Tag Archives: supernatural

Pandora

Elizabeth let out a ragged sigh of exhaustion as the men retired to the study. She backed out of her seat and began stacking plates. Reginald had just returned from India. She had not even gotten a chance to talk with him before he invited his friends over. The clatter of porcelain drowned out a roar of laughter from the dinner party. She paused in her duties for a moment and listened in. As much as Elizabeth hated that they were all at her house, hogging her husband, she as was curious about his adventures as they were.

“Elizabeth dear? Please come in here!” A voice echoed from down the hall.

She was shocked at the invitation. The men never asked her to join once talks started in the study. She cautiously strolled down the oaken hallway and swung the door open to a half circle of gentlemen around the fireplace. Her husband took a mighty puff from a cigar while tapping on a leather bound book.

“Do you know what this is darling?” Reginald inquired.

“No.” Elizabeth replied, looking around at the attentive men around her. “I have no idea.”

Reginald held the book by it’s spine and flipped it open to a random page. He took one more puff from his cigar before setting it down. He cleared his throat.

“My dear wife. I know you were classically educated, I am going to tell a story pertaining to that. Please bear with me.”

“Of course” She obliged.

“This book comes from a small mountain tribe on the border of India and Afghanistan. Now these tribesmen are a curious people. They claim to be related to Alexander the Great of Macedon. I trust you know of him?”

“Y-Yes, I do.” Elizabeth stammered. The mood of the room was darkening as her husband and his party stared at her intently. The fire crackled intensely in the background.

“Well. As you know Alexander the Great conquered everything from Egypt to India.” He continued. “What this tribe claims is that when Alexander was done conquering he visited the most remote village in his empire. It was then that he charged the tribe’s ancestors with a sacred duty.”

Reginald picked up his cigar nonchalantly and took a deep puff. His friends around him leaned in as the flickering flames illuminated half his face. He cleared his throat and lowered his voice.

“He told them that this here.” He shook the book in his hand softly. “This book- was Pandora’s Box. And that it should never be touched by a woman, else it would unleash a new wave of demons upon the world.”

Elizabeth stood there shaken. She glanced around at the men sitting around her for any traces of a practical joke. In their eyes, solely fixed on her, she saw only a solemn sincerity. She jumped at the touch of her husbands hand against hers.

“Dear?”

“Yes?”

“Will you open it?”

Elizabeth’s heart beat rapidly. Something inside her chest screamed for her to run, but she stood her ground against it. Her curiosity would not let her leave.

Reginald held the book out to Elizabeth with both hands. Her fingers trembled as she hovered them over the ancient binding. With a swift motion, she snatched the book from her husband. The party gasped. Only the fire broke the silence of expectation.

Nothing happened.

The men around her guffawed and laughed heartily, elbowing Reginald joyfully. He smiled and shrugged playfully. Elizabeth narrowed her eyes at her husband. It seemed she had been nothing but the night’s entertainment. Multiple conversations splintered off around her, but Elizabeth drowned them out in her head. She brushed her hand along the cover, and then thrust her fingers into the pages of the book.

She flipped it open.

Her eyes widened. She stared down at the page for a few seconds in a fear that paralyzed her entirely. Her body allowed her to shriek and she did so as loud as she could. The guests fell silent. Fat tears welled in her eyes, rolling down onto the pages of the ancient book. Onto the faces of demons writhing disturbingly on the pages in a frenzy.

The book shook violently with an otherworldly energy. Pages tore themselves out and flew onto the floor. Illustrations of eldritch creatures scrambled to life in the confines of the papers. Snapping, scratching, and gnawing viciously. While the men sat in their chairs, holding their feet up, Reginald took charge.

“We need to get out of here!!”

He scrambled out of his seat and raced for the door. In his haste, he stepped onto one of the pages carelessly.

A creature of pure black, with dull blue eyes wrapped it’s arms around the passing foot. In a blink, the thing had attached itself to Reginald’s shoe. Thrown off balance, he dropped onto the carpet. Close to more of the pages littered all over the floor.

He screamed in agony as the creatures crawled out of their ancient prisons and onto his pathetic body. He twisted with every latch, bite, and gouge. From every wound, a black bubbling ooze spilled from his contorting body onto the ground. Elizabeth and the party watched in horror as the things swarmed his face like insects. She was so utterly terrified that she could not muster a scream. Instead an icy chill rippled through her body, rendering her incapable of anything but watching as her husband squirmed wildly on the floor.

In his final seconds of life, Reginald thrust a pained finger past Elizabeth. Her heart sank as she followed his gesture to the fireplace.

The piercing sound of a final page ripping from the spine of the book stole the attention of the room. All eyes fixed on it as it floated lazily in the air, twisting peacefully before plunging itself into the embers.

With a rush of air, the light of the fire was extinguished. Elizabeth remained where she was in darkness. Standing with an empty, open book in her hand, surrounded by nightmares incarnate. She forced her eyes shut with all the might she could muster from within. Preparing for the same fate as her husband. Praying to God that her death would be quick.

Her pulse gradually slowed from it’s erratic beat, settling into its normal cadence. A soothing, crackling rhythm came to life somewhere in the room. And with a ragged breath, she opened her eyes.

The fire was back, and with it the unholy scene surrounding her seared itself into Elizabeth’s mind. The semicircle of cushioned chairs were plastered with the corpses of her husband’s friends. Backs arched, and mouths twisted. Frozen in their torment by a hardened black sludge. The pages once laid out on the carpet were returned to the book, now closed in her trembling hands. She let out a yelp as she dropped it unceremoniously and ran to escape the study.

Elizabeth caught one last glimpse of her husband’s blackened remains before slamming the door shut.

She felt a deep pang of guilt as she phoned for help. She hated that was not plagued by the death she had experienced. Instead while the dial tone rang she wondered selfishly, if the police would believe her when they arrived.

Advertisements

Sound

Our ship lapped against the waves. Evening light shimmered against the broken ripples. I stood at the bow and looked out at the spit of land ahead of us. A haunting sound wafted over the water, admired by myself as well as the growing crowd of enraptured shipmen. Although the noise was certainly tempting me towards it, I had enough willpower to resist the tug.

The noise had started when the sun began to touch the horizon one month ago. Weak men living in the coastal towns stopped in their daily tasks and headed out to sea. Those without boats began walking into the water. They did not stop until they had disappeared under the deep blue tides. It was not long before the lords of Saltonport rallied their soldiers to silence the threat.

