The scream of a blue jay broke through the shadow of the trees, a war cry as it battled a squirrel in the yard she pushed her daughter by. She paused to dab at her forehead with a silk scarf while her toddler cooed at the squirrel. She enjoyed this street, with its trees so old they cracked the sidewalks, sheltering the stately homes that carved out a well-manicured niche from the old-growth forest.
Periwinkles tumbled down the lawn to kiss the base of the towering tree the squirrel skittered up for safety. Sweet little flowers the color of the dress she wore, that woman he introduced her to at the party. She couldn’t remember her name. She looked so much like the woman on the news, the one that went missing.
She dismissed the thought. Her child thought the billowing white flowers were popcorn. She smiled at the thought of telling him when he came home, it was cute enough that maybe he would listen. Where would she be without him? Could she be without him? Could she do that to their daughter?
A flash of light on fluttering leaves startled her. She was embarrassed at how high she jumped. The leaves were pretty though, flitting in and out of the light. They reached the park, she hadn’t noticed. The clang of the iron gate reminded her of prison bars, but it would keep her child safe while she relaxed.
She sat on the fading bench and browsed her phone, looking for a podcast to enjoy. She tried one of her favorites, always good for distraction. A few minutes into it, she closed it. She tried reading earlier, she already knew she couldn’t focus on a plot. She decided to watch the birds.
The birds are in usually in pairs this time of year. Male birds preening and dancing, showing all their flash and none of their substance, female birds in awe of their skills and flattered with their attention, to be later disappointed when they find themselves chained to the nest.
A tiny white pebble caught her eye, reminding her of the tooth she found wedged between the boards on the porch this morning. She decided to push her daughter on the swing. Maybe the laughter of children would give her the peace she needed.
Tarot deck: Archeon. Tarot Prompt: Queen of Pentacles, reversed. Interpretation: A sensual woman, gentle but strong. She loves beauty, pleasure, walk is in the light of prosperity with dignity and grace. A patient, compassionate listener. Reversed: Falling into despair. Sharp, cutting, regret. Guilt, trapped in past misdeeds, bad choices, falling. Rather than a wealth of joys, narrowed in focus to a singular intrusive thought.
Is it just me or do you miss getting drunk around a campfire and telling true ghost stories without a care in the world for such things as “facts” or “credible sources”? Okay, sometimes the campfire was the living room coffee table, but there was always beer.
I was very happy to discover that I could eavesdrop on someone else’s barstool ramblings of the mysteries of the universe, complete with tangents and amusing life stories. So, shout out to the Rigor Mortis Paranormal podcast for the nostalgia, and for the inspiration for this little bit of flash.
The tap, tap of my shoes cheers me, and it sets my grit against the crumbling buildings that have too many street lights broken. The shadows have things larger than rats and stray dogs, I know that, but I am vigilant.
He still he grabs me, and it doesn’t work when I twist my arms the way the self-defense videos showed, and I have no time to react before the soul crushing whump thud crunch of the plastic lined trunk traps me. I can barely hear the engine over my panic as regrets scream in my ears and ‘I told you so’s laugh at me in the dark.
After the eternity of a nightmare, a hand comes for me, jerks my hair hard enough to tumble me crashing to the dirt and gravel below. Slow, sensual laughter runs a steady beat under something that must be my screams, can’t breathe, taste blood in my throat and maybe I will scream myself to death.
Stones claw my legs and back as I grab his hands above my head, trying to keep my scalp from peeling away like it wants to, and he drags me.
I see an old barn and feel sudden hope I might be rescued, relieved and excited, but I see there is no help around except for three frightened children. They can’t be hurt, I pray for them, that they would not be seen by him and would not follow us as the dark woods at the edge of the field that swallow me and the monster. I pray for all of us, to anyone that will hear.
