The Bowen Street House

This Week’s Prompt:98. Hideous old house on steep city hillside—Bowen St.—beckons in the night—black windows—horror unnam’d—cold touch and voice—the welcome of the dead.

The Prior Research:Rhode Island Ghosts

Bowen Street was a bit nicer than I rememberd. The old pot hole was fixed—the bigger one, not the little ones—and the fences weren’t as rusty. Uncle Rodney had been a bit of a nutter towards the end. There were three locks, and a keypad. I remember when I was fifteen him showing off his security room—I’m still not sure if it’s legal to have that many security cameras peering out in all directions from your house. I’m sure it isn’t healthy to stare at monitors all night.

It was a stroke that got him.

Opening up the house, even with the keys and the passcodes, felt like breaking into some giant vault. There was a layer of dust covering everything inisde, and that was before I started going through the locked doors. Most of them were double locked, and the windows had bars on the inside. I don’t know what Uncle Rodney was worried about—he was just generally nervous it seemed—but he had made one amazing cage.

It really shouldn’t go to waste, I thought. It was his life’s work. And I admit, I didn’t feel like sleeping any time soon. The layers of dust made the air heavy, and I didn’t have time to clean. One night, with some beers, seeing what the old man was looking at all night. I’ll toss it out tomorrow, I thought.

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The house clicked to life at eight o’clock exactly. Camera’s whirred to life, screens flickered, lights shone down. And that was the visible parts. Webs of motion sensors were spontaneously woven over the yard, and I’m pretty sure the fence gained life electric. And I sat, drinking from a can, watching the screens. Trying to figure out what had made Uncle Rodney so afraid.

There was a bobcat that walked across the street, right up to the gate. I held my breath as it looked at the fence. It reached out a paw—I stared intently as it considered the jump.

And then, suddenly, it ran off. Scapered back where it came. I glanced across the screens, following the little angry furball until it got to a side walk and went down the street.

I mean, at that point, I kinda thought it lived across the street. There was another house there, although I didn’t give it much attention before. I mean, it was barely a house.

The roof was intact, and the doors, and the—I frowned as I looked at the windows. I guess the lights were off? They were completely dark—actually, zooming closer, it looked like the blinds were closed? No, not even that. They were tinted black. I sat back a bit. Was this whole neighborhood paranoid? I zoomed the camera back out, taking in the crumbling wreck. The porch had fallen in, the door looked worn and someone had stolen the door knocker, and–

There was beeping on one of the motion sensors. I frowned, and looked over at the other camera. My heart stopped for a moment as I saw a pale shape—some kid in a grey hoodie or with a blanket around their back—squeezing at the gate. I couldn’t quite make out what he was…I mean the gate was high voltage, maybe he had wire cutters or something.

I had dialed two digits before he was gone. I looked up as the phone rang, and saw him slip across and into the old house, turning back for only a second. I thought he looked into the camera.

*

“Mr. Barthet?” The voice came through on the other end after a minute of silence. “I don’t know how often we have to answer these calls before it becomes a crime, Mr. Barthet.”

“I’m sorry?” I asked, blinking. “This is the first time I’ve called.”

“Don’t tell me your memory’s going to, Rodney.” The officer sighed. “So what was it this time? Some rave across the street that no one else can here?”

“I’m—I’m not Rodney.” I said slowly. “My names Roger Barthet.”

There was a long pause.

“Oh. Well. I’m sorry for your loss Roger.” The voice said slowly. “Uh, well, alright—Your uncle had a habit of reporting on the old house. Don’t lose to much sleep over it. The place is condemned, should be bulldozed any day now. No one living there but some rats.”

“But I saw–”

“Probably some teen hiding there for a few days or something, you know how kids are.” the officer continued. “If he mucked up your fence too much, that might be something, but, well, we aren’t going out in the middle of the night to chase a kid down in a ghost house.”

And that was it. He told me to get some sleep, see if I felt better in the morning. I sighed, hung up, and went to bed. It rained that night, helped me sleep some.

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Not that I woke up feeling any better. If anything, it felt like someone had reached down my throat and dropped a bunch of needles in my stomach. I kinda staggered around most of the day. Took a walk down to the river, did some exploring.

The house across the street was definitely abandoned looking. I mean, the porch was rotting and missing all its paint—it had turned a weird grey brown of dead trees. A bunch of small live ones were growing in the yard. The old fence was pointy and green-black—I can’t quite tell with those old iron fences that have like, the tips you know?–and broken in a few places. The only really intact bits were the windows, which during the day seemed all the more strange. Seriously, why does an abandoned building have tinted windows?

I couldn’t get it out of my head, walking down the riverside. Someone definitely still used that house for…for something, I don’t know what. Maybe it was just a teen sex and drugs den or something. No wonder Uncle Rodney had cameras pointed at, must have been convinced they were going to try and rush his place in the night. I’m surprised I didn’t find a bigger gun-locker in the house. Yeah, I still hadn’t figured out how to get rid of that, I’m pretty sure Rhode Island’s strict about that sort of thing.

I didn’t go to bed that night. I stayed tuned in—the guy I called over said it’d be costly pulling out the all the wires, and he needed to check the house more, so I had a few more days. And I knew what I saw. If I could just see it again—If I could catch that kid—I think it was a kid. That thing in the night, I’d be able to sleep. I spent the afternoon after the work practicing the shutter function on the camera—a quick photo with a click. And so I waited. And waited. I waited as cars passed by, as drunk teenagers stumbled across the side walk, I wait until three in the morning, eyes fixed to the screens, staring out in all directions from this house.

I was almost falling asleep, despite the caffeinated heartbeat. And then I saw it. My finger moved before I did, clicking rapidly on camera six, the one facing the house. There it was—some pale ship leaning against the black windows.

It was pointing at the camera.

No. It was pointing at me. It held up a finger, a thin spidery finger, and curled it back and forth. Closer it said. Closer.

*

The police weren’t pleased to hear from me again. I swear I heard them mutter something about running in the family. But I know what I saw. And I brought the photos. Didn’t do a ton of good—they looked like photoshop or something. I don’t know. But they agreed, at least, to send someone over. Show me around the other house. Show me no one lived there.

“See, doors not even locked.” Officer Jones said, pushing the rotten wooden door open with one hand. “No one leaves doors open down here. Alright, lets look around, see if there’s any sign of a squatter.”

I grumbled at that—that wasn’t a squatter last night. But whatever. They didn’t believe me, that’s fine. They’d see. He clicked his flashlight on—the house was dark with the tinted windows, but not as empty dark as it was at night.

“Now, we’ll go quick. This place isn’t exactly hospitable.”

The wallpaper was peeling. There was almost half an inch of dust on the entire floor—hell, the carpet on the second floor seemed to be more dust then carpet. There weren’t any dishes, and only a few bits of silver ware. Most were to busted to be used. The walls upstairs had several gouges– “Twenty years ago someone looted all the copper they could,” Officer Jones explained—and most of the light bulbs had been smashed on the ground. There was a bathtub, stained and moldy. A bed. A few picture frames, although there had been more before. You could still see the marks on the wall were they used to be.

There was a chair by the window, where the figure had stood. I walked right up to the tinted window and squinted out—my house was nothing but a shadow from here, an inky blob you could barely call a home.

“Right, see? Nothing’s here.” Officer Jones said, gesturing around. “Nothing but cold damp floor boards, and broken things.”

I frowned and looked around. There was nothing but some broken things, some mold, and some dust. Why wasn’t there more? An old house like this, why not—why wasn’t there any graffiti? Why was no one living in this abandoned but…but stable house? Why hadn’t they for…who knows how long? What was keeping them out?

“Right. Nothing.” I said, as we walked out. What was beckoning me to stay, even in daylight hours?

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I stared out the window. No need for cameras this time. I could see that blasted house. I had seen something before. I know it, I know the cameras don’t lie. I’d locked all the doors, I turned on all the sensors. I had a hundred eyes wide open to see it again.

It was so small—behind the tinted windows, a breeze. It pushed gently against the door, pushing it open and outward. I stood and watched as the door opened, the trees rustled. It didn’t speak—it didn’t even seem..there. But the door slammed against the house wall. No breeze moved anywhere else. It slammed again. And I felt it’s eyes staring up into mine.

The police didn’t even give me a minute to explain. There was shouting, and a frustrated “then just stay inside!”. But I couldn’t. There was something there. Something in the house, that was watching me, that wanted something from me—or was offering something. I couldn’t tell. So I went out, into the night. I crossed the street, and went through the door.



This story is a bit rushed, but I like the pacing and I think the general idea of security and observation leading to paranoia. That both houses are in a way haunted.  That’s all for this Halloween–apologies for the delay, but things have been hectic.

Next week, we visit another very famous New England town. See you then!

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George and the Generous Tree

This Week’s Prompt:97. Blind fear of a certain woodland hollow where streams writhe among crooked roots, and where on a buried altar terrible sacrifices have occur’d—Phosphorescence of dead trees. Ground bubbles.

The Prior Research: Growing On Trees

The river had turned bright. The three farmers it touched stared in disbelief as the flickering water ran along its way, occasionally lurching to a halt. Grass around it had started dying.

“So. This. This is it right?” Johnson said, looking at everyone. “This is proof that God hates us, right?”

“Johnson!” George said.

“Bad harvest, bunch of rats break into the granary, and now there’s glowing star water killing everything.” Johnson said, waving at the water. “I want you to tell me, in the short time I still have land to stand on, how this is not proof positive this year is cursed.”

“Strings of bad luck happen.” George said, scratching his head. “I mean, long string but…”

“Maybe it will pass?” Gwyn said, stroking his considerable beard. “Came sudden, might be gone suddenly too. Things work like that sometimes.”

“I’m going to get what I can stored up.” Johnson said, shaking his head. “Water like that—that’s fairy nonsense or worse. Give it a week, and everything’s gonna be sludge and rot.”

So the three parted. Gwyn put old nets down from his time by the coast, hoping to catch the muck and keep it from his fields. Johnson went to accounting their belonings, in case the worst happened. He sent a letter down the road, to his brother in Alberdam. But George. George followed the river.

The river had its roots in the woods. Most things do. George knew pigs once lived in the woods, he figured cattle did too. So he followed the river back, through rotted roots and muddy land. He walked ahead, seeing what he might find among shivering trees and bald pines. For as the river wound its way down, the trees turned pale. The ground became soft and pallid. And animals made such dreadful sounds.

At the end of the river, George found it. Over the spring, a great tree with a glimmering brass trunk. No fruit sprang from the tree. No leaves. It’s roots, manifold and black, dripped luminescent sap into the river. Each drop sizzled as it touched the spring.

George was not a terribly wise man. But he knew clearly something about this was wrong. He rushed home and returned to that shuddering, sickly tree with an axe. Raising it high, he struck it hard—and it rang out like a bell in protest.

“Stop, stop, what are you doing?” A voice came down from the empty branches. “What are you doing, cutting me down with crude tool of yours?”

George was startled by the voice, but persisted. It again rang out like a bell, higher pitched this time. His axe blade looked a tad worse for the strike, but the bark had bent in.

“Stop that, stop that what are you—”

“You are spreading poison into our lands.” George said, reading a third swing. “I cannot lose it.”

“Wait wait! How much is it worth, this land?” The tree said, vibrating and shifting its bark about. George stopped his axe just before it.  “Perhaps we could trade.”

“And what could you offer, tree?” George said, resting his ax for a moment. “While I catch my breath.”

“Oh many things, many wondrous things. But perhaps most simply gold.” And as it spoke, an apple of shining gold grew from it’s branch, bending down in front of George. “Leave me be, and gold I can give every day.”

George took the gold, a small snap as it broke from the brass branch.

“Every day, gold like this?”

“Every day.” The tree’s voice said. George was a simple man. And while speaking trees were strange, far stranger existed in the wood. So he returned home without another blow.

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And so he continued for sometime—about two months, coming to collect the gold, and letting his fields fall fallow. He never revealed the source of the apples he brought—in fact, when possible, he hid his travels down to the town to buy goods and food from distant farms. George was a simple man, but even he knew not to flaunt his gold.

Still he paused when he saw the carts outside Johnsons farm, the children swining legs from the seat.

“Nothing to be done. Lands cursed.” Johnson said, shaking his head when George asked leaning on the fence. “I mean, the grain that lived was inedible. But we’ll manage, we’ll manage. Probably won’t get much for the acres, but it’ll be something before the bank gets it.”

