Sick Strange Darkness

She’d always resided behind his eyes. In the darkness floating above his bed, the space between his waking thoughts and the blurred abyss of sleep. Since his twelfth birthday, when his father had passed the binding to him, she’d found him in his dreams.

Now watching his own son turn fitfully beneath the bed covers, plagued perhaps by her warm sepia eyes, he turns away. “Come home.” Her voice hums deep inside his skull.

He’d thought to be free of her. He’d even thought himself clever. If the cursed cuff, that evil twist of metal, was her call, her beacon, surely it’s departure would free them? He’d pushed it over across that velvet table himself when the cards had spoken. Won by another in a poker game, he was done with the thing, with her.

That night she came to him as she’d never before. With hair like webs and skin that burned at its touch, he drowned that night in his sheets. Three days later he was able to wrest himself from the warm depths of her arms. He woke up to a brilliant morning in a hospital bed. The doctors did not understand, but his father, now old and white-eyed, did and would not speak to him.

He leaves his own son’s room and walks the hallways to keep her at bay. One by one they’ve succumbed to her. Half his house sleep. He no longer bears her alone, she spreads like the inky silk of her hair into everything.

He comes to his bedroom door. It is locked, barred from within so the bed cannot tempt him. It does. He is tired, every blink is a small fight to stay away from her warm black depths. “Come home.” She whispers, her breath against his cheek.

His sheets would be cool, unused and soft. She would be so very warm. He leans against the door as if he could fall through the wood and into the hazy depths of her realm.  “Come home,” says the voice inside his head. He closes his eyes.

Raw Rambles picked this amazing cover by PHOX for us to write to for the Music Challenge this week. See what she wrote with their rendition of “I Miss You” in mind here. 

Audacity and the Arts

The clumsy notes stopped, dropping the music room into silence. Miss Devitt exhaled through her nose. She slapped the small fingers resting inactive on the piano keys next to her. Only one person in the world could make her this angry. Teaching an idiot child the masterpieces was proving aggravating. “Theodore, pay attention.”

The boy winced and quickly resumed his graceless practice scales. Miss Devitt corrected his lazy wrist and a misplaced note with another rap on the knuckles.

Satisfied, though hardly pleased, she swept up from the bench and went to check on Theodore’s sister. The young girl was faithfully copying from a composer’s book at the center table. Miss Devitt sniffed loudly and the girl sat a little straighter, eyes widening in panic as she wrote.

Miss Devitt nodded at the girl’s elegant, if novice, script. There was hope for her at least. She was about to say so when the ungainly piano notes stopped again. Miss Devitt whirled.

With his back to her, Miss Devitt could not see his distant gaze but she knew it was there. His fingers hit a random key, and then another, moving between them dreamily.

“To your scales.” She commanded. The boy, lost in his idle thoughts, didn’t respond and Miss Devitt cursed the day she was ever charged with these impossible children. Next to her, his sister groaned audibly.

“Theodore!” Devitt snapped and charged, causing Theodore to rouse from his daydream and hit the keys with a burst of frantic noise. As Miss Devitt snatched his wrist and loomed, devising a punishment to definitively put the boy’s indolence to rest, he stared up at her in terror, sensing the last of his teacher’s patience dissolve.

The scrape of a chair interrupted them. Both looked over at Theodore’s sister as she stood. The girl leveled a finger at the music teacher. “Leave him alone!” She ordered, then squeaked at her own daring.

Miss Devitt blinked. Theodore took the opportunity to free his wrist while the she stared down the two seven-year-olds and the audacity of the whole situation. This was precisely why this country was going to shite. No respect for authority or the arts.

A long moment passed silently in the music room. Finally, Miss Devitt sniffed. “Very well, but be assured. The reasons for my resignation shall be communicated to your parents. Good day.”

And with that, she swept from the room and the twins were left without a music teacher. They looked between each other, until one nervously giggled, causing the other to burst with laughter.

Against Your Teeth

Woodsdown fog was a menace all by itself. It didn’t roll in like the normal stuff off the water. Creeping and stretching, the mist grew from the ground and up around tree trunks like vines. A traveler didn’t need to meet ambush or storm to find bad ends in Woodsdown fog. All it took was a wrong turn. So sure where the path was a moment before, then a step, stumble, and fall into white nothingness.

Walls don’t keep the crawling mist away, and it smothers a fire quicker than rain. Those who scrape out lives at the edges of Woodsdown learn to weather it. They close their windows and sing little songs to themselves until it recedes, seeping away always much slower than it comes.

