Sunday, February 18, 2018

DRAGONS

Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.




By R. Peterson

            King Henry Wellington of Nodnol and his lovely wife Elisabeth became proud parents on April 19th, 419 AD. The king’s astrological advisors insisted that a great tragedy was to come because of the birth year four nineteen and also because the girl was born on the nineteenth day of the fourth month of that same unlucky year. Hank and Beth shooed everyone out of the royal birthing chamber; they had no time for such nonsense. Both of them were filled with fairylike joy the first time Loraine opened her eyes and they were completely enchanted when she first smiled … and with everything she did ever after … that is … until the beautiful, talented and charming girl turned sixteen.
            The king held an enormous week-long birthday party for Loraine, complete with hundreds of entertainers and thousands of guests. Rumors of the girl’s legendary beauty had spread throughout the kingdom and hundreds of eligible suitors also attended … each one certain that he must be the one to win her hand.
            King Henry was miserable. He knew his subjects expected his daughter to marry, but he’d grown so fond of her he couldn’t bear the thought of her living with anyone else. She had eyes the color of the ocean at midmorning in summer. Her voice was like the tittering of doves courting under moonlight. Bountiful hair, golden as a spending wheat harvest, fell to her slim waist and he and his wife loved her with a passion that couldn’t be measured.
In desperation, he called all his councilors together and asked them what he should do. They all hemmed and hawed; a few tossed coins … one even asked a parrot that he insisted was brilliant. “Hide her away!” the bird squawked.
The king frowned. He was thinking he needed better guidance.
“Have a contest!” Master Glib, one of his oldest and wisest subjects finally advised.
            “What good would that do?” the king sneered. “Some strong armed knight would still carry her away!”
            “Not if the contest depended on the victor delivering to you the horns of a living dragon!” Glib smiled. “You see there aren’t any dragons in this kingdom, or in any kingdom, anymore. The chance of any knight, no matter how bold, winning your lovely daughter’s hand is less than zero!”
            “Less than zero? Is that possible?” The king was astounded.
            “In this case, yes!” Glib laughed. “Sire, I believe your troubles are over!”
The king was delighted. He called all the party revelers together and made an announcement. “Whomsoever shall bring me the horns of a living dragon, will win my daughter’s hand in marriage!”
The crowd went wild with excitement and the king was very pleased. One young miller’s apprentice who was not a knight and hardly even knew what one was … caught the king’s attention. “Is the contest open to anyone?” Jack Swiftletter asked, as he gazed with longing at the king’s beautiful daughter.
The king was feeling magnanimous. “Of course,” he declared not even seeing the scruffy lad who was asking. “The contest is open to any unmarried male subject in the realm!”
            Jack was smiling all the way home to his father’s mill. “Now all I have to do is find and slay one of these vile creatures,” he told himself. He only hoped he could find suitable weapons lying around his house.

