Short Shocktober Day 5: Whispers

The Whispers of the Saltmarsh Stone

5th of October, 1891

Yesterday we finally took our little trip to ‘the seaside’. Just a short excursion for the day, along the estuary to the salt marsh. It seems rather preposterous to say that you have taken a trip ‘to the seaside’, when Weatherly Hall overlooks the cliffs and sea, but Arthur has lived here all his life and that is what they have always called it, ‘the seaside’, as though it were the only coast in existence.

               And what a sea it is! Grey as slate and almost always miserable. I long so dearly to be back in Monaco with its sparkling blue sea, but Arthur, with his fussy old ways, will leave Britain on his death bed, I fancy. No matter.

               At the saltmarsh, Arthur and I disembarked and asked Jenkins to wait for us. We strolled then, I matching Arthurs arthritic gait as much as I could, though the slowness of his pace made my step feel as though I were hobbled.

               Through the skinny trees of the saltmarsh we walked, along the planks set out for that purpose. The path led to a small black sand cove, and this was where Arthur presumed that we were going, but I had other ideas for our walk, and my ‘beloved’.

               ‘What’s down there, darling?’ I asked as we came to a split in the path. He peered between the thicker trees and up the path that sloped up to drier land.

               ‘Oh, just some old standing stone, dear, nothing interesting.’

               ‘Oh, an ancient monument? I should like to see it, if we may.’ It didn’t take much cajoling. Strong though he once was, and admittedly, in his upper body, still is, a short walk with a rest at a monument was more appealing than a traipse to the black sand shore.

               Our little stroll was pleasant enough. As the trees grew thicker and the brackish smell of the marsh receded, the smell of loam and deep woods grew. The thin sun was bright enough to light the leaves from above, so we walked beneath a canopy off translucent green. My anticipation grew as we neared the spot I had discovered and hatched my design.

               In the centre of the clearing stood a moss covered stone. It came to my chest, and I dragged Arthur over, arm in arm, to stand before it and inspect the strange designs carved into the slanted surface. With a deftness that I didn’t know I had, I withdrew the sewing needle I had hidden in the hem of my sleeve, and jabbed him with it.

               ‘Great heavens!’ he exclaimed and jerked away. I dropped the needle.

               ‘Oh my darling, what’s wrong? Is it an insect bite? Let me see.’

               He swiftly acceded to my ministrations. I held his hand over the ancient surface of the stone, and told him that we had best ensure the sting didn’t remain, and under those pretences, squeezed out a single ruby drop of his blood, which dripped on to the stone.

               It was absorbed into the dark surface instantly.

               The curse began to take effect just as swiftly. We returned to the carriage, Arthur’s mood soured, and by the time that we were home, he was complaining loudly about the whispers.

               ‘That damn whispering! Is it you?’ he accused me, ‘are you playing some sort of jape? I demand you stop it at once.’ Soon after, he took to his bed, and this morning I have sent for a doctor to tend his rapidly emaciated frame. He’s barely sane now, you see, having had to listen to their whispers all night long. It worked perfectly – he’ll be no longer able to manage his estate, but he isn’t dead yet, and it will be a simple enough thing for me to remain here and live the life I desire at Weatherly Hall, effectively by myself. A rousing success, I think.

               To other matters. My hand is a little sore; I seem to have given myself a splinter somehow. Perhaps I caught it on a thorn on our little trip yesterday. No matter, it will heal swiftly enough.

               The servants will have to go, of course. They don’t like me very much. Even now, I’m certain I can hear them whispering in the hallway, probably accusing me of poisoning their poor master. Damn them.

               It’s the strangest thing; I went to confront them, and there wasn’t a soul there. I must be hearing thi-

               No, there it is again! Where on earth is that whispering coming from?


Prompt: Whispers

Word Count: 761

That’s Day 5! I should have posted this yesterday, but forgot, so here it is this morning, instead. This one’s much longer than it should be, over the target by over half, but I was enjoying this one so much that I decided to make it a little longer. Enjoy!

Short Shocktober Day 4: Snapping

The Less Trod Path

The planks had creaked under his weight as he’d walked across them, gingerly, but they’d held. He’d been pressed flat against the rough rock of the mountain, calloused fingers searching desperately for solid holds in the abrasive rock. The clean, cold wind plucked at his hair and hems. Below the sheer rock face, hundreds of metres below, the mountain began to slope, and cypress and firs began to crowd the rock. It was beautiful, but he was immobile, too terrified to pay it any mind.

               ‘Don’t go by yourself,’ McTierney had said. ‘It won’t be like the plank walk at Huashan. No one’s been there for six hundred years, according to this,’ and he tapped the scroll covered in ancient Chinese characters. ‘If it’s there at all, it’ll be rotten and unmaintained. There won’t be a safety rope pinioned to the wall. You’ll be lucky if there are still the holes where the stone post had been!’

               He’d ignored him. The draw of being the first was too strong. McTierney had thought that refusing to go with him would be enough to stop him going, but he’d underestimated the draw of being the first. He’d underestimated his foolishness.

               The planks had held, surprisingly sturdy, their six hundred year old stone posts holding, too. Then he’d rounded the corner. He hadn’t gone more than a few metres and there was a rumble. He pressed himself to the rock, cowering, praying to avoid the stones falling from above, but they hadn’t been falling on him. He crept back to the corner. The planks were gone; only snapped stone posts remained.

               ‘Onward, then!’ he’d thought. There was no other option. The air was cold, that was what was giving him the shakes, he told himself, as he shimmied along the ancient, creaking planks. The sun began to set, and cast gold across his shoulders. He watched his shadow gingerly move along the rock face.

               At the edge of the next corner, he peered around.