George nodded solemnly, and went for his axe. He hadn’t meant to ruin Johnson too. So out into the forest he went again, passed the twisting trees and mewling animals. The woods was quieter, the trees all had left shed broken coats of bark on the ground. The exposed insides were full of holes. Some times sap bubbled out of these, as the ground became muddy near the great tree. Its roots now dug deep into the ground.

“What now, little one? I gave you your gold for the—” the tree spoke, before George’s axe struck. A dull groan resonated through out the woods, the dying noises growing low and loud. The tree shrieked in it’s crown of twisting branches.

“What in the sweet—what do you want? More gold, is that it?” The tree shrieked. George saw his blow had left a large dent in the side. “I can provide more gold! Stop with that ax!”

“Gold will not help now.” George said, striking again and leaving a heavy cut. “Johnson already lost his farm. Gwyn will lose his. Gold can’t help that.”

“Are you—” A scream cut off the tree as the third blow struck, sluggish glowing sap leaking from its side. “Buy the farm yourself, you ingrate!” It bellowed. “You have piles of gold! Give some and buy his land, if you care so much! Its not like you need to worry about farming while I’m here!”

George paused, resting his axe on his shoulder, and stroking his chin. He had not considered that. Hiding his wealth had seemed so…vital. But it wouldn’t matter if Johnson and Gwyn were driven out already. The farms were just land then.  He shrugged and left the tree with it’s new wound, heading back to his farm.

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And so it came to past that George and his family were alone in the farmlands. The fields did not grow properly there—they grew in small tufts and strange colors that year. Johnson and Gwyn had both long gone—George made no effort to maintain their fields. There was little to maintain, as the ground turned gray and then pale yellow. It was swampish and bubbling, the forest slowly sinking from George’s view.

“Its not natural.” His wife said as she looked out. “Its getting closer to town now—that poor boy, he drank some of it and…”

George nodded, staring out into the woods. The river was like moonlight now—cracks and springs up sprang up on the farmland. It wasn’t natural. But few things were in he woods now.

He had gone hunting once, and found not a single living thing. No birds sang, no deer ran. He saw a pale shape moving in the trees. He thought it was a cat, but it had too many eyes.  Too many legs. Or he thought as much.

The shivering trees—the ones that were pale and tall and thin like grain, but stung to touch—had grown where grain once rain. The land was sick. Perhaps it was always sick, George thought as he walked through the silent and shivering woods. There was no wind, but the trees still bowed and swayed as he passed.  And at last, he found the tree.

He had seen it daily, growing bigger and bigger. It’s roots were as wide around as a saucer. Its branches were knotted like a boat’s strings, and thicker then rope. A web of shimmering shapes made up its top. Two great cuts were on its side.

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“Have you come again with your ax, George?” The voice said solemenly. “Have I not been true and good to you?”

“The land is dying.” George said. A bit of regret remained on his voice. “You have been true and kind, but the land is dying.”

“It has always been dying.” The tree said. “It was dying a year past when we first met. What has changed? Have I not given you gifts, to stay your ax?”

“The land is dying faster now. Down in the town people are dying.”

“People are always dying, George. Dying is the way of things.” The tree said, unmoved.

George shook his head, having no more of the trees words. He took his ax and struck the tree’s trunk—and again it resounded like a gong. But the bark did not budge.

The ax swung again. The tree was unmoved.

The ax swung. The tree shook with laughter.

“George, I have been good to you.” The tree spoke. “And you have been good to me—so I tell you this. If you wish to quarrel with me, leave now. For I have grown too deep to be overturned by an ax or flame. The time for such has passed. Run now, and I will not pursue you for scaring me so.”

George stared as the tree’s branches unfolded—revealing glimmering fruit, brilliant like stars. He dropped the ax into the gray mud. And soon he too left the land by the river. So the rotting tree came to consume the land along the great river. Nothing wholesome remains in that woods.



While this might need one or two more editing passes–and could certainly be improved by more character interaction–I’m actually rather proud of this one. I think the basic idea of a parasitic but wealth producing tree growing monstrous and uncontrollable when allowed to flourish by human greed is a decent enough idea. Giving more character to George would be the first addition–at the moment he’s rather blank as a person, except a bit greedy and a bit simple.

Next time we return to a particular haunted house and the cold touch of the dead!

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Lights Away

This Weeks Prompt: 96. Unknown fires seen across the hills at night.

The Prior Research:The Hills Are Alive

I told Ron to stay away from the hills that night. I told him, I warned him that there was something not right up there. But he didn’t listen. I guess I didn’t really listen.

It was the fifth or sixth time I’d seen those lights. C’mon, he said, there’s gotta be a party or something out there.  We have to go see, they’ve done it every few months.

I said no.

They were fucking creepy rave lights. I mean. They weren’t strobing, so maybe they weren’t like as bad as they could be. Maybe just colored headlights behind the hills or something, I don’t—I didn’t know.  So Ron went off with out me.

Ron was the third to go missing—and you know, one’s an oddity, t­­wo’s a coincidence, three’s a pattern.  The lights were gone that night. And the night after that. I even went out to the hill—took me two tries to work up the nerve, but I went out behind that old hill to see if there was anything back there.

Nothing. A bit of a damp spot. That was it.

The cops stopped—well, I thought they stopped—looking after about a month. Nothing. It was a stir, they even printed him on milk cartons. I didn’t even know they still sold milk in cartons…what? Oh right. Next.

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Well, I—I kinda assumed he’d run away upstate or something. Or met some folks at a party, drank something wrong, and was now in a shallow ditch missing a kidney. I keep going back to the hills, look around for any trace. Tire tracks from the head lights, or even just…just something he’d dropped maybe.

Nope. Yeah, nothing. All he left was a pen. Small gel pen he gave me in class that day. He left clothes and stuff in his house, but nothing on the hill. Not even like a busted button or bit of string. That’s when I started getting—okay, yeah, getting a bit weird.

His parents let me borrow one of his jackets. I mean. They didn’t stop me. I started going out from the hill. I’ve got—I’ve got this map of the area, and I figured he’d have to have left something right? It’d been weeks, and nothing but still. People can’t just vanish into the ground. He had to have left something.

So I went out. I started going for walks, walks pretty late. I’d just…just walk to the nearest spot from the hill. Where he might have wandered off. There was a tree, I found a campsite near a tree. It was a big one, looked kinda like a two tiered umbrella.  I got excited, I found stuff. You know. People stuff.

But that was a boyscout camp that had forgot to clean up after itself.

I tried the other direction, and found some litter about two miles out. I started marking all these little places on my map, so I didn’t double take. And, about three days ago, I noticed it. There’s a mile around the hill, in all directions, where there’s no one. Or nothing.

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Like. There’s the old abandoned mill, and some of weird red silo building in the wood. But those are a mile and a half out. There’s Mr. Ottar’s farm. But again. Mile out, and right on the mile, stops. There’s no litter over the mile line. Perfectly clean, perfectly kept grass.

People lost toys in the woods. Things died on the road that past by. The old railroads even gave it a wide breadth.

That’s weird right? I don’t know. I mean. No one ever talked about it. I know on Halloween, kids went to the old Gretch home, to see ghosts. I went once, just got a scare from Ron and a big dog. I mean, not Ron’s dog…never found out who’s dog that was actually. You’d think a big one like that would make a lot of noise, but maybe he’s well trained.

Anyway. There’s other weird places. Again, woods is full of ‘oh I saw a gorilla out there’ or ‘oh my dead grandpa visited me’ or ‘once I heard a woman screaming at midnight’. And, and alright. Fine. Cool. But the hill? There’s nothing.

I asked Mr. Ottar about it. He said some teens were setting off fireworks out there—had been since he moved to town in the fifties. Which, obviously, is impossible. But I kept at it, and he said he’d never found anything out there—never looked too hard, said it was a pretty boring spot. But he’d seen people out there, and lights, and heard music, so he knew what it was.

But no one’s been there. No one’s been out behind the hills, and Mr. Ottar said they’d been around since he moved—and that was in the fifties. And that’s not his memory! I checked, I went to the city hall and checked and he’s been there since 1952.

I checked. I checked twice. I asked everyone I met, as normally as I could, if they’d ever been to a party out in the hills. A few asked if I was hosting one, and mentioned it seemed like a boring place. A few mentioned the freaky lights.

The lights hadn’t come back yet.

That I—Okay, it took me a bit to start trying to map the lights. I knew that, like, that nothing came within a mile of the place. That there were lights since 1952. But not constantly? And the disappearances. The disappearances were connected with the lights. I don’t remember them happening before. I don’t remember a bunch of high schoolers vanishing but like.

Would I have noticed?

Could I have noticed?

I mean, I was ten. I didn’t notice you were there, did I? Ten years old, high school kids like. They can just go to college, like a dog going to a farm. How long—I mean, someone would have noticed? They noticed this time. They checked. We aren’t a big enough town for someone to go missing every few months and no one notice, we’re not like fucking New York or something.

But I went on with it. I marked and plotted the dissapperances and the lights. I asked about the lights, if people had seen them. A few had driving, one or two had walking late at night. A few saw a big dog around there, but that seemed…probably wrong. I mean. A big dog would have made noise, and there weren’t any tracks up there. Nothing left of a dog.

Anyway. I got something like a pattern. Finally. I had a few days to figure this out. What to bring, who to tell, where to wait. I mean. I said I was going out stargazing for a project, and my parents just sort of shrugged.

I heard music. I heard a thumping, thudding music. I thought it was some party down the road, but as I started down the path, no. It was from the hills.

Lights shinging soft but bright over the hill—blue, green, yellow, orange. They were so much…more than before. Much warmer. Much more inviting. I mean. I was heading there anyway. It didn’t matter much.

But still.

It was different, having a beat to walk to. I mean sometimes I listened to music when I went out, but paranoia kept me on edge. What if something snuck up on me? What if whatever it was caught me? Bouncing along to a beat was something different.

I got to the mile mark. The grass was so green, and there was something…sweet in the air. It smelled like strawberries. It—I could see people over there. Waiting.

I was holding Ron’s coat still. I saw him there. It had been ages. He was right there. There were dozens of people there. It was such a …it was so alive. So full. There were so many…so many things.

I almost made it across. I almost stepped over the other side.

Just. I was. So close.

And then. I was here. I was in a room. This is a room right? I was in a white room, with a white light, a red chair, and a small table. Someone came by, gave me some water, and left.  Then you asked about Ron. I don’t think you came into the room—I’d remember that I think. But you’re in the room now.

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How did I get here?

 



I ended up rewriting this story from scratch 3 times, and I’m still not entirely satisfied. I don’t think I ever reached a satisfactory idea of what it was about, except the vague notion of people being lured off by a fire. Which…I think my best work is a bit more than that.

Next time, we go into forests plagued with strange and dangerous things!

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A Long Night

This Week’s Prompt: 91. Lost winter day—slept over—20 yrs. later. Sleep in chair on summer night—false dawn—old scenery and sensations—cold—old persons now dead—horror—frozen?

The Prior Research:A Deep, Cold Sleep

The buzz of cicadas near the rivershore will always be the sound of summer to me. Even if I’ve never seen one, the near constant buzzing in the trees keeps the season clear—just like up north, the drifting of fall leaves announces autumn and the dreary blanket of snow makes winter all the clearer.

C’mon, I got a jar and everything!” Jordan says, holding up a glass jar with some very tiny holes poked in it.

There floating over the water, a little light show. With a sigh, I let myself by pulled down—against a dark sky, we chase the stars. Its a hokey little memory, I think. The kind I’ll write about when Jordan’s older. The kind that’s bleeding innocence. The kind that a Pixar movie would use for the good old days, before adult hood made everything complicated. Its nice, is what I’m saying.

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How often do you get fireflies down here?” Leslie asks, as we pace down the riverside. Jordan’s running a head, waving his jar around and trying to catch them on the sand.

Every now and then, but we only come down to the river like once a year.” I said, a fire fly landing in my hair—and for a moment I worry Jordan’s gonna bash me on the head with a jar to catch it. It flies off before that becomes a problem.

We caught a dozen—although half figured out where the hole was and slipped out of the jar. Neither of us had done this before, and I’d been too lazy to google how.

Think they’ll glow all night?” Jordan said, holding up the small collection. On cue, firefly number seven slipped out the top of the jar.

