On That Hallowed Night

Based on a true story…

Sheltered from street view and behind the gate leads a path. To the old water oak, that tonight displays the sign of the hanged man; upside down, arms spread, insisting a choice be made. The paving stones to the house or up the hill back to the world.

Downward on the  path to the threshold a spiked necked mongrel stands guard. A token gift promises safe passage, one way at least. Mirrors in the vestibule shine back candlelight and shows faces adorned, and not quite real.

In the main hall, guests all sit, passive, their frozen faces painted in gruesome display, staring at the black robed man paces in the prison he has painted on the floor. Spiraling in towards the tome laid open on the floor. The last few are seated around. The lights are dimmed, leaving only candle flame and an odd glow from runes on the floor.

A harlequin in domino, visage of smiling death, bells tinkling, nods and the droning pipes begin. A low, steady rhythm that can be felt in the bones. From a dark corner the jinn motions his hands and draws unearthly percussive notes from the air, as if some invisible organ plays them. A rabbit faced woman begins to pluck the strings of her long necked and alien instrument. The flock inhales as one gaping mouth. The black clad magus begins to read aloud from his book of blasphemies.

His voice his raspy and unsteady, near stumbles through the words. Fearful of a misspoke syllable that might displease his host. Gaining speed and courage as the work flows through him, out of him and into the ears of this singular night. He finds the pace amidst the subtle changes of the pipers drone. His voice touches the notes of the composer and melody driven by the strings. Together they weave the call. From an open door the damp smell of new fog drifts in from the world outside. In his strange words he sings of the worlds both old and new. Intones things beyond his vision. He dances in his circle and calls them, asks them, begs them, to draw nearer. To hear him, to see him, to wrap their arms about him. To love him, as he has always loved them. He makes flowing gestures with his arms and implores them to be here on this sacred night. He makes them the ancient promise in unknown words, and it is done.

The pipes, the music, his voice all stop without warning or cue.

The flock exhales. They look at each other oddly. Unsure of what they witnessed, or of what to next. A few moments of awkward glances, the rise and mill about. When they are certain there is no more to be done they slowly, in small groups walk out to the yard to make what can be from the rest of this special night.

The magus turns towards his fellows and smiles. Outside there is a sharp, inhuman  roar, followed by all too human cries of fear. He shrugs as he looks out the window to the scene on the lawn. The guitarist joins him raising her mask. Wondering how she was going to get all this crap unstuck from her instrument.

It had been a good turn out for the night. The show went well, except maybe some of the party guests had eaten a few to many of those brownies. The mystic symbols in the glow in the dark paint, under the black light had been a nice touch. Too bad that asshole in the Leatherface mask was chasing people around with his chainsaw now.

“Who the fuck invited that guy?”

“That’s Josh.” The skull faced jester said setting his didgeridoo aside.

The vocalist adjusted the robe, “What a douche.”

“We already knew that. Fuck it dude, it’s Halloween, let him have his fun.”

“I guess you’re right.”

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Angel Tears

Down into the tunnels he went, amid the damp, fecal smell of the sewer drains. That’s where she lived. Where he kept her. It had been four years since he had found her. A beautiful, and broken thing. Fragile and, beaten and, violated. Yet, even in anguish, that voice was the most glorious song.

He brought her here, to the waste of what they called civilization. Brought her food, tended her wounds. Slowly nursed her back to health. Kept her safe. Kept her for himself. Hidden from the others who wanted to steal her song.

Such a lovely, painful song.

The Pick-up

Jerry sat in the car parked outside the warehouse, engine idling, struggling to keep his eyes open. He was sure he fell asleep at some point each night but, he could barely tell. He would be laying in bed  each evening in, his alarm  sounded and it was morning again. The time between just gone, blank, devoid of either rest or dreams. What he really found draining right now, however, was how monumentally boring the waiting was. He began to think the reason why Maslow’s guys all smoked was just to pass the time.

He reached down to the console for his coffee, the cup now half empty and cold. This was supposed to be a simple pick up. Something in a shipment, something hidden from customs, was delivered to the warehouse. Jerry didn’t know what it was but it had to be small enough for Victor and Joseph to carry it out themselves. Drugs, jewels, art, the people who dealt with Maslow had diverse tastes. Somewhere, high up, Jacob would be looking at the car, just in case something went wrong. In case Jerry couldn’t be trusted. He was fairly certain there was a rifle involved. It didn’t worry him, just more of Peter’s over zealousness when it came to planing. Betrayal wasn’t part of his job at the moment.

