Empty Alms

  “One coin to tear the veil between worlds, my friend,” the blind beggar said. “I’ll tell your future for a coin or two. The more you give, the bigger the tear, the more I can see what will become of you.”

     He was always around, this beggar. 

    The weather didn’t matter, nor did the amount of people on the streets.

    For him, there was only darkness, only the shimmering specter of the void.

    Or so it was told to me.

     “My sight for this world was shut off so I could use what remained in the next, you see?”

     He grinned at his own bad humor, but the explanation in and of itself made sense.

     It wasn’t something I’d want for myself.

     “Do you have anything to spare for me, sir?”   

     “I do.” I put the coin in his cup.

     A moment later he gasped, and blood trickled from his mouth.

     He licked at it, then smudged it with the back of his hand.

     “Why are you bleeding?”

     “I bleed for you, good sir. Your end is violent and sad.”

     “But why? I’ve made no enemies.”

     The beggar laughed. “Don’t be foolish. We all have them, real or imagined. You see, their hearts are poisonous and rotten, a briar patch alive with shimmering, wriggling clusters of worms. 

     “Their dark thoughts stoke the bonfires of dread nightmares, and so I say for you, sir, a violent end.”

     “Is there no way to avert it?”

     He shook his head. “It is an ending, sir. How does one avoid the end of a thing?”

     “Perhaps another coin…”

     He shook his head, put his cup away inside a pocket somewhere in his robe, and looked at me as if he could see right through me. 

     “You don’t have another coin. My time here ends. Be vigilant, sir; you’ll not see me again.”

     As he turned to go away, I felt a warm, light stream on my chin and wiped at it.


     Why is there blood in my mouth?

The Moaning Trees

Mark me here, children, and take a look at the forest around you. 

  For time untold, whoever once lived here used the trees for gallows, and every type of body was hung there: men, women, children, foreigners, criminals, those who practiced magic, or were believed to be doing so, and those who renounced it when the tables turned.

   Rabid and diseased animals were not spared, butchered where they were tied to the trunks.

   And as the spirits drifted and the flesh rotted, the tree bark grew paler, and the spring blossoms stopped growing.

   Tree roots grew twisted, with a reddish tint to them, and the pale bark flaked away as the corpses dried and swayed in the wind like old companions in rocking chairs on a porch.

   The last explorers that traveled through and briefly tried to settle here wrote that the soil was infertile, the turned earth littered with the broken bodies of predator and prey alike. 

    An odor of decay became omnipresent, a patina of corruption clinging to the air like sweat on a hot body.

    And when night falls, children, one can hear the trees moaning. The stories and songs say it’s the cries of the condemned mingling with the screaming pleas of tortured bodies and pleas before they die. 

    In autumn, the wind stirred leaves echo the sound of snapping necks and fluttery sighs of death.

    On nights of the full moon, the very trees seem to wail as the collected burden of their grisly growth overwhelms them. Others say the weeping, restless spirits cry as they wander, lost to time and memory.

   And when the seasons change, children, the spirits of those condemned in that time return to tell their stories to one another, again and again.

   Every night, no matter how fierce the weather, now empty the land, if you listen you can hear  the cries for mercy, then the raucous, mocking laughter from the hanging mobs that cheer on the savagery.

     Other nights, when the moon is new, among the trees you can hear the laughter of children as they run after each, their footsteps rustling and cracking the detritus beneath them..

    Daring campers have fled, hearing snarls and low, deep growling as their bodies were rolled over by unseen paws, their faces probed by wet, cold blots feeling very like the noses and tongues of canines they couldn’t see, and their chests suddenly heavy with weight they couldn’t get off before they woke up screaming, as if an animal had settled on top of them.

     Still others shared a sense of dread, waiting in thick silence as something watched them, but despite their risks in calling out, nothing was there. 

      No one answered. 

     All things considered, children, it’s best to avoid the moaning trees and travel the long way around these arbors of evil and grief, if you can. 

     You see, they have long memories, and don’t mind sharing them with you. 

A Portrait of Death

 Part 1: A Late Arrival 

    The night sky was obscured by a hard rainfall.

