Inside the cave lived a Fox – Chapter 2

Chapter 1

foxo2n2

The road took a swerve and the car eased into a stretch illuminated only by the headlights. Pine trees white against the colorless background buckled under a high wind and she could just catch their crowns so high above. The world wasn’t clearing and she felt trapped on this narrow road, in this car going somewhere that meant nothing to her. She was going in the wrong way regardless of the promise.

Her body shifted away from him patiently pulling on his thin cigar providing the same scent she had breathed with familiarity on his coat. Her heated temple rested against the cool glass of window. Her head was static, memories heavily faded. Lolling with the motion of the car she thought her fingers someone else’s. She opened and closed her palm, flexing her digits. There was a sense of something amiss, something that had been there in her hand but was now gone taking away with itself her feel, her touch. Her skin hurt and she rubbed a thumb against it feeling nothing.

Soon he chose to break the silence “I’m Ambrose by the way in case you fear riding with nameless strangers. I don’t know why I didn’t tell you that before. It seems stupid now, but…”

She could feel his eyes on her back, waiting, wanting to ask more, to know. “Neave. My name is Neave.”

“Are your folks Irish?”

Neave shifted again so she could face him.

“I think they just liked the name. It isn’t spelled like you would if it was Irish. What about you, were your parents religious? Were you named like after Saint Ambrose?”

He laughed and his laughter was even hoarser than his voice. “No, they were not that religious. I like to think Ambrose Bierce served for inspiration. My mother…she was a scholar. She taught Latin and Greek almost her entire life. That and maybe she thought the name sounded posh.”

Ambrose cleared his throat, his grin waning away. His lips became thin, the lines around them more pronounced now that the dimples of his smile were gone. His eyes under a furrowed brow returned to the road.

Neave disregarded her own half-smile and returned her attention to the dial. Time had scarcely passed since they had left the near accident. “Where are we?”

 “Just outside of Tallbridge. See there? That’s Wrell mountain. People sometimes call it “the moaning mountain” because of how the wind whistles through the valleys.”

Neave inched in her seat, inclining her head to catch the slowly rising hills in the distance. There was not a flicker of light there and the mountain looked wild and undisturbed, but she knew of villages hidden within its folds.

 “Inside the cave lived a Fox.”

Ambrose looked at her. “I’m sorry?”

“It’s an old story my grandmother used to tell. Local folklore I think. I remember it originated in a village somewhere high in the mountain.”

Ambrose steered the car left leaving the main road. The tires hit gravel and they started to climb a narrow dirt road between the trees. “What is it about?”

Neave shook her head. “Not sure. It was a really long time ago when I first heard it. I think it made me both scared and sad.” Her skin goosed up when she thought long and hard about it. It too was amiss, not fully formed, partial. Memories of the past were easier to access and process. The now was a blur haunted by them and not all were happy memories.

 “Here’s the house.”

The headlights broke through the dark revealing a small cottage visibly a faded white, a side of it overgrown with ivy, red and brown and orange, an Autumn coat. It had been here for a long time and Neave could sense the coziness it provided along with seclusion. She followed Ambrose through the dark alley, tiny sharp rocks sticking in her soles, and past the makeshift swing still wet with tiny droplets. The light and warmth seeping from inside the house came with a voice.

“Where the hell have you been? I tried calling but you’ve left your phone and…”

Neave shut the door behind her awkwardly stepping inside and facing the petite woman with her arms akimbo.

“Who’s this?”

“Sierra this is Neave. I nearly ran her over on the farm road.”

Sierra’s face changed. She took hold of Neave and led her further into the living room sitting her down on the coach by the fireplace.

“What were you doing at this hour in the fields?”

Neave took the warmth of the fire for a second to defrost her thoughts.

“I don’t know. I don’t remember.”

Ambrose sitting across from her shook his head in dismay. “You never said…I assumed…”

“You never asked.”  She still wore his coat and it was enough but Ambrose was pale, wet strands of hair falling in his dark eyes.

Sierra reached over to the cabinet placed between the couch and the armchair and produced a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of red wine. She poured a healthy dose for Neave, none for herself and for Ambrose filled an elegant glass with the wine.

The alcohol burned her throat, not a sensation Neave was used to. It loosened her and the fire, the stillness of everything around her, the disappearing numbness from fingers and limbs altogether softened her. She glanced at the phone hanging on the wall, a landline most definitely dead and then at their phones on display on the table. There was no one to call however. Relationships were strained, a thread of her memory knew that.

“Do you want to?” Ambrose asked, his voice gentle.

“I don’t want to bother anyone.”

“What’s the last thing you remember?” Sierra probed.

“Nothing. I find only nothingness and the more I try to remember the more distant I feel.”

Sierra found her hand, warm against her still cold one. “Think hard. Last image, last sound.” Ambrose lighted a candle and placed it on the table in front of Neave. The scent filled her nostrils, sweet and heavy. She inserted it into herself within seconds, deep breaths to calm herself bringing more of the opium scent into her body and mind.

Neave closed her eyes following Sierra’s voice to continue breathing deep. She could hear a door getting closed, the rattle of a key chain, the muffled barks of a dog behind that door.

“It’s my house in Lowview.” It was her hand closing the door, turning the key. “I’m at the door and Enok is barking.”

“How does your door look? Describe it to me.” Sierra said.

“It’s just a normal door. White but the paint around the handle is peeling and you can see the original green underneath it. It has scratch marks from Enok, deep into the wood.”

“Is there a date somewhere?”

