Trick the Treats

witch-by-scottepentzer1For the Halloween Writing Event Oct 22nd – Oct 31st

The Cracked Lens View

Blood spilled over onto the cruel hand that had just squeezed life out of her latest victim. Such a strong little girl, she mused before laughing. The same dry cackle exuded from the ravenous bellows deep within her mottled soul. She stopped and looked around; her long nails scratched uncouthly at her long, flowing, ragged garb. What she saw was completely different. No tatters or drab, grey bloodied stain. She only saw ‘true’ beauty, which she was not. Her large feet clunked around the dusty grit as she sniffed the air before running a tawdry sleeve across her nose, blistered and generous.

“Ye gods, another day, another year. It gets monotonous,” she said sighing. “Little upstarts trying to outdo me. Will they ever learn?”

A few miles away Jane, Sarah and Sasha giggled in a bedroom littered with costumes and lipsticks and high hopes and plans for a Halloween to be remembered. This was to be Sasha’s initiation. Thomas, her major crush, was to be there at the party in the woods. Sarah looked at the clock and wondered where Susan and Bobby had got to.

“They were due here at 6 after practise. We don’t have her costume and we haven’t much time.”

The others were not so concerned.

“She probably can’t leave go of Bobby. That’s nothing new. They’ll be here.”

******

Susan lay all alone. Her hair, once a golden shrill of curls, lay dank and muddied on the floor near an old oak tree. Bizhar kicked at dead autumn leaves and kicked in the bag of fancy dress Susan had with her. With hands astride her hips, she grunted to herself.

“Takes more than costumes and weird hair to make a witch. I should know.” She laughed mercilessly again and pointed gnarled, bony fingers at her pile of wanton savagery and watched the fire consume both the mound of dead leaves and its contents. The wind had carried an item of clothing without Bizhar noticing, and it was swept away until caught on branches near the road.

******

“Where the heck?” said Bobby as he lifted the cuff of his sweater for the tenth time and paced. He wondered whether he should now start to head Susan’s way and meet her coming but once again changed his mind. He reached for his phone and hovered over the keypad then flipped it shut. Agitated, he tried once more.

The ring tone startled Bizhar as she knelt still beside the pyre. Quizzically she looked around before standing upright and soon aimed her lifeless green eyes at the flames. Inside them, it seemed, was the source of her irritation. She rolled back a sleeve and held it whilst plunging her arm through the leaves and flames. She reached about blindly then lowered further onto her knees, cursing and spitting smoke and embers.

Finally she pulled out and held aloft one of Susan’s arms before flinging it. Then, thinking again, she rescued it and threw it back into the fire. She eventually found the offending article still sounding and just about intact. She turned it every which way, then with much fumbling and by simple accident she heard a voice.

Ah, I know. Yes!” Bihzar thought, stroking the greying hairs under her long chin. She postured vainly and with a hideous mocking that belied her contempt for the mortals she saw as the bane of her life with their toys and fancy, vacant ways. She was stopped by the sudden frantic yell.

“Susan, are you there?” Bobby’s panicked voice asked. “Where have you been? Where are you?”

Bihzar ran ragged nails through her long, unruly, wizened hair and lifted a shoulder slightly, at the same time casting a glance to her trophy set ablaze, recalling the piteous screams and pleas for mercy. ‘Susan’s’ voice emanated and ran through the phone.

“I am here in the woods. I had a little trouble, but I’m OK. If you could come meet me though – about half way – we can go from here and it would save me walking.” A ragged fingertip traced dried lips holding a grey, green smirk.

“OK, no problem,” Bobby replied with relief. “Say, if I go pick up Thomas and the others, we could just meet at Ted’s old farm since time’s getting short. How does that sound? I’ll call them…or you can.”

“No, no, you call. I… am… er…” the old croc said, scanning the interface for clues. “I’m low on something… battery?”

“Ha! OK you weirdo. I’ll call. Talk to you soon.”

Bizhar began to smell things, good things, amid the charcoals and debris that were Susan’s remains. Plans, visions, more young blood and meat: treats for a deserving soul this Halloween Eve. The passing of time was irksome, she thought to herself, with fragility and aging the years dragged on into centuries. But today was a day for celebration nonetheless as birthdays always were. She cackled at her own devilish humour. “I am still as beautiful and as strong and powerful as ever.”

She then picked from her teeth a bit of flesh that had been trapped. She wiped her fingers down her front and began to walk, waving her arms at her side anticipating the evening ahead.

Perched on the old timbers in one of Ted’s old barns, which had stood derelict for years but which still housed the cobwebbed tools, machinery parts and old hay, Bizhar swung her legs like a school kid. No one had ever bought the property due to rumours and it being the local Bermuda triangle as far as missing people and unsolved cases went. This was half the lure and appeal of kids today around these parts, especially at Halloween.

******

Jane and Sarah came downstairs first and gave a twirl for Jane’s folks.

“You look gruesome enough, though it’s kinda hard to tell,” said her half pumpkin, half victim-oozing-blood kid brother all geared up for his night of mayhem. Sasha soon followed, equally decked out except for a change in theme, as this was her night, one she’d dreamed of.

Jane’s parents cooed and walked around her. “What’s the occasion? I thought this was Halloween, not a fairy tale.”

Sasha wanted to be stunning, just right for Thomas, and answered, “I, er well, let’s say we get enough of the same old, same old. I wanted to be different, a beauty among the beasts.”

“Well it hasn’t worked. You are still a witch, ha, ha.” The kid then hastily scarpered through the front door. “See you guys later.”

