Tag Archives: historical

Death Maker – Friday Fictioneers

copyright Marie Gail Stratford

copyright Marie Gail Stratford

 

I

make death:

long, beautiful

annihilation.

We all do here

at  the forge,

but  Harold,

who’s a klutz,

makes  axes:

tree   death,

and William

shapes animal

slaughter for

the butchers.

I am the best.

I make human

death. I sweat

at  the  steely

altar of Hades,

heated crimson

like future blood.

My masterpiece was for the king. It took a year to make. The hilt was set with a

fountain of diamonds, like the seeds of mourning lilies.

It won me a

citation. I

cannot read it,

but I know what

it  says.  The

best  death

maker  in

the realm.

 

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The Numberless Clock Society

This week I tried Rochelle’s brand of historical fiction, as sort of a tribute to her excellent storytelling. Of course, being me, I couldn’t do it straight, so this is alternate universe historical fiction.

Copyright Douglas M. MacIlroy

Copyright Douglas M. MacIlroy

The Numberless Clock Society

The meetings of the Numberless Clock society were held in a lower room of a Glasgow pub.

“Imagine no clocks: no schedules or appointments to keep,” I, the leader, railed after a few pints. “Imagine banks, empty and powerless. We need to dump the gold coins into the ocean and extricate ourselves from the stranglehold of the invisible hand of commerce. That’s Locke’s true state of nature.”

Adam was in charge of figuring out how to take down the financial system. However, in time, he drifted away and eventually joined the enemy camp. He even stole my words, the traitor.

 

** Read more about the Invisible Hand here**


Forgotten Histories – Visual Fiction

taken in Namhae, Korea

taken in Namhae, Korea

It just looked like a nice place to rest.

I came across the site while I was toiling through thick undergrowth on the side of a nameless Korean mountain. There was no gravestone to identify the person buried beneath and I barely thought about it as a grave as I threw my pack down and stretched my sore muscles.

Fatigue and a soothing bed of springy grass made me drowsy and my eyes closed on their own. All I could feel was the cool firmness of the grave under my back and the warm sun on my face.

Suddenly, it was night and I was standing in a village of houses with thatched roofs. Over the low, outer wall of the nearest house, I could see the door open and a woman was holding a newborn baby. It was crying and its face shone red in the lamplight.

The scene changed and I now saw a boy standing by the street, watching Japanese soldiers march into town. The boy was now in school, learning Japanese, whispering in Korean with his friends, and being beaten for it when he was caught.

The scenes began to move faster and faster. The boy was now a man, wearing the uniform of the South. I saw his name tag: Hong Deok-Jin. I saw him guarding a harbor, sneaking off to see his family, being caught and reprimanded, then sent to a small island as punishment. I saw him leading the counterattack against North Korean boats, then being rewarded for it.

The war was now over and the man lived in a small house with his growing family, his war medal tacked to the wall of the kitchen. I saw one fishing boat sink under him; watched him work with friends, saving money for years to buy another boat. I watched as one son and a daughter died and three more got married and set grandchildren on the man’s knees. The man’s wife finally passed on and I saw the man make his way painfully to the beach each morning to look out over the water, sitting on a rock with his wrinkled hands on his knees, looking and thinking.

Finally, I saw the procession of children and grandchildren carrying his body up the mountain slope to the grave. The family was too poor for a granite gravestone, but I saw them laboriously carry stones up the slope to build the wall around the site. Each year, family members would come to clean and maintain the grave, but then they stopped coming and the trees and undergrowth began to encroach upon the protecting walls.

I woke up with a start. Several hours had passed and the air had gotten chilly. I jumped up, suddenly apologetic about my careless use of another human being’s resting place. I was far behind schedule and needed to move on, but I couldn’t go right away. First, I cut a thick piece of wood and laid it on the grave for the next person who would come across the grave. On it, I carved in English and Korean:

Here lies Hong Deok-Jin. He once lived.


