Nightmare November : Dare to Dream from the Horror Seeker

Dreams are one of the most mysterious functions of the human mind, and we all have them. Many we can’t remember, but of the few we do, dreams are nothing short of an amazing experience in all their form and splendor, and none so profound as a vivid nightmare that wakes you out of a sound sleep.

Growing up, I became a fan of Nightmare on Elm Street at 3 years old, thank you, Aunt Liz, ha! But it has always been a foundation of inspiration for my writing. Could something like Freddy actually exist? As any fan of the franchise knows, one of Wes Craven’s inspirations in creating NOES was one of the many cases known as Asian Death Syndrome, or more commonly referred to as Night Terrors. These were only called Asian Death because during the 1980’s a sudden wave of sleep-related deaths had occurred amongst a number of healthy middle-aged Asian men in the Chicago area.  Much of the details we see in the movie are direct from his life, according to Wes; Nancy hiding a coffee pot to stay awake, the notion of some real entity trying to kill him, the screams and thrashes during sleep. Though, I think it’s safe to say nothing was brought out of a dream. Ha, oh what a life if that were a possibility! But I digress.

In my continual search for material, I keep a notebook at my bedside in case a potent dream manages to stick long enough for me to write down. However, it is the dark ones I hope to catch, and unfortunately, as we get older, I feel that nightmares become few and far between, but they never stop completely.

So, what are dreams? Well, they are attributed to the processing and organizing of the thoughts of the day, and they are vital in our brain’s ability to recover and recharge. One of the best ways I’ve heard it described is, imagine your brain is a warehouse. On one side all the material (thoughts, etc) are coming in and being shipped from one side to the other. As your day wears down your brain begins to process the material. Now, when you fall asleep its as if a door dividing the warehouse in two closes and our awareness is left on the empty end of the warehouse. Whatever the process is that organizes our brain’s activities we can not see, we can only listen. Dreams, as it is told, are our brain’s interpretation of those sounds. A loud bang, say, could have been anything really, but the experience is subjective to us all, perhaps influenced by our own unique programming. This description has stuck with me for a while, and really, it’s the one that excites the most intrigue. That being said, I’d like to leave you with the last memorable nightmare I have had in recent times.

Like many dreams begin we simply just happen into them with no real awareness of a beginning or an end. See Inception. In this case, it “began” in my car, dawn or dusk, I’m not really sure which, but it was stark, blue, like the fading or coming of a summer sun. Almost immediately I was aware of a presence next to me in the passenger seat. I say presence because, well, you’ll see. There were no words exchanged, no real movement. Only when I was aware, as if it could sense as such, the figure turned and leaned in as close to my face as it could without touching me. It was a faceless thing, dressed normally. It’s head cast in a hooded sweatshirt as Death would look if he were a skateboarder, ha! It said nothing, it did nothing, but it felt as though it was looking into my soul, deep and invasive! I remember being as terrified as ever, indescribable, and dangerously hyperventilating. The most horrifying thing was, I was aware of this on a conscious plane as if I were awake and asleep at the same time and unable to scare myself out of it. Only when my girlfriend at the time who had been awoken by my hysteria, shook me violently for several seconds did I snap out of it.

“Was it the shadow man?” She asked the next morning.

I hadn’t told her a thing up until that point, and yet somehow she knew what I saw. I could think of no better way to describe it. It was A Shadow Man. Having experienced that, I can say it is exactly the kind of dream I hope for and the exact kind of dream I never want to experience again!

Do you remember your dreams, your nightmares? If so, please share. I’m always on the lookout for a good tale to tell. Thanks for reading!

Guest Blog: Review of The Witch by Ronald Hutton

The Witch Reviewed by John C Adams

This non-fiction book is subtitled ‘A History of Fear from Ancient Times to the Present’.

I first came across the author and historian Ronald Hutton fourteen years ago when he appeared as a guest in ‘Tales from the Green Valley’, a BBC TV show featuring a year-long project to re-establish a working Elizabethan farm in Wales using genuine techniques. He provided good-natured expert analysis of the Christmas traditions of the time, and it was apparent that he really knew his stuff.

