And here's what you've been patiently waiting for: The entries for the Chthulu horror contest! And there are exactly twenty-one entries--more than I actually expected, although I hoped for at least twenty participants to broaden the voting pool.
TO VOTE: Just list your top choice in the comments. We'll give the voting a week and I'll announce the winners next Monday. You get one vote. Winner selection is all on you guys. So get your friends, blog buddies and family to vote, lol.
If anyone sees a typo or something missing from their entry, please let me know asap, as I had to remove a ton of html code from most of the entries in order for them to format. It's possible I accidentally cut your piece! (and I'm not rereading at the moment, as it's 11:30 and time for all good witches to prepare for bed! besides which I stink at proofreading so even though I really DID look these over, it's possible I missed something obvious!)
ENTRY 1: "Pea Soup"
When all had become clear again, the boy was alone. The circle was empty, and the candles at the seven points of the heptagram lit the room with a cheery glow. He tossed the book and chalk across the room with a growl.
"Law-RENCE! What's that noise up there? I heard a thud," his mother's shrill voice floated from downstairs.
Stalking to the door, he whipped it open and then said more meekly, with his customary horrendous stutter, "Nuh-n-nothing, muh-muh-mother. Ah t-tripped.
"Well, keep it down young man. Your father and I are trying to have a nice dinner party.
Yuh-yes, ma'am." He shut the door much more gently than he wished he might, picked up the book and chalk, and tiptoed back to his bed. Not for the first time, Lawrence bemoaned the stutter he'd been cursed with since childhood. Not only did all of his classmates at the high school tease him about it, not only did it cause his mother to bar him from her fancy parties for fear he would embarrass the family, but now he couldn't even use black magic to right the injustices that had been inflicted upon him by his treacherous tongue.
Whatever he'd just summoned had been nothing recognizable and certainly nothing that seemed interested in talking to him about his problems. Lying in the circle like a puked up puddle of pea soup with eyes, confined by the parameters of the chalk outline of the magic circle, it had bubbled occasionally in response to his attempts to communicate until in frustration he'd dismissed the thing with a few waves of his hands. It sure hadn't looked like he'd imagined a shoggoth. For one thing, it'd been kind of dinky. Now all he had to show for his efforts was a circle on his floor that looked like it had been burned into the wood by acid and his mother mad at him. No doubt, he'd hear about it tomorrow at breakfast, and again when she chanced to notice the scorched floorboards.
Lawrence smiled as he heard screams and the clatter of his mother's favorite soup tureen striking the floor. He sighed contentedly as the thunder of panicked feet passed through the front door. The pea soup monster had understood his directions after all! He began to giggle madly as the house grew silent. Maybe a stutter wasn't such a bad thing to have when trying to pronounce the glottal tongue of the Old Ones. He sat on his bed and began to page through the book at his leisure, flipping the piece of chalk through his fingers.
Mary Alice would be sorry she'd mocked him in homeroom this morning...
He wondered what a flying polyp looked like.
ENTRY 2: "Armageddrox"
I was born with a spoon made of silver indeed,
but, before you get snooty, just let me decree
that I worked like a slave at my father's behest
so I'd know how a fortune as made--not bequest.
I learned early on to like challenge and work
though looking back now I can see I'm a jerk.
For pure tunnel vision and selfishness ruled,
leading me to presume and be played for a fool.
(I digress. Pardon me, I'll get on with the tale
cautionary and filled with just how I have failed.)
Starting out on my own, twenty-three and a bit,
I'd seed money earned and inherited wit
which using parlayed into real estate equity.
Selling out gave me funds which I invested carefully.
My big break came next when economies tanked:
I bought out the rights to a promising bank,
then a lab, and a plant that made baked goods and things
such as cookies and pies and cheese doodle strings.
My goal was for billions to rival Bill Gates
and leads to the tale I'm about to relate.
My plant started failing, my products were dull;
so I found a consultant to help me retool.
"You need a new product," he said with a grin,
"Something delicious that tastes like a sin."
We went to my lab with its chemical wiles,
gathered the staff--whom we met with our smiles--
and telling our wants got them working next day
on a product designed to blow rivals away.
My consultant bought in and became my new partner.
His know-how and mine meshed like cash and investors.
I left him to guide the lab's efforts to make
us a product to sell, pull the plant from the brink.
Sooner than later he called up and said
"We've something, come taste it. You'll be most impressed."
"A cookie! Delightful!" I said when I saw.
He heard my sarcasm and glared, clenched his jaw.
"Just try the damn thing." And I did. Then I smiled
as it melted like butter, so flaky and wild,
ambrosial and perfect and-- "Calorie free!"
interjected my partner. (And I squeed a high squee.)
"We've really struck gold!" I predicted, so happy.
"Time to package and market and sell these new puppies!"
Visions of billions accompanied my thoughts
so I failed to see things that I probably ought
like the way his smile quirked and sent frissons to creep
down my spine, fluff my hair on my shivering nape.
Or the way that his eyes gleamed, impossibly red
just a moment...but then my distraction was fed
when his arm squeezed my shoulers and the handsome guy winked.
(And my heart palpitated--for the reasons you think.)
"You and me, girl--we'll sell big, make a mint.
'Cause these things are so good that they'll swear they have sinned."
(Which he'd said once before--but now I bought in.)
The techs in the lab cheered us loud with a din,
and I laughed and we joked and thanked our lab techs
before calling the press with our marketing specs.
"We'll corner the globe!" We high-fived with glee.
"First the promo," he answered. "A box each for free."
I replied with, "Quite nice.
And also a contest with some sort of prize?
All we need is a name. Something cool with pizzazz.
Something that's catchy and creates a huge buzz."
"Armageddrox," he answered with devilish wit.
"Wow, I like it," I said. "It's a wonderful fit!
Our logo can be something wicked and sharp."
"No, something angelic." He air-strummed a harp.
"We'll play on the themes of Good and of Evil
by selling how no-cal will 'save' the good people."
(Something here bothered. I glossed over it quick--
for I hungered, so greedy, to win, grow more rich.)
Yet soon all my worries were cast far away
as sales met our guesses then blew them away.
Our calorie-free, crumbly, cookie delights
outsold competition and soared to new heights.
Record-breaking became our new hobby of sorts
and my partner and I became more than cohorts.
We got married, expanding our product lines, too,
with both foodstuffs and children--Son 1 and Son 2.
'Til something new marred our connubial bliss:
Our no-cal productions were linked with some deaths!
"Good Lord," I opined, "we can't let this go on!"
"Sure we can," hubs replied, "our lawyers have brawn.
Our PR is fine and the public's true greed
will see us through this time of worry and need."
"Doesn't matter," I say, "if they're dying we owe
everyone to discover what causes the woe!"
And he turned to me, palm cupping cheek like I loved,
saying, "Trust me my darling, my dear turtledove.
"I'll fix it all better and make them all think
they've mistaken the matter so our profits won't sink."
What he said made me cold in my heart just like ice.
"You cannot! It 's wrong!" "Businesses don't play nice."
My sweet one, it's time to see all that I've hid:
That my nature is evil and you'll do as you're bid!"
Whereupon his dark glamour did fall from my eyes
and I saw his true nature: The Father of Lies!
The horror I felt made me retch on my shoes
when he drew me much closer, explaining his ruse.
that mankind, so greedy, was eating up sins
quite literally, readily, up to their chins!
"I must stop this before it keeps on, goes too far.
I can stop the production, I can close the plant doors!"
But my spouse (known as Morningstar, Satan, or Jack)
waved a gesture which caught me and drew me right back.
"I'm afraid that you don't understand what's been done,"
he whispered against my neck, giving a hug.
"We've planted the seeds of the Horsemen too deep
so Pestilince rides on the heels of their Greed.
"And Famine has been here because they all buy
our yummy, no-calorie, sin-bearing pies.
"No matter the outcome, the seeds are all sown
for mankind's demise. We'll knock God from His throne
and succeed at long last with destroying His Grace:
Man's so full of sin now from our foods full sin laced!
"Soon it all ends, Armageddon will start
when War is let loose by the loss of our tarts.
So let us close shop if you will, wife of mine.
I'll relish the chaos: Armageddon, it's time."
So, friends, if you see this, I hope you Believe
and pray for we sinners to gain a reprieve!
ENTRY 3: "Child Find"
I have lived long years; twenty-eight of them, plus a multitude of sevens. I watched young men build this street up around my home. I worried over my foundations every time the city dug to lay in some new set of lines. I saw the trees grow tall and the neighbours wax and wane in health.
It seems an eyeblink ago I watched Kyle carry Monique across their threshold, her white lace train brushing maple leaves off the step. Soon they were parading a baby with feathery curls and surprised eyes around, their faces shining with joy.
I watched the child grow, and I watched her parents grow cold. I witnessed the fight when Monique threw Kyle's clothes on the snowy lawn. I saw the police car slide up the day Kyle came to shriek his drunkenness at the front door. I watched the couple's fury chill to loathing as they traded the girl on alternate weekends.
And, by luck, I was the one person who saw Kyle scoop his daughter off the front lawn one Wednesday, put her in his car, and drive away.
I didn't wait to see Monique's terror confirm my suspicions. I got out my old betsy, and I followed him.
Like my car, I am old, and I prefer constancy and careful planning to surprises. Nevertheless, I am still nimble enough of mind to deal with the vagaries of luck, and regardless, a shortage of time pressed upon me that October day.
Anxiety curdled my stomach during the long drive past farmlands and into foothills. Would Kyle note the distinctive car trailing him and try to shake his pursuer? Would my old betsy, with her rare usage, still be up for this journey? She is all I need, with her large trunk and dark windows, but she has not tasted the highway in decades.