Maybe—we might need to get more tomorrow.” I said as we walked back to the cabin. “But a few might. If you get up early, you could probably still see them.”

Hmmm…” Jordan weighs the notion of waking up early—with the understanding of going to sleep now—against running around more.

I’ll make pancakes.” I promise.

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I got the batter ready in advance after Jordan went to sleep. It was my mom’s old recipe, which she said she got from her grandfather—but honestly, I’m eighty percent sure I’ve seen it on the back of a box of mix.

You’ve got to know the fireflies will be gone by the time he gets up.” Leslie said, sitting at the counter.

Well, sure. But that’s fine, we’ve got another night up here and he’ll catch more. Besides,” I held up a mixing spoon. “There’s no misery that pancakes can’t cure.”

So, hows he doing in school?” Leslie asked, getting up and starting a pot of coffee behind me.

Fine, fine really. He likes math, which is a godsend I think. Math and science and in a few years, he’ll be off to the races in college.”

I mean, in ten years maybe.” Leslie said, rolling her eyes.

Ten years, a few years, eh.” I waved it off as I mixed. “Point is, I think he’s got a scientests brain. Maybe biology, what with how much he loves running around in the woods. He could make some good money that way.”

Sure, I mean…that’s pretty far away though.” Leslie said shrugging. “He might change his mind.”

Yeah, kids do that, but I really think he’s onto something.” I said, placing the batter in the fridge. “And, I mean, I’m working on his junior high already—thats where stuff can really get out of hand. But I’ll work something out for him.”

Leslie shrugged again and looked back outside. A small flash of a shooting star went by, and she sighed. She always thought it was weird for me to talk so much about how great Jordan was going to be, but it never came to much.

River ForestComet.png

Its funny. My grandparents had a cabin like this—I mean, not exactly like this. Prescott doesn’t have a river, just some creaks. But…places like this always feel nice.” She said, watching the stars between the trees. “I blame Diseny—there’s something about cabins that makes the whole world seem to stand still.”

The coffee pot beeped to break the silence.

Which cup?” I asked, opening the cabinet.

Leslie grabbed a blanket as we went out onto the patio.

Oh c’mon its July! It’s nowhere near that cold.” I said, rolling my eyes.

Speak for yourself, I’m freezing.” She grumbled as she leaned into the armrest.

Its getting warmer every year…” I said, sipping my coffee. “It’s going to be sweltering soon. God, can you imagine the mosquitoes?”

They’ll be the size of airplanes.” Leslie said with a laugh. “And the fireflies are gonna be bigger than Jordan.”

Oh, God, he’d try and ride one away.” I said, laughing and nearly spilling the coffee on the floor.

…hows he doing. In school.” Leaslie asked, looking up at the yellow’d harvest moon.

I mean, he likes it, his grades are good, like I said he loves math–”

Yeah, but you know. What about hobbies? What’s he do when he’s not catching fireflies?”

I stopped a bit and shrugged.

I mean, he does puzzles and stuff.” I said, frowning. “I’m thinking he’ll do debate in a few years, he’s got the mind for data and that’s important. Or robotics and coding.”

What about now though?” Leslie said. I shrugged.

I think he hangs out with a kid named Jeff?” I said, frowning. “Doesn’t come over much, but they had snacks and played games once.”

We talked a bit after that, about travel and college. I went to bed, feeling a bit chilly—not that I’d say anything. A bit of a wet wind had come off the river, that was all.

I stirred a little in my sleep. Something cold and freezing went over me, and lights danced outside. An aurora rising in the window, a cool and strange light. For a moment, the woods loomed large. I was half awake, half dreaming as I saw them. Half formed shapes of fur and tusk, lumbering nameless about the house. The river was bubbling, many colored gas rising out and off of it. I sighed a bit, and lay back down, breathing slowly to sink back to sleep. I didn’t think much of it—I thought it was a strange dream, half remembered. The sun didn’t rise that early, I thought—and the woods were too thick, too thick to be real.

I jolted awake later, a drop of water hitting my head—and as I stretched, my limbs felt exhausted. I saw the sun high in the sky, and a moment of panic struck. I’d forgotten to make breakfast! I got up and—and as I stretched, I felt a sudden chill. Looking outside again, I saw…white snow. Snow running up the window, all the way down to the shore.

The hell?”

It had snowed before in summer. I think. I mean, we weren’t far enough north for that to be normal, but freak weather wasn’t out of the question. But still, it was—well, I guess no fireflies would be caught.

Jordan! Jordan!” I shouted. He was going to love this. But the entire house was silent as I walked into the living room—a thin layer of frozen dew over the window. Looking out onto the patio, the wind rocked the chair back and forth.

Forest Frost.png

Someone was in the chair. Leslie! She must have slept in. When I pulled the screen door, there was a horrible sound. The edges were pretty rusty—I’d have to call the maitence guy about this. I mean, he might write it off as a freak blizzard but—and then I paused again, looking out from the patio. The frost on the window had obscured it but there were more trees then before. Not many, but saplings that had crept up from the shore. Not just saplings, no. The undergrowth was thicker, rising from the snow. Bushes and rotting brown moss growing on dead wood.

How long had I slept?

I turned slowly at the chair and caught a glimpse. A glimps of skin tight on bones, a face full of terror, a blanket full of holes and worn down. I slammed the door shut and ran back inside. I couldn’t look at it. I couldn’t look at that face, hair frozen where it was. How long had I slept? How…

Jordan. Oh no. Oh no.

 



I’m…not fond of this story. I really couldn’t get the twist ending into a cohesive narrative in my head, and when I had something I had little time to finish it. This might be one that, in a few years, I might rewrite for the patreon (linked below). Next week, we come back to a common staple of horror, and delve deep into a regional variant that started this entire blog! Come and see, when the dead walk!

 

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The Body of Veled

This Week’s Prompt:90. Anencephalous or brainless monster who survives and attains prodigious size.

The Prior Research:Lose your Head!

Bodies lay strewn like scattered grains across Peridun’s field. The men who had thus far survived the fighting, the rebellious folk of the mountains and the riders of the Thunder King, waited on bated breath. The rebel, Veled, dressed in fine cotton clothes and with a serpent headed spear, dons his horse hair helm. Across, the King of Thunder, his meteor charms heavy on his head. A crown of thunderbolts crackled in the air. The King of Thunder holds his blade, that crackles as it cuts the air with each blow.

The two rush forward, and the melee is fierce. The blade slides off the clothes of Veled, the spear can find no hole in the meteor born metal. Rebel and loyalist watch, each holding breath as sparks and strikes fly. Later men tell of how the earth shook and the wind roared. And then the first crack—the spear of Veled, rent in two. In the pause, the blade found a gap—and off went Veled’s head, his horse haired helm clattering on the ground.

The King of Thunder told this tale many times as he returned, Veled’s head in his banner. Peridun’s people were scattered by the hurricane of steel—those that did not flee, watered the fields in blood. And all was silent on those fields for a time, as feasting and murals were made.

HeadlessSword

Until Veled’s body stirred, abandoned and naked on the field of war. It was a lumberjack wandering the roads that saw the body first—hunched over and crawling. At first he thought, in it’s scarred and awful shape, that some strange tiger was feeding on the bodies of the dead. Yet as he drew close, he saw the furs were mere clothes—the hands not clawed, but with the long finger nails of a corpse. The body made no sign that it saw or heard him as he approached—but the horrid look of it’s neck stump caused the man to shriek in panic and flee.

It was from this fleeing woodsmen that the body of Veled acquired its first tool. The bodies that lay in Peridun still bare the marks of its first depradations—hunks of flesh and bone rent by tireless nails and arms. But axe in hand, the ghastly corpse began to butcher it’s fellows bodies. It would drop the chunks of meat down its throat. The lands around Peridun are sparsely inhabited, and such sights were deemed the work of a local exorcist or priest, unworthy of national concern for sometime. Its grim dances atop the boides, laughing madly with chortling hoots and screams from fractured vocal chords, were unnerving and unwholesome. But in such a land that resisted rightful law, it was of no note or surprise.

After some time, however, the sight grew tiresome—and indeed an exorcist was called to deal with the ghosts of rebellion. A woman of some skill, who knew many of the arts of casting back spirits and was attended always by the smell of divine incense, the exorists went out with her retinue in the night. She came with a wooden sword and carved silver bell, that would sing sweetly. Many dark creatures she had banished from the night, who at the sound of her bell fled the authority of the heavens.

HeadlessMan.png

So she descended into the plains, where the beast held its dances. Oh how terrible the body of Veled was! It stood now eight fall tall, the woodsman’s great ax and a broken platform of shields trampled under foot. The exorcist’s retinue stood back with horror. But she presisted forward, sending them to their stations, with their implements. Here a brazen thunderbolt. There a lit candle. Pure water. The beast feels the heat and motions of the wind, the unsettled body of Veled turns and paws about—its dancing has stopped, for its throat tastes something living in the air. And then the exorcist drew her sword, and spoke her prayers.

She recounted not just the Thunder King’s triumph, but his fathers, and fathers fathers. She recounted the divisons of heaven and earth, that had assigned to her the authority over spirits. She, with the fire of a holy preacher, recounted the torment of the rebellious, and promised a swift and merciful dismissal if the body returned to the grave.

The body made no reply—as it lacked any sense of hearing, as a thing that stood outside the law. The exorcist then made to strike the body, her sword digging deep into it’s swollen stomach. The ministers of the depths sent a missive to summon the body down, as they had a hundred rebel spirits and ghosts before. This missive, however, was ignored—for the senseless corpse could not hear it. Instead, it felt the pain of the sword, and in a rage, slew the exorcist and her retinue.

The terror of this report was sent to the Thunder King and his authorities—as well as reports of a swollen, mishappen corpse marching towards his mountain castle. The body of Veled was now ten feet tall, and proofed immune to swords, spears, and slings. Worse still, the beast’s hunger continued—it consumed and devoured men and women without hesitation. Arrows and axe heads had been stuck in it’s sinew, but the flesh of it’s victims renewed it every year. Such outrages moved the Thunder King—he assembled his companions.

“This beast is unlike others we have seen—it defies sense and death, and will not yield to the demands of gods and men. We must overcome it’s strength, and hold it still. Then, we will affix a head to it, carefully made. Once it has regained a head and sense, the ministers below will lay their hands on him, and take this twice dead Veled down below.”

And his companions agreed with his wisidom, the ten of them armed with bolas and net, with tridents and harpoons. These, they believed, would fix themselves into it’s wounds. Even as the beast healed, the chains would wrap and bind its bones and muscle. The weight of imperial iron would hold it fast, with effort.

So they rode out, the eleven riders to meet with the great terror. Now it stood twenty feet tall—towering over hills as it crawled up the mountains. The body dimmly felt it’s old head, still hung from the banner of the Thunder King. It hurled stones as the riders appraoched, battering their path with boulders the size of men and horse sized clods of dirt. One struck a companions chest, smashing bones asunder. Another hit a companion’s steed, stumbling the horse over and killing both. Yet the nine remaining pursued the monster, who continued it’s howls of broken voices and danced as it had on a hundred fields of corpses.

They cut at the body. They drove nets of steel around its flesh. Whirling bolas wound around and around its limbs. The peakless mountain came tumbling down, limbs flayed and woven together. Yet still it pulled forward. It’s dance done, its hands climb the ground, its axe a great lever to heave it’s form. A companion drew close with a lance, but the hands of Veled caught it’s tip and pulled him screaming into his gapping maw. The remaining eight riders withdrew for a moment, content in having slowed the creature.

“We must move swiftly,” said Thun, wisest of the Thunder King’s riders. “I fear the nets are not as firm as it’s spirit. Mountain the head on a spear and drive it onto the neck—impose thought on the creature, before it turns its cage into armor.”

Head Hunting.png

So the Thunder King and his companions each took a spear. And each removed it’s tip, and replaced it instead with the head of a great statue, the stump facing forward. They made off without their horses—who were tired from the fighting and afraid of the great beast. So slowly, the four men and four women descended, each drawing closer to the clawing body of Veled.

Assaulting such a creature, who could not see or here, was difficult with. But ambushing them was remarkably easy. The first spear, by Thun, struck between the limbs and hit the throat. But it was too small! The idol’s head was swallowed whole, and Thun gave away his presence with the spear tip. So there was only seven companions as the body slunk up towards the Thunder Kings halls. Each in turn made their assault—but the heads of gods were ill fitting something so lawless. Some too small, some too big, some swallowed and some ignored. At last, only the Thunder King remained—and to him came a novel idea.

