True Tales of Horror

So I hide. I start sleeping odd hours and staying locked up in my room trying to avoid my childhood monster. Monsters are real, you know this. They don’t look like giant men wearing masks and wielding chainsaws, Hollywood is wrong about that. Real monsters are short and skinny, they frown a lot and love to talk about other people. They’re those fat people who smile and laugh at inappropriate times and have dead eyes that twinkle when they think of death and murder.

Real monsters are people you know. They hide in plain sight and rarely get a second glance until you see them doing something strange but they always have some justification for what they do right on the tips of their tongues. On the other hand; the victims of bullying and abuse act strange as well. Victims are usually nervous, avoid social situations and end up alone in crowded places. Victims sometimes become monsters themselves.

Of course hiding doesn’t work. Whatever need my mother has to bully me builds up in her like steam in tea kettle until she’s pounding on my door or shouting to wake me from the sleep I start needing just as an escape. Recently she cranked up the volume on the television set so I couldn’t avoid her. She doesn’t know how to use the only television she owns so I had to go out to fix it for her.

This might not seem so bad to you, she just wants a little attention, to know that I’m all right and not a moldering corpse. Noise is one of the triggers of my condition. When people talk over other people talking the world starts turning to static for me. I can hold on for a little while, keep my memories active and working but I start shaking and then I’ll wake up somewhere else with no idea how I got there.

This might sound terrifying to you. Let me assure you, it is. It happens a lot. When I was first regaining my memories I used to seek out this exact situation. I knew I’d have to get used to it and I wanted to “train” myself not to be freaked out, to stop being terrified of the world in general and to try to gain a measure of control over this condition before it drove me crazy.

So I’d go to dance clubs on busy nights when I could. I’ve been told by people I trust that I just become a little disoriented but I’m still me, still jovial and pleasant but I’ll forget things easily and be scattered. I’ve been told by people I don’t trust that I’m a real blast.

From my perspective this is what happens: I’ll walk up to the door of the club, usually there’s some music playing that leaks outside. There are usually people talking outside the door or just inside of it and that’s when the world starts fuzzing out. I’ll regain my senses somewhere inside, usually on the dance floor where the music is loud enough to drown out everything else. Then I’ll fuzz out again until I’m on the street walking away, hopefully alone.

This is the primary reason I became a writer. I can keep the room I’m in nice and quiet and darkly lit. In this situation I can think just fine, the pain is the least I can manage without actually being asleep. Of course I had to relearn how to write, how to tell a story that might compel a reader to keep reading and that took years of practice and feedback in a highly competitive field that rarely makes anyone any money at all.

I’m living the dream. You know I used to be an engineer? Then I was a massage therapist. Now I’m a writer.

Where was I? Oh yes, my mother was playing a television loudly outside the walls of my self-imposed prison and talking over it. I managed to fix her television so something was playing and then I left all without saying a word because my jaw was clenched tightly enough to crack teeth.

I came back from the store and she’s still there watching something loud that she didn’t care about so I stayed outside in the bright sunlight trying to read a book. Eventually I try to go back to my room and she says; “why do you hate me?”. The next thing I remember is walking outside again with her following screaming at me.

In case you’re wondering my mother knows about this condition. I tell her about it almost constantly because she chooses not to remember it. She won’t talk in the car unless the radio is on. She’ll interrupt every single thing I say. Even before the brain damage she was a real treat to be around but once I got this it became painful.

And she just loves playing the victim. It’ll do a number on your head when you’re being bullied and abused and blamed for this by the person abusing you. Passive aggressive doesn’t even begin to cover it. Aggressively passive aggressive? Just plain aggressive?

People in public used to see her denigrating me and give me sympathetic looks. There’s nothing quite like being insulted snidely in front of someone else to make you learn to hate sympathy. Now they just look frightened, probably because they know that this is how serial killers are born and I am a tall, muscly man who wears sunglasses a lot. I can’t walk through a hardware store without getting strange looks and I’m not even fondling the chainsaws.

 

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Suicide is Painless

The story I’m about to tell you will make you mad, you might even cry. I’m going to ask you to reserve judgement and try to read it emotionlessly until the very end. Every part of this story is true.

About fourteen years ago I was in an accident at work: I slipped on some ice while carrying a large bucket filled with ice and hit my head on the way down. I went into a coma for a little while and when I came out of it I had full retrograde amnesia. I also had a great deal of pain and a considerably lower I.Q. because these things go along with brain damage and the kind of damage that causes amnesia is pretty profound.