As we neared the island, I began to notice several small fishing crafts dotting the coves and beaches. No doubt citizens trying to get closer to the source of the heavenly sound.

“Alright men! Keep yer wits about you!”

We scrambled the rowboats and inched toward shore.

I stepped onto the sand with a heavily armored boot, and immediately began sinking into the tidal sediments. I drew my sword and held my shield close as I followed the captain into the dense brush standing like a wall at the edge of the beach. He used his heavy steel axe to hack away at the vegetation, joined by others to form a path into the jungle. We were not scared of what we might find. The sublime sound enticed us further.

As we made our way forward, we began encountering strange objects scattered on the tropical floor. I spied a shiny metal fragment in the grass, and flipped in with my sword. On the other side, a pattern of tiny cubes spotted the metal like boils. A feeling of dread began to rise in the pit of my stomach. Something about the pattern unsettling in how deeply unfamiliar it was.

We reached a clearing, and our marching pace increased. Several other soldiers had discovered strange objects and were visibly nervous as they advanced. However, our captain was unfazed. He led us onward with a dutiful vigor. Closer to the epicenter of the beautiful sound. Curiously though, it never seemed to get louder as we neared its location. It had a constant, everlasting quality.

At last light we came upon a collection of massive grey rocks standing imposingly above the grass. The crickets were chirping frantically as if to warn us about what we would find.

Our formation broke as we made our way through the thin crevices between the boulders. My armor scraped against the rocks as I scooted past. The noise did of steel on stone did not bother me, the pleasant music seemed to echo to a powerful effect between the rocks. I breathed a sigh of relief when I wriggled free from their clutches. Only to find myself dumbfounded by what I saw.

A metal cube with shining green lights lay half sunk into the earth. Burn marks and deep gouges into its side looked recent. The colored lights pulsed to the sound of the heavenly noise. Bearded men frolicked naked around it, paying me and my comrades no mind as we shuffled closer. I could sense the uneasiness among the troops. It was not long before the captain had scrambled through the towering rocks.

“Good God!” The captain looked over the thing with amazement. “This is truly a marvelous relic!”

We shoved the naked men aside so that he could move forward.

“This material,” He ran his fingers along the smooth side of the cube. “I have seen nothing like it in all my years!”

At his touch, the melody stopped. The naked men screamed in anguish, covering their ears as if they had heard something blasphemous.

“MAKE IT STOP!” They wailed with bloodcurdling desperation.

I pitied these men for a moment, thinking them mad. But then I began to hear it too. A faint screeching that compounded quickly into a cacophony of pain. I clawed at my ears. The sound was torture.

“TAKE OFF YOUR CLOTHES FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!” The naked men commanded. A singleminded fear shook in their eyes and they plugged their ears.

We did not hesitate to strip down to the nude. Not even the captain protested.

Shortly after the last soldier had dropped his trousers the noise ceased. Replaced again by the pleasant sound.

“You’ll learn to love it.” An unkempt man stated bluntly. “Don’t try to escape, or it will do that again.”

 

I was surprised at how quickly my spirit was broken. It seemed that on the island, the divine sound was present at all times of the day, not longer confined to the evening. After a couple weeks I found myself dancing around the sunken cube. It was precious to me, my sole source of pleasure in the world. We still hungered, but we soon found that the cube provided. Every day, more people would squeeze through the rocks. We let the strong men join us. The weak, women and children were felled with our swords and axes. We required their corpses for sustenance.

The people coming seemed to get more and more exotic as the months went on, it appeared that the cube was now drawing in people from all corners of the world.

It made me unexplainably happy to think of all the people who could hear the sound. That angelic, glorious sound.

I would see them soon.

The Book of Akvaa

An insurgent group had taken control of Enjil and we were tasked with clearing the ancient city. As we drove our Humvee through the massive city gates, I could not help but think that we were only the latest in a long line of empires to do so. The colorfully stained mud buildings were scorched by fire, the decadent and ancient murals on the walls left abused by modern weaponry. In between works of art, the bodies of slain civilians were stashed in decrepit and decaying alleyways. We stopped at an intersection in the claustrophobic road. The sergeant tapped my helmet and gestured for me to hop out. Dansforth got the signal as well and joined me.

“You boys got lucky, this sector’s already been cleared.” The sergeant grimaced, and proceeded in a grave tone. “We need a count on the bodies. Initial estimates put the numbers around 160 civilian casualties.”

My heart sunk. I had known men who were assigned to counting bodies after one of these insurgent gangs ran through town. They were changed afterwards.

“Yessir” I replied.

Dansforth and I shot a quick salute to the Humvee before advancing into the shadows of the twisting alleyways.

I thank God that the bodies were fresh and in the shade. Bloating and bulging had barely set in, and it made the counting easier. Though each new face burned into my corneas like a hot iron. The smell seemed to have gotten to Dansforth, as he bent over and vomited severely. I maintained my constitution, and boldly pressed on.

About an hour in, we were still treading down that same body littered alley. Dansforth and I frequently exchanged nervous glances. There was something unnatural about our situation. We had counted significantly more than 160 dead in this place alone. And there seemed to be no end in sight. With the sky overhead darkening, we quickly became more and more unsettled.

That is until we spied a glowing purple rectangle ahead. I felt relief come over me like a crashing  wave. There was something soothing about its perfect, sterile, geometric shape. I broke into a jog, followed close behind by Dansforth. It was but a few minutes till we reached the rectangle in its splendor.

It was a doorway. Some kind of iridescent paint bordered a solid stone door. I instinctively pushed on the slab, and with little effort it swung open. Stale air rushed outside. The scent of rotting wood wafted past my nostrils. It was a welcome change.

As we stepped inside, our eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. There was a skylight letting in pale light in a wide beam. It shone onto a grey stone slab with a single book sitting atop. The cover was leather and adorned with precious stones along the edges and spine. I looked greedily at the glimmering rocks and swiftly moved to the book. Trying to claim it in a primitive manner.

Though when I looked back at Dansforth he did not seem enticed by the jewels. Where I felt the burning pangs of greed, I could tell by the sparkle in his eyes that a different, more innocent emotion seared inside. Curiosity. I felt ashamed so I stood to the side and let him pass.

He walked to the pedestal and promptly dusted off the cover. His fingers carelessly caressed over the precious stones, as if he only desired the knowledge it contained. I scoffed under my breath.

