A – Z Challenge Day 21

Day 21 is here, and that means it’s the final week of this April’s Challenge! I’m surprised, relieved and somewhat saddened by the prospect of it all being over so soon! Today’s story is a bit late because I have been working late today, which has required me to write on the go and almost exclusively on my phone, which is something I haven’t done before. Quite a tricky but rewarding experience, I must say!
Anyway, today’s suggestion comes from the brilliant Geoff Le Pard
, who, as I have previously mentioned, is largely responsible for inspiring my theme for this Challenge. Geoff suggested the word “UNREAL”, which I am delighted to say really forced me to think hard. I discarded several ideas before I settled on this one, and I hope I have done it justice. Thanks, Geoff!

UNREAL
By Adam Dixon

Jack could hardly believe the realism of the game. As soon as he pulled down the visor-screen he could almost swear that he was standing in a meadow during the height of summer, rather than sat in his ergonomic gaming chair in his draughty South-London flat. He could nearly feel the grass tickling his feet and taste the pollen in the air. The box containing the virtual reality system boasted “A gaming world so real, it’ll leave you drained!” It certainly was visually impressive.

“Wow,” he whistled in appreciation. “Pretty good start!” He glanced down at himself and marvelled at the physique of his chosen character. He gazed in wonder at a bare torso covered with rippling, solid muscle and saw equally strong legs supporting him. He almost whooped in delight. He was just like Conan the Barbarian!

“Oh man, this is gonna be good!” Jack squeaked, lifting and flexing his limbs for a better inspection of his new physical prowess. He felt powerful and confident, making his character strut around the deserted meadow with a deliberate swagger. It all seemed so real, even down to the dull thud of his character’s rough leather boots on the soil. The only aspect which reminded Jack that he was in a game was the Head-Up Display fixed permanently in his sight just above his left eye. It displayed a full green health bar, as well as currently empty weapon and potions slots. In the centre of his vision was a flashing red timer counting down from one minute, urgently informing Jack that the “FIRST WAVE”  was approaching.
“Hmm…weapons…” Jack muttered, casting to and fro. He spotted a large, double-headed axe leaning against a nearby fence. Brimming with excitement, Jack ran over to it and curled his massive right hand around the haft. As he tensed to lift it, the resistance astonished Jack. It even felt heavy!
“Fuck, this is awesome!” Jack exclaimed as he took a few practice swings with the axe. It made a low whooshing sound as it cleaved through the air and threatened to overbalance him. That didn’t matter, he’d get the hang of it in time. As he moved around the meadow with the axe held high the red timer hit zero. Almost instantly Jack heard savage snarls behind him. He spun around to see three terrifyingly life-like wolves running towards him. Yelping, Jack held the axe at the ready, somewhat comforted by its weight.
“Come on, then!” He shouted, planting his feet and squaring his shoulders. He felt braver than he had ever been as Jack the nerd. He was Conan, and he wasn’t scared of some stupid wolves!
The first wolf attacked, leaping through the air with its razor-sharp fangs seeking Jack’s throat. Jack swung the axe in an awkward sideways motion with all of his new might. His axe slammed into the wolf, sending shock waves up his arms. He felt faint as he heard bones snapping and the wolf howling in pain. Wow, this is a bit too real! Jack thought, his emotions caught somewhere between joy and horror.
Swinging the axe twice more he felled the other two wolves like trees. As he stood panting, he noticed that the red timer had started up again; the “SECOND WAVE”  was on its way.
Jack spent the next hour battling various enemies as the timer stopped and restarted. Wolves, bandits, fellow barbarians and even armoured knights fell to his mighty axe as Jack grew in confidence and determination. He was astounded by the VR’s attention to detail; he saw every sickening laceration, every grimace of pain and and every look of terror on his enemies faces. He continually had to glance up at the HUD in order to remind himself that he wasn’t in mortal danger at every turn. He experienced the full impact of the VR’s sophistication when a knight stabbed him through the arm. Pain radiated from his wounds and his forearm grew slick with blood. His health bar decreased by a third and Jack felt a portion of his energy disappear with it. He screamed and almost threw off his visor-screen in a panic. Instead, he despatched the knight and stood trembling, reminding himself firmly that it was only a game. A damned realistic game, but still a game. None of it was real.
Jack was becoming exhausted by the “SEVENTH WAVE”, and he was pounced upon by a huge bear during the “EIGHTH WAVE”. He was forced the ground under the weight of the beast, choking on a mouthful of its reeking fur. The bear tore into Jack’s throat and he screamed again, marvelling at the heightened sensation of pain he was experiencing. As the bear’s jaws opened and closed, Jack felt his strength ebbing away. The virtual meadow began to grow dark as Jack’s health bar emptied. The last thing Jack thought before he died was wondering what the loading screen would look like. He wasn’t sure if he would hit “CONTINUE”. He’d had enough for one day…
Back in Jack’s flat, the vampire Lucius reluctantly finished his feast. He withdrew his own very real fangs from Jack’s throat and stood back, wiping fresh blood from his chin and admiring his handiwork. The overweight, heavily-acned corpse that had once been Jack sat slumped in the preposterous gaming chair, its skin pale and its face contorted in agony.
Lucius laughed as he contemplated how easy hunting was becoming these days. One could always find loners like Jack who would jump at the chance to test out a prototype gaming system, no matter how dodgy it all seemed. Lucius removed the visor-screen from the corpse’s head and collected the controllers and power outlet. Before he left, he turned back and took one last look at the very real, very dead man. He grinned and strode out of the flat. Virtual reality: just another way to turn the vulnerable into the delicious!

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A – Z Challenge Day 11

Day eleven is here! It’s strange to think that we’re nearing the half-way point of this April’s Blogging Challenge, and even stranger to think that I’ve actually written ten stories before this one!

Anyway, today’s word comes from my very own proof-reader/second-pair-of-eyes/ideas-bouncer-offer/hand-holder/constant-source-of-encouragement, my partner, Sammi. Or, as I prefer to call her, Samwise! Today’s word is “KARMA”, and this gave me a bit of trouble to begin with. Initially I thought “great! I can write something about good and evil deeds and have some kind of mighty cosmic force balancing them out!”, but then I quickly realised that I had no idea how to write such a thing! After a little while of staring at a blank page , this is what I came up with.

Thanks again, Samwise!

KARMA

By Adam Dixon

Ping!

Karma looked up from her calculations and glanced at her computer screen. She’d received an email from one of her agents in the land mass currently known as Great Britain. She opened it, scanned it briefly and tutted.

“Hmmm…Mr Jones, you naughty little man!” she muttered under her breath. “Leaving the poor woman with two kids and no job, eh? Well, I’ve got the very thing for you…” She began typing, forwarding the email to her good friend and work partner, Death.

“This one’s been especially bad this time. He clearly has no stomach for commitment or hard work. I’d suggest bowel cancer. Let me know what you think!”

Karma pressed SEND, knowing full well that Death would respond in the affirmative. He almost always agreed with her on these matters, not least because it spiced up his day. She cleared her throat and adjusted her glasses before looking down at her calculations once again. She had been working out the scale upon which divine justice needed to be issued to European politicians based on their actions over the last two decades. It was proving to be quite tricky, as not all of them were crooked or uncaring bastards, but enough had been that it called for some serious punishment. She realised that it was something that she would have to build up towards, and she had an idea how to get the ball rolling. She reached for her office phone and dialled her receptionist.

“Percy, my dear, would you please send Pity in for me? Thank you!” Karma smiled as she sat back in her chair. Perception was the best receptionist she had ever had, and they had worked together for aeons now. He always knew which cases needed her direct intervention and made sure that the flow of celestial traffic into her workspace was one-way. After a few moments, the door opened and a tiny, meek-looking being shuffled inside.

“Come in, Pity! Have a seat, dear,” Karma smiled and gestured towards the empty space in front of her desk. She always said that, regardless of whom she was addressing. It was an example of her strange sense of humour.

“Hello, Miss Karma,” Pity mumbled, holding one of her arms nervously. “How can I help you today?”

“Well, dear, I have rather a big job for you,” Karma tapped a few buttons on her keyboard and wheeled her chair over to the printer as it began to whir. Collecting the ejected pages she turned back to Pity and showed them to her.

