Murmurings from the Hive

Sweet and Warm

Its life was a black confine. From the moment it vomited forth from the Tierra earth mother, it did not know freedom. It dwelled in a seed pod, germinated in the UnderGround and placed in a receptacle of clay. It was but one of an ancient tribe, some would know as the Chullachaqui.

When it would emerge from its shell, it would be noticeable by its mottled grey skin, tapered ears, offset and backwards pointing feet. Yet it would not even attempt to walk for its life was an EarthBorne capsule. And now the young being must suffer even further indignity as its womb was wrapped in a tassled, kaleidoscopic carapace and made to rattle amongst confectionary sweets. And there it waited and gestated amongst the warm clay and the sweet treats.

********

“Swing harder, mijo!” Ana cried happily.

Her young son staggered about blindly and took another mighty swing with his reed. A loud crack! The cartoon burro burst from high above and rained down sweets and candies amongst a throng of jubilant children. Ana laughed and clapped as eight year old Raul dashed into the fray, eagerly scooping at the treasure he had so proudly unleashed. Candies and caramels and chocolates and one lumpy green ball of taffy that looked particularly delicious.

The birthday celebration was a grand day, filled with laughter and love. It was precisely what the mother and son needed after the untimely loss of the man in their lives. And yet Ana managed to work hard, proud to provide for her boy and to provide fresh pastries and bread from her own Panaderia bakery.

After the festivity had ended, Raul asked his mother: “Mama, can I have some of my candy?”
“Just ONE! And don’t try to sneak a second piece, El Cucuy is watching!”

Raul didn’t believe in El Cucuy, he thought it was a silly fairy tale. He pondered why his mom would try to scare him with a boogeyman story. He pondered this as he ate his caramel candy. Of course, he DID sneak his second treat, that odd little green sugar ball. He scrunched up his face as it tasted a bit sour but he was pleased with his successful deceit as he swallowed it whole.

**********

Ana had always been proud of how she had managed to scrape by. Now more so than ever although her savings was dwindling from the exorbitant medical bills. She sighed across the dinner table at her boy. She was a proud mama and it hurt her heart to see him limp to the table, small legs encased in wire and steel rods. It had began shortly after his eighth birthday; he had complained about his legs hurting. She chalked it up to growing pains but the day that Raul fell at school was the day she learned that her boy would have limited mobility for the rest of his days.

The doctors could not pinpoint what had triggered the weakening and distorting of his leg and hip bones. And now, as she started across her chicken mole at the boy, he started back with a most unusual look across his nine year old face.

“Mijo, are you…OK?” She asked. He hadn’t touched his favorite meal.

The boy nodded and asked if he could be excused. She quietly obliged and let the boy hobble to his feet and out of the room. He was a prideful child and the doctors advised her to only offer help when he truly seemed to need it. Against her strongest maternal instincts, she obliged this request as well. Ana sighed once more.

The next day was a fruitful one. The bakery was bustling. She was a well loved figure in the community and the locals enjoyed her wares and enjoyed supporting her family. On this day, late October, she rolled out the dough for the batch of casket shaped pastries for the forthcoming Dia de los Muertos rush. Raul hobbled in through the door.

“Raul, honey, go play outside, OK?”

She didn’t want him to be knocked aside from the hustle and bustle of the shop. As if on cue, a patron bowled over a display with a resounding crash.

“Dios…” She sighed under her breath and hustled off to tend to it.

Nobody noticed what happened next. Nobody noticed Raul duck under the counter. Nobody noticed his tapered ears, the grey scabs forming on his face. Nobody noticed nor heard him expunge a torrent of brackish slime into his own hand. And nobody certainly noticed him remove a small seed pod from his mess, stand up and drop it on the exposed dough.

Ana, however, noticed what a good helper her son was. She returned from the spill to see the boy rolling the dough with a proud smile lighting up his young face.

“Ohh, my boy, thank you for helping! Why don’t you go play with your action figures and I’ll make you something special for lunch later,” she said.

“OK, mama,” he said.

She caressed her son lovingly. She frowned as her hand brushed a scaly patch on his face. Must be eczema, she noted and reminded herself to ask his doctor during their next visit. Raul toddled off, braces creaking. He turned and smiled at his mom. She smiled back.

Then she rolled up the dough, inserted it into a crust with some filling  and tossed the whole concoction into the oven.

