Kbatz Kraft: How *Not* to Make Mystical Orbs!

Cast a spell and make some magic any time of year with your very own mystical orbs! Except when you attempt a Pinterest method that results in disaster that is. Read on for both how to paint and how not to glitter your own crystal ball DIY.

The ingredients to make your own affordable, family friendly orbs are surprisingly pedestrian – clear plastic ball ornaments from the dollar store, broken lamp bases for suave pedestals, and two of each to test two different mystical how-tos. One lamp turned orb stand had already been Painted Black and separated into smaller candle holders but now the reunited pieces are dry brushed with yellow ochre for a bronzed look while the second solid lamp base is painted with yellow and brown for an aged vintage. A glittery orange ball to go with the brown was the Pinterest attempt, however, the seemingly simple food dye for orange water, plenty of glitter, and cotton balls combined inside the ball were a complete failure. Although the shine and the color were great, there was either not enough cotton balls or too much water, maybe both because everything just sat there in one ugly clump. Once the soaked gunk was drained out again, I tried painting the outside of the ornament with a mix of yellow paint and coppery glitter, but this too was unsightly and unsuccessful.

Frustrated, I temporarily abandoned this orb in favor of the much more pleasant second attempt. This time blue, white, and purple acrylics were mixed together, varying the colors and brush strokes for a textured, marble effect followed by a glow in the dark paint topcoat. Once dry, the ornament was glued in place on its base – splendidly contrasting the dark bronze pedestal and vindicating my painting method. I went back to the disastrous ball and likewise painted it with a varied yellow and orange. This orange is not opaque like the Dark Shadows Candle Sconces, but a shiny vintage top with the dark brown base. Twine wrapped around the glue seams set everything off, and although it’s tough to photograph them glowing in the dark, they do!

While craft experimenting can be good wholesome fun, it can also lead to time, supply, and cost consumption that isn’t always a day well spent in tough times. Here, my first instinct was correct compared to a dreaded Pinterest fail – one in which discouraged kids, liquids, glitter, and supplies can end up a messy ruin. Fortunately, by reusing found objects and dollar store finds, anyone can paint their own colorful crystal ball orbs.

Visit Kbatz Krafts on Facebook for more photos!

Revisit More Krafts: 

Mini Coffin Tray

How Not to Make a Spell Book

Cardboard Tombstones Video How-To

My Darling Dead : Bastards – Episode 1 The New King

 

Orteg slammed open the door of his hut, a gust of cold wet air following him into the sitting room. The meager fire his wife Dashani had managed to coax from their remaining splinters of wood was almost extinguished by the blast. Orteg, groping with his foot, managed to shut the door behind him without dropping the armful of wood he carried. His three children huddled beneath a moth-eaten bearskin rug beside the smudge of fire. Their mother looked up as the door latched and Orteg stomped over to the fireplace, leaving muddy footprints in his wake. He dropped the pile of soggy logs and wiped his hands on his dirty trousers with a disgruntled sigh.

“Could you get no more?” Dashani asked, her voice sharp and accusatory. She prodded at the pile of wood with a finger. “These’re soaked through.”

Orteg didn’t answer. He had gone into the corner of the sitting room which served as their kitchen and appeared to be tearing it apart, tossing things from their places onto the floor where they rolled until his feet kicked them aside. The children withdrew further into their bearskin sanctuary, becoming little more than brown lumps as the clankings and crashings continued. Dashani pushed herself to her feet with a sound of exasperation and limped toward him. Her leg had been savagely gashed in a fall and the infection was beginning to smell. Orteg attempted in vain to withdraw from her even as he upended a basket. 

“What in the devil are you doing?” she snapped, leaning against the counter as he reached behind a cupboard. “You know no whiskey remains after you drank it all last night. Is this ache not enough to remind you?” She reached up and rapped her knuckles on his skull.

“Devil take you, woman!” he snarled, slapping her hand away and stepping back. “Curse your infernal tongue, why not use it to clean out that festering hole in your leg, that you might stand a prayer of it remaining, and leave me in peace?”

“Do not be speaking to me that way, Orteg Bluenote,” Dashani shrilled, waving a finger in his face. “If you had been better than a no ‘count lazy good-for-nothing drunk you would have seen the morning’s sunrise and I’d have not needed to be crossing the ravine to check your traps, that we might have food for another night for the children you were so keen to put in me that you now scarcely look at! This is all your doing and don’t you forget it!”

Orteg’s hand moved like lightning, connecting with Dashani’s face and sending her sprawling. The lumps under the bearskin let out small cries, mixing with her own cry of pain as her back collided with the bed frame in the other corner of the hut’s single room. Tears rolled down her face unbidden as she cowered on the floor while her husband advanced on her, roaring “SILENCE! By all the gods that are, woman, you will give me peace or I will take it!” He raised a hand again and when she flinched but said nothing, he grunted in satisfaction. 

“Snake-tongued devil bitch,” he flung over his shoulder as he left, allowing another cold blast of wet air into the hut. This time, the fire went out. The children began to weep in earnest, their cries joining in with their mother’s as all four sobbed into the uncaring darkness. 

Orteg stumped through the woods, his feet following the path they had made with no conscious thought required from him. The palm of his hand stung where it had collided with Dashani’s face and he flexed it, relishing its sting. It was difficult for Orteg to remember the fiery young peasant girl he had fingered in the hayloft and impregnated that same summer. Though it had been less than three years ago it seemed as though a lifetime. Now, all he could think was…

He heard the sound of laughter and music up ahead and hastened his footsteps, his mouth-watering. The tavern was well lit, cheery and inviting. Orteg slipped into its comforting bosom and once again, all his cares evaporated. 

Hours later, Orteg stumbled up to the bar, nearly losing his footing and catching himself on it. “Barkeep, more whiskey,” he slurred, rapping his mug on the bar. Holding it out, his bloodshot eyes roved around the bar, taking in its clientele and sifting them for availability, desirability, ease of access and past experience. There was the usual menagerie of rough trade; farmers with dirt crusted so thick on their faces that what lay beneath was a mystery, hags seeking companionship, tavern wenches looking pretty but resigned, the usual riffraff. Further down the bar, a trio of dwarves were laughing uproariously at something. A table of what appeared to be elves were deep in conversation at a table in the corner, a beautiful blade on the table between them. 

Orteg dismissed them as immaterial as his eye made contact with one of the tavern wenches he had known many times, frequently when Dashani’s less than welcoming nature had sent him to the tavern. Sarina had just returned to the main room from the upstairs, where private business was transacted. She straightened her bodice as a man followed her, a silly grin on his features and walking unsteadily. He went to kiss her and she turned her head with a smile, deflecting it to her cheek as she winked at Orteg with one soft brown eye. The man chortled and pecked her on the cheek before stumbling to the bar. Behind him, Sarina beckoned to Orteg, sliding a finger down the center of her décolletage and licking her lips. Draining his glass, Orteg stood and lurched toward the girl, bouncing off another patron with a curse. Attempting to bypass the stranger proved impossible, for he moved to block Orteg. 

