Post THREE: SHESHA the mystery... from Daggers In the Dark Chapter Two Shesha Intercession It wasn’t right to even call the place a bar. A dive maybe, but not a bar. A bar had a bartender…there were none in sight. A bar had a reputation for small talk and big men. A bar had a well-oiled, worn-with-time feel to its bones, to the wooden surfaces, to the inhabitants who lingered in its corners. This was no bar. Furtive shadows were the only bits of life here, dregs at the end of their own personal crisis, falling the rest of the way down into their own dismal hells. For most, it was a one-way trip. In the shadowed corners, even the sexual groping was half-hearted. If there was no place like home, then this was no place at all. The stale smell of spilled beer, wood rot, and the often-seen presence of darting vermin clenched the wretched building as a haven for the lost and forsaken. Inside the neglected structure, a collection of mismatched wooden chairs were scattered amongst the cracked tables. There was little point—not a single, flat, unmarked surface was available to set a drink. Even the wall crowns were pitted with carved initials and obscenities. A fairly strong scent of misplaced urine wafted from one particular corner. Not that the only bathroom fared much better. It was lit by a flickering bulb that suicided on the broken wires of its support. A place where only the brave, drunk, or dazed would ever venture, it was full of cracked pink tiles and burnt-orange shag carpeting clumped into one long road to hell between the door and the only toilet. In the main area, worn faces and broken teeth adorned the “patrons” of the two occupied booths. No one with any hope remaining would come to this place…certainly not if any other option existed. Which was why her footfalls were so remarkable, coming as they did out of the perilously darkened streets. Cloaked as if she had walked out of a movie set, the woman was out of place and out of time. A thick, dark cloth covered her slim body and swayed with each graceful step. The edging of the fabric was marked with elaborate patterns of silver, all too small to see from a distance. They winked with a metallic glint against the poor lighting of the ruined—dare it be called—establishment. With an odd confidence long since vanquished and vanished from the place, the stranger walked into the destitute hole. Stepping delicately around the two broken hardwood floorboards at the entrance, which had been a source of more than one visitors’ concussion, her path did not falter at the stench nor the spectacle. Spotting an easy meal, the vultures engaged. Without any discernible movement, every hungry eye watched her progress. Perhaps several were only looking, merely curious, but more than a few examined her person with intent for gain. A solitary woman, in a place like this? She was looking for trouble, she was. And several shadows salivated at the thought of tearing her composure to pieces with their carnal glee. Walking with a casual stride, mesmerizing, all the same, the reckless woman approached the farthest of the tattered booths. From within the murky shadows of the corner booth, sheltered from even the poor light of the room, two eyes glowed a dull red. There was no greeting, there were no words or gestures of welcome. Sitting on the thin cushion, she edged over the slight distance. The woman had no fear. And she really should have. No matter her grace, no matter her power, the thing that lurked in the farthest ratty booth of the broken, disemboweled building should have made her run. Edging so close as to share the air of one breath back and forth, her cloaked head turned into the pitch shadows. None present could hear her words or mark her face—though two clever thieves tried. Then a tremendous roar split the silence, startling in its ferocity. Cutting through the carefully constructed barriers of poverty and disrepute, its sound slammed across the ears of everyone present. Those who had not seen a reason to flee before did so now. Whatever went on in that dingy place, it was better to gain a short distance and wait for the victor to leave. Scavengers lingered closest with the rats and the tattlers right behind. Everyone else just ran. Only one stayed, transfixed by the scene.
Post TWO: An Unpublished Horror story beginning.... Where do you think it goes? Harvest Home Caroline A. Gill
