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Archive for December, 2008

 

Behind a White Curtain

By L. V. Gaudet

© December 2008

 

 

                It was quite bright and tranquil the day it begun, snow lazily falling and blanketing the world in a soft downy blanket of fluff, drawing a white curtain over all the ugliness of the world.

                However, there was a dark storm brewing somewhere, deep within the breast of one soul.  For some reason he came out only with the falling snow, his catalyst, harbinger of unpleasant memories and dark urges.  Otherwise, he hid away in his quaint little home, safe, a victim of agoraphobia, living life unseen.

                To everyone else it was a day as any other day, Saturday, and only days before Christmas.  The muffled scrape of shovels clearing driveways and sidewalks did not so much echo in the air as it seemed to be carried on the wings of the very snowflakes themselves as they slowly drifted down.  Other sounds hung in the air too; distant sleds bounding across the fields, the sudden grinding of a snow blower rattling like a lumbering abominable chain saw, and the shlish and scream of children tobogganing down a hill somewhere.  Somewhere a dog barked.

                To one man it was a very different day.  He paced restlessly, pulling at his hair, rearranging his safe little nest in agitation.  It was coming, the memories, and the urge, unstoppable.  Today he would leave his quaint little house.

                One boy played alone, trying to build a fort in the white downy fluff.  He kicked at the fluff in exasperation, unable to make it stick together to form walls.  When next his mother looked out the window, the boy would be gone.

                The man who took the boy was not a large man.  He was skinny and balding and had an air of impotence cum invisibility.  This was the sort of man most people did not even notice, forever overlooked and ignored.  Even his name was nondescript, ‘Ted’.  Then again, psychoses do not care about size, looks, or names.

                Ted’s slash of a mouth was frozen in a wide grin, eyes sparkling maniacally.  A giggle bubbled up like the bright red blood of the boy.  Red oozed warmly down, creating a gentle uprising mist as it soaked down into the pristine white snow.

                A scream bounced from snowflake to snowflake.  It did not sound right.  It was not the fun filled happy shriek of a tobogganing child.  It was shrill and desperate, torn violently from the throat, frantic and terrible.  No one noticed the scream, so lost were they all in their own activities, in their own private little lives of their own little worlds within this winter wonderland.

                The dogs heard it.  All around the little town, dogs barked and howled.

                It would snow again.  Soon.  And so, too, would Ted come again out to play.

#

                The air tasted crisp on his tongue, so intense was the cold.  It bit at his fingers and toes within their protected confines.  His nose stung and his lungs burned with each inhalation of chill air.  Wincing, he rubbed his hands together, blowing into his cupped fingers, trying to warm them.

                The cool light of the moon seemed colder, more distant, shining with an ethereal pale light wrapped in ghostly light circles as its light refracted off the invisible frozen air crystals hanging suspended in the atmosphere enveloping the earth.  The stars, their light much dimmer, tried feebly to point their little beacon lights to the ground below, like a distant warning.

                Ted looked up at the sky, the clouds rolling in, drawing a shroud across the sky, shutting off the moon’s pale light.  The snow had started to fall again.  Barely at first, scattered tiny flakes drifted down, growing bigger and thicker, multiplying in number, and turning into a dreamy soft down gently touching every surface.  With the snow came the memories.  He winced as the memories crashed through his head like a multi car pileup, unstoppable, uncontrollable, a shrieking dance of mental chaos.  Next came the urge, insistent, insatiable, and unstoppable.  He had to fix it.

                This time there was no scream bouncing off the gently falling snow, just a wet sort of gurgle, low and quiet, and the pristine white virgin snow slowly turning bright red beneath the pale night light of the moon.  This time even the dogs did not notice and the people mostly slept, safe in their own little lives and oblivious to the other little lives all around.  All except one man who did not sleep, but now slumbered forever.

#

                The dog came first.  It stopped, snuffling deeper, nose digging down, snorting into the snow.  Ted’s heart raced, eyes dilating, and nostrils flaring as he watched the dog.  The dog had found ‘the spot’.  He was about to act when the dog startled with a yip, turned tail and ran away, its trail following like a shadow.  The snow in the hole dug by the dog’s questing nose was stained crimson.  Like a soft sigh, snow continued to fall.  He followed the dog; he had to fix it.

#

                People moved about, safely cocooned in their private little lives, each doing their own thing and oblivious to the lives around.

                The woman walked with some difficulty through the snow along the edge of the trees where the snow was less deep.  Every now and then she cupped her hands to each side of her mouth and called.  She was looking for the family dog that had escaped off the rope tethering the animal safely in the yard.  She came across the tracks in the snow, thought for a moment and decided to follow the track into the woods.

                He watched as the woman found what was left of the dog.  He could almost hear her heart pounding faster, feel the constriction of her chest, and see through her eyes widened in horror.  The snow continued to fall in a lazy downy rain.

                He pounced on the woman.  Soon a crimson stain slowly began to spread across the pristine snow.

                It was not about killing; he just had to fix it.

 

 

 

 

Published:

Jan 7/09 online at Flashes in the Dark

        http://flashesinthedark.com/category/l-v-gaudet/

Jan 23/09 online at Patchwork Project

        http://www.patchworkproject.com/lvgaudet.html

 

 

 

Bookmark Behind a White Curtain by L.V. Gaudet (Horror Flash Fiction)

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Snow (Flash Fiction)

By L. V. Gaudet

© December 2008

 

 

 

 

It was a dark and stormy night.

 

No, actually it wasn’t.  That is just so cliché.

 

It was neither dark, nor stormy.  In fact, it was quite bright and tranquil with the snow lazily falling and blanketing the world in a soft downy blanket.

 

However, there was a dark storm brewing somewhere, deep within the breast of one fateful soul who will have a rather fate-less affect on those around.  Not so much in a way of lacking chance and destiny, but rather in a way of that destiny being one that is lacking in fortune and future.  It would be a fate resulting in no fate, no future, and ending in a finality of fatality.

 

To everyone else it was a day as any other day.  It was the weekend, Saturday to be precise; and only days before Christmas.  The muffled scrape of shovels clearing driveways and sidewalks didn’t so much echo in the air as it seemed to be carried on the wings of the very snowflakes themselves as they drifted down, billions of flakes carrying the sound on the faint draught of air that could not even be called a breeze.

 

The distant soprano rumble of sleds bounding across the fields could be felt more than it could be heard.  The sudden grinding of a snow blower starting rattled off the snowflakes like a lumbering abominable chain saw.  The shlish and scream of children tobogganing down a hill somewhere cut through the downy muffled hush brought on the world by the gentle snowflakes.  Somewhere a dog barked.

 

A scream bounced from snowflake to snowflake.  It didn’t sound right.  It wasn’t the fun filled happy shriek of a tobogganing child.  It was shrill and desperate, torn violently from the throat, frantic and terrible.

 

The scream didn’t register though, so lost was everyone in their own activities, in their own private little bubbles of their own little worlds within this winter wonderland, separate from all the other little bubbles, bouncing about each other without really touching.

 

At least, it didn’t register on the consciousness of any people living within their own little private bubble lives.  Most people live in their own little bubble, most but not all.  And dogs, dogs don’t live in bubbles; they are tuned in to the world around them.  It’s hardwired into their makeup.

 

The dogs heard it.  All around the little town dogs barked and howled.

 

It could be some time before one of these little private bubble worlds bounced and touched the little bubble world the scream was torn from, before someone learns the terrible truth behind the scream that everyone heard, yet no one noticed.

 

Perhaps the next snow fall.

 

 

 

 

The air tasted crisp, so intense was the cold, biting at fingers and toes within their protected confines, making noses sting and lungs burn with each inhalation of chill air.  It was too cold even for Jack Frost to be out performing his public service of decorating window panes with his intricate artwork.

 

The cool light of the moon seemed colder, more distant, shining with an ethereal pale light wrapped in ghostly light circles as its light refracted off the invisible frozen air crystals hanging suspended in the atmosphere enveloping the earth.  The stars, their light much dimmer, tried feebly to point their little beacon lights to the ground below, like a distant warning.

 

The clouds rolled in, shrouding the ground below, hiding it from the moon’s view, shutting off its pale light.  The snow started to fall.  Barely at first, scattered tiny flakes drifted down, growing bigger and thicker, multiplying in number, and turning into a dreamy soft down gently touching every surface.

 

This time there was no scream bouncing off the gently falling snow, just a wet sort of gurgle, low and quiet, and the pristine white virgin snow slowly turning bright red.  This time even the dogs didn’t notice and the people mostly slept, safe in their own little lives and oblivious to the other little lives all around.

 

 

 

 

A stray dog snuffled about in the snow.  It wasn’t a homeless or abandoned dog, just one that had escaped the rope tethering it in the yard.  The dog walked as if on a mission, purposeful, intent, tail and body tense, sniffing and snuffling at the snow as it went.  Deep tracks followed the dog through the thick blanket of snow.  The dog stopped, snuffling deeper, nose digging down, snorting.  The dog startled with a yip, turned tail and ran away, its trail following like a shadow.  The snow in the hole dug by the dog’s questing nose was stained crimson.  Like a soft sigh, snow began to fall.

 

People moved about, safely cocooned in their private little bubble lives, each doing their own thing and oblivious to the lives around.

 

Without a sound one of these little bubbles popped.  The woman walked with some difficulty through the snow along the edge of the trees where the snow was less deep.  She looked about her keenly, every now and then cupping her hands to each side of her mouth and calling.  She was looking for the family dog that had escaped off the rope tethering the animal safely in the yard.  At last she came across a track leading away from the trees and across the field.  Just beyond it lay another track, less defined as though made by less careful movements.  This track led into the trees.  She thought for a moment and decided to follow the next track into the woods.

 

She didn’t get far before she found the dog.  Well, what was left of the dog anyway.  Her heart thudded hard and fast in her chest, her breath caught as her chest constricted, eyes widening in horror.

