Posts Tagged With: fantasy

Rowan Explains Herself (Part 8)

*Part 8*

Rufus settled into a plush settee and all their faces turned expectantly towards Rowan, who gaped her maw at them again, crossing her eyes into a horrifying expression. When their gazes remained constant, not even a flicker, she snapped her jaws together again and heaved out a sigh that sounded distinctly like a disaffected teenager.

“Fine,” she said. “Should I begin at my beginning or yours?”

Mara and Rolly looked at each other for a moment.

“Yours,” Mara said.

“Ours,” said Rolly.

They looked at each other again, and Mara laughed a little. “Start wherever you’d like, because honestly I don’t think either will be less interesting than the other and I don’t think we’re going anywhere for a while anyway.”

Bony shoulders shrugged. “Okay, mine then.” She wriggled herself around to get more comfortable, but as she wriggled a strange thing happened. She seemed to fill out her bony frame; the angles of her face became less severe, her head smaller, the cracks in her skin sealing together. As Mara and Rolly watched with increasing fascination, she became a normal looking, very pretty girl of probably fourteen or fifteen.

“So this is what I looked like about a hundred years ago,” she began. “Or, like, twenty probably. I dunno, time gets weird, so it feels like a hundred but it wasn’t.”

Rufus shook his head and smiled. “It wasn’t a hundred years ago, dear, it was seventeen years to be exact.”

“Longer than I was a real girl, then. So, seventeen years ago I looked like this. I know my name has always been Rowan, but some of the other details of my past have grown a little fuzzy. I know I lived with my mom, and my cat Zeus. I don’t really remember my dad. I don’t think anything bad happened to him, I think he just left or they got a divorce or something.”

She shrugged again. “I was never what you would call a happy or well adjusted child. I was, as my mother said, constantly prone to flights of fancy. It wasn’t fancy, though, that’s way too sugary of a word for it.” She paused for a moment, looking very human and sort of sad. “I saw things, all the time, things that weren’t really real. I would have these dreams, these god awful vivid nightmares. Horrid landscapes in lurid colors, with these brutish creatures everywhere. They tore each other apart, literally, they just, flung pieces of each other all over the place, they sprayed blood and guts across the sky like they were trying to paint it. I would wake up sweaty and crying, and fucking terrified. I had no idea then what this place was, I didn’t understand why my dreams always took me there, why I couldn’t ever just sleep and dream of fluffy fucking bunnies and unicorns like a normal kid. Never once did I ever remember a dream that wasn’t in the Nightscape.”

“How old were you when they started?” Rolly asked quietly. He was too familiar with nightmares to not be moved already by her story.

“I don’t really know. I think I first started really remembering them when I was about seven?” She looked to Rufus for confirmation. He nodded.

Mara spoke up. “Wait, how would you know when her nightmares started if she doesn’t?”

“It’s all in the Chronicle, dear. The Dreamer’s Chronicle. There aren’t many full-blooded humans who can or want to visit the Nightscape, and certainly far less who arrive there by accident. When this happens, I know of it immediately.” He held his hand up as Rolly started to speak. “I will tell you all about it, after Rowan’s story time is over.” He gestured for Rowan to continue.

“Okay. Well, so, it got to the point where I would do whatever I could so I wouldn’t fall asleep. My mom would put me to bed, and I’d sneak down to the kitchen and eat sugar and drink coffee, anything I could think of that would help me stay awake. She couldn’t understand why I was so tired all the time. I was doing even worse in school then I had been. Before I had just been bored and I didn’t care, but now I couldn’t understand what people were saying to me, I couldn’t think straight, I could hardly speak a coherent sentence.”

She looked up as Rufus walked over and held out a glass to her, with some sort of dark grey liquid in it and vague wisps of smoke floating from the top. She nodded her thanks.

“Everyone was concerned, confused, I think. I don’t know what the hell they thought. It never crossed my mind to talk about it. It’s not like anyone can help you to not have bad dreams, is what I figured, and I figured that’s all they were. No need to make myself weirder than I already was, and since I’d never heard anyone talk about anything even remotely along the lines of what I was going through, that’s what would happen. They’d think I was depressed or suicidal, or just plain bat-shit crazy. Why wouldn’t they? That’s probably exactly what it seemed like, from their point of view.”

“Then, one morning, when I woke up from a sleep I just couldn’t stop myself from falling into, the nightmares followed me. I was dreaming that I was being chased, that this time the creatures had seen me or scented me spying on them. They had roared their disapproval, spun themselves around, searching for the interloper. They weren’t, any of them, looking right at me so I don’t know how I knew, but I was so scared that I pissed my pants right there and ran for it, just went screaming, pinching myself, telling myself over and over again that it was a dream, wake up you idiot, wake the fuck up!”