The Ghost Town by the Shore

I staggered onto the rickety wharf after floating for two days on the open sea. My ship and comrades were in the watery depths and I had given up hope until I spotted land.

silent wharf

Coming into a secluded bay, I had been overjoyed to see a village ahead of me. Now I saw that the buildings were like none I had ever seen before. Everything was eerily quiet as I made my way forward.

mysterious town

I walked among the building in bewilderment. The entire place was deserted, yet nothing was damaged. There were no signs of war or fire or disaster of any kind. Everything was open, as if the people had simply evaporated.

empty town

I began to wonder even what country I was in. The roofs all held a singular symbol: a stylized yin-yang swirl above a fish. The carving was amazingly intricate and I wondered if I had stumbled onto an artist colony.

roof symbol

I entered one of the larger buildings and found the first signs of serious industry. It looked like a forge or a refinery and when I advanced a little further, I saw that there was still molten metal in the bottom of the crucible.

refinery

I looked closer and got the first real shock since arriving in this ghost town. All the nagging apprehension came back to me in a rush. The molten metal was not real. It looked red, but the surface was cold. I touched it, tentatively. It was glass.

molten metal

I ran outside and down another street and found myself in a market. As I looked around, I saw the one sight I longed to see more than any other: food. There were stalls filled with fruits and vegetables, with no one in sight. I rushed over, but to my dismay, I found all the food to be mere imitations made of a spongy white substance and totally inedible.

food stall

As I continued on, I found a weapons shop, loaded with enough swords, spearheads and bows to equip an army. I picked one up and found it as light as a feather. Even the weapons were not real.

weapons stall

I passed through street after street of shops selling cloth, medicine, animal skins, dishes, and a multitude of other things. Everything sat out as if for sale, but no one attended them. I began to wonder if ghosts inhabited the silent town, like some weird necropolis where the dead roamed after nightfall.

cloth shop

I was becoming thoroughly uneasy and kept looking over my shoulder. The sun was close to setting and now I was terrified of being trapped in this place overnight.

silent town

On my way back to the shore, I found myself in a large room with items displayed on each side. I caught sight of a large portrait and stop to stare at it in wonder. It showed a beautiful girl, dressed as a soldier and wielding a sword, but what was so amazing was the skill of the painter. It was completely true to life and even when I looked closely, I could not detect a single brushstroke. I fled, lest the magic that hung over the place trap me there forever. Surely that silent, unreal town could not have been made for human habitation.

warrior girl

* * *

Hi, David here. I guess you could consider this post a sort of Visual Fiction extravaganza. It’s based around a place I went last Friday, in Changwon, Korea. It’s a set village for filming historical dramas and is unique because the buildings are a much different style than most you see in Korea. During the off season it is left open with all the props still there and on display. When we went, there was no one there at all, which made it a very cool place to poke around and explore. And just to prove I was actually there and didn’t just find pictures on the Internet…

me at the drama set


The Circle of Unbeing, Part 4

Click to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of the story.

midnight courtyard

The wind was fierce and the cold was numbing, but Pavel did not mind. It numbed the conflict in his mind, blocking out all but simple directives. Go to the castle. Climb the tower. Find the dagger.

The streets were deserted as he made his way through the town and started up the wooded hill. He wondered where the creature—he still could not think of it as human, much less as his father—was now.

Inside the castle, he made his way up the steps of the keep and inside the unroofed hall. He had no light, but the full moon shone a phantasmal light over his path. Parts of the castle had been burned in the revolt, but the floor of the main hall was stone. He came to the high tower, its door splintered and rusted, and began to climb.

The steps were wet with slime and circled up and up until they ended in a wide chamber. Its roof had been burned away and part of its walls were gone, but Pavel could still see the remnants of broken glassware and rusted instruments that had once filled his grandfather’s study. He wondered now if his grandfather had been a monster too, or if he had found a way of transforming his son into one before he died. Whatever the case, it had happened in this room.

Pavel started searching, clearing away old bird’s nest and the accumulated detritus of fifteen years of exposure. He cut himself on a shard of glass, but kept going. His numb fingers were groping along the floor underneath a collapsed shelf when he felt the outline of a small box. He pulled it out and opened it. Inside was a dagger. Its handle and blade were black and a large ruby nested in the pommel. This had to be it.

