Author Archives: Maria Kelly
This story was first published in Lovecraft E-Zine 2011.
I stood in front of the temple entrance. It was unlike any building I’d ever seen. Instead of straight lines, the facade was cascade of spirals carved out of the face of the mountain, in pale rose stone. The entrance was a dark and open mouth, cool and inviting.
“This is ancient Cas-hal-Min,” said Jemplim. “Quite deserted for thousands of years.”
“It’s so very beautiful,” I replied. The temple was decorated with the statues of women. In Europe we called them the stone mothers, women with fertile-ripe bodies, breasts and stomachs and thighs. Instead of faces, these desert statues had ropes of carved vines, or, perhaps, featureless snakes. I pointed to the statues flanking the temple’s entrance. “You call them the Mi-Zar, the ancient mothers, don’t you?”
Jemplim frowned at my in-elegant use of his dialect, and I smiled. After all these months, he had not gotten used to the sound of accent. Jemplim spoke beautifully cultured English. It pained him to hear me mangle his native tongue. But out of politeness he allowed me to practice the language. English seemed out of place here, it felt too modern. It was better to speak the old language of the desert.
I heard music, dream-like, evocative and familiar.
“Elizabeth do you hear that?” asked Jemplim. “The wind brings music.”
I heard the music, in the far distance, as sound carried on the desert wind, a mirage of sound reflected over the sand.
“We should be going now,” said Jemplim. He touched my arm, gently and gestured to the jeep.
Jemplim was native to this land. I’d hired him six months ago to be my guide. Over the course of our search, we’d become close. Close enough, almost, to forget why I’d come here. I regretted what I had to do. Jemplim was a good man. I was going to hurt him. “No, Jemplim,” I said quietly. “I’m going inside the temple.”
“You can’t,” he said. A look of panic flooded his face. “You gave me your word.”
“I’m sorry, but did you really think I’d come this far and no further?”
“No,” he said. “I wouldn’t allow it, Elizabeth.”
I’d promised that once we set foot in the courtyard, I wouldn’t attempt to enter the temple. Taboo he told me; sealed over with curses; it would be disrespectful to the dead to set foot in such a place; the temple was old and decayed and it would be dangerous to step inside. He’d given me many reasons why I shouldn’t enter the temple–but not the true one.
I took a couple of steps towards the temple entrance. When he grabbed my arm, it surprised me. He was such a gentle man. I’d never seen him raise his hand, against any creature.
“I’m begging you, Elizabeth. You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Jemplim, I do know, and if you try and stop me, you know what will happen.” Already the heat shimmered in front of the stone Mi-Zar guardians. They trembled.
“This temple is the resting place of something old, something that should remain alone.”
The wind floated through the courtyard, bright-scented with the smell of desert musk.
“I know that, Jemplim.”
“You know? You lied to me?”
I nodded. “I know what’s in the temple. She waits for me.”
“Do you think that the old one will give you your child back, and that you will be happy, again? Elizabeth, she is not what you think.”
“I didn’t know that you knew, about my children,” I said. I thought that I’d been so clever, so discreet.
“It seems that we have both been withholding the truth. Elizabeth,” said Jemplim. “When a woman seeks this city, it is the first thing that we think of. We made enquiries. I know that you lost your children. But I’d hoped that your story was true. I convinced myself that you were looking only for knowledge, not for the gifts of the mother.”
“Why did you bring me here, Jemplim?”
“You would have found the way. When she calls to a woman, they find the way.” He stared into my face. “And, I did not want you to be alone at this time.” He stroked my throat. “The stone mother will not give you back your children, Elizabeth.”
“She will.” She had made the promise in my dreams. That’s why I’d travelled across the world to find her.
“She will not. She will give you something that looks like them, sounds and thinks like them, but underneath there will be something other, something old, and strange born in the distant skies. The things that are waiting to be born, Elizabeth. The women of my family know this. The times of bitterness have taught them. That is why she’s reaching out, to others.”
“You have no choice, Jemplim.” I kissed him, gently lightly as a mother would kiss a child. “Go back to your tribe. We’ll make our own way, or perhaps we will stay. This temple has been deserted for too long.”
“If I go, I’ll bring the men of my tribe to kill the creatures that come out of the temple. They will not be your children, and we will not endure such things to live.”
“You will try, Jemplim, I never excepted anything less of you.”
He stared at me, trying to read the language in my face. But he never truly understood me, we came together a little ways. But no further.
I tried to take another step, but Jemplim held me tightly. The stone guardian turned her head towards us, the stone tentacles beginning to unwind.
I did not think that a man could make such a desolate cry.
Jemplim left me.
I continued my journey, to tread the path, so many other mothers, had trod before. My children. Nothing would keep me from them.
The stone mother knew that, she understood the language of my heart, and old and alien as she was, I would speak to her. And if my children helped the old mother bring her own children to life, then what of it? I understood her. We spoke the same language.
Dressed in his impeccable white linen suit topped with the jaunty brim of his solar kepi, Reese Halston skirted through the heavy press of the Suk. Reaching the edge of the crowd, he took in a deep breath of air and hugged the package in his arms tighter to his chest.
Turning one direction then the other, he was able to see the towering minaret of the mosque he’d sighted as a landmark that very morning when he’d emerged from the shade of
Shepheard’s Hotel. Putting the structure at his left shoulder he made his way through the narrow streets. Breathing easier as he moved further and further from the market. The thick scents in the air had been too much for his delicate constitution. A man used to the civilized scents of a London street and the brisk brace of the ocean air, Reese had little need for the cloying perfumes of the nargileh pipes or the heady scent of spices from merchant’s stalls.
He had come to the market to find a gift for his wife.
He had found the perfect item to commemorate their marriage and the delightful memories they’d forged together on their voyage abroad. Brushing past the donkey boys, their hands open and waiting for baksheesh, he kept his eyes dedicated to searching for the familiar wrought-iron fence that surrounded the elegant patio.
Half asleep in the shade of a canvas umbrella, Imogen Halston dreamed of the Ezekiah Gardens and its exotic blooms. Reese had disappeared that morning and had completely missed tea. After their weeks of voyaging up and down the Nile, Imogen was grateful for the slower pace of Cairo. Sleeping until the sun warmed her face through the open window, she was only too happy to remain abed this particular morning while Reese gadded about.
She surmised, he had gone to visit another museum of Egyptian antiquities. He was so very intrigued with the idea of the ancient Egyptians and the wonders if the ancient world. Imogene had begun to enjoy the many stories he read to her on the subject. The Director of the Antiquities Department was currently onsite in the Valley of the Kings and would not be able to spare them the time for a visit, but the Khedive, an old friend of Reese’s father, was more than happy to stand in and regale the newlyweds with stories of the tomb.
The doorknob jiggled, and the door banged open against the wall. Rising up in her chair, Imogen blinked open her sleepy eyes and offered her husband a bemused smile. “You’ve returned.”
“Yes, my darling girl!” Taking long enthusiastic steps across the room, Reese paused at the opening of their balcony, a package in his hands. With a quick look about he pulled an empty chair up beside her rather than squeeze his lanky frame on the chaise. She was a tiny little thing and delicate as the day was long. It was, quite simply put, much of the reason why he loved her so.
Setting the package in her lap he gave her a bright smile. “I have brought you a present.”
“A present?” Imogen clasped her hands together over her heart. The sparkle in her eyes reminded him of the glimmer of
the sun on the Nile.
He brushed a kiss on her cheek. “I would give you the world if I could, my love.”
“You have, Reese,” she giggled, “you’ve brought me all the way to Egypt!” Her fingers shook as she opened the wrapping and stared at the carved vase nestled within. Her brow furrowed as she traced her fingers over the carved lid. “It looks like… a wolf.”
Chuckling under his breath, Reese shook his head. “No, dear, it’s a jackal.” He paused, thoughtful. “I thought you could use the jar to hide away some of your treasures when we return to London.”
“A splendid idea!” Imogen took hold of the vase. “Such a fearful looking thing, I know exactly where it will go. With a smile she twisted the head piece off and tilted its body toward her to look inside.
The smell turned her stomach. “Oh dear!” The top piece fell and rolled down the trailing hem of her dressing gown onto the carpet.
Reese took the vase and lifted it to his own nose. The stench was repulsive. “Goodness,” he struggled to maintain a placid mien, “my apologies, my dear. It seems they don’t believe in cleaning wares before they sell them.”
In answer to his prayer, the jackal pushed his head into the open mess of her body, its powerful jaws snapping bone beneath. There, on the ground, his shoes tangled with long stems, Reese lost all touch with the pain that crushed him.
Murmuring voices, hushed whispers, a score of voices that Reese neither recognized nor understood pushed him closer and closer to the pain.
Shifting slightly, he knew where he was. The soft cotton sheets under his hands, the bright sunlit panels from the large eastern facing windows, and the scent of roses that would forever remind him of Imogen. As he opened his eyes the room flared with light. The white walls gleamed but the sunlight that he’d once found cheery and filled with energy only served to remind him of what he had lost.
“Oh, Doctor Carver, he’s awake.” The soft Scottish burr helped him to focus his eyes on first the nurse at his bedside and then the doctor as he peered down at Reese.
“I knew you’d come around, young man. There wasn’t a mark on you.” The doctor pushed the stem of his pipe into the corner of his mouth, somewhat muffling the rest of his words. “Terrible shame what happened to your woman, but I knew once you’d had a chance to rest you’d be back around.”
