With once ‘pon a time

I’ll tell you a story
so gather around
I heard as a child a
mysterious sound

It came from the darkness
and grew in the night
As stars started singing
in voices of light

The song was a tale
without sense, without rhyme
And began, as all stories
with once ‘pon a time


This poem was originally published as a twitter post, which you can find here

The Emerald Sea

This poem was inspired by an exploration adventure deep within the Tuna Hästberg mines, and was originally published as a twitter thread.


Everdeep beneath the ground
there is a hall of evernight
Where echoes chant the slightest sound
and shadows stalk the smallest light

The brave and foolish venture there
aquest to find the emerald sea
It’s surface made of dreams and fear
it’s depths of eldritch poetry

They drink thereof to learn the craft
to spellbind with their tales and lies
Each mortal who dare drown within
the ageless sea behind their eyes

Their price, however, for this gift
is nevermore to rest in peace
But desperately weave tales or drown
in floods of stories if they cease.

Seven Deadly Sins VII: Ira

This final poem in the Seven Deadly Sins series was originally published as a Twitter thread. The previous poem, “Seven Deadly Sins VI: Acedia”, can be found here.


All spent in soul and body
bereft my last sane thought
I struggled with my demons
and hoped it weren’t for naught

I’d left my life behind me
I’d offered up my will
I’d lowered me to doing things
that I regretted still

To kill in name of virtue
to let my skin be touched
To lie, betray and sacrifice
the things I valued much

And heavens know I felt it
the weariness inside
That poisoned with indifference
to if I lived or died

And as I reached the summit of
a tall and rocky hill
I saw the burgh below me and
grew more despondent still

The city was afire
the flames defiled the clouds
And dancing ‘midst the fires I saw
fiends in endless crowds

I almost did give in then,
succumbing to the sight
I knew I was too puny
to ever win this fight

But something kept me going
and please God me remit
For it was pride and anger and
not virtue, not one bit

And then the heavens opened
and spilled its frenzied tears
As I descended slowly to make
battle with my fears

My left hand held the crystal,
my right hand held the blade
Endowed me by the heavens,
my holy quest to aid

The gates swung up before me
the dancing crowd fell back
to make a pathway forward
then re-closed in my track

Then coming forth to greet me
a lesser hellish lord:
The demon they call Amon
already drawing sword

I knew the magic crystal
had room for just one more
And hadn’t foreseen Amon to
stand guard at Satan’s door

I realized that moment
that I would have to dare
A duel with this monster to
the gem for Satan spare

And as the rainfall poured down
Inferno all around
Our blades did crash together with
an all but deafening sound

The battle raged for ages
at least that’s how it felt
Then suddenly a sharp pain as
he cut me and I knelt

The thought that all should end there
was too much to abide
“God help me”, I said quietly
as he swung swift and wide

And then I drew the crystal
and quickly met his blow
The air exploded, all sound died
and all things turned aglow

I came back to my senses
and terror gripped my soul
For though alive I had just lost
all hope to reach my goal

Though Amon was defeated
and could be seen no more
I was now further from my mark
than I had been before

I rose up, gripped by terror
of what I had just done
The crystal was now useless;
the fight could not be won

And then the fires parted
made way as if in awe
For him who now approached me;
I winced at what I saw

For I stood before Satan
the ruler of all vice
The lord upon the wrathful
now stripped of all disguise

His monstrous frame enormous
His head with antlers crowned
My head said “bow” and ‘fore I knew
I knelt down on the ground

“We finally meet”, his voice boomed
I couldn’t even look
I tried to rise or speak or act
but still I only shook

“You’ve beaten all my sergeants,
and prov’n your mettle well.
And finally you’re here to let me
drag you down to Hell.”

I saw it flash before me
not just my life ‘til then
But also scenes he showed me
of torture without end

The devil then approached me
his giant blade was drawn
And I knew I would never live
to see another dawn

But as I saw the shadow of
his blade above my head
A choir rose around me with
the voices of the dead

And at the corners of my eyes
I saw them all take form
The ghosts of those I’d tried to save
their song now like a storm

I felt a surge of strength then
come rushing like a tide
I grabbed the sword of Michael and
met Satan in his stride

The blade crash was like thunder
we circled and attacked
We fought with equal fervor
like angels had my back

The rain turned into embers
the fires turned to ice
This was an ageless battle
of virtue and of vice

But I was growing weaker
still bleeding from before
And realized that I could
not muster that much more

Each blow I parried made me
more weak and tired still
I made mistakes and panicked
and backed against my will

My foe laughed as he fought me
“I knew that you were weak.
Your fate is settled, if you have
a last prayer you should speak”.