      No thunder, but it felt imminent.

      Everything had been laid out for my guest, but he was late, and given the fact that our meal had gone cold and gelid, I stopped expecting him and enjoyed a cup of dark red wine that held a gem of amber firelight in its ruby hues.

      I sipped, savoring it, and was drifting toward sleep when the knock came, rousing me out of a drifting dream state.

     He’d used the heavy metal bar curved through the jaws of a badly sculpted gargoyle knocker I’d taken a fancy too and purchased; it looked more irritated than menacing, which is how I felt at receiving guests in general.

    But all of the servants were in bed, and in a flash of beneficence I decided to let them sleep, and went to answer the door myself.


    He’d taken a human face for this session, an affectation for which I was grateful, but it was the shimmering black robe that caught my attention. For all the millenia he’d worn it, it wasn’t tattered, frayed, dirty, or worn.

     It seemed made of liquid obsidian, and rippled with his movements, seeming to surround him instead of adorn him, for when he sat down it didn’t spread out.

    “No scythe?” I asked.

     He grinned. “Not needed. It’s symbolism, mostly.”

    “Then how do you…?”

    “It’s fine, don’t worry. Are you prepared to start?”

    “W-well,” I stammered a bit, “it’s just that people are used to seeing you with it.”

    “There are countless pictures of me holding one, but tell me, do you really want to do what everyone else has done?”

    I started to answer, but the question in and of itself gave me pause.

    “I…I suppose not.”

    “Good. Are you prepared?”

    “Yes.” Then I clarified. “To paint you, that is, not to…”

    Again the small grin. “Of course.”


    He posed himself just so, the gentle hues of candlelight reflecting off his robe as if underwater, clear and flowing, not obscured or murky at all.

    There was pristine quality to him that belied his calling.

    I chuckled as I sketched the outline. “Flowing robes.”


    “Oh,” I said, flattered he was even listening, “I said, ‘flowing robes.’ It’s a term used to describe–”
    “I’m aware of its use. I just didn’t hear you.”

    “Well, the thing is, yours actually does, or seems to…”
    He didn’t answer, leaving my unspoken question drift into the air.

    In the distance, I heard the first roll of thunder herald the storm.

Part 2: An Early Departure

    The mix of the wine and lateness of the hour, and the patter of rain and low thunder began to wear on me.

    I thought I saw drops of darkness start at his sleeve, falling and coming to rest on the floor like ink, and slowly spread.

    I blinked, put down the brush, and rubbed my eyes, thinking it to be an illusion, but when I opened them again, they were still there, now drifting toward me.

   I ignored it, and looked at Death’s face.

   Nothing had changed from the time he walked in; his skin hadn’t paled, his countenance was still, and there was an emptiness to his gaze that brought to mind this was more of an annoyance he was doing as a favor to me than an honor. 

   Indeed, it was.

   The obsidian color never lost its shine as more of his robe dripped and pooled, spreading across the floor like an ebon fog.

   I was rooted to the spot, no longer painting.

   “W-w-what’s happening to me? I don’t understand…”

    Again, the grin. “The longer you paint me, the more of me you capture, I also capture you.”

   “But if  you take me, the painting will be unfinished!” I heard the plea of rising panic in my voice as the fog coiled around me and began its slow ascent.

   As the thunder rolled, closer than before, lightning flashed and the rain fell harder.

   His obsidian robe and human guise sloughed from him, leaving only his alabaster bones.

   He rose and walked toward me. 

   “Do you not yet understand, dear painter, that all the portraits of me were finished by me?”

  The flowing obsidian was cool against my flesh as the brush and paints fell, and my vision, as its color began to match his robe, was undisturbed by starlight, save for the amber firelight suddenly captured in the void of his eyes, and on the blade of his shimmering scythe.


The courtyards of the castles and the keeps of the forts were the roaming places of my friends and I when we were young enough to be fascinated by the thoughts of battle and glory, hearing the stories of the old soldiers they told by the bonfires, and seeing the eyes of the women glaze over with something akin to adoration, and the eyes of the men’s fathers full of pride.