 

Something slammed into the woman, knocking her sideways a few feet and down into the white downy snow.  A crimson stain slowly began to spread across the pristine snow.

Bookmark Snow by L.V. Gaudet (Horror Flash Fiction)

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Confessions of a Shelf Skimmer

By L. V. Gaudet

© December 2008

 

 

I am a shelf skimmer.  Perhaps that makes me a rare breed of book buyer, or just one of a very large group.

 

Seldom do I approach the book rack with a particular title or author in mind.  My approach is more that of one approaching a large buffet filled with unknown delicacies.  Most of the choices look ok, some even look pretty good, and some look quite revolting.  Mostly my eyes quickly skim over the displayed offerings, hoping to spot something I recognize.  If something catches my eye I will give it a little bit closer look, a second glance.

 

Only if something looks pretty good or even intriguing might I give it a closer inspection, deciding whether or not to sample it.  In the case of shelf skimming, this would be the point at which the title combined with the cover art, or perhaps a familiar author’s name, draws my hand towards the book with a curious inclination to actually pick it up.  At this point I’ll look at the title, read it, and consider what lies behind it.  I’ll look more closely at the cover art, drawn or turned away by it, knowing full well that it may not be a real reflection of what lays within.

 

I don’t bother to read the blurbs by other authors, papers, and miscellaneous publications and celebrities.  You know those one to three word raves about how wonderful the book is.  They all pretty much say the same thing and are found on pretty much every book jacket.

 

I’ll look at the little write up blurb on the back that is supposed to tell you what the book is about, hoping that it really does.  When that blurb is missing, I might look at the cover again, might skim a few pages, but likely put it down with a sense of disappointment.  More vexing, of course, is when you actually buy a book based on the blurb, and read to book only to learn that the blurb did the book no justice as it gave me completely the wrong feel of what the book is about.  To me that little blurb on the back jacket is like a teaser trailer.  It should give a feel for the book without giving too much away, just enough to tease and tantalize me enough to want to read it.  And it absolutely should be true to the story waiting within.  There is nothing worse than watching a movie or reading a book and coming away feeling disappointed and lied to because the teaser was completely misleading as to what the story is about.

 

Finally, I might skim a few pages to see if I think I’ll like what is lurking inside that book jacket.  And then I will likely repeat the whole process again, looking without really seeing at the front and back jackets again and again while the mind considers all this input … or not.

 

This may seem like a long process, but it isn’t.  Depending how far a particular book gets, it might be a second or less glancing at a block of books, or less than two minutes perusing a single volume.

 

This does, however, lead to a few other questions.  When you write, who do you write for?  Do you write ultimately for yourself, your agent, the publisher, or the reader?  And, when that time comes, if it does, that you try to sell your work; who are you selling to?  Naturally, in the process of writing these two do seem to tie into each other since it is the very writing that is selling itself, with a little help from a good title, cover art, and the teaser blurb.

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Untitled Short Story #1 (WIP)

By L. V. Gaudet

© August 1999 (started)

© December 2008 (Revised)

 

 

 

            The naked figure crouched low to the ground as though trying to hide in the short stubble of the freshly harvested wheat field.  Her hot steamy breath wafted out in a white mist between lightly parted lips as she exhaled gently into the chill fall air.  The crisp coolness of the night enveloped her body in a silky blanket of frigid darkness.  Alone in the center of the field, she raised up from her crouched position on the ground to her full height.  Pale face reaching for the sky, she watched as the moon danced out from behind a bank of slowly roiling clouds to bathe her in its eerie white glow.  A cold breeze tickled across her bare back, making her shiver, catching her long flowing ebony hair and teasing it up into the air like the swirling skirts of a dancing lady.

 

            From a distance, a far distance, her form was breathtaking.  Surreal beauty as you would expect it to appear in a nymph or a fairy that you just discovered, real and in the flesh.  Glimpses of pale creamy bare flesh through a cloak of thick shiny black hair that trailed all the way down to her knees teased with a promise of what this creature might look like up close.  An exquisite being that had just walked flesh and blood out of the mists of myths and legends.  This, however, was if someone had been present to witness this creature from a far distance, far enough to leave details to the imagination only.

 

            Up close her appearance was different.  Very different.

 

            All alone in the field not so much as a field mouse dared to invade on her solitude.  Even the crickets would not have made a sound had they not been already slumbering from the cold.

 

            Turning slowly like a broken carousel, wobbling slightly, face to the sky, she raised her arms like elegant featherless wings as she turned.  Barely moving, she turned slowly, silently, ethereally.  Turning and turning in one spot, ever so slowly quickening her pace.  Faster and faster she turned, spinning like a slowly winding up top.  Faster and faster she turned, trampling the wheat stubble beneath her feet to a flattened nest.  Faster and faster she turned, dizzily, spinning wildly; face reaching for the sky, staring down the moon and the stars.  Faster and faster she turned, a wild shrill cry erupting from her throat, getting louder, higher, as she turned faster.  It was a bone chilling, spine tingling shriek of someone who has just lost everything that ever had any meaning to them.  All at once.  Devastatingly.  All loves, hates, needs, wants and thoughts.  The high wailing howl of death.

 

            Silence and stillness crashed into the field at once when she suddenly stopped still, silent.  Her dark eyes blazed with such intensity they should have glowed in the silvery light of the moon.  Violence filled that heated glare.  All the rage, hatred, fear, and loathing a world could hold filled those all too human eyes at once.  Breathing heavy, her breath rushed out to meet the cold night air; a cloud of mist roiling out like the dust from a battle field as hot moist breath clashed with the freezing air.

 

            Her face twisted into a demonic grin of hatred, a death’s mask.  She dropped to sit on her haunches, unable to stand any longer.  She was not accustomed to being able to raise herself to more than a low crouch due to the limiting confines of the cages she was cruelly kept in.

On hands and feet like a four legged animal, she fled.  Racing from the field with a surprising grace and agility similar to a long legged lanky wolf, her hideousness was bathed in the moon’s glow.  The long flowing hair was not a wondrous mane of human hair, but a scraggly pelt of longish dirty fur covering much of her body as well as her head.  Bald patches gave her the appearance similar to an animal with mange.  She was a creature that walked on two legs with a human-like body and very human eyes, with the face of a creature spawned from a cesspool of genes not of this world.  Lesions, welts, and deformities twisted her body and features into a Frankensteinian creation.  Hideous.  Evil.  Terrifying.

 

 

 

 

DARKNESS

 

            A terrible shriek shattered the stillness of the cool night.

 

            Voices called out, echoing through the deserted hallways of the small research center, followed by running feet.

 

            “Dr Sternheim!”

 

            “Gregory!”

 

            “Who yelled?!”

 

 

            In the security office on the main floor beside the lobby door a telephone warbled its two quick rings signifying and internal call.  It warbled twice more before the beefy security guard, who was leaning back in his chair with his feet up on the desk and dozing, sat up with a start and answered the phone.

 

            “Security,” the large security guard croaked sleepily into the phone.  He fumbled the receiver, catching it before it could clatter to the floor.

 

            “Code B One in lab three, code B One in lab three,” a panicky woman’s voice hissed out of the phone.

 

            Code B-1.  Emergency of the highest degree.

 

            Level 1.  Biohazard.

 

            His day couldn’t have been worse.  A biohazard of unknown origin has escaped from containment in the lab, possibly leaked outside of the building.  The repercussions are unforeseeable, unthinkable.

 

            “Shit!  I’m on it,” he said and hung up the phone.  Fumbling for the keys on his belt, he pulled them off and hurriedly selected the one with the base encased in bright red plastic.  Red for emergency.  Jamming the key into the keyhole in the panel to his left, he turned it, releasing the lockdown controls in the panel.  The security guard rapidly punched in his access code, the security code, and the lockdown code; initiating the lockdown process.  Through excessive and intensive training, he could do this in his sleep, a reflex action.  It was a conditioned response, ingrained deeper than the reflex for self preservation.  It had to be or people could die.  Billions.  Perhaps the world.

 

            An alarm started blaring loudly throughout the facility.  This was quickly followed by a distance metallic rumbling and almost drowned out hissing of air.

 

            The guard’s panicked mind automatically thought about his date tonight with that hot broad he met at the club last weekend.  Shit, her number was at home.  He’d have to stand her up and probably wouldn’t get another chance.  Then he realized … biohazard.

 

            His eyes widened, dilating.

 

            His panicked mind raced.  He could be breathing in some horrible disease right now, or worse.  For all he knew, he could be a walking dead man right now and he just didn’t know it yet.

 

            Jumping from his chair, the guard ran from the security office, heading for the door, and stopped.  It’s too late.  The emergency lockdown system is designed to lockdown swiftly enough to prevent anything, or anyone, from escaping.  He would have had to be standing at the entrance to the building when the alarm started to sound, immediately pull open the door and rush outside before the falling shutter crushed the open door.  Even then, sprinting for the gate, he would not have made it across the wide lawn in time.  He could never have made it off the grounds.  He silently cursed himself for turning that key, punching those codes.

 

            Resigned, he returned to his office, put on his pistol belt, grabbed his walkie talkie, and headed at a dead sprint for lab three.

 

            He doesn’t know it yet, but he is a walking dead man.  Just not in the way he was imagining.

 

 

            The alarm began wailing throughout the building and its grounds.  The locks on all the exit doors thudded into place, a special red light on each pass card panel glowing to indicate that all access codes have been terminated.  Airtight shutters immediately began to fall shut with a loud metallic rattle, sealing all external windows and doors.  The entrance gate to the grounds began to slide shut, electricity already flowing through the fence surrounding the compound.  Enough voltage vibrated through the metal fence to temporarily disable a man.

 

            The surprised guard standing beside the closed wooden barrier at the gate house watched immobilized as an approaching blue sedan suddenly leapt forward, the driver gunning the gas at the sound of the sirens, bolting for the exit.