“Away, fool,” Orteg muttered thickly, attempting to walk through the man. “Can’t you see what awaits?”

“I would speak with you, Bluenote,” said the figure from beneath its cowl. “What I have to say to you, I daresay you will find more engaging than pleasures of the flesh.” 

Orteg, who could think of no such thing, grunted laughter and attempted again to pass the figure. “I doubt that very much, sir.” The tavern wench grinned, lifted her skirt a little and turned to mount the stairs. 

“Son of Wendell, you must heed me!”

The dead king’s name floated before Orteg’s bloodshot eyes for a moment before vanishing. Sarina smiled prettily, lifting her skirt still higher. Calf gave way to thigh and Orteg felt his own member responding. She grinned and rubbed a hand over her crotch. 

“Outta my way,” Orteg grunted, shouldering the figure aside. The world had dwindled to the tavern wench and Orteg smiled oafishly at her. “‘m comin’ with you.” 

“It is so,” Sarina said with a musical laugh, dropping her skirt to take his hand, rubbing her other hand under his nose. “You like this?” Her smell overwhelmed him. 

“Yuh,” he said, his tongue thick and his hands busy. She slapped at them. “Come,” she said, and turned, ascending the stairs. In a stupor of lust, Orteg followed, panting. 

She slipped into the first door at the top of the stairs and with a giggle ran to the bed. Flouncing upon it, she looked at him prettily as he stumbled through the doorway. He shut the door behind him, turning the key in the lock as he grinned, absently rubbing his crotch. 

“Aren’t you coming?” she asked, her voice demure as she patted the bed beside her. 

“Sure am,” he slurred, and with a stagger, fell onto the bed atop her. 

As he did, the door shuddered as it was splintered by a savage blow. Orteg floundered on the bed, the girl beneath him, unable to get his balance. With another mighty crash, the door caved inward and three scrawny figures on all fours scrabbled into the room. Orteg screamed, trying to get his feet underneath him and stand but Sarina held on, her fingers clutching at his back with sudden needlelike claws. She grinned at him, and Orteg felt a whole new level of fear. Her teeth were now long and sharp, her eyes feline slits. Her expression made him feel like prey.

“Son of the king, I have long awaited my day of reckoning with you,” she rasped, in a voice unlike her own. 

The next moment, he was forcefully yanked off of her and thrown to the ground by two of the thin figures. The third stepped hard on his chest, knocking the breath from him, as the other two held his arms out to his sides. Orteg thrashed his lower half around for a moment until the increasing pressure on his chest compelled him to cease. 

“That’s better,” Sarina said, rising to her feet and moving toward him. “Many years ago, your kin did away with me. Your sister, to be precise. She stabbed me and I bled to death, or so she thought. Now I shall have the pleasure of doing away with the last of her bloodline.” She raised a hand, clawed fingers reaching for Orteg’s throat. 

From the doorway, a firm voice said “Not while I breathe, Esemli, Fairy of Darkness. Stand away from the king’s rightful heir!” 

Orteg jerked his head to the side, seeing the hooded figure which had attempted to detain him on his way upstairs, even as his brain sought to interpret the words he had heard and make sense of them.

King’s…heir?? But…

The fairy wench spun, hissing. “Fool! Leave, while you are still able. This does not concern you.” She pointed a clawed finger at Orteg. “The man is mine!”

“It concerns us all, and he belongs to the kingdom. Now begone!” thundered the hooded man and made a downward slashing gesture with both hands. The figure standing on Orteg’s chest was knocked back against the wall. Blood spurted from its nose and it made desperate moaning noises, eyes bulging before slumping over onto its face. 

Orteg felt the other two release him as air flooded back into his lungs. The fairy wench screamed and leaped for him just as Orteg felt something pass him with frightful speed and strike the woman between the eyes. They met Orteg’s as she flew backward, he seeing the feral slits return to their normal soft brown and her teeth retreat from their sharp points just as she hit the wall with a sickening crunch. Sliding to the ground, she did not move.

With fierce chattering noises, the other two shapes charged at Zavier. The latter raised one hand before him and shut his eyes, screwing up his face in concentration. The air grew very hot, stinging Orteg’s face, causing him to screw up his eyes as the two shapes halted as though they had been frozen. When Orteg opened his eyes again, they were gone, leaving only shimmering air where their bodies had been.

 “They are gone,” Zavier said, breathing hard, “But they will return. My power will only remove them for a short time.” He gestured. “Now, come. We must go. There are things to be said which should not be said here.” Swirling his cloak around him, he was out the door and gone before Orteg could do more than gape. 

After a moment, Orteg blundered to his feet. Trying not to look at the two dead bodies in the room, he stumbled to the door and looked out warily. Down on the main floor, immobile in the sea of bodies in motion, stood the hooded man, staring at Orteg. 

His mouth formed words:

Follow.

Orteg followed. 

My Darling Dead: Episode 13 / The Fairy’s Laughter

The queen’s face was white as she looked at her daughter standing in the doorway behind the fairy’s still bleeding body. Alasin looked back at her mother, breathing heavily and shaking with rage and shock. 

“Cursed…? My whole life I was cursed and you never saw fit to tell me?” Alasin’s voice trembled as well. “All this time and I find it out from the very…creature to put the curse upon me, told as she mocks you with what she has done to the kingdom?” Alasin gestured at the dead rat woman on the ground, revulsion in her voice. “I have seen it. There are more of them. Many more! If not for the kindness of one person, I might have been set upon by them and torn to pieces. But that would likely be a worthy price for you to pay, mother, to get your filthy cursed daughter out of your sight at last!” Her voice had risen steadily until she was screaming. 

Her mother stood impassive, letting her daughter’s words wash over her as any parent does when ignoring the tantrums of their child. Hespa half expected Alasin to begin storming around the room, breaking things and rending hangings from the wall.  

“And yet, I still have no idea the nature of this curse,” Alasin finished at the top of her lungs, her fingers curled into fists. “Tell me what damns me!”

“The fairy said that the one whom you love the most would perish.” Hespa looked at her daughter with something like pity. “Poor thing. It wasn’t your fault.” 

Alasin scarcely heard this last. Her mind was whirling with this latest revelation, much of her life coming in to focus for the first time. Her revolving door of nannies, her mother’s constant icy indifference toward her, some of her earliest memories were of attempting to forge a bond with Hespa only to be coldly rebuffed. She would take solace in the arms of one of her nurses, only to be told the next morning that the nurse had been called away forever and she would be meeting her newest nanny shortly. This new nanny would be an unknown quantity and Alasin would shy from her for some time before trust was built and inevitably love, then the cycle would repeat itself. 

In particular, she was reminded of the way Madam Flood and the blacksmith had met their ends. She particularly remembered the blacksmith and tears of hot shame and regret came to her eyes. 

“Tears won’t help you, my daughter. They did not help me, though buckets of them I cried to watch my only child being raised by others.” Hespa’s face trembled. “It was a pain unlike any other I have borne.”

