death

Summons

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It came for me.

In the dark of night, it came for me.

A creature like a man, only its skin was porcelain white, a phantom wreathed in moonlight. It smiled with bloodless lips, and from the endless depths of the dark it bade me follow after it.

There was no running, no bargaining, no arguing my way to freedom. I’d seen its kind claim others, seen its feral, animalistic rage as it made short work of those who would not answer its call willingly.

So I hunched my shoulders, skin cold to the touch, and nodded.

The creature turned to make its way down the graveled walkway, and I followed in its wake, wondering what the purpose of its summons could be, wondering if I’d be alive to recount the tale by morning.

I could hear the steady, irregular rhythm of far-off cars, while all around, I was serenaded by a chorus of nearby crickets—a funeral dirge to lead the creature and I as we hiked across the street, then along the sidewalk on the other side.

A million questions surged through my head like an angry sea, but terror held my desiccated tongue and I remained silent.

We headed out toward a busier street, and I pondered what others would think if they saw the creature that walked in their midst. A ghost? A corpse in motion? No, likely just a man; perhaps a bit too bright in the glow of nearby headlights, but a man just the same. Most lack the training we possess and can’t perceive the darker proportions of the world with clarity.

At last we turned a corner and stepped up onto another house’s porch, haloed in bright gold light. The creature reached out with its too-thin fingers and knocked on the door.

When it opened, when the thing inside gestured for us to enter, my heart sank, for I was certain now I wouldn’t see the sunrise.

“I’ve been expecting you for a while,” its dry voice rasped.

I pressed forward, determined not to let my fear show.

The darkness of the house’s interior enveloped me.

The door closed.

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Blue

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Because I attended the ConDFW in Texas this past week, I didn’t have time to prepare a new piece of flash fiction. Instead, I’ve reposted one of my Patreon shorts from last year. It should be new for most of you. I’ll have an original story for you guys next week 🙂

The stone had always been blue. Since time unremembered it had sat, polished and round, mounted in the center of the city. The people would go out in the middle of the night when it shone most brightly, and in the presence of that otherworldly glow, they would kneel and pay it homage.

It was their bedrock, the binding force that kept them civilized. A covenant between man and the infinite. So when the stone stopped giving its light, when the city’s streets went dark for the first time in recorded history, chaos loomed.

“It’s the end of the world!” they wailed. “The Gods have abandoned us.”

The priests tried to maintain order.

“Calm yourselves,” they said, taking up defensive positions around the stone. “It is only a test. We must be steadfast in our faith. Then the Gods will show us their favor once more.”

The people grumbled, restless and uneasy, but, one by one, they returned to their homes, some to pray, others to brood in silent worry.

The following night, they approached the center of the city. Once more, they saw the stone was dark.

They turned to the priests and asked, “What explanation will you offer us now?” They were wild-eyed, terrified, and half out of their minds.

Once more, the priests tried to maintain order.

“Calm yourselves,” they said. “The test has not ended. Be strong and keep the faith of our ancestors.”

“The Gods have abandoned us!” they cried. “What use are you now?”

“Be still,” the priests admonished. “The Gods have done no such thing. Return tomorrow, and you will see for yourselves that the stone gives light once more.”

Again the people grumbled. Some challenged them further, some even threatened violence if the stone was not restored to its former state as had been promised.

The priests watched them turn back, watched them disappear like apparitions, and, inwardly, they trembled. They had not a clue why the stone went dark, nor when it would share its light again.

“Please,” they implored together through a formal rite of prayer that hadn’t been invoked for more than a thousand years. “We beseech thee, the Gods of our ancestors, return to us thy divine light so that order might be restored.”

Exhausted and afraid, they retired to their quarters to sleep.

That night, the children of the city dreamed. They saw the pillars of their civilization crumble, saw their elders perish in an all-consuming fire that seemed to rise from the bowels of the Earth. An ancient cycle was nearing its end, and in that dream, a voice urged them to run if they would be a part of the next.

They each woke in a cold sweat, eyes lit with terror. But none spoke of the strange vision until much later.

The third night approached. The priests went out ahead of the crowd and observed with growing terror that the stone was still dark. They held the people back with exhortations of prayer, but, in the end, they could delay them no longer.

When the people beheld that infernal darkness, the priests tried once more to pacify them. But the citizens of the city were enraged. They were certain now the Gods had abandoned them, and all their priests could do was offer empty promises of salvation.

“The Gods have defied your predictions,” one man cried, “yet you would stand here and assure us all is well. We’re through with your lies!”

The people attacked.

The children, left behind by parents who’d already feared the streets would grow violent, heard a whisper ride in on the coattails of the wind.

Get out. Find safety outside the city walls and don’t return until the next full moon.

One by one, they filtered out into the dark.

Meanwhile, the people, having sacrificed their priests, turned on each other. A frantic, desperate bloodlust had filled their eyes and they were overtaken by an urgent need to destroy. They swept through the city like a plague, looting, murdering, burning buildings to the ground, so that in the end only a single person remained. In his final moments, he gazed up at the moon, mad with lunatic understanding, and ran himself through with his sword.

