Beyond the Baepu Mountains

Today’s story is a short story inspired by works of found footage horror films and mysterious depressing horrors settings like in Attack on Titan.  ‘Short Scary Story – Halloween Horror Challenge’ where I’ll be uploading an original horror story every day.

If you enjoy horror stories you can find more of mine here.

Hope you enjoy it,
– Zairron


The following is from the Diary of Lieutenant Colonel Luna Green, discovered abandoned along the trade road by the First Efwir Expeditionary Force.

***

My name is Luna Green, I’m the leading medical officer in charge of the investigative expedition into Efwir. Three months ago merchants travelling East along the established trade routes reported that after crossing the Baepu Mountains, there was no sign of any human settlement in the area. The merchants who travelled the furthest in Efwir claim that the first three settlements one encounters were entirely empty, with the structures entirely untouched by any sign of violence or indication for the desertion.
War with Efwir has been a constant fixture in our nations history, which is why it took so long for action to be taken. In the end it was the independent authority of The Most Honourable Marchioness Penelope that authorised the  specialist unit of surveyors and investigators under my command to be dispatched, along with an escort of Cavalry Scout’s under the command of Lieutenant Victoria Lewis to cross the border. Together we were tasked with investigating the situation beyond our borders and if possible determine it’s cause. The current treaty with Efwir prohibited military actions by either nation beyond their borders for any purpose. As a precaution we as well as our escort were lightly armed and armoured to favour mobility over combat strength. Our mission was officially disavowed in the case of capture. The moment we crossed the border we were on our own.

Today marks the beginning of the second day since we entered Efwir. We had moved swiftly crossing the mountain pass and descending into the valley. Just as the merchants had claimed there were no patrols guarding the border and the first town we encountered on our way was completely devoid of life. We stopped overnight in the town, my people quickly determined from decaying organic matter and the state of upkeep about the town that there had been no human presence here for anywhere from the three months reported by merchants to a year. There was, however, no evidence to support any theories as to the cause of the state. Whether due to the passage of time or the cause of desertion also remained a mystery.
The mood among the men is tense. There had been some debate as to whether we should have remained in town over the night, Lt. Lewis had convinced me of the benefits of remaining in case of signs overnight. Many of the troops were superstitious about sleeping in the homes of vanished people, a camp was pitched at the edge of the town for those who preferred to avoid the homes, mostly utilised by our escort as my soldiers are more scientific minded. The night passed without incident or change. There was some superstitious talk among the troops, but held no basis in reality.
This morning our objective is the second village along the trade road, two hours ride to the north of here. I expect, from the merchant reports, that we shall not discover any new evidence until we pass deeper into Efwir. The first major settlement is a full days ride along the trade road when taken without distraction, we have planned to make it there in three more days, leaving time for stealth and to properly investigate the settlements along the way.

***

Yesterday we arrived in the second settlement in Efwir. A smaller village than the town we investigated yesterday, all evidence has remained consistent with what was found before. The only piece of new information we found was along the road between the first two settlements one of the members of our escort reported spotting someone moving in the wood to the south.
A squad was sent on foot to investigate and retrieve the survivor, a young woman of roughly mid adolescence. She has been assigned to Captain Hannah Clarke to monitor. Other than being slight malnourished she seems in relatively healthy condition. So far she has remained unresponsive, seemingly traumatised by some experience. She responded to the sight of the village with heightened anxiety, necessitating a sedative to prevent injury before we could bring her within. Cpt. Clarke is confident that she will recover from her trauma soon and be able to share what happened here.
Again we will be remaining overnight within the village and making for the settlement to the east in the morning. Lt. Lewis has expressed growing sense of unease among the soldiers, not a cause for concern but worth noting. Though it wounds my scientific pride, I am forced to admit that I am beginning to share the feeling. Since crossing the border the silence that has accompanied us is unnatural.

***

Cpt. Clarke is dead. During the night we suffered significant casualties. Lt. Lewis was the first to discover Clarke and the survivor missing. During the search fully half of the soldiers sent to search for them failed to return, those who did reported no sign of anything save for a sense of being watched.
I am loath to end our investigation so prematurely, but I cannot in good conscience ask the people under my command to continue in the face of this unknown and threat. We remained in the village for the remainder of the night with watch doubled, no further casualties were taken during the night.
We have left to return home the moment the sun rose. I am writing this as we approach the first town we encountered in Efwir. I have deferred command to Lt. Lewis for her superior combat experience. In case we do not make it back, I record my findings here with the hope that my diary is found by future expeditions.

Some unknown calamity has befallen Efwir. As a result the vast majority of life has vanished. Not only human life, but wildlife as well. The unnatural silence previously reported I have realised is due to the fact we have not heard a single living creature since entering Efwir. The only exception the young girl we discovered in the wood. The only recommendation I can offer is that under no circumstances should survivors from Efwir be allowed to cross the border.
And may the Gods protect us.

Love Lies Bleeding

Hey everyone,

Just want to give a quick shout-out to Brhi Stokes author of Caligation, her Anthology of short stories Out of the Darkness & Into the Night is free on Amazon until the end of september, and selling for .99c thereafter. If you’re a fan of my work you might enjoy these. She’s even offering free authographs, if the idea interests you.

In other news, today’s tale is my first pass at the steampunk genre, though only very lightly steampunk. Following the headstrong Levi White pursue the love of a pretty girl, this is somewhat a moral tale about entitlement.

