29# The Sled

Image by Blamethechicken, Freedigitalphotos.net

aurora

We live in West, in the realm of ice, Banneran and I, and the wolf-dog woman Orkoosh. I have no memory of being born, unlike them. I used to think I was their child but Banneran said, no, I had come to them from across one of the ice plains to the East. One of the old women had put me on a sled and sent me cascading across the plain wrapped in coats of pelts. He said the sled bounded and danced – Orkoosh saw it coming as she was out hunting and came running to him saying, look, a wonder! There is a child in the sled Banne!

I had asked, but how did you know it was an old woman?

Orkoosh had said that it was because she remembers. I don’t understand it but that was all she said about it. Except that the East was a land basked in Sunshine, where we had only the Moon. Sunshine was a different kind of light, she said, which was much brighter than ours, but that, as we had the beautiful stars and the emerald light, we had nothing to complain about.

I mentioned to you just now about not remembering being born. Apparently that’s a gift that the people of the West have, they remember being born just as the people of the East remember dying. I have lived a long time now in the snow of the West and I don’t remember being born and I don’t remember dying. This has led Orkoosh to wonder if I am from the East at all. What memories do you have? She asks me all the time. I answer her, only of you and Banneran. Then she laughs as if it has all been a joke, and pats my head and will say, of course.

She then motions to the sled I was brought on. Go and play, she says. In an instant she will turn from me and slink gracefully into her wolf-dog form and I will harness her to the sled and we will race about the snow plains under the purple-black sky covered with emerald lights- the lights that come from some other place, and know us, and watch over us as we play. Sometimes when we stop for breath I will ask Orkoosh to turn back into a woman and ask her questions. I ask her how long I have been with them, and she will say, don’t you remember? You have been here for one hundred and eleven years. I will question her,  how does she know this? and she will say it’s because all shape-shifters know the passage of days.

When you talk of the old woman, what do you mean? I say to her, and she replies Old age is something that happens elsewhere, and I say to her, what happens elsewhere? She will shake her head as if she thinks I’m silly, and then off she goes again -ZIP!- slinking back into a wolf and we fly across the ice back to the hut, and to Banneran who loves us. Then Orkoosh will change and they will always greet each other as if they been apart for a long time, and don’t quite know each other. He will ask her if she would like to sit down, for example, and then we will all eat. After dinner, Orkoosh and Banneran will seem to remember that they know each other, and will sit in the warmth of the hut and comb each other’s hair. This will take a long time because Orkoosh’s  long, unruly locks will have gathered many tangles from the ice wind. Banneran will nod over to me and say, well, where is your comb young man? Then I will put my hand in my pocket and there it is, the comb made of wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Orkoosh says that the old woman gave it to me. I begin to comb my hair too, because Orkoosh says fondly that the old woman would want me to look my best.

Then I will listen as Orkoosh tells Banneran stories.

It is tradition that Orkoosh tells him stories each time that we return. I don’t know where she gets them from, they are always fantastical. My stories are about little fish that I see, glinting in the ice pools, or bears in the distance, or the moon rising. Orkoosh, however, always has stories about princes and magicians and priestesses and treasure and great ships that roam the sky, flying along on the vapours left by the burning emerald lights. Banneran responds to Orkoosh’s stories. He says playfully, no no Koos, you have told that one before I think, even when she hasn’t. Or, akakaka, (he clicks his tongue) Koos I don’t like this story, the prince is too arrogant, the priestess would never grant him an entire kingdom for rescuing just one golden key. Be serious!

When I ask Banneran how long he has loved Orkoosh he smiles and says he doesn’t know. When I ask Orkoosh she laughs and says, almost forever, and that she knows this because she remembers being born. Then, after the stories are told, they say goodnight to me, and I creep through the pelt curtain on the East-hand side of the hut and am in my own den. Banneran has lit a fire in there for me with his magic, and from my bed I look up to the space in the roof where one brick is made of glass, because I asked Banneran to put it there. I asked him to make a glass brick, so that I could see out and watch the emerald lights fade, and the clouds race across the stars. The fire crackles with blue and lilac flames, Banneran’s magic will keep it burning while I sleep.