*               *               *

On the next full moon, the children crept back to the ruins of their city as the voice had told them. They passed the skeletal remains of their homes, the stinking, bloated bodies of their dead parents. The younger ones threw up. The older ones took them into their arms and led them away.

They found the stone, standing in the center as it always had. They gathered around it and lifted their voices in prayer. For a moment, there was only the wind, which whistled through broken archways and windows like a ghost. Then there was a flicker and a flash. They opened their eyes. The stone was blue once more. The children offered thanks.

In the morning, the older ones started to rebuild.

The land’s thirst for blood had been sated.

The new cycle had begun.

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Birth of a Soul

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Fingers working. Pen scrawling. Mind racing. A cascade of symbols. An avalanche of thought. A word emerges, followed by another. Ideas burst in Jaiden’s mind like the birth of stars.

A singular voice echoes through her head, begging for life. The sound is faint but clear, and Jaiden tries harder, forces her wrist to move faster. But a dull throbbing pain has blossomed in her left temple, and after a while, she decides she’s had enough for the night.

The words stop. There’s a single agonizing cry from a soul desperate for release, then silence. The universe in Jaiden’s head is still once more.

She caps her pen and sets her notebook on a dusty shelf. Tomorrow, she thinks with some trepidation, will be the day she finally finishes. Her work has been slow going until now, and until today, she thought it would never be finished. Now, she’s afraid of what will happen when she commits the last few sentences to paper.

Never mind. Not something to think about tonight.

She ascends the darkened staircase leading from the basement to her kitchen. She brushes her teeth, turns out the light, and slips into bed.

Tomorrow, she thinks as she drifts into the cold, black void of sleep. Tomorrow, the struggle will come to an end.

*               *               *

Light. It pokes her in the eye, startles her awake. She glances at the clock. 9:37 a.m. She gets out of bed, pulls a robe tight against her body, and ventures back to the kitchen.

The house is quiet. She’s lived alone for as long as she can remember, has never known any other kind of environment. She finds the silence contemplative. It speaks to her more loudly than words, impresses upon her truths that are inaccessible to her when she’s downstairs working.

What was life like before she started writing? She asks herself this question often, and can never think of a satisfactory answer. It’s as if she was born into the world exactly as she is in this moment, forever static and unchanging. The idea unnerves her, and she refocuses her thoughts on other things.

Before she can rest for long, she hears the voice inside her head. Its invisible feelers twine through the crevices of her brain, making itself known, making itself understood. Jaiden can feel its eagerness, its desire to be released into the world at last, and she can deny it no longer.

She glances at the basement door, afraid. Down in the basement is where her notebook and pen wait for her to return, where they wait for her to finish what she’s started. She takes a deep breath. Sighs.

No peace, Jaiden thinks. No peace until she gets this thing done. She opens the door and works her way downstairs.

*               *               *

Once more, the words flow. They form an electric current that hums inside of her as they surge toward the pages of the notebook.

The voice, once a whisper, has grown louder, closer. It urges her to hurry, speaks of pain and suffering as it awaits its incarnation.

Jaiden’s forehead beads with sweat, and her heart pounds like a race horse, until her chest has constricted and it’s become difficult to breathe.

She has to rest, has to take a moment to catch her breath. But the soul that occupies the space between her mind and the notebook will wait no more. It’s just a hair’s breadth from life, and it won’t be denied.

There. Just three more words. Jaiden scribbles the first one down, but has trouble lifting her pen to write the second. She feels faint, lightheaded. Her head falls to the surface of the desk, but she won’t give up, not when she’s so close.

Like a child learning to write for the first time, she grips the pen in a tight-balled fist. She places the next word down.

Only one left.

Jaiden’s head is pounding, and her vision has blurred around the edges. A stroke, or a heart attack? She doesn’t know, only knows that she has to keep going, that she has to push the last word out before it’s too late.

Only three letters. She can do this. She lifts the pen. Writes an E. Stops. Winces. Lifts the pen once more.

N.

Light bursts behind her eyes like a camera flash in the dark, but she forces her fingers to work, forms the final letter of her opus.

D.

Just like that, the pain climaxes. There’s a moment in which Jaiden teeters on the edge of excruciating agony. Then her eyes close and her head smacks against the surface of the desk.

No more words, no more pain.

Only darkness.

*               *               *

She opens her eyes to the dull orange light of a nearby lamp. She squints. bobs her head. Looks around.

She is not Jaiden, but the soul Jaiden worked so hard to release. She marvels at her newly acquired body, flesh and blood rather than thoughts and ideas. She flexes her fingers, her arms.

A miracle.

She does not know what has become of her creator—where she’s gone, or if she’s survived. Her only clue is the vague notion that all of this has happened before, that in the fullness of time it will happen again, an endless procession of life and death, of creation and annihilation.

An idea—a soul in need of life—will come to her one day, she’s certain. When that day comes, she’ll have to write it into existence and sacrifice her own life in the process. That is how it was always done, and how it will always be done.

For now, however, she will live. For now, she will drink in the miracle of consciousness. She rises to her feet, bows her head out of reverence for her creator, and climbs the stairs.

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