He made his way back down, stepping carefully on the pitch-black stairs. He had just stepped out into the courtyard, when a dark shape slipped through the gate. As it crossed into the moonlight, he saw that it was the creature. It had seen him and was shambling towards him with surprising speed.

“Do it . . . son,” it rasped. “The mayor has . . . found me. He is coming. He will . . . imprison me again . . . if he can. Quickly . . . before he comes.” The creature pulled its thin garment away, exposing its skeletal chest.

Pavel held the dagger, willing himself to strike. As he looked at the monster in the moonlight, he could see more of its features. He had never known his father, or seen a picture of him, but now he could almost imagine what he had looked like when he was a young, handsome man. For the first time, he saw it as a person, who had lived in tortures unimaginable for fifteen years: locked away, starved, fed human flesh and blood. This was his father, who needed him. He set the point of the dagger between the exposed ribs and pushed the blade into his father’s heart.

“Stop!” a voice cried from behind him. Pavel looked up to see the mayor stepping through the gate, a lantern in his hand. Wadim, the night guard stood behind him. The mayor’s face was frenzied. “You release my prize from his cell and now you try to destroy him.”

The mayor stopped and let out a cry. “Crina! Crina! If it were not for this whore’s spawn, you would still be alive.” He looked back at Pavel. “You unlocked the door. You let the thing escape! My Crina was on the point of death when I brought her here. No medicine could save her, but this creature’s blood would have kept her alive, alive forever. She would have been changed, but she would have been stronger and mine still. I would not have starved her and kept her weak. No, she would have been well-fed, and powerful—powerful enough to help me. Oh my lovely daughter!”

The mayor drew his sword and advanced towards Pavel, who backed up the steps into the main hall. The mayor stopped and laughed.

“Yes, stay here. Stay here, Lord Pavel, with the ghouls of your ancestors. Stay here, where I burned your grandfather and kept your father as my pet. I will keep Wadim at the gate to make sure you stay, until hunger or cold lofts your soul on demon’s wings to join them. I am off to see your mother. She will burn tonight, in that hovelish prison where I have kept her.”

Pavel ran down the steps as soon as the mayor had left. He had to get back to help his mother, but he did not know how. The main gate was the only way out of the castle and he could see Wadim just outside the gap, spear in hand. He would have no sympathy for Pavel, not when it meant risking the mayor’s wrath.

He looked down at the dagger in his hand, still wet with his father’s blood. He could not defeat Wadim with such a small weapon. All he could do was kill himself. Yes, he would kill himself, but not yet. First he would drink his father’s blood and be changed. Didn’t the mayor said it would make him strong? His father had been old and starved, kept weak by design, but Pavel was young and strong. He would go save his mother and then kill himself with the dagger, ending their unfortunate line forever.

Pavel bent over the figure of his father. Dark blood was still welling up from the wound in his chest. He bent down and began to drink, sucking it into his mouth. It was cold and bitter, but burned like fire as it went down his throat.

His father’s eyes flickered open and then widened as he saw Pavel. “No!” he said, in a voice that was little more than a breath. “Do not do this. You . . . do not . . . know. I did not know . . . when my father told me . . . to drink from his . . . veins. Flee this hideous . . . unbeing.”

“It will not be for long, I swear,” Pavel said. “I must save my mother. Then I will join you and all will be finished.” He continued to drink, forcing down the foul blood until it stopped bubbling up from the wound.

The first thing Pavel felt was the cold, as it seemed to melt away from him. He still felt the wind, but now it held no bite. He stood up and looked around. The darkness had lightened and he could see into every corner of the dark courtyard. A wave of strength came over him. He looked at the cut on his hand and as he watched, it closed and disappeared.

A surge of joy went through him and he was off, running through the narrow gap in the gate, slipping past Wadim before he could even react. Pavel felt like the wind, moving effortlessly along the ground, devouring the distance. Ahead of him, he saw the mayor walking uncertainly down the path. He turned just as Pavel reached him and Pavel was glad to see the look of terror in the mayor’s eyes as he stabbed the dagger into his chest.

