Category Archives: Short story

Truth

Truth – a late night, unedited tale for one of Terry Whidborne’s Sunday Sketches.

‘You will burn. The Beast will have no mercy on your despoiled, festering soul. Your limbs will be torn from your body, your eyes blinded and gouged, your odious, sin-filled heart cut from your wanton chest and shredded by talons blackened with blood, your …’

‘Why do you lie to them?’

Ambrose stopped mid rant to find a girl standing in front of him. She was small—barely half his size—doe-eyed and unwashed. A large bird, big as her head, sat on her shoulder, peering at him with uncertain eyes. The bird’s feathers seemed to ripple and swallow the evening light.

Aware that he was still holding his holy book aloft as if beseeching the sky scrapers to attend his every word, Ambrose lowered his arm and shook the book hard under the girl’s nose. ‘Repent and you shall be saved. Repent and you shall know mercy. Repent and damnation will …’

‘You call yourself a truth seeker,’ said the girl knocking the book out of the way and plunging her hand into a pocket that looked as if it had been stapled on to the front of the overly large coat she was wearing.

Startled, Ambrose snatched the book back, clutching it close to his chest as the girl withdrew some sort of dried lizard, or snake from the pocket and fed it to the bird. The girl was clearly a heathen.

‘I am a truth seeker,’ Ambrose announced as the bird grasped the wizened offering and began to crunch.

‘The words you speak are nonsense and frippery,’ said the girl as the bird continued to crunch. ‘I have watched you for days, man of mercy,’ she went on, ‘and I am here to bring you the truth you seek.’

Ambrose, tall and long-limbed, hugged his holy book harder, as if to leave an imprint on his lungs. He wasn’t used to attention. No one ever spoke to him, and he had been happy with that in the long years since his release . He counted himself blessed by the embarrassed silence of passers-by who he pitied and feared in equal measure. ‘The book is the word and the word is truth,’ he said at last.

The girl lost her temper–eyebrows dipped, nostrils flared. ‘I said stop with your nonsense, Ambrose Nosferatis. Haven’t I just told you that I am a truth bringer.’

With this the bird dropped its shrunken meal, shrieked, ruffled its feathers and hissed at Ambrose.

Ambrose flinched.

‘Oh, hush, Bertrand,’ said the girl, nudging the bird gently with the side of her head.

Ambrose Nosferatis. Ambrose Nosferatis. She had said it. She had said his name. His real name. The one he gave himself, not the name the old priest had called him long ago. Not the one the other home boys had called him–though they mostly called him other things, cruel things.

‘Of course I know your name,’ said the girl, shoving her hand back into her pocket and pulling out a misshapen piece of chalk.

‘How?’ asked Ambrose, finding his voice.

The girl dropped to her knees and began to chalk letters on the pavement. ‘What does it matter,’ she said. The letters were wild and uneven and bumped up against each other.

Ambrose watched on, confused, wishing the girl and her bird and her chalk away. He wanted to be left alone to warn the unfortunate souls now hurrying toward the train station. Warn them that The Beast was waiting if they did not repent.

The girl stayed, and the bird had started to watch him, closely.

‘Bertrand is my guide,’ said the girl, drawing an s as if she was copying it from some unseen book. ‘Without him I cannot walk between worlds. Without him there is no hope.’

Ambrose watched her, shifting from foot to foot. ‘The only hope is with our Lor …’

‘I’m done,’ said the girl jumping to her feet. Despite the thick woollen coat she wore, her feet were bare, bare and tiny, tiny and covered in soot.

Ambrose looked at the pavement. The letters the girl had drawn seemed jumbled, upside-down and back to front.

‘It makes no sense,’ he said, shaking his head.

‘You’re looking at them the wrong way,’ said the girl. ‘You always look at things the wrong way.’

Ambrose leaned forward and twisted slightly to look at the girl’s work the right way up. The letters remained jumbled. Tangled. Almost uncertain. No. Wait. Ambrose peered harder at the letters which seemed to shift and change. He found himself saying the words as they emerged.

‘Magic. Has. A. Half. Life. Evil. Never. Sleeps.’

Ambrose looked at the girl now standing quietly by his side, the words on the pavement bumping up against her toes. ‘Half life?’ he muttered.

‘The magic must be renewed,’ said the girl, holding out her hand for Ambrose to take. The girl seemed even smaller now, barely taller than a five year old.

