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A Classic Tale

He both enjoyed seeing her and did not. Elation was there, but also retraction. He could not be fully himself with her, but more himself than he was elsewhere. Indeed, he lived a divided life. At court, he needed her presence and yet dreaded it. At war, he was thankful for her absence, but he also missed her.

 

The war ended abruptly. The heroes were honored. Traitors who had once sought refuge outside their native land were returned. Their tortured bodies dangled from the gallows, being finally granted relief. In his mind, the heroes fared no better than the traitors, only their pain was of the soul and of the heart. From these they had no respite.

 

He sat at the right hand of the king that first night back. His deeds were lauded. They claimed he had slain hundreds, that he had ended the war. He knew otherwise. He knew the exact number of men whose lives he stole, whose chances at love he took from them. He had looked into their eyes as his own were tinged with the red rage of battle. He had heard their last words, words that should have been spoken while lying old in bed…at peace.

Her voice brought him back from his somber speculation. He looked up. His joy shone through his eyes, but he only partly smiled. She poured him a glass of wine, spilling a few red drops unto the table around his goblet. She apologized and moved on.

 

He stole glances at her, ignoring his king as much as he could, deflecting the admiring comments of the king’s daughters as though they were blows in a battle, rough and sharp. Her blue gown stood out from the dull browns and flickering fire reds of the feast hall. She moved gracefully, yet with a vigor. A passion for life was obvious in the slight bounce of her walk, in the dancing of her hair, and in her very eyes. He laid his hands down and made ready to stand. He was going to approach her, admit his feelings, an act that took more courage than he had ever needed in battle.

 

Greasy, gelatinous animal fat covered the hand that grabbed his and raised it high. He heard his king proclaiming his name, then something about being an ambassador. His heart stopped. Then it sank. His determination turned to dread. He tried to smile, but it lost what mock sincerity it had when she looked at him and drew his eyes to hers. He steeled himself as the king bid him stand. He let one tear unsheath itself from his eye, allowing it to flee to the dirty floor below. Flight, retreat, escape, all things he could not do.

 

The morning after the next full moon came too quickly. He had talked with her some, but he never once confessed. He learned to treasure every moment with her, every sound of her voice. When she was gone, however, his thoughts always turned to his future and her place in it. Her place being one that he dearly wanted, that is, at his side, but he knew his new career was even more dangerous than his last. His enemy would no longer be in front of him, yelling and wielding shining weapons. His enemies would now be everywhere.  Nor did he want to take her with him into a place where even he, hero of the war, would not feel secure.

 

He looked down on her from his saddle. His robes were new, different from those of the warrior. He needed to look his part, but remain himself; a task more difficult than most would expect. But then she handed him a letter. They met eyes. He smiled and placed the letter next to his heart. Then, with a reverent bow, he left her behind. He laid his hand to that letter as he rode away, swearing that with it he would remain himself and that he would return for her.

Copyright 2013 by Joshua A. Spotts

 

 

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The Dervish

            The crazed look in his eyes, the sweat rushing down his wrinkled forehead, the fresh blood on his kukri, the sound and smell of his revolver firing, these things I will never forget. I stood steady, my brothers-in-arms formed rank and file all around me. Down the barrel of my rifle I stared, feeling its steady weight in the muscles of my arms and the rest of its butt against my shoulder.

            Hot rays of sunlight beat down on us as the wind threw wave after wave of heat against us. The enemy was closing fast. I, like my fellow soldiers, waited for the order. We waited, trusting in our discipline, in our commanders. Our faith did not betray us.

The commander’s voice rang out strong and clear over the screams of our enemies. “Fire!”

            Our muskets roared in parade ground unity. Our enemies toppled to the ground, raising more dust. From that dust, and over their fallen fellows, leapt more enemies. The man I had aimed at had not fallen. I knelt down on one knee when the order came, my gaze still fixed on him. I reloaded my rifle without looking as my brothers behind me fired at the enemy. When the smoke cleared, he still had not fallen. Another command rang out and I rose in response, readying my rifle, facing the bayonet toward the onrushing enemy, towards him. He would die; this I would insure.

