Nightwind

The evening sun burnt the cloudy western sky the color of blood. This bloody horizon hung just above a tight line of warriors, faces grim. Behind them and all around the glade loomed great oak trees. A tall stone stood in the middle.

One man stepped out from between two of the old oaks on the eastern side of the clearing. The line of warriors opposite him raised their shields and readied their swords.

“You are not permitted here.” The man said.

A few of the warriors chuckled. One of them walked forward. He wore a long cloak of bearskin. The other warriors followed him. “We go where we please,” he said.

“No more.” The man said as he drew his sword. Behind him a blackening sky lurked, creeping slowly toward the west as the sun fled. The man took a step forward, raising his hand. “Flee while you still can.”

The warrior wearing the bearskin raised his sword and beat it against his shield. The others mimicked him. They continued to march toward the man. They sent their war cries to the heavens. The man sent their souls to the pits at the drop of his hand. Arrows fell among the line of warriors and in turn the line fell. Their blood fed the ground of the holy glade.

The man walked to where the warrior in the bearskin lay. He kicked the warrior and smiled at the moan that escaped with the blood from the warrior’s lips. He knelt and propped up the warrior’s head with his hand. “I gave you a choice; you would have lived if you had left. Die now with that in mind.”

The warrior’s lips moved. The man brought the bloodied face close to his ear. “Who has killed me?”

“Cokavmorar Nightwind of the Deavan,” The man said as he slid a dagger into the dying warrior’s heart.

Nightwind stood, leaving his dagger in the corpse. “To me, my brothers,” he said.

Hooded figures entered the glade from all directions. Dark cloaks hung from their shoulders. Each man wore a leather breastplate. On each breastplate the seven pointed star, the star of eternity and guidance, was depicted in a light grey color with a red arrow through it. The figures threw back their hoods. Every face, every feature, was Nightwind’s. They were Nightwind and he them. Nightwind opened his arms wide, “come and embrace me, brothers.”

The figures all rushed toward Nightwind, vanishing into his chest as they hurried to his embrace. When all the figures had returned to him, Nightwind removed an amulet from around his neck, looked at it, nodded, and deposited it in a leather bag tied firmly to his belt. He rubbed at the red line on his neck from where the amulet had hung by a silver cord.

Nightwind touched the stone, turned north as night fell completely, shrouding the forest world in darkness. He exited the dark cover of the tree, coming to an open field. He saw the waves, glittering in the starlight far out. His feast hall stood on a hill above the shore. The cliffs at its rear plummeted hundreds of feet into the waters. A sea of grass stood between him and his hall. In the starlight the grass was endowed with an eerie blue sheen.

Taking a step into the open field, Nightwind froze, rigid. He had heard some noise behind him. His ears strained to hear it again. There it was. He whirled toward it, drawing his sword. His left hand reached into the leather bag at his side. He closed his fingers around the amulet. It was hot, scorching his fingers. One of the hooded figures appeared before him. He stared into the face, like looking in a mirror, and saw pain reflected there. It was the pain of death and he felt it. Then the figure reached out his hand and Nightwind felt himself growing older as his face on the figure grew younger.

That figure left and another came, the process repeated. Nightwind fell to the ground. He felt his face, the wrinkles forming there. His vision and other senses weakened, but his memory remained sharp. In that memory he heard the words of the wizard who had given him the amulet. “Do not use it often or they will grow fiercer and free themselves, each one taking from you the years they served.”

Now, as he lay there in those fields, within sight of his hall, Nightwind regretted not locking away the amulet as the wizard had cautioned him to. Now he would pay the price of his decision, now he would die, and for the first time in his life he felt the cold grip of fear. He cowered in the face of death.

Then, as his last years were drawn from his withered old body and he struggled to hold onto a last few moments of life, he felt the amulet snatched from his side. Someone, hunched over, pale white hands wrinkled glowing in the starlight, stood over him, facing the last of the figures. The amulet dangled from one wrinkled hand and a staff was clutched in the other.

The figure hissed and screamed. Nightwind’s eyes closed, but he cast them open again, refusing to give in to what he feared. He saw the figure flee into the forest.

Nightwind’s savior turned toward him, face shrouded by shadows. “Rise, Cokavmorar Nightwind.”

Nightwind tried to rise, indeed the thought was there, but his body would not cooperate. “Who are you?”

“I am Elerae.” There was something soothing in Elerae’s voice. “Rest now, Cokavmorar. I will heal you now, giving you back some of the years you have lost. I only ask that you remember my name and what I have done when the time comes.”

“You have saved me, Elerae, I will never forget.”

“That is good, Cokavmorar, you rest now. When you awake you will be well. Fear not, death will not touch you while I am here.”

Nightwind closed his eyes and drifted into sleep. His fear was gone and when he awoke he was in a valley at the base of a hill. He looked up, recognizing the looming pinnacle of his feast hall surmounted by a dragon’s skull. He rose to his feet, feeling his former strength. He laughed, deep and boisterous, and a challenge was issued from above. “Who goes there?”

“It is I, Cokavmorar Nightwind, your lord!”

“My lord,” the response came, “welcome back!”

Nightwind heard the doors of his hall cast open. Golden light poured out into the night. The smell of meat and ale filled the air. A crowd of people gathered in the doorway as Nightwind walked up the hill toward them. Most were warriors, but a few of the braver daughters and wives had shoved their way through the crowd to stand by their fathers and husbands. They yearned for a glimpse of their handsome lord. When they saw Nightwind’s face, however, they vanished back into the feast hall and fell to gossiping. Something in his eyes frightened them; even the stoutest of the warriors could not look directly at them.

