Into the Dark

Vanessa Riley’s problem wasn’t that she fell in love with idiots – it was that she fell in love with everybody. She only needed to talk to somebody for ten minutes to fall irrevocably head over heels. No wonder that the morons got to her; they were the ones that made the moves, after all. And to make things worse, she herself was not your average girl-next-door – nor was her family the most average of families. This fact, without a fault, tended to secure her the less-than-average moronic suitors as well.

The first one, not counting all the cute elementary school flings littering her back story like embarrassing piles of unicorn poop, had been a vampire. She had been fourteen years old, mesmerized by the writings of a certain Mrs. Rice and consequently swiped right off her feet by his charm, bottomless eyes and knowing, poetic voice as he spoke her name. It was an intense, crimson and incredibly sexy affair. She had given him her overrated virginity and lots and lots of blood. He had given her almost as much in return and promised to take her “into the night”, as he had so eloquently put it. The romance ended almost as swiftly as it had begun, with her mother finding out and chopping his head off with a rusty shovel – it being all that had been readily at hand in the heat of the moment.

Turned out, though, that he had a family of his own. Fierce old things that didn’t take lightly the death – much less murder – of one of theirs. The fact that his beheading, by some, was unfortunately interpreted as an escalation of the age old cold war between vampires and mages didn’t exactly make things better. The final price and outcome of this seemingly innocent high school romance thus became an increased enmity between two up until now passively warring factions, the violent death of her mother and the turning, as it was likewise eloquently termed, of her own twin sister. They haven’t spoken much since then.

After that she lived with her father for a time, long enough to finish high school. He and her late mother had already been divorced for some time before her death. However, due to him priding himself with having a werewolf somewhere far back in his lineage, nobody had deemed it necessary to intervene in the name of secrecy when their relationship ended. What this intervention would have meant, though, Vanessa didn’t learn until later – and then it was the hard way.

What she did learn at this time, however, was the complete, merciless and entirely uncensored truth about her unusual family tree. Vanessa had already been made aware of her mother’s abilities, that she had been a magician of some renown and that Vanessa herself was expected to someday develop some degree of powers of her own. She hadn’t been aware, though, of the fact that her mother’s family could trace their lineage as far back as ancient Egypt, and that as good as every generation up until now had sported their share of supernatural creatures. Those who never displayed any magical abilities of their own were quickly swept up by the vampires, changelings and ritualists surrounding the family at all times. Thus they had made themselves a name over the millennia, and thus the prospects of the normal life Vanessa Riley had always hoped for instantly seemed farther away than ever. But time had passed and Vanessa had made due and eventually learned to cope with the new state of her world.

Her second boyfriend, not counting all the high school one nighters littering her teens like secretly thrilling but forbidden cigarette buds, had been a magician himself. She had been almost eighteen and had fallen head over heels before his cunning eyes, sly smile and somewhat rough ways. Being finally together with someone who was actually allowed to know her family’s deepest secrets had been a great relief. Up until then none of her friends or partners – save for that one who “got away” – had been residents of the proverbial world of darkness that her own family of secret mages, werewolves and general misfits were a part of.

She could talk to him about all the things that confused and frightened her, and the fact that he was just two years her senior sat really well with her father. They shared one intense summer and then he went to prison. Not your usual, mundane prison, mind you. Rather it was the kind of prison where mages are sent if they, gods forbid, meddle with things more dark and dangerous than what is considered sound, safe and sane by the local coven leaders. The people who came for him made sure to perform thorough interrogations of Vanessa as well, but soon lost interest when it became clear that she hadn’t even awakened to her powers yet. Without them, it was impossible for her to have broken any arcane laws serious enough for them to care. She later learned that he had been exiled from the city, but by then she had already moved on.

Vanessa Riley’s third real boyfriend had actually been an ordinary, human guy. He was the same age as her and they met by chance through a language class they both took after finishing senior high. She was nineteen years old and had only three months earlier discovered that she could see people’s auras and read their minds. Her father had been delighted hearing about her powers, but also somewhat saddened. He had told her that before long the rest of the family would take interest in her and that she then might have to move on with her life – whether she wanted it or not. That this moving on would occur sooner rather than later, and that it would rip open the seams of a world she already believed entirely upside down, was nothing he had told her, though.

The ordinary guy’s name was Brian and when she was with him Vanessa could almost allow herself to believe in a normal every day life where the most groundbreaking thing that could happen would be the neighbours coming by for a cup of sugar. She stayed over at his place more and more frequently and was soon endowed with an empty drawer in one of his closets. They talked about enrolling to the same college, buying a car and skipping town, renting a flat and moving in together and many other things. It all felt so serious that one late and drunken night, as they lay gazing at the stars out on Brian’s balcony, Vanessa decided to tell him everything.

They were both drunk and when she began talking about telepathy, auras and mind control his first reaction was to laugh uncontrollably. She couldn’t help but to laugh as well, but when she realized that he thought the whole thing was a joke she stopped.

This is real”, she said. “I’m not fooling around.” She sat up and stared at him and eventually he stopped laughing as well – at least long enough to draw breath.

Okay, I hear you.” He had to fight back another fit of laughter before continuing. “So you can read minds and make people do stuff. And why haven’t I noticed this before?”

She sighed impatiently. “Because it’s a secret and I was afraid you would freak out. Besides, I learned to do these things only recently.”

At this he finally stopped laughing and managed a somewhat serious look. “Alright, babe. Show me. What am I thinking about?”

Me. You’re thinking about me.”