A car had unlocked behind her and the key was in her hand. She was walking towards it, climbing in it, starting it. The dial caught her attention. “October 16th,” she whispered.

The scent was removed from her and replaced by that of burning wood and sharp whiskey.

“There is your start. But you’re still missing three days and they seem gone for good.” Sierra blew the candle free of its dancing flame.

Neave shook her head feeling lonely without Enok. How could she forget about Enok?

‘The way I see it you have two choices,” Ambrose said rubbing his greying goatee. “You could go home tomorrow, forget all about this and return to normal. Call it an episode.” He swirled the dark red wine in its thin glass. “Or you could try to discover where you went and what you did during those three days.”

“I told you, I want to go home.” She spoke with urgency, one that threatened to tumble-down what little defence she had left.

He cocked his head to one side. “But aren’t you curious?”

Neave remembered the thing that was amiss, her fingers closing in on thin air hoping to grab something that wasn’t there but had been.

Ambrose stood up and circled around the couch she was sitting in. His hand fell heavy on her shoulder, the squeeze a new seal.

“Tomorrow we’ll find out what happened. You have my word.”

Chapter 3

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Inside the cave lived a Fox – Chapter 1

foxo2n

The lash of the rain was harsh against her face, the droplets like needles against her skin as she ran. Knee-high streaks of wheat, drowned in the downpour earlier, lolled via the rushing she made as she slipped on fresh mud, white sneakers dipped from sole to laces. She battled her way through the bleak grounds, cowering away from the grey clouds and the low rumble hidden within them waiting as if to unleash full power, a thunderous roar to echo through the empty unobstructed air and space above and around her.

Her eyes managed to spot a wide patch bald with the lack of useless crops swaying. It seemed to hover with low settled fog on what appeared the edge of the field. She went to it and took down from mud to asphalt darkened by the rain in one swift step. Then there were lights approaching fast without the alert of a signal. The shift from dreary dark to illuminating xenon turned her to a frightened deer staring at death. The signal finally came and her teeth began chattering, a previously unknown cold settling in her bones and weakening them.

The entire torso of the car took to the left, the screech of tires against the slippery road canceling the rain fully. Acceleration carried the car and it zigzagged towards her unavoidably. Her eyes blinked away the seconds of artificial blindness, the deer becoming a rabbit hurrying to escape. She feared, blood pressure rising, ears burning. Her knees buckled and she tumbled backwards returning to mud, grabbing fistfuls of it amidst bouquets of wheat cutting through her fingers.

The rain was light, a pitter-patter on her face as she lay in the soft bed of earth, her form sinking into it, molding with it. In her eye, the sky previously one equal gray horizon to horizon, was now curling up, rolling onto an invisible spindle layer by layer of white, gray and black. It reminded her of cotton candy heavily colored by those inks the Japanese use to make their burger buns and ice creams black. But it was a cell storm consuming the sky, sucking each and every cloud into its gaping hole to spin and spin and spin it until there was no sky and it was a storm on a spindle the dome above. Against it a voice shouted trying to overcome the winds that picked up to rotate this heavenly carousel.

“Are you alright? Can you stand up?”

She spotted a man hovering above her but his face was blank and his voice was low and gruff. He put out a hand for her to take.

“I won’t hurt you. Please, take my hand.”

Just like that she was stood up from her bed of earth and took back to the road where the car stood sideways, an ugly skid mark marking its dangerous path.

“You jumped out of nowhere. I nearly ran over you,” the tall stranger said. He stood at a careful distance shadowed by his headlights, the voice of a silhouette and waited for her to speak up, to explain.

“I suppose I did. Sorry, I didn’t know whether it was a road or more wheat. It was hard to see.”

“I startled you.” It wasn’t a suggestion and she confirmed it with a slight nod. Her hands went to her hair, messy and tick with mud. She dropped them to her pockets instead unsure of what to do.

He pointed at her arm and she found a skid mark all of her own, red and raw under the torn cloth on her elbow.

“Do you want to go to a hospital?”

The pain was absent but it would come soon enough, she knew. It was quickly ignored as there was a greater need tugging at her from the depth of her being, a destination more alluring than any other. “I want to go home,” she told the man.

He slipped off his coat and passed it on to her. She breathed in a distinct tobacco soaked in chocolate and underneath it a lingering scent of earth, pines and ash mixed with the man’s own cologne. She pulled it close against her damp body.

“I see. That’s alright, that’s fine. I can drive you there if you just tell me where you live.”

The where was nonexistent in her mind for moments that made her feel light-headed and distant. She looked frantically about at the nothingness stretched from where she’d emerged to where to road disappeared in fog and darkness. Home was a place that she needed to find and it existed in her consciousness but its shape and form were gone. The man caught on her confusion and gestured for her to enter the car sealing his intentions to bring her back to where she belonged. The leathery interior was instantly warmer and the soft tap of the windshield wipers against the steamy window and the low volume rumble of the radio slowly drifted her back to her own world.

“Lowview. I live in Lowview.”

He had climbed beside her, shaking the rain and cold away. The doors were closed and the dark interior lighted up. She waited for his reply, to confirm that the destination she had named was a real one. He slicked back his salt and pepper hair and tucked strands behind his ear. His eyes, perhaps dark brown were soft and friendly.

“Lowview is about a four-hour drive from here. If we head there now I’ll be able to drop you off early morning but with the weather forecast…I don’t know. There’s more of this storm to come and we might end up getting trapped on the road. These country roads flood in the blink of an eye dragging mud and branches, whole trees too and sometimes dead cattle. Lambs, I’ve seen. Chickens too, poor things.”

