Falling Angels. Flash Fiction.

It was a cold day, the day that the angels fell.

The first one fell at 10.01 A.M. Many people have looked for significance in that number, but none has yet been found. He fell to the earth in a blazing ball of light, people who watched thought it was a comet. He crashed into the ground, leaving a long furrow of broken pavement and road. People approached cautiously, going as close as they could before the heat became too much. They watched as he stood, his wings large, shattered and broken, hung limply on his back, his skin was a deep, polished silver, his eyes completely white and his hair was gold. He was muscular, but not unduly so, his crotch was smooth and free of any genitalia. When he cast his gaze at the people, they all stepped back, unable to stand too close to such beauty. He pulled himself from his crater and began to walk with a faint limp. Some people stared, slack jawed, others tried to take photographs, he ignored them all. He was the first, but he was not the last.
More fell across the earth, each one different, each one beautiful. None of them spoke, they climbed from the holes they created and they began to walk. Their wings, some white, some mottled, some black, all different, were broken and limp. The men and women were obvious in their gender in appearance, the woman wore their hair traditionally long with softer, feminine faces, the men’s hair was short, their faces angular. All were naked, though none had nipples. The women had soft, gentle swells of breasts, the men had defined pecs. Neither had genitalia.
When the day had ended, the blazing orbs of light stopped, the last angel falling at 7.05 P.M. All told there were three hundred reported “meteors” though a total of one thousand angels fell. And they just disappeared. No one knew where they had gone, or why they had come to earth in the first place. There was rampant speculation, cults began to pop up all across the world, some worshipping the angels as gods, others declaring it was the end of the world and committing mass suicide.
Two weeks later the angels appeared again. They marched through the streets, and, after a large crowd gathered they would speak. Recordings of the speeches quickly circulated around the internet, but no one could understand the strange language of clicks, whistles and screeches. Those present claimed they heard everything in their own native language and the message seemed to be the same.

No one knew why the angels had come to earth, or why they were trying to spread their message. Some people believed they had been cast out of heaven, hence the broken wings and their inability to ascend again. Others thought they came willingly or on a mission. The angels wouldn’t, or couldn’t, answer questions. It seemed they could only repeat their message, their voices high, clear and strong.
“You must prepare.”

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The Feeding. Short Story.

John stood in his chamber, getting into his robes carefully. Once they were settled, he tied the sash around himself, then knelt to say a quick prayer. Today was one of the simpler jobs, though it was not pleasant, it had become easier as time had passed. He rose slowly and carefully, he was getting older now, he had to be careful until he could pass his duties on. They had assigned him a young lad to help out, he had been told the details of what was to happen, how everything was done, but he hadn’t seen it yet. Today would be his first day down there. John set his face carefully, letting a blank mask fall over it. He knew he couldn’t show fear or trepidation, not while the young lad was with him.

John left his room and descended the long stairs. He could hear people stirring in the rooms around him, soft, gentle sounds. Soon they would finish their preparations and go down to breakfast and he would join them shortly.

Outside it was chilly, the sun was just starting to rise, casting everything in a warm golden light. The young lad, Peter? Paul? Something with a P, was standing, shivering in the shade. “Come along boy, our first stop is the kitchens.”

The boy scurried over and started walking a step or two behind John. He tried to hide his smile. The boy looked tired, though there was definite excitement and an edge of fear on his face. John remembered his first time down here, how wonderful and horrifying it had been. They entered the kitchens and found what they needed, two buckets, both full to the brim with the food. “You grab one, I’ll grab the other. That seems like a fair division.”
“Yes sir.” The boy grabbed the bucket and heaved it up, if he was surprised at the weight he didn’t show it. John picked up his bucket, feeling slightly overbalanced without the other. Without speaking John started to walk and the boy hurried to keep up. They walked in silence until they stood outside the heavy metal door. It was barred from the outside. John put down his bucket, “give me a hand with this.”
The boy dropped his bucket, almost spilling some of the contents, “Be careful with that! We need every last bit of it.”
“Yes sir, sorry sir.”