            They crashed into us like the waves against the white cliffs back in sweet home England. Our bayonets took the first down swiftly, in then out, then in again with the next enemy. My bayonet took him in the side, that dervish whose savage image is printed so strongly on my mind, and he went down. I stabbed one of his comrades through the throat shortly thereafter.

           Hearing a scream, I raised my rifle to deflect a blow, but then I felt it and I knew I was too late. The rough blade sliced the skin on the outside of my left shoulder. The man was on me in an instant. I tumbled to the ground. When I opened my eyes from the initial shock, I found myself staring into his face, the hate filled face of the first dervish I had felled. He raised his kukri and in that moment I sent my last prayer to the Almighty.

           The expected blow never came. I never felt the rough metal of his kukri slash into my neck. I never felt my lifeblood rush from me. Within a moment, the dervish was knocked from atop me with a rifle butt. I felt hands reach under my shoulders and help me to my feet. A rifle was thrust into my hand. I moved forward into the conflict once more despite my blurry vision.

           I had only two things in my mind as I fought: kill and hold the line. It was the same for all my brothers-in-arms. We fought, we killed, we held the line…we died. The fighting wore at us; whereas the enemy, those dust covered, turbaned dervishes seemed never to tire in their fanatical quest to destroy us. Our weariness began to tell in the worst evidence, loss of life. But still we held our line, thinning as it was.

           Sweet relief arrived with the sound of a cavalry bugle and of four hundred ground-beating hooves. The cavalry smashed into the rear of the enemy, scattering them and running them down. We infantry, as was our duty, spread out across the battlefield in search of our own wounded. We also searched for the enemy’s wounded that we might, like civilized men, take them prisoner and tend to their wounds. The irrecoverable, of both our own and the enemy, were to be finished off with a thrust to the heart.

           The battlefield, as all are, was an image from a nightmare. Twisted, mutilated corpses lay everywhere, their faces contorted as if they had suffered days of torture before their deaths. I was used to such things, for I saw them both in the night and in the day. These sights most certainly took away a part of my humanity, a part which would never return to me, but no matter what a man goes through, there will always be some part of humanity in him.

           That surviving part of my humanity spoke to me as a meandered through those fields of death. I began to pity those who lay dead or dying all around me. I did not wonder about their past lives, I only pitied them for their eternal damnation. Even that pity, heartless as it is, was not appropriate for the battlefield. It was that pity which caused me to spare him, that dervish who had sought to kill me. I looked down at him. His eyes were fierce, the intention in them unmistakable, he lusted for my death.

           I pointed my bayonet at him, standing over him. The point hovered just above his heart. One thrust, that is all it would have taken. But that thrust I did not deliver. Stepping back, I called out to some of my nearby brothers-in-arms. We carried the dervish back to camp and tied him to a post. I called for the doctor, a rough man blessed with long, thick fingers and a deplorable sense of hygiene for his profession. I stayed with him while he attended to the dervish, who in turn paid no attention to the doctor, focusing only on me.

           It was that night that I realized the mistake my humanity had caused. I lay on my cot. My tent-mate had died in the battle, but it did not bother me. I never really liked him. When I heard that heavy breathing and when I opened my eyes to see those crazed features of the dervish staring back at me, I wished my tent-mate had not died. Indeed, in that moment I mourned his death.

           The dervish flung himself onto me, his hands finding my exposed throat. I punched at his gut, but it was firm; every muscle in his lithe body was focused on killing me. I flailed my legs, but he just straddled by midsection and kept choking me. I grabbed his forearms and pulled, but to no avail. My vision began to fade and the memories of my life began moving slowly by, every gory detail, even a depressing few happy moments like my nephew’s birth. Then one memory crept in among the others, so subtle that I almost missed it. I saw myself placing my bayonet beneath my head roll.

           Reaching back as I felt my consciousness slipping, I also felt the cold metal of my bayonet. With the last of my energies I pulled it out and plunged it in between the dervish’s ribs, right into his heart. His grip loosened and I gasped in a breath of life-giving air before ripping my bayonet from his side and plunging it into his gut. He collapsed dead on top of me, our bodies intertwined, the living and the dead. Such is the way of mankind.