Last year, I was delighted to receive a copy of this book as a birthday present from my teenage daughter (make of that what you will). I was intrigued when I realised that the author was the same expert on pagan custom and history I’d enjoyed watching a decade and a half earlier. The starting point in reading my daughter’s gift was therefore that Hutton would demonstrate the same thoroughness of expertise and knowledge here, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The book is divided into three sections – deep perspectives (on global, ancient and shamanic contexts in the history of witchcraft), continental perspectives (including the legacy of the Egyptians, the reception of witches in the Middle Ages and the early modern patchwork including the Shakespearean age) and, finally, a section on British perspectives on witches and their relationship with fairies, Celticity and animals.

It would probably be helpful for me to point out that Hutton’s book is a history of how witches (including shamans and service magicians, so the term here is used for both male and female practitioners) are perceived by the wider societies in which they reside, rather than a history of witchcraft itself. To that end, excellently researched and thoughtfully presented though it is, readers seeking a practical history of how witchcraft has been practised or even a how-to manual would be best advised to seek out other titles. On the other hand, as histories of witches and their treatment go, it is impeccably argued and detailed.

I’m a great believer in academics presenting their findings impartially and being careful to explain objectively the limitations of their sources, be honest about the extent of our current knowledge, and highlight areas where further research would help. This, as well as the diligence of decades of in-depth research, is where Hutton’s strength lies. He gets right down into the detail, lays it out and provides a justified conclusion, all in very cool, precise language which doesn’t force on the reader a particular point of view based on preconceived notions. Not all histories are created equal! Instead, Hutton goes where the facts take him and gives the reader space to reach their own conclusions as they make that journey with him.

For all the research and detail, this was far from being a dry read. It was fascinating and informative, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Enjoy!

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John C Adams is a reviewer and writer of horror fiction. Souls for the Master is available for free on Smashwords and for 99p on Kindle.

http://johncadams.wix.com/johnadamssf

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. 

 

Logbook of Terror: Ruins Of Castle Rocca Sparviera!

The ruins of Castle Rocca Sparviera!

After a frightful and dreary travel in which I mistakenly visited the wrong location and was chased from a decaying castle by the rotted corpses of a mob of re-animated skeletons, I finally arrived at my destination: the ruins of Castle Rocca Sparviera. A chilly night had fallen and a storm brewed overhead, hiding the moon and stars behind layers of thick, foreboding clouds. Thunder cracked nearby and with only the light of my electric lantern to guide me, I set out to explore the ruins. 

I walked the perimeter of the formerly grand castle, treading carefully over rocks and desolate mountain terrain, wondering what lonely spirits might be left wandering these hills. After hiking to what seemed to be the edge of the property, I turned and strolled along the inner side of a disintegrating wall. After several minutes I halted to take stock of my surroundings and, up ahead, saw a spot of soft light swaying in the darkness. Could it be a fellow explorer making camp and a fire for the night? I hurried on my way to find out. 

Upon drawing closer, I saw that the light was pouring out through a doorway in another crumbling wall. I stepped through and found myself in a great dining hall. My head swam in disbelief, for the hall and all its contents were in pristine condition. The stone walls and floor were clean, polished, and intact. High wooden beams secured the solid ceiling and the entire room was alight with the soft glow of a myriad of candles. The luscious aroma of fresh cooked meat, bread, and vegetables drew my eyes to the huge table in the center of the room. A disembodied voice called out to me, welcoming me home, inviting me to feast. The ghostly voice spoke in French, a tongue completely foreign to me, yet I understood the voice’s every word.  

Smiling guests materialized around the massive banquet table, their regal clothes in tatters and covered in dust and cobwebs. Their gray skin was spotted with deep holes, from which worms wiggled in and out, and blood and pus trickled in rivulets over decaying flesh. With loud, hollow voices the dinner guests beseeched me to join them. Entranced, I approached the table. 

Thunder crashed over the high ceiling. A fierce flash of lightning lit up the table and I saw before me, two children, their flesh roasted, their small bodies chopped in pieces and placed carefully on garish silver platters. Their heads were intact. The two dead little girls turned their eyes to me. Help us! Help us! They pleaded. 

