Category Archives: Tragedy

A Beginning in the End pt. 21

Arabella                                                                                                               2020/1/6

I was so shook up last night that I couldn’t write about what happened yesterday until now. I still do not know if it was not my mind playing cruel tricks on me. All reason tells me that there cannot be another living human here. It has to be my sick mind messing with me, it has to be.

But then again, what if it is not? What if he is really here in this town with me? I feel like a coward and an idiot for running away yesterday but I couldn’t help it. An all consuming fear overcame me when I laid eyes on him, a terror derived from the possibility that he was not actually there, a potential truth I was not willing to face. I don’t think either my mind or I will be able to survive the disappointment if he is nothing more than an illusion. I will break.

Never-the-less I cannot leave matters as they stand. Despite the fear I must go back downtown and try to find him. It is all or nothing now and I just pray that for once it is not all in my head.

Later

Just as I said I would, I went back to the main street, took a seat on one of the benches still intact, and waited. I sat there for several hours, time dragging as the sun leisurely sailed across the sky. My fear increased with every changing shadow and as afternoon descended it slowly took my hope with it.

I remember rising from the bench, the tears pricking at the corner of my eyes and a sense of utter betrayal and despair encroaching on me when something moved in my peripheral vision farther down the street. I almost didn’t dare to turn, I didn’t want to know. I took my time, my heart racing on the precarious cliff between ecstasy and despair.

The world stopped. A short way down the street stood the man, young and tall with messy, jet black hair. Dark eyes watched me, set in a face defined by a harsh world. That same world had dictated the svelte build of his body, muscular but lean.

I froze, unable to move as the figure approached me, afraid that if I so much as breathed he would vanish. Those dark eyes locked onto mine. I quelled the urge to run again but only with great difficulty. It seems ridiculous but it took everything I had to remain where I stood. My entire body began to tremble at the possible presence of another human being. I hadn’t seen or heard from another creature like me in so long that, contrary to all expectations, I was honestly afraid.

Ye,t even in my fear, I saw as he stopped in front of me that he was a truly handsome man, rugged from living in this harsh world but none the less he had natural good looks that had managed to survive their fair share of circumstantial cruelty. He wore what appeared to be military clothing, not too old judging by their condition. Some of his hair was pulled back in a short ponytail that left the rest to messily frame his face.

His eyes were penetrating and thoughtful, trying to infiltrate my mind although I am sure identical thoughts were rushing through our minds. Both of us were attempting to discern if what was before our eyes could possibly be more than a broken psyche.

Disbelief and curiosity were apparent in his every aspect. I could barely breathe under his intense gaze and yet almost without thinking I reached out and brushed my fingertips against his cheek. His skin was cool under my touch. I felt him shudder, almost start at the contact. I couldn’t help but nearly start as well . In that moment we both realized that we were either hopelessly insane or the other person actually existed. More than anything, more than being truly convinced by our senses, I think we both chose the only option we could, that reality was what we saw and felt.

I withdrew my hand and opened my mouth so speak but no sound emerged. My voice had died in my throat. In the end it was he who spoke first, revealing a deep, baritone voice.

“My name is Logan,” he said, his voice strained and odd from a period time of disuse, “what is yours?”

It took me a several tries to bring my own voice into the air. “My name is Arabella,” I finally half stammered.

Another moment of silence passed between us before he said, “I can’t believe I’ve found another living human being.”

“Me either,” I said, the excitement of finally speaking to another person breaking through the relative shock of the situation. My heart began to race as it dawned on me that I was no longer completely alone. I was not the last human alive, this man called Logan survived with me.

“Is it just you?” he asked, momentarily diverting his eyes from mine to glance around.

I nodded in solemn regret. “It’s just you and me,” I said. “I’ve been on my own for months now.”

“Me too,” a melancholy frown moved bent his mouth. “I was afraid that I was the last man alive. I had begun to suspect that I was doomed to wander this broken land alone until I die.”

“I have been feeling the same,” I replied as a smile crept onto my lips for the first time in a longer span than I cared to calculate. “What are you doing here? Can you not find a safe place to stay either?”

He shook his dark head, “I’ve been wandering since the world fell. This is the safest place I’ve found since the last military stronghold was decimated.”

I was right to conjecture that he’d had dealings with the former military. “This is the safest place I’ve ever been,” I said, sitting down on the bench once more and motioning for him to sit beside me. “These people had a plan and I have a feeling we can be safe here, at least for a little while.”

He sat down beside me and turned his gaze up to the clear sky. “Do you know what happened to them?” he asked, giving me a curious glance.

“I found a journal telling the story,” I answered and proceeded to give him my condensed version of the tragic tale.

“interesting,” he muttered to himself. “This barricade isn’t anything remarkable although it is well constructed. I wonder what really kept them out?”

“What do you mean?” I asked sensing that Logan was a man of vast knowledge where defense and combat against the monsters was concerned. Anyone who had survived so long  had inevitably been through a good deal and had to possess a great wealth of knowledge through sheer experience alone. I know I do.

He continued lost in thought for another long moment before answering, “Granted these people had forethought but with enough time and numbers those things could have gotten through. Yet they don’t even seem to have attacked which is what confuses me. I’m going to take another look.” He leaped up from the bench and sprinted for the barricade. I followed, my curiosity roused and I refused to lose sight of him.

He leapt up the barricade and peered over the other side. “As I thought,” he said after dropping back down, “there is no sign of assault of any kind on the barricade. What kept them out if not that?”

“I don’t know,” I answered unhelpfully, trying to follow his train of thought.

“They didn’t want in,” he remarked, striding away from the barricade and back towards the center of town. “They didn’t actually have any interest in entering in the first place. I wonder why?”

“Is it important,” I asked.

“It might be,” he shrugged, “but for now I think the question can wait. I would much rather spend time with another intelligent creature than try to solve riddles.”

I smiled for only the second time in months. We went back to the house I had taken up residence in and had something to eat. We just talked, loving the sound of each others’ voices and the exchange of rational thought. As night fell we decided that we didn’t want to separate so he took the upstairs bedroom.

