Tag Archives: historical

Death Maker – Friday Fictioneers

copyright Marie Gail Stratford

copyright Marie Gail Stratford

 

I

make death:

long, beautiful

annihilation.

We all do here

at  the forge,

but  Harold,

who’s a klutz,

makes  axes:

tree   death,

and William

shapes animal

slaughter for

the butchers.

I am the best.

I make human

death. I sweat

at  the  steely

altar of Hades,

heated crimson

like future blood.

My masterpiece was for the king. It took a year to make. The hilt was set with a

fountain of diamonds, like the seeds of mourning lilies.

It won me a

citation. I

cannot read it,

but I know what

it  says.  The

best  death

maker  in

the realm.

 


The Numberless Clock Society

This week I tried Rochelle’s brand of historical fiction, as sort of a tribute to her excellent storytelling. Of course, being me, I couldn’t do it straight, so this is alternate universe historical fiction.

Copyright Douglas M. MacIlroy

Copyright Douglas M. MacIlroy

The Numberless Clock Society

The meetings of the Numberless Clock society were held in a lower room of a Glasgow pub.

“Imagine no clocks: no schedules or appointments to keep,” I, the leader, railed after a few pints. “Imagine banks, empty and powerless. We need to dump the gold coins into the ocean and extricate ourselves from the stranglehold of the invisible hand of commerce. That’s Locke’s true state of nature.”

Adam was in charge of figuring out how to take down the financial system. However, in time, he drifted away and eventually joined the enemy camp. He even stole my words, the traitor.

 

** Read more about the Invisible Hand here**


Forgotten Histories – Visual Fiction

taken in Namhae, Korea

taken in Namhae, Korea

It just looked like a nice place to rest.

I came across the site while I was toiling through thick undergrowth on the side of a nameless Korean mountain. There was no gravestone to identify the person buried beneath and I barely thought about it as a grave as I threw my pack down and stretched my sore muscles.

Fatigue and a soothing bed of springy grass made me drowsy and my eyes closed on their own. All I could feel was the cool firmness of the grave under my back and the warm sun on my face.

Suddenly, it was night and I was standing in a village of houses with thatched roofs. Over the low, outer wall of the nearest house, I could see the door open and a woman was holding a newborn baby. It was crying and its face shone red in the lamplight.

The scene changed and I now saw a boy standing by the street, watching Japanese soldiers march into town. The boy was now in school, learning Japanese, whispering in Korean with his friends, and being beaten for it when he was caught.

The scenes began to move faster and faster. The boy was now a man, wearing the uniform of the South. I saw his name tag: Hong Deok-Jin. I saw him guarding a harbor, sneaking off to see his family, being caught and reprimanded, then sent to a small island as punishment. I saw him leading the counterattack against North Korean boats, then being rewarded for it.

The war was now over and the man lived in a small house with his growing family, his war medal tacked to the wall of the kitchen. I saw one fishing boat sink under him; watched him work with friends, saving money for years to buy another boat. I watched as one son and a daughter died and three more got married and set grandchildren on the man’s knees. The man’s wife finally passed on and I saw the man make his way painfully to the beach each morning to look out over the water, sitting on a rock with his wrinkled hands on his knees, looking and thinking.

Finally, I saw the procession of children and grandchildren carrying his body up the mountain slope to the grave. The family was too poor for a granite gravestone, but I saw them laboriously carry stones up the slope to build the wall around the site. Each year, family members would come to clean and maintain the grave, but then they stopped coming and the trees and undergrowth began to encroach upon the protecting walls.

I woke up with a start. Several hours had passed and the air had gotten chilly. I jumped up, suddenly apologetic about my careless use of another human being’s resting place. I was far behind schedule and needed to move on, but I couldn’t go right away. First, I cut a thick piece of wood and laid it on the grave for the next person who would come across the grave. On it, I carved in English and Korean:

Here lies Hong Deok-Jin. He once lived.


The Ghost Town by the Shore

I staggered onto the rickety wharf after floating for two days on the open sea. My ship and comrades were in the watery depths and I had given up hope until I spotted land.

silent wharf

Coming into a secluded bay, I had been overjoyed to see a village ahead of me. Now I saw that the buildings were like none I had ever seen before. Everything was eerily quiet as I made my way forward.

mysterious town

I walked among the building in bewilderment. The entire place was deserted, yet nothing was damaged. There were no signs of war or fire or disaster of any kind. Everything was open, as if the people had simply evaporated.

empty town

I began to wonder even what country I was in. The roofs all held a singular symbol: a stylized yin-yang swirl above a fish. The carving was amazingly intricate and I wondered if I had stumbled onto an artist colony.

roof symbol

I entered one of the larger buildings and found the first signs of serious industry. It looked like a forge or a refinery and when I advanced a little further, I saw that there was still molten metal in the bottom of the crucible.

refinery

I looked closer and got the first real shock since arriving in this ghost town. All the nagging apprehension came back to me in a rush. The molten metal was not real. It looked red, but the surface was cold. I touched it, tentatively. It was glass.

molten metal

I ran outside and down another street and found myself in a market. As I looked around, I saw the one sight I longed to see more than any other: food. There were stalls filled with fruits and vegetables, with no one in sight. I rushed over, but to my dismay, I found all the food to be mere imitations made of a spongy white substance and totally inedible.

food stall

As I continued on, I found a weapons shop, loaded with enough swords, spearheads and bows to equip an army. I picked one up and found it as light as a feather. Even the weapons were not real.

weapons stall

I passed through street after street of shops selling cloth, medicine, animal skins, dishes, and a multitude of other things. Everything sat out as if for sale, but no one attended them. I began to wonder if ghosts inhabited the silent town, like some weird necropolis where the dead roamed after nightfall.