 

            Racing the slowly closing reinforced gate, the car smashed through the barrier, sending pieces of wood flying.  The car barely squeezed through the closing gap.  The gate caught the bumper, pinching it against the electrified fence, ripping it off with a screech of tearing and popping metal, spinning the car left with the sudden jolt of the car breaking free of its captured bumper.  A paralyzing jolt of electricity jumped through the car from its brief contact with the electrified fence.

 

            Temporarily stunned by the reduced shock of voltage that jumped through his body, the driver sat paralyzed but aware, staring ahead as the car raced out of control across the lawn outside the fence, his food jammed hard against the accelerator.

 

            The amputated bumper, caught on the gate, slid noisily along the pavement, pushed towards the fence by the closing gate.  Caught between the two, the bumper was crushed by the relentless push of the gate, popping out and rattling discarded to the ground.  The lock mechanism thudded into place with a dull metallic sound as the gate closed tight.

 

            The building and grounds were effectively cut off from physical contact with the outside world.

 

            Regaining some of his mobility, the driver regained just enough control of the car to swerve so it slammed into the large oak tree looming up from the ground ahead sideways instead of dead on, saving himself from being killed.  Badly injured, it would be some time before he awoke and even longer before he managed to pull himself out of the car and begin to crawl away.  He would escape under fire as the security guards locked in the grounds outside the building try to stop him from escaping, not knowing what bio hazard escaped or what contagion he may be carrying with him.

 

 

            A sparrow, frightened by the noise from the alarms, took flight from its nest in a tree inside the compound and flew over the fence.  Caught by the motion sensor, the small bird was sighted by a laser mounted on one of the brick fence posts, and burned into oblivion.  A few charred feathers floating to the ground was all that remained.

 

 

            Inside the research center, the sirens wailed loudly for twenty minutes then dimmed to an annoying but bearable volume.  The air began to taste metallic and slightly stale.  The fresh air intakes have all sealed airtight and redirected the circulated air through purifiers to clean the air and replenish the necessary oxygen from emergency tanks inside the building.

 

 

            Thunder growled in the distance.  Black clouds gathering on the horizon signaled the coming winds and torrential rain.  Lightning flashed violently against a backdrop of heaving sinister clouds.

 

            An omen to the end of the world?

 

 

 

 

IN THE BEGINNING

 

            While the unidentified DNA was of extraterrestrial origin, the creature was of course a product of earthbound scientists.  After all, a species of such advanced technology as to be able to travel so far to Earth would know better than to play around with something as deadly as foreign biological entities without fully understanding the nature of what they are creating and foreseeing the probable outcome of their experiments.  Only a race of inflated ego and limited technology and even less understanding of it would be foolish enough to knowingly create what is, in essence, a living time bomb; blindly using ingredients they don’t comprehend.  Like baking a cake with no recipe, using ingredients in unlabelled jars, and without knowing the nature of those ingredients.  Any jar could be a spice, flour, sugar, poison, or even explosive.

 

 

 

 

EVIL SPAWNS

 

            Reading the report, his face turned very pale and his hand began to tremble.  The document he held shook and crumpled as his fist clenched.

 

            “This can’t be real,” Nathaniel Morgan thought to himself.  “It must be a joke, a mistake.  Something, but not real.”  He read on.

 

            “To study the reproductive process of their creation, the scientists tried to impregnate the subject with some of the frozen fertilized eggs they saved when they created the first test tube baby.  All attempts were failures.  The genetically altered eggs could not withstand the hostile environment of the uterus.  The subject’s immune system attacked and destroyed the eggs.  Something in the process of starting the cell splitting process was weakening the eggs.  They would have to be fertilized through more conventional means.  They would need a sperm donor.  The only compatible sperm they found was human.”

 

            “My god!” he gasped, “what have they done?!”

 

 

            Frightened, she cowered in the little crawl space under the stairs of the house on the edge of the woods.  The darkness of the night was a small comfort to her.  She had already discovered that her senses were keener than most of the creatures she has encountered so far.  Her night vision was much better than the two-legs who can’t seem to smell anything but very strong overpowering stinks.  She could even see better than the four legged hairy things that chased her earlier.  Their noses were keener than hers, but they seemed to have forgotten how to scent.  They ran faster, but she lost them easily.  Although they could easily smell her trail, and surely must be able to hear here, they couldn’t seem to decide which way to go.  Such stupid creatures they are.

 

            She raised her head alertly at the sudden sizzling sound in the distance.  An acrid smell she couldn’t identify that made her nose tickle drifted to her on a breeze.  What could this be?  What activity are those two-legs gathered in a large herd across the open space up to?  Was it dangerous for her?  They didn’t act like they knew she was here, but her experienced had taught her these creatures could not be trusted.

 

            There was a popping sound on the ground on the other side of the open space.  Something leapt into the sky with a shrill whine.

 

            Curiosity took over where fear climaxed.  She cocked her head, listening, scenting, watching.  She leaned forward in her hiding place.

 

            Suddenly the sky exploded with an earth shattering crackling boom, and a flash of bright colorful lights.

 

            She cowered lower to the ground, screaming in terror, eyes wide.  Her nostrils flared with the pungent smell, her night vision was shattered by the bright blinding light.  Temporarily blinded by the colored spots that danced before her eyes, she struck out with a hiss at a foe that wasn’t there.

 

            Another pop and hiss.  The sky roared with another boom as more lights erupted in the sky.  The ground beneath her trembled with its shock.

 

            She screamed again, trembling violently.

 

            Hairy four-legs from all sides began barking and howling.

 

            She recognized that they too were crying their fear.

 

 

 

 

A TIME FOR REFLECTION

 

            The distant crackling of fireworks is quickly drowned out by the deeper rumble of the approaching thunder.

 

            The blue sedan crumpled against the large oak tree had long ago stopped hissing and ticking as its lifeblood dripped from cracked parts under the hood down through the hot metal of the engine, the metal itself tick-tick-ticking as it cooled.  An odor of gas still lingered in the air.

 

            The man inside the car groaned.  He lay immobile for a long time, jammed against the door jammed against the oak.  He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.  That would have taken too long to buckle up, missing his window of escape.  He thought he must be alive.  You couldn’t be in this much pain and not be alive, could you?  His eyes fluttered and closed as he lost consciousness again.

 

 

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Charlie

by L. V. Gaudet

(C) November 2008

 

 

 

 

 

            A large bumblebee flittered lazily around the flowers below the window sill, buzzing softly like a lover serenading his girl.  The flowers gently sway in the light morning breeze as their fragrance is born aloft on the warm air.  The lacy white curtain trembles slightly as a breeze gently slips through the mesh of the window screen, sending a faint patterned shadow dancing across the room.  Wind chimes hanging outside the window tinkle merrily, playing as accompaniment to the love song of the bee.  The sunlight filtering through the semi-transparent curtains glows warmly on the wrinkled face lying in a cloud of grey-white hair.  It is an old face, a spider web of age lines crisscrossing across it like an invisible veil.  Beneath the surreal mask of wrinkles lies the real person, a sad and lonely woman who grew old before she was ready, ever yearning for the youth she still felt in her heart if not in her arthritic limbs.

            A quiet gasp escapes past the age-chapped lips.  Her eyelids flutter open as her mind gropes its way out of a deep sleep with a realization of the silence.  To the old woman, it seems as an almost deathlike stillness.  The silence is broken only by the soft purring drone of the bumble bee playing a duet with the tinkling chimes outside the window.  The old woman is deaf to the subtle sounds drifting in through the window, her ears hoping desperately for other, more domestic, sounds.  Sounds she knew would not be there.

            She sighs depressingly, knowing all too well that this morning will be like all the others.  Her life now is an endless stream of mornings greeted by gloomy silence; suffocating and still, like an ancient tomb where life hasn’t tread for centuries.

            Her thoughts, still fuzzy with sleep, turn automatically to memories of the past, as they do every morning.  Days when each morning was welcomed by the delicious smells of breakfast cooking, the unmistakable sounds of running feet and voices of children laughing, arguing.  Most unmistakable of all to her lonely mind was the gentle voice of her beloved husband.

            Those were the days when she was happy, fulfilled; a lifetime ago.

            Now she lives alone.  Her children are all grown up with children of their own, and her loving husband has been dead for five years now.

            Wearily, she pulls herself into a sitting position, considering whether or not to bother getting out of bed today.  There seems little point in it.

#

            There is a light half-hearted scratch at the bedroom door, then a small meow, and then a Pause.  After a brief moment a more determined scratch came, followed by a loud demanding “Mrraaoow!”

            Lovingly, she looks to the closed bedroom door where Charlie is meowing loudly, demanding attention.  He is her only relief from this suffering loneliness, but somehow not quite fulfilling her need for companionship.

            She slowly twists her body, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, blue varicose veins weaving a rambling pattern down them like a live road map.  Loose skinned and frail looking, her arm stretches out, reaching for her cane, her hand knobby with purple-blue vein bumps.  She gripped the bed post with the other hand to steady herself.  Her silver-white hair, the tangled mane of a banshee, falls across her pale creased face, half obscuring sunken brown eyes.  She mutters incoherently to herself.

            If you saw her, you would wonder if even she knew what she was saying.

#

            Using her cane to pull herself unsteadily to her feet, the old woman slowly made her way to the door with an unsteady shuffling walk.  It creaked slightly as she opened it.  Looking down, she saw a large orange striped tomcat stretching stiffly on the weathered floor at her feet.  The cat was mostly an indistinct blur of orange, a fuzzy blob at her feet.

            He gazed up at her affectionately, meowing his good morning.  An understanding look passed between them.

            “Alright, let’s go and get you looked after,” the old woman said as Charlie rose painfully on stiff arthritic limbs and preceded her stiffly to the tiny kitchen.