   Others would turn away, aware of the blood price paid for victories, and the soul crushing pain of ruin and defeat at the hands of gloating victors. 

   It didn’t matter to us children until the land went bad, the money ran out, the jobs were gone, and hunger sat like a dozing toad over the place I called home.

   For our many crimes of survival, taking no joy in all we had to feed ourselves, the King had those of us caught in the act tied to stakes, and placed in the very courtyards we once roamed freely. 

   His guards placed us in the ones that had the longest stretches of summer sun, and no one was allowed to feed us or give us anything to drink, on the peril of joining our line of questionable criminals.

   As the days and nights passed, the flies came as our bellies emptied the last of their contents.

   They laid their eggs, and moved from waste to skin, then laid more eggs.

   We felt the maggots writhe as they feasted, seeming almost to dance.


    The bindings never slipped. 

    The blindfolds never slipped.

    Rendering us helpless, the kingsguard had been thorough in their work. 

    Those who died from exposure were spared the worst that was yet to come, and in another day or so we heard them, made all the more terrifying because we couldn’t see them:

    The ravens came shortly after. 

     We heard the calls, felt the wind when they flew onto us to pull the blindfolds down, then fly off to a safe distance. 

     Every day, more came. 

     The screams were random, and horrifying; the blindfolds were tied anew every morning, but the ravens were relentless. 

      In the silence between screams, the sound of their beaks knocking against the eye sockets echoed in the yard as the sun set and darkness brought some relief.


     When my turn came, the scythe shaped beaks tore into burned, chapped skin that parted like gossamer at the hammering blows. 

     I screamed from the pain my nerves registered, and such tears as I had left inside of me never rolled out of the blindfold. 

    Floating in and out of consciousness in an ebon-shadowed dreamscape, I could see the bodies that still clung to their stakes, their sundered flesh gory and terrible. 

   And every day, more birds came and worked until I screamed myself hoarse. 


     In the heat of the noonday sun, after days lost to pain and numbness in their dance macabre, I felt the fading of life.

     Footsteps approached, and the small clink of armor made me hope a soldier’s weapon would make a quick end, a hope that was dashed when I heard who it was that spoke the last words I’d hear. 

    “Give him water, I will speak with him now.” 

    “Yes, your grace.” They lifted my head, parted my lips, and poured.

    I didn’t know if the gods would grant me the time he wanted; I was fine with whatever they chose.

    “You understand why I imprisoned you so?”

    “No, my king. I would think you would see all your subjects fed.”

    “You feel I’ve done you an injustice.”

    “I know it.” 

    I heard the drawing of a sword. “His tongue grows overbold, sire.”

   “Stay your hand, Captain. Sheathe your sword.”

    I heard it go back inside the sheathe. 

    The king spoke to me again. “You knew the risks of stealing rationed food.”

   “It was not rationed fairly.” 

   “How so?”

   “Kings make war or trade to feed their people, You did neither, and gave the best to the nobles of your court to keep favor and avoid assassination.”

   He was silent for a time, but so was I.

   After a while, he spoke again. “For your words, I will not let the captain of my guard grant you a merciful end, and may the gods judge you harshly for your crimes.”

   They began to walk away. 

   I no longer wanted to linger, and I knew the bristly Captain would be the key to my departure. 

  “And may they judge you equally for your cowardice, ‘majesty.’

   I heard steps running back toward me. 

   “Captain, no!”


    After so long a time of piercing and bleeding slowly, the blade proved nothing more than the jab of a larger bird, and my body arced toward it as the captain pushed it hard through, breaking the stake in half, and sliding the sword out, he let me fall with it.

    What few ravens remained made a brief, excited racket, and then the darkness of the cosmos blended their feathers together, and blinded my heart to life, as my eyes had been to nature.

    The spirits of my fellow prisoners waited, greeting me, and together we left the fortunes of the generous earth to the tyrannical, childish whims of petty men, and went in search of Paradise, wherever it may be, by whatever name it calls itself.

The Baby Monitor

Chapter 1: The Husband

    The nursery was done.

John had checked all the new tech to make sure it worked. He’d spared no expense on the bells and whistles, and stated to himself that if a spider farted in its web anywhere near the new baby’s crib, they’d know.