-------2-------

            Bright and early the next morning, Jack, armed with his mother’s rolling pin and a broken trumpet (that his father had sat on in a pub one far away night, and so had to buy from the enraged owner) set off in search of a dragon. Unfortunately he wasn’t alone. The drunken neighbor’s bothersome goat had one again chewed through his tether rope and was trotting along behind. A bell jingled from a sticky pink ribbon tied around its neck that attracted everything the goat ate … bits of tin, rocks and broken glass. “Go home, Grawlix!” Jack shouted throwing a stone.
The goat just stared stupidly and bleated. “Why should I?” Jack couldn’t think of a suitable answer … so they went on. Later it started to rain and Jack felt miserable. After a few hours the rain stopped and the sun came out … so did some people.
            A little farther down the road, Jack noticed an old woman hanging clothes on a clothes line. After blowing on the trumpet, he walked over and asked her if she knew where any dragons were hiding. “Dragons?” the old woman laughed when she saw his rolling pin. “If there are any of those fire-breathing beasts left in the world, they’ll be rolling on the floor when they see what you’ve come armed with!” She told Jack to wait. She thought her husband had an old military knife hidden in the barn that he could borrow. When she came back she screamed. Grawlix had pulled all of her clean clothes off the line and into a big mud puddle. He was chewing on a pair of her knickers. She chased Jack and the goat out of her yard. “If I ever see that hoofed monster again it will be in the bottom of my stew pot!” she promised.
            Jack tried his best to outrun the troublesome goat, but he was too slow. Later in the afternoon Jack spied a farmer with a rope hoisting large baskets filled with apples into the branches of a tree. “There’s a herd of hungry wild pigs roaming these orchards,” the man explained. “A snake scared my horse and he ran away with my cart. If you two will watch these until I get my wagon back I’ll give you both an apple.” Jack told the man they would be happy to guard his goods. The man secured the rope to the trunk of the tree and then left. It was late afternoon and Jack was feeling sleepy. He sat down and rested his back against the tree … he would only close his eyes for a moment … soon he was asleep!
            There was yelling, cursing and excited squealing. Jack woke up to see the farmer had returned. Smashed baskets of apples lay everywhere on the ground, and the apples were being eaten by a large herd of hungry pigs. The rope the baskets were lifted with looked like it had been chewed through. “#%$^%!!!” the farmer thundered. He chased Jack down the road with a pitchfork. Later on Grawlix joined Jack down the road. His belly was so full of apples he could hardly walk. Once again Jack tried to lose his bad luck … but the goat followed right behind.
            Once again clouds formed in the sky and it looked like it might rain. An old woman offered Jack a warm bed to sleep in in her barn and breakfast if he would chop some wood. Jack finished chopping the wood just as it began to rain. He made sure that Grawlix was left bleating outside in the cold and wet and then he settled down onto a nice straw-filled mattress. Jack woke in the early morning with water pouring on his head. He looked up and Grawlix had chewed a hole in the barn roof. Jack didn’t wait around for breakfast … he ran away as fast as he could. This time the goat didn’t follow.
Jack asked everyone he met if they knew where any dragons lived. He blew the old dented horn but none came. Most people laughed but one old man looked thoughtful. “Dragons live forever,” he said. “Unless they get shot with a silver arrow with a diamond tip. There was a dragon years ago who lived in a cave in the high places!” He pointed toward a dark and forbidding mountain. “Nobody around here has any silver arrows and a diamond point is out of the question. I imagine the old beast is still up there … must be a few hundred years old by now!”
Jack thanked the man and followed the trail the man showed him into the mountains. He hiked the trails all night and early in the morning he came to a place where the trail ended near a big dark cave. He could hear loud beastly snoring and knew the creature must be asleep. Jack crept carefully up to the cave entrance … Any mistake could cost him his life! If he could get just one good blow on the sleeping creature’s head with the rolling pin!”
Suddenly there was a loud bleating and the tinkling of a bell. Grawlix bounded up and jumped on Jack, happy that he had found his friend!
“Get away you’re going to wake the dragon,” Jack whispered. The goat somehow got his mouth around the horn and let go with a huge blast.
“It’s too late for that!” a low voice rumbled. A blast of evil smelling flames erupted out of the cave … followed by coughing. “If you don’t leave now I’m going to eat you both!” Jack was terrified and was turning to leave when the goat instead pranced into the cave.
“Oh dear me,” a low voice moaned. “Now everyone knows my secret.” Jack was as scared as a person could be but his curiosity got the best of him. He picked up a branch burning from a fire the dragon had caused and slowly entered the cave. Grawlix was perched triumphantly atop the oldest, most hairless monster Jack had ever seen. Most of its scales were missing … and both horns were gone. “Go ahead kill me now,” the dragon said. “I’m not much use to anyone anymore. Just then the terrible lizard let go another blast but Jack discovered the roaring flames and the fire-and–brimstone-smell was coming from the creature’s rear-end and not the front. “It’s the berries down the trail,” the dragon said sheepishly. “They give me gas and most of the fire-making scales I have left … are under my tail.”
“I’m not going to kill you,” Jack told him holding his nose. He looked at the old hornless head. “Sadly, you don’t have what I need.”
“Well then wake me up in another hundred years,” the dragon said. “If you’re still around.” Then he fell asleep and began to snore.
Grawlix was poking around in some rubbish at the back of the cave and Jack decided to be rid of the pest once and for all. Jack ran all out down the trail, took several detours and then hid in some bushes until he was sure that this time he’d lost the troublesome goat for good.

-------3-------

A very happy King Henry assembled all of the citizens of Nodnol to let them know that the contest was over and that there were no winners. Jack stood in the crowd and hung his head if only that blasted dragon had been a bit younger! Suddenly there came the tinkling sound of a bell and Grawlix bounded up on the stage where the King, the Queen and the princess all sat. His tail was spinning like a propeller. Everyone in the crowd gasped. Two broken dragon horns were caught in the goat’s pink neck-ribbon.
“These can’t be real!” the king shouted as the horns fell at his feet, but his advisors after close examination assured him they were authentic. “But the dragon who sported these must surely be dead!” the king insisted. The advisors told him what everyone in the kingdom knew … that dragons live forever and that his daughter was born on a strange day and month and in a strange year … 419! These things must be expected!
Quickly the contest officials made a decision. “As far as we know this goat is unmarried and has delivered the horns of a living dragon … and thus wins the king’s daughter’s hand in marriage!” There was singing and dancing in the streets! Everyone was happy except Master Glib. He was afraid of the king’s anger and left for parts unknown.
Loraine was delighted! The princess ran to the prancing goat and threw her arms around him. She had always loved animals. After an elaborate wedding, King Henry was no longer so upset. Grawlix and his new bride lived in a meadow within sight of the castle and the king could see his lovely daughter frolicking about nearly every day, and hear her singing and the tinkling of the goat’s bell as they played together.
The citizens of Nodnol decided that this story had better be over … and all the would-be suitors returned home. And Jack Swiftletter? Well Jack took to cursing and became very good at it … why today whenever a brilliant bit of vulgarity is written down for nice people to read as in (#%^$@%) … they call it a Grawlix!

THE END?







