Where the Moon is God – Chapter 2

You can catch up on the previous parts of Where the Moon is God here:

Where the Moon is God – Prologue

Where the Moon is God – Chapter 1

This is mostly character/plot building and backstory, more action will occur in the upcoming chapters.


There was one thing, and one thing alone, that had made Thomas interested in Theodore as a child: the other’s unremitting determination to see things himself, to witness everything before judging it. It was a truly inspirational way to live and one that nobody else did with quite the same ferocity. Thomas often wondered where Theodore’s inquisitive streak had come from, although he had never asked. It was much more fun to watch and learn from Theodore’s gentle, caring personality.

Being a monk made it difficult for Theodore to travel far, and generally the two of them spent their days within the walls of their monastery, where few distractions could tempt them to sin. Theodore had to rely on the written word of others to get first-hand (or sometimes second-hand) accounts. On rare occasions, the isolation seemed to get a little too much for him, and Theodore would leave the monastery to wander alone in the surrounding countryside. What he saw during those times was anybody’s guess, and Thomas did not wish to pry.

It was another element of Theodore to admire, another that made him so different from Thomas but so very likeable. Thomas enjoyed the comfort of the monastery and did not venture unless he had to. He liked to hear news from Henry and he more than liked discussing said news with others, but as far as he was concerned there was no need to get any more involved in goings-on than that.

In the same way that Thomas reflected on the Bible in his moments of silent meditation, so Theodore used his excited need to explore to do the same. When the other man could not explore, he would read and study to diel the apparently endless desire he had to contemplate the issues of the day. Theodore knew more about scholars and religious thinkers than Thomas, purely because Theodore would spend hours pouring over their works. Thomas liked to read and to know, but Theodore liked to study and to understand.

Thomas often found himself wishing that he could be more like Theodore. He wished that he could have the amazing patience of the other man, that thirst for knowledge that could keep Theodore going and going until he became physically exhausted. In truth, however, Thomas preferred to learn from one of the greats than become one of them.

So, whenever Theodore announced that he had received a message from one of his friends around the country (including the favourite Matthew), who wanted him opinion on some argument or philosophy, Thomas would leave him to it. He liked to watch as Theodore moved from one point the next, no matter how obvious or disconnected they seemed, and built up his arguments until he could reach his own conclusion. The way he did it was fascinating.

This was why Henry had asked for their thoughts. Thomas’ brother knew as well as Thomas himself that Theodore was a genius; whenever the three of them were together (a sadly rare occurrence of late), it was evident that Henry admired Theodore almost as much as Thomas did. It had been that way ever since they had been young, and in those days, the relationship between the other two young men had bothered Thomas. It had left him feeling sour. Now that they were all older, he wished he had spent less time thinking about Theodore and Henry’s friendship and more time learning from his friend.

That was why he had naturally rushed to find Theodore with the letter from Henry. Together, they could discuss what was happening, whether it was a wild dog or a human or a demon, and why it seemed to be connected to Henry, until one of them came up with something that would be of use to the priest.

As he sat on his bed watching Theodore pace back and forth in the small bedchamber, with barely enough room for three steps in any direction, he wondered whether he would ever meet anyone else quite like Theodore. It was doubtful. There was certainly nobody else in the world who had helped Thomas to develop his faith as much as Theodore had done. The way that Theodore approached the Bible had done more for Thomas than the church or sermons or the peaceful solitude of the monastery.

Of the two of them, Theodore was the strong-minded one. He had always known what he wanted and what he believed in, and had gone out of his way to follow his desires in the right way. He was so focused on success and yet so down to earth that he was granted both mental and physical health. Although he was not physically as strong as many men, there was no reason for him to be. He had everything he needed in order to be good at what he did.

Thomas, on the other hand, was a quiet enthusiast who liked to observe greatness rather than be a part of it. Theodore had been awe-inspiring even as a child, a too-thin little boy from a poor family who had taught Thomas a lot about less fortunate people. As an adult, Thomas had always felt stronger with Theodore around, more sure of himself and more capable of completing his tasks and goals. He no longer wanted to be Theodore – those days had long passed – but he did hope to one day be that pious himself.

When Thomas had previously voiced his thoughts about this reliance on his friend, Theodore had only laughed kindly and said that Thomas should have more faith in himself. That had helped to boost Thomas’ confidence. Theodore had pointed out that every man showed his faith in different ways, and that Thomas did not need to be like Theodore to show how deeply religious he was. He did not need to go on these grand adventures he imagined Theodore went on to have a full and interesting life.

Thomas found it strange that Theodore seemed to admire him equally. Theodore would dismiss gossip and try to bat Thomas away when he brought news, but in the end they both knew that he wanted to listen, that he would stare with wide and excited eyes until Thomas had finished the story. Theodore did not hear gossip as Thomas did – but then Theodore was forever caught up in his own thoughts, never paying as much attention to the world around them as Thomas did.

When Theodore had told Thomas that the Lord did not care how they demonstrated their belief as long as it was true, he had reminded Thomas that they would both be loved equally and welcoming into His kingdom upon their deaths. Then he had added that he had always admired Thomas for the dedication he had shown to Theodore when they had run away from the city and from their families to become monks, and that Thomas was the greatest gift the Lord had ever given him.

It was an unusual compliment to be called a gift from God, but Thomas had clung to it ever since those words had left Theodore’s mouth. They had made him want to beam with joy, but he had waited until he had been alone before he had allowed himself to grin. Praise from Theodore was a marvellous thing, never giving him more belief in himself than was good for the soul, and it brightened up even the darkest days in a way that Thomas did not think anybody else’s praise could do.

His world did not revolve around Theodore. It was difficult for Thomas to imagine life without the other, but there were times when even he had to admit they both needed a break. His life was dedicated to none other than God. Nevertheless, there had been a few occasions when Thomas had wondered where exactly admiration ended and the worshipping of a false (and very human) idol began.

Theodore, for as much as he sang Thomas’ praises, seemed to view their friendship differently. He had always been oblivious to the way that Thomas revered him – which was not necessarily a bad thing – and likely would have condemned the behaviour if he had ever caught on. Although he had always led, and Thomas had always followed, Theodore had never done anything to take advantage of that position.

Thomas could not remember the first time they had referred to one another as ‘brother’, because long before they had started on the path to become monks Theodore had heard other monks using the title and had adopted it for himself. He had integrated it into their friendship and Thomas had enjoyed the new term just as much. It had focused his attention on both Theodore and the monks.

Despite how Thomas had always walked in Theodore’s footsteps, willing to do anything the other had wanted of him, Theodore had never mentioned noticing it. He had certainly never used the position to his advantage, although he could have done so if he had ever wanted to. Thomas knew Theodore would never play on that power. Henry had made signs that he had spotted Thomas’ admiration, but what he thought of it was a secret known only to the priest; he seemed content to allow Thomas to live his life the way he wanted to, in Theodore’s shadow.

Theodore was kind and considerate, the nicest person Thomas knew, with such a sensitive soul that Thomas sometimes did not feel good enough to be in his presence. That was what he thought as Theodore paced up and down, muttering quietly to himself as he thought about what had happened in Lincoln the previous night. Theodore would not rest until he had found his answer, because nine people had already died, and each death was a tragedy regardless of the extent of one’s sins. The dead might have changed their ways, if only they had been granted more time.

‘Wasn’t there a full moon last night?’ Theodore asked suddenly, making a scuffing sound on the floor as he stopped in his tracks. It pulled Thomas out of his own thoughts. Thomas scowled in his concentration. He had never paid much attention to the cycle of the moon; Theodore seemed to find it far easier to keep track of things like that, because Theodore noticed everything.

‘Yes … I think there was …’ he answered with some uncertainty.

Theodore made a sound that was half disbelief and half amazement. ‘Yes, I remember waking up and looking out of the window in the middle of the night! I had a bad dream.’ Thomas knew what that meant. He recognised the frightened look in Theodore’s eyes: it must have been an awful nightmare.

‘What was it about?’ he asked. Theodore visibly shook at being reminded of the dream.

‘I was being chased by something – or rather, by some things. They were monsters, demons, and hungry animals. I saw their faces.’