She stopped abruptly and looked around. “It’s like it just happened,” she whispered. “I can’t remember what my mom smelled like or if my stupid cat liked having his ears scratched, but those foul disgusting sons of bitches are right there, in high definition.” She sighed. “So, anyway, I wake up and I’m on my living room couch and I really had pissed myself, which was revolting. I was so grateful to be awake and out of there that I didn’t really care too much, I just wanted to take a shower and change my pants. I stand up from the couch and, boom – hanging in mid-air in the middle of the dining room is this giant face, one of their faces. One lopsided eye and one battered eye socket, fangs sticking out over cracked lips, just a hole for a nose, shaped like a shovel. All by itself, one of them, in my house, in the real world.”

“It winked at me, and then it faded away, and I screamed. I screamed and screamed and screamed, until a neighbor broke down my back door and ran into the house. He shook me and called my name, he tried over and over again to find out what was wrong, but I just kept screaming. I heard sirens in the distance, figured they were coming my way, and still I couldn’t stop screaming. I screamed until I finally threw up all over that poor, scared man, and then I passed out.”

“That’s when Rufus came and found me.”

Categories: Fiction, The Dreamer's Chronicle | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

The Dreamer in his den (7)

*Part 7*

As the monolith dragged himself back into the dusty corners, presumably to find a broom and dustpan, Rowan gave Rolly a shove. He’d been rooted in place, only swiveling his head from Mara, to Rufus, to Galbreith’s retreating form, back to Mara. The shove brought him back to himself in a hurry.

“Fuck off,” he threw at Rowan, stepping forward and holding out a hand to pull Mara to her feet and into his arms. He brushed kisses against her temple, tightened his hold when he felt her shaking. She clutched at his arm, rather painfully, with one hand and reached up to massage the bruises on her neck with the other. “Are you okay baby?”

She nodded. “Yeah,” she answered in a hoarse whisper. “Fine. Hurts, though.” She coughed. “Like, shit, it really hurts. Ow.”

He rounded on Rowan. “Did you get your funnies, Rowan? You happy now?”

She lifted a shoulder, let it drop. “I’m never happy and that’s always funny. Not gonna say I’m sorry, if that’s what you’re waiting for. I told you he couldn’t kill her, so….” she let the word peter out, letting him know how much she didn’t care one way or the other.

“Ahem.” Rufus didn’t clear his throat, he literally said the word ‘ahem’. It probably would have been amusing under less dire circumstances. “Since you are already here, in my hallway standing idly with your Rowan, I suppose that you’ve got to take these last few all important steps and get some answers for yourself, yes?”

“Why do you keep calling her our Rowan?” Mara asked him.

Without answering, Rufus turned and disappeared into the gloom behind them, through a plain archway, plainly confident they would follow. He was right, of course, because how could they not?

They entered a cavernous room that was mostly empty, soaring ceilings, windows the size of a barn looking out into a dark night that probably wasn’t the one they were used to seeing. There was one cozily appointed corner, nestled away to their left. A fire burned merrily in greens and blues with licks of yellow to add light to the heat, and Rufus led them towards the furniture arranged around in a semi-circle, as oversized as the room that surrounded it.

Mara climbed onto the cushions of a sofa and turned to sit, legs sticking almost comedically straight out like a toddler sitting at the grown table. Rolly slid in beside her, and Rowan beside him. She returned his glare with a winsome smile, marred slightly by the blackened gums and slightly pointed teeth that he hadn’t noticed until they were nearly face to face.

He opted to look back towards Rufus rather than examine them more closely.

Three expectant faces were now staring at the man who stood, in a fancy purple dressing gown, holding his hands out to the flames, spreading his fingers until they bent almost backward. Fingertip by fingertip, they alighted, his hand a living, terrifying birthday wish in the making. He held them up under his chin as he pivoted to face them, backlighting his face into the grotesque visage of campfire horror stories everywhere.

“Welcome to your nightmare.” He paused for a moment. “Mwah-ha-ha.” He paused for another moment. “I try to pretend that I do that to be funny, but in truth I do wish that I was capable of maniacal laughter. No matter. The nightmare thing, however. This being your nightmare? That is reality. This reality, anyway, where it appears that your Rowan has brought you without your consent, and before I tell you what there is for me to tell you, I believe that first she should explain herself.”

Categories: Fiction, The Dreamer's Chronicle | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

The manse of Rufus (6)

*Part 6*

The question of whether Mara and Rolly wanted to walk closer to this provocatively terrifying apparition of a girl, let alone would like to go into the shadowy house behind her, was a moot one. Their feet were moving them while they clutched at each other, struck mute either from fear or some undoing, until they reached the bottom step. Mara’s foot shook with the effort of stopping its rise, but it landed where it was supposed to land, and she dragged Rolly with her as she climbed up to the porch.

From a slight distance, the girl had had a freakish yet human appearance. Up close, the case for a remnant of humanity was lost. The grey pallor of her skin was a translucent overlay to flesh of dead green matte. There were little flays in her neck, her arms, tiny little wisps of skin peeling up to reveal dark blue mottling underneath. Her eyes fired at them, pupils shaped like diamonds, flashing as she gestured them in.