Sunday, February 11, 2018

GRAVE TALKING

Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



By R. Peterson

“I can’t believe it’s been a month since I … since you went away from me.” Her voice quavered and then broke. Tears rolled down sixty-eight year old Edith Barnes’ face as she stood by the final resting place of her late husband. The cemetery Sextant had compacted the dirt and covered the grave with sods of grass. It appeared he’d also carefully placed two vases of silk flowers sent by her children. A November wind blew from the east but the old woman was beyond caring about the cold. “I’m so very sorry for everything.”
After a few minutes Edith composed herself, she had to be strong for her children even though they lived thousands of miles away in California and New Hampshire. They must know that people sometimes make horrible mistakes but life must go on. Her voice continued in a broken whisper. “The judge said my driver’s license could be reinstated in two years if I don’t violate my probation for vehicular manslaughter, but we know that’s never going to happen. I never want to drive again.” She closed her eyes and the memory came back like a sleepless nightmare. That rainy night in October. The windshield wipers streaking across the glass. The stop-sign she didn’t see and the horrific sound of her Ford Fairlane crashing into the side of Victor Hick’s pickup. She had only been traveling around forty miles an hour but the investigating officer determined from the skid marks, that Hick’s pickup was doing at least twice that. Still it was her fault. She ran through the stop sign and caused two deaths. One was a stranger … the other the love of her life.
“I went to see Fred Hicks,” Edith continued. “I had Mary Francis drive me out to his trailer house on River Road. I thought those Doberman dogs he has was going to eat me before I could walk around all the discarded appliances in his yard and knock on his door. I had a plate of chocolate chip cookies that I baked for him. I know it was a stupid thing to do, but it was all I could think of to show how sorry I was. He came out on his old wooden porch when I was only half-way there. He was holding a rifle in his hands and he pointed it right at me. I told him I was so very sorry about his son and if I could give my own life to bring him back … I would. He yelled at me and called me a murdering bitch. He said that once you become a killer there is no stopping you. He said if he thought he could get away with it, he’d kill me right now. He must have seen Mary sitting in her car. He yelled at me to get the hell out of there and never come back!”
For the first time since the funeral, Edith felt the bitter cold and she pulled her tattered coat around her. Looking around the deserted cemetery she felt uneasy, as if someone was watching her. She looked at the grave and shook her head. “There was murder in his eyes, Frank. I saw murder in Fred Hicks’s eyes.”

-------2-------

Edith took three Seroquel sleeping pills with a glass of warm milk; it was the only way she could sleep after the accident and the … funerals. She opened the front door and yelled “Blue Boy … come here boy.” She’d been allowing the Blue Healer to sleep with her after her husband’s death, something he had always forbidden. Frank had built a pet entry door into the bottom of the front door and Edith thought about closing it, but decided not to. The dog might need to go outside and in her drugged condition she might not be able to wake up. Blue Boy came bounding up the steps and Edith heard the deck planking creak. Frank was a good husband, but he was a bit lazy and he’d never got around to replacing the rotted wood on the porch.
Near midnight after, the Johnny Carson show signed off the TV, Edith finally fell asleep. Blue Boy was snoring in that funny way dogs do on the bottom half of the bed. It was near morning as the drugs wore off that she finally began to dream … a flock of crows flew from the trees in the orchard as if they knew something evil was coming. It began to rain.
She walked outside to call Frank to breakfast. It was late fall and he was splitting wood for the wood stove. Red and gold leaves covered the ground. “Bacon and Eggs on the table,” she threatened with mock sternness. “Be inside in five minutes … or I’ll feed them to the pigs!”
Frank had his back to her. He was slumping in his bib overalls and she wondered what was wrong. He often looked like that when he was upset but she could hear him singing in a too-high voice … a child’s nursery song. “Itsy bitsy spider came up the water spout …” When he turned, Edith noticed blood dripping from the splitting mall … a lot of blood. Frank grinned and he didn’t look like himself, he looked more like a Halloween Jack-O-Lantern that someone had left on their porch all winter. “There’ll be no more bacon and eggs,” he growled pointing with the axe. A sow and her five piglets lay butchered on the bloody ground next to the wood. “Not for the killer of two people. In fact there just might be no more Edith!” Frank lurched toward her, raising the dripping axe over his head. Several of the dead piglets began to wiggle. The butchered mother pig turned its severed head in the saturated mud and stared at her with cold, dead eyes. “Run,” it squealed. “Ruuuuuun!”
Edith tried to scream but her voice became the skidding of tires on a wet and cold October night … then there was a crash … a horrible crashing noise that seemed to echo on and on … forever.
The phone on the nightstand was ringing as she sat up in bed with a start. Blue Boy was gone. She brushed leaves and muddy prints off the bed spread. It took a few seconds for her heart to slow. There was no answer when she said “Hello.” Edith hung up after repeating the word several times when she heard a click. This wasn’t the first silent-call since the accident.
The face on the Felix the Cat clock Frank had given her for Christmas six years before showed it was 10:35 AM as it swung its tail ticking off the seconds.  Was it her imagination or did time seen to be running slower?
It was a good thing she hadn’t locked the pet door she thought as she climbed out of bed and got dressed. Animals had certain needs and what she didn’t want at this time in her life was another mess to clean up. She made up her mind no more drugs and maybe there would be no more nightmares. It was when she walked into the kitchen and stared at the emptiness that the tears came. Frank was the love of her life and they had been together every morning for over fifty years. She dropped the glass coffee pot on the floor and it shattered. “What have I done?” she bawled as she looked for her broom. “What have I done?”