The little girl's disappearance murmured over the radio just as Kyle turned onto a gravel road. I drove past to allay his suspicions, then painted a half-circle of rubber on the pavement a quarter mile further on.
My luck held, for the setting sun lit Kyle's dust plume and allowed me to follow him from a safe distance. Once darkness fell, we were too far from civilization for it to matter when he finally spotted the dark car ripping after him with its headlights off.
Fear made his vehicle shimmy, and despite my age, I felt my anxiety fade into a grim pleasure. But his fear changed character also; Kyle jarred his vehicle to a halt. He flung open the door and stepped out. His tail-lights breathed a bloody glow over the road as I pulled to a decorous halt behind him.
Every line of Kyle's body implied a threat as he paced toward the betsy. The little girl's forehead rose in Kyle's back window, and worry and bewilderment warped her eyes.
I got out and stood, hunting in my purse.
Recognition rumpled Kyle's brow, and confusion eroded the malice of his stance. "Miss Fitzreid?"
I smiled, stepped to him, and stabbed him in the heart.
It takes a few delicious moments for a person to die with no heartbeat. By the time he stopped spasming, Kyle's eyes showed white around the irises, and spittle ringed his mouth. The little girl's shrieks warbled like an air-raid siren.
She regained the presence of mind to leap for an escape only after I opened her car door. I snagged the girl's ankle, dragged her back, then tucked the kicking monster under my arm.
"My daddy! My daddy! Why'd you hurt my daddy?"
I hauled her to the betsy's spacious trunk. "Because this way," I said, "he gets the blame, and I get you."
I have lived long years; twenty-eight plus a multitude of sevens. And I will live a multitude more, so long as the thing trapped in the foundations of my house stays willing to trade me seven years of life for every life I feed it.
ENTRY 4: "Phantom Scratches"
Mardea didn’t believe in the Shudderghast. Otherwise she would never have come to this place. But Raya and Ruth were her friends, and they were hiking through the Turbid Hills, reported home of the Shudderghast.
The plan was to cross and reach Fort Echo, somewhere on the other side. Raya had argued with Creighton about the best way to reach Fort Echo. There was a road, but it went around the Turbid Hills and not through them. The road was safe. It also had to have added at least a dozen leagues to the journey. Raya had asked why no one had made a road straight west. Creighton had laughed at her, calling her a silly and stupid girl. Raya didn’t like being called any of those things. She wasn’t silly and she wasn’t stupid. And she was nineteen. Hardly a girl. So, with Ruth and Mardea in tow, Raya set out to prove there was no danger in the hills.
They made good going in the morning, but by afternoon they found the land was against them. Rugged openings barred their way and they were forced to detour. The depressions were smooth and even, and always appeared in sets of three, as though some great creature had been clawing at the ground.
The sun glared into their eyes, beating them back in warning of the coming night. The soft shadows behind them beckoned them home. But Raya was set on their course and pulled them forward.
Of the three only Ruth was openly frightened. She hadn’t thought she believed in the Shudderghast, but standing here in the Turbid Hills she found herself imaging all sorts of demons. Raya was visibly unaffected. She didn’t believe in the phantom. It was just a story to scare children. And Raya wasn’t a child anymore. Mardea wasn’t sure what she believed. Probably not in a Shudderghast. That was just too fantastic. But legends tended to be born of some kind of truth. The most likely truth to this legend was that some wild creature, perhaps a wolf or bear, was present in the hills.
“We will need to find a place for the night,” said Raya, stopping to catch her breath at the top of a rise.
“Do you think it’s safe?” asked Ruth.
“Of course it’s safe,” snapped Raya. “Do you know the real reason there is no road through these hills? It’s the land itself. It’s hard to navigate. All the cuts are dangerous. Fall into one and you could break a leg and be lost forever. That’s the real danger.”
“You’re probably right,” said Mardea, but even as she said it she wasn’t sure. She was wood crafty enough to know when she was being watched. Something was stalking them. “We should keep a guard. I think there’s a wolf or a bear about.”
“Good thinking,” said Raya. “Should we make camp here on the top of this rise? It gives us a commanding view?”
Ruth pointed down the hill to the west. “Why don’t we stay in that cabin?”
“Good idea,” said Raya.
“That wasn’t there a minute ago,” said Mardea.
“You mean you didn’t see it a minute ago,” said Raya. “Come. I doubt it’s occupied. Nobody lives in the Torrid Hills.”
“Maybe there’s a reason for that,” mumbled Mardea.
They hurried to the cabin and found it empty. It was just a dusty, one-room thing, long devoid of activity. They each found a corner and set down to sleep. Raya took first watch. She would wake Ruth who would later wake Mardea.
Mardea had fitful dreams filled with frightening images of death and mutilation. Whispering sounds tormented her and made her skin crawl. She fought to escape not only the illusions of troubled sleep, but sleep itself. Slowly she began to wake – until she realized the whispering sounds had not come from her dream. Rather, reality had been infiltrating her dreams.
She awoke fully, sitting up in the dark. What was left of the moon was hidden behind clouds so the cabin was completely dark. But the whispering sounds were all about her. Dust wafted across her face. Someone, or something, was moving and stirring it up from the floor.
Her pack was at her side. She moved to retrieve it. Slowly. Do not draw attention. Whatever was here was across the room, at Ruth’s corner. Ruth was supposed to be awake and on guard. Her torch was out. Quietly as she could Mardea withdrew her torch and her tinderbox. She struck the flint to the stone, hoping beyond hope to ignite the torch in one try. No luck. The whispering paused. Now it was back, but moving toward her. Mardea struck feverishly. Light, damn you!
With a burst of relief the torch took a spark and then began to burn. The fire grew and lit the room around her. She held it up and gasped.
Ruth was laying in the corner. Her eyes stared without appearing to see. Then Mardea saw her throat. Blood issued from three slashes. Mardea sat to her knees. She turned to Raya, and saw she was in the same condition. Then she heard the whisper beside her. She turned in time to see the snout, teeth, and fire red eyes coming at her. She thrust the torch at it.
Mardea woke to see Raya and Ruth standing at the cabin door.
“Ah. You’re ready to get up now?” said Raya. “Sorry about falling asleep. At least we’re all rested.”
Mardea got up and hurried to her friends. Ruth had her hands over her mouth.
“It’s cold up here in the morning,” she said.
“No matter,” said Raya. “You’ll warm up soon enough once we get going. Still afraid of the Shudderghast?”
Ruth’s hands dropped to her side and she turned around. Mordea pulled up short. There were three long scratches on Ruth’s neck. And her eyes seemed to glow.
“No. Not anymore. Let’s go.”
Raya and Ruth started away. Mordea instinctively put her hands to her throat.
ENTRY 5: "The Haunted House"I always enjoyed cheap thrills. Not that you could call this place cheap. The ticket was thirty dollars. Thirty dollars for what seemed like a super crappy haunted house, it was pathetic. But I was willing to give it a shot, because I loved haunted houses, good ones anyway. Even though I was so used to the shock of having costumed people jump out at me at random intervals, I couldn’t help but love that involuntary twitch I got every time it happened.
Walking in the dark door, I tried to look around. Except for an occasional red light, partially hidden by the smoke from fog machines, the place was too dark to see too far. I shivered, enjoying the darkness, and pulled my worn out old jacket tighter around my small, too-girly frame. I could hear screams somewhere ahead and above me. I found the walls with my hands, feeling my way forward, only to have a man in some pathetic looking costume jump out at me. I gasped, hands moving in front of me, like I could protect myself. Only then did I remember these people weren’t allowed to actually touch the customers. They could jump out at you, even follow for a few feet, but no touching allowed.
I continued down the hall, twitching every time someone jumped out at me. The only one that really freaked me out was the guy- I guess it was a guy- that came so close he breathed down my neck. He knew how to scare a girl. I finally came to the end of the hall, and saw a sign. It was written in some sort of neon ink, so a black light would give it a faint glow. It pointed to my left, to a set of stairs with a faint glow so people wouldn’t fall. The place was lame enough that I didn’t want to continue going upwards. It would just be the same stuff, over and over. I leaned against the wall to my right, debating my choices. Leave or continue.
I slammed at the wall with my hand, pissed beyond belief that I had wasted hard-earned money on this crappy place. And then I heard it.. a strange clicking noise. And the wall opened, just enough for a slim person to slide through. There was a rush of air, whether it was being let into the small opening, or out, I didn’t know.
I wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I stepped in, and before my eyes adjusted, the door was closed behind me. And I had no clue how to get out. I pushed at the door, even felt around for a handle. There was nothing. I forced myself to calm down, I could hear something, but it was too faint, too hard to catch over the pounding in my ears. My heart back down to a somewhat normal rate, I listened. Chanting. I couldn’t make it out, it didn’t even sound like it was in English.
Maybe this was just another part of the haunted house. If so, it wasn’t as lame as I had first thought. In fact, I could even call these people geniuses. Yes, that had to be it. Well I could handle that, and everything else they tried to throw at me.
I continued down the hall, the chanting getting a little louder with each step, but I still couldn’t understand what they were saying. Slowly, I could tell it was getting a little brighter, there was a faint glow now, enough I could see the details of the walls. Stone, it was actually stone, like some medieval castle, nothing but stone. It wasn’t until a few moments later that I realized I didn’t know where the light source was coming from. There had been nothing on the walls, on the ceiling, and it didn’t look like there was a big enough light ahead to be able to see all the way back here. It had to be some sort of trick, mirrors or something, reflecting the light.