Well, okay, but that one was easy. What about now?”

You’re still thinking about me, stupid. But without clothes now. You’re also thinking about fish for some reason. Kinky.”

This made him pause, but only for a moment. “I don’t know how you did that, but come on babe, just admit that this is a joke so I can kiss you already.”

But it isn’t –” He reached for her and started pulling her closer, seemingly already haven dismissed the subject as a drunken prank.

She panicked. She had just opened herself up to him like she had never dared before, and here he was, on the edge of joking it all away. “Stop”, she said – and he did. Way to quickly.

Brian stared at her, frozen at an arm’s length’s distance. The terror in his eyes spoke for itself. “What the hell did you do?”

An icy hand gripped her spine. What did I do? What have I done? “I’m… I’m sorry, Brian. I –”

But he had already gotten to his feet and quickly backed away from her. “Don’t”, he said. “I don’t know what you did but I… I can’t…” He backed into the darkness of the apartment. She tried to follow but he held up both hands and shook his head violently. “No, please. Just don’t. I need to…” And with that he turned his back on her and fled out the door.

She stood in his dark living room for several seconds, just listening in shocked silence as his echoing footsteps disappeared down the stairwell and were finally cut off by the sharp sound of the main entrance closing far below. Not until then did she sink to the floor, collapsing in a sobbing pile and feeling the tears stream down her face.

They found Brian’s body the next day. She had fallen asleep on the floor of his apartment and did not awaken until she got the call. The policeman on the other end had gotten her number from her father and was empathetic but matter-of-fact when he told her that Brian was dead. He had been found in a park close to his home, lying under a bush with his neck broken. The police wanted to talk to her in person as soon as possible, seeing as she was possibly one of the last people who had seen him alive.

Vanessa was numb when the call ended and almost couldn’t bring herself to answering when her father called a few seconds later. He came to pick her up and the subsequent ride over to the police station was an eerily silent one. The investigators asked her about the night before, what they had done and why he had left home. She told them that they had fought over some trivial thing – couldn’t very well tell them the truth. They asked her many questions but in the end seemed to accept that she didn’t know anything about his potential enemies, debts or addictions.

On their way home in the car that evening her father tried his best to check on her, console her or at least make her talk. He failed on all three points. As they entered the driveway she still hadn’t spoken a word that wasn’t in reply to a direct question. She was in shock and walked through fog on broken glass. They walked into the house and her father went to the kitchen to make her some chamomile tea. Then he froze on the threshold. When Vanessa caught up with him and saw Her, the woman sitting on the couch, she wasn’t even surprised. She had never seen this woman before and still she knew who she was.

“Neferthali”, she said tonelessly. She didn’t have any tones left.

The woman nodded and rose. “It’s time”, she said and strode over to them, her crimson silk dress flowing behind her as she moved. Vanessa thought that her long raven hair reflected the darkness outside the windows.

“You, you can’t –” Vanessa’s father stuttered as he tried to speak.

“Yes, Jim”, the tall woman said. “I’m taking your daughter. It’s clear as day that you can’t handle her.”

And with that she grabbed Vanessa’s hand and walked her back towards the door. Vanessa tried to turn, to seek her father’s eyes, but Neferthali stopped and grabbed her chin. “You stupid girl, you don’t understand anything, do you? Running around and telling sleepers about the Family and all. Obviously you can’t even handle yourself.”

Her grip was firm as rock and Vanessa could do nothing but stare into those deep, dark eyes that had seen civilizations rise and fall. She shivered involuntarily. “I didn’t tell him about the Family”, she said, tears welling up in her eyes. Tears of shame that she didn’t herself know the origin of.

“No, but you would have”, the woman said. “It always starts this way, with a stupid little girl telling an almost as stupid boy about magic. The rest is history. That’s how it started with your mother and father, and that’s how it started for your mother’s parents before her. Were it not for your father’s animalistic heritage, I would gladly have killed him as well when that sad relationship ended. Yes, Jim”, she said and turned her head halfway towards Vanessa’s father for a split second. “That’s the truth and you know it.”

Vanessa’s father didn’t say anything, but Vanessa could see from the corner of her eye that he was gripping the door frame tightly and stared intently at them. She herself snapped out of her frozen state for a moment when Nerferthali took her ancient eyes of her.

“What… do you mean ‘as well’?”, she whispered.

Neferthali met her eyes again, absolute controlled calm emanating from her eyes. “Like I killed your sleeper boy last night, of course”, she said. No malice in her voice, no sadistic pleasure. Just coldly, calmly establishing a fact.

“You, you killed Brian?” Vanessa felt her legs go weak and her voice tremble as she uttered the terrible words. “You killed him. You.”

Neferthali nodded. “I did. He was leaving you and he knew too much. I had to.”

Vanessa felt the tears break forth again and could do, would do, nothing to prevent it. “He wasn’t leaving me. We would have worked it out. He would have come back, just needed… He just needed some time, that’s all.”

The ancient woman sighed – more as a rhetoric gesture than because she needed the air. “Maybe he would have. But he would have left again, he was a lost cause. Not made for this kind of darkness. You know this, Vanessa. You always did. And still you told him. This makes you the real killer, not me. I’m just protecting the family, like I have always done. I only wish your mother would have let me take you sooner. That would probably have left her alive to one day see you learn from your mistakes.”

