Tag Archives: woman

The Strangemans (Part 2)

This is an Aftermath story. In the previous part of the story, Damian and his friend Nikolai find shelter in a ruined house in the post-apocalyptic wasteland outside Ipswich. They meet a deformed woman who gives them food and shelter.

wasteland

“Do you live here by yourself?” Damian asked.

“No, there are several of us, but they will not show themselves yet,” she said. “We are the Strangemans.”

“The Strangemen?” Nikolai asked.

“Strangemans,” she corrected, smiling with yellowed fangs. “For changed people like us, even the language must change. We are men no longer, or women. But where are you coming from, and where are you going?”

“We came from Ipswich,” Damian said. “I—I don’t know where we are going though.”

“You are not the first to run away from that place, although most who flee thoughtlessly out here die quickly. It was fortunate you came across our house. I will give you a choice. If you wish, you may become one of us. You will have food and shelter, and more importantly, allies. Or you may leave. We will give you some food to take with you if you choose.

“How many of you are there?” Damian asked.

“Several,” she said again. “The witchers—raiders from Ipswich—hunt us if they find us, so we never tell our number or faces to outsiders. I’m am an ambassador of sorts. You may think about it, if you wish.”

“I will join you,” Damian said immediately.

“Me too,” Nikolai said. He eyed the empty bowl in front of him.

“Are you sure?” she said. “There is a sort of test to join us, but it is quick.”

“I’m sure,” Damian said, looking up into her eyes. He trusted her eyes.

“Very well.” She took his left hand, caressed it and then brought it to her mouth as if to kiss it. The next moment she bit down hard at the first joint of his pinky finger.

Damian screamed and jerked his hand back, but it was done. The woman pulled the tip of his finger out of her mouth, dirty nail and all, and placed it in his trembling right hand.

“Why? Why—” His voice shook from physical and mental shock.

“In a moment,” she said. “We must stop the bleeding.” She bandaged his finger with the care of a mother and then kissed it, as if in benediction.

“There is one more step,” she said. “Now throw it into the fire over there and you will be one of us.” Damian looked down at the tiny bit of bloodied flesh in his hand. Apart from him, it was nothing but a foreign object. He threw it in the fire.

“Now you have given part of yourself to us forever,” the woman said. “And we will protect you with our lives as well.” She held up her left hand and Damian saw the tip of her last finger was missing as well. “Welcome to the Strangemans.”

She turned to Nikolai, but the other boy had backed against the wall, his whole body shaking. “You are next, if you would like,” the woman said.

“No, no! I can’t,” he said. The tears were pouring down his face. “There has to be another way.”

“There is no other way,” she said. “Life out here is no game. If you cannot give of yourself, we cannot give ourselves to you. It is quickly done and the benefits are for a lifetime.”

“Damian! Damian, help me!” Nikolai cried. There was desperation in his voice and Damian understood the crushing dilemma he was in, wanting to belong, but not daring to go through with it. And Damian could not save him, not like he had from the butcher of Ipswich. Only Nikolai could decide. Damian wondered what he would have done if he had known what was coming and how unfair it was for Nikolai to know.

“Be at peace,” the woman said. “You may stay here another day or two at most, unless you decide to join us before then. For right now though, you must stay here.” She turned to Damian. “As for you, newest Strangeman, come meet your brothers and sisters.”


The Strangemans

This is an Aftermath story. In the previous story, the Butcher of Ipswich, Damian rescues his friend Nikolai from a butcher who is about to kill him. Due to stress and fear, Damian enters an altered state where he moves faster and is much stronger, but also totally deaf. He escapes the post-apocalyptic city of Ipswich and runs off into the dark, nighttime wasteland.

wasteland

The dark, putrid wasteland echoed with screams and weird cries but Damian heard none of them as he ran, carrying his friend Nikolai in his arms. He had no destination and no plan, except to get as far away as he could from the depraved city of Ipswich. It seemed like almost no time had passed when the sun rose behind him and his shadow—a dark, sickly skeleton—leaped out in front of him. It was only a moment or two before he could feel the sun’s terrible rays burning into his skin, sending up tiny blisters. It didn’t hurt, but some part of his brain beneath the preternatural fog that covered his mind knew he had to get out of the sun immediately.

