Murmurings from the Hive

Upon These Still Waters

In wooded glen of spectral silence, there exists an isolated lake. Upon these still waters, moonlight gleams on cloudless nights and does things that moonlight surely oughtn’t do. We submit on this particular night, the coalescence of silver light into feminine, corporeal form.

Here she exists in sartorial splendor, wreathed in cold light. She of luminescent beauty, known in a previous life perhaps, as Lady Nimueon. Pristine save for gobbets of flesh and wet red that dot her person; evidence of new beginnings and a cycle refreshed.

She clutches a dagger of arcane design, fit for those who would be deemed worthy. Yet to this day, none have answered the call and so she she drifts from glen to shore on this night. With none to halt her procession, she sinks forlorn on formless feet into the still waters of this strange lake. She releases the dagger from her grip; allows it to sink into the aetheric abyss of the waters.

The world holds its breath, silent and still to witness what may next occur on this cold night. Something stirs in the hearts of man, beast and most importantly, beneath the surface of the lake. The lady, she known formerly as Nimueon, gasps and her silver skirts unfurl upon the the rolling waves with warm anticipation. He emerges gently and easily, the dark water cascading off his form. He, known formerly as Zaren, burbles with glee for he knows his wait is over. He of look reminiscent of corrupted fishing hamlets and grand old cities of the deep. He of squamous scabs and scales, unfurling gills and dexteric fins that might draw pleasure and pain equally depending on the occasion.

This night, this still night, is an occasion of rebirth and as such requires pain and bloodshed as much in this world often does. He grips the silver lady with webbed hands that smell divine and blasphemous all at once. She gasps once more, gazing at the narrow, icthyic face blinking wetly back. She takes a deep breath as the hands grasp her bosom and she plunges beneath the water to begin the process. Gentle caresses of the most benign and sensual begins to shift swiftly. Flesh explored, caressed and then scoured, sloughed red into the black where the silver cannot glow.

She does not cry for she knows of this process. She accepts her scaled lover’s fierce, brutal embrace with a sense of complacency as teeth and fins begin to ravage. It is a cycle that shall complete time and time again until she can surrender her blade of light to one other than the Tartaran depths where she is currently ravaged. Upon acceptance, the eventual blade wielder will plunge it into the breast of her beastly lover and the cycle will cease. But not tonight, on this silent and formerly gentle night, the one from beneath these still waters completes his violent deed and slinks away into the depths until she wades once more.

For now, remnants ether bright float in liquid darkness, blighted by visceral chunks of blood and matter. To the surface the remains of the Lady return, cast gently upon the returning calm. It is here, on the glassy surface that the cycle will enter its next step. Biological matter dissipates and assimilates, becoming one, indistinguishable with the water where Lady Nimueon and lover Zaren once embraced.

Thirst for renewal.

Thirst for life.

Thirst is thirst is compulsion.

So too do other beings venture to this strange lake in the quiet wooded glen. Creatures hoofed, pawed, feathered and scaled, creatures of man’s world all seek the thirst. Quench it and drink deep O beasts that slither, walk and fly. One amongst you shall accept the lady’s gift, her essence.

Her very being.

Chthonic biochemistry percolates and boils from within as those that supped will soon deliver, no matter what species they may be. Here, we present a hoofed brethren, the mighty moose of the northern frontier, sporting antlers majestic and domineering, fresh from conquest. The beast drinks from the lake and lies still amidst the quiet wild. Yet within, she is reborn and reformed, collecting the vitality she need from withing the animal. From the microcosm the Lady returns refreshed, clad in viscera and sheathed in muted grey.

Her sacred blade has returned to her. It flashes forth in the interior murk and birth is rendered in violence as it often is in this world. The Lady emerges as the mighty beast has completed its honorable sacrifice. She cleanses herself of her embryonic rebirth and kneels gently in the cold. She embraces the remnants of the beast and whispers a quiet word of gratitude, unheard by all but those who speak her special tongue. The trees, the hills, the waters and the animals of the world understand her and comprehend.

Lady Nimueon smiles sadly for she knows what awaits. She reaches upward and feels her new form. She is the Lady, she is feminine and grace. Yet from each birth she assumes that of which delivered her into this world. So, on this quiet night, she is proud to be adorned with the mighty antlers of conquest, gifted by her bestial birthgiver. She looks up and clasps the moon in the cup formed by her new protuberance. She spreads her arms wide and bathes in the light of Lady Luna, as the cold moonlight imbibes her in that which she craves. The Lady in grey becomes the Lady of silver and luminescence once more.

She turns with shining eyes, a form of lady-like grace framed by the male, animalistic crown of the fertile season. The Lady holds and clasps her sacred, moonlit dagger and gazes back at the lake. She knows he waits there for her, but surely he is tiring of this cycle as much as she is.

She wants nothing more than to be intercepted on her constant trek to the waters, to be freed from her shackles. Not just her, but for Zaren as well. They both deserve freedom from this menial, arcane task beset upon them by forces unknown. Yet it does not seem to be on this night.

And so, the Lady ventures forth once more. Walking light in the cold twilight approaching this strange lake within this isolated glen.

She stops at the shore. She sighs and looks to the waters. She sees the ripples of her awaiting lover and she can hear him sigh as well. They have their ways in this world however, and for now they must complete it once more. Awaiting the day when one accepts the blade; their chains will be cut and they can embrace once another as lovingly as they deem fit.