The words fell on his ears, but Reese ignored them. He
turned his head to the side and stared at the other half of the bed, empty and pristine white.
For a moment his sight was filled with red, blood and pain. He didn’t quite understand.
The doctor seemed to have no such difficulty or any shred of compassion, for he kept up a steady stream of chatter that explained everything starting with how they’d located them in the gardens, the sudden disappearance of the wild jackal that had ended his married life, and finally, as the doctor hefted the carved vase in his hands he asked the strangest question. “Where did you get this ghastly thing?”
Turning his head to look, Reese had to wait a moment for his throat to open enough to let sound through. “I bought it for Imogen,” he gasped in a breath as he fought back tears, “a souvenir of our time in Egypt.”
“Strange ‘souvenir’ if you ask me.” The doctor turned it slightly in his hand. “Good carving of Tuamautef, but why you’d buy your wife a canopic jar,” his pipe puffed out a large cloud of smoke, “seems rather ghoulish if you ask me.”
Reese pushed himself up on his elbows in the bed, squinting up at the object in the doctor’s hand. “The man at the shop said it was a vase of some sort.”
The doctor’s laughter grated on Reese’s nerves. “A container, he probably said, but you folks come to Egypt for the adventure of it all and have no real appreciation for the culture.” Tired of his pipe, the doctor swept it from his mouth and held it out in a careless gesture. A suffragi from the hotel was instantly at his side with a salver ready to receive his discarded item. “This was probably removed from a tomb by grave robbers. The other three are probably on their way to all points of the globe thanks to men like you who collect these ‘antiquities.’”
Reese pressed the heel of his hand to his forehead, attempting to stave off the pain drilling through his skull. “And why should that matter, it’s a jar. I gave it to Imogen so she could use it like a treasure box of sorts. It was all quite innocent even though she cleaned out all that horrid-smelling stuff that was stuck inside.”
“Seems full.” The doctor tested the weight against his palm. “Strange.”
Holding out his hand, Reese managed to sit higher in the bed, wedged up by pillows that the nurse added behind him. He took the jar from the doctor’s hand and looked down at the pale white sheen of the polished stone jar. “I told her she could put her treasures in the jar.” Tears collected in his eyes as he remembered her smile when she’d received his present. He reached for the top of the jar, grasping the jackal’s head as he turned it. “Perhaps she tucked a few things away for safe keeping and-”
The lid removed, he was suddenly assailed by the wet sickly smell of blood. The weight pushing the jar into his palm was too heavy to be the feminine fripperies of a young woman.
Reese could find no words and could barely breathe. The doctor snatched the jar from his slackening grip and stared down into the mouth.
Staggering, the doctor knelt down on one knee as he struggled to regain his composure. “You foolish man…”
“The jar,” Reese shook with cold dread, “what-”
“The four canopic jars house the organs of the deceased. You brought home the third jar, Mr. Halston. You gave it to your wife. And when she emptied it of the heart and lungs that it had once contained,” he held out the jar to Reese, but the younger man cowered away from him as he shrank from the horrible realization of what he’d done, “Tuamautef, the jackal, decided to fill it up again.”
Pushing the top back on the jar, the doctor glared at the man sobbing before him and set the jar on the bedside table. “I’ll leave you alone… with your wife.”
Ray Dean was born and raised in Hawaii where she spent many a quiet hour reading and writing stories. Performing in theater and working backstage lead her into the delights of Living History, creating her own worlds through writing seemed the next logical step. Historical settings are her first love, but there is something heady about twisting the threads of time into little knots and creating new timelines to explore. There are endless possibilities that she is just beginning to explore. She has a future publication in an Edgar Allan Poe Steampunk anthology. Links: Ray Dean’s website can be found at www.raydean.net and you can friend her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RayDeanAuthor
I took the last train I could from Wilmington to Philadelphia, and then jumped aboard another to New York and finally on to Boston where I bed down for the night in a cheap hotel somewhere offs the Back Bay. In the morning I was to find a coach to the Holyoke area at the base of the Mount Tom Range and to visit with Mr. William Street, the proprietor of the Eyrie House. Forgive me for speaking without introducing myself, my name is Hubert Jones and I work for the US Patent Office as a file clerk. I know it’s not a position of any prestige in these modern times but the salary is good and I make my wage with much ease. I have been sent from the Patent File Office in Wilmington, Delaware to beautiful rural Massachusetts to take notes and sketches of a new genus of flower that Mr. Street would like to have named and such. Why he could not send a sample to Boston or New York to be analyzed by a botanist, which I dare confess I do dabble but am not learned, but I was told there was some special characteristics of this breed of plant that he did not want to be seen until he could secure the patent rights on it. After my superior spent time consulting the head office in Virginia, I was sent up from my small space in Delaware to see this item as he insisted someone of a learned skill set but sadly only I was employed by the government in the entire northeastern United States and thus why I am here. I will no doubt be spending much of my time on the trip as I have previous: on the road seeing the sights that this great country has to show during this time of year. The cool autumn air and the sweet smell of wood smoke are always welcome to me and I look forward to spending my time in quiet contemplation and reading.
The next morning I awoke, took my watered down tea and stale biscuit on the veranda, packed up my small bag and set out to locate a coach to take me out to Holyoke some three hours away from the Back Bay. Finding one to Holyoke had not been an issue, but finding one willing to take me beyond it was proving to be most troublesome since everyone insists that the Eyrie House burned to the ground more than 2 decades prior and William Street had not been seen since. I had shown my writ of service from my office and then the letter from this very town’s own postmaster stamped but three weeks prior but again all refused to waste their time taking me into the middle of nowhere on a “fool’s errand”, despite plentiful offerings from my modest coin purse. I walked from shop to saloon but was unable to find anyone willing to take me along the verdant path out into the foothills surrounding the town proper and allow me passage to the location where the Eyrie House once stood so I could try my best to locate Mr. Street. It was not until an odd man, polite and courteous, yet strangely attired and lacking what we people in the metropolitan areas refer to as “common sense” He introduced himself to me as Michel Deschenes, a former fur trader from Quebec who has been stuck here because he lacks money to travel back home yet from what I can see he spends his money on cheap hooch and whores by the smell of it. He offers to take me into the woods on one condition: I must trade him my shoes which he has become quickly enamored with and stares at intently despite attempts to dissuade him. He claims to have been to the location many a time, so the choice I have is his rank self or none. I take his deal, trade him my best pair of saddle shoes and put on a quick pair of Dickerson’s I purchased from the local 5 and 10 store and a few extra pairs of socks to hold them up while we get ready to make our way from town. I meet my guide on the edge of town where he has two horses ready for our journey.
Deschenes is mad, I have no doubt about it as in our first hour on the path he has asked me the same questions no less than 3 times each but with every iteration he goes from English, to French, to a pigeon hodgepodge of the two previous that makes not only my head ache but my blood heat to near boil. His queer tone is enough to drive one mad but the incessant questioning is followed up by more of the same. No matter how I answer his inane and not to be put to page questions about how I feel about god or Negroes, or even the copulation habits of esquimaux in the dead of winter, he just starts again a few minutes later in his broken record fashion. I begin to ignore him in the second hour; this leads him to simply either try speaking louder or stopping along the path until I answer his inquiries. Once this is done we move onto a different and even more obscene series of questions that defy even my proper upbringing to contemplate let alone answer how I feel of them. By the third hour I stop along the path and explain that in no certain terms am I willing to answer anymore of this insane inquisition and if Deschenes would just kindly either end this line of questioning or give me a quick map to my destination as my feelings about our “business” arrangement are now sorely regretted but all he does is smile and point off into the distance. “We are here, my friend.”
True to his word and in spite of my near meltdown, we have indeed arrived on what Deschenes believes to be the outskirts of what had once been the farmstead that housed the Eyrie House, but all around us is nothingness. I had been so preoccupied with the ramblings of my French-Canadian guide that I was unable to see the land fall away into a blasted heath that not only seems devoid of anything but a fine gray ash, it stretches as far as the eye can see. Our horses, the sensitive creatures that they are stop at the edge of the clearing that has defined the path ahead of us and begin to slowly back away from the downy ash that falls like snow through the air. I had never seen nor heard of anything like this previously reported but here it was like a fanciful snow globe set before my eyes. “Here is where we part my friend, the horses nor I will go any further than this and if you value your life, I say the same should be of you.” I quickly dismount my failing ride and move to the very edge of the heath; its outline against the colorful forest behind and to the sides of me is awe inspiring and I can almost can feel an energy fluttering through the air like the ashes. I bid Deschenes a final farewell, held my breath, closed my eyes and stepped into the cloud of gray which changed my life forever.
