic, short-lived anomalies to be studied. But as things will often do, the few grew to many, the small developed into large, the short-lived evolved into long-lived and metaphors of doorways to other realities suddenly described ironically real ones. When energy emerged from these portals, we rejoiced and our scientists touted their incredible accomplishments. When matter and alien flora began spreading from the thresholds the scientists’ willingness to take credit for the unfolding events disappeared and our inner voice once again began sounding its ancestral warning. When ambulatory, seemingly sentient things began crawling from the portals our oldest fear caused our genes to scream. Mankind knew how to tear open the fabric between worlds but alas lacked the knowledge to mend the fissures. As the portals’ denizens slowly spread their contagion across the countryside, the people flowed towards the cities. The destructive might of our armies formed an uneven breakwater against which the dimensional encroachment stalled. A wave of humanity retreated like a beach at low tide, leaving the abandoned remains of urban sprawl to decay under the spread of the interlopers or be reclaimed by Earth’s wilderness. The populace resigned itself to face man-made misery in gilded prisons, often at the hands of their fellows, rather than risk the alien predations at the edges of civilization. Men huddled close together, as their ancestors did around the tribal fire, whispering superstitions to each other in an attempt to give a reassuring logic to the chaos. We were unaware that the genetic scream had fundamentally changed the minds of some of these men. The soaring edifices of concrete and steel, glowing with light in this near future world, served as our tribal fires holding back the night. The masses of mankind teemed along the web of connections lacing the air and penetrating the ground in these newly concentrated megacities. While the foundations of our cities’ architecture rested securely on pilings and bedrock, mankind’s fractured ego still needed to heal from the realization that it was not the special creation once thought unique. Our superstitious whispers raced across the electromagnetic spectrum, memetic ghosts in the machine. The universe did not love us, did not evolve us for a purpose, in fact did not take any notice of our existence at all. Our scientists tried to codify our new reality, our politicians tried to reconcile our new social structures and for some men, their minds’ new abilities seemed to laugh maniacally at it all.