He grabbed the other side of the thick metal bar and together they heaved it up and over, before gently setting it against the wall.

“You remember the lessons, don’t you?”
“Yes sir.”
“Good, but I’m going to say it again, don’t touch any of them, don’t make eye contact with any of them and don’t speak to any of them, ok? They may not look it, but they are extremely dangerous. You wouldn’t be the first, or the last, to be ripped to shreds down here. If that happens there is nothing I or any one else could do to stop it. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir.” The boys voice was quiet, nervous. John kept his face neutral. They were dangerous sure, but it had been a long, long time since anyone had been attacked, let alone ripped apart. The boy would be fine, but it wouldn’t do for him to be over excited and spill food from the bucket, or accidently antagonise one of them.

John pulled the door open and picked up his bucket. The scent of dry decay wafted across their faces on warm air. The boy paled and started to shake slightly. “After you. Once you reach the bottom stay there and let me pass.” The boy nodded, swallowed and shaking just a little bit harder, he walked through the door and started down the steps. John stepped through and closed the door after himself. The stairway was lit by torches, as was the rest of the place. They never seemed to burn out. John had been taught, and he had taught the boy, that the torches were a sign of God and his miracles. When he was younger he had been sure it was a lie, that he would have to replace the torches regularly, that they just didn’t want to frighten him. So far, none of them had gone out in his fifty years of service. He started down the stairs, and soon enough he caught up with the boy. “Well, hurry up!” the boy let out a yelp and almost stumbled forward. John let out a little sigh. He hadn’t been this nervous when he was a lad. He had been waiting at the bottom before the door even closed. Maybe they had chosen the wrong boy for the job? There was still time to get another in, teach them. Well, he was stuck with the boy for the day.

At the bottom, John stepped past the boy and together they walked into the catacombs. He felt a faint thrill of fear move up his spine and a faint nausea settled onto his stomach.

Having only the one bucket in his hand made everything much, much easier. John walked slowly through the hallway until they reached the first alcove. He glanced at the corpse that was standing in it, making sure it was still there. It had been a man once, now it was desiccated, a husk, the skin pulled tight, its face in a rictus grin. John reached into the bucket and pulled out a small parcel of food and placed it into the stand in front of the corpse. It reached out slowly, behind him John heard the boys sharp intake of breath. The corpse grasped the food and brought it to its mouth. John didn’t stay around to watch, he moved onto the next one. There were hundreds of them down here and they had plenty to do. They stopped at each corpse and placed one piece of food down before they moved on. At some point John traded his empty bucket for the boys full one. The catacombs were almost completely silent. The only noises now there the sounds of the corpse creaking as they moved and the dull crunching as they ate. Once they had finished, silence would fall again. There were no rats down here, or mice. John had never seen any evidence of them. He wondered if perhaps the corpses ate them. Sometimes when he came down they were in different positions than the day before.

As they reached the end, carrying empty buckets, John heard one of the corpses moving, that scratchy rustling sound. He felt a shiver go up his back. The boy looked around nervously. One of them started to move, stepping out of the alcove, making a strange, gasping whisper, the boy looked at it as it shambled forward, then he dropped the bucket and broke into a run, a high scream of terror following him. John picked up the bucket and smiled to himself, the other corpses started making the same noise. John had refused to go back down here for a month when he was a boy, until his teacher explained that the corpses were just having a little joke at his expense. It was at that point that he realised the whispery noise was laughter. He didn’t blame them, after all, they had little entertainment down here. He picked up the bucket and nodded at the corpse who was already starting to return to the alcove, then he walked after the boy, feeling an itch at his back and trying not to run.