     Taking a step back to admire his work, he turned to his wife Megan and smiled. 

     She smiled back, but it was more like an attempt than an actual smile, and John’s brow furrowed in concern. 

    The baby growing inside her seemed to keep her wan and listless, so her smile was weak. He also noticed that her eyes, usually so bright and full of life, were red and tired from fitful nights of sporadic sleep. 

    He knew she needed to see a doctor outside of their regular appointments, but she kept assuring him whatever was ailing her would pass, so not to upset her further he backed off to let her sort it out. 

     Looking down at her now, he couldn’t do that anymore. 

     Something was wrong, and what should have been a happy occasion was turning into something dark and maudlin. 

     Not meaning to make it about him, but doing it, John decided he couldn’t live with that if something happened to his wife because he was clueless.

     Also not meaning to make decisions for Megan, but doing it, he wouldn’t let her wave him off anymore; she was going to see a doctor whether she wanted to or not, and if she didn’t want to go to an office, there was enough to pay for a house call.

    Now that it was settled in his mind, he held her hand and pointed with his free one, explaining all the bells and whistles, what they did, and why he installed it. 

Chapter 2: The Wife

      He’d done a great job, she could see that. 

      He always did, and probably always would do a great job. 

      He did a great job selling you to marry him, after what you said…

      She smiled as he nattered on, remembering she’d told him she’d never get married. 

      Now here they were, not only married, but in a self-made nursery. 

      How did we get here, Megan? Where did you go?

      No, this hadn’t been in the plans, her plans anyway, but he’d been so excited when she told him that she actually got caught up in it. 

      The weeks flew by at first, and she enjoyed his attention, but at times he became cloying when she just wanted peace. He’d fire questions at her as if he’d never taken sex ed in school sometimes. 

     She knew it came from a place of love, that he wanted to look after her. He liked looking after her. He liked needing to be needed.

     That’s what husbands are for. He said it so much for so long, she began to get caught up in that too, but now, standing beside him, her belly stretched and stretching farther, she was simply no match for the seemingly endless waves of energy he exuded. 

     Seeing the concern in his eyes appear as his smile vanished, she knew then that whatever he saw in her face was not good.  She also knew what he’d say next when he finished his guided tour of shiny new tech she couldn’t care less about, and that she wouldn’t be allowed to say no this time.

Chapter 3: The Baby Monitor

       These human things, they never learn. They make it embarrassingly easy for us to enter their world, and make their lives unbearable before we make them ours. 

     The little ones, the portals, are the most vulnerable, newly cast from our own world. They are the easiest. They have no strength to resist us, but they know something’s wrong, and cry.

     The parents arrive then, concerned and fussing, soothing the portal until it goes back to sleep. 

     Some of us slip from the portals to stay and make sport until they all leave the house.

     Other times, they’ll summon their clerics to summon their gods to be rid of us.

     Some of us take the portals back, but to other places, and the big ones get sad and don’t stay together.

    In the old times they placed their wards and slept by the portal’s side, or had the portal sleep beside them so they could protect it if we sent our familiars. 

   Not so, now. They have given the care of their portals over to these things they call cameras, with machines that make hissing noises to sooth the portal and make it rest. 

    That’s when we strike.

    Even now, this one leeches the female’s soul as well as her body.

    I think it wants to come back and bring her with it. 

    The male will intervene, and have someone try to make her whole again. 

    We shall see, but for now we wait.

    And watch.

Don’t You Want Me Back?

     It stank in this place where I ‘self-medicated’. 

     I called it that because I didn’t want to say I was strung out on something I’d actually forgotten the name of, because I was that addicted. 

     But the alternative of memory was worse, and death would have been a lot more certain.

     As it was, it all seemed unreal.

     When Carla died in the accident, I broke down, lost everything, because she’d been a lifeboat in an ocean of garbage, betrayal, and abuse.

    She was the one light in the darkness, and I walked toward it as she walked toward me, though I’ll never figure out what it was she saw other than a shadow trying to crawl out of the void. 