-------3-------

When Blue Boy hadn’t returned by lunch time, Edith decided to walk to the Porter’s farm about a half mile away and see if he’d been there bothering their female collie. She’d fed the two dozen chickens gathered the eggs and did the other chores. The shortest way was through a wooded area filled with cotton woods and boggy slumps of wet land. It was really the only choice …. She wasn’t allowed to drive anymore, and besides her 1971 Ford with a broken windshield and smashed up front end lay rusting away in the impound lot behind Victor Pool’s Auto Salvage.
She had the same feeling she’d had the day before visiting Frank in Black Rose Cemetery. As if someone was watching. It was hard for her to hike any faster. Her sixty-four-year-old legs didn’t move like they used to. Hell she was never a runner. She breathed a sigh of relief when she finally glimpsed the Porter’s barn through the trees and smelled the over three hundred pigs they farmed. Her legs suddenly turned into rubber and she collapsed on the ground. There was a storm and rushing wind. Blue Boy hung upside down with a thick rope from the branches of an old cottonwood. Blood dripped from what appeared to be two bullet holes in his side and stomach. He stared at her with accusing eyes and his voice came out as a low growl. “That’s three people you’ve murdered!” Then the sickness and darkness came … and she felt only relief.

-------4-------

Mary Porter dropped Edith off at the Comanche County Courthouse office while she went to do grocery shopping. Sheriff Walker was in Butte for two weeks testifying at a murder trial and Deputy Butch Jensen took her complaint as he ate from a cardboard box of glazed donuts. He pushed the box toward her but she shook her head.
“You know anyone who’d want to hurt your dog?” he said as he wiped sugar off his note pad.
“Only one person since the accident, but they don’t want to hurt my dog they want to kill me,” Edith told him.
“Let me guess,” Butch told her as he dropped the pad and pen onto his cluttered desk. “Fred Hicks?”
“I went to see him about a week ago,” Edith shook her head. “To tell him how sorry I was. I couldn’t be anywhere near any of his family at the funeral. I watched everything from afar.”
“Hicks and his family are a bad bunch,” Butch told her, “every damn one of them. I doubt very much if Fred cared a lick about his shiftless no-good son but he has a sick meanness in him … they all do … that lets them fuel a revenge feud whenever any opportunity presents itself.”
“Can you ask him why he killed my dog … and not me?” It would have been much easier if he had … and she and Frank would be together.
“My guess is he wants you to suffer,” Butch said. “But I’d watch out! Knowing that family, things are apt to get worse before they get any better.”
“I’d appreciate anything you can do,” Edith told him. She could hear Mrs. Porter honking her horn in the street.
“I’ll drive out to Hick’s place and warn him to stay away,” Butch said. “But I wish John Walker was here. The sheriff handles these things much better than I do.” Edith heard the deputy toss the empty donut box into the garbage can next to his desk as she opened the door.

-------5-------

Mary dropped her off and declined to come inside for a cup of coffee. Edith decided to check the chicken coop for any extra eggs. The hens didn’t always lay the way you wanted them to. She could smell burnt flesh and feathers before she even opened the door. An empty can of lighter fluid lay on the floor. It was a wonder the entire wooden structure hadn’t burned down. One wall had turned to charcoal and there was a blackened hole in the ceiling. There was that same buzzing as the world began to spin …. And then there was blackness … and rest.
It was dark and raining when Edith woke up. She stumbled into the house covered with mud blood and feathers. There was no phone and Edith didn’t dare walk through the woods in the dark so she found Frank’s old twelve gage shotgun, loaded it and barricaded herself in her bedroom. It was so lonely without Frank … and now without Blue Boy. She swore no more drugs but after a while she didn’t care. She took five Seroquel sleeping pills this time.

------6------

It was almost four in the afternoon when she staggered into the kitchen wishing she hadn’t broken the glass coffee pot. She opened the refrigerator looking for something cold to wash away the sleep. Deputy Butch Jensen’s severed head lay on the bottom rack. Cold lifeless eyes stared at her in horror. “How many more have to die?” The cold lips pressed against a jar of mustard moved. “How many more?” Thank God for the buzzing and the relief as the darkness came.
Darkness covered the house like a blanket. Had she been out an entire day? Edith searched for the light switch and when she found it … it wouldn’t work. Her house was without power. She could see lights a mile away at the neighbors. Someone had to have cut the power lines. She banged her legs against various items of furniture several times before she found her way into the bedroom and recovered Frank’s shotgun … then she waited.
It must have been well after midnight when the sound came, heavy boots climbing the stairs and moving across the broken porch. Edith couldn’t wait. She flung open the door and fired the gun twice. There was just one shot in return. The buzzing and darkness came again. This time Edith knew it would be permanent. The sheriff’s patrol car and two others sat in the barn yard with their red and blue lights flashing. Sheriff Walker bent over her as she lay dying.
“I thought you were in Butte at a trial?”
“The defendant decided to plead guilty, so I came back yesterday.” The sheriff’s face was white … although this wasn’t the first time he’d taken a life. “I’ve been investigating you all day.” The sheriff shook his head. “We’ve been investigating you ever since your husband’s accident.  Around the area where you dog had been strung up, we found footprints that matched the muddy boots in your closet. The bloody knife you used to cut off my deputy’s head was hidden under your mattress. We suspect you also started the fire that roasted your hen house.” Edith was fading … the world was slowly moving away from her. “Why?” Sheriff Walker asked. “Was it the drugs?”
“I always had it in me.” Edith smiled. “It wasn’t the drugs fault … but they helped.”
“I don’t understand.” The sheriff slipped an arm beneath her shoulders, to help raise her head.
“It’s like Fred Hicks said.” Edith took her last gasp of breath. “Once you become a killer there is no stopping you.”