“There was a cell storm,” she said trying to imagine the Biblical flood it would cause. It would swipe them where they stood into a vortex of limbs and roots. Her head throbbed. The clock on the dashboard blinked and the digital numbers told her it was nearly 2 A.M. and the night was just getting dark and darker for the lack of stars and Moon.

 “Listen. I have a house nearby. If you want you can spend the night there, get yourself cleaned up and get some rest and in the morning I’ll drive you to Lowview.”

“I should be home.”

But she wasn’t. She gazed out the window steamy and spattered with raindrops. The world had disappeared completely and its bleakness was renewed with the start of fresh rain of rounder, heavier droplets which began to rattle against the hood. There was only her and the stranger, a proposition awaiting a decline or an acceptance. He would go and she with him, or she would exit the car and start up or down the road seeking the way home.

“In the morning you’ll drive me to Lowview,” she repeated his words at him to seal the deal. He drew a cross, ghosting his fingers against his chest.

“You have my word.”

Chapter 2

Melting for you

Last Christmas…and the Christmas before that….and the one before it, these were the stories. They might be better than this one:

A Christmas Horrortale

Neon Claus

Christmas at Granny Rose

Happy holidays & a Merry Christmas! Xx

snowman

Photo courtesy of friends. You know who you are!

 

Before dinner on Christmas Day, the children of the Flinchers, Milly and Anthony began a simple game of snow angel making in the front yard.

Patrick Flincher, their father, had decided that in these final days of 2016 he would be a risk taker. He would “go for it” and live dangerously, thus becoming one of the cool dads. Christmas didn’t frighten him this year – no giant spiders, no Neon Santa, no ghosts in the supermarket would put him down and make him shun the Christmas spirit away. He had convinced the rest of the Flinchers that giving in to the festivity was a great idea.

So while he was reclining brazenly with his much deserved cup of eggnog and Mrs. Flincher was putting the turkey in the oven, the children accepting their father’s new found motto of Christmas bravery, competed out of breath forgetting all the past horrortales they had lived through.

Milly and Anthony decided the traditional snow angel was a bore to make so instead they began building an angel out of ice. There was plenty of that hidden underneath the heaps of snow.

“It doesn’t look like an angel,” Anthony complained staring at the misshapen figure in the middle of the yard.

“Yes it does,” his sister protested. “This is its left wing and this, its right. And this is its gown.” On the thin ice pieces, jagged and uneven protruding flat from its blocky body, Milly scattered the snow she had gathered in her gloved palms. It stuck to the transparent surface and became one with it. Milly scooped more snow and scattered it generously again and again and again until the wings such as they were and the blocky body already wearing a skirt of dulled snow at its base were nearly white and semi-translucent.

“But we don’t have a head!” Anthony protested as he was shaking off the snow from his hat.

Milly skipped and slid through the yard and kicked here and there for hidden ice while her brother laughed and poorly sang a quickly made up song of her futile task. Her boot however connected with one of the rainwater pipes and while she whimpered in pain, the pipe rattled spitting out a halo of ice with its stalactite icicles. Milly picked it up and examined how symmetrical and smooth it was. She then skipped back to her angel sculpture and carefully placed the halo on the top of the statue. Now it had two long and one short icicles for a beard and a transparent face through which light could shine. But it was missing something. Milly snatched her brother’s hat and placed it atop the halo.

“It’ll melt,” he murmured thinking the angel was too girly even with his hat on. It was small and odd with a head without a face, chipped wings that would break in the wind, no hands or legs and a skirt made of hard snow. It looked like nothing. Milly was thrilled by their creation. She stared at it for the longest time when Mrs. Flincher called them inside for dinner. She was quite proud of their ice angel.

***

Later that evening, the ice angel hopped on the rooftop of the Flincher house and sat there contemplating why the children had neglected to give it arms. It was in a desperate need to light a smoke and melt its head off and be done with this “alive with the spirit of Christmas” ordeal. It could only slightly play with the hat the girl had given him by poking at the fluffy ball hanging on its tip with its icicles. The angel could hear the Flinchers still talking down in the house and instead busied itself with their conversation.

 “What is it, Mr. Flincher?” Mrs. Flincher was asking.

“There’s a snowman staring at me. Look, just across the street. It’s grinning!”

There was a rustle and the large living room curtain was pulled.

“We should run, shouldn’t we?” Mrs. Flincher was whispering.

Mr. Flincher snorted. “Nonsense. Don’t be silly, I’m being silly. It’s just a regular, ol’ snowman that someone built…”

The angel stood on the edge of the rooftop looking about the place. It could just make out a large form across the street where the forest began. It counted three balls, one large, one medium, one small and could just see the beady dark eyes reflecting the street lamp in a fiery orange. Father Flincher was wrong, the angel knew it. The snowman wasn’t just any snowman. It was alive with the spirit of Christmas but in a reverse way, the bad way. It had left a trail behind it when that big bottom ball of ice and horror had rolled the snowman through the forest and to the front yard of the Flinchers to grin at them.

“Well I bet…I bet I can go out there and tell him to be on his way and wish him a happy Christmas,” Mr. Flincher was saying. The angel could hear the tremble in his voice.

Mrs. Flincher tutted. It was a loud tut. “Do you really think you’ll scare him Mr. Flincher and he’ll just burst into a million tiny snowflakes?”

The ice angel decided it would like to see that. It hopped down from the rooftop and flapped its stiff uneven wings into the darkness outside of the perimeter shined by yellow, red, blue and green Christmas lights. It glided above the snowman and ducked in the shadows behind it. It could barely contain its laughter.