He hung his head for a moment and breathed a long sigh. Thomas thought about getting off the bed and going over to comfort the other man, but before he could decide what would be the best way to do it, Theodore had raised his head and started to pace again.

‘You’re safe here,’ Thomas told him, feeling weak at his hesitation. ‘They’re just nightmares.’

‘I know they are. I thought I’d conquered them, but … they keep coming back. Even meditation wouldn’t help me this time. Before you arrived at breakfast I was caught in madness and confusion. Each nightmare I have is worse than the previous one.’

Theodore stopped at the window and stooped to peer out of it. He ran a hand through his fair hair and squinted up at the sun.

‘You’re too tall for this building,’ Thomas told him, hoping to change the subject. He always felt uncomfortable when Theodore spoke about his nightmares, because there was nothing that he could do to help. Theodore did not seem to hear him.

‘Yes, the moon was full and bright,’ he muttered, still staring out of the window. Theodore did not elaborate further, until Thomas decided to push him for more information. People had been killed, after all, and they were distracted by the topic of the moon.

‘Is that relevant?’ he asked, one eyebrow raised.

‘I have no idea. I would be interested to know if the other six deaths had also occurred on a full moon.’

‘That would fit a pattern.’

‘It would do more than that. It would explain why your brother seemed to know exactly when to expect the deaths – why he was so quick to write to you. I’m not saying it’s certain, but – Henry must have suspected that something was going to happen. Perhaps this killer only strikes on a full moon.’ Theodore turned back to Thomas after he had finished; he did not look pleased with his own analysis. He rubbed his chin. ‘You know how I feel about superstition. People have felt spooked by the moon ever since we were first cast out for our rebellion. There’s something eerie about it.’

‘Well, of course there is,’ Thomas agreed. ‘It’s something we’ll never be able to touch.’

‘I feel like a fool for mentioning it,’ Theodore admitted.

‘There’s no need to. You’ve found something that might link the three nights together. It would be foolish to suggest that this is some creature from a folk tale designed to scare children and uneducated people, but the cycle of the moon could be a valid point. Henry didn’t say anything about it, but I’m willing to bet he knew.’

Theodore nodded. ‘He probably didn’t want us to label it as nonsense straight away,’ he said. ‘Do you think common people might believe it to be a folk-creature?’

‘That would explain why the witnesses have provided such useless accounts. Of course, they are an uneducated lot – we can’t forget that. Their minds are small, and they often struggle to understand even the most basic of truths – but then, you know that already, Theo.’

‘I was merely suggesting,’ said Theodore, the smile on his face revealing that there had been no need for Thomas to remind him of lay ignorance, ‘that perhaps they would have another view of this that we do not have. After all, it is laypeople being killed; relatives of the deceased doubtless have their own theories about what killed them. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to find out what they think. Consider it, Thomas – if you were a demon, what better way would there be to create terror within common people than by taking the form of a monster from their misguided beliefs?’

‘Those people only see what they want to see,’ Thomas replied awkwardly. He had not considered whether the creature might want anything more than to kill. ‘So, you’re saying that if the common folk belief it’s something that intellectuals know doesn’t exist … then the demon can keep killing for longer?’

‘Exactly. Let’s suppose it is a demon. Maybe it could even move from one place to another without suspicion in this manner.’ Theodore sighed. ‘I don’t know. This doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m not convinced this is a demon, but I keep thinking that it has to be something other than a human. That little guiding voice in my head is saying “what if?” – well, what if the entire thing is just exaggerated, silly rumours? What if they catch the man responsible tomorrow?? What if, what if, what if!’

‘I feel the same. The cities …’ Thomas shrugged.

‘You still don’t like the cities, do you?’

 

Theodore did not need Thomas to answer that question and they both knew it. If he had not already known the answer, then he would have been able to tell what it was simply by looking into the other man’s eyes.

Thomas’ father had been furious with the pair of them when they had left Lincoln as young men. As far as the older man had been concerned, Theodore had stolen his son from him. The confusing games that Thomas’ father had played, designed to manipulate Thomas and force him to reconcile with his angry father, had led to the monk holding a powerful and negative opinion of cities and the people who lived within them.

Sometimes, Thomas’ father had seemed to regret his words, to relent, but it had never stayed that way for long. The last time that it had happened, he had demanded that Thomas either return home to wed or stay out of his life for good. Thomas had chosen the latter and stuck to the country ever since. Thankfully, the only word Thomas heard of his father was from Henry, and even this was sparse.

Theodore had his reservations about cities, too, though not to the same extent as Thomas. They were a breeding ground for corrupt clergymen, the priest Henry being the exception. City clergymen accepted bribes and seemed to have a passion for adultery. They even claimed power over the monasteries, with no rights to them. They were greedy, sinful men, who led the laypeople living under their wings into the Hell-fire along with themselves.

As well as this, cities were filthy, smelly places. Theodore recalled how angry and unhealthy the people he had lived with in Lincoln had been. Stepping into an urban area would produce gluttony, lust, or any other sin imaginable; Theodore had wondered on more than one occasion how long it would be before he himself was tempted by the sheer corruption within large towns and cities.

Then there was the ignorance. It would only serve to make Henry’s situation worse if the so-called witnesses were speaking of monsters from scary stories. If people were seeing what terrified them in the darkness, Theodore would hate to discover what he would see if he ever faced this killer.

Things were simpler in the country. The monks examined philosophical and theological arguments, and spent little to no time dwelling on the problems of city-folk. Nevertheless, there were occasions when they were impossible to ignore.

Providing a religious purity that was unobtainable in cities, the wide expanse of open farmland and grassland around them allowed Theodore to withdraw from the physical world and reach a glorious state of mind that was untroubled by human affairs. This letter from Henry seemed to be dragging him back to the physical world, but he did have an ability to look beyond things that could offer him an insight Henry simply did not have.

Thomas shifted on his bed, his fists twisted in the covers; Theodore made a mental note to suggest meditation later in the day. Talking about the place where they had grown up was clearly wearing on Thomas. The sitting monk sighed and, after a brief silence in which they had both been allowed to think, he responded to Theodore’s earlier question.

‘It’s not that I don’t like the cities,’ he said hesitantly, ‘it’s that I think the people who live in those places are … they’re too desperate for proof of what is obvious, if only they bothered to look. They see God and devils and all manner of things in places where they are not. They make up lies, they don’t look to the church as much as they should, and they invent explanations for the world around themselves. They could find Christ on the soles of their shoes if they stared at them for long enough.’

That was exactly how Theodore felt, but he thought better than to prolong their conversation. He acted on his mental note to suggest they go meditate, and Thomas offered him a grateful smile in return. They left the room and headed down the hall, to the quietest room in the monastery.

As he sat there on the floor with his eyes shut, Theodore felt his mind slip into rest, and was thankful that there was nothing to distract him this time. He lost himself in the tranquillity; after an age, he was pulled back into the real world by Thomas whispering in his ear.

‘Thanks, Theo,’ he said.

Theodore opened one eye to look at Thomas, then the other. He smiled. ‘I think it helped us both,’ he replied.

They went to eat, and Thomas seemed much more cheerful. Theodore watched the other man, his mind sinking back into those busy, complicated thoughts that were always going around in his head when he was not focusing on clearing his mind. He could not meditate forever. They would soon need to discuss Lincoln again, and when they did Thomas was going to have to try his best to focus on the issue at hand, rather than on their past.

Theodore had tried to help Thomas overcome his hated of urban areas, but he had never been successful and had sometimes wondered whether he did not know the whole truth about the other man’s father. If Thomas was hiding something, then Theodore did not dare to consider what keeping that lie was doing to his immortal soul. His own attempts to help had only ever made the situation worse. A letter that he had written to Henry during one of his most concerned moments, asking how they could help Thomas to leave his fury in the past, had only left Theodore hurt when the priest had told him never to bring up the subject again.

It had been an odd and blunt thing for the priest to say, but Theodore had a great deal of respect for Henry and had decided to follow this instruction. Henry had, after all, been the one who had helped the pair of them escape from Lincoln, and who had stayed behind to protect them after his father had discovered him attempting to make his own escape. There was nothing Theodore could ever do to repay the priest. Shutting up when Henry asked him to was a start.

