True to Form

These cold and desolate nights have given me pause as I look into the last fire I’ll ever see. Behind the wall of flame, my lichen covered stone of black marble gleams with my name etched in fake, flaking gold, waiting below for my starved, broken body to shatter.

This is the fate that awaits me for my crimes.

***************

They tell me she was just a child lost and alone in the woods, her parents beset by wolves, but  I saw her true form; when she emerged in front of me after catching my scent, her scarlet irises pulsed with eldritch light, and her pupils flashed gold, suddenly, like a match struck in utter darkness.

It was then I felt the jolting pull of the void kiss my soul in greeting.

So I gave chase.

They told me later that she never ran, that I slaughtered her where she stood, hacking through her upraised arms, cleaving her skull, splitting her screaming mouth in a spout of gory blood and bone.

I swear by heaven, I heard her growl deep in her throat, and promise to savor the taste of my flesh.

**************

This last, most wretched dawn brings no warmth, and no hope.

The weak sun reclining among drifting, gray clouds is a filmy eye that gives poor witness to my insignificant demise.

The trod and murmur of the blood thirsty self-righteous grows louder, and my resigned soul stretches a sad smile across my lips; they will not find me weeping for me, but them.

A young priest drones pleas in a dead language to the celestial. His unseasoned voice is almost a light-hearted counterpoint and harmony to the bells that ring the news of my passing, a killer’s life fully extinguished with the last fading, echoing knell.

I lower my eyes from the unrelieved, unrelenting sky of slate, and see her specter still as stone among the crowd. As she smiles at me, the wound in her face opens, seeps, and her eyes turn scarlet and gold, never leaving my own.

The deep pit waits like a vulture’s nestling, and as I fall, I hear her laughter.

 

 

 

 

 

My Stolen Heart

She told me she loved me.

I believed her.

The love we made that night was torrid and heady, and when it was over I fell into a deep sleep, where she was spooned in my arms, wriggling teasingly to get me going again, knowing I couldn’t because I was spent.

  “You’re cruel,” I said, my smile buried somewhere among her hair, neck, and shoulder.

   She laughed, soft and low; something sounded wrong with it, but sleep pulled me under before I knew it mattered.

   

*******************

   A sharp fingernail raked my cheek, and I could feel the skin tear and split around it.

   I was dazed and groggy, and my cheek was on fire and warm with blood. When I sat up I could hear it patter on the sheet.

   “What–?”

   She straddled me, kissed me, then pushed me gently away like a dog that wanted too much attention.

   “What is it with you?” I asked. “Why’d you scratch me so–?”

    “Relax, baby.” She cupped my face, the pad of her thumb making circles, smearing the blood from the slice in my cheek over my lips.

    I tried to get up, but couldn’t.

   Blood spurted from my mouth, splattering her hair, neck and face.

   She’d distracted me with the scratch on my cheek, and I didn’t pay attention.

  She worked the blade into my chest with a butcher’s dexterity.

   I felt skin and muscle tear, veins sever, and tendons pop.

Opening my mouth to scream, more blood filled it and my tongue had no purchase to form words.

  With a playful smile pried the cut she made wider. Reaching her hand inside, she clutched my heart with strong fingers, her nails digging and slicing like five miniature scimitars as I felt blood cascading down my torso. She took some time, but she worked my heart loose.

    “Do you see what I did to you, baby?”

    She held it up in her hands; it was red and dull like a ruby plucked from a dusty mine.

    Her smile was beatific.

    “I’ve stolen your heart.”     

    She giggled again, the wrong sound beneath the lilt of it more prominent now.  

    As my vision failed, the smell of corrupt flowers and coppery blood grew redolent, and I felt her arms embrace me, pulling my bloody, cooling corpse against her.

    “I love you,” she whispered.

    She told me she loved me.

    I believed her.

Lyall’s Lament

The pain starts long before the shifting of limbs.

The blood heats, the senses sharpen, and there’s a surge of vibrations, like high voltage hummingbird wings, that makes you shiver as it drives you down to your hands and knees.

As if pushed out of the skin from the inside, the brindle hairs stab like a million tiny knives, the cracking of remolding bones racks us, paralyzes us as the full power of the moon rushes in like a flood, and we are helpless before it; it isn’t known, but that’s the perfect time to kill us.

The Lore Keepers watch, ready to slaughter the infected if any mutations hint of impurity; it has always been that way.

The pain itself eases over time, as the killing takes root, takes its toll, but it never fully ends; I suppose it’s the trading of human for canine, the regressing (or evolving, some would say), that makes it such an awful event.

I hate this life, this world we walk between predator, scavenger, and cannibal; there is nothing noble or proud about this, only the scent of the prey,, the heady wine taste of the blood in our mouths, the tough and tender gory chunks of its insides on our muzzles.