Copyright 2013 Joshua A. Spotts

 

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Pain is Purpose

I was born in a laboratory, separated from humanity by seals and protective clothing; I died in a mouth, exposed, utterly raw and naked, to the innermost parts of humanity. This is my story. These are my thoughts to the moment of my death.

I am Strychnine. My purpose is pain. I work for the mob, threatening people. They do not like being referred to as “the mob,” but what can they do to me? I’m already dead.

The majority of my work is done in dark rooms; a single glaring light illuminating me and casting shadows across the terrified face of a person. These people range in importance from small store owners who have not paid their dues to senators. It is a fantastic feeling of power; watching those people cower before me.

No words were ever spoken between the person I am threatening and my partner, the enforcer. But eventually the person, be he senator or store owner, would crack and mutter, “I’ll do it,” as they broke into sobs. I never knew how much pain I could cause until my death, but I knew I must be capable of terrible things when I saw them cower before me in such degrading ways, submitting to the mob’s will.

When the day came for me to truly exercise my purpose, to truly administer the pain I was capable of, I was not ready. The setting was wrong. I was brought into a room full of light. The walls were a sterile white, the table was silver. On the table, instead of seated on one side of it, lay a man. He was strapped down and his mouth held open by some strange apparatus. His face was the worst part. It was not shrouded and I could see the full terror in his wide eyes; in the sweat that beaded and ran on his bald head; in the very way he breathed.

I was powerless to resist when I felt the enforcer’s hand close around my container. The cold air in the room rushed in on me with a burst of savage energy as the cap was removed, finally exposing me to the world. The sensation was strange, but wonderful. Then the enforcer moved me above the man’s open mouth and all my pleasure in the new feeling of air, life-giving air, rushed away.

As the enforcer tipped my container upside down and tumbled, completely naked and exposed, through the life-giving air, I realized that through my purpose I would find my own death by causing death in a most terrible way. I landed on the man’s tongue, some strange sound rushed up from his throat. Then I saw his jaws close above me and no more air entered his body.

Bit by bit he was forced to swallow me, and I caused him to convulse in pain, then I caused his throat to swell shut as I slid down it; In that short moment I regretted ever having existed, regretted my enjoyment of my power, and felt the pain I caused the man. Then both he and I died, both regretting our lives, but only I truly sorry.

Story by Joshua A. Spotts

Copyright 2013

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The Lost Eyes

Lord William stood on his balcony. His wide, green estates stretched out to the horizon. Small hovels with dark smoke puffing from crumbling chimneys squatted near dying patches of trees. Lord William turned his back on his rich fields and poor tenants. His mind lingered on a subject far away. It lingered on things lost to mankind, things lost to him.

“He has hidden them away, Lord.”

“Witch!” Lord William shouted. He slammed his fist on rough table, which had suffered under all his ancestor’s blows before him. “Do you think I do not know this?”

The old woman stumbled backwards, falling from her stool. With a scream she landed on the rough wooden floor, something cracked.

Lord William grabbed the crystal ball from its stand on the table. He raised it far above his head as he towered over the old woman. “He stole them from me, from my family.”

Crouching down, Lord William held the crystal ball before the old woman’s face. He sneered, his thick brows drawing together, his bone white teeth shone in the torchlight which cast shadows across his dark brown eyes. “Do you even know his name, Witch.” He hissed, spittle flying into the old woman’s face. “Can you see that in your ball? Can you even tell me where he is?”

“Lord,” the old woman whispered through her pain. “He has shrouded himself.”

Lord William stood again, glowering down upon her. “Then I thank you for your services to my family, but it seems you have outstayed both your welcome and your usefulness.”

“Please, Lord, no!” The old woman’s eyes widened in fear as Lord William brought the crystal ball down upon her head. Lord William laughed as he brought the bloodied orb down again and again. His black hair lashed his face as he came down and then, as he rose again for another strike, it would fly back to reveal a face speckled with blood, framing eyes filled with savage madness.

Lord William stopped, frowned down upon the bloody, broken corpse on his floor, and turned toward the table. “What a mess.” He picked up a book from the table. A drawing of a pair of eyes stared at him from the word pages, coded, flowing scripts surrounded the eyes. Lord William placed two fingers on the eyes. “Where are you?”