No more red to blemish the silver. What short time they have together is divine but it all ends in violence. For how long?

Soon.

One day soon.

But not tonight.

Tonight, it is time for pleasure and pain once more as life ends and begins anew once more and perhaps, forevermore.

Upon these still waters.

The_Lady_of_the_Lake_by_Speed_Lancelot

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Miasma

 

 

It was a nice night. The city was abuzz with foul aberrations. The moon shyly peeked out, obscured by acrid, jaundiced mist. The air smelled like shit. Not literally human excrement as Louie and Jake had often experienced in their careers as plumbers, but still unpleasant all the same.

So yeah, quite a nice night.

It was the perfect evening to crack open a beer and kick back on the waterfront in the bed of a dilapidated ’87 Chevy. The foul mist swept around the two but it simply wasn’t enough for Jake. That was precisely why he carried a repurposed oxygen tank full of pure yellow Miasma. He took the air mask off, fixed it to his whiskered face and pulled a long hit.

The effect was instantaneous. He quivered and smiled drunkenly at the rush. The familiar tickling sensations set upon him and an eyeball erupted from the back of his hand. A wet, by-god-honest eyeball. Bloodshot, baby blue, rolling wildly. And winking! That was the best part. Jake chuckled and held it up, displaying it to his buddy like the 14 pound trout he had caught at Reynold’s pond last summer.

“Hm, that’s new,” Louie said. He lowered his sunglasses to inspect the growth.

He was half blind, as an eruption of chitinous thorns from the eyelid is wont to do. Yeah, it rendered his depth perception a bit off but Louie, like all the Affected, was quite proud of his Mods. The ivory tower eggheads in the lab coats preferred to call the physical side effects of the mist “Bio-Modifications” but a single syllable worked just fine for Jake and himself. Both had quickly become addicted to the Miasma and swiftly found it more intoxicating than Jake’s signature “Weekend Warrior” weed strain. That, and the Mods looked pretty badass.

“Yeah, man, I’m quite proud,” Jake exclaimed. “I think it suits me better than these weird-ass racing stripes.” He referred to the black-blue bruised stripes streaking up and down his forearms. The Miasma had affected different people in different ways and some not at all. It got Louie to thinking about his wife, Leona and what had happened to her after the schism, when those Affected had decided to take back the country one city at a time. Those who were immune (“Munies”, because everything nowadays needed a fuckin’ nickname) became persecuted, ostracized. Strung up in the streets and lynched just for NOT being…

Well, it all made his head hurt. Louie thought it might be read by some as a weird attempt at social commentary or some such shit, but to him it was just weirdness for the sake of weirdness. Who the hell knows why this had all gone down? Where the Miasma had come from? Maybe God just got bored and decided to liven things up a bit.

Louie shook the thoughts from his head, nodded to Jake and drank his beer. A wild scream, a gunshot from across the road over by the mist-tank dispensary. Maybe another deal gone bad. The old drugs were abandoned but the Miasma was discovered to being quite pliable, able to be altered and cultivated to different forms. Different Mods being produced, different neurological effects. Same shit, different day. Only before the schism, you could walk down the street happy as a clam and not have to worry about inhaling a cloud of cocaine. Well, in most parts of town anyway.

“This is my favorite kind o’ night,” Jake spoke up. “Just two best buds kicking back, enjoying that ugly-ass night sky and hanging out in Rusted Rachel’s classy chassis.”

“I told you, man, don’t call her that,” Louie said. He caressed the flaking metal of his beloved truck. It was the only girl left in his life after what happened to Leona. It had been that day that Louie had vowed to never harm a Munie and thankfully, he had convinced Jake to an equal line of thought.

“Eh, I’m just glad you’re not the jealous type,” Jake quipped. He ran his eye bedecked hand across the rusted bed. “I’ve always thought she’s a beaut. Mind if I take her for a ride sometime?”

“That’s some dangerous thinking there, Jake,” Louie said, swatting the hand away. Jake yelped. Louie thought nothing of it. “Can you actually see out of that thing?”

“Can you?” Jake asked. He stuck out his bisected tongue lewdly and held it closer to Louie.

“Get that damn thing away!”

Jake laughed wildly and wiped his eyes. All three of them. He belched and tossed his beer can out and onto the street. Louie clucked his tongue and shook his head.

“All right, I’m bored. Lets go find some damn corn dogs,” Jake said.

Louie scoffed. “Yeah, that’s a good cure for boredom.”

“It is! C’mon, we’ll go check out the happenin’s over at the Village. We don’t even need to take Rachel.”

He had a point. Former tourist trap, now Affected commune, SeaSide Village was within walking distance. They both had very noticeable Mods so they’d be safe to go about as they pleased. But first: a precaution. Both men hopped out of the bed, Louie adding his empty can to a carefully placed cooler full of empties. He opened the truck door, pulled one of his fingernails out of the bed and stretched out the malleable keratin. He softly whistled to himself as he tied his nail elongated to a loose cord of 2 feet. He tied it around the steering wheel, looped it down to the gear shift and knotted the whole thing up.

“That’s a hell of a trick,” Jake said, envious.

“Got that one early on,” Louie replied. “Here, check it out.” He grasped the nail of his middle finger, stretched it to about a foot and held it aloft, saluting Jake with a universal symbol. In spite of everything that had happened, a good solid “fuck you” was still a valid form of communication.

