Just when I thought he’d been abducted by visagoths, Mike Stang showed up with a story for the latest Non-Competition just in time for the coveted Monday Morning Coffee with AWwYP slot. And, friends and fellow writers, that is prime territory for any writer. I figured it would be only a matter of time until he had another creative synapse and gave us one of his stories that just kinda make y’a take a sip of your espresso and stare at the humming bird feeder and just say, “Hmmmmmmmmmmm”.
When I read this story, I thought back all those years ago when I was in high school english class and Ms. Betty was reading that poem called
‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
That’s kind of the way this story starts and then it gets dark from there. This is Stang at his best and you’re gonna love this story. So – as always – read – enjoy – and then send him some love in the comments section at the bottom of the page………….. Oh yeah, and don’t get upset because there’s no characters called Fertilla or Excretia or anything like that, (I loved those characters), but you’re gonna love this story all the same.
By Michael Stang
Try as he might, Hintel did not recognize the deep dark forest of his dreams, there, the moss hung luxurious from blackened limbs, and beckoned him, waving in the wind, to advance. In his dreams there too the forest’s floor laid out as a carpet of ferns and soft grass before the little cottage. Aged grandfather trees framed the cabin and gave depth to the tinkling windows that radiated a warm glow from within. The scene that stretched out before him now, a forest yes, but different, profoundly different. Moss sagged treacherous with disease, frozen in place. A field of broken stipple cut and trodden across the front of a crippled shack. Hintel could see where part of the roof had caved in during some lost forgotten storm. Debris was everywhere in different stages of decay.
The boy searched his coat’s pockets looking to find the amulet that would keep him safe. It was a parting gift from Glador, his wizard friend that warned him against coming to these woods. The talisman was gone. Must have lost it at the river crossing, Hintel thought to himself, oh well, does not look like I will be needing it anyways, no one seems to be home.
True enough, the dark of night filtered seamless through the cracks in the walls and where the windows use to be. No sounds either except an occasional groan in the wind from the weakened structure.
Hintel picked his way to the front where miraculously the front door still held its hinges. He knocked once to be polite but pulled back a bloodied knuckle with a splinter from the rough wood. The silence continued as Hintel crossed the threshold, throwing open the door. Darkness receded for no apparent reason enough for him to make out shapes, fallen beams from the ceiling crisscrossed in front of him leaving little room to move about without the danger of hitting his head. A small hearth over to the side had been cleared and seasoned wood was stacked ready to be lit. In a few minutes, Hintel had the fire enough to starve a chill. The light off the flames threw grotesque shadows that danced off the wall to a will of their own. The boy, mesmerized by the fierce competition as the shadows tried to outdo each other, did not see one of them stop to notice him, and advance. By the time it was too late, Hintel turned into the approaching maw of the beast and could do nothing but watch as his physical body was torn away from him, shackled, and thrown into a hole in the floor that disappeared as quickly as it appeared.
Glador fiddled with the gnawing feeling long enough. He knew his friend Hintel was going to get himself in trouble, and from the way his stomach was acting up, he figured the writing was already on the wall. Can’t tell him nothin, Glador began to rage. Knows it all, does he? Won’t take sound advice from someone who should know…might be asking too much. Glador mumbled, spitting mad, as he slammed throughout his cave shoving items into a bag that he hung off his back. The door shut with a vibration that stirred the falcon who nested on top of the mountain, a mile away.
Shaking his head in disbelief, Glador retrieved the amulet when he crossed the river.
The woods stopped the wizard in his tracks. Every warning he ever learned was going off inside him, and he took a minute until the bells and whistles went away so he could think. The evil was celebrating its newest addition to the hold. Images of Hintel’s flayed body flashed on Glador’s metal screen. Drawn blood saved in jars lined a shelf above where they worked on Hintel and the wizard knew he was too late. Or was he.
The image appeared on the door of the shack. At first, nothing but a muscle spasm that worked the wood, formulating patterns, and then slowly began to take shape. Agony dominated the portrait of Hintel’s face. The mouth stretched to obscene screamed in silence. The boy’s eyes were beyond fear; they had crossed a line of no return where the insane embraced gleefully an eternity filled with ever present, and the renewal of mutilation. Then the eyes found Glador’s own, and, as if a demonic spirit took over what was left of Hintel, the image started to laugh and taunt the wizard. A lot of good you are to me now, wizard. The sound of the voice grated Glador’s nerves raw like a rasp on a boiled egg. No matter. Come…come and join me in hell’s fire. Come you no good hound, all is lost to people like us. The world is better off.
The force of the evil was invading Glador’s resistance taking him down a brick at a time. He knew his time was short. The wizard’s hand closed around the amulet and he threw it with all his might at the door. Frozen forever in the mind of Glador are Hintel’s eyes as he watched the coming amulet. Resistance from the evil shielded the talisman before it made contact, but what was not expected was the physical force of the wizard’s body rocketing forward right behind. Instantly a vortex developed around the shack and spread, in less than a blink, to encompass the woods and other horizons. As if the world reacted given the chance to rid itself of a thorn in its side, the vortex sucked until there was nothing visibly left. All matter down to the simplest nature was gone. Even trace elements no longer existed. A quiet pervaded and ceased all sounds of agony, victory, and defeat.
From the hole created by the vacuum, a single column shot towards the sky. The walls were made of clear crystals that played with all the colors of the rainbow. In concentric rings, they accompanied matter inside the brilliant shaft as it drew from the ground a putrid brown. But as it bore higher, the properties grew light and then reached a point that was effervescing radiance. Once free of the column, the energy drew a line across the sky, after awhile it was like looking at the underside of a mushroom made from diamonds. Then the column faded and light clouds returned the skies of earth to normal. Hintel’s dream forest played out again on the land.
The sound of horse’s hooves stirred the air on the top of a nearby hill. Two riders sat on their mounts, never before the grandeur of humankind displayed.