If you like it you can find more of my romance stories here,
– Zairron


Drawing the heavily creased sheet of paper once more from his pocket to check, Levi stares across the university courtyard anxiously. The enormous stone structures that surround the courtyard teem with the best and  brightest young minds on the continent. Everyone who ever wanted to be anyone attended the Edward Lincoln University. The foremost hub of technological and biological advancements for the past century, the scientific renaissance borne on the back of the external combustion engine could trace its origin back to this very campus. It was auspicious then that here he should have first laid eyes upon the woman of his dreams.

She had been tutoring a group of undergrads in the library while he had been studying nearby the first time he had properly noticed her. She drew him in and captured him with her enthusiasm and depth of knowledge for the subject. While her intellect was captivating enough her beauty was profound but humble. She had dressed after the fashion of men, dressed in tan suit pants and waistcoat over a white shirt she wore with the sleeves rolled past the elbow for practicality. She was vibrant, powerful and without even an exchange of glances he had fallen for her.
It was weeks before he had leaned who she was. A friend in the biological department recognised her description, having seen her in one of the labs. Other than a broad area to search he hadn’t known anything as useful as her name or anyone who might be able to introduce them. The students of the Edward Lincoln University were not unfairly reputed for tenacity and creativity, and Levi had always sat near the top of whatever he put his mind to. An engineering student, he had little justification for waiting around the school of biology as he did. Eventually he had been noticed after several weeks of loitering and been asked to leave, but not before finding her name among her supervisors records.
Riley Hughes, not the most feminine name but it suited her style perfectly. With the way she kept her hair short favouring a cut more popular among men and her preference for masculine attire, were it not for the soft tenderness to her lips and skin as well as the sensual cadence of her voice she could have almost resembled the androgyny of her name.

The brisk morning air was a start to the senses, keeping the students moving quickly to warm themselves as they headed for classes and other business. The half of the courtyard that boasted a touch of sunlight attracted a wide assortment of young academics. Musicians with guitars and lap drums played in a circle across from a foreign looking girl painting a likeness of the biology building with far sharper colours and contrasts, a small knot of Duellists loudly boasted to one another of their victories. Through all the activity, Levi was the only one who chose to stand in the shade. No more a fan of the cold than anyone else, he had chosen this spot for the unobstructed vantage it gave of the northern and eastern entrances to the Biology building.
The paper he held was a copy of Riley’s schedule for the semester. Once he’d had her name getting his hands on it had been as simple as finding a receptionist at the biology faculty trusting enough to believe the panicked pleas of a man claiming to have urgent news for his sister, Riley Hughes, regarding their poor beloved father falling ill and needing to find her as quickly as possible. With the means to find her at last, he had come to wait to see her leaving her morning class with the vague plan of finally meet her.
As students began exiting the building, Levi stared intently at the crowd to be certain not to miss his chance. He spots her leaving in the company of another woman, walking away from where he was standing. Pushing through the tide of students, he collides with an undergrad who doesn’t move in time and tramples over him unwilling to lose her again. Breaking through the crowd, he looks around desperately for her, barely spotting her tan suit pants as she rounds the corner moving swiftly.
Cursing beneath his breath he breaks into a sprint chasing after her, she couldn’t disappear he needed to meet her. He’d worked so hard to find her. There was no way he would let her escape him now.
As he regains sight of them the women inexplicably break into a run, forcing him to redouble his pace just to keep closing the distance. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go, she should have been alone and walked past him so he could have started a cool conversation and charmed her properly. At least this would be an amusing story to tell their children one day, he supposed attempting to hold down the boiling over rage bubbling up inside him.
Riley ducks into a small building Levi didn’t recognise in his knowledge of the university. The woman she’d been running with remaining outside, at least he might have the small good fortune to at least confess his love in private.

“Hey you!” the woman shouted at Levi, challenging him before he could follow Riley into the building. His anger was reaching bursting point now, he didn’t have time to stop but this girl wasn’t giving him room to pass.

“What do you want?”

“What do I want?” she retorts, stepping threateningly in to him, her long hair and cute makeup almost making the gesture comical, “You need to back off, you creepy stalker. Riley’s sick of you following her, if she see’s you again I’m going to make sure you never set foot in this university again, do you understand me?”

Students at Edward Lincoln University well deserved their reputation for tenacity and creativity, but today Edward only displayed one half of those traits as he finally lost it. As he was being dragged away by three men Riley finally met his gaze for the first time. The hatred and fear in her eyes as she protectively cradling the woman who’d tried to keep them apart made Levi realise at last how cruelly she had tricked him.

 


Moral of the story: Don’t be like Levi

The Blood of the Father

The Sonata in Red series will be on a short hiatus. It’s reached a nice cliff-hanger in my opinion to let step aside while I try out some different short stories. For practice and fun.
This is a short mystery set in a science fiction dystopia inspired by the writing prompt:

“When I went to receive the results of my blood test, they told me they were classified”

You can find more of my science fiction attempts here: Science Fiction
-Zairron


“Good morning, I’m here to check my results.”

“Of course sir, what name were they under?”

“Gabriel Robinson.”

“One moment, sir.”

Today was the day the wait would finally be over. The woman behind the counter turned to search the monitor for my future. I glanced back at the crowded processing centre behind me. They promised that automating the Process would mean less than .01% of applicants would ever see the inside of one of these centres, meanwhile in reality the line stretched back through the door into the hall of the complex. I’d waited for hours before getting through to see someone.