“Do you know who these men and women are?” She asked. Pity pushed her long hair from her eyes and scrutinised the images. She nodded.

“Yes, Miss Karma,” she replied quietly. “They are members of the current European governments. Such a shame, they have very difficult jobs…”

“Indeed, but they have made several mistakes and the cosmos demands balance,” Karma knitted her long fingers together and stared at Pity over them.

“I would like you to influence the various media organisations around Europe. Their reporters need to begin to pity these specific individuals so that the stories they release will reflect this. I trust you can have that done within the month?” Pity looked up at Karma, her soft face creased in confusion.

“Well, yes, of course I can, Miss Karma,” she said. “But, may I ask why?”

“Oh, I suppose so,” Karma replied, sniffing. “These men and women have built their careers on strong public images, and in doing so have trampled on many people, both their governmental peers as well as the people they serve. I need to bring them all down a peg or two before their individual punishments can be put into place. Does that satisfy you?”

“I…yes, Miss Karma…” Pity answered, fidgeting. “But, erm, wouldn’t this be a job better suited to Hate?”

“Pfft, no!” Karma waved the suggestion away as if it were a bothersome fly. “Hate will certainly become involved later, but for now a subtle touch is needed. These people do not need to be reviled just yet, they need to be pitied! Their public’s trust in them needs to be shaken not with a barrage of anger but with simple doubt and even understanding! They need to be seen as fallible humans and therefore not fit for their lofty positions, and that is why I require you to plant the seeds. Now, we have wasted enough time discussing this, off you go, dear! I expect to see firm results before next month!”

“Yes, Miss Karma,” Pity replied sadly. She bowed her head and trailed out of the office. Karma shook her head in irritation. Pity was a good worker, loyal too, but she was often a hindrance with her warped sense of morality. Yes, people got hurt when Karma did her work, and yes some of them even died, but she was doing the universe a service. Why did Pity have to overcomplicate everything? Besides, it was a fine balancing act; those who were wronged or helped others during their lives were due a bit of compensation and so Karma saw to that as well. It was all part of the job and Pity would do well to remember that. Karma pressed the call button on her phone again.

“Percy? Be a dear and send me up one of Gluttony’s special muffins, would you? I need the sugar today!”

“Well, I would, Karma, but you ate the last one yesterday,” came Perception’s amused reply. Karma could almost hear the smirk on his face. She pressed the button, an angry frown creasing her forehead.

“Well then, you’ll have to bring me that one you’ve hidden in your desk, won’t you? Don’t think I didn’t see it, Percy, I see everything! Now hop to it!”

Outside the office, Perception sighed and rummaged in his desk for the muffin. Karma’s behaviour didn’t bother him, he knew better than most that she could be a real bitch.

A – Z Challenge Day 9

Today sees the beginning of another week in the April A-Z Challenge! I’m both excited and terrified at the prospect of writing six more stories in six days, so let’s get started!

Today’s word comes once again from the inestimable Kate. Now, I know you’re all getting sick of hearing about her wonderful contributions, but don’t worry, she only has one more after this! I for one, am extremely grateful for her help as she has suggested a dazzling sequence of words for my challenge this month. Today’s word is no exception, as it is “INKLING”. Another one to give me pause, but I eventually came up with an idea which I think works quite nicely.

I hope you enjoy my latest supernatural tale.

INKLING

By Adam Dixon

“Welcome, dearly-beloved, one and all,” the bald, skeletal chaplain began as he stood behind his lectern. “I invite you tonight to join me in celebrating the life of Harold Fisher, and in welcoming him into his next one.” Constable Nicola Macmillan was sat on a pew, frowning. An odd choice of words; she had never heard the chaplain start a funeral service that way before and it only deepened her feeling of unease. Something had disturbed her ever since she had driven to the funeral home and entered the small chapel, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She had thought that it was due to her intruding on the service in order to conduct her investigation, but she knew that it was more than that.

“Indeed, Harold’s life among us was a rich one,” the chaplain continued. “Rich not in terms of wealth, but rich in the love and respect of those who knew him well. Even those who did not have the pleasure of knowing Harold personally were impressed by his character, his charm and his wit.” There came a few approving nods and smiles from his audience. It all seemed normal, but there were aspects of the service which didn’t sit right with Nicola. Firstly, it was late for a funeral as it was past ten o’clock in the evening, and secondly that there were so few people present. It was only a sleepy little town and the librarian’s death had been widely mourned, but only twelve residents had bothered to pay their respects. Something was amiss, but what? Shortly after sitting down, Nicola had put her finger on the transmitting button of her walkie-talkie. As long as she held it, the station would hear what was going on. She was probably being paranoid, but still…

“Ah, but he was a wonderful man, of that I’m sure we are all agreed,” the chaplain smiled, gesturing towards the open coffin with his bony arm. Harold Fisher was laid out in a beautiful mahogany casket and he looked very fine for a corpse. His iron-grey hair was swept back from his high forehead and his mouth showed a ghost of a smile. In fact, he looked as if he were merely sleeping. Whoever had seen to the preparation of his body had done a sterling job, even hiding the terrible wound that poor Harold had sustained to his neck before he died. It had been a nasty one, and Nicola had been the officer who had been sent out once he had been found. Nicola was always being called out for animal attacks in the forest near the town; something was out there and it was dangerous. Looking at Harold’s remains, Nicola shuddered. He looked too good, almost…

“A wonderful man who touched the lives of everyone around him before his untimely passing, but tonight is not a time for grieving, dear friends, but rather a time for exaltation!”  The chaplain’s eyes gleamed and he leaned forwards, peering into the faces of his audience. “Harold’s old life has come to an end, but tonight, his new life will begin! Brothers and sisters, let us bid Harold welcome!”

“WELCOME, HAROLD!” All twelve people stood up and raised their arms towards the coffin. Nicola was astounded and confused, and suddenly afraid. She pressed her finger on the button so hard it hurt. Wide-eyed, she followed the gaze of the residents and stared at the coffin. After what seemed like hours, but was more likely a few tense seconds Harold moved! His face twitched. It was unmistakable: his lips pulled down in a grimace and his eyebrows knitted together. Nicola blinked. She must have imagined that! The next thing to happen dispelled any doubts and brought forth a scream from her throat. Harold sat up.

The congregation and the chaplain cheered loudly, rushing forward to help Harold as he got unsteadily to his feet. Nicola stood up and made to run from the chapel, but two large men intercepted her. They were grinning at her with fangs! Nicola screamed again and tried to change direction, but was stopped short by old Mrs Quinn who had appeared out of nowhere. The dotty, white-haired old dear smiled at her, and Nicola watched in horror as her gleaming white dentures were forced from her mouth by two sharp fangs, yellowed with age, slipping down from her gums. Strong hands seized Nicola and she was carried screeching towards the newly-risen dead man. Harold Fisher looked confused as he laid eyes upon her, but when his nostrils flared and he caught Nicola’s scent, something else crept into his eyes. It looked like the hunger of a starving beast.

“Go on, Harold!” The chaplain cried, revealing his own razor-like incisors. “Give in to your urges and accept our offering! You are one of us now!”

Harold’s eyes widened and all trace of hesitation fled. He gave a guttural roar and sank his teeth into Nicola’s neck. She screamed, thrashing against the hands which held her as her own hot blood poured down her body. She flung her arms up and tried to beat her attackers off. It was no use. The life began to fade from Nicola and soon she was weakly convulsing as Harold clumsily drained her.

Constable Macmillan? Do you read me? Over!”

“What’s that?” The chaplain snapped, looking at his congregation suspiciously.

Repeat, Constable Macmillan, do you read me? Are you alright? Over!”

“Oh, I see…” the chaplain sighed as he wrenched Nicola’s walkie-talkie from her belt. As he held it, the crackling voice spoke again.

Remain where you are, back-up is on-route! Over!”

“Well, well,” the chaplain said with a hideous grin. “I do believe that we shall all be feasting tonight!” He began to laugh as he and the rest of the townsfolk moved to hide either side of the chapel doors. Soon, the wailing of approaching sirens could be heard, and their collective excitement rose.