I pushed on, sure I would come upon the people chanting soon, but what I saw wasn’t right. It was a big room, red and black drapes hanging from the wall, with two rows of chairs, facing each other, running through the middle of the room. In each chair was a person, eyes closed, still as a statue, dressed in a robe the same red color of the drapes. Funny, I had sworn the chanting was coming from here, but no one’s lips were moving. No one in the room was speaking, but I still heard the words, coming from nowhere. A tape, it was a tape, right?
“I guess I’m supposed to investigate?” This was eerie, walking down behind these men in their robes, so still I thought for a second they had to be dummies. But I would see an occasional movement from each, usually shoulders lifting just slightly as someone took a breath. I couldn’t help myself, I was drawn to them, to see what they were, what they were doing. The chanting was just egging me on. I didn’t know what the words meant, but I felt like they meant for me to keep going. Like they wanted me to touch one of the robed men, to see if he felt like stone.
I did it. I reached out and touched the man nearest to me on the shoulder. He felt cold, dead. Just that one touch, even when I was just touching his clothing, it was enough to make me feel sick. I yanked my hand back, shoving it into my jacket pocket to warm it. This was too much for me, I had to get out of here. There had to be another door somewhere, and if not, I’d kick that passage way door down if I had to.
I turned to leave the way I came, when I saw a glint of something out of the corner of my eye. I turned, and stared into the eyes of one of the statues. Eyes that had been closed before, and I saw why now. They were ruby red, glowing with some inner light. Not only that, but the mouth, that formerly frozen mouth was pulling into a snarl, revealing not teeth, but fangs. Two rows of fangs, two in the top, two in the bottom, every tooth sharpened into something I knew would kill me.
I shrieked and ran, but I had barely gotten two steps when I was knocked to the ground. Claw-like nails were digging into my legs, freezing me as quickly as warm blood dripping down my legs was warming me. This couldn’t be happening. This wasn’t real! They weren’t allowed to touch the customers, it was a rule. I rule I had thought stupid, now I wanted it back. I screamed, kicking, scratching at my attacker, begging for help. But all I saw was the rest of the statues rise from their chairs and turn towards me.
I let out one more scream before my throat was ripped open. As I lay there, knowing I was dying, I wished I was numb. I wished I couldn’t feel every last fang ripping into my arms, my legs, my sides.
ENTRY 6: Untitled
The Great Old One studied the rows of subs on display, his thoughts indescribable.
‘What can I get you?’ said the girl behind the counter.
Cthulhu heaved a sigh. Ham and mustard or cheese and pickle? Sooooo hard to decide. After much deliberation (and some eeny-meeny-minying of his dangly cephalopod wibbly bits), he finally settled on the soup. Tomato and coriander. Sounded nice.
The girl took his order. ‘Would you like a roll with that?’
‘What do you have?’ asked Cthulhu, producing his wallet from between two blubbery flaps of pustulent vileness.
‘Plain white, brown or crusty.’
Cthulhu thought hard. Given his loose bowels, brown was a no-no, and plain white held too many dark memories. In any case, mucusy discharge dripped from his body in globules and he needed something to soak it all up.
‘Crusty,’ he said, finally, and handed over £1.75.
The café was barely half full; a twilight world of custom between breakfast and lunch, and as Cthulhu slithered over to a seat by the window with his tray, he couldn’t help thinking how dowdy the place looked.
‘Could do with some pictures,’ he muttered. ‘And maybe a few potted plants...’
While his soup cooled down, Cthulhu spread out his newspaper on the table.
‘Iran close to nuclear weapons...Obama voted sexiest man...Cowell signs singing amputee dance troupe...’ Nothing but bad news again. He turned to the crossword. ‘Seven down. Evil Tome. Twelve letters. Third letter, C.’ A smile burst from the rolls of fungoid flesh he called lips, staining the paper doily beneath his soup spoon. ‘Know that one! N-E-C-R-O-N-O-M-I-C-O-N...’
He filled in another half dozen words, looking up every now and then to pull faces at a toddler stuffing her face with chips and ketchup.
‘She’s mad for it,’ said the child’s mother.
‘Aren’t we all?’ replied Cthulhu, with a knowing nod.
The Spawn of Vhoorl gave his soup a gentle stir then set the spoon down, and with a gurgling sound to rival all Jeff Goldblum’s best scenes in The Fly, two trails of viscous slime drooled down his fattest tentacle in a double helix and sank the tips of their foulness into the soup. A row of flaps in Cthulhus’ octopoid head gaped open like spiracles on a maggot, and he sucked hard till his eyeballs spat vomity tears. Nice soup — if a tad overseasoned.
He was toying with the idea of a treating himself to a nice iced bun when a chime rang out over the café’s idle chatter.
11am. Time to go.
With a sigh of resignation, Cthulhu wiped his fingers on his napkin, folded away his paper and stood up. Then, after a cheery wave to the girl behind the counter and a last comic gurn at the toddler, he undulated out through the door.
Moments later, the neighbourhood burned like an inferno, and flapping, gibbering horrors burst from every charred corpse.
ENTRY 7: "sleeping souls"
a warm desert wind is gusting through trees
to the flashes of lightning far
the beating drums that pulse through the air
brings fear to the minds ajar
and you hear the keys unlocking the gates
of souls long fast asleep
and moments later you pick up the stench
as they through doorways creep
then shadows around you move with stealth
one blink and the scenery’s changed
invisible footsteps that cause a creak
leaving your mind deranged
with nerves on the edge of a deep abyss
you feel their touch on your back
the icy breath that skims your cheek
you flee from the blind attack
ENTRY 8: Vengeance on the Unknowing
Each stair creaked more loudly than the last as my foot touched it, my attempted stealth failing completely. As if it would help me now. The air grew steadily colder as I descended into the basement. The stainless steel knife clutched in my hand would hardly be helpful if my tormentors where, as I believed, ghosts. The sense of safety that comes with holding a sharp weapon slowed my shallow breathing though, and I wished to be as calm as possible. I hoped everything was in my head and maybe if I calmed down it would all go away, though I feared, and indeed knew, otherwise.
A door upstairs slammed and I jumped, dropping the knife which clattered down into the darkness. I stifled a scream as ice cold water ran down my back. A icy sweat glistened on my forehead. "Keep going." The ethereal, childish voice whispered right next to my ear. It almost sounded lyrical as she goaded me on. The eerie sound, enough to tear down the spirit of the staunchest warrior, nearly killed me itself.
"Why." I cried. "What do you want of me?" My tears froze on my cheeks.
"You will see when you get there. You will see quite clearly. Keep going or I will make you go." The voice threatened to make me fall down the stairs with a strong breath of wintry air pushing against my back, almost strong enough to topple me.
I continued the descent, quaking with every step. The voices of the dead whispered in my ears the whole way down. I knew not why they tormented me so. I wanted to run back up the stairs to my fireplace, but the threats kept me in the downward motion.
Suddenly a white light burst from the dankness of the basement where no light bulb had ever worked. As the light receded slightly I saw a pile of corpses at the bottom of the stairs. Their faces shrouded in shadow even as the light shown upon them. By this time my teeth chattered uncontrollably, both from cold, and from fear.
"This is your doing. You killed these innocents." The voice intoned, "I am one of them, and I have seen firsthand how it is all your fault. You will find me at somewhere in there. I am the four foot tall blond girl with the green eyes. You will find me and you will know."
"But I've never hurt a soul in my life! I'm a church woman, I work for charities."
"And by that you killed us, and you continue to do so with every family you turn away."
Ice enveloped my body as I tried to grasp her meaning. I would lie among those ghostly corpses forever perhaps. Never dying, yet never again living. My own personal hell within my most beloved home.
ENTRY 9: The Priest Of Parker's Knoll
Mine has been an unhappy lot these past several months, but as the parish priest, it has been my duty to tend to the sick and the dying, offering what solace I might in their long, dark hours of suffering and need. There have never been so many as there have been of late, however, and I found myself collapsing into bed early each morning from exhaustion.
But, now, there is only one: our village physician, Dr. Matthew Forrest. He had been feeling poorly for a month before taking to his bed, sick with the terrible illness from which I fear he will never recover. I feel quite badly for the poor gentleman as I sit by his sickbed and hold his cold, damp hand in my own for whatever comfort such a paltry gesture may provide. He is upon his last suffering now, and as much as I wish to speak to him that he nears not his end, but another beginning, a transformation of spirit, my heart is no longer in it.
Once, only a few months ago, I uttered such words with a gentle, pious spirit as I envisioned the glories of God's Heavenly Kingdom, but it wasn't long before the emptiness of such comfort became evident. The shining gates of Heaven seem distant and tarnished things to me now, and of them I will not speak to a living soul. There is no peace or solace in contemplating them. It is true that a remarkable transition awaits him, as it did for all those whom I comforted, but of it, I do not speak. He already knows what shape the end of his illness will take, for he is the last of them, save for myself, and has seen it with his own eyes.
I have been feeling poorly, myself, for a little over a month, now. I know that I should take to my own bed, but I cannot. I must see Dr. Forrest off before I do, and for this, I have pushed my own endurance nearly to the breaking point. I watch over him as his breathing becomes ragged, and a rattle sounds deep within his chest at his every breath. It has become familiar to me now, and the sound no longer holds the dread it once did. There is only sorrow, and a desperate feeling that we have been forsaken here.