*********

Its life was a black, warm confine. Yet in this hive of sweet fruit, dough and sugar it flourished. It did not know freedom but it yearned to live. The seed pod embedded in the pastry held the next lineage of the EarthBorne, those known as the Chullachaqui. And here it would wait and gestate, waiting to be borne unto the next who would come seeking something
Sweet and warm.

Never Full by Amanda Rosenblatt

Alice perused the racks of the vintage store with her eyes. This was a weekly ritual.

Garbage. Garbage. Smells like garbage. Who would wear THAT?

Alice loved dressing up fancy for work. Having a job with a formal dress code basically required it. She loved having an excuse to fully embrace her hobby of admiring fine clothing. It was a rush.

Plaid? Pleather? Puce? Why does horrible looking clothing start with the letter P?

Usually, Alice would be shopping with friends. Or out with her husband.

You never have money to go out to eat, or even get a damned coffee, with us. Maybe you don’t need another dress, or another pair of boots? But they were vintage Louboutin and Chanel – what do those tasteless bitches know?

She gazed upon the fabrics, textures and different colors. Sunlight peaked in through the stained window, magnifying the scuffs on the leather and the lint on the old blouses.

A spider’s web in the corner peaked out from behind the racks. Waiting to devour their next victim, likely a stowaway moth from an old pocket.

You paid two thousand dollars for a jacket?! That’s our rent money. You’re out of control. Well that’s fine – I can wear that jacket in the cold now that I live with my sister, since I have a longer walk to work now. Who needs a husband when you have original Dior?

What was really missing was a nice handbag. She could drown her sorrows in a nice, new-to-her leather piece. Then, as if she dreamed it into existence, she saw it. A Louis Vuitton Neverfull in near perfect condition.

She picked up the bag by the thin but worthy straps. It could fit everything she needed for work. Her magazines for the salon. All of her divorce papers.

She briefly felt sad, but she shook it off as she searched for more telltale signs to make sure the bag was authentic. It had an odd smell and even more unusual stains on the inside, but she dismissed it. She could get it cleaned, or cover it up.

She brought the bag to the front register. A few hundred out of her price range.

The nerve! This place is barely better than a Goodwill. After all the money I’ve given them! I’ll show them.

She walked to the back of the store where they had men’s items. She grabbed a Fjällräven backpack that was in less than perfect condition, took a quick peek around, and shoved the Louis Vuitton inside the backpack. She grabbed tissue paper that was inside of the leather bag originally and placed it over top to cover up her stolen goods.

A low, piercing tone hit Alice’s ears. She groaned and put a hand to her head. The sound dissipated and she caught her breath.

That was weird. Must be tinnitus or a low flying plane? Whatever. Am I really about to steal a bag? Well, I’m paying for this other piece of crap bag, so they’re getting my money anyway.

She rung up the backpack and she smirked as the trusting, older woman who checked her out didn’t bother to look inside the bag.

Suckers.

When Alice walked out of the store, her leather heels hitting the cement with purpose, she made sure she was out of eyesight of the store front. She then stopped at a metal trash barrel, pulled her stolen goods out of the backpack, then swiftly tossed the perfectly good fabric accomplice in the garbage.

You could donate that or something? Fuck you! Mind your business.

Six blocks later and she was home. Home being her sister’s apartment.

I’m willing to put you up for a couple of months, but if you keep buying shit you don’t need, you can go call mom and live in the suburbs. I don’t care.

Alice pulled the murphy bed out from the wall and sat down on it, the metal squeaking viciously. She unzipped her leather heels and placed them gingerly next to the edge of the bed on the floor. She walked over to her plastic tub of drawers and pulled out a little vial of red nail polish, with the intention of covering the scratches in her Louboutin fiery red heels, courtesy of the ground.

After placing the nail polish bottle on the floor next to the shoes, Alice then grabbed her contraband purse. She sat on the bed once again, placing the new bag to her right and her old bag to her left. She looked over at her old purse, unzipping it and grabbing contents from inside. She turned her head to her right to place the items inside.

Where’s the fucking bag?

She looked around. She heard a quick scratching noise across the old hardwood floor.

What is that, a rat?! This place is a dump. Probably grabbed my bag.

Alice scanned in front of her, looking for clues. The irony that a rodent absconded with her stolen bag made her fume with anger.