I believe that was three days ago but there is no way for me to tell as there is no signs of neither sun nor the moon and yet the entire area is lit with a glow from outside that I have never seen before nor can I comprehend its origins now. I have yet to find anything living within this desolate gray waste save an odd equine creature that no doubt was once a horse but now instead of a skin it wears a scary juxtaposition of matted feathers and serpent scales whose colours are that of pure chaos itself and no doubt the original point of my quest in these disgusting flowers that seem to defy the ash with their tendrils. I attempted to get a closer look at what I can only label as the “horse of a different colour” just to have it run off into the fog away from my presence. The flowers though I am giving as wide a berth to as possible due to their intensely disturbing ability to follow my every movement despite having no visible sensory organs that I can see. All of my wanderings have yet to lead me out or to the Eyrie House location in which I am hoping to find Mr. William Street so that I might find a way out of this desolate place. I am so very tired and need to rest my head for a few moments but have yet to find a place free of theses ubiquitous purple and green vines that are crawling through the gray silt even as I stop to write this passage. My only hope now is to walk in a single direction and see if it leads me…
That was the last entry in the journal of Hubert Jones, my great-great-uncle who disappeared in the woods just outside of Holyoke Massachusetts in 1926 while searching for a man named William Street who was thought to have died close to twenty years prior to his trip into the wild. My twice great grand uncle’s body was never found, only his journal and a pair of Dickerson style galoshes that he references in the story of his final moments. I have tracked where the journal was to have lead him and found the ruins of the Eyrie House, their old store bricks have not moved since the house burned to the ground in 1901 and is now an off the beaten path tourist spot in the Mt. Tom Range portion of the Connecticut River Valley. I see no serpentine horses, gray ash clouds nor indescribable “colours” but there is an inordinate amount of the flowers he described growing all over the crumbling structure. I am going to camp here for the night and try in the morning to retrace his final moments in time and see if there is some truth to his tales.
Hailing from the small college town of Newark, Delaware, Edward A. Taylor splits his time between writing and raising his two shoggoths with his thankfully understanding and patient wife Kelley. He has appeared in Morpheus Tales #’s 21-22-23, The Were-Traveler #11: The Day the Zombies Ruled The Earth, and Rivets and Rain – A Steampunk Anthology. Tales of his exploits and other stories can be found on his blog: http://mylongroadoutofhell.blogspot.com
Sean seizes the radio and peers into the endless distance.
“Joey, I’m airborne.”
“Roger that Sean. This whole damn thing is just plain weird.”
Sean closes the airwaves. His pilot pushes the helicopter onwards. Sean points to the north.
“Take her over there.”
“What are we looking for?”
“The missing ocean. This water must have gone somewhere.”
The sand beneath hardens under the relentless sun. Air drowned fish stare back at the hovering invader. Several flashes from Sean’s camera bear witness to their unfortunate fate.
“What the hell is that Sir?”
Ahead lies a water wall forty foot high. Before the liquid barricade sits a huge tentacle laden beast whose tendrils stretch far across the fresh sand. In the centre of the creature lies a huge eye atop of a malodorous mouth.
“Set her down.”
“Are you serious?”
“I said take her down.”
The helicopter descends. Sean takes several more pictures before jumping from the craft. The pilot remains in his seat.
“What do you think it wants?”
“I have no idea.”
Sean pushes forward. The infandous creature acknowledges his puny existence with a brief blink of its mighty eye. Sean’s knees weaken at the sudden invasion of an ancient mind full of wisdom and malevolence. His life is flushed before the slime ridden behemoth and he retches.
The water wall ripples. Shark crested waves threaten to swirl over the top. Sean understands the creature’s will is all that stands between him and oblivion.
“What do you want? Who are you?” he screams.
“A beholder. We want our home back and you gone,” whispers a jasper streamed voice inside his mind.
The ocean is released. A tentacle seizes Sean and an airtight bubble secures him in an eternal prison. The helicopter is destroyed in a nano second and the tsunami rushes for the east coast. Sean’s last lucid thought repeats over and over: The old gods have returned.
Gary Hewitt is a raconteur who lives in a quaint little village in Kent. He has written two novels which are currently being edited. His writing does tend to veer away from what you might expect. He has had many short stories published as well as the occasional poem. He enjoys both writing prose and poetry. His style of writing tends to feature edgy characters and can be extremely dark. Some of his influences are James Herbert, Stephen King, Bulgakov, Tolkien to name but a few. He is also a proud member of the Hazlitt Arts Centre Writers group in Maidstone which features an eclectic group of very talented writers. He has a website featuring his published works here: http://ghwt9996.wix.com/tales#!
The Great Old One rose from the depths of the dark and lonesome lake. It was enormous, an oval mass covered in multi-colored metal spines which it used to create its undead slaves. A thick-lipped mouth was grotesquely centered on the spongy face, directly below three eye-stalks supporting blood-red orbs that wavered in the chilly night air. Its underside consisted of many white pyramid-shaped protrusions, presumably used for locomotion, and a pair of sinuous feelers, each thirty feet long, swayed in silent menace above the horrid thing, performing some distant and malevolent purpose.
Glaaki was preparing for yet another of its terrible invitations. It had sent a dream- pull to the outer regions of the land, as far as it could given its weakened condition, and could only hope that it would be enough to capture an unwilling novice.
And to its delight, on this particular night it had done just that.
The hapless victim stood on the lakeshore. He was a small-framed man, but possessed great strength from many years of toiling in the fields tending to his crops. He struggled mightily but was held firm by two undead slaves of the Great Old One. He could not move.
One of the slaves had been in the servitude of Glaaki for nearly seven decades, thus exposing it to the Green Decay. It tried to remain out of the moonlight as much as it could, but was losing the fight. The moon cast its reflected sunlight down on the unnatural scene, effectively eroding the elder slave.
All at once the creature fell apart. Its skeletal arms snapped off its desiccated body, falling to the soggy shoreline like a pair of dead twigs. Its head, still twisted into a painful grimace, detached from its bony shoulders and tumbled down.
The victim seized his chance at escape. He hurtled the remaining slave into the cold waters of the lake. A sickening moan, bloodless and defeated, echoed off the mostly-barren trees nearby.
The man turned to run. Images of his small but comfortable cottage and a roaring fireplace warming his weary bones flashed across his frantic mind. At that moment he had never wanted anything so badly in his life.
But just as he was about to pass the tree line, just when he could practically smell his freedom and a hot bowl of stew in his house, the Great Old One was upon him.
Glaaki threaded its feelers through the air and quickly brought its latest victim to the ground. The man struggled to free himself but was no match for the beast. In the blink of an eye he was hoisted up before the Great Old One and dangled like a gutted pig in the damp night.
A spine stiffened.
The man’s eyes widened as he saw his life pass before his eyes.
The beast drove the spine into the victim and injected a vicious fluid into him.
The man was then released and crashed to the ground.
The spine dropped off, leaving a livid spot that did not bleed and from which emanated a network of red lines. The Great Old One then slowly turned around and slid across the sandy muck of the shoreline back into its deep, watery home.
* * * *
“Andrew? Andrew, are you all right?”
Andrew opened his eyes and looked into the concerned face of his wife.
“I’m okay. I just had a nightmare.”
Emily rolled back over. She could feel the morning sun through the window warm her face. “All right. Just go back to sleep then.”
Andrew stared at the ceiling. The horrible dream he had was still fresh in his mind, festering like some bloated spider that was perched in its web. It simply wouldn’t leave him alone. It was as if it wasn’t done with him just yet.
Crawling out of bed, Andrew pulled on his robe and slippers and stepped over to the window. A light coating of morning dew covered most of the glass with its frosty design. A crow circled in the sky.
“I need a cup of coffee,” he mumbled to himself. “That and a good night sleep for a change.
Feeling every one of his years, Andrew proceeded to make himself his cup of coffee and settled down to enjoy it. He tried to ignore his headache the best he could. It only served to remind him of the dreams.
“No,” he promised himself. “I won’t let it affect me again. They’re just nightmares.”
But a small fragment of his reasoning wormed its way into his thoughts and told him otherwise.
It wasn’t just a dream. It was real. Everything that happened was real.
The movement caught his eye. Someone outside who moved quickly and yet clumsily, was at his front door.
A knock on the door quickly elevated to a heavy and frantic pounding.
Without hesitating, Andrew pulled the door open; he didn’t want Emily disturbed.
A painfully-thin man rushed past him and into the house. He slammed the door shut and tried to catch his breath.
“I…I don’t know what it was. At first it looked like a man, but when it shot past me I could see…not a man, not human.”
Andrew tried to calm the man down. “Sit down, my friend. I’ll get you something to drink.”
“No1 I don’t want to sit down! We have to arm ourselves! That thing might be back!”
Emily stepped into the room. She was clutching the folds of her nightgown over her chest. Her normally serene blue eyes were wide with fear and confusion.
The man ran over to the fireplace and snatched the gun from its spot. He fumbled with the weapon as he tried to load it.
Andrew sprinted over to him and yanked it from his hands. He pushed him into a chair. “Now either you tell me who you are and what you saw or I’m going to use this on you!”
The man calmed down when he stared at the barrel of the gun. “My name’s Clive Molin. I’m from the bank. I’m here to measure property lines and discuss assessments on your house.”
“So, keep going.”
“As I pulled into your roadway, I saw a man snooping around your house. I thought he might be you so I parked and approached him. He didn’t seem to notice that I was there. It was then that I saw he wasn’t human…I mean he was human, but different somehow, like some sort of zombie.”
Emily laughed. “You can’t be serious. A zombie?”
Clive ignored her. “He was like a corpse, and had impossibly-long nails. And his face…his face was empty, no emotion in it whatsoever.”
Andrew had heard enough. “I’ll be right back,” he said and walked into the bedroom, pulling Emily along behind him.
Both hurriedly dressed as they talked.
“You think we should call the police?” Emily asked. She kept glancing back at the door. “What if he’s a criminal, or worse?”
Andrew scoffed at the idea. “I don’t think he’s crazy, just scared. He saw someone outside, and I’m going to check it out.”
Emily froze. “What?”
“I need to make sure that nobody is out there. If there is, and they’re dangerous, I’ll come right back in and call the police. Besides, I’ll have my gun.”
“No! I don’t want you going outside. If that man’s telling the truth, who knows what you might run into.”