In minutes Mr. Flincher left the house carrying a steaming pot with his Santa Claus mitts. He slid and slipped sloshing boiling water that hissed and made holes in the snow.

The snowman, the leer on his plump face gone after seeing the approaching danger, tried to roll back the way it had come but something blocked its way. Angrily the snowman spun his head around and sharp toothed looked down at the angel with its sharp icicle beard. The snowman roared and thrust his full weight at the tiny angel. Its wing broke and its base cracked underneath the snow coat but it stood its icy ground and poked the giant creature with its icicles.

Patrick Flincher came just on time to throw the boiling water at the snowman’s face. It shrieked and started grabbing chunks of its melting face with thin wooden hands and tried to put them back blindly, but the snow turned to water and it drooled through its core collapsing the snowman ball by ball. The angel dragged itself out of the rubble but it too had met with the boiling water and had melted halfway.

“Thank you little ice angel. For not trying to kill me that is. And for helping.”

The ice angel managed a nod with its broken halo head before it too collapsed to nothing but jagged pieces of ice.

Patrick bent down and picked Anthony’s hat patting off bits of ice and layers of snow off of it. He had survived yet another Christmas and he had been brazen about it, though running through his yard in his slippers with Santa mitts and a pot of hot water was an image far away from looking like a heroic one. He could now add to the list of supernatural Christmas disasters an abominable snowman and a headless ice angel, though the latter had actually tried to help him. He had Milly and Anthony to thank for that. Also he had to explain why their ice angel was gone.

Cara

untitled_drawing_by_cindyvaskova-daq7ftha

Excuse the ugly art

Someone had won at cards it seemed; a boisterous laughter erupted from the next hall, brightly lighted and dimmed by cigarette smoke and alcohol fumes. I wasn’t any good at poker, the cards always mere pieces of paper in my unpolished/unskilled hand. My friend Amory however was a passionate player. He lingered his stare awhile longer at the closed door unamused by the win; he had taken the gentlemen’s money one too many times now. His voice broke me of my reverie.

‘Good God, that girl is practically staring at you.”

I followed his amused gaze. He was right, my companion. She was and her stare was not a casual one; it was curious, more even – lusting. I knew such things as I was partially their creator. But she, sweet, sweet Cara was seventeen and I, 46. This was not entirely Venice and we weren’t in the midst of death, though the comparison that came to mind of that Mann novelette was not far-fetched – she was something new, seemingly orchestrated by either Gods or demons as her skin was marble, her hair was silk, and her eyes were made of the brightest green glass, and I myself was death incarnate, an occult symbol coated in a suave skin.

“Your eyes are taking up a different shade my friend, one that would not suit the evening.”

Yet again my companion was right. I dabbed at my swollen, red irises with a handkerchief and glimpsed at my face in the provided small mirror seeking the light blue gaze of the man in me, the 46-year old whose throat was dry at the sight of her.

“My apologies,” I splashed tipping the remains of my glass in my burning throat.

“None needed. She is an example for higher praise.”

“I shall take her not. We are both here to conduct an investigation.”

My companion laughed.

“Is that said for my or your reassurance?”

I bowed my head to him and left him to drown his laughter in the wine. He was thinking our trip amusing; I would have too if it weren’t for our missing friend.

The luxurious complex we were residing at along with a dozen wealthy families, politicians and famed artists stood guardian to all land as ahead was the sea, dark in the moonlight, as dark as blood. It was a cold December, colder than any previous I remembered lacking the gracious fall of minuscule snowflakes and orchestrating brutal winds to howl between the waves and at our doorstep. But inside it was a little paradise.

A simple vacation it would have been– tea and games, newspaper articles and tobacco, walks on the beach and shopping, theatre and sleep, but for me and my friend it was to be different. For the two of us it was a case, a crime, a ponder. Aside for maintaining our charm and friendliness we were to discover what had happened to a dear friend of ours in this very hotel just a week ago.

Me and Amory took separate rooms and bid the front desk to dismiss maids from entering. The solid bills rolling between thumb and forefinger had made the boy at the desk shy with red but only for a shallow second before he took it and hid in the pocket of his well-ironed vest.

Whilst Amory indulged – he liked the harsher gambling that went on in the darker hours and the imported hashish (he called that divine) that some of the gentlemen smoked in between sips of scotch – I sat most often in my room studying the panel of scarce clues we had pieced together.  I flattened the newspaper clippings we had collected in desperate search of some hint but the past week’s events from a stolen bicycle to a beached whale bore no signs of the occult. Home had not called upon Douglas itself.

At this point I had begun hoping he had drowned or fallen drunk off a cliff, but he remained an unknown man, not simply missing but non-existent. Over a week now he was neither to be summoned nor visualized at any plain. Had he been transcended? Was that possible? Such silly thoughts amused Amory who gave up on our task soon enough.

We sat on the terrace neither of us shivering like the rest of the early birds went out to enjoy the breeze and pale sun.

 “Why do we even continue? I’ve never much liked Douglas anyways.”

 I sighed and took a long swallow feeling the burn of the tea seep through my teeth. It was much too sweet.

“He is our brother before all else.”

“A poor pup always wailing for this and that. Nay, a mutt. We’re not like him, why should we care?”

Amory leaned towards me, his eyes the awful shade we tried to hide.