I’m writing this before going to sleep happier than I have been in such a long time. This is as close to peace as I think I can get in this life. I am not alone anymore.

 

Dymphna.

 

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Diana

Diana had disappeared when Rose was eleven, vanished out of the blue never to be seen by her family again. Rose remembered that day with more clarity than anything else in her life. She remembered waking up and finding Diana’s bed empty. There had been nothing particularly odd about that but the feeling that washed over her, the sense of dread and impossible sorrow was like nothing she had ever known before. Somehow she had known that Diana was gone before there was evidence of anything more than an early morning for her sister.
She had crept downstairs, hoping to find her sister in front of the T.V or searching for something to eat. The sun was just below the horizon, waiting to peek over the far hills. It was the murk before the dawn, the darkness ever so slightly beginning to lose its pitch black nature. Never-the-less she could only see shapes as she tiptoed down the stairs, instinct and habit commanding that she refrain from waking her parents.
Anxiety contracted her heart, making it race as the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach grew at an alarming rate. Every step took her deeper into the well of foreboding that had started in her own bed at the cusp of waking. Her limbs began to tremble and she wanted to cry as she stepped off the last stair and faced the empty dark hallway. Pitch black darkness reached searching fingers through the cracked doors, threatening to grab her and pull her into oblivion.
Rose stayed in the middle of the hall, treading silently on the thick rug that stretched down the floor like the tongue of some hunting monster just waiting for the right moment to swallow its helpless prey. The air was laden, an atmosphere of tragedy pressing in upon the little girl as she crept through the near darkness.
Her eyes were wide in anticipatory fear, bright little orbs straining for any sign of her beloved sister. She remembered in acute clarity years later the utter terror that gripped her heart as she neared the kitchen, the foyer, and the front door. She did not know why but she was drawn to the door, knowing that she would find something wrong, something that had to do with Diana. Diana. Her lip trembled as a fresh wave of that absolute sorrow swept over her.
The doors on either side seemed to lead into a black nothingness, the rooms that she had once known no longer existing there. Complete silence reigned, deafening, pressing in on her ears with the heavy weight of deep water. She felt as though she was both suffocating and drowning simultaneously, her little lungs barely able to draw breath. Her tiny pink lips parted as she forced herself to take the most even breaths possible.
The kitchen was a strange landscape, cold hard floors, gleaming counters scrubbed spotless and the unnervingly silent refrigerator. The entire house was engulfed in a hungry, heavy silence that was not the absence of sound but the death of it. The silence consumed every last noise, neutralizing it, strangling the life from it before the first breath of a scream could be birthed.
Rose crept across the kitchen, her heart racing, feeling that something monstrous was going to emerge from every cupboard. The house was waiting, holding its breath. Rose was the only thing that moved, even the pulse of the house having ceased. She was the only thing that dared to break from the mold of motionlessness despite the fear of whatever waited near the door.
She crept into the living room, feeling as if she were walking into the belly of the monster. The air pressed down heavier than ever and she recognized it with her child’s mind as the presence of indescribable evil. It forced itself down her throat and into her lungs so that she could only take weak, shallow breaths. All she wanted to do was run, to either curl up in a defensive ball and ignore everything or run for her father but she could do neither. She felt pulled towards the front door, compelled to go see what waited for her there.
Not only that but her love for Diana drove her on, one frightened child to face the unknown in the dark. Her bare feet shuffled across the carpeted floor, crying out as they stepped onto the cold tile of the foyer. It sent chills up her spine and her entire body shuddered. If it was possible the silence seemed even more complete as she crept around the corner. She knew that whatever had invaded her home and disturbed her sister was waiting in the doorway for her. It wanted her to see it, it wanted her to remember the horror of it until the day she died.
Tears gathered in the girl’s eyes, threatening to spill down her cheeks as the fear engulfed her mind and body. She barely held herself back from crying but even that was only by virtue of the all consuming fear that wracked her soul. Her limbs were cold and her heart raced with all the speed it could muster. She felt faint but she had to turn that corner, Diana was there she was sure and in trouble. How she knew such a thing she could never have said but it was as obvious to her as the sky was to anyone else.
Facing a fear that most people could never dream of, she stretched out her small foot and inched her body along the wall. It was waiting for her, staring in her direction through the darkness. She could feel the vile stare, the horrid eyes of some unknown evil watching her, waiting. If only it wasn’t expecting and waiting she could have practically sprung around the corner but it was watching and in some ways that was the worst part.
Breathing was nearly impossible as she slipped her hand around the corner of the wall. She felt the thing growing impatient and she knew she had to force herself into the open, stand and face the thing that waited. Choking back a sob she stepped out into the open, revealing herself to the monstrosity standing in the doorway.
Not even in the depths of her worst nightmares had her overactive imagination conceived of something so absolutely horrifying. She felt sick as her eyes met those of the abomination waiting on the threshold of her home. Her stomach heaved but somehow she managed to force the sickness back, unable to take her eyes from the thing.
Her vision spun, the monstrosity grinning the most disgusting mockery of a smile that she was sure had ever been formed. It was an emaciated creature, vaguely humanoid, with over long limbs standing about nine feet tall. It was hunched over at the time but Rose could tell that it was a giant in height. It was gaunt, the skin stretched tight over the bones. There was no hair on its head and it seemed to be missing its nose entirely. There were merely two holes in its head that sat above a freakishly large mouth. As it grinned the mouth literally reached from ear to hear, revealing large sharp teeth. Yet it wasn’t even the horrific smile that was the most terrifying thing about the monster; it was the eyes that shot her veins full of terror. They were enormous and round, luminous in the dark with giant pupils, bloodshot and piercing. They watched her with such a deep, gleeful malice that Rose was sure it must have learned from the devil himself how to hate.
She nearly fainted as she looked into those eyes. The fact that its fingers were nearly claws, the translucent quality of its skin, and the lack of ears only registered in her subconscious to be remembered in painful detail later on. Those eyes and what it held in its arms commandeered all of her attention the moment after her eyes first landed on the creature.
The thing was holding Diana, suspending her in one long thin arm. It held her against its skeletal body that was clothed in the remains of a ragged suit long out of fashion. The girl was completely unconscious from fear just as Rose nearly had been moments ago. It all passed when she saw her elder sister held in the arm of some completely vile abomination.
Anger boiled deep down within her, shunting some of her fear back and letting a minute bit of courage to pass through. It rose up inside her more like a butterfly, the delicate creature that dares to emerge from its cocoon despite how easily it can be crushed, than a lion or even a dog. She felt it flutter up into her heart, her back straightening and her eyes narrowing towards the monster.
Its grin widened and it seemed to find her tiny display of bravery amusing. Rose scowled at the thing although she was still trembling uncontrollably and she wanted to call for her parents. She knew it would do no good even if she could force her voice out; the thing would vanish before her parents could get there. It did not mean to be seen by them, only by her. It wanted her to know it had taken her sister.
Rose glared into its eyes as it hoisted Diana into a better grip and without a sound turned and stepped into the darkness outside. The sun would come up in just a few minutes and Rose sensed that it could not roam in the light of day. It was a creature of the night and it had taken her sister. Her hands clenched into fierce little fists as the utter helplessness and desolation washed over her in a succession of increasingly violent waves.
She collapsed to her knees on the floor, the physical pain nothing in comparison to the agony in her child’s heart. She was too overcome by fear and sorrow to even cry. She collapsed on her side and passed out.