At length, Dr. Forrest's breathing slows and becomes shallower, as the rattling rises. His complexion has grown waxy and bluish. He looks at me now with an interminable sadness, but I can muster no more tears. I am nearly spent, myself. The rattle dies in his chest with the last breath he will ever take.
It is the end of Dr. Forrest. His last mournful gaze is yet locked on me, and I see the dark, lambent, reddish stain fill his eyes that I have seen so many times before. His clammy hand is hard and sharp. I feel his muscles stir.
I do not like to speak of death, for it has been a comfort denied us. Indeed, death has had no hold upon our parish since that terrible night, those long months ago, when we received our strange visitor. The only prayer I have left is that the Reaper may yet come to us again and save us from our living nightmare, for our graveyards cannot feed us forever.
ENTRY 10: The Fear Of Monsters
I recall my childhood with an unwonted clarity. There are things in it best left forgotten, but often these are the very things which call themselves to my mind when the shadows grow deep and strange around me. I was a sensitive child, given to nervous fits, and try as I might, I could not convince Mother that all I experienced was real. When the night was at its blackest, I would often hear the faint rustling of furtive things moving against the floorboards, and the susurration of hushed voices issuing from tiny mouths that sounded as though they held too many teeth.
At first, Mother simply smiled at me in the gentle way that mothers have of dismissing the fancies of youth. A fertile imagination combined with too rich a dessert at dinner and the nocturnal sounds an old house will make to concoct these horrors, she would say to me. But I became insistent, and when a change in diet and long, patient explanations of the noises pipes and joists and furnaces made wrought no change in me, Mother became concerned for my sanity, and I learned at length the value of silence.
“There are no such things as monsters,” she’d steadfastly declare each night as she switched off my bedroom light. Her conviction was meant, I’m certain, to comfort, but all it did was fill me with dread and a terrible realization of my isolation, for it meant I would always be alone to face whatever it was that scratched and scrabbled along the floors each night.
It did not cease.
As I grew older, I set mouse and rat traps to finally see what it was that bedeviled my nights, but I caught nothing but more dread. Mere rodents do not twist the traps meant for them into mangled masses of uselessness. Still, I did not catch sight of them, and I wondered at times if perhaps Mother had been right to question my sanity.
Thus the matter continued until the days of my youth were almost spent. I was nearly 18, and I had grown lean, pale and haggard from a decade and a half of poor sleep, when I finally spotted one of the “monsters” that had plagued me for so long. It was as if frozen in place in the center of the floor as I switched on my bedroom light one night, caught in its imprudence. Standing some ten inches tall, it was a thing with a spindly and strangely spidery build with long, clever hands. It stood on two long, thin legs with reversed knees, and long, bony feet ending in widely splayed toes bearing sharp, curving claws that glistened blackly in the stark pool of electric light. For long moments, I stood in my bedroom doorway and stared at this night-black, imp-like beast with savage teeth and talons. For long moments, it did not move. The creature’s face was a mask of terror, its overlarge eyes too widely opened, its needle-like ears too sharply pricked beside sinuous horns.
But, gradually, a presentiment of a dread greater yet crept upon me. My heart’s pace, already rapid, quickened further still, and every hair at the nape of my neck became a harsh bristle.. I could feel in those terrible moments every molecule in the air around me colliding with my hypersensitive skin, and the sensation became a maddening torture. The monster’s eyes, so wild with fear, were not fixed upon me at all. That which inspired its mad fright waited in the corridor behind me.
The light from my bedroom spilled only a short way into the hall, and I turned to face whatever half-lit terror lurked there. My relief upon seeing Mother’s face was palpable.
My relief was short-lived.
A bloodcurdling scream issued from the thing in my room, but Mother’s expression never changed. She could not hear it. Too late, I saw my bedroom light flash across the steel edge of the knife Mother wielded. The next moment, I stared dumbly at the weapon, imbedded in my chest to its rune-inscribed hilt.
I wheeled about, and stunned, fell to my knees. The spindly creature of darkness tentatively stepped toward me, and I could see tears glistening in its saucer eyes, as Mother laughed. Gently, the thing took one of my limp hands in both of its own, and I marveled at the comforting coolness of its skin, and the sympathetic touch of its curving claws against my flesh.
“I’m sorry,” it whispered to me. “We tried.”
It scrambled up my arm to pull the blade free, and for a moment, held its long, clawed hand over the wound. Mutely, I watched my blood flow over its night-black skin. It was, I mused, an oddly beautiful sight. The blade clattered to the floor and in an instant, the creature was gone.
I recall the light wavering uncertainly as I collapsed to the floor, and the rhythmic thunder-crack footsteps of Mother as she approached to watch me die. At the time, I thought it my imagination, or the strange final sensations of death, as I felt my body twist and shrink, and my knees reverse direction. Oddly, there was no pain, save for the cold, ruthless memory of Mother stabbing me and the delight and hunger that gleamed in her eyes. But, I took some measure of solace in the ragged cry of dismay, fury and frustration that escaped Mother’s lips as she saw her ritual blade lying on the floor, rather than buried to the hilt in my heart. She stood bathed in electric luminescence as I slipped forever beyond her grasp into darkness.
There will soon be another child, we are certain, and we will wait. This time, we would not fail. We are furtive, as we must be, and vicious, for we have formidable enemies who would destroy us. But, darkness is still ours, for those things which really are dangerous to humankind never hide where they are most sought.
“There are no such things as monsters,” Mother always told me. And then, I saw one. Now, I creep upon spindly legs with curving claws where the shadows grow deep and strange. We dream. We imagine. We inspire. And someday, we will win our freedom from the true monsters that lurk in the light.
ENTRY 11: Relief
The flapping of leathery wings filled the night and was gone. Frank saw Lyn shiver and pull her coat tighter round her.
"I hate those things," she said. "I'm always scared one's going to get caught in my hair, specially with all this wind."
"Cobblers," Frank said. "It's an urban myth. Bats don't get caught in people's hair." He wondered what rubbish she'd been reading now.
The wind tormented the trees around the car park and tangled Lyn's long fair hair across her face. She looked at Frank appraisingly. "It's all right for you."
Frank ran a hand over his bald patch. Trust her to prod a sore spot. "Let's get home," he said. "The trick or treaters will be gone now."
"I wonder what they'll have left us with. Probably eggs on the door, or maybe worse."
He sighed, worn down by her pessimism. "Just get in the car--"
A sudden gust of wind blew dust and leaves into their faces and Lyn shrieked and batted wildly at her head. "It's in my hair! Get it away from me!"
"I can't unless you stand still! Where's the scissors?" Frank reached into the glove compartment for a pair of scissors then clipped away at Lyn's hair until a bramble branch came free. He threw it to the ground in disgust. "It's only a bit of twig," he said. She made such a fuss.
"Look what you've done to my hair! I'm going to have to get it cut short now." Lyn's eyes were filled with tears. "I knew something was going to get in my hair tonight."
Frank put his arm round her. "Let's go home and get to bed," he said. "You'll feel better after a sleep."
The house was dark as they pulled up outside. Frank was sure he'd left the porch light on. "Maybe the bulb's broken," he said. "Something must have blown into it in this wind."
Lyn fumbled inside her handbag, searching for a comb Frank guessed. "You hear these stories about empty houses at Halloween," she said. "There was one where someone got in the house and trapped this man inside and before he could get out the intruder took his wife away and he never saw her again."
"You read too many magazines," Frank said. He went to the front door leaving Lyn rooting around in her handbag. Before he could turn the key in the lock the door swung open. His heart thumped.
"I'm sure it's OK," he called back.. "We must have forgotten to lock it." Or she must have, he thought. For someone who worried about intruders she might try locking the doors a bit more often.
Frank stepped inside and a gust of wind blew the door shut behind him. He tried to open it again but he couldn't. He flicked the light switch but nothing happened and he felt panic rising. He told himself that he wasn't a child now to be afraid of the dark. The door probably just needed a good shove from outside.
He called out, "Lyn? Lyn! Give me a hand. The door's stuck."
The wind had risen to a scream and he wondered if she could hear him. She didn't come to help. He tried again, first shaking the door then banging it and finally, after some frantic scrabbling with the catch, wresting it open. The car stood in the driveway, headlights on and blinding him. Lyn wasn't in sight.
"Lyn?" he called, shielding his eyes. "Lyn?"
This is it, he thought. It's all happened just like Lyn said. She said something would get stuck in her hair and it did, and she talked about that woman disappearing and now she's gone. It didn't make sense but then nothing made any sense tonight. An unfamiliar feeling stirred in his stomach. He'd better turn off the car lights, check that she really was missing, and then phone the police.
The wind was howling as he reached the car. He opened the passenger door and saw Lyn's bottom stuck up in the air as she rummaged for something on the back seat. She'd been there all along.
Frank slumped. He told himself it was relief he was feeling now, and that what he'd felt earlier was despair. Given time, he'd even believe it.
ENTRY 12: As I Pondered
My foot grated across the thick dust of the bell tower landing. I dragged my other foot up that last step, leaned over, grabbed my knees and panted. The backpack banged against my elbow. I shoved it back. The smell of dirt and bird droppings tickled the inside of my mouth.
Two hundred steps from above the midpoint to the top of this ridiculous climb. How many steps from the bottom? Too late to go back and count from the beginning. Hitching my stomach on top of the middle rail, I stuck a finger out at arm’s length and pointed at the bottom stair. My finger wavered and I lost count of the switchbacks. Closing one eye helped, but I wasn't sure if the bottom floors had the same number of stairs as the top ones or if the stairs were of a uniform height. Accuracy could not be guaranteed with this method. I put my full weight back on my shaky legs. Starting over was not an option. Mother was right. For once. I should've spent more time in the gym.