But then a voice did echo:
“Don’t fear, for you are blessed”
And I knew it was Michael,
who sent me on this quest.

“This mortal shell you carry
you’re ready now to break
For you were once an angel too,
remember now and wake”.

And memories came flooding
of lives I’d lived before
Of other incarnations
and promises of yore.

And something in me woke then
and other things did break
And Satan must have seen this for
his blade began to shake

“Who are you”, he demanded
“At least no man at all”
I felt my eyes were glowing
“I’m your demise and fall”

And with those words I struck him
with newfound skill and art
And though he tried to parry
I thrust and pierced his heart

The devil stared in shock and
I calmly met his gaze
Now finally remembering
I, too, once fell from grace

I never was a mortal,
a sentence it had been
To prove myself in human guise
in penance for my sin

And as the demon bled out
still pierced upon my blade
I saw all this and also knew
atonement had been made

A hand upon my shoulder
for I was not alone
“You’ve paid your debt, Grigori,
I’ve come to take you home.”

An angel stood before me
abask in heaven’s light
It was my brother Michael
come to put all things right

“You’ve lived just as a mortal
and paid a heavy price
But in so doing you have also
purged yourself from vice”

He took my hand and led me,
as one we walked away
And as dawn broke it was upon
a very different day

Where people ruled themselves just
as things had been before and
The seven deadly sins were but
ideas and nothing more


This final poem in my Seven Deadly Sins series, and all the previous parts, were written in response to a hashtag game series by Marc Tizura/@areyouingrenin. This day’s particular prompt was Wrath – Ira. The Twitter hashtag is and you can find more poetry and flash fiction there

Thank you for reading!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the series, because I sure as hell (literally) have enjoyed writing it.

I’d love to hear your opinions and feedback in the comment below!

Seven Deadly Sins VI: Acedia

This poem was originally published as a Twitter thread. The previous poem, “Seven Deadly Sins V: Gula”, can be found here.


While dragging myself onward
my nerves just barely checked
I reached by noon a city
not sure what to expect

I entered, it was quiet
and nothing moved or stirred
The silence was imposing and
I dared not say a word

But then I came upon them
the people of this town
They lay around despondent,
all grey and beaten down

They lacked even the strength to
take care to eat or drink
The whole town was so hopeless
I knew not what to think

Then suddenly I saw him
enthroned upon a chair
The semblance of an old man
with shaggy, whitened hair

But he was yelling curses in
a foul, unworldly voice
And told the heartsick people they were
worthless with no choice

I realized that this was
indeed the one I sought
That this old man was Belphegor,
demonic prince of Sloth

That he indeed was feeding
on this encumbered crowd
By telling them all’s pointless
until he had them cowed

An anger grew inside then
caused by what I did see
And I just drew my staff when
he turned his eyes on me

And suddenly his words were
resounding in my head
Reminding me of horrors of
abuse and of the dead

The memories played before me
off all I had been through
And insight struck me failure follows
all I say and do

I found myself in shock then
tears streaming down my face
I’d hurt so many people
while focused on my chase

I sat down on the pavement
just staring straight ahead
Eyes empty, spirit dying
limbs heavier than lead

And Belphegor came closer
chair gliding on its wheels
He taunted me and laughed that
I’d failed all my ideals

I knew that he was right then
and that I wouldn’t fight
the demon when he killed me as
it would just serve me right

But suddenly a burning
began to sear my skin
The crystal in my pocket
was waking me from sin

And I blinked my eyes open
at last able to see
That Belphegor had used my plight
to take control of me

I stared into his eyes then
all suddenly awake
And saw his hands were halfway
stretched out my neck to break

With newfound strength and anger
the crystal forth I thrust
And Belphegor gave up a roar
in terror and disgust

When everything was over
I sat there on the ground
While people rose around me
awed at the strength they’d found

I sat there still at twilight
awatching as the town
Was inch by inch recovering from
the time it had been down

And somewhere deep inside me
a thought was taking form
That though I’d failed some others lived
and this fact made me warm

I rose just as the townsfolk
approached to me invite
Cause though I’d love to stay I had
more lives to save tonight

I heard them call behind me
but strayed not from my path
I would soon face the seventh sin
and he would face my wrath.