cloth shop

I was becoming thoroughly uneasy and kept looking over my shoulder. The sun was close to setting and now I was terrified of being trapped in this place overnight.

silent town

On my way back to the shore, I found myself in a large room with items displayed on each side. I caught sight of a large portrait and stop to stare at it in wonder. It showed a beautiful girl, dressed as a soldier and wielding a sword, but what was so amazing was the skill of the painter. It was completely true to life and even when I looked closely, I could not detect a single brushstroke. I fled, lest the magic that hung over the place trap me there forever. Surely that silent, unreal town could not have been made for human habitation.

warrior girl

* * *

Hi, David here. I guess you could consider this post a sort of Visual Fiction extravaganza. It’s based around a place I went last Friday, in Changwon, Korea. It’s a set village for filming historical dramas and is unique because the buildings are a much different style than most you see in Korea. During the off season it is left open with all the props still there and on display. When we went, there was no one there at all, which made it a very cool place to poke around and explore. And just to prove I was actually there and didn’t just find pictures on the Internet…

me at the drama set


The Circle of Unbeing, Part 4

Click to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of the story.

midnight courtyard

The wind was fierce and the cold was numbing, but Pavel did not mind. It numbed the conflict in his mind, blocking out all but simple directives. Go to the castle. Climb the tower. Find the dagger.

The streets were deserted as he made his way through the town and started up the wooded hill. He wondered where the creature—he still could not think of it as human, much less as his father—was now.

Inside the castle, he made his way up the steps of the keep and inside the unroofed hall. He had no light, but the full moon shone a phantasmal light over his path. Parts of the castle had been burned in the revolt, but the floor of the main hall was stone. He came to the high tower, its door splintered and rusted, and began to climb.

The steps were wet with slime and circled up and up until they ended in a wide chamber. Its roof had been burned away and part of its walls were gone, but Pavel could still see the remnants of broken glassware and rusted instruments that had once filled his grandfather’s study. He wondered now if his grandfather had been a monster too, or if he had found a way of transforming his son into one before he died. Whatever the case, it had happened in this room.

Pavel started searching, clearing away old bird’s nest and the accumulated detritus of fifteen years of exposure. He cut himself on a shard of glass, but kept going. His numb fingers were groping along the floor underneath a collapsed shelf when he felt the outline of a small box. He pulled it out and opened it. Inside was a dagger. Its handle and blade were black and a large ruby nested in the pommel. This had to be it.

He made his way back down, stepping carefully on the pitch-black stairs. He had just stepped out into the courtyard, when a dark shape slipped through the gate. As it crossed into the moonlight, he saw that it was the creature. It had seen him and was shambling towards him with surprising speed.

“Do it . . . son,” it rasped. “The mayor has . . . found me. He is coming. He will . . . imprison me again . . . if he can. Quickly . . . before he comes.” The creature pulled its thin garment away, exposing its skeletal chest.

Pavel held the dagger, willing himself to strike. As he looked at the monster in the moonlight, he could see more of its features. He had never known his father, or seen a picture of him, but now he could almost imagine what he had looked like when he was a young, handsome man. For the first time, he saw it as a person, who had lived in tortures unimaginable for fifteen years: locked away, starved, fed human flesh and blood. This was his father, who needed him. He set the point of the dagger between the exposed ribs and pushed the blade into his father’s heart.

“Stop!” a voice cried from behind him. Pavel looked up to see the mayor stepping through the gate, a lantern in his hand. Wadim, the night guard stood behind him. The mayor’s face was frenzied. “You release my prize from his cell and now you try to destroy him.”

The mayor stopped and let out a cry. “Crina! Crina! If it were not for this whore’s spawn, you would still be alive.” He looked back at Pavel. “You unlocked the door. You let the thing escape! My Crina was on the point of death when I brought her here. No medicine could save her, but this creature’s blood would have kept her alive, alive forever. She would have been changed, but she would have been stronger and mine still. I would not have starved her and kept her weak. No, she would have been well-fed, and powerful—powerful enough to help me. Oh my lovely daughter!”

The mayor drew his sword and advanced towards Pavel, who backed up the steps into the main hall. The mayor stopped and laughed.

“Yes, stay here. Stay here, Lord Pavel, with the ghouls of your ancestors. Stay here, where I burned your grandfather and kept your father as my pet. I will keep Wadim at the gate to make sure you stay, until hunger or cold lofts your soul on demon’s wings to join them. I am off to see your mother. She will burn tonight, in that hovelish prison where I have kept her.”

Pavel ran down the steps as soon as the mayor had left. He had to get back to help his mother, but he did not know how. The main gate was the only way out of the castle and he could see Wadim just outside the gap, spear in hand. He would have no sympathy for Pavel, not when it meant risking the mayor’s wrath.

He looked down at the dagger in his hand, still wet with his father’s blood. He could not defeat Wadim with such a small weapon. All he could do was kill himself. Yes, he would kill himself, but not yet. First he would drink his father’s blood and be changed. Didn’t the mayor said it would make him strong? His father had been old and starved, kept weak by design, but Pavel was young and strong. He would go save his mother and then kill himself with the dagger, ending their unfortunate line forever.

Pavel bent over the figure of his father. Dark blood was still welling up from the wound in his chest. He bent down and began to drink, sucking it into his mouth. It was cold and bitter, but burned like fire as it went down his throat.

His father’s eyes flickered open and then widened as he saw Pavel. “No!” he said, in a voice that was little more than a breath. “Do not do this. You . . . do not . . . know. I did not know . . . when my father told me . . . to drink from his . . . veins. Flee this hideous . . . unbeing.”

“It will not be for long, I swear,” Pavel said. “I must save my mother. Then I will join you and all will be finished.” He continued to drink, forcing down the foul blood until it stopped bubbling up from the wound.