 

Hi! This is the first few pages, the prologue sort of, to a new story I’m working on. I have been reading some brilliant short horror stories online and was inspired to attempt writing short horror fiction of my own only it didn’t work, my characters developed and it couldn’t remain within a few pages. 🙂 Feel free to comment and tell me what you think.

Dymphna

Death of Icarus

Thick black smoke twisted into the sky, filling the air with the stench of burning things. Veera watched as the roof caved in on the only home she’d ever known. Sparks flew, catching some of the dry grass close by. Most of the meadow wouldn’t burn though. The ground was frozen, dirty snow left in drifts, filling the hollows she had once played in.

Veera spun around and stalked toward the cliff that curved around the edge of the meadow. Her soot-blackened wings quivered with repressed tension as she stood, facing the thousand-foot drop below.

“Veera, wait,” Cody’s voice, followed quickly by Cody himself sliding to a stop next to her.

“Don’t try to stop me,” Veera said.

“I’m not trying to stop you. I’m coming with you,” Cody said. Veera turned to look. The gangly sixteen-year-old was already dressed in his hunting gear, rifle slung across his back, pockets stuffed with ammo, skinning knife in belt, hover board in hand. He even had her knife belt with him.

“I can travel faster on my own,” Veera said.

“They were moving fast, they might be in the city by now. You’ll need me to track them.” Cody dropped his board, clipped his foot in, and pushed off for the cliff edge. Veera took off and caught the straps they had long ago sewn to his outfit. Her wings groaned with the added weight, but between the two of them they had enough control to avoid the random rocks and trees and make it to the ground safely. Veera touched down and folded her wings as best she could.

“I am not your personal parachute you know,” she growled.

“Miranda was my sister, I have as much a right to their blood as you do. Now let’s go.” Cody shot forward on his hoverboard, leaving Veera little choice but to take off and follow.

They traveled hard and fast, dangerous, the way Cromwell had hated. Both tried not to think of him. Both tried to forget the screams that had echoed through the valley the day before. Veera dodged between trees, pushing her flying ability to the limit as she trailed Cody, who was leaning low over his board, making the kind of split-second turns only he could do.

They startled a herd of deer around mid afternoon, but neither of them turned to chase. They were hunting larger game, game that had almost a day’s lead on them already. Already it was growing dark in the valley. Days were short this late in December, shortened further by the towering mountains that surrounded them. Veera broke free of the trees and gained altitude. She tapped her earpiece to turn it on.

“Slow up while I scout ahead,” she whispered.

“Stay in contact,” Cody answered. Veera watched from above as he spun his board 360 and stopped. He’d be ok for a few minutes. Veera angled her wings and started spiraling out, eyes scanning the forest below  for any sign of danger and any place to spend the night. Already her hawk vision was growing useless though. She wasn’t an owl, not even close. And it was cold. She could feel her wings already starting to lag as the battery froze, and the altitude wasn’t helping. She took one more turn and spotted a clearing just big enough for a campsite.

“West about five minutes. I’ll meet you there, gotta land,” Veera said.

“Copy that,” Cody answered. Veera folded her wings and plummeted toward the clearing.

Cody stopped his pacing and turned to orient himself. He hadn’t been paying much attention to direction throughout the day, except to know that they were roughly paralleling the road that ran out of the valley. It guided him, he knew that the killers were using it, but there was no way he’d ever step foot on it. Cody found the setting sun and started up his board. Slower now than before, darkness fell fast up here. And they’d need a fire, even from that short time of inaction he could feel his core temperature dropping. Hopefully Veera had found water. They’d need to hunt soon too – both had been too much in a hurry to pack well. If Cromwell could have known he’d have killed them both – after yelling for half an hour. Miranda… Miranda wouldn’t have said anything. She never could accuse. Cody wiped his eye. Must have run into a branch in the dark, causing it to tear up.

Delving the Deep. Chapter I

            The deafening crash of thunder, coupled with the sound of the heavy oak doors banging open, forced everyone in the room to look up from their drinks, books, and games as the outline of a man was framed against the storm outside. As the man staggered in, rainwater and blood mingled and dripped to the floor from his cloak, trailing a crimson path behind him as he struggled to maintain his footing.  His clothes were torn to shreds, his armor in pieces, and one of his boots was completely missing, as were two of his toes.  His eyes stared wildly about the room as he gasped for air.  Fear, anger, shock, and disbelief played across his face in a rapid and violent dance as he stared around the room like a wild man.  Several of the men in the room leapt to their feet and ran towards him, concern in their faces as they asked: “Are you alright Roin?  What happened?  Where is everyone else?”  Roin opened his mouth, twice, trying to say something before he finally managed to gasp out on his third attempt: “I… I failed.”  With that, his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he collapsed to the floor in a crumpled heap, too quickly for anyone to try and arrest his fall.  As he hit with a sickening thud, a small, odd shaped emerald stone rolled out of his hands and came to rest a few feet from the unconscious man, almost unnoticed by everyone in the room as cries for a healer went up, unheard by Roin whose mind had drifted to a dark place free of pain, misery, or memory.