THE END?




Sunday, February 4, 2018

THE HOUSE THAT SLEEPS

Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.


THE HOUSE THAT
SLEEPS
By R. Peterson

It’s ten seventeen PM and a battered ten-year-old 1949 Mercury sedan with a broken taillight thunders past the old Walker place heading south on the west side of Canyon Road. A side window is cranked down and an empty bottle of Coors beer is pitched into the snowball bushes just north of the gravel driveway. The sound of the Fleetwoods singing Come Softly to Me crackles over the radio as the window is rolled up.
A flock of starlings take flight from the ancient Maple trees surrounding the stone house and barn. They circle in the air like storm clouds and then settle back onto the skeletal branches with the road dust. The Porter Resonator mufflers attached to the hot rod rumble in the distance … and then there is only silence.
The Waxing Gibbous Moon rises in the east and drifts across the night sky slipping behind storm clouds like a spotlighted thief prowling the night. Long dead boxwood shrubs line the river-stone path leading to the covered porch. They glow like tangled balls of barbed wire in the brief periods of illumination. Heavy cedar treads groan imperceptibly as spectral riding-boots climb the stairs from decades past. A flash of lightning in the distance shows the elaborately carved Italian entry door, complete with cast-iron gargoyle knocker, hanging partially open on rusted hinges.
An ethereal hand pushes against the splintered Black Walnut door but depression-era sift, aged into concrete hardness, cakes the threshold and keeps it from moving. The wind moving from the east becomes an instrument of force and the door creaks open. The interior of the ancient parlor is a master painter’s composition of moonlight and shadow.
Strips of faded, rose-print wallpaper hang from the walls and ceiling, creating classical Greek columns like mineral dripping stalactites in an enchanted cave.
The faded claret hues of a classic Queen Anne sofa and a matching tea table in the sitting room look like a theatrical stage-set dusted with age. Now only Shakespearian-grey mice without squeaking parts enter center stage from two small chewed holes on each side of the once elegant upholstery. They maneuver through the rusted springs with the grace of hungry ballet dancers listening for offstage cues whispered from the walls that never come.  I am to wait … though waiting be such hell!
An overturned tea-cup lays on its side and a-decades-old faded stain on a knitted table cloth give the impression that someone rose from a comfortable seat in a hurry … and never returned with the same peace.
Dark arches lead from the smaller room into a grand hall. A grand piano, with an open lid and keyboard cover, sits in a glassed-in circular vestibule illuminated by moonlight. Beams of lunar reflection dance across the notes of the sheet music that’s scattered across the keys, the moonbeams are like children playing hopscotch on a broken sidewalk. A one measure badinerie plays after a decades-long pause, a testament that laughter is timeless and immortal.
From inside the walls and the skeletal structure of the house comes the distant sound of wind or laughter and tiny feet scampering through the rooms above makes dust fall from the ceiling like rain. A  half turn geometrical stairway with rose-vine mahogany rails leads to the rooms above and the small feet descend the rotted risers in clouds of shimmer and carpet-dust. Shadows chasing each other pass an un-draped window and then dissolve into a pile of hundred year old Vanishing Tribune newspapers scattered like giant playing cards on the floor.
A shout of thunder in the far distance shakes the old manor ever so gently and a fold-open Silvertone Instant Play record player, in one corner of the parlor, clicks softly. A Venetian shade over a Chalkware lamp, depicting two children playing French Horns, suddenly glows from the residual power of memory. The turntable begins to spin and a woman’s crooning voice crackles from the built-in speakers.
“Broken hearted melody,
Once you were our song of love.
Now you just keep taunting me.
With the memory of … ba da da.
His tender love.”

A distant storm awakens but is still far away as the music fades. The old stairs make retirement groans after a stagnating pause between each gently rising creek … somewhere above, a door slams and it becomes the rumble of something bad that is … this way coming.

A gliding mammal of the species Rodentia sweeps through each open doorway and down a long hall, guided by resonances too high to hear … wafting leather wings … and searching for misplaced moments that have been lost in the shadows.

Only one door is closed. Dim light and flickering shadows of movement appear from under carved wood and dance with an icy chill warning into the hallway.

Lightning crashes into the rotted branches of an oak tree some distance away and makes night into day. A leather bound journal falls from a crowded shelf, inside an office  room filled with volumes of decaying literature, and lands with yellowed pages open on the floor next to a rain warped writing desk.