He discarded the head of stone he had brought, hurling it with great force. It came down on the back of Veled, startling it. The Thunder King fetched Veled’s old head, with it’s long hair and embalmed flesh. He wove the hair around the spear tip—making something like a mace as he approached. He swung it slowly, letting it whirl in the air. The body had grown vast—it was fifteen feet tall now. The head had shrunk with rot.

Still, he bounded forward, and brought flesh to flesh—the body knew the head. And as they became one, the chorus of summons from the underworld. They laid there hands on the life of Veled’s body, and pulled it down. And so the terror was ended, and so execution by beheading prohibited in the land of Peridun.



 

This story is back to the more mythic structure–I’ll figure out one day how to write a story that moves between more grounded and more fantastic, but for this prompt the mythical seemed more accurate and fitting.

Next week, in the heat of summer, we venture to the forgotten and dread time of winter–of frozen bodies and trapped times. Come and see what’s stuck under all that ice.

 

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Ashes to Ashes Dust To Dust

This Weeks Prompt:87. Borellus says, “that the Essential Salts of animals may be so prepared and preserved, that an ingenious man may have the whole ark of Noah in his own Study, and raise the fine shape of an animal out of its ashes at his pleasure; and that by the like method from the Essential Salts of humane dust, a Philosopher may, without any criminal necromancy, call up the shape of any dead ancestor from the dust whereinto his body has been incinerated.”

The Prior Research: Restored And Resurrected

I stood outside the old adobe building. A dust devil rolled by, the windows and door trembling as it passed. They seemed more commonly lately, but that could be just my mind betraying me. The old Crowe house had always been a bit windy, even when it’s owners were alive.

I checked the vials in my hands and took a deep breath. Three. I had three to pull it off—three bits of glimmering dust and oil. I tapped the aluminum baseball bat on my shoe, testing my nerves a bit before going in. The gate wasn’t locked—not that surprising all things considered. It wouldn’t need locks anymore.

The Crowe family got me and Alfred’s attention five years ago. You study enough medical folklore, looking for lost cures and bits of genius that the modern age had swept up, you start to come across patterns. Patterns that take you from wizard to drug dealer to old grandma. And one of those patterns brought us to the Crowes.

There’s a trend—a common one, you can probably found it around the corner—of supposed doctors who have miracle cures. Cancers a really common one. And in those cases, before you ask why isn’t in the news—well, because the good doctors don’t do it for money, and won’t share with companies that would. Most of the stories are crackpot nonsense. The Crowe’s were one of the more extreme though. They didn’t cure cancer—they cured death.

Vials.png

Eliza Crowe has two obituraries, one from 1932 and one from a 1968. Printed in the same small paper, the two obituaries have the same details up for the first twelve years. That gave the stories of Louis Crowe having some sort of miracle cure more grounded—it spread around the house, and was easy to follow when we got here.

The fountain in the courtyard is covered in moss—stagnated without proper care. The water company had cut it off a while back, in preparation for the planned demolition. Electricity out too. As I walk up to the door, I hear glass crack. Looking up, I saw the shattered skylight, bit of glass still there. So, it was still here.

The door was locked—given it came and went from the ceiling, that wasn’t so surprising. Fortunately, the Crowe’s were predictable. Spare key in the potted plant. I mean, I guess a potted cactus is more secure then under the doormat. The heavy double doors open, and the remains of the living room are apparent. High ceiling, sitting area a small stair walk down. Couch was torn, some by a dog or coyote that’d wandered in, some by the actual issue. Four fan blades shot up from a shattered light.

There was stained cotton all over the floor, some giving away it’s footsteps. I listened for any movement in the house.

Nothing. I walked along the wall, passing the dining room towards the steps—there was noise. I turned quick, bat ready—and only flies. Flies buzzing around the dishes in the kitchen and on the table, some wasted away parts of food.

The Crowe’s didn’t keep much of their great grandfathers work, but they did know what we were on about. We talked for a bit, and the older Crowe says its all true—his mom not only died, she died in a fire. Louis Crowe was able to restore his mother from just ashes using a family secret. Of course, when asked why his mother had died anyway—albeit later—he shrugged and said his mother was a very righteous woman. She wanted to see her Lord in Heaven.

Of course, when we left, they hadn’t told us the secret recipe. I didn’t mind—odds were, it was some snake oil or something. That sort of selfless honesty—well, I could believe it of one or two generations of people, but a family? That never sold out a secret? No, not these days. You could make bank with that sort of thing, some black helicopter would have swept it up, surely.

Alfred didn’t think so. I really shouldn’t have been surprised, when he had that look in his eyes, that there was a break in to the house in another three weeks—and that the family vault had been broken open. Nothing missing, but the Crowe’s medicine book was open.

The stairs creek as I walk past stained and broken pictures of mountain landscapes. There’s a smashed imported tile scattered on the hallway threshold, the door still open. I have to be quiet now. Three vials and the bat is all I have. Three strikes, and I’ll be out. Hell, two and it’ll be over.

It sleeps during the day. Or at least, it doesn’t hunt in the light. People made it out during the night, the calls came during the night. The strange long limbs, the occasional eye, the crouching gargoyle that wasn’t on the church before.

One kid even told me that it spoke—the kid knew some old Greek, and thought he heard someone whispering old Homeric verses around the house one night. The kid followed the sound—the road was well lit, and he saw a tall man in an illfitting jacket and looking away, a hat on. The kid didn’t get close—smart, really, when the thing turned to face him.

All the kid would say was that he ‘didn’t look right’. The man’s face, looked weird. Droopy and strange.

The Crowe House

I didn’t see Alfred for six weeks—and he didn’t look good when he knocked on my office door. I looked up to see a haggard man standing there, bags under his eyes and skin now sickly pale-green. Before I said a word, he held a hand up.

Hey, long time no see, brought someone by,” he said quickly—and I heard the thwapping of a tale on the door. A small snout poked out, and then a jubliant ball of fluff jumped into my lap. I impulsively pet the corgi as Alfred took a seat and slumped down.

Great isn’t he?” Alfred said, cutting me off again. “He’s just as lively as when I was a kid.”

I paused a the corgi panted in my lap.

What do you mean when you were—Alfred, is this…?” I said, holding he’s head up in my hands.

Rocket, yeah.” Alfred said nodding. “Crowe’s formula works—its a miracle.”

…And he’s not like, a zombie? He seems…really friendly.” I said frowning. Rocket for his part titled his head at me and licked my nose.

No, no, nothing wrong with him as far as I can tell.”

…so what’s keeping you up at night? Took six weeks to make the formula?” I asked slowly. “I mean, why are…not calling me or emailing or…”

Well…” He looked at his ruined shoes.

Alfred, you look like shit, not like someone who solved the problem of dying.”

There’s a clay vase in our house.” He said slowly. “It’s old—like, before my grandparents came to the States old. No, like, before my grandparents grandparents moved to Greece old. I don’t know how old. It’s got some ashes in it, and I…I always wondered who’s they were. There was a picture on the top—they’d layered it over a few times, but it was portrait. I thought, you know, why not? Why not find out who this was?”

…Alfred, you didn’t…”

Alfred looked at his hands.

Well, see, I thought it might go wrong. Brought a few buddies over first, got everything ready, and figured five of us could take a startled and newly reborn person down. I hadn’t asked though, about the ashes. If they were human ashes.”

I stared as Alfred pulled out a handful of vials and a few pages.

I…I think it recognizes me. I know it does. I think it followed me, Andy. It followed me, and after me it’s going to try and find the book. I didn’t take the pages—I made photos. But I think it can read, and if it can read, it knows where I took those photos.” Alfred rambled, putting the crumpled papers and the vials on the desk. “I’m…I’m going back to the Crowe house tomorrow, with some things—some things that Louis said would put a man down. Down for good. But if I don’t do it, if I fuck it up, Andrew I need you to do it.”

I kept staring.

Keep Rocket safe, he’s a good dog, I just—I fucked this up and I need to get things sorted okay.”

I nodded.

You should get help if your in a bad place.” I said slowly.

A bad place? A bad place? Listen—I gotta go. If it knows I’m here, it might go after you, and—look, keep Rocket, I’ll be back for him if I can.”

Alfred didn’t come back. The police came by my apartment the next day—Rockets barking let me know. Alfred had been seen, of course, leaving my office at the university. He’d shown up, body badly mangled. A week before his funeral, someone broke into the Crowe’s house. When I got back down to the desert, cats were going missing every night.

CroweHouse2.png

I wasn’t completely clear on what Alfred had woken up. But his writing, panicked at the end, made it clear he was worried it’d find the formula Louis had made…and that it would wake more of it’s kind from ashes around the world. That “a once long lost horror might again walk the world unawares”.

Purple prose to the end.

It’s lying on the bed at the end of the hall—a nest of piled beds. Up close, the sunlight illuminated stretched flesh that shuddered and shivered. Its limbs changed—folding into and out of each other, blurring together. A squat head on top of it, like clay crudely molded into a human form. Two eyes, then four, all resting. It looked peaceful, as I opened the first vial.

The eyes burst open as I poured the vial out on its torso. It let out a howl and started to move—I swung the bat, again and again. It screamed. It aged, skin tightening and tearing.

I opened the second vial with my mouth, as the thing struggled to wake up and shake off the blows to the skull. The noise grew worse with the second vial—its flesh sloughing off as it howled. Organs pulsed beneath a thin paper veil of flesh. It was close, it was fading—it was pitiful really. Feeble hands reaching up to stop me.

I beat them down with my bat, and smashed the third vial.

I watched as it, howling and groaning, turned to ash and dust. Leaving not but a few small cat bones in the middle.


 

This story went through a few drafts, and I’m happy with the current set up. I never was able to nail down exactly what the monster was, or even what it looked like–and so the ending kind of falls flat I feel. Still, I am proud of the idea of reviving an alien horror unintentionally–in a longer story or with more time, I think it could have been delievered more effectively.

Next week! We begin looking at the folklore and horror found in one particular US state!

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The Bird Book

This Weeks Prompt: 86. To find something horrible in a (perhaps familiar) book, and not to be able to find it again.

The Prior Research:a book

It was either Borders or Barnes and Noble. Yes, I know one closed ages ago, but this was ages ago. Yeah, their two separate companies, but they have the same vibe you know? They’ve got the same big sign, the same letters, the same rows of books arranged in the same categories, all of them new and fresh. It’s not like a Bookmans, where the books are sprawled and it takes a bit to piece together the categories. It’s not a university store, with it’s basement and maze, and categories you didn’t realize people made a living writing books on.

I started there because it was easy enough. Again, easy to navigate. Easy to find. Easy even to check online to make sure they had the book I was looking for.

The notion had come to me, like memories usually do, when I was at work. I was doing inventory again—in one of those parts of the office where inventory hadn’t been done in years. Wouldn’t have been done in years, if it weren’t for an oncoming audit. I had been going through the supplies, finding all sorts of strange things—board games, for instance, based on President Obama’s election. Did you know there were two of those? They made two whole educational board games about it. Several hundred unsold CDs by local artists that were friends of the office. DvDs, mostly of the same educational video.

I had found two stranger things, however. They really were innocuous—eight envelopes. Three labeled “Numbers”, five labeled “Words”.

They felt important—I could feel paper shifting behind them. Probably, honestly speaking? They where flash cards for little kids. That was it. Just. Just flash cards.

But okay, if they were flash cards, I wouldn’t be here, looking for that book. Moldovi’s Ancient and Classic Stories: Tall Tales and Exciting Adventures from Around the Globe. It had a leather cover, gold lettering on the front, and a wonderful print of the globe with little monsters coming off the side. Well, mine did. The new edition did that terrible thing, where it was just a picture of a single ominous image—a globe held by a contemplative statue.

Anyway, I loved the book as a kid. Adored it, read it constantly. But I remembered this weird page—it was page after the story of Brandmante. A reprint of Bulfinch’s Mythology’s section on Charlemagne. There was this page, and I couldn’t quite remember what was on it honestly. Only I didn’t read the book again after that. I think it involved a bird.