    I didn’t  know that shadows have no business crawling toward light.

    I’m sorry, Carla. I thought that sentence for untold times, for untold years as the chemical cocktails I indulged in began to dissipate my body.

   I was okay with that, but then I saw Carla one night in the small hours of the morning, standing in the corner of my hovel.

   “There is a way…” she told me. 

   I grasped at the chance. “Tell me how.” 

   She told me, and the following night I went to see.


    This place stank too, but more of an effort was made to cover it up.

    It stank of desperation, hope, and ruin, and its appearance was almost a parody of a carnival fortune teller, but the old woman who owned the place took herself seriously, and I should have done that too.

    “Your Carla, she died in an accident,” the old woman told me. “Do you want her back?”

    I swallowed, nodded, and took the offered bottled water. My body’s moisture had been gulped by the chemicals I put into it two hours ago, and decided to go do what Carla told me as reason and the ability to function flickered under the drug’s onslaught.

    “She told me there’s a way…”

    “Yes. Do you know where she is?”

    I did. The family came and put her there, blamed and rejected me, and cut me off from Carla in a way I never had been in life.

    But she loved me and came to me, even if I was the cause of her end.

    I didn’t think I was, but guys like me never blame themselves.


    “Do you want her back?”


    She looked at me for a long moment, so long that I began to shift in my seat, sipping the water to keep up my end of the silence.

     Finally, she nodded. “Very well. It will not be pleasant, and I make no guarantees.”

     I held up a hand to stop her from going further. “Wait a minute. Will she be as I remembered, or as she is now?”

      It had been a while, and I’d read stories about this kind of thing before…before all this.

      She gave a heavy sigh that puffed up her round, stunted body for a moment and made her look, just for a second, like a beating heart. 

      “I make no guarantees.” 


      She said something about blood, and making a sacrifice, and digging Carla up, and some words I was supposed to say. 

     I didn’t do any of it, even after making plans to break in, or climb, or do whatever it took. 

     The place was in a wealthy, snobby neighborhood, so there’d be video, security, twenty four seven protection; I’d stand out like a bloodstain on white marble, sure to be harassed by the cops.

     After that, who knew? They’d be free to do what they want with me, and to me.

     I laughed at myself, imagining my clothes to be in the style of some Victorian grave robber digging up corpses for money, my one and only contribution to science. 

     But as I kept putting it off, something in me changed, and for some reason the chemical need didn’t seem as urgent now.

     Carla came to me again, between injections, as I was letting the last one fully dissipate. 

    Where are you, Warren? She told me you came to see her, and she told you what to do.

    I sat up in bed, despite the pain it caused. I had to see her, but I didn’t want to be prone and vulnerable. “She did.” 

    Carla looked like she always had before the accident, but I could see the cracks in the broken wall behind her now. The last time, I couldn’t. 

    But you didn’t come for me. I thought you loved me.

    “I did. I still do.”

   Then why haven’t you done what she told you? I’m waiting, but every day you don’t, I get weaker.

   Don’t you want me back?

   “I did, but I didn’t want you back…like you are, there in the ground now.”


    “I asked her if you’d come back to me like you were in life, or now. She told me she couldn’t make any guarantees. In other words, she didn’t know. If she’s all that good, with all the people she’s supposed to have helped, why wouldn’t she know?”

   Carla floated there in front of me, silent, her sunken eyes still somehow managing to convey hurt at my hesitancy, at the fact that I’d even delayed at all to what…rescue her?

   You’re leaving me.

    I got up on my feet. “Carla…” I moved toward her spirit.

    You’re leaving me! 

    Her flash of anger made me jump, and I stopped moving. 

    The silence grew tense, long, awkward. She was waiting for me to confirm it. 

    I merely sighed, which said everything I couldn’t. 

    Then come to me, she said.


    Come join me, Warren. Put together one last blast of what makes you feel good, and join me here. We’ll be together again, with no one to stop us.

    I considered it. Everything was there, in full view. 

    Everything was there but the need for it. 

    Warren…? She was still there, but a darkness in the center of her manifestation was slowly spreading. 

