Friday, October 31, 2014


We've had a month of really fun spooky tales. Now it's your chance to participate!  Help us celebrate Halloween by building the spookiest tale of 'em all.

Here are the rules:

FIVE LINES ONLY! No cheating.

If you write five lines, you may write an additional five lines later in the story, but only after other players have contributed.

We ask that you not be offensive. Sex and/or violence is allowed, but please don't get too graphic. (Remember, this is a public site!)

Posting ends midnight on Sunday, November 2nd. I'll conclude with the last five lines, and post the whole collective story on Tuesday, November 4th. Sound like fun? Join in!

Here's the prompt:

There was once a girl who was very obstinate and willful, and who never obeyed when her elders spoke to her. One day she said to her parents, "I have heard so much of the Old Witch that I will go and see her. People say she has many marvelous things in her house. I am very curious to see them."

Her parents, however, forbade her going, saying, "The Witch is a wicked old woman who performs many godless deeds. You are not to go near her lair."

The girl, however, would not turn back at her parents' command. She set off to find the Witch's house.

What will happen on the journey? Will she make it to the witch's house? If she does, what will she find there? It's all up to you. That is, it's all up to us!

Remember, ONLY FIVE LINES per entry. And please--READ PRIOR ENTRIES BEFORE ADDING YOUR OWN. You never know what plot twist you're missing out on if you don't!

On your mark. Get set. GO!

Posted by Karin Rita Gastreich

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Guardian...

Hello folks! Mark here with my effort at creepy.  This is a new piece and a little different style for me. One of the things I would like to try next, once I finish the Pevanese novels, is something from a single point of view.  Call this a first, raw effort.  This character actually has a name, but I thought it read better without.  In a way, I think this is my halting homage to Cooper and Suitcliff. For those of you familiar with those writers, I think you’ll see why.  Happy Halloween!



The Guardian…


I hate silence. That is when the voices grow the loudest. At night, in my sleep, or what I think is sleep, sometimes I just cannot tell, the cacophony drives me gasping and sweating to full-awake terror.  In those times I search my cell in a frenzy, looking but not finding, suppressing even my own breath as the voices laugh at my fear. I am afraid to sleep, but no matter how I try I always do…and they always come.

They are fae, those voices. Sometimes soft sometimes sharp and nibbling, but always insistent, urging, wanting, demanding, beseeching. I cannot escape them, even though my better sense tells me they are a lie, a figment of my Welsh imagination.

At least that is what the priests told me when I came here, what they continue to tell me when they lock me away to ‘pray’ in my cell when their chants and incense fail to dispel the voices. They ask many questions I cannot answer. Their questions remind me of the voices, and so I doubt…and doubt stills my tongue. They hang in my head, those voices, the way the smoke hangs in the air, taunting, sensual, there, visible in the faint light from the high window above my pallet.

Infinite variety, those voices, but the message, when I can clearly make it out, is almost always the same: Release us, Man. Let us out. We bring great gifts. Power, Man, power could be yours. Release us, set us free.

My cell is cold at night, but when the voices rage, I feel a different kind of cold, a deeper bone chill that strikes at my courage, and I have to fight against the urge to gibber like a madman just to keep myself company in my desolation. And yet my lucid self understands how foolish I must appear. My lucid self actually thinks that I might indeed be a madman. I’m not sure I believe that. I’m not sure I understand what lucid is anymore.

The brothers are kind to me.  They took me in when I arrived here, shoeless and ragged after my demented journey from my hovel in the hills above the Severn.  The Tor drew me like a loadstone, and the voices, which began as a whisper that started my feet southwards, grew louder and louder the closer I came to the Abbey on the eastern slopes. It was as if they drew power from my exhaustion, and yet the brothers assured me I had come to a holy place where rest and redemption were possible. They gave me work to do, food to eat, and prayers.

And at night when the voices push against the barriers none of that matters.

Release us, set us free. Man, little, little Man. We can save you yet. Hear it. Hear it in your heart, Man. Let us free.

I find myself listening to the litany in spite of my revulsion, noting when it changes. At times I think I hear distinct differences among the chorus. There is only one that seems unique, and it comes only after I reach that point where I feel my spirit crumbling. It is the quietest voice of the lot, and yet I always manage to hear it when I need it most; it brings me back from the edge of the pit. It does again tonight.

Stand. Resist. Hold. Let them rail. They cannot break you. In time you will come to the place and see. Stand. Resist. Hold.

I come back to myself. I am in the corner, my fingers bloody from scraping at the mortar binding the rough bricks of my cell.  The voices have not relented, however, and I feel the wave building again.

My search, again, yields nothing tangible. But tonight the geas is stronger than ever before. My temple throbs, as if one of the speakers attempted to drive a spike into my skull. I stifle a scream, or at least I think I do. Sound is a variable of infinite deception to me now. I try the door, expecting futility because I know they lock me in at night, but the latch gives. I stagger out into the dimly lit hall. A single torch gutters near the stairs. I am below the main chancery. A desire for moonlight urges me up and out the main doors. All is dark above, but the half-moon, riding clear for the moment amongst islands of clouds, bathes the area with enough light to make out shapes.

And reveal motion.

The brothers are digging again.