Jake grinned, lashed his bisected tongue again and spat into the thin, yellow mist. He took a huff from his tank.

“Man, don’t do that. It’s disgusting,” Louie scolded.

“What?!”

“Spitting, I mean. I don’t care about the huffing. What man, you think I’m a hypocrite?”

“Nah, of course not. But don’t scare me like that, right? I thought for a second-”

“Thinking’s not your strong suit. And leave the tank.”

“Aw, fuck you very much-”

The banter continued ceaselessly. Jake had a bit of a motormouth at times and Louie was surprised that the Miasma hadn’t affected it in some way. More fuel to the speculation that the Mods brought on by the mist were random and not in any way connected to any sort of muscle memory or personality trait. The two finally made it to SeaSide Village. The locale consisted of a small collection of curio shops, touristy wares and souvenirs, a carousel, a food court, a gazebo and some duck ponds (animals were immune to the Miasma effects but not immune to the violence that had beset from the schism). Jake began to juke and jive in the most embarrassing manner possible as they sauntered up to the food court.

An Affected band was in full swing. The bass player strummed along with a smaller, membrane laden hand composed almost entirely of tendons and veins that protruded from his chest. Saxophone music blared forth from a musician with a flesh-horn protruding from the center of his skull. It waved wildly as the performer bobbed his head passionately to his brass craft. The drummer softly beat along using his own hands, both of them stretched out into a cobweb-esque mosaic of fingers upon fingers upon fingers. So many that they crowded amongst one another on for real estate upon his flesh and created an odd, discordant beat that actually worked well with the music. Harmonious chaos, and God-a-mighty it was beautiful.

Louie actually found himself smiling. He was glad that so many had adapted to well to the changes brought forth. Even the Miasma looked somewhat nice here, backlit and glinting softly off the paper party lanterns strung up throughout the food court. Affected couples danced to the tunes, weaving softly and others more wildly. Louie imagined most of them would go home that night and experiment with their Mods in ways most carnal and imaginative. No surprise whatsoever that there was a whole booming industry now of Affected porn and even less surprise whatsoever that Jake was an avid fan.

The pair wandered up to a food stand and placed their orders. The cashier blinked his many, many, many, god-how-many?! eyes and began to dip the hot dogs in corn batter. Louie took a brief inhale and gazed about. Even children were Affected and the kids gallivanted and shrieked with delight on the carousel nearby. He spied one little boy who sported a head that was split down the center. A single eyeball on a stalk protruded from the seam (now dried over, decorated with a cute papier mache design to hide the morass of scabs). Louie pondered how the child would grow up and what lie ahead in his future. His thoughts were, once again, interrupted by the arrival of their snack. Damn, that guy had so many eyes, all blinking at random intervals. It was disorienting. Did he even have a face?The two sat down as the revelry of the night spun around them.

“Think I’ll ever get a girl?” Jake asked abruptly, devouring half of his corn dog in one bite.

“I don’t know man,” Louie replied, distracted. “Maybe you’ve got too much charm. All the ladies are intimidated.”

“Shit, you really think so?”

Louie scoffed and chuckled.

“I mean, I’m not that bad am I?”

“What’s bringing all this up?”

“I’ve just been… feeling lonely, y’know? I mean, I can huff all this stuff all I want but it hasn’t done nothin’ to my pecker and it sure as hell ain’t gonna keep me warm at night.”

“Didn’t know you were such a softy,” Louie replied. He nibbled his snack and gazed at the dancing couples, Leona’s soft blond hair tickling his shoulders. Her red lips, so naturally bright, they never needed any lipstick. Her soft, brown eyes… then he caught the gaze of the corn dog proprietor and eyes were the last thing on his mind. He needed sleep, he usually wasn’t so judgmental.

“Maybe…” Jake thought aloud. “Maybe I shouldn’t just try girls. You know what I mean? You know what I mean, Louie?”

“Hey man,” Louie said. “If you want to give it a go, by all means.”

“….really? You mean that?”

The realization hit Louie over the head with abrupt force but he had no time to consider it (as he did, ever so briefly). A shrill scream tore through the festivity; this one was right nearby. Jake’s query was suddenly the second-to-last thing on his mind.

The pair turned in the direction, just beyond the carousel and over by the burger shack. A group of Affected emerged from the kitchen of the small restaurant, hooting and hollering and carrying on. The ringleader was a wild eyed Asian man. His face was criscrossed with patch work marks. The bruised, dark look of the marks suggested they were the man’s veins and they stood out just a little too far on his face. Somebody (Louie suspected the man himself) had etched in a few O’s and X’s as a perverse game of tic-tac-toe and whomever had played the game had lost to themselves… if that made any sense.

“Shit, that’s the manager from the bank up on 2nd,” Jake whispered, recognizing the man.

The ringleader of the group hauled a woman to her feet. The small, dark haired woman sobbed and squirmed in the man’s grip. He turned to face the crowd as Louie and Jake realized that the group had other people in their grasp as well. An unconscious, bloodied man and two small children. A family of Munies, likely rummaging through the restaurant looking for any food, sustenance or just good old creature comfort. A child deserved a juicy hamburger every now and then, right? A child deserved to have fun riding an ascending porcelain horse to jaunty calliope music, right? A child certainly didn’t deserve THIS.

….right?