*
Sometimes I wonder, as I look up through the glass brick to the sky, what we are, and why we live apart from others. I wonder how Orkoosh came to be a wolf-dog woman, or how Banneran came to have magic. Or who I am, and why I will never grow old, or remember being born, or remember dying. Orkoosh smiles at Banneran, rolling her eyes, when I ask her these questions, and says only Because we are in paradise.

When I ask her what that means, Banneran answers. He says that sometimes the people in the East have dreams they don’t wake up from, and that we live in one of those dreams. That somewhere, a boy exactly like me grew up, lived his life, and then died, and in that final dream he imagined that he was a little boy again, and that his grandmother wrapped him in pelts and sent him across the ice on a sled to the West, where the people remember being born. When I say I don’t understand, Orkoosh answers, you said you only remember me and Banneran, is that true? I nod. Then you are from the East after all. She says, and smiles. I crawl to my den and sleep, and when I wake, I wonder why it is that I never remember my dreams.

 

26# Ghost Train

Image by ponsulak, Freedigitalphotos.net 

ID-10062604

By the light of our lanterns we gazed at the train, Mandy, Amelia, Roberta and me.

Part of the driver’s cab and a lone carriage was all that was left, hanging out of the bushes in bits and pieces as if it had made a break for it. There were no tracks in sight, just a trail of debris around the carriage that disappeared off into the darkness behind the trees.

It began to rain. We huddled a little more closely together and Mandy and Amelia began whispering to one another so Roberta turned to me.

“There was nothing here before,” she said. “The trains haven’t run here for like, years.”

“How do you know?”

Roberta shrugged. “My brother Cam did a project on it, all about how the trains stopped coming here, and how they closed the tracks and got rid of the old railway bridge.”

“Why?” I asked, as we followed the others towards the carriage in the lashing rain.

“Oh,” Roberta’s face took on a sort of knowing look, her mouth forming a dramatic oval.

“Well, people kept throwing themselves off the bridge,” her voice dropped to a whisper, “I think they hung themselves.”

I shuddered and she nodded with that same knowing look in her eyes.

“And they had to shut down the train tracks because of the accident.”

“What accident?”

“Oh a big crash or something, no one talks about it anymore but lots of people died. It was a really long time ago though.” Roberta said, growing disinterested in the conversation as we approached the train.

It was in a real mess, all broken bits of wood and twisted metal just lying there with the rain bouncing off it. It gave me the creeps but I stood there with the others, just staring at it until my arm got tired holding the lantern.

“Let’s go home.”

Amelia shot me a look. “Are you kidding? This is cool. We’re not going yet, I want to look inside.”

Shivers passed over me as the storm beat heavier on our backs, but I didn’t say anything because Amelia was the boss. We all moved forward, swinging the meager light from our cheap, battery-powered Halloween lanterns at the wreck.

“It must be really old,” said Mandy, uncertain. “It looks like an old steam train, like it’s been here forever but I don’t remember it.”

“That’s because it wasn’t here.” Roberta repeated, hanging back a little, but Amelia shot her a look like murder, and so she trod forward.

“Somebody must have cleared the trees around here, it must have been hidden before that’s all. Don’t be such a baby.”

We got up to the cab and Amelia said for us all to hold our lanterns up so she could see inside. Mandy’s lantern went out with a POP; the vampire face with the plastic fangs suddenly vanishing from view.

“There’s nothing in there anyway,” Amelia said, banging the side of the cab. We all followed her in silence as she moved further back towards the carriage section.

“Gimme that,” Mandy said, snatching at my pumpkin lantern.

“Get lost!” I snatched it back, but it made me stumble and feel stupid. Mandy was older than me, so was Amelia. I didn’t want to go along with it but I was afraid to look like a coward.

“Give her the lantern and stop being such a child.” Amelia said, but again I shook my head, I was tired and cold, and just then I thought about my parents and how late it was.

“I’m going.” I said, and practically ran off because I didn’t want to hear them making fun of me, and I didn’t want them to try and make me stay.

“Pathetic!” I heard Mandy shout after me. I turned after I’d crossed the street and saw Roberta standing a little way behind the other two, looking back at me. I felt bad then for leaving her, because she wasn’t as bad as the others. From where I was standing at the crossroads I could now see Roberta join Amelia and Mandy, her skeleton lantern bobbing along until it joined Amelia’s werewolf. They were trying to get into the carriage, I could hear their voices but not what they were saying.