“Come!” Nightwind yelled, his voice mirthful, but his eyes betraying his true temper. “Let us not stand out here in the cold. There is feasting to be done!”

The feast that night was filled with Nightwind’s voice as he went among his warriors, talking with them. The women avoided him, even his betrothed. When he finally laid his head down to sleep in the early hours of the morning he found no rest in it. Nightmares plagued him. His fear of death gnawed at his mind. He wished Elerae had allowed him to die, for surely he thought final death better than fear of it. He could not have known it, but Elerae had healed him for a reason, and his resolve to die when the next opportunity presented itself would never come to be.

By Joshua A. Spotts

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Blind Vigilance

Blind Vigilance

By Joshua A. Spotts

Soiled pages rested in his left hand. They were brittle and yellow. Rain began to fall. The slow trickle of water into a barrel snuck into his ears, ears that were still filled with an entirely different sound. A sound, not soothing like water, but terrifying and painful like flowing blood, it was the sound that upheld his life and would, he knew, someday end it.

A book lay on the wet, bloody ground, a smoking hole in its black leather cover. The pages scattered on the ground, torn from the book, were just like the ones in his hands. Stepping forward, a few brittle pages shattered under his feet. The rain beat down. The paper in his left hand cracked and fell through his fingers unto the bloody stones and so did the pistol that was in his right.

Turning, the man walked from the alleyway. Thunder shook the earth from above. Nearby, lightning left a black scar down the side of a building. Grabbing a lantern at the end of the alleyway, the man tossed it over his shoulder. The alleyway burst into flames. The black words stood out on a yellowed, brittle page.  An image flashed into his mind, searing itself there. Thou Shalt Not Murder.

Gunpowder burns were still evident on his fingers. The man laid them to his right temple. He pushed in, trying to force the crushing pressure out. He found another memory. But instead of his fingers there was a pistol. And instead of his temple it was another man’s. He heard the click of the pistol hammer releasing. He watched as the blonde hair blackened and then his memory disappeared.

“I need a drink.” The man muttered. A nearby pub beckoned to him. Raucous singing leaked from the shuttered windows, its sound dulled also by the pounding rain.

The man laid his left hand on the hilt of his sword. Pain consumed his hand. Smoke curled up and stung his nostrils. The man tore his hand from his sword hilt and looked at him palm. His eyes widened and then narrowed. Red words crawled across his skin. Thou Shalt Not Murder.

“By god! I always start seeing things when I’m sober!” The man glanced at his hand, shook his head, and then threw open the doors to the pub. Another glance revealed that the writing still blazed red on his palm. He swallowed and glanced about the pub. Silence reigned as if a Banshee had just burst through the door, claiming someone’s time had come. And perhaps someone’s time had come.

“A mug of ale, bartender,” the man said. He winked his scarred eye at the bartender, “quickly.”

“Aye, sir.”

Within moments the man was sipping from a clay mug. A smile crawled up his cheeks, twisting a scar into a frowning shape. He glanced at his hand as a broad shouldered man came up behind him. The heavy footsteps wisely stopped just outside sword range. The man noticed that as he traced the letters on his hand with a small knife.

“We don’t want you kind in here.”

“Then you best leave me be and I shall be on my way.”

“That’s right you will be!” The big man stomped his booted foot. The floor shook.

“I will leave.”

“Good.”

“As soon as I finish my ale.” The man stared at the writing on his hand as he took a large swig of his ale. Thou Shalt Not Murder. “Have you ever murdered anybody, Bill?”

There was silence. Then the big man answered. “No, by I’ll murder you if you don’t clear out.”

“Don’t lie to me, Bill.” The man had no idea how he knew his opponent’s name.

And soon Bill wondered as well. “How do you know my name?”

“Don’t lie to me, Bill.” The man repeated. He gulped down the rest of his ale and glanced at his hand. The writing still remained and it still burned. It burned worse than the strong ale rushing down his throat, forcing anger and power into his veins. Bill was lying to him. A crash echoed in the silent room as he shattered the clay mug on the bar.

“Hullo!” The bartender yelled and then there was confusion. But it only lasted a few moments.

The floor shook again and thunder rolled outside. Bill lay bleeding on the floor. The remnants of a shattered mug stuck from his throat. On the unbroken bottom of the mug which sat on Bill’s unmoving chest, over his useless heart, was a message. It was written with black coal dust. It read: Your sin was murder, William Patrick O’Reilly, Thou Shalt Not Murder.

“Bloody butcher…” the bartender muttered as he knelt over Bill. “Ever since that Johhny came here as a young boy I knew he’d be trouble.”

The next morning, after a fitful night’s sleep, the bartender, one Lloyd MacDougall, opened his front door and heard what he had always dreaded. His pub was on the town crier’s tongue. Indeed, the man kept yelling, “Brutal Murder at MacDougall’s.”  

Does he have to say “brutal?” Lloyd thought. It was not like the town had not seen murder before.

As Lloyd shut the front door he thought he had heard his back door open. He felt a chill on the back of his neck. Jogging down the hallway he peaked into the storage room. The back door sat firmly in its frame. The iron bolt was in its place, locking the door shut, just as Lloyd had left it that last night when he came home from the pub.