“Do you have your application number?”

I handed her my form with a smile. For days process centres all across the planet had been filled with all manners of people seeking clarification. This level of bureaucracy was hardly uncommon unfortunately. Khthon was an emigration planet, our largest and only export was people. Overpopulation had completely over-saturated every local industry. Every year people my age underwent the Process to match applicants to employment pathways. Academic record, physical capability and even genetic aptitudes were considered by the Process.

“I’m sorry for the wait sir, there’s something unusual in your record. If you wouldn’t mind taking a seat in the next room someone will be with you shortly.”

I smile and nod. There’s no point in arguing, I’ll simply be thrown out and have to rejoin the line with a mark added to my application. I push my way through the crowd to the waiting room, purgatory it was affectionately nicknamed. During the Process week quirks in the system were left here to be sorted out when it was convenient. I tap the screen of my watch, dialling my mother to let her know what was happening.

“Hello, Gabe?”

“Yeah, hey mum. They lost me in the system, so I got sent to purgatory. No idea how long I’m going to be stuck here, if I’m not home by dinner can you get Henry to bring me a sleeping bag and some dinner?”

“Of course sweetie, don’t stress though. It’s all going to work out, I promise.”

“Thanks, wish I had your confidence.”

“When you’ve seen as much as I have you will. Your brother and I will be praying for you.”

“Bye mum, love you.”

The waiting room was almost eerily quiet and empty compared to the main room of the process centre. Inside were only three other people. All of processing age, the nearest two were women seated together and talking quietly together while on the far side of the room a fairly rough looking guy lay on the floor, his sleeping bag beneath his head and a hat covering his face.
Rows of chairs filled the centre of the room, but could easily be removed when space was needed for people to sleep. Khthon never stopped. The majority of the population had moved underground, reserving the surface for agriculture. As a result day and night were abstract concepts to most of us born and raised on planet. The workers would process the people day and night, the quirks in the system that bound us could be resolved any moment and if we were not here when they called us it was the back of the line. Such a drag.
Settling into one of the seats I activate my watch switching on the virtual U.I.. Online my friends had already started posting the results of their applications. Most seemed to have performed as well as was expected. I see Luna and Owen together in line, showing I’m not the only one still waiting for their results. At least five others in my extended network are the same. I post an update of my place in purgatory. The discussion fills with sympathetic platitudes and playful jibes, nothing of substance.

“Mr. Gabriel Robinson?”

I blinked twice, dismissing the U.I. to focus on reality. The source of my name was a severe looking short blonde woman stood at the back of the room watching for an answer. I stood and crossed the room to where she stood. After politely greeting me she led me through a door at the back of the room, down a corridor to a small office with a nameplate that reads ‘Grace Walker, Branch Manager’ on the door.

“Please take a seat Gabriel.”

She took her seat behind the desk as I sat across from her. I’d been in purgatory for less than half an hour, that was pretty much unheard of for a system glitch. She glanced at the monitor briefly before addressing me.

“I have your results here.”

I watch her in confusion as she paused rather than continue straight on.

“Unfortunately I’m not able to open them.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Your results have been locked. Something in your medical caused access to be restricted.”

“What does that mean for me?”

“Your guess is as good as mine here, I’m afraid. I’ve never seen this before. Before you ask, it’s not a quirk in the system. This note was left manually, by a human.”

I stare blankly at her, with no idea how I was meant to respond. In the end I simply nodded and waited for her to continue.

“If I was you I’d stay in the waiting room for now. I’ve contacted my boss, when I hear back I’ll let you know.”

She returned me to the waiting room. The other three people who’d been waiting were gone, weird, it seemed unlikely they could have all been processed during my short meeting. The only person besides me in the room hadn’t been there before, he seemed a bit old for the Process. Taking a seat at the back of the waiting room I tap my watch to activate the my virtual U.I., instead a agonising shock ripped through my body, knocking me to the floor and convulsing in pain.
The man at the front of the room stands, as he walked casually towards me the black dots covered my vision and blocked out his face. The last thing I saw was the shiny black toe of his shoe as he knelt before me. His voice strangely familiar.

“Don’t be afraid, Gabe. I’m going to take you home now.”

The blackness completely filled my vision and I drifted into unconsciousness.

Absurd

Taking a days break from Sonata in Red and Blood and Lies, they’ll be back tomorrow.


I hear it again, that mechanical voice bears the unique timbre of an announcement delivered over a cheap school intercom system. It repeats the same message again and again every hour, the meaning indecipherable through the reverb and electrical distortion.
The sound follows me however far I go. Always I can hear it when it repeats. The elusive message torments me, hanging just beyond perception with every telling. Dancing subtly backwards with every step closer I take towards understanding.

I don’t know this place, or how I came to be here. There is nothing familiar about the room I find myself in, nor discernible landmarks to orientate myself by.  The lights in each room barely have the power to banish the shadows which lurk hungrily at the edges of my vision.
Whether I am truly moving or stuck in some kind of loop, I don’t know. Everything looks the same, but every step new room feels strange and different. I feel the chill air through my clothes. They aren’t my clothes. I was simply wearing them when I first realised I was. I pull them tighter to my skin, wringing every morsel of heat I can from them. Pressing ever forwards.