A – Z Challenge Day 3

Third day of the April Challenge already! Blimey, I think it ought to slow down a bit!

Today’s word was once again provided by the wonderful Kate, and the word is “CONCUBINE”. Again, this is a great suggestion and not at all what I was expecting as a prompt, but it began to spark ideas in my brain almost right away. The idea which caught the kindling was that of ancient Greece and their penchant for concubines, and I was able to coax it into a blaze.

Here’s what I was able to come up with. I hope you enjoy it.

CONCUBINE

By Adam Dixon

Cassandra stood at the foot of the marble steps leading up to the palace, closing her eyes to better feel the breeze on her skin. She tilted her head back, enjoying its cool fingers caressing her hair. It had been a long journey from Troy and she was grateful to be back on dry land. She had had some misgivings about travelling to Mycanae, and her main concern had been its queen. Queen Clytemnestra had been awaiting the return of King Agamemnon, and she would surely not be pleased to learn that her husband would be bringing home another woman. Cassandra was Agamemnon’s concubine and had borne him twin sons during the Trojan campaign, but she was essentially just a trophy. Worrying over the queen’s reaction to the news had given Cassandra dozens of sleepless nights during their voyage and she had prayed to all the gods of Olympus that they give her the courage to face her. However, to her great surprise Clytemnestra seemed to already know about her. She welcomed Cassandra to Mycanae warmly and immediately offered her a place to bathe before the feast. Cassandra had been taken aback and had declined with what she hoped was the proper degree of humility. She had remained behind as the King was escorted inside his palace, preferring to collect herself before following him.

As she stood enjoying the breeze, she began to feel as if she were being watched. She opened her eyes and saw a tall, lithe man leaning against a pillar not ten feet from where she stood, staring at her with an unsettling look on his face. Cassandra felt her skin crawl and she cleared her throat loudly before turning towards him. She did not know him, but she recognised him by his description; his cold blue eyes, hooked nose and curled blond hair marked him as Aegisthus, the former ruler of Mycenae. Cassandra wondered why he was there in the first place, since Agamemnon and his brother had jointly forced Aegisthus from the throne years before.

“Good day to you, my lord,” Casssandra said nervously, bowing her head slightly. “I do apologise, I thought I was alone.”

“No apology is necessary, my lady,” Aegisthus replied coolly, his eyes gliding along Cassandra’s hips and thighs. “I am merely taking some air before the celebrations begin. You are the King’s prize, are you not?”

Cassandra frowned and adjusted her robe. She disliked having his eyes all over her, it made her feel unclean.

“I suppose I am at that, my lord,” she answered curtly, hoping she didn’t sound too brusque. Her grip on the politics of Mycenae was slight and she didn’t know how powerful this man was. She would tread carefully.

“To the victor go the spoils,” Aegisthus quoted with a sneer. He stood up straight and flexed his fingers. Cassandra had been around soldiers enough to recognise it as a pre-combat technique, performed almost without thought.

“Tell me,” Aegisthus stepped towards Cassandra, a terrible gleam in his eyes. “Are the rumours surrounding you true? Are you truly a Seer?” Cassandra took a step backwards, moving away from the stairs and back towards the shaded garden.

“They are…my lord,” she said hesitantly. “Mother Hera gifted me with Foresight, although its usefulness has been overstated, I fear.”

“Curious…” Aegisthus took another step closer, scratching at his chin thoughtfully. “I heard that your Talent is often ignored, and at the detriment of those who do so. Is that true also?” Cassandra grew fearful at this line of questioning, and attempted to change the subject.

“So, the King prepares for his feast,” she stammered, looking down at her sandals. “It promises to be a great event, with no expenses spared by the Queen on food and wine.”

“Hmm? Oh…yes,” Aegisthus seemed irritated by the deflection. “The Queen intends to provide a welcome which the King will never forget. It will go down in history, mark my words!” He gave a low chuckle which chilled Cassandra to the bone. As she stood wondering what to say next, a Vision sprung upon her without warning. As though through a blood-tainted window, Cassandra saw the King emerging naked from his bath with Clytemnestra holding a towel nearby. As Agamemnon steps forward, Clytemnestra tosses the towel over the King’s head. The King roars in surprise, for the towel has been weighted down at its corners, blinding and trapping him. A heartbeat later, Aegisthus runs forward from behind a screen wielding a sword which he plunges into the King’s chest. Agamemnon’s screams echoed in Cassandra’s ears and the present world flashed back into sight, the Vision leaving her weak and breathless. She fell to her knees, gasping and looking up at Aegisthus in horror. The man watched her, his smiling growing ever wider as Cassandra’s fear rose like a black flower in her heart.

“Guards!” She spluttered hoarsely. “Guards, help! A traitor is among us! Protect the King!” Aegisthus descended the stairs in four quick leaps and struck Cassandra hard with his fist. She fell onto her back and the world swam as her mouth filled with blood.

“It’s too late, my little whore!” Aegisthus snarled, wiping his knuckles on his tunic. “The events are already in motion and you cannot stop them! Enjoy your last moments whilst you can, for the Queen has plans for you!” He spat in Cassandra’s face before bounding back up the stairs and disappearing into the palace.

Cassandra groaned and struggled to sit up. Her vision was blurred and her limbs were weakened from her Vision. She attempted to call the guards again, but her voice would not obey her. She wept bitterly as she realised that nobody would believe her anyway. Nobody ever believed her…

Minutes later a cry of alarm was raised within the palace, and then the fighting began.

A Dangerous Man II: Merlin’s Wrath

This story contains a character whom I created back in January. If you’re interested, the link for his first appearance is here: https://adamdixonfiction.com/2016/01/09/a-dangerous-man/

 

A Dangerous Man II: Merlin’s Wrath

By Adam Dixon

The Man sat on the hard wooden stool, the light from the crackling fire dancing on his spectacles as the witch scurried around the cave. She was a plump woman and her pleasant, feminine face was flushed with anxiety. She had a light blue dye in her short hair and she appeared to be no more than thirty years old, but the Man knew better; she was much, much older. She was searching for something, rearranging a collection of jars here, discarding a pile of yellowed scrolls there and all the while muttering to herself. The Man sat in silence and allowed himself an amused half-smile. Finally, the witch found the object she sought.

“Aha! I knew I ‘ad one!” she exclaimed, her delicate French accent filtering through her triumph. She brandished a cast-iron flask decorated with ancient runes in her left hand. In the firelight it was easy to spot that her little finger was missing, and the stump that remained was swaddled in bloodied bandages. There was another long bandage tied around her head which kept slipping over her eyes. She stepped in front of a bubbling cauldron set above the fire and beamed at her guest. The Man leaned forwards, his eyes gleaming.

“Well then, Madeleine,” he rasped, maintaining eye contact. “What’ve you got for me this evening?” Madeleine wilted under his stare, and visibly steeled herself before replying.

“What do I ‘ave, Master?” she said, waving her free arm with a flourish. “Why, I ‘ave the very thing you ‘ave been asking for!” She smiled at him again, looking expectant.

“As fun as it is, you don’t have to call me Master, y’know,” the Man chuckled. “It sounds a bit medieval to me, and I’m all about the here and now!” The witch’s smile faltered.

“But I ‘ave to, Master,” she said in a serious tone. “By customs ancient and binding I must. You killed my apprentice and defeated me in single combat.” Madeleine grimaced at the memory. “Poor Isolde…she showed such promise….”

“Alright, alright!” the Man barked, irritated. “Call me whatever you need to, just get on with it!”

“Of course, Master. My apologies,” the witch replied, bowing her head. She took a long-handled ladle from next to the cauldron and dipped it inside, scooping up a large helping of the putrid, mottled green liquid. The Man noted that the ladle also had runes etched into it. As Madeleine transferred the steaming concoction into the flask, a single drop fell to the floor. Her eyes widened in alarm for the merest hint of a second before she composed herself; the Man saw it, but said nothing. Once she had filled the flask, Madeleine dropped the ladle and held the potion reverently, turning to face the Man.