Dansforth shuddered as he creaked open to the first page. I peered over his shoulder at the intricate illustrations. They depicted monstrous and disturbing beings, clinging to a tortured life. The pictures seemed to reach out of the page in agony. I couldn’t shake the feeling that what we were experiencing was wrong. The images in these ancient tomes were not meant for human eyes.

Suddenly Dansforth began convulsing. His feet were planted to the floor but he seemed to lose all control. His eyes rolled over and saliva foamed at the corners of his mouth. I gripped onto his shoulder and he instantly regained control of his functions. He clawed at his scalp and wailed.

“I CAN’T FORGET! GOD PLEASE LET ME FORGET!! AKVAA! AKVAA!!”

I eyed him, writhing, pulling out hair and babbling uncontrollably. And then back at the dusty pages we had been reading. My own curiosity bounced off the walls of my skull.

What did Dansforth uncover that I did not? What was Aeki Leyvem? We had been reading the same pages, why was I not reaching the same realization?

I wanted it. I lusted for it. My eyes squinted in jealousy. He was still incomprehensibly flailing about, taunting me with his knowledge. I reached for the rifle slung on my back and shouldered it.

“TELL ME!! FUCKING TELL ME WHAT YOU SAW!!”

Dansforth froze. An eerie silence filled the room. He spun around slowly to reveal a smiling face. He began laughing uncontrollably, an exploding face painted onto a still body.

I didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. The laughter stopped, and released a throbbing pressure in my head. His body slunk lifelessly to the ground.

I shuffled over to the book once more and flipped through the pages frantically. More pictures, and text in a language lost to the ages. I did not face any realizations.

I slammed the tome shut. Dust flew forcefully from the pages. The gems adorning the cover no longer interested me. I wanted to KNOW what Dansforth had found.

Why did the book choose him??

I scrambled out the purple doorway and back into the body strewn alleyway. The corpses whizzed by me as I ran past them. The sky had disappeared altogether and I found myself surrounded by darkness the more distance I made between me and that accursed book.

A decaying body must have had its arm outstretched because my foot caught on something and I smashed my face on the ground. I spat the dirt from my mouth and laid there for a while. That’s when a feeling overcame me, I cannot in my right mind say for certain but I swear I felt arms creeping over my body as I laid there immobile. I began convulsing, and an icy caress moved up my spine.

I don’t remember what else happened, but when my squad found me they said that I was laughing uncontrollably. Muttering strange words to myself.

I did have my realization. Akvaa is not a thing, it is a place. A place where all those who take a life are doomed to remain. I laughed. I laughed because Dansforth had bested me. I laughed because Akvaa awaits me.

Highly Flammable

I felt a familiar white heat build up in the pit of my stomach. I snapped my fingers and released it out the tips of my fingers. As it vented out, wisps of flame crackled into existence. I fished around in my coat pocket and pulled out a thin vial. With a few purposeful movements of my digits I forced the fire into the glass. Once it had been contained I corked it and dropped it back in my pocket.

“Sorry about that Ma’am.” I apologized. “I usually don’t do that in front of people but I just couldn’t contain it any longer. You came in a little earlier than I had expected.”

As a pyromancer I needed to vent occasionally, or risk boiling my internal organs. I already felt calmer, and more collected.

“It’s quite fine Mr. Darby.” The woman winked. “I’ve always found pyromancy to be quite. Interesting.”

I tipped my hat down to hide a blush. She was attractive, but still a client. I needed to be professional.

“Anyways, what brings you in Ms..” I glanced over at the calendar on my computer monitor. “Wells?”

She flashed a flirtatious smirk and reached into her purse. I heard a few pieces of metal clanking against each other. Anxious thoughts set in.

Please don’t have a gun.

Please don’t have a gun.

Her eyes brightened when she found what she was searching for and in one motion, slammed it down on my desk. I let out a long breath as my anxiety released. It was an ID card, with her own face on it.

“Ms. Wells, what is it I’m looking at here?”

“The reason why I need the best investigator on the South side.”

I hated it when clients tried to be coy.

“Well, I’m flattered I really am.” I stared at the card again for something of significance. “But I have no idea what this means.”

“Now, now.” Ms. Wells put loose fists beneath her chin patronizingly. “And I thought you were the best! Take a look into the eyes of that picture.”

I was irritated at her tone, but still slid the ID card closer and held it close to my face. I began to take it apart detail by detail. Maybe I had missed something.

ID card for Ganno DNA Database INC.

Top Level security clearance

Name- Susan Wells

DOB- 12/03/1990

Eyes- Blue

I paused for a second. Blue?

I lowered the card, holding the portrait on the card up to Ms. Wells. Her eyes were a deep hazel, but on the card they were clearly blue.

“‘Scuse me Ma’am, but do you wear colored contact lenses?”

Ms. Wells exploded in excitement, she clapped her hands at a near supersonic speed.

“I see my faith in you was well placed.” She cocked her head. “As for the contacts, I don’t wear them. What’s troubling is that this is my work ID. I’m afraid someone has stolen my face. For whatever reason.”

I furrowed my brow. I had heard of shapeshifters, but they were extremely rare. It fit the profile, they were tricksters. Always looking for a way to take over someone else’s life. I’d never thought I’d see something like this on a case. Ms. Wells stared down at her watch, and jumped onto her feet. She snatched the ID from my hands.

“Oh my! I seem to be running late!” She brushed off her pants and began walking towards the door.

“That’s funny.” I chuckled. “You came in early, and now you’re leaving before your scheduled appointment. I wonder why that is?”

She froze, and slowly turned her head to face me. She was visibly irked by my implications.

“What are you saying?”

I remained silent and gestured for her to take a seat. She rebelliously took another step towards the door.

I snapped my fingers and shot two streams of fire out of my fingernails. The flames flowed out into the air like a gas. I willed them to circle around Ms. Wells in a show of force.

“What are you doing?! You’re ruining EVERYTHING!!”

Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Ms. Wells nervously stood in silence, paralyzed by fear.

“Come on in.” I called out.

The knob twisted and swung with the heavy oak door. The stranger began to stroll in, but stopped and opened her blue eyes wide when she saw Ms. Wells surrounded by the encircling flames.

“Wha-” The woman began. “Who is this?”

I pointed a finger gun at the woman I had captured.

“This, Ms. Wells is your shapeshifter.”

She gasped. The shapeshifter fidgeted nervously but remained quiet. I continued with my monologue.