“Folks, I’m going to ask you to stop your party for just a sec and lend me your ear,” the Ringleader called out. He grappled the struggling woman (the mother most likely) and raised his second hand to her throat. Where once would be five hate-clenched fingers now protruded a shard of bone, still wet with gristle and viscera. It was tapered to a fine, piercing point. Louie immediately suspected this was a new Mod and the man had ventured forth with his posse, seeking Munies in order to “take it for a test drive”, so to speak.

One of his cronies loosened his grip on a little boy, plucked off his ear and chucked it at the Ringleader.

“Elias, what did I say about hucking body parts?”

The crowd was silent now even as Elias the ear-hucker looked sheepish and throttled the child again.

“We found a couple of rats in the kitchen,” the Ringleader sneered.

“Please-” the woman pleaded.

He pressed the bone shard closer to her throat, producing a razor fine line of blood. Nobody had made a move to help nor had anyone struck up a cheer for the Munie’s extermination. It was quiet and still, indifference lingering. The Miasma whipped around the plaza softly and even the band had laid down their instruments. The corn dog vendor had all of his too-many eyes trained on the mob of Munie hunters. Even the little boy on the carousel was watching. Louie was conflicted. Part of him wanted to help these poor people. He was Affected, yes but… he had seen what those who had succumbed to their hateful ways could do to those who were different. If he intervened… nobody would help him. He would die at the greasy, gore soaked hands of this mob. Would that be so bad though?

Redemption. Redemption for failing to save Leona, for not being able to protect her.

No. He was selfish. He knew that and he knew he wanted to live, to breathe in the bad air, to see what new Mods it would produce. To hear more of what Jake had to say. If he could shed tears from his thorn bedecked eye, he would have at that point. He made his decision.

“Jake, let’s go,” He said, standing up. The Ringleader and his mob paid him no heed.

“These rats are too good to accept the pleasures of the mist and the treasures they grant our bodies!” the Ringleader was shouting. Louie had heard it all before. Rhetoric from a stained mind.

“Wait, I want to see what’s gonna happen,” Jake said, still clutching his corn dog half.

“No you don’t,” Louie replied. “Trust me, I’ve seen it. It ain’t pretty.”

“Yeah but-”

“C’mon, let’s head over and hang out on the sea wall. We can talk about… what you wanted to talk about.”

“O-Ok, sure. Yeah…”

Reluctantly, Jake stood up. He left his corn dog on the table. He hadn’t quite felt like finishing it. Louie slung his beefy arm around Jake’s shoulder. His hand lightly tapped the eye-bedecked growth on Jake’s hand and the two headed off through the plaza. They could still hear the commotion behind them. Someone was actually speaking up.

“Hey, either let them go or put them down. Stop drawing it out, we were having a good time here!” came an anonymous voice. Typical cold hearted response.

“I’m a showman, what can I say,” the Ringleader called back.

“We haven’t done anything!” the Munie was saying. “We just wanted some food…”

“Hon, you won’t have to worry about being hungry much longer. You and the rest of your Munie family. There’s no place for you anymore out here. If you don’t accept the mist, then we don’t accept you,” came the response.

Louie and Jake had walked far enough to be almost out of ear shot. They didn’t know what had ultimately happened but they suspected the party would have to cease at least long enough to hose down the ensuing blood. They stood together at the sea wall, facing the bay with the Village to their backs. A low foghorn cut through the mist, a single spotlight moving across the still water like a lost spectre. Life went on despite the schism and the effects of the Miasma. Life went on for everyone aside from those who had not been Affected. Ironically enough, they had ended up being more affected than anyone, even if not biologically. Not all the Affected hated the Munies. There were small pocket factions of those who supported equality for all, unity and togetherness for both Affected and “Un-Affected” (Munie being considered a slur to their groups). There were clashes, protests. Marches and violence. As before the schism, life went on. Same results, yet different questions.

The men took a seat on the wall facing the water. Louie wished he had a beer and Jake wished he still had his corn dog. At least they had each other. Louie thought about his wife and knew that she would have wanted him to be happy. Jake thought about his mom and sister, long since departed before the Miasma had appeared. He was glad they hadn’t had to endure the resulting chaos.

Louie took a deep breath. Jake did too, but it wasn’t enough. At least he still had the tank back in the truck. Louie plucked out one of his nails and toyed with it, stretching and bending it. Neither man said a word. The silence was broken as Louie’s nose began to itch, to tingle. Another thorn burst out, this one through his left nostril. It was wet, glistening, raw with nerve endings.

Jake burst out laughing. “Ho-lee shit, lookit that!” He tweaked the thorn and Louie yelled out, the new Mod still raw and tender. “Got your nose!”

“Aw, dammit!” Louie cried. This one would take some getting used to. He loved the smell of his own aftershave and a fresh brewed pot of joe. He wondered how much he would miss only half of the scents. In spite of himself, Louie started to laugh too. He wiped his nose, cried out again and laughed harder.

The foghorn blew again in the soupy yellow mist as the two buddies laughed bemusedly here on this night fueled by blood, hate, change and revelry. Jake slung his arm around his pal and Louie didn’t remove it.

“Now then, let’s finish our conversation before my tongue falls out my mouth or somethin”, Louie said with a grin.

Jake stuck out his bisected tongue and wiggled it in a goofy fashion.

Louie and Jake both started laughing again, even harder, as the mist swept around them in the warm glow of the summer evening.

It really was a nice night.

