The Skitters – Short Story

“They lay their eggs in your mouth at night and when the suckers hatch, they crawl inside your body and eat the juiciest parts of you, your muscle.”

“Stop playin'” the bucktooth man didn’t look like a government scientist to Jay. “You ain’t never lived in Middleton and you ain’t probably never worked in no air force base.”

“I may be shady but I’m not a liar.” Said the man most people called Beggar Bob. The abandoned house was starting to get cold. Jay was starting to get used to the smell but not the smell of moldy milk that Bob gave off. “They eat out your teeth first, probably for calcium, and then go right after your muscles, then your bones.” He smiled his gap tooth grin

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A RARE PRIZE

(Abt. 10 mins read)

by Kilmo

In the seas at the world’s edge where the catches in the fishermen’s nets rarely belonged to the world they knew they kept their town in shape through sacrifice. But when the storm hit each tiny parliament on the docks staring at the heavens was soon soaked red, and even the sound of rain on the rooftops sounded like drums before a prisoner got the chop. Nature had never sided with those they used to placate their home before and before long the first of their neighbours were going crazy as they realised what the downpour really was.

‘Careful, if you get in the way… .’

Mortrissant, the black clad captain of a vessel so feared watch fires were lit just on the rumour it was nearby, pulled hard on his lover’s hand. A tenement that had come adrift from its moorings was gliding past in a flurry of screams and candlelight from those trapped inside, and the rumble sent the cobbles jumping. He followed the line of bloody footprints from the headless cadaver in the blood saturated wedding dress into the night. Even a blind man would be able to track them.

‘Could y’at least try and pay more attention, Beka? I’m relying on ye.’

The scar that closed Mortrissant’s left eye twitched in the shadows underneath his tricorn hat and his remaining eye glittered.

‘Y’said it was round here, didn’t ye?’

What was left of the woman he’d rescued from the townsfolk’s altar let go and raised her hands in the air palms up before dropping a curtsey.

Mortrissant grunted. They were lucky to have gotten this far. Amongst the toppling braziers and fleeing backs there’d been more than one body he’d left on the floor.

‘Well, keep close, or I’m leaving ye here.’

But he was finding it difficult to ignore the swarming buildings. Particularly with the rags that were all that was left of his ship mates disappearing under their doorsteps. There hadn’t been many left when they’d landed, but the houses rolling over them seemed intent on eating even their memories down to the bone.

‘Blasted landlubbers,’ muttered Mortrissant and spat to one side.

The figure in the wedding dress raised an arm stretching out one long delicately nailed finger and Mortrissant raised his eyes to the stars: further in, he should have guessed it.

As a townhouse staggered by they followed the sound of grinding masonry.

‘Thank the gods they’re not interested in us: must be too full of salt and barnacles, and you’re supposed to be dead.’

Mortrissant eyed the houses. There were fates far worse than what had befallen his crew.

‘How long will it last, woman?’

Beka shrugged and for a moment the pirate watched her Adam’s apple work like there was still a mouth attached above it.

‘Not past dawn… probably,’ muttered Mortrissant without taking his eyes from the sight. ‘I only saw lightning hit a couple of times. But the citizenry must have worked out what ye are by now.’

At least with the crew in Davey Jones’ locker there was less to worry about. He grabbed Beka’s hand again and dodged a crumbling warehouse with gory fountains shooting from its downspouts. But they’d barely gone two turns before she was straining against him.

‘Stop worrying girl. I said I’d look after ye, didn’t I? You’ll be right as rain.’

As she began to tick her finger back and forth in the air like a scolding teacher Mortrissant watched. When the penny dropped he grabbed for the empty space at his shoulder where the bag had been slung.

‘Give them back, thief,’ said Mortrissant. ‘Before you damage them. You don’t know what ye’re doing.’

Beka brought what she’d hidden behind her back into view. Rain was bleeding into the bag holding the talismans they’d come so far to find. Mortrissant lunged, but Beka’s torso was quicker as she slipped from his grip.

‘I swear I won’t leave y’behind. Haven’t I told ye I love y’enough times?’

She wrapped her arms around herself and rocked from side to side.

‘I know, but there’s no time to talk about that right now.’

Mortrissant glanced away as figures appeared between the buildings. He’d no illusions about what the ports residents would do if they found them.

‘Is that the way to yer brainpan?’ he said pointing behind him.

Beka’s shoulders swayed uncertainly before what was left of her neck bobbed up and down.

‘Then run.’

Mortrissant didn’t bother looking behind him. What joined them together couldn’t be cut even by the sharpest executioner’s knife. Besides, she knew he was the only chance she had. When he reached the nearest alley Mortrissant ducked inside and waited for the sound of running feet to catch up.