“My first clue was when she came in early. The first rule of stealing someone’s identity is to never be at the same place at the same time. She cut it close, but only because she thought that I’d keep you here after she had just accused you of being a shapeshifter. Long enough for her to use your card to sign in to your office at a DNA database, overwrite your file with hers, and report an impostor. You.” I shot a triumphant look at the shapeshifter, but she turned her head away. “By the time you got back to work they’d cart you away and she would have taken control of your life.”

The real Ms. Wells looked shocked. She had a right to be. Her life was almost stolen from her. The flames circling the shapeshifter flickered out.

She noticed this and used the opportunity to reach into her purse.

Please don’t have a-

She lugged a heavy 6-shot revolver out and pulled back the hammer.

Damn.

She alternated pointing the thing at me and Ms. Wells.

“I usually don’t kill because it complicates things.” She spat on the floor. “But it’s easy for me to disappear.”

She strained a slow blink and her skin, bone structure, and voice changed to that of a man in his mid forties. The replicated skin of Ms. Darby shed off all at once in pieces. They lay on the ground, like a pile of dry leaves. I used the time her eyes were shut to rummage in my jacket pocket. I managed a wink towards Ms. Wells when I found the vial. She was fixed on the replica of her own skin, laying carelessly on the floor. Terrified beyond belief, tears muddled her mascara.

“Any more deductions you’d like to make Mr. Darby?” The shapeshifter asked menacingly.

“Yep! Just one!” I smiled. “The skin you just shed is probably flamable!”

The shapeshifter’s eyes widened when I pulled the cork off the vial I had vented into. I flicked it with my index finger, and it gracefully flew through the air and onto the pile of molted skin at the shapeshifter’s feet.

The flames quickly lipped up the being’s legs, and it instinctively dropped the gun to start beating at the fire. The shapeshifter screamed in several voices at once. It was unnerving.

I looked at Ms. Wells with a concerned expression. She nodded her head in agreement and we both sprinted out of my office, down the staircase, and onto the street. We stood there with our hands on our knees, trying to catch our breath. I spied a fiery figure at my window, its arms flailed around wildly.

Suddenly, the chilling sound of glass shattering sounded from above. I covered Ms. Well’s eyes before the body made impact. Though I spared her the image, I could not shield her from the blood, which splattered splotches of red on her blue jeans. All that could be heard were the flames joyfully crackling over charred flesh, and fire engines off in the distance. I knew it was not the right time, but I anxiously asked Ms. Wells a question.

“Soo this is not the first time I’ve burned down my office.” I winced at the awkwardness of my timing. “Can you stick around a while and give a statement? My insurance premium is super high as it is. I don’t want them thinking this was my fault.”

She dug her face into her hands and sobbed deeply. She started shaking, so I put my arms around her torso to comfort her. She was clearly still in shock.

“Shouldn’t have asked. Sorry. I’ll just have them call you.”

Time

This is a guest post I made on my friend’s blog a while back. I have the original link below, please feel free to read either here or there. Also check out my friend’s blog he’s got some great content!

https://butterfliesmachineguns.wordpress.com/2016/10/15/time/


“You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find, ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun”

-Pink Floyd

The marshy ground of McFrilly’s Swamp was obscured by a layer of thick fog. That’s why I was so surprised when my foot sunk up to my knee. I struggled to free myself from the unrelenting mud. After a few minutes of pulling and grunting it proved a worthy opponent. I gave my boot to the earth and slogged through the ground with my sock.

It was the summer of 1971. Led Zeppelin IV was rocking the charts, cigarette ads were just banned from television, and the latest polls showed over 60% of Americans opposed the Vietnam War. I had just received my draft notice, guys my age were dropping like flies. That’s what first led me to McFrilly’s Swamp. I knew of the folklore surrounding the bayou. The kind of stories you only hear by growing up in rural Louisiana, hanging around the old gator hunters after an evening of heavy drinking. A lot of it was bull- but there was one legend that always caught my ear. Supposedly there was an old cabin deep in the swamp. They say there lived an old man who could make your wishes come true, for a price. It was my last option. I didn’t want to be some nameless casualty in some dark, secluded spit of jungle.

I trudged onward, my sock slapping the mud loudly with each step. The dull moonlight partially illuminated a pathway of mossy planks, elevated above the sludge of the swamp. I stepped onto it. The soft wood greeted me with an unsettling creak but I trusted it to hold. The planks weaved through the cypress trees and over bubbling mudpots. At the end was a tiny cabin held above the marsh by a few rotting posts. A candle flickered in the window. Someone was home.

I followed the path up to the door, then took a deep breath. Here we go.

*Knock**Knock**Knock*

I gave the door a few forceful taps with my knuckles. Its wood planks were soft to the touch.

A voice greeted from the other side of the door.

“Ah, come on in. I’ve been expecting a visitor.”

I opened the door to a humble, but cozy den. A long rectangular rug covered the wood planked floor and a small wood stove kept the temperature agreeable. Jim Croce played on vinyl in the background. Tending the fire and rocking in his chair was a elderly black man in a corduroy suit.

His aged face was unforgettable. Every dry wrinkle above his brow seemed to tell a story. Stories of a hard, unforgiving life. His hair was grey and curled into itself. Small brown freckles dotted his nose and cheeks. But the most memorable thing about him were his eyes. Milky and dull, looking at them was like seeing my reflection in a greasy spoon.

“Greetings there youngin’. What can I do ya for?” He smiled with pearly white teeth.

His eyes taken by cataracts, I had dismissed him as blind. Yet he looked straight into my eyes. But, more importantly, he just seemed like a normal old man. Nothing supernatural or satanic was going on here. The thought crossed my mind that in my desperation I had intruded in on the life of a hermit who simply wanted to live alone, in peace.

“I’m sorry, I think I made a mistake-”

“There aren’t too many cabins this far out in the bayou. You came here because you want something don’t you?” The old man chuckled to himself. “Well. Out with it boy!”

“I don’t want to go to Vietnam. I-I can’t. I can’t go to Vietnam.”

“Is that all?” The man burst into a boisterous cackle.

“Please?”

He threw his hand onto my shoulder and howled. Eventually he settled down and talked to me in a low voice.

“Time is a fickle thing. You see time is a linear thing from your perspective. You live your life confined to three dimensions. To you time is a nuisance, an obstacle. You run like water through a pipe. Would you like me to cap the pipe?”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m sayin’ that I can take the time off of your hands. Save you the hassle.”

“So, if I wanted to dodge the draft. What would I have to do?”