“You will never touch my mother. This I promise you. And this is vengeance for my grandfather, whom you murdered, and my father, whom you tortured.” With each name, he stabbed again. The mayor collapsed, dead on the path.

It was over. His mother was safe. Pavel turned the dagger to his own chest, preparing to end his own life. Then he stopped. It wasn’t over. There were still the thane and master of lands, both of whom were wicked men who had shared a part in his family’s misery. He would take care of them as well. But then? The town would be leaderless, defenseless against the next petty lord or robber baron who could seize it and use it for their own purposes. He could lead them well. He could do good, and help those who had been so oppressed under the mayor’s rule. He was, after all, the rightful heir. It was his duty.

Pavel dropped his hand to his side and was turning to go up to the castle when he felt a vague discomfort in the back of his mind. It was a hunger for something he had never felt before. He remembered the taste of his father’s blood on his tongue, so repellent then, but now . . . now he had a need for it, a thirst.

And it was growing.

ruined castle

 


The Circle of Unbeing, Part 3

Click to read Part 1 and Part 2 of the story.

fireplace

When Pavel reached the house, he took the axe from behind the door and began to sharpen it. His mother looked up from the hearth, where she was cleaning out the ashes.

“What are you doing home? What’s wrong?”

Pavel looked at her, hesitated. “Wolves,” he said.

He stayed home all day, sharpening knives, watching, and fidgeting, until his behavior began to frighten his mother and he left. No one from the mayor’s manor came to summon him, which both relieved and worried him at the same time.

Night eventually came and Pavel and his mother sat silently in front of the fire—her with her mending and Pavel staring into the fire, the axe on his knees. He looked up to see her gazing at him.

“Do you think you will need that here? Do you think the wolves will come into the village—break into our house?”

“I—I’m not sure,” he said.

“It’s not wolves you’re worried about, is it?” she said.

There was a clattering outside, like wood falling off the pile. Pavel jumped, then went to the small window by the door. The moonlight was shining on their small path and garden but there was no movement.

At that moment, the chickens behind the house began to scream. Pavel had never heard them make such sound—did not know they could make such a horrible, rending shriek. He put his hand on the door handle but could not will himself to open it.

“Well, are you going?” his mother cried suddenly. “You got the axe. If wolves are at the chickens, you’d better go now or they’ll all be killed.”

Still, Pavel could not make himself open the door or explain why. He felt paralyzed. The chickens stopped abruptly and there was total silence for a space of several breaths. Just when he thought it was safe, there was a thump against the door. It came again. Someone, or something, was knocking with heavy, irregular strokes on the outside.

Thump . . . thump . . .

“Are you going to open it?” his mother asked. “Pavel, are you okay? What’s wrong? If it were wolves, they wouldn’t be knocking. Pavel, let the poor person in and out of the cold. Pavel?”

His hand was still resting on the door handle, but all he could think of was some way to barricade the door. Pull the beds across and push them against it. Block the window. Anything and everything to keep the evil outside. He looked up to see his mother next to him and before he could do anything, she pushed him aside and threw the door open.

A gust of frigid wind burst into the room, causing the fire to gutter. Pavel heard a rasping, croaking sound and then that hideous deformed face he had seen in the dungeon emerged into the light of the fireplace. His mother gasped and stepped back. The creature shuffled over the threshold.

Pavel stepped in front of his mother, brandishing the axe, but he was too transfixed with horror to strike. Now that he could see the monster in better light, he saw that it looked like a man, although one shriveled and twisted by some evil force. Its skin was yellow and thin and its eyes were bloodshot and roving. They latched onto his mother’s face and the mouth opened.

“Ah . . . An . . . Anca.” Pink spittle dribbled from its mouth as it expelled the word. Pavel’s mother was staring at the creature, her eyes growing wider and wider until she started to scream. She fell back on the floor, covering her face with her hands and screamed and screamed. Even when she fell into a coughing fit, she continued to writhe and tear at her hair.