Outside the boy was struggling to move the bar back by himself, he let out a little shriek as john stepped through the door. “C’mon lad, hurry! They’re coming!” John grabbed the other end and together they heaved it back into place. The boy leaned against the wall, breathing heavily. John couldn’t help it, he started to laugh. The boy frowned at him for a moment, then his face angered as he realised the boy opened his mouth to speak. “Calm yourself boy, it was only a joke. They do it to everyone on their first time.” The boy took a deep breath, then released it and frowning he said “I though they were dangerous?”
John nodded, “Don’t let that lull you, they’re every bit as dangerous as I said. They’re not like us. They take offense at different things, and they deal with that offense by death. The rules are in place so we don’t offend them. They like to play that joke. They only get to do it once every fifty years or so. Hope it’s the last time you see one of them move because they next time they’ll be coming for you and they wont be doing it in no slow motion walk either. They’re faster, much faster than you’d think. I’ve seen one snatch his food up and eat it before I’d even realised he started to move. They’re dangerous creatures, don’t get it into your head that it could be otherwise.” John clapped the boy on the back, “C’mon, it’s time for breakfast.”

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The Only Way. Short Story.

Hope everyone had a good weekend. Mine was pretty relaxing. Watched a bunch of Game of Thrones to be prepared for the new episode. Also making some good progress on a project I’m doing at the moment. I’ll throw up some pictures on my twitter when it’s done.

On with the show!

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Mary was sitting on her bed, in her small room. It was dark, the curtains were closed. She didn’t see the point of opening the curtains. Not like anyone was going to see inside here. No one had been in the apartment in weeks. No one but her. Only leaving to buy food and even those trips had become shorter and shorter. It had been seven days since she had last left the apartment. She stared at the small bottle, her eyes were dull and listless. It was so innocuous, so innocent. Her hand reached out for it, then paused.

Go on. Do it. It’ll be better for everyone. It’s easy. So easy, just like going to sleep. You won’t feel a thing. I promise. Go on. Everyone wants you to do it, you’ll be happier, they’ll be happier. Go on. The pain will stop, the misery will go away, no one will have to deal with your stupid thoughts and ugly face anymore. Go on.

She picked up the bottle and slowly unscrewed the cap, then she tipped a few pills into her hand. They were so tiny, so white. She had thought she might feel something when they were in her hand some kind of fear or sadness. Thought maybe they’d feel heavier, their significance adding weight, she tilted her hand slightly, letting them fall over one another. She knew what she was going to do, what she had to do. Everyone would be better off if she was just gone. She was damaged, fucked up beyond repair. Even now she couldn’t even cry. One hand went to her cheek, unconsciously checking that it was still dry. She emptied the bottle onto the bed, then added the pills from her hand. Mary counted them out, one by one, moving them into a neat little pile. She wasn’t sure exactly how many she needed, but she was sure she had enough of them.

Once she had counted them, she put them back into the bottle.

What are you stupid? To stupid to even kill yourself you coward? Yeah, of course you wouldn’t do it. Of course you’d want to inflict yourself on everyone else.

Mary stood from the bed and left the small room. Her apartment was big, but it seemed all the bigger now that she was here alone. Her roommates had moved out one by one, leaving her by herself. She had driven them out. They didn’t say it, but she knew. She had drove them off like everyone else. They were better off though, better off without her in their lives. She went into the kitchen, and looked through the cupboards, trying to find it. She knew it was here somewhere. One of them had left it. Probably as a hint, hoping she’d finally do it. Her hand closed around a heavy bottle. She took it down from the shelf. The bottle of vodka was almost full. There would be more than enough. She took the bottle and started to walk back to her room.

Go on then. Do it.

She lay on the bed, getting herself comfortable.

Why? Why does it matter? You won’t be feeling it if you do it right. But then you’re too stupid to do it right. Too stupid to do anything right really. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it.

Mary picked up the bottle and poured a few pills into her hand, she dry swallowed them, then followed it up with a swig of vodka. She grimaced at the taste, but she kept it down. She alternated them, one after the other until the pills were gone. She looked at the bottle, about a quarter was gone. How much would she be able to drink before she started to throw it up again? She took another gulp. It burned going down, she coughed once, then cleared her throat a little. She should have brought water or something to take away the burn.

Of course you wouldn’t think of something like that. It’s simple and you still manage to go and screw it up.