“I’ve already seen it. You’ll go to Vietnam, and you’ll die with a bullet in your back. No one will find your body. But hell, you’ll be a damn war hero!” The old man threw his head back and settled back into his hooting chuckle. “Let’s find our way around that nasty bit. You won’t have to die then if you just stay here with me a while longer. You see, time is a fickle thing. You have plenty of life to live. I can show you.

“Then what’s the problem? Let’s do it!”

His entire demeanor changed. The room went quiet except for the crackle of the fire. An icy shiver ran up my spine. The old man’s eyes opened to an otherworldly stare. They were blurry at first but I could see lifelike figures dancing in his dilated pupils. As I peered deeper the figures transformed to dancing lights. Every bounce told a story, a marvelous spectacle to behold.

“All you have to do is take my hand” The man extended his arm slowly.

In a daze, I slowly lifted my arm to clasp the outstretched palm. The lights were mesmerizing. I was about to grasp his hand when the lights went out.

Suddenly and entirely. It was terrifying.

I snapped out of my trance and immediately bolted for the door. He resumed rocking back and forth in his chair. I could hear his chilling howls of laughter echo through the moonlit cypress trees. I ran as fast as my legs could carry me from that cabin in McFrilly’s Swamp. At the last minute I had changed my mind. I’d rather risk my life fighting overseas.

After that my life went on.

I went to Vietnam. It was hell, but I made it through. Made some good friends along the way, lost some as well. After spending three years wallowing in the jungle I came home to a hero’s welcome, parade and all. I met my wife shortly after that and we had three well behaved children. Life went on.

 

“The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death”

I lived the American dream. I had two cars in the driveway, the ideal nuclear family, a stable job at the plant, and a predictable routine. My kids inevitably all grew up and moved far from home. My wife and I live alone in our big empty house in rural Louisiana.

 

“Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines”

It is now the fall of 2016. David Bowie is dead, ads for marijuana are on television, and 44% of Americans oppose the War on Terror. I am 63 years old and any minute now while I lay asleep in my bed tonight a man with a drug addiction will slit my throat and rob my house. I saw it in those dancing figures many years ago. I’ve seen my entire life unfold.

“Time is a fickle thing.” A voice rang in my head.

I opened my eyes – a sharp pain pierced through my chest as I gasped for breath. I regained focus in time for me to catch a glimpse of his milky eyes again.

“You can leave now,” he said as he released my aged hand.

The young black man leaned back in his rocking chair and flashed me a pearly white grin. The wrinkles on his brow had smoothed, his hair was slick and jet black. Everything had changed about him but his eyes. The cataracts slowly faded into black, but his eyes remained eerie and soulless.

I stumbled back in a blur. I looked down at my arms; they were frail and withered. Something deep in my gut screamed at me to get the hell out of that room.  I turned and stumbled down the old wooden path in the morning light. The planks creaked with every step but it paled in comparison to the sound of the joints in my legs grinding. I couldn’t get away fast enough. Beams of harsh light cut through the cypress branches. The blinding light sent me spinning. I slipped off the edge of the path into a bubbling pool of mud.

Who would find me in this secluded swamp? I thought as I sank below the surface.

 

“The time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say”

-Pink Floyd

The Crop

This was a guest post I did on my friends blog a while back. I have included the link for the original post below. Please feel free to read it here or there. If you do click the link check out my friend’s blog, his content is great-

https://butterfliesmachineguns.wordpress.com/2016/09/18/the-crop/


I opened my eyes to the poorly lit interior of a canvas tent. A woman in a blood stained nurse’s uniform was standing over me with a clipboard in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The air was stale and unfamiliar. I sat up. My mind raced at the possibilities.

“Try to get some sleep” The nurse cooed, “There will be plenty of time for questions when the doctor is in.”

Her soothing voice put me at ease and I let her ease my head slowly back onto my pillow. my eyes shut once more.

I opened my eyes again and a harsh light assaulted them. I raised my hand in defense. Through the gaps between my fingers a blurry figure approached. I lowered my hands and soon the image sharpened into that of a man in a long white coat. A doctor. He set down his lantern and stroked his long grey beard thoughtfully before speaking.

“Do you know where you are?” He stared at me intent on getting an answer.

“N-No”

“Fine. That’s fine.” His voice was reassuring but his face looked troubled. “Do you know your name?”

I thought for a moment. I searched into the far reaches of my memory for an answer. Everything was too hazy. It was like staring into a black void. My forehead was getting unbearably hot and I could feel beads of sweat forming above my eyes.

“Stop.” The doctor raised his hand then gave his beard another stroke. “We’ve had a few cases like yours. Stress induced amnesia.”

He picked up a clipboard on a nearby table and flipped through a few pages. He gave yet another stroke before resuming.

“Your name is Franz. Senior lance corporal, 35th infantry division. It seems you and your unit were ambushed in Belgium. You took shrapnel to the knee. It seems the rest of your unit was… Not so fortunate. You were the only survivor.”

He looked back at me for a reaction. I had none to give. I didn’t know these men. I didn’t even know myself. Franz.. That sounded right. I didn’t have time to sort out the rest.

“Doctor! Doctor!” A man burst through the tent flaps with a flickering lantern in hand. “The Butcher has struck again! The man… He’s still alive!”

“My God!” The doctor dropped the clipboard on the ground and swiftly exited the tent.

I could hear the clamor of townsfolk gathering outside. A woman screamed and wailed. I needed to see what was going on.

It took all the strength my arms could muster to lift myself off the bed. I landed on my feet with a thud. In an instant my knees buckled and I collapsed face first onto the hard dirt floor. A sharp pain ran up my right foot to my hip. I couldn’t contain my yells of pain.

I winced a few more times as I struggled to my feet. I found my balance and limped to the illuminated tent flap, opening it to a truly medieval scene.

“Cut him down for God’s sake!” A gruff voice hollered from the crowd.

I pushed and limped my way through the mob. Every man, woman, and child was armed with a torch, holding them close with strong grips. Their absolute terror was visible. As I neared the center I was united in fear with my countrymen.

A pale, malnourished man hung from a frayed rope nailed to the doorway of a great brick building. He was suspended by a black, blood stained meat hook through his shoulder. Writhing in agony, only hoarse gasps for breath left his tortured expression. The doctor rose out of the mob onto a nearby barrel, brandishing a shining steel surgical knife. With a single stroke, the tension in the rope was relieved and the thin man fell into the outstretched arms of frightened townsfolk. The crowd went silent in anticipation for what would happen next.