I regard us no better than dogs; our culling serves no purpose, save to scythe other paranormals. We should have been uniting, but one faction always seemed to relent.

Killing mortals would only bring attention, and my Alpha had already spoken about curbing our impulses at least once before; I didn’t want to be the one responsible for that.

In the rare moments I’m alone, I pray for the moon’s destruction, the world be damned.

Yes, the world be damned…

And me along with it.

Reflections of a Demon Hunter

It’s a bitter night, but for those like me the cold is nonexistent; there is nothing on earth colder than that of the grave. The dejected denizens of the poor side of town are plentiful as the litter, and add to the stink.

No one comes here to see about them, and the tears of solitude and sickness freeze on their dirty, unshaven faces, wrought by the twin hammers of age and abuse. The women’s eyes flash with practiced allure, all meant to lure the unsuspecting into a den of killers and thieves; but only the desperate come here, the ugly on the outside as well as in, and it’s just a matter of time after that.

Still, for all the real despair, there is an atmosphere of determined gaiety, to be content in the face of lack, and smile in the face of sickness, and laugh at the slow, impending death creeping up their ravaged bodies, incrementally breaking down their organs.

The smile of the Reaper never reaches his eyes.

We’ve not been here long, but we’ve made our presence known.

Most of them are still afraid of what we offer, but the tent cities keep growing and filling, and the luxury quarters that cast their shadows on the tents remain largely empty.

We see them too, in their track-lighted windows, their recessed lit bedrooms, their living shrines to modern technology with the laughable artwork hanging on the walls; we hear  the whirs and hums that accompany their moans and grunting screams.

They stink too, in their own way, believing their bank accounts shield them from mortality, when in fact, it only delays our claim; when we’re done providing them the service of clearing the tent cities, we’ll take the elevators into shelters they believe secure, but are as open to us as any tent flap.

Until then, there’s now.

So yes, continue casting out your huddling poor; the greed that drowns you in pleasantry, the natural resources you now claim by virtue of your wealth, means you’ll be that much healthier, fatter, believing you pose an actual threat.

We can wait. We’ve been here since the first act of fratricide, when the blood cried out from the ground. The cry woke us as well, and woke the hunger inside of us.

Already, we’ve dwelt in the rank and sweltering confines of our sulfur-filled cells, the connections to our former Realm snapped like brittle twigs, crumbled as thoroughly as a consumed ember in a blacksmith’s hand, the feathers of our blackened wings ever smoldering, ever molting.

And we grow angrier, refusing to acknowledge the profound sorrow of a devastating loss; so when Adam gave dominion to our Master, we pursued our replacements, tricked them, blinded them, and lead them away.

Our Father did not compel our love and fealty, but neither was Adam compelled; in the end, he didn’t seek to elevate himself, but accused Father of a mistake. Some say he sacrificed himself for his mate, but neither repented. Instead, the fools tried to hide.

Why were they not cast aside?

Why were they not doomed to share our fate?

He gave them a gift they couldn’t understand, but he’s willing to wait until they figure out how to use it. Then, and only then, can they go back.

Why should these frail, tender, weak things ascend to where those who came before can’t return?

And so we hunt them from below, and when they finally succumb to our beloved Bacchus, we drag their screaming, raging carcasses down to the fiery mire, holding their obsidian souls in our black talons, admiring their wretchedness in the blazing light before we set them adrift toward the swirling vortex of the pit, and watch until they disappear.

Then we begin anew.

Scatterings

On what might have been an otherwise beautiful day, all around Narielle there was fire, smoke, the screams of pierced horses, and the screams of dying men underscored by the snarls and curses of their killers.

She no longer knew which side she was on as the entrails of her attacker splattered at his feet; he sank to his knees in the gory muck, looking at her in total surprise, and something that might have been respect.

Before a fresh wave of killing reached her from the perimeter, she took a moment to draw a ragged breath though the air was redolent with the scent of slaughter.

Scattered body parts were strewn across the field like faded, stained flower petals, their edges brown and curved in on themselves, as if the act of dying on a battlefield was still somehow a private thing.

*************

On what had turned out to be a beautiful day, all around Narielle were the family and friends accumulated over a young woman’s lifetime; they were dressed in the colors of the daylight itself, whites and yellows and bright blues. 

Narielle smiled: If they don’t shine as brightly, it’s not for lack of trying.

A breeze wafted the smell of her flower basket back to her just as the music for the bridal wedding procession began. She breathed deeply, dreaming of her own someday wedding, some years hence.

Caught up in the excitement, she turned to see her sister, and actually gasped at the sight. Resplendent and regal in her dress, the brightness of her sister’s smile was only exceeded by that of her eyes, which found Narielle’s, and softened with sisterly love.