____________________________________________________________________________


May, 6th. 1927

My dearest Tom … whom I miss like sunshine and flowers …,
I write to you every night in this journal because it’s the only way I can find sleep. If I knew where you were I would find an address from someone and send this in the mail. I don’t know why you had to leave me … us … the things that  Me - We  (I hope) dreamed about. As the years go by and now these long decades. Has it been that long? I imagine plenty of things that I might have said or done wrong … but nothing seems to be truth. Truth dresses a person for proper living with others and I’m alone and naked with my thoughts.
I once told you that I could survive anything as long as I knew you were in my world. Sometimes late at night as I lay in my bed I know imagine that I hear the sound of moving waters coming from far below me as if an underground river might be flowing a mile or so under my bedsprings. This is the time that I feel most your spirit (that would mean you were dead) beside me. The slightest noise from outside and I’m running down the stairs in my flannel nightgown ( the one you bought me for Christmas 1887) looking for that ever-onery (impossible for anyone but you to ride) mare Comanche to be tied to the visitor rails  … kicking the hell out of my wooden barn doors the way she always did while we laughed (sometimes kissed but not enough) and drank coffee and my English Tea on the porch. They say and I believe that Memories are forever and it’s a good thing they are … because that’s all I have left without your fine company. Please come back to me !!!!
Wherever you are know  that I will always love you … forever.

Elisabeth.



            An angry wind blows white cotton curtains outward from a window in one of the open-door bedrooms. For a moment it resembles a nineteenth century woman draped in flowing satin gazing into the dark night … lingering and forever waiting.  Another crash of lightning … this time it’s closer! Perhaps hitting the upper branches of the long dead Maple tree peering in the upstairs window just outside the broken glass.
            A ghostly roar moves through the house lifting the dust from the floor and walls in a storm of blind passion and fury. Rain beating against broken shingles on the roof sounds like a steam train rumbling across a shaky bridge as torrents of rain pours through the cracks in the ceiling. The piano is playing loudly as is the record player. A woman’s shriek of despair turns into a scream that sets the earth on fire. There is nothing inside the old house that is not in motion flying through the air like a thousand black birds locked inside a nightmare of hell fire in eternity. 
Within a moment the entire house and everything in it is consumed by a blast furnace of flames fueled by oxygen winds. The stairs turn to embers and then ash as the front doors blasts open. As suddenly as the roaring tempest began everything stops. There is no fire … only a lingering silence … and soft shadows.
The door closes on ancient piles of sift and then becomes one again solid and unmoving. A night breeze whispers and then laughs in the trees.
There are only memories under the clouds, the moon, and the stars.
No living human has walked these haunted plots for years … and there is no one here now.
 … in the house that sleeps.


THE END?

Sunday, January 28, 2018

DARK SPELLS & POETRY (Witch Burning)

Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.



By R. Peterson


“The entire family was ordered hanged by King Charles the Cruel,” Golif Tremble explained to Ludenia Bath as she searched the bodies in his cart with bony fingers, “half under the age of four … for vagrancy among other crimes!” The witch wasn’t interested in why the riffraff were slain … only the condition of the corpses. She swatted away a cloud of flies and cursed softly. The parents appeared to be squinting the instant their necks snapped, an ordinary acceptance of their bad luck. The six children showed dramatics. Their eyes were literally popping from their sockets along with their tongues … astonished horror brilliantly caught at the moment of death.
“I’ll take the lot,” she hissed.
The merchant was taken aback, wondering how the witch could carry so many and to what use the bodies would be put to. Ludenia thrust one skeletal hand into a bag that looked as if it had been sewn from a snakeskin and dropped coins into the merchant’s palm. “If this isn’t enough … say now or forever hold your peace,” Golif thought of his wife waiting at home … both women had murder in their eyes.
            “For another shilling,” he whimpered. “I suppose I could let you the use of my cart … as long as it is returned.”
            “That won’t be necessary,” Ludenia told him producing a small knife that gleamed in the gas lights. “I only want the eyes!”
Her hands moved like string-threaded bones as she cut each eyeball from its socket and dropped it into a glass jar. “Before the moon rises my kaulakoru silmät shall speak,” the witch whispered. Golif noticed her tugging on a long necklace hung around her thick neck with what looked like piano wire. Animal eyes started just below the pointed ears on each side of her head … bear, wolf, goat, cat and snake. There looked to be just enough length left in the wire to add eight pairs of human optics.
            “What of these?” Golif gestured toward his bloody cart.
            “Feed the dogs!” Ludenia smiled. “And hope they don’t want more.”
The witch was disappearing into the nighttime market crowd when Golif noticed the coins in his hand transforming into beetles. A large silver one bit his finger. “Stop that witch!” he cried. “I’ve been cheated!”
Later Golif was explaining his misfortune to the town constable. “She wanted the eyes for a necklace?” The officer was writing everything down on a slate board.
            “Yes. She called it a kaulakoru silmät,” Golif said.
The policeman put the slate away. “We’ll never find her now.”
            “Why not?” Golif was furious.
            “A kaulakoru silmät makes the wearer invisible,” he said.

-------2-------


She blindly bugged away the merchant’s price.
No witch has ever bargained very nice.
Weeds for words she deftly grew …
A trick because he wanted few …
Back to a hut bulged out with flies and lice.

When in the dark the stars began to rise.
She opened up the jar that held the eyes.
Untied the string … of note to ring.
Button teeth … close everything.
Then tore her jagged hands to make the ties.

Softly shining silver slippery scissors.
Watchful waiting waves was wheezing whizzers.
To cut the strings to loops that bind …
Fleshy scraps for crows to find …
And wet the knots between her smiling kissers.