 

            That had been three weeks ago and now, Roin was in his infirmary ward, tapping his foot impatiently as a man reached his hand out towards Roin and closed his eyes.  After a few moments, the man lowered his hand and said: “Your body is healed up now, but your mind is still shattered.  If you truly wish to leave you may, but if you stay I might be able to bring back your memory.  Something is holding it back from you, but I’m not sure what or why”  Roin looked the priest in the eyes and said: “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, but regarding my memory, I want it to stay fractured.  I know who I am, where I am, and what I am.  If you had been with me, you would understand why I don’t want to remember everything that happened, because what little I do remember, I am trying to forget.  Now if I may go, I need a pint of ale.  Maybe two.”  The priest placed a hand on his shoulder and replied: “Just take it easy for a few days and think about it.  If you change your mind, I’ll be here.” 

Memories flashed chaotically through Roin’s mind of tendrils of darkness, fangs, and a terrifying laugh, causing him to shudder slightly before answering stiffly: “Nothing could make me want to relive that experience.  So long Thomas.”  He walked out of the building and headed straight to his quarters in the King’s Lodge, headquarters for the King’s elite explorers and adventurers. For years this building had housed those that the King saw as having unique skills both in war and peace, and from here many had gone forth recovering ancient relics, saving villages, and speaking to restless warlords about the importance of peace.  As he reached for the Iron handles, his memory flashed back to the last time he had opened these doors, only three weeks ago, and he was forced to shake the rising memories off as he forcefully pushed them open.  The room looked much the same as it had always looked, minus the expression of shock on everyone’s face he had seen last time.  Now, when people looked up and saw him, they looked relieved and offered him a seat by the fire and a free mug of the King’s finest ale, asking him how he was doing and what had happened. 

Roin said nothing at first, choosing instead to down the entire mug in an instant and enjoying the taste and the slight burning sensation as it swished down his throat.  After a few more drinks, he finally began to explain that he was fine, but that he was not going to talk about what had happened right now.  Most of the men in the room respected his privacy, but a few tactless individuals kept pressing him for information.  Apparently, rumors had spread far and wide about his most recent adventure and the tales of what may have happened were travelling faster than Roin would have thought possible.  Stories of dragons, ancient magic swords, beautiful princesses, and more had traveled through most of the King’s Lodge.  Still, despite what had been said, Roin knew in his heart that they were just rumors, because he wouldn’t, nay, couldn’t talk to anyone about what had really happened.  Some of the new recruits who didn’t know him very well continued to bother him until wiser heads dragged them off, scolding them as they sent them off on menial errands. 

Roin was grateful for the assistance, but more grateful to be left alone for a few moments.  Ever since he had gotten back, he’d been pestered by priests, wizards, chroniclers, and others who hadn’t given him a moment’s piece.  Finally, he was able to close his eyes, lie back and listen to the crackling of the fire, and forget about the past in a mug of ale. 

As he sat there, drifting off into sleep, a voice jerked him back to the real world as it said with authority cutting through any fog of alcohol or dreaming: “Roin, get up.  William demands your presence.” 

Roin opened his eyes just enough to see a man in very formal attire, with a short sword at his side.  Roin suppressed a moan as he remembered the number of messengers William had sent while Roin was in the infirmary, demanding he come and make his report about what had happened.  William was the sort of man who didn’t have a single compassionate bone in his body.  For him, all that mattered was that people followed the rules, one of which was to report what happened on any of the King’s errands immediately.  Roin knew he couldn’t ignore the messenger without experiencing repercussions, so with a loud sigh of frustration he stood up and followed the man out the door and down the street to William’s lodgings.  The building was not exceptionally large, but the ornate decorations made it clear that this was no commoner’s home.  Two golden lions, their jaws opened in a silent roar, flanked the marble stairway to the front door which was decorated with a coat of arms depicting an elaborate shield flanked by an owl and a snake with both an over-sized pen and a sword crossed behind the shield and a family motto in Terran scrawled along the edge.  Roin half-grinned when he saw the design because the many conflicts he had been in meant that he recognized that the shield’s design was utterly useless in a real battle.  “Much like the man inside” Roin thought as two servants opened the door and ushered him in.  He made his way through the fancy vases, portraits, and up a spiral staircase to a door with a large placard on it that read ‘Office of Sir. William Graves.  Please knock before entering.’

 Roin banged as hard as he could on the door and immediately heard an annoyed voice bark out hurriedly from inside, “Alright, damn you!  You can come in.”  He pushed open the door which swung open easily on its well oiled hinges and revealed a short, heavy set man sitting at a desk with stacks of gold coins on his left and stacks of papers on his right.  Behind him were shelves upon shelves of meticulously organized books, scrolls, and maps of the world that Roin knew were not to be touched without William’s express permission.  In front of William’s desk was a wooden chair, which Roin plopped down into as soon as he had entered, leaving the door wide open behind him. 

Sir William’s face scrunched up as he said with forced courtesy, “Please… Have a seat.”  He then flicked his hand, magically closing the door for Roin and glared at him for a moment in silence before saying coldly, “Well, it’s been two weeks since you returned from your mission, and I haven’t heard anything about what happened, what was lost, what was gained, nothing except rumors and this.”  He pulled a silk bag into view and carefully emptied the contents onto the table.  All that was inside was a small emerald stone that seemed to glow with an eerie green light, which Roin immediately recognized as his only souvenir from the caverns below.  William continued, “I don’t know what it is, under what circumstances you found it, and none of the books in my expansive library can tell me anything, why, not even my magic seems to work on it.  So, I summoned you here to tell me what happened and what this thing is, so I can get the records straight.”  He reached for his quill, dipped it in the pot of ink and waited impatiently for Roin to start.  For his part, Roin just shrugged and said, “I have no idea what that thing is.  I know it was down in caverns me and my team went to investigate, but to be honest, I don’t remember much of what happened down there.  I know something dangerous was there and I know I am the only one who escaped, and I know that I had that rock when I left, but beyond that…”  He shrugged, keeping his face as emotionless as possible and hoping that he would be able to leave before William made him really angry. 