Eventually I recovered my memories, most of them I think but there’s really no way of knowing, after about two years. Now let’s fast forward to today. I am recently divorced, which shouldn’t surprise you since I often forget what I’m saying while I’m saying it and my ex-wife seems finally to have given up on our relationship after I spent three hours being lost in a mall. In case you’re wondering I’m disabled, I’m also applying for disability through social security but that often takes years.

Currently I’m living with my mother because I can’t really get a job or, at least, I can’t work one for very long without seriously nasty things happening. Things like my blood pressure rising to dangerous levels. Now, because of the nature of my disability I can’t take drugs; I’ll forget that I’ve taken them or I’ll forget to take them and most drugs nowadays need to be taken according to a schedule. I know this because while I was still being treated during those two years I almost overdosed on the drugs my physician prescribed for me until he and a bunch of other doctors finally gave up and told me not to take drugs ever, at all.

Last week my mother, over the course of several days, told me to try some macaroni and cheese she’d made. She would say; “you need to try this.” “just taste this” like that. I don’t like macaroni and cheese so I kept saying no. No, I don’t want to eat this, please stop telling me to eat this, please respect this boundary I’ve laid down. Finally during a visit by her friend Angie she blocks me into the kitchen and tells me, again, to try this macaroni and cheese she’d bought from a restaurant. I told her no, then I said; I think I’m going to eat downstairs while walking past her.

She called me a shithead and went to eat her macaroni and cheese. When I confronted her about it hours later I told her that she needs to stop bullying me and abusing me. She said she didn’t remember that so I reminded her of these events that had occurred just hours before. During the course of that exchange she told me that the reason she wanted me to try this dish that I clearly don’t like is that she wanted me to help her recreate it since I am a fairly good cook. You see? It’s not that she’s an abusive bully it’s that I wouldn’t accede to her continued demands to perform a simple service. Except that was the first I’d heard of it.

After Angie left I texted her this message; “why does my mother become more abusive and bullying when you’re around?” She replied that my mother is the least bullying person she knows. I sent back “she does it while you’re not around but she does bully and abuse me just ask susan or jane”. Susan and Jane are my older sisters. Angie then sends me a sprawling text message in which she tells me that I should be down on my knees kissing my mother’s feet for letting me live with her and she wouldn’t let her children come back to live with her at my age and then she told me not to text her ever again. Then her husband texts me saying that if I ever text his wife again I’ll be dealing with him.

First; this is not a reasonable response to someone telling you they’re being abused and bullied. Second, my mother never told Angie I was disabled. She was laughing when she told me that. I’ve been disabled for fourteen years and she never told her only friend in town that simple fact. Angie thought I was just some worthless bum who refused to get a job and was sponging off my mother.

By now you should be seeing a pattern emerge so let me make it very clear. While I was growing up my mother’s favorite game was to pick at you, pick and pick and pick until you reacted usually by shouting at her. Then she’d play the victim, -she- didn’t do anything wrong why were you yelling at her? All the while she’s smiling.

During my recovery, before I regained my memories, my sister Susan called me. She had recently had a dermal biopsy which was tested for cancer. Let me rephrase that; she had a mole removed. It was benign by the way. Our conversation went something like this; “Hi gus this is your sister, I hear you’ve had some kind of an accident?” So I started to explain about the amnesia and the pain and … then she interrupted me to talk about having this mole removed and how terrified she was during the whole process. My sister compared a traumatic brain injury and the loss of all personal information to having a mole removed and the mole was scarier.

The less said about my other sister, Jane, the better.

When I was a freshman in high school I started coughing really bad. One day in the halls I was coughing so long and hard that I couldn’t breathe. It finally subsided so I just went to class. Soon after that I woke up coughing. It was so bad I started seeing spots and a ring of darkness began encroaching my vision. I was literally coughing so hard that I wasn’t able to breathe and had begun to pass out.

I managed to crawl into the hallway with a blanket wrapped around me and, between coughing fits, told my mother I needed to go to the hospital. She told me to quit faking it and go to school. I think I eventually ended up sobbing and begging and pleading with her because she did take me to the hospital although I seem to recall that she threatened to send me to military school if I was faking it and she’d better not be missing work for my bullshit.

I had walking pneumonia, bronchitis and some other lung-related illness that I can’t remember. I had to spend the last month of my freshman year at home and almost didn’t graduate because I’d failed phys ed which was the only class I couldn’t do the homework for and pass. I ended up taking phys ed for two class periods my senior year. It got me into great shape.