This poem was written in response to a hashtag game series by Marc Tizura/@areyouingrenin. The theme was “The Seven Deadly Sins”, and this day’s particular prompt was Sloth – Belphegor. The Twitter hashtag is  – go find more flash fiction there!

The next and final part of the series, “Seven Deadly Sins VII: Ira”, can be found here.

Seven Deadly Sins V: Gula

This poem was originally published as a Twitter thread. The previous poem, “Seven Deadly Sins IV: Invidia”, can be found here.


Flies swarmed above the rooftops
each cranny and each nook
Their buzzing close to deafening
I couldn’t bear to look

And worse yet was the odor
that rose up from the town
I felt my stomach turning and
could barely keep it down

Still this was almost nothing
to what I soon would see;
The state inside the city
became too much for me

Each surface cloaked in mucus
both putrid and decayed
And people rolled around here
and ate and drank and played

I almost turned around then,
unable to withstand
The scene that played before me
too gross to understand

Then everything suspended
when somewhere further down
the street was heard a calling
to all the folks in town

And just like that the orgy
was cut without ado
And all the soddy people
walked off as if on cue

I followed at a distance
to where they all were bound
And when I saw what called them
I threw up on the ground

For what had called these people
with such a throaty roar:
A bulbous, monstrous creature
phlegm oozing from each pore

And all these fallen people
were gathering for a feast
To feed upon the liquids
that leaked out from the beast

Now nauseous and trembling
I fought a fainting spell
Aware the swollen demon
would take me if I fell

And that’s when I was spotted
and all the eating ceased
As drooling people closed in
as for another feast

The seconds felt like lifetimes
as I ransacked my brain
In search for the solution
to save me from this bane

And when the answer struck me
I shrank back in disgust
But lacking other options
I still did what I must

I grabbed the closest person
and bit into this boy
While putting up the act this was
a culinary joy

And this confused the people
and soon they looked around
And realized their kinsmen were
a feast of flesh abound

A massacre ensued then,
a gluttonous battue
And there amidst the carnage
I stealthily withdrew

The demon lay there waiting
as I drew close to it
He searched for words to sway me
but glut had cloyed his wit

“It’s you who’ve killed these people”
I said and pointed back
“Your gluttonous infection
has led them down this track”

And Beelzebub struck out then
but glut had made him slow
I parried with the crystal
and trapped him with its glow

The flash lit up the city,
reflected in its gore
And when the light subsided
the demon was no more

But all the fated people
lay sprawling in the dirt
Some dead and other dying
and none of them unhurt

I desperately wanted
to aid them in their plight
But duty called me elsewhere and
I slipped into the night

Five demons in the crystal
another two still free
Would I succeed ‘fore madness
could claim the rest of me?


This poem was written in response to a hashtag game series by Marc Tizura/@areyouingrenin. The theme was “The Seven Deadly Sins”, and this day’s particular prompt was Gluttony – Beelzebub. The Twitter hashtag is  – go find more flash fiction there! The next part of the series, “Seven Deadly Sins VI: Acedia”, can be found here.

Seven Deadly Sins IV: Invidia

This poem was originally published as a Twitter thread. The previous poem, “Seven Deadly Sins III: Luxuria”, can be found here.


The sea was crashing madly
towards the empty shore
And lightning lit the heavens
along with thunder’s roar

The port town seemed abandoned as
I entered in the rain
But looks can be deceiving when
you deal with the profane

Thus I resumed with caution
and soon I reached the sea
And well there I discovered what
fate had in store for me

For there amongst the surges a
monstrosity emerged
A serpent from the depths of Hell
repulsive and unpurged

And as I watched it slither
there rose up from the waves
the people of the village
turned into green eyed slaves

Undead they came towards me
a hunger in their eyes
And moaning accusations
filled with the demon’s lies

They hungered for my life force
they hungered for my quest
Denying me in envy
those things and all the rest

Aversely I conceded
that these people were lost
I could not bring them back from
the line that they had crossed

So I brandished my weapon,
the magic staff of myth
That angels once did grant me
to banish darkness with

The glowing staff before me
I fought my way ahead
Attempting to convince myself
they were already dead

When finally I stood there
right at the water’s brim
The demon pierced me with his gaze;
I stared right back at him

“So this is what it comes to”
the snake hissed with a grin
“You’ve come to meet Invida,
the fourth and mightiest sin?”