The first thing Pavel felt was the cold, as it seemed to melt away from him. He still felt the wind, but now it held no bite. He stood up and looked around. The darkness had lightened and he could see into every corner of the dark courtyard. A wave of strength came over him. He looked at the cut on his hand and as he watched, it closed and disappeared.

A surge of joy went through him and he was off, running through the narrow gap in the gate, slipping past Wadim before he could even react. Pavel felt like the wind, moving effortlessly along the ground, devouring the distance. Ahead of him, he saw the mayor walking uncertainly down the path. He turned just as Pavel reached him and Pavel was glad to see the look of terror in the mayor’s eyes as he stabbed the dagger into his chest.

“You will never touch my mother. This I promise you. And this is vengeance for my grandfather, whom you murdered, and my father, whom you tortured.” With each name, he stabbed again. The mayor collapsed, dead on the path.

It was over. His mother was safe. Pavel turned the dagger to his own chest, preparing to end his own life. Then he stopped. It wasn’t over. There were still the thane and master of lands, both of whom were wicked men who had shared a part in his family’s misery. He would take care of them as well. But then? The town would be leaderless, defenseless against the next petty lord or robber baron who could seize it and use it for their own purposes. He could lead them well. He could do good, and help those who had been so oppressed under the mayor’s rule. He was, after all, the rightful heir. It was his duty.

Pavel dropped his hand to his side and was turning to go up to the castle when he felt a vague discomfort in the back of his mind. It was a hunger for something he had never felt before. He remembered the taste of his father’s blood on his tongue, so repellent then, but now . . . now he had a need for it, a thirst.

And it was growing.

ruined castle

 


The Circle of Unbeing, Part 3

Click to read Part 1 and Part 2 of the story.

fireplace

When Pavel reached the house, he took the axe from behind the door and began to sharpen it. His mother looked up from the hearth, where she was cleaning out the ashes.

“What are you doing home? What’s wrong?”

Pavel looked at her, hesitated. “Wolves,” he said.

He stayed home all day, sharpening knives, watching, and fidgeting, until his behavior began to frighten his mother and he left. No one from the mayor’s manor came to summon him, which both relieved and worried him at the same time.

Night eventually came and Pavel and his mother sat silently in front of the fire—her with her mending and Pavel staring into the fire, the axe on his knees. He looked up to see her gazing at him.

“Do you think you will need that here? Do you think the wolves will come into the village—break into our house?”

“I—I’m not sure,” he said.

“It’s not wolves you’re worried about, is it?” she said.

There was a clattering outside, like wood falling off the pile. Pavel jumped, then went to the small window by the door. The moonlight was shining on their small path and garden but there was no movement.

At that moment, the chickens behind the house began to scream. Pavel had never heard them make such sound—did not know they could make such a horrible, rending shriek. He put his hand on the door handle but could not will himself to open it.

“Well, are you going?” his mother cried suddenly. “You got the axe. If wolves are at the chickens, you’d better go now or they’ll all be killed.”

Still, Pavel could not make himself open the door or explain why. He felt paralyzed. The chickens stopped abruptly and there was total silence for a space of several breaths. Just when he thought it was safe, there was a thump against the door. It came again. Someone, or something, was knocking with heavy, irregular strokes on the outside.

Thump . . . thump . . .

“Are you going to open it?” his mother asked. “Pavel, are you okay? What’s wrong? If it were wolves, they wouldn’t be knocking. Pavel, let the poor person in and out of the cold. Pavel?”

His hand was still resting on the door handle, but all he could think of was some way to barricade the door. Pull the beds across and push them against it. Block the window. Anything and everything to keep the evil outside. He looked up to see his mother next to him and before he could do anything, she pushed him aside and threw the door open.

A gust of frigid wind burst into the room, causing the fire to gutter. Pavel heard a rasping, croaking sound and then that hideous deformed face he had seen in the dungeon emerged into the light of the fireplace. His mother gasped and stepped back. The creature shuffled over the threshold.

Pavel stepped in front of his mother, brandishing the axe, but he was too transfixed with horror to strike. Now that he could see the monster in better light, he saw that it looked like a man, although one shriveled and twisted by some evil force. Its skin was yellow and thin and its eyes were bloodshot and roving. They latched onto his mother’s face and the mouth opened.

“Ah . . . An . . . Anca.” Pink spittle dribbled from its mouth as it expelled the word. Pavel’s mother was staring at the creature, her eyes growing wider and wider until she started to scream. She fell back on the floor, covering her face with her hands and screamed and screamed. Even when she fell into a coughing fit, she continued to writhe and tear at her hair.

“Mother!” Pavel ran to her side, trying to make her stop. He kept his eyes on the monster. It pulled itself a little closer.

“Pa . . . vel,” the monster rasped, staring at Pavel with its bulging eyes. And then, in a moment ghastly revelation, Pavel knew what the slavering ghoul in front of him was. It was his father.

It had been, at least. Now, one could hardly call it human. Pavel felt nothing but loathing for it and he wished he had the resolution to cut it in two with the axe. But he could not. Not now.

The monster that been his father saw the swaying of the axe in his hand and moved closer. “Kill . . . me,” it said. “The axe . . . will do nothing. In the high . . . tower there is . . . a dagger. Only it . . . can . . . kill me. I will . . . meet you . . . there.” It stopped and started to hack in short, sharp croaks. Pavel could barely look at it. “Kill me . . . son,” it said again and then, suddenly, it pulled itself around and was gone through the open door.

Pavel shut and locked the door. The fire had sunk low and the room was dark and icy. “Mother, sit up. Please,” he said, going to her and helping her up. All the strength seemed to have left her, but she got up, unresisting, and let him guide her to her chair by the fire. She picked up her mending and started to cry. The sobs came, stronger and stronger until they were shaking her thin body. The dam she had built triple-strong against the grief of her life had finally broken.