William sat there a moment, as if he expected Roin to continue his tale, but when it became obvious that there was nothing more to be said he asked, “And your gear?  Your team?”  Roin glared back at him, restraining his growing anger on an increasingly weaker leash as he replied in a cold tone of voice that hardly felt like his own, “I.  Lost.  Everything.  Never ask about the Cavern again.” 

William didn’t seem not realize how close he was to getting Roin’s fist planted firmly in his pale face and merely sat back in his chair as he closed his eyes and said with a disappointed sigh, “Well, I guess the mission wasn’t a total loss.  Now that I have my report, I can send this thing to a higher authority and hopefully they’ll know what to do with it.  As for you,” he stood from his chair, disdain in every feature of his face, “you had better get back to the Lodge and get some more training in before your next mission, the gods know we’re not a charity organization!  The gear you lost was very expensive and won’t be easy to replace, never mind the cost of training new recruits to fill in the gaps your failed mission left within our ranks!” 

Roin stood up violently from his chair with every intention of smashing the man through at least two walls before beating him to a pulp, but he restrained himself and merely allowed himself to say through clenched teeth, “I lost three of my closest friends down there.  Don’t talk to me about gear and replacements.  I would greatly enjoy smashing your head through a wall, but I don’t think any of the walls here have done anything to deserve having someone so dense smashed against them.  Pray I never find anything that has earned such a punishment.”  He then turned and strode purposefully towards the door as William sputtered behind him about how he had more questions for him.  Roin didn’t care to listen though as he yanked the door open and slammed it behind him, leaving the building as quickly as he could and ignoring the servants who glared disgustedly at him and his dirt-covered outfit.  He made his way back to the chair he had been forced to vacate back at the Lodge, and upon arriving, he found a Halfling, sitting there studying a map, who must have come in after Roin had left.  Without a word, Roin plucked him into the air and set him down roughly in a nearby bench before retaking the seat for himself and turning his face away from the stunned Halfling who had begun to sputter interjections such as, “What the heck?  What’s your problem?”  He continued his protest on how unfair life was, but Roin was done listening to people for the day and he drifted off into a deep sleep despite the chattering complaints that continued to stream from the indignant fellow for several minutes.  His dreams though were far from restful, for in his dream he found himself trapped, unable to move as a half elf looked at him pleadingly.  Her daggers hung uselessly at her sides as her entire body became wrapped in a dark tendril, choking the very life from her bones with a sickening crunch.  Beside her, there lay a broken quarterstaff, its owner’s severed hand still clinging to it as acid continued to eat away at the wrist.  Just in front of Roin was a pile of bones and the red hot head of a great axe, all of which were still smoldering from the ray of intense fire that had engulfed the half-orc that had moments ago been standing there with his arms crossed in front of his face in a vain attempt to save himself from the inevitable.

 Roin stared in helpless horror at this scene as a cold sweat broke out on his brow.  After a moment, his strength returned and he tried to run, run as far from this terrifying place as he could, but as he turned he found himself encased in a dark cocoon of thick strands of webbing.  It was suffocating him, restricting his movement and he thrashed wildly, trying to become free, sheer terror lending him strength he never knew he had.  As he furled about, the vision passed and he realized that the web was nothing more than a bedspread someone had thrown over him to keep him warm after he had fallen asleep.  He sat there a moment, gasping silently with terror and feeling the cold sweat that had built up on his forehead, before wiping it off with his sleeve.  “Tomorrow, I’m going to see Thomas again, maybe he can at least make the nightmares stop.”  With that, he got up and headed to his room to clean up his spare weapons and armor.