“’Ere you are, Master,” she said, her voice a husky whisper. When Madeleine whispered, her voice made grown men swoon, but as usual it had no effect whatsoever on the Man. “This is known as Time’s Bane, and it is most powerful. I was involved in its creation, and I am the only witch left alive who knows the recipe. Drink this, Master, and you shall know youth again!” Madeleine’s eyes sparkled with pride and anticipation. “Each mouthful will return twenty years of strength to your bones and the time will fade from your face in but a moment!” She held the potion out with a solemn bow of her head. The Man said nothing and merely observed her. After a few tense minutes, Madeleine began to perspire, a faint sheen developing across her upper lip and forehead. She cleared her throat nervously.

“Master, is something wrong?” she asked, her hands beginning to shake. “I ‘ave done what you asked, for I am your devoted servant!” The Man snorted and stood up. His long, dark coat covered his body as he rose, and Madeleine was ominously reminded of the cloaks of witch-hunters. He was shorter than her, but the black aura which surrounded him was one which demanded fear and obedience.

“Oh, I don’t doubt it! But…why don’t you take the first sip, Maddie?” the Man said, his eyes glittering and his voice even. “You’ve put in all the effort, so why not take a small reward? Take a couple of months off!” He cackled at the joke, and Madeleine froze. Her eyes were wide and her mouth moved silently like a fish.

“Spit it out, Maddie!” The Man said. “Not the potion, though! You’ve gotta get that bad boy down you!” He laughed again, the sound sending a shiver up Madeleine’s spine.

“But…Master,” she stammered. “This potion, it is not for me! I…I ‘ave already ingested my annual dosage…to drink more would court disaster! It is for you to regain your former strength this night, not I! I crafted it especially for you, and I fear it will not for me!” Madeleine waited, her eyes fearful. The Man took a step closer, glaring solidly into her face. She managed a weak smile which crumbled as quickly as a rose. Suddenly, his large hands snaked out and covered hers as they held the flask. Madeleine yelped with fright and tried to jerk away from him. The Man held her tightly.

“I don’t believe you,” he said in a threatening tone. “In fact, I smell a rat…a stupid, blue rat!” The Man wrenched his hands to the right, sending Madeleine tumbling to the floor and the flask flying across the cave. It struck the jagged wall and the green liquid splashed all over it and dripped to the ground. As soon as it made contact with the surfaces it began to bubble and hiss furiously, burning through several centimetres of rock. The Man advanced on Madeleine, who screeched in terror and flung up her hands. A torrent of fire flew from her open palms towards the Man, who ducked underneath it and ran forward. His boot cracked into Madeleine’s temple and she fell on to her back, extinguishing the jet of flames. In an instant he was straddling her, his stocky thighs crushing her chest and pinning her left arm to her side. As she swung her right hand in a wild fist but he caught her wrist in a vice-grip.

“Now, now, Maddie,” he crooned, holding her with ease as she bucked and writhed under him. “Don’t make this any harder than it needs to be.”

“Spare me, Master!” Madeleine cried, her eyes wide with terror. “I did not mean to-“

“Shut the hell up!” the Man barked. “Spare me your excuses! You tried to kill me, again, and you’ve failed! You really shoulda thought of something less obvious, darlin’.” He reached inside his coat with his free hand and removed the remnants of an ancient bronze spear. The power emanating from it was almost palpable from that distance and at the sight of it Madeleine began to whimper, tears rolling down her cheeks. “You must really think I’m stupid, huh?” He began to run the spear point along Madeleine’s trembling arm, nicking the skin here and there. Tiny droplets of blood seeped down as the blade bit into her flesh.

“I’ve been a killer all my life,” the Man said, moving his grip up to Madeleine’s hand. “And one thing I’ve learned the hard way over the years is to never…ever…trust a witch!” The Man spat this remark through bared teeth. Spittle flew from his lips and decorated Madeleine’s pale face.

“Please, Master, not again!” She begged as he forced open her hand with his, exposing her index finger. “The Holy Lance, she does not cut like other blades! My wounds, they still bleed! Please, no! I will do all you ask! Non, je vous en prie!”

“Hush, Madeleine,” the Man crooned, touching the razor-sharp edge of the spear to her finger. “You have disrespected me. Accept your punishment.” With one quick, clean motion the Man sliced off the witch’s finger with the blade. Madeleine screeched, the noise reverberating painfully around the cave. Blood poured down onto their clasped hands and dripped on to her chest as she struggled furiously. The Man held her still for a few moments, a manic grin on his face. Finally, he released her hand and stood up, holding the dripping spear at his side. Madeleine hugged her hand to her chest and curled into the foetal positon, whimpering and moaning.

“There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” The Man asked, the glee evident in his voice. “All is forgiven! You can get back to doing as you’re told, now. Isn’t that right, Madeleine?”

“Y-Yes, Master…” Madeleine replied, barely audible. The Man crouched down and rested the wet spear against her throat. She stopped moving immediately and her breath came out in harsh gasps.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite hear you, darlin’” he whispered, his eyes burning with malice. “I said: isn’t that right, Madeleine?”

“YES MASTER!” Madeleine shouted, gazing fearfully at the lance. The Man nodded and plucked Madeleine’s severed finger from its resting place on the ground. He examined it for a moment, admiring the precision of the cut.

“You know, I had my doubts about this thing,” he said, turning his gaze back to the Lance. “But I’ve gotta tell ya, it’s a real beauty!” He snorted and stowed the weapon in his coat. Using a nail he produced from another pocket, the Man pierced the bloody digit all the way through and slipped it onto a piece of twine he wore around his neck. The grisly object slithered down the twine and came to rest next to two other trophies: a little finger and an ear, both stained brown with dried blood. He cackled as he tucked the necklace back into his shirt and glanced over at the witch.

“Madeleine,” he said quietly. “What is that green swill anyway?”

“M-Merlin’s Wrath, M-master,” stammered Madeleine, still laying on the ground. “A p-potent p-poison. B-burns all creatures i-inside out…”

“Really? Hmm…” The Man stroked his stubble with bloody fingers, leaving smear marks along his chin. He strode over to the cauldron and seized a glass vial.

“Will this hold it?” The Man asked. Madeleine merely nodded, groaning. Lifting the ladle the Man filled the vial with the bubbling green liquid, slamming a stopper securely in place. He shook the vial and watched its contents swirl around inside the glass.

“Y’know, my old Ma used to make stuff like this,” he said quietly, watching the firelight illuminate the murky liquid. “She’d go out at night and come back with all kinds of weeds and flowers in a sack. She’d stink out the back room when she’d cut them up and put them in the tub. She’d spend days making her ’remedies’, as she called them. My Pa told me and my sisters that Ma had a screw loose, but he was deadly afraid of her when she did all that. He never beat her or any of us during those few days…” The Man chuckled again, shaking his head.

“Well now, get a load of me! Talking away like an old housewife!” He said, smirking. “I’d better go, Maddie, I’m hunting tonight. Bigger fish and all that!” He raised the vial in a mock salute to Madeleine and grinned at her.

“Thanks a bunch, sweetheart!” he said, slipping it into his coat along with the Holy Lance. “This’ll come in handy, for sure! Just make sure you’ve got what I ask for next time, or I won’t be so gentle with you.” He strode out of the cave, leaving the mutilated witch sobbing and cursing him as he howled with laughter.

 

Live a Little

I wrote this story for the lovely Jen over at Ink And Quill. She has very kindly featured me as her guest writer today, which is exciting! 🙂 She asked me to write a brand new story to be used as part of that post, and this is what I was able to come up with.

Please visit Ink and Quill for some wonderful poetry and inspiring guest writers and poets 🙂

https://jennifercalvertwriter.wordpress.com/

 

Live a Little

By Adam Dixon

 

I can still remember the night that I died; it’s seared into my mind like a cattle brand, white-hot and permanent. I can still hear the sound of my own laughter in my ears coupled with the cheers and encouragement of my friends. I can still feel the bitter wind tearing at my hair and clothes as I waved my arms above my head. I can still see the painted lines on the tarmac racing past in a blur of white. I’d never felt so alive, and I’d never been so reckless. It was all their fault.