Lightning and thunder exploded. Rain poured from the ceiling. The pieces of the children joined and melded together, forming the hacked children into morbid wholes. Once reformed, they rolled off the great table and crawled toward me. The dinner guests sang a church hymn while their bodies melted in the rain. I felt the children’s small, dead hands grasp my ankles. Feast with us! They screamed at me. Feast with us! Their small eyes burned bright red with horror. I gasped. Shocked out of my trance, I broke the children’s hold and ran. 

Once out of the banquet hall, I ran to the path at the edge of the property. There, I saw a woman in royal dress. She stood upon a large rock. Tears stained her face. She held her arms high and screamed a curse into the night. I felt a sudden surge of heat behind me. Turning, I witnessed what surely could not have been: a fully intact castle engulfed in flames of grief and fury which were so intense, not even the deluge of rain could quench their angry burn. The royal woman turned her fierce eyes on me. I knew at once –it was Queen Jeanne! With terror in heart, lantern in hand, and my satchel over my shoulder, I sprinted away down the mountain, desperately hoping to outrun the curse that the queen was casting. 

I do not know how long I ran. Dawn seemed to arrive without warning and I was back on a road with the warm sun drying my sopping clothes. Not far into the morning I was able to secure transport with some locals who were en route to a nearby village. They spoke clear English and we began to converse. When I remarked on the previous night’s storm their faces turned grim. They inquired if I had been at the ruins during the night. I confirmed that I had. The driver shook her head and said that the region had seen no rain for over a week. The driver’s companion held up her left hand. Her skin was maligned, covered in burn scars. She said that she too had seen the queen, apparently too closely. 

After the kind couple dropped me off, I acquired proper food and lodging. I have resolved to stay in this quaint and pleasant country village until I receive my next assignment. The past several nights have been difficult. Sleep eludes me, for whenever I close my eyes, I see those of the dead children staring up at me.

Book Review: A Winter Sleep by Greg F. Gifune

A Winter Sleep Author: Greg F Gifune
Reviewed by Ariel DaWintre

I liked this book it was easy to read and kept your interest. It had elements I love; winter, Eerie Hotel, and Crazy people. The story has Horror, Psychological Horror and just plain crazy. I kept thinking I had figured out this story then the author would change it up on me. When I got to the end I was still doubting what seemed to be the end wondering if there will be a sequel and he will explain it to me in an epilogue.  Then I was just, “Whoa okay that is just crazy,” and I don’t know if it was the story or me.

I loved the main character, Ben Hooper. I don’t want to give away too much and ruin the story but you get that he is going somewhere and through the story, you find out what happened and what he is doing. He ends up at an old Hotel called the Monarch, this hotel made me think of another famous hotel “The Overlook” and even the song, “Hotel California”.  He meets a group of strangers at this hotel and they have what appears to be nothing in common, but something is keeping them all there. In the story Ben’s past and present intermingle and you wonder what his future holds.

The story has all kinds of things going on and it keeps you engaged to the end. You get crazy, horror, ghost, spooky something for everyone. The real question is it real or all in Ben’s mind. I am still wondering! Thanks for a fun read. I might have to read it again!

Logbook of Terror: Alloa Tower

Alloa Tower, Scotland

Why do I always seem to end up being chased by the ghosts of dead children? What did I ever do to them to deserve their seemingly endless scorn? Perhaps because I often end up at their haunting grounds? Whatever the reason may be, I hadn’t any time for further contemplation. On that terrifying night in Scotland at the fearful Alloa Tower, all I could do was run for my life.

After taking the official tour and listening to the tour guide’s tales of the Curse of Alloa Tower and its accompanying paranormal legacy, I was left to my own devices and I wandered the grounds aimlessly, soaking up the eerie atmosphere. I was having such a relaxing evening that I began to think that the grounds might not be cursed or haunted after all. However, when I stumbled upon the dungeon, the curse, in fact, became all too real. 