The Here and Now

1:27 AM

He was awakened by the unexpected blare of brass. Gaines shuddered aloud, groped about in the gloom and found the phone on his nightstand.

He switched it off, pondering silently of the cause of the rude awakening. He had set the alarm for 6 AM; still 4 1/2 hours to sleep. He wanted to be prepped and ready for the presentation even if it was to learn the ins and outs of Walter’s new ad campaign (the plagiarizing bastard!). Gaines settled back under the two thin cotton sheets on the twin bed. His mind’s eye permeated the gloom even as he shut himself off to the world. He thought about the ring tone, a sampled recording from Lucy’s latest band meet.

God, she was a talent and a beauty. Took after her mother in all the best regards. The wounds of the divorce were still fresh and raw and so Gaines stifled a sigh there in the night. He’d make things right. He knew it, starting with tomorrow. After work, he’d stop by and see his estranged wife and son. He’d make things right even if the girl wasn’t around to see it.

1:28 AM

The trumpets sounded again. Gaines didn’t like being annoyed by the sound of his daughter’s own God given talent. He grunted, plucked out the phone.

– UNKNOWN CALLER –

Not the alarm. He licked his lips, shook his head and answered the call. This was the point when everything changed.

He stammered out a perplexed greeting and was answered with hell. It was as he imagined, the closest to a knowledgeable representation that he could fathom. It began with the grinding sound. Metal upon metal, iron sharpening iron. In the dark room he could imagine pinpricks of yellow light, sparks of friction emitting from an unseen and surely infernal forge. The grinding gave way to the sound of chomping; a wet and obscene utterance of viscous gorging. A thick, slathered licking of a fat tongue against foul lips, slathering at a drink of unknown origin.

And then the screaming.

He felt (yes, felt) bits of his thinning hair go grey at the cacophony which uttered from the phone. He sat upright, a twinge of fire bolting down his spine. The pain went unnoticed, so horrible yet disturbingly entrancing were the sounds. The screaming, predominately female wails of unbridled torment ripped at his sanity and yet still Gaines listened. The sounds continued, grinding and chewing and licking and shrieking and rending and shredding and drinking –

With trembling hands, he pressed the END key.

God, how long had he succumbed to the call?

It was morning.

This next day was a bit of a blur as most of his days tended to be. Part of him pondered the veracity of the call but another part of him knew the truth. This mindset (amongst other, ever damnably present factors) made his drive to work a considerably tense venture.

As he pulled into his personally designated parking spot, Gaines let out a deep breath and tapped the empty flask sequestered in his inner jacker pocket. It resounded with a encouragingly hollow knock and he was proud of that fact. He took another deep breath.

He held that breath for the rest of the day, only exhaling when spoken to (which he found occurred less than expected). He endured through Walter’s mind numbing presentation (some such drivel involving a warring Viking clan sparring over the latest sugary soft drink – what?), amended his own addendum to the pitch, thought about calamity and lives cut short far too soon, ate a bland lunch of dollar store mac and cheese and then headed home at promptly

5:10 PM

He knew he shouldn’t have, but all the same Gaines stopped by the narrow, white clapboard two story perched on Hill Street. The wounds were ever fresh and Patricia greeted him at the door with cold aloofness. She admonished him that it wasn’t his court appointed weekend yet still invited the man in. He was grateful and swept Cody up into a warm embrace. The boy was coping with everything remarkably; confusion, strife and turmoiled waylaid by plastic shape changing robo-warriors and their ever present war with the vinyl dinosaur clan. He had brought the boy a gift, a rubber Dimetrodon to add to his collection (Cody had picked it out specifically the week prior, suggesting that the beast’s sail on its back might have picked up wi-fi had it survived the cataclysmic extinction event). All of these fantasies helped him cope with what had happened. They helped the child deal with the facial disfigurement he had suffered in the accident, the scar that bisected the boys cheek as a result of embedded glass. Gaines knew he was to blame and so he did his best to remedy all that had befallen his broken family.

Father and son proceeded to while away the evening in vain attempts to transform the robot toys into more powerful configurations and engaged in heated debates on the subjective “best” of the prehistoric thunder lizards. Gaines almost forgot everything that had occurred and Patricia even thanked him for stopping by to spend time with their son. Yet even then, she rebuffed his advances and attempt at reconciliation. One step at a time, he supposed. He would call her later. As he slipped his jacket back on, he noted that his phone was silent and the flask was still empty, two very welcome observations.

She had taken the house and their surviving child in the divorce. Preliminary hatred had given way eventually over the prior few months to complacency and acceptance and Gaines harbored no ill will. His apartment wasn’t so bad, after all. It was just fine for a new convert to bachelorhood. It even had the perfect little recessed nook in the hallway to support a framed photo of Lucy. There she was, french horn ever present. She had been on the cusp of achieving first chair in her school band, a proud honor to be sure. Gaines found it ironic that she lived and died by the horn, be it a proud declaration of “The Saints go Marching In” or the thunderous blast echoing from rain slicked glass and alcohol addled darkness. Life cut short in the prime due to the straw-gold devil that danced in Gaines’ flask. Yet not tonight. He had not had a drink and therefore sleep came difficult yet eventual.

The horns had been important to the girl and so too were they the sounds that greeted her mourning father in the dead of night.

1:27AM

He answered it.

Like many times in his life, he knew he shouldn’t have and yet still he heeded the call. The sounds were as disturbing as the prior night. Grinding metal, abhorrent screeching, wailing and the licking of flames. Hell had his number and he wept for he had no idea why.