The girls, on the other hand, waited for the sound of the horn from Bobby’s car and their ride to fun.

Sure enough, the horn sounded, and there, hanging out the windows, were the three friends ready to give their dates a night to remember. Sasha only had eyes for the suave vampire as he jumped out of the car and swooned at her feet. Luke, the hunchback, greeted Jane and picked her up, screaming ‘Esmerelda, the bells’ before she had a chance to compliment him on his hump. Sarah’s favourite idiot, in the bloodied bed sheet and holes, was Brian, who escorted her to the car.

Bobby yelled for them all to get in. “Susan will be waiting! Hurry it up!”

The music blasted as they drove towards Old Ted’s farm, and laughter trailed through the lanes as they went. A heavy fog had begun to appear as they wound down the tracks and turned into the farm. Bobby slowed and peered deliberately for Susan through his windscreen.

“Maybe she’s further in. It is cold…a barn maybe?” said Jane, trying to thwart a rubber eye from nestling near her wench-like bustier.

Bobby nodded and carried on. Suddenly, he screeched to a halt, throwing the others slightly. It was a rabbit then a flurry of them, followed by critters of all kinds, running as if for their lives.

“What? That’s crazy. It’s a stampede,” said Bobby, who couldn’t believe his eyes. They all watched from the back window as the animals trailed off into the dark.

******

Smoke billowed steadily as Bizhar added the last of the slaughtered pests to her makeshift stove that rested on bricks and sticks atop an old tractor’s engine. Impatient and peckish, she stirred at her broth, rich and thick with the blood of her captured guests. She sat, legs agape, and stirred on, twitching and murmuring now and then at the thought of the treats for later, now steadily approaching. The burgundy sauce bubbled, and then Bizhar saw a glimpse of something through the murky stew…

******

The ‘wedding’ ceremony began. Sasha’s big day. She stood smiling next to Thomas, his fangs gleaming. Jane and Sarah held their bouquets, which seemed incongruous amid the costumes and setting, but before their Halloween festivities could begin, the wedding had to take place. It was Sasha and Thomas’ initiation into their group. Luke and Jane, Sarah and Brian and Bobby and Susan were ‘old married men and women.’ Sasha was doubly keen: besides it being unusual, she had only had eyes for Thomas since starting college, and if this was a way of getting him, then who was she to argue.

Bobby, a bit amiss without Susan but resigned to the possibility that she might have given up and gone home, pronounced Sasha and Thomas ‘man and wife,’ and they all ran out into the slightly chilled farmyard where the others jibed and threw loose straw and any old things found about them. Stale manure as a confetti substitute was one that did not go down too well.

Bobby’s head jerked around when he thought he heard Susan shouting. “Hey, listen up. Quiet! Did you hear that?”

They all fell silent and listened. “No, you’re imagining things,” came a reply.

“It was Susan. I’m sure of it. I mean, how many kids would come here – sane kids? I am going to take a look around.” Before Bobby could take a step, they all heard a scream and a cry for help coming from one of the barns.

“Susan! You’re right,” Jane spat out. “Shit!”

They ran towards the barn.

Hampered somewhat by his over-sized cloth slippers, Luke soon discarded them, slipping his sweaty mask into his pocket. He issued instructions to Thomas and Bobby. “You two search this one. Girls, stay here!” He ran off toward another barn.

“No way,” Jane piped up. “We’re coming.”

They heard sobbing high in the rafter. “I’m up here. I can’t get back down,” she screamed. “I’m hurt. Please get me down!”

“How in the hell did you get up there?” asked Bobby, running his hands through his hair frantically. “OK, girls, go get help. The damn phones are in the car. Go! Call for help and tell Luke we are over here will you?”

Luke studied the smells emanating from inside the other barn as he edged in. It seemed to explain the animals somewhat, but it stank grotesquely. He’d killed a few rabbits in his time and eaten them, but this was something else.

From nowhere, a hand was on his collar, the jagged nails piercing his skin to the bone as Bizhar lifted him up effortlessly and dangled her dessert, licking her lips. She nonchalantly placed his body, twitching and dripping warm juice, on a nearby hook. “Sweet,” she thought. “Very sweet.” She cackled, grazing the air with putrid breath, and put on the mask she’d taken from Luke’s pocket.

She stripped off and donned the rest of his garb including his slippers, which she’d collected from where he had dropped them. Bizhar made her way to the barn where she could hear the others desperately trying to rescue ‘Susan’. She laughed and shook her head coolly and swayed across the yard, pleased with how good she was at ‘throwing’ her voice as well as impersonations; she had forgotten – it had been a while since festivities had been so full.

Bizhar poked her head through the frame of a window, and they turned.

“Luke, she’s here. Give us a hand.” The masked figure didn’t respond, instead beckoning with a finger before leaving the window.

“What the fuck?” Bobby said in disbelief. “We don’t need games.”

Just then they heard a muffled voice saying something about ladders, so they followed. Susan had gone quiet. They reassured her and said they’d be back.

Outside, the three young men stood perplexed, as they saw no sight of Luke.

“Great!” Brian said as he swung around. “What’s he up to?”

They saw a ladder sliding out from between broken boards nailed across a window and ran towards it, hands out to receive it. They tugged but met resistance.

“OK,” said Brian. “Thomas, you and Bobby go around and help Luke. I will pull from here.” The two disappeared through a splintered slot. After waiting and tugging some more, he yelled, “Where the heck are you guys. It can’t be that hard. Luke?”