Lloyd’s stomach growled. He decided it was time to make some toast for breakfast. Walking into his kitchen, Lloyd set a skillet on his potbellied stove. He had pulled out a loaf of bread and had begun to cut it when a voice spoke. A voice he recognized as Johhny’s. “Good morning, Lloyd.”

“I would prefer you called me Mr. MacDougall, lad.”

“Or I could call you Father.”

“No,” Lloyd gathered some jam from the ice box. “You cannot call me that.”

“You and I need keep no secrets, Father.” Johhny said.

Lloyd cut his finger on the knife he was using. A drop of his blood fell unto one of his pieces of toast. He placed the toast on a plate and offered it to Johhny. “Toast?”

Johhny jumped up from his chair at the kitchen table. He raised his hands, “It frightens me, dear Father, that a man of God would ever offer another man tainted food. Does not the church forbid partaking of blood? Unless, of course, holy father, it is the blood of your savior,” Johhny stepped forward. “Or is it the blood of my savior?”

“Don’t ask me these things. I left that life years ago.”

“Oh, I know that, Father. But I did not hear that you left of your own choice. This is interesting.” Johhny stepped closer to Lloyd. “I heard that something terrible drove you away.”

“What do you mean?” Lloyd tightened his grip of his knife.

“What drove you away?”

“You know the answer to that question already.” Lloyd turned around. He felt a small trickle of blood run down his cheek. Johhny’s sword rested on his Adam’s apple. Sweat beaded on Lloyd’s forehead.

“Drop the knife please.” Johhny moved the sword a bit; giving Lloyd a miniscule cut and Lloyd dropped the knife. “We’re not here to fight only to talk and confess. Sit down, Father, let me confess my sins to you.”

“I know what you are doing. I’ve seen a scar like that before.” Lloyd gestured to the writing on Johhny’s hand.

“My sins are many, Holy Father. I have done things no man can be redeemed from. Shall I confess them?”

“If you wish, my son,” Lloyd folded his hands in prayer. He bowed his head. The sharp sound of Johhny’s sword being sheathed rang in his ears.

“I have spoiled my purity in shallow sexual debauchery. I have lied. I have cheated. I have denied the church and renounced Christ. And, Holy Father, perhaps the worst of all these things, I have murdered.” Johhny’s left hand burned as if thrust into molten steel. He bit his tongue but did not notice that new, fresh pain. Nor did he notice the salty taste of his own blood. He let his jaw drop. His shoulders hung as if his entire body stood exhausted. A drop of warm blood splashed on the floor. “Tell me, Holy Father, how many good deeds will my redemption cost me?”

“You cannot free yourself from this hell you’ve created, only God can.” Lloyd sat at his table. Johhny did the same. “And this mission you believe came from God via the writing on your hand; it is not from God at all. It is from Satan.”

“Your words are straight from the church seminary, Father.”

“No,” Lloyd laid his left hand out on the table, palm upward. “My words are from experience.” A faint white scar read Thou Shalt Not Murder.  “I once did exactly what you have done. That ‘incident’ was the night I had first received the mark; the divine command, as I thought. I went directly to the dirtiest part of town, found a murderer, and killed him with a gun I had hidden in my Bible.

“As that man fell to the ground I knew I had given Satan another soul before it had a chance to repent. I felt as if I was obeying God. But after I talked with the bishop I knew I was only obeying the tricks of Satan.”

“I received this mark from a Bible, Holy Father.”

“Stop denying what you know is true. Satan has many methods to ensnare mankind. And each method is designed for the specific type of people it is used on.” Lloyd jumped up from his seat, grabbed his own Bible, and then grabbed Johhny’s left hand. Pain shot through Lloyd’s right arm, numbing it. But he held on.

The Bible slammed down on Johhny’s scar. He roared in agony. His free hand grasped for his sword. But the pain gave him little control.

“I am a vigilant agent of God, destroying those who destroy!”

“Your vigilance is blind!”

“I admitted my sins, Father.”

“But you are not repentant of them. You are just as broken as the murderers you hunt.”

“I am an agent of God!”

“You are an agent of Satan!”

Johhny looked at the Bible on his hand. The pain shot in bursts through him, ripping at his nerves. “As were you.”

“I repented.” Lloyd leaned forward. “Can you?”

“No.” Johhny jerked his hand out from beneath the Bible. Splinters bit into it. Blood seeped from the writing. “I am too great a sinner.”

“There is no sin so great that it cannot be set aside. I can help you, Johhny. God can help you.”

“I don’t want to live like this, murdering people. I want a second chance, but I never gave those I killed one. How is that fair?”

“You are not responsible for justice against yourself or any other, only for your own repentance and to seek help in correcting your ways.”

“Thank you, Father.”

“What will you do now?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll pray that God will guide you.”

“God bless you, Lloyd MacDougall, for having the courage to talk to me.” Johhny stood, shook Lloyd’s hand, and left the house a changed man. He left his sword across Lloyd’s doorstep, leaving it as a changed man. The writing on his hand began to fade as he offered sent prayers of repentance to God.

 

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Silencing Stones (shorter, edited version)

Silencing Stones

By Joshua A. Spotts

I have lost what was mine. I am a prisoner here where once I was a prince. I am but a whisper in this crowd of confusion. Terror has replaced joy. Hate has replaced love. I am only a thin container holding in an unfamiliar darkness.

I pray to the one ray of light in my lonely place hidden amidst the vastness of the world. I plead with it. “Save me!”