She then placed her right elbow on the bed, bending her body forward to look underneath. It was remarkably dark. The piercing tonal noise happened again. Alice grunted, shoving her head against her leg and putting her left hand against the other side of her skull, covering her left ear.

Then, from the darkness, two leather straps with gold hardware on the ends reached out like tentacles. They wrapped around her bare ankles, over and over, digging into her flesh. Alice screamed in terror and pain.

YANK. Alice went flying face first into the floor from the force of it, her nose hitting the hardwood. She looked up briefly with just enough time to see a single drop of blood from her nose drip onto the ground.

She was then dragged across the floor. She turned on her back to find something, anything, to grab onto.

This isn’t happening. What is this?!

As she peered under the bed, grabbed the metal legs of it to try and free herself of her unseen attacker, she caught sight of it.

This is a dream. What is this? God please help me!

The bag was sentient. The leather body of the bag opened like a gaping mouth. Rows of jagged teeth inside. A manufactured Venus fly trap from hell.

Alice’s hands shook as she strained to hold on.

Wake up. Wake up. WAKE UP.

A guttural growl emitted from the creature, sending one more tonal pierce in the air. It was too much. Alice let go of the bed. She was pulled into the mouth of the beast. Teeth ripping into her body. Alice was horrifyingly aware of her last moments. The bags flappy leather body formed lips, scooping up the contents of Alice as it devoured her. Leaving no trace behind.

Then, like a fleeting memory, Alice was gone. Silence replaced the screaming.

A few minutes later, keys unlocked and opened the door. Alice’s sister entered. She surveyed the scene and let out an annoyed huff. She walked over to the leather boots and picked up the little bottle of red polish. She looked at the single drop of blood on the floor.

“This bitch moves into MY place and gets polish all over MY floor?!”

She then saw the purse, laying on the floor under the bed. Her eyes squinted in anger. She grabbed the bag, stuffed the shoes and the nail polish inside, walked down the stairs, into the cold alley and tossed it all into the filthy dumpster.

And alas, an alley dumpster was the final resting place of fashionable Alice, whose appetite for finer things was never full.

That Which Sees All

I’ve always been a seeker of the unknown; a vast interest in the strange, unusual and arcane often held precedence over what most would consider to be average. In that sense, I suppose I should have grinned with manic glee upon arriving at the tattoo parlor.

It wasn’t like the usual shop. There was no “Sailor Jerry” style bedecked facade ushering me in, nor the tell-tale sound of buzzing. What greeted me on this misty and cold spring night was a neon glow piercing the gloom of a forsaken alley, tucked away from the vestiges of humanity. This was the place though, I was sure of it. I pulled my jacket around my slender frame and pressed forward, kicking aside untold filth and piles of rotted food. The exterior of the shop grinned before me, an emaciated smile from a blue neon skull.

I shrugged. Strange, unusual. That’s usually how I like it. This was, however, an alien concept to me for my skin remained unblemished and inkless. I steeled my frazzled nerves before pushing my way in. The obsidian tinted door refused to budge. Pull, not push, obviously.

“Stupid,” I scowled at my own wariness and pulled the door open. I stepped in, unable to brace myself for the sensory onslaught: piercing, hair-raising cold inside. That smell: what is that? Sage and cleaning chemicals…is this how a tattoo parlor is supposed to smell? It was empty, no artist or proprietor in sight. A heavily worn couch sat forlornly along the grey bricked walls festooned with banners and sheathes of various tattoo designs. I ignored it because I knew what I wanted.

I knew exactly what I wanted.

A small display case on the opposite wall caught my eye. Within, a glass box held an ornately presented and weary looking book. I stepped forward to glimpse the interior, my nervous reflection catching off the glass. Compulsively, I wanted to see what was written, I wanted to know what lie upon the pages of this tome. I wanted to know what secrets it held, even if it was as mundane as a visitor log book or a ledger. But I never got the chance.

A soft tinkling sound betrayed my gaze. A beaded curtain at the back of the shop parted and ushered in a small, gaunt young woman. Her dark hair was strung with beads not unlike those of the curtain from which he had emerged and her hazel eyes were ringed with the shade of one who hasn’t slept properly. I turned towards her and immediately hoped she wouldn’t succumb to fatigue while inking my bicep. She looked to be middle eastern, copper sun kissed skin and a small rounded nose.