“Your pain did not stretch so far as to preclude you from sending your only child from all she had known into the world with such a curse attached to her!” Alasin shrieked. “There is blood upon your hands, mother, the blood of innocents!” Her eyes were wide and rolling as she pointed at Hespa with a quivering finger. 

“Blood is upon the hands of your dead father, you little brat!” screamed the queen, for the moment, looking just as unhinged as her daughter. “I was not the one two-timing one of the most powerful species to ever exist even as you were being born! I did nothing I did not have to do in order to preserve the kingdom so you could grow up as a spoiled little hellbitch!” She shrieked this last with such force that it lifted her to her toes. 

Alasin felt burning tears leap to her eyes as she glared at her mother, fists clenched so hard she could barely feel them. “At least now you don’t have to worry about dying because I love you,” she hissed through trembling lips, her cheeks shining. Without another word, she turned and left Hespa staring after her, shaking. 

The wizard sat at his workbench, his great book of spells open before him. The book was very old and had been given to him by his master before the elder had succumbed to the Darkness and departed this realm. Sapius had asked his master to whom the book had originally belonged and the old man had struck him upside the head. He had not dared ask again. All the spells in the world were said to be in that book, and Sapius had been poring over it with increasing desperation in the recent weeks as reports of the rat people increased and the rumblings from the townsfolk grew ever louder. The queen was in denial as the castle staff continued their spiral toward outright mutiny and rebellion, prompting Sapius to redouble his efforts. 

So engrossed was he that his chamber door swinging open scarcely registered on his fevered consciousness. Not until the princess was standing right in front of him did he realize with a start that she was there. 

“By the gods,” he gasped, putting a hand to his heart where the belabored organ pounded frantically in an attempt to recover as he stood. “You gave me a fright, Princess.”

“Wizard, what know you of love potions?” she snapped. 

“They are divided in kind,” he said, remaining standing as he did. He did not care for the look in the eye of the princess at all. It was the look of madness. 

“There are those which provide only a subtle nudge of the heart and take time to build to the desired result. Others are limited in scope to one person for whom the drinker feels amorous. Most dangerous of all are the ones which provide immediate, permanent infatuation to the first person the drinker sees. These are the most risky because there is no way to undo the enchantment and if circumstances go awry, the drinker may fall forever madly in love with the wrong person.”

“I require one of the latter,” said Alasin. “Immediately.” 

Alarm bells were ringing in the wizard’s head. “Might I ask why, Highness?”

“Do not question me!” she shrieked, striding forward and leaning over the workbench in his face. Tiny droplets of her spittle peppered his face. “I am the princess of the realm and it is not your place to question me, wizard! Obey my command or I will see your head on a spike!” 

“Your will, Highness,” said the wizard, unwilling to show her just how disturbed he was by the lack of sanity in her voice and her eyes. “Although if I may caution–“

Her fist pounded the workbench, sending a beaker crashing to the ground. “I will not command you again.” 

Never taking his eyes off her, Sapius reached inside his robes and brought forth a small brass key which he used to unlock one of the drawers in his workbench. Reaching all the way to the back of the drawer, he brought out a vial filled with a purplish, glowing liquid. The color reflected in Alasin’s eyes as they fixed on it. 

“I only have but one, Lady,” Sapius said, holding it out to her. “Have a care, for it takes many turns of the sun to create more.”

She snatched it from him and turned on her heel in the same motion. She was gone before he could do more than blink. The feeling of disquiet settled deeper within him, along with the sensation that inexorable events had been set in motion. 

******

Queen Hespa stood at her window, staring at her kingdom. Even from here, she could see the small shapes of rat people scuttling around the buildings below. Screams filtered up from the ground and she fancied she could hear the sounds of cracking bones and rending flesh. She had no idea what the rat people actually did to the living but her fertile imagination was only too happy to fill the gaps in her knowledge. 

The smell of the dead rat woman and the blood of the fairy still hung in the air, though their bodies had been removed by two servants who were clearly very reluctant to do so. Hespa thought sourly of the blood, both woman and fairy, that had puddled on her floor. It would need scouring before it faded even the slightest bit and a hundred years from now there would still be some caked in the cracks between the stones. 

A sound made her turn. The door was opening and Alasin came in. Hespa tensed. 

“Are you here to spew more vitriol in my direction, daughter?”

“Mother, please. This bitterness gets us nowhere.” Closing the door, Alasin moved to the cart on which Hespa’s goblets and wine were stored. “All I want is for us to share a glass of wine and make peace together.” 

With her back turned to Hespa, Alasin pulled the tiny flask from her bodice. Setting her nails into the cork, she pulled it out without a sound. 

“Why?” Hespa’s voice was weary but Alasin could tell she had not moved from her place by the window. Alasin upended the flask over one of the goblets, sending bright purple liquid cascading into the glass. 

“You are my mother,” Alasin said. “If you cannot love me, at the least, I wish for you to not hate me.” Stowing the flask back in her undergarments, she poured wine. The purple liquid at the bottom of the glass was swallowed by the dark red wine without a trace. 

“A fine sentiment,” the queen said, turning from the window. “But you and I both know the dangers that lie therein.”

“Come, mother,” said Alasin, lifting both glasses and offering the unadulterated one to her parent. “Taste this wine with me and let us embark upon a new chapter in our lives.” She met Hespa’s eyes unblinking over the goblet, holding it between them. 

For a moment, the queen held her daughter’s gaze. Alasin held her breath while maintaining her contact with her mother’s eyes until the glass was taken from her hand. 

“I say, mother, come look at this with me,” Alasin said, gesturing at the mirror hung on the back of the chamber door, stepping toward it. In her periphery, she could see herself moving in the reflection but refused to focus on it. “If you stand here with me, over a century of the kingdom’s rule will be represented in its reflection.”

The queen joined her daughter before the mirror and stood looking. She saw herself as she always had, an inflexible example of authority and power. Beside her, for once, stood her daughter.

“New beginnings,” Hespa said, raising her glass to the mirror and draining it. 

“New beginnings,” Alasin echoed and drained her own. The potion was barely discernible amid the wine and gave it a sweeter flavor than the dry red taste that Hespa preferred. 

The queen smiled. “It’s good wine, isn’t it?”

Alasin raised her eyes to the mirror just as the wizard’s potion took full effect. What she saw in the mirror was more perfect than anything she could have ever imagined. Her mother seemed almost to glow. Her own smile lit up the room, and in that moment, she felt her heart fall for the figures in the mirror. 

“Very good,” murmured Alasin. “I love you, mother.”

EPILOGUE

Sapius the wizard had lived in the kingdom for many years. He had served the monarchy for most of his adult life and would not have hesitated to use some of his darkest magic on anyone who threatened it. So when the castle guards came pounding at his chamber door the next morning, he was flabbergasted to find their swords drawn as he opened the door. They poured in through the entrance, surrounding him with their sharp steel before he could react. 