“Mother!” Pavel ran to her side, trying to make her stop. He kept his eyes on the monster. It pulled itself a little closer.

“Pa . . . vel,” the monster rasped, staring at Pavel with its bulging eyes. And then, in a moment ghastly revelation, Pavel knew what the slavering ghoul in front of him was. It was his father.

It had been, at least. Now, one could hardly call it human. Pavel felt nothing but loathing for it and he wished he had the resolution to cut it in two with the axe. But he could not. Not now.

The monster that been his father saw the swaying of the axe in his hand and moved closer. “Kill . . . me,” it said. “The axe . . . will do nothing. In the high . . . tower there is . . . a dagger. Only it . . . can . . . kill me. I will . . . meet you . . . there.” It stopped and started to hack in short, sharp croaks. Pavel could barely look at it. “Kill me . . . son,” it said again and then, suddenly, it pulled itself around and was gone through the open door.

Pavel shut and locked the door. The fire had sunk low and the room was dark and icy. “Mother, sit up. Please,” he said, going to her and helping her up. All the strength seemed to have left her, but she got up, unresisting, and let him guide her to her chair by the fire. She picked up her mending and started to cry. The sobs came, stronger and stronger until they were shaking her thin body. The dam she had built triple-strong against the grief of her life had finally broken.

Pavel stayed by her until she finally quieted. He was putting more wood on the fire when she finally spoke. “You must do it, Pavel. You must kill him.”

“I don’t want to go near that thing again,” he said. “That is not my father. He died when I was a baby.”

“You must!” she said again. “I said good bye to your father a long time ago, and I cannot live now, knowing he is being tortured like that every moment of the day. You must kill him or I will never have peace. Do it for me, if not for him, son.”

Pavel nodded slowly. “I will go now,” he said.

moonlit night

(to be concluded tomorrow)


The Circle of Unbeing, Part 2

Click to read Part 1 of the story.

Midnight Forest

The frigid wind whipping through the tower door greeted Pavel as he reached ground level. He wanted nothing more than to run home and sit huddled by his fire but instead he crouched in dread in a protected corner until the three men of the Inner Circle reappeared, again wrapped in their rich cloaks.

“My lord, a messenger came here saying that your daughter is sick, to the point of death,” Pavel said.

The mayor looked at him hard, but then nodded. “Then let us hurry, boy,” was all he said. Pavel picked up the lantern and led the way back down to the town.

Pavel left the mayor at the door of the manor and went back to his small house. His mother was up when he returned. She looked up from her sewing, the weariness indelibly etched on her face. She never complained to him, but as Pavel had gotten older, he began to realize how hard the last fifteen years had been for his mother, the former daughter-in-law of a viscount and wife to the heir. Now, she was only a peasant woman and the least skillful of them all. When Pavel had been young, he had only thought about his own discomfort and yelled if the food she made was burned or tasteless. He would hide from the other children if his clothes were ill-mended. But she remained always like a lamb to the slaughter, though the execution stretched out over years of toil.

Pavel went and stood by the fire, still trying to process the horror he had seen in the dungeon of the castle. “The mayor’s daughter is on the edge of death,” he said after a moment. His mother’s hand went to her mouth but then dropped as she looked up hollowly at him.

“What will he do to us this time?” she asked plaintively. “When the crops were bad last year, he took a double share from our stores and when one of his cows broke its leg, he took our only one.”

“This is not our fault,” Pavel said.

“When has it ever been?” she asked. “He will kill us yet, even if it takes another fifteen years. He has a vendetta.”

“But why should he?” Pavel asked. “He killed my grandfather, but I was a baby and you were only his daughter-in-law. What could we have done to him?”

“I never told you,” she said softly, putting calloused hands over her face for a moment. “Perhaps I should have. My only crime was that I would not be his wife. I rejected his proposal and later married your father. I thought he had forgotten about it, until that night, when the people rebelled and he, their leader, took the title of mayor. A civil enough title, but he is as ruthless as any noble.”