He hung up; cast the phone away. No more calls. No more horns or music. Yet a soft reverberation sounded in the dim light cast from the windows. A gentle buzzing, not unlike that of a pollinating bee. He was compelled to pluck the phone from its position and investigate the text message. This was new.

UNKNOWN NUMBER

Three simple lines of text:

“DO YOU HEAR?”

He heard. Yes, he did.

Daylight seeped in. How-? The new dawn had crept upon him, draped in the unlikely stealth of red and gold. Gaines didn’t know that he was ready for a new day but he surmised that he had no other course of action than to try.

Another fruitless day in the office. His lack of sleep had ill prepared him for the task at hand, presenting his own personal addendum to Walter’s approved advertising campaign. His heart wasn’t in it, this much was obvious and he hoped the lack of storyboards wouldn’t affect his standing on the project. Yet all the effort seemed for naught as the boardroom denizens could not seem less interested in his presentation. Hicks, the man in charge of the whole project was disinterestedly perusing his phone and Stevens was selecting which bagel he wanted from the platter in the center of the table.

A low buzz alit the room. Gaines’ phone buzzed from his pocket and he slipped it out to glance at the screen (and why not? Nobody else was affording him their attention). The visage of his lost little girl gazed back at him, her caller ID plastered across the screen. Gaines’ mouth went dry and he stammered an excuse, even as Walter rudely stepped before him with an elaborate storyboard sequence.

Gaines dashed out of the room and he broke for the closest semblance of privacy. The men’s room was thankfully empty and he swiftly answered the insistent buzzing. He croaked out a greeting, unsure of what to say; unsure of what to expect. Unsure of reality.

He was not greeted with the musical lilt of the young girl’s voice. Had he really expected it? But then, who else would have access to her phone? It seemed to have disappeared into the ether following her death, possibly hidden beneath the mire that resulted from the messy divorce and haphazard distribution of family wares.

The sound that emitted from the phone was not a voice. It was many. It was an ethereal and arcane arcing of voices of every creed, age and gender embroiled into one miraculous sonata. He closed his eyes and shuddered at the choir as it pierced deep within, warmth alighting from a place he never knew existed. Here in the lavatory, just beyond the bright daylight beyond, Gaines wept once more. He felt the weight of the world lift above him; he knew everything was going to be just fine. And then, as abruptly as the amalgam of song had entered his life, it ceased and the call cut short.

Everything crashed back down upon him and Gaines blacked out there, on the cold tile in the midst of the warm midday.

He awoke to darkness and stood up groggily. He grasped for purchase on the nearest handhold, felt the cold marble of a countertop and remembered where he was. The motion activated overhead lights remained dark despite his haggered movements and he stumbled out of the bathroom into the dark offices beyond. He spied the telltale bucket of a maintenance worker nearby and scoffed at the fact that they had likely discovered him and simply left him lying.

Gaines shook his head and stumbled back down to the garage. Upon returning to his vehicle, he glanced at the dashboard clock.

8:32PM

Not too late. He licked his dry lips and instinctively went for the flask. It remained comfortably empty yet for the first time in a while, Gaines wished it wasn’t. He shook his head, attempting to clear the thoughts. He decided he would pay his family a visit. It would certainly take his mind off of things.

He arrived at Patricia’s home about 15 minutes later and found an unknown car parked out front. He frowned and wondered if he should have called ahead. But then… no she wouldn’t. Not this soon, surely? He swallowed hard, rubbed his aching head and knocked.

She answered, perplexed at his second visit in as many days. She invited him in, warily at first but more inviting as Cody ran up and gave his father a joyful hug. Glancing beyond the boy, Gaines saw the other couple in the kitchen beyond the main hall. The young couple were chatting amicably and moving about, setting out dishes and glasses. When he questioned her, Patricia assured him they were simply new neighbors and that she had invited them over for dinner with their young son.

Gaines questioned if he should leave, but she assured him his presence was fine. At the very least, he was happy that Cody seemed to have made a new friend. The boy seemed proud to show off his toy collection to the new couple’s child, a young lad with tousled red hair named Joey. They seemed to connect immediately although it was a bit disconcerting to Gaines when the boy’s father (whom Patricia had yet to introduce him too) admonished the child for his playtime, claiming he was “too old for such a thing”.

Gaines was incensed. Why not let the boy have his fun? Surely the man wasn’t insinuating that Cody wasn’t good enough to befriend his boy? Did it have something to do with Cody’s face? Joey protested, assuring that Cody was a fun boy to be around but the man would have none of it. Gaines confronted the bastard and found himself rebuked silently. The man simply brushed past him, past Patricia and wordlessly excused himself to have a quiet, seemingly concerned conversation with his own wife.

Patricia was visibly upset and Gaines informed her that he wouldn’t stick around so long as that asshole was present. She understood yet wanted to maintain her integrity as a gracious host and insinuated he probably should leave. Gaines bid farewell to his son and promised he would return at a later time. Impulsively, he gave Patricia a peck on the cheek with his departure. He smiled as she did not turn away.

That alone, and the warm embrace of his son, had made the whole day’s ordeals worthwhile.

1:25AM

Gaines had not gone to sleep. He sat upright in bed as the time approached. He thought back to this time of night some months ago. He could scarcely remember the details although Patricia had made sure he wouldn’t forget. They had been out late that night, attending a work function to celebrate the release of the new snack cakes that had taken the country by storm.