They walked, and she followed. Through the oversized doorway, into a dank hallway that didn’t smell so much as permeate, down a hallway carpeted with a runner that probably would have been an amazing piece of artwork if there were time to really study it. Rolly studied the pattern as they traversed the narrow expanse towards an archway; there was a rendering of Death worked into the weave there, a bent and wracked naked man on his knees, a smiling woman clutching a baby to her chest, a child with a fiddle tucked up under his chin.

“It’s the Danse Macabre,” he said loudly. “Are you taking us to meet our Judge, then, Rowan?” He turned his head backwards as the rest of him was fairly insistent on moving forwards. “Are we to meet Death himself?”

She pirouetted, a knee bent at an unnatural angle, and let loose her crackling laugh again. “No, you’re not so important as that, Mr. Rolly, you’re only going to meet Rufus.” Her eyes darted over, watching Mara, who had gotten a few paces ahead of them.

“Rufus?” It sounded like the name of some vampire lordling in a badly written romance novel set in the Victorian era. “Who’s Rufus?”

“Wellll…” she drawled. “He’s my father.” Again her gaze drifted toward Mara, and the corners of her lips quirked into a sarcastic flash of a smile, there and gone in a flash.

“Uh, your father? Like, your natural biological father?”

“I’m an organic creature, you know, it isn’t as if I’m made of granite, now is it?” She laughed as if they had shared a joke, but if they had then Rolly wasn’t in on it, and he didn’t think it would have a pleasant punch line regardless.

At that, a granite hand shot out from a niche in the wall and clutched Mara by the throat. “Not so far as that, woman.”

She struggled to scream but had to be satisfied with mewling and clawing desperately as the fingers tightened around her neck. A fingernail snapped off, which hurt like a son of a bitch and made her angry, and it also brought tears brimming, and that made her angrier still. She stopped scrabbling at the rock and let herself go limp and dangling. There was a jerk, a ripping sound, a puff of dust, a noise like a plaster wall crumbling, and she dropped to her knees, although the fingers still gripped.

“You bitch!” said an angry voice as the gargoyle disengaged himself from the remains of his pedestal. “I have not climbed off that perch in almost a hundred years, and you, you upstart little asshole, you think you can just drag me out of it at your whim?” His voice unfolded decibels as his height unfolded feet, until he stood at least twice the height of a man, pulling her back to her feet, and past, up to her tiptoes, lifting until they were face to face and she dangled from boulders.

Rowan’s black-nailed fingers grabbed Rolly’s jacket and held him place with no apparent effort. “Don’t,” she said. “He won’t kill her, he’s not allowed. You he’ll hurt, he’ll hurt you til you wish he was allowed to. So. You know. Just don’t.”

“I’m not made of granite, am I,” he mimicked viciously. “What are you playing at? You obviously knew that was gonna happen. Is this some stupid tableau, is this your entertainment for the evening? Get your fucking hands off me.” He yanked her hands free and threw them back at her, turning back to the horrors in front of him. Mara’s face was getting more pissed off by the second, but it was also getting redder.

The gargoyle wouldn’t stop shaking her, punctuating every hurled insult with a neck snapping jolt. His stone face was nearly immobile except for his mouth, wide open, fleshless and fang-full. He berated her in a manner she could only call old-fashioned, except he left out most of the sexist bits since his main issue seemed to be her human nature and not her gender. Flakes from the curled horns carved into his forehead and wrapped around bat-like ears continually fell, a mini avalanche of floating motes in the air.

“You walk into my home, you walk in to my home and you breathe your stupid breath and contaminate my world, and then you pull me from my wall, force me to touch this ridiculous flesh that you call home!” Her head bobbed backward and forward; she bit her tongue, tasted blood, and wanted to cry maybe more than she’d ever wanted to let loose before.

“Stop, Galbreith. No more.” A sepulchral voice of authority that brooked no dissent. This was not a request.

Mara was immediately released, gasping and cursing and scrabbling backwards, away from the large granite legs carved with rounded muscles that turned and ground towards Rowan. He stopped in front of her, and Rolly, whose entire being itched to smash it to nothingness with a sledgehammer. While its head inclined ever so slightly in what was supposed to be a show of deference, grinding slabs of stone loosened from his shoulders and his back, a stop-motion unfurling of wings that was as grandiose a gesture as could be imagined. They were huge, six feet to the tip at least, and it took some time before the last feather slotted into place. The effect was so overwhelming that for a moment, Rolly forgot completely about Mara, wheezing in shaky breaths, still on the floor.

“Rowan,” it said. “I was doing nothing but my duty.”

“Who’s home is this, Galbreith? Is it yours?”

“It is not my home.”

“Where are we, Galbreith?”

“The manse of Rufus.”

“I thought that I heard you say that this is your home. Did you say that?”

“No, Rowan. This is Rufus’s home.”