I nodded then in silence
and suddenly I knew
That all the power he possessed
was actually my due

For after all my triumphs
why should not also I
Be blessed with all the powers
befalling those up high?

A sudden rage did fill me;
I was worth more than so
And thus I raised my staff again
and fell upon my foe

And I struck out in anger
to take back what was mine
But somewhy the staff failed me and
the snake did me entwine

I fought with all my strength but
the demon only laughed
“Your puny tools can’t harm me when
you’ve fallen for my craft”

With that he bared his fangs and
my will began to shake
For suddenly I realized
my fatal, grave mistake

I’d fallen for his envy
and let it cloud my mind
And now the snake would kill me –
how had I been so blind?

But as fangs closed around me
I struck a final blow
And my relief was endless when
the staff began to glow

The snake screamed out in terror as
I pierced right through its eye
It slithered back in panic but
it still refused to die

The sea parted around me when
I walked to where it lay
And brought forth now the crystal
to catch my fourth big prey

The snake called Leviathan
tried both to beg and bribe
But I had learned the hard way not to
listen to his tribe

The crystal’s light burst forth then,
outshone the thundering sky
And when the flash subsided
alone stood only I

Despite another triumph
a sadness filled my soul
For so many had died here
for me to reach my goal

In silence I retreated,
without turning around
Not looking at the bodies
still lying on the ground

A fourth sin was defeated
but at a heavy cost
And as I journeyed on I knew
that innocence was lost.


This poem was written in response to a hashtag game series by Marc Tizura/@areyouingrenin. The theme was “The Seven Deadly Sins”, and this day’s particular prompt was Envy – Leviathan. The Twitter hashtag is  – go find more flash fiction there! The next poem in the series, “Seven Deadly Sins V: Gula”, can be found here.

Substitution

[23:47] <J0hnDo3> ”We're all nothing but the sum of our own lies.”
[23:47] <J0hnDo3> That was the last thing she said to me before she died. 
[23:47] <J0hnDo3> I don't know what she meant, but none of that matters anymore. 
[23:47] <J0hnDo3> Nothing does.

Her electric eyes in the dark. Four feet dangling from the familiar bridge.
Two bottles glittering in the synthetic lights of the city below.
”I can’t do this anymore.”

[23:48] <J0hnDo3> This room is dark and silent. The darkness is not something new, but the silence is. 
[23:48] <J0hnDo3> She was the talker, the player of music and games. 
[23:48] <J0hnDo3> Now there's just me, and I was always the quiet one. The thinker, the brooder. 
[23:48] <J0hnDo3> And nothing of that has changed, although everything else has.
[23:48] <J0hnDo3> I'm not sure if I'm drinking to honor her memory or to forget.

Give me your hand.”
A knife suddenly, without a smile, without a joke.
Something real, something since long weighing heavy
on solitary shoulders.
My confused hand in hers.
”Remember how we mixed blood as children?”

[23:49] <J0hnDo3> My computer is my only window to the outside world now, the only thing that grants importance to my days. 
[23:49] <J0hnDo3> She was always the outgoing one, the force that sometimes made me leave the virtual world for the physical. 
[23:49] <J0hnDo3> That force is gone now, and I have none of my own. Even less so now than before, actually.

Pain. The neon reflections in the blade, in the crimson liquid emerging from the paleness of my hand.
”See, your blood’s still red.”
Another scar, another wound. Glittering darkness like velvet quicksilver.
Little stars twinkling from the midnight oil in her cupped hand.
”Mine is not anymore.”

[23:51] <J0hnDo3> She always told me that we were going to change the world, one circuit at a time. We were going to salvage what was worth saving and tear down that which was not. 
[23:51] <J0hnDo3> Then we were going to stand by the crater and watch it all burn. 
[23:51] <J0hnDo3> She was on a crusade to steal it all back from the world's rightless powers and to uncover all their lies. 
[23:51] <J0hnDo3> I always followed, because as far as crusades go, she was mine.

I found something, Jonathan, and I went too deep. Now it is changing me.”
Eyes usually brave, defiant, now filled with fear – and something else not readily apparent without looking dangerously closely;
twinkling, twinkling little stars draped in mercury midnight oil.

[23:53] <J0hnDo3> I don't know where she got the gun, or why I still have it. It is a sick thing to have, right, and an even sicker thing to keep. 
[23:53] <J0hnDo3> I made a half-hearted attempt to clean it, but it still has specks of her burnt, dark blood all around the muzzle. It just won't come off. 
[23:53] <J0hnDo3> Well, it doesn't matter to me. It will do it's job again just as well anyway.