“Calm down, Amory. He may be a runt and yet again he is one of us. I simply want to know what happened to him. Aren’t you curious? This disappearance seems queer to me. No signs, no claims and yet…”

“Douglas is gone without a trace.” Amory finished for me. “Be it so. If he wishes to be gone let him be so. I say we enjoy this trip while it lasts. We’ve earned it.”

What if it hadn’t been his decision, I wanted to say but stood down. And soon apathy stood up and took over me. Staring at newspapers and photographs, searching for signs tired me. It was tedious and inane and after two weeks I took to Amory’s advice – I became native to the hotel and its inhabitants. I blended in to the point where I forgot why I was there, the task a peripheral activity that soon died away with the pull of the waves. And since Amory had gone too, I assumed adventuring far and wide before going home, I had no one to pull me away from my melancholy and assumed identity. No one except sweet Cara.

Part 2

Brief dreams

Her palm displayed tiny purple crescent shaped marks where her jagged nails had dug into her wind bruised skin. She traced them, the slowly fading proof of her anxiety and allowed her lungs a long intake of the sharp October air. Long night, time to go home, she thought. She toyed with the car keys in her parka pocket, squeezing the furry key chain through the fabric. A talisman, a memory. The simple motion eased her mind, relaxed her shoulders. Tugging her scarf securely around her neck she made her way towards her cab. Lights off, interior coated in dark. No, some light on, the lamp. The dark is too close still. Amelia listened to the engine. It was barely above the prolonged silence around her. No, not home. Not yet.

She parked the cab in front of the bar two blocks away from her apartment complex.

“Double,” she announced to the empty stools and the single woman working behind the bar. Dead night, cold weather. Not a soul to stay.

“Hey there. You’re early off tonight. Long shift?”

 “Bad dream,” Amelia said, her voice hoarse. “A Lucid dream,” she added as she sat on the bar shivering from the adjustment of her cold cab and cold street to the booze fragranced coziness of the bar.

“A what?” Keely looked at her through the poor kaleidoscope created by a beer pitcher.

“Lucid dream. When you know that you are dreaming in your dream.”

Keely made a notable noise.

“I’ve heard about those. Some freaky shit, right? You want some coffee?”

Amelia shook her head.

“Something stronger and double. Has it ever happened to you?”

A shrug. She wore a lazy smile unscathed by bad dreams.

“You want to tell me about it?”

Amelia took the drink with thanks. It was over in one thirsty swallow. Amelia hadn’t realized how much she needed it.

“Not really.” She paused staring into the empty glass waiting for the burn to settle in her stomach and warm it. “Can I have another?”

The bottle tipped over the small glass pouring to the edge.

“It made me think of another…dream. I don’t know what to call it. All too real but still impossible. Lucid again? I don’t know. Funny I remembered it today or at all. It happened when I was about eight.”

“Was it a nightmare too?”

Amelia pressed two fingers on the spot between her eyes. Bullseye she thought as she massaged the throbbing dot.

“Most of my dreams are nightmares I think.” She smiled bittersweet, returning the condoling smile Keely offered her. “That one was different. For a long time I thought it wasn’t just a weird progression of my dream, that I had actually been awake in my room having all these thoughts and emotions. Being so scared…How could it have been a dream?”

Keely poured herself some of the same and joined Amelia with a small clink of glass on glass. “So, tell me about it.”

The noise had stirred Amelia from her sleep. It first existed there, tugging at her from the depths of her colorful REM, pretentious and demanding attention, averting Amelia’s thoughts from innocence to worry. If the noise was the music of her dream, Amelia wished it go away. But it persisted and she felt herself snuggle tighter against her blanket, the dream nearly over. She awoke, whatever sleep was left rolling off her eyelids like tears. The room was as it should, dark and hushed and after moments Amelia could see the outlines of her toys and her desk, and the wardrobe tightly shut. But she could also hear the noise and it wasn’t a part of her dream anymore. It was real. And it was coming from outside.

Amelia’s wide eyes traveled to the window. She pushed up the safety of the blanket and got up. The noise was outside but it vibrated heavily inside her, hurting her chest. The want to call for her mother or father was etched on her face, but Amelia found herself climbing on the window ledge, tiny feet and sweaty toes, small fingers clutching the windowpane.

From her window she could clearly see past the neat little garden and onto the brightly lit street visible through the naked autumn trees. There was a procession of seven hooded people walking up the street. They cast strange shadows and the more Amelia watched them, the more they seemed to be moving backwards, convulsing from some strain to detach themselves from their people. The street lights became hushed, faint with ill yellow light. As the group proceeded their shadows lagged back until they disappeared. Shadowless the figures glided further.

Amelia knew they carried the noise. At first it was a chant, a low gibberish sounding one, wordless words that came in whistles and breathy whispers, choked syllables that frightened her, just like in her dream, but now Amelia could understand them and they called upon The Witch. They didn’t seem to have faces underneath the brown hoods and Amelia wondered where the sound came from. It grew so strong her whole body began hurting. She opened her mouth to scream, but the thunder of their chant was so powerful, Amelia wasn’t sure she had made any noise at all.

The group of seven plucked their invisible hands deep into their robes and produced black candles which were lit and burned with the brightest and cruelest flame Amelia had seen.

The leading figure was taller than the rest. He was tightly bound in chains, visible pale hands clasped in a prayer close to his chest. With a gasp Amelia realized he was their prisoner. The chant flowed still, speaking words of blood magick and consecration, of his blood tasted on the old tongue of The Witch for immortality, for knowledge, for power.