The party had been a riot. A mutual friend had just joined us in the ranks of the over-25s and we four were still buzzing from it. Jen hadn’t wanted to leave, but Bradley had insisted. He never would back down once he’d got an idea into his head, and Jen never would resist him for long. I’d have happily gone home, myself. If only I’d said something, then maybe all this wouldn’t’ve happened. But I didn’t, and sometime after midnight myself, Jen and her older brother, Steve, all piled into Bradley’s car and set off down the motorway. We were laughing and joking, singing loudly and badly to whatever was on the radio and passing a bottle of vodka around. The familiar burn in my throat and the rush of alcohol to my head was as exhilarating as ever, and I soon got in the mood to find another party.

But it was then that I noticed how drunk Bradley was. He was blinking rapidly behind the wheel, grinning like an idiot and slurring his words whenever he spoke. He hadn’t seemed that bad before, but then again we hadn’t really been watching him. I’d told Jen to keep an eye on him, damn it! At one point Steve said something which made him laugh and he sent us careening across two lanes! The motorway was deserted, of course, but still…

After a while I asked Bradley to slow down. He wasn’t listening because Jen had her hand on his crotch and was whispering something to him as she caressed him through his jeans. Steve was being a nuisance; he seemed to think that because I was drunk I would be doing the same. I can still feel him nuzzling my neck as one hand clumsily pawed my breasts and the other slid up my skirt…I can still hear the ‘crack!’ as I slapped him, too. Christ, that was satisfying, and it succeeded in finally getting Bradey and Jen’s attention.

“Oi, what the hell are you playin’ at back there?” Bradley thundered, glaring at me via the rear-view mirror. Steve was stunned, rubbing his cheek and staring at the back of Jen’s seat.

“Oh, Lisa’s just bein’ a spoilsport, babe!” Jen mocked, rolling her decorated eyes and flicking her perfect hair. “Looks like she doesn’t wanna have some fun with Steve. Can’t blame her, really, he is an ugly bastard!”

“Oi!” Steve protested, still rubbing his cheek. He wasn’t that ugly, but drunk or not I didn’t appreciate him being so forward.

“C’mon, Lees!” Bradley said, annoyed. I hated it when he called me that! “What’s wrong with old Steve-O, anyway? C’mon, live a little, for fuck’s sake!”

“Shut up, Bradley,” I spat, but secretly I felt bad for hitting Steve. That was the effect that Bradley had on people: he was too bloody good at making you feel like the bad guy. The next few minutes consisted of Bradley and Jen laughing about how uncool I was and how much of a stick-in-the-mud I could be. I angrily disagreed with them, of course, but it really got under my skin. Steve didn’t say much, he just carried on sitting there looking like a kicked puppy. Maybe it was the drink, but I was suddenly determined to prove them wrong.

“I’m not boring, I can do anything you twats can!” I said after downing another mouthful of liquid fire.

“That so?” Bradley asked, still laughing. “I don’t believe you, Lees. Look, you’ve still got your bleedin’ seat-belt on for a start! Why can’t you live a little?”

“Fine!” I had practically ripped my seat-belt off at that remark. I immediately felt it was a bad idea, but I ignored the thought. Big mistake.

“Oooh, look at the balls on you, babe!” Jen had twisted round in her seat to flash a big, stupid grin at me. I felt like we were back in the school playground. “Betcha won’t do anything else though! Betcha wouldn’t lean out of the window while we’re movin’, would you? Nah, course not, you’re too much of a wimp!”

“Just watch me, bitch!” I said and moved towards my window. I remember clearly the struggle I had unwinding the stupid thing, and the memory comes to me in slow motion. It’s torture to recall it, to remember how I gripped the cold roof of the car with one arm as I leaned my torso out into the night. I even lifted my leg and rested my thigh on the thin glass so that I was more out of the car than inside. The wind buffeted me and tore a gasp from my lungs as I steadied myself. I remember squealing like a giddy child as I raised first one arm, then both into the air as my soul rejoiced at my freedom.

“You see me now, you arseholes!” I screeched at them, laughing deliriously. “I can fucking do anything!” They were laughing too and even Steve was cheering. It was fantastic. It was fatal. Leaning out of a car travelling at ninety miles per hour driven by an intoxicated monkey in a shirt has consequences. Nobody saw how close to the edge of the railings Bradley had gotten until it was far, far too late.

Now I’m trapped in a lonely existence on this barren stretch of asphalt, doomed to watch speeding cars and fester with impotent rage.

Live a little, they had said….

They all wear their seat-belts now.

 

 

Blessed Night

Blessed Night

By Adam Dixon

 

Andi strolled through the forest clearing, a filled satchel on her back and a bright smile on her face. Bathed in the pale glow of the full moon and soothed by the cool wind blowing through her dark hair, she was content as she collected the various flora which grew there. Her satchel was full to bursting with nettles, wildflowers and mushrooms, as well as with more valuable items such as blisterweed and Lady’s Folly posies. Already her mind raced with the potions she could brew from such a spectacular haul. She smiled and congratulated herself. Nice one, Andromeda, she thought, business is looking good!

But one item still eluded her, and it was the ingredient which had brought Andi so deep into the forest in the first place. It was the Moon-Spun Lily, a beautiful, delicate flower which only bloomed once a month; during the full moon, naturally. Andi had pinned down the area in which the flower would be likely to bloom and her collecting so far, although fortuitous, had simply been a way for her to waste time before the moon had risen. Now that it had, Andi could freely collect her prize. She strode eagerly towards her destination, her eyes flicking to the red compass point on her smartphone screen. She grinned at the device. How did the alchemists of old manage to find anything in the dark? She wondered, shaking her head at the thought. Thank the Maker for modern technology!

Andi passed through the clearing and penetrated the thickly wooded forest. The air smelled wonderful, with wafts of damp leaves, soil and the aroma of dozens of night-flowers filling her expectant nostrils. She breathed deeply as she walked, savouring the fresh air, the night sky and the freedom of being away from her laboratory. She lived for these excursions, and she refused to permit anyone else to undertake them on her behalf. This was what real alchemists did, and she was one of the best. She’d never catch her esteemed father taking the easy option! She imagined her father’s stern face observing her, just as he had done when she had stirred his bubbling cauldron as a child. Well, Dad, here I am! She thought triumphantly. Getting the job done properly, just like you! Her phone pinged, and she banished the image and looked around.

She gasped as she beheld the Moon-Spun Lily nestled between two small trees. Its milky white petals glowed with an inner luminescence, quivering as the breeze caressed it. Andi noticed the tiny droplets of pollen leaking from its flowers as they danced in the wind, only to be picked up and swirled off to another part of the forest. As well as being stunningly beautiful it also looked incredibly delicate. Andi raised her phone and snapped a picture of the flower; it was a poor substitute for the real thing, but she wanted desperately to capture the moment in her memory. She longed to stay and watch the flower as it swayed in the night, but she had work to do and a deadline to keep. Steeling herself, Andi withdrew a small pair of pruning shears and a silk bag from her satchel. Leaning forwards, she carefully snipped the stalk of the Lily and let it drop into the bag. Now that the flower was gone, the space between the two trees looked desolate, as if the life had faded from it. Andi felt a little sad, but she abruptly shook it off and turned to leave the forest.

A long, loud howl pierced the stillness of the night. Andi froze, her eyes widening. Every hair on her forearms stood on end and her heart hammered in her chest as the howl continued. The noise was answered by a similar howl, this one higher in pitch. Andi realised with terror that they were both close by. She slipped a hand into her jeans and pulled out a tiny vial filled with a gelatinous blue liquid. Her hands were shaking as she unstopped the vial and raised it to her lips. She threw her head back and downed the potion, feeling it burn as it slid down her throat. She crouched and leaned forwards, fighting the urge to choke and splutter. Oh man, I forgot how awful this one tastes! She thought, disgusted. The howls came again, nearer still. They were getting closer! Andi shuffled into the thickest section of trees, cursing the potion for not taking effect sooner. As she began to notice her hands and torso losing their definition, a huge shape crashed through the undergrowth and came to a halt where she had been standing moments before. Andi’s breath caught in her throat; it was a werewolf.