It never answers.

I plead with it. “Give me strength.”

It never answers.

I know it can hear me. I know because it always abandons me. I can feel my container cracking as the light leaves even now.

They are here. I hear their feet invading and I am helpless to defend the darkness. Their shadows beat me to the ground. Their flickering lights whip my eyes. Their cruel voices burn my ears. I dig my fingernails into the stones beneath me. The stones cry out. “Stay silent, pet. Do not let them gain from your pain. We care. With us you are safe.”

I feel secure as I embrace the stones. They warm me. They comfort me. Amidst the burning babble of the invaders I hear my name. I ignore it as the stones speak to me. They pull me closer. I lay my cheek on their comforting warmth so soothing. Yes, this is where I belong. Here with the stones. I no longer need what I was. I no longer need to be even a whisper. I no longer need to be a lord. I no longer need to find what I lost. I surrender myself to the rocks and their bewitching magic.

~

            “Where is he, Father?” The princess asked.

Her father just looked at her. His eyes were hollow, his mouth, full of turkey. Red wine ran like blood down the sides of the burnt animal before him. His wine goblet rolled off the table and fell to the floor with a clatter that echoed throughout the dining hall.

“Where is he?” The princess screamed this time. Then they came. Those hooded men of the Scroll entered the room. The princess whirled on them. She hated them.

“He, if you mean your brother, is resting, your highness.” The tallest of the hoods said.

“Is his fever gone?”

“No, my lady,” said the shortest of the hoods, the doctor.

“What have you done to him?”

They didn’t answer.

The princess looked at her father. He stared back at her with hollow eyes, like an animal, unaware of danger.

“My father went to you when he was weak with fever. This,” she gestured to him, “is how you returned him to me.”

“The fever is a terrible thing, your highness. It does things to men. We were lucky to maintain your father’s life.”

“You call that life?” The princess pointed at her hollow eyed father again. Grabbing a knife from the table she waved it at the men. “If I find that your so-called cure has done anything to my brother, I’ll have all of you burned alive!”

Spinning, her red hair flowing out behind her like a cape, the princess marched away. She had decided it was time for her to visit the Room of Stones to seek guidance.

~

            “The son?” The smoke hissed as it slithered along the floor.

“Worse than his father, my lord,” a tall man answered. His black hair was oily and combed straight down to his shoulders. His dark eyes peered into a frosty mirror.

“The daughter?” The voice came from within the mirror, as did the smoke. Ice spread across the floor, grabbing the tall man by the ankles. He tried to step away but the ice brought him down. A bone cracked. The cruel sound echoed and the voice laughed.

The ice crawled over the man. It sucked him down until he lay flat on the stone floor. It formed a coffin over him. His breathing became shallow. The sweat on his forehead froze there, forming a false crown. The smoke slithered unto the ice coffin. The ice moved away from the man’s face like the tendons of some horrid monster.

“You shouldn’t have upset it, slave.” The voice hissed. Hot steam burned away the man’s false crown. “Now, tell me of the daughter.”

“She is still strong, my lord.”

“Excellent! Is she on her way?”

“I don’t know, my lord.”

“That’s too bad, slave.” The smoke receded into the mirror and the ice coffin covered the man’s face, shutting off his bone-chilling scream from the world.

~

            I dream. I dream of a room filled with pillars of stone, of blood running along a cold marble floor, of a girl of royal bearing. I dream of her dead. This is the dream the stones grant to me. It is their gift.

The dream changes as I watch. The girl, covered in blood, rises from the marble floor. I can hear every stone in that room crying out in pain. They want me to save them. They need me, but I cannot escape from my dark space.

There is some dark purpose behind her. Smoke and ice are its garments. The stones plead with me to save them. Their anguished sounds fill my ears. Their pain seethes through my veins as the red haired girl approaches a large stone in the center of the room. As she lays her hands on the stone, the dark purpose rushes in and consumes it. I hear the last cry of the stones before they are silenced forever.

The room collapses in on her. There is no roar as the stones fall. There is no crack as they smash into the marble floor. There is only silence, terrifying silence. As my dark space falls in on me, the darkness flees my body.

Here the stones come. They are silent. They grieve as they bury me. I do so miss their voices.

Copyright 2012 by Joshua A. Spotts

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One Lonely Morning

(This is the story as I have it so far, written just this afternoon, and brought to you fresh from my warm keyboard. I plan on editing it down to under 1000 words and adding some things here and there. I hope you enjoy this early version and keep an eye out for the final version!
Sincerely, Joshua A. Spotts)

One Lonely Morning

By Joshua A. Spotts

Stanford Verfolgte straightened his bow tie. He looked past his smiling reflection in the mirror to a picture on his bookshelf. He reached one long fingered hand toward the picture and ran one clean finger down the glass. Dust covered his finger as he withdrew it and slammed the picture down. He heard the glass shatter. Turning on the heel of one of his polished dress shoes, Stanford Verfolgte marched from his room.

As he descended the stairs he pondered the dust on his finger. He thought about the picture. Hadn’t he thrown it away? After all, why would he keep it? It reminded him of…well, it was best not to dwell on such thoughts.

Grabbing his violin case from the glass cabinet in front of the kitchen door, Stanford called out, “Mother, I’m leaving now.”