“Hey,” she greeted with a soft and raspy voice; brittle paper turning in a light breeze. “Are you just looking or-?” She trailed off and offered a slight smile.

“Yeah, I’m looking to uh, get inked,” I stated as confidently as possible. That was the correct parlance, right? Damned if I knew. I felt crucially out of my element. She seemed to sense this as she smiled again and gestured to one of two empty chairs.

I nodded in response and sat down, emitting a deep breath as she readied her tools of the trade. As she prepared the ink, I noticed scrawls of text on her left arm. The overhead lights seemed to glint off them, raising the text from her arm and appearing more like scar tissue than actual ink. They whorled about in a spiral surrounding her thin being.

Before I could ask about it, she prompted me: “What are we doing today?”

“Oh, OK, hi,” I stammered out. “Uh, first of all, I’m Hideo. Nice to uh, meet you…” I trailed off but received no reciprocation. She simply nodded, the beads in her hair jangling against one another in the quiet of the otherwise empty shop. I paused, licked my lips.

Awkward silence permeation. OK, moving on.

I pulled out my phone to show her the screenshot I wanted. The image was of an anime-stylized eye glaring forth from beneath a forcefully arched eyebrow. Savage, intense, perfect.

The girl nodded. “Tattoos often reflect the personality of those who choose them. May I ask why this…eye?”

“Yeah uh,” I started. Get a grip of yourself, idiot. “This is the logo of a comic and anime convention that I met my girlfriend at. She’s still living across country, it’s a long distance thing, y’know?”

She nodded. Nothing more and nothing less.

I continued: “Our anniversary is coming up and I thought I’d surprise her. After all eyes are the window to the soul, right? They still say that, don’t they?”

The artist nodded again, the lights glinting off her tired eyes. “They do,” she stated. A soft accent danced upon her withered voice. “Portals to the soul and…so much more. A watchful eye can see more than is truly present before you. They can glimpse truths beyond truths and secrets to be uncovered by the inquisitive.”

I frowned and rolled up my sleeve. I turned away instinctively as the needle approached my flesh.

Damn it.

“Wait, wait,” I cried and pulled my sleeve back down.

The girl grunted with annoyance and pulled the needle away.

“I have a few questions,” I stated. She gestured for me to continue. I glanced around, struggling for small talk. I needed a few seconds to calm my nerves. “Uh, are you the only one who works here?”

The girl hesitated. “There is…another. But she is at rest now.”

“Have you been doing this long?”

“Yes, I have. However, I believe you might be my last. If my inkwell runs dry after tonight, I might finally rest as well.”

I shrugged off the odd statements, simply pegged her as an eccentric. As long as she gave me the right response to my final question: “Is this…going to hurt?”

An odd expression coated her lithe face. Her thin lips pulled into an almost forlorn frown. Then she shook her head, her beads jangled and she seemed to come to her senses. That familiar smile painted her visage, a hint of mischievousness alighting upon it. “Oh, you are a pure one, then?”

“If that means this is my first tattoo, then yeah. I guess I’m uh, “pure”.”

“We shall see how long that lasts,” she said with an uncomfortable hint of malice. “To answer your question, this will only hurt if you allow it to. You do ask a lot of questions, don’t you Pure One?”

“I guess I’ve always been the inquisitive type,” I shrugged with a half-hearted grin. “I’ve always been rather curious about new things.”

“Then, my dear, you’ve come to the right place.”

And then, as the sprinkling of a light spring shower continued outside in the dark, I felt the first pierce of the ink forever stain my skin. I never knew the girl’s name but she seemed to know what she was doing. I still had a lot of questions to ask but no time to seek the truth.

Trust in the ink, Hideo.

This will only hurt if I let it…

 

 

I did. Just a little bit. It wasn’t as bad I as had suspected but the temptation to remove the covering on my freshly inked bicep was more of a struggle than anything else. I wandered home that night after paying the odd young woman for her services. I noted the strange look on her face, the unflattering melange of regret, elation and relief. What was going through her mind? As I walked out, I couldn’t help but notice that she watched after me intently. I shrugged it off and that was that.

I took one last look at the strange little shop as I departed and reflected with curiosity on how the lights in the establishment flickered off immediately upon stepping back into the grungy alley. The neon sign, formerly a bright and leering skull, now a silent and vacant spectre. It sat slightly askew; unexpected dilapidation that I hadn’t noticed. I need to be more observant I suppose, keep my eyes open.