Thomas noticed Theodore was watching him between mouthfuls and put his spoon down. ‘You know, I cannot imagine how this culprit is going to be caught other than with blood on his hands,’ he said, mistaking Theodore’s concern over him for concern over the dead in Lincoln. ‘I wish nobody else will have to die, I do, but I do not see how they might be discovered otherwise. Clearly, neither Henry nor the constable have enough to go on to find them.’

‘That is not something we need to solve,’ Theodore reminded Thomas, picking up his own neglected spoon as he tried to act casual. ‘Henry just wants our advice. The king will send others to deal with this killer, should he feel that the constable cannot handle the job. If there is anything the constable has not uncovered, the king’s men will find it. We must remember that it is not our place to hunt down murderers; we can help in other ways. Our opinions are treasured. If this is a demon, they’ll find the right people to deal with it.’

‘It sounds like a powerful one,’ Thomas pointed out.

‘Yes, it does. They might ask the bishop to expel it.’

Thomas paused for a moment, then said, ‘You’re right, Theo.’ The excitement he had shown when he had first spoken of Henry’s letter was gone, replaced by an almost disinterested gaze. ‘Of course – and I can understand why Henry wants our advice. Whatever it is, it’s circling him.’

‘It seems so,’ Theodore agreed. He reached across the table with his free hand and grasped Thomas’ shoulder gently, hoping to reassure the other with his touch. ‘I’m sure it’ll be resolved, and the perpetrator dealt with accordingly, because it can get anywhere near him.’

Thomas smiled at that, a more genuine look than any Theodore had seen on his face so far that day. Perhaps all he had wanted was a bit of comfort. ‘Yes, of course,’ he said; Theodore removed the hand and returned his attention to his food. Thomas did the same, finishing without any mention of the poor taste this time.

They spent the remainder of the day focused on their own tasks. Theodore wrote a letter to Matthew asking if the man had ever heard of anything like this killer before, then returned to studying in the hope that he might find an incident strange enough to relate to Henry’s letter. It was late when he gave up and retired to his chamber.

He would try again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, until he found something useful for the priest. Theodore sat at the end of his bed that night, contemplating to himself. He had no doubts that Henry was in trouble until this killer was caught.

Laying in his bed, Theodore glanced briefly out of the nearby window and was reminded of his nightmare by the silvery moon. Perhaps he should not have cast his dream aside so lightly – had those wolves been a warning, a message from a higher being that there were monsters in Lincoln? People had visions from God all the time, especially those who lived simple lives such as his own. He had always assumed that it would be obvious when one received a direct message from the Lord, without any need for interpretation, but he found this suddenly in doubt.

If he had not opened himself up to the idea of divinely inspired dreams enough to recognise one when he had it, then he needed to grant himself the time to understand whether there was any meaning behind his nightmare. He could not ignore the dream when it and the deaths had happened simultaneously.

The idea that the Lord was telling him personally that there was a demon in Lincoln came with another problem: it would likely mean Theodore was somehow involved. The nightmare had been incredibly vivid, and he could remember it so well that the more he thought about it, the more the connection seemed to make sense. Yet, if this was the case, why had he not also had nightmares during the other six deaths? Why would God not have alerted Theodore sooner, so that he might have averted those earlier deaths?

Groaning from the dull ache growing in his head from such thoughts, Theodore closed his eyes and reached out with an invisible hand, searching for any feelings of divine influence over him. After several minutes he gave up, deciding that he was probably looking too far into the dream and that there was no reason for him to definitively link it to what was happening in the city.

He rolled onto his side and buried his head in his hands, trying to drag the thoughts from his mind so that he could get some sleep. There was nothing he could do to bring those people back.

Theodore slept easier that night, soundless and without any terrors to wake him or make him sweat. When he woke the next morning, he had managed to convince himself that the nightmare was of no importance and that he had been looking for an answer where there had been no question.

This would settle down, and justice would be served. His advice would no doubt be useful to Henry, but this was not his fight.

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Where the Moon is God – Prologue

The sleeping city lay under a thick fog that granted occasional glimpses of the moon. It kept the prying eyes of heaven off what was happening below, where a young woman’s life hung in the balance.

She had been running down the dark streets for what seemed like forever. Her gown flapped around behind her loosely, rustling with her every step. Heavy make-up, revealing clothing, and a stench of sex gave away her profession, her filth lingering behind her in the darkness.

If there had ever been a time when she would live to see the dawn, it had long since passed. The only course of action that remained to her was to delay the inevitable.

It was becoming harder with every step: she was exhausted.

She had been chased through the streets at night before, by angry men who had taken advantage of her and then returned at a later hour to take back the money they had paid her. But this time, her pursuer was no man – it was something far more sinister, more monstrous than anyone who threatened her with cruel words or solid fists could ever have been. Fear was something she knew well, but tonight … this was a new kind of terror.

The narrow, cobbled streets she ran through were devoid of human life, but then no passer-by would have stopped to help her once they spotted the monster at her heels. Not to save a woman of the night.

The ragged breath that struck the back of her legs sent shivers up her spine; the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end at the feeling. She screamed as her chest began to tighten, tears welling up in the corners of her eyes.

She turned sharply to the right, down a hidden passageway that led onto the next street. Not fooled, her pursuer flew around the corner after her, spitting and snarling. It wanted her to remember it was there; she was hardly likely to forget. In fact, the part of her mind that could still concentrate on something other than panic and faster and death was convinced that it was toying with her. Twice she had thought she had escaped, and twice it had jumped at her out of nowhere, continuing their pursuit.

It was a swift and powerful beast, bouncing off the ground on four lean legs, the occasional sharp claw scraping across a stone. The whore ran barefoot ahead, leaving a trail of blood in her wake and trying her best to ignore the pain.

Barks, growls, and crueller sounds filled her ears. They were the sorts of noises she had only heard before in her nightmares. The beast grunted and snarled like a creature of no natural origin.

She knew what it was. There was only one thing it could possibly be. She was being chased through the streets by a demon. It was proof that her sins had condemned her to hell, proof that there was nothing but torture awaiting her in the next life.

The woman tried to turn left, but the creature snapped at her and forced her to go right instead. She realised her mistake immediately when she came to the bottom of a steep, cobbled hill, too fatigued to climb. Stumbling onwards regardless, she tripped and caught herself, then picked her feet up and focused herself on the ascent. That small portion of her mind again told her that the beast was waiting for her to collapse, waiting for her most vulnerable moment.

When that moment came, she would feel the true power of the monster. She had seen it only for a moment, right before the chase had begun, but the image had seared itself onto her irises. It had wide, staring eyes and enormous teeth. It was covered in black and grey fur, water droplets clinging onto the longer hairs from the heavy downfall that had engulfed the city earlier that night. The largest of its teeth, a pair of yellow fangs, had promised to tear through her clothes and skin with ease.

It was the pitch-black eyes that had scared her the most about the creature, their soulless glare deeply unnerving. The beast had stared at her intimately, eagerly, as though it had been assessing her, before she had overcome her initial feeling of shock and started to run.

Close to the top of the hill, she turned and tripped around a sharp corner, then flew straight into the wall of a house and landed on the ground with a huff. If anyone from the nearby houses was woken by the sound of her fall, none of them came outside to see what was going on.

She realised in that moment that it was over.

The creature was on her in an instant. A pair of huge, sabre-like teeth sunk into one of her shoulders; she screamed out into the night, but still nobody came outside. With teeth and claws it dug through flesh and bone, scattering what little she had been wearing and creating a bloody mess as the beast devoured her with haste. For all of the patience it had shown during the chase, it was evidently desperate to feed. She was not left to scream for long; an assault on her neck left her vocal chords scattered down the alley.

A barely audible gurgle signalled the final moment of the whore’s physical life, and then her suffering ended.

*

Blood and small pieces of skin dangled sloppily from the hairs around the beast’s mouth. It took a final bite before leaving the carcass of the whore in the alley, to be found by some unsuspecting person the following morning. She had been a hasty feast that it had eaten its way through in under a minute.