            As the old woman was finishing the daily morning ritual of dressing, cleaning, and feeding Charlie and herself, she wondered if she should call her son Dave and ask him to visit.  Still sitting in her favorite chair in the living room, her plate holding a meager breakfast balanced precariously on her lap, she ate with arthritic numbed fingers.  Each bite was an effort to hold with those fingers that couldn’t quite grasp as they should, a faint tremble to her hands.  In this chair she can look out the window and watch the people passing by on the street outside.

            Just as she decided to wait until later to call her son the doorbell rang, its chime calling out urgently through her small home.  Excited at the thought of company, she set her plate aside and pushed herself out of the chair with difficulty.  She waddled like an anorexic penguin slowly to the door, peering through the peephole when she finally reached her destination.

            On the other side a pretty girl stood.  She had the smoothly tanned complexion of youth and long curly dark brown hair.  She is eight years old.

            To the old woman’s rheumy eyes the figure through the peep hole is fuzzy and hard to see.  Straining to reach high enough to see through the peep hole, she can see only a blur in the shape of a human form.  She can see no distinguishing features to tell her who her visitor is.

            “Who’s there,” the old woman called through the door.  Her voice is weak and cracked, an old crone’s voice, as ancient as the mountains.

            “Grandma, it’s me, Sherry,” a soft melodically low voice replied through the door.

            Cautiously the old woman opened the door.  The face is still not clear enough to be recognizable.

            “I don’t know you!  What do you want?” the old woman complained to the girl standing in front of her.

            The happy girl’s expression changed to a crushed one.

            Feeling hurt, Sherry explained.

            “It’s me, Sherry.  You know; your granddaughter.  My dad is your son, Dave.  We visited you last month.”

            “Oh,” the old woman exclaimed, “well don’t just stand there, come in, come in.”  She moved her withered frame away from the door to allow her granddaughter to enter.

            “No wonder I don’t know who you are, when I see you once a month,” the old woman muttered irritably.  Adding as an afterthought, “Sorry, I didn’t recognize you dear.  I can’t see a damn thing through these glasses anymore.”

            “Um, Grandma,” Sherry said carefully, “you aren’t wearing your glasses.”

            “That’s because they don’t work,” the old woman snapped.

            Shrugging it off, Sherry suggested as she walked past the old woman into her house, “Well then why don’t you get new glasses?”

            Ignoring this, the old woman turned and walked back to her chair, grumbling.

            “I don’t like being called ‘Grandma’, it makes me sound old.  Call me Eve.”  The chair protested as she settled her slight weight into it.  She motioned Sherry to sit down.

#

            As the ancient clock on the wall chimed its announcement that it is two o’clock, the old woman and Sherry were interrupted by the bing bonging call of the doorbell.  The old woman motioned for Sherry to answer it, complaining about how hard it is on her stiff joints when she has to keep getting up.

            Her sprite narrow frame hopping up from the floor where she sat cross legged in front of her Grandmother, Sherry strolled lightly to the door.

            “Look through the hole before you answer the door,” her Grandmother warned.  The rest was muttered incoherently under her breath, perhaps something about strangers lurking outside her door.

            Grasping the handle she found that, although her grandmother is a short woman, she has to stand on tiptoes to see through the peephole.

#

            On the other side of the peeling door is a tall, slightly chubby man with thin black hair, balding on top.

            “It’s Dad,” she exclaimed, opening the door and eagerly standing aside to allow him to enter.

            Seeing her son, who was a tall indistinct blur to her ill-working eyes, the old woman immediately started on a tirade, preaching about his cruelty to her in being too busy to come visiting more often.

            “It’s been a month since I last saw you!  Are you too busy to see your poor old mother, who raised you and cared for you!” she demanded.  “Or are you just too good now to spare any time for me.”  It was not a question, but a pronouncement.

            Having only begun, she continued.

            “I sit here alone day after day, waiting for someone to bother to find the time to visit me.  I’m not safe here all alone, an old woman like me, strange people lurking out there, coming to the door and trying to trick me into letting them in and at me …”

            Frustrated, Dave cut her off.

            “I have a family to spend time with.  I can’t spend all of it with you.  Besides, why don’t you get out sometime and make some friends.  Then you won’t feel so lonely.”

            “Don’t I count as family anymore?” the old woman muttered under her breath.  When Dave ignored this she continued in a defeated whimper.  “You’re just making excuses.  You don’t want to waste your precious time on a useless old woman.”

            Getting angry now, Dave raised his voice in protest.

            “Stop it Mother!  Stop being so miserable!  If you didn’t complain so much about how nobody has time for you and whine so much about how hard on you we are, then maybe it would be easier to want to make time for you.  You’re just being paranoid that nobody wants you!”

            His anger flared further as he watched the old woman fumbling blindly through her knitting basket, pulling out a large print magazine, and holding it so close it touched her nose as she squinted and pretended to be trying to read it.

            “And for God’s sake put on your glasses!” Dave fumed.

            With a loud “Hhmph!” the old woman snatched her glasses off the little round corner table beside her chair with surprising dexterity that didn’t match her decrepitness and put them on.  As she did so everything suddenly jumped into clear focus.  She squinted at her son angrily through the glasses, wrinkling the magazine noisily as she brought it back to her nose, holding it far away, and back to her nose again, making a show of being unable to read the magazine, proving her point that the glasses don’t work.

            Breaking the uncomfortable silence that has fallen between them, the old woman quietly despaired.

            “It’s true though, nobody wants me.  I’m just a useless old woman,” she moaned.

            Dave sighed with exasperation.

            “We do love you,” he continued, “but you have to make a life of your own.  We can’t all revolve our lives around you.”

            “I did,” the old woman thinks to herself, remembering the years she spent revolving her life around her children, raising them.

            Slouching with dejection and tired of it all, Dave added, “I don’t want to hear any more about how hard up and neglected you think you are.”

            With a hurt look the old woman retreated into silence.

#

            Following an afternoon filled with tension, Dave noticed that Charlie hasn’t been in his usual spot, purring on his mother’s lap.  Hoping to distract his two women from the angry moods they have both slipped into, he commented on the cat’s conspicuous absence.

            “I haven’t seen Charlie today.  He’s always the first to reach the door when he hears the bell,” Dave said.  Thinking about it briefly, he continued,” I’ve never known him to miss out on company.”

            “Maybe he’s taking a nap,” Sherry suggested, her slender arm snaking out to snatch another cookie off the plate sitting on the old age-worn coffee table.

            Thoughtfully, Dave looked at her for a moment.  He shook his head and replied, Beginning slowly, absent mindedly, and almost slurring his words so deep was he in thought.

            “I don’t think so,” Dave said.  “I have never known that cat to nap through company and miss out on being the center of attention, no matter how tired he is.”

            “Yeah,” Sherry agreed thoughtfully, “but he is pretty old.  He must be tired a lot.”

            Not about to miss a chance to suggest that his mother get rid of the ancient feline, whose limbs are now stiff and arthritic, Dave looked at his mother, trying to catch her eye.

            “He is pretty old you know,” Dave said, “I mean, Charlie is already half blind with cataracts and almost crippled from arthritis.  Half his organs are failing with age.”

            Ignoring the shocked looks he was receiving from both his mother and daughter, he continued in a bored lecturing tone.

            “You know, he really should have been put down when that car hit him two years ago.  He never did quite recover from that,” Dave lectured.

            Dave looked quite pleased with himself.  His face suddenly lit up with excitement as he pretended to have just had a wonderful revelation.  Eagerly, he made the suggestion he has tried to find the words for every time he came to visit.

            “I know!  Why don’t we take him to the vet and have him put out of his misery now?  Today!”  Dave’s eyes gleamed with triumph, as though he just offered them the fulfillment of their hearts’ every desire, looking to the two sets of eyes staring back at him in horrified shock,

            It was very badly put.

            The old woman’s mouth dropped open as a blank look of shock claimed her face.  Her jaw opened and closed spastically a few times, the creases around the corners deepening.  Her eyes widened with hollowed shock.

            His daughter, Sherry, gaped at him in shock, disbelieving her own father could say something so cruel.  Poor Charlie!

            “H-How could you suggest a thing?!” the old lady exclaimed incredulously, her voice rising in pitch.  Her shock turned to hurt, the expression of horrified amazement sinking into an injured look and then to a trembling anger.

            “Charlie has been with me for sixteen years now!  It would be MURDER to kill him!”  She would have spit when she talked if her salivary glands weren’t so dried up with age. Her eyes began to shine with the threat of tears.

            Her lower lip trembled and a slight whimper entered her voice.

            “He can’t even defend himself from you,” the old woman said, turning away from her son in angry despair.  Her eyes looked about, desperate for a sign of her cat, feeling the urgent need to protect the feline from her murderous son.

            “Oh how could I have birthed such a horrible monster,” she wondered to herself, “Cruel, cruel, cruel.”

            “Besides, he’s all I have,” she finished admonishing her son, her voice cracking, not turning to look at him.

            “But Mom,” Dave exclaimed, interrupting, “you have us!”

            Angered by this the old woman spun around to face him, rising slowly and unsteadily from her chair, head low and menacing, her squinting eyes burning with anger.  Her anger exploded from her.

            “That is a LIE!”  The old woman screamed.  “I don’t have you!  I have no one!”  Finishing in a sarcastic tone, she continued, “You can’t even be bothered to spare any time from your precious schedule to come see me more than once a month.”

            They stood there in a standoff, staring each other down.  The old woman stood rock solid and breathing heavy.  Dave trembled slightly, the little boy who broke the bad neighbor’s window having to fess up to his mother, who would be angry at having to spend their meager grocery money to repair the damage.

            The old woman’s voice quavered as she continued.

            “Is this what you’re going to do to me?” she demanded, staring down the little boy standing before her, making him shrink within himself, trying to hide from that stare, trying to disappear.