The dungeon was awash in the soft light of candles on each wall. Shadows played on the ceiling, distorting my view of the room. A cold breeze whispered over my shoulders. The hairs on the nape of my neck stood on end. I shuffled backward to leave the dungeon and collided with something soft. I spun ‘round. Before me was a monk in tattered black robes, hovering several feet off the floor, his face hidden in the darkness cast by the hood of his robe. He pointed a rotted, decayed finger at me. A voice bellowed forth from the figure. The words swirled around me, echoing off the chamber walls in ancient Latin. The dark monk floated toward me, pointing and chanting. I ducked and ran around his side, exiting the room through the arched doorway from whence I had entered, and bolted up the stairs.

The stairs emptied out into a long, pitch-black hallway. Was this the way I’d followed to the dungeon? Peering deep into the darkness, a dim light appeared at what I thought to be the end of the hallway. Cautiously, I held out my hands and walked forward. The light began to grow larger and brighter as I advanced. Perhaps it was someone with a flashlight or a lamp? Then, I saw the light quiver and wave. And then I heard it: horrid feminine shrieks of agony screaming forth from the flames. Then there were footfalls. And again: the light -shining brighter than ever, smashing through the dark, making everything all too clear with an overwhelming suddenness that threatened to shatter my sanity. With arms outstretched, a burning woman hurled herself down the hall, faster than I had ever seen any human move. Having only the dungeon stairs at my back and the woman ahead, I feared this was my doom, and that I would perish in agonizing, phantasmal flames. Closing my eyes, I pressed myself tight against the wall and waited for the end. A blazing wave of heat swept past me. My heart stopped. I opened my eyes to see the burning woman descending the dungeon stairs. Torturous screams and cries erupted from within the dungeon, flying up the stairs and filling the hallway. I was spared! I turned away from the dungeon and fled. 

As I ran further down the corridor, the screams from the dungeon were soon replaced by the sound of pounding hooves. Beating out a rhythm on the stone floor, closer and closer they came, until they were right on my heels. My foot caught on an uneven stone. My body pitched forward and I crashed to the floor. Instinctively, I threw my arms over the back of my head. The ghostly steeds passed over my trembling body and the sounds of hooves, neighing, and snorting faded into the all-consuming darkness of the hallway. Gathering my wits, I got to my feet and pressed on. I had to find a way out of this dreadful passage. 

I felt my way along the stone wall, placing my footfalls with care. My hands slipped, I fell into an open space, and I was engulfed in dismal, horrible black. No sight, only the dank smell of the centuries old structure accompanied by the sound of my own short, rapid breaths. Then, three tiny dots appeared, hovering before me. The dots grew into shining orbs, illuminating the surroundings. 

I stood in the center of a large room which may have been the great hall at one time. The orbs bobbed up and down and then floated away toward a towering, arched doorway. Perhaps a way out! My heart pounded and my mind gave thanks to these mysterious new friends who were leading me to safety. I followed the floating orbs through the doorway. 

We passed through the doorway and walked along another corridor. After turning a corner and entering another room, the orbs began to grow and change shape. As they danced and jittered and pushed and pulled at their form, something else began to grow out of the stone floor. Miserable cries bounced off the stone walls, coming from a man growing out of the floor. He wore the pitch-black abbot’s robe and glared at me with sinister blood-red eyes. The morphing orbs cast an eerie white glow over the risen clergyman, who towered above me. A scepter grew out of the palm of his right hand. Blood dripped from a large crystal attached to the end. He pointed at me and recited his famous curse. Reasoning that he must think I was the Earl, I knew that I had to make a hasty escape lest the curse befall me. Quickly, I backed away. Noting the light in my peripheral vision, I turned toward it.  Where the orbs had been there were now three ghastly children, dressed in regal splendor, glowing, a pale white luminescence emanating from their bodies. They screamed and ran at me. 

I ran with the cries of the children spurning me on, fleeing down hallways, twisting, turning, hurling through dark, empty spaces until by some miracle I spilled out of the tower and collapsed in its surrounding yard. The ghost children were nowhere in sight, nor was the abbot or the monk or the burning woman or the horses with their hooves of hell. I was alone. The night was silent. I gazed up at the tower. Feeling as if I’d run for miles upon miles, I pondered how so many rooms, and the labyrinthine passageways, could possibly be contained in such a structure the size of which I saw. There was only one answer: they could not. Unless… 

No. No, no, no, no! I could not ponder the possibilities or the depth of the dark magic that the abbot left on these grounds when he shouted forth his curse. With all my remaining strength I left the grounds to seek residence for the remainder of the night. In all my days, I pray that I never return to this cursed abode. 