It had become so cold not in her room but inside her. Amelia’s teeth chattered audibly. She didn’t want to hear no more of the bad words. They frightened her so much and brought impossible images into her mind which made her shiver. Her tiny voice rang out in a long and squeaky scream. The chant broke and the procession stopped. She counted seven heads turn towards her in unison. They stared she knew as she could feel whatever eyes were hidden beneath those hoods pierce her. Amelia thought she would wet herself.

She felt the tears, the huge wet droplets trickle down her freezing cheeks, the bubble of saliva forming on her thin pink lips, the running snot from her nose. She hoped they couldn’t see her truly, couldn’t hear her cry, the bad men, the evil women, the shapeless ones. But even if they had they slowly averted their concealed faces away from her. Only the tall figure watched her still. His hood slipped showing the faintest trace of blue lips on a pale skin. They curved into a smile for the shortest moment but she caught the briefness of that contact. A smile, just for her. The prisoner turned his head away as the procession assumed their chanting glide along the asphalt. The street lights blinked away from submission. They lit the road as brightly as before.

“So, what happened next?”

Amelia pinned the last shot to her wet lips and tipped its continence down her sore throat.

“It was daytime. I don’t remember falling asleep. I don’t remember anything at all after that up until my mom came in the room.”

Keely dabbed her hands on a clean cloth. They were bright pink from the hot water she had been working ash trays underneath.

“It’s creepy, I’ll give you that. But you know how they say we don’t remember things accurately. Our minds easily trick us with false information. I betcha’ something like that happened to you.”

Amelia jiggled her car keys in her pocket feeling for the lucky key chain. “Like I imagined it?”

“Yeah, maybe. Otherwise…” Keely left her thought unfinished. She circled the bar and reached for the small button shutting off the “Last call for alcohol” blue neon sign hanging above the bar. She put an arm around Amelia and the two went out into the damp autumn cold.

 “You want a ride?”

Keely shook her head as she worked the lock.

“I’m trying to walk more, get some exercise. Even downloaded some app on my phone measuring how many steps I’ve walked during the day.”

Amelia made a snorting sound.

“We’ll see who’s laughing when your ass can’t fit into that cab seat no more.”

Amelia chuckled and waved Keely a good-bye.

“Amy?”

She followed the voice back to her friend. Keely, skinny frame huddled in a large jacket, looking at her with those silver eyes.

 “I could be real. It could be that you lived through that and saw those people. Who knows? It shouldn’t be denied as a possibility. I get told many stories when I’m behind that bar but they are hardly ever sincere. They are mangled, put through a grinder. None of them sound possible. You got emotional when you told yours. I trust emotions like that, especially fear. Fear is possible. So, I believe you.”

Amelia took a step back from her cab. “You believe my dream was real? Or that it’s just a story?”

Keely shrugged. Neither.

“I believe that you saw those people and they saw you. Goodnight, Amy.”

Keely’s fingers gestured a wave and she disappeared behind the corner. Amelia pulled the key chain from her pocket and unlocked the cab. She slipped inside its unwelcoming coldness and sat there while the lights changed red to yellow to green and again. There was a burning tingle in her palm like sharp needles. When she eased her fingers loose the purple crescent marks had reappeared.

 

 

The Year of the Heddagh – Chapter 10

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

yearoftheheddagh10

The peck on his cheek was warm and sweet coming with a breath carrying beer. Knox smiled at the touch and his eyes caught the girl. He wandered away from the loud music, the speakers entering a dull retreat as he separated from his friends and followed her like a hitchhiker in the dark.

“Is this were you live?” He asked her giving in to the tight pull of her fingers on his wrist.

“No, just a place to stay,” she called back as she shrugged off her jacket. He lingered on the way her accent whispered his name, sounding more foreign, ancient almost. “Come, Knox”. She put her leg against the small balcony and propped herself up her belly pressed tightly onto the rail. Knox watched her pale hair spill down her shoulders, a mischievous glint in her grey eyes turned black by the night. He heard the shatter of glass muffled by her jacket.

“What are you waiting for?” She hissed through an amused giggle.

What was he waiting for really? He wanted to object but her frame disappeared inside the engulfing dark and he rushed to catch the tips of her pale fingers reaching from inside the shadows.

He fought to be nearer to her flushed skin. Her fingers became claws on his back, her teeth razor sharp grazing against his skin. Knox forgot to ask her name.

In the small Austrian house the early morning was a lazy bluish filter and Knox shivered, wrapping his clothes tighter around his frame. She had watched him sleep before disappearing abandoning him in a stranger’s home. Not wanting to lose the memory of her and the previous night Knox. He stumbled into the living room finding it empty just like the rest of the house. He wondered whether its owner was among the many celebrating through the night on the town’s square. The small space spoke of someone elderly; some millennial dust had settled down on the dark wooded furniture. The room was filled with newspapers and books stacked in piles by the fireplace. Knox fumbled through some meeting unknown authors with unknown subjects. He let the last book slip through his fingers, his eyes caught by something different. An oddity.

His hand reached for the unprotected strange statue atop the mantelpiece above the fireplace. He pried it free from its enclosure, tiny bones, dried thistle, feathers. The tips of his gloved fingers glided on the smooth back of the deer creature. He slipped the glove off wriggling his fingers free. There was a certain warmth to it, a weight which beat against his bare skin. Like a heartbeat, Knox thought smiling at the soothing motions his fingers were playing against the thistled, horned head. The red eyes bore into his own, and for a split second he thought of taking it with him like a souvenir. He measured its value by his need to own it like a remnant of her, of Austria in the fall with all its mist and might. Eyebrows furrowed Knox halted his hand midair into putting the totem in his pocket. Something deep in him stirred, a memory of something awful resurfacing.