Pavel stayed by her until she finally quieted. He was putting more wood on the fire when she finally spoke. “You must do it, Pavel. You must kill him.”

“I don’t want to go near that thing again,” he said. “That is not my father. He died when I was a baby.”

“You must!” she said again. “I said good bye to your father a long time ago, and I cannot live now, knowing he is being tortured like that every moment of the day. You must kill him or I will never have peace. Do it for me, if not for him, son.”

Pavel nodded slowly. “I will go now,” he said.

moonlit night

(to be concluded tomorrow)


The Circle of Unbeing, Part 2

Click to read Part 1 of the story.

Midnight Forest

The frigid wind whipping through the tower door greeted Pavel as he reached ground level. He wanted nothing more than to run home and sit huddled by his fire but instead he crouched in dread in a protected corner until the three men of the Inner Circle reappeared, again wrapped in their rich cloaks.

“My lord, a messenger came here saying that your daughter is sick, to the point of death,” Pavel said.

The mayor looked at him hard, but then nodded. “Then let us hurry, boy,” was all he said. Pavel picked up the lantern and led the way back down to the town.

Pavel left the mayor at the door of the manor and went back to his small house. His mother was up when he returned. She looked up from her sewing, the weariness indelibly etched on her face. She never complained to him, but as Pavel had gotten older, he began to realize how hard the last fifteen years had been for his mother, the former daughter-in-law of a viscount and wife to the heir. Now, she was only a peasant woman and the least skillful of them all. When Pavel had been young, he had only thought about his own discomfort and yelled if the food she made was burned or tasteless. He would hide from the other children if his clothes were ill-mended. But she remained always like a lamb to the slaughter, though the execution stretched out over years of toil.

Pavel went and stood by the fire, still trying to process the horror he had seen in the dungeon of the castle. “The mayor’s daughter is on the edge of death,” he said after a moment. His mother’s hand went to her mouth but then dropped as she looked up hollowly at him.

“What will he do to us this time?” she asked plaintively. “When the crops were bad last year, he took a double share from our stores and when one of his cows broke its leg, he took our only one.”

“This is not our fault,” Pavel said.

“When has it ever been?” she asked. “He will kill us yet, even if it takes another fifteen years. He has a vendetta.”

“But why should he?” Pavel asked. “He killed my grandfather, but I was a baby and you were only his daughter-in-law. What could we have done to him?”

“I never told you,” she said softly, putting calloused hands over her face for a moment. “Perhaps I should have. My only crime was that I would not be his wife. I rejected his proposal and later married your father. I thought he had forgotten about it, until that night, when the people rebelled and he, their leader, took the title of mayor. A civil enough title, but he is as ruthless as any noble.”

She faced the fire, but continued to speak, slowly repeating to herself a litany of grief and injustice, dredged up for yet another bitter dose of recollection. Pavel went to bed before she had finished and her dreary murmuring cast ominous shadows over his dreams.

Nerakrist

Pavel had just woken up the next morning when someone pounded on the door. He opened it to see their neighbor, Domnul Iorga.

“Warning,” Iorga said immediately. “Wolves are about, they say. The Cernea farm was attacked and six sheep were killed and mutilated. Also, one of the farmhands who was sleeping in the barn is dead. Carry a blade with you if you go out.”

“Thank you, I will,” Pavel said. “Have you heard any word on the mayor’s daughter?”

“Dead, they say. Last night,” Iorga said. He gave Pavel a meaningful look and crossed himself. “God be with you and yours.” He turned and went up the path to his house. Pavel looked back, but his mother was busy at the fire and had not heard. He would not tell her, at least not yet.

Pavil worked as a messenger for the mayor, as well as his duties as the midnight lantern carrier for the Inner Circle’s gatherings. He arrived at the mayor’s manor after breakfast and the guard Andrei informed him that he was summoned directly to the mayor’s study. “God be with you,” the man murmured after him.

“Is it true that Crina died in the night?” Pavel asked.

“So they say,” Andrei said. “Wadim was on night watch and said that the mayor came back after the first hour and then left again, carrying his daughter with him in a carriage. Wadim swears she was alive when they left, but an hour later, when they returned, she was covered with a sheet. I would have thought they’d go to Domnul Florea, the surgeon, but his assistant said no one came there all night.”

Pavel only nodded and hurried inside. All he could think of was the hideous monster he had seen in the dungeon of the castle, and how it had attacked Iosif. Was it possible the mayor had sacrificed his own daughter to that thing? There were rumors that the Inner Circle was involved in satanic rituals in the castle late at night. He had never believed them, but now a shock of fear ran through him as it occurred to him that what he had seen might have been the devil.

He was ushered into the mayor’s study immediately. He bowed and stood in front of the narrow wooden desk with the ceremonial mace lying across the front.

The mayor had changed overnight. His hair and beard were uncombed and his face looked haggard and wolfish. His dark-rimmed eyes bored into Pavel as if he were trying to read his thoughts.

“Did you go down into the tower last night?” the mayor asked immediately.

He knows. He knows everything, Pavel thought, as a chill of terror went down his back. “I would never go into the tower, my lord,” he said.

“Liar!” The mayor’s fist crashed down on the desk. “Sergiu saw you go in.”

“No! He was gone before—” Pavel hesitated. “I mean, yes, I did open the door to see if you were coming, but then I shut it again. I did not go in, I swear.” He was desperate in his denial; not matter what guilt his soul might endure from lying, it was far better than admitting he had gone down into that dungeon now.

“A door in the dungeon that is always kept locked somehow became unlocked. Who could have unlocked it, but you?”

“I do not know, my lord, but I swear that I did not go into the tower,” Pavel said. He could feel the sweat trickling down his back and hoped his guilt did not show through onto his face.