She nodded. “Yes, this is Rufus’s home. If you would step aside, then, as we’re here to see him at any rate.”

If gargoyles could be said to smile, than this is what Galbreith did. “You are taking these two to Rufus, here in his home? Then I shall gladly step aside, and let him have at them. Good riddance,” he tossed at Mara as started to step away.

“Galbreith?” She waited until he looked back. “Go and find some cement somewhere and repair your pedestal. Sweep up the bits of yourself you so delicately shed all over the carpet, too. Do you understand me?”

“Oh, aye, I understand you Rowan. Now begone from my hallway before I decide that I no longer care what Rufus believes my duty to be.”

There was a discreet cough from the archway behind them all, the kind of discreet cough that is pointedly making a point about being a discreet cough but was in fact the opposite.

“Disloyalty and disobedience, Galbreith, really? I would not have expected this from you.” The rotund man with a bald head and a funeral director’s demeanor turned towards the rather motley crew before him, hands clasped over his belly. “I do apologize for Galbreith’s overzealous defense of my sanctuary, but it is his job, after all.” He threw a pointed glance at Rowan, who shrugged.

“Well, good evening, I suppose. I am Rufus, your Rowan’s father.”

****

Thank you Lindsey Stirling, for some otherworldly musical accompaniment tonight. Here, have a gargoyle 🙂
*updated to hopefully clarify some confusion*

Categories: Fiction, The Dreamer's Chronicle | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

The house that wasn’t there (5)

*Part 5*

She couldn’t have been more than ten feet away from them, the ravaged little girl with the dirty sneakers whose toes dug back into the porch to set the swing cricking. The wicked grin still split her face, and it wasn’t the wicked kind of grin that spoke of naughty but frivolous insouciance, it was the kind of wicked grin that said that wicked secrets were barely hidden behind it and if they jumped out and yelled boo you’d be far beyond startled.

Mara took an instinctive step forward while Rolly took one back. He grabbed for her arm and missed, grudgingly stepping forward with her. The closer they got, though, the wider the grin grew until it was a rictus of inhuman proportions and wicked transformed to grotesque. Mara shuddered, but took one more step. “Are you the one who was humming in our house?” she asked, almost demanded. “I heard you, just now.”

The girl’s mouth stretched ever wider and as the humming began again, her jaw unhinged, dropping almost to her chest while she tilted the top of her head up and back, creating a maw from which the sound emerged, faster and faster until it was one long incoherent buzzing. She stood, stick legs ramrod straight, arms stretching overhead, opening wide, encompassing their nightmare.

The buzzing set Rolly’s teeth on edge, rattled his brain in his skull, and frankly made him want to piss his pants. This was bad acid trip shit, this was not a random Thursday night dalliance less than an hour after he’d been peacefully sleeping after a rousing bout of love making. He felt a part of himself detach from the impossible reality in front of him and left the other part of him cowering in a corner, gibbering about demons and smelling of urine.

“Stop it!” he yelled, and boy did he mean it. If that unbearable sound continued for one more second he was going to lose his shit. Oddly enough, the girl stopped. A head still shaped like a badly peeled hard-boiled egg twisted around on her neck and those berserk eyes focused like lasers directly on his face. She croaked at them. “Welcome, Rolly. Welcome, Mara.”

The definition of the word and the circumstance in which it was delivered could not have been farther apart on the spectrum of meaning and intent. They were not welcome, this broken face said to them, they were interlopers of the highest regard. Here they were anyway, though, so she may as well play the game.

“Enough, I’ve had enough of this,” Mara stated. “You came to us, you came into our home, and you brought us out here. It was our bedtime, goddamn it! Now I’ve had ENOUGH of your SHIT!”

Crackling gravelly laughter rolled off a tongue that lolled out like a deflated balloon. Noise was still travelling differently; it reached the ears of the people meant to hear it, delivered directly and petering out to the sides, waves breaking against rocks. There was a lazy shimmer around the outline of the girl and, with no in-between, she stood before them, whole and unbent. Her body was that of an underfed 12 year old, and her head was cartoonish, perfectly round and too large for her neck. Giant, hollowed out black rimmed eyes took up half of her kitten shaped face and her mouth, when normal, was thin lipped and prone to sneering.

“My name is Marchessa. Marquisa? Francine. Francesca. Molly? I don’t know, I usually make one up on the spot, but I seem to be having difficulty settling at the moment.” The wicked grin flashed, snake in the grass fast. “What say you? What would you like to call me? No, not that, that’s not nice at all.”

Mara glanced at Rolly, who shrugged. “I thought Morticia Queen of the Damned was apt, sue me.”

“Kelly,” the girl decided. “For now, you may call me Kelly. Be warned, this may change at any moment and without prior notice or approval.” A pause. “No, Kelly’s stupid. I’ll be Rowan. Because it’s funny and ironic. Call me Rowan.” She held out a hand behind her and the front door opened, with a satisfying screech. “Would you like to come in?”

