The picture in my head shatters on the page…
I have been madly editing stories for the competition. The one I just wrote won’t be ready for the Sci-fi submission, so I will go to a fall back. The horror story is in edit number ten or so, and I hope will now hold its own. So much work for such short stories!
I have started to re-write a story to enter into a competition. There is a 4k words limit. I have already cut this story down twice, and am still over 4k, and I am not finished writing it. On one hand I hate constraints. On the other, it has forced me to cut the story down to the grizzle, but such a evisceration, while befitting a horror story, might remove all life from its whittled corpse.
Fire is supposed to burn. Burn grass, burn wood, burn flesh and blood. Fire is a thing of wonder, and of fear. Man harnessed it, used it to illuminate the fearful dark. It shatters rock, boils water, destroys forests. But, there she stood, the building falling around her, wooden beams crashing from the high ceiling and showering glowing embers in arcs dozens of feet high. She carried the last of the children in her arms: a five year old who had hidden under his desk instead of running like he had been told.
The firemen thrust the lever up and down wildly, pressurizing the pump, which fed the water to the hose. The horses whinnied, anxious around the cracking pillars of fire. The small pump wagon creaked as the pressure built inside and the hose sprayed a pitifully small stream of water at the roaring fire. Water which rapidly boiled to steam and barely impacted the roaring flames.
She stepped through an arch of fire where the front of the schoolhouse had collapsed. Random flames lapped at her body, but she hardly seemed to notice. In her arms she clutched two things, the first was the crying child, and between him and her bosom was the book of lessons and psalms she had carried to school every day for the last four years. The old woman was the first to scream. Not the screams of desperation that the parents had been crying as they saw the school burn. This was a scream from the darkest fear. It cut through the roar of the flames like a siren.
The crowd was gathered at the base of the scaffold. Upon it a woman had been placed, her knees trembled and tears streamed down her cheeks. A man in priests garb stood next to her, a bible in his hands. A few feet away another man stood, and in his hand was the ultimate peacemaker, a Colt .45 revolver peacemaker, and it was pointed first at the minister, then at the crowds. But, it was held without confidence.
“Sheriff, there are two laws in this land, the law of man, and the law of God, which one do you stand by?” the priest said, raising the Bible to the roar of the crowd.
“I do believe I stand by both.”
“I say we all witnessed the witch practice magic, the entire town, even you.”
“Even if she did, there ain’t no law against it.”
“Except God’s Law!”
The mob erupted in cheers and shouts. There were at least 40 rowdy farmers, merchants, and workers gathered here, although probably every adult in the small community was somewhere in the vicinity at the moment. It wasn’t a large town and a commotion like a lynching attracted, well, everyone.
“And murder is against the Lord’s law, reverend, and you’re about to murder a woman, who last I reconded, saved a many O’ the townsfolk’s children in the fire.”
“She mighta started it,” shouted a voice in the mob.
“We all know it was started by the lightning strike, Mary Lou saw it herself…”
“We saw her..” the minister said, pointing at the crying woman. Her large skirts were in a crinkled bunch, she had fallen into the noose, having lost the strength to stand, and her dress had billowed out making it look like she was falling into a large cloth pillow. Her curly brown hair hung forward, concealing her tears, and the noose around her neck.
The minister was in his element. He hadn’t believed in witches three days ago, but now he had no choice. Witch or demon, what he saw emerge from the flames was evil. The mob had seen it too, there were no skeptics. The sheriff couldn’t convince them of her innocence.
“Sheriff, we are here to hang a witch. You know I am not an ignorant man, we are all rational people, but we saw her emerge from the flame, unscathed by Satan’s fire, and her skin was alive with the demonic markings, evil words in languages no man can read, and images that still haunt the nightmares of our townsfolk! There can be only one end to this, we hang the witch!”
The crowed was beyond hostile now. It was ten in the morning, but the sheriff swore he saw torches and pitchforks. There were none, but there were shotguns, long guns, and pistols, currently all holstered, except his peacemaker, which so far was failing to live up to its name.
“Damn it reverend, don’t do this. Killing aint a line you can go back across. I know. Don’t matter if they are the devils son, killing ain’t an easy thing. You don’t wanta do this. I admit, I can’t stop ya. I don’t got nearly enough bullets. But, if the town does this, then I quit, reverend, and you should, too. In the war I killed to many a good man, no idea who they were, shot um dead just the same only because they was in fronta me. After I killed em too, part of the job, bad men, all of them. I don’t sleep so well, and neither will you.”
“We don’t sleep now, damn woman cursed us!” shouted a voice in the crowd.
“We all seen her! Naked in the flames, black with the devils markings, not being burnt! Now, it all comes in our dreams, she’s a witch, and God is telling us the only way we can get our peace back is to rid ourselves of her!” It was Jeb Smith shouting, and most of the crowd was nodding along in agreement, “Now Sheriff, either step aside, or were going to have to make you step aside.”
He stood for a moment. Look at the woman, at her tears.
“Ms. Caroline, is there anything I can do for you?” he asked.