She's afraid. She should be. I warned her. A thousand times. And now... They must be punished. *** I remember that day they returned, clearer than any that proceeded it. Baking pies for my boys. My kitchen knife sliced each yellow and red skinned apple into finger-thick portions. Fruit juice ran down my board, across the counter. The smell of apples and cinnamon filled the house. It was a warmth I had missed all through the summer. The scarecrow guarded the fields, promised full crops, and a rich harvest. With his crude sackcloth head, the straw man scattered the crows and drove the mice from our food. We were grateful. That wasn't enough. It was time. The payment had come due. Our lease on the land, on this life was tenuous, a spiderweb trembling with the slightest breeze. "Francis. Johnny. Timmy. Edward." I pitched my voice high, as I called out the window, out into the fields. My boys. "Dinner!" Sheaves of wheat, rows of corn rustled in the center, nearest the scarecrow. Like moles burrowing through the fertile dirt, my boys came back to me, Edward first. His skin was mostly gone, as were his eyes. Didn’t matter. Not to a mother. "I know that smile anywhere," I cooed. “Edward.” Rushing to hug him, needing to hold him tight, he stood there, bashful as we celebrated his return. "I missed you so. And can you smell? I made you pie. Your favorite." Slobber drooled down his broken neck, pooling on the frayed shirt he still wore. Tousling his hair gently, I encouraged him, "Hurry now. To the house. Before your brothers eat it all." Lumbering away, my Edward headed for our home just as Francis emerged from the cornfield, ragged, hungry. I ran to him, excitement filling me. "Isn't this the best day? The best." I touched my boy again. Another son slouched out of the rows of green and gold, bashful as ever. The knife wound in his chest had turned a dark brittle brown. "Come. Come, all of you. Pies. And a side of turkey. Slaw and rolls. Everything for you. "Welcome home!" *** Gathered around the table, my family ate our yearly meal, together. Archie gulped down the orange juice, rosy cheeks flush with happiness. "Your brothers. All together." I beamed a smile at him, so tiny at the end of the massive table. "Archie, have some turkey. They need as much fresh meat as they can eat. Keeps them strong. Keeps them from fading too soon." For a moment, I just bowed my head in thanks. Together. That was all I could ask anymore. I watched the boys, my sons eat the family feast. Their teeth tore into the pies, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes. With each gulp, I could see their forms rebuilding, pulling the scales of death from their eyes, gifting me back my darling sons.
Post ONE: Here is an excerpt from Daggers in the Dark, The Uncertain Life of a Vampire Hunter, now only .99c! https://www.amazon.com/Daggers-Dark-Uncertain-Vampire-Kildrake-ebook/dp/B01M3V95II Chapter One Rescued
Heavy drops of sweat clung to the man's skin, collecting in the furrows of his worried brow. How much further? There was so much dampness in the old tunnels under the sprawling city. Gods knew, the overpowering stench alone was enough to keep most people far from the cesspools. But not him… no, not him. He was a Hunter born and bred, like his father and a line of their ancestors as far back as the fall of Constantinople. His steady foot slipped in the muck. Only slightly, as it turned out. Valen was immensely grateful. He lifted one boot out of the rotting sludge, disgusted. Smooth cement pipes made traction difficult. Always use the proper equipment, Valen remembered his father’s mantra. A minor adjustment secured his balance. He froze and peered into the depths of a dank and miserable hell. Something was waiting, hiding in the shadows. Something vile, dark and dangerous. Life was a day to day battle in this den of lions. This would only end well if he applied a large dose of intellect mixed with courage. This one is clever. And incredibly fast. Difficult to kill but worth the risk. Regardless of the cost to him, the creature must not have free rule over an entire city. Even against undead this powerful, Valen chose to fight. This was a Hunter’s life: a predator was at large. A creature that only grew smarter and hungrier as time went on. Evil like that had to be stopped. And at last, he tracked the leech its lair. Now, only one choice remained: Fight or die. And Valen had already committed to this hunt. Only the chilly, grasping grip of death would hold the beast. Valen was a trained killer. He was the weapon his father had sharpened into a blade of destruction. I will not fail today. Under the streets of the sprawling city, the war continued: kill or be killed. Most days, Valen still chose life. The days he didn’t were spent wrapped in a black grief, pouring alcohol into his wounded soul. Today, he fought. So, the leech had to be surprised and systematically slaughtered. There was no place for it nor its kind in the modern world. Rustling, something pungent bumped against his chest, releasing a different stench. Ah, the smell of fresh woven garlic. His expression hardened. His chapped lips formed a wicked and brutal grin. Somewhere, angels blushed. With each step the hunter took, the garlic bulbs whispered as they swung