My Darling Dead : Episode 10 | The Blacksmith

As Alasin fled the hut, she forgot that it was not sitting on the ground, but raised on stilts three steps high. She flew out the door and the ground rose to meet her sharply.  Tumbling end over end she landed in a heap at their bottom. She lay there, winded, her eyes unfocused as the cloud of dust she had raised settled in the early morning rays of sunshine. 

There was a scuttling noise from under Madam Flood’s hut that slowly acquired her attention as her eyes began to focus. Finally able to breathe, Alasin pushed herself up as she turned to face the noise. As her eyes focused, at last, she froze, her heart hammering in her chest. 

A small, thin woman had come out from under the house and was creeping toward her, crouched low, eyes bright and teeth bared. Her hair was matted and thick with dust, as were her clothes. Her nails, long and broken, reached out to Alasin, who could smell the foul creature from where she lay. The rat woman let out a high pitched cackle that sounded devoid of sanity and pounced. 

The woman was in the air for the briefest instant before a large hammer swung out of the blue and pulverized her face. Alasin, who had opened her mouth to scream, was showered in bloody chunks of skull, brain and flesh. She spat as though her tongue were afire and finally laid eyes upon her rescuer. He was a large man, thick shouldered with a blacksmith’s apron over a muscled chest. A dripping blacksmith’s hammer swung from one huge arm.

“Strewth! But that’n almost had ye! Still, no harm done, I’ll reckon. Up y’come, miss!” He said, and extended a hand to her with a smile. 

Alasin wiped her hand on her skirt and gave it to the man with a shaken smile. “Thank you, sir, and thank you for dispatching that…what was that?” she asked as she was pulled upright as though she were a feather. 

“Oh, ar,” the man said darkly, swinging his hammer over his shoulder, unmindful of the muck coating its head. “Them’d be the changed ones. Rat people, I call ’em. Best to do is put ’em down before they hurt somethin’.” He sighed. “Even though some of ’em be my best o’ friends.”

“Madam Flood mentioned something about them last night.”

The man’s face brightened. “Ma’am Flood! That’s right, this be her place, don’t it? How be she?”

“She’s, er… fine,” Alasin stammered, hoping he wouldn’t insist on speaking to the old woman.

“She in?” inquired the man. “I hain’t seen Ma’am Flood in an age, and I be–”

“No! She, ah, said she had somewhere to go this morning and left before I woke, so I took myself for a walk and fell down her stairs because I wasn’t used to them you see and then the creature came from under the stairs and–”

“Ne’er mind,” the man boomed, his chuckle cutting off Alasin’s frantic blather. “We best get ye where ye wish to go, little miss, lest one more of the nasty rat people get ye. Strewth!”

Alasin awoke in pitch darkness, a giant weight upon her chest. Her head was pounding and her mouth tasted of rot. She pushed at the weight. It felt like a dead animal, cool and smooth-skinned with a light coating of hair covering it. It was large, and heavy. Her fingers explored down its length. Her heart shot into her mouth as her fingers touched a palm, then fingers. She was able now to identify the giant weight as an arm, slung across her, as she lay in this bed. 

HIS bed, she realized as unbidden, memories began flooding into her fevered brain. Going off with the jolly blacksmith(whose name she could not recall) after he had saved her life, finding out that she really liked him, turning aside his questions about who she was and where she was going so she could spend longer with him, until he finally stopped asking. Becoming tipsy as they dined and drank as the sun first rose and set in the sky, finally a fog of stumbling back to his own hut and going to bed together. Now she could tell that beneath the arm and the animal pelts that served as a blanket, she was naked. 