“OK, I’m here.” Luke’s voice seemed strange. “Give it a pull now. Reach in a bit first. I need your arm through the window.” The unfamiliar voice did not deter Brian, who was thinking of Susan and wondering how the girls had done about getting help. He reached in with his arm and felt a sharp tug and soon he was wedged between the frame and the ladder.

“Whoa, strong man. Be careful!”

Bizhar removed the mask, and Brian saw behind her the full hideousness of his fate. He was brought in slowly, piece by piece. His arm, neck and head were severed with little effort, the torso dropping to the ground outside the window. Bihzar decided she’d treat herself with some of the delicacies and gorge tomorrow; she would have all day tomorrow. She hung the pieces on the hooks available. All had been filled with what was left of Jane, Sarah and Sasha along with the boys…

******

Her grumbling stomach roared, bringing Bizhar back from her vision, and she stirred the pot of animal slime once more. Laughing, she shook her head and kicked it over and started again. She proceeded to add small, carefully selected pieces of sweetmeats to her new broth of blood now simmering before her.

Not So Shining Armour (part I)

Raphael_-_Saint_George_Fighting_the_Dragon

Long, long ago in days of old
When dragons roamed and knights were bold
Damsels a plenty hung loftily from towers
As shining heroes wrestled for hours
With green scaly demons, that is, until
A knight came along to challenge their will
The kingdom cheered and they honoured him
He rode off to battle, our knight, not so dim…

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Sydney, our shining knight of the realm, casually waved aside a nervous fellow called Gravel and the armour presented to him.

“But, Sire… you really ought to wear this.”

“Worry not Gravel.” Sydney continued to throw his spiked iron ball up in the air, catching it repeatedly only just managing to miss Gravel, his long suffering aid, by inches.

He flexed his upper body and neck, and with precision in his eyes, directed the ball at a makeshift target of stacked wine urns. He took a full length of his tent and made a run using an overarm tactic that an impressed Gravel had never before seen. The ferocious article travelled, obliterating the urns and piercing the tent and an unsuspecting guard on the outside.

“Aargh! God almighty!”

“Oops,” offered the knight, “sorry out there. Gravel, go and see to, err – whoever that is.”

“That is Googly*…your watchman, Sire.”

“Ah, well see to him and return here, I have a plan to conquer these dumb beasts and it will not, I may add, require your tin can mechanics over there.”

Gravel duly returned to report bad news.

“Googly is being attended to Sire. He sustained a rather nasty injury, but begged me to thank you for not killing him and murmured something about his family being too large to feed as it was.”

“Good man – that’s the spirit – and Gravel, what is more; in honour of that faithful chap, I will call my new manoeuvre the Googly. Let it hereby be known throughout our small domain and on our sports fields…” Our good knight prattled on pompously for several more seconds before Gravel interrupted him in good flow.

“Mmm…it could catch on, Sire. But Sire? What of your plan and these scaled green demons from hell, who are at this very moment waging war with fire causing devastating destruction in our valleys, and who in fact loom ever closer?”

“Pfft.”

“Sire?”

“Think about it Gravel,” The creatures are the size of a castle and have a brain the size of a gnat…hence their imminent extinction I shouldn’t wonder. How many carcasses do we discover in a year, hmm? And burnt out carcasses at that? They are so dim-witted they can’t even turn around and greet each other without one of them setting his neighbour alight. But, that is to our favour, and we must act upon it.

We will send out into the valleys some fairly useless persons from our hamlet. Offer them riches and the hand of the King’s daughter if you have to, but assemble a likely crew to post notices on as many trees as they can before they’re erm… well before the idiots are flambéed and eaten, basically. We will send an invitation of sorts to these dragons.”

“What kind of invitation, and Sire, I know I am but a lowly, humble servant and farmer, with no schooling and it irks me to question you, but I don’t think dragons can read – can they?”

“You’re quite correct Gravel, you are a lowly servant and peasant farmer – of course they can’t read! What kind of idiot do you take me for? Quite simply, or simp- le- er, ” the knight peered at Gravel down his nose. “the men will act as a decoy – the poster hangers are a ruse, an entrée, if you like – since they have exhausted their platter in the neighbouring towns; half digested, rancid flesh has been reported for miles in and around villages, and they are so stupid they will plod on and on till they have burnt our forests down and ruined our harvests before unwittingly making a clearway to more delectables, namely us, here.”

“OO,” cried Gravel, “A cruel but a worthy sacrifice, if I may say so Sire.”

“Indeed. “Now…oh, before I forget, what news of our attacking enemies who, last I heard, lay behind the Green Gorge?”

“None,” replied Gravel.

“None?  Have they moved at all since last we spoke?

“No, Sire.”

“They are still there, aren’t they, Gravel?

“Oh, definitely, Sire. In fact, before our soldiers pulled out….”

Our knight spluttered and removed the dribbles of the finest wine from his chin. “Pulled out? Pulled out? By whose orders?

“The King.”

“Oh him. Fair enough. But what reasoning is behind this.. this order?”

“Dragons, Sire… lots of them.”

Our knight stared at Gravel…his answer clearly didn’t satisfy him at all but Gravel promptly continued.

“Erm…the two unfortunates posted to stay and keep watch have reported no advance or anything much that poses as a possible threat – unless we count the unruly debauched festivities in their camp. On the whole Sire, we are safe as long as they don’t sober up too quickly. After all, we will be somewhat pre occupied with our current more pressing problem. I think Sire, that was the King’s reasoning…the dragons.”

“Thank you, Gravel I think we have established our situation viz a viz the dragons!”