The more he thought about it the less sure what is job actually was in all this. He began to wonder what was taking the other two so long. This thing should be pretty straight forward. The warehouse was friendly. Peter said he got the call confirming the package was delivered earlier today. What if someone else had gotten turned? Working for someone else? One of the warehouse employees, one of Maslow’s people?

Suddenly Jerry could feel the cross hairs weighing on him. He wanted to throw the car in gear and take off. He knew that was the worst decision. If he wanted to get through this he had to ride it out. He just had to wait. He breathed out slowly.

Glancing into the rear view he saw the door to the warehouse open. Joseph stepped out and walked to the rear passenger side door of the sedan. He just stood there. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t look at Jerry he just watched the door he had just come out of.

A long minute later Victor emerged. He held the door for an older woman in a business suit and dark green sunglasses; hair graying probably in her fifties. Victor took her arm as the door closed behind them. They walked towards the car. Every step she took seemed thought out, purposeful.

Joseph opened the door of the car and the woman entered the vehicle. Victor stepped around to the other side and got in. Joseph closed the door behind the woman then stepped into the front passenger side. They sat for a moment in silence.

The others began to have a quick paced conversation in Russian. Jerry struggled to understand at the speed they talked. He was able to figure out they were discussing his credentials. He just stared forward and pretended not to listen.

“Your name is Jerry?” the woman asked with a slight accent.

“That’s right ma’am.” Jerry looked at her in the mirror, his gaze reflected in her sunglasses. His head began to ache slightly.

“Do you know who I am?”

“No ma’am.” The dull ache in his head seemed sharper now, almost piercing.

“I am Liliya. They,” she waved her hand around the car indicating the two other men, “they call me Baba. For you, ma’am will do for now.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Good, you will take me to see my nephew Peter now.”

She turned her head away from him. He felt the pain begin to ease.

Jerry put the car in drive, and headed back to the office.

This scene is 14th in a story currently known as “The Untitled Thing”. The rest of the series is indexed here

The Stuff of Legend

He inhaled, taking in deep the lovely smells of the night. The earthy impending rain, the sweet blooming honeysuckle, the acrid smoke of the campfire, the sharp musk of her sweat. They all lolled around in his nose and mingled with the taste of rotted meat from his last meal , and the fresh bloody gore of this man’s flesh in his teeth. He breathed it all in as he slowly chewed his the meat of his kill. He blinked as he stared up at the moon with large, half blind eyes. He ran his talon across what remained of the throat of the man, brought it up to his wide mouth and licked at it thoughtfully. The flesh will taste better in a day or two. Best to let it cure.

She hadn’t gotten far. He could hear her feet plodding the soft damp ground, she was trying to skirt the edge of the water. She’d make better time if she swam. There were alligators to be sure, but eaten was eaten. The reptiles would at least give her a fairer chance. He rose up from his haunches, scraping a stubborn piece of meat from under a claw.

She was young, but they all were to him.  She was afraid, he could only guess how terrifying he appeared to her. His heart began to pound, they always ran from him. The anticipation of the chase excited him. He heard her trip, likely on a cypress knee, letting out a short scream as her hair was pulled by a low hanging branch. She splashed in the shallow brackish swamp, trying to get her feet.

He preferred the women, they were smarter, they ran. The men were dumb, they tried to put a fight too early. He had nearly been killed only three times in his life, each time by a woman. Always after the chase. After their blood had flowed, after the fear and exhaustion had done their work. Long after reason and sanity had left. That is when the fight mattered, when it was all they had left. That is why the women always tasted so much better when they were fresh.

He pushed off from a nearby tree and began his silent loping run. He always loved the chase. She would take the high path back to the car.

He cut into the thickets of reeds, ran across the fallen tree spanning the narrow end of the swamp. He leapt up onto the high embankment, and reached the bend in the trail. He crouched and waited.

She came, breathing hard, scrabbling for a hold on the step-like roots of the eroded path. Closer, she couldn’t even tell that she was crying. Tears of panic leaving streaks down her muddy face.

Closer, his heart beat louder, blood pounding in his ears. His excitement mounted.

Too soon he reached out for her arm as she climbed the path. She screamed, and slid back down. Landed on her back. He jumped down to where she lay, landing astride her. He bent forward, jagged claws reaching for her throat.

There was a hot pressure, cold pain, warm blood.

A stone perhaps a log. Something heavy had been in her hand when she swung. He was off-balance. She manged to kick him off her. On her feet quickly, running leaps up the trail. He slowly pushed himself back up. He stretch his jaw feeling it fall back in place with a click that echoed in his skull. He spit a broken tooth, tasting his own blood.

She was running again, harder now. She was hurt, bleeding now. Her hand, where she struck him.