Striding back to his balcony, Lord William cast the bloodied crystal ball down into the moat below. He looked up and stepped back in shock. There, only a few hundred yards from him, sat a rider clothed in dark blue and purple robes. Despite the shroud which covered the riders face, Lord William knew the rider’s eyes watched him in an unwavering gaze. He was of the Order of Aelra. He knew they were watching him; they had been since the eyes went missing, but this was a boldness he had not seen before.

“Guard!” Lord William shouted, never taking his eyes off the rider. He heard the commotion behind him, heard the slight gasp when the guard saw the old woman’s body, then waited for the guard to stand silent, before speaking. “See that rider?”

“Aye, sir.”

“Take a group of riders out and bring him to me.” Lord William leaned forward, clutching the balcony railing.

“Aye, sir.”

Lord William heard the door shut and waited, counting his breaths, until he heard the drawbridge fall and the sound of hooves pound across it. He then straightened and smiled as six of his best riders galloped across his estates toward his prey. Soon he would teach those arrogant warrior-priests what it meant to spy on him.

As Lord William watched, the Aelra rider dismounted. Lord William’s guards bore down on the man, but never did he show any intention to flee. A glimmer of steel shone as the man drew his sword and fell upon it. Lord William jumped back from the balcony railing, turned, and ran down the curving stairway that led from the tower to his central hall. His son ran toward him smiling and laughing, but he shoved the boy away. Out of the corner of his eye, Lord William saw the boy’s tutor, Henry, grab the boy by the shoulders and draw him away into another room.

“Jacob!” Lord William shouted, his voice echoing in the empty hall. “Where is that boy?”

“Here, lord.” Jacob said as he bowed toward Lord William, his shaggy blond mane falling in front of his handsome face.

“Ready my horse.”

“Aye, lord.” The boy bowed several times before scurrying off.

Lord William moved to the main door and was about to lay his hand on the handle when it was cast open. He raised his hand to strike down whoever came through, but when he saw the dark blue and purple robes he lowered it.

“What is this?” He demanded as his guards carried the bleeding man into the hall.

“He is still alive, sir.” One of the guards said as they set the body down.

“Not for long.” Lord William knelt down, drew his dagger, and slit the man’s throat.

“Sir!” One of the guards began.

Lord William turned on him and placed the dagger tip right between the man’s ribs, pushing it in, smiling as the life drained out. He turned back to the rest of his guards. “He is of the Order of Aelra, he would not have told us anything in the few short minutes he had to live.”

Stalking to his chair at the back of the hall, Lord William slunk down into it, running his thumb along the bloody blade of his dagger. His guards followed him. He watched in amusement as they glanced at each other, at the wall behind him, shifting on their feet, but never daring to look him in the eyes.

His thoughts wandered back to the eyes illustrated in the book. They were the same shape as his own, same color too, but they had seen things he had not seen, things he wanted to see. He had spent long years searching the family crypt, only to find, on the night of his son’s birth, a night that should have been glorious that they had been stolen. From that day he had been searching for them, scouring the land for miles around, his agents lurked in every city. The witch lying dead in his chamber was just one of many he had employed and killed, the only difference being that this one had served his father before him. He did not regret her death; he only feared her fate would become his if he could not find those eyes.

“Lord,” one of the guards asked, jerking Lord William from his thoughts.

“What?” Lord William growled.

“Your agent has arrived from London.”

“Bring him to me.”

The agent was led in. He was a small man clothed in a long coat and a worn top hat. “Lord,” he said, bowing. “I bring word of the things you seek.”

“Tell me.”

“There is a legend among the Order of Aelra, whom I see you are acquainted with, of a boy with eyes that contain the secrets of lost technologies.”

“Are you certain it is a boy?”

“That is what I am told, lord.”

“You have been helpful to me. If I find what I am looking for I will make sure you receive your reward.”

“Thank you, lord.”

“Take him to the dungeon,” Lord William said with a flick of his hand toward the guards who then grabbed the man and drug him down into the depths below the castle. “Kill him when you get down there.”

“No, lord!” The man yelled. He struggled against the guards. “Please, please, spare me!”

