Grim Shadows

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.

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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. – This is a scrap of world building, a byproduct of my Raven’s Egg thing. One of a few things that happened when I mentally stuck a troll under an overpass for an active setting exercise.

The Hunter

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.

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This little ditty is inspired by Episode 26: Phantom Killer. It’s not one of the Raven’s Eggs, just something I started writing in Tulsa that the move interrupted.

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The Hunter

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.

The Entomologist: In Which I Set Three Dead Bodies On Fire.

Holidays with fireworks suuuuuck when you have a toddler. As I sit here, it’s 12:18 am and I’m finally sitting down to relax. The exciting noises started this afternoon, made her nap late, and the pop-bang ruckus will likely go on for a couple of hours. I can’t go to bed yet because she’s still not fully asleep. Sigh.

It was a great day, I loved seeing her wave her hands in the air in joy over fireworks, but I’m so stressed out from dealing with an excited adventure monkey that I doubt I’ll be able to sleep for hours.

I was hoping to clean and pack tomorrow. Looks like I’m only going to be worth playing video games until the son wakes up and we can resume the Dr. Who marathon we started today. I’m so glad my story is ready for a final edit and I won’t have to think much to keep my self-imposed general deadline of “Thursday”.

Anyway, here’s a quickie that kept bugging me through four different creative exercise prompts. It’s not that it’s an earth shattering story, but it really wanted to be told. I guess I’ll take the pictures and share this in the morning, she’s gone and woken up.

P.S. – When you take a shower at 3am and you have to turn off the water because was that noise the baby? Was that a dog barking because someone was walking by the trailer? And you’re standing there dripping wet combing shampoo through your waist length hair listening to every sound while your manly protector is half a continent away, it’s delightfully creepy.

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The Entomologist

“Oh, she is beautiful. I bet Dr. Fairweather will notice you for this one. You might even get more than just the grant out of him.” She winked.

“Excuse me?” I could never remember this one’s name. Grad students are so temporary lately.

“Was that too forward?” She smiled. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell. Anyway, she should help you get that grant for sure. I know you’ve certainly been working hard enough to deserve it.”

“It’s not about me. It’s not even about my work, but she does bring me some hope.” I couldn’t help the smile I felt rising to my face as I put her in the specimen jar.

“I don’t understand, what do you mean the funds aren’t available?” No, no, I needed this grant.

“I’m afraid the last of it went to Dr. Aemulus.” Fairweather wouldn’t even look me in the eye, shuffling through papers on his desk instead.

“But it was promised to me, you told me you would make sure of it.”

“Well, to be frank, she has an amazingly persuasive argument for her cause.”

“Does that argument have anything to do with the weekend you spent together?”

A deep flush spread up to his face from the over starched collar of his shirt. “Don’t be petty.”

The whole campus was abuzz with excitement.

I sipped at the champagne and wished it was mead. I like mead, the child in me enjoys sipping nectar like a bee. Dr. Aemulus came in on Fairweather’s arm and everybody clapped. The grad student said, “This should have been your event.” Incubo. That was her name. Something Incubo.

“Don’t be petty,” I sighed.

“Wait, that’s mine. That’s all mine. What are you doing with my things? That’s delicate equipment, what are you doing?”

Fairweather the betrayer came in, holding his hands up as if to physically restrain me if need be. “Calm down, we need this space for Dr. Aemulus to run her experiments. Your equipment will go down to storage where it will be safe until it’s needed again.”

“Calm down? How do men always think saying that will help?”

“Just be reasonable. The money from forensic research will be far more valuable than conservation efforts. Why are you letting some grad student put a bug in your ear anyway?”

“What grad student? How can you think I’m angry because of a grad student? You’re insane!”

I shouldn’t have to do this. I am a good person. I deserve loyalty. But no, here I am covered in fucking blood up to my arms in these stupid beetles. Necessary forensic research, my ass. This “research” has all been done before, it solves nothing. Nothing.