“Creamy Cocoa Slush Cakes, the dessert you don’t even have to bake!”

Gaines himself had composed the jingle with Steven’s assistance. The result was a popular new treat amongst children but even more so amongst adults once word broke that the company planned to market a line of liquor infused slush cakes.

As such, the party had provided an open bar with the bourbon they had planned to infuse into the creamy concoctions. They had brought the kids along at the behest of Hicks who wished to cultivate a family atmosphere. It wasn’t a school night and the other employees would be bringing their kids along, so why not?

……..

She knew he had a drinking problem. Why didn’t she stop him? Was she too preoccupied with the kids? Surely she had noticed his slurring speech, his offset gait?

Why didn’t she take his keys?

But then, no, she wasn’t too blame. He was the only one who could be held responsible for what occurred on the ride home. For the shredding, twisting fiery metal and rain slicked glass. For the unending horns blaring across the oil slicked highway.

1:27AM

Right on schedule.

He closed his eyes and saw. He saw what happened after the grinding, shrieking and rending came to a quiet. Lucy had not passed quickly. He felt the blood running down his face, felt strong and frantic hands remove himself, his wife, his son from the wreckage. And then, bleary and bandaged, he held her in the ambulance as she squeezed his hand ever tighter. He saw the light fade but recognized a semblance of peace that gave him hope…

Another text: DO YOU SEE

He saw.

He saw and he knew. He knew it as he blinked tear salted eyes and the world around him began to vanish. Gaines saw and knew why he didn’t recall any courtroom proceedings, any jail time. He had simply existed, plunged headlong into the fire and come out the other end, seared and smoked yet reborn through death into this cold world. As had the rest of them. Himself, Cody and Patricia. Swiftly and suddenly before they literally knew what had happened. Lucy, his little girl, she had time. Pain yes, yet acceptance as she faded and knew what was happening to her.

He saw and he knew as he kneeled there in the empty room, phone clutched in hand. As the front door opened and an unfamiliar man in horn rimmed glasses entered Gaines’ apartment, making broad and theatrical gestures as he presented the place. Behind him came a speculative young couple, abuzz in curiosity, anxiety yet unbridled excitement. He remembered those days with Patricia, especially echoed of this couple. A man fresh out of college and a vibrant young woman, belly swollen with burgeoning life.

He saw and he knew that he would not be welcome. He left his home to the new couple, those undoubtedly prepared to sign the sacred dotted line and begin a new family here. Gaines left sullenly, shaking yet accepting. His car was not in his assigned spot, but why would it be? His car had been consumed in fire and fury months ago. There was nothing here for him anymore.

He knew of one place to go. He closed his eyes, opened them and found himself standing before the home that he had raised his family in. He walked inside, entered the kitchen; no invite or open portals needed. The house was quiet, yet he felt life. He felt and he saw and he heard. He heard the drone begin again. He didn’t even need to answer the phone this time.

It began in one ear and shifted to the other. Two utter cacophonies from two very different worlds. One a world of endless torment and unending grief. Wailing, lashing, tongues of fire and tongues of serpents. Gaines heard it and saw it although not yet in this place that he currently existed, the here and now. He saw it in his mind’s eye and wondered if it was where he truly belonged. He had succumbed to the demons that night and part of him felt he should embrace the very embodiment of his own damnation. Penance for tearing his family from this world.

But then, there was the world of light; of warmth. The world where he felt his family, knew of their presence. And yet…she appeared to him in that home full of unfamiliar furniture and lived in hearths. Patricia and Cody were gone and now she was here for him. Lucy was bathed in gold as he always knew her to be. He cried aloud and reached for her but she was beyond his grasp. Within the dueling audible beckons from worlds beyond, he heard her speak to him.

She forgave him. She loved him. Yet he had a choice. The world of light was just that, a realm of warmth and joy. Yet it existed on a solitary plane, one in which its denizens crafted their own semblance of eternal bliss. You could have anything there but…it would be one of vastness. No guaranteed tearful reunions, for what odds are that four individual souls would stumble upon one another in an endless field of golden light?

But then, there was the other world. The one that existed closer to this one that we dwell in today. Yes, it exists upon a concentric cone of calamity and pain. But there are other layers. Circles and nooks in which the pain in absent. It is there that one could dwell and one could craft whatever fantasy they wish. Gaines could be with his family again and relive that fateful night however he would deem fit. Yet in the back of the further and farther reaches of his mind, he would know that he would spend eternity in a fallacy. And should he come to this ultimate realization, the pain upon his psyche would be the cruelest torture yet. Forever separated from his family; yet dare he take the gamble to live eternity in blissful ignorance?

Or shall he answer the other call beyond and live out paradise on a slim chance, a roll of the dodecahedron dice that he would see Patricia, Cody and Lucy again one day? Lucy informed him there that she missed her daddy yet this was his own choice to make. Both worlds summoned him but he could only choose one. She vanished then in a burst of color. The sounds began to roar as indecision set upon Gaines and he clutched at his ears and eyes.

The light and sound would rouse the sleeping form of a child nearby and young Joey, Cody’s playmate stumbled into the kitchen. He would later tell his parents about how he saw a troubled looking man kneeling on the kitchen floor, reaching out to nothingness. The man’s phone was ringing but he didn’t answer it. Joey would tell his parents how the man would scrabble through their own drawers and finally caw aloud in manic triumph as he found a butcher’s knife. He would tell his parents about how the man would insert the blade into his own ears and twist and then into his own eyes.