***

pssst…There be gargoyles in that there house…

Categories: Fiction, The Dreamer's Chronicle | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The dreadful, clammy night (3)

*Part 3*

“There’s nothing new to be gained by this perspective, Mar,” said Rolly quietly, his head still stuck out into the night. “We can’t see all that much and I still can’t hear shit.”

Mara was already pulling on a pair of jeans. “I know, baby. I wanna go outside anyway, I really need to see if there are any other people around. I really want to talk to another person.” She did a shimmy and a jump and even under the exigent circumstances, Rolly forever enjoyed that moment where she yanked her jeans over her ass. “It’s no offense to you, if you weren’t here I’d be a fucking basket case, I just want a stranger to tell me I’m not stark raving.”

Rolly grabbed a pair of sweat pants off the back of a chair and sat to drag them on. “You wouldn’t be a basket case. You’d be a She-Hulk until you got everything under control. Ha, then you’d spend a month hiding under the covers and be a fucking basket case.”

“So what do you think we’re gonna find out there?,” she asked. “I can’t even guess. Like, are we crazy, like right around the corner everything’s all light and life and hunky-dory? Is everyone gone? What if everyone’s gone?”

Stamping heels into tennis shoes and zipping up a hoodie, he shrugged. “Dunno. They either are or they aren’t.” He dragged a giant sports duffel from under the bed and threw it on top of it. “I, however, am going to go with the assumption that there is a chance that outside of these walls there’s unfriendly shit. So, you’re going to go grab our ball bats. I’m going to grab the big flashlight, fuck it, and the little one too, and a kitchen knife.”

Mar stopped short on the way to the hall closet. “Rolly, seriously, a knife?” She looked towards the window, where no sound or movement floated. “Okay, fine, yes, a knife. I’ll throw in a couple bottles of water and some crackers, because who knows, maybe we don’t get to come back in.” Breezy words for a terrifying possibility. “But we’ll still look totally normal, so if we are the ones who somehow both devolved into lunatics trapped in the same delusion, no one will even be able to tell.” She smiled brightly and spun on a toe.

Rolly was trying to be rational in an irrational situation, which was commendable but also very easy to get wrong. For instance, you couldn’t ever stop remembering that there was no logic to fall back on, it was all spur of the moment calculation that could be undone by single moment’s hesitation. Ball bats, knives, and flashlights were all very good, but would they actually do any good? There was no way to tell, and better at least a sense of bravado than cowering.

Mara came back into the room with an armful of supplies. She tossed them down onto the bed for Rolly to pack as the man approached the endeavor like a real life game of Tetris. He could somehow fit the ability to live for a week into a bag that size; it was a bizarre gift.

“Okay,” he said. “We’re ready. Let’s go.”

As they walked towards the front door, Mara cleared her throat. “Uh, Rolly, I feel like I should tell you that when I went into the kitchen I heard the humming again. It was by the door.”

He glanced sideways at her but didn’t slow his stride. “Did it sound like an invitation or a warning?”

“A what? An invitation?” She thought about it for a second. “I really don’t know that it sounded like anything other than humming. It was the exact same sound we heard before.” Now they were in front of the door and she stopped with her hand on the deadbolt. They waited and listened, but there was no more humming, nothing at all in fact, stopping them from stepping out into the corridor, but still they hesitated a moment longer.

She turned the deadbolt. They waited. She snicked the chain lock off. They waited. As she reached for the lock button on the door handle, the humming came again.

“Laa, lalala, lala, laaaa….”, fading away, not as if the hummer was walking farther away, but as if the hummer was disappearing.

“Warning?” Rolly asked again. “Or invitation?”

“Doesn’t matter,” answered Mara, and turned the knob. She re-locked the door from outside, unsure whether she was protecting what was inside or defending herself from it, and whether or not such feeble security mattered anyway. Nothing for it, now.

From their first few steps into the hallway, they knew immediately that they were in fact the ones who were crazy. At least they were in it together.

It wasn’t their hallway. There were no patterns on the wallpaper, or the carpet, whereas theirs had geometric designs woven in. The stairs at the end of the hall had disappeared, replaced by a flat plane that led directly to a large, double front door that they didn’t recognize. The monotonous color scheme was unrelieved. What could loosely be called light was coming from tacky electric candles in tacky art deco holders on the walls.

Mara stepped closer to one of them, peering closely at the crude details. “Ugh. It’s a face.” She pulled Rolly over and pointed. “It’s a face, like an outline of a face. It is a decidedly unhappy face.”

The face hewn into the candleholder was indeed not a happy face. Quite the opposite, actually, seeming to indicate extreme suffering with just a few lines. Foreboding, that was the word for it. It boded of foes. They stepped back and walked forward once more.

She caught him staring at her again, and stared back confused. Then she shook her head. “Just say it, you moron.”

That stupid grin. “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

“I’m glad you’ve got that out of your system, because we’re at the front door now, and our lot in life is not about to improve.” They both turned to look through the glass.