I can see them inexpertly wielding their mattocks, stabbing and gashing the earth. They have sunk pits all over the greensward between the hedge and the chapel. They’ve uprooted gravestones and disturbed the dead. To me, both Welsh and Christian, that is a double sin. As I watch, the voices swell a little, as if they were attuned somehow to what the brothers did, as if they wanted the brothers to actually find what they soiled their fine robes searching for. The Christian in me thinks they have lost their minds, but the Welshman in me knows otherwise.  This place is a portal. Of the barriers between light and dark, this one with its pompous church spires reaching heavenward, this one is the last and greatest; its soaring height sanctified by something other than the holy man on his cross.

I suspect that understanding is the only thing keeping me sane…

I creep along the shadows of the main Abbey building. I can get quite close without them seeing me. They pray as they dig, those priests. I make out the voices of Brother Stephen and Brother Dynas, the two most senior save for the Abbot himself.  I want to laugh at the incongruity of watching important people, gold chain bearing people, scrabbling around in the dirt, manhandling clods into baskets, hefting tools with hands grown soft.

They are mad for sure; I don’t need the voices to tell me that.  Who in his right mind would risk ruining his back and his finely pared nails for dirt? Treasure? Power?

But I know why they dig with such passion. Orders from the king. The savage Henry wanted certainty. After bloodying his hands with gore from midlands to the mountains, Henry wanted assurances, and so the brothers dig.

I listen to them whisper as they work. “It must be here. Just a little further. Looks, see all the signs? This ground was disturbed once. Just a little deeper, then we’ll know. And then we can send proof to Henry. And then. And then…and then glory.”

At the sound of their words the voices I hear in my mind redouble their din. I shrink back in pain, suppressing an answering cry. A bright light sears my closed lids. I feel more than blind.

I feel driven. Yes, there again, that geas. I’d always thought it part of the voices but no. Not now. I blink away the pain and momentarily still the voices. The brothers continue to wrestle with the earth, and suddenly I know.

I know.

I know they are digging in the wrong place, and for all the wrong reasons, and for the wrong king. I see a mattock raised high. I feel its impact like a sword thrust. I fall away from the shadows of the building and run, stumbling down the beaten path, through the hedge, heading for the western slopes.

I either lose my balance or the ground shakes beneath my feet. The voices chitter. I feel a wind, piercing and cold, as if it comes from some primordial, frozen plain. I catch my foot on a rock and fall. I see the ground rushing up to meet me, a space squeezed between two standing stones, and instead of cracking my skull on the path I pass through it. I slice through the earth like a dolphin through a wave, enter an empty space and bounce off a hard surface. I crack my forehead on what must have been a corner.

The voices fall silent. I think I feel blood seeping down into my eyes. I blink once, surprised by the fact that I can see. Then the pain hits me. I go somewhere else. I wonder if this is what a peaceful death feels like.

When I come back, I have to scrape away dried blood from my right eye.  The voices have returned with a different tonal vengeance.  It is as if there are a host of gnarled hands all pushing against a door, and I am the bar straining in its slot. I also can hear, a faint undercurrent, the sound of the priests still at their desecration above.  I force myself to rise and examine my new surroundings.

I am in a tomb whose walls glow faintly with a silver-green light.  Head throbbing, I lean against a stone slab carved with many symbols. Vaguely, I recognize sigils of power from the secret places of my own hills carved in bass relief alongside other Christian symbols.  The slab is a wonder. It looks like it was placed there yesterday. I run my hands along its textured surface. Smooth. The carvings inviolate by time’s wear, and yet I can tell, by the very air I breathe, that this place is old.

As old as a myth twice told.

Now. Do it, Man. Now. Let us free. Take up the knife. Take it. Take it. Take it. Make the cut and free yourself from our torment, and we will bring you life and power such as Man has never known.

The voices shock me with their direct demands, and I see that, indeed, a knife lay in a groove on the stone cover’s surface.  I reach out a tremulous hand. No dust coats the blade, its haft carven with the likeness of a horned, leering face.  This is the tool. This is the key. The voices in me, about me, pummel my calm, and I feel as if I am bending like hot iron beneath the blacksmith’s blows.

My hand hovers just above the dagger.

Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. The voices keen, shrill, like a banshee’s cry; a curse from antiquity that defies time.  And I can still hear them digging, and I can still hear them talking of power and glory and the voices persist, they persist, persist and persist.

I take up the blade. Silence.  I sense Fate waiting. Waiting. The voices wanting. I fight for a breath. I know what they want now. I have always known. Geas brought me here for this task. I raise the blade.

No. Stand, child. Resist. Resist. Look to the light. Choose.

And that voice stops me. I can feel the steel against my throat, feel the tension in my hand, the awful stroke awaiting.

I take a breath. A second. A third. Time hangs like the Christian’s god sagging against his nails and bonds and clarity comes to me. I turn, look again at the carven slab before me and see that it is a great coffin.  A raised tablet, slanted, rests at the far end. It bears an inscription:

Ard Ri Artorius, Rex Brittanum, Last King of the Light.

“Stand, Hold, Resist, and Guard Light from the coming Dark…”

I lower the blade. Instantly, the voices take up their call, but this time I withstand them. I return the blade to its groove.