The mayor gave a snarl, but then collapsed back into his chair, as if his strength had suddenly deserted him.

“Go,” he said, “but may calamity find you swiftly if you are lying.” Pavel fled.

“I’m glad to see you still in one piece,” Andrei said when he had reached the courtyard again. “Did you hear about the other fatality last night?”

“Yes, the Cernea family’s farmhand,” Pavel said. “Domnul Iorga told me. Wolves, he said.”

“I have not heard of that one,” Andrei said. “I mean Doamna Korzha. Her husband said they were getting ready for a bed when a monstrous face appeared in the window. Big green eyes and teeth like a wolf, they say. The old woman screamed and fell down dead, her fare suddenly paid in full for her journey to heaven. Her husband said it was a face like a devil. Hey, where are you going?”

Pavel had taken off running towards home. There was a monster loose in the region and it was his fault. He had to get home and keep that thing away from his mother.

(to be continued)


The Circle of Unbeing, Part 1

An unusual Saturday post! This is the first story in what I’ve decided to call Invitational Prompts. This is where I ask one person to give me several prompts they’d like to see made into a story. This set of prompts is provided by my good friend, Sharmishtha Basu. Go check out her stories and thoughtful posts here, here, here or here.

The prompts were: a vampire, a small town, an old castle, and a scary tone (more mystery and spook than gore)

Sincere apologies to Sharmishtha for taking so long to finish writing this.

ruined castle

The town of Nerakrist slept, but on the overlooking hill, four figures picked their way up the overgrown track to the moldering ruins of the castle. The lead figure, a boy, carried a lantern to light the way. The contrast in their clothes was striking: the boy shivered in the fierce wind that whipped through his patched rags, while the three men behind him wore rich furs and thick woolen cloaks. They were the leaders of the town: the mayor, the thane and the master of lands. The boy’s name was Pavel.

They reached the rotting gate of the old castle and Pavel held the light for the men to enter through a gap in the timbers. They walked straight to a low door in the right-hand gate tower and the mayor unlocked it. Then they stepped inside and closed it, leaving Pavel alone.

Pavel hated the castle, but as the servant of the mayor, he had to accompany the Inner Circle whenever they held their midnight meetings there. He huddled on the ground, hugging his thin jacket around him. The lantern burned feebly and the deep shadows of the barren courtyard outside the circle of light seemed to hold creatures just beyond his vision. The castle was surely haunted, if not with spirits then with dark history. He hated being there, not because he felt he did not belong, but because he was terrified that he did.

Fifteen years ago, Pavel’s grandfather had been the viscount in the castle. His mother never talked about it, so Pavel had only the rumors and gossip of the townsfolk to rely on. They said his grandfather was a monster, a sorcerer, a devil-worshipper who captured and tortured the peasants of the region. They said that the viscount even murdered his own son, Pavel’s father, in the highest tower of the castle, even as the revolting peasants were breaking through the gate. So they said, at least.

Pavel heard footsteps outside the gate and he stiffened. No one would be foolish enough to come to the castle at any time, let alone during one of the Inner Circle’s midnight meeting. Not unless something was seriously wrong.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” a fearful voice called.

“You can’t be here,” Pavel said, looking through the gate and holding the lantern up. It was Sergiu, one of the mayor’s house servants, looking cold and scared. “Go, quickly.”

“I was sent by the mayor’s wife. His daughter Crina has taken a turn for the worse. She may die.”

“I will die if I go down there and disturb them at whatever they are doing,” Pavel said. “Wait here, if you want, or I will tell him as soon as they come back up.”

“What do you think he will do to you when he finds out his daughter died while he was away because you withheld the message?” Sergiu said.

Pavel looked towards the closed door. “It’s probably locked anyway,” he said, although without conviction. He tried the latch and door opened.

“Go! Tell him now,” Sergiu said. “He will not mind an interruption for this.” Both of them knew this was not true. Sergiu disappeared and Pavel heard his running footsteps disappear down the slope.

The mayor would be furious—it was inevitable at this point. All that remained was to determine which action would make him less angry. The Inner Circle had many meetings here, perhaps several a month, but the mayor only had one daughter and Crina was the world to him. Pavel stepped inside the door.

The inside of the tower was a barren, circular room with stairs going up and down. The Inner Circle’s cloaks hung on hooks along one side of the wall and tracks in the dust headed towards the descending stairs. There was a very faint odor of old decay that hung in the cold air.

Pavel started down the steps slowly, holding the lantern above him. The steps curved down to the right and then split, with steps going left and right. There were no tracks here and the air was totally still as if he were sealed in lead. After a moment’s hesitation, he took the left-hand stair.

It descended, straight and narrow for almost a hundred steps until Pavel reached two heavy wooden doors. One was locked, but the other was only barred with a heavy bolt slid across it. Pavel stopped and listened at the door. He should not have come. It had seemed the right thing to do, to warn the mayor about his daughter, but now that he was actually outside the chamber where the Inner Circle held their clandestine gatherings, he knew it was foolish. Any interruption for any reason would be punished harshly. But it was as if he were sliding downhill, with no way to stop. Pavel placed the lantern on the stairs and carefully slid the bolt back from the door.

The door did not squeak, which was strange for a ruin, but a blessing for him. As soon as the door had opened a crack, a vile stench of rot and death hit him and almost made him sick. The room beyond was dim, lit from somewhere far beyond. He could see black bars ahead in the gloom and voices talking.

“Please, please let me go! I’ll do anything you want. For God’s sake, think of my family.” The voice was thin and cracked from dehydration. Another voice spoke further off. It was fainter and Pavel took a few steps in to hear better.