Andrew stepped over to Emily. He put his hands on her shoulders. “Don’t worry so much. I’m the one with the bad dreams, remember?”
The scream cut through the bedroom door.
“I saw it! I saw it!” Clive howled.
Andrew and Emily hurried over to the door. A brief silence ensued, followed by the sound of drawers opening.
“He’s trying to find a weapon.” Emily said nervously.
“I know. I know. We have to stop him.”
Andrew swung the door open to find Clive frantically rummaging through the kitchen. He raised the gun and called out to him. “Mister, you better stop right now.”
Clive ignored him. “I saw it again! It was outside the window! I saw its face! It looked dead!”
Andrew pondered Clive’s words for a moment. He walked over to the window, his gun still trained on him, and peered through the frosted glass.
He saw nothing.
“Mister, I don’t know what you’re on, but…”
The face appeared in the window so quickly it was as if by magic. It leered at them with a detached malevolence.
Andrew backed away. He leveled the gun at the creature, but hesitated. There was something familiar about it, something he recognized.
“Shoot it! Shoot it!” Clive screamed.
“It was in my dream. It was by the lake when that thing rose from the water.”
Emily cowered behind her husband. “Stop it!” she cried. “Stop talking about dreams! We need to call the police!”
The face in the window vanished then, disappearing off to the side. A faint green smear remained on the glass as evidence of its visit. And then a long scraping noise raked across the front door.
“It’s still here!” Emily said while huddling behind Andrew.
Andrew steadied his gun. “Enough of these games. I’m going to end this now.”
As if in response to his announcement, a hand, a skeletal, bloodless hand with impossibly long nails smashed through the door. The heavy wood splintered in a thousand different directions, showering the floor with jagged shards.
Andrew unleashed a barrage at the door. An explosion of acrid smoke and burnt power instantly filled the room. The door fell apart in its mangled frame.
The creature stood in the opening, defiant and wholly unharmed by the attack. Its stiff, corpse-like appearance looked human enough, but the vacant stare, one that shared the memories of its master, belied its true intentions. It was sent to capture another for initiation.
Instantly, Andrew recognized the monster from his dreams. It was just like the ones who held the man on the shoreline. And this one, this thing at his door, sported a deep hole in the chest from which ran a series of red lines, just like his dream.
The creature stood still for a moment. It was unsure what to do. The one that it was sent to capture was in the house, but others were there as well, and this confused it. It reared its bleached head back to receive instructions from its master.
Andrew acted quickly. With Emily screaming behind him, he swung the gun around and landed a vicious hit directly on the side of the monster’s head. Its diseased skull split open, revealing a yawning chasm of empty thoughts and lost dreams. Foul gray matter oozed from the jagged crevice.
The creature fell to the floor.
“Is…is it dead?” Emily asked. She was still hunched behind Andrew, clutching his waist.
“I think so,” Andrew replied. He reached down and nudged the monster with his gun. “Yeah, it’s dead.”
And then Andrew’s world went black.
* * * *
In the hazy nether-region of Andrew’s dreams, a singular entity took center stage. Its bloated body was an oval mass reminiscent of a slug, but covered in countless, thin, pointed spines of multicolored metal. It yawned in anticipation.
It was Glaaki, the Great Old One, the inhabitant of the lake.
In his dream Andrew felt himself being pulled toward Glaaki. It was irresistible and complemented by the hundreds of past victims it had secured for itself.
Andrew couldn’t speak, or stop himself from being pulled through the stark countryside toward the unforgiving lake and its unholy inhabitant.
He could however hear another voice nearby. A woman’s voice. One that was more than familiar to him.
“Andrew? Please stop! You’re going right to it!”
But Andrew couldn’t stop. He wanted to, but couldn’t. It was like he was on the end of a rope, being yanked along against his will.
The Great Old One moved forward with stealth and power. It had its otherworldly sights set on its prey, on the next novice it would transform into one of its undead slaves.
Glaaki slithered out onto the shore of the lake. Its massive bulk shimmied back and forth as it propelled itself forward in a seemingly impossible gait. It moved with relative ease despite its weight and form.
“Andrew! Please stop!”
Andrew could only ignore his wife’s pleas. It tore his heart wide open, hearing her so close, knowing she was so near, but not being able to answer her.
And when the Great Old One was upon him, and he felt its horrible embrace, Andrew was released from all his troubles and worries and fell further into darkness.
* * * *
Emily couldn’t bear to look at it. She herself had knitted it (a green and blue afghan with her initials stitched in the center), and just the thought that it was now being used as a makeshift cover for the body of her husband sickened her.
“Andrew…I tried to stop you.”
Emily looked out the window at the barren landscape. The horizon was busy changing from a sharp orange to a dull haze as the sun rose on its daily rounds across the sky. She felt so lost and hopeless. She wondered how long it would take the authorities to
arrive and how she would explain the two bodies in her house. She knew they wouldn’t believe a giant slug monster and skeletal zombie had killed them. They’d lock her up.
Her sorrowful gaze drifted over to the second corpse. She never even knew the man. Maybe he had a family; a wife and children; a mother and father who worried about him. She supposed it didn’t really matter anymore; he was dead, killed by the zombie right in front of her.
Fighting back tears, Emily walked across the room. She could still feel the grit on her hands from moving the bodies, and no matter how much she tried, she couldn’t wipe them clean.
The still form shifted beneath the afghan. A long set of nails worked their way out from the folds. Ragged breathing followed, raising and lowering the blanket in a steady but uneven rhythm.
Andrew stood up. His bloodless face resembled his former life only marginally, and his thoughts were that of his new master: the Great Old One: Glaaki.
The front door of the house was wide open, allowing a cool breeze to drift in. Andrew stood before it, letting it wash over him. He relaxed. His skeletal body became flaccid. His job would be relatively easy. The one he was to guide to his master was already entranced by the dream-pull; she was walking toward the shoreline, a victim of Glaaki’s power.
Andrew stepped through the doorway, closely following behind Emily. His long nails scraped along the ground. His clouded-over eyes never blinked.
Glaaki rose from the depths of the lake as Andrew and Emily approached. Its spines stiffened in anticipation.
I’m a forty-five year old father of two who loves anything horror related. I’ve had well over 300 publications so far, including ones in numerous anthologies and contests, and am currently working on my fifth novel. My third novel, “When Only the Nightmare Remains” is due to be published by DIP Press.
The submarine sank deeper and deeper
seeking the secrets
at the bottom of Challenger Deep
While the crew were sleeping
dreaming about ancient horror
creeping in the dark abyss below
the sonar started beeping
The ring of fire suddenly quaked
the sea raised from below
tsunami warnings echoed
on distance shores
The crew gazed with fear
in the light of lava streams
the forbidden crystal cave
the lost city of R’lyeh
before a cloud of mud
closed the sight for ever
forcing the submarine
to emerge to the surface again
catatonic as empty shells
a crew suffering from the bend
the expert explained
But on a short video clip
a horrifying vision
of a monster moving in the dark
shadows of a gigantic tentacle
at the bottom of Mariana Trench
Mathias Jansson is a Swedish art critic and horror poet. He has been published in magazines as The Horror Zine Magazine, Dark Eclipse, Schlock, The Sirens Call, Apehlion and Trembles Horror Magazine. He has also contributed to several anthologies from Horrified Press, James Ward Kirk Fiction, Source Point Press and other publisher. Homepage: http://mathiasjansson72.blogspot.se/ Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mathias-Jansson/e/B00BTDBYBQ/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_4?qid=1366806658&sr=8-4
The day after it happened, fourteen-year-old Ruth looked across the kitchen table at her baby brother. Adorable little David, who would be three in another month, was babbling about dolphins and sea turtles and decorating the table with milk and soggy cereal. Her own bowl was empty, just a circle of milk remaining at the bottom; she hadn’t been hungry but had forced herself to at least eat a few bites.
Their da’ walked into the kitchen. He had dark circles under his eyes and his clothes were messy. His tie was straight but the tail of his shirt had come out and was stuck under his belt.
Mom wouldn’t have let him leave the house like that so she walked over and tried to fix it. Her hands brushed against his back and he jerked, banging the carton of orange juice into the glass, which tipped into the sink and shattered.
His face was white, the circles under his eyes as purple as bruises and his lips almost unnaturally red against his pallid skin. It took him a few seconds to focus his vision and see his daughter, standing there with her hands clenched to her midsection and her eyes wide with fear and surprise.
He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, whispering apologies into her ear. She hugged him back, as well as she could with her arms almost pinned to her sides. She could feel the bandages under his shirt and tried not to squeeze where they were.
Ruth closed her eyes and pressed her face against his chest. He smelled like fabric softener and green soap. The spicy soap, not the soft pink soap.
The pink soap was…
The pink soap had been Mom’s soap.
Before her tears fell and messed his shirt up, Ruth stepped back and looked up at him. Her smile was forced but she was trying, and his shoulders relaxed, just a little. A bit of color had returned to his face. When he cupped her cheek, his fingers were ice cold but his lips were warm, soft against her forehead.
He had shaved but not very well. The stubble was pokey on her skin, but she didn’t flinch.
“I’m sorry, baby,” he said. “I didn’t sleep so well last night.”
“Me, either.” She gave him a peck on the cheek and brushed past him. She unhooked the little sprayer from behind the sink and turned on the water.
“Oh, no, Ruth,” her dad said. “I’ll clean that up. You go eat.”
“It’s okay, Da’.” She shooed him towards the table with her free hand. “I already ate.”