“If I may, Sire, I will leave you and round up the men as you asked, and we can implement stage one of our plan.”

Our knight stood in front of Gravel and rocked back and forth on his toes. There was a sour upturned lilt in his voice.

“Stage one? Our plan?”

“Pardon me, Sire. Your plan. “The knight tapped Gravel rather harshly on the forehead with his goblet causing a delicious trickle of wine to travel down onto Gravel’s covetous lips and proceeded to wax lyrical about better days.

“Camp fires? Escapades, debaucher…. merriment! Whatever happened to the thirst for war, blood lust? Parties?…I ask you. Ee Gads.”

Our knight’s ramblings stirred something in Gravel.

“Invitations, Sire!… Parties!”

“Oh, not again, Gravel – there will be no invitations – not in a literal sense…”

“No Sire, I have an idea.”

“Out with it man, what is it?”

Gravel cleared his throat and wiped his hands down his shirt front at the same time shifting himself on his feet, feeling rather important. Our knight looked on with an unimpressed eye and quite impressive amount of loathing .

“We should begin luring the dragons after we secure the attention of our enemy, to whom we send a real invitation offering a truce. If they accept, a fantastic banquet will be held in their honour, and their soldiers be given every hospitality outside of our walls whilst their leader and our King hammer out the finer points.  Whilst we have their key leaders in our grasp, the army will be enough of a distraction and feast for the dragons – thereby providing us ample opportunity to destroy them…both…Sire.”

“Gravel! What a truly expected, simple idea.”

A few days later, on the outskirts of a woodland forest and after the ‘truce’ was declared…

“Oi! Mind your tail! That was too close. When you’re not setting fire to me rear, you’re trampling me half to death!”

“Sorry mate!” Tarragon struggled to release a balloon of air to which Arnold promptly set fire too – as he was apt to do – partly because he could and partly because he would never give up finding it funny, and partly because Tarragon had a way far better name – a name befitting of a dragon of old, and Arnold resented him immensely for it.

“Hey, Arnold, have you seen this scrawny lot? Not a juicy tit bit amongst them.”

“Yeah. What on earth are they doing – apart from looking like last year’s leftovers? They don’t look very happy to be here.” Arnold surmised that they were either very brave or very stupid, and either way they would do as an appetiser. His laughter brought on another shot of wind. Arnold was always fond of his own musings. He laughed primarily because, as he often told it, and more alarming to anyone with a brain larger than Arnold’s – ‘I’ve heard it before.’

The petrified, but faithful men hammered away at the trees and old fence posts and whatever they could find to display the ‘official notices’ and, as ordered, clattered and banged as loudly as they could to draw attention to themselves. As the dragons’ curiosity piqued and appetites grew, they moved closer to the men who immediately began to run for the thickest parts of the trees in order to carry out more of their work.

“Mmm, this poses quite a challenge, and is it worth it?” Arnold pondered..

“I do feel peckish, but what about the bloomin’ trees, and they’re such small bites, is it indeed worth the effort; they could get away before we begin to plough through such a lush, ripe green….god – I am hungry.” The dragon flared its nostrils, and wafts of putrid green smoke emanated, souring the air around them both.

Staring down the barrel of both nostrils and the billowing puffs gave Arnold the idea to attack from above with fire. Both dragons would make a clearing of the treetops then his chum could block any nearby exits.

Arnold sucked in his fat belly and regretted his idle days of obesity before engaging his tail – the very ragged and sharp end of which caught Tarragon across the head. His somewhat singed wings spread and engulfed the air in a pathetic but almost poetic slow motion until he gained momentum enough to hover, being careful not to breath so ferociously as to alert the tasty bites unaware of their imminent danger.

“Are you ready yet?” Fumed Tarragon waiting down below.

“Will you stop bellowing and breathing so much dam fire…they will see it!” Arnold rallied from above before he swooped – as well as an unfit, old demon from hell could swoop – onto and into the dry, green vegetation.

Very soon a portion of forest near the swamp was ablaze but the dragons could see nothing of the men who had heard the commotion of the unkempt and rather poor excuses for dragons before their plan and them had even got off the ground, and so they had ran as fast as they could over the swamplands which, since the dragons occupied most of the time, they thought was their best chance for escape, and they were right. The men had abandoned their tools and satchels containing old tax notices, which now lay all around, littering the parts of the forest.

Back on terra firma, Arnold was soon joined by Tarragon, done with hovering over the scorched forest.

“Dam! I was rather looking forward to exercising and using my talons to pluck them like wild strawberries.

“Never mind,” panted Arnold, “we have made a start on the clearing and a path to that juicy kingdom over there….Crap!  I’ve got a stitch!”

The other dragon seemed pre occupied. With one clawed foot he held down large scraps of paper and turned them, surprisingly deftly….

“What on earth are you doing?” Enquired Arnold.

“Oh, these just look like a bunch of those TAXDEM thingys…. and some numbers. Kingdom business. Must have been what they were doing, all that banging.”

Arnold took a closer look. “Tax Demands you idiot. No wonder we get a bad press!

Arnold read on, “Hmmm, they are being screwed. 3,000 shelics to rummage around in squalor – I ask you. We’ll probably be doing them all a favour by eating them, save them from more misery. Apparently the King and his lot are twerps, so it shouldn’t be that hard either.”

At this point, Arnold swung suddenly, not giving Tarragon enough time to dodge the huge ball of fire ricocheting off Arnold’s behind and a nearby broad English oak.

“You really are an inconsiderate bastard, aren’t you Arnold?”