She faced the fire, but continued to speak, slowly repeating to herself a litany of grief and injustice, dredged up for yet another bitter dose of recollection. Pavel went to bed before she had finished and her dreary murmuring cast ominous shadows over his dreams.

Nerakrist

Pavel had just woken up the next morning when someone pounded on the door. He opened it to see their neighbor, Domnul Iorga.

“Warning,” Iorga said immediately. “Wolves are about, they say. The Cernea farm was attacked and six sheep were killed and mutilated. Also, one of the farmhands who was sleeping in the barn is dead. Carry a blade with you if you go out.”

“Thank you, I will,” Pavel said. “Have you heard any word on the mayor’s daughter?”

“Dead, they say. Last night,” Iorga said. He gave Pavel a meaningful look and crossed himself. “God be with you and yours.” He turned and went up the path to his house. Pavel looked back, but his mother was busy at the fire and had not heard. He would not tell her, at least not yet.

Pavil worked as a messenger for the mayor, as well as his duties as the midnight lantern carrier for the Inner Circle’s gatherings. He arrived at the mayor’s manor after breakfast and the guard Andrei informed him that he was summoned directly to the mayor’s study. “God be with you,” the man murmured after him.

“Is it true that Crina died in the night?” Pavel asked.

“So they say,” Andrei said. “Wadim was on night watch and said that the mayor came back after the first hour and then left again, carrying his daughter with him in a carriage. Wadim swears she was alive when they left, but an hour later, when they returned, she was covered with a sheet. I would have thought they’d go to Domnul Florea, the surgeon, but his assistant said no one came there all night.”

Pavel only nodded and hurried inside. All he could think of was the hideous monster he had seen in the dungeon of the castle, and how it had attacked Iosif. Was it possible the mayor had sacrificed his own daughter to that thing? There were rumors that the Inner Circle was involved in satanic rituals in the castle late at night. He had never believed them, but now a shock of fear ran through him as it occurred to him that what he had seen might have been the devil.

He was ushered into the mayor’s study immediately. He bowed and stood in front of the narrow wooden desk with the ceremonial mace lying across the front.

The mayor had changed overnight. His hair and beard were uncombed and his face looked haggard and wolfish. His dark-rimmed eyes bored into Pavel as if he were trying to read his thoughts.

“Did you go down into the tower last night?” the mayor asked immediately.

He knows. He knows everything, Pavel thought, as a chill of terror went down his back. “I would never go into the tower, my lord,” he said.

“Liar!” The mayor’s fist crashed down on the desk. “Sergiu saw you go in.”

“No! He was gone before—” Pavel hesitated. “I mean, yes, I did open the door to see if you were coming, but then I shut it again. I did not go in, I swear.” He was desperate in his denial; not matter what guilt his soul might endure from lying, it was far better than admitting he had gone down into that dungeon now.

“A door in the dungeon that is always kept locked somehow became unlocked. Who could have unlocked it, but you?”

“I do not know, my lord, but I swear that I did not go into the tower,” Pavel said. He could feel the sweat trickling down his back and hoped his guilt did not show through onto his face.

The mayor gave a snarl, but then collapsed back into his chair, as if his strength had suddenly deserted him.

“Go,” he said, “but may calamity find you swiftly if you are lying.” Pavel fled.

“I’m glad to see you still in one piece,” Andrei said when he had reached the courtyard again. “Did you hear about the other fatality last night?”

“Yes, the Cernea family’s farmhand,” Pavel said. “Domnul Iorga told me. Wolves, he said.”

“I have not heard of that one,” Andrei said. “I mean Doamna Korzha. Her husband said they were getting ready for a bed when a monstrous face appeared in the window. Big green eyes and teeth like a wolf, they say. The old woman screamed and fell down dead, her fare suddenly paid in full for her journey to heaven. Her husband said it was a face like a devil. Hey, where are you going?”

Pavel had taken off running towards home. There was a monster loose in the region and it was his fault. He had to get home and keep that thing away from his mother.

(to be continued)


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