            “Have me ‘put down’ when you’re sick of me?  Is that your solution to anything that gets old and useless?”  Her voice shook with age and anger, dripping with hatred.

            Dave just blinked back at her, still the little boy staring up at his all powerful mother, protector, and punisher all in one, instead of the man who stood before his decrepit old mother.

            Spent and exhausted from her angry outburst, she lost her determined fighters stance, shoulders slumping in defeat.  The frail old woman suddenly looked much older.  Her voice dropped to barely a whisper.

            “I have no one but Charlie.”

            Dave just stood there, voiceless, scuffing the toe of his shoe guiltily on the carpeted floor, toeing the frayed strings of the worn carpet.  His slouching shoulders hunched up protectively like a turtle trying to hide its head, but for some reason can’t pull it inside its shell.

            “You are heartless!” the old woman demanded, almost in tears now.  Her voice stabbed at Dave like a knife.  “You want to take away from me the only one who cares, the only company I have to get me through these lonely days.”

            Dave visibly cringed with every word she emphasized.

            With vehemence the old woman screamed at him again, her anger renewed.

            “You stay away from my Charlie!”  Her dried up salivary glands managed to let fly a loose spittle this time with the force of her words.  She breathed heavily, glaring at her son with a baleful look comparable in potency to that of Medusa, who was notorious for her ability to turn most men to stone with just a gaze, or perhaps the mythical salamander.

            Biting her lip so hard she almost drew blood in her effort not to cry, Sherry looked from her father to her grandmother.

            “Please don’t say these things,” she pleaded quietly.  “Don’t fight like this.”  She begged them with her eyes.

            Ignoring his daughter, Dave sighed exasperatedly.  He did that a lot when he visited his mother.

            “Fine,” Dave said in frustration, “you won’t have to be alone.”  He paused, and then continued.  “I’ll get you a new kitten.”  He regretted the words even as he said them.  He knew his mother would have to go into a home soon, if she didn’t die of a stroke or something before then.  Either way, he’d have a whole new fight on his hands trying to get rid of the new cat against the protests of his wife, daughter, and his mother … if she was still alive by then.  Damned cats!

            The old woman turned her back on him stubbornly.

            “I won’t let you take Charlie away from me,” she insisted, “I won’t let you murder him.”  The hated word dripped with venom.   “I don’t want a new kitten,” she added, “Charlie can NOT be replaced!”

            Through most of this Sherry sat quietly, considering where Charlie might be.  Surely he couldn’t have slept through all this shouting.  She just couldn’t think of any place, and he never goes outside any more.  Finally she interrupted the two arguing adults.

            “Where is Charlie, Grandma?” she asked.

#

            Truly realizing for the first time that no one has seen Charlie all afternoon, they all looked around dumbfounded.  Despite arguing about it, the reality hadn’t really sunk in until now, nor did the significance.  The old woman fell back stiffly into her chair, eyes downcast.

            After a few awkward moments of silence, the old woman pushed herself out of her chair with visible effort, grunting with the pain and stiffness.  Her boney knuckles turned white as the dry papery skin pulled tight over the bones and cartilage of her hands.  Grasping her cane tightly with the anger which still hasn’t left her, the old woman slowly shuffled out of the room, calling Charlie with a dry age-cracked voice.

            “Charlie, here kitty,” she called out, “where are you, you lazy tom.”

            Sherry jumped up, following the old woman to help in the search.

            Dave watched them go, standing stiffly, slouching.  His head hung low and his hands were thrust in the pockets of his trousers like a rebellious boy who has just been scolded.  He shifted uneasily, feeling bad now.

            Finally, Dave moved into action with jerky movements, joining the search for the cat.  He wasn’t really looking, just going through the motions mostly.

            Dave searched the living room while his mother and Sherry explored the kitchen and bathroom.

            “Lucky she moved into a small home after Dad died,” Dave thought to himself.

            After they exhausted the searches in their individual rooms, they switched without comment or even really thinking about the fact that the rooms have already been checked.

            Inside the kitchen, Dave shook his head in disgust at the shallow china bowl of drying canned cat food sitting on the floor in a corner.  The edges of the food looked dried and cracked, darkened.  It looked old and gross, an insult to the delicate pattern of the china that belonged behind glass doors.  Beside it sat a chipped china bowl of a different pattern.  The milk seemed chunky.  A foul odor wafted up on the air from it.  He looked around the kitchen dismally without really looking while Sherry and the old woman frantically searched the living room.

            Still, they had no luck.

            “I’m going outside to look,” Dave declared, giving up the search indoors.

            “But Daddy, you know he never goes outside,” Sherry reminded him.

            “I’ll look just in case,” he said, closing the door behind him.  He didn’t really intend to look outside; he just needed to get out of there for a bit.

            By now the old woman was back sitting in her chair, too upset and tired to continue the search.  Sherry sank down into another chair.

            “Grandma,” Sherry exclaimed, her eyes lighting up, “we didn’t check your bedroom.”

            A glimmer of hope sparked in the old woman’s eyes, blossoming into confidence.

            “Well, that’s obviously where he is then,” she said.  “Why don’t you go fetch him dear?”  She remembered that the door to her bedroom had been closed.  Poor Charlie simply couldn’t get out.  His hearing wasn’t too good these days either, he probably didn’t hear the door and just curled up for a nap.

            Eagerly, Sherry hopped up and skipped out of the room.

#

            Sherry twisted the door knob slowly and swung open the bedroom door.  The door hinges creaked quietly as metal ground against metal; their lubricating oil wearing down.  Entering the room, her eyes darted about from one end to the other.

            A faint sickly sweet odor hung in the air.  The ‘old woman smell’ is present as always, but it seems somehow different, stronger, today.

            “This room smells awful,” she whispered to herself, gasping slightly at the shock of the putrid odor.  The breeze wafting in through the open window did little to stir the air.

            Not seeing the cat, she crouched on her hands and knees to check under the bed, involuntarily holding her breath.

            There is nothing there but a pair of worn pink fuzzy slippers.  They are half bald.

            Standing up, she crossed the room to the closet near the foot of the bed.  Opening the door, she is hit with the overpowering stench of mothballs mingled with other unidentifiable scents.  Sucking in her breath and holding it, she quickly shifted around the clothes hanging on the bar and the few items on the floor.  Her eyes burn and water a little from the odor.  When she didn’t find the cat she quickly closed the door, her eyes had turned a little red from the mothball fumes.

            Turning toward the bed, she noticed the furry tip of a tail poking out from under the tangled bed sheets.  She couldn’t have seen it from the doorway.

            Her face burst into a triumphant grin and she called out happily.

            “So there you are!  You silly cat, were you hiding from us?”  She approached the bed, expecting the cat to sit up or roll over lazily at any moment.

            “Is this a new game you learned?” she asked the silent cat.

            Reaching out, she slowly pulled back the blanket and saw Charlie.

#

            The orange cat is laying half curled, his tongue hanging out slightly as though he were too thirsty and weak to hold it in place.  His eyes were open with a blank, glazed expression, dry and looking more like marbles than eyes.

            He looks kind of flat, almost like he sank or caved into himself, his flesh sagging lifelessly into itself, shrunken.  His once luxuriant fur dull and scraggly with age now looked more like cheap imitation fake fur that has been chewed up and spit out.  He looked stiff, without even having to reach out to touch him and see.

            A foul odor rose to Sherry’s nostrils, making them flare in disgust.  Reaching out her hand tentatively to give the cat a gentle shake, disbelieving what her eyes clearly saw, she noticed the grayish pallor to the skin under the cat’s thin fur.  She also noticed with her eyes and nose both that the feline’s bowels had emptied themselves as he lay there, the mess having oozed out onto the bed.

            Shocked, knowing the truth but unable to readily accept it, she shook him anyway to be sure.  Charlie rocked slightly at her gentle touch, stiffly, like a wooden carving of a cat.  His stiffened joints and flesh didn’t even move.

            Yes, he’d dead.

            Gently picking him up, she cradled him in her arms and dejectedly stumbled out of the room in shock.

#

            The old woman looked up as the young girl entered the room with her grisly cargo.  The expression on the old woman’s face changed from confident expectancy to curious to disbelief, and finally to horror.  Her eyes locked on the bundle cradled in the girl’s arms.  Her head swiveled slowly, following the girl as she stumbled into the room with her terrible burden.

            Seeing that her beloved Charlie seems limp and deflated, yet visibly stiffened, she immediately knew that her only relief from complete desolation and loneliness is now gone.

            Paralyzed with the sudden ache of an intense loneliness that she hasn’t felt since the death of her husband, the old woman would have collapsed to the floor if she were not already sitting down.  She seemed to have suddenly shriveled and shrunk into herself like the deceased feline had as his body sank into the long sleep of death.

            A tremor gripped the old woman’s body.  Shaking and feeling tremendously weak, she wished she could just drop into oblivion.  She stared dully at the door as it slowly creaked open and her son, Dave, walked in shaking his head.  He was about to say something, to say that he searched everywhere and could not find the cat.  He started opening his mouth to talk.

            The old woman glared at him, giving him a bitter “Are you happy now?  You have what you wanted,” look.

            He looked questioningly at her, then at his daughter.  Seeing the cat grasped to the girl’s chest, he knew immediately from the stricken look on her face and the cat’s stiffly unreal appearance that the animal was dead.  His stomach turned with revulsion at seeing his daughter clinging to the dead creature as though it were one of her baby dolls.  He pounced on the girl, knocking the dead animal from her arms.

            The old woman gasped in shock and horror, watching her beloved Charlie falling as if in slow motion, turning and bouncing slightly as he hit the floor.

            Sherry stood numbly, staring into her father’s face, confused and stricken by his angry behavior, shocked as the poor animal tumbled from her grasp.

            Dave sat down heavily on the couch and looked at his mother, making the effort not to stare with grisly fascination at the dead cat laying abandoned on the floor, feeling guilty now for the things he said.