She took another gulp hoping maybe, finally that voice would be silenced. The voice that had been following her around for months, whispering in her ear, telling her the truth about everyone. What they thought of her, why they hated her. Today was the day it would finally stop forever. She took another swig of the vodka, she was feeling light headed and woozy. Mary reached out to place the bottle onto the bedside locker. She missed the table and it landed with a heavy thud. The smell of vodka filled the room, the gentle glug-glug-glug was strangely soothing. She let her hand fall and closed her eyes. Already the voice was fading. She smiled and waited for the darkness to consume her.

Her body jerked and twitched, almost writhing on the bed. She had died only seconds before. The movements became more violent until finally it was free, clawing itself from her corpse. It stood over her, looking down at the body, feeling energised. It had taken months to get her to crack. She was stronger than some of the others it had fed from, not the strongest it had ever encountered, but still, strong enough. It leaned over her body and breathed in deeply, then exhaled slowly with a small, satisfied smile. That energy would keep it going for a good while. It turned from her body and drifted from the room, then it left the apartment, sliding through the cracks in the door. It had just fed and it was still full, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t go hungry again soon. It moved down the hallways, and finally it was outside, drifting down the street, enjoying the warmth of the sun. People moved around it unconsciously, not allowing it to touch their skin. Soon it would find another meal, the hunt was on again.

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The City. Short Story.

Jacob stood on the hill, looking down at the city. Did he dare enter? A faint breeze picked up, rustling the nearby trees. There was no other movement. He wasn’t the first to visit the city, though few returned. Those that did refused to talk about it. That more than anything interested Jacob. What could be so awful about such a place? Despite their silence, or perhaps because of it, those who returned seemed to become wealthy or exceedingly successful. He was surprised by how normal it looked, he had thought that perhaps there would be corpses outside the walls, piled at the bottom or perhaps they would be hung from them, a warning to those who might enter, but there was nothing. The large door in the centre of the wall was wide open. The city was officially empty and had been for at least fifty years, when everyone inside just disappeared. One day it was a thriving, happy city, the next it was empty. None of the people living there were ever seen again. Occasionally someone would claim to have been born there, or be a descendent, but they were always proved to be liars.

He moved closer to the city, expecting to feel some kind of unnatural dread or fear, but though he felt fear, it wasn’t overpowering, there was no urge to turn and flee. He stopped outside the gates, breathing slowly and steadily. Would it be worth it? Riches or success in exchange for a chance of him just disappearing. After all there was no evidence of death. There were no corpses outside and none on the road into the city, not as far as he could see anyway. What ever happened to those who lived in the city could be happening to those who enter. Unless something was attacking those who entered and hiding the bodies. He bent over and grabbed a small rock, then he threw it through the entrance. It bounced once, twice, then rolled before finally stopping. Nothing happened. Jacob took another breath, then stepped through the doorway. He released it slowly on the other side, waiting for something to happen, nothing did. He waited a moment, then he started to walk, looking all around himself.

The city seemed to be in good repair. There was no rubbish or leaves on the ground, the paths were in good condition, there were no broken windows or doors hanging open. As he walked he felt as though he was being watched, though he could see nothing. He came across a small shop with a display of food. It was a bakery. The door opened easily and a bell rung faintly as he stepped inside. The shop smelled of fresh baking. He studied the display of cakes for a moment before gently touching one. It was soft and faintly warm as though it had been only taken from the oven a short time before. He wiped his hand on his trousers and moved outside. His stomach was rumbling faintly, but he did not trust any of the food.
He stood outside, breathing the air. It smelt fresh, not stale as he expected. Dust hadn’t covered any of the surfaces inside the bakery, did that mean that there was someone still here, looking after things? He moved from the bakery and made his way deeper into the town.