‘Got you,’ said the pirate as she ran into his waiting arms.

He ignored the frantic kicking as he dragged the bitch up the wall with his blade in front of her where she could feel it. Much closer and he doubted he’d be able to stop. He wanted to find out how much of him she really owned, how much of his precious liberty he’d already sacrificed. Mortrissant fingered the puncture wounds on his chest. The woman his crew had found on the raft had never told him how many of her former consorts had survived her attention.

He hoisted the struggling torso a little higher.

‘Give those stones back to me… now.’

There was a nudge down where Mortrissant’s guts nestled, and he didn’t have to look to know it was a knife.

‘You little whore.’

Beka’s torso began to shake, and Mortrissant knew she was laughing, but her dagger never moved.

‘Fine, my sweet. Take yer pig sticker off me, and we’ll call it even,’ Mortrissant waited until he felt the blade disappear and the tension vanish from her body. He supposed she had a right to get excited. It wasn’t like he had a good track record either. Not that he was fooled by her submission. The vampire was so tricksy you did well to keep your wits about you when in her company.

He looked around as torches lit the alley’s mouth before passing away in a swirl of voices. Considering they were supposed to be in the town’s centre the houses were in an unusually bad state.

‘You sure this is the right place? I thought you said you were in the main square? Wait… ,’ Mortrissant’s voice went quiet. ‘There you are.’

As they approached the head sat atop its spike the tiles on the nearby houses ceased rattling rooftop by rooftop until only the soft pitter-patter of rain was left to disturb the night.

‘Oh, girl, look what they’ve done to you,’ said Mortrissant.

The milk white head with the golden tassels and fringe of a pagan Queen’s headdress hiding its eyes almost looked like it had before the injury that had been conducted on her. Only the light speckle of blood across her skin gave the lie to that. But Beka had a faint smile on her lips like she was glad she had company at last. Lightning flickered on the horizon and for a moment it lit up the skull hiding beneath her flesh. Then the illusion vanished, and Mortrissant rubbed a hand over his face. It had been too long… far too long.

Carefully he reached out and shifted the ornament’s beads to one side.

When Beka opened her eyes it was looking at a wild animal whose silver stare was watching him from the dark. He supposed that was close to the truth. The light of the world he and his fellows crouched around was fragile at the best of times.

‘Where ye lonely stuck up there?’

Mortrissant’s stomach gave a lurch. If they hadn’t been feeding her he’d stay and show them why he’d earned his name.

‘Mortrissant… .’

‘That’s right girl. The one and only.’

‘… I’ve been here days … I was so bored.’

‘I’ve seen you when you get bored. They don’t know how lucky they were.’

‘Didn’t want to scare them. They might have panicked and hidden the goods. Easier to play dead.’

The head’s red lips were slightly parted and between them the gleam of incisors was just visible. Mortrissant’s eyes followed the copper spike rammed into her windpipe. When he finally spoke, he kept his voice to a whisper. ‘It was the only way Beka. You know that don’t you? We’d never have been able to find the doorstep else.’

He looked round to check the buildings hadn’t heard.

‘The houses?’ said Mortrissant. ‘Will they try and stop us?’

His hands were hovering an inch from his disembodied queen.

‘I don’t think they care about much when they’re like this,’ said Beka. ‘We’re all the same to them. I went in one once, and nothing happened, only once. I promise.’

Mortrissant kept his thoughts to himself. He wondered if she’d liked that. Maybe it reminded her of her past?

‘You can’t stop them you know. This place runs on lightning.’ A bolt hit the gallows rigged up along one side of the square and the feet of the children hanging from it paddled the air. ‘The more they eat the richer they get. But the sacrifices don’t earth everything.’ From its position next to the plinth its owner was stuck on Beka’s body shrugged, ‘A bolt hit me once.’ She tapped the top her skull. ‘It felt like I was on fire; like the flames had worked their way inside. They’re going to be so angry when I’ve gone.’

Mortrissant’s jaw clenched.

‘They shouldn’t have done this to you in the first place.’

Her head was heavier than she looked when he lifted her from her prison and deposited her in the welcoming arms of her body. He thought back to when she’d still been alive, or what passed for it amongst her kind, all those years ago sun-burnt and starving on the raft after her crew had gotten rid of her, scared by what she’d become. For a moment he wondered what else lightning might do than burn. If her mind was broken by the ordeal they were both doomed.

‘What are you going to do to the townsfolk?’ said Beka.