“We are the executors of justice,” the second voice said. “The keepers of righteous violence. You do not want us to think of your family as well. You were brought here because of wrongdoing. It was you who were supposed to take care of Crina’s horse. When she was out riding, it threw a shoe and she had to walk back in the rain. It is because of you that she is gravely ill.”

Pavel moved forward and found the way blocked by a barred door, standing ajar. Through it, he could see a wide arena bordered with more dark cells. In the middle of the area knelt a man in ragged clothes, his face upturned in supplication. Fifteen feet above, three figures stood looking down from behind a breastwork of stone. They were robed in white and wore masks, but it was clear to Pavel who they were.

“Mercy!” the man cried. “I did my best. I could not have known that the horse would lose its shoe.”

“Nevertheless, the damage was done and because of your actions, my daughter may die,” one of the masked men said. He took off the mask and Pavel saw the mayor’s face contorted in hate. “There is only one thing you can do now, Iosif: die and ask God Almighty for mercy. You will get none on this earth.”

Iosif, Pavel thought with a shock. He recognized him now. Iosif, the mayor’s stableman had disappeared the night after Crina had gotten sick. They said that the wolves of the Dark Forest had gotten him as he was bringing a load of hay back to the barn. That was four days ago.

One of the other masked men, reached up and pulled a rope that was hanging from the ceiling. Across the arena, there was a click and a barred door opened. Iosif gave a moan of dread, as if he knew that the moment of judgment had come, although not its form.

Something moved in the darkness of the cell. It shuffled forward into the lamplight and Pavel saw with horror a blighted and hairless scalp, stretched thin and tight over a protuberant skull. The monster reached out a ghoulish hand towards Iosif, pulling itself forward with the other, as if it were not used to walking. Iosif turned and ran, stumbling into the gloom towards where Pavel was hiding. The creature paused for a moment, then leapt with claws outstretched onto the unfortunate man’s back. The last thing Pavel saw before he ran was the monster’s lips pulling back to reveal long, stained fangs. Pavel fled back into the hall and up the steps, not bothering to rebolt the door he had opened.

(to be continued)

jail cell


The Other Side: Isabelle’s Story (Part 4)

Read the original: Isabelle’s Island

The Other Side: Isabelle’s Story (Part 1)   (Part 2)   (Part 3)

(This final installment picks up at the end of both “The Other Side: Isabelle’s Story (Part 3)” and the end of “Isabelle’s Island”)

 

Just as the man was going for his boat, the monster rose out of the water and tore the boat to pieces. And just like that, the man was there with her on the island, just the two of them. Isabelle was overjoyed.

 

The man let out a cry of horror and rushed to the small boat he had taken up to the beach. The larger boat, the one with the sail, was lying mostly under the water a few hundred feet from the beach. The monster had disappeared back into the water.

“You can’t go now,” Isabelle said, leaping forward. “The monster just sank your boat. You have to stay here with me.”

The man whirled around and there was something strange about his eyes, as if he were seeing but not understanding what was happening. “Who are you anyway?” he asked.

“My name is Isabelle,” she said and gave him a small smile. “What’s your name?”

The man turned and jumped into the small boat, rowing it frantically out to the wrecked ship. “There’s a monster there, so be careful,” Isabelle said, but trailed off as he ignored her. “You have to protect me from it . . .”

Isabelle watched as the man dove into the water and began pulling up waterlogged bags and containers and throwing them into the inflatable boat. All afternoon, he worked, salvaging things and bringing them back to pile up on the beach. Isabelle watched him uncertainly. He looked like he was planning to stay, but still he wasn’t paying any attention to her.

As the sun was setting, the man built a fire and heated up something from a can. Isabelle approached the fire and sat down to one side, looking at him.

“What’s your name?” she asked softly.

He looked up. “Tom. Tom Nedimyer.” Then, indicating the pot over the fire, “You want some?”

“What is it?”

“It’s food—beans. Are you hungry?”

“I—I don’t know,” Isabelle said, in confusion. Tom shrugged and spooned some onto his plate.

“What was that thing, anyway—that thing that crushed my boat?” Tom asked. “I was afraid it would be waiting for me down there, but I didn’t see any sign of it.”

“That’s the monster,” Isabelle said. “It’s always around, threatening me. I’m glad you’re here to protect me from it.”

“Why would it sink my boat though?”

“It wanted you to stay here”

Tom gave her a sudden, hard look that startled Isabelle. “How the hell would you know what it wants? What is it anyway?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Isabelle said, thrown into confusion by his tone and language. “It’s just the monster. It wants to hurt me.”

“Does it? Has it ever hurt you?”

“No, but . . .” She didn’t know how to finish.

Tom began to eat. “Are you here alone? When I first saw you, I thought you were here with a cruise or something.”

“I live here,” Isabelle said. “I came with my family but I can’t find them now.”

“How long have you been here?” he asked. “I mean, just look at you.”

“Why? What about me?”

“Well, the clothes, the hair. How do you do it?” He saw her look of incomprehension and with a noise of irritation, he pulled a mirror of his survival kit. He held it up so she could see.

Isabelle looked into the small piece of glass and saw herself for the first time since she had been on the ship with her family. She looked just as she remembered herself, a thin, pale face with dark hair pulled back into a neat braid. It took her a moment to understand and then she felt a sudden sense of horror sweep over her. She looked so clean and neat—every hair was in place and her face and clothes looked as scrubbed and spotless as if she were on her way to church. Yet she had not touched water since the day she had climbed out the pool she had fallen into.

She turned away quickly and felt her hands trembling. “I don’t know, I don’t know.”

“How long have you been here?” he asked again. “Do you remember the date?”

She thought about it. The time on the ship, the time on the island—it was just time, with no demarcations to separate it out and make it countable. “I can only remember one date,” she said finally. “My birthday.”

“When is that?”