He stood there for a few seconds, watching his daughter stand there, her back to him. When she didn’t turn to look at him, he grabbed a banana and sat down in the chair she had vacated.
Ruth turned the water all the way to hot. She watched the orange juice as it swirled around the drain, tiny bits of pulp swept away by the force of the water to be carried down into the darkness. The water heated up quickly and soon steam was billowing up out of the sink, making her think of the fog that had been so thick the night before.
She realized she was holding her breath.
Forcing herself to exhale, she turned off the water and let the hose retract. Using a sponge and a paper towel, she cleaned up the broken glass, careful not to cut herself on the sharp edges or burn herself on the hot water pooled in the little dents in the bottom of the sink.
Using a fresh paper towel so she wouldn’t drip water onto the floor, she carried the glass over to the wastebasket. She let everything fall into the trash and tried not to see what was already in there. When that failed, she tried to ignore the brown stains on the shirt – she remembered that they had been so very red when she’d thrown it away last night – and moved the paper towel so that it hid the worst of them.
Her dad was slumped over the table. He was snoring, the banana peel on the table next to him.
“Up!” David reached towards her. “Want up!”
Four days after it happened, Ruth went to school. There had been an in-service day on Monday, so she had had only missed the one day of school. Da’ had told her that she could stay home today, too, if she wanted, but what she wanted was to go to school and see her friends.
That want lasted until she left the house. When she realized the path she had to walk to get to school, her stomach started to hurt; she didn’t want to go back in and have her father ask if she was okay again, so she walked to school anyway.
She kept telling herself it would be better once she got to school. As she joined her classmates in the hallways, she did feel a little better. A little closer to normal.
Her friends didn’t look at her any differently; at least, they didn’t look at her any differently when they knew she was looking. She wasn’t stupid, though. She noticed the way conversations stilled when her friends saw her drawing near, how the underclassmen moved away from her as if she was contagious, and how the upperclassmen either watched her through open doorways or fell into step around her like an honor guard. She kept catching glimpses of pity, or fear, or revulsion, or some strange envy or desire when people thought she wasn’t looking.
That was the worst. She didn’t want anybody’s pity, but she could at least understand it. The other looks, though, made her stomach hurt like when she’d first stepped out onto the porch, and it wasn’t just the students, even some of the teachers were doing the same thing…”
She started to wonder if coming to school was a good idea or not.
Lunch was awful. She had packed her lunch that morning: a cheese stick, some chips, and peanut butter and jelly on wheat, just like Mom used to make. Mom would’ve used one of the big kitchen knives to cut it in half diagonally, but Ruth had cut it horizontally. It just seemed like it would be disrespectful to her to try and make it the exact same way she did.
Ruth sat down at an empty table, her back to the emergency exit, and unrolled the brown paper bag. She reached in and, instead of a plastic bag of chips or sandwich, her fingers closed around something cold and wet and slippery. Letting go of whatever it was, she yanked her hand out of the bag.
Her fingers were covered with blood.
She screamed and smacked the bag away. It slid down the length of the table and disappeared over the edge.
The rest of the cafeteria was deathly silent for a long moment. The only sound Ruth heard was her own panicked breath and the pounding of her pulse in her ears.
The smell of paint reached her, and she took another look at her hand.
It wasn’t blood on her hand. It was just red paint.
Her face turning as red as the mess dripping from her fingertips, Ruth stood up and went to the end of the table. Her lunch was scattered on the tile floor, as well as an open plastic butter tub, and everything was covered with paint. The tub had landed upside down and then bounced and rolled, splattering red droplets all over the floor.
Red droplets everywhere, just like that night.
She knelt down and started picking up her lunch. Her sandwich was ruined; the paint had seeped in through the folds of the plastic bag, soaking into the bread.
As she sat there on her knees, cradling the sandwich and trying not to let her tears fall, she heard somebody start laughing, heavy guffaws from across the cafeteria.
Ruth’s head felt like it weighed too much for her neck to lift, but she raised her eyes anyway. One of her classmates, a freshman that she didn’t even know, was pointing and laughing at her. Most of the other people at his table were staring at him in horror but he didn’t seem to notice.
He didn’t seem to notice anything until one of the seniors, a big guy – Ruth was pretty sure he was on the football team – bashed him in the face with a lunch tray. Even from across the room, she could hear the flat noise it made when it caved in his nose, followed by the thud of his head against the floor. One of the other kids at the table got up from his seat and started stomping on the fallen boy. A few seconds later and she couldn’t see him at all; a dozen students surrounded him, shoving the table out of the way to get to him.
None of them made a sound.
One of the teachers came over to Ruth and helped her to her feet. A wet rag was placed into her hands and she absently started wiping the paint off of her fingers. She glanced back over her shoulder at the crowd of students, the silent group still punching and kicking and swinging. All Ruth could hear was the wet, sloppy sounds from the middle of the pack.
As she was guided out of the cafeteria, Ruth let the rag fall from her hand without looking at it.
Seven days after it happened, Ruth asked her father if he could give her a ride to school. He told her that she had to walk but that, if she wanted, he would walk with her. She tried to talk him out of it but he already had his jacket on and was squeezing David into his winter coat.
David trundled on ahead, looking like an overstuffed sausage in his winter jacket. Da’ walked next to Ruth, shortening his stride to match hers.
“How’s school been?”
She shrugged; adjusted the strap on her backpack. “Fine.”
“I didn’t think there’d be any more trouble.” He jammed his hands into his pockets and tried to watch her without looking like he was watching her.
Ruth shrugged again.
Half a block ahead, David had stopped by the Old Tree. He stared up at the trunk until Ruth and Da’ had almost reached him. He screamed in fake terror and ran down the sidewalk, waving his arms and yelling at the top of his lungs.
Da’ continued on for a few steps before noticing that Ruth was standing in front of the Tree, staring up in, an unconscious mirror of her brother’s stance a few seconds before.
“I miss her, Da’.”
“I know you do, Ruth,” her dad replied. “But you have to be strong.”
Her father grabbed her by the arm, his grip squeezing through her coat. When she didn’t turn to him, he gave her a sharp yank, hard enough to snap her head forward and pull her off balance.
“You must be strong,” he hissed, teeth gritted and eyes fierce. “Ruth, please. If you can’t…”
“I know, Da’.” She jerked her arm free and walked past the Old Tree, trying not to look up at the branches or what was still pinned there against the trunk, or the reddish-brown blotches that stained the trunk.
“I know,” she whispered, he didn’t hear her; the muscles in his jaw clenching and unclenching as he gazed up at the withered thing in the Old Tree.
Twenty-one days after it happened, Ruth slept in.
It was winter solstice and there wasn’t any school. She went downstairs and started making pancakes, wearing her Mom’s – wearing her white comfy robe, dripping the batter onto the skillet slowly and specifically. By the time David came bumbling down the steps, she had a platter filled with pancake turtles, pancake dolphins, pancake fish, and even what might’ve been a pancake octopus.
Setting the platter onto the table, she hoisted her brother up into his booster chair. He reached for the pancakes as she got down one of his blue plastic plates. Sliding the platter closer, she helped him pick out his breakfast and then let him drown them in syrup.
Licking fake maple off of her finger, she went to the fridge and took out a bottle of apple juice while David made what Ruth assumed were fish and turtle noises. When she closed the door, she saw Da’ standing in the doorway, watching the boy play and eat.
Da’ hadn’t gotten dressed for work but was wearing his white comfy robe, the other half of the set she had bought Mom and Da for their anniversary; the one that matched the one she was wearing now.
“Good morning.” Ruth poured apple juice into a sippee cup. “Would you like some pancakes, too?”
Her father opened his mouth, then shut it without saying anything. He closed his eyes and gave a quick shake of his head. She could see his throat working as he tried to swallow.
Putting David’s cup down within his reach, Ruth went to her dad and gave him a hug, wrapping her arms around him. He only flinched a little bit and then hugged her back. With her head against his chest, she could feel his sobs more than hear them. She squeezed him tighter, trying to make herself feel a little better by trying to make him feel a little better.
She tried not to think about the duffel bag sitting by the front door.
Twenty-two days after it happened, Ruth stood in the kitchen, wearing her fuzzy robe and dripping pancake batter onto the hot skillet. She was sore, especially her right arm and wrist. Trying to ignore the twinge in her back, she moved the sippee cup out of the way to get to the pancake platter.
Behind her, Da’ sat at the table, wearing the same soiled jeans and shirt that he’d worn the night before. The knees were caked with mud and clay and other things; Ruth realized she’d have to throw out the clothes; the stains would never wash out.
While the pancakes finished cooking, she picked up the booster seat and put it on the floor next to the trash can. She went back to the sink and washed her hands. It was the fifth time that morning but she was still sure that she’d missed something.
Satisfied, at least for the moment, she turned off the skillet and moved the octopus-shaped pancakes to the platter.
Favoring her right arm, she carried the platter to the table and slid it towards Da’.
“Go ahead and eat,” she said, ignoring the tracks his tears had cut through the dirt on his face. “You have to be strong.”
I may or may not have been born on a stormy autumn night but the cats refuse to confirm it, one way or the other. I am a devoted follower of the Whedon and have been previously published in the zombie anthology “First Time Dead 3.” I look forward to welcoming our future robot ninja overlords, as should you.