So many thoughts, so many disturbing, provoking, heartbreaking concepts. Brian’s death her fault. Her mother’s murder and her sister’s turning just as much. Learn from my mistakes… Yes, she thought. Maybe they were all because of me. And the prospect broke her, pulled her apart with such force that she couldn’t even try to resist it. She would have fallen to the floor if her vampire godmother had let her. She who had, according to the family myths, guarded over her progeny for thousands and thousands of years.

Neferthali picked her up, cradled her in her cold, hard arms like a baby and carried her out through the door. Vanessa shook uncontrollably and her only anchor to sanity then and there was the vampire singing softly to her in a language lost to all but the dead and forgotten gods of yore.

And behind them inside the house her father let out a roaring bellow that was not of a human throat, but still dared do nothing to save his last living daughter from this creature older than modern time itself.

“His first change, finally”, Neferthali mused smilingly as she carried her young ward away. But by then Vanessa Riley had stopped listening to anything but blind panic a long time ago. And thus she was carried off into a night more dark and dangerous than what any coven leader, however hardened, would consider sound, safe and sane.

And that was only the beginning.


You can find part II of the story about Vanessa Riley here.

Chris Smedbakken 2017-05-24

The Sound of Silence

When Sarah Johnson woke up it was well past noon – she could tell because the sun was already up. This far up north that didn’t happen early in the day during winter. She groaned as she moved and felt how stiff her arms and legs were. Her head hurt like hell and she realized that she was lying on a flight of concrete stairs. One of the steps pressed painfully against her right temple and as she drew closer to her senses a heavy nausea grew alongside the pain. Somewhere in the distance she could hear traffic passing but where she lay sprawled only the ringing in her ears broke the silence. Fuck. She had done it again.

The palms of her still numb hands slipped on a thin layer of ice as she tried to rise. With clumsy movements she managed to maneuver herself  into a sitting position on the stairs, and that’s when she saw the blood. She shivered. Where her head had been, the ice coating the concrete step was tinted a dirty, dark red. Her hand moved to her temple and the nausea rose as she felt the jagged edges of the cut there. The blood had coagulated or frozen and it was impossible to know how deep the wound was – but what she could feel of it was enough to make her flinch. Being drunk and falling asleep in stupid places was not entirely new to her, although most often it at least happen indoors. It was stupid, but usually it had ended well. This time however, she realized with a pang of fear, she was actually lucky to still be alive.

She dragged herself up with the help of a metal handrail running alongside the stairs. For several seconds she just stood there, panting heavily and trying to get her pulse to calm down. No matter how much her lungs worked, she couldn’t quite seem to get enough air into them. She felt lightheaded and the ringing in her ears persisted as she took in her surroundings. Below the stairs was a walking trail emerging from a tunnel running beneath a now silent railway track. She realized that she actually wasn’t that far from home. This was not the road she usually took from the bus but occasionally she did. It was a bit shorter but ran through a somewhat bad part of her area and was not the smartest choice after sunset. Drunk, badly dressed for the cold and unconscious in a bad part of town at night. She understood that she should count herself lucky to have woken up at all, even not considering the nasty cut to her head.

Using the handrail for support she managed to climb the stairs and ended up on a small yard surrounded by unkempt tower blocks. A chill wind tore at her sparse clothing and she hugged herself as she started staggering homewards. The prospect of a hot shower and a nice cup of tea afterwards kept her moving forward even as her entire body protested violently. That, and a promise to herself that she would never get so drunk again. At least not soon.

***

There was something wrong with the thermostat. She had turned it little by little until it was now all the way towards red, and still the water was lukewarm at best. She stood under the shower head and shivered like a leaf, desperation kicking in. This was the third shower she took tonight. The first one had managed to warm her, but once out in the living room and wrapped in four blankets before the TV she had quickly begun to feel cold again. Her lungs ached and her throat and mouth felt dry and sore. Spending the night out in the cold had certainly left its marks and she had understood that she was running an increasing fever. It had not been long before she was back in the shower again, but by then the real shivering fits had already begun kicking in.

Now she stood here for the third time. It was almost midnight and she was freezing like hell despite her best efforts to turn up the temperature of the running water. She had to call somebody, get them to fix this. But first she needed to take something for the fever. She stepped out of the shower and tore a dry towel from the rack, desperately draping it around her shaking body. When she turned to shut off the water she suddenly stopped dead with her hand on the tap. The soap bar resting on a plastic shelf right beneath the water spurting from the shower head had shrunk to an unrecognizable size. Like it had somehow melted away. She stared, blinked and then quickly turned off the water that to her trembling hand did not feel hot at all. Resolutely ignoring the heavy steam that had formed on her bathroom mirror she then hurried towards the kitchen, desperately hunting for aspirin.

***

When she awoke it was already dark outside again. She had slept through the entire day and the fever had given way to a numb and weak feeling in her entire body. She had expected her sheets to be all sweaty and damp but they weren’t. Instead, a disturbing, sweet smell had filled the room as she slept and she sighed as she looked over the edge of the bed to see if she had thrown up during the night. When she couldn’t find anything on the floor or in the bed she settled for opening up the window and hoping that it was just her illness-wrecked senses playing tricks on her.

Down on the street people were going about their business as usual, cars and pedestrians filling up the winter darkness far below her. She was struck by a strange feeling of unreality, as if she were watching everything through a thick two-way mirror, unable to be seen herself. This illusion was suddenly broken, however, when she noticed a person standing on the other side of the street with his eyes fixed on her building – staring straight at her. There was something deeply disturbing about his whole character and she began feeling sick again. Shivering she hurriedly closed the window, ignoring the putrid smell that still clung to everything in the room – especially to her. It was nothing, she was seeing things. She should call somebody, but the reception at the hospital had closed already and she didn’t feel ill enough to call the A&E.