I decided to do something I really should have done earlier: research. I made my nightly mug of decaf dark roast and plopped in my sagging recliner. I browsed on my phone for any information about the shop but to only mild surprise, found nothing. I sighed and rubbed at the new design. After it healed and I could remove the covering, I planned to take a few pics and send them to my girl. In the meantime, I pulled up my social media page and browsed around a bit, chuckling inwardly at the latest ridiculous memes to spew forth from cyberspace.

There’s an unusual one: a textless post with nothing but an all-too familiar eye. The logo of the convention, the very same that now adorned my arm. Curious that they would post it, it wouldn’t be held for another several months. I clicked it out of sheer curiosity and boredom.

My finger touched the screen. It immediately melted into the glass. My digit pushed forward into the glass and circuitry as the screen melded around it like gelatin. It was warm, malleable and almost pleasant to the touch. I didn’t think much of it. Maybe I should have been more concerned. I was tired after the experience in the parlor. My shoulder and arm ached. And this felt..good. I deserved a pleasant sensation. I could dig a little deeper. Why not? I deserved it and I knew it wouldn’t hurt. Not if I didn’t let it. I pushed my finger further into the digital eye as the rest of my hand sunk into the tangible soup. So good, so damn good. All the way up to my wrist now. Maybe just a little furth-

NO

NO

I pulled my hand out, threw my phone away with a startled yelp. I leaped up from my seat and stared at the fallen device, quivering with confusion. Then: sudden pressure in my left arm. I dashed into the bathroom and rolled up my sleeve. Beneath the gauze of the freshly inked flesh, something strained at its confines. I tore off the bandage, curiosity overriding even the basest of common sense. The eye, that stylized eye that represented what I loved and cherished the most: it was staring back at me, rolling wildly in an unseen socket.

As I stared back in the mirror, the eye suddenly stopped rolling and titled upwards, staring directly back at me and boring a hole into my very sanity. My arm rippled, waves of impossibility surging up and down. Even as the tiny eyes emerged across my arm like a hellspawn rash, I attempted to scream. But a scream is hard to emit as one’s tongue emerges from their own mouth like a sentient snake from a world that one ought not to know.

My own fleshy appendage strained at its very root and my tongue rose up in a serpentine motion at an impossible length. It ran itself down my eye bedecked arm and the taste that I could still experience was too much for me to bear. I began sobbing there in my own bathroom as my body betrayed me and the inked eye began to spin wildly once more.

The serpent tongue began to turn black, blemished and blighted and it turned towards me before splitting at the seam. It didn’t hurt. I didn’t let it.

The Black Serpent spoke, still spewing forth from my own mouth. Dear God, it spoke and I understood it.

Inquisitive and Pure, one who hosts the Eye of Agalia, Discoverer of Secrets, That Which Sees All. You bear our mark, you call our name and we arrive to show you sights unseen. Rejoice for only those chosen, those embellished with our blood will be granted the Sight, which is a very precious thing indeed.

“I don’t want this!” An attempted scream; my own own begotten tongue was too soiled and violated to speak what I wanted.

The Serpent didn’t heed my protest. My infected arm raised on its own accord. I struggled against it but I knew it was a losing battle. My arm raised up and pressed the Inked Eye across my own face.

Eye to Eye.

It showed me things then as The Serpent wrapped around my head. I saw what I had never wanted to see and now would never forget. Things from ages past, from times before. Shadows from other civilizations. Abominations, half human and half beast worshipped by ancient priests. Lovers torn apart and sacred texts recovered yet swiftly lost. Unjust executions, cursed blood and ink. Bottled and shifted through time and space until it bedecked the flesh of one whom would simply stumble across it unexpectedly. I was not the first nor would I be the last. I knew the cursed ink would continue to spread its blight across the land. It said it all in that book in the tattoo shop, the one I never read but now knew every sentence.

The Inked Eye and the Black Serpent showed me. I knew it all. But I decided then, that I didn’t want to see. I summoned one final ounce of strength and tore away from my tormentors. Naturally they rebelled and attempted to halt my mission but I pushed on. I pushed my way into the kitchen, struggling against my own body, shuffled blindly though the drawers until I found what I wanted.