I was about to give up and head home then when I heard a noise. It was like a door creaking in the wind, and there was a rattling sound too, it was so strange that it made me stop where I was. A light appeared in the wreck, it lit up Amelia’s face and showed her shock. She raised her hand up to cover her eyes as Roberta grabbed for Mandy and pulled her away from the carriage. I heard steam hiss and a whistle blow and suddenly the carriage was moving; the cab reared up in front like a dancing cobra, pulling the carriage back underneath it. Fallen, rusted metal rods leaped up from their place on the grass and reached out like grasping fingers, sweeping the girls off their feet with a roaring whooosh as their bodies disappeared into the darkness inside of the carriage. Their screams lasted only a second before cutting off dead.

I was frozen to the spot, watching speechless as the light within the train-thing flickered on and off in the lashing rain. It stood up tall, big metal arms hanging limp at its sides now somehow attached to the body of the train-thing.

It watched me for a while, and I suppose it was thinking. I couldn’t do anything I was so afraid. In the corner of my eye I could see Roberta’s skeleton lantern fizzle out and die by the roadside. That changed things. It made me want to move as fast as I could to get away from there, and I’ve never run so hard in my life. I ran so hard that I tripped and fell, skidding on the wet concrete and cutting my jeans open. I cried out in pain and looked back because I was convinced the train-thing was closing in on me.

But it was gone. I was all alone in the street.

 

National Poetry Day: For My Friend, the Dragon.

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ID-100133355

Since it’s National Poetry Day in the UK, I decided to publish this short poem I wrote earlier, whilst looking at the moon outside our university library. I hope you enjoy it.

For My Friend, The Dragon.

The moon has been cut in half,

I can only see the head of the dragon.

This fabled dark side a ghost,

Only visible to those who look for it,

Desiring to see where the wings, the tail, are hidden.

Because we, such upward dreamers,

Could not, even for a second,

Bear to believe that half the moon

Could ever possibly be missing.

These moonbeams we bury our face in nightly

Greet us

And we are, in that instant only,

like long-lost lovers, kissing.

Looking up, I feel the age-old tingling returning,

Remembering now,

That I was bequeathed so long ago,

To my friend, the dragon.

 

 

19: Daedalus

Image by Winnond, freedigitalphotos.net

ID-100283191

Someone once made the mistake of telling my Grandfather that, being the greatest shipwright the province over, he could build a boat out of anything. I remember him laughing at the man, grabbing his chest, his white beard quivering, but his eyes were starting to mist over. Something then, gripped him, and never let go.

First it was a boat made of hair. He sent my sister and I throughout the town, and then the neighbouring town, and on and on down the roads to collect all the strands. I remember standing there in the sweltering heat, holding the bucket as the old women went round shaving heads, their deft old hands working so quickly as to become a blur before our eyes. Those with the strongest, darkest hair took our money, and we gathered up the hair newly fallen from now glistening heads. We took the buckets back to our Grandfather who hugged us in excitement when he saw how much we had collected. He would comment lovingly on the good quality of the hair, what a great job we had done. He would reward us with biscuits from an old tin adorned with a smiling lady holding a bursting cornucopia. Later, when we were afloat in that other boat, I would think of her, and wonder where she had gathered such wondrous fruit, and if we would ever see land again.

The boat made of hair was not seaworthy. It pained us all to see my Grandfather abandon it, but everyone knew it was a fool’s errand. Suddenly where once we had a house full of laughter and industrious excitement, now even the walls radiated with silence. My Grandfather was thinking, he was grieving for his dream, surrounded by all the swathes of dark hair left here and there in every room that seemed to become entwined in everything. But he did not give up.

Next there was the boat made of heavily salted butter, but you know how that turned out. I think pretty much everyone heard about that one. There was not enough salt in all the land to make that ship sail, and you know it’s funny because the sea is full of salt, but there it is. My Grandfather abandoned that too, and everyone we knew said (by that stage) that it was a good thing my Grandmother was not alive to see it. It would have cut her two, they said, to watch him turn his hand to all these follies.

It was only one day, when I was sitting under the willow, that I heard my Grandfather shout from out of a window somewhere, and I knew he had done it at last. It was the most unlikely design, but it was beautiful.

“A boat made from paper! But of course! So simple, even a child could make one!”

He was leaning out of the side of the house like that, clear out of the window into the sun. I can still see him now, and yes I think he really was half in and half out of life. Each day and each new design brought him a little further away from reality.

