This Weeks Prompt: 35. Special beings with special senses from remote universes. Advent of an external universe to view.
This Week’s Research: Djinn and Beyond The Grave
Kavets village had had a terrible winter. It was colder, Alyona muttered, then ever before. The snow was thicker, the trees seemed more dead. The world seemed to be caked in a thick malaise of some sort, giving everything a feeling of rigor mortis. Fire wood resisted the ax, water took longer to boil, the air was more a persistent and dreadful fog that you could almost swim through.
And then there were the men, if you could call them men.
They were mostly old men, Dmitri and Kuzmas being the notable exception as young boys. They’d gotten together their hunting rifles, their old war rifles, their stolen rifles and said no more when the draftsmen came. They wouldn’t send more young men off to fight, more wheat to feed the pigs in Moscow, no more obedience to strict laws about where trains would be placed. Alyona had been with them for a time, but Kuzmas said a woman’s place was back on the farm, while the men went out to fight.
As Alyona walked the latest bread to the main of the village, hoping to find some more wood for the fire, she saw them coming back in their mock uniforms, cheering. A bunch of old men and boys with guns, convinced they’d stop all this feudal nonsense. Alyona noted they were back from the wood, coming east. They always marched around the village to the woods on the hill first, filling it with the latest catch before coming to the village.
To protect the sensibilities of the children. That didn’t stop the occasional gruesome souvenir or spectator from the village women. One, Nasha, had a necklace with a bloody hand sewn on, to keep the wicked hands of revolutionaries away from her at night. She hung it over her door.
“You see how he shook?” Dmitri said with his loud, drunken voice.
“Wind, good brother, wind.” One of the older men said. “Dead men don’t move that much.”
“Shame we couldn’t get more.” Kuzmas said, shaking his head. “They go fast don’t they.”
Alyona wondered how fast Kuzmas would go, should the fights draw closer. Every day, they came back sooner. And Alyona had noticed, as she had worked on sewing, that there seemed to be one or two less, never mentioned, when they came back from the woods.
“Oh, well, you can’t expect it to be perfect.” Kuzmas had said with a shrug. “People get lost or scared and run off. And once or twice, they get shot. But only once or twice. Don’t worry about it. Those damned fools are getting scared by the woods more and more, they’ll leave us well enough alone by winters end.”
As the party passed the street, talking still about the warning woods and boasting of how many conscripts they’d sent running, Alyona heard a whisper on the wind. It sound high pitched, almost like a cats. The sound rose briefly, pushing her along, before fading.
Alyona decided it was a headache, and went back to finding firewood in the village square.
Days past between that and the next fire fight. Kuzmas had trouble telling the difference in movements. Kuzmas kept to himself about what happened on the train tracks. There was no need to bother the women about the explosion. They’d tied a few grenades together and made something like a pipe bomb. Kuzmas didn’t tell the women that they had missed. That maybe they aimed to high, and hit someone or something in front of the tracks, and that while the other men appeared ignorant, he had seen blue blood flying with Dmitri’s.
“Where’s Dmitri?” Alyona asked as he walked back, rifle over his shoulder. Kuzmas smiled and lied that he had gone off alone to drink in the woods.
The woods was were they had their pacts and sermons. When they got their hands on officials from Moscow, they brought them to that old woods where fairy tale giants and ogres built castles to the sky. Naum, who had fought briefly in the wars of the Tsarists, and who had come back from the city with something witch-like in his eyes, often told them it was a good place for a burial.
“There are old spirits here, that tell me if we bury them here, offer their bodies here, they will be made pure and the spirits will fight with us.” Naum said, typically when explaining why the bodies of so many officials hung from the tries. Kuzmas didn’t care much for talk of spirits. He cared for cutting the men who stole his father and brother, no matter how much they screamed.
Kuzmas was fairly certain if their were spirits in the wood, however, they weren’t kindly ones.
“Where’s Ivan?” Alyona would ask. Kuzmas would lie. Say he got scared and ran off. There was no need to worry her about the occasionally skirmish that drew nearer and nearer. Something calmed his blood whenever he thought to bring it up.
Kuzmas didn’t care much for talk of spirits. But he knew they were there. One, a tall one with great owl eyes and long blue fingers and arms, followed him wherever he went. Kuzmas only saw it once or twice, and it left no tracks. It just stared with it’s great eyes, and opened it’s mouth to speak. But nothing ever came out.