***

Three sandwiches and a large glass of orange juice were staring accusingly at her from the low living room table between her and the television set. She knew she should be hungry but still couldn’t bring herself to eating or drinking anything. Instead she focused on the TV screen where the third season of Gilmore Girls  was served in marathon by her old and struggling DVD player. She really loved that series, had re-watched it four times already over the years. Laughing at the witty dialogues made her temporarily forget that something was very, very wrong with her.

She opened her mouth to burst out laughing at yet another absurd situation in the fictional family, when sudden panic struck her. She couldn’t make a sound. She tried screaming, but there was no air in her lungs and she realized that she had not been breathing for a long time. As if she had simply… forgotten to do it. She drew a deep breath and finally the noises from the TV were accompanied by her own sounds as she started sobbing uncontrollably – but no tears came. She then sat there in the couch, fixedly breathing deeply and rhythmically for a long time as if that could somehow erase the strange experience she had just had. Could a person die from forgetting to draw breath? She had never heard of it. Didn’t the body do those things on reflex?

She jumped as the phone rang. She didn’t recognize the number, but wanted so badly to hear another person’s voice that she answered anyway.

“Hello?” Her voice was rugged and dry. She was surprised at how hard it was to form words.

Silence. The sound of… not breathing, something else. Maybe a faint backdrop of traffic. Then, suddenly, a voice.

“Have you realized yet?” And somehow she knew. That guy on the street.

She dialed off, more frightened than her internal logic could account for. She got up and frantically closed the curtains. After hurrying through the apartment and turning off all the lights she wrapped herself in blankets and curled up at the edge of the couch, listening and shaking in the darkness and silence. Her pulse didn’t go up, however, and she realized that she had once again forgotten to breath.

***

She knew that she must be dreaming, but still she didn’t wake up. It was night. She was on the concrete stairs again, but facing their base. The frozen blood from the cut on her temple still glowed dark against the icy white covering the steps. She knew she should be freezing in the cold air, but she felt nothing. Below the stairs the narrow walking trail begun, barely illuminated by a flickering street lamp. The circle of its light didn’t stretch far from the base of the stairs, and beyond it reigned darkness. At the edge of the visible world she could see the mouth of the tunnel gaping at her. For the first time she shivered, but it wasn’t from the cold. She knew that she should be able to see light at the end of that short tunnel, but she saw nothing but blackness in there.

Despite herself she started walking down the stairs, step by step and fear growing inside her. She didn’t want to know what waited for her in there and still something beckoned her closer with its terrible silence. She stepped down onto the walking trail but stopped in the middle of the light circle cast by the lamp, feeling herself shrinking as she stared into the pitch dark. There was something very wrong about everything. It looked exactly like the tunnel she had walked through on so many ill advised night strolls, but she knew from the bottom of her very being that it was nothing like it. This was something much older, darker, deeper, something masquerading as the well known just to draw her in. She realized that there was faint sound echoing from deep within the tunnel and she knew that she had heard it once before. In the background of a strange phone call. She turned and ran, but the staircase was dark and slippery and before she could do anything the sharp concrete steps rose up to meet her.

 ***

She woke with a start to a dark room filled with silence. Not even the sound of frantic heartbeats pulsing in her ears broke the eerie calm anymore. She got up, almost retching from the putrid taste sticking to her tongue and to her teeth. The smell was everywhere now but she didn’t even dare open the windows. What if he was still outside?

Her entire body felt stiff and almost didn’t obey her command to move into the bathroom. On the way there she glanced at the answering machine. She had been away from work for three days now and people were starting to call. She was desperate to talk to somebody, but somehow she was too tired to reach out. As if it would require a tremendous effort to penetrate the two-way mirror she had imagined earlier.

She tuned on the light in the bathroom but was instantly blinded and had to turn it off again. Her eyes didn’t seem capable of adjusting to the light anymore. She splashed some water into her face, hoping that it would make her feel better. It didn’t. She met her own eyes in the mirror and drew a shocked breath. She was so pale. Dark rings under her eyes and in the hollows of her cheeks made her look almost… dead. The insight frightened her and she hurried to turn on the light. And then she screamed.

It was not the mattness of her hair and her eyes, or the blueish tone of her skin. No, it was the sight of the scar at her temple. It had not healed at all and the edges of it seemed to have stretched and torn, as if the skin was beginning to come off from the skull. Reflexively her hand went to her mouth, and she stared into the mirror in horror as she realized that only two of the fingers on her right hand had their fingernails left. She bent over the toilet to throw up, but nothing came out. Nothing moved inside of her. It was as if all her organs and processes had actually stopped.

She screamed, a rough, parched scream that scared her even more, and dug her fingertips into her scalp as she staggered away from the mirror. Large bits and pieces of hair came off without her even tugging at it. She screamed again and ran into the living room.

She grabbed her phone and frantically dialed the emergency number, failing two times before her trembling fingers got it right. They left a viscous, sticky residue on the blinding screen but she didn’t care about that right now. She was falling apart, she couldn’t breathe and when she brought the phone to her face she realized that the putrid smell was actually emanating from her.

She almost couldn’t hear the operator’s voice as they took the call – were her ears shutting down as well? She groaned inarticulately, unable to make her tongue obey her.

“Miss? Can you hear me?” The operator’s voice fought its way through the two-way mirror and Sarah made another desperate attempt.