“To ward against the coming dark,” I whisper aloud, my voice swelling with an eldritch power as I realize why I have come here.  I was not driven by the voices.

I was called by the Guardian.

To take up his watch.

Once the brothers found him and let the darkness loose upon the world.

I sink down beside the casket, place my back against its strange warmth, and wait. I make a gesture with my hand as though pushing back against the power of the voices. Silence. Real. Infinite. I will hold them here, for my lord has given me the task.

I smile grimly, statue-like, as though I meld with the stone against which I rest.

The brothers are still up there, digging…

Mark Nelson
The Poets of Pevana, King's Gambit, Path of the Poet-King, Pevanese Mosaic


Monday, October 27, 2014

The Devil's Bridge

I am very pleased to welcome historical fiction and fantasy author Joseph Finley to Heroines of Fantasy. When I extended the invitation to Joseph a couple months ago, we did not know that HoF contributors and reviewers would spontaneously organize to share ghost stories this month. At the beginning of October, I gave Joseph a choice between the standard guest post and participating in our Fright Fest. Joseph went for Fright Fest.

Welcome, Joseph!


When Karin asked me to write a guest post and then told me about Fright Fest, she inspired me to write some spooky flash fiction. As a writer of historical fantasy, I’ve always been fond of old Celtic myths, especially those involving dark faeries and tales of the Otherworld. These myths play a role in my novel, Enoch’s Device, which begins in Ireland at the end of the tenth century. For Fright Fest, I chose to stay in the Celtic spirit, but went more Welsh than Irish and set the story sometime after the Middle Ages. So, without further ado, here’s my take on the old Welsh legend of the Devil’s Bridge.
Brynn dreaded the hike to the devil’s bridge, though she dreaded the full moon even more.
Its light bathed the path through the bracken-covered hillside that led to the ravine. Every few yards, Meg jabbed her walking stick into Brynn’s back, goading the ten-year-old forward, while Meg’s old wolfhound, Mister Grimm, followed alongside. Mister Grimm was as mean as sin, and Meg had threatened to feed Brynn to the dog more times than the girl could recall. Although tonight, Brynn feared the moon and the bridge more than the wolfhound. Yet she wondered if he could smell the hunk of day-old bacon hidden in her fist.
“Keep moving,” Meg hissed. “Of all the orphans the village has brought me, you be the slowest.”
The old woman’s eyes simmered in their sockets, amid a face creased like an autumn leaf. Some said Meg was once the most beautiful woman in the village, but now she was so old that Brynn’s Nana was just a child when Meg was in her prime. Nana believed witchery preserved Meg’s beauty, but even witchery could not defeat the haul of time.
Ahead loomed the bridge, a crude arch of stone that spanned the ravine where the river plunged three hundred feet in a rushing fall. On the far side, moonlight kissed the headstone of the ancient dolmen encrusted with moss. Nana once told Brynn that dolmens were the tombs of giants, but some believed they were gateways to the Otherworld, where dark faeries lured their prey.
A chill washed through Brynn’s gut. “Why do we have to come here tonight?”
“Because it’s Samhain,” Meg replied. “The curtain between the living and the dead is like mist, and the mandrake growing near the dolmen is at its peak. ‘Tis powerful magic in them roots tonight, so time to harvest.”
“But Nana warned about that bridge.”
“’Tis just a bridge.”
“Nana said that when you were young, you tricked the devil into building it.”
Meg’s eyes narrowed. “Your Nana told you that?”
“She said he built it for you for the price of the first soul to cross it. But instead of going first, you pushed your servant across, a sickly girl, blind in one eye. Cheated, the devil howled and screamed. Now, Nana said, at every full moon he takes the life of the first to cross the bridge.”
“Your Nana died a fool!” Meg snapped. “There’s no truth in them myths. Now come on child, there’s harvesting to do.”
From a pouch on her waist, Meg drew a rusty gardening spade and handed it to Brynn. “Now go and get me some mandrake root.”
Brynn’s stomach hardened. “Alone?”
Meg held up her fingers, bent like a spider’s legs and tipped with jagged nails. “My hands are old, too feeble to grip a spade. Now do as you’re told.”
“But Nana said—”
Meg grabbed Brynn by the hair and jerked her head back. “I don’t care what your Nana said,” Meg said through clenched teeth. “Go dig up some mandrake root, lest I turn you into a toad and feed you to Mister Grimm!”
Brynn froze, scared to even breath. When Meg let go, Brynn backed toward the bridge, nearly stumbling due to the weakness in her knees. Her whole body shook as she turned at the bridge’s threshold. The spray of the falls kissed her face. Hundreds of feet below the bridge, the rushing waters seethed into a cauldron-like gorge.
Brynn’s heart felt as if it would beat through her chest. She stopped and looked back.
“Go!” Meg shrieked.
Brynn shook her head, a thought pounding in her mind. She cheated the devil . . .
“Get on, or I’ll beat you bloody with this stick!”
Brynn sucked in a breath and shook her head again, mouthing her reply. “No.”
Meg grimaced. “Grimm, make her go.”
The wolfhound stood as tall as Brynn, with a massive head and teeth as long as her thumbs. His eyes gleaming in the moonlight, he padded toward her like a hound closing on a wounded hare.
Brynn struggled to hold back a cry. Summoning all the courage she could muster, she opened her palm, revealing the hunk of old bacon in her hand. Mister Grimm stopped and cocked his head, smelling the cured meat. The wolfhound opened his jaws, just as Brynn whipped her arm and hurled the meat toward the dolmen.
“No!” Meg screamed as the wolfhound tore across the bridge.
Mister Grimm lunged for his prize. Then Brynn gasped.
A torrent of water blasted from the falls. Arms stretched from the spray amid a ghost-like shape with burning red eyes. As it fell on the wolfhound, the ghostly demon roared like the wind, drowning out the dog’s cries. Water pummeled the stone bridge, and when the torrent ceased, the demon and the wolfhound were gone.
Brynn exhaled—right before Meg eclipsed her view. The old woman’s eyes fumed with rage. With a fierce cry, she cracked her stick upside Brynn’s head. And the girl’s whole world began to spin.
* * *
On the dirt floor of Meg’s hovel, Brynn woke in darkness to a sound at the old wooden door. The scent of stewed mandrake clung to the air as Brynn rubbed the side of her head, swollen like a gourd. She heard the sound again. Something scratched at the door. A chill rushed up Brynn’s limbs as she got up and walked to the door. Hesitating for a moment, she opened it. At its threshold stood Mister Grimm. The hound’s eyes burned like hot coals.
Brynn staggered back. Those eyes, they’re the demon’s from the falls!
She feared she might faint, but the beast brushed past her and padded toward Meg, asleep in her bed. As it lunged and Meg screamed, a faint smile crept across Brynn’s lips. For there was one more thing Nana used to say: “Remember child, always give the devil his due.”