I was twenty years old before I found out that being terrified of your mother isn’t normal. I was also well on my way to becoming a maladjusted psychopath so I’m fairly lucky that I had an older girlfriend with issues involving sex. I convinced her to see a shrink and then I wanted to know what she was saying about me so I went to the same shrink. I’m also lucky to have had that brain injury.

That sounds weird doesn’t it? I’m lucky to have been injured with a painful, crippling disability that still screws me up to this day. The amnesia let me look at my life from an outsider’s perspective. To discover who I was in a way that very few people ever get the chance to do. I also figured out who I wanted to be and the therapies brain injured people get helped me change myself. So, yes, I was lucky to get a brain injury.

Are you angry yet? Maybe even a little sad? Keep reading, it gets worse.

I recently found out that my mother was abused as a child. She doesn’t remember most of it but there is one story that she told me. When she was young she lived on a farm and they kept rabbits. As a food source. My grandmother got tired of keeping them so she told my mother to go and kill all the baby rabbits. My mother had an older brother and an older sister as well as a younger sister.

This is the abuse she remembers. She also remembers helping her brother hide the ‘whuppin’ stick’ so there was likely some physical abuse as well but she doesn’t remember any of it. I’m going to guess that the stuff she’s repressing is a whole lot worse than being forced, as a child, to kill a bunch of baby rabbits.

It would be very easy for me to hate my mother. She is an abusive bully who still plays head games and seems to enjoy torturing me. Most of her family won’t talk to her, obviously, and she blames them for that. She’s also a little girl who was brutally abused by her own mother.

I named this entry after the theme song to the television show and movie M*A*S*H. It seemed appropriate since brain damage often comes with depression for which I cannot take drugs. I have to keep myself sane the old fashioned way, by keeping a positive outlook, talking to friends and writing. It’s very difficult to fight depression when someone is abusing and bullying you. There is a very real possibility that I won’t be able to keep it up for the years ahead while I’m trying to get disability, if I even can get disability.

I keep trying to get my mother to go get some counseling, some psychotherapy but she doesn’t want to. Even when she agrees to go she comes up with excuses not to. Who can blame her? If that’s the abuse she remembers there’s probably good reason for repressing the other stuff.

You are probably getting the urge to offer heartfelt thoughts and advice. To track down my mother on social media and try to get her to stop. Please don’t. You’ll only make it worse. Her bullying is bad enough without her blaming me for letting other people know she’s doing it and I can only hear “you need to get out of there” so many times without any actual advice as to how I’m supposed to achieve this. I know I need to leave, if I had any method of doing that at all there would be a me-shaped hole in the wall.

Thank you for listening to a few stories of my thoroughly awful life, just knowing that someone else is there making the effort to understand is more than enough to keep me going and I appreciate it more than I can say. I’m sorry I couldn’t give you an uplifting story, or even one with a few jokes in it but this is what I needed to get out of me today so I can write those stories tomorrow. Stay groovy you awesome person.

Sarah’s song

Sandals scraped against smooth stone somewhere ahead of her.  Sarah paused listening.  Rough stone was cool against her hand, she eased herself closer to the wall.

The clatter of sandals on stone worn smooth through centuries of bare feet echoed far along the hallways of the temple.  Shadows surrounded her, protected her from the predators running rampant through her home.  An approaching glow warning of an impending encounter allowing her to find an ambush point. The stone wall felt cool against her shoulder.

Faint light at least two turns away, suddenly growing fainter.  Through some trick of the architecture the sound of their passing just vanished.  Sarah was left in silence to consider: follow them or slip past? She slipped past the corner and padded forward a few feet along the next hallway.  A few doorways broke the walls of the corridor their dark openings stark outlines in the light stone.  She paused, scanned the hallway ahead, tried to peer into each shadowed door but they presented no information.

‘What to do,’ she wondered.  With no obvious alternative presenting itself, Sarah took two long steps and lunged forward, landing on her hands then rolling along her back and finally coming to a standstill in a dark patch of shadow a few feet from the corridor wall.

No cry of alarm went up from the empty rooms, there was no sign of danger from anywhere near or any other sound except her breathing, faint in the gloom.  Had she missed them completely?  Who were they?

Sarah moved lightly, on the balls of her feet, barely disturbing the air with her passage.  Along the corridor another hallway led to the right.  Perhaps the unknown light-carriers had gone that way.

She sidled up against the wall and peered around a corner into the gloomy depths.  No light, reflected or otherwise disturbed the darkness.