“Aheullph ghe”, she screamed and then realized that she could not close her jaws anymore. A guttural sound escaped her throat, but now she could barely hear herself. The world was growing silent. Even her vision was fading by the minute. Desperately she stared at the screen of her phone as it went from blurry green to an even blurrier red. The operator had ended the call. She tried to find the redial function, to find any function, but all she could see now was light and darkness.

Sarah screamed again, but this time there wasn’t even an attempt at coherent language. She didn’t know what was happening, but her body was shutting down all around her and there was nothing she could do. She didn’t even know if she was still sitting on the floor or if she had fallen over, all her senses were an ambiguous mess of dull impressions now and even her thoughts were sinking into a thick, clammy fog.

Then suddenly: a sound. The doorbell. The small vestige of her that could still feel panic and hope started kicking and screaming, forcing her near numb body to crawl towards the front door. She had heard the doorbell ring, she was sure of it. Or at least as sure as she could be of anything in this state. It must be someone from work, come to see how she was doing. They would help her, drive her to the hospital, everything would be alright, she would not die, she would not fall apart, she would not… She could not reach the door handle. Panic. She started scratching at the inside of the door. Faintly, uselessly, like an old, weak cat. She heard the doorbell ring again, closer this time. Don’t go away, she thought. Don’t leave me. I’m in here, I need help…

“Ah, fuck it”, a voice muttered on the other side of the door. She somehow recognized that voice. Then there was another sound, a scratching and then a click. Warm light flooded over her as the door opened towards the stairwell, blinding her again and making her try to shut her eyes. She realized that she couldn’t. A dark shape towered over her where she lay on the hallway carped, its silhouette a blurry blackness against the yellow light from outside. The shape stepped over her and closed the door, then bent down and looked straight into her dry, half seeing eyes.

“Well, there you are. You are a terrible hard one to reach, you know that?” Then she knew who he was and all she could feel suddenly was fear. What has this man done to me?

She tried to scream at him, to accuse him, to plead with him to leave her alone, to let her live, to help her…

“What was that?”, he said and she could have sworn that there was an unpleasant smile in those words. “Oh no, you’re not dying sweetie”, he said in a voice that didn’t try good enough to actually sound kind or caring.

She tried to protest, but his blurry silhouette just shook its head and put a finger to its lips to silence her. “No, not dying. Dead already, rather. Matter of fact, darling, I’m kind of surprised that you haven’t noticed. What with that smell and all. But what do I know, people never cease to surprise…”

He was silent for a moment, seemed to be eyeing her over. Sarah made a final attempt at speaking, but only succeeded in making the last trace of air leave her lungs in a tortured groan.

“Come, come, none of that now”, he said. “Being dead is not that bad, there are many perks to it actually. But yeah, you have obviously let yourself go way to far. But no worries”, he added and rose to his feet, “Vincent’s gonna fix you right up.”

She could hear his steps retire as he walked into the living room. She couldn’t even draw breath anymore. “Vincent, by the way, that’s me”, he continued from the other room. “In case you were wondering. But I reckon you’re not doing much of anything right now. Dead and walking for three days without feeding, well, that must be considered a rather crazy feat.” He was doing something over there in the living room, but it was not until he reemerged in her field of vision that she realized that he had removed the carped from the floor.

“People will probably talk”, he breezily continued, as if this was the most normal thing in the world. “Sure, they’ll say that it was mostly my fault for not reaching you sooner, but as I said honey, you’re a terribly stubborn specimen to say the least! Anyway, enough about that now. We have to get your rotting ass out of here so that my people can clean out the apartment. Can’t leave it stinking like this now, can we. Oh, is that your finger on the floor? Never mind, I’ll have someone bring all your parts later. Now, I hope you’re not offended if I do this…”

She could only stare blankly, flaccidly, as he bent down, put the carpet on the hallway floor and started wrapping her in it, rolling it around her layer by layer until all she could see was darkness and all she could smell was her own rotting body.

He lifted her up and carried her away, closing the door behind him as he went. He might have put her in a car, because soon she could hear the faint sound of an engine. All the while he kept on talking in that jovial, carefree tone of voice. She could hear him distantly through the thick fabric of the carpet.

“Don’t worry, sweetie. You’re no Miss Universe right now, but as soon as we figure out what your vitae is we’ll get you right back on track, you count on it. We’ve all been like you once, nobody’s judging. Or, well, maybe some, but not I. I’ve seen worse, I tell you. Having died and still not being able to, you know, leave the body… Well, I’ll tell you this. The first couple of weeks will be quite rough on you, I’ll be honest. Eating human flesh or souls or whatnot, I’ll admit it’s a bit different. But you’ll get used to it. I sure did. ”

The man called Vincent kept on talking, but Sarah had stopped listening. Something was drawing closer, she could feel it. Something old, something dark. The car stopped and he picked her up again, started walking. Entered a door, passing through an echoing corridor and then descending some kind of stairs. And that’s when she heard it, that sound. A sound she had heard only two times before, but which she had learned to fear more than anything. It was the sound of silence, the sound of darkness. The sound of beyond. And the terror she felt at the realization of where he was taking her awakened finally the last remnants of faltering force within her and she screamed.

***

Vincent stopped talking as the muffled hysteria from within the carped made it clear that she was not listening to his friendly explications anymore. He sighed and glanced around to make sure that nobody was close enough to hear her. Of course nobody was, he was too good to make sloppy mistakes like that.

“Now, now”, he said tonelessly and realized – not for the first time – that empathy and reassurance were not his strongest points. “No need to panic, darling. We’re just going home.”