To be continued…

* Goggly – In cricket a googly is a type of delivery bowled by a right-arm leg spin bowler…or so I am informed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Apprenctice

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The familiar but intimidating cobalt tip shone aloft as Gustav approached through the heavily shadowed arch of the cold, granite message tunnel. Snaking through the shuffling and twitching as we stood as apprehensive as ever, an unusual aroma struck us and soon made us still. Something was different this eve; doom was in the air amidst the ghastly stench now roaming closer as it threatened our nostrils and sent shivers through our very souls.

Gustav waved a free hand to the granite floor, and soon his body descended flawlessly. Nothing less was expected of Gustav, and so all appeared normal – at least for now.

As he floated between the two stone-pillared receptacles, which held the fire of the lost spirits, Gustav looked among us eagerly searching. Quizzical, but soulless black eyes held each of the boys standing nervously awaiting, and then one by one he let them go; as he did they would drop to the floor once the grip of his abusive power loosened.

A small face that held the most impish of grin’s despite the theatrics of this demonic spectacle belonged to Hythro who grabbed at my robe sleeve and tugged.

“What day is it tomorrow?”

I gave him a puzzled scowl.

“Ssh, young friend. Wait until this is over, then we can talk till the moon is exhausted.”

Not to be swathed, Hythro came back, “It’s my birthing day. I will be chosen tonight, you’ll see!”

I brought a thick, heavy grey sleeve to my mouth to muffle laughter that might escape. As I turned to look at his exuberant face, a vision of death appeared in its place. The cruel and ghastly mask that had overtaken the young boy’s pale and gentle face shook my very core.

“What is it Jansus?” He pleaded with creased brows and a quizzical stare; I was clearly frightening him.

I could not hear him, his voice became tame and separate in its own muted bubble. All I heard were dense voices reverberating inside my head and a swirl of mist had gathered where my thoughts once were. I watched my dear friend, who had become more of a duty to me since our inception and as near to a real brother as one could have, be lifted and held whilst the followers chanted and naked flames from torches licked at his tortured body.

One by one, arms of sweat and muscle released their grasp, and Hyrtho levitated before the dark and sinister black of the tunnel. I was abruptly brought to my senses by the bustle of the fellows preparing for prayers to be held before the mighty Gustav – our Teacher and Chooser.

Gustav prodded me through the air with his sceptre to force me to worship along with the others, as I knelt I was forced to look away and to the floor by the familiar pressure of obedience emanating from his staff. I could not pray, instead I thought of Hyrtho and his exuberance, and knew only too well what fate awaited him this night.

Was I the only one among us who was cursed with these visions? With every service I saw the face of the ‘next’. Do I send them to their doom? Are my eyes the only eyes he finds whilst he searches? I had come to fear every service because all of my visions had been honoured thus far.

Whilst the others prayed, I tried to thwart the sensation and images in my mind. Desperation forced me to summon my own demons to rewrite the premonition. Serpents of time snaked between my wrists and pried open each palm, mocking prayer. I watched as they weaved and writhed and listened as they spoke to me.

“Look to what looks inside you, look at him and see.”

I lifted my head and peered through the half-light of my hood at Gustav’s burning eyes; eyes that were already awaiting mine. The beads of sweat on his naked crown glimmered with the ricochet of flame either side of him. He paced heavily, his eyes not leaving the inside of my head for one second. I felt I was being buried deeper and deeper into the uneven stone floor we had adorned for years and years, and into the black light that was our lives. The humbled gathering smothered the hall in murmurs and prayer, which gave Gustav the opportunity for ceaseless battle with my mind.

Hell’s door opened wide and the same foul smell grew stronger, nearly suffocating me before I was all but swallowed whole, and before my demons had time to gather their wits and surge upon his soldiers awaiting us. Flickering fires tormented me by engulfing my fellow prisoners. I gasped with an urgency to give in, but my warriors placated me and fought the fire with conviction and showed me how false and cold the wall of fire that surrounded them was – that it was just an illusion created by Gustav’s trickery and deception.

Whilst the vision of a black robe and the cobalt eye of Gustav’s sceptre remained ahead to deceive the praying boys, Gustav loomed above me and choked me with a cold, black stare until I was sent to my knees – my hands no equal combat against his sheer force. The emerald and ochre serpents released to me a power, which raised me bodily, high and level with my oppressor’s angry stare.

“You dare to challenge me now?” Gustav snarled. “Tell me what has brought about such insubordination; all of this for such an insignificant, small and weak chink in our display – a link that will endanger all we have built, all we are – surely not?”

“Don’t mock me Gustav, don’t underestimate me either. I am done being your instrument. I am done with this black putrid space we call our home. I have grown and maybe I have outgrown you!”

I watched an onslaught of black images grow in number before me before I was snatched back into darkness and my tomblike existence; the only existence I had ever known. I was used by each successive in the Order and chosen for my power; a power they quickly ceased on and were loath to let go – hence my survival. I was their tool. A tool that delivered to them what it is they sought, without blood stains touching their hands – all of their sacrificial gifts to the Source. Should Gustav fail then his soul would be torn from him and fed to the depths of depravity in Hell. The latter did not worry Gustav, the idea of not being The Chooser of five hundred years this eve, and cajoling with his demons and his master, Satan, did.

I had never in all my ‘existence’, until Hythro, experienced the inner peacefulness of human bonding, kinsmanship and duty…or love – brotherly love. It had touched upon something in my lost being, from a time taken from me but that would never be snuffed out. This past echo ignited further powers in my possession, hitherto hidden and suppressed.