A living man came into the village one day, dressed in a conscripts uniform. He’d come home, this old hand, this man of war who’d seen the front and the trenches. He’d come home, back to Alyona, who had smiled on him before he left and wept for him after. He’d come home, this Makariy, sober and with his rifle.
He smiled at Alyona, but the smile of a distant person. He didn’t say a word.
“He was looking for the village in the old woods.” Kazmus told her, himself smiling the first sincere grin he’d had in weeks. “He has news, back from the fronts out east.”
Alyona again heard that tone, that ever rising whistling tone. That sharp, steady, slowly pericng tone. Had Kazmus the presence of mind to look, he would have seen his blue imp squatting on her shoulder, mouth agape to speak.
The villagers gathered around Makariy without much prompting. There were gifts offers, praises to God and saints, and other rejoices at the return of a prodigal son. Makariy, with shaking hands, refused all things. He only asked for a chair to stand and speak on.
“I…” he said, the next world strangled by invisible hands for a moment before beginning anew, “I have not come how merely for celebration.”
The villagers murmured a bit.
“I’ve come with a warning. When I fled my regiment, to come home and protect the land of my father, and my fathers father, and so on, I learned something terrible. The Red Army is closing in.”
Alyona frowned as the whistling began to drown out Makariy’s words. Now, though, it had slowly morphed into a song. A song who’s lyrics, in the wind, were muddled and unclear. But there was something earnest in them, like a long forgotten lullaby from child hood.
“-at least a thousand men, to root us out.” Makariy finished when Alyona could focus again. The crowd was aghast. The three score fighting men could hardly hope to hold out against so many. Even with the entire village, how could they hope to hold out and be victorious.
“Can one not stand against many?” Naum said, standing up, his long beard making him look like the icons of wild prophets. “Can we not, as the Maccabees of old, fight off these invading foes?”
“The Maccabees still had God.” Makariy said slowly. “Do we? I smelled sulfur all the way here, sometimes worse.”
“Of course we have God!” Naum said, his face frowning deeply at the notion otherwise. “Would he side with the Reds, priest murdering, orphan making, monk slaying, academics? No, the Lord has always been with us, men of farms and women of cloth!”
Kazmus stared as the imp gestured at Naum, frantic hands flailing like a terrified child. Kazmus followed the finger towards the old man’s sermon. He stretched, it seemed to Kazmus, large above the crowd, a singular tendril raising him into the air, twisting down into the earth as it went. There were gasps from the crowd.
“A saint, a miracle…” Alyona whispered.
“Who can doubt we have God on our side now?” one of the older men muttered.
Kazmus kept quiet, watching Makariy’s face contort. But he seemed to relent. They would fight, Makariy said, they would fight in the way that few beat many, quick and strong like lighting. There was no joy when Makariy spoke.
The next few days, Kazmus saw his little imp more and more.
“What is it, friend?” Kazmus said, leaning down as it gasped, trying to speak. It walked along the newly made barricade that was to be Kazmus’s standing spot, lined with a good view into the woods and hidden by branches. The imp pointed west, plaintively, time and again.
“Ah, don’t go on like that. West ain’t much better, little one. The Whites will get you out there. Or worse.”
The imp grew irritable and leapt toward Kuzmas, grabbing him with both hands, and turning him East. There, Kuzmas saw a terrible mass, a mountainous shape in the form of a human head rising out of the ground. A dark helm was on it’s head, and from its neck and hair spread a number of tendrils like trees. It’s mouth was open wide, in a perpetual roar. The landscape bent around it, black and bleak hills and stars shining a pale red. Hosts of insects flew out.
But this was not, to Kuzmas confusion, merely a change. Rather it was like the world as he saw it was superimposed onto this new one, as a thin photograph was held over one’s eyes. As he heard the distant gunfire, he saw the great insects with long legs and deadly stingers shaped like grotesque fish bones. And Kuzmas felt light headed, as he saw more of the great blue imps coming around him.
“Gunfire! They’ve come!” Naum shouted from the lines. Alyona stood in her house, armed with a knife. As she sat, so armed behind an overturned table, Alyona muttered prayers unto God for deliverance, uttered pleas for a place in heaven, and that her sins be forgiven.
“Grant us victory this day, All Mighty Lord, grant us-” she said over and over, until a growing tone rose in her ear.
“Oh, not now, not now. Not when they are just over the hill.”