Shaking himself back to sense he set off again. Ducking under branches, pushing aside tall grasses, and thorned vines he cut a way towards the lot. She would still try to reach the car, that was escape in her mind. She was deep in the fear now, past the panic. She had shown that now, razor focus only on escape, safety. One thing mattered, life.

This was life for him. This is all that was, just the chase.

He reached the clearing where visitors to this preserve leave their vehicles while the walked the trails. She was just coming off the trail, running full speed towards the large truck parked there. He ambled in to the moonlight. She didn’t look, but she saw him. Her chest heaved with every step. He could almost hear the excitement of hope in her breathing. He began to run. The closer she got to the vehicle, the faster he chased. He could hear both their hearts beating, reaching the same tempo of excitement.

She reached out for the door.

He reached out for her.

She stepped sideways and threw the door open. It struck his arm as he tried to grab her. He spun around fully and reached again. She dove into the cab of the truck. His claws sank into her leg. Her heartbeat was deafening as he pulled her out and turned her to face him. This was life. This was how the chase ended.

A click, and a thunderous bang.

Another shot rang from the revolver. His breath left him. He lost his grip. Again she fired the gun.

The door slammed, tires skidded in the packed dirt of the lot.

Rain began to fall on his body. He coughed blood onto the ground.

This was how the chase ended.

It had been ages since one had escaped. Others would come, to search the swamp, for the dead man, for him. It didn’t matter.

He would hide in the swamp. The man would provide meat for a time. Then he would sleep, he didn’t know for how long. In the time they would stop believing. Soon enough no one would remember the exact name of the woman who got away from him, or when it happened. Her story and her description of him would blend with the other tales through time. People would forget again.

He would slip back to being just the stuff of legend.

 

Status Update

Ellis Durant entered the suite and walked along the only path not cluttered by the entropy that had taken over in the two weeks since he had last visited. He looked around at the empty take-out boxes, stacks of photographs and reports that he had sent over, the random placement of magazines most of them laying open and face down. There was a pattern here. There was always a pattern

As he walked, he looked. He was observant. It’s what he lived for. To observe, to watch, to see. Sometimes you had to see what wasn’t there. There was always a pattern.

There were no clothes. All this chaos and there were no dirty clothes strewn about. Ellis blinked. The clothes would all be found neatly folded in drawers or hung in the wardrobe, each hanger facing the same way. The laundry stored neatly in a hamper, waiting for the service to come pick them up.

The mess was window dressing. An elaborate prop.

Sometimes the pattern was a lie.

Ellis came to a stop behind his employer, who was standing at a purposely cluttered counter fixing a drink.

“How’s our boy?” The older man dropped a handful of ice cubes into a glass, and poured the amber liquid over them before turning to receive his answer

“Tired,” the gray faced man replied flatly, “and nervous. He does not like it that you do not return his calls”

“Can’t do it, you know that.” He swirled his drink, watching the ice spin for a moment “I can’t have any direct contact with him at this stage.”

“So you have said.”

“You don’t believe me?” The old man took a long sip off his drink. “I’ll have to say I’m a little hurt by that.”

“To be clear Mr. Davis, I do not see my beliefs, or your feelings needing to enter into this.”

Davis smiled broadly and patted his shoulder. “You’re a good man Ellis.” He looked his companion over quickly, shrugged and then added, “Well you know what I mean.”

Ellis stared at him, waiting.

Davis turned and topped off his drink. “What has Jerry been up to lately?”

“As planned he has been meeting with Mr. Maslow and his associates. They are thoroughly satisfied with the credentials you have provided him. We have overheard several of them discussing offering our Mr. Standish a position in their organization.”

“What about her?”

“Jerry still spends most of his later evenings in the company of Ms. Karns,” little else on Ellis face besides his mouth moved as he spoke, “they were at his hotel room when I left.”

The older man pinched the bridge of his nose. “I ain’t askin about Janice. I know what they get up to at night, I order it. I mean Maslow’s boss, you know our actual objective. Any word on her.”

“They are certain she is on her way. They do not know when she will arrive. Some think she is already here. The word on her appears to be Baba. They don’t use her real name.”

“Neither should you. Especially, not in my presence.” Davis briefly fiddled with something around his neck, then dropped it back down his shirt. “We clear on that Mr. Durant? You do not speak her name anywhere near me.”

Ellis nodded, “I assume this measure is for security.”

“Yeah, mine. While we’re talkin security, from here on out if Jerry starts trying to discuss me you get him to change the subject, pronto. What about his language studies?”

“He uses the interactive course some. I have been helping him practice. His usage is crude but passable.”

“You speak Russian Ellis?”