“I do not enjoy groveling.” Lord William stood. “Kill him now.”

A guard drew his sword as his comrades stretched out the unfortunate man’s neck, baring it for the severing blow to come.

“I know who the boy is with the eyes!”

“Do you now?” Lord William walked over to the man, picking up the man’s fallen top hat along the way. He stabbed it through with his bloody dagger and held it in front of the man’s face. “Who is it?”

The man managed to smile as the guards loosened their hold. “Not until I am on a horse and outside your gates.”

“Are you bargaining with me?”

“Aye.”

“Not a good idea,” Lord William placed the dagger blade to the man’s cheek and drew it slowly down. Blood welled and ran down the pale skin.

“You kill me and you will never find out who has the eyes.”

“Release him.”

The guards did as they were bid.

“Thank you,” the man said, taking his torn hat from Lord William and placing it upon his bald head.

“I am not giving you a horse, nor am I letting you out of my sight until you lead me to the boy with the eyes.” Lord William said. “I give you my word as a lord that you will be free and rich besides.”

“I do not need to lead you anywhere, lord. The boy lives here, under your vary roof.”

“How is this?”

“Did you ever wonder why the Order Aelra was watching your castle?”

Lord William frowned and nodded. “Guards, bring all the servant boys to me.”

“It is not a servant boy, lord.”

“No!” Lord William snarled. It made sense, the theft on the very night of his son’s birth. The rumors afterward that his son had been born blind, but miraculously received sight only a few hours later. The tutor, he was the one, it was rumored he was a wizard, only he would have had the power to veil himself and the boy from a witch’s spells. He threw open the main door and rushed out into the courtyard.

“Hold!” Lord William roared. His eyes widened in anger and panic as he saw the tutor and his son sitting on his prize steed, ready to ride.

“Now you know, Lord William.” The tutor said. “But I cannot allow you to know these secrets. You are unworthy.”

“Guards! Kill him!” Lord William shouted, pointing toward the tutor.

“Call them off.” The tutor said, his voice even, a crossbow pointed at Lord William’s chest.

“Stand down,” Lord William motioned to his guards who lowered their weapons.

“I shall give you one more chance to put aside your obsession. Answer me truthfully, I warn you, else I will end you here and now.”

“I will answer in truth, traitor, make sure that your own words are honest.”

“If you could obtain the secrets of the eyes only through the death of your son, would you kill him?” The tutor asked.

“I would.” Lord William said without hesitation, his body shaking in rage.

“Then you will never see your son again, Lord William.” The tutor raised his hand and smoke obscured him and the boy from Lord William’s vision. When the smoke cleared they were gone. Lord William turned, his heart filled only with anger, not regret.

By Joshua A. Spotts

Copyright 2013 Joshua A. Spotts

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Oceanic Grand Canyons

Jonah’s career was that of an Oceanographer, his chief interest, the inspection of oceanic trenches, but he had never set foot on a boat. The very sound of crashing waves made him queasy. Rainfall simply annoyed him when he was underneath a roof; outside, however, it terrified him because he felt as though he were drowning. When he showered he did so with a snorkel and never stayed in for more than five minutes. Indeed, he much preferred dry land.

“You’re a genius, Jonah,” his friends had said. They came to him and begged his help with their assignments. He knew every fact there was about the oceans of the world; and, as he was an avid reader of scholarly journals on oceanography, he always learned the new facts almost as soon as they were published.

To illustrate to his friends what oceanic trenches were like he would always say, “they are like the Grand Canyon, but in the ocean.” His friends always laughed at that description as they hung out with him at The Well, the local bar. There his throat was never dry because of the beers his friends would buy him. Those had been warm days, safe from the elements outside, that dreaded rain, that frustrating wind, and that hated snow. But those were his college years, things were different back then.

When he graduated from college he was hired right away as an Oceanographer. But when they wanted him to go out on a boat to investigate the Puerto Rico Trench, things went awry for him. He refused to board the boat, no matter how much urging the company used. They even offered him a raise to his already substantial pay. He refused and resigned his job.

Now Jonah sits on a wooden bench in the snow, a park ranger in Northern Michigan because he could not overcome his fear.

By Joshua A. Spotts

Copyright 2013

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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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