I can’t explain it. I’ve tried to understand what is happening, but I can’t.
I think I’m going mad.”
Three deep breaths, barely held back tears and panic.
”I can’t feel things like I used to, and I know things I shouldn’t know.
Like it’s someone else’s knowledge that I don’t know how I have.
And I have stopped sleeping, Jonathan.
I just lie there in the darkness, like in standby mode.
And the itching… I think there is something under my skin.
Something… not organic.”

[23:54] <J0hnDo3> When she met me on the bridge that night it was the first I saw of her in several days. 
[23:54] <J0hnDo3> I want to remember her as she was, not for the fear and panic and absence of her last three weeks. 
[23:54] <J0hnDo3> After she found that shit on the Tor dark web, that is. 
[23:54] <J0hnDo3> She never told me what it was, if it was tools or drugs or information. Perhaps all three of them. 
[23:54] <J0hnDo3> But whatever it was, it drove her mad and killed her. 
[23:54] <J0hnDo3> And one could say that indirectly it's now killing me too.

The knife is gone, and now there’s a gun.
Chrome surface reflecting the cityscape just as well as
eyes and bottles and blood ever did.
Panic in my mind suddenly.
”What are you doing with that? Put it away!”
I grab her hand tightly, feel pulsing red and black blood
intermingling between our palms.

[23:56] <J0hnDo3> I cannot stand this silence and darkness anymore. I cannot stand being on a crusade that means nothing to me now that she is gone. 
[23:56] <J0hnDo3> The world is so empty and pointless without her, not even worth burning or tearing down. 
[23:57] <J0hnDo3> I've realized that even if I didn't understand it at the time, this is why I kept the gun. Why I picked it up and hid it when the sirens approached. Why I lied about it when the police came by. 
[23:57] <J0hnDo3> Why I'm typing this with its chrome surface reflecting the blinking prompt on my screen.

I’m sorry, Jonathan. I can’t do this anymore. There’s a voice in my head, and it’s telling me things I don’t understand.
Things about me, about the world, about… About everything.
It’s never quiet, Johanthan – it’s never quiet!”
Words from my mouth, gestures of my hands, but they do not reach her.
I do not reach her.
Panic. Pleading. Tears. All mine now.
”Amanda, don’t do this. Please.”

She looks at me, stars twinkling clearly now in mercury midnight oil.
Some kind of calm suddenly.
”It’s all a lie, Jonathan. We’re all nothing but the sum of our own lies.”

And then the world explodes.

[23:58] <J0hnDo3> I don't know what she wanted to tell me, and I don't know why those last words plagued my dreams every night after that until I stopped sleeping and feeling altogether. 
[23:58] <J0hnDo3> My hand hasn't healed well either – did she infect me with something? I keep hearing her voice inside my head and I think I'm going mad as well. 
[23:59] <J0hnDo3> But none of that matters anymore. Nothing does. I feel like a mangled hard drive that's slowly being written over, and I actually don't care.
[00:00] <J0hnDo3> I'm not even sure why I'm writing this. I guess I just wanted to leave a piece of me somewhere out there, before there are pieces of me everywhere so to speak. Perhaps someone will hear the shot and find me before things get too nasty. Or perhaps not. 
[00:00] <J0hnDo3> And perhaps nobody will ever even enter this old channel and read this crap anyway. 
[00:00] <J0hnDo3> But if you do, well, consider this my letter of resignation. To the crusade, to life, to everything. 
[00:00] <J0hnDo3> Goodbye, World.
[00:00] <Am&_A> Don't.
[00:00] <J0hnDo3> ???
[00:01] <J0hnDo3> Wtf who is this? This is not funny.
[00:02] <Am&_A> Just don't, Jonathan. You'll regret it. I know.
[00:02] <J0hnDo3> Amanda? Is that really you?
[00:02] <J0hnDo3> How? You died. I saw you die.
[00:02] <J0hnDo3> Amanda??
[00:04] <Am&_A> There's still so much that you don't understand, and it will get worse. I'm sorry.
[00:04] <J0hnDo3> What? For what? Amanda, where are you??
[00:05] <J0hnDo3> ????
[00:06] <Am&_A> Here. Or, I don't know. I'm not sure. Everywhere.
[00:06] <J0hnDo3> What the hell's that supposed to mean???
[00:07] <J0hnDo3> ???
[00:09] <Am&_A> I hear it has started for you too. It's my fault. I didn't know.
[00:09] <J0hnDo3> KNOW WHAT?? Amanda, please!
[00:10] <Am&_A> There's a place downtown called Cellar Door. 
[00:10] <Am&_A> It's a bar. Don't ask me how I know this. 
[00:10] <Am&_A> Go there. Ask for Vincent. 
[00:10] <Am&_A> He will explain everything.
[00:10] <J0hnDo3> What is this, the fucking Matrix??
[00:10] <J0hnDo3> Hello?
[00:11] <J0hnDo3> Amanda??
[00:13] <J0hnDo3> Amanda, please don't leave me again.
[00:14] <J0hnDo3> Please
[00:21] <J0hnDo3> Amanda?
[00:33] <J0hnDo3> Ok then. Fine. Fuck it. I'll go there.