The animal sped off, far from satisfied. Keen eyes adapted to the night sought out a second victim. Real food came once a month, and only human flesh could truly please it.

And the chase – the game it played – was a celebration of its freedom. Like real food, freedom only came once a month. For the rest of the time, the creature was a prisoner, trapped inside the body of a human who had no idea that it was there and knew nothing of what happened when the monster took over.

It was incredibly smart and had great mental strength. The more people it tore apart and devoured, the stronger it seemed to become. It was sly enough to allow its human host to live their normal life, oblivious to the beast within, and ready to take over should it become threatened.

There, within that human, it had grown. A prisoner trapped inside a human-cell. The longer it had been in there, the more it had yearned for release, until it had been willing to do anything to escape. One day, it would take complete control of the body they shared, and then it would be the human trapped within the body of the beast.

There was nothing it thought about more than destroying the human: it was obsessed. Yet it was also patient, incredibly so. Patience was something it had always known.

Not much longer. Not much longer. Soon, it would be able to take control more frequently, and feed increasingly often. That was when it would be able to strike. The human would know the unnatural, unstoppable pain of being trapped inside a body that was not their own.

It was hardly the first to kill for freedom.

*

The second feed was easy for the beast to find. The only people who were out in the city at that hour were slow, easy targets, with no idea of what was lurking in the shadows.

He was a scruffy-looking man sneaking about at the back of a gambling den, probably looking for coins that had been dropped on the ground. The downward spiral of addiction encouraged by the city was evident on him. In a way, the monster would be doing him a favour.

After a while, the man gave up searching for coins and set off down the street, the beast following him. His life and death were under its command.

They walked for some time, the human staggering from side-to-side and muttering to himself, clearly intoxicated; the beast following without a sound. This was going to be a poor hunt, but chasing the screaming prostitute had been extremely satisfying and the animal knew it would be best to lay low after her deafening shrieks. The game was not an essential part of the hunt.

The gambler paused at the corner of a house, leaning against the wall to catch his breath. He did not seem to have the ability to run in him. Having no desire to continue the crawl, the beast took its chance and struck.

It leapt at the man and sunk its teeth into his neck, digging its fangs deep into the skin and slicing across his neck, leaving a trail of blood. The gambler did not even have a chance to see who his attacker was, dead before he hit the ground; the creature devoured his limp body just as it had done the harlot’s. Like her, the taste of his sins mingled with his flesh. A stink of impiety and negativity came off the meat, foul even to the beast’s nose. It could taste and smell every crime, every wrong, every immoral action the man had ever committed, from the first lie to the drinking and the gambling of that night.

The feast finished, the beast skulked away. One more meal to finish off the night, and then the creature would spend its remaining few hours wandering around the countryside, where it could chase wild animals and quietly observe the pack of wild dogs that lived in the nearby forest. They were instinctive animals without the same intelligent level conscious thought that the beast possessed, but it yearned to live as they did nonetheless. A simple life. An animalistic life.

Perhaps it could persuade them to allow it to join their pack. It would take some time. The beast was more powerful than any of them, strong enough to tear a man in two. It would continue to hunger for the taste of human flesh, like none of the others did, because it knew the power of that precious meat, but life with the wild dogs would be easy. It could live as nature had intended, no matter how unique it was.

The first few times that it had taken control from the human, it had not killed. It had done nothing more than enjoy its newfound freedom. Back then, the creature had believed it could have done anything; it had come to understand that it would have to suffer before it could do the things that others took for granted.

It tried to behave as the wild dogs behaved, to follow its instincts and do what felt natural. As the clouds drifted across the sky slowly, the full moon came into view, and instinct kicked in: the creature stood on its two back legs and reared up, howling at the moon, the only god it would ever answer to. The full moon was a blessing, the sign of its monthly night of freedom.

It would grow hungry in the last few days before the full moon. By the time it took control, it was usually ravenous. The beast would be desperate for the taste of skin and blood; sometimes it became so needy that its human host would crave large amounts of meat too. Two minds did not fit well in one body and one could have an impact upon the other without either of them noticing.

A third victim was close – the beast could sense it. They came out at night, the sinners. A part of the creature wanted to punish them for what they had done, perhaps a way that it could justify what it did, to carry out the work of the being that humans called God and purge society of their filth. It was a message to those who remained alive that they should live better lives and avoid immorality.

The last meal was not difficult for the monster to find, but he was accompanied by another person: a young girl, who he had been having an adulterous relationship with. She could live for another day, young enough to learn to change; if the beast caught her next month, that would be too bad. She would have to learn to run, and fast.

The beast’s quarrel was with the man, the one with the large stomach who reeked of sex. He should have been at home in bed, asleep with his wife and under the same roof as his children, but instead an excuse had allowed him to meet up with his younger lover. Whatever he had done to encourage the girl to believe his lies, it had been successful.

Wary of approaching more than one person at a time, the beast held back. It had learned previously that it was important for its prey to be alone and defenceless. If there were too many witnesses to its presence in the city, that would bring about its disaster.

After a short distance, the pair stopped, and the girl turned to face the man. She stood on the tips of her toes and kissed the man firmly on the lips before vanishing into her parent’s house and leaving her lover behind in the darkness. It would be the last time that she would ever see him. The beast was to save her from his manipulation.

The beast’s nose crinkled in disgust. There would be punishment for this man’s sin in this life, and in the next. He stood there, half shrouded in the shadow cast by that house, for a minute or so, seemingly lost in his thoughts. It was nothing for the beast to wait for him to turn and begin lumbering back down the street.

What a shame it was – he was too fat for a long chase. He would make a good meal, though.

The beast emerged from the darkness, gleefully watching the way that the man’s eyes went wide and his face fell as he spotted the great hulking monster in his path. It growled low and snapped at him; he tore off in the opposite direction, his footfalls heavy. There was no reason for the beast to toy with him: he offered it no fun. It sped after him, catching up with him before he was able to reach the corner at the far end of the street.

He was pulled to the ground as though he weighed nothing. The third frenzied feeding of the night followed, and then the beast, wary that it must have been heard and likely spotted, crept away on quiet paws. It retreated to the dull green countryside beyond the city walls, where it felt the forest call to it.

The beast made its way over and settled down in the undergrowth on the outskirts of the forest, where it could look out into the stillness of the night. It enjoyed the contrast between the atmospheres of the city and the countryside. The only sounds in the forest were quiet, sometimes so quiet that it had to strain its ears to hear them. That in itself was significant: the animal had highly acute hearing.

Nocturnal animals hooted and called out into the night, their sounds sinister and uncanny in the darkness. The beast let out a soft howl, joining their chorus. Soon, it would be able to call this place home. Before then, there would be several long months, when it was not in command. It could feel itself growing stronger, but it was not yet strong enough.

One day, it would have full control of the body that it was forced to share with a worthless, hypocritical being. One day, but not yet.

For the present, the only home it had was the one where the human decided to spend their days. For the present, the human was so strong that the beast was sometimes unable to understand where they ended and it began. Two minds, forced to live where there should only ever have been one. A body pushed and forced to twist and change, depending upon which one of them was in control, and the way the controller wanted to look. A painful combination of monster and human that should never have been brought together, in which one of them would always be the captive of the other.

Maybe the human would realise that there was something living inside of them soon, and find out what the creature did. Perhaps they would discover what they became on the full moon and try to fight back, but the beast doubted that they would have the strength. It was confident that it could dominate, should the human ever learn that it existed within them.

There was a more pressing worry than that human, in any case; the beast knew them inside out. Other humans, however, were not the same. If a large enough group of laypeople discovered it, then they would have no issue with killing human and best as one, taking them both out with a single blow to kill the nightmare that stalked the streets. Then there were other dangers, hunters and soldiers, which would be even more dangerous for the beast.