He was in a narrow lane with ruined houses on both sides. He ducked into the closest house on the left, the only one with an intact roof and dropped Nikolai to the dusty kitchen floor. Damian was still deaf—whatever power had seized him in Ipswich when he had snatched Nikolai from the terrible butcher’s table and fled had also plunged him into a silent world of his own. He would be worried later; for now the lack of screams and cries of pain that had filled every day of his life were absent and he walked in a sort of aural Nirvana.

Nikolai was still unconscious. Damian looked at him and then, in a sudden decision, lay down next to him and went instantly to sleep.

He woke and found himself gazing up into the kindly face of a monster. It was, or had been, a woman, but now her face was swollen and tumorous and her teeth were yellow and sharp. But her eyes were kind and she when she mouthed unheard words to him, he felt strangely reassured. She held a cup up for him to drink and then gave him some food. It was plain stuff but far better than he was used to. After a few minutes, he fell asleep again.

When he awoke again, it was dark and the first thing he noticed was the crackle of a fire. It was indistinct, but his hearing was returning. Nikolai was up as well and eating. “Hello,” he said, when he saw Damian. “Where are we?”

“I don’t know,” Damian said. He would have thought it was all a dream, except they were definitely not in Ipswich anymore.

“What is your name?” the monstrous woman asked, coming over to Damian. She held out a bowl of food for him, which he eagerly accepted.

“Damian,” he said. “I could not hear you before. My ears— but it’s okay now.” Despite his upbringing as a fugitive and her hideous appearance, he found himself trusting the woman. “Do you live here by yourself?”

“No, there are several of us, but they will not show themselves yet,” she said. “We are the Strangemans.”

(To be continued tomorrow. Don’t miss it!)


Ain’t No Sunshine… – Friday Fictioneers

This story had a double inspiration for me, the picture below and the song that gives this story its title.

copyright Sean Fallon

copyright Sean Fallon

Ain’t No Sunshine…

She always made me laugh, my cloudy-eyed Eleanor. Light and airy, she flitted from project to scheme like an aether sprite.

But her anger struck as sudden and violently as Odin’s wrath. Her incisive fury could cut me to pieces with a single sentence.

But I loved her. I still do.

She lived on the restless wind and one day it blew her away from me, leaving only a note with many words but no explanation.

I would have given her my heart, but instead she cut it out and left it in her final farewell. My lovely, cloudy-eyed Eleanor.


Screams at Midnight

I woke up suddenly to screams coming from the road below my apartment. I jumped up and went to the window. It was almost midnight and the road was deserted. Then I saw the small figure shrinking back against the wall on the edge of the streetlight’s circle of light.

night alley

What should I do? I had only been in the country for two weeks and I didn’t know the language beyond basic phrases. I stood there for a few moments, listening to the cries and praying other neighbors would call the police and relieve me of any responsibility.

The windows across the road from me remained dark and I saw one light go off and unseen hands pull the shutters closed. So that’s how it was.

I thought of just going back to bed, but how could I sleep like that? How could I stand by and do nothing while someone was suffering? I had always been appalled at stories of people who heard muggings and murders going on outside their apartment and did nothing for fear of getting involved. On the other hand, I didn’t want to go get involved in something that was none of my business.

Finally, I got dressed slowly and went to the door. I would at least go try to get a better idea of the situation. I went down the stairs and peered out the front door.

The figure—it was definitely a woman—was in the same defensive position, but I could not see anyone else. I took a step outside, still scanning the shadows. The fact that she was apparently alone alarmed me almost as much as if someone had been there beating her.

I walked into the circle of light and the woman abruptly went quiet. The next thing I knew, she was clinging to me, looking back over her shoulder at the empty road. She was talking to me, fast, but I had no idea what she was saying.

She seemed to be in her 20s, long black hair, and almost freakishly thin. Her skin was cold against my arm. Strangely enough, she smelled of wood smoke, a smell I have always loved.

“Uh, are you okay? Okay?” I said. She gave me a look of incomprehension.

What was I supposed to do? Finally, I asked, “Do you want to come up for tea? Tea?” I made a drinking motion, then hoped she didn’t interpret it as alcohol. I remembered the word for tea and said it and she nodded.

I lived alone and my apartment was not exactly neat. I blushed and tried frantically to clean up, at least superficially, as we walked in. She didn’t seem to notice—just sat on the couch and looked around. I was glad she had calmed down, at least.