No answer came from the depths of the kitchen. It was unusual. But Stanford decided not to venture it there. It was his mother’s territory and it was often too cluttered for his liking. As he switched the violin case from his left hand to his right he realized something was not right. There was dust of his hand where he had opened the cabinet. There was never dust on the cabinet.

The clock struck seven in the morning and the cuckoo bird came out and made its obnoxious sound. The house door slammed as Stanford Verfolgte left a dusty, empty house behind.

Stanford took his keychain out of his pocket and found the key to the family Cadillac. Holding it between his still dirty fingers he opened the garage door. It rattled as it ascended into the ceiling on rusty gears and wheels.

The young Mr. Verfolgte waited until the normal degree of rust and dust had fallen to the floor and then he entered the garage and flicked the light on. What he saw caused him to step back, dust clung the heels of his shoes. Mud plastered the fenders and lower sides of the black Cadillac. Stanford clenched his left fist together and stared at the Cadillac. He knew of only one person who would dirt the car. But that wasn’t a logical possibility, or so Stanford Verfolgte told himself.

Carefully opening the car door, Stanford brushed his hand across the driver’s seat to ensure that no dust would defile his suit when he sat down. Pushing the keys into the ignition, he settled into the driver’s seat, and put on his trim, black sunglasses. He turned the keys in the ignition. The car sputtered, growled, and stalled. Stanford glanced at the red, glowing clock in the car radio. 7:10.

An empty paint can clattered to the garage floor. The sound of a glass bottle shattering burst in through the Cadillac’s open windows. Stanford felt his heart racing. He sat perfectly still for a few minutes, listening to his heartbeat, feeling the beads of sweat on his forehead. His eyes widened behind his sunglasses. There was someone in the garage!

Stanford’s long fingers twisted the key forward. The car roared to life. It lurched into reverse gear and flew from the garage as Stanford’s foot crushed the gas pedal. Screeching out unto the road, Stanford threw the Cadillac into drive and sped off toward his school.

Pulling into the parking lot, Stanford Verfolgte wiped his sweaty forehead with a white handkerchief. Looking at the handkerchief, stained yellow with his sweat, Stanford tried to put the fears behind him. He tried to forget about the person in the garage, the mud on the Cadillac, and the dusty picture in his room. He wondered if he could ever forget. He wondered if the memories would persecute him forever. He wondered if the occurrences of earlier this morning were his memories coming to life. Or, perhaps, they were real. Perhaps he had returned. Stanford’s fingers trembled with the thought.

A car pulled into the parking lot. Stanford glanced up from staring at his shaking hands. He thought he recognized the car and fear wrapped its icy grip around his heart. He looked down at his floor, searching for something to defend himself with. The clock read 7:35.

The car stopped right beside his open window. “Hello, Stanford.”

Stanford swallowed, sighed, and looked up. It was only Mr. Bucciero, his music teacher. “Shouldn’t you be inside warming-up, Stan?”

Yes, the audition. “I’m a little nervous, sir.”

“That’s natural. I’m sure you’ll do fine.” Mr. Bucciero winked at his soon-to-be former student. “That scholarship is in the bag. Now get in there.”

Stanford Verfolgte willed his fingers to stop shaking as he grabbed his violin case and headed inside. He passed through the first set of iron double doors. They creaked from their overuse through the past school year.

Footsteps sounded in the hallway, muffled by the second set of double doors. Stanford stopped. He looked at the handles. They were covered in dust. His heart raced. He stepped back, clutching his clean violin case to his chest. Inside that case was the key to his future. A future his father had nearly destroyed. A future that Stanford feared his father would ruin again.

The footsteps stopped right behind the doors. A small amount of dust shook from the handles. Stanford gulped down his fear. His brows pulled together. He reached out, grabbed ahold of the dusty door handles and, not knowing what stood on the other side, threw open the doors.

A strange confronted Stanford. A man in a green suit stood but three feet away. Gone were the lopsided hat, the black jeans, and leather jacket that Stanford’s father always wore in his memories. “Hello, son.”

Stanford tightened his grip on the violin case. His heart beat as if he had just run a mile.

“Um…your mother,” his father began, “is away on a business trip, so I figured I should be here for you. No, well, I really just wanted to come say, well, you know, sorry. I’m sorry I wasn’t around for you, you know, before. So, I’m here now, and I can see you don’t want me. I’ll…um…just leave and not bother you ever again. Good luck and I’m sorry.”

Stanford stood in shock for a moment as his dad walked past him. “No! Wait! Please stay…Dad.”

That morning, Stanford Verfolgte played his audition piece perfectly because, for him, it was no longer a lonely morning.

Copyright 2012 Joshua A. Spotts

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Silencing Stones

Silencing Stones

By Joshua A. Spotts

I have lost what was mine. I am a prisoner here where once I was a prince. I am but a whisper in this crowd of confusion. Terror has replaced joy. Hate has replaced love. I am only a thin container holding in an unfamiliar darkness.

I pray to the one ray of light in my lonely place hidden amidst the vastness of the world. I plead with it. “Save me!”

It never answers.

I plead with it. “Give me strength.”

It never answers.

I know it can hear me. I know because it eventually leaves me. And all things that leave me can hear me. I hate the light. It mocks me and I hate it. I can feel my container cracking as the light leaves now.

They are here now. I hear their feet invading my space and I am helpless to defend the darkness. Their shadows beat me to the ground. Their flickering lights whip my eyes. Their cruel voices burn my ears. I dig my fingernails into the stones beneath me and they cry out. “Stay silent, pet. Do not groan. Do not let them gain from your pain. We will take care of you. With us you are safe.”