Humans spoke of monsters and demons that could transform into whatever shape they desired, their stories making little or no distinction between the human and the beast that occupied that body, imagining them to be indistinguishable in some instances. Was that what it was? A demon? The beast had no answers to life’s simplest – and hardest – question. Humans had concluded, with their limited knowledge, that monsters were instinctive creatures, wanting nothing more than destruction and death, but this beast wished for far more. It knew loneliness like no human could understand it – it wanted to belong, to be accepted.

If it was a demon, then humans knew nothing of demons.

The beast had learned these stories through the human, their memories and conversations. It had spent a lot of time learning how to delve into the human’s mind without arousing suspicion. They were a well-educated person, a matter which had served the creature well, with a wide knowledge of folklore, religion, and modern thought.

The human had been useful, in this respect. They had taught the animal much about the world around it, including their weaknesses and how it could use those to its advantage. It would almost be a shame when the beast took over and the human was no more – or, rather, it would have been, had the concept of taking over not been such a glorious one. Freedom was the one thing that the animal would give anything for.

Yes, it killed. It destroyed lives, from individuals to whole communities, but it did so in a righteous way. Those it took down and fed upon were sinners, and their punishments in the next life would be far worse than anything it could possibly do to them in this one. With each human it devoured, it could feel its autonomy getting closer. The need to be free was, after all, hardly alien to mankind: it was only natural. It killed so that it could life, no in self-defence, but in self-preservation. It had never considered that there might be another way.

From the stories that humans told, the animal knew that it was a monster. This was what monsters did.

VALHALLA RISING – Part 5

If you need to catch up with Valhalla Rising before reading this, here are the links:

VALHALLA RISING – Prologue

VALHALLA RISING – Part 1

VALHALLA RISING – Part 2

VALHALLA RISING – Part 3

VALHALLA RISING – Part 4

This is getting pretty lengthy now – I hope you enjoy!


Maureen’s communicator chimed six times before she answered it. She was busy working on a report for the Controller and the leaders of the surrounding regions about the cruel treatment of Rokesh, and why this would have a negative impact on all parties involved. She did not expect anyone to pay attention to it, but there was the small chance that someone might notice it and that, when they did, they would want to see something official with Maureen’s name on it. If she did not file the report, then she could almost guarantee that she would get in trouble for not filing it.

She also did not much care who was trying to contact her or what they wanted.

Eventually, she grew tired of the bleeping and flicked her wrist, opening the message that the sender was apparently desperate to deliver to her. It appeared on the screen above her desk, a long text file full of boring-looking bullet points and technical information that scrolled from top to bottom automatically, to reveal the scrawled sign of Zuwrath in an ugly dark yellow font.

Maureen thought the colour suited the Controller perfectly.

She cast aside her own report and flicked the screen back up to the top with an impatient finger. The title was “SCHOOLING FOR HUMANS”, and that was all Maureen needed to read before a sense of dread began to settle in her stomach. Schooling for humans? The Controller had outdone herself this time; human schooling was not supposed to be any of her concern.

A short note from Zuwrath – or more likely, one of her representatives – at the top of the page informed Maureen that every member of the human government had been sent this information too, and that it was to be implemented immediately. This was what humans were going to be taught from now on, and there were to be no arguments on the matter.

The first section was brief and oddly vague. It stated that human children had so far had a sloppy education that the virn needed to straighten out, to ensure that humans were provided with all the necessary skills they needed to successfully grow into adulthood. Maureen noticed straight away that the emphasis was on traits that human adults (and not virn adults) were supposed to possess, as though to put humans in their place below virn from an early age.

The second section listed areas of education, including the basics such as mathematics, science, and language, which Zuwrath expected to change. Humans would be taught specifically about virn who had made important discoveries, and references to humans such as Pythagoras or Einstein were to be discouraged. After the age of twelve (the end of lower and beginning of upper school in the virn education system, adopted by humans for simplicity), humans would no longer be taught virnin: though previously it had been compulsory, it was now labelled “unnecessary”.

Maureen was not the only one who would recognise these new tactics for what they were. The emphasis on virn over human mathematicians and scientists would teach humans children that the virn were mentally and technologically superior to them from a young age, without anyone having to say it aloud. The barriers that limiting language lessons would create would keep humans in lesser jobs, where they would earn pittance wages. In a few years, it could probably even be spun to make humans appear ignorant and unwilling to enter the virn sphere of life.

The third section of the message detailed examinations exclusive to human children, then the types of jobs that human children should be encouraged to go into when their upper school ended at seventeen. None of these jobs, Maureen noticed, would require leaving the camp. The examination results would be calculated according to a bell curve, and they would determine which careers the students were ultimately expected to take. The majority of humans would end up doing factory work.

According to the report, from seventeen to nineteen, humans would enter into work placement programmes, as though this bell curve system would instantly create jobs for every child to move into the career that was selected for them. Of course, most of these jobs would require very minimal training, so the reality would be that humans would work from the age of seventeen until they could no longer physically perform the labour or were made redundant.

All of this led into adulthood. A job that was preassigned, unlike virn students, who were given ample opportunities to explore different career paths. Virn students could select their subjects based on their interests, not on the results of their examinations. There would be no such choice for human students, only instructions to follow. No freedom for humans; only a duty to perform.

The final section of the message discussed the schooling of virn children in brief, and why this needed to be different from the schooling of humans. It mentioned further education, and why this should be reserved, interestingly not for virn per se, but for “those who live outside of the camp known as Valhalla” – which was essentially the same thing as virn-exclusive.

To Maureen’s eyes, this was the part where Zuwrath had, despite not stating anything outright, bothered to hide her meaning the least. Even if, by some miracle, a handful of humans did settle outside the camp, they would still be expected to attend a human school and would therefore not get the opportunity to enter further education.

Maureen closed the text document and opened a blank file. She stared at it for a long time. What could she say in response that Zuwrath would be likely to acknowledge? The Controller had not indicated that she was interested in making massive changes to the human education system before: that had always been an internal issue of Valhalla. She doubted there was anything she could write that would change Zuwrath’s mind.

It did not seem like a sensible thing to try to do, but that was why nobody else would try. Maureen had no choice but to write something.

She drew up several drafts analysing what the impact of these alterations would be from her point of view, but deleted them all. She was not saying anything that Zuwrath would not know already. Maureen then drew up a draft message that suggested mixed schooling, but that had never got her anywhere in the past, so she deleted that, too. In the end, she gave up on an official letter and instead decided on a personal message to Zuwrath that felt more meaningful than anything that was electronically signed, dated, and stamped.

‘Controller Zuwrath,’ she dictated to the screen through gritted teeth, ‘I just received your message about schooling. Have to confess myself disappointed. You’ve never shown any interest in this kind of thing before, even when I’ve brought it up. I suppose you knew I wouldn’t be impressed. Suggest we meet to discuss as soon as possible. Maureen.’

She sent the message before she could change her mind, and returned to her condemnation of Rokesh’s eviction with a heavy heart.

~

On the northern border of Valhalla, there was an expanse of open land that humans had named the No-Land. According to the virn government, it was land that humans could potentially expand upon in the future, but they had no intention of allowing any settlements there for several decades. Sometimes, children and teens of both species would gather there to hang out with their friends, whether because this irritated their parents or because they thought they could do something frowned upon and would not get caught there.

Humans and virn generally kept their distance from one another, even in No-Land. There were occasional shouting matches between teenage groups, but little more than that had been reported for a long time. No-Land was not considered a dangerous place: there was nothing of strategic value there to incite one side or the other. Neither species could claim any rights over the other to be there, or to use the land. It was not officially human land – yet – but it was destined to belong to humans and according to virn law, that meant it was not officially virn either.

There were a few tents along the border or No-Land. Most of the humans in Valhalla had situation themselves close to the factories, and near No-Land there was nothing to keep a large population employed. Those who lived in the tents were largely jobless – it was often said that the only employment was the task of cleaning the public conveniences.

Sometimes, visitors would come from deeper within Valhalla. They would pity the people on the border, but would only ever suggest one thing: move further into the camp. The response to this from the border folks was that they could envision no better lives for themselves being worked to death in a factory. The cycle continued.

A group of human children were playing together in No-Land. They kept close to the human side – it was common for those who lived around the border to do so. One was from inner Valhalla; the others were local.