I flicked through the new introduction, glossy paper feeling sharp on my fingers. They’d kept some of the original illustrations in the new version, but not all of them. Some had been replaced by a picutre of an archaeological thing. You know, a Greek vase for going over the story of Hercules, some Philippine art for Maui—no, that’s Polynesian. It jumbled the text sometimes, but eventually I reached the end of Bradmante’s bit and reached—Byrnhild.

I flipped back and forth. No middle page. Frowning, I checked the editions listing. I knew something was missing, might have gotten lost in an edit—it had editions from 1920, 1935, 1950, 1980, 1991, 1995, reprint in 1996, an updated edition in 2005, and then this one. Maybe it had gotten lost in the shuffle. I slipped the book back on the shelf, and hoped no one really noticed me as I left. I know Borders and Noble “isn’t a library”, but when you need to check one thing…whatever.

Falcon 1 Diving

Tracking down an older edition of a book is relatively easy, if you want to actually own it. Finding a place that will let you, you know, just quickly check a page is a bit harder. Luckily I knew a place that tended to accumulate books. I did look before—the cover of mine was a 1935 copy. Second printing, had the gold orb with the little people sprouting off of it. Looking at the cover on my screen I realized that, huh. The people were in costumes. I hadn’t noticed it as a kid, but the little boy sticking out of the US definitely had a cowboy hat.

It was a dense store. Shelves up to the ceiling, with just enough room for you to slip in between them. Towards the back, there was an opening into even more shelves, more books, and that way was a maze of the strange. I’d found centuries old books here. I’d felt like I lost centuries wandering around in here. So I thought this time, I’ll just check the front.

Hey Phil.” I said, walking up to the counter. Phil sat on a stool, glasses nearly falling off his nose as he looked over a small crate of new arrivals. His hands only had color relative to the pale yellowed pages that he was looking over carefully. “Hows the catalog going?”

Its wo going along fine. What do you need?”

I’m looking for an older book.” I said, drumming my fingers. A crow screeched outside, as Phil nodded slowly.

I might have a few books that are old.”

Right, duh. I’m looking for a copy of Moldovi’s Ancient and Classic Stories: Tall Tales and Exciting Adventures from Around the Globe. Older the better—First Edition if you have it.” I said, holding up a picture of the cover on my phone.

Lemee see…thats a new name.” Phil said, turning over to his computer. He’d spent every day I knew typing into the computer—name, title, edition. A growing record of what he’d inherited from the old man, what he had bought from collectors, what he’d sold to other collectors, libraries, and more. A few clacks later, he nods and gestures for me to follow.

So, Jim had a second edition—that’s as old as I’ve got. That sound right?” Phil said, descending into the depths of the musty cellar. I shrugged. Might be.

The second edition had a similar cover—not exactly the same, but a globe, people popping out of it. I automatically skimmed to the page after Bradmante. There was a brief poem, about a bird—the Awal bird.

Up and Down it goes

The sound grows and grows

The Awal Bird catches and drops

The Mouse screams as it squawks

As the rodent’s heart gives out

the Awal Bird eats the mouse.”

Bird 1 Diving.png

The poem was familiar. Yes, I’d read this before. It was next to the picture—a picture of the Awal bird and the Mouse. There was a footnote—a redirection to the introduction, for the second edition. Back through the pages.

The first printing of Moldovi’s Ancient and Classic Stories: Tall Tales and Exciting Adventures from Around the Globe contained a number of misprints and factual errors or outright forgeries. After some considerations, and much conversation, a number of pieces have been removed. Major alterations include: The Awal Bird* illustration, misprinted in one in three instances; the Jala dog*, which was determined to be a derogatory tale from local Spanish authorities and having no real basis in tales of the area; the Womi-tali*, a combination of nonsense syllables that again, appears to be an English invention of little providence; the illustration of Typhon, misprinted in one in four cases; an instance of the Grootslang* misprinted in one in five cases; the picture of the Faerie Queen, misprinted in six out of ten cases; the story of the Wandering Sword, rewritten after a second translation; and lastly the image of the dying Medusa, misprinted in one of five1*. In cases where originals could be found, they were printed. In cases where they could not be located, sadly, omissions had to be made. These are marked with a * above.

The introduction rambled on more about the responsibility of editors and parents in these trying times to monitor the stories of the youth to prevent a descent into insolent barbarism. Whatever. Missing page was a misprint was the problem. Which meant either spending ages looking for a first edition that maintained the misprint—a one in three chance—or finding the one from my child hood. And that meant going home.

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Home is a rambling place. Home is a fetid place. I didn’t know that word, really, until I heard some author use it to describe the house I lived in, between the trees. The driveway’s perpetually marred by bird crap. Mom never bothered get rid of it, and the birds—the white birds, leaning over with their long legs and necks. They loved our home.

My car pulls up on the overtake driveway—cracks and dents from time rattling the tires. The birds all watch me—the pale ones look like a cat licked them slick. Feathers flicking out at the end. One ruffles its feathers with its needle beak. I hate them.

They only seem to come into this part of town—no doubt someone’s escaped pets. One of them squawks at me.

I fumble with the keys, cursing a bit. They haven’t changed the lock yet. Maybe they’ll forget to. When I final managed to convince the door its me, I open into the bare interior. The wallpaper is mostly gone—there’s a strip of a flur de les in the upper right corner of the living room. There’s a few chairs there. Ones no one would buy cheap, ones that would take too much effort to donate. Ones that were sick with mold.

I didn’t dally long. Well, no. I had dallied. Mom’s library was what I was supposed to clear out. Honestly, I hadn’t gotten to it yet. I would have but, but well. Books are heavy, in both the literal and cheesy way. Taking them out felt weird. And then things happen, things continue to happen. It was weird.

An impatient bird squawk comes from outside. The stairs creek beneath my weight, unaccustomed to a somewhat healthy adult presence. Much better for children, or potsmoking teenagers, or whoever actually came here anymore. The grafitti on one wall suggested they fucked—but who knows. Kids lie.

Still, the second story den door was shut. Still locked even. Immaculate. A persian rug, grey with dust. Some fungus growing out of one of the pipes. The bookshelf wore its age well, shelves like creases in some preserved brain. No, thats not right. Like ribs. If I’m going to compare it to a body, it was a like wooden, rotting, putrefying ribs.

I brushed away the spiderwebs with a stick, and then struck the floor a few times to keep them away and dead. Then I reached up—up—to the upper right. The red book, with it’s gold cover. Faded with time, yes. Pages feeling like crisp cloth, delicate and sharp at the same time. I carefully thumbed through it.

My heart stopped.

Six eyes. Seven eyes. Fractal eyes. Fractal, screaming mice. Rising and falling. Each instance, a hundred iterations. All of them—all the bird eyes, bird wings, flapping, falling, soaring, diving.

All looking at me, blended together into a single circle. Time had rotted parts of the page. The spaces in the ink were more eyes. It stained my fingers as I ran over it—it stained and stuck. The holes my hands left became more birds. More eyes.

I didn’t scream.

Last Swarm.png

I stumbled back to car. The birds start flying, circling and then taking off. But the circle stays overhead for a second. Just a moment, an empty circle as the car starts.

The Awal Bird

A curious bird, sometimes called the yo-yo bird reported in a few mountain areas, particuarly in the Rockies. The awal is said to grip its prey, and fly high into the air. Unlike most birds, however, it does not tear into its food. Rather, it drops the morsel from a great height and dives after it. The awal bird does this many times, until the poor mouse—or larger creature—suffers a heart attack and dies. Then, the awal bird feasts on the perfectly preserved remains. Stories suggest that a larger bird, or that flocks of them, will seize small children for meals.

1This image in particular horrified some of our younger readers. It appears the image of the medusa misprinted to look as if she had a second set of eyes in her mouth and mouth beneath—we apologize for the distraught.

 




The above story still feels off. It feels too settled, and like the vestige of another, more intricate piece. The premise of the birds is a story I remember, but honestly can’t place. I think it might be from  Borges, fittingly enough–but I didn’t check too deeply.

Next week, we resume a more normal programming, with the ways to raise the dead with ashes and even organs perhaps! Come and see the essential salts!

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Sun and Snake on the Isle

This Week’s Prompt: 85. “For has not Nature, too, her grotesques—the rent rock, the distorting lights of evening on lonely roads, the unveiled structure of man in the embryo, or the skeleton?” Pater—Renaissance (da Vinci).

The Prior Research: She’s a Viper

Chasing Austin’s invitation to his new studio-home—several miles away from a small island town several hours away by boat from his well our old home—ended up costing me an third of my rent for the month. Perhaps it isn’t surprising, then, that I was in something of a bitter mood. Austin had been insistent I come out to see him. I had convinced myself that it was only to save on postage that I was visiting, but it had been almost a year without seeing him or sharing a coffee.

The boat ride was calming at least—the sea has that effect on me. It is too vast for concerns and anxieties to stand in it’s presence. Austin and I had tried with both our arts to capture that vastness, but it defies capture. It is too big for words and pigments, except in the hands of a master. Still, it was a nice image to wake to in the morning, enjoying coffee on the misty deck.

There was only one other companion out to greet the morning sun. He was an old man, Patrick Seoriseson, who would strum a guitar at the dawn and hum some song I’d never heard of. We didn’t talk much—not that he was bad company, but he was…well. Strange. He looked in his sixties, but his hair was bright blond, and his face and eyes looked young. Like someone grafted a twenty year old’s head, fresh before college, onto the body of their own aging grandfather. He had a beard, but it was blond too—not scraggly hay blond, folded and woven silk blond.

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As unnerving as he was, another presence on that chill morning, as the island rose from the fog, was a welcome one. We had, turning back to see the homeland, made it just in time. Behind our ship, dark clouds had formed. A storm was roiling, and I was suddenly glad to have no pressing business for several weeks.

It was getting dark when I finally set foot on the land—my sea legs taken three steps to return to their land-bound cousins. I bought a large bottle of water, and set my phones secondary charger—the house was a good five miles from town, a nice hour or so walk to gain my composure. Austin had been very clear about getting to his house as soon as I could—apparently whatever he had couldn’t wait. And while small coastal towns are welcoming to some, to me they are always a tad unearthly. They all feel drenched with age by the sea.

The road to Austin’s house was a somewhat paved, at least the first half. As the sun began to set into twilight, I was walking on more rocks and dirt. The shore had splits and crags, streams of salt water rolling inland. Eventually, I saw his house come into view—two luminous lights, shimmer on the horizon.

I thought it was his house, anyway. I didn’t check my phone, and well. I nearly walked into the tide and rocks.

And saw the lights in four different directions.

Whatever was going on in the atmosphere, my GPS hadn’t failed. And that I could follow, cold from the wind, back to the path. And at last, I found his house. A collection of lights from the house—square, instead of the lying spheres I’d seen on the way. It was a nice looking house. As I got closer, I saw the paint was peeling. There was something acrid in the air. As I walked up to the house, I saw someone shuffling inside—their back was bent pretty far but when I squinted they were walking fine.

I rang the door bell, but there was just a fizzle. Austin probably forgot to fix it. So instead, I gripped the knocker—an lion headed one, old iron—and rapped on the door. There was a bustle, papers unseen falling to the floor as Austin came to the door.

He was a bit thinner, still catching his breath as he held out his hand.

“Jeffery, come in, come in. Gods I thought you’d abandoned us.” He said, stepping out the way after a brief shake.

“It is a bit out of the way.” I said, looking around. The walls were nice—the wood floor was oddly smooth. “And there’s…some sort of rave outside…I think. Have you had problems with lights?”

“Lights? Oh, come now Jeffery. A will-o-wisp never hurt anyone who had their wits about them.” Austin said, laughing. I didn’t laugh as he lead me to his study up the stairs. The house creaked as it settled, and the steps spiraled at a bit of an incline.

“You have a cat out here, Austin? Seems more like dog country.” I said, looking down at the steps. “This groove to drain water or something?”

There was a foot long indent along the stairs, running down the middle. Perfectly even at a glance.

“Oh, no, no, old owners lived here a long time. I think they might have evenly spread it–”

There was a crash, first of thunder then of a dropped pans from the kitchen. Austin’s face went pale for a second.

“Its quite alright, I’m sure!” Austin shouted after me. I had already rounded into the source, the kitchen—door half open. I threw the door open and–

And she nearly put me through the wall. I felt claws on my shoulder and saw dozens of enraged and startled serpent eyes. As she held me on the floor, I heard the warning rattle from an unseen scaly tail. My eyes were distracted by her fangs bared at me.