But the boat made from paper was the greatest of all his successes. That’s what everyone said. Grandfather was so proud, he stood at the docks and beamed at it, and beamed at us and now when I remember what it was like to look upon that ship it fills me with wonder still. She had the tallest sails, ivory white, and her sides were tinged with blue. The cabin walls were smooth as glass and the bunks so soft to lie upon, I’ll never really know how he did it.

“It was all in the folds,” he told me as if that were the secret. “I folded all my dreams into every plank, into the mast; as I shaped the body of the figurehead, I thought about what it would be like to have made the ship that no one could make – and I have done it!”

We set sail one quiet autumn day and half the province came to wave us off. They all brought picnics and there was singing and dancing and fires burning all along the wharf as we drifted away like a feather on the wind. I remember having some misgivings. I was sorry to leave so many of my things behind but Grandfather said I would be able to buy new things, once we got to some new place. My sister grew dark as she heard him say this, her face became stuck, pained. She asked him how he knew where we would go and what we would do there and he just said that the boat would decide. He actually laughed at our concerns.

“I built this boat, and this boat will not fail me.”

But my sister whispered into my ear one night,

“Doesn’t Grandfather realise that this boat is made of paper?”

“Of course he does,” I said, “don’t be silly.”

She sighed, her hair glinted where the moonlight cut across it to make a path out of the darkness.

“A paper boat would sink with all of us in it. Only magic is holding this boat up in the water, and magic comes at a price.”

I thought about what she said, the thought had never once crossed my mind.

“What price?” I asked. But she never answered. Still I could hear her thinking in the dark all night.

It took a few days but soon I saw it. The change in her,

I found her down below, in the belly of the ship. She was sobbing. My Grandfather was up on deck singing, oblivious. But when I came to my sister to see what was wrong, I found she was bent over a sheet of paper, she had a pen in her hand. It may as well have been a knife. A pen. On a magical boat made of paper.

“I can’t stop.” She had, by way of an excuse. She had been writing.

“What is that?” I asked her, I felt my hands shaking, something strange was happening to us.

“It’s a page from the galley table.” She said. “But it’s just a page, it won’t be missed.”

That was what she said then. That night I heard her scribbling away again.

“What are you writing?” I asked her. But she could not reply. I found some of her notes and began hoarding them in case Grandfather might see. I tried to read them but they made no sense to me at all. They were just strings of words, some weren’t even spelt correctly. Soon her bed was gone. She had ripped it up to write a book of nonsense verse in a language she had invented. My Grandfather, who slept on deck, was still none the wiser until she started attacking the very helm. She tore the great wheel apart in her madness for paper to write upon.

When my Grandfather saw what had happened to her he fell down upon his knees and wept. Carelessly he tore a sheet from the deck to use as a tissue to blow his great nose in. He knew then that all magic comes at a price. He had been willing to pay any deficit for our sakes, he said, but no one had come asking, the magic had just taken the thing it wanted most, or what was most easily taken.

My sister went raving mad when we took the pen away and so we had to lock her in the brig. Still she ripped at the sides of her cell and so we had to restrain her. Lying awake at night I could hear her screams and I even took the pen and hurled it into the ocean but it did no good. My Grandfather and I both beseeched the ship to leave my sister be, and to torment us instead, but to no avail. You cannot unchoose a choice made by magic.

“Sink it.” He said to me one night in a storm. “Sink it and we’ll try and swim away.” The storm raged so loud that night we were almost grateful because it drowned out the cries of my poor mad sister. Every cloud has a silver lining they say.

“To the bottom of the ocean with her.” Grandfather cried, and he downed the last of the whiskey, and crushed the soggy bottle with one hand. In his ship, even the bottles were made of paper. We had run out of food by that stage, and as my Grandfather said, we could not eat the paper.

“How are we to do it though? How do we sink her?” I asked.

“Magic.” Was all he said.

The next morning I woke to the sound of seagulls and a face full of sand. I turned my head to my right and saw my sister, lying on the beach, her hair extended in beautiful honey tendrils. For a moment I felt like I was only dreaming, and I wanted only to put my hand out to touch those soft strands, to feel them under my fingers, something safe and familiar and beautiful. But I knew in my heart I was awake. It was then I saw my Grandfather waving goodbye to us, I watched him sink below the waves and rubbed my eyes because it seemed impossible. How had we come to be there? Could it really be my Grandfather sinking away into the water, leaving us? The reality hit me like the waves, full in the face, stinging and blinding and relentless.I screamed and screamed but he came no nearer to us, in one moment he was gone, swallowed by a wave, his boat of dreams, obliterated in an instant.