#

            They all sat in silence, trying to avoid each other’s eyes, not knowing what to say.  Charlie lay on the floor, now wrapped discretely in an old towel.

            Finally, Sherry voiced what nobody else wanted to.

            “Charlie is gone now,” she said, looking questioningly at her father, then to her grandmother.

            Timidly, Sherry asked the old woman, “Do you want a kitten now, Grandma?”  Pausing awkwardly, she added, “You were worried about being alone.  You’re alone now … a kitten would change that.”

            “We could take a drive right now to pick one out,” Dave put in immediately, his voice raised eagerly.  He had no intention earlier of doing so, despite making the offer.  But now he was tied in knots with guilt.  He’d do anything to buy his way out of it, even if it was only himself he had to pay off to be rid of the guilt.

            “I don’t want a kitten,” the old woman spat, not pleased with the suggestion.  Her temper flared, and she fought to control her voice as she continued, articulating slowly and deliberately.

            “Charlie … can … not … be … replaced.”  Her voice was firm despite its cracking with emotion.  She crossed her arms over her chest in a gesture of stubbornness, refusing to give in.

            “We’re not trying to replace him,” Dave replied, “We just don’t want to see you lonely.”

            “Is that why you wanted to kill him?” she snapped back bitterly.

            “Come on, Grandma,” Sherry said, desperate to comfort the old woman.  “You don’t have to get a kitten.  Just come for the ride.”

            Finally, they broke through the old woman’s fierce determination to be bitter and sullen, convincing her to ‘just come for the ride.’

            All the while looking at the kittens, the old woman continued to insist she doesn’t want one.  She shuffled along stiffly, sullenly, shaking her head and muttering under her breath, casting angry glares at her son.

            However, there was one tiny kitten whose cage she was a little hesitant to pass by.

            Giving up the effort, the trio stalked off back to the car, Dave and the old woman both angry and stubborn.  A wordless look passed between Dave and his daughter.

            As Dave and the old woman walked to the car, Sherry made an excuse and ran back to buy the kitten.  The old woman’s pause at the cage hadn’t passed unnoticed by her two escorts.

#

            The old woman glared at the young girl as she climbed into the car with the tiny bundle of mewling fur.

            “I said I don’t want a kitten!” the old woman yelled and lapsed into a sullen silence, staring straight ahead.  Then she added more quietly, more muttered under her breath than directed to anyone in particular, “I won’t keep it.”

            Sherry looked down at the shivering little bundle of bones and fur in her lap, pouting her disappointment.

            “Well then just babysit her for me, ok?”  She looked up at her grandmother hopefully, not quite hiding her hurt feelings.  “Just for a few days Grandma, please?”

            The car pulled up in front of the old woman’s home.

            “Why don’t you just keep it for a few days,” Dave suggested, “we already paid for it anyway.  If you don’t want it then, I’ll take it back to the shelter.”

            The old woman glared at him, and then stiffly climbed out of the car.

            “No!” she shouted angrily, eyes burning and teeth clenched.

            Before she knew what was happening, the tiny mewling kitten was thrust into her arms and the car sped away.

            Although upset at the attempt to replace Charlie, the old woman felt inexplicit relief that she won’t be entirely alone.

            Entering her home, she plunked the kitten down on the living room floor and warned it sternly.

            “I don’t want you!  Just stay out of my way!”  With that, the old woman shuffled out of the room to the kitchen.

            Charlie still lay wrapped in the old towel on the floor before the old woman’s favorite chair, stiff, cold and forgotten.  Dave was to bury the old cat in the small back yard of his mother’s tiny house when they returned, but had forgotten.

#

            Round green eyes, seemingly too large for their tiny head, stared in bewilderment at these strange surroundings.

            Tentatively raising a clumsy little paw, the kitten moved to lick it, changed her mind, and lowered it again.

            Confused and frightened, she mewed experimentally.  It was a weak and pitiful sound, barely loud enough to hear.  Nothing happened.  She looked around, ruffled her fur, stretched her head out, and a loud wail expressing all the grief and anxiety she felt trapped inside her tiny shivering body escaped up her trembling throat.

#

            On hearing the kitten’s cry, the old woman set down the small china bowl she was about to pour milk for the kitten into and shuffled in a hurry back to the living room.  She shuffled to her favorite chair, turned around awkwardly, and sat down in her chair.  She used her cane to brace herself with as she lowered her frail body shakily into the cushioned chair.

            With a sigh of defeat and exhaustion, she watched as the kitten clumsily made its way towards her, lifting her paws gingerly and placing them carefully before her as though not sure where to step.

            Feeling a twinge of emotion for this helpless little creature, the old woman leaned forward in her chair, reaching and spreading her fingers to touch the kitten.  She froze suddenly as a paralyzing sharp pain tore through her body.  Her muscles clenched, her eyes widened, her breath caught in her chest and rattled.

            The kitten stretched its tiny pink nose, a little jumpy at the woman’s strange behavior, sniffing delicately at the tips of her fingers, its tiny pink tongue reaching out to delicately tap a finger tip.

            A steady ache replaced the pain running through her chest and down both arms.  A frightening numbness followed, creeping much more slowly, like a jungle cat closing in on the kill, consuming her body.

            Somehow through the pain and numbness the old woman knows that, finally, she will be freed from waking ever again to the gloomy silence that has filled these past lonely years.

            She’s not afraid.

            She struggles to straighten up in her chair, wanting to meet her destiny sitting tall and proud.

            Again, agony wreaks havoc through her body, freezing her in position, doubled over and leaning almost out of her chair as her heart clenches as if being squeezed in an iron hard fist.

            She sees her dear lost husband, Charlie sitting at his side luxuriantly curling and uncurling his tail in a mix of pleasure and impatience.

            I’m coming my love,” she gasps through pain clenched teeth, “I’m coming Charlie.”

            I’m here, waiting,” her husband replies gently.

            Charlie cocks his head then throws it back, his chin in the air.  An expression that has always meant, “Well come on then, I’m waiting.  But don’t make me wait too long.”  The cat has always had a bit of an attitude about him.

            A thin smile crosses her age chapped lips, a look of utter peace settles on her wrinkled time-worn face, the years seeming to magically melt away with the slackening of her flesh.

            Suddenly all is blackness … nothingness.

#

            The kitten looks up at the massive creature towering above her, this creature sitting on a strangely shaped mountain, leaning down with a strange large paw outstretched.

            She takes a hesitant step and falters, afraid.  Her eyes widen happily as she remembers the gentle fingers she has experienced before.  It is not her mother, who already has begun to grow fuzzy in her tiny memory, but it will do.

            Clumsily, the tiny kitten toddles over to her new protector.

            The large creature made a strange gurgling noise, startling the jumpy little kitten.  The kitten stretched its tiny pink nose, a little nervous at the woman’s strange behavior, sniffing delicately at the tips of her fingers, its tiny pink tongue reaching out to delicately tap a finger tip.

            Startled, the kitten paused, crouching timidly, looking up as the woman sitting above her doubled over.  The woman mumbled something unintelligible.

            Slumping forward, the huge body is reflected in the bright green eyes looking up and seeking reassurance.  The old woman slips from the chair, landing with a soft sound on top of the kitten.

#

            A terrible crushing weight pins the helpless kitten to the floor.  Her head and front shoulders barely poke out, front legs splayed out uncomfortably.

            Squirming and fighting desperately to pull herself loose, the tiny kitten starts gasping as it becomes harder and harder to breath.

            She mewls softly, plaintively, unable to do more.  Fighting less and less, her strength diminishing, the breath slowly being squeezed out of her tiny body.

            The tiny kitten wheezed out the last of her air and her beautiful green eyes bulge, mouth open as if to call out one more time, her eyes begin to glaze over.

#

            A soft noise, like warm mud squishing between your toes, emits from the old woman’s body accompanied by an unpleasant smell as her bowels released their contents.

            The smell assaulted the kitten’s tiny pink triangle nose, making her gag.

            Her cries have become silent though her mouth still opens and closes, desperately trying to cry out.  But her frail little body is no longer able to pull sweet air into her painful lungs.  Her glazing eyes are having trouble focusing, turning everything to indistinct shapes and blurs.

            Finally, she stops struggling and looks around hopefully, but no mother cat appears.

            Her small bony frame shudders … blackness engulfs her … nothingness.

#

            Only a few scant minutes have passed since the old woman sat in her chair and leaned over to comfort the little kitten.

            On the floor at the foot of an old chair, an old woman’s body slowly cools.  Beneath it the tiny frame of a kitten, too young to understand what death is, lays trapped and stiffening.  The kitten’s head and shoulders are barely visible sticking out from beneath the old woman, showing bulging green eyes and a tiny blue tinted tongue, a pale bubbly froth at the corners of her mouth.

            A few feet away lay the stiffened body of an ancient feline wrapped lovingly in an old towel.

            A sickly sweet odor mingles with the foul scent of body excrement and ‘old woman’ smell, filling the air, permeating the small old house.

#

            In death, Eve has more companionship than she did in the last years of her life.

 

 

 

 

 

Meow

(End)

 

Bookmark Charlie by L.V. Gaudet (Fiction Short Story)

 

 

Published  May 11, 2010 on Angie’s Diary (blog)

 http://angiesdiary.com/2010/05/charlie/

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Excerpt from The Men of Twelve

Chapter 3, scene 1

By L. V. Gaudet

© January 2007

Started writing Jan 16/07

 

 

“These are no ordinary woods gents!” cried Lord Aelric as his horse surged towards the trees.  “Hold tight to your saddles and your swords and don’t believe everything you see!”