free. Such a reassuring weight. They comforted him with their ridiculous presence. Father prepared me well. A fragment of Valen’s past rose with the tide of his own sadness. For less than an eyeblink, he recalled the ghost of the man who had taught him the finer aspects of the hunt and so many other survival skills. His father’s face mirrored his own laconic smirk. Valen missed the old man. Dead and gone… Shaking his head slightly, Valen pushed the distraction back into a tightly locked corner of his heart. Be present or Be dead. His careful hands touched the cold walls, disturbing the slime coating only slightly. Waiting for the cover of distant noises to mask his movements, his progress wasn't fast. Stealth was far more important. With only the smell and splash of gagging sewage for companionship, Valen focused on the task ahead. Nothing would easily sneak up on him. The Hunter kept his guard high and watched his path, both forward and behind. I have only to gain the lair and the disease in this town will finally end. That driving thought moved him forward with an undimmed determination. It had taken three days of searching the underbelly of the city to find the marked sewer opening. The casual brutality of these monsters sickened him. He moved past that. Bluntly, it was the disappearance of the twins that shook him. That was why he was here, deep in the subterranean waste of the city. He still had hope, but that window was closing swiftly. Raised to the life of a Hunter, Valen was immune to most of the savagery of war. But each battle in the trenches ripped his tattered heart. *** Valen remembered vividly the terrible news, three days past. Taken from the city park where their parents watched and talked, the two boys were on the slide one moment and gone the next. Within the hour, police quickly cordoned off the area, determined to keep all clues and information gleaned from the kidnapping site to themselves. ‘Controlling the dynamic’, they called it. Making sure the serial killers and child predators didn't get the media attention the disturbed desperately craved. The police 'managed' the information with the usual level of incompetency and misdirection. Valen knew they picked up all the pedophiles who resided in the city, district, and block. He also knew they were dead wrong. Immediately, public suspicion fell heavily on the parents. Valen knew better. Weeping, their mother's eyes begged every mesmerized stranger who watched the program for assistance, for the lives of her children, for mercy. Humanity filled her pleas, striking even the callous Hunter with her deepest fears. The mother's tears fell across his television screen, punching Valen in the gut. With a sinking heart, he saw the list of missing children on the breaking news stories. Ten kids vanished in the last four months. One or two might be parent abductions, custody arguments, but not ten. Valen investigated further, his suspicions confirmed by the evidence in each situation. No witnesses, no tracks. Solitary sets of average footprints with no destination or path of arrival. Poor kids. People and animals went missing every day. That wasn’t news. Accidents happened. Life happened. Dead pets saddened one heart--he could let go of that misery. But murdered children wounded a whole community, altering entire towns, their damaging grief carried for years. Suspicious, Valen looked closer at the televised picture of the seven children who had recently vanished.To his regret, he had already found five of them. Faces I have already seen, screams silenced by death… And every corpse he uncovered exhibited clear fang marks. Broken dolls abandoned like trash, their pale, ghostly remains drained of blood.The hunter understood all the signs: the beast was feeding well, to the regret of humanity. Valen shook his head at the end of the six o’clock broadcast. There is nothing to report? That’s ridiculous, he sneered at the television, frustrated. Yeah, there never is. Traditional methods didn’t work against monsters. Guns don’t slow fangs. The authorities scrambled to find physical clues and logical reasons. They looked for a pack of invisible, efficient, rabid dogs. They scoured the locations of known felons. Valen knew better. It was probably too late for one of the captive children; too much time had passed. But he might possibly save the other. Frankly, the despair-filled image of a little boy cowering in some forsaken pit infuriated the Hunter. That alone goaded him onward, past the dangers, past the warnings and into the infested pit. It didn’t take much for him to recall the horrified mother's eyes. Her pain flashed across his mind. He knew too well that feeling of helplessness. I couldn’t save him. But maybe… maybe this kid has a chance. On the second day of the search, Valen visited the abduction