I turned back to my sister who was waking. She too rubbed her eyes as if emerging from a great sleep.

“Oh it’s beautiful here!” She said, as if she had quite forgotten my Grandfather and the boat made of paper.

People were coming towards us now, tall people with beautiful eyes holding baskets, some held children.

“Mermaids!” Said one.

“No, see they have no tails.” Said another.

“Please help us,” I ran to them. “Our Grandfather will drown, he’s out there now in a boat made of paper.” That’s what I said to them. I pointed out to sea but someone said.

“There’s nothing at all in the waves child.”

And she was right, where my Grandfather’s boat had once been, was now the ocean, and the long horizon.

I felt a last cry gather in my mouth and then stiffle. I saw my sister smiling and chatting to the people on the beach, I saw her take a shell out of her beautiful hair and act as if nothing had happened. I felt utterly at a loss, and so I put my hands in my pockets and it was then that I felt something crumple. It was a sheet of paper. I took it out and opened it up and saw the words my sister had written start to make sense at last.

“I had to give everything up to get anything back.” It started off, the words slanting this way and that, twirling round each other like twine.

“I had to loose everything to gain anything worth having.” Here and there the letters twisted so I had to twist the paper to follow them, like a road into a labyrinth.

“I needed to be empty, in order to be full again.” The words neared the centre.

“I needed to be wiped away, and in order to be written again.”

The words stopped. They had finally run aground. I shook my head and tried to say something to my sister, about the things she had written, and about our Grandfather, and about that emptiness in the centre of the page but she was already moving away. The sun was rising high above our heads, and above the people who led her away up into the trees. Someone was singing, the smell of food was drifting down the beach and catching me up in it.

One woman came and stood beside me for a time as I grieved for my Grandfather and his boat.

“Better that you should live, and that he should go.” She said by way of a kindness to me.

I nodded and screwed up the paper into a ball. I tossed it away from me.

“He was all we had.” I said.

“Are the kinds of dreams one makes out of paper, really worth sailing off in?” She asked me, her head cocked to one side, her eyes large and taking me in as if I were a mirage.

“Yes.” I said. “They got us this far.”

We watched the ocean for a while longer, and then she told me her name and asked if I was hungry. and I thought I may as well follow her to where the trees met the sand, to where all adventurers go eventually.

 

 

 

15: The Crypt

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amworth

Charles Doughey died on 18th November. He left behind him a modest family but considerable wealth. After the death of his brother, Charles had taken into his care two young nieces Cassandra and Helen, and a nephew, a rather haughty man named Edward. Their mother, who was still relatively young and not without her charms, gladly accepted the offer of a generous roof over their heads and financial support, but of course there was idle gossip spread about due to her age, and her beauty. Many of the townsfolk pondered loudly over their cups as to exactly why Mr Doughey had moved the family into his home, and not relocated them comfortably elsewhere, as he was not without the means and wherewithal to do so.

The sad and somewhat early death of Doughey put paid to numerous rumours quickly, and encouraged yet more salacious accusations to spring up in their place, as though heads of the dread Hydra. The entire estate and Doughey’s fortune were of course left to his closest relatives: the Widow Doughey and her children. Far from being delighted at this change of circumstance, the young wards were devastated at the loss of their beloved uncle, and none appeared to feel this loss as keenly as the youngest, Helen. A pale girl of sixteen, Helen had never possessed the sociable nature of her brother and sister (nor her mother) and instead could often be found in her uncle’s library amongst the books, sat beside a roaring fire. She was not, however, without graces, and her smiles and gentle conversation delighted anyone who shared her company. These pleasant traits were not to be enjoyed by her loved ones for much longer however, for just as her uncle grew sick, so a sickness stole upon the girl, and made her increasingly wan and solitary.

“I do not know why she sulks as she does, the doctor says there is nothing at all the matter with her but melancholy.” Edward would complain on the many occasions when Helen would not come down to dinner, but would dine in her room alone, feigning sickness. Tucking in his napkin he would go on, voicing his distaste regarding her new choice of reading material to his mother and sister who nodded politely at intervals.