Whimpering, she pushed at the arm which held her in a death grip, immobile in its deathly contraction. Finally she was able to wriggle out from underneath it and fall to the floor, sobbing as she pushed herself to the farthest corner of the room, wrapping her arms about herself against the night’s chill. There she sat, struggling to produce silent tears as she wept, for her own terror, for poor Madam Flood, for the unnamed blacksmith, before turning her tears back upon herself. 

When she awoke again it was the gray light of dawn, the sound of birds filling the silence that comes when most people are still asleep. Her neck ached from where she finally fallen into a doze, huddled in the corner hunched over. She was still nude, and shivering violently. Her gaze fell upon the corpse in the bed, face frozen in a peaceful expression, massive arm extended over where she had fallen asleep beneath it.

Unbidden, the tears started again, but she knuckled them aside and pushed herself up, hobbling on stiff legs across to the bed and pulling the bearskin blanket off of the blacksmith’s body, wrapping it around herself as she tried not to look at what remained of her lover. She stooped, picking up her scattered clothing piece by piece. As she did, her little bottle of wizard’s powder and chain dropped to the floor with a clink. With a happy swoop of her stomach, she dropped to her knees beside it and availed herself. 

“Farner! Hey mate, ’tis Bron! Yer not at yer shop! What gives?” 

Alasin’s head jerked up at a pounding from the door, white powder coating her nostrils, her eyes wide. She jammed the lid on the bottle and grabbed up her clothes while the pounding increased before the latch was pushed open from the outside and the door banged open. A small squat man stood framed in the early morning light, his face nothing but a silhouette.

“C’mon, I needs me sword t’day, Farn! Git yer…hoho, what’s all this then?” he said, noticing Alasin, looking frenzied as she clutched her clothing to herself. An ugly grin spread across his face. “Well hey there sweet’eart, me name’s Bron and I guess my man Farn’s been stickin’ it to ya, eh?” 

Alasin’s eyes were huge as she did her best to sidle sideways to block Bron’s view of the bed and Farner’s lifeless body. Bron was fortunately too busy examining the curves of the sheet Alasin draped around herself to notice the bed. 

“Porked ya good did ‘e?” giggled Bron, grabbing his crotch and making exaggerated grinding movements with his hips. 

Alasin’s eyes flashed with temper but Bron sniggered and to her great relief turned to leave. As his body moved, the shadow he had cast upon Alison moved as well, letting a slab of sunlight smack her in the face. “Well I’ll not begrudge ‘im a lie-in after a night wid a beauty like you. Yew tell ‘im Bron stopped by, an’…”

He trailed off, eyes widening. He took a step forward and looked more closely at Alasin. 

“You…” he whispered. Alasin’s heart, hammering like mad, simultaneously froze. 

“Yer…yer the princess!” Bron blurted, raising a hand to point at her. 

“Yes, you festering sore,” Alasin said, drawing herself up to her full height and looking down her nose regally at the little man. “I am Alasin, Princess of Dandoich, and I command you to depart from here immediately and speak of this to no one. Is that clear?”

“Yer… the princess,” the man said, a stupid grin spreading over his face. “Huh… what are you doing here?” His eyes crawled over her, insolent in their lingering. His tongue wet his lips. 

“Dog!” shouted Alasin. “How dare you look upon me! You have been given a command and you will obey at once. Leave!” She raised a hand and pointed to the door. The clothing she had clutched to herself slipped and fell to her waist, exposing a breast. 

“Whoaa…” Bron said, his eyes huge. Alasin swore and snatched the clothes to herself again while attempting to maintain her composure. She saw his grin had become nasty. He stepped inside and shut the door. 

“No one knows yer ‘ere, or yew wouldn’t be wid ‘im,” Bron whispered, gesturing to Farner’s still motionless body. “And that means, I can do what I likes wid ya. Farn won’t mind.” He was beginning to breathe heavily, massaging his trousers as he moved toward her. “And you can’ stop me, Princess, wee slip of a girl like ye.” 

Alasin did not move as he advanced. The rage in her at being spoken to thus had completely blotted out any hint of fear. In one move, she dropped all her clothing and stood before him completely nude, sending his jaw dropping. 

“Hear this, you squalid peasant,” Alasin said, her voice like iron. “If you come for me, you will end. Heed my warning, and desist.”