Then he jumped down onto the subway tracks and started walking into the crossroads darkness where things were not as under the sun and where people like him – and her – could live in secret and shadows and madness. “Welcome to Twilight”, Vincent murmured, half to himself, as he crossed the line where the light from the platform couldn’t reach them anymore, and they were gone.

The Blessing

This Writober didn’t go exactly as I had planned. One text a day is obviously not going to happen this year, but hopefully one text every week. Here is the first one, inspired by H.P Lovecraft and a writing prompt which might be a bit of a spoiler. I recommend you read the text first. Also, feel free to comment!


I can hear the waves rolling against the outer walls, the sea crashing towards shore with the ferocity of a maddened deity. The floorboards creak underneath my feet as I move over to the window. There is light outside, bright whiteness leaving a burning rectangular shape across my broken retina for minutes after I step back into the darkness. It is the waning light of day filtering its way through the heavy clouds, but I can tell it as such only due to my knowledge of deeper darkness – I have never seen the sun.

There is fire in the furnace but it is for warmth purely – that, and the limited comfort provided my senses by the homely crackling of the burning logs and the amber glow it gives to all other nebulous shapes in the room. Comfort is otherwise of limited supply in this godforsaken place at the edge of existence, and even the fire is burning low now for lack of fuel.

I find my way over to the door; rough, weathered pieces of wood keeping the elements out and my sparse sanity inside. The tower has many doors but in the way of keys I have only one. Its chain rattles in my grip as I let it find its way into the lock and provoke from the rusted mechanism a tortured groan by forcing it to turn. The storm immediately pries its salty fingers into the small opening and tears the handle from my grasp, slamming the door against the outer wall with a sound that is instantly devoured by the thunder from the sky.

I move down the three stone steps onto firm ground and start to count as I make my way towards the shed. The hurried rhythm of the waves helps me keep my pace as I step over well known obstacles and duck beneath familiar branches and structures. Their shapes reveal themselves as faint silhouettes against the otherwise white nothingness that reign all around me. I reach the small building and hurry inside, relieved to be on safe ground once more. Though I have lived on this island for as long as my memory stretches I have yet to map all its winding paths and parts. Venturing outside is always a gamble with fate and on a storm ridden day like this the well known might very well have taken on unanticipated changes. It is on days like this – and on nights like the one approaching even more so – that I most strongly regret the fact that I cannot see.

I collect the logs while the elements conduct Stygian symphonies outside the flimsy walls. The roof rattles, threatening to tear from its anchors at any moment and fly crashing into the awaiting void. It is going to hold, however. This storm is neither the first nor the worst to ravage this island and its timeless buildings. They have been standing since long before I arrived and are going to last for decades, if not centuries, after I am gone. My arms full and my mind set I gather my resolve and my courage and step once again out into the ravenous and blinding nothing.

The rhythm of the waves has intensified but I still try to keep its pace as I count my way back across the familiar unseen. The thunder is right overhead now and every third heartbeat is accompanied by a flash of searing lightning temporarily wiping out even the contours of my well known obstacles. I have covered half the distance when I lose my count once and then twice. Then I lose my footing and fall onto the wet ground.

I scratch my hands on the uneven rocks and the logs are scattered everywhere. I can feel that I am bleeding, warm stickiness trickling down my palms and my wrists and into the already soaked sleeves of my sweater. Another flash of lightning is immediately joined by the roar of thunder. The sound of the waves is different from my sprawled position, closer, hungrier. Panic rising in my mind I struggle to get back up but I trip on a fallen log and fall again. I search around with my injured hands but I cannot feel the path anymore and I have lost count of my steps together with all sense of direction. Worse still, the sky is darkening by the minute and soon I shall not be able to see even the silhouettes around me.

When once again I manage to get to my feet I am completely lost. The only familiar shapes are the few wooden logs scattered around me. I cannot be far from the path but for the life of me I cannot find it. Well knowing that I am alone I am still unable to stop myself; I scream for help and hear my hopeless call being at once swallowed by the furious wind and rain tearing the warmth from my face and fingers. There is no one here to help me, I am alone and if I don’t find my way inside before long the darkness will rob me of any chance to find shelter from the storm.

It is then that I realize what is going to save me. I have not mapped all the island’s winding paths and parts but I have walked around it several times over the years and I know how to get back to the tower from the water’s edge. The sea can not be far and all I have to do is to follow the rocky slope as is descends towards the roaring waves. I regather as many of the logs as I can find and start walking, careful where I put my feet. Being close to the water during a storm such as this one is dangerous but it is a measure I must take in order to get home.

The slope is steep but I manage to keep my footing and soon I can feel the polished pebbles rattle underneath the soles of my shoes. I start walking along the shoreline, carefully feeling my surroundings in order to orient myself and determine where I must begin to climb to reach the tower. I let my hand fumble across the rock surface on my right as I walk forward. The din of the storm is deafening down here and the froth of the crashing waves splash against my face as I walk.

Everything is different from the last time I was down here. The wind and the sea must have moved driftwood and other objects to a degree where I can no longer tell if I have walked too far or have a long way yet to go. I have never felt so alone as I do now when the last of daylight seeps from my world and denies me even the blurry outlines of things around me. Despairing I realize that I could walk along the shore for hours and still be caught in the storm and cold and rain. For the first time the realization strikes me that I might actually die tonight. Then my hand touches something even colder than the wind and I stop in my thoughts and my steps.