    I looked back at the busted table, and all I had to do was use the equipment to feel that familiar, toxic warmth once more, feel it for the last time.

    The old woman said it would take a sacrifice, but didn’t say it would be me. 

    Warren, don’t you want me back?

    I don’t know how much longer I stood there in the sick, shadowed darkness of what I’d become, in the small hours of a cold night with a chill wind storming the cracked windows,  driving out the cloying, putrid stink of my wasted life, and taking something else with it.

    I only know that when I turned to look again for Carla, for the ghost of the woman who’d been the light in my earthly darkness, she was gone.

    It was only then I realized our roles had been reversed.


 I was bent over her, offering what small comforts I could in her final moments, but yes, I was also curious as well when I looked into her eyes.

  They were yet beautiful, and still full of life, but restless despite my murmuring of vague and pointless reassurances she’d be fine, when she was so clearly not; they couldn’t seem to focus on my face.

   As I was the one responsible for her current state, I wasn’t so sure I’d look at me either.

   She’d lost a lot of blood and was starting to tremble, her right hand squeezing mine in a desperate attempt to anchor herself to the living world as my tears fell on her cheeks to mingle with her own.

   I called her name.

   For a moment, it brought her back from wherever she was, and she stopped trembling.

   “Help me,” she whispered through dry, cracked, bloody lips.

   “I want to help you, but you have to choose. Now.”

   The scent of her leaking blood was intoxicating, and as much as I knew what I would have chosen for her, it had to be her decision, and hers alone.

   She struggled, blinking rapidly, and breathing became harder.

   Her wounds filled and emptied with red life with each heartbeat, and I trembled myself from the sheer effort it took to keep my focus.

   Again, the squeezed hand for something to anchor her and keep her safe from the unknown realm of spirits.


    I smoothed her hair from her forehead and pulled her close.

    “Do you trust me, then?” 



    Despite my frantic need, the bite was tender, the herald fangs well placed, compensating for the curve to fit snug into the vein that would give me back my own life, cursed as it was.

    I sobbed with the pleasure and gratitude of the warmth that filled me, pulling the wasted nourishment away from the holes in her body that spilled it on the ground.

    Holding her with both my hands on her back, braced in my arms, she shuddered against me as I worked. Her loud gasp of finality was music in my ear as she slumped against me, and her nails scratched my forearms.

     I felt her life slip, and bit deeper in a final bid to make this work. It was selfish and cruel on my part, but I couldn’t let her go yet. 

     Caught up in the sensations, I closed my own eyes and gave myself over to our moment.


     I don’t know how long we stayed in that terrible, tender tableau of damnation, but her skin was cold against my cheek when I felt her lips move to give me a tender kiss and whisper my name.

     My eyes opened, boring into hers, looking for fear, questions, loathing, and horror at what she’d allowed herself to become. 

     There was only a calm acceptance, her eyes as clear and lovely as ever, scanning my face.

     “You came back to me.” 

“I never left, you fool.” She nestled on my shoulder.

I suppose, all things considered, she didn’t.

No, They’re Not Asleep

 The things that can scent you in the dark, that track you by the smell of your fearful blood, and the things that feast on the small, red, stringy, buffet that is you, don’t take their rest by day, as you would hope, or once believed.

   No, dear child, their thoughts churn, and their dreams give them power. 

   Their lack of humanity robs them of all innocence, and there is no divine judgment on their soulless bodies.

    They’ve already made plans for tonight, and you will never know when your part of town, or  all of your farms, forests, festivals, and sabbaths will be a day of bloody carnage and a Valhallian feast for the damned.


     Sometimes, they fight among themselves with a great slaughter, but the diminished ranks are always replenished.

     It’s neither quick nor pretty, this refilling. 

    Some are quite willing to die, and some are so wretched they will beg to belong, no matter the cost.

    Others will be turned, and still others, turned away, but those are seldom left alive.

    These plans, at times, have brought undue and unwanted attention.

    Those who bring it are willing to risk the consequences, and bigger losses ensue.

    The ruination is glorious in scope, and the air smells of wasted humanity proportional to the scope of the war. 