The message plays again. Clearer this time, like ever time. This time it’s so clear I can distinguish individual words, though I can attribute no specific meaning to them. Perhaps the message isn’t in English. I grind my teeth together in frustration.
My stomach gargles. It’s been so long since I’ve eaten. My throat is parched with thirst. I might die soon without any water. I have to keep going forward. There is nothing here but death if I stop.

What was that? A sound. Quieter than the garbled tormenting message, something hidden in the background.

Again!

I cry out to its source for salvation. I don’t want to die here alone. Anything would be better than being alone.

Only silence answer.

I want to cry. Collapse to my knees and sleep. I’m so tired. How long have I been walking now, without respite or company. Too long. The only measurement I can give in this place.

This place.

This hell.

I keep walking. There’s nothing if I stop but death. Perhaps there will be water in the next room. Food. A map with people to encourage me. At least some damned clarity in that cursed electrical mumble.

The message speaks again. It’s so grainy it’s like listening to a blizzard. Like the words have been torn apart by the wind and smashed back together in some cruel facsimile of meaning. I slam through door after door, every destination different but the same. The darkness always there, always waiting, always lurking just out of reach. Maybe if I broke the light, maybe the darkness would come and take me away.

I’m too afraid to try.

The message ends once more and the silence feels heavier this time. More final. Maybe that was the last time it would play. My last chance. My last warning. Maybe that means it’s over. That the next room will be the exit, the way outside.
Am I inside? I suppose I must be, there are no doors or lightbulbs outside. Yes. Inside. Inside an impossibly large hell.

How did I come to be here? I must have always been here. I don’t remember ever coming here. The thought is hard to carry. I’m so tired, perhaps I should just rest my eyes a moment and continue after I’ve slept.

But there’s nothing but death if I stop.

I don’t know how I know that, I’ve never died before. I’ve never stopped before, either. Is that true? Have I never stopped before? Surely I must have slept before, some time before this place.
I can’t remember what it was like before. It doesn’t matter now anyway, there’s nothing behind me, the only way forward. Is forward.

Doors open, I pass, they close. The message plays, it’s clearer this time.I almost believe I’ve understood it. Then it’s gone. Next time it will be clearer, next time I’m sure to understand it. If there is a next time.
That noise again, the sound of  movement or voices. So faint. So distant. I cry out into the void ahead of me, running faster, slamming through door after door. My voice disappears inches from my face. I am closer now, soon I will not have to wander alone. If I catch them I can be together instead.

The message plays. I understand it this time. I know I have to continue, I will find them and then we can be together. The darkness is hungry at the edge of the light. The only way to go is forwards.
My lungs burn and my muscles tear, but I can’t stop running. Not when I’m so close. The only thing left if I stop is death. The whispers are louder, they share message that repeats above. They’re calling to me, beckoning me to join them.

The room is dark. The light at the edge of everything is hungry. I am together now. There is nothing ahead but life. The message is clear, but I block it out. I want to be alone, I want to wake up.
I have always been here, with you. We are here together. We are one.

The doorway ahead is frightening, but with you by my side I can face it. Outside things will be different. I will understand then. Like you promised.

Imagine Monsters

Imagine if every story you’d ever been told about magic was true. The Fairies, beautiful and capricious, lay in wait with tricks and traps to steal what you didn’t realise you had. Monstrous people, like werewolves and skin-changers stalk the wild places of the world, driven by instinct and rage. Where magical people peddle prophecy and power from their tall secret towers and cottages concealed deep in the woods.
Imagine, how utterly unremarkable such a world would seem to the ordinary folk like you and me. For how would we ever know of the tithe of blood taken by immortal lords in the night with their hypnotic eyes and their seductive words, or that the innumerable hikers in the woods, or children lost for scarcely a moment, aren’t just lost, but taken. We would have no reason to suspect such a thing, for the world is a reasoned and sensible place, governed by laws and rules that we understand and sometimes control with the power of numbers and science.
To our long distant ancestors who lived in the times of monsters and mystery, our mathematical theorems and computational code, must seem completely indistinguishable from a witches spell, or a fairy’s glamour. But such beliefs are the realms of the uneducated and impressionable, in the modern day we are all far too clever and informed, to believe in such antiquated notions.

But if we did pretend, just for a moment, that the stories were true, we could see where they ancient mysteries have hidden themselves in the modern world.
We would notice and become wary of the timeless places that lure us from the path and entice us with their strange deals, and clever games. Quaint cafe’s and windowless stores that sit timelessly separate from the real world are the goblin markets of The Fair Folk who have long since learned the profit in modern commerce. You are safe as long as you pay for what you take, and agree only to terms you understand. But remember that seemingly innocent contracts and complimentary samples and upgrades will carry deliver unseen consequences beyond the ken of good folk.
The perceptive of us would see the secret works of sorcerers and soothsayers who have translated their gifts of prophecy and learning into the language of computers and the internet, peering beyond the sight of, and into the minds of, ordinary humans, they conceal their enchantments and spells behind the label of algorithms. There’s nothing a wizard longs for more than knowledge and secrets, so in exchange for offering you what you desire before you know you desire it, they gather your information in caches and metadata. Perhaps there is no harm in this, but heed the old stories’ warnings to be careful of the unkindness’s you send out into the world for it comes back thrice.
The concept of Old money has ties to creatures older than money to whom blood is thicker than all. Once they lorded over us on high from their gothic castles and lured maidens from their beds, and devils waited at the crossroads for their cut of your soul. Now corporate money and political influence can be leveraged to slake even the most refined thirst.
And far out in the wild places the monstrous werewolves, and predatory skin changers hide from the inexorable advance of civilisation and progress. They prefer the dark and primitive places, their rage growing stronger as they are pushed ever back by deforestation and strip mining. As we destroy their homes and hiding places, for now they are content to take their revenge on the isolated hikers, but the fury of nature has its limits.