Sarah scrunched her face up into a scowl.  This wasn’t going well.  She’d separated from her partner only a short time after re-entering the Temple and had been unable to locate any of her sisters since.  Or anybody else for that matter; it seemed as though her night would be free of conflict or companionship.

A weird, reverberating howl pierced the night.  It echoed along corridors and off walls seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere at once. The sound seemed unreal, some perversion of terror incarnate unleashed on an unsuspecting soul.  Goosebumps crawled along Sarah’s spine.

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Willow in the Wind

Willow had wrapped the last, tiny jar and fitted it in with the rest when she reached up for another one and realized she’d already completed the task.  She’d barely registered the mundane work, her mind drifting instead to memories of Mica.  Poor Mica, once so vibrant and wise and now gone forever.  She existed only in memories.

A soft cough echoed down the hallway, barely audible over the almost total silence.  Willow was so wrapped up in memories she almost missed the sound completely but some part of her brain had stayed alert.  All of her senses snapped back to reality as that small part screamed at her.  Her eyes widened and darted to the hall door.

Willow’s head spun wildly looking for an escape, she snatched up the bag and slipped around the corner to the back room as the invader reached the door.  Heart pounding in her chest, Willow pressed herself against the wall inside the door and gently lowered the bag.  With the same hand she pulled her knife from its sheath on her thigh.

The invader stumbled, said something sharp under his breath.  Willow could hear the size of him, in the way he walked, the sound of the debris he moved as he stumbled, he was large, maybe twice her size and weight.  She glanced at her knife.  She realized she was about to die.

Even with her knowledge of anatomy and the element of surprise there was just no way she would survive the coming fight.  He was a veteran soldier in a huge invading army, he probably had years of experience murdering young, apprentice healers.

The crash of something heavy landing made Willow jump.  Her fingertips tingled and suddenly she couldn’t stop shivering.  The invader made a noise that sounded like a curse, his voice growled, a threatening sound that promised pain.

There had to be something she could use, she was an apprentice healer in the temple of healing for the sake of the gods!  She must have learned something in all that time.  Willow glanced at the Healer’s bag, of course, it was so obvious.

Her hand darted, quick as a snake, into the bag and withdrew a small vial wrapped in rags.  Shaking hands barely managed to pull the stopper without dropping everything.  The lumbering mass of the invader was nearing the door.

She dipped the tip of her knife into the vial and got the cork back in somehow just as the child-murderer crossed the threshold.  Without thinking she lunged.  The tip of her knife scratched his shoulder drawing a thin, red line on his dirty skin.

The beast howled as he spun, his massive fist struck Willow squarely in the gut throwing her back against the far wall.  Willow was stunned, unable to breathe, through unfocused eyes she watched the behemoth.

 

The man wiped his hand across his shoulder and looked at the smeared blood.  His face reddened and he spat something guttural.  A sneer twisted his face as he advanced on Willow.

 

Willow knew she was going to die.  She wanted to do anything to save herself but she couldn’t quite make her lungs work.  Her right hand scratched uselessly against the wall, searching for the knife that wasn’t there.

 

The man’s face changed somehow, a subtle difference in the curl of his lips or the sheen of his eyes, and he stumbled.  He lurched forward and landed on his knees in front of Willow.  His eyes had gone unfocused and a strange smile had replaced the smirk.  He sat back slowly, his bulk somehow lighter.

 

Willow stared in disbelief.  Her lungs had begun to recover but this threatened to knock the air out of them all over again.  She glanced around until she found her knife, a foot from her outstretched hand.  The man was still sitting still, seemingly awed by whatever he was seeing.  Willow eased herself over and retrieved her knife.  She looked it over carefully then eased it back into its sheath.

 

The bottle in her other hand hadn’t broken.  Thank the gods.  She wondered what it was.  The man now had a thin line of drool running down his cheek as he helplessly smiled at the ceiling.  A shout echoing down the hall outside the apothecary made Willow jump.

 

“Blisters.”  She whispered, her eyes darted around the room.  Suddenly she lunged for the bag, thrust the bottle inside and pulled the strap around her shoulder.  Another shout, much closer this time, made her heart leap into her throat.  Willow ran at the window and dove through taking the curtain with her.  Moonlight suddenly flooded the small room outlining Mica’s body and making it seem to glow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Willow’s Wind

The bag was old and made of leather, dark brown and smooth on the surface but the inside was rough.  The leather was thick but supple, the Healer had kept it well oiled.  It meant a lot to Willow that the Healer had entrusted the bag to her, it felt almost like a mantle, the strap around her shoulders a magical shield against danger.