It is a small metal box. I have no idea how old it is but the rust on its surface tells me that it must have been sitting here on the rocky shelf for many years. My cold fingers fumble as I open the lid and feel what is inside. The box is empty save for one thing and my heart skips a beat. Two thick glass lenses connected by bowed metal wires; I am holding a pair of spectacles in my shaking hands. Breathless, not knowing what to expect, I put them on and immediately the darkness around me changes.

I can see the shore, the waves, the clouds on the darkening sky. The cliffs on my right are weathered and polished by thousands and thousands of years of elemental abuse and the pebbles underneath my feat all have different colors in the gloom. I stare, forgetting to breath for several seconds. The world is dark but for the first time in my remembered life I can see it. And high above the cliffs in front of me, looming amongst the thundering clouds, I can make out the topmost pinnacle of a tall tower. In a frenzy of newly acquired ability and determination I start climbing the cliffs, all the while marveling at the cracks and crevices that I am now able to experience with more than my cold, fumbling fingers. I am not going to die, I am going to live. And when I reach the summit of the cliff, I will see for the first time what my lifetime world actually looks like. My heart is racing in my chest, exhaustion and excitement fighting for dominance. But before any of them emerges victorious I reach the top and my heart stops entirely.

Before me stretches a world I know so well but yet not at all. I have felt it, smelled it, heard it. I have ducked under its dead branches and climbed over its fallen architecture. I have walked along its broken paths and I have harvested its resources. But never have I guessed, never have I understood. The looming tower, my borrowed home, stretches towards the sky like a giant’s misshapen finger. The buildings around it mirror its unfathomable design with their geometric profanity. A million paradoxical windows stare down at me from heights so distant as to make the thought of them vertiginous.

I find myself unable to close my eyes. With blinding clarity the ungodly city where I have lived my life reveals itself to me and I realize with rising nausea that this place has not been built by the hands of man. And then I see the light shining from the windows at the top of my tower, and I also realize for the first time that I am not as alone as I have believed. Lightning moves across the sky and someone, something, briefly blocks out the light in one of the tall windows. The horrendous shape of it etches itself onto my broken retina and can never be unseen.

The hungry sea and its sharp stone teeth rise up to meet me as I let go of the cliff and throw myself backwards. And even when I close my eyes in those final moments I still see that silhouette burning on the inside of my eyelids, reminding me that in the face of such madness blindness is a blessing. Then a sharp pain before all is merciful darkness once more.

On Blood And Dreams II

This text works as a stand-alone, but if you want to read the first part you can find it here.


The brave new world she stalked through was filled with brave new lives and brave new loves, but not for her. Never for her. She would taste the warmth of innocent hearts and let it awaken in her for a moment memories of a time when she as well had felt and dreamed and hoped, only to leave them just as empty and dying afterwards as she had been left herself so long ago. But whilst the blankly staring eyes of these new lives were doomed to fade not long after she walked away, her own two eyes were cursed to remain forever open.

She saw cruelty, she saw suffering and death and all of these were far worse than the pain her own hunger and cold would ever be able to afflict upon a humanity that was slowly torturing itself into hardened submission.

Sometimes she took lives in the name of souls too defeated to extract their own vengeance upon murderers and oppressors. It was during such brief moments of chimeric justification that she came close enough to feeling to actually remember that the word had a meaning attached to it.

For the most part, however, she took lives in the name of her own vices and did not discriminate between the guilty and the innocent any more than the blind distinguish between light and darkness. It was during such moments of liberating numbness that she realized that feelings and principles were constructions belonging to the living, and that monsters such as herself were meant to thrive and thirst in the regretless shadows of apathy. And so she did, until the night when she heard again the words of a monster long dead being spoken into the night like painful phantoms of the past.

The boy was young, but still older than she herself had been when the night had swallowed her heart and slowly begun hollowing her from the inside. He had dreams in his eyes and fight in his voice when he recited verses forgotten by the new world but remembered in the hearts of lovers and warriors, and she stood in the shadows and waited and hated as memories too painful to keep but too precious to lose struggled towards the frozen surface of her soul.

His borrowed words were embraced by those who heard him speak and she realized that he was known and loved and respected for knowing and speaking them. She also realized that he had broken something inside of her by doing so, something that was bleeding and would not mend on its own.

Mad with memory she stalked him through the night. She learned his name and his passions and saw him dance and laugh and live. He was a poet and a dreamer, but unlike the monster whose words he worshiped he was no thief and would not steal another’s heart unless freely given. She realized she saw in him something she had vainly looked for in her long dead killer and lover, and she hated him for it because the thought frightened her more than she wished to admit.

Nights went by and unseen she followed him through them even as the wound inside of her kept bleeding. For full a year she listened as he spoke the words of others and of his own, and watched him struggle with life and words and dreams. She was drawn to him in ways that she could not explain and for a time forgot to be the thirsting monster in the regretless shadows.

But time affected him as it did all mortals, and she heard his words and thoughts growing heavier and deeper for each moon that passed. The dreamer boy was turning into a man, and she knew that soon he would be old and withering and dying. His inspired words and dreams would slowly harden into pragmatic philosophy and then he would die, like they all did.

But he had made her feel, if only just so slightly. She knew that the uncaring apathy was ready to embrace her again, but having seen the light anew through this living thing she knew she would have to die all over again if she let it. So in order to save her mind and her memory of a soul from drowning, she stepped out of the shadows.

She stared into his eyes, she touched his face and she watched cold realization creep over him. Then she snapped his neck and drank his blood and listened as he drew his final, chocked breath.