Of course, such things are purely the work of an uneducated mind. But wouldn’t that be exactly what such magical predators would want us to think?

Alike in Dignity

The air and everything that stood within a hundred yards of him ignited in flames. The oxygen was ripped from her lungs, killing her screams before she could make them. Collapsing to her knees, the flames parts before, the smoke and scorching heat banished from her around her leaving a bubble of reprieve in the centre of the sea of chaos. She coughs feebly from her section of the floor, her throat and lungs ache from the momentary heat that seemed likely to burn her alive, inside and out.
Stepping through the raging inferno, he joins her there, watching her struggle with a detached serenity. His body, indistinct in its corporeality flickers in conjunction with the waves of rippling heat, his eyes smoulder with the emberous seeming of cherry coals. The fire of his being fleeing as she crawls towards him, parting and revealing the man beneath as she reaches up to touch his leg. With unrelenting determination she uses him to drag herself back to her feet, the flames returning wherever she releases him until she stands tall before the humanoid column of flame, meeting his cool gaze with her own burning intensity, all the while the flames continue to dance harmlessly around them.

“You’re a bastard,” she whispers, gripping him by the collar that appears in the wake of the departed flames, pulling him in close. The flames billow away from her, only barely retaining their attachment to him as far from her as possible. His gaze continues to match her accusatory glare with a passive indifference, allowing her to hold him limply in place. His lack of response provokes a furious yell from her, shaking him fiercely in place, “You’re a bastard and a murderer! I can’t believe you! You coward! Say something!!”
She throws him back, the force of her shove driving him back sending him stumbling to a knee and catching himself with a hand against the floor. Paralysed by her own fury, she can only glare at him, her breathing erratic and tears streaming down her cheeks as he calmly stands and brushes himself off, the fire consuming him entirely once more.
“He would have hurt you,” the mans voice is as cold as his gaze, completely lacking in uncertainty or remorse.
“So what!?” she wails back at him, throwing herself completely into the action as if she hoped to injure him with the power of her voice, “He had a right to!”
In that exchange her body wilts, all the fury that had fuelled her spent. Weakness crept into her body and she crumples once more, her sorrow completely overtaking her, her voice growing hollow and distant, “It should have been me.”

He doesn’t move to contradict her or console her. He knows he cannot share her pain, though he wishes he could, that her emotions are a raging inferno which must be allowed to burn themselves out with time, so instead he waits and watches over her as she grieves.
He has known her since before she was born, he had loved her mother as he loves her now. She resembled her mother so perfectly, though her mind held more of her father. So strange and beautiful to him she was, he could see her soul and it shone so brightly, the all too familiar mote of living crimson that slumbered so sweetly, enshrouded deep within a shining white crystal lattice interconnected with gently pulsing neon blue veins that felt as alien to him as her core was familiar. Never could he have imagined her in all the thousands of years that his fire had burned, and for all his wisdom and experience, he could no more imagine what she would become than the men he had taken her from.

“Godfather,” her voice was so quiet as it broke through his thoughts that it may not have had any sound to it at all, but he heard her, he would always hear her.
He knelt to meet her at her level, his hands reaching out and resting upon hers where they held her knees to her chest, “Yes, Lia?”
“Will you take me away from here?” she asked.

“Of course”

Beyond the room emergency workers battled the inexplicable inferno, unable to understand the futility of the struggle. The researches had been evacuated, a number of them had to be dragged as they pleaded for the rescuers to save the young woman who’s room had been in the centre of the conflagration. It was impossible, they had said, the fire was too hot, anyone inside would be beyond saving, that trying would simply lead to more dead.
A man who shared the girl’s eyes stepped away from the crowd of survivors and emergency personnel. His mind raced with the calculating precision of a machine, considering every variable available to him to understand what had happened. He was the only one present who understood the fire, and he hated it with a deep intensity. It took less than a minute for him to understand what had gone wrong, He understood that there was nothing he could have done to prevent it, and less he could do now. He didn’t afford himself the seconds it would take to resent that knowledge, but filed it away for later. He pressed an icon on the interface of his watch and waiting for the report to be uploaded. Only then, when there remained no constructive action available to him, did he allow himself the feel the anger, sorrow and regret that was within him.

The Whispers from the Black Forest

Father always loved me the best. Hadrian may have been the eldest and Father’s heir to our family’s council, and Kaylee may have been the baby and exceptionally skilled in shaping the aether, but I was always the favourite. I was born on the day of The Whisperer’s Wake, a fateful birthday signified my special destiny. My blessed birth elevated me to a status that I could have been stupid, ugly and cruel and I still would have been the most popular child in the village of Flüsternkirchen, as stands, I am none of those things.
My village is deep in The Black Forest, technically we exist within the lands of The Union, Volkesland. In reality our only loyalty is to The Whisperer, for the forest belongs to it, and all who live here, likewise. The Whisperer is a secret god, the way in which we know it is private for each of us. It protects us from the predation of monsters and the lost people, in return it asks for very little from the community as a whole, one of the only things it demands is for the newborn who are born on the day of The Whisperer’s Wake on their coming of age day.