Narielle wiped a tear from her eye, returning the smile, and turned to start her heralding journey, strewing the bright petals in her sister’s path. Taking a quick look at the groom, Narielle noted he was handsome in his own right, but he seemed a mere shadow cast by the light of her sister.

His smile was very like the one the boy down the road wore whenever Narielle had occasion to pass by his house, though he never spoke; her own shy glances only made him blush and return his attention to his loud and boisterous friends. They teased him mercilessly, but that never made him stop looking.

                                                 *****************

Her part in the wedding done, she sat enraptured through the rest of the ceremony, but just before they began their vows, she chanced a look back at her handiwork, to see it now succumbed to the caprices of nature: some petals of the flowers were caught in the wind, some had rolled away to the side, some rolled off the carpet into the low grass, and some had been trampled by her sister.

She found herself saddened, knowing they once had their own bright beauty, had been full of their own light, and now they curled in on themselves to die.

Beauty dies. Narielle looked at her sister as she spoke her vows to her shadowy groom. But the memories of it live.

***************

A soldier with a battle ax took wide steps over the corpses, smiling at her with malicious intent as he stalked, crouching low as he approached her.

In the light of the fading sun, Narielle saw her own shadow on the ground, the point of her sword in its center. She looked over her handiwork as the soldier cleared the last corpse and ran toward her.

She took her stance and lifted her sword to fight, the very flower girl of War himself, this time to scatter not blossoms, but souls.

Her own smile was just as feral, and she hoped her own shadowy groom was pleased with his scarlet wedding gift.

 

 

 

The Burning of Jennifer Sweet

The house was abandoned, but there was still a presence there, palpable and malevolent.

I stopped on the road and looked at it.

The door opened, slow, as if someone were inside peering out, but there was only darkness.

I checked the oil in my lantern, and ventured toward the open door, suffused in shaded moonlight that was choked off by tendrils of black cloud like fingers from behind sliding over a screaming mouth to silence it.

The place was dusty, and the rustle of scurrying vermin was audible as they fled the intrusion.

She was sitting in the chair, spectral and beautiful; turning toward me, she bid me enter.

“You would hear my story?”

I found myself nodding, not trusting myself to speak. She bid me take the chair across from her, and her black eyes shuttered over with a milky film as she flooded my mind with her memories.

**************

The wolves, starving for game, were attacking.

Jennifer’s father had trained her in the impalement arts, and as she fought with the pack, severing limbs, and dodging her own share of fangs and claws that sought her life, her father was taken down, bleeding out his life on the moonlit grass, unable to defend her.

Jennifer redoubled her efforts, and the weapon released its lore to her.

As the pack bore down on her in force, she was ruthlessly efficient, butchering with the grace of dancer.

Some of the wolves, sensing easier fare, broke off, and the fight came to the village. Rather than save herself, she chose to stay and help them.

They saw her fight, saw the grace and power in her movements, the detached efficiency she used to dispatch the wolves, and grew afraid.

 

                                                                                ***********

 

“Take her,” the governor said.

 The ranks of merchants and politicians hired their strong-armed peasants.

She went quietly, but they beat and spit on her all the same; they threw trash and shit, glass and pottery, and when she slumped between those carrying her, they dragged her, not caring if her ankles snapped.

The torch flames danced in hypnotic rhythms, complementing her twisting and writhing, and flared with passion as she screamed her obscenities when they planted the stake, the piled kindling piercing her skin, adding blood.

“You are in the month of Duir, you fools!”

“Gag her,” the governor ordered.

They used a boy to clamber up the ladder and stuff her mouth with a filthy rag.

She spit on him, and his cheek sizzled, but he got the rag inside.

The crowd slowly gathered and milled about as she hung, wilting with the hours and her waning strength.

                                                                                ***********

“Burn her,” the governor said.

The fire crawled like an eldritch baby, hungry for sizzling flesh.

“Look!” the boy who gagged her yelled.

Jennifer was fading away, just as the fire was catching the hem of the ragged shift they gave her.

A black slit appeared in the stake behind her, and she seemed to be seeping through it.

“What type of wood did you use?” the governor asked the timberman.

“Oak,” he replied.

“Duir,” the boy said.

“What?”

“Oak, sir. It’s called Duir in the Druid legends. It means ‘door.’ She’s escaping.”

“How do you kn—?”

The crowd began to clamor and scream as the slit in the wood began to fill, and Jennifer was gone.

As they fled the dead wolves slowly blocked the path, their gory fur and red-fanged snarls striking a new and hopeless terror in hearts already quailing, and what had been a witch burning turned into bloody carnage.

The boy escaped.