So it was with great reluctance that she slipped the strap up over her head and gently set the bag on the floor.  The jars had begun clinking together and Willow realized that, not only would she be a walking target, they would probably break if she needed to do any fighting or heavy running.  She needed rags or towels or something to cushion them.

To her credit she only stared at the bag and fretted for a second before turning to begin her search.  Quietly, oh so quietly, she padded across the debris strewn floor gently poking through the larger piles but there were no rags to be had in the main room.

‘Maybe the curtains.’ Willow thought before turning to the interconnecting door.  She tip-toed carefully, still looking around the room until she reached the opening.

‘The Apothecary wouldn’t mind if I cut up her curtains for this, surely.’  Willow paused, hand on the wall just inside the door, and stared back at the main door for several seconds.  No sound disturbed the quiet except her own breathing.  She was alone.

Willow glanced at her bag and then slipped into the Apothecary’s back room.  The curtains ruffled oddly, they looked like they were being held in place by a person.

‘Blisters!’  She almost screamed, jumping back against the wall.  Her heart skipped a beat before her body started trembling.  A stray moonbeam found the window just as a breeze fluttered the curtain and Mica’s face lit up, her dead gaze now a grim parody of her once-lively soul.

‘Mica?’  Was the only thought Willow could muster as the grim realization struck home.  She took a shaky step forward.  The moon retreated behind a cloud shrouding the room in a dull, gray haze.  Before she knew it Willow was kneeling before Mica, her fingers probing the dead body of her friend looking for a pulse, a breath, any sign of life.

There was nothing.

Willow’s hands slowed and then dropped to her sides.  Her head suddenly became too heavy to hold up.  Tears stung her eyes before dropping from her eyelashes.

She had seen death before, of course, she was a Healer-in-training.  Why, not long before the invasion old Orion had passed and she had helped with his funerary preparations.  His wake had been splendid, a celebration of a life well lived and a rest fully deserved.

But Mica?  She was struck down in her prime, her life barely started.  It was so unfair.

Mica had been running away, already wounded yet they’d killed her anyway.  Casually snuffed out the beauty that was Mica even though she was obviously no threat to them.  Killed for no reason, she’d been killed for no reason.

Willow raised her head.  Her face was twisted up in a snarl.  ‘Curse these invaders,’ she thought, ‘make them die screaming!’  Whatever gods were listening must have heard her plea it was so intensely felt.  They must be moved into action by the base brutality or they were not gods at all.

Just as quickly as it had overcome her, the rage passed.  The spell had been cast and it left a cold residue of disgust within her.  Willow turned away, she couldn’t bare to stare at her dead friend any longer, the image already burned into her dreams.

A loose pile of rags lay before her, scattered amongst the debris of the broken furniture.

‘Perhaps the gods are listening after all.’  She mused before gathering up what she needed.

Willow couldn’t quite bring herself to look back as she left the room.

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Willow Wind

Quiet descended on the apothecary like a woolen blanket; covering the world in an oppressive, itchy silence that grew hotter by the minute.  There was an expectancy, of something held barely in check, that radiated through the air though only Mica’s still form was there to witness it.  Moonlight no longer lit her eyes quite as brightly.

A soft scrape, as from bare feet on stone, was quickly swallowed by the gloom.  Willow pressed herself against the wall just inside the doorway looking through it for any sign of danger.  Her heartbeat pounded in her skull, were those footsteps?

Her entire body shivered for a moment before she clenched her jaw and forced her fear back down.  No, the hallways were silent.  With a shaky hand she wiped the sweat from her brow and blinked hard a few times until her eyes adjusted to the darkness of the ruined apothecary.

Willow looked around with a growing sense of dread.  She hadn’t thought the room she had spent so much of her life in would be destroyed.  Not to this extent anyway.  Maybe a few jars broken, some supplies stolen but this?  It was as though they had systematically destroyed their entire supply of medicines.

With a jolt she realized that was exactly what they had wanted to do.  She felt soiled.  The idea was absolutely repugnant to her; to destroy what could only be used to heal, it was barbaric.  It was evil.

She felt a touch of the rage that so consumed the others.  These invaders meant to destroy all that was good in the world, they left nothing but misery and death in their wake.  Willow clenched her fists.  They must be destroyed.  For the good of the entire world these demons must be wiped from existence.