The backpack slipped from my shoulder. I let it clunk to the wooden floor, only remembering the glass bottle when I heard it break. Too late, again. The drab green bottom darkened. Rivulets of liquid courage gathered dust as they coursed across the floor, unerringly seeking the lowest point. I followed one stream to the end and started a slow count as a drip let go of the baseboard and fell to the earth.
I unzipped the bag and whipped out my journal; followed by the heady aroma of whiskey. I grabbed a sheet of paper and ripped it down the edge. Bits of white fluttered to the floor. Approximately five seconds in free fall. No idea of the mass of a drop of dirty whiskey. Nor what value to use for air resistance. Gravity is thirty-two feet per second per second – at sea level. This isn’t sea level. If distance equals half the gravity times the time squared, that would be one half times thirty-two times twenty-five.
Sinking to the floor, I bit the end of the pen. Four hundred feet seemed excessive. Using four seconds yielded a distance of two hundred fifty six feet. Too many unknowns and substandard measuring methods. I crawled to the edge and looked down. It was high enough for my purposes. I hoped. Besides, I could come back later and measure; providing there was a later.
I balled up my calculations and tossed them in the corner, then beat my filthy hands against my jeans. Sinking back on my heels, I pondered a new page, a blank page. This needed to be a clear message for those who would read it. I needed them to understand, to empathize, to forgive – just in case I was wrong. My knees objected to my position. I sat down, straightened my legs out and sighed. Not a good time to get writer's block.
My butt bounced off the floor. Damn crow.
I waved my journal at the bird. It settled down on the railing and stared at me. I didn’t have the energy or the ambition to get up and chase it off.
It spread its wings and flapped them, claws gripping deep into the wood. Then it launched and flew above the bell into the rafters. I leaned over and peered around the bell. No bats in this belfry. The bird sat on the edge of its huge crow’s nest and stared back at me.
“Great. You can be my witness.”
I leaned back and closed my eyes. My hypothesis was simple. Floating was prevalent in dreams. It could be prevalent in waking life, too. It required the right mindset, the right circumstances, the right opportunity to present itself. I was here to give it that opportunity. I crawled to the edge and looked down again. What price failure?
Staring at the ground some two hundred fifty six to four hundred feet away, I pondered that question. I could easily be wrong. The more practical side of my brain noted I was probably wrong. But my powerful dreams – night after night – were too strong to deny. At least they seemed so every morning when I first woke up. Now, when my feet were complaining about the climb and my lungs about the quality of the air, I was having second, third and fourth thoughts. And that was antithetical to my hypothesis. I had to believe in order to succeed.
I pulled away from the edge and sank to the floor once again. Pen poised, I gathered my thoughts.
To Whom It May Concern;
The soundness of my mind, while questionable from your point of view, is not from mine. I am a scientist first and foremost and willing to pay the price to prove my theories whether that be in hours at the lab, in lengthy discussion of the pros and cons, in mathematical delving into the secrets of the universe. Today, I seek to prove my theory of the human ability to float through the air and land safely on the ground.
I ripped the page out, balled it up and sent it into the same corner as the first. Pompous crap. Delusional. That’s what they’ll say. At best. I hung my head. It was a long way down, but I preferred the stairs. Maybe. I would hate to get to the bottom and have to climb back up again.
I had to make sure of my decision to abandon this scientific quest. I stood and leaned out; my toes dangling over the edge of the platform. Tightening my stomach muscles, I pulled back. Yep. I was not ready to die for science. But I wanted to prove my theory. I believed in my ability to fly. Didn’t I? I leaned out again; holding myself at that point between staying and falling.
ENTRY 13: Lost In Greenery
The wind uses the forest to voice its thoughts. It uses the pinions of owls. I hear the words, though I do not know the language. The dragonflies understand. The geckos do, with their flanks working like bellows.
Sitting on my deck, I listen to the clack of wooden wind chimes, the tink-tink of copper ones. Something caws in the distance. I think it is a crow. Or something mimicking a crow. My ears keep me grounded. But my eyes are lost in greenery.
Not twenty yards from my chair, the woods rise. Pines. Oaks. Magnolias. Other trees I cannot name. Spanish moss twists along their limbs like the beards of old men. Blackberry brambles fill the underbrush, gravid with yet unripened fruit. Things are hiding among the green, though with a little effort I can see them.
Shadows sweep across the world with wings. Perhaps there are birds high in the air casting them. My human mind tells me there are birds. But I do not see them; I cannot swear they are there. And the shadows are large. I think perhaps they are fossil shadows, leftovers from the time of pteranodons and pteradactyls.
But the living things that fill the woods are not fossils. A moment ago a long silken blackness raced down the bare trunk of a pine. I saw it clearly, an animal shape some three feet long with a sleek head and long tail. It took a while for my human mind to say anything about that. It told me I’d seen the shadow of one pine swaying past another in the wind. But I don’t believe it.
I don’t believe it because of the god who conceals himself just below that spot in the bushes. He is painted many shades of green and black, and blends so well with his surroundings that I cannot tell where the god ends and the world begins. Sometimes I see only his eyes, which are like specks of sun reflected in tear drops. Sometimes I see his torn cloak and the ratty top hat he wears. I have never seen his mouth. I don’t know if he smiles. I wonder if he has teeth, and if they are long.
The god is watching me, very very quietly watching me. I suspect the silk-black animal is really one of his angels. I’m sure there are more. The are hiding from me, even as the god is trying to hide. I believe he has planted the forest on his back in an attempt at camouflage. But the wind reveals him. I think the voices in the breeze are prayers coming in from worshippers all over the world.
I wonder if the god would join me on the deck if I invited him for a drink and smoke. My mind is divided on the subject. The human part of me suggests that he will not leave the woods, that without the glory of his surroundings he would appear only shabby and small. He could not tolerate that. The animal part of me, though, says he’s already here, hunched over and dripping behind me.
I wonder if I should turn my head. I wonder if I should show him my own teeth. I don’t want to scare him off. I’m very hungry, and it has been a long time since I’ve eaten a meal as fine as a god.
ENTRY 14: Bottomless
I have been falling for ages.
It began as these things often do – mind elsewhere, a stumble, a collapse. My throat had gone raw from screaming and vomiting before I realized there was no end. The world was ink, gravity was of no matter, and death was coming. Perhaps not in the way my crazed mind had anticipated when the ground first broke beneath me, but it was coming nonetheless.
Several hours may have passed before I was able to adjust to the sensation of constant freefall, and several more went by before I understood that I was not alone in my fate. Debris and creatures rose and fell around me, seemingly oblivious to the laws of physics. The world is strange, but stranger still when darkness and the downward pull are all that keep the crawling, wretched beings at the edge of thought from reaching out to pluck you, allowing you to hang, gasping and broken, before they devour you.
A day might have gone by when my drive for survival kicked in. Hunger and adrenaline had made me weak, and I began to listen. The coiled, venomous, slithering things surrounded me. I could hear their hissing and sense their ooze. By this time, I had spread my body wide and fell belly-down, adopting a lazy spin, and I waited. I learned about them, these falling things, and my hands clenched and flexed. When the moment was right, my fingers burst into the darkness and closed on something surprisingly dry and unsurprisingly serpentine. The devil was between my teeth before my revulsion could cast it away, and I gorged. It may have screamed; I do not remember. All my memory holds is gritty organ and salty flesh.
The fall stretched on. I’ve no idea where I managed to find the fluids to survive. There must have been enough in the life and blood of the tunnel beasts I could get my claws on. I urinated and moved my bowels when necessary; the stink never lasted long. Sometimes I slept the restless sleep of one who knows their predator rests close by. One fateful morning (as I began to think of them), my arm struck an outcropping and shattered. Oh, how I howled. I sang to the terror-fish and horror-snakes to distract myself as I bound the ruined limb with cloth stripped from my flapping shirt.
In time, they began to understand me, these things of anti-gravity. They understood that I needed them to survive, and they moved closer to confide that they needed me. There were great secrets to share; incredible information they had held in their whirling minds for eons. My singing was greatly admired, and often my performances were greeted with the slap and hiss of applause. One of the largest, who I had feared from the beginning, wrapped me in flat, sheet-like arms and whispered great knowledge to me – solutions to the ailments of the world that were so painfully simple I could not fathom how I had never considered them before. We fell together, he and I, his soft, dry skin protecting me from the elements and cradling my destroyed arm.
There came a time when a villain, a jealous rat with a slimy tail, decided to destroy me. He felt me an outsider; unworthy to taste the flesh or hear the whispers of his brethren. As the wind whipped by and I fell, deep in discussion with a bold creature, he floated behind me and sank his vicious teeth into my good arm. I clawed at him, reduced him to shredded hair, but his poison had taken effect. He has driven me mad, that rat. The comforting darkness is gone, replaced by burning light. No more do the whispers of my companions lull me to sleep; now there are only moans and howls. I am confined, and I scream for my sanity yet.
And still I fall.
ENTRY 15: Facing the Nameless Eldritch Horror
How quickly can joyful excitement turn to terror? Think of the sky-diver whose chute doesn’t open or the bathyscaphe pilot who hears the first crack in his window. Think of me, a spelunker, crawling down a previously unexplored tunnel only to have the quickest glimpse of a slime-covered tentacle as it struck from out of the darkness.
This unnatural appendage gripped my right wrist and drew me down the tunnel toward a lightless, glistening hole. The animal part of my brain knew it did not want to be born into whatever world awaited it on the other side of that vile fissure. I writhed and clutched at the unyielding rock. My fingernails splintered and my bloody hand left a thin scarlet trail in my wake. It was to no avail, I was borne away.