 

As the men drew closer, the trees waved and thrashed their branches more wildly, leaves hissing louder, like thousands of angry snakes.  A couple of horses faltered, dancing sideways, their riders having to kick them hard to keep them going, eyes rolling wildly as the animals tossed their heads and reared at the woods that seemed alive and menacing.  The men were as afraid as their mounts, and it showed on their faces in that brief hesitation before their features set with determination and they kicked their horses forward.  King Ranald, with Lord Aelric at his side, didn’t pause for even a heartbeat in his charge.

 

Little whirlwinds of dust appeared and vanished, rising up from the ground in mini storms, abrading and attacking the surging horses and their riders before dissipating as suddenly as they appeared, confusing and startling men and beasts.  Sometimes they seemed to just begin to form, only to be swept away and evaporated by the winds making the wildflowers dance.  It was impossible to tell if the winds were intent on creating the dust whirlwinds, or obliterating them.  The waving flowers themselves pulverized forming whirlwinds of dust as they collided with them in their wild swinging at the end of their stalks.

 

It seemed impossible for any to enter those wildly thrashing branches without injury.  Yngling, a young black haired and bearded dwarf riding a smaller grey pony, closed his eyes tightly as he urged his frightened horse towards the woods.

 

Duberrol pulled his horse up short and watched in amazement and fear as the rest of the riders, well ahead of him, rode strait for the thrashing woods, whirlwinds of dust attacking and in close pursuit, vanishing before his very eyes as they galloped across the border that is the edge where the woods abruptly meet fields.

 

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Excerpt from The Men of Twelve

Chapter 3, scene 10

By L. V. Gaudet

© January 2007

Started writing Jan 16/07

 

 

Without warning, one swirling tornado cloud swooped in with incredible speed, freezing in place half a foot from Stewart’s face, stopping motionlessly even as its swirling mass of dust continued to churn, mesmerizing.  Startled, he froze, blinking, staring at it, eyes wide and mouth open.  From its depths a darker form seemed to materialize, drawing forth from the swirling mini-tornado of dust particles, with a speed that would shame a poisonous viper, the form lunged forward from the cloud of swirling dust; stopping bare inches from his nose.  It was a human form; its head and face very clear, arms, hands ending in sharp claws rather than human-like fingernails.  It had a heart-shaped face, wider at the eyes, narrowing towards its sharp jutting chin, and framed with dark hair that seemed to rustle in the non-existent wind fueling the cloud of dust.  Little pointy ears peaked out from the hair at the sides of its head.  It was very solid, yet at the same time its entire being in perpetual motion as the dust that made it up continued to churn and move.  Its body seemed to become less solid as it disappeared into the churning cloud of dust, leaving the disembodied head staring at the man from the roiling mass of dust.  The creature had seemed to be dressed much as any mortal man would dress.  It certainly was not dressed as a man would for battle.

 

Off in the clearing, a large Draephid standing still as it surveyed the edge of the forest line surrounding the clearing suddenly sprung into a clumsy charge, it’s ‘legs’ pumping furiously as it ran awkwardly  with tremendous speed.

 

The dust creature stared at him, unblinking.  It studied him as though simply curious about him.  It was not an unpleasant looking creature.  Then, with a wry smile, it stretched out its arms, palms up, slightly bent at the elbows.  With a shrug as if to say, “what else can I do,” it cracked it’s mouth open wide, baring impossibly sharp pointed teeth, it’s face twisting into a gruesome mask of malevolence, and it exhaled a shriek like the gale of hurricane winds whistling as they tore the world apart, right into his face.  The force of the shriek blew against his face and hair like gale force winds.  The young horse he still held onto balked and pulled at the end of its reins, whinnying shrilling and biting fearfully at its bit, eyes rolling wildly until almost nothing but the whites showed.  He didn’t even notice the panicked animal pulling on the lead clutched tightly in his hand.

 

Stunned, Stewart turned his head towards Aiken, who still stood not far away swiping at swirling clouds of dust that swarmed around him.  Stewart opened his mouth to call out a warning and vanished in a violent concussion of impact.  Where he stood a heartbeat before was … nothing.  A thunderous crack echoed across the sky, like the sharp crack of thunder exploding only inches away.  The dust devil still hovered where it was before.  Next to where the man had stood on seconds before, a tree stood, fractured and splintered.  Its bark sprayed out on the ground like a fan, shattered and exploded out from the great impact.  The raw wood of the tree pulverized, thick viscous sap slowly oozing from its shattered raw wounds.  It had but a few branches and no leaves.  It’s crown broken off before where it would have sprouted.  It stood pressed against a much taller tree.  It was the very same Draephid that earlier had met the men in the woods, greeting them in a friendly and thoughtful manner.  Slowly, it tipped away, peeling away from the taller tree with a wet sucking sound.  Stiff and unmoving, it toppled and fell with a dull thud.  Its eyes, the color of raw wood, were open, staring, glazed.  Its mouth gaped like a crooked gash in a tree.  Its form mostly pulverized and shattered, covered in a sticky wet red jam-like substance.  The tree that still stood dripped with the same red jam-like ooze, its trunk cracked down the center from the tremendous impact, its branches broken and twisted.  The ground, the trees, the leaves, all was sprayed with fresh wet droplets of red.  It was as if the sky itself had opened up and rained down large crimson droplets on that small area.  The droplets were larger, more numerous around the standing tree, pooling red puddles slowly being sucked up by the thirsty ground.  The droplets fanned out, becoming smaller and more distanced as they went.  Droplets dripped from nearby leaves and tree bark.  Behind the standing tree was a straight line of clean earth where it’s mass blocked the spray of blood.   There was nothing left that could be identified as human, just a wet jam-like smear dripping down the tree’s broken trunk.  Stewart’s horse still stood where it was before, eyes wider than you can imagine, silent now and motionless, scant inches from where the Draephid impacted against the tree with explosive percussion.  The animal trembled violently, head held high and nostrils expanding and retracting, breathing heavily, eyes rolled back until almost nothing but white was visible. The horse’s lead hung limply now, the end disappearing into the thick red muck oozing down the tree, where a heartbeat before it was clutched tightly in Stewart’s fist.  Red jam-like ooze covered the animal, slowly dripping down it to fall casually to the earth with ever so soft plopping sounds as of fat lazy water droplets.  Shattered fragments of bark and fresh pulverized wood hung caught in the animal’s mane.

 

The hovering dust devil laughed hysterically.

 

The woods groaned, a low deep sound like the wood of a hundred trees being bent in unison.

 

Aiken turned just in time to witness the other Stewart, staring at him with wide eyes and mouth, suddenly vanish as though he were never there with a sudden violent crash in a blur of movement.  One heartbeat he was there, the next a blur of motion and the air he occupied was empty.  It was empty but for a laughing hideous human-like creature that seemed to be part real and part cloud of violently swirling dust.  Red wetness oozed and dripped from everything.  Most strange seeming of all, was the motionless horse dripping crimson ooze, standing statue-still as though caught in a picture despite the sudden violence a second before.

 

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Excerpt from The Men of Twelve

Chapter 5, scene 2

By L. V. Gaudet

© January 2007

Started writing Jan 16/07

 

 

Aelric pointed towards the rough line of the stream cut through the trees.  A thick oak tree stood beside the opening of the gash in the woods created by the stream; its twisted naked branches looking old and wrinkled, branches reaching out with clawed spindly twigs like hundreds of twisted fingers forever trying to grasp something.  The tree was leaf-less and dead looking, but having not yet lost the small spindly leaf twigs the absence of which is distinctive of a dead tree.  Its dark brown, almost black looking bark was the typical deep wrinkled crevices of an oak tree.  Green moss stained yellow-brown where most of the afternoon sun hit it to dry it out clung to the rough bark.  The tree looked like it belonged in the dark corners of night within a twisted horror story.

 

The horses shifted and nickered uneasily.

 

The two dwarves exchanged glances, discretely making ancient runic signs with their hands.

 

“That’s it,” said Ranald, “let’s go.”  He turned his horse from the road, riding across the short grassy expanse towards the crack in the woods and the dark spindly leafless oak.  The rest of the men followed, their horses giving a little nervous dance as they approached and passed by the old bare tree.  The troupe disappeared into the trail sliced through the woods made by the shallow stream bed.

 

Still in a lifeless daze and riding double behind Duberrol, Aiken showed his first sign of awareness of his surroundings, turning his head to stare with his strangely changed and vacant eyes at the ugly leafless old oak tree as the horse he sat upon slowly walked past it.  He continued to stare until the tree passed out of his line of sight, disappearing behind the trees.  Then he slowly turned his head back to return his vacant stare straight ahead.

 

The dead looking bald tree standing guard over the entrance watched the riders retreating backs as they disappeared down the watery path into the woods.

 

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Excerpt from The Men of Twelve

Chapter 5, scene 4

By L. V. Gaudet

© January 2007

Started writing Jan 16/07

 

 

A tall slender figure enshrouded within a long dark cloak riding an unnaturally tall looking white horse with grey at the roots of its mane and tale rode down the road as though on a casual jaunt through the countryside.  To the east of the road lay an expanse of forest which wrapped around in the distance ahead to appear to be blocking the road.  Beyond the start of the trees ahead to the north rose tall treed hills that were not quite mountains.  As the rider drew closer it became apparent that the road continued on, curving before the trees ahead to cut across the land to the west.

 

The horse came to a stop in the road seemingly of its own accord.  The rider’s cloaked head turned, surveying the land around.  From the northwest ahead a stream ribboned out of the trees towards the road, then cut around and across to the east, re-emerging into the woods like a deep watery slash through the trees.  Alongside the streams entrance back within the woods stood a thick leafless oak tree, it’s twisted naked branches looking old and wrinkled, branches reaching like hundreds of twisted clawed fingers forever trying to grasp something.  The tree’s dark deep creviced bark was covered with green moss stained brown and yellow by the drying sun.  It was an ugly frightful looking tree.