As the water was boiling for tea, I tried to make small talk, which is very hard without a common language. I showed her my language study book and she seemed to approve. Then we silently sipped at our tea and smiled at each other when our eyes happened to meet. Finally, she stood up and took a deep breath.

“Thank you,” she said, one of the few phrases I knew in her language. “Thank you, thank you.”

“No problem,” I said, completely forgetting the appropriate response.

She walked to the door and put on her shoes.

“Uh . . .” I began—she had walked out with my mug in her hands. But then she turned and gave me such a radiant smile that I let her have it. “Have a good night,” I said. “Bye bye.”

“Bye bye,” she said, in English, and giggled.

The next day, I asked my landlord about her. It took him a few minutes to understand. “Ah, I know. I know the girl,” he said at last. “Yes, she is not . . . not okay in the head, you know? Sometimes she cries at night on the street. Don’t worry, don’t worry.”

“What happened?”

“Years before, she had a boyfriend, he was very bad. He hit her a lot, very badly. Then one day he hit her on the road right there and she hit him back with rock and killed him. No trouble with the police—not her fault, but after that she not okay in the head. If you see her, don’t worry.”

“Okay,” I said. I didn’t tell him that I had made her tea in my apartment and that she hadn’t seemed crazy to me.

Two days later, I opened my door to go to work and found my mug sitting in front of the door. It had been washed and was stuffed with money, mostly dirty and wrinkled bills. There was about $25 worth in all. After that, other cups and containers appeared in front of my door, all filled with money. After six months, I had over $300 collected.

I didn’t spend the money—I felt bad just having it. I wanted to give it back, but I never saw the woman again. I looked for her but couldn’t find her. No one seemed to know where she lived. Based on the smell of wood smoke, I even wandered out into the forest, wondering if she lived in a cabin out there.

Even now, a year later, the money still comes from time to time. I’ve thought of hooking up a camera to catch her in the act. I just want to tell her thank you, that I don’t need the money, that I want to know more about her. All I can do now is study the language and keep my eyes open.

What else can I do? What would you do in my place?


Enough to Go Around – Friday Fictioneers

I admit: I found this prompt pretty hard, although it doesn’t help that I’ve been pretty tired for the last few days. I vacillated between dark and humour and ended up with dark humour.

Copyright E.A. Wicklund

Copyright E.A. Wicklund

Enough to Go Around

“I never saw the harm, you know?” Dean said. His seventh beer was leaking into his words. “Girls fighting over you—that’s good, right?”

The same old story.

“I was dating Amy then,” he said. “You remember Amy? The wrestler?”

“I remember.”

“It was after a tournament and her friend starts flirting with me. Awesome! Then Amy finds us, grabs my arm. Her friend grabs my other arm. I say, ‘Ladies, there’s enough of me to go around.’” He starts crying.

“Come on, let’s get you home.” I ease his coat over his cold, prosthetic arms and lead him outside.

 


The Ajummas of Summer

(Ajumma (아줌마) is the Korean word for a married woman, especially middle-aged)

Ajummas

As I approached the bus stop,

A (fairly) young, Canadian man, dressed in conservative business clothes,

I realized I could not have been more out of place.


A Night of Loss and Grief – Fantastic Travelogue #14

Sometimes you have some amazing adventures you just have to tell everyone about. Read the rest of this account here.

Synopsis: I was hiking in the mountains of Korea when I got lost at night and came out in a strange valley. I couldn’t understand anyone, but I found out they knew Chinese characters. I met a young woman name Ain-Mai, and later, her brother Sing-ga. While I was there, a creepy woman appeared. Ain-Mai and her brother told me that the creepy woman was named Hengfel and came from another world. Hengfel eventually captured all three of us and brought us back to her world. They separated us, but Sing-ga and I got out and rescued Ain-Mai, although I got quite injured in the process. We took shelter in the air vents. Sing-ga went to find water, while Ain-Mai bandaged me and took care of me. Sing-ga finally came back, bleeding badly and very injured.

Night of Great Loss

I had never seen anyone die before, but I was there, kneeling next to Sing-ga when he died. I heard his breath catch, as if he were choking on something and then it just stopped. I kept waiting for him to breath again, but he didn’t. Ain-Mai, on his other side, was starting to become frantic. She was hyperventilating and shaking him, calling his name. Finally, I reached out and touched her arm and she wilted, her arms falling down to her sides.