                                                                  ****************

When the sun came up, Jennifer stood among the corpses.

She smiled at the pack that had killed her father and saved her life.

“Well done, my children. Sleep now.”

The wolves silently left her there in the rising sun.

As Jennifer turned to follow, unnatural flames blanketed the abbatoir, and took all day to burn.

 

*****************

“Are you satisfied, wanderer?”

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.

The door opened, the moonlight pouring in.

“Follow the road.”

As I walked it, the dead wolves padded silently beside me, red eyes flickering in the darkness, their deep growls raising the hair on my arms.

They walked beside me to the edge of the forest, to the start of the hill country, and left me to my fate.

A small boy called my name. I hesitated, but he beckoned again and called.

As I started toward him I thought I heard, from all this distance away, her hovel’s door close, the lock bolting portentously behind me, but I dared not look.

 

*Art by Leah M. Gully/blogspot.com

 

Lover’s Pyre

I remember white snow seeming to glow on dark, foreboding mountain peaks, the bitter wind sluicing down the hills, through the canyons.

We’d been defeated, the Oracle and me the only survivors of the butchery, now looking at the leavings of a human slaughterhouse, an abattoir of ill will and hostility, laid to rest.

Deandra, my wife, was the last, slain as she ran to my side; I was now a widower.

The tears were frozen on my face, and I saw the Oracle from the corner of my eye pulling her fur-lined hood tighter, watching me with tired, impatient eyes. She would leave, she said, in the morning, but would see me through this; we’d travel together through the dangerous parts, then go our separate ways.

Deandra was stiff now, with death as well as the external cold. This time, she would not hug me for warmth, or embrace me under our blankets, or tease me with her smiles as she held my cup of ale, turning her back to me as I reached for it.

“I can no longer warm you, Deandra. Not in the ways we knew.”

I set her on the prickling pyre: the last of the village firewood, the last of the kindling, the logs, the hay, then folded her hands across her stomach, stepping back to take a last look.

A blast of wind threw glittery ice in my eyes, and I had to turn away for a moment.

“Light it, please,” the Oracle implored. “I know you loved her, but we risk death ourselves when the light goes.”

I bristled, but she was right; even here, perhaps especially here, there was an urgency in the hunting of the nocturnal creatures.

Wind battered the flame as I approached the pyre. It had blown strands of her dark hair loose; they danced with abandon as the witches and fae creatures did when they thought no one was watching. There was enough fire left, though, that it did catch the wood, which began to crackle as the flame worked its way among the branches.

The gloom of night descended as the flames rose high, and the smell of burning flesh began to permeate the air. I stepped away, and watched the Oracle watching the fire. We just gazed at the flame for a while. I wiped the tears from my eyes, blaming it on the smoke.

In a few moments, the Oracle literally hissed air between her teeth, and pointed at the fire.

“Do you see her?”

“I don’t—”

“She’s there,” the Oracle put warm hands on my cheek, guiding my gaze. “She’s crying.”

“Crying? Crying? But how?”

“Go ask her.” She gave me a gentle shove

Something was present there, but it was in shadow, as if the fire lit an aura from the inside, a lantern with frosted glass. As I neared, Deandra’s spirit took her face from her hands, saw me, and came toward me. I couldn’t tell if she walked or drifted.

She’s not real; she’s still burning, there in the pyre.

I reached out to put my hands on her shoulders, but they passed through her, and got even colder.

“Deandra?”

It hurts, my love. The fire hurts.

“Deandra? That makes no…It can’t…You’re…”

It HURTS!  There was a slight echo from her ethereal shout. Was there no other way?

I flinched at the pain in her voice. “I…I’m sorry for that.”

It’s not your fault, I know, but it hurts all the same.

“What do you want me to say?”

 She reached up, and I felt her cold palm touch my cheek, hoarfrost spreading across my beard.  It’s all been said.

“Then what do you want me to do?

She gave me a sad smile. Come with me.

“You know I can’t.

The smile went away, and she opened her arms to embrace me. I know you haven’t tried.

“I don’t want to die.”

Her spirit stared at me as the smell of burning hair and flesh wafted toward me.

I looked away, turned to see the Oracle’s dark-clad back retreating.

“I have to go, Deandra. We need to seek shelter; it’s getting dark.” I turned to go, not bothering to call out for the Oracle to wait; with the wind and the distance she wouldn’t hear me.

Deandra nodded once. I have seen your future, my love.

“Do I want to know?”

The pyre flared as the wind picked up, and I turned away from it to shield my eyes and keep what remnant of warmth remained.

I saw a preternatural tear gleam in the firelight as she shook her head, her eyes downcast, her translucent image fading with the last of the light as a distant wolf’s howl heralded the rising moon.