Bortix the Captain of the Guard strode forward and struck the wizard full in the face with a mailed glove. Sapius could taste blood in his mouth and felt it trickle from the corner of his mouth. Bewildered, he could do no more than gape at Bortix, with whom he had often shared his dwarf’s tobacco in exchange for the guardsman’s secret recipe mulled mead. 

“What…why…” he managed to stammer, but the look Bortix wore on his face robbed him of any further questions. 

“Save it, wizard,” Bortix spat. In a trice, a dagger was in his hand and the point was under Sapius’s chin, forcing his head back. “We know what you did.” 

“Pray, then, enlighten me,” Sapius managed to choke out, his eyes staring at the ceiling. “I have no idea what I did.”

“The princess and the queen have died at your hands and you dare to play the fool to me?” Bortix roared and punched the wizard square in the face, his meaty fist wrapped around the dagger handle.

Sapius went flying backward and would have certainly hit the floor had one of the guards surrounding him not pushed him back toward Bortix who responded with another fist to the wizard’s face. This time the guard moved to the side so Sapius fell all the way to the floor, where he was greeted by an army of kicking, stomping boots. One collided with the side of his head and a black cloud enveloped him, even as the words echoed in his head. 

Bortix stood over the unconscious wizard, his great hands balled into fists, glaring at the prone figure with hate in his eyes as his guards took turns applying their boots to the fallen man. Normally one of the most rational and level headed men in the kingdom, Bortix made no move to stop his soldiers beating the helpless body. 

When the day had passed its noon and the queen had not stirred, Bortix had entered the queen’s chamber after knocking progressively louder until he was pounding at the stout timbers. The queen lay on her bed, a peaceful smile on her face. Bortix had seen many dead bodies in his time and he did not need to shake the queen by the shoulder or shout her name to know that she had departed this realm. He did so anyway, shouting for the castle medic with tears growing in his eyes and a great sinking feeling in his chest. The medic had arrived and given the sad pronouncement before Bortix thought of the princess. Or, he thought, as she would be known henceforth, the queen. 

Giving strict instructions to the medic to let no one into the queen’s chamber in his absence, Bortix hastened to the room of the princess. His adjurations to open the door resulted in nothing but silence and the door was locked from within. Bortix threw his entire body weight at the door again and again until it yielded to his bulk. There lay the princess on her own bed, arms at her sides, an identical expression of peace on her face. The only difference between her and the queen was the object in her left hand. Bortix had availed himself of the potions the wizard concocted and knew the shape of the glass bottles well. He had no trouble recognizing the bottle in the dead princess’s hand as coming from the chambers of Sapius. 

When the wizard had been burned at the stake, Bortix, yielding to the clamoring of his guards, crowned himself king. This did not sit well with the subjects of the kingdom, who, having tolerated the rise of the rat people and the unwillingness of the crown to address the issue, mobilized enough to storm the castle and slaughter all of the guards. Bortix ultimately threw himself from the tallest tower after a long and protracted battle with the villagers, unwilling to let them have him. The leader of the rebels crowned himself king, only to be slain at his own coronation by what had once been his best friend, who ascended to the throne in his stead. He lasted several days before the new captain of the guards murdered him, plucking the crown from his severed head and settling it atop his own at a jaunty angle until he too was slain. 

The crown passed from hand to hand with its subjects fighting tooth and nail among themselves for it. The rat people flourished and spread, until the land was covered in darkness and filth, the deluded self-proclaimed monarchs afraid to sleep nights lest they wake up dead. 

Underneath it all, with the right ears, could be heard the laughter of the fairies. 

 

My Darling Dead: Episode 12/The Fairy’s Return

For years, Hespa had been plagued by stories of the rat people. She had forbidden their mention in her court, but updates and rumors still flew through the castle in spite of (or perhaps because of) her edict. She knew, for example, that the rat people were taking over her kingdom at an astonishing rate, replacing her subjects with feral monstrosities which fed on death and decay and were eager to spread their disease. She knew that the rat people now outnumbered those not so afflicted and that within weeks if not sooner she would be the head of a kingdom consisting of nothing but rat people. Already several had been found inside the walls of the castle, one of them only a few floors down from her private chambers. Hespa shuddered and drained the wine from the glass she held. She extended her arm and immediately the empty glass was replaced with a full one by her handmaiden. 

“Leave me,” the queen snapped. The handmaiden was happy to do so.

Hespa also knew that the humans still under her rule were muttering and that their mutterings had grown loud enough to be heard clearly by spies and castle guards. The word “rebellion” had not yet been uttered, but any fool could tell that it was on the minds of many. Hespa had witnessed castle guardsmen holding her eye contact longer than was proper, staring back at her insolently until she was forced to drop her own eyes, hating herself as she did so. She had never felt so vulnerable as these past months, surrounded by inhuman things and resented by those in whose hands she placed her life. 

The mid-morning sun reflected from the armor of the guard on duty at the front gate of the castle. He belched and squinted into the sun, straining to discern mirage from reality as a figure approached the castle gate. Or was it two figures? No, just one. 

No…

His eyes widened. 

“Halt and be–”

Esemli raised her left hand and the guard was thrown into the nearest wall with such force that his breaking bones were heard hundreds of feet away. He screamed and she winced. 

“No,” she said, and waved her hand again. The guard continued screaming but no noise came out, eyes bulging as he attempted to cradle his broken parts and give voice to his hurts. The other guards stampeded each other trying to get out of Esemli’s way. She swept through the gate and past them without a look. In her right hand she held a leash and to her leash was attached one of the rat people, a woman who had perhaps once been plump but now appeared emaciated to the point of death. 

Her skin was caked with filth and blood was smeared around her mouth. Her clothes were rags, held together mostly by luck. Her eyes darted this way and that and she never seemed to stop licking her lips. Part of her bottom lip was gone from a time when the woman had been so desperate for meat that she had begun eating her own face. Half of her teeth grinned through her cheek at anybody who looked at her. On all fours, she scuttled behind Esemli like a dog which has been beaten often enough to fear its master but not often enough to attempt escape. 

Esemli did not appear even to notice the creature in her wake. She mounted the stairs to the queen’s chamber with the rat woman at her heels. Raising her left hand, the queen’s chamber door slammed open with such force that the metal handle cracked the stone wall. Hespa whirled as Esemli let the leash go and snapped a word in a strange language that meant nothing to the queen, but the rat woman clearly understood. Still on all fours, she made straight for the queen, a horrifying grin etched on what remained of her features as she snapped her teeth. 

Hespa was frozen only for a moment before countless hours on self defense spent with Bortix the Captain of the Guard leapt to the forefront of her mind. The queen whirled, seizing a long metal spike from beside her window and as the rat woman leaped, Hespa extended her arm and set her feet. The rat woman collided with the spike, the force of her attack impaling her upon the spike through one of her crazed rolling eyes. 

The fairy laughed. “Well done, Queen Hespa. Perhaps you should be standing guard over your castle rather than the bumbling fools currently there.” 