In the faint light of the moon and stars that was coming in through the opening, I could see that Sing-ga’s arms and face were covered with circular bites. If he had been attacked, how had he gotten away? And could there be things that were still looking for him? I wanted to get away, but I wasn’t sure where to go and I was in no shape to travel.

A light, skittering sound came from up the tunnel. Ain-Mai didn’t seem to notice. She was smoothing back her brother’s hair and crying softly.

“We should go,” I said. She paid no attention.

Something the size of a dinner plate flew out of the darkness at me. All I saw were thin, clawed legs outstretched towards me before the thing wrapped itself around my arm and I felt the sharp pain of it biting into my flesh. I shouted in terror and ripped it off, hurling it savagely out through the grating and into open space. More came leaping at me and I fought them off desperately, pure adrenaline overcoming the pain of my injuries. From what I could tell, they were like huge spiders, with clawed legs and a sharp-toothed mouth in the middle of their body. Even now, I sometimes have nightmares about those horrors jumping out of the darkness at me.

Mouth spider

One got caught in Ain-Mai’s hair. She screamed, but it roused her to action and she fought back, lashing out at the monsters when they jumped at her.

“We have to go!” I shouted, not caring that she couldn’t understand me. I started to move in the only direction that was open to us, out the opening and onto the sheer outer side of the tower. I hesitated when it came to actually stepping out of the opening and onto the rough plates of the outer wall, and it was Ain-Mai who took the lead and held out her hand for me to come out.

I had just taken her hand when one of leaping spider-mouths latched onto my shoulder and bit in deeply. I writhed to get it off and felt myself slipping. Ain-Mai pulled me back to the wall and reached down to rip the vile creature off my shoulder. It gave a thin cry as it disappeared into the darkness far below us.

I did not wait to see if more were following us but gripped Ain-Mai’s hand and followed her along the ridges of the wall. They stuck out at an angle from the wall and were easy to hold onto, but they were also irregularly shaped. My right foot was bandaged and extremely sore, so I hopped along on my left.

The spider-mouths didn’t follow us out. I thought this was strange until I remembered poor Sing-ga’s body lying just inside the tunnel. I was sick with horror, but it came out as anger. I shuffled along, swearing under my breath, spitting out profanities with every hop. I’m not even sure who I was angry at: at the spider-mouths; at Hengfel for bringing us to that terrible place; at myself for getting Sing-ga and Ain-Mai caught with me and in doing so, causing his death. I was thankful for the calming effect of Ain-Mai’s hand in mine, which kept me from doing anything stupid.

We came to a hollow in the outer wall a minute later, which was fortunate because I could not have gone on much longer in my condition. It was probably a dragon nest at one point, but it was deserted and we collapsed into it. I put my back against the stone wall and tried to regain my strength and calm my mind. Ain-Mai slumped down by my side, sobbing. I put my arm around her and she drew closer.

Night of Great Loss

Ten minutes later, she had quieted and lay still against me. I had my eyes closed when I felt her stir. The next thing I felt were her lips on mine. She was kissing me in a quick, breathless way, not romantically, but as someone desperately needing comfort in the midst of despair.

For a moment, it was as if time stopped and the Choice stood in front of me. We were alone together in an alien world. Ain-Mai had just lost her brother and was overwhelmed with grief. She needed me. As for myself, I was lonely and tired and she felt so good next to me that in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to abandon myself to her kisses and caresses.

But then I thought of my wife–by herself and worlds away from me. I imagined her going about her daily life, wondering where I was, hoping I was safe, and I realized that she was the only one I really wanted. Still, it was one of the hardest things I have ever done to pull away from Ain-Mai’s embrace. “I,” I said, and then took her hand and drew out the character for “married” on her palm. I guess she understood my meaning one way or another; she nodded and then put her head back down on my shoulder. She started crying again, very softly, and I put my arm around her again. I didn’t know what else to do.

The next thing I remember was opening my eyes to see the sun breaking over the far horizon. Ain-Mai was sleeping with her head still on my shoulder. Then I noticed with a start that a large bird-like creature was perched on a wall plate next to the hollow. It had wings folded behind it and small arms in front, each with a large golden bracelet on it. We looked at each other for a moment until it put its hands over its eyes and bowed deeply to me.

(to be continued…)


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