Just as quickly as it came the anger dissipated, turning to despair.  Willow slumped, expelling her breath in a long, low sigh.  With their supplies either stolen or trampled underfoot she would be unable to complete her mission.  The tribe needed those medicines, especially with the battle tonight.

Willow knelt and began sifting through the debris.  Maybe, if she could identify what was there, she might be able to salvage… no, it was useless.  Even if she could figure out which of the dozens of herbs she was touching she’d never be able to separate it out.  She was probably poisoning herself just doing this.

An idea formed.  The apothecary kept certain herbs locked away because they required gloves to handle or were extremely poisonous.  Maybe…  Willow scrambled behind a pile of debris that had once been a work table.  Her thin fingers moved over tiles on the wall, feeling for just the right one.

With a soft ‘click’ a tile depressed slightly and a panel above her swung up.  Willow stood and looked around, eyes wide.  Did anyone hear that?  After several long moments she finally turned to the now revealed shelves inset in the wall.

Rows of jars of various sizes, all sealed tight with cloth and string, sat on two shelves.  All the jars were clearly labeled and all were, mercifully, whole.  Willow breathed a sigh of relief.  It wasn’t what they’d wanted but at least it was something.  Carefully, she began placing the jars within her bag.

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Bad Moon Rising

There was no scream to accompany Jasmine’s soul to the afterlife.  Mica’s spirit cried out in pain but it produced no sound, only a gut-wrenching sorrow.

Mica’s jaw pressed up into her skull by the ground as she was roughly man-handled and tied up.  She was still groggy from the blow that had knocked her down but it wasn’t the shock of a concussion that made the world wobble and waver, it was the steady stream of tears that ran down her cheeks and soaked the ground beneath her.  She had opened her eyes only in time to see her life-long friend die in front of her and she couldn’t even scream.

Mica squeezed her eyes shut as hard as she could but the vision replayed itself across the back of her lids.  Jasmine outlined in the moonlight for a moment, the twang of a crossbow and the soft glow of moonlight became a thin sliver, another and her friend was dead.  Gone in the blink of an eye.  No, she needed to focus on the now, there would be a time for grieving later, and a time for vengeance.

It was almost a relief to be flipped over and dragged away by her feet.  Mica remained loose, her body a rag-doll in her captors’ hands. She needed to keep them convinced she was unconscious while she gathered information and formed a plan.  Their whispered grunts back and forth sounded almost like the language she spoke but without the music that made it so sweet.  It was a sad parody, like the music of deaf apes.  The situation was maddening, Mica needed to know what they said to each other but their language was just beyond her comprehension.

Instead she focused on where they were taking her.  The many twisting turns inside the temple were meant to be difficult for outsiders to navigate but her captors seemed to know where they were going and they dragged her along at a fair pace.  The few times she dared risk opening her eyes they were in complete darkness, or seemed to be.  There might have been a scant glow filtering in from somewhere that made a strange, almost not-there kind of light that only served to hurt the eyes.

She had no idea where they were in the temple but her captors seemed to have some preternatural ability to not only navigate in the dark but know exactly where they were going when they shouldn’t.  It was baffling and the implications were more than a little terrifying.  How in all the hells could you defeat demons that can do all that?  And they must be demons, no human could do the things they were doing.

No wonder the tribe had been all but wiped out in that first assault.

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Fatal Distraction

There was a sound in the other room, a quiet, almost non-existent sound as of someone creeping, not wanting to be heard.  Mica’s eyes widened.

Jasmine’s soft sobs muffled further as Mica drew her friend closer but the apothecary was still once more.  Her eyes glanced from one shadow to the next.  They were a standing target, attack could come from anywhere.

Were they moving?  Was that someone slithering around in the short hallway?  Mica’s heart jumped in fear.  Had they been discovered by the enemy?

Gently, oh so gently, Mica disentangled herself from Jasmine.  Jasmine’s eyes, now puffy and rimmed with red, looked questioningly at her friend but Mica could only shake her head and put her finger to her lips.

Jasmine sniffled and nodded her understanding.  Only scant hours before the entire temple teemed with the enemy, this was no place to break down into hysterics.  There was yet another sharp stab of pain in her chest as her mother’s loss hit home once again.  Only her breathing hitched to show it, otherwise she stood rock-steady.

Mica seemed to melt away into the wall to the left, Jasmine disappeared to the right.  The pair crawled along the walls moving from cover to cover until they reached the doorway.  No other sounds had come from the Apothecary but that meant nothing; they might have slipped in while the guard was away relieving himself.  By the nine hells there might be a platoon stationed out there just looking for the cure to crotch-rot because all their liquor supplies had finally run out, you never really knew what you’d find after a looting.