Brambles and sharp broken sticks tear at me, and will it be the man who kills me or some snake? My body will not rest in a soft lined casket, and my soul screams because I know I will be eaten by squirming things and creatures will chew on my bones.
I stop thinking when I see the wolves. The largest one stands with his eyes locked with the monster, his low song of anger smothering the man’s chilling laughter.
I can’t tell if I fainted or not and a mist is forming right where the man can’t see. A woman in the mist reaches her hand to me, pours into me, and I am swimming, falling, flying, but also my body is moving, and I am somehow free of him and standing up.
I feel a line of strength running through my body and it dances and a flick sends my leg under the man, sends him tumbling through the air, but cat-like he lands in a crouch.
I start moving, I see the flash of silver in his hand, but I am already disarming him. Then, somehow, I have my hand in his hair, holding his face locked on mine. I raise a hand and strike as if to punch, but there is a sliding wet pop and my fingers are curled inside the sockets of his eyes.
He screams, part of me screams with him in revulsion and terror, the wolves howl in delight, and I smile someone else’s smile with someone else’s satisfaction in my heart, and I step back to watch the wolves leap in and carry him off into the dark.
I flick my wrist and a wave of something within me rushes down the broken trail, setting broken things back into place, pushing the blood into the earth. The moment of horror erases itself from the land.
With a sigh she steps from me, and the woman in the mist smiles. A voice of starlight whispers through me as she speaks, “Child, you have done well and being weaker is not your fault, but you will be stronger if you find the warrior in your soul. Let your instincts guide you. I might not be around to hear your prayers next time.”
Then she blows me a kiss, wiggles her fingers goodbye, and with a parting flick of her wrist I suddenly know how to find my way out of the woods and to safety.
Horseradish. That would be perfect, just enough to give the other flavors a bit more punch. Usually she prefers pork seasonings, but the occasional hint of something good with red meat helps bring out the earthier tones of the dish.
Grandma would disapprove of such additions to her recipes, designed to be simple and enhance the natural flavor. Unfortunately, the difficulty of the hunt lately made it so that meat was rare, every effort must me made to maximize enjoyment. The prey were learning to protect themselves much better than they did in Grandma’s day.
She hummed as she worked, slicing turnips while a thigh soaked in the marinade. So many people undervalued a good roasted turnip. The flavor was so strong when raw, you would never expect it to turn so savory and mellow.
The repetitive task allowed her mind to wander, and she considered the satisfying catch and kill behind her. This one had been taken in his sleep, always better for the meat. She didn’t know why horror movies and the like talked about fear enhancing the flavor of meat, in her experience it made it taste a little off. This one never saw a thing coming, he was nice and cozy in his sleeping bag.
The park rangers are cracking down like wildfire, but they don’t know how to track something like her. They look for their trails on the ground, not in the trees. They would be aware, and so would the campers, but there will always be one or two that consider themselves to be safe enough to stray.
We were born when the land was ice and fire. We watched ancient forests rise from melting snow and trickle across mountains. We watched with the trees when humanity came in long boats, gaunt with hunger.
They followed iron and fertile lands to plow under for their own use, driving away wildlife that would share and help nourish the land, as it was always meant to be.
They invaded our tunnels to steal our metals, forging them into weapons to use against us within our own homes. In turn, we found their young to be quite tasty, especially when their life force was still pure, and their meat sweetened with candies.
We are children of the earth itself, and tied to her energies, her lifecycle, the rise and fall of all creatures and plants around us. We are made of them: the predator, the prey, the herb.
The sweet, ever-reaching lives and souls of plants, in constant competition for the sun’s love, choking each other in shadows with subtle chemical warfare, tasting of the sun-boiled passion of the very patient in their strategy for survival, death only giving way to a new form of competition as they unite with souls that consume them.
Becoming one with hearts that beat the wild passions of hunter and hunted from birth to death, one with an ancient dance only somewhat younger than the moon, one as passionate in death as it is in life.