The music played, rising and falling, played alluring and calming. The tone played sounds like angelic singing and bestial growling. The lyrics made no sense, formed by a choir invisible. But their meaning was clear. Run. Run West. Run to woods west.
“No, no, no. We stand and fight.”
A second choir joined the first now, urging more and more to run. But the tone was now the deep rumble of stones, the cracking of wood, the roar of river. A sweeping, a smashing, a consuming sound. A warning, a warning that a great predator, a great host was coming to carry her off parcel by parcel and wash out any trace of her.
Even if they didn’t kill her, even if her pulsing blood filled body was untouched, she would die.
Alyona refused still to move. She would stay and fight, and if that meant die, she would die. This was where she was meant to be.
The song changed again, a third sound. This one made no effort at message, only feeling. A rhythm of explosive blasts, the sounds of dead men crying out in misery, the weeping of children, the symphony of the dead. As it played, the house seemed to shake under the weight of the sounds. As it moved, for a moment, Alyona was able to see a spiraling staircase of stars rising out onto the sky, the movements of brilliant faces and shifting forms.
“Fine! Fine.” Alyona said, peaking over the table. Naum was staring walking about with his hunting rifle, looking about every which way. But if the music would not cease it’s torment until she left, then she’d leave. The back. The back door would be unguarded.
***********************************************************************Makariy stood calmly along the edge of the barracks. The air buzzed about him, vibrations tingling through his body. He had felt them on the Eastern Front. They had led him home, although he still waited for why.
He could smell, even from a distance, that moldy sulfur that seemed to settle around the Red Army. The Black Army had a corpse like touch to it as well, lacking the strange liveliness of the Reds. There was desperation to Black Army troops, a madness of some half-born half-dead creature. And when he squinted he thought he saw something behind them, a shadow larger then them cast behind them. But only occasionally.
Makariy watched dimly as he saw the troops moving like flood waters among the trees. A thousand was a vast number, one that without prior knowledge, could not be explained or expected. Naum might get the people to stand. To hold their ground. To die and be martyred. But Makariy was rooted by that smell and that vibration in the air, that feeling that suddenly something was going to rip and tear the very world around him apart. The fields of battle rooted him, the conviction of doomed men rooted him. He knew that without a miracle he was here to die with his fellows.
And for a moment, there was.
There was a great light, shining light striking out, slicing itself open like the world was a deck of playing cards and the wind was scattering them apart to show something else unraveling about him. The trees peeled back to show a brilliant dance of lights and a strange wind worked it’s way through from the other side, smelling of lilacs and the taste honey. The tear rotated about, drawing Makariy’s eyes with it as the first gunshot rang through the air, answered by a hundred of it’s compatriots and enraged shouting.
It lead back to the gruesome woods of hanging bodies and burial mounds, the place where the world seemed to have left the tangible and slipped into a dream like state. Where the swaying mutilated form of Red men seemed just ready to prophesy in this new world.
None noticed Makariy leave as the second stanza of shots started. One rifle was the same as every other, and Naum had whirled them into a frenzied swarm around him. No ant ever notices if one of it’s own slips away, even if they were merely washed away by the rolling rain.
Kazmus followed the imp to hill. Alyona was pulled along by ancient song. And Makariy drawn by the shimmering promise of escape. Each found their way into the hanging woods, surrounded above by dead foes and below by buried beloved. At the meeting of the red and the green, where the corpses and worms crawled, they all saw it as they heard it as they smelled it as they tasted it as they felt it. It was a sensation of the entire body lifted upward and outward, like the loosening of a too tight belt allowing a belly to roll out.
And the world seemed to bend round them, and the sky bowed for them, and behind it they saw worlds undreamed of. Great hands pulled them forward, up and past what lay below, out of their bodies and into a heaven of planet sized palaces. When they looked down, the small Russian village was as small as a needle, the universe fading backwards and away. And they felt chains holding them down, chains of bone and flesh.
So they cut themselves free.
So a mild confession: I ended up not using as much of the djinn research as I planned. Rather, for most of the ‘mysticism’ on display here, I made use of a 1960s Russian text called “Rose of the World”. This story is one I’m fairly certain I could expand on (it’s rushed near the midsection, Makariy doesn’t get much development, etc) but the amount of space and time worked against that. However, the base idea is one that if I get the chance I’d like to return too. If I had the foresight, this might have been as good as the Anti–Muse story (my personal favorite from the Society).
Next week, we go to SPAAACE.
And therefore everything must die.
Come back next week to learn more!
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