Mica slipped her head around the door-frame.  A twang sounded from the distant doorway preceding a bolt aimed straight for her face.  Mica fell away just before the bolt flew past but Jasmine gasped and stretched out her arm.

Another bolt shot from a slightly different angle penetrated Jasmine’s belly off to the right.  She gasped and fell back disappearing into the shadows.  Mica looked her friend over in the cover of darkness.  Without warning she grabbed the shaft and yanked it out.  Jasmine wanted to gasp, she wanted to scream out in agony but instead she clenched her jaw.  Mica quietly said; “Go,” with a nod to the wall and then lunged at the approaching enemy soldier.

The soldier’s dark-red robes were too large under the shiny chest armor.  They bunched out around his arms.  Mica punched the half-loaded crossbow out of his hands and it flew off against the wall with a loud clatter.

Both her hands slipped down and pulled his spare knives while he was still registering surprise.  Both knives struck deep in the man’s shoulders hitting the nerve plexus and turning his arms to limp rags.  She lunged again, pulling him with her, spinning them around.

A bolt struck his back then another, Mica slipped around the guard, his blades dripping his blood in her hands.  She darted forward and the man slowly sunk to the ground.  He groaned and closed his eyes.

Jasmine took three steps and fell to her knees.  Sharp pain shot through her torso.  She squeezed her eyes shut and forced herself to breathe slowly.

She’d had training for just this very thing, breathe slowly, center your mind and the body will follow.  Slowly, so very slowly, the pain subsided.  Jasmine looked up at the window, the wind was blowing slightly fluttering the thin fabric of the curtain.  Moonlight shone down on the stone floor highlighting the glowing frame.

Her gate to salvation; the glowing window frame.  Jasmine forced herself forward.  Pain flared in her gut but she fought through it. Damn those bastard sons of a swine.  Damn them to the bloody hell of pissed-off Mica.  Ha… ha haah… yes.  Mica would make them suffer ten times more than what she was going through.

Serves them right.

They came here, invaded her home.  Murdered her friends, her parents… everyone she knew almost.  They deserved all the pain they’d get.  More.

Jasmine lurched forward one last time, grinning in terrible fury.  Her jaw clenched shut, her face a grimace of pain and her eyes flashing blue murder.  Silvery light bathed her stretched out fingertips.  A breeze ruffled the curtain and for a moment her entire hand glowed.

She wanted to cry.  Instead she gathered up her legs and pushed herself forward.  Her gut burned but she pressed down on it harder.  She had to make it out for her mother, she had to survive to carry on her legacy.

Jasmine remembered all those lessons at her mother’s feet like they happened only yesterday.  Long afternoons watching her mother grind herbs for some medication or other.  Long lectures about the efficacy of one herb in particular.  Jasmine always knew when her mother had been reading up on something.

She chuckled despite the pain, or in defiance of it perhaps.  Jasmine’s mother would always live on through her, through her memories, her thoughts and knowledge passed along by spending so much time together.  She drew herself up and lurched forward and she was leaning against the stone wall.

Coolness pressed against her cheek, refreshing Jasmine.  A breeze pressed against the curtain and the moon peeked through the opening silvery-blue against the diamond-speckled velvet lining the sky.  She couldn’t help but smile as she looked up.

How many times as a child had she sat just here watching the moon through that window, staring out at the world.  Her gut began raging at her and she winced.  It began hurting harder and the wince turned into a scowl.  ‘I might have ruptured something,’ she thought.  ‘I might be screaming in agony in a short while just before I die.’

A chilling thought that brought goose-pimples to her spine.  She needed help, she needed to get to the medics waiting just inside the forest.  They’d patch her up and put her back together.  She just had to get over the lip of this window.

Jasmine stretched her left hand up, blissfully unaware of the quiet from the other room.  If anything she thought Mica had probably forced the fight out into the hallways beyond.

She’d be wrong.

Her hand grasped the sill.  Holy fucking hell that huuurrrtssssss.

‘Do not pull yourself up.  Got it.’

Jasmine gathered her legs up under her.  The wind forced the curtain back and, for just a moment, she was entirely lit by the moon’s rays.

A bolt appeared as if by magic pinning the curtain to her hand, and her hand to the window-sill.  She hadn’t even registered the one before another pierced her head attaching it to the wall.  Her gaze remained on the moon even as the light left her eyes.