Enoch’s Device by Joseph Finley

Nearly a thousand years after the birth of Christ, when all Europe fears that the world will soon end, an Irish monk, Brother Ciarán, discovers an ominous warning hidden in the illuminations of a religious tome. The cryptic prophecy speaks of Enoch’s device, an angelic weapon with the power to prevent the coming apocalypse.
Pursued by Frankish soldiers and supernatural forces, Ciarán and his freethinking mentor, Brother Dónall, journey to the heart of France in search of the device. There, they rescue the Lady Alais from a heretic-hunting bishop who insists mankind must suffer for its sins. Together the trio races across Europe to locate the device, which has left clues of its passage through history. But time is running out, and if they don’t find it soon, all that they love could perish at the End of Days.
Enoch’s Device is a fast-paced medieval adventure steeped in history, mythology, and mysteries from a dark and magical past.

Author Bio
Joseph Finley is a writer of historical fantasy fiction. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife, daughter, and two rescue dogs. He also posts regularly at Fresh-scraped Vellum (, a blog devoted to historical and fantasy fiction. God saw fit to make him Irish, at least in part, so he comes honestly by his fondness for the Irish and their medieval monks. Enoch’s Device is his debut novel.

Paperback (Barnes &Noble)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Medea's Disciple

           Greetings, Everyone! It's Cybelle here on this gloriously chilly Friday morning! As some of you know, Halloween is my favorite day of the year, and I like to celebrate it for the entire month of October. Therefore, I am delighted to offer a small contribution to this year's Heroines of Fantasy Fright Fest: a slice from my novel in progress, provisionally titled Medea's Disciple. It is graphic--consider yourselves warned!


In ecstasy, Alphonse embraced the book tighter still and sniffed its ancient pages. A sweet, heady fragrance blossomed from it. What’s happening?

Wild-eyed Erichtro turned her face to the moon and issued another command. “Hide yourself, Artemis!” Clouds raced to cover the lunar profile of the goddess, and a luminous mist wrapped itself around the sorceress. Thus attired in rags and borrowed moonlight, the Thessalian led Sextus and his men across a field of fallen soldiers until she spied the perfect vessel for prophesy: a young soldier whose throat had been cut. She tied a noose around the dead man’s neck and ordered the Romans to drag him over crags and rocks until they reached a mountain cave consecrated to her rites. At the mouth of the cave, Erichtho further mutilated the corpse’s chest and filled the cavities with her own blood. The hardened Roman soldiers shrank back in horror, and even Sextus Pompeius began to tremble. 

The sorceress chided them, “Put aside your terror, cowards! Soon life will be restored to this body. You will hear him speak, though you yourselves are turned to stone. I could show you the Stygian lakes, the Furies and mighty Cerberus, so why should you fear the pitiful shades that quake before me?” The witch returned to her work, rinsing the entrails of their filth. Once finished, she poured a noxious potion over them, and uttered an invocation to all the gods who rule over the dead. “I do not call upon a soul long accustomed to the darkness of Tartarus, but one that still lingers at the edge of the abyss. If he heeds our wishes and drinks of these potions, he will only join the other shades once. Let this former soldier of Pompey prophesy to the great general’s son if you are honored by civil war.”