Jacob was in the centre of a large square, beside a fountain that splashed and gurgled merrily. Coins at the bottom of the fountain glinted in the sunlight. Though tempted, he didn’t reach in for any. Feeling slightly disappointed, he turned and started to make his way back towards the entrance. Surely what ever happened to people should have happened by now. He could explore the city more, after if the bakery was anything to go by, there would be many valuables left lying around. Perhaps that was the difference? Those who tried to steal were punished and those who didn’t were rewarded. At the beginning he followed the path he had used while travelling through the city, but before long he found himself turned around. Roads curved back on themselves or had dead ends. He tried to follow sign posts, but they lead him in circles. As the sun was starting to set, he sat against a wall. He had been walking for hours now and he decided a little rest would do him some good. As he rested he ate and drank a little water.

Jacob realised that though the sun had set, he could still see. He looked around for a light source, but there appeared to be none, it was as though the walls and the ground were faintly glowing. After packing everything away, he stood and started walking again.

He didn’t know how long he had been walking through the streets of the city, his legs were beginning to ache and he was shivering with the cold. He stopped outside a house and tested the door, it was unlocked. Shivering, he went inside. The house was warm. He moved through it carefully, listening for the noise of another occupant, but the house was silent. He made his way to the bedroom and grabbed the blankets from the bed, then he made himself a bed on the floor and slept.

When he woke it was morning, his legs were stiff and sore. Outside he could hear the rumble of a cart going past. He got up slowly and stumbled to the window, outside people walked the streets, talking and laughing. He watched them for a few minutes, studying their movements. Everyone appeared normal. Outside he stood for a moment, just listening, surprised at how loud everything was after the quiet. One or two people frowned at him slightly as they passed, but for the most part he was ignored. He stopped one of them, a young woman, “what’s going on?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why is everyone here?”
“…because they live here?”
He grabbed her arm, “No, they don’t, no one does.”
“Get off me” she pulled her arm out of his grip, “another one of you eh?” She shook her head then started to walk away. “Wait!”

She didn’t look back. A few people had paused to look at the altercation, but now they moved off. Behind him someone started to laugh. An old man stumbled from between two of the houses, “You’re trapped here now lad. Won’t be able to get out. No one can. No point in telling that lot though. They can’t see it. Or wont. Been here for years, decades and I still haven’t gotten any of them to listen. Tell me, what year was it when you entered?”
Frowning, Jacob told him the year, the mans eyes widened, “What month?”
“June.”

“it’s been three months? That’s all?”

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Disposal. Flash Fiction.

He gripped the hose tightly and moved it back and forth slowly, making sure it soaked into everything. The pile was larger, much larger than he expected, but that wouldn’t be a problem. He could still smell it, despite the mask and the oils, it still got through. The stink of petrol and the underlying scent of death. He turned off the hose and stood back, carefully checking himself for any liquid. Seeing that he was clear he moved away from the pile and aimed. The incendiary rounds did as they were supposed to and almost instantly the entire pile was alight. Thick black smoke billowed upwards carrying with it the stench of charred and burning humans. He moved from the pile and onto the next one. There were two more to do before he would be done for the day. Behind him ten similar sized piles blazed. The plague had taken them by surprise and this was both the safest, and easiest way to dispose of the bodies. The wind changed and the smoke washed over him, he coughed for a few minutes, eyes watering. He had goggles, but he had been running late this morning, so he had missed his chance to get a good respirator. They were supposed to get new ones in the next few days. They would be working for at least another month. More if the plague continued on as it had.

This was one of the safer jobs when it came to the bodies. He wasn’t in a hazmat suit, collecting them or arranging them into the piles. No, he just had to spray them down and burn them. Simple too. Hard to fuck up really. Though they had to be careful with the winds and where the petrol landed. Wouldn’t do to start a wild fire. When he was done his shift he’d trade off with someone else who would keep an eye on the fires, make sure they didn’t get out of control. As he doused the next pile he thought he could hear faint moans beneath the roar of the other fires. He ignored them. If someone was still alive in there, there was not much point in doing anything to save them. They’d be dead in a few more hours anyway. He sprayed the pile liberally, counting down in his head, making sure it had soaked through everything. When he was done, he set it alight. The flames roared, there were no screams. That happened sometimes. Not often, but enough to give you a good fright if you weren’t expecting it. He turned away from the pile, trying not to think too hard about it. After all, anyone close to death would be weak, the fire would be stealing oxygen. It would be hard for them to scream.