“Let me read the psalms from my book, I know I am not a witch. If I read the psalms I have written there, won’t that prove it?” She asked through gasping breaths.
“Even the devil can quote scripture.”
She turned on the priest, “and I know how to swim, and I float. So, you want to use the old witches tests on me? What, are you ignorant peasants, is this 1600’s France? I taught all your children, I sang in your church! ” She saw the Wilson’s, the family whose son she had gone back to save, and saw the anger in their eyes. Even they wouldn’t help her.
The sheriff picked up the book and placed it in her hands. They had been tied in front of her, but she was able to flip the book’s thick pages to the place where she had written out the psalms.
“Though I walk through the valley of death thou art with me…”
The Sheriff threw down his badge. He holstered his weapon and stepped off the stage. Turning his back on the crowd he mounted his horse and road toward his home. He would never look back again. A few minutes later he heard the crowd go silent, then he heard the loud crash as the trap door swung open dropping Ms. Caroline three feet, and snapping her neck. No, he would never look back.
Ms. Caroline lay in a crumpled heap under the scaffolding. Mud from the three days of storms coated her dress. The mob shouted at the minister for his incompetence at noose making. They hauled her out from under the scaffolding, dragged her back up the stairs, and closed the trap again. It was then they noticed the rope at her neck had frayed and snapped.
“Minister, you sure this rope is new?” Asked Jebodiah, the trapper, but he wasn’t really looking for an answer, his fingers felt the coarse weave and knew it was new. He re-tired the noose, then tightened it around the woman’s throat.
“If you ain’t do it right, it ain’t humane. Gotta break the neck, or they swing and choke. Ain’t pretty, even for a witch,” Jebodiah said, tightening the rope and making sure there was enough slack for her to fall and break her neck cleanly.
The crowd watched, and their expectant murmur was matched only by the teachers sobbing. The trap clanked open again and she fell. The mud splattered and the rope, broken at the place it met the scaffolding, thudded to the earth next to her. She had landed in the hole she made the first time she fell. This time she tumbled to the side, and the book, still clutched in her fingers, splashed into the mud.
The crowd was angry now. It took the carpenter ten minutes to re-secure the rope to the scaffold. The crowd was silent as they tightened the noose around her neck. The trap opened with a loud thud, the sound echoed off the far mountains and nothing but the birds dared make a sound. There was a squishy thump as Ms. Caroline landed in the mud, followed by a deafening crash as the top beam bounced off the stage. The rope lay in a loose coil, the beam it had been attached to came to rest on the platform where moments before Ms. Caroline had been standing. The crowd gasp.
Mr. Pendleton strode forward with his shotgun. “Damn it if this witch ain’t going to die today!” he shouted.
“Stop!” The shout was loud. It, too, echoed off the far mountains. The minister stepped forward, “Stop. We thought we were carrying out God’s will. He has obviously shown we were fools, and prevented us from doing a grave error.”
“She’s a witch.” Shouted a woman at the back.
“What majic could she perform, hands bound, neck choked up in a noose? Did not God rescue Sheldrake, Meshach, and Abednego from the forges at Babble? Did any of us see their faces? No, but we know that God delivered them from the fire. First, he delivered Mr. Caroline from the fire, who had selflessly gone into a burning building to save a childen, and now he has saved her from the noose, not once, but three times! And so, too, he has delivered us from our folly!” He removed the rope from Ms. Caroline’s neck, and saw that it had left no mark. The book dropped from her hands as tears flowed down her cheeks, her breathing came in gasps, and she shook with shock. But, she breathed. She clutched the book to her chest and cried.
Continue reading: http://inkandtears.wordpress.com/the-sketchbook-2/
Click “today on Cooking L..” Click “You too can loose”..Click “ riots at the G-8 summit today” Click “Mommy, can I” Click. The Images and sounds rapidly flew across the TV screen. Dave kept clicking, then clicked back a few stations. Saturday morning TV was terrible in London, and his hangover made it very hard to see anything. He went back to SNN Satellite News Network. It was showing images which caught his attention. It seemed that some people wearing red bandannas as masks were having a bottle-distance-throwing competition with some police officers. So far it seemed the police were winning, but Dave figure that was because they were cheating. The protesters were hurling bottles at the police, which happened to be filled with gasoline and burning. The police were hurling bottles back, which happened to be spuing CS gas. But the police were cheating because they were using tear-gas launchers. Dave was just memorized by the images, and was totally losing the words the announcer was saying.
“This, what has become a bloody tradition of protesting globalization” the announcer continue. Dave figured it was a moot point. Globalization was nearly complete, with only the poorest countries not being a part of the World Trade Organization. But all this thought was well beyond his minds current abilities. He looked around the room. Empty whiskey bottles, vodka bottles, beer cans lay strewn about everywhere. It looked like he had a big party…but he was quite sure just by the state of his head, that he had drunk most of this alone.