Ambrose clutched his book, flicked the gilt edges of the pages with his fingers. Felt the warmth, the familiarity. He ran his fingers along the spine, feeling the place where the gold letters had once been.

Then Ambrose reached out and touched the truth.

Leave a comment

Filed under Short story, Sunday Sketches

KnightWorx

I’ve been writing bits of a story called KnightWorX for a little while now, so I thought I’d start posting bits of the unedited story instead of all the words just sitting around in folders getting bored.

Here is the first bit –

KinghtWorX (To Hell and back with a dishonourable discharge) 

Daisy rammed her knuckles into her mouth and bit down, willing herself not to cry. If she cried they would find her, even here with the bones and mold and damp.

‘There have always been wars.’ Jed had told her when the tanks had first rolled into the village, screeching like stricken Banshees. ‘Big wars, small wars and everything in-between. The big ones sweep across the world leaving everything covered in grief and ash.’

Daisy knew this was one of the big ones, so big it had gotten in everywhere, destroyed everything, made people different. Though Jed had stayed the same. Jed had taken care of her, exactly like Mama had told him.

Up above in the moonlight people shouted, screamed, cried. Daisy leaned forward a little, listening out for Jed’s voice, but it was too hard to make out who belonged to what noise as the soldiers ploughed through the graveyard near the church, kicking over headstones and firing off their guns as they went.

Jed had said that these soldiers had no respect for anyone or anything – not the cat, not the cows about to calf, not Mama, not Uncle Vanya: nothing and no one living or dead.

Daisy shivered and pushed herself back into the corner of the crypt, her knuckles growing raw. The large letters carved into the damp stone pressed through her dress and into her back.

Jed had left her there, alone, down among the dead in their cold tomb beds covered in the odd writing no one could read.

‘There ain’t nothing to be scared of down here, Daisy,’ Jed had told her. ‘Ain’t no ghosts or ghouls gonna get you.’

She had begged to go with him anyway, said she’d be no bother, said she’d be quiet and wouldn’t complain about anything ever again.

Jed had been stern, like he was sometimes in that big brother way, when he’d had enough of her carrying on about being hungry. ‘No. You gotta stay here, Daisy, just like I taught you. You gotta stay quiet as an old she-cat stalking a bird and I’ll be back before sun up.’

Then he’d kissed her on the forehead, like Uncle Vanya had always done, and was gone.

Uncle Vanya had disappeared the same day they had taken Marli – the old lady who lived in the cottage by the river. Marli had had the same brown skin and blue eyes as Daisy, though Marli’s eyes had been more white than blue on account of her being so old and more than a little blind.

The soldiers had said old Marli was a half-cast witch who didn’t deserve to live among decent pure-blood folk like them.

Uncle Vanya had tried to reason with them, tried to tell them that Marli was just a blind old lady who knew a thing or two about herbs. But they hadn’t listened. They never listened. They’d just shoved old Marli into a truck and slaughtered the goats she had kept for milk.

Daisy missed old Marli, though Jed had said it was the milk he missed more.

Then, the iron gate at the top of the stairs clanged and clamoured as someone shook it hard.

Then someone shouted. ‘Get this thing open.’

Daisy covered her ears and began to cry as shouts ricocheted around the crypt. If they found her they would take her away, like old Marli and Uncle Vanya and Mama.

It was then that a man strode through the wall—clean through like it was no fuss at all.

The man was even taller than Uncle Vanya—who was the tallest man the village had ever known—and he wore strange, old-fashioned clothes, like the knights Daisy had only ever seen in paintings by someone called Old Masters or something. The man had a sword strapped to his back, and his broad mischievous face held an even broader more mischievous smile.

Daisy felt the scream gather in her throat, ready to burst out, but the man held one enormous finger to his lips to keep her quiet, which seemed odd as the next thing he did was take the sword from his back and slam the pommel onto the top of the tomb Daisy was hiding behind.

‘Awaken you coward,’ the man roared, slamming the pommel of his sword down so hard against the dark marble sparks flew. ‘You offer this child your protection or I’ll lug your lazy bones down to hell this very night – you brazen fool with naught but folly and soot for a heart.’

The gate rattled angrily, followed by more shouting. ‘Just shoot the damn lock off.’

‘Lady George,’ the large man yelled as bullets blasted the lock to pieces. ‘I say awake at once or I’ll …’

‘You’ll chip the marble my parents paid a fortune for, sir knight.’