The games they entertained themselves with were sweet and innocent. They ran around, shouting their excitement in the open air. They chased one another for hours, while on the other side of No-Land a gang of virn teenagers stood huddled together, listening to music and casting occasional glances over at the children, as though they considered the kids annoying.

Then the child from the inner camp, who did not understand the importance of staying close to the camp, got a little closer to the virn. A little closer, and a little closer, each time drawing the rest of the humans out with him without any of them realising it. After one particularly long chase, he slipped and landed in the mid a few paces from the group of virn. One of the teenager spun around.

Some of them had their hands on their hips. Others had their arms folded across their chests. All of them looked angry at the interruption. They wore bright colours – a display of rebellion against the bland work uniforms that matched virn skin colour. The one who had spun around, who had a hat sat on the top of his head with a wide brim that was flat against his forehead, stepped towards the child.

What do you think you’re doing, human?’ he asked, spitting as he spoke. The human boy, with a poor grasp of virnin, could only understand one word: human. He stood up as the other children gathered nervously around him, craning their necks up to look at the much bigger virn teens.

Sorry,’ he mumbled, the word a little slurred, then tried to back away. The other children stepped back with him.

Not so fast,’ the virn hissed. He reached out and grabbed the boy by the shoulder, pulling him sharply then letting him go, so that he fell face-first into the mud again.

The virn teens laughed.

The human children stood still, their eyes blown wide. They did not have to understand the virnin to know what the implication of these words were. The human boy pushed himself to his feet and wiped his face with his sleeve. Again, he tried to back away, and again he was dragged down into the mud.

Eat it,’ he was told, and when he frowned in confusion the teenagers imitated eating to get the message across. The boy remained still.

‘Let’s go. They’re mean,’ said one of the other children.

Shut up,’ one of the teenage girls snapped at her. The human winced at the tone. ‘If you can’t speak our tongue then don’t leave your crappy home.’

Better, if you can’t speak it, don’t live on our planet,’ another virn chimed in, as the humans shared blank but frightened expressions. ‘Lazy human bastards just expect us to learn their tongues and introduce their laws into our society to compensate for their backwards culture.’

My dad used to work in a factory that made spaceship parts,’ the first teen hissed. ‘Until human scum came along and took his job. Now they’re making poor quality parts on the cheap – good for nothing losers.’ He spat on the human boy still laid in the mud, who wiped the globule away with the back of his hand. ‘Stay still! If I spit on you, you’ll leave it where it lands! That’s your place in the universe!’ He placed his foot on the small of the boy’s back and applied just enough pressure to keep him still. ‘And this is mine.’

The rest of the human children began to edge backwards.

You know what you are?’ the lead virn asked as he leant down over the boy under his foot. ‘Do you? Want me to say it, you’re a wipt. You’re a low, dirty, disgusting wipt.’

The human boy looked up. The children halted and stared at the teenagers in horror. There were some words that every human knew.

Yeah,’ laughed another of the virn, ‘you’re all wipts.’

Wipts, wipts, wipts,’ the chanted in unison, laughing all the while.

The human children had heard enough. Those who were free turned and ran back to Valhalla; the boy on the ground pushed up against his captor and managed to scramble to his feet in the teen’s surprise. Before he could follow the others back to the camp, the chief tormentor reached into his belt and pulled out a long, thin dagger. It had a jagged edge on one side and was smooth on the other. He swept the jagged blade along the boy’s face.

The child screamed and ran, bleeding heavily onto his shirt.

Never forget what you are!

~

‘H – Hello? Is that Maureen Bradshaw?’

‘Speaking, yes. Hello. Who’s calling?’

‘Oh, Mrs Bradshaw, thank goodness! I’ve called so many different numbers for you, but they must’ve all been old ones – I need to tell you something, about something that happened on the border with Nesmara earlier today. It’s so horrible – so important – someone needs to tell the presses, to do something! We can’t tolerate this any longer, we can’t! Our children – frightened in their own homes. Oh, it’s awful! Have you – have you heard?’

‘I haven’t heard anything about Nesmara. Just calm down, please, and start with your name.’

‘Okay, okay, okay … my name’s Jessica.’

‘Jessica. Hi, Jessica. You can call me Maureen.’

‘Thank you, Maureen.’

‘Not at all. Now, Jessica, please tell me what happened. In your own time.’

‘Okay, okay … well, we were visited by a couple of friends and their young son this morning. We let our kids play together on the border, in No-Land – a shared space for humans and virn alike. There were some virn teens out there. Normally they’re fine, you know, they don’t make a fuss or anything. Sometimes they all hang out or even play together. Only this time … oh, it’s so awful! One of the virn attacked their little boy – none of us saw it happen, because we’ve never had to worry about anything like this before, but they attacked him with a knife across his face! He’s going to have a scar under his left eye now, we’ve done what we can for him but when the doctor came about an hour ago she said it’s likely he’ll have the scar for the rest of his life.’

‘Hold on, hold on, Jessica. Did you say the virn teen attacked him? Why?’

‘According to the other kids, the virn started on him when he got too close.’

‘Oh, how awful. I’m so sorry, Jessica. I hope he’s all right.’

‘He’ll recover, in time. What we want to know is if there’s anything you can do to make sure these virn kids get what’s coming to them. Our kids still need to go out and play. We don’t want them to be afraid of going into No-Land.’

‘Well … I’ll certainly see what I can do.’

‘We’ll be eternally grateful.’

‘I hope I can give you some good news. Thanks for letting me know, Jessica. And give my best to the kid and his parents.’

‘Thank you, Maureen.’

~

Maureen wasted no time in contacting Starg about the incident in No-Land. Although it was not his territory, she did not know the Keeper of the Peace in Nesmara, the region north of Valhalla, as well as she knew Starg. She wanted to use her relationship with Starg to persuade the Keeper of Nesmara to openly discuss the issue of virn violence against humans, an issue they were unlikely to discuss with her without persuasion.

The longer she waited, the less likely it would be that anybody would care.

This was not like other attacks she had known in her time as Liaison. It was not a group of drunk virn and a group of drunk humans clashing with each other on a street. It was not a gang of virn targeting a human or a gang of humans targeting a virn. It was not a long-running feud or a bitter argument. It was not even a racist attack that had escalated and got out of hand. This was teenagers attacking children, and she did not think Starg would be able to deny the moral dilemma when he heard it.

Maureen finally had proof of something she had been saying to both Starg and Zuwrath all along: that the bitter dislike that had emerged from human and virn misunderstanding had grown into something dangerous, inherent in society. If children and teens were getting involved in the physical fight, then that was all the evidence she needed.

She informed Starg that she was going to visit him and left Valhalla at the earliest opportunity. After Jessica’s evening call, she had spent the night planning what she was going to say and, after a few hours of sleep, had located a transporter the next morning. When she arrived at Starg’s office in Pika, he was there waiting for her.

‘What is it?’ he asked. His eyebrows were forced together in a knot in the middle of his head, as though a visit from Maureen was the last thing he needed. She recognised the annoyance on his face and realised she would have to keep it short.

‘The Keeper of Peace in Nesmara,’ she replied, ‘doesn’t like me.’

‘None of the Keepers like you,’ Starg assured her.

‘How flattering, Starg. Yet however much you protest, you at least came to Valhalla, instead of expecting me to always come to you. You have seen how I live and you know more about Valhalla than the rest of them put together.’

Starg’s top lip quivered. ‘And?’ he snarled.

‘… And I was hoping I could ask you to use your influence to persuade the Keeper in Nesmara to do something important for my people.’

Starg sighed. He rubbed his forehead with his hand, then dropped the hand down by his side.

‘Why do you not speak with him yourself? Dragu is an intelligent man.’

‘But I’m not close enough to him. I know what he’ll say to me. I need you to help me to speak with him, someone on his level who can give me a bit of a boost. Come on, Starg, think about it: I wouldn’t have to keep coming to you with all my problems if I got on better with other Keepers.’

That would be a good thing indeed. I have to deal with so many human issues currently that I have no idea which direction I am heading in.’ Starg’s eyebrows drifted apart, and his expression cooled somewhat. ‘So, tell me what it is this time.’