The moon peeked out now hidden in a cloud.
With thundering voice words spoken really loud.
He called her name … a former sane.
No more laughing … in the rain.
Look not upon that hidden by a shroud.


The witch was prowling shadows by a moat.
To catch a herdsman walking with his goat.
She cut his throat from ear to ear …
Don’t walk alone you’ll never fear …
To heed this simple warning that I’ve wrote.


-------3-------



            The gate to the village was bolted with a huge wooden cross to keep out witches. Lamar Finch was awakened at three AM by an incessant banging. The retired magistrate and his wife lived in three small rooms above the entrance in return for their service. In his flannel nightshirt, Finch peeked through a round porthole in the door, to see who could be disturbing the city at this hour. “Let us in!” A distraught man driving the team begged as he tried to settle his terrified animals. “The depths of Hell have cracked open and I fear the agents of doom are upon us!”
            The banging on the door proved to be the lead horses ramming into it with their bridle bits and they thundered through the bloody gate when Finch opened it dragging the wagon behind them.
            “Thank God!” the man jumped from the cottage wagon as soon as Finch closed the heavy wooden door and secured it with the cross. “It’s been a long journey and with the full moon we decided to push on through!” The back door to the house on wheels opened and a cursing woman (no doubt the driver’s wife) and only lacking a fish-knife in her knobby hands, flung herself to the ground and lunged for her husband. “I’ve got knots on my head as large as chicken eggs,” she cried. “Who said we desired to be bounced from our beds and slammed against the walls in payment for your rash use of a whip?”
            “I never once touched the whip; these animals ran for their lives!”
The village was awake and people stumbled out of doorways and leaned from windows to hear the man’s tale. After introducing himself as Herman Baines, and accepting a tankard of ale, the man explained. “She appeared out of nowhere … standing in the center of the road! She wore a ghastly robe that looked to be made of human hair and with fleshless hands spreading fire.”
            “What robbers stop wagons at night in this way?” The Mayor pointed an accusing finger at Baines. “Is this the first drink you’ve had this night?”
            “I’m no drunkard!” Baines grabbed a lantern from one of the villagers and directed the candle light to the sides of the wagon, “and it was murder not robbery that she had in mind!” Black handprints made of charcoal were burned into the outside of the wagon as if some fiery demon had fought to get inside.
            Baines’s wife helped another, younger woman, climb from the wagon. The sun was just peeking over the eastern horizon. The crowd gasped as the first rays of dawn showed a stunning maiden with breathtaking eyes and hair golden as the rising sun. “Where are we mother?” the girl muttered sleepily. The old woman pointed at the ground and ignored her question, saying only. “Stay here, Elsie.”
            All eyes were on the girl. She looked about without interest until her green eyes happened upon Golif. She smiled and it took the merchant a moment to catch his breath. Nowhere in the kingdom was a girl more beautiful or desirous.
            “Where are the others?” Baines’s wife looked about helplessly. “There were three wagons when we left Leeds.”
Baines pointed to the sky about the village gate. Plumes of black smoke rose into the sky with blinking embers like stars being born. “Rising to heaven, I pray,” he said, “and not being dragged into the depths of Hell.”

-------4-------

The village men were smitten by her charms.
And Golif vowed to take her in his arms.  
He tried his best to make Elsie see…
His heart was filled with misery…
As suitors came from cities towns and farms.

The Baines retired with the sinking sun.
But Elsie said her day had just begun.
She sang and danced… in taverns bright.
Selling kisses … to the night.
Feeding feeling falling frolic fun


The mayor left his self-appointed throne.
And bid his clinging wife to stay at home.
He looked for poisons far and near …
To pour into good morning dear …
To marry twice then he must be alone.

Within a week the mayor’s wife was dead.
Choking on a spoon while still in bed.
While Golif bought … a new red coat.
Suitors sang the … poems they wrote.
To try to turn the lovely’s pretty head.

The town became a reckless burning band.
To try to win the maiden’s lovely hand.
Baines told them all to take her not …
“That shaggy bitch is all we got …”
And hopes poured out like hour glass ticking sand.


-------5-------


While the village men were consumed by rollicking nights and sleepy days, the farms outside were experiencing a time of terror.  A shepherd had a third of his flock butchered in one night and the rest a week later. Almost every cow in the countryside stopped giving milk and those who did delivered a foul red liquid that had the look and texture of blood. There were haystacks ablaze and barns burned almost nightly. It fell to the women to discover the source of the Devilry … the men’s attention was stolen by Elsie. A priest was summoned from the city and he determined there was a witch at work in the realm … and there would be no relief until the thing was discovered.
The men of the village seized on the idea as a quick way to end their own marriages and wives were accused of being witches for things a minor as burnt bread or mice hiding in cupboards. A stain on a dress became the mark of the beast and a wrinkled shirt a foul curse of old age. There were not enough fingers to point to the suspects. Many were accused but only a few found innocent. The fires of justice extracted screaming confessions almost daily. The entire village was poisoned. Wells were filled and new ones dug but still there remained the bitter taste of contagion. There were no natural deaths … only dark curses and clever murders.