Daisy gasped as the large man whirled around to find a woman leaning casually against the wall at the bottom of the stairs. This woman didn’t look like a knight at all, rather, she looked as if he had just come home from a very grand ball. The lace bow on her dress was loose, her pointed red shoes were ever so slightly scuffed and her slick dark hair fell over her eyes in an impish sort of way.

‘Why you laggard, George, I should wring your pretty neck …’

Lady George grinned at Daisy. ‘In front of our guest, that would never do, would it gentlemen?’

Daisy squealed and scrambled backwards, even though there was no further back to go. At the top of the stairs stood two soldiers, their guns pointed straight at Lady George.

‘Lovely evening, gentlemen,’ said Lady George, sweeping the hair out of her eyes and tucking it under a pearl band as the soldiers stepped down and down again. ‘Is there anything we can do for you?’

The shots came quickly, twelve in all, one after the other, pinning Lady George to the wall.

Daisy screamed as Lady George slid down the wall, dead. She screamed as they pointed their guns at the large man with the sword. She screamed for Mama. She screamed for Uncle Vanya. She screamed for Jed.

In a blink the large man was by her side, crouching beside her, stroking her cheek. ‘Take heart little one,’ he said. ‘All will be well.’

One of the soldiers moved down into the crypt. While he kept his gun pointed at the large man, he kicked Lady George hard to make sure she was dead.

‘Stand up,’ he said, edging forward.

The large man stood and turned to face him.

‘Now drop your weapon,’ the soldier barked.

‘Good idea,’ said a voice behind him. ‘Drop your weapon.’

‘I just said that,’ snapped the soldier, not taking his eyes off the large man.

To Daisy’s astonishment the large man laughed heartily. ‘I do not believe he understands your little jape, Lady George.’

‘Apparently not.’

An elegant gloved hand tapped the soldier on the shoulder. Tap. Tap. Tap.

The soldier turned his head slightly, and found the woman he had just killed standing behind him holding a handful of bullets.

‘Yours, I believe,’ said Lady George.

Leave a comment

Filed under Short story

The Day the Giants Woke

The Day the Giants Woke

A small story for Terry Whidborne’s Sunday Sketch #4

image

The day the giants woke was a Wednesday. The world was changing. Seas expanding, ice caps shrinking – drip drip drip, crack crack crack – until the bears of the north thought of little else but hunger and death beyond.

The giants pushed their way up from the heart of the Earth in the realm below. Bit by bit until their crowns poked through the sodden crust.

They blinked in the bright light, and the Great Queen Above blinked back.

The Earth quaked as the giants wriggled and shimmied, shaking coal and grit and bone from their mountainous limbs as they eased themselves free from the realm below.

The oldest giant looked about as he checked his crown for broken redwoods and tumbled mountains. The Mother of All Things had made the crowns herself and the giants wore them now with the deepest of pride.

‘Tis proper time then,’ he said as a house floated by.

‘Time for the gathering and reaping, Old Ark?’ said the smallest giant, brushing saltbush from her splendid moustache (just curled using the finest of lava that very morning).

‘Aye, young Arkling,’ replied the oldest giant. ‘Gather what birds, beasties and innocents ye may. It would break the Mother’s heart full through to see them drownded.’

Bowing to the Great Queen Above, so as not to appear impolite, the giants strode off about the Earth and began gathering and reaping. The creatures they gathered they placed safely upon the crowns they wore. Some crowns were wrought from mountains of ice which creaked and sang with each step, others were fashioned from forests of trees long displaced by smouldering cities.

And all the while the waters rose as the giants gathered and reaped. They toiled while the Great Queen Above shone and while the Pale King watched on as she slept. They wandered far and wide, filling their crowns as the waters lapped at their knees, then hips, then chests.

When all was done, Old Ark called the others to him, for he himself had stayed to gather the old ones who lived at the heart of the realm above. The Mother of All Things loved the old ones most of all, and they, in return, tended the realm above with the gentlest of touches.

The others answered Old Ark’s call, carrying all they could carry on their crowns.
‘Where is the youngest Arkling?’ asked Old Ark, searching for her face as the others placed themselves around the great red rock, the heart, now submerged in the rising waters.

‘I am here,’ said the smallest giant, tears falling from her diamond bright eyes, as she took her place in the circle.