A Bright Sunshiny Day, Ch. 5

Wiping a stray hair from her eyes, Anastasia took up the hot iron again. She leaned pouring all her weight through her arm into the triangular metal tool. The hissing soothed her distressed soul as the stubborn wrinkles stood unmoved in the white table cloth. A trickle of sweat rolled down her neck into her collar. She hated sweat, she hated being dirty and smelly, and more so she hated working when there was a book unfinished.
She placed the iron back on the stove to heat. Sighing, she rubbed her exhausted shoulder, rolling the twisted muscles between her aching fingers, her eyes naturally resting outside through the window. It was a cloudy Saturday, the kind of day she wanted to do nothing but read. Her thoughts strolled without her in the park, under the trees, behind the great houses. But she never saw much except the inevitable book page clutched in her hands as she walked the familiar paths. Absently, she moved closer to the window.
“I can’t embroider that,” she hear Jemima exclaim. “It happens to be Saturday, you know.”
Sneaking towards the ajar door, she spied Jemima reclining at the bay window- empty handed. She felt her cheeks flush in anger as her younger sister lazed. Here she was, working like a servant while high and mighty Jemima played princess. Well, not anymore! Forget the iron glowing red, forget the cloth unfinished, forget the pile untended. She was going to read!
Anastasia pushed open the door, her face flushed from irritation as much as from the heat. Without glancing, she knew Jemima and her mother were staring open mouthed as grasping her coat in one hand and her book in the other she sauntered out the front door.
The cool breeze refreshed her wearied soul. Winding her way through the streets, she became depressingly aware that the grey clouds and sudden wind bursts foretold an impending shower. Her time was limited. A cold draft nearly swept her away. The chill from it convinced her to slip on her coat.
For some reason the motion made her think of Gerard’s kindness earlier that week. She tried to brush the thought away by studying the tumbling cloud mass. But it flickered in the back of her mind like a candle placed behind a screen: you know it is there, but you don’t want to go extinguish it lest you have to look at it. And so it burned gently hidden by other ideas swirling around. As she entered the park, the thought resurged more strongly. But with a determined will she smothered it with feigned indifference: It was no more than he would have done for any woman. I’m no one special. I shouldn’t even be thinking of him! What is he to me? A rich man who amuses himself with acts of charity. Her heart cringed at the injustice her remark assumed, yet she tried to justify it anyway. As the path stretched familiarly before her feet, she opened the book and lost herself in another world. By ignoring it, she denied all that had happened to her.
“Ms. Bartle! What a pleasant surprise!”
Anastasia looked up bewildered as her mind was rent from the critical battle on the page. Walking toward her was Gerard Thomas. Her heart leapt a little, like a sparrow hops before flight. “Good day, Mr. Thomas!”
“May I take a stroll with you?” He offered her his arm. “I had a letter from my sister. She will be coming home soon. I should very much like you to meet her.”
Anastasia smiled. The thought of another being in the world who was as charming as he seemed impossible. The mere mention of Greta Thomas seemed to be elegant in itself. “I would like that.”
“Good! Then I shall send you word if I don’t see you myself. This makes me very happy. You two will like each other. Although I feel it is only fair to say Greta is somewhat of an artist: she can be very… well, exuberant. She’s like the sunshine dancing in the trees, whereas you are more like- I’m sorry, I shouldn’t say such things.”
Underneath her blush, Anastasia wondered what he thought she was like; stubborn, clumsy, ridiculous? It seemed so terribly important what he thought. But she had no chance to ponder farther.
“What were you reading?”
“Shakespeare’s Henry V; have you ever read it?” She offered the book to his scrutiny.
Smiling, he replied, “Yes, when I was in school. But it’s been many years. I didn’t particularly enjoy it at the time anyway.”
“Oh, what a shame! The king has such a character! He’s dashing and courageous, yet gentle and considerate.”
“Is dashing a quality that you think important?”
There was a brief silence. “No.” She paused pondering why she had said it. “I suppose it’s not so much the dashing but the ignorance of it that is charming. For example, at one point Harry urges his troops to the breech by himself leading the charge. This chevalier act endears him, while definitely portraying his lake of self-interest. Moreover there is his famous speech of St. Crispan’s Day. He does not desire gold or anything temporal, but glory and honor.”
For a long time they talked as the path wended through the park, discussing the king’s tale under the trees. Every now and then Anastasia would quote a passage to support her point, and he would counter with a question. Eventually they were sitting under an oak reading the play scene by scene. And as the knights tramped across France behind their king, passersby remarked on the charming couple, many happy that the rich young man had finally found his special someone. But there were two brown eyes that were jealous of Anastasia.
At the end of act two, Gerard walked her home. There was not a moment were one did not have a comment, whether about the story or some tangential topic taken from who knows where. When they reached the small fenced yard where he normally said goodbye, the girl turned to him, “It looks like it might rain. Would you like to come in and wait?”
He smiled down at her. Somehow it wrenched his heart, guessing she was only being courteous rather than devising a way for him to stay for a little while. “Thank you, but I should be returning home. Mrs. Tundlemire will be worrying. But I suppose you know that!” He laughed. “Good evening, Ms. Bartle.”
“Good evening.” She walked up the worn trail between the rose bushes to the door.
Gerard waited until she was gone from sight, then turned homeward. What was it about her that confused him so? She was like the breeze, sometimes too strong, other times too soft. Why had he almost told her that? It was so forward. What must she think of him? Stupid man! Then again, she did not think of him as more than a friend. He was only torturing his own heart, attaching it where there was no returning affection. He felt a rain drop land on his neck and roll into his collar. When Greta came back, things would be different. She would take Anastasia under her wing and turn her into the social lady, as she always did. And then he would loss a friend. Did he dare think more?
Anastasia had watched him walk away through the lace curtains. What was this strange feeling? She had so wanted to keep him from going away, to spend just a little more time. But why? Such an impossible heart she had! A rain drop landed on the window pane. Instantly she ran to the door. Her hand landed on the knob, turned it. But she let it go. No, he did not want to associate with her more than cultured societal norms dictated. She collapsed on the first step, a sob stifled in her throat. What was this reaction for? Was she… Was this… No, foolery, that was what it was. Brushing a tear from her eye, she returned to the kitchen and the hot iron and the rumpled cloth.
Gerard arrived home, water streaming from him. All was silent and dark, the closing door echoing eerily in the empty house. He concluded that Mrs. Tundlemire must have taken a nap. With a sigh he collapsed against the door. The quiet dark seemed to crush him, or rather to pull all the emotion and tension out. He felt like his soul was evaporating. Why? Did he love her? Perhaps so, but he did not know really; and he only cared because of how it might hurt her. He must control his feelings, he must… for her. Slowly he sank to the floor, feeling all the weight of despair. Never would he be able to admit his love, and he knew it. For one, he reasoned, she is too pure and noble. She needs someone who will be strong, kind, completely worthy of her, like one of King Arthur’s knights that she loves so much. Someone who is not me. He dropped his head onto his knees, tears mingling with the rain water. I am just not chivalrous enough.
“Is that you, my dear boy?” Mrs. Tundlemire called.
Swallowing a sob, he stood up. “Yes, it is.” As the kindly lady fretted over his wet condition, Gerard thought again how hard it was to be the perfect gentleman. Yet that was what everyone expected, and so that was what he had to be. And that was not what she needed.
Each respectively went to sleep that night tired and heart-sore. Each wondered what the other thought of himself or herself. But there was no way of knowing, for he was not perfect for her or she was not right for him. Ah, but were they? You, as a reader, are obviously aware that they are a good match: kind and considerate, extremely caring for the other, ready to sacrifice anything if it could bring a smile to the other. But when you are in a relationship, especially one where you deny your own or the other’s obvious feelings, you inevitably decry yourself as worthless. But I apologize for ranting. I promise to remain a narrator and not a homilist.

A Bright Sunshiny Day, Chapter 1

It was a bright sunshiny day, and Mary Ann could not be happier. Today she was getting married. Oh, not just married, but united in the sacrament with the man she most adored and loved. James Bartle was tall, elegant, suave, and so deeply romantic. Whenever she looked into his blue eyes- blue like the ocean during a storm- she felt her heart flutter. Then he usually kissed her.