“He lives in the forest..” The man spoke softly between labored breaths. “His eyes are black like the night. With teeth like knives and shattered bone, The Butcher is coming for us all..”

The silence was broken. Everywhere groups of people murmured amongst themselves.

“STOP!!”

The silence resumed. Everyone looked to the doctor, standing above them all like a voice of reason. He gave his beard a long stroke before continuing.

“We mustn’t succumb to fear. He lives in the forest. We’ve known this for a while now and done nothing out of fear. Fear for our lives, fear for our children’s lives. How many must die before we do what must be done? Tonight we strike at the heart of our fear. Tonight we go into the forest and come back with the Butcher’s head!”

The doctor’s speech was met with a roar of approval. The dynamic of the entire town had changed. They were out for blood. The doctor hopped off the barrel and made his way back to the tent.

“You, come with me.” He grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me through the canvas flaps of the tent. “All the other wounded men here are in urgent condition. It appears that you can walk. That means you’re coming with us. I have a feeling you’ll be useful to us later on.”

The doctor opened a footlocker under my bed and rummaged through it. He pulled out a neatly folded uniform and  dirty steel helmet and thrust them forcefully to my chest. The impact pushed me back a couple steps.

“These are the possessions you came in with. Put them on and meet us outside. You can’t go into the woods like that.”

I looked down and for the first time, noticed the lack of clothing on my body. I was draped in a light blue medical gown, my back was exposed to the elements as well as any prying eyes.

I donned my uniform and limped outside. My right leg was still painfully brittle. The mob was reforming. Swarming from their homes with whatever weapons they could find. Pitchforks, cleavers, and axes dotted the crowd. The doctor, along with a few others, stood at the front of the group with bayonetted rifles. He spotted me and gestured for me to join him. As I limped past the townspeople, I basked in their admiration. I imagine a uniformed German soldier joining their hunt instilled a sense of duty. A purpose to focus on. One much more preferable to fear.

As I neared the doctor he held out a wooden cane. I grabbed it and leaned my weight on it.

“It’s best for all of us if you can keep up.” The doctor stroked his beard and turned away.

We rallied the people and followed the tattered dirt road out of town and into the wilderness of the Black Forest.

About a half mile in the road disappeared, replaced by leaves and gnarled roots. Wolves howled in the distance, signaling our arrival into their domain.

“How much further?” A faceless voice called out.

“Not far” The doctor replied.

Over the next couple of hours the twisted roots and tall pines were replaced by sharp rocks and jagged cliff walls. A path revealed itself as the doctor led us closer. He skillfully dodged and turned through the maze of broken rock. We struggled to keep up. He waited for us at the mouth of a perfectly circular cave. We followed the doctor inside.

The cave opened up to a massive chamber. Everywhere the lanterns illuminated glimmered magnificently. The walls were lined with tiny crystals budding from the rock. The townsfolk were mesmerized by the shimmering lights. Something was strange about the way they stared. It was unnatural. We found blood soaked rags in a corner of the cave. No doubt this was where the butcher had made his unholy home. We heard crying from the next chamber. The doctor signaled for us to follow him before disappearing into the darkness. The mob nervously chattered amongst themselves.

On the floor was a man sobbing to himself. The tattered rags that draped his body were dripping wet. He had a great grey beard that had grown down to his chest. The man ran his fingers through the black sand of the cavern and stared up at us. His eyes were black like the darkness around us. As more people flooded in, the small room filled with light. The walls were adorned with frayed rope, hooks scattered throughout the sand.

“It’s him!”

“The Butcher!”

The people took turns expressing their disbelief. This pathetic man in front of us was the Butcher everyone seemed to fear so much?

“We’ve found the Butcher.” The doctor stood over the man and stroked his beard thoughtfully. “He will stand trial tomorrow at noon.”

“Fuck that!”

“Let’s kill him right here!”

“What of justice?!”

The mob argued amongst themselves causing the man to writhe on the ground at the sound echoing through the cavern. I wasted no time in taking control of the situation. I ripped one of lengths of rope from the walls and fashioned a noose around the Butcher’s throat. As I tightened it, he let out a low growl. I didn’t pay it much mind.

“Here’s what we’re doing!” I screamed at the crowd and they settled down. “We’re going back to town and giving this man a trial. Anyone who doesn’t like that can go back home and wait for justice to be served.”

The doctor nodded approvingly and handed me his firearm. I slung the rifle onto my shoulder and prodded the Butcher forward with my cane. The people cleared out of the way as the man stumbled into the next chamber.

“NO! NO!” The Butcher clawed at the rope around his neck. “NOT HERE!! I THOUGHT I WANTED THIS BUT I DON’T!! I DON’T!!! ANYWHERE BUT HERE!!”

What happened next was so fast I have trouble describing it. The crystals glowed with an otherworldly energy. The Butcher’s posture straightened and he shot me a confident smile with his sharpened teeth. What I saw in his eyes was pure insanity. A chill ran down my spine. Then the cave went dark.

“Hello?! Doctor?!” I called out to the darkness, but I somehow knew there would be no reply.

Feeling along the damp walls, I limped out of the cavern. I shredded my hands as they guided my way through the maze of jagged rocks, and I bruised my body tripping over the tangled roots covering the forest floor. It was well into the afternoon when I had finally left the Black Forest behind me and walked into town.

The streets were silent. Bodies suspended by rope and hook jostled in the breeze. I did not know their names, but I recognized their faces. All of them were dead. In the center of town a man in a white coat stood, staring at the setting sun. The doctor.

I limped over to his side, my cane breaking the silence with every slap against the cobblestone. When I glanced over he was stroking his beard uncontrollably.

“They’re all dead.” The doctor paused and took a long, shaky breath. “All except the children. I must go back to the cavern. That is my fate.

“Doctor, please. What are you talking about?” He ignored my interruption and continued.

“Lead the children, become someone they respect. But control them with fear. When the bodies start appearing blame me. ‘The Doctor'” He chuckled to himself. “When the time is right and they are grown, take them to the cavern. Leave their children behind to complete the next crop. That is how it has been, that is how it will always be.”

The doctor placed his hand on my shoulder and stared into my eyes. His were filling with a strange black liquid. He shot me one last glance before disappearing into the wilderness. Stroking his great beard as he walked.

I stood in the town square for what seemed like hours. Eventually the children gathered around me. They asked about their parents and I explained everything. A strange force compelled me to lead them. Many years later I led them to their deaths. Their children would know me as ‘The Soldier’ and the crop would be resown. That is how it has been, that is how it will always be.