 

 

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Willing. Short Story.

Happy Easter!

Hope everyone had a good weekend. I watched a few movies with a friend and had an Easter family dinner. Very glamorous all together.

On with the show!

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The priest walked along the line of people, his white robes almost blinding in the morning sunlight. As he passed each one he nodded or shook his head. Each time he walked to the end of the line, he turned and walked back along it. Slowly the line of people thinned as those who were dismissed left, until there were only ten left of the hundreds that had begun. He moved to stand before them,
“Are you all here of your own free will? Happy and pleased to do what must be done?”
Some nodded their heads, others answered with a loud and assured “Yes.”
“Good.”

He looked at them all, one by one, looking over their bodies his eyes following every curve and bump. Finally, he would meet their eyes and stare at them, without blinking for a few minutes. When he had done this for each of them, he started to point at people. “you, you and you, leave. You, go.”

There were three left now, all standing, shivering slightly as they were cast in shadows. Two men and a woman, all naked and looking directly ahead. The priest nodded to himself, then dismissed the woman.
“Now. Which one of you shall it be?” He approached them both, then chose one. He ran his hands along the mans shoulders, then down his stomach and legs. The movements were cold and detached, clinical as he studied the mans body. When he had finished he turned to the other man and did the same. He stood once more, then shook his head slightly.
“It will be a close one.”
The men glanced at each other.

“It’s been years since something like this has happened.”
The priest turned from the men and went to a small alcove, there he removed a wooden box. He opened it carefully, revealing a silk lined interior. Resting on the silk was a single needle. Small and sharp. He delicately plucked the needle from the box and placed the box back into the alcove. He returned to the two men, “Hold out your hands.” Both raised their hands without hesitation or fear.
“Good. Good.”

He took the needle and with a gentle, steady pressure, it cut into the first mans finger. The man didn’t react. When the priest removed the needle blood started to well at the wound.
He turned to the other man, “Now you.” He repeated the piercing, then he studied the tip of the needle. Finally, he muttered some words, then placed the needle onto the first mans palm. He counted to ten, then did the same with the other man. The second mans hand began to droop slightly when the priest reached four, by the time the priest counted to seven, his hand was almost at his side, it looked as though he was struggling to lift a great weight. Beads of sweat were forming on his brow. As the priest reached nine he grabbed the needle before it slid from the mans hand. He nodded once, “you’re dismissed.” The man, almost panting, turned and left, his head down.

“So that just leaves you.”

The priest circled around the man, eyeing him carefully. “Yes. I can see it now. You’re perfect. We’ll need to get you cleaned up though, this way please.”

The priest turned and started walking, not looking back to see if the man was following.

They entered a large, brightly lit room, in the centre there was a large pool with several other, smaller, pools dotted around it. “The attendant will tell you what to do” The priest left the room.

The man looked around the empty room, unsure of what to do now. A moment passed and a young man entered wearing similar robes to the priest. These robes were a dull grey rather than the blinding white of a full priest.
“Ah. Sorry. I thought it would take a little longer. I’m Adam, you?”
“Um Simon.”
“Ok Simon, to start off, you should have a swim in the main pool, you can swim, right?”
Simon nodded, “Ok, perfect, great! So you swim around for a bit, then I’ll call you when it’s time to move on to the next thing ok?”
Simon nodded then moved towards the water. He got into the main pool, surprised to find that the water was pleasantly warm. He did a few lengths of the pool to warm himself up, then he started doing laps.

“Times up! We’re moving to the next one.”

Simon pulled himself from the pool and followed Adam to one of the smaller pools, its surface was gently steaming. “Right. In you go. Just sit and relax in the water for a moment.”