 Momentarily, the soldier’s ghost appeared beside her, his pallid features contorted with terror at the prospect of reentering his putrid, broken body. The shade gestured soundlessly for mercy, but Erichtho cared not. Enraged that the gods had allowed the fallen soldier such a timorous display, she beat his corpse with a live snake and threatened the Furies with all manner of punishment if they did not force the dead man to do her bidding. Soon dark blood began to drip from the wounded body, and it warmed to life. The dead man’s limbs shook violently as his muscles tensed and flexed. At once, the corpse shot up from the earth, its eyes wide and mouth contorted in a grimace. "Soldier," she said, "I give you my word that you will never again be forced to return to the living if you speak the truth to Pompey’s son." Yellow tears poured down the dead man's battered face, as he told Sextus of Roman ghosts in turmoil. The gods of the underworld were preparing to welcome the Pompeians, father and son alike. When the prophesy had been spoken, the witch constructed a massive funeral pyre. The corpse strode into it with gratitude for his final death.

Stroking the book's soft cover, Alphonse changed the course of his reverie to follow Sextus on his journey back to the camp. In the dark hours of early morning, the general shivered uncontrollably with the knowledge of his certain death. Watching the doomed man drift into a fitful sleep, Alphonse succumbed to a nightmare landscape of his own. In the aftermath of the ancient battle, the young nobleman found himself navigating a path through the field of fallen soldiers. In the sweltering heat of the August sun, rotting bodies emitted a foul stench and flies swarmed over the remains. Then, in the distance, he saw a strange animal trotting toward him at a rapid pace. Though the beast had a distinctly canine aspect, Alphonse realized that it bore little resemblance to any dog he had ever encountered. Far larger than a wolf, the creature had a curved muzzle and the long pointed ears of a donkey. Its tail arched high over its back and terminated in a pointed tuft. As it approached, the beast looked directly into Alphonse’s eyes and grinned, revealing a mouthful of sharp, white fangs in a set of powerful jaws. Though Alphonse had no doubt the animal could rip his throat out in a matter of seconds, he felt no fear and returned its smile. Seemingly encouraged, the beast began a joyful dance over the bodies of the dead, springing wildly from corpse to corpse. At the sound of snapping bones, the creature emitted a high-pitched giggle that both horrified and delighted Alphonse. He found himself laughing with it, hands over face in an unconscious display of embarrassment. As the creature raced around him, cracking ribs in a frantic finale, the corpses began to wail and grunt in ghastly imitation of life. In the rapidity of its circular dance, the beast became a giggling whirlwind of noise and filth. It came to a rest only when the last corpse had been exhausted of its ability to produce pleasing shrieks and snaps. Alphonse applauded in sincere admiration, and the beast nodded and bowed in recognition. At length, it grinned again and walked toward him. Rubbing seductively against his legs, it spoke in a honeyed masculine voice, “You’re a handsome one! Our sorceress chose well.”

“What sorceress is this? And for what purpose have I been chosen?”

“Come see,” the beast whispered, rising on its hind legs to lick Alphonse’s ear. “Climb on my back. I’ll show you.”

As the beast spoke, Alphonse became aware of the same heady fragrance invading his nostrils. He recognized it now as the lovely warm scent of lotus blossoms. Waves of desire flooded his young body. He looked into the creature’s crimson eyes and caressed its curved muzzle with the tenderness of a lover. “Yes,” he said, “Show me.”

The beast returned to all fours, and Alphonse wrapped himself around it, pressing his face into the shaggy fur on the back of its neck. Instantaneously, the beast leapt forward and bounded across the length of the battlefield. Over hill and stream it ran until it reached a stony mountain, which it scaled with the agility of a mountain goat. When it came to a recess in the jagged rocks, the beast stopped moving. “Inside,” he whispered.

Alphonse had no desire to let go. “You’ll take me, won’t you? We’ll go together.”

“No, handsome one. I have other affairs.”

“Will I see you again?”

“Very soon.”

“How will I find you? I don’t even know your name.”

“I am Seth, who killed Osiris and stole the eye of Horus. I am Chaos and Destruction. And I will find you, handsome one. Do not delay.”

Reluctantly, Alphonse climbed off Seth and made his way into the cave. Inside, the dying embers of a funeral pyre illuminated its ancient walls. Beyond it, he saw a small woman seated on the floor of the cave. Dark eyes glittered in a flawless, unlined face framed with thick, black hair. She rose as he approached and addressed him in Greek. “Welcome, Alphonse! You’ve found your way to me at last! But you look surprised. Am not as you expected?”

“Oh, forgive me. Somehow I thought you would be older.”

“Well, sometimes I appear so. But why are you blushing? We’re old friends.”

“How can you see me blushing in this light?”

“Your discomfort would be obvious even under the moonless sky. Come now, this timidity doesn’t suit a handsome young soldier such as yourself.”

“No, I suppose it doesn’t. What must you think of me? But how can you say we’re old friends? I would certainly remember a place like this and a woman like you.”

“We are near Pharsalus, in the region of Thessaly. Caesar, though greatly outnumbered, is about to defeat Pompey’s army. The latter will sneak out of camp in the clothing of a civilian and make his way to Egypt, where he will meet his fate. Thence the winding waterways will carry his soul to the shades of his ancestors. I’ve seen you watch the dead man speak his prophesy a hundred times.”

“But you can’t be Erichtho, she’s…”

“A wild hag? Now you see me clearly, and not through the eyes of a hostile Roman. You know me by another name, too. Come closer. Look at me!”

As Alphonse studied her face in the flickering light, he began to recognize the calm determination of an older woman and gasped in recognition. “Daphné!”