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Chapter Two

The apothecary lay in ruins.  Jars lie broken on the floor, their contents trampled underfoot.  Strange smells lay thick on the air; old spices and dried herbs and… something else.  Blood?  Fear?  Something.

Mica squinted her eyes, peering past the gloom, looking for any sign of life.  Jasmine pressed her body against the wall, willing herself to blend into the cold stone, to disappear.  Slowly the pair edged their way inside.

The apothecary was once a place of peace, of life.  Both the workshop and living space of Jasmine’s mother Dawn.  Many were the long hours she had spent at her mothers knees while the elder woman bound herbs for drying or prepared a medicinal tea.

Dawn had made the space holy with her presence.  The apothecary was a place of healing, of peace.  Its ruin mocked Jasmine’s memories, laughed at her fear and pain.

Drops of blood discolored the counters, mixed with the myriad herbs on the floor.  Jasmine’s heart skipped a beat but her face never betrayed the turmoil within her breast.  Her mother may need help, may even lay dying in the next room or it might be a trap waiting to end them.  The minions of the Demon usurper were treacherous.

No matter how much she wanted to run into her mother’s chambers Jasmine forced herself to move slowly, cautiously.  Make no sound, check for trip wires and traps, surprise was the Amazon’s most potent weapon.  Finally, the pair reached the far doorway leading to Dawn’s chambers, Mica readied herself on one side, Jasmine on the other.  They glanced at each other and nodded in unison, an entire conversation shared in the one look.

They breathed deeply, readied their knives and, in unison, rolled into the room ready for a skirmish.  Jasmine leapt to her feet, her arm out, ready to grapple with an opponent, her knife held close to her body point facing out.  Mica stayed low, crouching to one side of her friend and compatriot, balancing on the balls of her feet, one hand lightly touching the floor the other ready to thrust her blade into the enemy.

The room was empty.  The ruin of the apothecary didn’t extend into Dawn’s living quarters.  It was almost as though the older woman might be returning at any moment from a long day tending her garden.

Puzzled the pair glanced again at each other then moved cautiously about the room.  The bed was pushed up against the wall, blankets folded neatly and placed on a small table ready to be used for sleep.  Dawn’s scent permeated the room, flowers and herbs and something else, something that was just… her.

Jasmine’s eyes teared up and her chest heaved.  Her mother was gone, she might be a captive or tortured or dead for all she knew and there was nothing she could do about it.  Mica moved to her friend and put her arms around her, burying her friend’s sobs in her embrace.

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Flea’s Revenge

She stared in disbelief at the carnage before herShe raised her hands and all eyes were upon her.  Deft motions of practiced fingers spread the news that had cost one of their own her life.

“The Demon Usurper wants our magic,” Storm signed, “our battle plan needs to change.”

Mei Ling scowled briefly as her brilliant mind began recalculating the scenarios.  Storm caught the look of concern flashing across her best friend’s face.  Nothing to be done about it now.

“We must stop them from breaching our secrets,” Storm’s fist struck her palm, the sound overly loud in the quiet room.  “Guard our secrets at any cost!”

The beautiful, Amazon princess padded silently across the cold, stone tiles to the side of the doorway, listening intently for any sound of enemy presence.  Behind her, the rest of her band followed, moving quickly to line the inner walls.

Storm held up a hand and all motion instantly ceased.  In the resulting silence a gentle, far-off tapping could be heard.  Sandal-ed feet were approaching along the main hallway toward the front door.  Heartbeats quickened and barely contained anger flared in anticipation of the coming kill.  Amazon warriors smiled darkly to each other across the gloom.

Storm made a fist with her upheld hand and then raised two fingers.  Two warriors came up to join her.  The three moved to the room’s entrance, muscles taut.  Flickering torchlight played against the wall showing the enemy’s approach.  When the flame came into view, the three women leapt through the portal into the main hallway and landed squarely.

Both guards stopped dead in their tracks, suddenly confronted by three almost naked women appearing from the darkness as if by magic.  They stood dumbfounded, staring at the smooth oiled skin, tan from long days spent working in the sun.  As their eyes drifted down the women lashed out as one, feet cracking against slackened jaws.

Two necks snapped almost in unison, and the guards were thrown backwards to the floor.  In seconds their bodies had been pulled into the room, stripped and dumped in a corner.  Storm guarded the hallway with her two warriors while the rest paired off and scattered into the labyrinthine passages of the ancient temple.

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