The world looked exactly as it had through their bedroom window. No color, no sound, no people. Nothing but mucky looking fog and bilious light from strangely shaped street lamps.

It wasn’t even their street anymore.

* * * *

Get ready for the real weirdness to start in the upcoming Part 4, There’s nobody here but us chickens. Haha, I don’t think that’s what I’m gonna call it, but it would fit and it made me laugh….

Categories: Fiction, The Dreamer's Chronicle | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

…but how do you know when you wake? (2)

(Direct continuation of One can always dream…)

“Well, we have to go investigate.” Rolly’s grin was a little sickly this time around, but he was game.

Mara, not being the type to not go looking, with an aluminum ball bat over one shoulder, for what went bump in the night, agreed. “We’re turning on every damn light as we go, though.” They didn’t exactly creep into the living room, but it was a near thing. They stopped a few steps in. “So, what are we looking for?”

“Uh, cold spots or moldy looking stains on a wall? Shit. I don’t know.”

“Yeah, well, all I know about ghosts and whatnot I learned from watching the same movies as you, so I don’t know. I can’t think of anything else, unless you wanna try to rig up an EMF meter from a remote control car or something.”

“Dude, I couldn’t even fix the toaster.”

Having reached the end of their paranormal store of knowledge, there was nothing left for it but to start. They turned on every light, opened every door and cabinet and cupboard. Mara took a deep breath, fighting a childhood terror of what might be hiding behind the shower curtain, and yanked it back with enough force to pop off one of the plastic hoops. Even though she hadn’t been expecting anything, she still shuddered out a relieved breath when she found the tub empty.

They defied every horror movie trope and stayed together as they cleared the two-level apartment of any odd goings-on. The bedroom they saved for last, standing in the doorway, shoulder to shoulder, leaning in just enough to look around. “So.” Mara nudged him. “Here we be.”

“Yup, here we be.”

Mara took two running steps and jumped up on the bed from a few feet away. “Monsters under the bed gonna grab me!” she yelled. Then she dropped down to her knees and began sniffing at the blankets and the pillows like a dog.

“The fuck are you doing, Mar?” Rolly asked as he followed her into the room.

“We haven’t seen anything, haven’t felt anything, haven’t heard anything. I was seeing if you could smell something. Isn’t there a thing about sulfur, like you smell it if you’re being haunted?”

“No, that’s demons, you can smell sulfur if there’s demons. I thought you could smell oranges or something.”

Mara laughed. “No, you smell oranges if you have the Shining, Jacky Boy. Doesn’t matter though,” she added as she crab-walked off the other side of the bed. “I can’t smell anything.”

Rolly was peering into the little half-bath off their room, peeking behind the door, looking under the sink. Nothing. He started to turn away, but looked back and walked a few steps closer to the mirror. In the bottom corner, there was a small, smudged fingerprint. Way too small to belong to his hand, or to Mara’s. “Hey, Mar, come here a sec please.”

“I think you should come here first,” she called back. “Like, now would be cool.” Her voice was more confused than frightened, but you could hear the note of hysteria surfing right under that sound wave. “Yup, right now.”

She was standing by the window, a crooked finger pulling down a slat of the blinds, looking out onto the street. Something outside had her more freaked out than anything that had happened so far because the eyes she turned towards Rolly as he crossed the room were huge and stark. She stepped back to let him walk up and take her place.

It was black outside. Not just plain black though. Hulking trees on lawns were solid black with watery black shadows and shades of grey leaves; the light spitzing from the street lamps was a silvery-grey, all the same mono-chromatic color scheme, like a black and white photograph. The world wasn’t static like a photograph though. There was a haze that blurred the corners of things, and a thin fog was snaking along the ground, as far as he could see.

The humming came from directly behind them this time.

Mara spun around faster than thought and caught just a glimpse, around knee level, of an amorphous shape that faded even as she tried to mentally record details. Her heart was pounding and she flattened her palms against the wall behind her, leaving sweaty palm prints. “Holy shit holy shit holy shit.” She bent over, hands on her knees, taking deep breaths until her tunnel vision began to widen again.

Rolly slumped on the floor at her feet, doing some deep breathing of his own, keeping an eye out in case she got dizzy. What he had seen outside the window had unnerved him even more than that stupid fucking humming. It was the same street view he’d seen for the past five years, everything where it belonged, and all of it so incredibly wrong. He sat up suddenly, and realized that the major underlying cause for his growing unease was the lack of noise.

He stood again, turning back to the window. They lived on a block full of apartment buildings, shops, fast food joints, there was always noise, always. Right now, there was nothing. “Mar, I really can’t begin to explain any single thing that is happening right now. I’m tweaked out a little bit, here.” He looked out again, looking more closely at the fog. It undulated in swirls and whorls, snaking under and around and over a bench at the little corner park. It didn’t seem to be dissipating at all, though, as if it had no intention of just blowing through town.