Mortrissant’s eyes gleamed, ‘Look around you. This place is never going to be the same again. I doubt there’ll be many that survive the night. But you and me are leaving. We’ll find that well you told me about: the one that goes down deep, deeper than any you’d ever seen. The talismans will open the way, and I’m the last of the crew alive so they’re mine.’

He and his shipmates hadn’t listened at first, of course, only thinking to use her as goods in their next transaction. But she’d ranted and raved plenty in her desperation as her body began to fall apart. Eventually the cabin boy had made the mistake she’d been waiting for, and they’d found his husk stuck between the bars. After that her words had found a home in their heads and they’d let her feed on the other prisoners until the dissolution stopped. Then, there was the rafts other occupant. Mortrissant had never seen anything like it: not in the southern seas, or the frozen oceans of the north. It was clear the castaway had been using it to survive although what the crew had to offer must have seemed like nectar after that cold blooded thing.

‘I want those elixirs, and potions too. We could resurrect an army.’

Mortrissant brandished the stones above him as a peal of thunder erupted from the clouds, but even the storm couldn’t drown his laughter.

‘Why have they become so quiet now Mortrissant?’

He followed Beka’s gaze. The buildings round the square had the brooding quality of birds of prey before a feast, and they were so still it made his skin crawl.

‘Time to go,’ said the pirate.

‘About time.’

‘Quit complaining woman. I got here in the end, didn’t I?’

‘You’ve no idea what that was like, do you?’

‘Of course, I don’t Beka. But I’ve got it all worked out. The boat’s moored not far from here.’

Mortrissant cocked an ear as shouting began to spread through the night.

When they emerged from the buildings men were crowded round Mortrissant’s ship just like he’d thought.

‘Both of us are going to end up pecked clean above the high-water mark if ye don’t play your part well, ‘ he hissed out of the side of his mouth as Beka followed him.

‘M’hearties,’ bellowed Mortrissant as he stepped back so they could see her. ‘I’ve someone I’d like you to meet.’

A peel of thunder cracked across the rooftops loud enough to make the window’s rattle, but the men looked far from impressed.

‘That thing from the spike? We’ve already settled her hash. Must have been hit by lightning a hundred times by now.’

‘Besides you sold her to us in the first place. Bailiff told us. Why’s she going to help you?’

Suddenly Mortrissant was glad he was far enough away they couldn’t see the sweat springing into life on his brow. You didn’t play games with a woman like Beka’s temper.

‘You’re wrong, the money that changed hands was for her safe return,’ he said quickly before they could make the situation worse.

‘Is that right? Not much to return if you ask me.’

‘Why don’t you tell her that, landlubber?’

As Rebeka, doyenne of seas where the living had long ceased to voyage without fear, stepped past him. Mortrissant allowed himself a smile.

‘You should be grateful I released her. She’s going to make you live forever.’

One of the men had stepped forward and drawn his blade.

The woman in the wedding dress had begun to crawl with lightning and with each foot she rose into the air Mortrissant’s smile grew. It had been a while since he’d watched her in action.

Behind the man his friends had drawn their knives.

‘Much good it will do them,’ thought Mortrissant.

When the first dropped to the flagstones twitching and jumping like a fish out of water a moment crawled past that felt like a year before they raised their hands. Mortrissant wasn’t sure if it was the cold white fire crawling over the corpse, or the rictus grin staring at the heavens that did it.

‘We had no choice, understand? We tried one year with no offering, no gifts. It cost us a hundred dead in their sleep,’ said the new spokesman. ‘Their minds snap. But an immortal… . You can’t blame us look at what we’re up against out here.’

The man gestured at where the latest catch was sprawling across the docks. As they stared a tentacle as thick as man’s arm ripped up and snatched a seagull out of the air.

‘I don’t. But that’s not the point anymore is it, buckos?’

Mortrissant watched as their faces drained of colour. He’d been wondering how long it would take.

‘But… .’

‘… if she’s here?’

‘Wonder how your families are doing?’ Mortrissant’s lips curled.

As the men set off like dogs fleeing the end of a boot he limped toward his ship with Beka feeling every decade since his birth in his bones.

By the time the boat had begun to move figures were spilling from the streets again and Mortrissant waited for the first missiles. But when they didn’t come the feeling of wind trying to pull the skin from his bones soon took his worries away.

He looked up at the sails.

‘Y’can feel it can’t ye?’

Wind shrieked through the rigging threatening to blow them overboard and Mortrissant sniffed. The air was full of salt and seaweed, but below that was something else.

‘Come here girl and fill yer lungs!’

The pirate breathed in the smell of wildflowers, he could almost taste the sunlight, and felt a tug on his arm.

‘What girl? We’re nearly there. Oh… .’