The sorceress nodded. “I need your help, and you will be greatly rewarded for it. Now, go back!”

On her command, Alphonse awoke with a start and found himself in the library once more. The scent of lotus permeated the room, forbidding him to dismiss the experience as dream. He put the book aside and went in search of Daphné.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Morrigan Remembers...

Greetings, everybody...  I bid you welcome, for this, my contribution to the Heroines of Fantasy Fright Fest...
I’m not a great fan of writing short stories.  It's too much effort, for too little reward.  I mean this in the intellectual sense; it’s like listening to Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier when I’d much rather be absorbed in a vast sweeping epic symphony.  But occasionally, just occasionally, something connects in my head and out pops a story.
Today I’m going to post part of a story which is certainly horrible, and which was inspired by an incident which took place more than two decades ago. I was tending a much-loved horse on a cold January night. The local fox-hunt had been around that day, and one of the huntsmen was out in the pitch black freezing fog, blowing his horn to recall a stray hound.  That's all you could hear, a desolate hunting horn, interspersed with the lonely voice of the hunt servant.
At around the same time, I was working as a council archaeologist in Glasgow: I’d stumbled across references to a very peculiar Neolithic site in South Lanarkshire which consists of a vast circular bank and ditch, built in the middle of nowhere in a hollow halfway up a hillside. It was reused as a burial place in the Bronze Age. 
Years later, the ideas finally connected and a story was born. The end result was, I suppose, my tribute to the Bronze Age and Scottish Archaeology.  It also provided an ideal a way of exorcising my hostility towards fox-hunting!   
As an interesting afterword, I finally visited that site on a field survey just last year.   Yes, there was a raven.  And yes, I showed him/her deliberate courtesy, just in case...
Unfortunately, I can’t share the whole story with you, because it’s just too long.  But here’s the opening – extra Brownie points to those who spot all the archaeological references! 

Down in the valley, the hounds are calling. The emasculated bray of the horn rings out once, twice.
Morrigan’s dark ears swivel and she looks up, curious, not frightened. She sniffs the air, remembers hunts from long ago, when her power was at its zenith. The horns were different then. Strident, glorious...
She blunders through undergrowth. But ‘she’ isn’t a ‘she’. She’s a boar, all male reek and power.
Hounds nip at her heels. Morrigan turns at bay with a roar, eyes glittering red, breath steaming in the cold air. When Morrigan tosses her head, hounds are thrown aside like straw. They yelp and whimper as she stamps their bones into the mud...
Morrigan settles comfortably back into the brambles. Her gold eyes gleam in the dim light, the ground beneath her damp with dew. Drops of water hang like jewels from the gossamer that sags amongst the twigs.
It’s an ancient place. It reminds her of times past. While the trees and shrubs are not old, they taste the age from earth and water. They whisper it to those who can hear. But such places are few and far between now. Only small islands remain, in a sea of land that’s been ripped by the plough, over and over again, throughout the centuries.
She sees the flash of sunlight on bronze, hears the shouts of men erupt around her.  It’s only now that Morrigan feels truly alive. They drive their spears deep, into her body, but Morrigan feels no pain. Her rage is primal, she thrusts herself forward, making the spear squelch more firmly into her guts.
Perhaps, when Morrigan recalls these times, she understands what it is to be old. She’s lived through aeons, and now...
She cannot recall a time when her powers have been so weak.
It’s been two thousand years since the Christchild came, but Morrigan doesn’t mourn the passing of the ancient days. She’s incapable of mourning. She observes the movement of sun and moon with a dispassionate eye, knowing that like the moon, her strength waxes and wanes.
Though these days, even the Christchild’s power is waning. Men worship new gods. They no longer care for the land, instead they take green fields and strip them bare to bedrock. Thousands of years, lost in an instant. Old places despoiled, their magic forgotten, and where they once stood, houses are built, row upon row, identical.
Morrigan wanders far and she’s seen it for herself. Perhaps even she mourns the destruction of the wild places, the old places, and the memories they carried. Perhaps that’s why, when she finds them, she clings to them. She likes to laze in the shadow of the standing stones, to lie on hilltops where once the bones were picked clean by the carrion birds, where the corrupt flesh was scoured from the relics of the ancestral dead.
The horn sounds again. A twig snaps, closer to hand. Morrigan’s being quivers with expectation, her snout twitches as she catches the whiff of Man.
Voices. “It’ll be over soon.” The speaker’s a male. A tall, slender young man. He sounds disgruntled. His hair’s dyed, jet black with a streak of vivid red. He wears it long, tied back in the old warrior way...
Her long tusk pierces flesh, blood runs warm over her jaws. A young man screams, but he’s brave. He will not yield. With his last strength, he draws his sword, slashes down. The bronze blade strikes her neck, hacking through muscle, bone, but Morrigan isn’t held captive in mortal flesh. She just shakes her head and gores him harder.
Their eyes meet briefly. Burning red against ice-cold blue. She sees terror, but she also sees courage.
Morrigan respects courage. This time, she will be lenient. The boar’s form is shrugged lightly aside. She’s a raven fluttering up into the trees. She looks down at the men below, croaks loud as they crouch about the fallen warrior.
Morrigan lifts her head, suddenly watchful. The young man’s not alone. There’s a woman with him. Like him, she wears clothes that make her fade into the vegetation. She’s young, too. But she’s smaller, broader. Her brown hair’s tied back and she has a silver stud in her nose.
“Poor bloody fox,” she says.
“We missed all the action. Knew we were heading out the wrong way.” He glowers at the earth. “We’d better move, and see what they’re up to.“ He grimaces.  “I should’ve guessed that the Bill was too good to be true.” He kicks the turf. “Bastards.” 
Rummaging in his pocket, he pulls out a thin roll of white paper the length of his finger. A copper coin comes with it; it’s sitting in the palm of his hand. He stares at it, tosses it up into the air with a sigh. It spirals down, gleams briefly as the sun catches it; there’s a plop as it falls into the clear water of the spring.
They carry the young man home to the village, and then the rituals begin. The sword must be broken, and offered to the water, for it has touched immortal flesh and so it can no longer stay in the realms of the living. The spearhead, too, is split from the haft and given to the ground. All through the night, they burn fires and sing songs in her honour.
“What was that for?” the girl asks.
“Aw, you know.” Lighting the rolled-up paper, he breathes deep. “Throw a coin into a fountain. Make a wish.”
He sighs, and smoke drifts from his lips. “They believed it, in prehistoric times. Offering a sacrifice to the water gods was potent magic.”
Morrigan sits atop the roof thatch, preening glossy black feathers. Women chant at the young man’s bedside, but Morrigan knows that this time he’ll live. He’ll limp all his life, but he’ll bear the scar like a mark of honour. Some men are warriors because they carry the spear and the axe and the sword. He’s a warrior because he’s fought the gods, and lived to tell the tale.
“So what would you wish for?” the young woman asks.
“I wish...”  He pauses.  “I wish we could get rid of this fucking hunt.”
Morrigan’s nostrils flare.  She smells the copper, the magic metal. She feels the slide of the coin through the water, the grate as it settles down into the silts of the stream bed,
Once she’d have ignored such a paltry offering. But after a thousand years of waiting, Morrigan is bored. They’ve used the old magic, so she’ll grant their wish. She’ll hunt again. She’ll live again.