Mary Ann was a sweet, delicate young maid of a not so well-to-do family with no harshness in her, while her new-wedded husband came from a very wealthy and respectable family- but had been disowned for his little bride. This made Mary Ann adore him ever so much more. So they were married.   And so they lived happily until their small store of funds was depleted- which was quite soon. James was a heavy drinker and a gambler. Before the marriage, he had hidden these from Mary Ann, and when she learned of them, she was quite distressed. They were forced to leave the elegant city house, and settle in a small country cottage. MaryAnn was charmed- more romantic, she thought. But James was furious at losing his easy access to his diabolic habits. That first night in the country, he beat Mary Ann. Just to teach her, he said. But he never said what he was trying to teach her.

Soon a child was to be born. Mary Ann was overjoyed, but James seemed indifferent. She had the child with only the midwife for company on a dark stormy day. The thunder was violently loud, drowning out the screams of the poor woman in labor. When the lightning flashed, the room erupted with sights of pain; but within an instance, darkness flowed in. A short time later, the candle’s minute flame danced into sight, spreading its soft glow until all was visible again. It was near three in the afternoon that the child entered the world. Mary Ann held the darling infant in her arms- her first pure joy since her marriage day.

Then James came home. He was drunk. Very afraid, Mary Ann told him about his newborn little girl. He grunted, and sat down near the vacant fireplace. Mary Ann wondered how she was going to ask him what she wanted to ask. Her heart was fluttering. “James, my darling,” she quavered, “Is there any particular name you prefer? I rather like Anastasia. But-”

“Nastasia! Woman, you out a mind?! Giv’n such rid-clus names… hmm… Stasia… Mightn’t be so bad aft-all… Alright. Stasia, Stansia, Stalata… what you said.”

So Anastasia it was. Not long after her, Jemima came along, followed by Thomas. The two latter both had black hair like their mother and blue eyes like their father. But Anastasia was different. Her hair was brown like strong coffee or tea and her eyes… how to describe such intense peepholes into the soul? Near the pupil there was a golden brown which slowly mutated into a pale green, so that to look directly into her eyes one was given a haunting glimpse. And whereas her two siblings had impeccable complexions, Anastasia had not. One side of her face seemed to have been attached wrong, for her left eye was slightly too large and her lower jaw on the same side was more pronounced. But she was pretty still, although with a beauty not pristine like her younger sister, and for this she was neglected and considered less dear by her father.

Growing up was difficult too. Thomas and Jemima would not let her play with them; and if they did, it was only to make fun of or humiliate her. In schooling, she was slower than her younger siblings- at least so she was told. Really, Anastasia was adept at understanding literature, and with a little more help she would have excelled in the sciences too, for she was a deep thinker and natural philosopher. But her little brother and sister soon passed her, due to their more pampered education by their mother. It is not that Mary Ann favored the other two over her eldest, it is just that James did so much enjoy them that too neglect them in any way might mean her own punishment.

Needless to say, James was a horrible father. If he brought any bonbon or trinket home, there was never one for Anastasia, or if there was, it was the poorest and smallest. Each night when he returned from the tavern after work, he would ask the three children if their mother had done anything out of line. Jemima and Thomas were always ready to give information, hoping for a bonbon as reward. Thus, they were wild children, and James knew there was nothing Mary Ann could do to stop them or the beating that night. Once Anastasia had tried to say something only thinking of the sweet, but instead she had been spanked and told to mind her place. In dazed confusion, although without tears, she had looked at Mary Ann, who had tears in her eyes. It was obvious her maternal heart was breaking.

Once, late at night, when Anastasia was about eight, she had wakened thirsty. As she had been going down the stairs, father had come home with a strange lady. They were both drunk. She didn’t understand what it meant, but she knew mother was very upset. Mary Ann just sat down and cried. Then James had hit her and told her to, “Stop bawlin’ over nutin.” Neither parent had seen her, so she crept back up the stairs to bed. But she did not sleep. She had kept thinking what it must have meant, wondering why mother had cried, and why father had hit her; she decided that mother was sad because father didn’t love her any more, and father had hit her because she was crying. Well, Anastasia would never cry, not if it meant a beating. And she would never love if it meant that someday she would not be loved.

                Then, one dreary day, near Anastasia’s twelfth birthday, a little after noon, father had come home very drunk and irate, more so than usual. Jemima and Thomas slipped upstairs; Anastasia had dashed behind the settee. All she could see was his mudded boots framed in the grey sky and verdure of outside through the open door.

“Mary Ann! Come here, gaddam you!” Although she couldn’t see, Anastasia was certain his face turned purple. “Woman, get in here!”

Luckily, Mary Ann was out buying groceries, and thus avoided his deathly wrath. But this did not cease the inappropriate names and angered bellowing of James. He stood in the middle of the living room howling as loud as he could. Then suddenly, he stopped. He coughed a little. Moaning, he sank to his knees; then, fell on his face. With glassed over eyes he stared into Anastasia’s eyes. The poor child gave a terrified shriek and bolted towards the door. She ran as far and as fast as she could, unaware of where she was going. The light drizzle of rain dampened her hair and dress, adding weight to her frantic flight. Then, she tripped and fell, tearing her skirt and bruising her hands. Looking up, exhausted and breathless, she recognized the little country church were each Sunday her mother took her to pray. Beginning to sob, Anastasia clambered up the three stone steps on her knees. She tugged on the handle, but it was locked. So she curled up on the stoop, wet and terrified.

Yet somehow she felt safe. She was not certain how to address God, but she knew He was there and somehow looking over her. Thoughts of her last visit to this simple building came to mind: how Rev. Doubleday had taught of God’s mercy and grace, how the sweet melodies had seemed to her to dance with the stone walls as in a ballroom, how she had not wanted to leave. It was her haven of peace then as it was now. Or was God really her protection? Oh, it didn’t matter. She was safe, and so sleepy…

That was all she remembered until a hand shook her awake. She awoke in an awful fright, thinking it was father coming after her. She scrambled to her feet and began to flee down the lane, when a voice called after her, “Child! Child, there’s nothing to fear!” Uncertain, she stopped. She could see the man who had called, but did not recognize him because of the strange light of dusk. However, his voice was kind and gentle. Then he knelt in the muddy road, saying, “Please, my dear little one, please don’t go away. I’m Rev. Doubleday.”