“Hythro is the chosen one and will die tonight, whether you like it or not. You chose him. It is your black blood that sends him to his death and to our Saviour! Be honoured that he chose you to channel his thoughts and hears what you have to say.”

“I am ashamed and insulted,” I conceded. I could feel the hatred as my face creased when I spat out the words, “Our Saviour, the loathsome spiral on which we all slid ignorantly and you the weak subservient who drove us, are nothing but a fallacy, a want, a fairytale made in ‘hell’, and you are so weak as to believe in it. I will not allow this anymore!”

“Ha! Oh you won’t? Then die!”

My screams wrung out and seeped into those gathered below me. Gustav’s blue sceptre of torment pierced my brain and summoned black putrid showers of molten liquid upon the boys.

“Look! Shouted Gustave, “See what your brother is doing, how he thinks for all of you. You should despise his whims and feelings…we must punish him… he must die. Now!” The army of serpents rose again to shield them and the voices breathed life into the boys.

“Fight! Fight! Use all you see, look into each others eyes and see. Look deeply.”

Hythro broke from the trance first and removed the hood of the boy next to him and ushered the next to do the same until all watched the air above them. As the smothering putrefaction dripped onto their robes a few cries were let out before a realisation that they were unharmed. The liquid turned to water and Gustav dropped to the floor and his weak and broken body lay crumpled before them.

The valiant Serpents tore through his tunic and gorged on Gustav; the cobalt blue flickered until its breath was finally extinguished. The warrior Serpents and their effervescent trail  paved a pathway through the cold tunnel, and the boys followed it until a luminous end greeted them; its warmth and radiance took their breath away.

Spirits that were released from the ruptured fires; kept burning for centuries in the vessels that guarded the tunnel’s doorway – pranced and spread laughter ahead of the children who turned and called to their new leader, still away in the distance in the sour darkness. Jansus walked towards them and they engulfed him with the power of the love that had assured their deliverance once and for all.

Jansus felt a familiar tug at his arm.

It must be my birthing day by now, mustn’t it?” A small imp like nose turned skyward only to be met by a sturdy cuff at the back of his neck.

“Don’t you ever give up?” Jansus picked up his small brother and ran into the new family awaiting them.

W G Casterbridge Retires

FootprintsInTheSand

Blue veins run the course of my extended arm. At the end of its reach, my hand clamours to quell irritating sounds and my face recoils at the sun as she spreads her wake up charm right across me and onto the polished virgin floors. Pristine wood is laid bare and unencumbered, until that is, I am ready to face the day and my feet pace upon it – the creaking, alas, will emanate only from me.

A melancholy sigh is accompaniment enough to herald the last day of crease-pressed, long trousers, for tomorrow I will bare my greying, pale limbs and shroud them with shouting, loud shorts – those with a deliciously garish display of pineapples held firm amid blue daubs – all unleashed by a designer who waxed lyrical for a while taking pity on some cold and dying cloth – I pray someone takes pity on me: a cast off, a remnant of society, unwanted, unfashionable and frayed at the edges, longing for some colour and the sunshine.

I will follow her form, treading a fine line of delicate, shoeless prints between sea and shore and disobeying her instructions so as to lose myself completely. I will burn red and become like the free roaming crustaceans, yet I will linger and enjoy her torment as never before since what else is there at the twilight of my days? While she continues to shine and delight and tantalise, so I will bask for as long as I can, and freely, since my legs are now bare; bare to the day and all who care to look upon them.

I will tilt my head and swear she winces at me as my nose turns cherry red. The pelting sound of the nearby ocean makes me take notice of my elongated shadow; exaggerated, flattering and emanating from my upturned toes. Raw sea salt rubs at my trophy cabinet, relics of which sing out in unison; blisters, bunions, corns, old plaster edges peeled away like a lifetime itself leaving a footnote as jaded as my soles.

I will be just another weary traveller whose journey has all but ended. On my march of freedom, I will bring with me white hair and gaunt features, worn sandals and plump feet bearing tales of cities past and people old and forgotten, except in my mind. I will scratch my blazing head – and think ‘how liberated I feel, and brave’, but skulk like a scolded child as she scorches my brow no doubt. I will dig deep, but will find nothing in my bloused, mango shirt and shorts of liberation as I will no doubt forget to pack a handkerchief. There is something to be said about the routine of a nine to five grey jacket and grey flannels.

I will hold up my brown spotted hand as protection from a hot lingering scour. If I stand long enough and enjoy the cool caress of the sea lapping like a faithful pet around my heels, will droplets of sweat run down my face? Will those tears of my soul cleanse me before falling off into the azure? Water – always in a hurry, always coming and going. Always leaving us behind. Except for tomorrow. Tomorrow I will travel, and further than I ever have before…

Trick the Treats

witch 1

Blood spilled over onto the cruel hand that had just squeezed life out of her latest victim. Such a strong little girl, she mused before laughing. The same dry cackle exuded from the ravenous bellows deep within her mottled soul. She stopped and looked around; her long nails scratched uncouthly at her long, flowing, ragged garb. What she saw was completely different. No tatters or drab, grey bloodied stain. She only saw ‘true’ beauty, which she was not. Her large feet clunked around the dusty grit as she sniffed the air before running a tawdry sleeve across her nose, blistered and generous.

“Ye gods, another day, another year. It gets monotonous,” she said sighing. “Little upstarts trying to outdo me. Will they ever learn?”

A few miles away Jane, Sarah and Sasha giggled in a bedroom littered with costumes and lipsticks and high hopes and plans for a Halloween to be remembered. This was to be Sasha’s initiation. Thomas, her major crush, was to be there at the party in the woods. Sarah looked at the clock and wondered where Susan and Bobby had got to.