“Here’s the throne room. We’ve been having ant problems for a while, no food here…ignore the stains. My daughter, Esfir, likes to play here. He allows it,” Yuri says. He opens the doors, which hit the wall. The sound fills the ominous room. Yuri makes the sign of the cross before entering. Imposing statues stand in front of pillars placed in between giant tapestries displaying epic battles and sacred ikonography. Pavel, a new servant, cringes at the sight of scattered blood stains on the royal carpet. A red prayer rope rests around Pavel’s wrist.
He stares at the stains. “What happened? An assassination attempt?”
“No.” Yuri leads Pavel around pointing out a dusty tapestry displaying Isaiah of Rostov burning pagans at the stake.
“Are you going to clean that?”
“No, it’s a reminder of what happened.” They step around the stains.
Pavel looks back at it. A faint scream cries out beneath them. “Did you hear that?”
“It’s been happening for a while. He told us to ignore it.”
“So, what happened?”
“Don’t ask that again.” Yuri leads him to the gold-plated throne, the three tiered Byzantine cross engraved in it. “Only I am trusted to maintain this. Sometimes my wife, Anya, helps but she’s been busy with Esfir. She turned six today.” He looks over the throne. ”This was his father’s, Vasili III, after he took over. Everything needs to be clean for that Swede, John III. We haven’t had many visitors recently. This is a big deal.” Pavel stares at a tapestry. Jesus with the crown of thorns, drenched in sweat and blood. “I thought you wanted this job.”
“I need your help me moving this, don’t drag it. This is his favorite.” A formidable statue of Ivan IV holds a severed head in one hand and cross in the other. They lift and move it. Unveiling an out of place stone. Yuri shifts it. Something opens nearby. The throne room doors are unmoved. Shifting the stone again. Something closes. “Pavel, move the stone.” Yuri outlines the room.
He stops at a tapestry of Xenia of Tarusa holding her husband’s bloody body.
Behind it is a narrow spiral staircase, illuminated by torches. A troop of ants crawl out, into the throne room. A small flock of bats escape. Blood stains the walls; it’s heavier as the stairs descend. Yuri feels an energy seep into his soul.
“Daddy! I’m lost.” A child screams. Yuri enters the staircase.
“What’re you doing?”
“I think Esfir is down here. Did you just hear her?”
“No, are you sure you heard that?”
“Yes! If you want this job you’re helping.”
Descending, every step echoes burrowing deeper into the castle. They hear a rustling deep in the staircase. It’s getting louder. Pavel retreats but Yuri stops him. Pavel grabs his prayer rope as they inch further. An overpowering stench wafts their way. There’s a thump from the throne room Yuri doesn’t notice. An energy oozes into Pavel’s soul.
“What was that?” Pavel asks, wiping sweat from his brow.
“It was nothing.”
Around the corner a platoon of rats rushes between them. They screech in terror. Yuri ignores it and keeps moving deeper into the stench, deeper into the mystery.
The smell of death leaks through a wooden door. A metallic emblem displays a strange symbol. Dried blood’s crusted on the doorknob. A metallic crash followed by wet steps. Yuri opens it. A figure enters the staircase.
Pavel hears footsteps, “Who’s that?”
“I don’t care.”
They’re in a long dim hallway. The carpet’s littered with stains like the throne room. Pavel looks around, “I think someone’s watching us.” Yuri ignores him. Pillars edge the wall with torches planted in the floor. The flicker of torches welcome them. The smell of rotting corpses consume their senses. Bloody footprints are scattered around. There’s a dark, cramped cell in the wall. A pile of chains and shackles lie at the center. The hallway branches out into two dark paths. Marking the fork, an ikon of Christ crying blood from black, inhuman eyes greets them with a crooked smile. An odd figure watches from darkness in right path.
“Dad, are you there?” She cries out.
“Esfir, I’ll find you.”
“Who are you talking to?” Pavel asks.
“Esfir, she just spoke didn’t you it?” Yuri picks up a dead rat. “This is her doll.” Pavel recoils.
They take the left path. Light evaporates replaced with a void of pitch black. The door shuts. Yuri doesn’t notice, Esfir is the only thing on his mind. Pavel grips his prayer rope, muttering prayers. Footsteps echo into the darkness.
“I’m going back.”
“My daughter is lost. You’re helping.”
Emerging from the path Yuri and Pavel sense a strange aura lingering about. They stand before a colossal stone leviathan with crooked wings and scaly skin. Wild tentacles are topped with a pointed head. Arms apart, ancient claws stained with blood. Its two ruby eyes have an intense glare. On the side, columns hold up a second floor of balcony rafters. A series of rooms along the chamber’s side are marked with esoteric symbols. The odd figure watches from darkness.
Yuri and Pavel freeze under the gaze of the statue. Footsteps echo from the chamber behind them.
“Go back to your cell,” A deep voice says. Wet footsteps fade out. “He told me you’d be here.”
They turn around. A balding man with a greying beard approaches. He’s wearing a royal coat with the Byzantine cross and eagle. A wooden scepter with a steel eagle head rests in his hand. The eagle is dented and red.
“Ivan, your highness, I’m sorry,” Yuri mumbles.
“You’re one of them. You’ve been here for years. It had to be you.” Ivan smiles and hugs him.
“What are you talking about?” Yuri asks.
“God brought you here. You are one of the chosen to see his true, glorious form.” Ivan notices Pavel. “Who’s that?”
Pavel releases his prayer rope, “I’m-.”
“You speak when spoken to, I’m your Czar, protector, the reason you exist.” Ivan glares, walks towards Pavel. “You shouldn’t be here…Look me in the eye.” The color fades from Pavel’s face. Ivan seizes Pavel’s chin, lifting it.
“Your highness, he’s one of the new servants. We’ve been understaffed for the last few months.” Yuri looks at the ground. Ivan releases Pavel. He’s as pale a ghost.
“I remember, I punished my son.”
“Sir, I’m sincerely sorry about this.”
“Calm down, I need to know one thing. Are you ready to join the holy order?”
Ivan lays his hand on his shoulder, Yuri looks up. “He told me this would happen.” Ivan laughs. A pleasant grin forms. “You’ll change. John’s arriving soon. Get back to work.”
A full moon rises over Moscow illuminating the landscape. People depart the Imperial estate after a feast. Ivan leads John and others to his throne room. Everyone has returned to their quarters. Yuri puts Esfir to bed. He lies next to Anya, and passes out.
He awakes in a dim hallway. His vision fades in, it looks familiar. After a sluggish pursuit he stands and freezes. The thunderous flapping of gargantuan wings boom his way. Far off, two glowing red eyes appear. In groups of two, torches in the ground light up a path, splitting into two tunnels after six sets of torches. The paths are pitch black. An unnatural energy consumes him. It pulses through his body.
A primal growl shakes his soul. The eyes are closer. Yuri walks down the path and stops at the fork. A pile of human remains, sword, and clothing. A low humming emits from the pile. Yuri backs up. The pile builds layer by layer into Czar Ivan IV.
“Have you changed your mind yet?”
Yuri sweats fear and confusion. Another roar frightens him. Ivan is delighted.
“What’s your choice?” Ivan picks up the sword.
Yuri turns around and sees the outline of something unearthly.
Ivan lifts the blade to Yuri’s throat. “Make up your mind or I will.” Ivan slashes Yuri’s gut. Ivan deconstructs back into the pile.
Yuri covers the gash and runs down the left tunnel. At the other end the creature lands mere feet away from him. He’s trapped in its gaze. His vision blurs. He collapses.
Screaming, he jumps out of bed. Everything’s normal.
“Anya, I just had a horrible, Anya?”
He checks her bed, no one’s there. His mind racing, he ransacks everything but to no avail. The room is dead silent, even the crickets are asleep. A door closes nearby, followed by heavy clinking armor. Light sneaks under the door. Three heavy knocks quake the door, beneath it shadows of two sets of feet appear.
“Our Czar requests your presence.”
Yuri opens the door. Two black guards in full armor tower over him. They take him to the throne room. Ivan’s in his throne in between black guards, John, stroking his red beard, and assorted clergy and nobility are waiting. Anya and Esfir are chained to the wall. They light up seeing Yuri. Ivan leers at Yuri, tapping his scepter on the ground. Each tap injects more terror in him.
“You’re one of the chosen. John embraces his fate. Will you?”
“I’ll make sure of that. Are you sure?”
“Yes, your highness.”
Ivan signals for his guard, who releases Anya. The instant the shackles unhinge, she rushes to her Czar and kisses his feet. Ivan looks at a guard and he hands him his sword. She looks up at Ivan and rises. He stands and turns her facing Yuri. He teases the blade across her throat, laughing. Yuri’s stomach collapses. Ivan slashes her neck. It doesn’t cut through leaving a bloody gash. Ivan drops her. Yuri runs through and holds her. He rips part of his tunic and wraps the gash. Her heartbeats gets fewer and far between as she bleeds out. She reaches for his hand as her heart stops. He looks up at his Czar clouded with tears.
“Leave the child, we’ll use her later. Yuri, it’s time.”
A guard throws a black bag over Yuri’s head. They tie his hands behind him and carry him down the stairs.
At the bottom of the stairs, they open the door but something is odd. The bag is lifted off his head. He’s in the hallway from earlier. Everyone but John is in red and black robes with a strange symbol outlined in white on the chest and back. Ivan hands Yuri and John red robes with the same symbol but an outline of the symbol. The disciples proceed into the chamber Esfir looks back at her dad. Ivan raises his hand and walks into the tunnel. Yuri struggles to loosen the knot. It’s too tight.
“What’re you doing?” John asks.