And as she watched him die she slit her own wrist and let the red darkness pass from her to him. He would never grow old and die, and his words and dreams would never change.

“I have all the time in the world”, she whispered as life left him and made room for something new. ”Make me love you.”


This is the second part of an installment of three. It was inspired by a writing prompt, and you can find the first part here. Stay tuned for the third and final part, and feel free to leave comments!

What He Heard In The Mist

This text was written in response to a writing prompt, and I suggest listening to this music track while reading it to get the right atmosphere. Feel free to leave comments and feedback!


Second lieutenant Steward Whitewall of the offshore patrol vessel USCGC Carolla watched from behind his desk as the thick fog on the other side of the window engulfed the craft in a grey nothingness. He could hear the engines slowing down their pace somewhere in the depths below him to match their careful cruising speed, and checked again that his equipment was active and working. He was the radio operator of this ship, and would have to be extra attentive now that the visibility was limited.

On his radar he could discern smaller vessels out there in the unknown void, but they kept their distance and seemed to be already making for shore. But the Carolla was a steady thing, built to last through conditions much worse than these, and they had a broad perimeter to screen before returning back home. Their equipment was top notch, and they should not encounter any problems navigating through the mist.

He desperately wanted a cup of coffee, but this was not the time to go get one. He would have to wait until he was relieved in another thirty minutes, and settled instead for chewing at a mint toothpick to ease his restlessness. It was not his main responsibility to keep track of the radar – the people in Navigation took care of that – and Steward focused instead on listening in on the various messages broadcasted across the ether by other operators like him.

The yacht Sabrina was having engine problems two MI to the east, but was shortly aided by a nearby cabin cruiser called Sunset Dream. Other smaller vessels could be heard calling for help with navigation, and Steward dutifully called out the Carolla’s position to avoid risking a collision course. He, of course, knew that none of the civilians were even close to their coordinates, but had been taught to be thorough in the performance of his task.

He checked a couple of other frequencies just to be sure about not missing anything, and reported ashore about the distress of the Sabrina just for the sake of it.

”This is Second lieutenant Whitewall at USCGC Carolla, of the United States Coast Guard. We have just picked up a distress message from the S/Y Sabrina at N 41° 37′ 36.986” W 66° 29′ 21.328”, over. Reportedly aided by the civilian vessel Sunset Dream, over.”

When next he looked to the radar screen, all the smaller vessels seemed to have left the area. This was of course a good thing, but something didn’t feel right. He had only looked away for a couple of minutes – there should be at least a couple of ships still out there, even if most of them had made it to shore. He checked his equipment again, but everything seemed to be in order.

Steward looked to his watch and sighed. Still ten minutes until the arrival of his replacement. He would have to deal with this. He pressed the microphone button of the ship’s intercom and called out for Navigation. Only static awarded him from the other end of the line. What the hell was this? Did they have some real technical problems, after all?

Then everything went completely silent as the rumbling of the engines slowed up even more and finally stopped completely without explanation. He tried the intercom again, switching to the general channel this time. He could hear indistinct voices amidst the deafening static, but was only able make out incoherent snatches of what was being said. One thing was made clear, however: there really was a problem, and it seemed to be serious.

He hastily switched back to the outward communication channel and started sending out information about their coordinates, their speed and an indication that they might be experiencing some kind of problem. He could not be more specific than that without being further informed himself, and waited impatiently for the ship’s command to send him a message or a runner to inform him of the situation. Because one thing was obvious, at least: he could not abandon his post under these circumstances. But no message came, not even a response to his broadcast. And outside his window the mist was thickening, embracing the vessel and making him feel completely isolated from the world.

Then the silence was suddenly broken by a crackling in his headphones. Someone was trying to reach him through the radio, someone from the outside. Frenetically he tried to tune in on the message, desperate for a human voice to break the deafening silence that closed in on him from all sides.

At the same time he suddenly noticed a single dot on the radar, approaching the Carolla at a steady pace. He had to warn them, he had to tell them they were there in the mist. Couldn’t the strange vessel see them on their radar? It seemed like a large ship, surely they must have equipment to match their size? And that’s when he finally found the right frequency, and realized that the message was being broadcasted from the approaching ship. And his blood froze.

”…the United States Coast Guard. We are on a collision course. You have to veer starboard. I repeat, veer starboard, over”, the voice on the radio said.

Steward Whitewall just stared in horror as a large shape drifted forth from the heavy mist, straight towards them. He could hear the shrieking sound as parts of the Carolla’s broken machinery struggled painfully to life, trying to make one last yaw – but it was too late. The dot on the radar closed in on them, and on the other side of the window the other vessel now towered over him like a growing nightmare from Hell.

But it was not the imminent collision that made him numb with fear. No, it was the voice in his headphones – a voice he recognized very well. He slowly stood up as the other ship made a sluggish attempt to veer away, and that’s when he saw the impossible. On the vessel’s larboard side was written in high, crumbling letters its name. He took a deep breath, and the message repeated in his ears.

”This is Second lieutenant Whitewall at USCGC Carolla, the United States Coast Guard. We are on a collision course. You have to veer starboard. I repeat, veer starboard, over.”

Then the broadcast lapsed into static again, just as the rumbling impact shook the entire ship and threw the world into chaos. Stewards screamed with the dying ship, picked up his chair and smashed it against the radio transmitter. A horror he had never thought possible took hold of him, and he ran though the door, desperate to get away from this impossible nightmare.

And in his head continued to ring the voice that had spoken to him across the ether. The voice of the operator at the ship which had stolen the Carolla’s name. His own voice.