 

The horse carefully picked its way off the road and across the narrow grassy field towards the old oak tree and the stream bed opening of the woods, pausing a good safe distance before the bald oak tree.  The rider looked up at the tree, dark hood of the cloak falling back just enough to barely catch a glimpse of a displeased curve to the rider’s lips and nothing more.  The horse shook its head, mane tossing back and forth, and snorted loudly.

 

The riders covered head lowered to look at the horse.  The horse turned its head to stare back, shaking its head again and snorting a second time.  The rider nodded towards the slash in the woods that is the waterway, flowing past the ugly old oak tree.  The horse stood motionlessly, staring straight ahead at the tree.  The rider urged the horse on, only to be ignored by the animal.  The rider cursed softly, almost inaudibly, in a very foreign sounding language and urged the horse forward again, harder.  Reluctantly the animal took a step forward, then another.  Head lowered and ears back, the horse bared its teeth at the old oak tree, hissing through its teeth a threatened horse whinny.  The rider urged the animal forward again and it took a third step.

 

The oak’s branches hung much lower now, its trunk even more bent and twisted, partially blocking the narrow creek bed’s entrance into the woods.

 

The horse reared on its hind legs, whinnying shrilly and tossing its head.  With an indiscernible sound welling up from the rider’s throat, the rider kicked the animal forward savagely.  The horse leaped forward.  The tree’s roots seemed to lose their grip on the soil, the great behemoth teetering and falling, seeming to come crashing down upon the lurching animal.  The horse panicked and twisted, kicking and biting at the hard twisted branches, tangling even more in them, neighing shrill and loud, thrashing and rolling, tossing the rider off its back.  The rider went flying, cloak floating weightlessly in the air, rolling in mid air, landing heavily with a thump and whoosh or expelled air and rolling on the ground.

 

Stunned from the hard landing, the rider slowly sat up, reaching one slender long fingered feminine hand to pull at and straiten the deep hood of the cloak that almost fell away to reveal the rider’s identity.  Hooves pounded the ground nearby.  The rider looked up to see the horse struggling and rolling and twisting as though in a death struggle with something wrapped around it.  Nothing was there.  The rider turned to look at the old bare oak tree guarding the streams entrance to the woods, head cocking to one side quizzically.

 

The tree stood motionless, unmoved from where it stood before. 

 

The dark cloaked rider carefully got up, obviously feeling bruised and battered, and cautiously approached the thrashing beast, whispering so softly it was impossible to make out the words, a slim boned hand reaching out to gently touch the panicked beast.

 

The horse stopped thrashing, standing still, the energy of the fear and fight shivering down through the animal until at last it stood calm and quiet.  The cloaked rider gave the animal a couple of gentle pats then slowly walked around the horse towards the fat old oak tree, stopping a height-span away from the tree.

 

Reaching one slender hand into a deep pocket within the folds of the dark cloak, the rider pulled out a small hide pouch bound with a woven cord.  Carefully untying the pouch, the rider carefully poured some of the black powdery contents into an open palm.

 

The tree made a clacking sound as of naked branches hitting each other in a wind, only there wasn’t even the slightest of breezes.  The rider took a cautious step forward, eyes on the tree, palm held before the cloaked face like an offering.  The tree’s clacking sound intensified.  Quickly the cloaked rider took three more steps forward, leaned in toward the tree, raising the open palm bearing the black powder, and blew hard on the open palm.  The black powder billowed into the air weightlessly, creating a soft cloud of black powder with hints of a very dark purple.  The powder cloud seemed to sparkle as it embraced the old oak tree.  The tree’s rattling sound became very loud then suddenly stopped.  The powder seemed to shimmer like it was made of something with one shiny side as it slowly drifted down towards the ground, dissolving and disappearing before it touched the grass beneath the old oak.  The moss clinging to the tree withered and shrank, drying and turning brown and brittle.  The dark brown deeply crevassed bark of the tree turned even darker, black.

 

With a single nod, the cloaked figure turned and walked back to the horse, mounting effortlessly.  The horse moved forward, lowering its head with ears laid back, teeth bared, and eyes rolling nervously as it passed by the blackened dead tree.  With a soft splash, the horse carefully picked its way into the stream bed and disappeared down the wet path into the woods.  The trees to either side of the stream loomed, crowding against the narrow creek bed as they did for the group of riders that came before.

 

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Excerpt from The Men of Twelve

Chapter 5, scene 9

By L. V. Gaudet

© January 2007

Started writing Jan 16/07

 

 

Riding beside him, Sir Erskine was about to say something when he was abruptly cut off by a shrill cry similar to the one they had heard before. He spun in his saddle looking around for the source of the cry, but it was impossible to see anything in the impenetrable darkness.

 

Sounds of a scuffle came to them from the front of the line; splashing, a horse neighing, a muffled shout.

 

“We’re under atta-,” someone shouted and was cut off abruptly with a dull thud as of a large heavy body hitting another.

 

Another shrill cry pierced the night air.

 

Eyvindr and Erskine pulled their swords from their scabbards as Yngling and Ceadda splashed up behind them on their horse and pony.  The four of them looked about with swords drawn, looking for an enemy to fight.

 

Picking up the men’s excitement, the horses pricked their ears, looking about warily, dancing with their own anticipation of action to come.

 

At the front of the line, Ranald and Aelric rode side by side, eyes scanning the darkness warily.  Behind them Findlay and Griogair rode in silence, Griogair nodding off with the rocking motion of his horse.  His head snapped up with the first shrieking cry that pierced the night, looking around startled.  His horse bobbed its head nervously, making throat clearing noises deep in its chest.

 

From out of the darkness came a noise as of feet running on the soft boggy ground.  It grew louder, closer, and suddenly looming from out of the darkness was a great beast rearing up on hind legs, charging, launching itself through the air as it leapt to tackle Aelric astride his horse.  It looked like a great slender cat, a cross between a jaguar and a cheetah, yet at the same time strangely human-like.  The creatures mouth was yawned wide open in a snarling grimace like a big cat, showing off long sharp pointed teeth with even longer canines.  A shriek pierced the air, coming from high in the creature’s throat just before it collided with Aelric, knocking him off his horse to wrestle in the stream bed.

 

Aelric’s horse shied from the attack, dancing back in time to lessen the blow of the flying tackle.  When Aelric splashed into the water of the stream, he’d had the wind knocked from him and was red-faced gasping for air, but he wasn’t dazed.  He grappled the creature in a great bear hug, holding it tight against him to prevent it from biting and clawing him.  The creature’s large paws had great sharp claws that could tear a man apart with a single swipe.  Aelric let out a muffled shout as he rolled and wrestled with the creature.  When the creature collided with the man and horse, the horse spun at it, trying to bite the creature with sharp teeth, just catching one heel with sharp teeth as the creature and rider tumbled down the other side of the horse.  The creature didn’t seem to notice the bloody injury.  Aelric’s grey horse danced sideways away from the two rolling and wrestling in the water of the stream.

 

At the moment the creature appeared in the darkness, Ranald turned in surprise, reaching for his sword in its scabbard.  Just as it was launching through the air at Aelric, Ranald spun in his saddle, sword in hand, ready.

 

“We’re under atta-,” Aelfred started to shout, only to be suddenly cut off when a large solid body materialized from nowhere, colliding very solidly with him and his horse.  The impact knocked the horse sideways, its hooves scrabbling for purchase before it fell heavily to the water of the stream.  Aelfred fell from the horse and rolled, coming up empty handed and crouching, looking around warily.  From behind another creature appeared sprinting from the darkness, tackling him to the ground, tearing at him with sharp pointed teeth and claws.  He struggled vainly to reach for the sword that was too far away in its scabbard lashed to the fallen horse’s saddle.  The horse kicked and squirmed, rolling itself over, kicking and biting at the creature attacking it with sharp teeth and hooves.

 

Before the creature could dismember Aelfred, it suddenly stiffened with a pained look in its eyes.  It dropped limply to the ground to reveal a grinning Sioltach, bloodied sword in hand.

 

“You might need one of these,” Sioltach grinned, gesturing with his sword.

 

Sore but otherwise uninjured, Aelfred got to his feet and limped over to his horse now standing not far away, and pulled his sword a little belatedly from its scabbard.

 

The moon slipped out from behind the clouds again, straining to wash the land in its pale cold light.

 

Jaws dropped.  The men looked about them, eyes wide with shock.  The narrow strip of land between the trees was teeming with these creatures.  Most of them stayed back somewhat from the ribboning streams.  Some of them watched the men and horses in the stream with bland curiosity, others approached warily.  Most ignored the men and horses completely, as if they were beneath their notice.

 

It was apparent these creatures walked on two legs like men, not on all fours as the great cats they so closely resemble do.  They were larger than the men.

 

One creature ran up in a half crouch, stopping to stare down at the fallen creature that had been impaled from behind.  It sniffed the air, cocking its head.  Its eyes blazed with anger.  Slowly looking up, the creature opened its mouth wide, baring its sharp pointed teeth in a grimace, and slowly turning its head it let loose an ear piercing high shriek.

 

Heads popped up in the teeming mass of creatures, turning to look.

 

The creature turned its head to stare at Sioltach, hissing terribly at him.

 

Another creature shrieked, then another, then another.  Before long the air was shattered with a tumultuous song of high angry shrieks.

 

“Run!” Ranald roared.

 

They ran, mounted or not.

 

The creatures sprinted after them en-masse.

 

The moon slipped behind the clouds again, dropping the curtain of blackness on the scene once again.

 

Little could be seen in the dark of night, glimpses of thrashing fighting bodies, swinging swords, snarling lips drawn past sharp teeth.  It soon became apparent that these creatures were not so cat-like.  But rather, their faces were deformed with formed dried mud and grass.  Their bodies covered with the skins of slain large predatory cats, the sharp clawed paws worn like gloves by those that travelled on the outer edges of the mob, ready to fight to protect their clan.  The teeth, however, were very real.  It would be a miracle indeed if the king and his men would all survive this terrible onslaught.

 

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