“My wife is dead and daughter is in danger, I need to-.” Yuri says.
“You have no idea what you got yourselves into,” A scratchy voice says. “I saw you earlier but father saw me.”
Chained to the wall in the darkened cell is a teenager in tattered royal clothes with rotting skin, eye missing, and a wound on its skull bleeding nonstop. It walks up to the cell’s bars. “I thought you were dead.” Yuri says.
“I was until father brought me back. He felt sorry for killing me. You were there, you did nothing.” A tentacle squirms out of his eye socket.
“How?” Yuri asks. His voice quivers.
“That thing in there brought me back. They call it God but it’s something evil.” The tentacle wraps around his face.
“Blasphemy!” John shouts.
“You’ll see.” They hear screaming from the chamber but it stops with a piercing slash. Followed by a low rumbling growl. “Have fun.” Tentacles emerge from the wall pulling him back into the darkness.
Ivan with one of his guards returns to the hallway. His eyes are black. In the chamber, twelve torches are around the stone monstrosity. A stone tub with a chain latch lies in front of it. Inside, Pavel cradles his head. A shackle’s around his ankle. Watching from on the upper rafters, groups of four disciples on each side. Ivan’s on the floor left of the statue and another on the right. Guards are stationed at the tunnels. Esfir is nowhere to be seen but Yuri hears her crying. A guard leads the initiates to the edge of the tub.
“What happens,” Yuri asks.
“Silence!” Ivan roars.
Yuri and John kneel before the demon. Pavel stares at Yuri. The disciples bow their heads and fold their hands in unison. The disciples chant in Latin but it morphs into something unrecognizable. John’s ecstatic. A low rumbling erupts beneath them, the torches start flickering as the chanting grows louder. Yuri gazes into the statue’s eyes. They gleam a faint light. The monument glows a green aura. The torches blow out. The disciples dissipate into the darkness. The chanting fades out. A tremor rocks the chamber. Yuri tries to look over at John but he’s paralyzed. Sound disappears for a moment. An ear-piercing screech rings out. The ruby eyes emanate a magnetic light. Yuri’s frozen in the light. A voice invades his mind. It’s delicate but disruptive.
“Small one…I’ve been waiting.”
Yuri’s body compresses with each word, it ruptures his mind and body.
“You rejected my will.”
Yuri feels an insidious surge spread through his body. He wants to vomit everything but can’t. His head throbs like an earthquake. Seizures of pain and nausea assault him. His senses black out but mind still intact.
The statue turns from grey to green. Its ruby eyes blink into life. Stretching its wings and arms, the creature surveys the chamber. Eyeing the corpse in the tub, it picks it up with a dark claw. The creature devours the body. The creature looks at Ivan, they stop chanting. Yuri and John are entranced.
The creature speaks, “Wake.”
Yuri and John are thrown back to reality and stand. They blink. Their eyes are black.
The creature speaks, “Ivan…bring the young one.” He goes into a room. He drags out Esfir, on a leash.
“Dad,” She runs to him but Ivan yanks her back. Yuri does nothing.
The creature speaks, “Silence child.” She cowers. The creature points at a guard. The guard unties and gives his sword to Yuri. “Prove your devotion.”
Ivan chains Esfir to the tub. She curls up and cries. Yuri lifts the blade and stops. His eyes morph black to green for a moment. She looks up at him. He runs his hand through her hair.
“Close your eyes. It’ll be over soon. Stand up.” He says.
Yuri holds her hand. He stabs her in the neck. She smiles as her life fades. Yuri removes the blade. He lifts Esfir to the creature. It devours her.
The creature speaks, “Welcome to my holy order.” The creature blesses them with its mark. The insidious energy consumes Yuri and John. Their robes change red to black. The disciples bow their heads and fold their hands in unison. The chant resumes. The creature returns to stone.
The full moon looked down on Harry Templar from the night sky above as he sat shivering on the wooden bench in the old cemetery. He surveyed his surroundings. The place was empty, he had no one for company but the dead.
It was 2 AM and he was waiting for Linda.
She had phoned him half an hour ago and as always he had agreed to meet her. Why she had chosen this god forsaken place though…..he couldn’t understand.
She’d probably take advantage of their friendship as always. Every time she had a problem she whistled and inevitably he would come running. She’d been doing it for years, ever since they were kids.
He lit up a cigarette, striking the match just above the B on Billy Wilders Headstone.. He guessed Billy wouldn’t mind too much, he died from TB in 1893.
As he pulled his thick coat tightly against himself and took a large hit of nicotine he saw something moving in the distance, something far blacker than the darkness of the night surrounding it.
Must be a cat he thought, not much else it could be, it was larger than a rat, which pleased him. He hated rats. Ever since he was made to dissect one in the biology class at school. That had been years ago but ever since then any animal resembling a rodent in any way, shape or form, dragged him back through time to that day in the classroom. It was the smell he remembered most vividly, the horrible sweet rotten meat smell that emanated from the dead animal when he made his first and only sweeping incision with the scalpel, it was as sharp as a scythe.
One cuts all he managed, the combination of the pink flesh and the smell had made him throw up on the back of the girl sitting at the table in front.
He shivered at the memory and concentrated on finishing the rest of his cigarette.
Then he saw another dark shadow, larger this time, he caught the moonlight glinting in its eyes as it scarpered behind an ornate carving of an angel.
“What the fuck!”
Im having a flash back he thought, I shouldn’t have dropped all that acid all those years ago.
He rubbed his eyes and looked towards the angel.
She just knelt there, hands clasped together silently praying to the night sky above.
Quite a creepy looking figure he thought to himself as he blew a smoke ring into the air
Then, she stood up and turned her head towards him. He watched as the eyelids opened and blood red tears streamed down her alabaster face.
He tried to stand up but his legs had turned to jelly.
Then the black shape reappeared, he could see what it was now, It was a huge raven. It perched on the angels shoulder and made a hideous sound.
He could feel and hear his heart beating in his chest, the pounding was getting louder and louder.
His legs still wouldn’t work, he rubbed them, frantically trying to get rid of the numbness, it was no use, they felt like they didn’t belong to him anymore.
He watched as the statue, with the ever present raven got closer and closer.
He watched as the blood flowing from her eyes started forming bright red gothic letters.
N then E…….. He watched the word form. NEVERMORE.
He woke up to bright sunlight, it took him a few seconds to find his bearings.
“You’d fallen asleep and you were mumbling, looked like you were having a nightmare.”
He sat up on the bench in the country church yard and glanced over at the statue of the angel.
He shivered and looked at the book at his side.
The Complete Works of E.A.Poe.
He tossed it in the bin at the side of the bench.
“That’s the last time Im reading that shit!”
Steve Christie’s author webpage can be found at http://about.me/stevechristieauthor.
It was with some disquietude that I discovered my wife’s father Eugenio intended to carry on the family tradition of bequeathing everything to the eldest, and in this case only, son, Umberto.
“But that leaves you a pauper,” I objected.
Francesca, with only love in those soft, doe eyes, replied: “How can I be poor, Robert, when I have you?”
We were sitting in our garden––or Eugenio’s garden, rather: some day he might return from the old country to reclaim a room in the house and resume his role as patron.
“Besides,” she added, pouring some of Eugenio’s home-made wine for me, “do you think my brother would let his sister and her husband starve?” She glanced around at the half-dozen trees––a few apricots, a plum, an apple and a pear––and sighed: “Papa always loved his orchard, you know.”
Some orchard! I thought, brooding on our misfortune. Umberto would prosper on the fruit of Eugenio’s hard work and investments while I would return each day to Rob’s Mechanical Repairs––one of the few consolations was that people sometimes thought the “Rob” on the sign at the front was me, not realising it was the English translation of his name––knowing that he would be my boss and my better forever.
With Umberto overseas with his latest girlfriend, I was at least in charge of the garage for the moment, and lorded it over the others like a Roman slavemaster.
“Call for you,” said one of the girls. “International.”
Of course it could have been a supplier to one of Eugenio’s other businesses, or even Eugenio himself, but it turned out to be the son, Umberto, calling from Italy, with news that his father had passed away.
“He died in my arms,” he blubbered––and yet, I could tell he was already calculating his new net value. With the death of the king, the prince had risen in rank. Long live the king, I cringed inwardly.
“How––” I started, wanting to ask how long it would be before he came back to claim the throne. Instead, I asked: “How did he die?”
“Plum wine,” Umberto replied. “The wine had gone bad.”
He’d be returning home in a few days, he told me. A plane seat was already booked, and he would make the arrangements for the funeral. He went on with instructions about when and where to collect him, flight numbers, which areas of the house he would take upon his return, which we would have to vacate to make room for an office and seat of his inherited empire of properties, garages, shopping centres––he was careful not to mention it as such––and how soon he would depart, to return to his girlfriend still holidaying in Europe, leaving me with the grieving Francesca.
“And one more thing,” he said, before ringing off. “Do not tell my sister. The news will break Francesca’s heart. Let her big brother be there to comfort her.”
As though I, her husband, could not better comfort the fading rose of my wife.
I imagined him strolling through the streets of Naples. Meanwhile, I saw the townsfolk laughing at Robert O’Toole, kept man, with a wife who could snap her fingers for a new dress with inlaid gold but who himself was relegated to overalls and workmen’s boots six days a week.
“Get back to work,” I yelled at one of the apprentices, who was slow in coming back from the tea room. “And you,” I said, pointing to an older man across the oil-stained concrete, “take over on the Ford. I have urgent business to attend.”