“Really those aren’t the sort of things a girl should be reading. Such dreadful periodicals no doubt encourage these bouts of melodrama, I dare say she is quite taken away with stories of spectral visitations and Counts who carry maidens off to dungeons and whatever else rotten these scoundrel writers and their low imaginations can conjure up.”

There was also much speculation at the house when Helen was discovered weak and delirious outside her bedroom several nights before the death of her uncle. She had been found by a maid servant, her small frame draped half-over the stair rod, her eyes glazed, her night dress torn, faint bloody scratches raked across her breast. At first a male servant was suspected of felonious assault. His disappearance coincided with the night in question, and he had been spotted in Helen’s company on several occasions within the house by some of the maids. However, after Helen had been revived and questioned, she was insistent that she had no memory of the man approaching her, but that a vile nightmare had awoken her, and that the scratches must have been the result of her own tormented hands.

Naturally the incident caused a minor stir and Edward was at the point of having the servants search his sister’s room for what he believed to be the cause of the nightmare – the sensational periodicals – when their uncle, Charles, took a turn for the worse, and expired.

He was buried not long after in the family crypt, and those assembled commented how fortunate it was that Doughey could afford such a resting place. Foul weather had besieged the town and turned the cold earth of the church yard into a quagmire. Fierce winds lashed at newly dug graves, desecrating funeral wreaths and battering the walls of the church was a hellish fury. It also happened that the funeral coincided with a dreadful week of unfortunate events. On the Sunday previous, a  faithful servant was revealed to have vanished without a trace, all her belongings still under her bed below stairs. Then there were continued nightmares for Helen, each one leaving her more deranged than the last, weak and delusional she would wander the house until she was discovered and brought back to bed. Finally, one of the younger maids was found dead in the kitchen garden, her throat slit from ear to ear. The rain had washed away every trace of blood (of which there must have been considerable amount) along with any possible evidence of a crime, and as the knife had been found still clutched in her hand, the doctor concluded suicide.

These tragedies were almost more than the household could bear, and resulted in many servants abandoning their posts altogether, believing the house to be cursed by the spirit of Charles Doughey, angry at a death before his time. The only member of the household who could be relied upon with any certainty was Cassandra. It was she who comforted the ladies and quietly saw to the smooth running of daily chores in the absence of several hands. Edward was particularly occupied with matters pertaining to his profession, and thus, found a great many excuses to be absent. Still, Cassandra bore all of the misery upon her proud shoulders and was a rock to her poor deranged sister and mother, just as her own father had once been, before his own mysterious demise.

If the family had hoped their troubles were ended once the funeral had passed, they were sadly mistaken. Helen began to see a spectral presence in her room at nights. The phantom, she claimed, was no longer a figure in her nightmares but a slim, ethereal entity she saw whilst wide awake. Her mother, too, began to be disturbed by strange noises, eerie sounds, and footsteps rattling past her door as she lay a-bed, trembling. On one particularly dark night, when the moon was too thin to cast even the faintest shadow, a servant on his way to bed had his candle knocked from his hand as if by some terrible unknown force. When the man cried out, another came to his aid with a new light, and perceived ahead of them Charles Doughey’s portrait lying face-down upon the ground. A week later, Helen was dead. She joined her uncle in the dark bosom of the crypt, and the entire town was awash with stories of curses and ungodly goings-on.

“It is he!” Cried the Widow Doughey to Cassandra. “It is your uncle, he walks from the grave to torment us all! The man must surely have been cursed in life. If only I had known he would bring us so low! And where is your brother when we have most need of him?”

“Mother, calm yourself! I cannot believe that our dear uncle would ever wish so much misery upon us, even were he cursed as you claim. I do not believe in curses, give me the key to the crypt and I shall prove that he sleeps unmolested in his grave and that will be an end of it!”

But her mother would not consent to such a macabre undertaking, and refused access to the crypt. “We will wait until your brother comes back from Italy,” she told the girl. But Cassandra, refusing to heed her mother, worked her wiles upon their most trusted servant, who consented to reveal to her the hiding place of the crypt key.