A Fright Fest Beta Test!

BETA TESTEric here! Time for a Fright Fest chase scene from my novel, BETA TEST. This takes place on the night the extra-dimensional aliens who use Earth as a playground return, after being kicked out of their favorite game. They're not happy, and they're tearing the world to shreds. And they really want to kill our hero Sam Terra, his girl-friend-in-a-man's body Molly Maddox, and Sam's friend Melvin Dutta, who's just kind of an ass. The trio has stolen an ambulance to drive across San Francisco in the carnage, when a visitor materializes on the gurney in back.


It resembled a tub of rancid butter mixed with cat-hair in a shapeless mass on the ambulance gurney. It smelled worse. It shifted and grew, doubling in size each few seconds. Once it was the length of the gurney it took on a shape, obvious humanoid, with two legs, two arms, a head, an obese torso.

The protoplasmic goo congealed. Inside its translucent innards formed bones, and within the rib-cage came a heart, beating, and from that a reddish bloom spread throughout the chest cavity, pumped to the extremities, until it was obscured by reddish-blue musculature, wrapping the bones like hungry snakes. Finally, the body of a skinless, fat little dwarf lay on the gurney.

 "I gotta say," Melvin said, "That's kinda cool."

 "Jesus," Molly said. "You're an idiot."

 The dwarf finally formed a layer of skin, but it was like nothing on any normal mammal of Earth, just a pasty pinkish-grey that appeared ready to slough off at a touch, almost as gelatinous as the creature's original appearance. Its face was more pig than human, a wide upturned nose under deep set eyes and above two thick, blunt tusks. It appeared to be asleep.

 "Okay, not so cool."

 "Strap him down." Molly grabbed the seat-belt like restraint on the gurney and locked it into place around the thing's chest. Molly put a foot on the gurney and pulled the strap with all her—his— might to trap the thing.

 That's when it opened its eyes. It squealed like a sow, clawing at Molly with hands that had hoof-like nails.

 "Hurry up, Dutta!" Molly tried to help Melvin with the lower set of straps, but Sam swerved out of the way of a car in the middle in the road. At the same time, the alien-pig bucked and kicked, making Melvin drop the strap. Molly dove for it, avoiding a kick that connected with Melvin's forehead.

 "So not cool!" Melvin bawled.

 Molly got the second strap in place, but the thing was going to get loose, that much was obvious, no matter how tight it was locked down. Molly looked for other restraints, grabbed a towel and used it like a rope to tie its closest appendage to the side rail. He threw a roll of white adhesive tape at Melvin and said, "Start strapping!"

 The squealing creature did something unexpected. It projectile vomited on the back door of the ambulance. The smell hit Sam in the front like a stench tsunami. "Jesus, it smells like moldy shit souffle back there." "Gah...come look," Melvin said between retching.

 "Just keep driving," Molly said. "We got it cov—"

 The ambulance door on the right fell off.

 The alien-pig's sick ate the plastic and steel door like hot water drilling through cotton candy. The door's hinges were no longer there, melted to slag. The left door was slowly dissolving the same way, a hole by the handle growing, irising open. Alien-pig looked as surprised as everyone else, then smiled around its tusks, and took a deep breath as if it planned to yak up some more corrosive bile.