I feel secure as I embrace the stones. They warm me. They comfort me. Amidst the burning babble of the invaders’ I hear my name. I ignore it as the stones speak to me. They pull me closer to them. I lay my cheek on their comforting warmth. Yes, this is where I belong. Here with the stones. I no longer need what I was. I no longer need to be a whisper. I no longer need to be a lord. I no longer need to find what I lost. I surrender myself to the rocks and their bewitching magic.

~

            “Where is he, Father?” The princess asked.

Her father just looked at her. His eyes were hollow. His mouth was full of turkey. Red wine ran like blood down the sides of the burnt animal before him. His spilled wine goblet rolled off the table and fell to the floor with a clatter that echoed throughout the dining hall.

“Where is he?” The princess screamed this time. Then they came. Those hooded men of the scroll entered the room. The princess whirled on them. She hated them. They had caused the hollow look in her father’s eyes.

“He, if you mean your brother, is resting, your highness.” The tallest of the hoods said.

“Is his fever gone?”

“No, my lady,” said the shortest of the hoods. He was the doctor. He was directly responsible for the care of the royal family.

“What have you done to him?”

They didn’t answer.

The princess looked at her father. He stared back at her with hollow eyes. He was like an animal, unaware of danger.

“My father went to you when he was weak with fever. This,” she gestured to him, “is how you returned him to us.”

“The fever is a terrible thing, your highness. It does things to men. We were lucky to maintain your Father’s life.”

“You call that life?” The princess pointed at her hollow eyed father again. Grabbing a knife from the table she waved it at the men. “If I find that your ‘cure’ has done anything to my brother, I shall have all of you burned alive in the grease of your own fat!”

Spinning, her red hair flowing out behind her like a cape, the princess marched away in the opposite direction of the men of the scroll. She had decided it was time for her to visit the Room of Stones to seek guidance.

~

            “The son?” The steam hissed and rose as it slithered along the floor.

A tall man answered. His black hair was oily and combed straight down to his shoulders. His dark eyes peered into the frosty mirror. “Worse than his father, my lord.”

“The daughter?” The voice came from within the mirror, as did the smoke. The ice spread across the floor and grabbed the tall man by the ankles. He tried to step away but the ice brought him down. A bone cracked. The cruel sound echoed and the voice laughed.

The ice crawled over the man. It sucked him down until he lay flat on the stone floor. It formed a coffin over him. His breathing became shallow. The sweat on his forehead froze there, forming a false crown. The smoke slithered unto the ice coffin. The ice moved away from the man’s face like the tendons of some horrid monster.

“You shouldn’t have upset it, slave.” The voice hissed. Hot steam burned away the man’s false crown. “Now, tell me of the daughter.”

“She is still strong, my lord.”

“Excellent! Is she on her way?”

“I don’t know, my lord.”

“That’s too bad, slave.” The smoke receded into the mirror and the ice coffin covered the man’s face, shutting off his bone-chilling scream from the world.

~

            I dream. I dream of a room filled with pillars of stone. I dream of blood running along a cold marble floor. I dream of a girl of royal bearing. I dream of her dead. This is the dream the stones grant to me. It is their gift.

The dream changes as I watch. The girl, covered in blood, rises from the marble floor. I can hear every stone in that room crying out in pain. They want me to save her. They need me, but I cannot escape from my dark space.

There is some dark purpose behind her. It slithers along like a snake. Smoke and ice are its garments. The stones plead with me to save them. Their anguished sounds fill my ears. Their pain seethes through my veins as the red haired girl approaches a large stone in the center of the room. As she lays her hands on the stone, the dark purpose rushes in and consumes it. I hear the last cry of the stones before they are silenced forever.

The room collapses in on her. There is no roar as the stones fall. There is no crack as they smash into the marble floor. There is only silence, terrifying silence. As my dark space falls in on me and the darkness flees from my body, I would only ask one question. How can the decision of one girl cause so much devastation?

Here the stones come. They are silent. It is as if they are grieving as they bury me beneath them. I do so miss their voices.

Copyright 2012 Joshua A. Spotts

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The Red Reasoning

The Red Reasoning

By Joshua A. Spotts

You are human. You are defined by your emotions. The shadow figure whispered in Rachel’s ear.

Blink…blink…blink…Rachel fought back her tears. She stood with her back against the cold wall. Her step-father paced in front of her. Her arms drew her two little sisters close. They laid their little blonde heads against her hips.

“You are useless!” Her step-father glared holes into her soul.

The shadow figure picked at those holes. He is right, but you can show him otherwise. Let your emotions go. Let the hate give you power. Stop suppressing it, Rachel. Don’t you remember your ninth birthday?

Rachel bowed her head. She blinked faster. Her fingers tightened on her little sisters’ shoulders. She bit her lip, stopping only when she felt the taste of blood on her tongue. She whispered, “Never again.”

“What?” Her step-father stopped pacing in the middle of his tirade. He turned toward her, took two loud steps forward, and roared in her face, “You don’t talk back to me!”

Rachel shook in fear. “Yes, fa…” she couldn’t bring herself to say it.

“What’d you say?” Her step-father shook her.

One of the little girls rushed forward and kicked her father in the leg. “Don’t hurt Rachel!”