Hespa did not hear. Her eyes were locked on the rat woman’s face, overcome with horror as the woman’s eye ran down her hollow cheek. She had heard of the rat people, yes, but she had never seen one, much less this close. The humanity she could still detect beneath the dirt and waste was worst of all. Now that the woman was dead, Hespa could see the peasant woman who had once resided behind those eyes. Her face was relaxed, her eyes no longer rolling. But for the spike through her eye and half her lip being gone, she could have been asleep. 

Esemli closed the door behind her. “Queen Hespa, you forget your manners. I have brought you a gift, the least you could do is offer me some of your wine.”

This time, the words sunk in. Hespa tore her eyes from the rat woman with an effort and dropped the spike. “Fairy, your presence here is less welcome than the plague. I would sooner spit in your face than offer you wine.” Pasting a sneer on her face, Hespa moved to where her goblet stood and drained it before refilling it from the crystal decanter. 

A flicker of annoyance flashed across Esemli’s face and she moved her left hand, ever so slightly. The decanter overbalanced and splashed wine all over the queen. Hespa swore and drained what was left in the decanter before throwing it out the window in a blind fury that abated as she heard the crystal smash on the stones far below. She did not look at the fairy, sipping her wine from the goblet as she wrestled back control. 

“Decades I have been gone from your eye,” Esemli said, her voice quiet but with an intensity Hespa could hear across the room. “But I have not been gone from this realm. I have watched your daughter grow from innocent child to petulant woman, never able to love her mother because you have made it impossible. I have witnessed your subjects regress and devolve until the wisest of them is merely a few steps above yonder wretch.” She gestured at the rat woman’s body which lay in a puddle of her own blood, eyes still open, one staring at the spike which had impaled its mate. “Your husband’s disrespect was not forgotten and as your daughter was cursed, so was the entire kingdom, to descend slowly into bestial madness. The suffering of the monarchy and the collapse of the kingdom have been a pleasure to behold for all of my kind.” The fairy laughed. 

“Why did you bring that…creature, Esemli?” Hespa asked, staring at her kingdom. 

“Bringing you what hath been wrought, Your Highness,” the fairy said, and sank into a deep and mocking curtsey which was wasted on the impassive queen. “This is one of your subjects with all the trappings of décor stripped away, exposed for what they are. Nothing but a pathetic, slavering, mewling–”

The door slammed open behind Esemli. Her eyes widened and she was halfway through turning toward the door before Princess Alasin’s poisoned dagger buried itself in the fairy’s throat. The blood which spurted from the wound was not precisely red but nearly purple and seemed almost to glow. 

The queen turned just in time to see her daughter lunge through the door. The goblet of wine fell from Hespa’s numb fingers. Her feet seemed rooted to the spot. Her glass shattered on the stone floor as the fairy fell, her throat gushing strange blood.

Esemli sank to her knees, one hand reaching to the handle in her throat. The glowing purple blood coated her fingers and she grimaced as she touched the blade. 

“Guh…” she said and wrapped her fingers around the handle sticking out of her throat. She pulled, the sound of the blade sliding through her flesh sending the queen’s skin crawling as fresh gouts of blood poured from her mouth. “Guh…” she said again, her hand dropping from the handle with the blade still buried in her throat. 

“Isss… too…toooooo…” she said, her words obscured by the blood which flowed, faster now, out of her mouth. The color was draining from her face. “Toooooo…” she moaned and fell forward. She landed on the handle of the dagger and with a horrid squelching sound the point of the blade stabbed out the opposite side of her neck. 

Chilling Chat: Episode 170 | Tim Reynolds

chillingchat

Tim Reynolds grew up in Toronto, Ontario, but has called Calgary, Alberta home since 1999. He lives a quiet, peaceful, cluttered life with his dog, two cats, and a collection of Tim Reynoldsmusical instruments he has neither the talent nor the self-discipline to play. 

An internationally-published writer/photographer/artist he writes his stories “from the character on up”.

Tim is an intelligent man with a terrific sense of humor. We spoke of writing, inspiration, and night terrors.

NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Tim. Thank you for joining me today.

TR: Thank you, Naching! It’s wonderful to be here!

NTK: How old were you when you first became interested in horror and dark fantasy?

TR: I was going to say I was 12 when I saw the chillingly bizarre movie The Other but then I remembered that I was much younger, probably less than seven, when I was sick in bed and Mom had moved the TV into my room but not checked what was on the channel. It was The Incredible Shrinking Man. She caught me watching it right about the time he was being chased by the giant— to him—spider. As for reading the literature, I was probably 17 or 18, after I discovered The Lord of the Rings in English class. It was much darker than the detective stuff I’d been reading leading up to then.

NTK: Did Tolkien influence your writing? Who is your favorite horror writer?

TR: He did have a huge influence because I’m pretty sure every fantasy author I read after him was influenced by him, so it was inescapable. This is going to sound strange, but I had to stop reading horror. I got night terrors as a kid and still get episodes as an adult, and what I read or watch has a big influence on my very vivid dreams and nightmares. That said, I was once a voracious Stephen King reader, as well as Dean Koontz. King would be my favourite, though, because his stories can terrify without full-on horror.

NTK: I’m sorry to hear about your night terrors. Do they keep you from watching horror movies and TV shows?

TR: They do, for the most part. I do try to watch the critically acclaimed ones like Bird Box, where it’s more about suspense than pop-up scares.

I also don’t mind the occasional zombie one—World War Z is my favourite—or vampire one— 30 Days of Night.

NTK: Do you have a favorite horror TV show?

TR: I’d have to say that Black Mirror is the only one I’ll watch, and while many wouldn’t call it horror, I believe that its view of where we are headed as a species with tech is truly horrifying.

NTK: Have your night terrors inspired your writing? Where do you find inspiration?

Waking AnastasiaTR: They certainly have. My most recent fantasy novel The Sisterhood of the Black Dragonfly has a couple of monster-popping-up fight scenes and the creatures in it have a similarity to some of the ones I fled from in my childhood dreams. But sometimes my dreams inspire more than a scene. My previous novel Waking Anastasia about a young man who awakens the ghost of Anastasia Romanova came from a dream. My inspiration can literally come from anywhere. A figurine in a shop, a challenge from a friend, a smile and a wave from a complete stranger…

NTK: Do you have any advice for people suffering from night terrors?

TR: Yes, actually! Avoid dairy before bed! Especially pizza. There’s something in it that makes my dreams go off in a wild direction like I heard acid trips of the 60s do. And vitamin B complex before bed—or any time—can lessen anxiety somewhat.

NTK: Let’s talk about characters. Do your characters have free will? Or do you dictate their every move?

TR: They very much have free will. Once I create a “whole person,” meaning one in which I know their back story and motivations, I let them roll with the scene. I control what needs to happen in the scene, but I let the conversations and quite often the actions be completely organic, in other words, flowing forward from what was just said or done.