I spent a few hours at the local hotel, drowning my sorrows and plotting.
Francesca, used to me arriving home inebriated, was putting dinner on the table when I got home. I changed my clothes before coming down to eat.
“Your father’s dead,” I imagined myself blurting out, “and your sponging, useless brother is coming home to ensure his inheritance.”
Instead, watching my wife undress for bed that night, I told her simply, between my teeth, that her brother was returning.
“Oh, Robert,” said Francesca, “why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“I’ll drive out and pick him up on Wednesday morning.” I said.
“Can you stay away from work for that day? Don’t they need you?” she asked. “Perhaps I should go.”
Angrily, I replied: “I can do whatever I want. Until Umberto comes back, I’m in charge of the garage. Nobody’s going to challenge me over my whereabouts for the day.”
My wife, in nightshirt and slippers, ran off to begin preparations for her brother’s return.
I imagined myself pressing him: “So your father died of bad wine?”
I could see clearly how it had happened: Umberto, keen to secure all that would have come to him eventually, greedy to to claim his inheritance sooner rather than later, had poisoned his own father.
He arrived, and it was as I expected: he took over the house, and with her brother only two doors down from our own bedroom, and the sorrow of her father’s loss, Francesca would not even allow me to make love with her. I returned to the courtyard, and it was there that Umberto found me, with a bottle and a glass.
“Plum wine,” he said, examining the bottle. Eugenio had always made his own. “I brought a glass,” he added, joining me uninvited at the table.
I mumbled a response.
“Drinking on your own? Where is my sister?”
“In bed already,” I replied. “Cried herself to sleep.”
I noticed his hands seemed to tremble. Too much of the good life, I reflected. He was almost my age. Neither of us had produced an heir to the kingdom.
“What’s that in your hand?” I asked, spying a folded slip of paper.
“A tonic, given me by a doctor in Rome,” he replied. “To be mixed with water and drunk on a balmy, moonless night.” He waved artistically at the evening. It was, indeed, a balmy, moonless night. In the soft light from a garden lamp, I watched him rub that slip of paper between thumb and forefinger, crushing its contents into a finer powder.
“Surely not to be taken with alcohol,” I said. I watched him sip from his glass.
“With alcohol, without alcohol … It is all the same.” He held the glass up to the light. “This is good wine,” he mused.
I noted that, despite his showmanship, the crumbled contents of the paper had not been poured into his own glass.
“The last of the plum wine a season ago,” I said.
“Last season,” he pondered, and added: “That was an excellent harvest. You mean to say you’ve already finished off that entire batch?”
“As you say,” I reminded him, “it was a very good wine.”
From the corner of my eye, I watched Umberto pour the contents of his little fold of paper into my glass. It fizzed briefly.
I turned back to the glass and raised it to my nose, detecting a slightly acid scent.
“With your father dead,” I asked, “will you return permanently to take over the running of the business?”
“And your sister?”
“Do not fear,” he assured me. “I will always make sure my sister has a home and food on the table. And you, as an extension of her, will live well, too. Was this not your concern?”
“And who will inherit the business after you?” I asked. “You have no children.”
“Alas, I fear I am too old, and not inclined to produce offspring,” he retorted. “It will be up to Francesca to carry on the line. She is still young.”
“But you and I are of the same age,” I reminded him. If he had no inclination to be a father, then surely he couldn’t expect it of me.
“Francesca will do what is needed of her,” he said mysteriously. I suspected now that there was no place in his plans for me. I wondered if he had a replacement, already, waiting in the wings.
He watched me drain the dark fluid in my glass, and raised his own in a toast. “To my father, who died drinking his favourite wine.”
Now was the time to act.
“Wine goes bad,” I reminded him, “but it becomes vinegar––nothing more. It does not become toxic, unless someone has poisoned it.”
“Are you accusing me of some misdeed?” he asked.
“Not accusing you: telling you.” I’d kept my voice steady, despite the emotions I was feeling: I now was sure that my father-in-law had died by the hand of his own son, and that he’d tried to poison me, too.
“Ah, in that case, so you do not go blindly to your death, I will tell you––” He coughed, suddenly. Ever the gentleman, he excused himself, placing his hand over his mouth as he spluttered. “You will, in a few minutes, realise your fate. You were never right for my sister––”
“She accepted me.”
“––never right for this family.” He clapped a hand to his mouth. Dark droplets burst from between his fingers. “I––”
More coughing. His watering eyes widened––he’d realised suddenly that I’d somehow managed to switch the glasses. He coughed again, and a great gout of black liquid ejaculated from his mouth, covering his shirtfront and part of the table.
His last words, before his eyes rolled back into his head and his jaw dropped open, were: “What have you done?” He slumped forward.
And that was all.
I let him lie there for a moment, his face in a pool of his own vomit. After a few minutes, I leaned across to feel for the enfeebled pulse. When death finally gripped him, when his heart stopped, I thought I saw his eyes widen suddenly.
I dragged his lifeless body behind the plum tree and heaved it into the hole I’d dug there.
I made sure I was up well before the rest of the household, so that when Francesca awoke and asked for her “beautiful brother”, I was able to tell her that he’d been called back to Europe. I slipped her a sedative and explained that his girlfriend had called and had found herself in some sort of trouble with the locals –– urgent enough that he’d gone immediately, without time even to say goodbye. Such a loving brother was he that he hadn’t wanted to wake his sister.
“He’ll be back some day,” I assured her.
I was certain that with a few forged letters, I could convince her he’d decided to settle in Europe long enough for me to come up with another story.
As the fruit ripened in the plum tree, I noticed an odd, lumpy texture, and I wondered whether the poisoned Umberto’s presence in the soil had somehow infected the tree.
“Look at this one,” Franscesca called me. “It’s almost as if it has a nose and the beginnings of ears.”
Over the next days and weeks I tried to stay as close as possible, and made excuses that kept Francesca away, as those lumps developed into eyes, noses, mouths …
One of the plums had taken on the features of him who was buried beneath: I saw the long ears, the acquiline nose beginning to grow. But I saw that others, too, were developing along the same line: noses, ears, lips––beginning fairly generic, then gaining a resemblance to Francesca, to her father, the features I’d seen in photographs of their mother. And there was one, darkening as it grew, with my own face, it and Umberto’s scowling at each other from different twigs across an interval of only centimetres. Its relatively tiny ears, its small nose so distinct from the noses of the men in Francesca’s family, marked it as an outsider. One morning I checked, to find a strip torn from its side, dark juices dripping down into the soil, and a chunk of flesh hanging from its neighbour’s thick lips.
I wondered how soon my Francesca would recognise that something was amiss, and decided then and there that I should harvest the fruit. I crushed it in the shed with Eugenio’s old equipment and drained off the dark red juice.
I let it mature for months.
Meanwhile, several letters arrived from Umberto, and for every one received from her brother in the strained, jagged letters I was finding so difficult to reproduce, I pretended to posted two from her in return.
We were sitting in the late spring in our garden, enjoying the fruits of Eugenio’s labour. With Francesca’s brother removed from the equation–– conveniently, the sinking of a cruise liner in early winter, the deaths of hundreds of tourists, and a scandal over lax habits in keeping passenger lists, had helped to cover his disappearance––my wife, and by extension, I myself, had become quite wealthy. Late breakfasts and evenings of drinking in the orchard had made my life easier, and I went to the garage only one day out of every seven now.
“Excellent wine,” I remarked.
I’d broken out the last of the fruit wines to celebrate Francesca’s pregnancy. The apricot was bittersweet, but the plum was very good.
“Isn’t it, just?” Francesca smiled sheepishly, sipping delicately.
“Why that look?” I asked.
“I’ve been so sad at losing my father, at the disappearance of my brother. But we should be happy,” she conceded. “We have each other, and as long as you’re around I’ll need nothing else.”
“Nor I,” I agreed. At that, I felt a gulp of wine catch in my throat, and coughed.
“And very soon there will be another,” she said, patting her growing belly.
I’d warned her not to drink too much, but she was still on her first glass. I, on the other hand, had almost drained the bottle. I coughed again.
“Are you all right, darling?” she said.
“I’ll be––” Another cough, this time wracking my frame. Her face was swimming before me, making me giddy. I covered my mouth, but a spurt of black liquid escaped, and covered the edge of the table.
“Oh my God, Robert,” she said, rushing to my side.
I clutched my throat, gagging, and the whole world seemed to fade.
I woke hours later, something in my head beating a steady rhthym. My Francesca had somehow managed to drag me to our bed. As the room swam into focus, I threw up dark red wine on the silk sheets. And then I noticed, just beyond the pool of dark liquid, a small white hand, still clutching the sheet. On the floor lay my love, my wife: Francesca, my beautiful soulmate, her pulse gone, her body lifeless, and our baby, no doubt, dead with her.
The wine, poisoned by her brother’s rotting carcass, had taken my Francesca and my child, and had left me alone.
Noel Osualdini (pronounced Oswald-DEE-nee) is a member of the Australian Horror Writers’ Association (AHWA) and received honorable mentions for his entries into the 2013 AHWA Short Story and Flash Fiction Competition. He contributed to flash fiction anthology 100 Doors to Madness (Forgoten Tomb Press, USA), and has a story in forthcoming anthology Fear’s Accomplice(NoodleDoodle Publications, UK), due out in February. He has written non-fiction and worked on layout for public service staff magazines and newsletters, as well as college newspapers. Noel lives southeast of Melbourne with his partner Joanne and their four children.