Rachel’s step-father threw his daughter, his own flesh and blood against the wall. The little girl slid to the ground, curled into a ball, and cried. She suppressed her wails to sobs, fearing that her crying would anger her father more.

Don’t let him do that, Rachel. You can stop him. The shadow figure hissed in Rachel’s ear. You know where it is. Just three steps, you can shoot him. You can end this, my child.

“I’m not your child.”

“What do you mean?” Rachel’s step-father raised his fist. After shaking it at her, he pointed to the girl on the floor. “You’re not my child? Hah! I married your mother! I feed and clothe you. You’re just as much my child as that pitiful thing is.”

“I am not yours and never will be.” Rachel said through clenched teeth.

Now! Show him your independence now!

“Go to you room! Take those whelps with you.” Rachel’s step-father gulped down a long draught of whisky from a tin flask. “Go now before I change my mind and decide to give you bruises to show off at school.” The step-father laughed, coughed, cleared his throat, and then took another drink of his whiskey.

Defy him! Do it! Free the little ones. It is the right thing to do. The shadow figure whispered. Its voice was calm. Its voice was beautiful. Its long fingers rested on Rachel’s shoulders, seeking to comfort and manipulate her. She shook it off and guided her little sisters upstairs. Before she reached the top she glared through the shadow figure at her step-father.

The pink walls were dull. The paint was chipped and peeling. The whitewashed floorboards creaked underfoot. Rachel sat in the corner. Her arms hugged her knees to her heaving chest. She watched a starving mouse gnaw at the edge of its hole.

Her eyes snapped shut as grey claws dug into the side of the mouse’s head and pulled it from its hole. The cat with fur like fire stood over its prey. The grey claws retracted and the mouse tried to scurry away. The cat leapt, biting down on the mouse’s neck. She wasn’t a patient creature and did not play with her food.

Rachel glanced at her little sisters. She sighed. They were still asleep. She had sung them a soft lullaby. But her heart had not connected with its sweet words. The shadow figure lurked in the room’s corner, watching her. It was a patient creature and always played with its food.

The shadow figure glided across the floor. It curled its long fingers around Rachel’s wrists. It glanced at the little girls and something growled within it. It put its black lips close to Rachel’s ear. It panted. Why are you burdened with these things? They are his spawn. Why do you…love…? The shadow figure choked on the last word.

Rachel sat there on her bed. She was silent. The crunch of bones cracked through the still air. The cat purred, finding joy in the death of another creature.

The whitewashed trimming, greyed and yellowed with age, around the wooden door shook as Rachel’s step-father lumbered down the hallway. A beer bottle crashed against the door and was followed by a laugh as the footsteps continued on. The shadow figure whispered, look at me, my child.

Rachel turned her tear stained face toward the shadow figure. She wiped her hands on her torn jeans. Her blue eyes looked into the shadow figure’s red ones. She shuddered as it cast images into her mind.

One was of her mother, lying dead in the street right after she had been hit by a large truck that ran a red light. Red blood framed her limp form on the black street. In another image her step-father nursed his first bottle of beer the night after the accident. He lay curled on his bed, murmuring in his sorrow. The third image was of the scene downstairs. It depicted her step-father’s rash behavior. It depicted how close Rachel had been to ending the abuse right then and there. She watched as her hands trembled. She saw from the outside how much the shadow figure affected her.  Rachel broke.

She threw herself back unto the bed, pulling her knees to her chest. She lay on her side. The sobs ripped through her, forcing small whimpers to escape from her sealed lips. Pain pushed at her ribs. She hugged herself, sat up, and rocked back and forth. Her heart pulsed faster, faster, faster, then slower, slower, slower as the shadow figure wrapped itself around her. Rachel willfully drew the shadow figure closer to her heart.

In the morning Rachel awoke with the shadow figure hovering between her and her step-father. He reached out and slapped her. “If you cry, whelp, you’ll never cry again in this house.”

The shadow figure spun around and whispered in Rachel’s ear. Stay strong, my child, bide the time. Stay here. Tolerate him. I shall deal with him in my own time.

Rachel’s little sisters stirred in the bed behind her. She stood and the shadow figure hovered between her and her step-father, her body between him and the young girls. A passion grew in her bosom. One of the little girls called out her name. A tear trickled down Rachel’s cheek, sparkling with love. The shadow figure shuddered; gaps began to appear in its mass.

Turning around, Rachel flung herself unto her little sisters. She hugged them and kissed them. Her step-father pulled her off and threw her to the floor. Rachel jumped up, turned toward her step-father, and glared through the shadow figure which began to solidify more. Yes, child. Yes, you hate him.

Rachel looked toward her little sisters, “Father.”

“What?” Rachel’s step-father turned toward her.

Time stopped. The shadow figure drew close to Rachel. It hissed. It growled. It whispered. What are you doing, my child? He is not your father.

“There is only one way to stop him.”

Yes, child, but all in time. I shall be rid of him in time. Trust me.

“Mom would want me to take care of the little ones. There is only one way for me to do that.”

Dear one, I have been here since your mother’s death. I know what is best for you. Your mother’s death was his fault. He is the cause of all your pain!

Rachel ran a hand through her bedraggled hair. “You lie. You have blinded me. Mom’s death was an accident.”

No! He caused her death!

“Mom loved me!” Rachel whispered.

Yes, the shadow figure shivered and cracks began opening in its dark essence. But he took that away from you. Indeed, my child, that part of your mother caused you more pain since her death than the joy it ever brought you in life.