 

Black Blood 146 B.C.

The screams of women and children echoed in the night as they ran for their lives through the puddles and narrow streets. They flooded past us into the dimly lit agora at the center of town. We stood our ground. Stands that once shelved aged wines and the finest silk lay in pieces strewn across the ground. We had stripped them to construct a small palisade there to shelter those unable to fight. We stood at the opening alongside a handful of the local militia as its only line of defense. Thunder boomed overhead. I could hear the vicious growls of the enemy as they approached us in the darkness. I grabbed the whistle around my neck and loosed its piercing shriek.

“Form up on me!”

My men moved into position in line with me at the gap in the wall. We lined up our tall red shields to plug the hole. There were only five of us left. Hopefully it would be enough to keep them from getting past. Behind us, the thin line of militia readied for battle. I could see the terror painted onto their faces. Most had never seen battle. It’s good we were here. Young children hastily ran down the line, distributing javelins and spears to them. I turned to Decimus, my second in command. His joyful face seemed out of place in the chaos that surrounded us.

“Hey Achaicus, if we die, I’m still going collect on those three denarii you owe me.” He joked, oblivious of the chaos around us.

“If we die, I’ll pay you back in Persian whores when we wake in Elysium.” I responded with a smile.

The wails of dying civilians grew louder. The enemy was close. I looked around at my men. Crassius and Marcus stood to my left. They were identical twins of large stature, they had been terrified by battle in the past but now they stood calm and collected. They had been calloused by our first encounter. Though their faces were void of expression, I could see a burning desire for revenge glimmering in their eyes.

Good, we’ll need that

Decimus and Quintus stood to my right. I had known Decimus for a long time and was honored to fight by his side. He possessed an indomitable spirit that had kept us sane this whole time. His confident grin assured me that there was a chance we might survive the night. Quintus was quite small for a Roman and extraordinarily meek in day to day life. But when backed in a corner, his energy and skill in battle were unmatched. Under his blood stained helmet he furrowed his brow and grit his teeth. He was ready for what was coming, and I trusted that he would fight with us to the death, should it come to that.

The screaming off in the distance suddenly and instantaneously ceased. Replaced by the curious patter of raindrops on steel. I unsheathed my sword and held it high above my head. The panicking civilians in the palisade went quiet. The militia raised their javelins, ready to hurl at my command. The only voice that could be heard was that of a lone infant crying among the refugees.

Moments later we could hear the unsettling mass of growls. A lone figure shambled into the light and stood still. His skin was grey. His open mouth, smothered with blood and overflowing with bubbling saliva. I recognized his mutilated face. I had killed him. The Greek breastplate he wore was punctured and stained with black blood. We had to be wary of his bite or embrace a frenzied existence after death. We had all seen it happen before. We called them the inferi. The dead.

A large group of corpses followed him into the light. A few wore the heavy steel armor of the Roman Army, they were crouched onto their hands from its weight and moved like four legged beasts. They barred their teeth and snarled furiously at us. It was disturbing to see our own transformed into such terrible creatures. If all went well, no more would be added to their ranks this night.

As the group continued to gather in front of us I sliced my sword forward through the air.

“Now!”

The militia unleashed a volley of javelins over our heads. Many struck home in the chests of the nonliving. They fell to the ground from the force of impact, only to rise moments later. Black blood pooled on the floor. Those impaled through the face went limp and collapsed. A sharp blow to the head seemed to be their only weakness.

The Greek soldier in front was impaled through the stomach, forcing him to stumble backwards. He paused for a moment before growling and sprinting straight for us, followed en mass by the horde. The Roman inferi resembled rabid wolves as they charged on all fours, mouths open with hunger and animalistic desire. We beat our swords against our shields in anticipation.

“Spears!”

The militia hastily picked up the bronze spears at their feet and rushed behind us forming two tightly packed rows of men. The first row crouched and stuck their spears through the gaps between our shields. The second stood and pointed their spears out at head level. It would be moments before they were upon us. I gritted my teeth.

“Brace for impact!”

As the inferi crashed into our line it took all of our strength to keep from staggering backwards. The Greek soldier had been stopped by a spear through his heart just a couple feet in front of my face. I could smell his wretched breath as he inched closer. Scraping his flesh along the wooden shaft of the spear, nothing seemed to distract him from the desire to sink his decaying teeth into my throat. I thrust my sword under his chin. Straight into the brain. The supernatural glow left his eyes as he went limp. I twisted my sword arm around in the internal mush of his skull for good measure before pulling it out. The spear he had been impaled upon kept him standing upright. I looked around to asses our situation.

Decimus was frantically kicking at a Roman corpse trying to gnaw at his exposed ankles. I came to his aid with a sharp kick to the corpse’s side. It flipped over and lay at Decimus’s feet. He brought his shield down swifly. The head was severed with ease and black blood squirted in every direction. Decimus shot me an appreciative grin. I smiled back and turned my attention to the other men.

Quintus was shielded from the rest of the inferi by a limp corpse that had been stabbed through the forehead in the initial charge. He slashed furiously at the husk of a body in vain.

Efutue!” He cursed. “It’s not fair Achaicus, this fellatrix is standing between me and the action!”

I nodded reassuringly. At least he was safe and holding the line. I looked to my left. Crassius and Marcus worked together like hunter and hound. Crassius kicked away the arms supporting a crawling Roman corpse. It quickly collapsed under the weight of its bulky steel armor. Without pause Marcus drove his sword home straight through the base of the neck. Three slain Roman inferi were piled at their feet.

I heard a loud snarl in front of me and turned my attention to my own share of the fight. A Roman corpse had attempted to crawl between the legs of suspended the Greek soldier and had gotten stuck just below the Greek’s groin. He snapped at me and I instinctively stabbed downward at the beast’s scalp. The blow merely glanced off his thick steel helmet. He moved his head wildly in an attempt to escape. I placed the bottom half of my shield under his chin and lifted his gaze upward. Once I could see the pure darkness in his eyes I stabbed again. This time the blade struck home between his eyes. His stare lost its urgency as black blood drained to the ground. I pulled my shield back to my body and he slunk to the blood stained floor under the Greek soldier.

We were starting to gain confidence that this night would end in victory until a deafening mass of growls gripped us with renewed fear. At least two full centuries of inferi stood at the edge of the light. Greek hoplites and Roman legionnaires side by side. Decimus sliced a standing inferi across the chest as it charged toward him. It spun around and turned to its fellow undead, snarling for aid. They let out an unnervingly human cry and charged.