Standing on powerful hind legs it towered into the air, fully eight feet tall from its pointed ears to its claws. It gazed around the clearing with eyes of a deep red and saliva dripped from its gleaming yellow fangs. By the Maker¸ Andi thought to herself, transfixed. It’s beautiful! The creature possessed a savage beauty that Andi had never seen before, and the descriptions she had read about such beasts did it no justice whatsoever. It pawed at the ground impatiently and growled deeply from the back of its throat. A freshly-killed young doe was grasped in one if its giant paws, carried as if it were no heavier than an apple. A crash of branches announced the arrival of a second beast, this one just as majestic as the first and even larger. The two wolves faced one another in silence, crimson eyes locked together. Andi wiped a bead of sweat from her eye and realised that her potion had taken effect: she was invisible.

The wolves growled and padded closer, neither one breaking eye contact. Mottled brown fur swayed in the wind as it sighed through the forest, and fallen leaves crunched underneath massive paws. The wolves stopped within an arm’s length of each other and continued their rumbling observations. Suddenly, a gravelly voice issued forth from the maw of the first creature.

“Evenin’, Moon-Sister,” it growled. “A fine night for a hunt, eh?”

“Too right, Moon-Brother!” the larger werewolf said, its eyes tightening and a coughing sound racking its body. Andi looked on in amazement. It’s laughing! She could hardly believe what she was seeing. The first werewolf tossed its head and lowered itself into a crouch. It still stood over six feet tall even then.

“Ahh, but it’s nice to see another of my kind!” it said, the growl in its voice sounding pleased. “As much as I enjoy these evenings, they can be lonely.”

“That’s never bothered me, to be honest,” the female werewolf said as she joined him in a crouch. “My other life is always noisy, so I enjoy the peace, but I am pleased to meet you! It makes for a refreshing change.” The first werewolf acknowledged the gesture with a nod of his great head.

“Have some of my catch, if you like,” he offered the doe to his companion. The female laughed again, the strange guttural sound sending a shiver up Andi’s spine.

“Don’t mind if I do, Moon-Brother! Thanks!” She accepted the bounty and tore off a large piece of flesh with her razor-sharp fangs. Andi felt her stomach perform a somersault inside her. Oh, the poor thing! She thought, turning her face away from the scene. The sound of ripping meat and crunching bones assaulted her ears, and she fought hard to keep from retching.

“We know you’re there, human,” the female’s voice growled. “You may as well join us.”

Andi’s heart plummeted in her chest and an icy shock hit her in waves. She began to tremble and slowly turned to look back. Two pairs of blood-red eyes were looking straight in her direction. She gulped and tried to respond.

“How…how can you see me?” Andi managed to squeak.

“We can’t,” the male werewolf answered, his pink tongue lapping blood from his jaws. “But you reek of fear and excitement. We could point in your direction from a mile away.”

“Come and join us.” The female repeated. It did not sound like a request. Petrified, Andi made her way towards them on legs which threatened to buckle under her at any moment. She stood before the two creatures, clasping her satchel with both hands in an effort to compose herself. The female leaned forward and inhaled deeply through her wet nostrils.

“You smell like a garden centre,” she said, amusement in her tone. “Have you been rolling around in the meadows?”

“No…no, I’m collecting wild flora,” Andi replied, still struggling with her sentences. “You see…I’m…an al-alchemist.”

“Ahhh, one of those!” the male guffawed and chomped down on another piece of the doe. “That explains it, then! What’s your name, alchemist?”

“I’m…Andromeda….Andi, for short.” Andi replied, unsure where the conversation was going. “Do you…erm…do you have names?” She nearly bolted from the forest as the two wolves threw their heads back and howled in unison. She stood shaking, hoping desperately that she hadn’t offended them.

“No, Andi the alchemist, we don’t,” the female said with good humour. “Of course, we do as humans, but we don’t use those names during the Blessed Night. That would be wrong.”

“This is the one night we can forget about those lives of weakness and boredom; we can truly be free.” The male werewolf added, gazing up at the moon with a sigh. Andi thought about this, her fear lessened by this information.

“I see…” she said, rubbing her invisible chin. “So you enjoy being werewolves? I always thought it was a curse.”

“Some people will see it that way, obviously,” the male answered, shaking his head. “But for me, this is when I’m really alive. As a human, I’m weak, unfulfilled and miserable. Getting bitten by a Moon-Sister was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

“It’s the same with me,” the female snarled in agreement, tossing the remainder of the doe away into the trees. “My other life would seem complete to some, but I’m not valued as an individual. These evenings are my own, and I love them dearly. They make me feel alive!”

“I see…” Andi said again, shocked at their frankness. She was fairly sure by now that they were not going to eat her, but she didn’t want to risk upsetting them. She began speaking, addressing them very cautiously.

“So, erm…you don’t want to stop being werewolves then? You wouldn’t want to find a cure?” The professional in Andi was considering how a potion might be brewed to that effect, but both beasts shook their heads.

“Not unless I find something in my human life which makes me feel so free,” the male wolf shrugged. He fixed his frightening eyes in Andi’s direction, and she saw the pain within them. “But I really doubt that’ll happen. Nothing completes me like this change. Nothing.” Andi stood still, absorbing this information. The wolf regarded her, silently crouching in the moonlight.

“So, what happens after tonight?” Andi asked tentatively. The wolves looked at each other, and Andi felt a spark of understanding pass between them.

“We return to our other lives,” the female said sadly. “We go back to being human.”

“Back to wishing the days away until Blessed Night comes around again,” the male added, his ears drooping. Andi was moved by their profound misery and was at a loss as to what to say.

“Stay with us whilst we enjoy the last few hours of moonlight, Andi the alchemist,” the female said. “We will not harm you.”

“Are-are you sure?” Andi asked, brightening at the idea. “Wouldn’t I be interrupting your solitude?”

“Nah, not at all,” the male werewolf replied. He patted the ground next to him with his blood-stained claws. “It’s nice to have company for a change.”

“Oh, alright then.” Andi smiled and sat down between the two hulking creatures, her fascination returning and her fears vanishing. She considered asking the beasts if she could take a selfie with them to preserve the moment, but she quashed the idea as quickly as it came to her. Best not push it, girl! She thought

Andi sat with the werewolves for several hours, listening to them describe the freedom of prowling the night as its ultimate predator, of how the soaring wind felt on their fur or how the moon called to them prior to their transformation. Andi was mesmerised, mentally noting down all of the information they provided. She was almost certain that her situation was unprecedented in human-monster interaction and so she intended to remember as much as possible. She gradually pieced together that the male werewolf was an undervalued, underpaid accountant whose wife had left him penniless. It also turned that the female was the wife of an extremely successful business tycoon, and by being so found herself in a constant state of near-invisibility. Andi in turn told them about her alchemy business, and her initial struggle to get out from underneath her father’s shadow as a potion-brewer. She even shared some of her more scandalous business requests, at which the wolves howled into the night once again and laughed. She found herself enjoying their company immensely, and as the light began to return she felt sadness at the inevitable ending approaching. The female stood up, stretching her long, hairy legs as the sky began to change to a pinky-grey hue.

“It’s almost time,” she announced with resignation in her voice. “I’ve enjoyed sharing Blessed Night with you, Andi the alchemist, and with you, Moon-Brother. Let’s all meet again some time, the Maker willing.”

“I’ve enjoyed it too!” Andi said, leaping up. “I’ve learned so much from both of you! And thank you again for your gifts.” She patted a pocket in her satchel, where a tuft of werewolf hair and a vial of saliva could been seen poking out of the folds.

“It’s a pleasure, Andi,” the male wolf bowed his shaggy head in her direction. “Thanks for a pleasant evening. Now, I’d better head home. Moon-Sister, may we meet again.” With that, the male bounded off into the trees, his heavy footsteps echoing around the rapidly lightening forest. Andi turned to speak to the female, but she was also out of sight. Andi felt very alone in the large forest, despite the sounds of its denizens waking all around her. She looked up at the sky and saw that the sun was rising sleepily in the horizon. She sighed heavily and looked at her feet, noticing then that she was not invisible anymore. She stooped to pick up the silk bag she had rested on the floor, and her thoughts turned back to her delicate treasure. The Lily is just like the two of them, she thought sadly, beautiful and fleeting. She turned wandered despondently out of the forest, her heart going out to the two poor souls who lived their lives perpetually wanting to be something else. She found herself wondering how many other people felt the same way, but didn’t have the brief luxury of a magical transformation to escape their misery. She shook her head, a single tear running down her face.