[04:47] == J0hnDo3 has quit [Ping timeout: 264 seconds]

We’re all nothing but the sum of our own lies.

That was the last thing she said to me before she was gone.
Gone, not dead. Because that’s not how the world works anymore.
Perhaps it never really worked that way, but I was too blind to see it.
Well, I don’t want to be blind anymore.

And if we’re all the sum of our own lies,
I want to know what those lies are.
Because my blood’s not red anymore either, and the voices…
the voices are never quiet.

Twinkle, twinkle, more and more
let’s go down that Cellar Door.

Chris Smedbakken, 2018-02-16

This story was written in response to a title writing prompt, 

It is also highly inspired by a dark urban folklore/RPG setting created by my good friend Stellawainwright. Check out his site, will yah?

I have, by the way, previously written two other short stories set in the same universe. If you want to read them as well, they are called The Sound of Silence and The Forest.


 

The Forest

”Have you ever been to the Forest before?”

She struggled through the underbrush as she tried to fight off the dizziness and the haze that prevented her from seeing anything but dark, blurry shapes in the murk around her.

”Which one?” She didn’t know who she was talking to, or even where she was.

The voice in front of her – something not quite human – laughed quietly. ”Oh, but there only ever was one”, it said.

”What? No, I’ve been to several–”

”They are all connected, child”, the voice interrupted her. ”All the forests of the world, connected. There’s only one Forest, and you’re in it now.”

”How did… I don’t remember getting here. Who are you? Did you bring me here?”

”You don’t even have the sense to be afraid, do you?” That soft, purring laughter again. ”Well, good. Then you might be ready for what I’m going to tell you.”

She tried to walk faster, to catch up with whoever was walking before her, but her whole body felt strange and slow.

”Something’s wrong with me”, she said. ”It hurts.”

”Yes, I know it hurts”, the voice said. ”That’s part of the beauty of it.”

”The beauty of wha–”

”Don’t speak now, just listen. What you think you know about the world, yourself and reality is a lie. A carefully constructed lie, composed long ago by creatures far wittier than you and I, but a lie nonetheless. It is a lie that tells little children what they need to hear in order to remain sane and alive. A lie that holds human society together, and a lie that protects that which needs to dwell in darkness from the merciless light of day. It is a lie that I myself dread see exposed. But tonight I shall still dare whisper secret truths to you, truths that you shall then help me protect.”

”Me? Help you? I’m sorry, but should I know you?” The trees around her glowed silver and the air smelled of darkness and glass.

”No, but you will. In fact, let me begin by telling you my story”, the voice said – and begun.

”There was a time when I, too, believed in the lie that had been fed to me. This was a long time ago, however, and I have learned my lessons well since then. I was always alone, but I preferred it that way. I never understood other humans, and they did not understand me. I would have been happy to leave it at that, but they were not. For reasons that are more relevant to my own sentimental memory than to this story, they turned on me and I was broken.”

”They… attacked you?” She felt a sudden anger rising up, seemingly from nowhere. The surprising surge of emotion scared her.

”Yes. But as I said, that was long ago and none of them are alive anymore. I have seen to that.”

”You’re not saying–”

”Yes I am. But be quiet now and listen. I was broken and hurting and they left me in the forest for the animals to do their part. But as I lay there, half adream and half awake, I could feel something changing. Slowly, slowly, my mind and body melded with something dark that might have been part of me all along – and suddenly I was not broken anymore. I was not hurting.”

”And what did you–”

”No, this is my story. No more questions. But yes, I killed them. All of them. Grown ups and children just the same. Oh, it was glorious.”