Yet the man didn’t bleed for he had no life left to take. Joey’s parents would not believe this tale, as to be expected and would entrust the boy to a child psychologist. But in the here and now, the sight so disturbed the boy that he ran back to his room and curled under the covers, clutching the little toy dinosaur that Cody had entrusted to him.

In the here and now, Gaines knew he had to decide. He pulled the flask from his jacket pocket and flung it, the clattering sound causing the child in the bedroom upstairs to curl up even tighter. He cast the knife aside too, frustrated as to the ineffectiveness of his own desperation.

And then: the sounds ceased.

He glanced upwards at a microwave recessed into a cabinet.

1:27 AM

His phone began to ring again in the quiet of the house.

He glanced down and saw two simultaneous calls. He could answer one by pressing the corresponding number, one or two.

He ran his fingers across the keys. One was bone chilling to the touch and Two cast a welcome warmth.

Gaines thought about what Lucy had said. An eternity in a world past this one. One in which he would dwell with his family if he so wanted, but ran the risk of discovering his own fallacy and fantasy.

Elsewhere, a life beyond of endless delight but one lived in solitude.

He wasn’t good with decisions. For the first time in a while, Gaines felt that he wanted a drink.

The horns grew ever shriller as his phone continued to beckon forth in the here and now.

And yet Gaines knew he had a choice to make, to placate the calls from beyond.

He pressed the button and answered the call.

1:28 AM

Grimwood Grove showcase

Herein we present 25% of the tales and recollections that await within our third collection. Here are stories that will be presented as tales told between two very distinctly different bloodstained individuals, words passed between an arcane post box that transcends realms unknown. To our best knowledge, Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock are not involved.

 

Like what you see? Witness 15 more takes of terror by picking up your copy now. $4 DIGITAL OR FREE ON KINDLE UNLIMITED

>> .CLICK HERE TO BREAK THE SEAL

 

ENJOY…

 

 

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Caught

The Garden

Kalte Nacht

Out on the Waste

They too have teeth

 

The rest of the Correspondence will be unsealed and The Widow and The Recluse will begin their journey..

Stone Ripper

      In the dark and cold abyss, The Old King struggles against his bonds. His followers had betrayed him, cast him aside in favor of a brash, young leader. He breaks free, the container shattering beneath a withered yet still mighty frame. His desiccated eyes adjust to the gloom and sees naught but stone, vermin and silence.
      He begins to claw and slash at the stone, carving furrows into the wall. His might is unmatched and his fury is unquenchable. They didn’t know how strong he was,didn’t know the extent of his strength. He knew he would escape soon and make them all suffer for their transgressions.
      But then: a light. A piercing white gleam in the dark. His tiny vermin companions scatter as a large stone rolls away, wedged by a powerful metal bar. The Old King shrinks back into the shadow, ready to gauge the allegiance of these new invaders. They stumble forth, tiny and mewling in anxiety. He observes them and perceives them to be fledgling sorcerers. Why else would they possess such strange clothing, the ability to cast light from their very heads (a third eye perhaps) or speak such strange tongues? One of them possesses an artifact that he presses to his own eye, as he thrusts it around seeking validation. They mutter and chatter and run their fingers over the furrows the King had carved in the stone.
      He decides to make himself known. His muscles creak in disuse yet he is mighty. He stumbles out of the shade, his regal wrappings faded and muted yet still possessing an aura of awe and majesty.
      The newcomers stare back at him, jaws slack and pale complexions highlighted with an almost comical essence of disbelief. The Old King chuckles with rotted vocal cords and a puff of dust emerges from his ancient innards. These sorcerers seem to not know what they have wrought for invading his chamber, for they simply gaze back. The King frowns at the black metal and glass device and rips it from one of them, his grip crushing the metal (and bone for he reached a bit too far)  beneath his cracked hands. The sorcerer kneels in pain and doesn’t even bother to regenerate his hand. Pathetic.
      These newcomers with their odd artifacts and tools are not worthy to be graced by his presence. There are two more and he dispatches of them easily. Their innards decorate his chamber and he knows he made the right decision. They were not worthy to serve him and he deems it good practice for his forthcoming wrath. He remarks that they were useful for helping to preserve his strength as he staggers out of the opening.
      The corridor is long but it gives him time to remark on which God he will appease to and assist his wrath. The mighty Eye of Ra warms his old bones for the first time in days… or perhaps longer…And yet… all is not right. The mighty monument he himself had commissioned is layered in dust, grime…. age.
      Indeed the sun seems.. weaker. He senses the waning strength of the Gods immediately. Before The Old King lies a miniature village, more of the metallic artifacts lie strewn about, protected by the raging winds by canvas wrappings. He deems these whelps to be siphoning the strength of the Gods to power these strange devices. The Old King summons what little strength he has to destroy the devices.
      He wraps part of the canvas around himself and he feels good for what little havoc he has wreaked. More to come.
Much more.
      Whatever this new world holds will fall to his power. He knows this and he staggers out into the raging sands seeking what may lie beyond. He enjoys imagining what atrocious miracles the Gods will enable him to perform. His old muscles creak as, beneath the canvas and the regal wrappings he smiles for the first time in centuries.