site, waiting until well past midnight to avoid being spotted. Darkness helped him evade the lone patrol car and the soggy TV crew, sipping coffee in their van, eager to broadcast the slightest updates. Bitter winds blew at his back. A shiver traveled lightning-quick through his spine. When Valen hunted leeches, the heavy brown canvas duster he wore protected him from the onslaught of the elements. Nothing protected the innocents from the ravages of pure evil. Nothing but him. Careful. Careful. Skiritng the edges of the park, Valen moved with the skill of a special operations soldier, blending into every shadow and clump of weeds. There had been a singular lack of clues. He had, however, discovered a very specific sweetness near two of the trash cans, one that Valen dreaded and pursued to the ends of the earth. That's when he’d known for sure, the situation was way beyond the ken of these police officers and the grave-eyed politicians. Single-minded, Valen followed trails of death and blood. It was his calling, his duty to fight what others could not see. He stepped forward to face the evil that the public refused to accept. It sickened him every time. In every infestation, some of the destroyed were animals. Some weren't. Leeches weren’t picky eaters. Splayed wide across the garbage heaps of this damned town, corpse after dumped corpse were scattered, hastily concealed. Once he recognized the signs of rot, Valen hunted down the victims. Trying to find those long dead, too late to save, still he uncovered their poor, drained remains. Vampires stuffed the corpses in bizarre hiding places. It also fell to Hunters to stop the dead from turning, with wood stakes or silver. Whatever got the job done. No matter how bad the trail of bodies became, he kept looking, searching in the dark for that one life he could help, for that one person he might save. Valen would not be stopped. Each body held another clue, finding each one required concentration. It was a lot like scattering of stale bread for pigeons. Each corpse found was drained of any blood. Often the remains looked more like beef jerky, certainly not once-living animal or human. All of those emptied husks, pets and people, led the Hunter inevitably onward towards the real goal: discovering the den. If he had to, Valen would die to save the twins, or any remaining children, if it came to that. It shouldn't. Normally, he would be certain. But ever since his father died, Valen second-guessed everything in between the drams of whiskey. *** Slipping on the foul footing, the trained warrior righted himself without splashing in the stench. Valen reached the next corner of the tunneled maze. Close, very close. Under the muck, his boot struck something soft but solid. There was no sound to the collision. The obstacle was pitch black to his goggles. Whatever it was, it registered as debris to the infrared sensitive lenses. He had nothing to fear, still his heart pounded at the unexpected resistance. Nothing registered through the lens his infrared-sensitive glasses. Absolute darkness meant safety, even as it meant trash. Leaning down, he pulled off the sludge from around his ankle and felt the unmistakable fingers of a child's hand. His heart sunk. A kid, discarded into the sewer drain. Long dead. That was a harsh, brutal kick in the head. It hurt every time--his failure to save the innocents. Every. Single. Time. Even though he knew it was the most likely outcome, Valen still shouldered most of the blame. Another one I couldn’t save. Cleaning off the hand, the rest of the body followed. He gently checked for a pulse, just to be certain. Cold, unresponsive skin confirmed the facts. Valen didn't need true light to see into the mass of dumped sewage. There were bits of fabric, soda plastic, leaves, sticks, and part of a dead child. Backing away a few inches, Valen assessed the situation. it was important not to further damage the body, not to leave his own imprint on the terrible death. Heart-heavy, he gently pulled the little boy’s remains from the sewer. Walking back a half block, Valen used some rope to secure the dead twin to the nearest metal ladder that led up to the street. He paused there, with a ray of light from the surface falling like a shower around his shaking form. Damn it. Damn it to hell and back... It didn’t matter that Valen had expected one child to already be dead. The confirmation still rocked him. Bowing his head in the slippery darkness, Valen offered silent words to the uncaring heavens. I am the spear and the shield. There was no time to take the body to the surface of the world. There was no time for grief. One more child lay somewhere near that bend in the dank, twisted underbelly of the city. One little boy whose heart hopefully still beat, one more chance to win. Valen continued cautiously