The wise do not go to Woodsdown. The people have a quaver about their eyes and speak too loud. The forest is odder still, and the fog that rolls in is better left to its own creeping devices. But if one finds themselves in the place, amidst the towering whitebarks and hemlocks, and the fog comes slithering, hunker down and sing a song quiet-like against your teeth. It won’t be over soon.


 

Wrong Things, Wrong Man

Gall and Wormwood’s night was just beginning. Two days’ hard ride from that miserable holding with no signs of pursuit, it was time to pause the getaway. They intended to enjoy freedom and the spoils taken along with it. Wormwood was already drunk, halfway out of his trousers and singing to the radio, while Gall danced twitchy-like in front of the sunken hearth.

They passed the things back and forth, ancient eyeglasses and yellowing pamphlets. Gall ran her fingers through a horsehair wig, Wormwood cinched a vintage belt around his naked waist. They toasted themselves and the haul, veritable gold from the golden age.

The keeper of the divey one-room inn watched the two sniff up oblivion and drink themselves into stumbling messes without comment. They’d paid him. Two apple barrels and a keg of cider, now safely locked in his grimy kitchen. As gun-toting thieves went, they seemed a decent sort. He retreated to the sole bedroom as Wormwood lost more clothes.

Outside the night deepened until the ground, forest, and sky all became pitch. The hearth’s fire burned down to embers. Gall broke into another bottle and offered Wormwood the first swig.  She shoved him when he didn’t take it. He shoved her back and continued to stare out the window. Behind the rain speckled panes, they could hear the wind tear at the trees.

Gall and Wormwood were not stupid, just drunk. He gathered his knives while she grabbed her rifle with swollen fingers. They set themselves at the door. Without the fire, they could feel the frigid air seeping through the walls and window glass.

Their nerves frayed by powders and herbs, it was not long before one suggested the other go out. Gall lost the hissed argument, and she left out the door, rifle bared. Wormwood lost sight of her in the black. He counted minutes and upon a quarter of an hour, he barred the door.

The decision bought him a moment. Wormwood used it to consider the possibility they’d stolen from the wrong man, or perhaps the wrong things, but probably a combination of the two. It was all he was afforded.

Glass shattered, crude metal flashed in the dark. In the dim of the dying hearth, he marveled at the broken window, and then the thick blade wedged deep in his chest. Wormwood slumped to the floor, his body ripping the machete from his assailant’s hand as he fell.

Wormwood looked up, eyes rolling, as the stranger placed a boot on his stomach. From behind the rough scrap mask, he thought he heard a deep and annoyed outtake of breath. The stranger twisted the blade with a wet wrench of bone and tendon and Wormwood died before he could think anything more of them.


Did I ever mention how much I enjoy Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie’s Wordle Prompts?

Legal Theft: Order in the Wilds

Every message took an hour to decode. Carved into rotted planks and posts, reclaimed by the forest, the work began when he found them. Its trail was long gone and its stake subsumed by a particularly impressive pine. But he was able to wrestle the plank away from the undergrowth.

He dug at the moss covering it, hands turning grubby and green, until he found its message etched deep with specks of leftover yellow paint. With the fog rolling in and the light fading, he tucked the plank under his arm and trudged back the way he’d come. small camp, he strung a tarp between two trees and pried open a can with his hunting knife. The brown mush within wasn’t immediately identifiable. He ate it anyway, scraping the sides of the can with a battered spoon. Once fed and thinking more clearly, he set the plank before him.

His small camp was only a tarp strung between two trees and a dry patch of ground for the fire. He settled in, picking a can from his pack and setting to work on its lid with a hunting knife. The brown mush within wasn’t immediately identifiable. He ate it anyway, scraping the sides of the can with a battered spoon. Once fed and thinking more clearly, he set the plank before him.

The little letters arranged in horizontal lines and clusters meant nothing to him. Uncle had yet to deliver on promises to teach him the old script, and he couldn’t wait. There was work to be done.

He withdrew a folded bundle from his coat’s inner pocket. Aware of the destructive raindrops pattering against the tarp overhead, he unfolded each crease deliberately and smoothed the paper under his fingers. The map had letters and words marked on its green expanse, some of his making but most in the ancient script of the golden age.

With the words from the plank in his mind, as one held the image of an object you’d lost,  he scoured the map and its pale lines. The process took time, words were repeated, the plank’s script was wet and rotten, and he checked each find with meticulous attention.

But an hour passed, the rain continued to fall, and he slowly began to understand what the plank had indicated. A diverging trail, and what he suspected were increments of distance. He’d go back tomorrow and find a new post for the sign. The trail was long past saving, but its marker, now recorded on his map,  provided a bit of order to the wilds.