“They were due here at 6 after practise. We don’t have her costume and we haven’t much time.”

The others were not so concerned.

“She probably can’t leave go of Bobby. That’s nothing new. They’ll be here.”

******

Susan lay all alone. Her hair, once a golden shrill of curls, lay dank and muddied on the floor near an old oak tree. Bizhar kicked at dead autumn leaves and kicked in the bag of fancy dress Susan had with her. With hands astride her hips, she grunted to herself.

“Takes more than costumes and weird hair to make a witch. I should know.” She laughed mercilessly again and pointed gnarled, bony fingers at her pile of wanton savagery and watched the fire consume both the mound of dead leaves and its contents. The wind had carried an item of clothing without Bizhar noticing, and it was swept away until caught on branches near the road.

******

“Where the heck?” said Bobby as he lifted the cuff of his sweater for the tenth time and paced. He wondered whether he should now start to head Susan’s way and meet her coming but once again changed his mind. He reached for his phone and hovered over the keypad then flipped it shut. Agitated, he tried once more.

The ring tone startled Bizhar as she knelt still beside the pyre. Quizzically she looked around before standing upright and soon aimed her lifeless green eyes at the flames. Inside them, it seemed, was the source of her irritation. She rolled back a sleeve and held it whilst plunging her arm through the leaves and flames. She reached about blindly then lowered further onto her knees, cursing and spitting smoke and embers.

Finally she pulled out and held aloft one of Susan’s arms before flinging it. Then, thinking again, she rescued it and threw it back into the fire. She eventually found the offending article still sounding and just about intact. She turned it every which way, then with much fumbling and by simple accident she heard a voice.

Ah, I know. Yes!” Bihzar thought, stroking the greying hairs under her long chin. She postured vainly and with a hideous mocking that belied her contempt for the mortals she saw as the bane of her life with their toys and fancy, vacant ways. She was stopped by the sudden frantic yell.

“Susan, are you there?” Bobby’s panicked voice asked. “Where have you been? Where are you?”

Bihzar ran ragged nails through her long, unruly, wizened hair and lifted a shoulder slightly, at the same time casting a glance to her trophy set ablaze, recalling the piteous screams and pleas for mercy. ‘Susan’s’ voice emanated and ran through the phone.

“I am here in the woods. I had a little trouble, but I’m OK. If you could come meet me though – about half way – we can go from here and it would save me walking.” A ragged fingertip traced dried lips holding a grey, green smirk.

“OK, no problem,” Bobby replied with relief. “Say, if I go pick up Thomas and the others, we could just meet at Ted’s old farm since time’s getting short. How does that sound? I’ll call them…or you can.”

“No, no, you call. I… am… er…” the old croc said, scanning the interface for clues. “I’m low on something… battery?”

“Ha! OK you weirdo. I’ll call. Talk to you soon.”

Bizhar began to smell things, good things, amid the charcoals and debris that were Susan’s remains. Plans, visions, more young blood and meat: treats for a deserving soul this Halloween Eve. The passing of time was irksome, she thought to herself, with fragility and aging as the years dragged on into centuries. But today was a day for celebration nonetheless as birthdays always were. She cackled at her own devilish humour. “I am still as beautiful and as strong and powerful as ever.”

She then picked from her teeth a bit of flesh that had been trapped. She wiped her fingers down her front and began to walk, waving her arms at her side anticipating the evening ahead.

Perched on the old timbers in one of Ted’s old barns, which had stood derelict for years but which still housed the cobwebbed tools, machinery parts and old hay, Bizhar swung her legs like a school kid. No one had ever bought the property due to rumours and it being the local Bermuda triangle as far as missing people and unsolved cases went. This was half the lure and appeal of kids today around these parts, especially at Halloween.

******

Jane and Sarah came downstairs first and gave a twirl for Jane’s folks.

“You look gruesome enough, though it’s kinda hard to tell,” said her half pumpkin, half victim-oozing-blood kid brother all geared up for his night of mayhem. Sasha soon followed, equally decked out except for a change in theme, as this was her night, one she’d dreamed of.

Jane’s parents cooed and walked around her. “What’s the occasion? I thought this was Halloween, not a fairy tale.”

Sasha wanted to be stunning, just right for Thomas, and answered, “I, er well, let’s say we get enough of the same old, same old. I wanted to be different, a beauty among the beasts.”

“Well it hasn’t worked. You are still a witch, ha, ha.” The kid then hastily scarpered through the front door. “See you guys later.”

The girls, on the other hand, waited for the sound of the horn from Bobby’s car and their ride to fun.

Sure enough, the horn sounded, and there, hanging out the windows, were the three friends ready to give their dates a night to remember. Sasha only had eyes for the suave vampire as he jumped out of the car and swooned at her feet. Luke, the hunchback, greeted Jane and picked her up, screaming ‘Esmerelda, the bells’ before she had a chance to compliment him on his hump. Sarah’s favourite idiot, in the bloodied bed sheet and holes, was Brian, who escorted her to the car.

Bobby yelled for them all to get in. “Susan will be waiting! Hurry it up!”

The music blasted as they drove towards Old Ted’s farm, and laughter trailed through the lanes as they went. A heavy fog had begun to appear as they wound down the tracks and turned into the farm. Bobby slowed and peered deliberately for Susan through his windscreen.

“Maybe she’s further in. It is cold…a barn maybe?” said Jane, trying to thwart a rubber eye from nestling near her wench-like bustier.