“Right. We’ve gotta open the window.”

“Rolly, are you one hundred percent that’s what we have to do? Because I’m not one hundred percent.” She growled at herself and turned around. “We do gotta, of course we gotta, we gotta open the window because some batshit shit is happening and we’re here and we one hundred percent gotta.”

So she opened the window.

Rolly pulled the cord and drew the blinds all the way up, and they stood for a moment watching through the screen. There were still no sounds, no cars stopping and starting and blatting their horns, no doors shutting or cop sirens. A skitchy sound, an under-sound, he couldn’t think of any other way to describe it, seemed to carry flatly on a breeze that he couldn’t feel. He clicked the latches on either side of the frame and slid the screen up so he could stick his head out into the air.

Mara made a little noise in her throat at his side, grabbing onto his shirt and wrapping it around in her fist. He glanced over. “Hey baby, if some crazy ass flying gargoyle comes out of nowhere and tries to yoke you up I’m not letting you go without a fight.”

“Really Mara? A gargoyle?”

“You telling me you think that’s out of the realm of possibilities at the moment? Whatever, fuck you, I’m holding on. Look.” She held on tighter, bent her knees and braced herself, just in case.

Gargoyles. Jesus. He planted both hands firmly on the windowsill and leaned out into the night.

*****

Part 2 of a story inspired by my dude telling me that he was getting sick and tired of me humming like a creepy little kid in my sleep.

Categories: Fiction, The Dreamer's Chronicle | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Fab Four Fables – A Merchant in Oria Part 3

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This is the third installment in February’s Fab Four Fables. David started us off with a fantasy tale that left it open for the story to take many different directions – read his here: http://scholarlyscribe.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/fab-four-fables-a-merchant-in-oria-part-one/. Eric used his in depth fantasy background to further the adventure here: http://sinistralscribblings.com/2013/02/08/a-merchant-in-oria-part-two-a-fab-four-fable/. Now, to continue our tale of humans and dwarves and trolls, I offer you this. I hope it is as enjoyable to read as it was to write because I had a hell of a lot of fun. SAM at www.frommywriteside.wordpress.com will use her talent to bring Kheldar’s story to a close.

As Kheldar was marched out of the town via a path that barely deserved to be called one, he tried to concentrate on his biggest problem. Trolls. The Dwarves had made a treaty with the Trolls! They were going to turn him over to the Trolls for who knew what nefarious purpose. A snack? Slave labor? Sport? And yet…this uncertain future paled in comparison to his current predicament. He was being prodded along, wearing nothing but his small clothes. Kheldar, who couldn’t bathe with the other merchants and only changed behind hastily erected partitions when the need struck on the road, was being pushed along in his under things. His horror at this continually overlapped his greater terror at being Troll fodder.

A rough voice sniggered as Kheldar attempted to keep his sensitive bits hidden behind his hands as he walked. “A shy little lamb of a human, huh?” the guard clumping along slightly behind his right shoulder asked.

“They are my bits,” Kheldar responded primly. “Just because you force me to walk in shame doesn’t mean that I have none.” Where did that come from? He told himself frantically to shut up, not to taunt his keepers, think before he spoke, all the rules of survival he could think of but himself was apparently out of body. “How do you keep your honor, Hammers of Moridin, when you do business with stone devils?”

“Stone devils pay well and keep you treaty breaking lying weak willed sacks of skin out of our mines, so don’t you worry about what we higher races do, filth,” said the guard on his left, clouting him on the side of the head without heed to the directive of non-harming imposed by Dahn.

Kheldar stumbled but to his own surprise kept his feet, danced clumsily around the rim of a wide hole in the ground from which sad and guttural wailings arose. He tried to peek in, to see what sorry creature made such noises, and had his ear twisted for his trouble. He shook the hand off as he would a bite-me. “Bah! Why do you care if I see what fate awaits me?” He slowed for a moment and looked back at his captors. “What do you mean, treaty breakers? I know of no treaty broken between human and dwarf.”

A smile that did not enhance the squat features spread wickedly across left-hand guard’s face. “Ask your father.” He shoved at Kheldar with his boot, knocking his feet out from under him and sending him sliding down a steep incline into one of the many other holes in the ground. The smell was ferocious and the ride was rough, dumping him out at the bottom onto a floor covered with waste and slime.

He looked up and up to the pinhole of light at the top of the shaft and saw stupid face, as he had come to think of him, lean over and grin a stupid grin. “Oh yes Kheldar, we know exactly who you are.”

****************

For as slowly as the next few cycles of the sun passed at the bottom of Minesink 42, Kheldar did a lot of fast thinking. Firstly, he had to let go of his childhood fantasies of the glories of the Dwarven kingdom. An entire lifetime of daydreams, up in smoke like the still sinister column of black that continually darkened a corner of what sky he could see. He wept, just a little, as is befitting the death of a dream, and then let it go. The little bit of softness that remained of youth burned off as he was ‘exercised’, which consisted of random and sarcastic dwarves dropping a rope down the shaft for him to climb up to receive his one bucket of gruel and better left unknown gristly bits per day. He kept his eyes averted, his mouth closed, and his shoulders bowed. When his gorge wanted to rise, he forced it down, eating and shimmying back down to his pit without complaint.