The grim fire in their being is the fire in our eyes, the tempest at the core of our mother’s horrible heart.
When humans came, we took on the flavor of their lives. We changed, we shaped to include them and their new role in the dance of the lives around them. We embraced their passion for war and precious metals and stone, we took on the shapes of the terrible horrors whispered of in the dark.
It was they who shaped us, stern and ominous in form, they who needed us to cause their children to feel uncertain terrors in the dark, that they may implore the love of gods and therefore be saved in their fear. We performed our duties out of love for our place in the world around us.
But they came for us, and we warred and struggled until my kin were battered down to scattered scraps of civilization that chose to hide rather than continue fighting.
But we still know our place in the world, we have never forgotten our purpose, and we continue to fulfil the needs of a creator too afraid to admit the depths of their need for darkness.
So it is that we have always been here, watching from shadows as mankind conquered lands and turned them into rising monuments of stone and steel, machines that feed on the dead of giants and vomit viscous poisons into the waters of the earth.
The violent hearts of mankind gave way to a greed and desire to dominate that drove many earth spirits into another realm entirely. My kin in our various forms often choose to stay. The dribbling blood of ancient reptiles is no poison to us.
Though we find we are at another danger. It seems our forms are now intimate with lore of an age that is fading, and we are fading with it, becoming no more than mere shadows, easily dismissed as flickering in the lights.
Worse, innocent meat untainted by the chemical foods of mortals is becoming difficult to find, and children are not as afraid of shadows, not as easy to lead into the dark, not as willing to accept sweets. Many do not even see us, dismissing our touch as a chill.
We’ve had to adapt or perish. We are learning to tolerate the disruptive energies of the machines and poisons, allowing us to venture closer into cities.
Chemical meats tainted with addiction and pollution still weaken us, but their darkened energies allow us to consume fear. When a human dies in the sweet agony of abject terror, we gain the ability to absorb the same nourishment from the atmosphere, as well as the savory and tangy notes of despair, guilt, rage.
We hide from the sun in alleys and under highways, areas where the underside of the city begins to corrode and decay.
We follow addicts and prostitutes, angry teenagers with their colorful hieroglyphics, curious children wandering in the edges of their school yards where weeds overgrow lots full of junk and treasure.
They are easy targets, those who are willing to wander.
We follow them into shadows where we whisper to them to act on the dark aspects of their own hearts. We whisper that their greatest terrors are about to come true.
Their souls see us as they would fear us to be. We stand formless in the shadows, but we take on the shapes of their nightmares.
We gain strength, and if we are lucky, we can manipulate the human into death. Only just enough meat needs to be consumed as can pass off for the work of rodents, then as that death slowly decays into the shadows and the legends grow of hauntings and missing people, we grow strong enough to touch the world again.
The lovers make the sweetest meats, as we toy with them and make them turn on each other, pushing them to preform atrocities that will forever torment them in the early hours of the morning. We pit brother against brother, mother against child. A lovely aroma of lingering despair that helps the area to grow fertile and refreshing.
Akin to the way that human tribes turn a forest into land for only their own consumption, we can now spice the air of cities for our own desires. Eventually, someone will die in terror, and we will claim that victory as our own and reap the benefits of the magic it can fuel.
Some of us are changing again. Some of us grow to hunger the despair we bring to a haunted life more than the sweetness of a pure heart, and they find they can move even further from the shadows, and it is easier to touch the world.
Once again, we will change to suit you, to fulfil your ever-present desire for endless sorrow and desolation. We will fulfil our purpose. We will do anything for you.
We love you, and the art you bring the world.
P.S. – a longer repost. Still having technical issues, am thinking when my charger died it may have been caused by a power surge that caused boring stuff to not work right. Starting to feel settled back in to Tulsa, but will need to recover from moving and home repair costs before I can replace the laptop.
This was inspired by a bit of word art using words gleaned from Poe’s The Raven, by the way.