 "You fucker," Molly yanked the small portable oxygen tank from the head of the gurney and slammed the flat end into alien-pig's snout with both hands. It oinked once and fell unconscious.

 "Aaah! Look!" Melvin said.

 Molly did. So did Sam out of the passenger side mirror.

 An army of creatures was behind them, an assemblage that would have made the love-child of Tom Savini and Hieronymus Bosch blanch in fear. Brown hair and green gelatin and white skin now mixed with flames and horns and rocks to cover the skin (if it was skin) of their pursuers, an mob of monsters that made up for what it lacked in pitchforks and torches with a mad, pulsing enthusiasm for destruction. Every car that didn't plow into the oncoming creatures was overturned just for being in the way. Pedestrians foolish enough to be on the street were tossed into shop windows, at best. There were worse ways to go.

 The creatures ran to catch up. The ambulance was their prey.

 Molly said, "Faster, Sam! Faster! Or we're toast." Sam, going the wrong way on 10th, slid through the intersection on Howard Street, recognized a church/mosque/temple thing on the right, knew they were close to Market, and yelled, "Turn for Fell is coming up!"

 "Okay. Got it." Molly jammed the O2 canister into the crook of alien-pig's arm and strapped it on with more tape. To Melvin: "Get that other door open."

 Melvin looked at the still-dissolving door with disdain, then at Molly, then outside at the horrors hoofing toward them, a genuine pack of demons.

 "No way."

 "Sam!" Molly said.



 Careening between oncoming traffic, Sam pulled the gun from his pocket without hesitation and tossed it over his right shoulder. Molly caught the gun and pointed it at Melvin.

 "Alright, alright you crazy bitch. . ." Melvin kicked at the door and after a couple of hits it flew open. At the same time, a dragonfly-esque thing the size of a jumbo hoagie swooped down and landed on the door, but it screamed in agony when its six legs touched alien-pig's acidic spew. It flew off whining. Just after, the door officially came off its corroded hinges. It took out a rock-and-mud-covered beast the size of Schwarzenegger in his steroidal heyday, splattering sludge across the other monsters.

 "Get ready to release that brake when I tell you," Molly told

 Melvin, indicating the rear wheel of the gurney with the gun barrel.

 "How far to the turn?"

 "One block."

 Something clutched Melvin's leg. A fast moving critter with casters for feet and a face like a bag of smashed assholes had caught up to them. Melvin kicked at it, making a strangled noise of panic, until it dislodged.

 "Fuck," Sam said. "There's more!" The creatures poured in from either side of Market Street, a white-water river of malevolence. To the right, another Martian tripod turned their direction, ripping down the electrical cables strung over the road for the famed streetcars. Molly undid the heavy straps on the big oxygen tank stored near the side door and dropped it directly on alien-pig, the head end facing the front of the ambulance. It didn't wake the creature, so Molly wrapped the tank, creature and gurney twice with tape. He then tapped the unconscious monster not-very-gently on the forehead with the butt of the Ladysmith.

 "Wakey wakey."

 Alien-pig snorted, coming awake in an instant. Molly nodded at Melvin. He kicked the wheel release and jumped out of the way. As the gurney began to roll out, Molly used the small fire hatchet stored on the wall and knocked the head-end off the tank.

 The force of expelled oxygen rocked Molly backwards. The gurney shot out of the rig with jet-assisted take-off. The wheels automatically extended to the ground to keep the patient at the right height for caregivers. In this case, an army of mutated horrors were all the care alien-pig would get.

 Sam turned slightly left, heading onto Fell, still against one-way traffic and barely keeping the ambulance from rolling.

  Molly straightened, leaned against the turn, held the wall with one hand and aimed down the other. He—she—said nothing, just squeezed the trigger gently. The gun made a pop. It was deafening in the almost-enclosed space.

 "Maddox," Melvin said, "you suc—"

 The big O2 tank erupted and the smaller one went with it. The explosions weren't much in the grand scheme of get-away diversions, but it never-the-less curtailed the immediate pursuit when alien-pig's remains splattered across the entire throng. Acidic innards burned the bellowing monsters, napalm-style.

 "Never doubted you," Melvin said, not sounding happy about it.

  Sam whooped again, like he'd jumped a dry creek bed in the General Lee.

 Molly came up front and sat heavily in the passenger seat. "Okay, now we gotta get about twenty blocks."

 "And then we're safe from them?"

 Molly didn't say anything.

 "Fuck," Sam said.


BETA TEST by Eric Griffith

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: "An unusually lighthearted apocalyptic tale." Sam Terra is having a bad week. He lost Molly, the woman he secretly loves, when she vanished before his eyes at the exact same time that ten percent of the inhabitants of Earth disappeared. Naturally upset, Sam follows clues about the global vanishing with questionable help from his friends including a misanthropic co-worker and a childhood pal. When Molly reappears in the body of a man during a night of monster-laden devastation, Sam finally learns the truth. Not just about her, but about the planet Earth and the entire cosmos surrounding it. What we consider mundane reality, others consider a game . . . and not a very good one. The whole thing is about to be shut down.