This morning was different. He shaded his eyes with a callused palm and saw that it was Right Hammer Dahn himself peering down at him. “Come,” said the pompous little Dwarf, resplendent in his robes and trinkets, yet no longer the grand figure that Kheldar had once perceived him to be. “It is time for your journey to Gormadth.”

As his hands grasped the flung down rope, one over the other without thought, a little voice of panic yammered away in the back of his skull. Trolls. Trolls! He had never wanted to meet any trolls, had harbored no desire for a face to face with one of the eldest Earthen tribes, terrifying and stupid and cruel. Of course, he had thought the Dwarves would be enlightened and welcoming, so assumptions weren’t always to be trusted. Seeing as there had never been a tale told of a friendly Troll or a meeting with them that did not result in any humans who weren’t quick enough to get away ending up in the cookpot, Kheldar felt comfortable in his belief that he most definitely did not want to meet them.

Their journey out of Oria began without ceremony, although plenty of its inhabitants took time out for a little peer and jeer. There were six in the party, and one cart to carry food and drink. Kheldar’s own oxen were hitched to the cart; he surreptitiously scratched behind the ears of the abused looking animals as he walked past and they lowed in response, tired eyes rolling in their heads. Anger bubbled like a sick stew in his stomach.

A rope was fastened into a loose fitting noose around his neck and tethered to the back of the cart, his hands bound in front of him. They had given him an ugly dung colored tunic, but no leggings, and some soft strips of cloth to tie around his feet. He still felt exposed but could no longer be bothered to care about it very much.

The dark and oppressive forest waited just around the corner; their entire passage to Gormadth would be through the Stragnon Woods. The thought turned Kheldar’s bowels to water, and so he opted instead to ponder what they had meant when they told him to ask his father about human treaty breakers. His father had always been an upstanding man, forthright and honorable. Kheldar himself had found him to be so, and had never heard a harsh word spoken against him amongst their tribe or any of the merchants on the trade routes he had worked these past years. Very puzzling, indeed.

As he turned things over in his mind, the procession took its first steps into the murk. In a blink the sky became barely visible through the canopy of oversized sickly green leaves far overhead, sound became a muted buzz, and even the Dwarves walked a little taller, which wasn’t all that tall, and swiveled their heads from side to side incessantly.

Time passed, the scenery didn’t seem to change all that much and Kheldar’s exhaustion numbed him. Until he heard the voice. He had been shambling along behind the cart, eyes on the ground in front of him, thinking of nothing but the next step. His rear guard had become lax in his duty, whistling and carelessly swinging his axe head at the grass, glancing around every so often. The voice whispered inside Kheldar’s head. “Look at the axle.”

Kheldar looked. The cart had been shoddily repaired at some point, he realized, and the axle jumped with every turn of the wheels, loose in its mooring. His heartbeat sped up, just as the voice reverberated inside his mind with a bone tingling yell. “Run!”

Kheldar grabbed his lead rope with both hands and yanked with every ounce of strength that he had left. The axle popped loose, the cart canted to its side, and Kheldar bounded away into the forest dragging it with him. He leaped over a stagnant crick and crashed through the undergrowth, all the while fighting the noose around his neck with his hands. He finally ducked out of it and left rope and axle amid the high grass, fleeter of foot without it dragging him down. He ran heedlessly deeper into the darkness.

*******************

Hours passed, and Kheldar finally stopped. He slumped against an enormous tree trunk and slid to the ground, bone weary. He couldn’t have run any further had the very hounds of Damascar been at his heels.

In a clearing a few feet away, a circle of boulders watched him closely. What one would have mistaken for cracks in weathered rock became a mouth which issued forth the same voice that had commanded Kheldar to run. “I believe that it is he,” it grumbled. “Regardless, any that we can save from this fate deserve it to be so.”

Mossy growths peeled away from the other boulders, became questing arms that dragged their bodies across the grass to peer more closely at the now sleeping and disheveled form. A gravelly murmuring arose as they contemplated the possibilities. “He looks too young.” “He looks weak, but he has survived this long with his spirit intact.” “It could be him.” “It cannot be him.”

The largest of the boulders among them waved a mossy tentacle like arm in the air. His craggy mouth opened and they all paused in their quiet bickering to attend. “I believe that it is he.”

*********************

The rules of the Fab Four Fables are simple:

– There is no time or word limit, and it cannot be combined with any other prompt or meme

– You have to keep the same title and stay within the genre chosen

– The next writer will not know who they are until the previous installment is posted, unless you’re the last one in which case your powers of deduction should have tipped you off 😉

– Use a picture that fits with your story at the top of the post

Take it away SAM!

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Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

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