“Its alright, it’s alright!” I heard Austin shout. “Dear, please, your both high strung! Storms do that.”

“Austin, I think you forgot somethings!” I shouted, eyes fixed in hers. Her face was hidden by a veil of snake skin.

“Did he now?” The woman said—with all twenty snake mouths that made up her head, her face unraveling and rem-emerging from the masses. It was when she moved that I realized my legs were trapped—feeling slowly returning to my feat, little bites marring my pants.

“Well, dear, how would you explain it.” Austin said defensively.

“…You better think of a quick way to explain it Austin.” I said, slowly pushing my self up into a chair.

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Austin’s explanation was full of poetry and phantasms and whimsy. I will abbreviate it here, as I was not in a whimsical mood. He had acquired the house from a man in town, at first to rent but then bought outright. The house was the man’s great aunt, and something about it’s perpetual disrepair had spoken to Ausitn. Fallen age of man, decay of empires, Adam’s sin, artists of his type always seem to love decaying bodies.

Never seem to ask why the place is full of dead things, and maybe that dwelling on such things is dangerous.

Of course, Austin, the fop he is, found the notion of a haunted place alluring. He loved the idea of will-o-wisp, of changelings, of entertaining morbid faerie guests. I’ve never found a reason to want such things—stories rarely make them pleasant. Had I been Austin, the strange rustling outside, the flash of scales in the bed room, the sight of dozens of serpentine eyes down the hall? Those were signs to flee.

But fly he did. Into her arms. Well, not at first. There was some back and forth. She hadn’t had someone react quite like Austin did. Asking her name—Tengra Dudana They became friends the way most people did. Shared food.

Of course, she asked questions. Why was he here, what was he doing. The two became fast friends, once they started talking. She enjoyed his artistry, he enjoyed her singing and laughter—he insisted that a hundred serpents singing was a choir I’d have to here.

Austin had a knack for friends. His art improved also—her rippling serpents inspiring thoughts of the sea more perfectly realized then before. Austin elided if they had ever left the boundaries of friendship—but he grew sheepish enough for me to decide.

Thunder continued to boom outside as Austin talked. Thunder and storms put her on edge—she was suspicous of everything on dark nights like this.

“It was not a typical romance.” She said, encoiling her body around the chair. “But a pleasant one.”

I nodded, nervously sipping the tea.

“Well, I—I imagine.” I said slowly.

“Yes, well, I had…hoped to show you the gallery first.” Austin said. Tengra rolled her eyes.

“He thinks pictures are a good start. They are wonderful paintings, but…they are not good preparation.” Tengra said, unwinding herself and sinking to the floor, then reforming as a singular woman—a rather tall one, her skin only rippling slightly as coils found their place.

“I would not oppose seeing them.” I said, placing my tea down. My nerves were slowly waking up from their stunned silence.

The paintings were…good. Yes, good. The paintings were acceptable, they captured some of the motion of their subject mater that, without first hand experience, would have seemed unbelievable. Tengra seemed fond of many forms, but there was something in the shape of the cliffs and moors that carried her image as well. By day, I’d have to see the originals nature had carved—whether she had woven Tengra into the hills, or whether that was some inspiration of Austins I cannot say.

There was one picture, however, that I paused at.

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“Austin, who is this?” I said. I pointed behind the cross of interwoven snakes, to a man on the hill. There was something about his shape I recognized—his golden wave beard and hair.

“Oh, some vagrant I think.” Austin said, shaking his head. “Well, a rather well off one maybe. He’s been around once I think.”

“Did you talk to him much?” I asked. Austin frowned, and I noticed Tengra seemed to be paying more attention.

“I…don’t think I did. It’s strange I hadn’t considered him much, but I think I talked a decent amount with him. He’s some sort of musician I think? He’s from across the sea though, I didn’t think it much important.” Austin then paused again. “No…no, not across. He said the strangest thing. He’s from the ‘other side’ of the sea.”

Austin raised a finger upward, imitating the memory.

Tengra hissed a bit.

“He is a strange man. You should have pointed him out to me, he might have been squawking.”

“You mean gawking?”

“That as well.” Tengra said.

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The next morning, me and Austin had arranged to have coffee on the porch—Tengra was sunbathing somewhere, warming her scales.

“So…so what do you think?” Austin asked, sipping his coffee slowly. I put down mine, steam still rising from it.

“The house needs work. The fence is rusty, I’d start there.” I said, flatly. Austin blinked.

“I meant about–”

“I know, I know. Uh. Well.” I said rubbing my head. “Your in love with a swarm of snakes. I…Look, I don’t have the tools to process this at the moment. Like, I’m assuming she’s not holding you hostage right? Not hypnotizing you with her eyes, like that Disney movie?”

“…the Jungle Book?”

“Yeah that one.” I said, scratching the back of my neck. Austin burst out laughing.

“No, no, she’s just a wonderful person.”

“Made of snakes.”

“Made of snakes.”

“Well. I, I guess there are worse things?” I said, sipping my coffee. “She’s not French or a fascist, so a plus all around there.”

“She can sing in Gaelic.” Austin piped up.

“Talented. Creepy, I’m not going to lie, but talented.” I said with a laugh. The storm hadn’t cleared yet, but in the distance I saw the sun rising—the ship back wouldn’t have a problem. I’d need to make my exit politely, this needed some thought.

It was while I was mulling this over and talking a bit on art with Austin that something caught my eye—like those will-o-wisps, a flash of light. But this was bright, metalic light. Turning my head, I saw a car rolling up the road. There was a boom of thunder, a flash of lighting in front of the sun as out walked the man with the golden beard.

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“Hey is that…” I said nudging Austin—and then I saw it flash, briefly. A long backward curved blade, that he was examining beneath his coat. “Austin, we…we should get inside.”

Austin took a moment to register—maybe sleep still lingering on him, but he saw where I pointed. Across the way, Patrick waved. He was smiling, perfect white teeth catching the sunlight.

“Oh, yeah, its…that guy. Come on, Jeffery, lets get some more coffee. Ask him what’s happening.”

“Austin he has a–”

“Hello there, fine sailor and artist too.” Patrick said. He’d…moved fast while we where talking.

“Oh, well…Hello.” Austin said. Patrick laughed. His laugh was surprisingly deep—his slightly higher pitch giving way to a low rumbling laugh. “Can…Can I help you?”

“Serendipity says so, yes. I’m looking for something old among the cliffs—older then will-o-wisp and banshee and them.” He said, gesturing behind him to the road way. “Something with fangs and scales, an old something.”

“Well, there aren’t snakes on islands.” I said, standing up a bit.

“Adder, smooth snake, grass snake, corn snake, and viper all round the King of England’s crown.” He said, as if that explained anything. “Only emeralds really snake free, my friend. Only emerald, and that’s at least part from me. Now, have you seen it?”

“No.” Austin said, getting up. “I haven’t seen–”

The man held his hand to Austin’s face, tilting his head. He hissed behind his teeth.

“Nevermind that, never mind me.” The man said, turning now to the hills, hand reaching in his jacket. There he held that knife. “You stay here, I’ve got business. I think I can enjoy myself from here.”

I reached out to grab his arm—Austin reached for his back. The next moment I was against the wall—his fore arm was under my neck, while Austin had been tossed onto the roadway. His knife was drawn, blade facing away—it was was curved somewhat, with a straight edge on the inside, away from me.

“Friends, this seems unbecoming of men of art and wonder. Lying in the underbrush like savage hunters to catch the noble deer—very unbecoming.” He said, pushing back against my neck. I gripped his wrist—I couldn’t breath, and I felt the wall behind me cracking. My entire back was bruising—and then he dropped me on the floor. I slumped over, breathing heavy, eyes closed from sudden exhaustion. When I opened them, he was walking after a scrambling Austin—who, god bless him, was shouting a warning for Tengra.

I pulled myself up—my legs and back were not fond of the predicament. His hat flew off as the wind picked up, the storms weeping overhead. It was strange. I thought the man’s coat had looked pitch black before—now it seemed to be roiling gold and white and red. He had so many eyes. Why did his coat have so many eyes?

I threw the door open and stumbled inside, sitting behind the door frame. I heard thunder rolling, and hissing outside. I didn’t look, so this I cannot report on directly. The sun had risen only a finger when I was able to rise again— and see an empty roadway, no sign of Austin, Tengra, or the man. I hobbled out, calling Austin’s name along that cliffside road.

“Jeffery, Jeffery is that you?” a shout came from a large stone on the edge. I ran to it, and found him there—slumped against the back, holding a long snake skin to his face, sobbing.

“Austin, God in Heaven, your alive.” I said.

“Oh, not in heaven, and how alive? She is gone, Jeffery, she is gone!” He said, batting away my outstretched hand.

“Gone? As in gone or gone?” I asked, looking around. “And that man…is he gone with her? We need to leave Austin.”

“Gone, both gone! Oh the fire, the eyes, it was like Apollo wrestling Python! Oh it was dreadful–”

I decided that was enough and pulled Austin up. This time, he didn’t resist. He just kept up his mourning, about how she had vanished, how that strange man had seemed so much larger, how helpless he felt when he’d been thrown against the stone—thrown, yet lived! The man has no taste for practical miracles—how could he face the dawn without her, how could he paint without her and so on.

“Well, you have some of her scales.” I said, sighing as I lowered him on the porch. “So that’s something.”

It was apparently only a small consolation. Austin swore, swore as he lay there, holding to the skin tight, that he would find her somewhere—somewhere, in earth an heaven, or whatever was on the other side of heaven. I nodded politely—and reminded myself to never again agree to any of Austin’s wild adventures.




If there ever was a story that warranted more writing and expansion, it was probably this one. The central mystery needs more time, and the final confrontation with the Apolloian hunter needs more build up. I’ll file it away for next year.

Next week, however, we return fully to our horror roots. It’s time to go inside a book, into an old house



 

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This is the Story of a Pearl

This Week’s Prompt: 84. Hideous cracked discords of bass musick from (ruin’d) organ in (abandon’d) abbey or cathedral.

The Prior Research: Peacock and Serpent

Carol was dusting off the counter a bit, to make the place look nice, when the woman walked in. Bright blue skirt and sea foam green top, capped with a cyan scarf and hat. A pair of silver sea shells were around her ears, as she walked between shelves of turquoise jewelry and miniature mountains. She tapped a dull maroon umbrella—Carol wondered where she’d been to need it—on one of the displays.

“These pearls.” She said. “Are they genuine?”

“Well, of course.” Carol said, stepping out to make sure the display did in fact have real pearls along the mermaids finny tail. “Real pearl, torquis, and silver by a local artist. He also did the bird over there, with the emerald eyes.”
“And the pearls. Are they local?” The woman asked. Carol laughed a bit, but trailed off nervously when the woman kept eye contact.

“Uh, I don’t know? I think he gets them from a freshwater pearl producer?” Carol said, frowning. She didn’t ever really bother Dave about his art. The woman nodded.

“I see. Produced not procured. Well, thank you for your time. If you happen to meet the gentleman who made these, my card.” The woman said, producing a small blue business card, with white letters across the top. A bunch of triangles ran along the edges.

Mariam Thompson—Collector of the Fine and Exotic.

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There were three unlabeled numbers, and what Carol took to be a phone number. Mariam left, the bell jingling as she walked out, before Carol could ask another word. Carol frowned and placed the card on the desk. Dave might know what was going on.

A little while, after a few of polo shirted khaki tourists and the occasional teenager looking for some new age enlightment, Carol was convinced that the strange woman was the worst for the day. Then two more visitors arrived. One was an older man, dressed in his business suit with, with a scruffy gray beard and big red cheeks. Three bands were on his hand—a green one, a gold one, and a silver one. There was some writing on one of them, but Carol didn’t get a good look at it. With his shades and earrings, he looked like if Santa had gotten into a rock band and then cleaned up to become a middle manager. Spent most of his time looking at postcards. Eventually, he came up to Carol with a sweet smile.

“Lots of nice jewelry you’ve got at this place—must cost a fortune.” He said, gesturing at a diamond of silver worked with designs Dave said were native. “I think I’ll take that one.”

When Carol returned, the man looked at the silver carefully, bending it to catch the light.

“Yes, nice work this is. They don’t make quality like this often—heh, well I suppose I shouldn’t be so sweet when buying it. Might change the price.” The man said, taking out two twenties and a ten. “I noticed your artist knows his way around pearls…does he work with any bigger ones?”