If not a thief, definitely a scoundrel. This piece is part of the legal theft project and the first line comes from Apprentice, Never Master, who invited the project to steal it. 

Staccato Sounds

“And that’s all I know. Our fearless leader returns soon victorious, another bloody triumph, make of that what you will.” Her smile, inches from the steel microphone, sharpened the words. The red bulb on the switchboard flickered. Her eyes flicked to it.

The signal was strong, the light was just crap.She tapped it with a pointed fingernail until it stopped.

“But enough about struggles for the next patch of mud, we’ve got more important things ahead.” She queued up the next song. Something new, filled first with crackling voices and then with spoken rhythm. Mellow but righteously assured, there was something in the cadence of the words that made her want to close her eyes and nod along with it.

Instead, she switched off the mic and let the music race across the clouds. She stood and arched her neck to the side, letting the fire in her veins cool a bit. Without the microphone to hold her attention, she realized she was alone in the studio.

The mismatch of radio equipment rumbled behind her, the delicate metal, plastic, and wires vibrating off each other as the floor trembled. Without the headphones she could hear the sounds of engines, and distantly, gunfire. Familiar voices down the stairs and from the floor began to yell.

Poka met her on the landing and answered before she could demand. The man’s normally braided hair was everywhere in a sleep mussed fall.  “Someone’s here.”

“What?” A more important question presented itself a fraction of a moment later. “Who?”

Poka shrugged wildly and began shakily loading a revolver someone pressed into his hand. “No one knows.But the guard isn’t even here right now, we need to get back, lock a door, hide.” He was barely managing with the gun.

“The hell we are.” She said and grabbed her boots. Poka with his unsure hand could be dangerous at her back, but she’d just make him walk in front. Something was happening and she didn’t hide.

My turn this week, for our music challenge I picked Wax Tailor’s “The Games You Play” featuring the talented Ursula Rucker. Check out Raw Rambles to see what she did with the song. 

The Strange Heft of Paper

Spiget chose her escape carefully. Concord’s entrance was clogged with pilgrims, now carefully being admitted through the gates by Calistoga. Her brother could handle any trouble, but he was more likely to get it should the newcomers see an enforcer leave. Best everyone think she was still on the grounds, rifle resting comfortably across her back.

She slogged through the forest parallel to the road, shuffling through the undergrowth and fighting olive mud. Scents of rose, gardenia, and sulfur faded from the air as she walked. The remnants of paradise were replaced by the seething smell of drowned roots and rotting green.

When the sounds of the overpowered the wood’s birdsong, she knocked off the mess from her thick rubber boots and smoothed her hair.

Rain hit tent tops like fanfare. Fishmongers, diabolists, and scavenge men hawked their respective wares, leaning over table and each other to force guts and brass talismans under her nose.  Spiget politely declined a wetwork offer from a rheumy-eyed woman with a bandolier of rusty knives, and another for intimate session with two painted doe-eyed men.

Spiget hurried, shoving her shoulders through the mass of travelers, vagrants, and mercenaries towards the end of the market. Colored glass and strung lights hovered above the entrance of the gambling hall, its sunken doors set down from the street at the bottom of chipped steps. The likeness of an apple was carved deep into the door’s wood.

Someone flicked a stub of twisted herbs and paper at her feet.

Spiget reminded herself who she was dealing with and softened her expression before she looked up. Dealing with the den’s owner required a cool head.

Proper grinned at her in greeting, seemingly unbothered by the dark hair curling and dripping in front of his eyes. His shirt was soaked through and sticking to him. Tucked under to his side under an elbow was her package, safely wrapped in oilskin.

“So punctual,” Proper said, making the comment sound like an insult as if she should have kept him waiting in the rain. He held out his free hand and she dropped three heavy pouches into his long fingers. With what could have been flourish, but was more likely adroit misdirection, Proper vanished the money.

Spiget’s breath caught when he handed over the package. Proper hovered, watching her face as she unwrapped the corner of the slick cover. Beneath the oilskin, thick leather and the barest hint of gold lettering shown warm in the lights overhead. More than anything, Spiget liked the strange heft of its pages.

She hastily rewrapped the book before the rain could get at it. Proper was still watching her when she looked up. “Can you even read it?” He wore his smile at an unkind angle.

Spiget could not. But this was real, she knew it when the papery ancient smell had filled the space between them. Too happy to care about the mockery in his question, she shook her head. “Nope.”

She didn’t need to see his smirk flicker to enjoy his confusion as she walked away. Spiget wrapped her arms around the book and hugged it to her chest.

Thank you Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie for the great Wordle Prompt