Simon lowered himself, hissing slightly at the heat of the water.
He eased into it as he adjusted and closed his eyes, allowing himself to relax.
After a moment, Adam handed him a cloth.
“Next step, give yourself a bit of a scrub.”

Simon took the cloth and started to run it over his body, tendrils of black goo began to swirl into the water, Simon let out a cry and jumped up, Adam put a hand on his shoulder, “relax, it’s ok. You’re just getting cleansed.”

“What is that stuff?”
“Sin. Evil. All that. People accumulate more than they realise and while confession removes the worst of it, some gunk gets left behind.” Adam studied the water for a second, “You’re not actually that bad. You must have led a pretty good life.”
“I always try to follow the teachings.”

Simon started to clean himself, this time doing it slower, making sure to get everywhere.
“Now, onto the next one.”
The next pool was slightly cooler than the last and again he was given a fresh wash cloth. The ritual repeated itself twice more before he was brought to the last pool. This one had cold water. The other pools ranged in colour from black to a faint grey. Simon got into the water and looked around for the cloth, “Not this time, just dunk your head under there and you’re done.” Simon took a breath and submerged himself, then he stood, shivering, and Adam helped him out of the pool. He was handed a rough towel and he begun to dry himself.

He was lead to another room, this one was slightly darker and lit with candles, a heady smoke hung in the air in thick clouds. Simon started to feel light headed almost immediately. “Just lie down there.” Adam pointed to a slab of raised rock. Simon lay on it, thankful to be off his feet. His eyes felt heavy, sleepy. “Just relax.”
Adam started to anoint Simon with various fragrant oils. Simon drifted in and out of consciousness until Adam helped him sit up and, still feeing light headed, Simon stood and was lead out of the room to another. Here he was draped in a loose red robe, the final preparation. Despite the smoke and oils, Simon felt a faint thrill of trepidation race around his stomach. Was he really ready for this? Really worthy? He let out a slow breath. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have been chosen for it.

He squinted as the light of the setting sun hit his eyes. Below he could hear the dull murmur of the crowd. A head of him stood the priest from earlier, in his shining white robes. Beside the priest was a raised bed. As he approached the edge of the stand, the crowd let out a cheer, the sound crashed over him, almost causing him to stumble backwards. He gazed out at them, amazed to see it from here, all those people. He had been in the crowds before, and he knew that there were many people attending, but he never actually realised the sheer number of them before. The priest held out a hand and Simon took it, the priest led him over to the bed and Simon carefully got himself comfortable. As he settled the crowds noise died and a steady drum beat started. It began as a whisper, gentle and caressing, the chants were low and inaudible. The sound of the drums grew louder and frantic as the chanting of the crowd swelled, other instruments joined in creating loud crashes, soaring notes, all creating beautiful music. The priest stood over Simon, knife at the ready, Simon could feel it building, the crescendo would be reached soon. He smiled and closed his eyes, waiting for the moment of truth, the moment of purity.

Simon didn’t feel the first cut, nor the second. The sound swelled, getting louder, then, the knife plunged down, deep into his heart. Cutting through bone and muscle with ease. His cry of pain joined the crowds roars. The light hit his eyes once more and the crowd started to scream in a frenzy. As his blood flowed down through the channels, pink tinged water sprayed over the crowd, deepening to a dark red as it flew through the sky, burning bright with light from the sun. It covered the crowds as they continued their chant, reaching the crescendo as the hot, sticky blood rained down on them all. The sun finally set and the moment passed, the sounds died down as the blood began to turn to water. The crowd panted and heaved, trying to reclaim some of their breath.

The priest stood, knife raised high over his head, he let out one cry, “He has been appeased!”
And the crowd roared in approval.

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Steady Decline. Short Story.

Sandra looked at the small patch of barren earth and sighed. Usually at this point it would be full of vegetables, the fruit trees would be producing fruit, but none of it was happening. The entire village was suffering, not just her small garden. The animals were becoming sickly and thin, despite attempts to feed them. Food was getting more expensive as it needed to be brought in from other areas. They had tried everything they could think of, bringing new soil in, using new and old fertilizers, but nothing was helping. What ever it was, it was affecting the entire village. But none of the other villages seemed to be affected, just theirs.