‘Your crown is not but half filled, Arkling,’ said Old Ark.

The Arkling bowed her head and hid her hands under the waves. ‘They chopped at my arms and scoured my back with fire and metal and called me devil.’

Old Ark nodded, while the harvest was joyful reaping took its toll.

‘Come, young Arkling, you have done all you could,’ he said, reaching out to take her hand as the waters stilled. ‘Tis time to sleep ’til the waters fall.’

‘Will they remember us?’ said the smallest giant, her eyes growing heavy, her tears drying.

Old Ark smiled and closed his eyes. ‘Mayhap. Every now and then and again, in stories.’

Leave a comment

Filed under Short story

What the Dead Wear

Much to Father Porcini’s surprise, Death wore a bathing suit. It was pink with stripes. Orange stripes, complemented by florid pink stockings and ballet slippers.

It was not what he expected. She was not who he expected.

‘You can’t go about dressed like that,’ said Father Porcini.

Death grinned and reached into a fine lace bag hanging from her wrist. She pulled out a blue bathing cap covered in red flowers and put it on.

Father Porcini snorted. ‘It doesn’t suit you.’

He was being ungracious, and knew it. The cap was overlarge, but that was hardly her fault—the absence of ears made it difficult for her to keep it from falling over her eyes, or where her eyes ought to be.

Apart from the skullish head she was beautiful, a curvaceous woman with the kind of hips he loved to watch sway this way and that—which, in truth, is why he had always walked behind Sister Maria Gregory.

It was a moment before he realized he had spoken that name out loud.

The Bishop sitting in the chair by his bed muttered something inaudible and wiped his brow. Father Porcini winced. He didn’t like the Bishop, not since he’d caught him in the vestry with Mrs Devine and the candles. Afterwards, the Bishop had prayed for him. Father Porcini had prayed for Mrs Devine, and burnt the candles.

‘Why couldn’t you wear something more suitable, more refined,’ said Father Porcini.

‘What the dead wear belongs to me, ‘ said Death, pretending to tuck non-existent curls under the cap. ‘I can wear nothing else.’

She was playful. He liked that, though it scared him a little.

He gathered the remains of his well ordained wiles about him in defense. ‘Who would wear such a wretched outfit to the grave?’

Death nudged aside the bed clothes, nestled in next to him, touched his cheek, ran her fingers across his lips. ‘Cardinal Beazley.’

Father Porcini listened for the lie. He had heard many lies, both fascinating and dreary. There were no telltale signs of either.

‘I’d heard a rumour,’ he said, resignedly. ‘It’s a surprisingly good fit.’

‘He was a surprisingly shaped man,’ said Death. Her voice was low, melodic.

‘It was the pancakes,’ said Father Porcini. ‘He ate them for breakfast and lunch. Loved them with butter and syrup, and those little sugary sprinkles.’

The Bishop rested his hand on Father Porcini’s head and prayed.

‘If I’m truthful’ said Father Porcini willing the Bishop to remove his hand. ‘It wasn’t the Mrs Devine thing, I’ve always disliked him. He’s petty. Petty and dull. No one’s got a right to be both, one or the other perhaps, but not both it’s entirely too taxing on the patience.’

Death laughed.

It was like listening to the chorus of a song he’d loved as a child.

‘Can we go?’ he asked.

Death said nothing, caressed his brow, leaned forward and kissed him full on the mouth. It was soft, warm, sweet.

He sighed deeply. ‘Thank-you.’

The Bishop faded as Death wriggled from under the covers and pulled Father Porcini to his feet.

‘Where are we going?’

She pulled off the bathing cap and handed it to him. He put it on, tucking his own thick white curls under the cap.

‘To the sea,’ said Death, walking from the room. ‘There are castles to be made, holes to be dug, shells to find.’

‘I do like shells,’ said Father Porcini. ‘Will there be currant buns? You know, those long ones with the pink icing.’

‘No,’ said Death. ‘But it’s warm, and there are others.’

‘I’ll admit,’ said Father Porcini, trailing along behind her, watching her hips sway this way and that. ‘You’re not who I expected.’

‘I’ve disappointed you?’ said Death, turning to face him.

Father Porcini ran a little to catch up to her. He caught her hand, it was warm, soft. ‘Oh no,’ he said, taking her fingers and pressing them to his lips. ‘Quite the contrary.’

1 Comment

Filed under Short story