For several long seconds I hung in the void – suspended by my strained and tortured wrist. An unnatural chill crept up my arm as the gelatinous tentacle drew the warmth from my body. Only the nearest wall was visible in the wan light of my glow-stick, the ebon crevice now so near, so heart-breakingly near.
I turned my head and beheld my captor’s pulpy cephalopodan-like body. As if it had been waiting for me to watch, with slow and exquisite cruelty it wrapped me in a second frigid tentacle. Its other tentacles, appendages that appeared wholly unsuited for maneuvering around a cave, propelled the reeking mass over glistening rocks; carrying me away from the fissure through which I’d been drawn.
It was the eyes that struck at my mind. As I stared, I realized that it never blinked. Its gelatinous eyes resembled two enormous albino slugs embracing lightless voids in space. There was neither mercy nor empathy in those eyes, and the soul upon which they were windows was dark, pitiless, and alone.
Its mouth was a long lipless slit. This gash opened and the creature’s breath enveloped me in an icy miasma. Its exhalations were colder than the air in this lightless lithic womb. I pressed against the monster’s grip without doing more than feeding it with my body heat. As I started to shiver in its grip I realized it was content to extract my life, slowly, dispassionately.
This was a creature that was clearly outside of any world known by man. It might have lurked here in this Stygian crypt for millennia, its gelid heart beating to the rhythm of some ponderous and sluggish metronome. There was no name for this monster.
No name. This is the monstrosity vomited out of some other, darker dimension. This would have been the very image of the Nameless Eldritch Horror in Lovecraft’s nightmarish imagination.
In that instant I deduced a way out.
“I see you! I know you! I name you,” I uttered through chattering jaws. The tentacle tightened momentarily and with the breath it squeezed from my body I declaimed, “You are Pat!” As I named it, its pupils contracted in surprise.
“Now, Pat, set me down.” Pat’s mouth turned down in confusion and then, reluctantly the tentacle lowered me to the cave floor. “Let me loose, Pat!” Pat’s eyes widened and its frown deepened, but the tentacle loosened, and pulled away.
I began to back away toward the crevice. “Stay here, Pat. Do not move.” Pat shuddered as it fought against the compulsion of my command. Then it relaxed and its tentacles slumped to the floor. I reluctantly turned my back on Pat and carefully picked my way through the slime and mud on the floor. I glanced back from time to time to reassure myself Pat hadn’t moved but it remained still and quiescent. With each step I felt both warmth and joy again.
As I reached the wall and made the short assent to the crevice it suddenly occurred to me that I now controlled the most momentous discovery in decades. I knew that I would soon return and extract Pat from this lightless grotto. Thousands, no, millions would pay for the chance to look into those soulless eyes.
Behind me, in the dark, Pat's mouth turned up in a malevolent smile.
ENTRY 16: The Camera
Afterwards, Dena could not remember how her son had committed suicide, only that he left no note.
She couldn't remember the funeral either. The day that had signalled not only the end of her life as a mother, but also the end of her life as half of a divorced couple connected by an almost-grown son. An ending Tony had underlined only a few weeks later by becoming engaged to Elena. 'My rock,'he'd said. Now Elena had a rock. It sparkled indecently on her finger.
Dena's forgetting was psychological, her doctor said, an emotional shield generated by her mind. He offered her an appointment with a psychiatrist,but she refused. Then he offered her tranquillisers. She refused again. Instead, she carried on, washing once a week, looking after the garden,shopping for one. It was almost as if there had been no Philip.
Only one loose end remained. Six months after his death, Dena drove the two hours to the city where Philip had been studying, to clear out his room.
The landlord had left the key under the mat and she let herself in. The flat was empty, Philip's flatmates long gone. Open doors lined the polished wood hallway. Dust motes danced in late afternoon light that was the golden colour of toast. Dena passed the empty rooms until she came to the one at the end of the hallway, the one with the closed door. Philip's.
The hinges whined slightly as Dena pushed the door open. Then, as she walked into the room, Philip walked back into her life. The room was full of him; the floorboards strewn with shoes, socks, underpants, books and sweatshirts;the bed unmade, the desk scattered with notepads, leaflets, empty chip packets, tumblers, mugs, pens, pencils, mouldy-crumbed plates, CDs, files,more socks, papers and crumpled tissues. Under the staleness of the air, she smelt him too, the blend of earth and ripe apples that she remembered from the moment he was first laid, crying, on her empty stomach.
She almost wept, but, no, there was too much to do. The crockery on the desk must be washed and bleached. That was the place to start. She found Philip's wastepaper basket - empty - under a discarded sweatshirt and started sweeping old tissues off the desk. But, these tissues, all had a little bit of Philip on them, should she keep...a shocked giggle rose in her throat,but died when she picked up an empty chip packet to reveal a photo of her.
Philip had taken it the last time he'd been home, with the digital camera he'd picked up at a garage sale. A deceased estate, he'd said. He'd been so proud of the little gadget, showing her the screen that displayed the photo of her standing in front of the blossoming apple tree. The camera -maybe it had a photo of Philip on it too. Something to add to the photo albums that had once seemed so full, but now seemed so finite.
Dena rummaged through the desk drawers and swept the junk off the desk -uncovering Philip's laptop - but found no sign of the camera. She crawled across the floor, through the crusty cast offs and broken-spined books, and peered under the bed, finding only dust and tissues, and a couple of magazines she didn't much want to look at. She sat back on her haunches. No camera. Maybe one of Philip's flatmates had taken it. Stolen her memories. She cried, briefly, harshly, her face buried in her hands. That was when she realised she had to know everything. Everything about those final moments when Philip had decided that he didn't want to be her son any more.
She tipped her head back and wailed at the cracked ceiling, at the dustylampshade, at the camera, in a blue neoprene case, hanging from its strap ona hook high up in the corner of the room.
Why hadn't she noticed it before? Dena struggled up from the floor, her stiff knees making her wonder how long she had cried. She scrubbed the tears away with her sleeve, streaking her cuff with mascara, then stood on tiptoe and unhooked the camera. She unzipped the case with trembling fingers and fumbled for the 'on' button.
The lens sighed open. The screen was blank. Nothing.
The camera tumbled from her numb fingers to the floor. Something in the mechanism whined and the screen, face up, flickered into life. Dena saw the photo of herself in front of the apple tree. She dropped back to her knees,ignoring the flare of pain, and grabbed the camera.
She was right. After the photo of her came photo after photo of Philip, more photos that she could ever have wanted, photos that told her everything she needed to know. She scrolled through them with urgent fingers; racing through the microseconds the camera had caught, the last flashes Philip had left of his life. Of his death.
Dena watched again and again, her own photo flashing past at the beginning and end of Philip's story, the story told in the photos that showed him moving jerkily around his room. First looping his old school tie into a noose, then tying one end around the curtain rail, then standing on a chair,then placing the noose around his neck, and, finally, kicking the chair away.
Eventually Dena rested the camera on Philip's bed. She was surprised by her calm, by her smooth movements as she gathered what she needed. Philip's jerkiness, she realised, must have been due to the shutter of the camera,opening and closing as it captured his actions. Dena hummed as she worked. The camera clicked gently in the background, a nice counterpoint to her voice.
Later, her body spun gently through the golden dust motes. From the bed, the camera watched. Until, after a few minutes of silence, the lens closed and slid into the body of the camera with a whir that sounded almost like a self-satisfied sigh.
ENTRY 17: Nothing
Arian Station was frightfully busy. Beings moved in a roiling absence of pattern - striding or gliding with purpose towards boarding platforms or exits, eddying back and forth, admiring the preserved baroque architecture, the vendors of all pleasurest, the subtly flowing lights. It wasn’t possible for any one creature to stand out among all that roiling sea. Yet there she was.
Thalin put on a burst of speed, reaching her side just as she turned dark violet eyes towards him. Her face reflected recognition – and, perhaps, mild annoyance. He stood his ground, awkward behind his thick corrective lenses and worker’s clothes.
“Shaleen! I wanted to see you before…”
She sighed. “Yes, before I’m deported. We’ve been together a long time, and I know you warned me against defiance. I appreciate your care, but, as you see…” and her slim right hand rose in a sweeping motion, pointing out the four cleancut men in grey suits even now moving towards the pair, “…the State has insured my good behavior. You shouldn’t have come.”
Thalin frowned, his light brown eyes darkening under darker brows. “Shaleen, I…” and he bent forward quickly, to whisper in her gently curved ear, “I’ll see you soon. I have a tourist pass for Faic, where the camps are. I…I love you.”
All in all, she’d been treated rather well, she thought.
Shaleen settled into her roomy coach seat, little bothered by the handcuff securing her left wrist to the specially-added pole beside her. The guard took her papers from the grey suit – and then, of a wonder, they both left her alone in the car. Blissfully alone for the first time in years, she watched idly out the clear, unshuttered port as the transport left the station. Her thoughts sped up with the increasing speed as the stars began to blur and twist under acceleration.
Thalin. His bold declaration of love had surprised her. He’d always been meek, mild, self-effacing, remembering his awkward earnestness, grey eyes blinking telegraph-fashion behind his lenses. He’d always been there with her, for her. He’d sensed her growing anger, and he tried – oh, how he tried! - to help her. But she’d rejected his advice to stay low, to go along to get along. She cared for him, but she cared for her integrity and her people more.