There was such mirth in the voice at this that she didn’t dare inquire further.

”Silence, good”, the voice chuckled. ”But as I said, that’s not part of the story I’m trying to tell you. What is, however, is that I have been living in the Forest ever since, observing, protecting and sometimes hunting. ‘Hunting what?’, I sense you want to ask. Well, sometimes I hunt animals and sometimes I hunt other things. There are other things out here, and the deeper you get into the Forest, the darker and sharper grows the prey. But enough about that.”

The creature cleared its throat with a deep, growling sound, but never slowed down the pace.

”A big part of the lie that humans tell themselves is that the world is simple and logical. There is logic to it, sure, but the logic is not theirs. They limit themselves to seeing only part of reality; build themselves into a confining box, if you will. That box is what the Night Children call Zenith –the world under the sun.”

”Night Children? Zenith? Wait, I don’t–”

The creature growled, and she silenced. ”You have to stop doing that. Asking… Questions. I don’t like it. Zenith is what you perceive as the real world, but it’s not. Reality consists of many worlds, and Zenith is just one of them. But humans cannot handle the thought of this, and they cannot handle the thought of there being truths and creatures and realities outside their own limited perception. And that’s why most often they refuse to see them – and us. Especially those of us who do not blend in well with their narrow scope of the world. We simply become invisible to them.”

”And who are ‘we’?”

”Oh, that’s a good question finally. Maybe the only one that truly matters. We, my dear cub, are the Night Children I mentioned. Those who once were, or at least thought we were, humans – but who fate has proven wrong. We are cursed to live outside the lie and to protect it, thereby protecting ourselves. There are many types of curses that can befall those unlucky enough, but they all end us up outside the box. And outside the box, outside Zenith, is only the darkness of Midnight where few dare tread.

Or that’s not entirely true. Between the two realms is the crossroads twilight of Dusk, and that’s where we are now. It’s the shadow of reality’s hidden nooks and crannies, including forgotten parts of cities and the true parts of the Forest. These places tie all the sunlit woods, towns and corners together. There are doorways here, and pathways and thresholds, that tie secret parts of Zenith together with Midnight. From here you can go anywhere in the sunlit world, but you can also end up terribly, irrevocably lost.”

”And… Am I lost?” There was some kind of fear inside her, but not one that she could easily place and recognize as her own.

The creature laughed again. ”No, dear, you are not lost. I would not have that. It was I who brought you here, and I know these parts inside and out.”

”But… Why? Why did you bring me here? Why are you telling me all of this? I know your story, sure, but I don’t know you.”

”No, that is true. But I, on the other hand, know you rather well. I have been watching you for many moons now, sensed the change in you as soon as it started. You have felt it too, have you not?”

”No, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She knew this was a lie, but could not clearly remember why.

”You sure? So the increased growing of your nails and teeth, the sudden surges of emotion and the inescapable hunger for raw meat did not strike you as anything outside of the ordinary?”

She remembered something like that, but it felt like it had happened to somebody else, sometime very long ago. ”Well, I guess it did, but I just thought…”

”That you were going mad? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. But you don’t have to hide the change anymore now, it is done. Finished. You are what you are now, and your little stunt there couldn’t stop it.”

”Stunt?” The memories were starting to come back, but very, very slowly.

”You tried to do something really stupid to yourself, but I stopped you. I told you I have been watching you, didn’t I? Well, I was waiting for something conclusive to happen to you, like it once did to me. And then I stepped in. Lifted you out of that bathtub and carried you here.”

She stopped walking. ”Wait, what? You were in my apartment? You… lifted me out of the bathtub? No. No, this is too much. Sorry, but I have to go. I’ll just, I have to go home now.”

She started turning around, but stopped and jumped as the voice spoke up again – right beside her this time.

”You could do that”, it said. ”But I would not recommend it.”

”Why not?”

”Because we are here now.”

And just in that instant the moon far above them left its nest in the clouds and cast its cold, merciless light down upon the forest. Suddenly she could see the world around herself clearly – including the still surface of the lake right in front of her feet. The water was so dark and quiet that it flawlessly mirrored the forest, the moonlit sky – and the two creatures standing by the water’s edge.

Creatures, not people, because their skin was clad in grizzly fur, their eyes glowing and their pupils little more than horizontal slits. Their hands and feet were adorned with big, monstrous claws and gleaming fangs protruded from their too-wide mouths.