forward, anger simmering in his heart. He had not yet caught the peculiar sweetness that accompanied the vampire's lair, though the reeking muck at his feet probably had something to do with that. Mentally, he prepared for the upcoming fight. It wasn't his first. Valen had no intention of it being his last. Everything had gone according to plan, everything was as expected; even the putrid stench of sewers fit. Pausing for several moments to listen, the Hunter's trained ears caught a strange growl followed by a high-pitched laugh. Then the sound of derisive merriment abruptly cut off. What? His eyes narrowed. That was alarmingly out of place. Nothing different could be ignored when fighting one of these bastards. Even though this Hunt was in familiar territory, even though this was not his first cornered monster, Valen's heart still raced from the conflicting sounds. He should have heard only one, the sound of eating or the weird purring sound the damned things made in their sleep. Every nest had those typical, specific sounds. Otherwise, if the vampires hunted, there was only a deathly stillness that changed into a killing machine in less than a human's reaction time. So who the hell is laughing? Valen slowed his nervous energy. Anything out of the ordinary drove his adrenaline off a cliff. Law of the Hunt, he thought. The benefit of stalking was outweighed only by the prepared enemy. Any detail that felt out of context made Valen skittish.The infernal beasts never laughed; they had long since lost all mirth. A surprise awaits.Will it be my death? Valen coldly wondered. Some unknown conflict continued, just beyond his sight. He knew the monster he expected to fight. This was different.Valen’s anger demanded action. His whole body shook with the calm right before a fight to the death. Taking three short breaths, he fumed, Here I go.Facing more than one enemy... The only way to know what horrible monster stood between Valen and the last boy was to chance a glimpse around the edge of the wall. Whatever it was, whether it was new or ancient, Valen could kill it. Of that I am certain. Out of habit, he glanced upward toward the concrete-covered moon. There was no natural light to guide him. Only more pitch, full of hopeless dark. Stuck deep in the stench of the sewers, Valen missed the moonlight. Almost as much as he missed his father. Flicking down his infra-red goggles again, the skilled Hunter’s eyes took a moment to adjust. Holding his hand in front of his face, Valen registered its heat against the faint blueness of the top of the sewer walls. It was time. Swiftly, he turned the corner. Easing his view around the rough corner, surprise was the first thing he felt; surprise and confusion. What in the flames of Alator is that? he thought as a strange, glowing yellow form lept around the farthest corner. It was almost an afterimage in the speed of its passage. Then mysteriously, it vanished. It was nothing Valen had ever seen before. Nothing I've ever heard of? By Nerine's torch, I could use some light! The hand holding his backup flashlight was shaking hard. In the other, he held a silver dagger, ready to throw. Scanning the distance, he looked for the non-image silhouettes of vampire, for the walking death that shone a dim purple through the goggles' enhanced view. Against the far wall, the flare of the remaining child's life flickered, burning bright from its core heat. Exactly like my own. Like it should be. Just as obvious, the absence of life across the tunnel. Where the vampire had been, there was a shifting combination of impenetrable shadow perched next to the shivering boy. Then even as Valen watched, it faded from the telltale faint purple of stolen life. All too quickly, it merged into the blackness of the miserable sewer. Now the image was a collection of sparking purple heat, any remaining sign of leech life crumbled away. My prey. The monster behind the evils that scared the population and mangled more than one little family. One life was already demolished. Valen ached for thwarted vengeance. It was time to fight, time to kill, the moment when he would save the stolen boy. But the monster was already dead. Terrible in its sentient power, the corpse of the vampire now lay like a discarded doll: broken, empty and still. Its string of brutality was over. That was a gift for which he thanked the Alator. But the manner of its ending pained him: Valen had not been the one to kill it. His hand itched to drive a silver dagger into the heart of the beast. What did this? Is there another Hunter in the city? Hysterical sobs from the remaining child filled the concrete cavern. No information would be forthcoming. And yet... and yet. Someone destroyed the death-walker before he could. “Who–what the hell was that flare?” the grumpy man muttered. The kid said nothing, scared