Today is my coming of age day, for every other child in the village the day would be a celebration, in my case it is a sad day, but a proud one. My Father and older brother were my honour guard, my mother, my guide. Only my baby sister could not accompany me on my pilgrimage, she cried all night after hiding all of yesterday. I’m happy that she came home for my last dinner at home. I had to be proud of her when she saw us off this morning.
We had left an hour before dawn to make the sacred grove by first light, and so the others could be gone before the whisperers start. I could hardly bare to see my Father’s pain, he would have gone in my place if he could have. I kissed my Mother and my Father for the last time, I hugged Hadrian tightly and told him to take care of them. Watching them go was hard, I held a wide smile and proud stance until long after they were gone. Then, only when I was definitely alone, did I allow myself to weaken and cry. I sat in the grove and wept bitterly for hours, I was so afraid of what was to come. The Whisperer is jealous of only secrets, what happened to the Wake sacrifices is just one of many secrets. The children of the village had their theories, they didn’t talk about them in front of me if they could help it, but I had heard a number of them. Mostly they believed that I was to be eaten, that the Whispererer’s Wake refers to the waking of some giant monster that could only be sated with human flesh.

When the well of my tears finally dried, I saw that it was light. The morning sun shone brightly through the trees and I hadn’t been eaten by any great monster yet. I was beginning to feel the first touches of hunger, hours had passed since I had left the village and we had not thought I would have needed food. I stood hesitantly, the only thing I knew was that the sacrifices never returned to the village, not that I was forbidden from returning, it was simply understood to be part of The Whisperer’s secret purpose. In truth, the only duty I knew of was to be here, alone, at dawn. Dawn had come and gone, and I was hungry.

“Do not fear, I am with you,” a genderless voice whispers to me from no particular direction, almost seeming like one of my own thoughts but for its alien nature. It is The Whisperer I realise, some of the grown ups claim to have heard the whispers, but more remain silent on the subject, and all keep the contents of its message secret. I instinctively look for a source of the voice, despite knowing I will not find it, and I whisper back, so quietly I may not have spoken at all, “What must I do, my Lord?”
“Walk into the forest, I will guide you.”
I listen to the whispers, making my way ahead, my whole body shaking with an uncertain mixture of excitement and fear. If I was going to be eaten, surely The Whisperer wouldn’t need to guide me through the forest, I reason.

The air is heavy with mist, and the foliage is uniform and confusing, if it weren’t for the occasional single words directing my progress I could never have found where it was leading me. I knew I stood no chance of finding my way back even if I dared disobey, but I did not dare disobey.
“Enter the cave ahead and follow the path downwards.”

Deep within the cave I found the stone formed the shape of a door. Not like an archway, but a door like one would find on any house, but made of the earths own rock. This was not a door carved by the hands of the people, but like the earth had simply grown into the shape of its own accord. As I reached it, the door slid open with a hiss of air and with no obvious means to explain its movement.
“Enter”

Within the doorway is an utterly bizarre room carved into the earth, a pale bone-like rock, or metal, seems to make up most of the room. I note a bed embedded in the wall, a large living space furnished with something like a households furnishings, but following a completely alien design I have never seen the like of, and in the centre of it all, seated on one of the strange stairs is a remarkably spry looking but undeniably ancient looking woman. She stands to greet me, and gestures towards one of the chairs near her, “Welcome. I am Brigitta, I was the Wake sacrifice before you. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of questions, so come and join me and I’ll explain everything I know. Though I expect I shall disappoint you with how little that is”

 

The Price of Small Things

Beneath the solemn gaze of the full moon, the custodian, Romero, deliberates from his cabin overlooking the San Julius Central Cemetery. Nursing his beloved double-barrelled shotgun, Persephone, in the crook of his arm, he ritualistically chambers the handcrafted slugs with care. His stare is intense, but distant, as he watches the mist creeping in over tall iron gates, seeming to discerning some hidden meaning from it.

“Fog’s coming in thick this evening, my love,” he croons, cigarette hanging loosely from his lip, its smoke drifting lazily from its cherry tip. Uncharacteristically young looking man was the the custodian and largely unknown by the townsfolk. The role of custodian would be considered by many to be one more suited to an older man with less prospects for the future. Little enough was offered in the way of compensation or prestige in the role, after all. If one had paid more attention, one might have realised that Romero had been caretaker here for more years than his youthful visage seemed to carry. But excluding funerals and the proclivities of morbid teenagers, the cemetery rarely has any visitors and rarer still do visitors cross the custodians path.

This misty evening was one such rare occasion as a strange pale man carrying a baseball bat saunters confidently through the mist, up the cemetery path to Romero’s vantage. Seemingly unnoticed in his approach the pale man comes to a halt at a respectful distance. Snapping Persephone back together, Romero turns to face The Pale Man. The pair take a moment to take the measure of one another before the caretaker’s posture shifts in an almost imperceptible acknowledgement to the seemingly apparent authority held by the visitor.

“Isaac send you?” Romero breaks the silence, there’s a hint of something strained in his voice, something akin to desperation or hope. The stranger just stares back at Romero and without acknowledging the question walks over to peer out across the graveyard.