“July 26,” she said. “July 26, 1789.”

There was a silence as he stared at her. It made her afraid. “What’s wrong?”

“Today is August 14, 1996,” he said at last. He moved a little away.

“No . . .” she said. “No!” But she knew he was right. With rising terror, small details that she had not understood or had not thought about came back to her. Without another word, she got up and fled into the jungle.

That night was the worst that Isabelle could remember. It began to pour in the middle of the night. She hid under an outcropping of rock where she always did when it rained, shaking and trying to keep the rain off her. Now, though, her mind kept screaming at her and she could not quiet it.

I’m . . . I’m . . . She could not even bring herself to think the word. There was no other possibility though. Her appearance had not changed, she could not remember eating or drinking anything since she had fallen into the pool that night, not even sleeping for that matter. Why had she not thought of it before? Her mind was such muddle of fear and loneliness. And if what Tom had said was true, that it was over two hundred years after her birth . . .

I’m . . . dead.

The pain and fear welled up inside her until she broke down in sobs, covering her hands with her face. Then she stopped suddenly and pulled her hands away from her face. She had no tears. She felt hollow, a shell of the person she had been.

Her family was truly gone. Some part of her had known that when she had seen the graves and decaying houses, but she could not accept it. The rain pattered on the leaves all around her, embodying the ethereal prison she now felt trapped in.

Over the next few days, Isabelle watched from hiding as Tom hauled wood to the beach and built outriggers onto his small boat. She watched as he loaded it with fruit and coconuts and containers of water. She watched him prepare to go and leave her. She did not try to stop him. She did not really want him, or Louis for that matter. She wanted her father and he was gone.

She was worried about the monster though. She was worried that it did not want Tom to leave and that it would sink his small boat if he tried. For the first time, she wondered what the monster really was. She had always thought of it as her enemy, but then it had become her ally against the scary and annoying people who had come to the island. And it had kept Tom on the island. But now . . .

The next morning, before dawn, Isabelle watched as Tom pushed his boat out on the high tide. The full moon was sinking down towards the horizon and shone with a ghostly light on the water. Tom jumped into the boat and then looked back. Isabelle raised her hand in farewell and he returned the salute.

Tom turned back towards the open ocean and started to paddle. He was about a hundred feet from shore when Isabelle saw what she feared the most: the monster, rising out of the water just behind the boat. Tom did not see it; he was concentrating on paddling between the rocks near the shore. The monster was going to smash the boat and maybe drown Tom. It hated Tom for leaving Isabelle there alone.

She had to stop it, somehow. “No,” she said out loud. “Leave him alone!” She felt the monster hesitate and she said it again. For a while, she held it there, in the water just off shore, as Tom’s boat got further and further away.

Suddenly the monster gave a roar that echoed off the rocks near the beach. Isabelle had never heard it make a sound before. It turned and leaving the water, it charged up the beach straight for her. She could not control it now. It would not stop. She turned and ran into the jungle.

For the first time since she had seen the monster first step out of the jungle, she was truly terrified. She heard it crashing through trees and breaking rocks behind her as it pursued its furious course after her.

Whether by accident or unconscious desire, Isabelle realized that she was heading for the lagoon on the far side of the island. She reached it as the eastern sky was lightening with the dawn. The rowboat was still there, and the man as well, but he was not fishing now. Instead, he was sitting up, looking intently in her direction.

“Help!” Isabelle cried. “The monster is coming. You have to protect me from it.”

“I will,” he said, “but you must come here. It’s right behind you. Once you’re in the boat, you’ll be safe from it.”

Isabelle stopped at the water’s edge. “I can’t,” she cried. “Can you come up to the shore?”

“I’ve come as close as I can,” he said. “It may be uncomfortable, but the water will not hurt you.”

With a roar, the monster burst out of the forest and Isabelle stepped into the water. Instantly, she felt that same clutching panic that she had experienced in the deep pool, but she kept walking, looking straight ahead to the boat. The water rose to her knees and then her thighs and she bit her lip to keep from screaming. Then she reached the side of the boat.

The man put his hands under her arms and, as if she were a child, lifted her effortlessly into the boat. He smiled at her. “You’re free now. You’ll never see that thing again.”

Isabelle lay in the front of the boat, crying softly from exhaustion and relief. She reached up and felt real tears on her cheeks, which made her cry even harder.

“Where are we going?” she asked, as the man began to row.

“Away from here, first of all, then to somewhere better.”

“Will I see my family?”

“Soon enough. Now, just relax. I’ll do the work now.” He began to row, with strong, even strokes, out of the lagoon. They headed east, into the rising sun and slowly, the island disappeared from sight.


The Other Side: Isabelle’s Story (Part 3)

Read the original: Isabelle’s Island

The Other Side: Isabelle’s Story (Part 1)   (Part 2)

The strength was leaving her hands. “No, no, no. Papa, help me!” Her hands slipped off the root and with a scream, she fell, down, down into the blackness. The last thing she remembered was the sensation of her body hitting water.

.

..

….

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Isabelle opened her eyes to see colors and shifting patterns of light. She tried to move her limbs and found that she could move quite easily. Then she realized she was underwater.

She stood up and paddled her way frantically to the surface. The water was deep, but clear as glass. At the surface, she found that she was in steep-sided hole, like a well in the rock. It had vines trailing down its sides from far above, where the high sun made everything glow in shades of emerald and gold.

Isabelle remembered something about falling, although then it had been night. She pulled herself up by the vines, shaking off as much of the hideous water as she could. The very touch of it repulsed her now, as if it were a prison that was still reaching out to capture her.

Her body had become very light, or she had become strong, and she found herself climbing easily up the vines to the jungle floor. The air was still, with only the occasional birdcall breaking the silence.