The grey man just blinked at him.

Davis shook his head, “Of course you do.”

This Is the 12th installment in a series of scenes that bears the uninspired name The Untitled Thing. The rest of the serial is indexed HERE.

In the Dark

“Are you sure it’s down here?”

“Yes damn it, now be quiet.”

He walked silently behind them through the cold murk, as they argued in whispers.  Walking in circles for hours. Blinding each other with flashlights. Pointing guns at the shadows as they rounded corners. Following every odd noise, spray of blood’ or smear of slime glistening along the wall. Given their haphazard, second-hand knowledge of these forgotten tunnels, they should feel lucky they made it this far. You had to admire professionals.

“You”re sure it’s down here?”

Yes, he thought as he unfurled his claws. Yes, I am here.

This drabble (which by the may now be one of my new favorite words) was written in response to a flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds. So you should check that out too.

After the Sun

I have a sunburn.
It’s the first time in years.
I had forgotten. About the soreness.
The feeling of heat flowing out from me, like I am on fire. The reddened, dying skin shrinking.
Itching for days.
Then it begins to bubble. Small drops of fluid under the damaged flesh.
Eruption. Cooling for just an instant.
Then the peel.
I shiver, breathless at the barely audible sound.
Almost a sigh, as I pull.
The sickly, satisfying, tugging sensation as old the separates from the new.
Exhale.
Bizarre  fascination. I can’t help it.
I reach for another loosened piece of flesh.

The Thing In the Tunnels

It had been some weeks since my arrival in Berian, and thus far the majority of my time for this quarter was spent in my classes, quietly contemplating the various possibilities of sneaking out and exploring the wondrous city beyond the walls of the university.

Despite my family’s relative affluence, we apparently had not been wealthy for a sufficient number of generations for the general aristocracy to converse with me. I was shunned by the majority of the students for my decidedly rural upbringing. As a result my closest companions were also from the, by comparison, lower stations of society, conveniently we somehow managed to end up sharing the same dormitory.

Harmon was a tall, strong backed fellow from the northern reach. His father’s rather successful mining venture afforded his tuition and acceptance by the deans of the esteemed foundation which we attended. He was not the sharpest of wits but he was kind enough and had a generous sense of humor. His imposing stature rescued me from more than one assault on my person during our friendship.

Our other roommate, Lethan was the son of a foreign sea trader; who I had been assured, on several occasions, was a completely legitimate businessman. Handsome, slim, and possessing an accent that had the charming and remarkable ability to grow more pronounced around members of the opposite sex. He was always sent the most wonderful packages from home, smelling of exotic spices and containing delightfully strong intoxicants in deceptively labeled bottles.

It was after sampling one such package when a rumor that a long forgotten tunnel had been unearthed by work men clearing debris of a building that collapsed in a recent fire in the southern quarter of the city.  My compatriots and I, armed with lanterns, rope and a misplaced sense of adventure, made the decision to venture out to explore this portal.

***

One by one we lowered ourselves into the hole. Harmon went first and myself taking the rear. As I slid the last few inches down the rope my feet came to rest on finished stone, We found ourselves in a curving hall built of large stone blocks.. We followed that passage, listening to eerie silence, broken only by the sound of our feet shuffling across the dusty floor. We walked, single file, down that abandoned in mild fear until it opened into a rough square chamber. Harmon stumbled across the threshold, his fall extinguishing one of our lanterns. The clatter of the light hitting the ground broke the silence and the tension of  the moment. We let out a short burst of laughter and help the tall man back to his feet. He set about relighting the lantern, while Lethan walked the perimeter of the room. As he walked he waved his own lantern  making a ghostly sounds. Harmon’s match finally struck despite his hands trembling in an attempt to control his giggling. With both lanterns lit we took stock of our surroundings.

The room was of plain finished stone, with and arched passage leading out from the center of each of the walls. I looked down and tracked our footsteps  across the dust ridden floor. The long skid left by Harmon as he tripped. The trail of oil drops left as the lantern tumbled away from him. The long loping stride of Lethan as he acted out his taunting pantomime of a lost spirit. My own steps mingled in with theirs.

Then, there in the interwoven impressions in the dust, I was certain I could see a fourth set.  They were mostly covered over by our tracks, but I was certain they were there.

Short, shambling, barefoot steps.

I cleared my throat to bring my discovery to my companions attention. That was when I heard a long and piercing scream erupt from Lethan’s throat. I quickly raised my head and saw my friend staring gape mouthed, lantern raised high, his eyes wide and distant as if he was staring at something mile away.

I followed his gaze across the room and there in on of the arched portals, it stood.