It had been happening for a few years now, the quality and quantity of their crops had steadily declined. No one could figure out why, there was no reason for it. As the crops began to fail, people in the village became meaner, nastier. There was no longer a sense of community, of helping one another. People started to look out for themselves and themselves only. Sandra understood why, but she knew that if everyone worked together they might be able to figure something out. Even now there was talk of abandoning the land, moving somewhere else and starting anew. Sandra didn’t want to leave, this was her home, it always had been, and it had been her parents home before that. She didn’t want to just abandon it all.

 

The large forest nearby was thriving, which confused everyone even more. Sandra often went on walks in the woods, before things started to decline. The woods were always bright and vibrant, but as time went on the trees began to look sickly, diseased. None of them died, they just slowly twisted and darkened. Losing their leaves or producing dark, poisonous looking ones instead. Things still grew in the forest and grew well, but anything that did grow was poisonous. None of the fruits or berries were edible, even ones that were previously found to be safe. A few of the children had died that way. Returning from their day of playing in the woods seemingly fine until later that evening. There was no cure for what ever had poisoned them. The mushrooms could still be eaten, but they gave terrible visions of death and destruction. One or two people, poor and desperate, had eaten them regardless. It drove them mad in a matter of hours and they had run, screaming, into the forest. The creatures that stalked the forest were changing too, becoming bigger, more dangerous. Before they would have avoided or ignored human presence, but now they attacked and sometimes seemed to actively seek out humans. Sandra knew the decline in the forest had to be connected, but no one seemed to know how. She was still competent enough to explore it and avoid most of the dangers. She and other hunters had stopped looking for meat in the woods though. It was always stringy and gristly, tasting foul and leaving the eater with cramps for a few days no matter how well it was cooked.

 

The river that cut through the forest, and the offshoot that went by the village, were still safe to drink from. Both here and downstream, so she knew it wasn’t the water that was poisoned. She suspected it was something in the earth, but there was no part of the forest that appeared worse than the others. It all took on a uniformed appearance of darkness. Sandra had looked for the source of the misery, but each time she found nothing. There had been no places in the forest that were dangerous or forbidden, no places that were said to cause sickness or death, not until recently.

 

At night she could hear them sometimes, animals or creatures, sniffing and snorting outside the houses, occasionally testing barriers on windows. People knew to be inside before full dark. No one knew what the things were, no one had dared look. When morning came they would have already slipped away, back to where they had come from, but they left behind no tracks. Sometimes there would be a gouge in a shutter, something knocked over or broken, but mostly there was no indication that anything had been prowling the village the night before, only the noises. Sandra had suggested they set a trap, try to capture one, but she had been shot down. People were frightened and didn’t want to risk upsetting the creatures or goad them into more frenzied attacks. Sandra knew people would start leaving soon. Taking what ever they could carry and setting out for other places to live. Soon she might be the only one left in the village. It was strange, when she was a child she dreamed of leaving, of setting off into the wider world and exploring, going to new places and meeting new people. Now that she was faced with this though, she pushed against it. She didn’t want to leave, not like this, forced out of her own home like some frightened animal fleeing a predator. She was stronger than that. If she did leave, it would be on her own terms and no one else’s.
Sandra went inside her small home and threw some wood into the fireplace. It would be a chilly night tonight, it would be a good idea for her to be properly prepared. She heard a noise outside, something clattering to the ground, a brief shout. She went to her window and looked out, another family were leaving. Their belongings piled high on a cart. The mother was berating one of the children. Sandra shook her head. It was too late for them to be leaving. It would only bring them trouble on the road if they couldn’t reach the next village by nightfall. She considered going outside, to tell them they should stay another night and leave in the morning, then she shook her head. She recognised the look on their faces, the tight fear. They would go now, no matter the danger. They couldn’t bear to stay here for another night. She turned from the window, not watching them go. It would be the last time she would ever see them.

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