‘There’s a place between Valhalla and Nesmara called No-Land,’ Maureen began.

‘I’ve heard of it.’

‘Yesterday, a group of virn teenagers attacked a human child there.’

Starg’s eyes widened. He took a step towards Maureen; she held her ground. ‘You can prove this?’ he asked.

‘The child is physically scarred.’

Starg nodded. Then, he tilted his head and his eyes narrowed again. ‘And you want …?’

‘I want you to help me persuade Dragu to publish it in the media. Big news. This should be making headlines.’

Maureen’s words were met with a short, sharp bark of laughter from Starg. He stepped away from her and began circling the room, still grinning to himself, and chuckling occasionally.

‘You’ll have to go to Zuwrath, then.’

‘That’s what I was afraid you’d say. Starg, can’t we do this without involving her?’

‘No way,’ Starg scoffed. ‘I refuse to get involved in that – Zuwrath would have me by my balls. If you want it, you’ll have to do it yourself.’

He waved her out, and Maureen left.

Pray

I pray for a miracle today

Give me strength, give me power

Though still I feel I will betray

The one who makes me cry and cower

The morning is like any other

Wake up, get up, and the work begins

But when he comes to me, I discover

His anger beneath his wily grin

The first punch leaves me on the floor

I pray again, screams in my mind

But find I still cannot ignore

The guilt of leaving him behind

I pray for a miracle each morning

Before the bruises start to form

And every time, he gives me warning:

For me, this life should be the norm

The sneers, the shouting, bitter words

That hurt far greater than his fists

No change, this is all I deserve

Until my heart can be dismissed

Beneath his Fingernails

The soil was rough and irritating beneath his fingernails. No matter how much he tried to dig it out from under them, there was still some left there. He could no longer see it, but he could feel it, buried deep.

He slipped the pointed end of the nail file beneath his thumbnail again, and hissed though his teeth when he felt the skin rupture. The constant filing had worn his nails down, and turned the skin so raw that it had finally broken. Blood pooled down in two directions: down his thumb and across his palm, and down the metal nail file, dripping onto his jeans. He withdrew the nail file, but he could still feel the soil there beneath the nail.

Other reminders hovered over him, too. He could still see the empty stare she had worn, once a look of surprise from his sudden, violent outburst, turned blank from the death of the light in her eyes. She had been heavy as he had carried her out of the house and into the car, and as he had lifted her out of the boot and onto the ground. Heavy and cold.

He had started digging with a shovel, but at some point, his growing panic had taken over and he had sunk down onto his knees in the dirt to dig with his hands. Scoops of dirt had been thrown behind him wildly, some of it landing on his trousers and shoes, working its way beneath his clothes. At least, that was how it felt. He had showered for more than an hour, but the sensation had not gone away.

Once he had buried her and made his way back to their home – to his home, now – there had been time for him to stop and think. He had not meant to push her so hard that she fell and cracked the back of her head on the counter. It had been an accident. Not that anybody would understand that – it was not something he would have believed.

The soil and the memories would never leave him, and eventually someone would put two and two together and come up with a correct answer. But for a while, a short while, he could limit his punishment to the image of her empty eyes and the blood beneath his fingernails.

111.

Curious – a wonderfully vivid poem.

february stationery

I run my tongue around the back of my teeth
pushing the perceived space underneath my gums
and being surprised when my teeth hold fast

I’ve had a repeated nightmare, intrusive thoughts
about my teeth coming out; since this started
and I know that in a list of most common dreams
your teeth falling out would come right under nudity

But hear me out as I pretend again that I am special

Do you remember the jagged edge of your teeth
as they dangled, held in only by nerves and roots?
I do. I remember pushing, prodding, twisting
cutting my tongue open on the edge only to
give up at the last second


But I would do it, constantly, until I fell asleep

and perhaps in the night too, as I woke with
a pillow full of blood, scrabbling to find the tooth

And it isn’t that I want my…

View original post 46 more words

The Ravenous One

He gnaws through my flesh down to the bone.
His teeth are sharp enough to rip my body into pieces,
His lips covered in the dark red liquid love
That returns me to him even as it drips down –

Splat, splat

– Steadily onto the carpet, where on the first night
We made love, too excited to make it to the bed.
That’s so long ago as he digs his fingers into the wound,
Prises my flesh open further, and through the searing pain –

Splat, splat

– His drool dripping down onto the carpet.
This hunger to tear me apart, until I am no longer a person
But a mess of flesh and blood and bone,
I know one day he will kill me. And so –

Splat, splat

– My tears mingle with the blood and drool.
As I remember that my heart beats only for him,
I feel his anger searing its way through him into me, like
Teeth gnawing their way through flesh to bone.

A Hero’s Welcome by Peter Indianna

Extremely well written and dark horror.

The cobalt dress was taut around Carter Graham’s hips, the nylon thigh-hose stretched smooth and the blonde wig that he made out of Janet’s scalp fit radiantly snug over his short, salt-and-pepper hair. The pumps were far too small so he had to slit the sides of the black leather to make his feet slip into the shoes. Sitting at the dressing table, Carter fumbled about in Janet’s jewelry box, primping and fussing, trying on different pieces to achieve that distinctive look. The make-up strategy was harsh and gaudy, the scarlet lipstick a bit too thick and became smeared from his unskilled attempts to apply it. An synthetic pearl necklace was selected and Carter clasped it around his neck, followed by a pair of pearl studs which he punctured through the lobes of each ear. He stood before the full-length mirror and turned, spun and swayed, mugging at his reflection…

View original post 1,154 more words

“I Want” Gets

television-144961_960_720
Image credit: Pixabay

Ryan waved the cricket bat around above his head, narrowly missing the ceiling light. Martin moaned helplessly, both of his arms held out in front of him as he pleaded with his young son.

‘Put it down, Ryan. Put the bat down. Just give it to me.’

‘No!’ Ryan shouted, swinging the bat closer to Martin, who took half a step back. ‘Mummy would let me have it!’

He was referring to the four hundred pound gaming system that had just been advertised on the television. Martin could not afford it, not on what he was paid, but his ex-girlfriend (and Ryan’s mother) had got four different consoles at her house, as Ryan had repeatedly told his father.

‘If you’re good, then you might get it for Christmas,’ Martin said, trying to buy himself some time.

‘No! Now!’ Ryan demanded.

‘Just – just give me the bat, Ryan, and I’ll see what I can do.’

‘I want it now!’ Ryan screamed, and this time he swung the bat all the way around, smashing it into the flat screen television behind him, which fell onto the floor with a horrible crashing sound. Martin had to force himself not to react to the destruction of his hard-earned property.

Ryan had once been such a good boy. Then, at the age of eight, his mother had decided to get back in contact and had asked to see Ryan again. It had not been easy for her to persuade Martin to grant her access, but he had eventually agreed that it was the best thing for Ryan. Now, every time that Ryan went to see his rich Mummy, he was spoiled beyond any comparison. Martin had never known anyone to throw so much money around.

Then when Ryan came back to Martin’s house, he expected to receive the same treatment.

Well, it looked as though they would have to do without a television for the next few weeks, until Martin got his next pay check. Ryan, realising what he had done, dropped the bat in horror, and as his son was turned away, Martin wiped the tears from his eyes.

He had always worked so hard to make Ryan’s life the best that it could be, but with the return of his mother Ryan was being pulled this way and that, and that way promised more presents than what Martin could provide.

It would be over soon enough. Ryan’s mother had never stuck around for very long; she was sure to get bored, and then Martin would be the one who would pick up the pieces.

The Monster Hidden Within

I think people like to hear stories about monsters. In a way, as strange as it might sound at first, the idea of monsters soothes them. Monsters provide the comforting notion that it is not “us” who cause others harm, but “them”. They divide the humans from the “something else”, and draw a line between what is considered the behaviour of a person and what is not.

We make these monsters ugly or beyond our comprehension. They are designed to be repulsive to us. That is why I believe some of the scariest actions are those performed by people. I’m talking about everyday people who we pass on the street: a man who is walking his dog might look like he had nothing to hide, so to discover that he has a sinister secret would shock us and scare us. How can he act completely normal if he has done something so terrible? But then, that’s the point of monsters, because we’re supposed to know what they’re capable of from the moment we lay eyes on them.