Carol raised an eyebrow as she rang him up.

“Pearls? No, think Dave mostly works with the smaller ones. Don’t know if his supplier has big ones.”

“Ah, that is a pity. I know a guy, if he wants to get in touch, who can supply him with some bigger materials if he likes.” the man said. “My card—give me a call, I’m in town for a week or so.”

The card was white, with a green, gold, and silver swirl along the edges.

Leonard Mell—Acquisitions, Supplies, and the Finer Things in life.

He’d printed his hotel number on it. For some reason.

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The other visitor was…weird. Not as weird as the blue woman, not as monochromatic. He was wearing a heavy coat—and even in the mountains, the desert sun was too harsh for that to be reasonable. Blue jeans, and dull grey gloves. Construction gloves. He had a scarf on too. Tattoo on the bit of his neck that Carol could see—seemed to move for a moment.

Her eyes tracked him carefully—that much bulk was for hiding something, probably to grab something. She watched as he passed the jewelry and looked at the mermaid figurine—gave her out reached hand a high five with his finger. He smiled, placed it back after turning it over. He looked at some white bead necklaces for a bit…and she frowned as he slipped something beneath one of the novelty cactus mugs.

Taking it, she frowned. A…business card.

Albert Alphonso Adum—Experimental Pottery

There was a lion on the front, holding a snake in it’s mouth. No number, no address.

Carol was looking over her collection of strange cards that night, when there was a knock at the door. A man in a button up and sports jacket.

“Stores closed.” She said, tapping the sign.

The man sighed and held up a badge.

“Michael Lett.” He said through the glass. “I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

***

Michael had been out getting coffee when he got the call. The exchange had been brief—a package, at a train station, had gone missing in the last twenty-four hours. The person who had contacted the department had set the estimate of it’s worth—it was one of those numbers that Micahel was pretty sure was fake. However, they had provided a description.

A pearl, weighing one hundred pounds, in a specialized locked case. The client was supposed to purchase the pearl from someone—they weren’t co-operating on who, but had insisted that locating the pearl was of the utmost importance.

Train footage hadn’t been very helpful—yes, it was clear someone had taken the pearl, but they’d definitely cased the place before. He had gone into a crowd, hat and coat on, and then slipped beneath the blind spots in the camera. Michael had managed to get a bit of a better bead—a regular at the coffee shop had seen the stranger get in a taxi. The taxi driver had taken him to another cafe, and the barista there after some…green reminders, told Michael the guy got on a bus out of town.

The chain had run cold at times, but Michael had managed with a map and some thought, to get to Carol’s souvenir shop in the Rocky Mountains. Well. To be fair, as he explained to Carol, she was the third person he had talked to recently.

“But the first young man was a Mormon, and the second wouldn’t let me in.” Michael said, hanging up his coat.

“Well, a strange man walking around saying he’s with the authorities isn’t exactly comforting.” Carol muttered. “Third one today asking about pearls.”

Carol handed the business cards to Michael, which he flipped through. The felt…strange. Textured. Mariam’s felt smooth and grooved like sea shells, and Leonard’s was too smooth for paper. Albert’s had a faint feather print. Weird for someone so disheveled.

“Where does Dave do his work?” Michael said, looking over the cards. They were looking for the pearl—sounded like they expected Carol to get something. “At home, at a studio?”

“I think at his house, sometimes he does it down stairs.” Carol said. “I was going to get him the cards next time he came in—do you think their looking for this pearl with him?”

Michael stared at the business cards again, frowning as he flipped through them.

“I think they don’t know yet, either.” Michael said, frowning. “I might be back later, hopefully we get this sorted. Thank you for your time.”

***

It was dark out already—the mountains made the sunset a bit more sudden as shadows of giants fell on the town. The motel Micahel was at was one of those drive in ones, with conical rooms painted to look like tepees. As tempting as sleep was, Michael instead decided to take some time to get to know one of the witnesses.

“Coming coming. By God, who in the wide world want’s me at–” Leonard said, opening the door a jar to see Michael holding the badge up quietly. “Ah. Of course. The authorities would be so rude.”

Leonard opened the door in striped pajamas, rings still on. Without his suit, the small necklace around his neck of silver and brass links was more visible, ending with a small bronze plate. The plate had a…thing on it, Michael noticed. A weird bunch of circles and dots, and some liquid in a tiny bottle beneath it.

“Well, what is it at this hour? I’ve been in town not even a day, surely nothing terrible has–”

“Mr. Mell, I’m here to talk to you about pearls.” Michael said, gesturing for Leonard to sit…which Leonard did, slowly.

“Pearls? Strange thing to talk about in desert mountains.” Leonard said, frowning.

“You’d be surprised what can be found in freshwater—although the Colorado hasn’t made many big ones, there are some truly large river pearls.” Michael said, sitting on the hotel desk chair. “I’ve heard there’s been interest in pearls from the valley lately.”

Leonard nodded.

“They have something of a strange color.” Leonard said, nodding knowingly. “A bit, ah, a bit yellow you might say.”

“I admit, perhaps I lack the professional inclination.” Michael said, nodding.

“Well, it isn’t a hard business to enter, if law enforcement isn’t your fancy anymore.” Leonard said. “I know a numb–”

Glass cracks. Michael turns, as the window caves in. There’s a flash of light. Car alarms go off. And then it’s gone.

Turning around, Michael stood up in shock. Leonard was gone—clothes and all. Well, not all. There’s a shadow on the wall, moving still. Explaining as it goes through the motions, before slowly fading away.

***

Mariam Thompson’s hotel room was a quick drive. Leonard took stock of what he’d learned while he drove over. There had been a circle—about a foot in diameter. Salt along the edges, almost perfect—one crack. The cars weren’t damaged—well, one was. Next to the circle—a long depression on the top. Alright. No signs of Leonard. The phone number on the business card didn’t go anywhere. The address for his home office was an abandoned building in New York, which didn’t bode well for the rest of his business.

ParkingLotPearls2.png

It was half past eleven. Ten minutes after meeting Carol and then poof goes the suspect.The hotel Mariam was at was one of those towering ones, with a nice front for being dropped off by a taxi. Michael parked quickly, and slammed the door, looking around for anything unusual. His ears pricked up on something—a dull throbbing bass line coming from the road. Probably some late night party he was too old for.

Finding her room was easy, and the front desk was co-operative when Micahel mentioned he was here about a missing persons case and presented her business card. Over the phone, when they called her up, Michael was sure to make mentions of the pearls. That got things moving smoothly.

Mariam Thompson was still in all blue, although she’d taken off her jewlery. There was a bottle of wine on the table, and a glass half full. Michael’s eyes darted around. The room was plain, no suitcases insight. Mariam took a seat in a recliner, wrapping one leg beneath the other for comfort.

“Well Officer, what’s the prob–”

“Detective.” Michael said. He didn’t bother to sit. “Ms. Thompson, I’ve been informed you’ve come to town recently looking to purchase a pearl.”

“Straight to business aren’t we?” Mariam said, topping her glass. “Are you sure you don’t want anything to drink?”

“Ms. Thompson, did you or did you not intend to purchase a pearl from one Carol Yotes this morning?”

“I did, yes. She didn’t have any worth my trouble, I’m afraid.” Mariam said, taking another sip.

“Did you know three other individuals arrived and expressed similar interests?” Michael asked, twitching somewhat—the headlights of a passing car in the window. Nothing wrong.

“I did not. Seems rather odd, but not worth the involvement of law enforcement. Surely there are stranger purchases for you to be investigating?”

“Ms. Mariam, thirty hours ago, a world record sized pearl went missing from the station—less then twelve hours ago, it was reported to be nearby. Less than two hours ago, one of the other suspected buyers went missing.” Michael said, keeping his calm. “For your safety and mine, I suggest you co-operate.”

Mariam paused, tapping her glass twice and then placing it on the mantle. She stood up, opened a drawer and removed one of her earrings, looking at it closely.

“Which one went missing?” She asked, roating the earring.

“What?”

“Which of the two other buyers went missing, detective?” She said, emphasizing the last word. “I would assume you hadn’t forgotten already.”

“Mr. Leonard—”

“Not his name. No one uses their real names here. Not now.” Mariam said. “What did he wear? Grey robes? Arachnid headress? Silk robes?”

“Rings.” Micahel said, holding up his hand and touching his ring finger three times.

There was a flash. A crack. Outside, Micahel saw it more clearly this time—it was farther away. A bright, pearl white sphere unraveling into the air—encompassing a whole building not far away. Midnight.

SmallTownPearl2.png

“And then that, that happened.” Micahel said, pointing with his index and ring finger out the window. “Care to explain that?”

“…No, I do not care to.” Mariam said, staring out the window. “Detective, I’m afraid you have misjudged the situation, and your fellows at the station or pinkerton house or where ever you call home, have misjudged the timing. You are not hunting a pearl. You are hunting an egg. And it’s started to hatch.”

“…what lays an egg that looks like a pearl?” Michael asked slowly.

“Oh, many things. I am afraid we will have to cut this short. For your safety, detective, I suggest you let this case sort itself out. It is, how do you say it these days, above your pay grade.”

***

Michael was ready to take her advice—a missing witness, flashes of light, and cryptic nonsense was too much for him. Eventually, there was a point where normal police work had to at least find experts or help. Real help.

However, Micahel did want to inform Carol of what had happened—especially since her friend, the pearl guy, was probably caught up in this nonsense. What was his name again? Dave something. Her shop was on the way out of town anyway, and Michael wanted to get far away from her.

Well.

That’s where her shop was. Michael the cars outside caved in, the windows shattered, the door torn off it’s hinges. The cracks in the wall shimmered in the headlights as Michael turned them off, glittering like opals. At the front of the door, there was a circle. Exactly two feet across—three cracks in the edges.

Michael swallowed his dread and crossed into the building. The lights were still on, and excpet the broken glass all over the floor, nothing had been moved—although, he noticed, there wasn’t a single pearl in the old display. Just the mermaid, her entire body looking like cast coral without the stones.

He didn’t bother calling out for Carol.

The door in the back was missing—going down the steps, he found Dave’s workshop. Unfinished sculptures were lying on the floor. A small pile of pearls, and a pedestal. Michael walked slowly around until he spotted something more unusual—a dent in the wall, one foot across. The edges had that same opalescent quality to them—the same rainbow, multicolored sheen. It seemed to be moving—spreading almost.

Touching it, he felt a dim vibration. Whatever was making these, this was a recent one…but it was a smaller shape then upstairs. Two maybe? Or maybe…it started here, and went upstairs next. Feeling along the edge, he felt one…then two subtle shifts in the wall. Just two cracks. There was a clock above it, trapped in a thin finish, glittering pearls growing off of it’s cracks. It’s stuck at the eleventh hour. It’d happened during his interview with Carol—whatever it was.

Michael weighed his options. He could go after Alberto—that was the last lead. The last shot at finding out what happened. Or he could run, forget this whole thing. Forget the weird colors and lights. Probably sleep a bit easier not knowing.

Michael pulled out Alberto’s business card and dialed into the cellphone. He didn’t really need sleep, right?

***

Alberto was more co-operative. Especially when Michael said the last three had gone missing. Michael was past caring. The pearl wasn’t going to show up by poking around gently.

Alberto looked about as presentable as expected for a late night meeting in a parking lot, not far from an abandoned church. Apparently the road party hadn’t stopped—there was still thrumming bass music not far off. Almost sounded like it was coming from the church, but no one was in side the abandoned building.

“Wow, this is…you’ve got to know this is sketchy right?” Alberto said, walking down the road from his own parked car.

“I saw a man go missing in a flash of light, and another flash of light dissappear a bunch of pearls—I figure being shot in the dark on the road is too mundane to happen today.” Michael said, holding a box of cigarettes out to Alberto.

“Ah, no thanks.” Alberto said, waving his hand. “So….you already know about the other two?”

“Sure.” Micahel said, lighting his first. “Mariam talked in circles. Leo went missing before I could ask. So. It’s an egg?”

“…yeah, its an egg I guess.” Alberto said, breathing slowly. “Kind of anyway.”

“And it’s hatching, right?” Michael said, looking up at the sky. “It’s cracking, that’s hatching right?”

“Sure, close close.” Alberto said, nodding. “You’ve got the gist of it.”

“Right, so. What’s it doing? What’s with the flashes?”