That said, I’m having trouble with my latest one because the two characters are very much based on real people, one of which is me. I keep second-guessing myself if that makes sense. And the horror, in this case, isn’t in the story, it’s the writing because it’s a romantic comedy.

Also, I recently wrote a horror short from the point of view of Jack the Ripper. However, because it was very fact-based, I couldn’t give him too much leeway.

NTK: Do you outline and plot the story?

TR: I do now, but I’m also very flexible once I start writing. RomComs are very structured, so I have to hit certain story beats near a certain page, but I usually have a loose structure/outline with everything to make sure that I put the clues where they need to be. I’m becoming much more methodical in my writing as I mature as a writer because while it’s lovely to just go off and write whatever the freak I feel like, if I want bigger publishers to notice my work and make offers, I need to use outlines to keep me on track and not let me write madly off all directions.

NTK: Going back to the works of Stephen King, which is your favorite?

TR: Oooohhhh… Tough question. I haven’t read any in a while, but I loved Hearts in Atlantis, The Stand, and the four novellas of Different Seasons. My stand-out King novel is an odd choice but I love it for its simplicity: Gerald’s Game.

NTK: Aside from the RomCom, what does the future hold for you? What do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?

TR: As a reply to writing the RomCom inspired by my life experiences, I’m writing a dark, bloody, nasty 19th century urban vigilante novel in which I will kill off the types of villains that I feel are plaguing us now—child sexual abusers, rapists, one-percenters who think the rest of us are simply here for their profit or use…. or I will write the sequel to my unpublished semi-cozy detective novel that my agent is currently trying to sell forSisterhood of the Black Dragonfly me.

NTK: Awesome! Looking forward to them!

TR:  Thank you! I try to write stories that are as much fun to read as they are to write, even if they scare the bejeesus out of me and the reader. Joy isn’t all about laughs, as every horror writer/reader knows.

NTK: Thank you for chatting with me today, Tim!

TR: Thank you, Naching! It’s been fun, and I appreciate you making me think on a Friday morning when the weekend and non-thinking is so close I can taste it.

Addicts, you can find Tim at his Blog and on Twitter.

 

 

My Darling Dead: Episode Six | The Queen

Queen Hespa stood at the window slit of her tower, looking over the same woodland that Prince Heyworth had so recently considered counting, as she contemplated his death. She had known of his robust reputation and had hoped her daughter’s temper would dispatch him. Now his death would be recorded as nothing but a lover’s quarrel, slain in an act of self-defense. Unbidden, the queen felt a surge of affection for her daughter and just as swiftly quashed it.

Over the years she had seen the results of the succession of nannies who had grown close to the little princess, only to die with no mark or warning in the night. The castle and its servants had been questioned by the royal guards numerous times but no one had any idea why the nannies were dying. The queen had not told anyone but Bortix, the Captain of the Guard, what the fairy’s curse had been. The wizard Sapius knew without being told, and the three of them did not share the knowledge with any other as the death toll mounted. She was able however to surreptitiously maneuver those who had lost her favor to the position and disposed of them thus. This had gone on for twelve years until the princess had been judged old enough to take care of herself, to the relief of the matrons of the kingdom.

The Princess Alasin proved to be a nightmare in the castle under her own charge. She was demanding, bossy and on more than one occasion had a serving girl thrashed for taking too long to appear when summoned. The queen was not to be questioned, certainly, but there was a certain amount of muttering about “ the little hell-child” who treated them all like dogs. Hespa was well aware of this and encouraged it, knowing that only their unanimous dislike of the princess was keeping them from forming any sort of meaningful bond with her and sealing their fates.

Hespa pulled the red velvet cord which ran along the ceiling and down to the floor of her chamber. From the depths of the castle, she could hear the distant tolling of a bell. Within seconds a figure appeared, clad in the same red velvet as the cord, hooded in black.

“Lady.” The voice came from the red-clad figure, though it seemed to come from everywhere.

“See that Prince Heyworth’s body is satisfactorily removed,” she said, draining her glass. “That task will have been delegated to the castle guards, and I would not credit them with any maneuver outside of the defense of the castle.”

“Nor would I, madam.”

“See that it is done, and send the wizard to me.” The queen dismissed her royal guard with a wave of her hand and took a deep drink from her glass.

Sapius stood atop the south tower and studied the stars. They were bright, and the darkness around them was dark, but apart from that, he could discern nothing. He shook his head in frustration and brought up his pipe, stoking it with a special blend of dwarf tobacco he imported under an understanding. Sometimes the stars were obstinate, and it was better to just enjoy them.

A spark flew from his fingertips, igniting the leaves in his pipe. He closed his eyes as he inhaled before a banging at his door wrenched his attention away. His eyes opened, holding the smoke for a moment before exhaling a mighty cloud as he said “Enter.”

Bortix, the Captain of the Guard, stood framed in the doorway, his frame filling it. His sword hand rested on its hilt as though it were born there. “Her Royal Highness bids you come before her, Master Wizard.”

Sapius allowed a thin smile on his bearded face. “I’m sure she does. Let us go.”

They marched in silence down the tower stairs, Bortix following Sapius who was puffing on his pipe as though he were out for a midnight stroll. When they came to the queen’s chamber, Bortix rapped three times on the door.

“Milady, the wizard awaits your pleasure.”

“Send him in and go away.”

Sapius entered, closing the door behind him. The queen stood before the fire, her back to the mantle, her arms crossed.

“My lady,” he said inclining his back. “You wish to see me?”

“What is my daughter taking?” Hespa asked, her voice businesslike.

“As you stipulated, it is a harmless composition made to increase her metabolism and raise her natural aggression.” The wizard’s thin smile returned. “I daresay it is working?”

Hespa snorted. “She has slain that troll-hunting lummox without exerting herself halfway. I fear the day her temper should turn on me.”

“She would never,” Sapius said. “You would have to provoke her.”

“All I can do is provoke her,” the queen snapped, pulling a bejeweled flask from her bodice and drinking deeply from it as she crossed to the window, looking moodily out at her kingdom. “I’ll not run the risk of my daughter feeling anything for me but indifference.”

“A wise choice, lady,” said the wizard, and puffed at his pipe.

Hespa turned, opening her mouth to lash out at the puffing fool for his sycophancy but the wizard was gone. A second later, a single rap came at the door.

“Mother.”

She stiffened, the mask she had worn since her daughter’s christening slipping effortlessly over her face. “Daughter.”

Alasin stepped into the room, her face sullen and splattered with red. “Prince Heyworth is dead. I presume this comes not as a shock to you.”

Hespa restrained a smile, instead affecting a look of cold disgust. “It has been told already. How did this happen?”

Alasin moved toward the dresser which held a crystal decanter of the cellar keeper’s finest aged brandy, pouring herself a glass. “His very presence was unwanted and he was unwilling to accept that fact. He kept mentioning you as if it mattered. Let me express my appreciation, O queen, for bestowing that oaf upon me.” She drained the glass, glaring at her mother.