Was she sorry for her treason? They’d asked her that at the trial. She could feel the stares from the video ‘bots, waiting to broadcast a dramatic confession, perhaps a tearful repentance. The penal colony that took up half of Faic had a fearsome reputation, not lessened by the harsh natural beauty and stunning views of Ardri that drew the tourists. She’d disappointed the bots and the remotely located judge with silence and an unwavering stare. The gavel swung down, pronouncing her sentence of eternal exile to the camps at Faic.
She turned a little, her attention captured by the atmospheric effects outside the port as the craft descended towards Faic. Rather like northern lights, charged auras in reds and greens eddied past her eyes, twisting and weaving in and around each other and reflecting on the cabin’s polished walls. As her eyes followed the serpentine weavings, her breath came more slowly, and her heart assumed a solemn, almost formal rhythm. The effect was soothing, almost…hypnotic…
She didn’t even blink when they came for her.
Thalin’s heart pounded loudly in his ears as the sealed craft traveled towards Faic. The normal tourist shuttle was scheduled to land only an hour behind the regular penal transport, and he was sure that he would catch a glimpse of Shaleen again. Then…then, who knew? Perhaps he’d “vault the wall” and go native with her – it was whispered that people did so, occasionally. He’d do anything to see that look of wonder again in her eyes. As his body notified him of descent, he wondered idly why the tourist shuttle didn’t have any windows. :Perhaps they’re afraid of photography?:, he thought.
The craft shuddered with landing, and a robotic voice announced departure protocols. Thalin stood up slowly, allowing his body to adjust to the lesser force of gravity that was all Faic could muster. He joined the line of disembarking tourists, presented his tourist pass (good for four hours) to the reception agents, and glided past the desk to the main dome.
Disbelieving his luck, he moved purposefully towards her, no longer caring about the guards or his future. When he was near, he called her name.
Although he *knew* her – knew her shape, her curve, her hair, as well as he knew his own face in the shaving glass – she did not turn. Disbelieving, he called again.
ENTRY 18: Lost Cases
“Mrs. Moore?” the gentleman asked.
“Yes, that’s right.” Mrs. Moore looked him over. A long coat with vest, delicate hands smudged with a little bit of dirt. “Are you another journalist?”
He smiled as if he had to tell himself this was an appropriate moment to smile, but the result was warm. “No, no, not at all. I am an investigator of sorts, of my own sort, who takes up lost cases.” Her face fell as he spoke. He could see that she was at stage D-prime in his schematic: wanting to move on with life but hating herself for wanting to move on. I’m fairly good at what I do. I will find your daughter, Trinket I believe you called her, even though two years have passed since…,” he continued.
“Since she was murdered.”
“Well, quite possibly.”
“Look, whoever you are, I don’t need one more quack bringing this issue up. I don’t need you offering sympathy or nosing around for your own amusement. Do you understand what’s happened? A 10 year old girl taken, abused, assaulted, until-” the anger could only push her grief down so far.
“Titterdon is what people call me.”
Mrs. Moore answered, “I don’t care.”
“As you shouldn’t, but many people do. Because that was also the name of a girl who disappeared 53 years ago. My older sister.”
Mrs. Moore stopped. And sighed. “I suppose you want to search our house or something?”
He smiled again. Sincere if odd. “No, I’ve reviewed the case and all. Police are very thorough nowadays. Not like before. I just wanted to know about Sunlight.”
Mrs. Moore paused.
“Sunlight brought my hunger to me.”
One of those disgusting notes scribbled in hidden places all around Trinket’s room.
Sunlight brought my hunger to me.
I watch her over breakfast. So yummy.
I shouldn’t want her. I think of sinking in every day.
I live with them and they do not know.
It made her shudder in fear and disgust. Titterdon’s arm supported her as she sank. Therapy couldn’t take this away. Whoever had taken her baby had been sneaking into their house for weeks, months.
“The psychologist’s best idea was that he saw her in the morning. Maybe-” her throat constricted, “the morning school bus.”
“I observed that location. A bundle of azaleas sit due west of the stop. If you sit behind them, the sun would be directly behind the children.”
The police had never said this to her, but they’d searched that whole area in great detail.
“Could Sunlight be a thing, like a bike or car, Mrs. Moore? A nickname of a person or animal?”
Mrs. Moore shook her head slowly. Then Titterdon watched her head stop shaking and her hands begin to. The shaking spread throughout the poor woman’s body.
“Her horse! Oh my god, her horse. Her horse at camp. Sunlight. Some counselor did this!?”
“Call the police. I will proceed to Camp Mezuma.”
Mrs. Moore stared at him, fists growing. “I am going to tell the police about you as well, Titterdon. Why do you know about her? Is this a game you play? Killing children and then pretending to solve their crimes? I will tell what you look like and every single thing you’ve said.”
Titterdon stepped back from her. “Yes, but please also tell them of Sunlight.”
Mrs. Moore now flipped to the other side. “But Mr. Titterdon! If you find the man, he will kill you. He’s a monster!”
Titterdon smiled again. “I stay armed, legal of course.”
Titterdon drove slowly down the entrance to Camp Mezuma. The police had it cordoned off as he had hoped. He would lose a few hours to questioning when he approached them, but no need to rush about when looking for a body. To his surprise, he found Agent Chang in charge and was allowed to start his search after only an hour of warnings and disapproval. They were now looking for the man who handled the horses for the camp, Randall
I watch her over breakfast. So yummy.
Titterdon retrieved his kit from the car. He’d be looking for remains.
Five days later, there was little evidence. He’d seen signs of humans off the trails, with regular patterns of movement. But this was a camp full of teenage girls with another camp for teen boys 3 miles away. There was probably a lot of human movement at nighttime here. Then on Day 9, he found the skeleton of a fawn, stripped clean, with human teeth marks along all the bones.
Day 11, he found her. Alive.
He could barely tell it was her; he could barely tell it was human. Skin painted on to a skeleton with eyes ready to explode. She lay inside a cluster of rocks, chained. Her arms and legs were covered in wounds with bite marks surrounding the pus and scars.
She was moving though, sitting up. Staring at him. Titterdon closed his eyes, tried to calm himself, and stepped over his vomit towards her.
“I’m not with him. I-I’m here to find you, take you back to your mother.”
“Don’t. Leave me here,” the voice was as unhealthy as her body. He stretched his half empty thermos to her slowly. She eyed the water suspiciously as if she wasn’t sure what it would do to her. He reached into his pockets for the lockset. As he picked at the padlock keeping her chain together, her raspy voice came out again. “I told you. Don’t. It’s not safe.”
“I’m armed,” he said as he popped the lock off. She just stared at the chain as he took it from around her neck and arms.
“It won’t help you.”
He decided to ignore that. “I can carry you back,” he explained. “You don’t look more than 50 pounds.” And 12 years old.
However, he was surprised as she stood. Her muscles looked as if they were uncoiling from lethargy, but she had more strength than he had expected. Good for her. Maybe she wasn’t lost like his sister had been.
Titterdon looked outside the little cave. No sign of anyone yet. It was possible the monster had some form of surveillance, but he had seen nothing on the way in. As he studied the surroundings, he noticed a key. For a padlock. As if the man had locked her up and simply tossed the key out from the back of the cave. Titterdon looked back in the cave for cameras hooked to a satellite system. That’s when he noticed the scribblings where Trinket had been chained. Barely scratched into the rock.
Will eat her. Don’t let me.
He looked at her emaciated body, lips retracted so that her teeth glared forth. And blood under her fingernails.
She had tears. “It will hurt a lot,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
He stepped back a bit and she lunged at him. Her teeth were already into his body, sinking into his collarbone. He cried out and pushed away at her. She ripped at a muscle. He grabbed her and threw her into a wall. Running out, he heard her after him. She leapt on him from behind, sinking her teeth into the back of his neck. He spun around and around as she clung to him. streamed down his body. A slam into a tree knocked her off. He reached for his gun and fired it at her as she came off the ground. It went through her leg and came out with virtually no blood. She leapt at him as he fired wildly. She was on him again, knocking him to the ground. He looked at her wild skeleton face, teeth covered in his blood. She sank her mouth around his throat squeezing at his voice box. He was being eaten alive. She came up covered in blood and ecstasy. He saw his hand moving the gun towards her, towards himself, as he pulled the trig-
Agent Chang read the note from the officer. “Mrs. Moore still not answering, sending a car around.”
She slid a glass of water over to Billingham as her interview of him wound down.
“Yes, I’ll never forget that horse, Sunlight,” he said. “Something was wrong with that one at the end. Went sick in a way I’ve never seen. This thing started taking bites out of other horses. Then fixated on its own mother. Biting her every time she got near. Following, watching, biting. Later ran away, but we found her and put her down. ‘Bout year and a half ago. Best thing we could do. Totally lost case.”
ENTRY 19: Maria
This excellent story removed at the author's request so she can revise and submit it.
ENTRY 20: What I Seed
"I need a small place, no more than $1000 per month, for six months, til my divorce is finalized. A place big enough for me and my two dogs. Can you do that for me, Ralph?"
"Uh...er..." he stammered, "I'll see what I can do, Ms. Price. You sure you're not related to the late Mr. Vincent Price?"
"If I am," said Trish, "it's only through marriage. My maiden name is Becker. That's German, if you must know. So, not related to Vincent, not by a long shot."
"Not very many owners allow pets, you know, Ms. Price, and especially not the size of your two bull Mastiffs, but I'll ask around some more and call you before the end of the
week, for sure," he continued.
"Mutt and Jeff are sweet, to me at least, and I won't leave them behind, no matter what. They've saved my life on three separate occasions already, so, where I go, that's where they go."