Sobbing once again, the poor distraught girl ran to him and hugged him. He let her cry as long as she had tears to shed- which was a good deal. Every now and again, he would gently tap her shoulder and whisper, “It’s alright. Give it to God your Father.” Eventually, Anastasia’s wail became a stifled sniffling. “Alright then, let’s go inside and dry you off. How does a spot of tea and a bite of crumpet sound to you? Good, eh?” And he smiled down at her. Then taking her hand, they walked toward the rectory.

Inside, the young and newly wedded Mrs. Doubleday had Anastasia change into one of her dresses saved from her own childhood and hopefully destined someday for one of her daughters. Then, in front of the roaring fire with the lightning and thunder safely shut outside, the Doubledays entertained little Anastasia with funny stories from their childhood and young adult years. Anastasia laughed and laughed. She felt safe and secure like never before. The couple was opening a door she never knew existed: the door of hope and joy and peace.

Suddenly, the little maid burst into tears. Worried and afraid, the man and wife tried to comfort her and learn what had upset her. What had they said? What had they done? Finally, Anastasia sobbed, “You’re too good! You’re happy and love each other. My parents are miserable. I’m miserable. No one will ever love me like you love each other.”

“My dear child!” Mrs. Doubleday exclaimed as she wrapped her arms around her little guest. “You don’t have to be miserable.   No one does. God makes us happy. He loves you more than you realize. Love Him back. Give Him your tears and sorrows and He will turn them into joy. He did for me.”

Anastasia wept less loudly. A glimmer of hope had glistened down the dark vista of the future. Maybe things could be better, maybe she would be loved, maybe… But no. Love was dangerous. Mrs. Doubleday was young and inexperienced. It was too simple to be really true. She snuffed out the glimmer so all was black within.

Veritas

We live in an age where science fiction is fast becoming science fact. Chimeras already are being created in labs, what might happen if these chimeras were allowed to live? What would the reaction be to something that was almost human? 

Technically she wasn’t supposed to exist. 14 days was supposed to be the limit, but curiosity had gotten the better of them – she was the first human-avian chimera to survive that long, and the research team, funded by certain individuals who didn’t care much about the law, had been more than eager to see how such a creature would mature and develop. Dubbed Veratas as a joke, she had exceeded their wildest expectations. But four years is a long time for an eight-man team to keep a secret, and public acceptance of the idea of chimeras hadn’t quite caught up to the reality of existing chimeras. For the public, chimera still equaled monster, and the public outcry had been for her death as soon as the secret had been leaked.

Dr. Cromwell stared through the two-way mirror into Veratas’s room. It wasn’t much, just a glorified holding pen for what amounted to a lab rat. Cromwell rested his hand on the syringe on the table – poison that would end this thing that was never supposed to exist.

Veritas herself was up against the left wall, her slight frame quivering with repressed energy. She was humanoid, four foot five, covered with fine mottled brown feathers from the neck down. Scraggly brown hair dangled to her shoulders and fell in her face – the face that would have looked human if not for the intense golden eyes that peered out from it. Her hands clenched and stretched, eager, over-eager. They were human, probably the most human thing about her, and the way she continually used them to push her hair behind her ear made some of the other researchers decidedly nervous. She wore a brown shift that fell to just above her knees – nobody had ever confessed to giving it to her, but no one had taken it from her either. Her tail dropped below that, nearly brushing the floor with dark feathers when she stood. That was the most avian thing about her, a vestige of flight which in her case did nothing but get in the way. Wings had been denied her by some twist of chromosome. Her toes curled against the floor – human in shape, but rough with bird scales.

Veritas pressed against the wall, her eyes locked onto the pole that bisected the room. Cromwell curled his fingers around the syringe. He should do this now and just get it over with. It was nothing more than killing a frog for dissection. Dissection actually was her final end – there was still debate over how exactly the two halves of her genetics were fitting together. Cromwell didn’t move though. He watched as Veritas pushed off from the wall and started running. Three strides, four, five, then a leap from the top of her upturned water bowl. Her hands grasped the pole and momentum aided by a kick flipped her around so she landed on top of the pole. She crouched like some avian nightmare, staring at the door.

Cromwell checked to see that his taser was within easy reach. She hadn’t done anything overtly violent, not yet, but it would be just his luck if today was the day she decided to go berserk.

Cromwell keyed in his code for the door and entered. The door hissed shut behind him. Veritas visibly cringed when she saw him. Cromwell hid the syringe behind his back. They hadn’t been kind. They hadn’t been kind, but it had been in the name of science. She was just an animal, an unnatural creature who had no purpose except to serve the science that had created her.

“Come down Veritas,” he called in a low voice. She fidgeted but didn’t leave her perch. Cromwell took a step further in. “Now Veritas,” he said, putting more command into his voice. Veritas ducked her head.

Her knuckles were white around the pole, her whole body was shivering, keyed up in what could have been a fight or flight response – one in which she couldn’t decide on an action.

“Why?” It was a small voice, inaudible except for the fact that the room was otherwise silent. Cromwell shook his head to clear it. He took a step forward, till he could almost reach up and grab her. She shifted as far away as she could on the pole. Her golden eyes watched him warily.

“What am I? Why do you hurt me?” the two questions came out in a rush, like something long rehearsed and long feared.

Cromwell grabbed her arm, yanked her off the pole, and plunged the syringe into her thigh. She screeched as the needle went in; she flew backwards as soon as she was released. Cromwell watched as she died, as the question ‘why’ died on her lips. Eventually she lay limp, dead. Then she was nothing but a pile of flesh to be dissected. She was never anything more. She had never spoken. Never.

Cromwell picked up the body and carried it into the lab. Others would do what they willed with it. The public was now satisfied.

C. Angelina