He went into the kitchen to get a glass of water and get some liquid into his parched throat. He nearly tripped over a few bottles, stumbled to regain control, stepped on a glass, which luckily only tumbled away and did not break, then finally found himself at the sink. He pulled a glass from the cabinet, poured some water from the filter, and drank it, then drank another, then another. This was not going to be enough, so he headed for the bathroom to get some Advil. He made it into the bathroom without incident, and fumbled for the light switch. He found it, and went to wash his face. All these normal tasks seemed to border on impossible.
“Ok, Dave, why did you drink so much” He asked himself in the mirror, staring at his red eyes. The last time he felt this bad was after playing a drinking game in college which involved a video game, and as many friends as you could get into a room, and as much booze as you could get into your friends. Except this time it had just been him and his roommate, but they drank enough for all the friends who should have been there, and then were sick enough for all of them too. Now Dave had a suspicion that he was drinking for a different reason, but what it was was alluding him.
“If I drank that much of my expensive liquor than I must have been trying to forget something” Dave said, as he washed his face again, and turned on the shower. He climbed into the shower, and it felt like he was shedding layers of grime. This made him feel better, but failed to clear his head anymore.
“Now if you were trying to forget, and you spent all that good liqueur on trying to forget, why are you trying to remember” he told himself. He had obviously tried very hard to make his mind forget, and it had worked. Yet he could not let his mind bump against this complete blank without trying to figure it out.
He put on his robe and exited the shower. He looked at his face again in the mirror, and realized he would need to shave, but he was not in any condition to put a razor to his face now.
He was still pondering what it was he was trying so hard to forget when he poured another glass of water, and sat down on the couch again. He flipped on the TV, which was still set to SNN.
Dave’s cup shook in his hands, then teetered, and fell to the floor. His eyes were wide, and his skin pale as ash. The images on the tv flickered past, but Dave saw them in slow motion. It felt like he was having an out of body experience, he was on SNN, and as he watched what he had lived through the night before, the images and sounds came flooding back to him. The reason for his drinking binge was immediately obvious.
“This was the most recent attack in a string of attacks..” the announcer was saying standing in front of a hospital. Dave’s mind was on a conversation he had the afternoon of the previous day…
“John, I do not like this supped up babysitting for rich snobs, you know that.” Ryan was saying to John Malcom.
“Ryan, none of us like these assignments, for one, because of the unpredictability of them, and two, it is far easier to be on guard and bored sitting outside a diplomats home, or while they are in a meeting, than it is to be bored while your clients party away…especially if there are distractions you would rather be paying attention to” John Replied, “ none of us like babysitting partying teen snobs, but this is not that bad. I have been on Rachel’s guard teem before, and she is usually very cooperative”
“Well, you should appreciate that!” Ryan laughed, snidely referring back to the time John lost the twelve year old he was supposed to be guarding somewhere in largest amassment park in the world.
“Well, that time all the kid did was sneak away on a few rides and smoke a cig or two, I do believe we have had worst missing cases” Dave jumped in after hearing the first part of the conversation. But tonight just got more interesting, I have added two more people to the detail, and ordered the armored limo instead of the Lincoln’s.”
“Why is that” asked Ryan.
“It seems Rachel has a few friends over, and we are escorting them around London tonight” Dave Stated.
“Oh, doesn’t this keep getting better.”
“How many friends” Asked John.
“There will be six we are directly responsible for. Two are cousins, both daughters of Benjamin Rabin, One is a British diplomats daughter, then there are Jennifer, and Brittany, both of whom we have guarded with Rachel before.” Dave said, in a flat tone.
“Well, this should prove an interesting night” Ryan said…
“The death toll in last nights bombing attack stands at 10, with dozens others wounded.” The newscaster was saying in a voice-over as the TV showed the nightclub as a living hell playing video from the nightclubs security cameras. Red and blue strobe lights flashed, a dark-light made everything glow, the music still played, its heavy bass thumping distorting the sound quality of the microphones pic-up, and yet over it all the screams of panicked teens could be heard. In tenth of a second frames, as the strobe dance lights flashed, people were scrambling away from a the smoke filled center of the dance-floor. Blood poured from gashes and cuts. One girl stumbled past the camera , her near- see-through dance cloths ripped and tattered, soaked in blood from a wound above her eye . Others pushed and shoved to get out of the way. One teen boy, his hair a bright orange spike, his leather clothing skin tight, with studded metal on it,–everything saying I am tough, stay away– was collapsed on the floor crying and shaking.
I have been weeding through the dozen or more stories I have written as I try to figure out what to post here. Creativity for me is a dream– both a waking one and a sleeping one– for my mind drifts through stories throughout my day, and my dreams demand to become stories after I awake from sleep. Some are magical, mythical, and spiritual. All are vivid and real while I am in them, and require me to pour them onto paper before they fade into the fog of memory. I just read one story from a dream that I didn’t remember having, but I am very glad I had taken the time to begin it, and then outline it through to the end, for it brought back the images from the dream as surreal and frightening as when I dreamed them. For me that adds to the importance of my writing, because on many levels, for lighter and darker, it is me spilt across the page.
I will cast my ideas to the electronic void and pray the young gods of the internet find favor, for those old Nepritel gods of papyrus and paper have given me nothing but ink and tears.