The queen had foreseen this, having gathered intelligence from the local peasantry in Heyworth’s kingdom, for there are no greater wagging tongues than those who toil beneath royalty’s lash. Now, the kingdom’s aging ruler, the last of his line, would be hard-pressed to father any heir, leaving themselves vulnerable to being usurped by the kingdom of Dandoich when the monarch passed. The wizard’s drug had done its job perfectly and it was hard not to feel delighted.

“Daughter, you have a few things to learn about how to treat royalty from another kingdom,” Hespa spat with ire she did not feel. “Heyworth was our guest and you were his host. You should have done whatever it took to make him feel at ease. The good of the kingdoms are more important than your petty feelings.” She registered the look of hurt in Alasin’s eyes and crushed her own hurt for causing it, turning away as if in dismissal. “Get out of my sight, you little pestilent, while I try and fix the damage you have caused.”

Hot, angry tears filled Alasin’s eyes as she left her mother’s chamber. She could not think of a time she had not left the chamber thus, nor a time that ascending to it did not fill her with dread. As usual, upon leaving she went up to the very top of her mother’s tower. She had come up here after her first big fight with the queen when Hespa had informed her that she would be caring for herself now and would no longer have a nanny. The thought had sent her into a tantrum and she had run from the chamber after screaming at her mother that she would kill herself by jumping from the battlements.

Now, years later, atop the same tower, she considered, not for the first time, throwing herself from her perch, forever ending anything she knew in favor of the unknown void before her. Once again, fear mastered her, and she shifted her balance away from the void. She looked up, taking a deep breath. The air, damp from the recent rain, was rich and fragrant. She smiled. It could be worse. There were some things worth living for.

My Darling Dead: Episode 5 – The Suitor

Prince Heyworth had come from the kingdom of Duyuwan, over a hundred leagues away, in troll country. He had grown into a tall strong man and had made quite a name for himself in his home kingdom thumping trolls before turning his attention to a far more unwinnable prize: the princess Alasin of Dandoich. Over a dozen suitors had left the kingdom with their hearts in tatters after attempting to tame the princess. Heyworth had been at the task for a week and was unable to admit, even to himself, that his goal was likely to be a doomed one.

The first night, he had arrived to a feast in his honor. The queen had seated Heyworth and Alasin together and, installing herself on his other side, proceeded with an interview clearly meant to highlight his virtues to the sullen princess to his right who was doodling on a scrap of parchment with a quill she had brought to the table. The queen continued in this vein for some time, making it difficult for Heyworth to consume any amount of food set before him, he was so occupied with his narrative. By the end of the feast, the princess had met his eyes once, and she retired early to her bedchamber without inviting him to join her. Each night had ended thus, and he felt as though he had spent the week trying to woo a brick wall.

Now it was approaching the evening meal and he had not laid eyes upon his target since that morning when, in response to his inquiry, she had curtly told him she was going out and would be back later. He had spent the day wandering the castle, yet again. He had gathered some knowledge from questioning the farrier as to the shoeing preferences of the castle’s horses, admired the swords in the armory and endured a highly uncomfortable tea with the queen, at which she had hinted extensively that any prince worth his salt should have her daughter smitten by now. He was just about to go up to the tallest tower and start counting the trees he could see through the gathering dusk in the distant forest when he heard the lookout’s shout.

“Princess Alasin returns! Have open the gates!”

An unconscious set to his jaw, Heyworth strode to the battlements overlooking the gate, watching the princess’s litter draw closer up the roadway leading to the castle. He tapped his fingers, glancing to the sunset. Nine hours she had been gone.

If he was to win her, he would have to instill respect.

He started down from the battlements as the drawbridge clanked down, the gate clanked up, then the process reversed itself as the litter came to a stop in its accustomed place near the stable. Without delay, the litter bearers dispersed, eager to put as much distance between themselves and its inhabitant as possible. As Heyworth stood there, waiting for the princess to emerge, he could hear a loud sniffing sound, as though one were sampling the fragrance of a good meal. No sooner had the sound dissipated than the Princess Alasin emerged, eyes streaming and a manic grin on her face that only fell slightly when she beheld him.

“Hey…it’s you…Haystack, am I right?” Alasin giggled, nearly losing her balance as she stepped down from the litter.

Heyworth reached out a hand to steady her. “Princess…please allow me to assist you.” He stepped forward, intending to put an arm about her waist. She pushed him away.

“No touching! Seriously, Haystack, I require no assistance. Please leave me.”

He caught her by the upper arm, tightening his grip so she could not pull away. “Well, my lady, I would like an explanation where you have been lo these many hours with no word of your whereabouts to your mother or suitor.” His grip tightened further.

Alasin snorted, her gaze sharpening. “I’m not sure who you think you are, by the gods, but I owe my mother nothing, and you less than that. Unhand me this instant!”

Heyworth felt a minor explosion in his chest as rage flooded through him. He grabbed her other arm. “That is all the disrespect I will tolerate from you, princess or no!” Digging his meaty fingers in, he pulled her toward the door leading to the castle’s sleeping quarters he was currently occupying. Alasin scratched and bit but Heyworth’s muscles had grown up fighting trolls and she was dragged, cursing, up the stairs toward his bedchamber. Fight though she did, the thought of screaming never entered her mind.

Slamming his chamber door behind them, Heyworth threw her from him, sending her flying across the room and knocking her head into one of the four poster bed’s pillar. She sat down hard, swaying. The world swam before her as the rug beneath the bed came into focus. She could see clumps of dust clinging to the fibers and she thought dazedly, must remember to thrash the cleaners for that.

She heard the sound of panting, like a dog’s. He was breathing fast as his hands worked his belt buckle and there was an ugly glint to his eyes. “Need a lesson in manners,” he muttered as he jerked the belt from his pant loops and adjusted himself. “Respect. Deference. You WILL give them to me.” Snapping the belt between his balled fists, he started toward her. “Princess, I regret that you’ve made me do this, but if you just–”

He stopped, mid-stride, narrowed eyes taking in the small blade poised to throw in Alasin’s hand from where she crouched on the floor beside the bed frame. Now she rose to her feet, keeping the blade leveled at him.

“Listen, cretin,” she said flatly, her breathing rapid, “the only reason you are not dead where you stand is that the fact of your death would benefit me less than your survival. Depart from here immediately and never darken the land near me for the remainder of your days. I am the princess of the realm and I have spoken. Now depart, before I am forced to end you regardless of the ramifications.”

Heyworth licked his lips, feeling the blood drain a little from his loins. The belt drooped. He attempted a sneer. “You’re just a princess. You haven’t got what it takes.” He stood a little taller to enhance his stature. “I have single-handedly slain more trolls and enemies than I can recall if–”

“Listen to me Heyworth,” Alasin said, stepping closer to him, her teeth bared. “You have no idea of who I am, nor what I am capable of. I suggest you leave, before I show you. You have no more warnings.” Her eyes never left his.