Bobby nodded and carried on. Suddenly, he screeched to a halt, throwing the others slightly. It was a rabbit then a flurry of them, followed by critters of all kinds, running as if for their lives.

“What? That’s crazy. It’s a stampede,” said Bobby, who couldn’t believe his eyes. They all watched from the back window as the animals trailed off into the dark.

******

Smoke billowed steadily as Bizhar added the last of the slaughtered pests to her makeshift stove that rested on bricks and sticks atop an old tractor’s engine. Impatient and peckish, she stirred at her broth, rich and thick with the blood of her captured guests. She sat, legs agape, and stirred on, twitching and murmuring now and then at the thought of the treats for later, now steadily approaching. The burgundy sauce bubbled, and then Bizhar saw a glimpse of something through the murky stew…

******

The ‘wedding’ ceremony began. Sasha’s big day. She stood smiling next to Thomas, his fangs gleaming. Jane and Sarah held their bouquets, which seemed incongruous amid the costumes and setting, but before their Halloween festivities could begin, the wedding had to take place. It was Sasha and Thomas’ initiation into their group. Luke and Jane, Sarah and Brian and Bobby and Susan were ‘old married men and women.’ Sasha was doubly keen: besides it being unusual, she had only had eyes for Thomas since starting college, and if this was a way of getting him, then who was she to argue.

Bobby, a bit amiss without Susan but resigned to the possibility that she might have given up and gone home, pronounced Sasha and Thomas ‘man and wife,’ and they all ran out into the slightly chilled farmyard where the others jibed and threw loose straw and any old things found about them. Stale manure as a confetti substitute was one that did not go down too well.

Bobby’s head jerked around when he thought he heard Susan shouting. “Hey, listen up. Quiet! Did you hear that?”

They all fell silent and listened. “No, you’re imagining things,” came a reply.

“It was Susan. I’m sure of it. I mean, how many kids would come here – sane kids? I am going to take a look around.” Before Bobby could take a step, they all heard a scream and a cry for help coming from one of the barns.

“Susan! You’re right,” Jane spat out. “Shit!”

They ran towards the barn.

Hampered somewhat by his over-sized cloth slippers, Luke soon discarded them, slipping his sweaty mask into his pocket. He issued instructions to Thomas and Bobby. “You two search this one. Girls, stay here!” He ran off toward another barn.

“No way,” Jane piped up. “We’re coming.”

They heard sobbing high in the rafter. “I’m up here. I can’t get back down,” she screamed. “I’m hurt. Please get me down!”

“How in the hell did you get up there?” asked Bobby, running his hands through his hair frantically. “OK, girls, go get help. The damn phones are in the car. Go! Call for help and tell Luke we are over here will you?”

Luke studied the smells emanating from inside the other barn as he edged in. It seemed to explain the animals somewhat, but it stank grotesquely. He’d killed a few rabbits in his time and eaten them, but this was something else.

From nowhere, a hand was on his collar, the jagged nails piercing his skin to the bone as Bizhar lifted him up effortlessly and dangled her dessert, licking her lips. She nonchalantly placed his body, twitching and dripping warm juice, on a nearby hook. “Sweet,” she thought. “Very sweet.” She cackled, grazing the air with putrid breath, and put on the mask she’d taken from Luke’s pocket.

She stripped off and donned the rest of his garb including his slippers, which she’d collected from where he had dropped them. Bizhar made her way to the barn where she could hear the others desperately trying to rescue ‘Susan’. She laughed and shook her head coolly and swayed across the yard, pleased with how good she was at ‘throwing’ her voice as well as impersonations; she had forgotten – it had been a while since festivities had been so full.

Bizhar poked her head through the frame of a window, and they turned.

“Luke, she’s here. Give us a hand.” The masked figure didn’t respond, instead beckoning with a finger before leaving the window.

“What the fuck?” Bobby said in disbelief. “We don’t need games.”

Just then they heard a muffled voice saying something about ladders, so they followed. Susan had gone quiet. They reassured her and said they’d be back.

Outside, the three young men stood perplexed, as they saw no sight of Luke.

“Great!” Brian said as he swung around. “What’s he up to?”

They saw a ladder sliding out from between broken boards nailed across a window and ran towards it, hands out to receive it. They tugged but met resistance.

“OK,” said Brian. “Thomas, you and Bobby go around and help Luke. I will pull from here.” The two disappeared through a splintered slot. After waiting and tugging some more, he yelled, “Where the heck are you guys. It can’t be that hard. Luke?”

“OK, I’m here.” Luke’s voice seemed strange. “Give it a pull now. Reach in a bit first. I need your arm through the window.” The unfamiliar voice did not deter Brian, who was thinking of Susan and wondering how the girls had done about getting help. He reached in with his arm and felt a sharp tug and soon he was wedged between the frame and the ladder.

“Whoa, strong man. Be careful!”

Bizhar removed the mask, and Brian saw behind her the full hideousness of his fate. He was brought in slowly, piece by piece. His arm, neck and head were severed with little effort, the torso dropping to the ground outside the window. Bihzar decided she’d treat herself with some of the delicacies and gorge tomorrow; she would have all day tomorrow. She hung the pieces on the hooks available. All had been filled with what was left of Jane, Sarah and Sasha along with the boys…

******

Her grumbling stomach roared, bringing Bizhar back from her vision, and she stirred the pot of animal slime once more. Laughing, she shook her head and kicked it over and started again. She proceeded to add small, carefully selected pieces of sweetmeats to her new broth of blood now simmering before her.