“Its a baby. A big one. You wander around, and realize a things are going missing near a kid–”

“Eating them, got it.” Michael said, nodding again. “So, why you guys? Why not random folks? Why try and grab this thing?”

“…It’s a baby.” Alberto repeated, shaking his head. “Kid’s need parents. Especially cosmic kids, big kids. We’ve been waiting for…well, for a while for this kid. Had to make sure we got it right.”

Michael made a hum and exhaled, looking off in the distance towards the church. The bass sound was getting louder. Faster, vibrating his fingertips.

“So that’s it? Just a question and–” Alberto began.

“It recognizes you.” Michael said suddenly. “Somehow, you’ve seen it…and it’s seen you. So it goes looking for you, to make cracks.”

“I mean, that’s a thought.”

Michael looked at his watch.

“So how long until it comes for you?” Michael asked. Alberto froze. Michael stared at his watch—there was a flash, right at one o’clock. Which meant one for Mariam. Looking up, Michael saw it. Floating there, a great pearl with six cracks running along the edges. He could see faces in that pearl—places, even, forests and seas. It was swelling too—six feet wide, as big as a person, reflecting him perfectly.

PearlEgg2.png

Michael walked up to the pearl, as the cracks began to spiderweb. Out it burst,sending shards flying away—one nicked Michael’s cheek, living a long thin scar he’d explain for years.

Sitting at the epicenter of the explosion was a child—glowing faintly like the moon. It looked so helpless. So confused. Michael looked either way on the street, crossed over, and offered a hand to the five year old, and a coat. They got into the car.

The car drove off.



I think this story was strongest at the start–the scene at the shop was not only delightful to write, but reading it over for editing, it felt the best. As the story moved along further, the constraints of time and space became more of a problem–this turned into a mystery story, and I frankly only have so much space for a supernatural mystery. I think it’s enjoyable, and certainly a bit strange, but not finished by a long shot. The ending might lead into other stories. 

Next week, we’ll be going to another specific time and place: The Rebirth of Italy, the magics there in, the artistry. I hope to see you then!

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The Magi and King Morgan Pt 2

This Week’s Prompt: 83. Quotation “. . . a defunct nightmare, which had perished in the midst of its wickedness, and left its flabby corpse on the breast of the tormented one, to be gotten rid of as it might.”—Hawthorne

The Prior Research:The Eye

Part 1:The Magi and King Morgan Part 1

The palace of King Morgan was adorned with thin metal chains—each link held a small carving, word, or gem. They fanned outward, along wires across the city of Lanmoth. Mothers told their sons that the net caught the nightmares of the world, and forced the strange things of the world to pay proper homage when they entered. As Lawerence and the stranger came through the great doors, they reached the growing spindles and thick knotted chords of metal. It caused the stranger no small discomfort, Lawerence noticed, to see that central triumph of the court.

The pillar rose like a tree in the center of the room, a column of woven metals and gems that shown like thunder’s net. Fires were set all around it, so auspicious shadows were cast upon the veils of the court. Each magistrate and lord sat hidden in their own parlor, sequestered from the world. The royal chamber, which occupied the man entrance, was covered by a great purple and white curtain. Three sets of eyes in bright red were painted on it—one for the king, one for the queen, and one for the princess.

King Morgan's Veil.png

Lawerence bowed to these painted eyes, and introduced the stranger as a son of the River Liliu, a worker of wonders. There was silence at first, but a steady music played from King Morgan’s chamber.

“What feat will you will work for us first?” The King’s voice said, muffled somewhat. The stranger smiled at the familiar tone.

“First, if it please the king, I will do a humble and simple spell. It is tiring, however, so it will be all I can for today—I have worked many wonders in the market, and my powers are taxed. However, bring me a bird—I will send the bird unto the realm of the dead and call her back again!”

There was a shuffling from the court, gasps behind heavy cloth where only the outlines could be seen. At last the King let out a call for a spectacular song bird—one as large as a man. It was brought forth, and slipped from it’s handlers hand! There was a shout of surprise, as it threatened to run amok with it’s talons and fierce beak! And then the many colored eyes of the stranger fell upon it.

“Sh, sh there’s no need for that…” the stranger coaxed, extending his free hand and gesturing for the bird to draw close. Slowly the bird stepped forward, one claw at a time.

“There we go, there we go, that’s better. Now, the act.” The stranger said, turning to the king’s chamber, a hand under the bird’s beak. “My wise king, surely you will fear that my act is merely some mesmerism—that I have done this through a commanding eye, and thus faked my wonders. I ask only that my friend, this fine subject of yours, confirm my wonder at each step. For with such a veil, could my eyes harm him?”

There was a general assent.

The stranger then turned to the bird, and held out his hand—and the bird grew stiff. The stranger spoke few words, in a language unknown to most there—and the one who might have understood could not, for the veil muffled those drolling words. The bird stretched its neck up, its feathers flattening until, at last, it fell on it’s side. The stranger, unbreaking from his stance, gestured for Lawerence to examine the bird. Lawerence, bewildered, rushed to the bird’s side, and proclaimed not a sound or motion was coming from the body—it was as cold as ice!

The stranger raised his staff up. A sudden whistling sound filled the are and the bird sprung upright again, it’s beak nearly sheering Lawrence’s veil.

“If this is you exhausted, friend, you may stay as long as you produce such wonders. Go, Lawerence, and take him to chambers to rest.”

When Lawerence left, Bartholomew was summoned to the King’s side—and entered the veils to the royal family. King Morgan alone was there, his wife and daughter not having come to court today. The King drummed his fingers on his secret throne.

“Bartholomew, this man we must keep under careful guard. He knows magics unseen—be ready at my word to strike him down, for he seems familiar to me.”

“As you wish, my king.” Bartholomew said, nodding.

“And take this, to guard you from his gaze. It is stronger then most—I fear it would rend your veil asunder.” the King said, handing him a charm—carved of coral, with each hole filled with a small pearl. “Our guest has come with higher purpose—and I will not allow it to be fufilled.”

The stranger was taken to the highest quarters, nestled not far from the veiled halls of the king and queen. His room had many fine things, most from lands far from Lanmoth, but that had been offered as gifts or tributes to it’s royal family. The stranger of course had little need for the finery, even as he admired them. As the King suspected, he had a higher cause.

He called to him, in that room when none were about, his many half-brothers. They were gray things, more mist then men, that were unused to these homes. They preferred the ruins of their old lives, but answered their half-brothers soft conch call. The stranger set them about to touch the great pillar, the shifting and shimmering heart of the city wide talisman.

The brothers slipped beneath the door as mists, slinking on barely seen hands and feet in the moonlight, until at last they reached the pillar with it’s many layered chains. As they reached, the chain’s light took hardened form and pricked their fingers. The gold stung like scorpions and bit like snakes. The many small gems shone like Argus’s hungry eyes, and the brothers retreated.

They had thought as much. The trip from their father’s house had been long, but entry into the city had been hard going on them. Their half-brother, with his flesh and blood and breath, found it easy. But they were afforded no-such protections. Working wonders for him on birds and buildings they could do. But not tear down the pillar.

The stranger thanked them in the customary way, with an offering and some incense. He then set about planning his mischief.

That night, the stranger lay to sleep in his special way—stepping outside of himself, as he began to dwell as one with the world. For beneath the world, below the laws of men and gods, there are great sleeping things. Their minds are the bedrock of the world we see.

So the stranger dreamed as they dreamed, as he dreamed on Mount Moni. He walked in the waking world as little more than a breeze. The great talisman in the court shone through the walls at him, glowering as the enraged sun. He made no effort to hide from it, even as it corroded on his skin. The mists of Mount Moni were not here to aid him.

Still, he stalked down the halls, flickering with each step—in but three steps he covered the entire palace, to find the room of the King and Queen. He reached to go through the door, but felt the singe of the many golden chains and tailsmans, as they gently rang at his attempt. Within, he saw the king stir. So the stranger took to the ceilings, working his way in the upper air of the building, eyes wandering and marking where he could.

As the wind, the stranger felt another presence. Another person breathing in the halls. With a single motion, he arrived at where she was—the princess of Lanmoth, looking out the window at the pale-veiled moon.

The stranger moved as a wind around the moonlight, and listened quietly. He stared down at the girl, her face a mirror of the moon. The stranger found her eyes like his—in them where a dozen dancing colors, even if they lacked his training in the arts. His gaze was lost navigating hers at times, as he tried now to complete his higher cause—but his eyes barely took root, when she stared back at him.

Magi and King 2 Midnight Chat.png

They frightened him.

The stranger knew how to guide and protect his own gaze, even as he stood nought but the sigh of sleep in front of her. The stranger was schooled in many ways of magic from his adoptive father. But the stranger was now locked in eyes that were as gifted as his.

The stranger explained his intent, even as he struggled at being held still. She gave hers. The two were locked in wits—an observer the next day would note the room smelled of burnt flesh from the confrontation, and one passerby saw ripples of colors between the two. They talked as the old dreaming things talked.

The next day, the whole royal family was behind the veils of the court. The song birds in their cages watched and waited. The brilliant eyed stranger, the only face that could be seen, prepared another preformance. This time, there was no need for his staff—he had shown it’s greatest power already, and instead chose a more terrible feat. The king had asked more pressingly for something less unnatural then another raising or convulsion.

And the stranger was ready to oblige. He had, after all, a test to preform.

So, setting his staff of bone to the side, the stranger breathed in deeply—his own breath, mixed with the toxic breath of dreams that his family had. And he stared ahead, his eyes glittering. He reached out a hand, to one of the lesser veils. A pale one, not the best kept, lacking the red eyes of the kings. He turned his thousand facet gem eyes to the veil—driving deeper and deeper in. The court waited on baited breath.

The veil parted.

The lord and lady crawled like new born kittens. With a flick of the stranger’s wrist, they rose. Smoke rose from their eyes like temple candles as he compeled the lord and lady to dance. Their feet moved to an unheard rhythm, as they embraced and parted, spun and sprang. At last they finished with a bow. The stranger closes his eyes three times and the pair awoke from their bewitchment.

As the embarassed pair smiled and returned to their veil, pulling it a bit tighter. Alas, the stranger mused. For standing outside the veils, he saw the singe marks still on their covers. Only the king’s was guarded against his vision—and even that only for now.

That night he again dreamed as old ones dream, and set about his goal. He came to the great pillar, as unbareable as it’s heat was. And there he closed his eyes—and opened the ones he had left nearby. He opened the eyes of the great song birds. He opened the eyes of the lesser nobles. He opened the eyes of Lawerence.

But Bartholomew’s eyes would not open. The great giant of Lanmoth awoke, the charm he was given cracking at the weight of such a presence. Sword in hand, still in his night gown, he ran and beat on the door to wake the king. As his fist thudded on the door, the squawking of other birds became clear—dozens of them, who had gazed into the eyes of the first fellow, were descending through the halls. Running like ostriches, they joined the nobillity with their torn veils in a mass towards the court hall. This commotion woke Morgan, who joined Bartholomew with his blade.

“My king, something magical is afoot.” Bartholomew said. The two took to follow the crowd, and found them at the great pillar, hands and claws tearing at the chains, hacking with beaks and clubs. Bartholomew rushed to push them aside—but the King stared down more clearly. For he had learned to see the dreams of elder things, even if he could not walk them.

And seeing the shape there, that child of the sea-goat, directing the vast host, the King understood.

In the Chambers.png

With a bellow, now, he runs to the strangers room. He gives no head to the sleep walking fools and birds, instead smashing aside the door. He draws his sword, edged with saphire—and sees that host of brothers guarding his guests. The ala stand, faceless and ready, battering off him as struggles through. Almost—his sword is almost in reach! One more blow, good king! One more blow, king! And then–

There is a crack, and chains collapse. A great sigh, far away, as the golden cloud of Mount Moni descends, and sweeps up all Lanmoth.

The breath of dreams takes the place of the breath of air—and both the stranger and the princess leave for the temple atop Mount Moni.

 


 

This story was…tricky. Honestly, I cut out over a thousand words and am still not entirely happy with how fast it moves or how many characters it has. I think there are too many names for such a short story–while making it a third part would have been intolerable. I think the idea, broadly speaking, isn’t that bad. I tried making my own illustrations, which, ah. Was not a wise idea on this time table.

With that in mind, next week we continue on our road of the occult and mysterious, albeit with a more sympathetic view. See you then!

 

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