Stealing out of the house as soon as midnight struck and the servants were all a-bed, Cassandra took the key and a set of tools stolen from the house carpenter, and headed off down the path towards the church across the fields behind the great house. Clods of mud clung to her feet and the hem of her gown, but she pressed on unheeding, as if a terrible hunger were upon her. Even though she had no light to guide her, she knew her way perfectly well in the darkness. Owls hooted overhead, and night creatures snuffled and rustled in the woods about her, but Cassandra kept her resolve and only paused for a moment to rest when she saw the graveyard appear before her.

With cold, trembling hands, Cassandra slipped the iron key into the lock and the old crypt door leaned to with aching sound. Inside darkness swallowed up every object, and so Cassandra was forced to light a candle to grope her way down the stone aisle. As she passed her candle illuminated the alcoves where the coffins were kept, some still rested solemn and intact, but others had long since decayed, their wood splintered and sagging, their contents disgorged and sampled by vermin. These sights, and the putrid air of the crypt made Cassandra feel faint and nauseous, but she was ravaged by a desire to push on further into the crypt in spite of these ghastly scenes.

The crypt was terribly cold; with only a shawl about her shoulders the young girl searched each alcove for the name she sought. At last she came to rest at the end of the hall of the dead, where two newly erected plinths stood straight ahead. To their left was an older coffin, one which bore her father’s name, and which she alone new to be empty. Thus this she dismissed without thought and instead rushed to the coffin bearing her sister, her corpse only days old. Almost feverish, she attacked the wood with her tools, wielding them with an almost unnatural force, until the lid was off, and slid to the floor with a crack. Helen’s beautiful face was now a mask of death. Even paler than she had been in life, and joyless, her body was as cold as ice. Gasping madly, her chest heaving, Cassandra lifted her sister up, and partially out of the wooden box. She whispered words into her ear and caressed her long blonde hair, pushing it back from the nape of her neck to show the place where two pin-pick wounds stared out of the alabaster skin like the eyes of a demon.

Helen’s eyes now were opened, her hands clenched. She too gasped and looked wildly about, her bloodshot eyes finally resting on her sister.

“What do we do now?” she asked.

“Now,” said Cassandra, her eyes burning with an unholy glare, the candle light illuminating her bloodthirsty maw, “now we wake Uncle Charles.”

The two young women set upon the second casket and to reviving the old man. Decay had barely marred him, and he seemed alert and eager when roused. The party of three then processed through the crypt and out into the night. The town and its sleeping inhabitants lay ahead of them, innocent and unawares – soon the vampires would be at their hideous repast…

End

****

Notes.

This post was inspired by a few too many nineteenth century Gothic tales late at night – the last line is an homage to the wonderful Varney the Vampire.

Varney the Vampire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11: Where the Moon Waits.

Image by Prozac1 courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

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It was that heartbreaking dusk, the time of day when the all the lights come on and the sky glows pink as the sun fades and the orange phosphorescence of the lamps melts into the darkening blue of a cold winter sky. The day dies, and night steals in.

I looked out of the window at the street; I got out of my chair to look, because it was so beautiful out there. People were walking down below, they were bundled up like presents, their scarves trailed in the wind like ribbons.

Aching from sitting down too long, I reached over and opened a window to let the cool evening in. I wanted the air to wash over me and clear all my thoughts away.I closed my eyes and drifted. I stepped through the window and into the air.

Breezes caught under my arms, and like a sea-bird I drifted for a while on the current. Traffic sounds buzzed up from beneath me like flies but I let them sail past. I wanted to travel down towards the sea front where the waves were, and where crashing water would wash the sentences away. I didn’t want to see words  on a page, or on a screen anymore. I didn’t want them to suffocate me, so I flew south down towards the coast.

I passed little streets were the cars were just lights twinkling. I saw rubbish rustling past and hurrying away, born on the wind like I was. Filled with air, plastic bags take on new forms, like sails. They gain a life of their own, free from their burdens and set off on amazing journeys we can only guess at, only to fall somewhere, redundant, when the wind dies.

I opened my eyes as soon as I smelt the salt. There was the sea, stretching out below me,vast and shaking. White crests foamed and crashed, and seagulls dashed in and out, hoping for snacks, calling to one another.I longed then to speak to them, and for some company on my travels, but there was no one else. Up here, when I chose to fly, I would always be alone, and invisible.