She just stared, too shocked to scream or run or even say anything. The creature to her right, the one who had been walking in front of her this whole time, calmly met her eyes through the reflection in the water.

”You could go back”, it said in a low voice. ”But it would not be the same. I do not know why you have been blessed or cursed with Night, but life as you knew it is over, gone.”

She looked at her own reflection, at the face that she did not recognize but which still reminded her of something she might deep down have known for a long, long time. She shook her head. ”So this is what I am now? A… a monster?”

”Not a monster, dear. You have been blessed with the Wilder heart, cursed with the beast’s mark. This is your true form, yes, but you can still blend in, regain your past form for a while.”

Relief surged through her strange body. ”I can?”

”For a limited time, yes. But it comes with a sacrifice.”

”How?” She turned to face the creature for the first time, grabbed its ragged shoulders and stared into its terrible eyes. ”Just tell me, I’ll do anything!”

The creature met her gaze in silence for several heartbeats. ”The price is beyond ‘anything’ to many whose humanity is still intact”, it said. ”And that is also part of the curse’s irony. To retain the appearance of humanity, you have to commit monstrous acts and ingest what we call vitalem – human flesh and blood.”

She started to say something, but stopped as the meaning of the words suddenly sank in.

The creature nodded solemnly. ”Yes, that is the sacrifice. To give up your inner humanity in order to keep up the semblance of your outer such.”

”But you, you…”

”Yes, I stooped to it initially. I killed those who had wronged and hurt me, and that act kept me human – for a time. But then the realization of what I had done drove me back into the Forest, and for shame and guilt I have seldom left it since. I have been so very alone, but now I am not alone anymore.”

She let go of the creature’s shoulders and backed away a few steps. ”What, so you mean that this is it now? That I am to stay here with you, looking like this, feeling like this, for the rest of my life? Until I die?”

”You will not die. Not in the sense that you appreciate the word, anyhow.”

She let out a frustrated scream that resounded off the surface of the lake and far beyond the slowly dancing treetops. ”No”, she then said as she continued backing away. ”No, I can’t do this. I’m sorry, but I can’t. I can’t be like this, I can’t live here and I definitely can’t stay here with you.”

”You’re not thinking clearly”, the creature said. ”You haven’t thought this through. I told you about the alternative, and I’m sure–”

She laughed manically and shook her head, still slowly walking backwards. ”You don’t know me”, she said. ”You don’t know what I’m capable of. This isn’t fair, this shouldn’t be happening to me. None of it. I’ll have my life back, even if it means drinking blood or whatever. I–”

”You don’t know what you’re saying”, the creature growled. ”I have suffered through the consequences of that road, and I can tell you that it changes you. It makes you into something that–”

”So let it!”, she screamed with a wide gesture of her arms. ”Let it change me. As long as it also changes me back. This isn’t me! Fuck this thing, fuck Dusk and fuck you. I’m going home and you can’t stop me.” She backed a few more steps, then turned around and disappeared between the trees.

The creature remained by the water’s edge, a melancholy glint in its glowing eyes. As the sound of running steps abated and finally silenced altogether, a black bird landed on its right shoulder.

”You’re not very good at this, are you now, Ira? You’ve just lost us another one”, it croaked.

”Virdis, please don’t”, the creature said lowly. ”I did what I could, but she just wouldn’t listen.”

”Well”, the bird called Virdis cawed mockingly, ”Let’s just hope that she’ll at least calm down and listen to her own reason before she kills anyone in Zenith, or worse.”

”Hopefully the Organization will get to her before that. But they will not be happy about it”, Ira sighed, staring into the woods where the other had disappeared.

”I’m sure they won’t mind”, Virdis mused, but the bird’s sly eyes said otherwise. ”Well, I’d better be off then. Gotta let Vincent know that there’s another one coming. Can’t wait to see his reaction. Seeyah.”

And with that the black bird left Ira’s shoulder with a strong beat of its huge wings. It quickly soared into the air and was soon gone into the night, off to whatever strange places crows and ravens use to cross between worlds.

Ira remained alone by the lake, staring at the reflection in the water and wishing, not for the first time, that the world were indeed as simple as the lies from a far away childhood had once made it out to be.

Chris Smedbakken, 2018-02-15

This story was written in response to a title writing prompt, 

It is also highly inspired by a dark urban folklore/RPG setting created by my good friend Stellawainwright. Check out his site, will yah?

I have, by the way, previously written another short story set in the same universe. It is called The Sound of Silence, and you can find it here.