Mortrissant cursed, stupid of him really, insensitive even. But once he’d gotten the boatswain’s needle and thread it didn’t take long to correct the error. When he’d finished he surveyed his work with a critical eye.

‘Not bad I suppose. Ye’re lucky I worked my way off the foredeck the hard way.’

Beka sat up and picked gingerly at the stitches round her neck.

‘I’m still hungry.’

’Course you are my lovely. Don’t take it all.’

Mortrissant bared his chest – let her have what she wanted. He owed her that, and more.

‘Enough,’ the pirate batted the woman suckling at his life blood away. ‘I know you’re fed up. But you’re going to have to be patient. There’ll be plenty where we’re going.’

Now she’d fed her skin had a bit of colour to it and he brought the first of the talismans from the bag launching the oddly carved rocks as far from the ship’s gunwale as he could, one after another. Geographically speaking, it wasn’t important exactly where they were. What was important was what they used to open the way.

At first nothing happened, then with a bang that sounded like a cannon going off the sails scythed over his head. The wind had reversed direction and Mortrissant didn’t need to be told to know where the shockwave was blowing from. He swung the wheel until the decks became as steep as a mountainsides as they battered their way through the gyre centred on the boat.

Up ahead a dimple in the water was getting steadily deeper.

With a feeling like a fingernail curling down his spine Beka leant close to his ear so she could be heard above the weather. Mortrissant nodded. He was a reasonable man, and anyway in a relationship you had to be open to suggestions.

‘I know,’ said the pirate. ‘You’ll just have to stop being so vain until we find a girl from over there. There’ll be plenty of time for fixing you up later.

The ship’s timbers were alive with blue flames now that left no sign of burning but the waves were beginning to hit the ship like rocks.

‘Hang on dear heart. There’ll be no pulling you from the water again if I lose you in this.’

The vortex that had opened was so wide mist had formed inside it and as he rode the ship through the storm Jaquotte Mortrissant felt young again.

Ahead of them pale lights were flickering in the whirlpool’s depths.

He span the wheel once more and planted his feet wide.

‘Avvvaaarrrrsst thaaarrrrrrrrrr!’

Already the ship’s prow was sinking.

END

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Just saying…

This was going to be a post about the one percent, or Putin, or nuclear Armageddon, or the thousand and one other global problems we face (like telesales for example). But… well do you ever get the feeling we’re just making things worse? As we stomp through our lives ranting at the TV and having meltdowns about arseholes who can’t drive, or unfortunately are Dictators in possession of enough firepower to obliterate us all at a moments notice, it’s worth stepping back. Most of us are not in a position to change any of this. Winding ourselves up like a spring that’s about to snap doesn’t help. People that are under pressure tend not to show their good side. They’re on the defensive… or on the attack. They’ve got something to prove even if it is only that they’re stronger than you. Fukkit… I even caught myself sending some love out to the world this morning.

I feel better for it.

Kilmo

“The Auctioneer’s Daughter” Dark Poetry by Olga Alexandra

The Chamber Magazine

amidst hide-covered bones she rides him around the smell of death greasy lips frozen with inexplicable mirth she rides little legs pasted against foul, matted withers her beast tripping hooves, like a clown ready for market she moves him on with chubby hands clenched at raw twine looped carelessly around and through a gaping mouth and frightened eyes rolling, lurching with her astride pounding thin-skinned flanks rocking an angry child rubbing a hobby horse parading caught in her own the knacker’s thrill around and around rocking the dying pony and she never asks where he went HUMAHNAH HUMAHNAH daddy’s singing the auctioneer’s song in stained concrete through rat-maze wood and beyond sawdust clumped with blood echoing outside where cowboys stand the girl now a woman watches worn animals with curtained eyes her rough hands mounting once again the auctioneer sings “she’s on” now squatting in dirt she meets the gaze…

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Badlands, South Dakota — Wanderlustarc

#badlands, #travel, #usa, #landscape, #nightscape

Badlands, South Dakota — Wanderlustarc

Heroics

Eunoia Review

The thing about this town without you in it is that it quickly becomes a cliché. It’s a big empty space full of big empty people and I am looking out on all of it from this balcony, trying to take it all in. But you aren’t looking back and that ruins the view.

Echoes. They say you walked through time. It makes me laugh but in the way that you came and went, it makes a sort of sense. You were here. You weren’t. There wasn’t any reason to all of it.

I suppose then that everything that has changed around here can all be your fault in their minds. If it works, I suppose. If it makes it easier for them to have someone to blame. If they need to make you out to be a villain. But that leaves me wondering what darker worlds you saved us…

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