out of his little mind. Checking the passageways in all directions, Valen saw no other indication of vampiric presence. Still he kept one hand full of fine silver daggers, just in case. With the other, he adjusted his goggles. Kicking the husk of vampire corpse over with his foot, the confused hunter kept his eyesight shielded from the dust of decay. Leaning in to investigate, Valen could clearly see (because of his trusty black-light flashlight) a gaping hole where the leech's heart normally resided. It was gone. Yet, the rest of the remains had not combusted. They should have. Leech remains always turned to ash and dissolved at the disintegration of the host. The undead body should have vanished, dissolved into dust; there should have been no remaining traces. Son of a three-eyed goat! That makes no sense!! Mystified, the hairs on the back of his neck stood straight up. Was this a trap? What the hell is going on? Careful to never ignore a fallen foe, Valen's training kicked in. There was so much he didn't understand about this hunt. Still, his main concern was the eerie possibility of the damned monstrosity rising from whatever abyss the undead leech had been sent. It can’t rise without it’s heart, right? It can’t. He knew the answer, but today, nothing made sense. No matter who was here before me, or that that golden light means, I have to be certain. Even as a boy, Valen had heard from his practical father enough tales of vampires who were mostly dead, mortally wounded by silver or cross and yet had returned to kill, maim and attack again. No need to take chances. Standing between the passive, shocked child and the carcass of pure ugly, Valen finished the job. Shielding the poor victim from any further nightmares, with ruthless efficiency the confused Hunter lit a match. Blinding flames burned for only moments. There was very little matter left. On the boy's tear-streaked cheek, Valen saw the scars that would mark the surviving twin forever. In the reflection of the child’s trusting eyes, Valen watched the horror of nightmares disappear into water, smoke and ashes. Stillness and the darkness of the sewers returned like a slinking dog. In the distance, there was only the sound of rushing water, carrying the waste of humanity out to the cleansing sea. Reaching down slowly, the rescuer tried not to startle the shocked child. “You need to go home,” he whispered. With the light of his flare and the vision that the goggles granted him, Valen watched the poor boy's body shudder from the gripping fear. Then the last twin slowly rose. “Come on,” the Hunter said with a gruff but gentle prod. Offering his large hand to the trembling boy, Valen escorted the survivor out of the wretched deathtrap. *** Late that night, right as the sun began to lighten the night sky, Valen placed a phone call, just one. “I've got him,” he spoke curtly. A gravely voice answered, thick with relief, “Gods! You do? You sonuvagun! Wait. How the hell did you...?” Silence. They both knew he wouldn't answer that question. “Alright, alright. Bring him in. I'll be there.” FBI agents were rarely grateful to have to clean up Hunts. The kidnappings and murders--these crimes weren’t committed by the leech hunters. Still, lurking around crime scenes got a person noticed, and that wasn’t always good. Valen avoided most law enforcement but Special Agent Tracey O'Donnell shared a history with the Hunters. Valen's dad had always kept a few detectives involved on a need-to-know basis. Tracey was one of the few trusted law enforcers that Valen knew he could contact in a jam. But even Agent O'Donnell could do little to protect anyone found in the company of the kidnapped child. The intense manhunt brought out the indignant and vengeful in all the detectives. On top of that, the bounty reward brought out the slimiest of the tattooed, money-hungry private investigators. Writing a short note directing the FBI to the body of the dead twin, Valen pinned the paper to the surviving child's shirt. Wisely, Valen gave no name to the little boy. He sent the shaking kid alone into the florescent-lit doorway of the nearest police station. It was enough to wait in the shadows of the manicured bushes across the street until the rotating door swallowed the boy's unsteady entrance. For his midnight troubles, the Hunter received a small blurb of thanks in the local newspaper. The article announced that the rescuer was an unknown man who found one boy while wandering in the sewers. Makes me sound homeless. And only kinda creepy, Valen thought with a snort. It wasn't that Valen was modest, but his enemies could read as well. There was no need for fame. There was too much work to do. *** Grab the story and continue the adventure... click here: https://www.amazon.com/Daggers-Dark-Uncertain-Vampire-Kildrake-ebook/dp/B01M3V95II