Sharp objects had pierced my body mere hours before and now, in the comfort of my own home, they would do so again. They would do so at my own behest, of my own free will which I would not let be torn away. The scissors did their work splendidly. I cut the Black Serpent free and watched it writhe and squeal upon the black and red that festooned my kitchen floor. I took the blades to the smaller eyes next that covered my arm, popping each one like an overripe grape. But the Inked Eye, that one could not be pierced. And oh, how I tried. Even then, with the defilers strewn about on the floor and my own arm running fresh with filth, they continued to reveal their secrets.

I saw the girl from the parlor. I saw her run ragged blades across her own arm as she chanted in arcane language. I saw the piercing and parting of her skin and watched the red sea surge forth. It poured into a clay bottle at her feet. She thrashed in agony and the beads in her hair clinked together musically, almost pleasantly. Something spewed forth from her mouth, a coiling black foul thing that I recognized. In this age that I gazed upon, it was older and larger. Multiple hands stretched forth from the coiling horror as it chanted the word “Agalia” repeatedly. It streamed into the clay bottle, thick smoke and greasy mist. The girl dipped her blade into the concoction at her feet, held back a sob and began to tattoo her own arm…

I had seen enough. If I couldn’t see, I couldn’t watch and then I wouldn’t know and then… much like the woman who had cursed me with this Sight, I could rest. Perhaps.

I turned the scissor blades toward my own two eyes, granted to me by a God I thought I knew and not the fiend that had forced its own eyes upon me.

The scissor blades, blessed steel, came closer and I held my eyes open. I once was blind and now I see but I didn’t want to see anymore.

At least I knew it wouldn’t hurt.

Oh no.

I wouldn’t let it.

Borborygmus: A prologue

Below you’ll see the rough draft of my new work in progress. Obviously rough being the key word but I felt it might be of interest for you all to see what I’m working on. Let’s see if this one has more success than my last crack at full length over tale…

 

 

It is unseasonably cold for a bright summer day in the woodlands of Southern California. Here amidst the coast and scrub oak of the Black Water Canyon National Park, something stirs within the retreating frost. It is a day of anomaly and if one were to traverse these wild lands, they would question the unearthly chill in the air, the banks of red tinged snow and the grayish crystalline structure adhered to the forest floor.

Life begins here in these woodlands in as much as the same fashion upon which it ends: warm and then cold, indistinguishable between the two and yet slathered in blood. Life and death simultaneous wails a cry of primal need as something stirs within the crystalline chrysalis. It is the perfect size to contain something humanoid and such a form strains at its bonds and emerges from the structure; a resounding crack of shattering carapace splitting the quiet morning.

The Newborn tumbles forth ungainly over dirt, foliage and refuse coating its sticky and embryonic form. She bleats the cry of a newborn seeking warmth and comfort as she stands ungainly, blinking away hours of stillness.

Here on the forest floor, the struggle begins as something savage and ancient takes root and yet retreats all at the same time.

She cries out and holds her head in her hands, hair matted against her raw scalp as she struggles to make sense of what she feels. Her hands ripple unnaturally as though something is attempting to take hold and a wave of nausea waves through her. She glances skyward at the canopy with sleep gummed eyes and feels her head, expressing surprise at the slender smoothness of her scalp.

And yet, for all the wonder her eyes impart upon her, she remembers. It is the worst part of her awakening.

She remembers it all. The screams, the curses, the rending and tearing…and then a low growl. Oh yes, she remembers this feeling. It is not as intense as before but it is still an unwelcome sensation. The growl comes from within and she abhors the hollowness she feels.

She’s hungry, famished even and her feet, they hurt her so. Her feet burn and she stands erect unwarily on shifting form as the sensations of the wild overwhelm. She wishes she could crawl back into the crystal and sleep, sleep forever until she can no longer feel the burning from within and from below.

The Newborn smells something nearby, all at once tantalizing, inviting and beckoning. It rustles in the brush, the beating heart of fresh prey. And yet, something holds her back from pouncing upon warm flesh and partaking in the fresh innards. The conflict cause her to sob, opening her mouth amidst the strands of amniotic fluid as she bleats pitifully again.

Here in the vast wilds of the canyon, the Newborn has but one concern: to quell the ravenous complaint from within. She stumbles forward, slowly regaining her footing as she follows the scent. It’s so familiar, a musky odor that leads her away from the trembling creature in the brush and down towards the melodic tinkling of a shallow creek. Whatever it is and wherever it leads, she knows she will find food, warmth, shelter and companionship.