Hunched, head forward. Grey mottled skin, hanging loose. Large eyes,circular bulbous. Twisted hands, nails overgrown. Distended jaw, teeth like razors.

My horrified friend stood paralyzed by the monstrous visage. It opened its maw as if to scream but only a low hiss emanated from it as it lurched forward towards Lethan. I began to shout, but Harmon was already moving. He threw himself towards the beast.

The thing grabbed the large man as if he was just a child , snapping his arm like a twig and tossed him aside. It turned its head and followed his arc as he landed in the corner near me, screaming in pain. Returning its reptilian eyes back towards Lethan and stalked onward.

I stared in terror, watching helpless as it drew closer towards its prey. Toward my fiend. I barely heard Harmon as he said my name in a hoarse croak.

Something inside of me stirred and I looked down to see Harmon’s lantern, still lit, laying at my feet. As in a dream, I found myself reaching for it. The thing shuffled forward, Lethan stood still frozen under its dread stare. I hoisted the lamp up and back. The thing began to stretch its arm towards my friend. My arm swung forward, and the light sailed forward through the air.

The lantern struck the alien thing and its pallid flesh caught fire in an instant. The thing crumpled to the floor. The jagged mouth opened and shut in silent screams as the monstrous thing’s body rendered in a pillar of fetid smoke, and quickly turned to ash.

The minutes that followed seem so insignificant. After seeing that thing destroyed Lethan recovered from the petrifying fear he suffered when he first met its stare. Through the shock of the encounter we managed to help our injured friend back to his feet and somehow managed to find our way back to where we began our explorations. We used our ropes to pull our companion back up to the street. We returned to the university and placed our friend in the care of the infirmary.

In the weeks that he spent healing we related our story to the authorities. We were told, by the faculty of our school and several representatives of the civil powers, that this was not a tale to be loosely told in taverns and public houses of the city. We were assured that it would be look d into. It was inferred that keeping the existence of such a beast a secret was for the public good. We were reminded that we were also members of the public.

The burned out ruin of the house was cleared and the tunnel was filled in. We were left with the memory of what we saw.

Day Pass

He had gotten a day pass from work release to visit his dying grandpa. I, being the family chauffeur by default, am tasked with picking him up.

I spot him, in the rear view mirror, and shake my head slightly as I watch him swagger towards the car. He tugs at his clothes and tries to smooth the wrinkles from his faded, preppy attire. He looks around, like someone is more likely to judge him about his brand of clothing being slightly out of fashion than the fact that he was walking out of the county lock-up. He gets in the car and barely says hello before his little claws seize hold of my phone, a moment of reflection makes him decide it wold be wiser to ask me, before dialing his girlfriend.

After the call, without asking he adds her to my contacts list. He turns the phone over in his hands, his narrow, avaricious eyes sizing it up for its approximate value. He proceeds to tell me how cool the new iPhone is, that he wants one when he gets out, but my phone is pretty good too. I tell him I bought a phone not a status symbol.

He breathes in deep, as if trying to suck, from the air, all the freedom that this tragedy provided him in one gulp. He talks about getting out of jail, and all the things he’d going to do, all the things he’s going to buy. He doesn’t ask about his grandmother except to remark about how cool it is that she’s just giving me her car. He can’t believe that it’s not like that, it’s still her car I’m just driving her around when she needs it.

He talks to me about how it’s all past him. About how he’s just ready to be with his kid, to be there for him. How he wasn’t going to go back to jail. How he was glad for the second chance he was getting. How he was going to stay sober, and how hard it was to have an addiction. I tell him about how I haven’t had a drink in almost a year.

I try to talk with him about being sober, the one subject we might have in common.  Mostly the conversation revolves around focusing on yourself, and not paying attention to what other people do, or what they have that you don’t. About making consistent choices. I glance over and he is staring out the window, not really paying attention, talking without listening.

We pulled up outside the palliative  care building at the V.A. hospital. He get’s out of the car and spots my wife, it’s only a matter of seconds before he is asking her for a cigarette, and trying to weasel a free lunch out of her. He had already forgot why he was here. That’s when I knew.

He wasn’t going to make it, he wasn’t going to change.

Late Delivery

I turned the letter over in my gloved hands before reading it one last time. It was a damned shame. If he had just waited one more day. He would have checked the mail one last time, everything would have been fine.  One more day and he would have gotten the news. He would know that she was coming back. He would know that she  forgave him, and I wouldn’t have to cut him down from the rafters. I placed the letter in the plastic bag and zipped it shut.

These are the days I really hate being a cop.4461758553_a9ca106e58

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image: stolica by, Milos Milosevic (CC BY 2.0)