“I need something from you,” the voice is smooth like iron wrapped in crumpled velvet, he stands with a predatory strength leaning comfortably on the bat.

“What could I have that you need?” Romero’s tone is guarded now, fear can be found in his body language but fear he can master should he need to. The silence that follows is long, weighted by some wordless exchange. Minutes pass before The Pale Man sighs, managing to carry violence and also a perverse lust somehow in the subtle motion. Lifting a small chain from his neck he reveals a small key, before turning back to face the cemetery, “Isaac said you would have it.”

Romero stares hard at the strangers back, a fierce conflict raging within him. The sound of cracking wood and guttural groans from below force him to decide, “Yeah I’ve got it, but I don’t have it here. If you want me to get it, you’ll need to handle the mess here while I go get it.”

“Of course,” the words pass The Pale Man’s lips with relish. With the sense of a man having entered a pact with the devil, Romero turns and runs down the path towards the road just as the mist completely enshrouds the cemetery. The custodian doesn’t dare look back, knowing his life is at stake and every second he takes may be the one that damns him. From behind him, the sounds of conflict just barely escape the mist telling the tale of a brutal massacre that reaches only to the cemetery limits. With reckless disregard for the laws of the road the custodian retrieves the lock-box concealed in his storage unit like the hounds of hell are on his trail, he races to make it back to the cemetery.

Hours pass and the mist is beginning to lift when Romero makes it back, his breathing ragged and his legs jelly from his flight. The Pale Man is waiting for him where he had been when Romero left, deep lacerations resembling bites on his exposed arms rapidly knit themselves back together. An outstretched hand greets Romero expectantly, receiving the box with determined purpose. Immediately The Pale Man removes the chain from his neck, the key sliding smoothly into the lock, clicking once as it is turned and releases the lid. Within, sits a single solitary fragment of ancient parchment inscribed in a long dead language. The pale man smiles widely, his sharp wolf-like canines prominent in the moonlight.

“Such a small thing, in the end” he muses solemnly.

“That’s right,” Romero replies, feeling the sense of danger beginning to grow deep in the primal part of his brain, “You’ll tell Isaac I kept it safe ’til he sent for it?”

“Hmm? Oh I’m sure you’ll see him long before I do,” the strangers tone is hypnotic, along with his gaze binds Romero frozen in terror and awe as The Pale Man saunters over to him, the box vanishing into a pocket. Raising one of his cold pale hands, the stranger gently strokes Romero’s cheek with the back of his fingers. Barely able to muster the strength of will to reply through the icy chill of death that has gripping his heart, the caretaker chokes out a response “What- what do you mean?”

“Isaac is already dead, sweetheart, but don’t worry, I shall send you to him now-”

*BOOM*

Persephone’s roar erupts in the night, the caretaker having managed to bring the shotgun up to The Pale Mans chest. The Pale Man glances down at the gaping hole in his chest, and back up at Romero. With a chiding click of his tongue, he lunges, fangs extended, burying them deep into the caretakers neck.
Years drain from the caretaker, his youth giving way first slowly at first, then all at once. Collapsing in a heap on the ground, Romero’s last gasps of life are spent watching as The Pale Man steps over him before disappearing into the night.

Last Night

I need advice, something strange happened yesterday that I don’t know what to do.

It was an ordinary Saturday evening, I live in a suburb fairly close to the city in a residential area which mixes old style houses with new apartment complexes in this trashy mixture of old and new. I’ve lived here for over a year now and I’d never noticed many dogs kept in the area. I assumed that for most of the places the owners didn’t allow pets.

I was the only one still up, my housemates were mostly around but I don’t always keep the most reasonable hours and the ones who weren’t out were all fast asleep by then. I enjoy the quiet isolation of the early, early morning. I find it’s nice for  listening to music, reading or getting some writing done. I was in my room, lit only by my computer screen and listening to atmospheric sci-fi instrumental music when suddenly this violent outpouring of dogs barking and howling broke through my headphones.
Like I said, it was weird, so I got up from what I was doing and looked out my window to see what might be causing the commotion. From where I was sitting, nothing seemed too out of the ordinary, so I put my headphones back in and tried to ignore it. I mean, it was odd, but not that odd. Dog’s bark, it happens.
So I’m getting some writing done, and I’m really liking what I’m working on, it’s a short little story about a kid home from college. I’m sure you could find it if you’re interested. When suddenly the howling goes silent. Just dead quiet.

I take another look out the window, and still nothing. This time I’m a little more invested in finding out what’s going on, so I decide to go take a look out the front door, since my window is on the side of the house and can’t see much except the neighbours house. It’s winter where I am, so I pull on a jacket and step out of my warm room into the cool, dark hallway.
I have to admit I was feeling a little spooked by this point, so maybe my judgement was a little impaired but I’m a firm realist so I try to ignore the strange vibe I’m getting. I make it to the front door and open it, the porch light left on like usual, and I notice that it’s not just the dogs that have gone quiet, but everything is deathly quiet. My gaze is immediately fixed on this guy walking along the street towards my house. I can’t make him out through the darkness, but something inside me just freaks out and I just slam the door, lock it and run back to my room.

This started last night at midnight. It’s just hit midnight here, and I can hear the dogs howling again. I’m scared, what should I do?