“Goodbye, my new friends,” she whispered. “Until we meet again on Blessed Night.”

***

If you enjoyed this story, why not check out Andi’s introductory tale?

https://adamdixonfiction.com/2015/11/08/fever-of-venus/

 

A Dangerous Man

A Dangerous Man

By Adam Dixon

 

Cold swamp water splashed and rippled as the angel fought against his bonds. It was useless; the spells etched into the chains around his wrists were ancient and beyond his power to overcome. His arms were stretched out and the chains were tied to strong trees on either side of the bank; he could feel his tendons stretching to near breaking point. His wings were broken, his feathers matted with blood. He recognised the area and knew that he was somewhere in New Orleans, Louisiana. He looked up at the figure crouching at the bank.

“What can you possibly gain from doing this, human?” he asked, his voice still strong despite his treatment. “Binding and torturing an angel of the Lord is not something a wise man should attempt!”

“I’m not a wise man, angel. I’m a dangerous man,” the figure responded in a gruff voice. “Acknowledge the difference and despair.” He chuckled at his remark, sounding pleased with himself. He stood up and a long coat settled around him like a shroud. He was a short man with broad shoulders and large, thick hands. In the near-darkness not a lot could be observed, but the angel could make out greying hair and the glint of a pair of spectacles on his nose. The angel could sense the dark power emanating from the man, it distorted the air and clung to him like tar.

“You have kept me here for two full days,” said the angel. “Is there something you seek to accomplish by binding me so? I demand to know the reason for my imprisonment!”

The man on the bank regarded the angel for a few moments, before pulling a revolver from one of his coat pockets. In a quick, fluid motion, he cocked the barrel and fired. The angel cried out in pain as the bullet smashed into his left shoulder. Blood splattered across his face and he moaned as the muscle beneath tore from the tension. Sinews stretched and ligaments groaned audibly. He gasped and clenched his teeth as he fought the darkness creeping into his vision.

“You’re in no position to make demands, angel,” the man replied, cocking the revolver again. “I suggest you get that into your thick skull, or you will regret it.”

“Why are you doing this?” the angel cried, his voice wavering. For two days he had kept his resolve firm, safe in the knowledge that his prayers would be answered and his escape would be assured, but now it was beginning to crack.

“Curiosity,” the man replied. “I already know how to kill you, but where’s the fun in that? I wanted to experiment a little, figure out what makes you squirm.” The man grinned in the darkness.

“The Lord Almighty is not without mercy, human,” the angel said, trying to fight the fear that gripped him. “If you release me now and repent, you may yet save your soul.” The man threw his head back and laughed. The sound echoed through the swamp, bouncing off the trees in nightmarish cacophony.

“Now that’s funny!” the man said. “Really, that’s rich! Thanks, but my soul is beyond saving, no matter how forgiving your God may be. Personally, he can shove his forgiveness where the sun don’t shine, ‘cos I’ve stabbed, shot and strangled my way through the last thirty years and I’m not planning on stopping soon. Oh, it’s been so much fun!” The man laughed again, uncocking his revolver and spinning it on his finger.

“I’ve killed more people than I can count; I gave up trying years ago. But unfortunately, being untouchable started to get a bit stale after a while.” He stopped spinning his revolver and jammed it back into his coat. The angel could almost feel the fire coming from the man’s eyes, and he barely suppressed a shudder.

“You saw something when I touched you, angel.” The man sounded excited. “When I held your wrists to put the chains on, you groaned in your sleep and your eyes flickered. You saw something about me, didn’t you? What was it? Tell me!” The angel shuddered and lowered his head.

“I saw…visions,” he said, narrowing his eyes. “They contained you…grappling with the monstrous denizens of the night, and killing them…occult females with fire in their hands and blackness in their hearts…spectral beings and fanged men…” His eyes widened and his head shot up. “What is this, human? What in the name of the Almighty have you been doing?”

“Expanding my targets!” the man said, his voice feverish with glee. “I needed to find the thrill from killing that I’d lost, and lemme tell ya, it’s worked a treat!” He broke off, laughing and clapping his hands together.

“That’s where you come in, my feathery friend!” he continued. “You’re the jackpot I’ve been working towards! The big prize, wrapped up and all mine!” The angel began to tremble in his bonds. He could sense the twisted glee within the man and his heart grew cold with fright.

“Oh, human,” the angel whispered. “How low the Devil has brought you in his unclean grasp…”

“Let’s get one thing crystal clear…” the man’s voice had an unpleasant edge to it. There was a small splash as he leapt nimbly into the fetid swamp. The angel watched with rising panic as the man waded steadily towards him. The ooze stained the man’s dark coat as it rose above his waist. As he moved closer, three alligators who had been sampling the strange blood in their waters fled the area in terror. The man stood before the angel, the moon reflecting faintly in the lenses of his spectacles. He reached into his coat and withdrew a thin cylindrical object. Slipping one hand behind the angel’s neck he stepped in very close; it was like an embrace between lovers. The angel gasped in pain as the man pressed the object against his lower abdomen. It was sharp, oh so sharp!

“The Devil has no power over me, angel,” the man rasped, staring into the angel’s terrified eyes. He pressed harder and the sharp object pierced the angel’s flesh. He screamed in pain and a wild look of understanding passed over his face.

“You have it! This cannot be!” he stammered, horrified. “You possess the Holy Lance!” The man chuckled and looked down at the object in his right hand. It was the remnants of an ancient lance, the wooden shaft darkened with age but the bronze point still wickedly sharp. It slid from the angel’s skin smoothly, and he admired the blood which trickled down it in crimson rivers.

“Yes, the fabled Holy Lance,” he said with amusement. “Also known as the Spear of Destiny, if you’re feeling dramatic. Or even Lancea Longini, if you’re feeling pretentious.” He cackled and pushed the blade back into the angel’s side. The creature roared in agony, struggling desperately against his chains.

“How?” the angel asked through gritted teeth. “The Lance has been hidden and guarded for a millennia! How have you come to possess it, mortal?”

“Let’s just say that I gave its guardian a compelling reason to give it up,” the man said, a maniacal gleam in his eyes. He drove the spear-point even further into the angel, who gave an ear-splitting screech. Drenched in sweat and breathing laboriously, the dying creature raised his head to glare at his tormentor.

“God damn you, mortal,” he spat, fury clearly visible along with the horror in his eyes. The man grinned once again, his pink tongue darting across his lips.

“God can’t touch me, angel,” he whispered in his ear. “Nobody can.” With that, he withdrew the Lance from the angel’s side and buried it in his chest. The angel’s scream was unearthly in pitch and volume, causing the very air around them to hum and vibrate. A brilliant white light shone forth from his torso and illuminated the swamp. It lasted perhaps two seconds before it faded, leaving the man blinking. A rainbow of colours danced before his eyes in an aura surrounding the angel’s body. Once it had dissipated, he withdrew the bloodied Lance and stepped back to admire his handiwork. The angel’s wings had vanished, the skin on his shoulder blades was seared black and the smell of burnt flesh stung the man’s nostrils.

“Hmmm, now that’s interesting,” he muttered. He used the Lance to lift the angel’s face and studied it for a moment. It was odd how human it looked in death; it looked like any of the hundreds of men he had extinguished. He felt a little bit disappointed, but his excitement was so intense that he didn’t care.

“I definitely have to kill some more of these guys,” he said with glee. “I haven’t felt a rush like that in decades!” He chuckled and let the angel’s head fall. Reaching into another pocket he pulled out a golden key and unlocked the chains around its wrists. The angel fell into the water and floated away, face down. Wading back to the bank, the man pocketed the Holy Lance and began humming to himself. As he walked off into the night, the alligators slipped back into the water and swam towards the offered meal.

 

 

Gemini

Note: This piece was awarded 2nd Place in Esther Newton’s Flash Fiction competition.

See link for details: https://esthernewtonblog.wordpress.com/flash-fiction-competition/

Gemini

By Adam Dixon

I think someone is watching me. Not ‘watching over’ me, but actually watching me. I get strange feelings whenever I am alone, usually an odd tickling sensation between my shoulder blades, as if someone is glaring at my back. There is nothing there, of course. Not physically, anyway.