            It was during this time that the king came to visit with a company of soldiers. He ignored the carnage in this part of his kingdom and was soon also smitten by Baines exquisite daughter’s charms. “She has stolen my heart,” the king thundered. “I am no man of justice if I don’t lock her in my bedroom for her crimes!” Charles the Cruel tried every trick to capture the young lass’s attention but like with all her other suitors she had a talent for disappearing just when a promise of romance was forthcoming. He informed the Baines’s of his intention to take Elsie back to his castle to be his consort and they were stunned. “His Royal Majesty must be mad!” Herman muttered to his wife. “I must forbid it … or forever settle my soul in Hell!”
That night the Baines’s wagon was burned as well as the loft they rented above the gatekeeper’s apartment. A company of soldiers stood by and watched. Only Mrs. Baines survived, running from the flames in a burning nightgown and throwing herself down the village well. She was pulled out the next morning, singed to a blistered baldness but lucky to be alive. Her poor husband was no more than a blackened pile of bones in the charred timbers. The king took pity on the widow because of her daughter and agreed to take her along with them as a castle’s kitchen helper. And Mrs. Baines held her tongue against the madness.


-------6-------
                       

The screams came almost nightly in the town.
Mother pulled from well in sooty gown.
When every single witch is dead …
We’ll finally find our rest in bed …
The lustful men in love all gathered round.

They watched the king in fury take their love.
The priest prayed intervention from above.
When cruel Charles thundered … from their homes.
The men all gathered … sticks and stones.
He stopped and vowed he’d finally had enough.

The soldiers burned the town from spire to spire.
They sacked the church and set the moat on fire.
No living thing was let alive …
To listen to the reaper’s scythe …
As village town became a funeral pyre.

The king’s fine carriage rumbled through the soot.
As soldiers, servants trampled ashes foot.
Through farm and fields … turned black from green.
To carry home … a future Queen?
A land where rains of justice wasn’t put.

The city streets were turned into parade.
Rubber necks all strained to see the maid.
Such a lovely sight to see …
The mother filled with misery …
Such a disaster folly love has made.

-------7-------

            The exquisite Elsie kindled such desire in the king that he wasn’t satisfied to have her only as a consort. His lovely wife was discovered days later at the bottom of a tall stairway with a broken neck. Charles the Cruel wasted no time in announcing his upcoming marriage. The entire city was consumed by the elaborate festivities to come.
            Mrs. Baines was helping to tidy up after an elaborate banquet following the wedding ceremony. The king and his new bride had already retired to the royal bedchamber. “I must say,” one of the women helping to clean the tables said. “I would have thought that as mother to the bride you would have been given a higher station!”

            “Mother?” Mrs. Baines said. “This entire realm has gone barmy but that doesn’t mean I have to be part of the madness! Elsie has always been the family dog …. Nothing more. My poor husband tried to explain to everyone in the village but no one would listen.”

            Upstairs in the King’s bedchamber, Charles the Cruel watched from under the covers as his lovely new bride removed her clothing. “What a strange necklace!” the king declared.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen another like it!”
            “Oh really?” Ludenia said as she held up one of the eyes suspended inside a glass ball. “If you look closely you must see that some of these eyes resemble your own.”
            “That thing is ghastly,” the king declared. “Take it off!”
            “It’s called a kaulakoru silmät … to not see.” Ludenia told him as she loosened her skirts. “It gives the wearer the power to appear as anything. We are called invisible because people see what they wish to see. My new family loved their pet so much and I didn’t want to disappoint them after having rung the poor thing’s neck.” She rolled one of the glass balls in her fingers. “I’m afraid the human eyes in this necklace are from your poor brother and his family.”
            “My brother was no more than riffraff,” the king gasped, “the fact that he was older made him and his family a danger to my throne!”
            “My foolish sister was very happy being married to your poor brother,” Ludenia said, “and they had no desire for power or riches … still you wisely had the entire family hung.”
The king was still stricken by her breathtaking image. “Come to bed now,’ he insisted,  “and I will make you forget about your dear sister!”
            “I already have,” Ludenia said as she fumbled to remove the necklace last. “I worked very hard to get you to come to the village. You and I are much alike. We crave power and the riches power brings …” She smiled showing sharpened teeth and a reptilian face. “I do not intend to share my kingdom with anyone either.”

            The watchmen had just blown out the last lamps when a horrifying scream came from the king’s bedchamber … and it awakened half the sleeping castle. “Has Elsie bitten the king?” Mrs. Baines muttered. Then she rolled over and went back to sleep.


-------8------

With thunder’s rumble shaking stony towers.
The witch Ludenia practices her powers.
At night with only stars for light …
She flies a broomstick, what a sight …
To scream above the fields where reason cowers.

By day she rests as beauty’s breathless Queen.
By night a phantom better left unseen.
A wink they sigh … a nod they die.
Tomorrow widows … all will cry.
For selfish rule with terror cruel and mean.

Ludenia Bath is pleasure for the eye.
Broken hearts un-mended often die.
To be her king means everything …
And murder is the price of ring …
For spellbound suitors for her hand do vie.

She dresses from her bed with sleepy yawn.
To become that which necklace places on.
kaulakoru silmät … wives smell a rat.
And wonder what … became of cat.
To mourn the winds of justice ever gone.

She lies awake with moonlight streaming in.
The cost of power often sleeps with sin.
Boney fingers stretch to feel …
Necklace on the window sill …
And waits for morning shadows to begin.


THE END?