“Brace yourselves!”

They smashed into us with the force of a rolling wave. I was knocked back into the militia behind me. They struggled to keep the inferi at bay, but their strength failed in a matter of seconds and the dead rushed into the palisade. Welcomed by a cacophony of screams from the old, the women and the children. They eagerly leapt over us at the opportunity for easy prey. I looked up at the Greek corpse I had killed. Black blood dripped down from his chin and spattered onto my forehead. The sound of Quintus’s voice snapped me out of my daze.

“Achaicus! If we don’t get out of here right now we’ll be inferi chow!” Quintus struggled to push aside the plump corpse pinning him to the ground. “Let’s go!”

We all wiggled around to free ourselves from the immobilizing weight of the corpses. Marcus easily shrugged off two large Roman bodies and frantically grasped my hand to lift me up. He nervously glanced over his shoulder at the ensuing chaos. I thanked him and scanned our surroundings to find a route of escape. To our rear, the militia scrambled out from under piles of corpses and ran to protect their loved ones. The refugees were being consumed in an inferi feeding frenzy. Thick spatters of blood and severed limbs flew through the air.

Their desperate screams as they were ripped apart shook my skull to its core.

Some of the militiamen realized the futility in fighting and simply fled out along the main road through town. Crassius and Marcus stared eagerly at the road. I could tell that they wanted to follow the militia through the most direct route through the city. My instincts urged me to run with the herd, but I knew that more inferni could be lying in wait. Breaking off from the main road was a narrow alleyway wedged between two extravagant villas.

“That way!” I pointed my sword its direction.

We bolted to the alleyway, careful not to give any more notice to the slaughter behind us. For the sake of our sanity we absolved ourselves of any responsibility for what had happened to the refugees at the hands of the inferni. When I reached the narrow alleyway I did look back once for good measure. The inferni were still occupied in the palisade and the bloodcurdling screams were ever present in the night. I disappeared into the darkness of the alleyway and my men followed suit.

By the time the sun was just beginning to crest over the craggy hills of the Greek landscape we had put significant distance between us and the doomed city. I sat down on a patch of grass underneath a large oak at the top of a hill and gestured for my men to join me. This was the first time we had stopped moving since our retreat from the city. The morning dew gave the ground a cool, seductive comfort. After a few silent minutes had passed I stood and urged my men forward. We needed to keep moving.

“We’ll head that way” I gestured to the West. “We should make progress towards camp. They need to hear our report before they send out any more-”

“And then what?” Marcus stood to face me. “Regroup with the legion? We fought a few hundred inferni back there, now you ask us to face thousands?”

“We need cohesion and discipline. Five men cannot survive on their own and I’m willing to bet the legion needs as many men as it can muster.”

“Achaicus! The legion is gone! All we know is that wherever there are people there are inferni! I say we go North along the coast, find a ship, and leave this forsaken place!”

“We have a duty to aid the Republic! I will not doom fellow Romans, MY men, to die! Not if I have yet to lend my aid! We can still win this war Marcus!”

“I don’t give a damn about your Republic or your precious war! I’m not looking to die! I’m going North! Anyone who wants to live can join me.”

Crassius stood behind his brother. Quintus and Decimus stood behind me and cautiously placed their hands over the hilts of their swords. I stared at Marcus. He was taken aback by the anger in my response.

“Come with us. We’re going West!”

Futete! Make me!” Marcus unsheathed his sword.

Everyone drew their weapons and raised their shields. The tension on the hill was amplified by a moment of silence.

“If you desert, I’m going to have to kill you.”

“You can try.”

Marcus threw a powerful swing at my head. I blocked the blow with my shield and thrust my blade at his chest with the intent to kill. Crassius parried my sword with his own and with a single kick, knocked me to the ground. Decimus and Quintus came to my aid. The distinct clamor of steel on steel echoed through the empty landscape. Quintus was a more than a match for Marcus, but Decimus struggled to fend off Crassius’s fury of blows. I scrambled to my feet. A stinging pain from my ribs was excruciating, but I managed to put it to the back of my mind. I held my shield high and charged Crassius. Decimus sensed my attack and sidestepped out of my way. Crassius’s face turned to shock as he instantly realized what was happening.

Just a moment too late my friend

I crashed into him, slamming him forcefully onto the ground. He gazed up at me with a dazed expression as I lifted the hilt of my sword and smashed it down onto his forehead. He flailed his arms against my armor. I did it over and over again, savagely beating the energy out of his large body. Blood poured off of his head and onto the dewy grass. Decimus watched in horror at the animal that had taken hold of me. His skull began to give way and the struggling ceased. Each successive blow resulted in a brittle snapping sound until my hilt had dug itself deep into his face. My attacks slowed as my rage began to fade. I looked down at my blood soaked hands. The pain returned to my ribcage. It felt good, like a twisted reward for a job well done.

Marcus, still fending off Quintus, was enraged by the death of his brother. His blows increased in frequency and strength. Quintus staggered back at every blocked attack. He soon found himself at the edge of a fairly steep portion of the hill. Decimus ran to Quintus’s aid. With both of them on the offensive, Marcus was quickly overwhelmed again. In an act of desperation, he cried out and slammed his body into Quintus. He screamed as he was thrown backward and down the steep edge of the hill. Decimus raised his sword to strike, but was dispatched by a swift kick from Marcus. He too was sent tumbling down the hill. Marcus breathed heavily and hit me with a smoldering glare.

“You killed my brother Achaicus.” He looked down at Quintus and Decimus. They were frantically climbing back up the hill. They would be here soon. “I’m going North. Don’t try to stop me. You kept one of us from leaving, I hope that pleases your damn Republic.”

I sat there, still on top of of Crassius’s lifeless body. I could see the burning rage in Marcus’s eyes. He spat at my feet and walked away. Quintus and Decimus finally made it to the top of the hill ready for a fight. Instead they found me standing, staring down at Crassius’s mutilated face. Was it worth it?

Decimus placed a firm hand on my shoulder.

“You know I’d follow you anywhere right?” The usual joyfulness in Decimus’s voice was replaced by a low, serious tone.

“I have trust in you Achaicus. You’ve kept us alive this long.” Quintus chimed in.

I flashed a weak smile at them. I pointed West with a blood soaked finger and began walking down the hill. Quintus and Decimus looked at each other with concern and then hurried to join me on the road back to camp.