Night seemed to come on suddenly as I skimmed the coast line. The moon reared up out of obscurity and loomed over the crumbling white pier like a ghost. I looked at it full in the face and it looked back.I often find that looking at the moon gives me a strange sort of strength, a power, a new vigour. Perhaps it calls to the magical part of me, the old part. It stirs it up and pulls it out and it does feel like a struggle, to succumb to the moon. But afterwards I feel renewed, my skin tingles, and so I never get tired of looking at it, that silver orb. The sun burns your eyes but the moon warms your soul up, like boiling water on a stove.

I heard voices down on the promenade. There were people sitting on the benches, sitting on the ground, standing around. The sounds they made were raw and they joked with one another but there was a pain in it. I heard the empty bottles hitting the ground, smashing, so I drifted on.There is nothing sadder in this world than the sound of futile enjoyment, than the sound of enjoyment without joy in it.They threw their cigarettes into the wind but I was long past them.

It had grown cold up were I was and I thought to turn around, but there is always that tug that I feel that says “not yet” so I carry on. I carry on even when all my limbs are numb with cold and the light is dying all around me. I close my eyes again as I fly and listen, listen, listen to the waves breaking, and the sea talking. A thousand grains of sand shift on the earth with every breath the sea takes and if you listen closely you can hear them all falling, one by one into place.

I opened my eyes again and with some effort turned around, and away from the sea, and the moon was at my back. The little lights below were blinking as people driving home stopped at traffic lights to let pedestrians cross and cyclists zig– zagged past across roads and pavements and homewards. They think they are flying too, but they are still tied to the earth. I watch them skipping through the streets and I wonder what they think about, under their plastic helmets, pink, blue, grey. They always seem to be in such a hurry to get nowhere.

I can see my street approaching and feel a loss. There is a comfort in knowing that one is returning to a place of warmth and comfort from the cold harsh air. But there is a sadness, a grief in relinquishing the power of flight. The power the moon gives, the solace. Once I slip back inside I am tied again to the everyday things, to the worries, and the realities and the binding stress of living.

I’ve often thought about staying up there, about flying and flying until I am numb all over, until my body disappears and it is my thoughts that carry me on. But reality brings me back, humanity is like a chain you can’t break. A man can’t be a bird. And yet…

I close the window and find myself inside again. I sigh and step into the kitchen, filling the kettle up, yawning, reaching for the milk and blinded by the light from the refrigerator door. But still I can feel a tingle down my spine.

The window is behind me.

Somewhere at my back, the moon waits.

5: The Woman and the Thunderbird.

Another of my short stories written for a weekly fiction competition. The photo below, was our only writing prompt. To read the other entries check out Flash! Friday. Want to know more about this story? Check out my post on Fifty Tales of Fiction.

(Dust storm in Stratford, Texas, 1935. Public domain photo by NOAA.)

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Milo would stare at the image until his eyes hurt.
Every evening after school he would sit down at the old computer that had been left to him when his uncle died. Milo’s mother had gone through every folder on the desk top, methodically deleting everything.
“These aren’t for you to see,” she had said.
“What is it, bad stuff?”
“No, worse than that.”
“What, like illegal?”
“No, not like illegal stuff. Your uncle was an enchanted man, don’t think too much about it ok?”

He hadn’t thought much about it. The only thing interesting about that old computer was the screensaver. He would sit and wait for it to flick on. He always had a system; he would look at the ground first, then follow it up to where the grass met the foundations of the houses. Then he would allow himself to see the figures. In his head they had names, one was simply ‘the woman,’ but the other shape reminded him of a carving on a totem pole, so he called it ‘the Thunderbird.’ It was this figure who intrigued him the most. Once Milo saw the Thunderbird, he would have to look up, and see the storm coming.

Since moving away, Milo had made no friends. His father could not visit them anymore because of the restraining order, but sometimes the Spanish kid would come around. Milo would find him sitting on his little bicycle in their front yard.
“What is that?” he asked Milo, as they stared into the screensaver together.
“I don’t know. I keep thinking one day I’ll see a face in the clouds.”
The kid nodded, in childlike imitation of his own father he said:
“Cara a cara con Dios.”

They stopped looking for Milo’s body on the seventh day of the search. They said he was probably just another run away. The computer stayed on all that week, until finally Milo’s mother had pulled the plug straight out of the wall.
No one had seen the screensaver change, and that there were three figures now, where there had been two; their arms outstretched towards the storm, cara a cara con Dios.