The path through the jungle was so overgrown that it had entirely disappeared in places. She forced her way to the beach but more riddles were waiting for her there. There were two cabins there now in place of the lean-to but both looked abandoned and dilapidated, with their roof palms rotting and their sides sagging into the sand. On the edge of the forest, she found two graves, their rudely made crosses bleached and overgrown with weeds.

Isabelle tried to think, but her mind was not working properly. Where was her family? Had they just gone away and left her? Her father had promised he would come back for her, but now they were gone and she was alone.

“Papa?” she said. Then, in a scream of terror and despair, “Papa!” She collapsed on the beach, sobbing.

“You have to protect me from the monster, Papa. You said you would. It’s big, as big as a horse and has long fur and sharp claws and I saw it and it’s real you have to protect me you promised you promised you would come back for me please please papa please…”

She looked up, hoping to see her father—anyone—there on the beach. But no one was there. If the monster were real, her father would have to protect her. She could imagine it peering out of the underbrush at her. Then, as if it were perfectly natural, she saw it, just as she had described and just where she had imagined it. The monster.

It took a step out onto the beach, looking at her menacingly. It was real.

“Papa, you have to come save me. See, I wasn’t lying. There really is a monster. Papa, please.” But no one came and after a while, the monster disappeared back into the trees.

For Isabelle, days became a torture of loneliness as she wandered around the island, looking for any sign of her family. Sometimes she thought she heard their voices or saw a glimpse of one of them through the trees. Then the monster would appear and threaten her and she would cry out for help, but help never came and the monster would disappear again. She was terrified of water and spent the nights in the trees for fear of falling into it accidentally.

One day she went so far that she reached the far side of the island. Here she found a long, curving lagoon that formed a natural harbor. In the middle sat a small boat at anchor. Isabelle saw with a shudder that it resembled the rowboat that they had come to the island in, although this one was newer and cleaner. There was a man lying in it with his feet up, fishing. For a moment, Isabelle thought it was her father or one of her brothers and her heart gave a leap of hope. But it was someone else.

The man straightened up when he saw her and he put down the fishing pole. “What are you doing?” he called to her.

Isabelle hesitated. “I’m—I’m looking for my family. Have you seen them?”

The man nodded. “You won’t find them on that island though.”

“Do you live here?” she asked.

He shook his head.

“Then how do you know?”

He smiled. “Trust me.”

“You know, there’s a monster on this island,” Isabelle said. “It hunts me and I have to run away from it. Come be with me and protect me.” At that moment, there was a crashing in the trees and the monster appeared partway down the beach. “Please, come rescue me,” she said.

The man kept looking at her steadily. “You know,” he said, as if a thought had just hit him, “if you waded out here to my boat, it wouldn’t follow you. If you really want to get away from it, that is.”

“I can’t,” she said immediately. “I can’t go in the water. I’m afraid.”

“You’ll be fine,” the man said. “It’s not much above your waist, even out here. Come on, I’ll help you.”

“I can’t!” Isabelle cried. “I’ll never go in the water again. Who are you anyway? You don’t know anything about my family. I’m going to go find them.” She stormed off into the jungle, not even looking back to see the monster fade from view.

For a long while—days, weeks, she could not tell—she searched the island for any trace of her family. She secretly knew that they were not there, although where they had gone, she did not know. Still, she told herself that they could be on the move. It was a big island—they could be always missing each other. She walked the whole island again and again, except the sheltered lagoon on the far side. She did not want to see that strange man and his penetrating gaze and strange smile.

One day, just as the sun was going down, she caught sight of a figure on a rock across a narrow channel from the island. It looked like her father and her heart flamed with hope. He had come back for her. But as she approached, she saw that it was someone else. He was younger and wore strange clothing. Still, he could protect her and stay with her.

She crept closer to him, getting as close as she could without touching the water. His name was Louis, she found out, and he spoke French. Suddenly she was very glad of her tedious French lessons.

Louis said he would come to the island and protect her but he hesitated to. She made him promise he would come but still she was nervous. The sun was going down and she could not go over to him. What if he disappeared in the darkness, just as her family had done? He was so close, yet so far as well.

Just before the sun went down, the monster appeared, coming down the beach towards her. She screamed for Louis to protect her and he jumped into the water and started to swim. But then he sunk under the water and did not come back up. After a while, the monster disappeared from view.

Isabelle was crushed. Louis had been so close, but then he had escaped her too. Still, she felt hope. She had fallen into water and had come back out of it, so maybe there was hope for Louis. After all, he had promised. Every day, she went to the rocks and looked down into the churning water, hoping to catch some glimpse of him.

Time passed and other people came to the island. Some were groups of men, who sat and drank on the beach or crashed through the forest, making noise and cutting down trees. She hid from these sorts of people—they reminded her of the crew of the ship and she feared what they would do to her if they found her.

Sometimes, couples would come to curl up together on the beach, eating and drinking and kissing. They paid attention to no one but each other and they would never pay attention to her. Isabelle hated these people, especially the women.

But Isabelle discovered a very interesting thing: the monster hated what she hated. When these couples—or other people who made Isabelle feel uncomfortable—came to the island, the monster would crash through the trees or throw rocks into the water. It did this especially at night until the people got scared enough to leave.

But then one day, a man came to the island. He was about her father’s age and he came alone. She looked at him from the jungle and then, for the first time since she had talked to Louis, she decided to talk to him.

He was nice. He seemed kind and wanted to help her, but he had a boat and she knew he was going to leave her again soon. Suddenly, she wanted him to stay there, wanted it more than anything she had wanted since her family had left. She knew the monster wanted it too.

Just as the man was going for his boat, the monster rose out of the water and tore the boat to pieces. And just like that, the man was there with her on the island, just the two of them. Isabelle was overjoyed.

(to be continued)


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