People are frightening because they do not always register on our “monster scale”. That guy who was walking his dog could have picked you out as his victim, and as long as he was able to hide it, nobody else would ever need to know …

Oh, we label certain people monsters, but until we know what they have done we have no idea that they might be monsters. They look like you or I. We cannot discern their monstrous actions because they do not appear like the monsters in the stories we’ve been told.

Donald was this kind of a monster. He liked to go on walks; he even had a dog. I met him on a dating website and I didn’t notice anything that might suggest there was anything sinister about him until he’d ensnared me. Until the trap was set, and until I walked right into it. I can assure you, the fact that I am able to tell you this tale does not offer me much comfort.

Our first date was like any first date should be. It was merry, dignified and just the right amount of silly. We both seemed nervous, although I am skeptical whether Donald actually feels anything: the fact that I could not tell he was acting is a compliment to his skills, and it makes me very concerned for other you.

I know you’re out there somewhere, laughing at his jokes, sipping your wine around a smile that says I think I’ve finally found the one. Trust me, you haven’t. But you won’t keep looking.

We drank and chatted happily. When the bill came, he politely accepted my offer to split the bill with no arguments, which has always been a winner for me. I think it shows a lack of respect if the guy refuses to let you pay for your half, and I’ve never had a second date with anyone who has argued with me about it. So of course, when he agreed, it sealed the deal. I was going to see him again.

You will, too.

The second date was better than the first. It was my choice to select the venue, and we went to a cheaper restaurant – a choice that was largely influenced by the weight of my purse. Afterwards, we went back to his place and I was in awe at the glamour of it. Donald is rich, and it does knock the wind out of you a little to see how much he likes to show it off. You can’t help but feel a little bad – the stuff he has doesn’t matter (or rather, it shouldn’t), and I realised with shame that when I took him back to mine it wasn’t going to live up to the splendour that he was used to. We kissed and I left.

A week later, we met again to go to the cinema. I had an expectation that something was going to happen, but Donald claimed to have a prior engagement that meant we would not be able to go anywhere together. He took me to the apartment complex where I live, complimented the building more than was necessary, and then went home. Whether there really was something he needed to do is debatable.

I’m aware this may be sounding very familiar to you. If so, then I’m sure you’ll also know what’s coming next.

On our fourth date, Donald invited me to his home. He apologised for rushing off at the end of our last date and expressed his wishes that he could have stayed with me for longer. After a conversation that was engineered to sway me to agree, he asked me if I would like to sleep over at his that night. I needed no persuasion: by that point, I felt as though I had been the one waiting for him to be comfortable with the idea of being intimate with me.

That may well have been the case. Oh, he’s passionate, I’m sure you know that, but as I already said, he’s a good actor. He knows just what to do, just what to say, and just how to act to manipulate anyone to do anything. You’ll keep coming back to him and he’ll keep entertaining you until he decides to take the next step. It could be weeks; it could be months. Even if you’re very good, I doubt you’ll get much more than that.

I had about a month and a half. That’s good, I think. At least, it’s good compared to the woman who came before me: she only got a couple of weeks after their fourth date. If you’re wondering, then yes, every date went the same way as mine did. The same way as yours went, I have no doubt.

Then I turned up one day at his place for a romantic evening watching a private movie to discover that the front door was unlocked and he wasn’t anywhere to be seen. There was a note on the kitchen table that told me to make myself comfortable and start the wine without him, so I did. I got through two glasses before he appeared.

He didn’t look like the man I had been dating. Donald had always been a lively, enthusiastic looking man who had taken pride in his appearance: and it had been a good appearance, too. Those wavy golden locks had caught my attention right from the beginning, and his bright blue eyes had practically twinkled in the candlelight.

This time, he looked tired, frustrated, and dark. The colour in his eyes had faded, as though a part of him had died. I passed him a glass of wine and asked him what was wrong.

‘She’s dead,’ he had told me, and I had stopped in my tracks, about to pour myself a third glass. I put the bottle down slowly, moving across the sofa to cuddle him. He was sitting awkwardly, holding the glass out in front of himself as though he had no idea that it was there. I wondered who he was referring to – grandmother, mother, sister, friend – and whispering words of comfort in his ear. It didn’t seem to help.

‘She’s dead,’ he said again, still in the same flat tone.

‘Do you want to be alone?’ I asked him, reaching for my coat. He shook his head.

‘No. I need someone,’ he had answered, and then he had put on the movie.

Not wishing to pry, I had told him that he could tell me anything he wanted to about this woman, and then I had fallen silent, aware that he may not want to talk about it. In all honesty, I had not known what I was expected to say: we had not been dating long enough for me to feel as though I knew what the right thing to say to him was. He told me nothing and we sat in silence for the duration of the movie, barely moving.

At some point afterwards, I fell asleep in his arms. That was my big mistake, and one that I had been warned against – one that I’m warning you against now. When I woke, I was chained to a wall in a room I had never seen before.

I pulled at the chains. At first, I thought it was a game. He had spoken about bondage before and I was more than into it, although we had not yet got around to it. Only then did the letter that I had found hidden away in the silk nightgown after our fourth date come back to me. I had discarded it and abandoned it to the back of my mind, laughing myself silly at the hilarity of it. You will too, although you will regret it later on, just as deeply as I do.

He began to come down to bring me food infrequently, perhaps once a day, perhaps less. I was always hungry when he brought it. The first few times, he did not speak. I begged him to let me out, I pleaded with him to explain this madness, but his face remained blank and his lips sealed in a thin, almost judgemental line. I felt like he believed I belonged there, in that damp cellar.

When he got a little too close and I nearly bit him, then he spoke to me. He pulled back and frowned, then pointed to a set of chains that were hanging on the opposite wall. There was nothing in them but a loose bit of cloth that was stuck in one of the cuffs, and I had done all I could do to avoid looking at them until that moment.

‘She died,’ he said. ‘You’re alive.’

I wanted to add for now, but I refrained. I wondered how many women he had kept down here: she – the woman before me who he was referring to – had not been certain. Again I begged for release, for him to see sense, and when he left I prayed to anyone who would listen to save me from this nightmare. I have no reason to believe that anyone will answer, because nobody answered her when she prayed.

Shouting did not help me. I had not heard anyone shouting when I had been in his house, although I am sure that there must have been someone there trying to get themselves heard. He began to get angry as I became more determined to escape, until as I had been warned he became violent, lashing out at me.

It began with his fists, leaving me with bruises across my face and neck. Then, when he found that his fists no longer satisfied him, he used a plank of wood on the other side of the cellar. Around that time, he must have found you, because he took the silk nightgown I had become accustomed to off me and washed it. My thoughts of communicating with you seemed dashed, until he returned it and hung it on a hook above me, just within my reach. From what I understand of his garbled conversations with himself, the first woman – whoever she had been – had worn it all the time. He likes to keep it close to his prize.

I knew then that there was not much time. My body felt weak and once I died, I knew that you would be the one to take my place. I followed the pattern of the woman before me, and of the woman before her, who had warned her of what she had warned me and I am warning you. I pried the biro from where it was hidden in the wall and wrote this letter for you on a piece of cloth ripped from my clothing. I did not damage the silk nightgown that he had dressed me in; I stuffed this letter into the pocket of the nightgown as deep as I could get it and I now leave it for you to find.

I know that you won’t listen to me, which is a shame. Of course, I understand why. I didn’t listen when I was told, and I learnt the hard way. You’ll be the same. I only hope that one day, somebody will be strong enough to break free of his spell and do the right thing. That, whoever they are, they’ll run as fast as they can to the nearest police station and tell the first officer they can find about what this man does. All of the information they’ll need to prove what he’s done will be available to them in the form of a letter, just like this one. Donald will finally be stopped.

So I leave this warning for you, just as the woman before me left one. And I leave you the biro too, so that when you are in my position, and my body has surrendered, you too will warn the next woman of this inhuman monster.