He gagged at the sudden pain sharpening his bones, prickling his skin. There were pale blue eyes pinned against his own, the words of an old man banging at his skull. Knox retreated his hand palm closing on thin air. He couldn’t bring himself to take the totem. Subliminally he knew that once in a different life he had also taken it and held it but the memory was brief and enlisted in painful imagery that he forgot the instant. In his hungover clumsiness he left the tiny house the way she had led him in.

***

On the other side of time in the continuum flowing with godly tears Freyr cast a small shadow among his brethren. They were voiceless for him though their mouths screamed and their faces contorted in anger that was both primal and full of vigor. Hermóðr and Ítreksjóð stood among them their faces still as carved of stone but they judged nonetheless. When he walked they averted their eyes, ashamed to see the betraying son and brother depart them.

The Goyar shot his one full eye at the old man as waited for Freyr on the steps of time. His glint was dulled but it re-sparkled when Freyr, the first son moved beside the beast to be led away.

THE END

The Year of the Heddagh – Chapter 9

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

yearoftheheddagh9

 

On some nights Knox could hear soft whistles and quiet purrs but they drowned out into the mute landscape as soon as the Goyar sniffed out his trail. Knox would then pick his makeshift spear and zigzag through the terrain.

He walked miles cowering in the shadow of misshapen red rocks raised from a perfectly still ground until the growling stopped and he was lost again on the crisscrossing sandstone trail painted by his own legs.

He would then sit long hours watching the stars and the comets and each day they seemed nearer to his face, a cold burn applied to his blistered, paper-thin skin.

In the beginning Knox had spent hours talking to himself recollecting names and faces, events and music, especially music. He hummed Springsteen, the last record available in the space of his rapidly vacant growing mind. The trips down memory lane had him reeling in sadness and fear that he was going to lose touch with his world. He hung to those emotions until they became numb and distant. Because after all Knox wasn’t attached to anything. He was nameless, faceless, worldless and for that he wasn’t allowed ownership of any memories. He abandoned them along with his voice.

Knox grew accustomed to being watched. He was glad when he spotted one of Latobius’s children. They cowered from him during the night, but in daylight he caught glimpses of some of them – the bore glared at him with mars red eyes, almost indistinguishable with its near skinless body behind pale bushes. The raven was a spot in the sky but on occasion it circled low enough for Knox to see it with its featherless wings, a mice dangling from its fractured beak. The arctic fox shivered tailless and blind, its eyes milky white and runny but following him nonetheless. He shivered when it licked its puss oozing snarl and snapped at him before running away like a ghost.

At first Knox had tried to hunt them driven by his primal need to feed. He drove his spear at random, poking deep grass and shallow lakes. Then he had lost their trail altogether and called at them to find him again just so he wouldn’t wander all alone. But they never came to him and if they watched he never saw their eyes. Soon enough the picturesque aspect disappeared, flora giving way to a perpetual milky white mist crawling low and cruel. It drove him deeper where the ground was rough and rocky and the soil was ashen. Knox cackled into the everlasting night at how Freyr had tricked him with the sublime vision. Watching it now through tired eyes he saw what the true skin of the place was – Norricum, a true wasteland of burial sites, crushed skeletons to a fist full of dust, blown by his parched lips. It put him nowhere at all times. Pre-built cairns marked some pre-drawn road seemingly luring him to where he was supposed to go. Obedient, Knox followed it.

But Norricum was also a true labyrinthine land. It had him lost many times, his inner compass spinning like mad. All places were alike, a storm of dust racing at his feet. He walked blindly propping his weight against the spear for support, becoming a nomad, a scavenger. He performed his small ritual of walking, stopping, sleeping, listening, always listening for the Goyar and then running. Until his feet found wet soil and he marveled at the sound the splash his boots made and he exhaled at how they sank into soft sand. Knox found himself at the bank of a much larger lake he hadn’t seen before. It was in sharp contrast to the wind carried white sands that had been his home till now shimmering below a small snow peaked mountain range. Knox allowed himself a toothy smile at the coolness drifting from the clear ice instantly bringing freshness to his dusty face. Then as the cool became a sharp cold he realized the draft was something different, a distant calling.

He gingerly stepped on slippery ice, skidding himself across the transparent surface to that long awaited closure he had been avoiding whilst walking straight towards it. Knox accepted that it was the time when he would know a different providence than the one predetermined for him by entities he now spat at carelessly. He barred his teeth at the lowest of them resurfacing pain and repulsion to the top of his being. His voice snapped like a falling thunder when he bellowed its name. In the furthest section of the lake the Goyar Heddagh, the spirit god of the mountain waited an inhuman smirk painted on his dark face.

Knox steadied himself, his bent back straightening as he stood as tall as any human could against the beast that had tricked him on his path and found the end before him.

 “WHY DID YOU RUN FROM ME FEEBLE HUMAN? YOU ARE NO ONE, YOU ARE NOTHING. GIVE YOURSELF TO ME AND BE DONE WITH THIS TORMENT.”

The gentle penetration of the voice inside his skull once again weakened any strength from Knox. It robbed him of any strength Freyr had bestowed upon him to free himself of this imprisonment. The towering spirit inched closer to Knox scenting him full, tasting that defeat, a prelude to many flesh stripping meals he was about to receive with Knox’s downfall. Tasting what his own bones snapping in the mouth of the Heddagh would feel like Knox let his eyes drop. A fragment of something caught his attention and he leaned in.