Childhood Memories

It’s overcast when the taxi drops me off outside my family home. The storm-clouds which had held off on raining for the entire day finally broke open and drench me in the time it takes to hurry up the path and take cover on the front porch. The outside light is left on, illuminating the late afternoon gloom and allowing me to see one of Mom’s trademark note, hanging on the front door. I shake my head, chuckling under my breath at the sight of it, already knowing what to expect. I deposit my suitcase by the entrance and take the note, quickly opening it and regarding its contents. It reads;
“Dear Kris,
Welcome home sweetie, sorry I couldn’t be here when you got in, work called. Left you dinner in the freezer and your room is all set up and ready for you.
Love, Mom”

I crumple up the note and put it in my pocked. Retrieving the spare key from its usual spot under one of Mom’s potted plants I let myself in, locking the door behind me. I head straight for my room to drop off my stuff, hitting every light switch along the way in the hope of making the place feel less empty. The only thought on my mind is getting out of these soaked clothes and into a warm shower.
The instant hot pressure of the shower is heavenly compared to the shitty dorm showers at college and in that moment I decide to stay in here forever. From my new steamy shower home I think about how good it feels to be back, my freshman year of college had been the first time I’d been away from home for any extended period of time and I’m happy to be back for the holidays. It’s lame that Mom had been called in to work and couldn’t meet me at the airport, but at the same time it was kind of nice to have the house to myself for a few hours.
In the end my hunger forces me out of the loving embrace of my shower home and I quickly dry myself and dress, heading downstairs to investigating the freezer dinner, I’d been promised. And as expected there’s another note from Mom attached by a magnet that I read as I the leftover lasagna reheats in the microwave,

“Was going through your kid stuff in the attic, if you wanted to go through some of the stuff and help me decide what to keep I’d appreciate it, Mom”

I’m a little surprised, ever since Mom and Dad split she hadn’t been particularly interested in going back to old memories. I mean, she wasn’t being unhealthy about it, she just preferred to keep her focus on moving forwards. I really respected that about her, I could never let anything go.
I figured I should probably do what I can to help out while I’m in town, so after washing my plate and leaving it to dry, I made my way up to the attic. Mom never let anything get too out of control around her house, and the attic was no exception. There was no layer of dust you might expect in storage, instead I could see the handiwork of Mom’s cleaning and two big boxes marked “Kristian’s Kid Stuff” had been separated from the rest and waited for me.

Opening the box I start going through plenty of nostalgic books, toys, clothes and more. It’s not long before I’m sitting there, surrounded by piles of stuff, completely having forgotten what I was there for. I’m flicking through what was once my favourite book when I notice a photo album at the bottom of the box. Putting aside the book for now, I pull the photo album out and open it on my lap.
I don’t think I had ever seen a photo album from when I was a kid before, neither Mom or Dad had ever spent much time taking photographs that I could remember, so this was certainly an interesting and unexpected find. The first page has pictures of my parents when they were younger holding a newborn baby I assume was me at the hospital. It’s nice seeing how they used to be happy together, I have fond memories of a birthday party when I was something like six when Mom and Dad first let me try to ride my bike without training wheels. The memory is hazy because I was so young, of course, but I can remember being super proud of myself when I managed to ride from Dad to Mom unaided on the road.
I flick forward through my early years, continuing to be surprised by just how many pictures there are, relative to how rarely I remember seeing a camera. My first day at pre-school, a trip to the zoo, five birthday parties and finally I find my first day of school. I don’t remember anything really from then, but somehow the pictures still bring a nostalgic smile to my face.
Next comes the pictures I’ve been looking for, my sixth birthday party. I’m surprised by how accurately I remember everything; the cake, the decorations, and even the type and size of the bike are exactly like I remember. There were some things that I don’t quite remember, like who this one beautiful couple were that showed up in number of the pictures. The final picture documenting the party is an absolutely stunningly beautiful picture taken from behind. In it I’m holding the hands of the beautiful couple and we’re walking away from the camera through a door I don’t quite recognise.

And that’s where the album finishes. I flick back and forwards through a few of the blank pages that followed expecting to see more, but the remaining pages are completely blank. I’m more than a little confused by this sudden and dramatic change, but there’s nothing I can do until Mom gets home so I can ask her about it.
I pack everything away, sorting the boxes into the important stuff and everything else. I keep the photo album with me, carrying it back downstairs under my arm. I’m still leafing absently through it when Mom gets home. I’m so engrossed in the album I don’t hear her come in and startle at the sound of her voice greeting me. We hug and talk, about college for me and how work was for her, when I turn the conversation towards the photo album.
Mom seems just as surprised as I was by the existence of the album, telling me she has no memory of it and that it must have been my fathers doing. We sit together in the lounge and go through the album. Mom is getting all sappy and maternal, telling me about how cute I was as a baby and filling in the blanks in my memories of the pictures. At last we make it to the pictures for my sixth birthday party and Mom suddenly starts crying uncontrollably. I ask her what’s wrong but she says she doesn’t know, and that she can’t explain why she’s suddenly so distraught. I close the album and comfort her, she quickly regains control now that the pictures are out of sight and apologises.

We decide to put the album aside for now and look at them again in the morning. Mom suggests we could call Dad and ask him about them, but I tell her I’ll wait for another time. It’s strange, I think to myself as I turn the light off for bed. The doorway in that last picture kind of looked more like my wardrobe than any of the other doors.

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