    They’re stupid, fragile things, these humans, but they’re sense of self cannot be denied. A rebellious, vain, and silly lot, they are not inept at fighting their enemies. They will cry, and mourn and wail, but they will not stop fighting all the way to their own demise.

   But soon, their end must come.

   Be there to witness it.
   Be there to help it along.

   Be there tonight, child. 

   No, they’re not asleep. 

   They never are.

Spending the Night

He was twice cursed: once to walk the night, and twice, to feel every cosmic shift of the stars, to hear its spirits calling, crying, and keening all around him.

He saw the roiling atoms of life grind and flow to make the very dark that cloaked his hands with frost, and burned his skull with eyes of fire.

Even the spirits paused in their wanderings to let him pass.

The damned saw him in all his splendor, the gems and gold that bedecked and dripped from his limbs, and the exalted blessed fled from the sight of his malformed, wretched nakedness.

And when he wished it, all fled from his presence, leaving him to hear his own feet crunch, splash, shuffle, and run, feeling the pain of never resting, even when the silence of a universe devoid of gods and magic mocked his tears where the trails scraped like small claws and tasted of brine, and he would beg for death’s peace.

Death would reveal himself, shake his silent skull ‘no,’ and disappear. Again.

And step after he weary step, he wandered on.

And wanders still.


Chapter 1: A Buzzard’s Circle

   Ours was a small town, but shrouded in dark secrets, and steeped in bad, bloody practices. The forest around us was cursed and haunted with the spirits of burned witches, tortured slaves, and small, shallow graves full of the indiscretions of the town’s self-proclaimed holy men. They sometimes paid unholy men to rid them of those indiscretions for good, or to see to it they didn’t stay anywhere close.

     The man who was now responsible for burying them all seemed himself to never age, though he was clearly on the other side of youth. He worked alone, and hard.

    Overall, he seemed fit enough, and did the job well.

    Of course, being quiet and aloof he came under suspicion, though he seemed a naturally quiet man content with his lot in life. His reluctance to offer any sort of consolation to the grieving seemed more out of surliness than a quiet personality.

    His name was foreign and difficult to pronounce for our plain tongues, and though no one knows or remembers who started it, he was nicknamed ‘Buzzard,’ because he seemed content to dwell there among the dead, though a house had been purchased for him in the town proper. 

    He set up a room in the sexton’s workshed and slept there. 

    Being under suspicion for his ways, the town council tested him by sending prostitutes, con men, and the occasional bounty hunter, to see what his character was made of and how prone he was to bribery’s corruption.

    All of them returned quickly, having been rebuffed in a quick and efficient manner.

    With the hunters, some of whom were offered a bounty for his head, not all of them returned; whether they died or got away is anyone’s guess. The ones who did kept their silence, and never came back.

    The women cited the Buzzard’s intense scrutiny that bore through their fakery and chilled them to the bone.

    His secrets were safe, whatever they were. 

    But the council was more determined than smart, and by the time they found out Buzzard’s true nature, it was too late.  

2: The Final First Warning

    At the time of the next town gathering to discuss bringing in and distributing the harvest, Buzzard showed up late and took a seat in the back. He paid no attention to the silence that fell over the Hall. He’d never shown up to a gathering before. 

    He looked at no one, and said nothing, but his eyes were all business.

    He figured out what they were doing, and he came here to let them know he wasn’t pleased.

    When the meeting was over, Buzzard moved to block the door, and those nearest him recoiled when his gaze swept over them. They recoiled a bit further as he spoke.

    “This will be your only warning. Leave me be. I bury your dead, respectfully and thoroughly.

    “Been doing it a long time, and I’ll keep doing it ‘til my own time. Leave it at that, and leave me be.”

    No one said anything, and he stepped aside to let them pass, turning his gaze to the council in the front of the room, who decided to leave by another door rather than pass him. 

   A couple of them challenged his staring, but their nerves failed them. It was as if they realized he might do any number of things to them at any time, because they knew almost nothing about him. 


    Leave it at that.

    It was too late. He piqued my youthful curiosity, and I had to get this figured out.

    I convinced two of my friends to come with me to spy on him after midnight.

*art by bzitz*