Out of pure spite, I crumpled his stupid starched collar before dumping more of the flesh consuming beetles over the pair of them. I patted Aemulus’s hair. “Feed your children well,” I whispered.

Fire grew in my heart. Fire grew in my eyes.

Incubo was right. Sometimes, fire is good for the forest, even if some pollinators die. I was wrong to stop the controlled burn the farmers wanted last fall. Sometimes, burning it all to the ground gives room for renewal, for the new, the strong, the helpful, to flourish and grow.

The heat tingles my skin, flush from being so near, the smoke billows to the sky and blows through my hair. I feel so alive. What an absolutely beautiful day.

They found her bones in the ashes. Her grad student stood quietly with the other onlookers as the bodies were carried away.

With a sad smile, Incubo said, “it looks like I will need a job soon. What about you? I hear you’ve been busy, but they haven’t given you the help you need,” the muse of jealousy continued, “Personally, I think you’ve been underappreciated.”

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Happy Father’s Day, Joe

I can’t be there to give you a gift or a back-rub today, so I wrote you some crime genre flash fiction. We love you and miss you. See you soon.

Carnival Prize

Oh, that’s an heirloom from my husband’s side of the family. Oh, no no no, that doesn’t belong to a girl, no that’s nothing worth stealing. Are you thinking he bought stolen goods? No, that’s from a trip to his mother, she’s in a nursing home and he went to visit her last weekend. He hadn’t seen her for a while, so they had a long chat and at the end of it, she gave him this. It was her sister’s, she passed last year, bless her heart.

Oh, no, he doesn’t go out to visit her regularly. Actually, he hasn’t seen her since he was a teenager, to tell you the truth. He got mad about something that he won’t talk about, but I know he thinks she raised him wrong, but I know how important it is for your mental health to bring those things to a conclusion and he’s been so stressed I told him maybe a reunion with his mother would be just the thing he needed. And he didn’t want to listen at first, but he thought about it and agreed so he spent last weekend away and visited her.

Anyway, it isn’t very valuable so if you’re hunting stolen goods, I don’t think you have to worry about this one. It’s from a carnival his mother and her sister went to, they won a knickknack in a ring toss.

It’s an heirloom, but only because it was passed along in a will. Nothing valuable. I asked and that’s what Mark said it wasn’t that it was old, it’s sentimental from a trip they took together to Tampa, nothing worth stealing.

No, I’ve never heard of her. Is she a resident at the nursing home? Dead woman, no we don’t know any dead women, young or otherwise. What, no it doesn’t belong to some girl. I just told you.

He’s not sleeping around on me, if that’s what you think. He didn’t take some girl to the carnival. He never smells funny or makes odd phone calls. He hasn’t been distant, or clingy, or guilty, I’d know, there are signs for that.

Look, even if there was an affair, so she what? She calls the cops to retrieve this five-dollar piece of junk? Why would she do that, why wouldn’t she just call me?

What? Oh yes, you said she’d passed. Well anyway this isn’t hers and we don’t know any dead women, so thank you for your time and I need to get back to my chores now, there’s only so much time in the day.

No, I told you. My husband doesn’t know any dead women. I’d know, he would have told me. Obviously, he would have mentioned if a friend of his died.

And see there, that proves it wasn’t an affair, he would have wanted to go to a funeral. He would have kept an affair secret, he would have lied about their relationship, but he’s a kind man, he would have gone. He would have said she was a client from work or something. Well, see there you go. If you don’t even think he knew her then why are you bothering me?

Okay, so a girl was seen holding a toy like this one and walking with a man who looks like my husband, but having an average appearance isn’t a crime, she’s seen holding this toy and walking with a man she just met that night, and she ends up dead. That’s a shame. That’s a very sad story but this thing is a cheap carnival prize from the boardwalk, why would you think it’s the same one? That’s ridiculous.

No, he wasn’t seen at a carnival last weekend, it was a man who looked like him. I told you, he went to visit his grandmother. Why would you need to search the house? What other girl? What toy rabbit? The one I got for Valentine’s Day?