The Goyar hummed an amused appreciation, drawing Knox by the collar into his embrace. But Knox had seen the secret the Heddagh was hiding, the narrow opening in the rock full of whispers and life. His eyes widened in ludicrous excitement and he pulled back as much as he could oppress the draw of the Goat.

Knox tightened the grasp on his spear. The jagged bone serving as its tip caught the Goyar’s green eyes and he bellowed a laugh, perplexed at the sudden change of mood. Knox stuck his tongue out licking parched lips. Trough breathy gasps Knox relearned how to speak fully in the tongue of his people.

“You will not win over me. I will not be yours to sacrifice you fucking demon!”

Knox probed with the spear shifting his weight into it and jamming it at the Goyar. The jagged tip grazed the Goyar’s left nipple and he stumbled back releasing Knox to cradle the loose skin seeping black blood. The second the distraction gave Knox enough space to slip past the Goyar’s grabbing hands he took it and slipped inside the cavern. Green light exploded behind him accompanied by the monstrous roar devoid of anything human now.

Knox slid down the steep throat scraping his palms on sharp rocks and wet moss. His foot caught and he flipped over tumbling down head over heels. In the spinning fall he caught glimpses of the Goyar ramming his shoulder into the opening creating tremors along the roof of the cave until it caved in and he too tumbled down the slope in a heap of rolling rocks. Cold water embraced Knox’s body when it hit the base of the cave. His mouth wiped at the shallow pool before he picked himself up, hand reaching for the prostrate spear by his side. Clutching it tightly to his chest Knox rushed away searching with trembling fingers against the wet rock of the cave. The Goyar stampeded behind him, the angry roar deafening.

Knox led the way into the dark, arms wide open to measure the wall, left hand tapping the rock with the bone spear, the right searching, hoping for an opening he could craw through. Instead his feet slipped, his ankle twisting sharply and he banged his body shoulder first into the rock. Groaning he shuffled forward his hands involuntarily retreating from the wide stretch of the cave to a much narrower one, where his shoulders braced against both walls of the sleeve. Knox panicked, thinking himself wedged in the tight space with the Goyar at his back. Ahead he could see a tight gap greying against the black, but it proved unreachable.  When he could walk no further, his body caught in the tight embrace of the corridor, Knox began banging the spear between top and bottom, the slow motions of his wrist hoping to disrupt the ceiling. Knox caught on the idea of being buried by a mass of stone, him and the Goyar together.

“WHERE TO NOW, CHILD OF MEN? WILL YOU PRAY TO BE SAVED?”

Knox cranked his head around as much as his entrapment allowed him. His mouth hung agape. The Goyar’s horned skeleton head floated unattached beside him, his muscular body abandoned somewhere behind. His green eye, huge and lacking the sliced pupil, jumped from Knox to the spear. Like two flames they illuminated the tunnel. A low, deep throated hum of understanding passed through the Goyar to Knox.

“YOU WISH TO BE BURRIED HERE. I WILL GRANT YOU THAT.”

The Heddagh inched his head and rammed his horns at the back of Knox. He emitted a shriek that died in his mouth when the Goyar repeated the motion, golden tipped horns piercing through meat and bone. The scream died in his mouth as soon as his spine snapped inwards. Warmth spilled inside him filling his cavities with the foul taste of metal. His body went lax, shoulders dropping. The Goyar went wild at the scent of sacrificial blood and banged his head against walls and ceiling.

Knox bounced off the wall when Goyar rammed him again in his triumph. The harsh bump unleashed by the goat sent Knox through the gap in a storm of shattering rocks. He tumbled down an incline, a ragdoll devoid of motion. Above the sound of blood pumping out loud and terrifying in his ears Knox could hear something else. He urged his eyes to find the source. A waterfall of nebulas and planets cascaded peacefully into an abyss streaming below the map of the world. Knox found his voice again to emanate a throaty whimper. The lulling of the cosmic concerto brought tears to his eyes.

The Goyar slipped a skeleton body thin and tall through the crack. His beautiful horns were chipped from the hammering.

“SAVAGE, YOU ARE FINALLY MINE.”

Knox stared into the abyss as smooth as water and as welcoming as silk. He reached a hand to touch it but the Goyar jerked him back and held him high above the whirlpool.

“IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT?” Knox felt his body dangled like a toy. His head hung low, lolling back and forth as the Goat shook him. Home was so close, this nightmare done. Knox struggled for his release still alive by the twisted mercy of the Heddagh. The beast laughed as he pulled back taking Knox with him. He spun the man around, his large hand encircling Knox’s waist where his guts were already mashed. He fought more vibrantly wriggling in the tight grasp. He could hear Home. He could recognize voices and noises seeping into Norricum casting him a rope to grab and hold on to.

“LOOK UPON YOUR FAILURE. HEDONIST, HERETIC, THIEF, YOU DIE ALONE TODAY.”

Knox allowed a crooked grin to play on his smashed lips. He mouthed the words back returning them to the Heddagh.  He would not be a clay man, molded to destruction by gods, nor will he be the Goyar’s to gnaw on for eternity. His lax arm shot aiming for the Goyar’s right eye. His fingers dug at its core and the Goyar reeled back shaking his head. His free hand snapped at Knox scraping at his face and torso but Knox just shifted his palm, digging thumb and forefinger under the glimmering neon eyeball. He pressed as hard as he could, pulling it out, spooning it of its socket. The Goyar howled, his grip on Knox loosening.

 Knox hit the black universal chasm dipping head first into it.