When I am drifting from deep sleep towards wakefulness, I sometimes see a figure floating above me. In the split second before I start into full consciousness, I catch a glimpse of the figure. I am certain that it is a baby. A spectral new-born that hovers above me, gazing down at my resting body. In that second, I can see accusation and pain in those big, seemingly innocent eyes… I don’t think the ghost of my twin sister approves of me surviving her.

I wonder what her purpose is, watching me like this. It makes me anxious, and since childhood my insomnia hasn’t abated. Whenever my heavy eyelids close and I unwillingly succumb to the oblivion of sleep, I know that she will be there when I wake up. Watching. Waiting. According to our mother she had been holding on to me tightly in the womb right up until the end. She didn’t want to let me go…Read More »

Bad For Business

Bad for Business

By Adam Dixon

George pressed the call button and said, “Mrs. Whitfield, you have a visitor.” A few seconds later the phone receiver crackled and a confused, high-pitched voice barked a reply.

“A visitor? Who is it, George? I’m not expecting to see anyone until tomorrow.”

“A tall gentleman with a large moustache and a bowler hat, Mrs. Whitfield,” George responded patiently. “He hasn’t give a name, he said that you would know him from that description. Shall I send him in?” The response was barely a heartbeat in coming this time.

“Oh, good Lord! Yes, George, send him in at once!”

George smiled at the man standing in front of him. He was in his fifties, his face impassive and his eyes steely grey orbs floating above an enormous walrus moustache. He stood erect with both hands clasped behind his back, his long black coat giving him the look of a funeral director.

“Mrs. Whitfield will see you now, sir,” George said, gesturing towards the door to his right. “Please go ahead and let yourself in.” The man gave him a curt nod before striding resolutely towards the door. His back was straight and his eyes were set dead ahead. As he passed, George’s smile faltered and a shiver ran up his spine. He smelled…strange. It was a musty scent yet somehow acidic, and he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. Whoever he was, he gave George the creeps. The man opened the door to Mrs. Whitfield’s office and without a word he entered her inner sanctuary, slamming it behind him.

George sat at his desk staring after him, bewildered. Who on earth was that? He thought to himself. Mrs. Whitfield had seemed rattled, and that made George uneasy. This man was quite different from the usual suspects who dragged themselves into his employer’s office, seeking her legal aid concerning matters malignant and benign. For one, he seemed very sure of himself, whereas most of the people who passed through George’s line of sight were either quivering wrecks or hopeless optimists.

To pass the time, George decided to speculate on who this mysterious stranger could be. Perhaps he was an old client who needed help again, or he was a former adversary of Mrs. Whitfield’s? She had practiced law as a barrister several years ago, and this man had the look of a professional about him. Maybe he had crossed swords with Mrs. Whitfield in the past, and had come back for some personal reason. Embittered by a sound defeat at her legal prowess, possibly? That was interesting enough, he mused.

He could be Mrs. Whitfield’s estranged husband! He thought with excitement, his earlier discomfort vanishing. She had separated from Mr. Whitfield before starting up her own business, and perhaps he had come back wanting a slice of the cake. Perhaps he is an acquaintance of Mr. Whitfield, he thought, coming here on his behalf. Very juicy, that notion. He’d have to share that nugget with Debra from accounts. Maybe he was her lover? This one made George chuckle and he dismissed it immediately. Mrs. Whitfield was, although charming and attractive in her own way, completely asexual. Besides, the man George had let into her office didn’t exactly look like a man incensed by desire. No, come to think of it, he looked more like a man intent on doing some harm.

This last thought made him uneasy once again. George chided himself for considering such groundless notions, but he couldn’t help turning to stare at the office door, regardless. He sat in silence, straining his ears in the hope of catching a hint of the proceedings within. All he could make out were the muffled voices of Mrs. Whitfield and the stranger. It didn’t sound like they were arguing, so that was a relief. Soon, George’s curiosity got the better of him, and he gingerly picked up the phone receiver and held it to his ear. Mrs. Whitfield often forgot to toggle off the call button, which meant that George could eavesdrop on her meetings. Not a particularly noble, or indeed legal, thing to do, but it passed the time on slow days. Listening in on some of those conversations was like hearing a radio broadcast of The Jeremy Kyle Show. But this one wasn’t like that at all.

“I trust you realise why I’ve come to you now,” the man was saying, his voice a deep bass rumble.

“Yes, yes, of course I do,” Mrs Whitfield’s usually chirpy voice held an edge of tension. “But…does it have to be now? I’ve just gotten my life readjusted and my plans are secure. Things are going very well at present.”

“My dear woman!” The man laughed unpleasantly. “One could hardly expect this moment to come when it is convenient, could one? No, you have had ten years of success to this very hour, and now the payment is at hand. You must come with me!” The man spat the final sentence, and George could have sworn that his voice had become a rasping snarl for a moment.

“No, I will not!” Mrs. Whitfield was defiant. “Stay away from me!” George had no idea what was going on, but he had the feeling that things were about to turn ugly. He sprung out of his chair and rushed towards the office door. As he reached it, he heard a blood-curdling screech emit from within the office. He froze, unable to process what he was hearing. He then forced himself onwards, wrenching open the door and stepping inside.

The scene which greeted him defied all his expectations. The short, slightly plump Mrs. Whitfield was standing in the centre of the room holding aloft a large wooden crucifix. Her eyes were wild and there seemed to be a strange glow emanating from her hands. Backed against the wall, cowering and still screaming, was the strange man. He glanced past the arm which was shielding his sight, and George saw with horror that his eyes had turned blood-red. Half of his face was horribly burned and smoking skin was barely clinging to his skull. His walrus moustache was smouldering, the stink of burning hair and flesh filling the room.

“You ungrateful whore!” The man bellowed, his voice rasping again. “We had a deal, bound in blood! I will not be denied!” Mrs. Whitfield took a step towards the creature, brandishing her crucifix like a blazing torch.

“Yes, we did,” She glared furiously at the figure huddled against the wall. “But I’m a lawyer, dearie, and I always find a way out!” She flung out her right hand and a small glass sphere filled with water flew across the room. It struck the creature on his arm, shattering instantly and soaking it from head to foot. The creature bellowed in agony, and layers of skin began searing off its face and hands. Its moustache fell away as it burned, the impressive spectacle obliterated in seconds. At this final insult, the creature pointed a trembling finger at Mrs. Whitfield.

“You’ll pay dearly for this, woman!” It spat, baring its teeth in fury and pain. It straightened up, clasped its hands together as if in prayer, and abruptly vanished with a blinding flash of light. The after-image of the room still showed the purple silhouette of the creature before it had disappeared. George stood by the doorway, blinking rapidly and trying to make sense of what he had seen. He looked at Mrs. Whitfield, a dozen questions rendering him tongue-tied. Mrs. Whitfield lowered her crucifix and gave him a level stare.

“Well, that takes care of that pest, for now at least.” She said, matter-of-factly. “I’m sorry you had to witness that, dearie, but it can’t be helped.” She frowned at the wet patch of carpet. “Hmmm, my contacts omitted to tell me whether or not Holy Water stains carpets. How irritating…” She trailed off, shaking her head. She smoothed her grey suit jacket absent-mindedly before glancing back up at George.

“Well, George? What are you still doing here?” She asked, somewhat dismissively. “Don’t you have some files to be checking for me? A few for Mr. Black’s wrongful imprisonment case, I believe?”

“I…Yes, Mrs. Whitfield, I’ll…erm…I’ll get on those right away.” George responded, dumb-founded. He turned around and walked with shaky legs back to his desk. He leaned heavily against the wooden frame for a moment, trying to collect his thoughts.

“Oh, and George?” He started as the phone receiver crackled. He could almost see the amused smirk on her face by her tone. He pressed the call button.

“Yes, Mrs. Whitfield?” George replied, shaken.

“Be a dear and don’t mention that little incident to anyone, will you?” She asked nonchalantly. “Demons in the workplace are terribly bad for business! Many thanks!”

With that, the phone was silent, leaving George staring at it in astonishment.