In other circumstances, this may have worked. But Heyworth’s trollish pride had been wounded, and the ugly look returned to his head. A grin that may have been a leer appeared on his face. He raised the belt and took a step closer as well. “Listen here, brat, wave that knife of yours in my face and your mother–”

Quicker than the eye could follow, an expression of fury flashed across Alasin’s face and letting out a scream, her arm flicked out and she cut his throat as deeply as she could, scraping her knife on his vertebrae. Blood spurted across her face and she wiped it from her eyes as Heyworth sank to the floor, dropping his belt and clawing at his throat as though he could mend the damage she had done. Alasin smirked as she sank to her knees, her eyes following those of the dying Prince Heyworth, waving the blade in front of his face as it drained of color.

“I told you, pig,” she hissed, wiping the knife on Heyworth’s cheek, leaving a bloody smear and a fresh gash as the keen blade kissed his cheek. “I owe my mother nothing.”

She pushed him and he fell backward, striking his head hard against the stone floor. Dazed and struggling for breath, he sank back, his view of the ceiling impeded by the large dark circles that had begun to spin in the forefront of his vision. He remembered hearing rumors throughout the kingdom that the princess carried a poison blade. He had discounted it as just the rumors of common folk. Now as the dark circles claimed him, for the first time, he wondered if he could have been wrong…

“Princess! Princess Alasin!”

The door crashed open. Alasin looked up to see three of the castle guards struggling to be the first through the door. The first guard came forward, uncertainty on his features. “Lady, the wizard bade us come to aid with the greatest of speed. Do you require assistance?”

She rose to her feet, looking disdainfully down at the dead prince. “Yes,” Alasin said, and prodded Heyworth’s corpse with her foot. “Remove this from the castle and inform the queen that her latest suitor is rejected.” She felt the bottle hanging between her breasts and her pulse quickened in anticipation as she hurried out the door.

The three guards looked at each other and at the body on the floor of the bedchamber. Together, the two older guards looked at the youngest. The eldest guard gestured at the corpse as they took their hasty leave of the room.

“Mind you soak up the blood after you move him.”

My Darling Dead: Episode 3 – The Cursed

The Kingdom of Dandoich lay in the grip of autumn. Frost coated the ground in thick layers every morning and the chill of the night did not fade until the sun was high. Grilled meat for suppers had given way to hot, savory stews. Hollow gourds had faces chiseled into them and were set outside to ward off evil spirits. The last crops were being harvested, numb fingers digging into the frozen dirt with thoughts of when it would all be over. But always, there was a shadow hanging over the kingdom, one which necessitated looking over one’s shoulder more often than in the old days.

Since the fairy’s so-called christening, old-timers agreed around the fires at night, the kingdom had never been the same. The castle had ceased to be a place of solace and refuge and had become a symbol of uncertainty, capable at any point of sweeping down and wreaking havoc upon their simple lives at a whim. The rains came less and the crops were poor, leading many to take on the life of a highwayman to feed their families, roaming the road and preying upon unwary travelers. Violence became the first and only response for many and the number of murders skyrocketed.

Those who had attended the christening hastened to spread the tale of the fairy’s vengeance and the shrieking queen who had ordered them all from the room. None of them had clearly heard what Esemli had screamed at the end, but their imaginations were only too happy to fill in those gaps in their knowledge. They whispered darkly to their neighbors about the supernatural powers possessed by the fae, both real and imagined. Their neighbors, in turn, hastened to spread the stories to their own circles. Gradually, the fairies grew to be feared, then hated, by many in the kingdom. The fact that most of the people in the kingdom had never seen a fairy, and that those who had laid eyes upon one had only done so at Princess Alasin’s christening, did not stop their tongues wagging.

The fairies were not as scarce as they seemed to the peasantry. Some were capable of invisibility, while many had powers of disguise. Still other fairies were bolder, trusting the oblivious nature of human beings to protect their identities. This had been done by the fae for thousands of years, but now, they were angered and insulted by what they heard on the lips and thoughts of the peasantry. Emboldened by Esemli’s act against the royal family, they brought their influence to bear on the peasantry and were driving the kingdom into a darkness inhabited by strange creatures whose minds had snapped.

“’ey, you dere,” screamed the peasant Supik, raising a scythe in a businesslike manner as he stood framed in the door. “Git outta me ‘ouse!”

The target of his ire was a small, skinny man dressed in rags which barely clung to his filthy frame. Ratlike, he sniffed around the floor of the peasant’s main room, ending up under the small table. His nose brushed the small stiff body of a mouse, the latest casualty in the peasant’s constant war against pests. Before the revolted Supik could say another word, the skinny rat-man had opened his mouth and taken a great bite of the carcass, biting it cleanly in two and chewing with relish.

With difficulty, the peasant swallowed his lunch again. “Cor, what th’ bloody ‘ell is wrong wid youse, mate?” He held out the scythe, keeping the heft of the weapon between the two of them. “You c’n eat all th’ mice ’round ‘ere ya can find but ya gotter do it ousside, got it?” He stood out of the doorway, gesturing with his scythe, his unease growing.

The rat-man was not listening. He had finished his horrible meal and continued his search throughout the hovel, sniffing around the hearth where some stew had slopped out of a large kettle when Supik had stirred a little too enthusiastically. The peasant frowned and tightened his grip on the scythe.

“’ere, mate, yew gotter get outta here. Me missus and liddle ‘uns will be back ‘ere any minute an-”

Without warning, the rat-man leapt to his feet and shrieked, no words, just a sound of rage and insanity. He charged at Supik, hands raised like claws. Supik, who was not expecting anything of the sort, fell over himself in his haste to exit the building and landed on his rear at the foot of his stairs. Pain exploded up his spine from his tailbone and he howled. Over his exclamation, he heard the clatter of his scythe and saw it out of reach across the dooryard. His eyes had no sooner absorbed this fact than they flew back to the direction of his front door in time to see the rat-man scuttle down the stairs on all fours and seize his leg.

Supik bellowed in fear and agony as the rat-man sunk his teeth into Supik’s leg, gnawing and shaking his head left and right. Supik’s hands scrabbled around the yard attempting to pull himself away but the rat-man hung on, splintered teeth ripping into the peasant’s flesh and carving out great chunks. The peasant was roaring, bellowing as he thrashed, kicking for all he was worth and attempting to pull himself to safety.

Like a limpet, the rat-man clung doggedly to the peasant’s flailing legs. Just as he could feel the rat-man’s teeth scrape the bone in his leg, Supik felt a bolt of pain crash into his flailing right hand as it connected harshly with a large rock. Seizing it, he leaned up and swung with the same motion, connecting the rock with the skull of the rat-man with all the force he could muster.

Thwock!

The rat man continued gnawing, but his eyes were glazed, his jaws working slower. One bloody eye rolled in its socket, coming to rest on the peasant. Supik screamed and brought the rock down on that eye again, and again, and again, until the thing clutching his legs looked no longer even remotely human and the rock in his hand was reduced to wet gravel.