“Mom loved them.” Rachel gestured to her little sisters.

Yes, yes, but see their pain at her loss!

“Mom loved Jack, my father.” Rachel bit her lip. “And Mom loved Stan, my step-father, after my father died. I also loved Stan.”

Yes, you did once. But that was long ago. Think of all he has done to you.

“Stan loved my mom and her death was hard on him.”

No, no! He caused your mother’s death! He is the cause of all your pain.

“I love my little sisters and, despite all he has done, he needs my help in this time of pain. My little sisters need me in this time.”

No, don’t say it! Think of what he has done to you! The shadow figure flickered. It hovered on the brink of banishment. Its wispy fingers clutched at Rachel’s cheeks. They did so vainly. No longer could the shadow figure touch Rachel. It roared in pain.

“I love you, dad.” Rachel spoke to her step-father. He stared at her, dumbfounded. His entire body started to shake. The shadow figure screamed as its anchor of hate was banished from Rachel by the power of love.

Rachel’s step-father knelt before her. His brows pulled together. Rachel put her arm around his neck and hugged him. Warmth surged through her body and into his. He just knelt there in shock. Rachel spoke as her two little sisters hid behind her. “Dad, I know you must be in pain. I miss her too. I want you to know that I love you and I want to help you through this pain.”

“Thank you.” Rachel’s step-father managed to mumble in between his sobs.
Copyright 2012~Joshua A. Spotts 

 

 

 

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Peacetime Nightmares

Peacetime Nightmares

By Joshua A. Spotts

 

Some things can never be forgotten. Those things should be cast into a pit and buried with the rest of the soul’s amassed refuse. But, no matter how deep they are buried, the screams always return.

She died. Here I stand above her grave. Her first name, Eve, stands out, bold and free, but the last name is devoured by the moss. It is better that way. She bore my curse in life. There is no reason she should be labeled with it in death.

I am Albert Steben, small town businessman. I was Friedrich Sterben, Gestapo officer, Nazi…

It is difficult for me to forget who I was. When Eve still lived I basked in her glory. She gave me a new life. At times I did forget my real name, but I never forget the deeds attached to that name. Friedrich Sterben held the title Colonel, but his real title was Butcher. After it was evident that the Third Reich would fall he was promoted to a new title, Traitor. Friedrich Sterben betrayed his country and became me, Albert Steben, a cowardly murderer living a life I don’t deserve.

I laid a white rose atop her grave and turned away. A voice cried out my name. Not my American name, but my real name, the name that embodied all my past sins. “Herr Sterben!”

I whirled, drawing my old Luger from my shoulder holster. I was ready to put a bullet through the intruder’s heart.

“Calm yourself, Friedrich.”

“My name is Albert.” I shot the man. I didn’t even flinch.

I watched the red stain spread across the man’s chest. His grey uniform became black with it. The bold eagle pin on his chest, clutching in its talons Hitler’s cross, the occult swastika, stood out above the blood. The swastika throbbed. My head throbbed. The earth throbbed. Then the man stood.

In that moment of horror as he walked toward me, I recognized him. He had been my commander. He had been in Hitler’s inner circle. If there was any man I hated more than myself it was he.

I shot him again. He staggered. I shot again. He fell to his knees. His hat fell to the blood-moistened grass. Those red and green blades stood out in strange prominence. The man’s body shrunk and the grass died. I blinked, lowering my gun.

There in front of me knelt a boy. He hand clutched at his belly, trying to stem the flow of blood. His other arm stretched toward someplace behind me. Smoke rose from my gun, crawling up my arm. The boy’s brown eyes stared up at me. His black hair shined in the camp’s sweeping searchlights. Two broken words escaped his red lips, “Please, sir.”

I watched in horror as my arm rose. I fought it. The arm holding that Luger, could it really be mine? Would I really murder this child?

The gun fired. The boy’s corpse sloshed into the mud. I couldn’t believe I had just done that. My hand shook. Or maybe it didn’t. Killing seemed to come far too easily for me. The atrocity of my act brought back old demons. They ripped at my chest and my mind. Who was I, Albert Steben, forgiven by my wife and a honest businessman, or Friedrich Sterben, butcher?  I felt more like Herr Sterben.

I turned to where the boy had been pointing. I dropped the gun. It went off. Pain shot up my leg. I didn’t fall because what I saw held me in place. My wife stood there in the midst of the mud-filled camp. A grey shack, black in the night’s shadows, loomed behind her. Her clothing consisted of a single long piece of cloth covering her malnourished nakedness. Her face was frozen in terror. I could not find her eyes. They were not black, they were blue. I was sure of it!

Swirling, my boot heel digging deep into the mud, I stared at the boy. I recognized the face, the neighbor boy who trimmed my lawns. He had been like a son to me while Eve lived. But Eve stood behind me, so did she live now? I ran to the Eve, she slapped me, and I strangled her.

It had only been another nightmare. I now sit upright in my bed. The alarm clock rings out its usual morning greetings. Eve rolls over and covers her head with the pillow. I remember when I used to dream before the war. I had dreamed of mornings like this. Before my choice and before the cruelties of those decisions, I too had dreamed.

Now I only have nightmares. They are a constant reminder of the evil I did. But my wife, laying here beside me, is a constant reminder that someone cares enough to find some grain of good in me and to forgive me. Her love is the only thing that keeps me sane. She is the only person who makes me Albert Steben, an honest business man.

 

 

 

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