"Well," he said, "I really don't think I can find anything in your price range that allows dogs, but we may both get lucky."
"That line better not be about anything more than business," she growled, "I'm not looking for a sport fuck!"
"So sorry," he profused, "of course it's about business. I just..."
"Never mind, then," she said, cutting off his further apology, "I've been on edge for some months and not in the best frame of mind. Here's my cell number. Call any time you have something in my price range, k, amigo?"
"Uh... sure," he said, still worried.
"I'm going back to my motel room, now," she said, "have a good evening."
Without a word being said, both dogs followed her back to the battered pickup truck, one jumped into the tailgate-less box, the other waited for her to open the passenger side door, then assumed his "shotgun" position.
She drove slowly up Cemetery Road, the old V-8 shuddering and wheezing from the incline, and turned into the gravel driveway that led to the Motel Ritz, which was anything but.
Back in her room with her canine companions, Trish locked the door behind them. Suddenly felt in need of a hot shower, she stripped down to her undies, and stuffed the
clothes into a handy garbage bag she could later take to a laundromat.
Closing the bathroom door, she dropped her bra and panties on the toilet seat and was about to turn on the shower water when she glanced into the mirror above the sink
and nearly screamed. A girl of about five stood looking out at her from there, and Trish felt a cold shiver run down her spine as she stared at the girl, uncomprehending.
"Wh... who are you?" Trish managed to croak, covering her breasts with an arm and hand, as if that would make any difference to a ghost, or whatever else the little girl might be.
"Don't matter none," the voice in her head replied [for how else could a nonentity speak?] , "since I seed what I seed. An' I seed ya took dat toy from da boy."
"Now just a goddamn, frigging minute here," Trish snarled at the image, "you're me, thirty years ago! Took a while for me to twig to that. And I know, even today, no one saw me in his room."
"True," replied the child in the mirror, "just testing ya." Giggles.
"What do you want from me, thirty years later?" Trish asked. "And why at this particular time?"
"Just came to warn ya not to leave here til late tonight," said the girl, "there's to be a runnin' gunfight tween bank robbers and cops in a while. There will also be a hostage taking, and many will die. All is to happen along the road ya use goin' back and forth."
"And you know all this because...?"
"I'm magic, o' course!" More giggles.
"Oh right, why didn't I think of that?"
"Cuz y're too growed up, and lost yer touch," she said, and disappeared.
Trish blinked a few times trying to make sense of it all, could not, and found herself trembling.
To counter that she brewed a fresh pot of coffee.
A check of the fridge showed the last of the cream was gone, so she grabbed her jacket with the keys in its pocket and climbed back in the truck, Mutt and Jeff in lockstep beside her.
It wasn't until she rounded the corner on the road that she remembered the warning and drove straight into the gunfight, where she and her companions were killed.
ENTRY 21: When Twilight Has Come
“I’m ready,” Maya announced in a happy, breathless rush. “Let’s go!” She bounced past Derek, her skirt fluttering around her, echoing her excitement. Her wavy, brown hair was loose. She looked ready to fly off on her old-fashioned broom, a LED light-stick taped to the end.
Before Derek could argue, Maya was out the door, almost barreling into his fellow ninja. He rolled his eyes and followed for a block, then pulled Ikaika and Simon aside.
Every kid in Bridgeton knew the abandoned house. It was built on the edge of town. Past that house was nothing but trees, and an old road, weeds growing through the cracks. No one ever left Bridgeton that way.
The house had been empty for decades. If there was anyone stealing the cats of Bridgeton, they’d hide there.
Ten feet from its leaning, gray fence, Derek turned to his sister. She had a stubborn look on her face. “You can come with us, Maya, but no telling Mom."
“There are no treats in there,” she said with a pout. “And I don’t like tricks.”
“We’re looking for the cat-napper, Maya. It’s not some prank.”
“We didn’t even know you’d be coming with us,” Ikaika added. Maya was a year younger than Derek and his friends, and they were just beginning to think girls weren’t gross.
Derek rolled his eyes. “So you coming, or are you our look-out?”
She answered by sticking out the LED-lit end of her broom. The whole fenced moved as she swung open the creaking gate.
The three boys followed. Derek almost ran into her when she stopped on the top step of the porch, dropping her candy bag. She waved her light-stick at the threshold of the door.
“What’s wrong? Keep going.” He pushed her forward.
She grabbed his arm. “Look.”
Simon turned on his flashlight. The mangled remains of a cat was squished between the door, open a few scant inches, and the frame. Maggots crawled out of its eye socket, but the movement brought Derek’s attention to its face. “Harry Potter,” he whispered.
“What?” Maya stepped behind Simon.
“Look at its forehead. Phillip’s cat, Harry Potter, had that orange lightning bolt.” Harry disappeared a year ago.
“Maybe we should just leave,” Simon suggested. Maya gripped his arm.
“No way.” Ikaika moved closer to the door, nudging it open his foot. “This is a clue. We have the right place.”
Derek nodded, then flicked on his flashlight and stepped over the cat. Ikaika, a shadowy twin, entered without hesitation. Maya gave an inarticulate sound of argument, but after a few seconds she and Simon followed.
Seconds inside the house, Derek bent over in a coughing fit. Dust covered everything in a thick blanket and seemed suspended in the air.
Ikaika thumped him on the back and took the lead. When Derek’s fit abated, Ikaika asked, “Which way first? Stairs to the second floor, or door to the basement?”
“We aren’t splitting up,” Maya said sternly.
“Basement,” Derek rasped. He straightened and tried to wipe away the tears stinging his eyes. Already the dust settled on his clothes and black gloves, irritating his eyes even more. He flashed his light towards the door. “There.” As he pulled the light back, he swore as a small shadow, cat-like, crossed the beam and disappeared up the stairs to the second floor. He glanced to the right, into the kitchen, and thought he saw Phillip’s new cat, Weasel, but his eyes were too watery to see clearly.
Ikaika led the way. The door revealed a set of wooden stairs, a handful of steps rotted through. They stepped down slowly, their backs against the wall, far from the broken railing.
“What do you think you’re going to find here, Derek?” Maya whispered angrily. “If there’s a crazy cat person, they probably already know we’re here.”
“Not if you’d be quiet.” A shuffling sound silenced them both and the group paused. Simon slowly shone his flashlight down, step by step. The beam reached the dirt floor and caught a bushy white tail whipping out of range. “At least one cat’s here,” Derek said, his vision finally clearing up.
“They wouldn’t be here for no reason, though.” Ikaika inched forward again. They heard tiny clacks and a light whispering, but most of the noise came from the four children trying to move silently.
At the base of the stair, they all pooled their light and shone it over the ground, back and forth. Just before reaching the middle of the room, something jumped on Derek’s left shoulder. He jerked away.
“Get off, get off!” He kicked up dirt trying to dislodge the large cat from his shoulder. Something else scratched his hand and he dropped his flashlight. Maya skipped backwards as Ikaika jumped forward to help. Simon frantically passed his flashlight over the ground, but moved too fast to catch sight of anything. A cacophony arose, the sound of a hundred cats yowling in anger.
Maya held her broom like a baseball bat, the bristles near her elbow. “Stop shouting, Derek. Stand still."
A thump and Simon flashed his light on the spot. Derek rolled on the ground near the middle of the room, like he was on fire. Instead of flames, there was a dark mass on his back.
Simon swore and ran back to the stairs. Ikaika, a few feet from Derek, stumbled and fell as Weasel jumped at his chest and slashed him. Maya ran forward and jabbed Weasel, prying him off and flinging him into the darkness. Ikaika scrambled to his feet then ran, up the stairs and out of the house. A door slammed shut.
The darkness was almost absolute, the yellow lights from Simon’s shaking flashlight and Derek’s fallen one, the weak green LED on the end of Maya’s broomstick, leaving trails of afterimages in their wake. Maya caught flashes of yellow and green pupils. The room was full of cats.
“Derek, Derek, get up!” Simon shouted from the halfway up the staircase.
Derek moaned. It felt like there were scratches all over his body, and the heavy weight on his back sapped his strength as he tried to shake it off.
“Hold still.” Maya’s voice was unshaking, and he stilled.
She hit the large cat with a thwack. It didn’t fully release Derek, but swiped the bristles of her broom. She used its distraction to pry it loose with the end. Woden’s single eye glared at her in the dim illumination. He’d been the first to “go missing.” Maya frowned and jabbed the gray cat hard in the ribs. His claws retracted and he rolled off Derek’s back. Without waiting to see where Woden landed, Maya grabbed Derek’s black-dyed karate robe and hauled him up. After a moment, he steadied himself and they ran for the stairs. Simon was already by the door, his head flicking back and forth from the basement to their escape route through the empty parlor. Maya turned back once and saw a one-eared cat cross the beam of Derek’s abandoned flashlight, then they ran, barely remembering to jump over Phillip’s dead tabby as they fled.
The trio didn’t stop running until they were back in front of Derek and Maya’s front door. Simon smiled weakly, but didn’t look either of them in the face before racing to his front door three houses down. Ikaika was nowhere in sight, hopefully home. Derek trudged up the steps and rang the doorbell while Maya glared into shadows, holding her broom in both hands.
“Derek! Maya! You’re home early,” their mother said as she stood in the doorway. “Did you fall, honey?” With one hand, she absently wiped a spot of blood from a scratch on Derek’s cheek, but didn’t notice worse scratches on his hands and body. “Look who’s back kids.”
In her other arm, she held Woden—dark grey, one-eyed, one-eared—staring back at brother and sister. A cat yowled in the distance.