Creature comforts, of the basest form.

Her stomach rumbles…

Naughty

The Old man settled further into his chair and gazed down at his attentive listeners. They were silent, staring and still. They clutched mugs of cocoa as a twinkle danced across his cataract laden eyes. The fire glowed bright, shattering the quiet winters night with the occasional pop and crackle. He stroked his beard and began..

“I trust you all know of Santa Claus, yes? That portly, friendly old chap who visits you on this night of nights and brings you presents. Regardless of how you’ve behaved, lets be honest. Well, I can tell you that’s a crock of shit. At least… part of it is. You want to sit on the lap of a seasonally employed man in padding or support the Coca-Cola company, you believe in Santa all you want. But listen closely when I say: it’s not Ol’ Saint Nick you need to be watching for tonight.

And no, I don’t mean the Krampus either. That figure of the season has become so overplayed as of late, every American thinks they’re an expert on the old legend. But an even older legend, well that’s the story of Sinterdaan.

Never heard of him? Not surprised. He’s older than myself and I’m an old f**k. He’s influenced all the holiday figures and characters of these days. You won’t see him as a fat, red man. Just the contrary, he’s tall, slender. Some might say too much so. He’s clad in a green cloak, for what better way to adhere yourself to the dryads, the ancient spirits of the woodland? Yes, he’s very in tune with nature is the Sinterdaan. Some say he even has the antlers of a great stag under that hooded cloak. But the beard yes, that is a constant.

What is his role in this night you ask? You see, he is, above all else, a hunter. He seeks this long, cold night when the thread between his realm and ours is quite thin. He seeks out those who would serve him well, those with malice in their heart. You might say, he likes the naughty ones. Oh yes, he’ll visit you all tonight. This old man, I may not see but I know what you’ve all been up to. You can lock the door, bolt the windows, stoke the flames. None shall cease his visitation. For the Sinterdaan travels on the very wind itself. If there is but a speck or a hole anywhere in this home, you can bet he will slither his way in and reform at the base of this festive tree in a form most foul.

And there he’ll wait. He’ll eat these treats you’ve left him, oh yes. But still he’ll wait. He carries a sack, a small one that writhes with those he chooses. And he harvests with a two pronged copper blade, adorned with melodious bells. Why bells you ask? Well, the sound of a bell will repel the dark spirits that may haunt the night and he certainly doesn’t need any competition now does he?

So take heed: if tonight in your warm, soft bed, you hear something moving about in the dark. If you hear the sound of bells or the rustling of a visitor in the night. Take my advice: stay put. For if you come to see what Santa has left you, you’ll find HIM waiting. Tall, stately, sage green. Standing silent, proud and patient. You won’t realize he’s not the tree until he removes his hood and abducts your sanity and your soul. And then, to the Sinterdaan you shall be indebted. You will emerge small, feathered, shrieking the voice of a pitiful raven. And you’ll be cursed to fly at his side on his nightly hunts, seeking more wayward sprites that flit through the winter wind.

Stay put if you wish to have a pleasant holiday. And pray he does not get impatient and come looking for you. For if you stay still and quiet, perhaps he will leave and visit the next home on his list. The next home filled with naughty children that he wishes to add to his cawing menagerie.

So stuff the stockings, drink the eggnog, trim the tree. But beware he that rides the wind, he that casts a shadow with a two pronged blade.

For Santa is not coming, but the Old HuntMaster, the Sinterdaan…. He just might.

Mind your manners, children. Do your chores. Spread joy and merriment. Only this will protect you from his will.”

With that, the storyteller stirred from his chair with a groan. His old bones had tired with age but he still had a few sparks in him.  He scratched himself with his two tined fork and ran a ragged hand through his thinning hair, exposing the small nodes embedded in his scalp. He grinned, green moss glistening in his teeth and he turned and began to leave. As the children nestled together in the tiny chamber, they began to itch and found it increasingly hard to hold their cups. Their quiet fascination began to devolve into frantic screaming as the feathers began to sprout and their lips began to merge into chitinous beaks. As the cawing echoed throughout the warm chamber, the storyteller closed the door but not before one final message.

“Joyous Yule and a merry Christmas, my naughty ones.”

*jingle jingle*