               Nothing. A few holes, and a single stone peg that had once held a series of narrow planks. He shifted his weight uneasily and the wood beneath his feet squeaked in protest. Palms sweaty, heart thundering, he crept back to the middle of his planks, finding a stone peg to ‘rest’ above.

               There didn’t seem to be hand-holds forwards or backwards. Above, the sheer face of the mountain was worn smooth by the wind. He rest his forehead on the rough rock face, and sighed. Only McTierney knew where he was; he didn’t want to spread the word to competitors. How long would he wait before he came to look for him?

               He hadn’t moved, but the plank beneath him creaked ominously, and the stone peg ground in its socket.

               It didn’t matter how long McTierney waited. Even if he was already on his way, he thought, as the planks gave another, more urgent, cracking noise, he probably didn’t have much time left.


Prompt: Snapping

Word Count: 494

Day Four of Short Shocktober! Kind of an oblique interpretation of the prompt, but I think it works, nonetheless!

Short Shocktober Day 3: Viscera

Content Warning: self-harm, madness.

A New Organ

Tentacles lash in the dark. A blazing figure in yellow slumbers on a throne of shifting darkness. Sharp talons slither over flesh, and blood runs in crimson rivulets down the black steps before the King in Yellow.

*

3rd of October

They say they’ve found a new organ. The interstitium? They say it’s made of the collagen supported, fluid filled spaces between cells. It fills your entire body. It makes lymph. Whether it’s really an organ or not seems to be up for some debate.

               I can feel mine throbbing. Crawling, even. It matches the rhythm of the real Interstitium. I can feel it.

               I found the notes. The ones on the real Interstitium. Had you told me that one day a hobby of collecting medical journals would drive me mad, I would have had you thrown out of my surgery. The notes were buried in the back of the yellowing pages of a medical journal from 1910. It’s so old it smells of vanilla and must. Amid the descriptions of injecting cats with ink to track the movement of their corpuscles, the author, pen scratching and leaking, describes and sketches the space between, the seething gap between our world and theirs. The Interstitium. The twisted, warping landscape, blighted by a hint of their very presence, where their vast, incomprehensible beings leak from their world into ours.

               I wish I’d never read those mad scratchings. Now, when I sleep, I visit this half-place in dreams. It must be the intersitium. The organ, I mean. It connects me to their realm. That must be it.  There must be some combination of drugs that will numb it, or stop me dreaming. There isn’t a problem I’ve met yet, that can’t be solved by pharmacology.

*

A great wall of organic, fluid filled sacs undulate, throbbing. Their contents swirl like oil on water, galaxies and nebula at their heart. The wall splits and peels away. Behind it two putrid yellow eyes peer forth, beneath a blazing golden crown. It beholds me with indifference.

*

13th of October

The dreams have gotten worse and worse.  I’m seven nights without sleep, now. No one lasts longer than ten. I lie awake, dreaming. The veil between our world grows thinner and thinner in my body. The interstitium crawls and undulates throughout my form. When I am awake, I see things shifting in the corners of my eyes, spidery, shadow creatures, that aren’t there when I look. It must be a hallucination brought on by lack of sleep. The alternative is too terrible to countenance.

               The drugs didn’t work. No regimen of chemicals seems to have produced any effect at all. The interstitium must be excised. I’ve sharpened my scalpels and knives. I know what must be done. It will be hard to remain conscious whilst I strip the traitorous organ from my body, I know, but my fate is sealed, my will is steel.

               I know what must be done.


Prompt: Viscera

Word Count: 494

Little bit of cosmic horror for you all. That’s Day Three – Viscera – of Short Shocktober down. It’s very edifying to get pieces finished regularly.

Short Shocktober Day 1: Dark

Content warning: Mention/implied blood, stalking, death, dismemberment.

Prowler

Look at him, strolling carelessly through the barely overlapping pools of streetlight. When his dress shoes tap the damp pavement in the shadows between the yellow cones, he’s close. Close enough to my realm that I can ruffle his wet hair with my talons. Close enough that I can smell the new shampoo. Not his. Too fragrant.

               He’s nervous. I slink along, invisible, in the murk under the parked cars, sniffing the iron tang of blood on his wrist. He missed it. I click a pebble as I pass and his head flicks around, cat like, twitching at unseen assailants. Does he fear the dark or discovery?

               Silly man. His little smile in the half dark says he’s laughing at himself. There’s nothing there! Nothing more scary than he. He thinks his midnight sojourn to the land of death and dismemberment has been an easy one. Now he’ll slither home in his patent leather and tailored trousers and await the circus on the news, revel in his hand made mayhem.

               Foolish man. Nothing scary out here but the nosy eyes of neighbours and cameras, right? So long as he can make it to his apartment without the long arm of the law tapping him on the shoulder, ‘bit late for a stroll, isn’t it, sir?’, he’s won his part of the game. Until next time, until the urge for blood sport and struggle rises deep within him, and compels him once again to the hunt. Until he ‘picks’ and ‘stalks’ and ‘hunts’ his victim; a pale imitation, an amateur at best.

               I can feel his heart beat. Heightened, but steady. It beats the delicious blood around his frame. His smile is constant now; a little upturn at the corner of his thin lips. Does his heart beat faster from fear or a predatory high? He pulls back his suit jacket slightly as he slides his hands into his pockets, his walk nonchalant.

               Watch him watch the shadows. Under the direct light burning overhead, there are almost none, and it occurs to him that someone might be sneak up on him and he wouldn’t be able to tell. His heart runs, but his façade doesn’t flicker, his pace steady, a model of control.

               Arrogant man. There’s nothing to fear in the night. Fear of the dark is the realm of children. Nothing lives in the shadows, teeth slick with anticipation, soft paws padding silently through the fresh night, watching him. He is the night. He is the thing that lurks in the shadows.

               He reaches the end of the street, the last streetlight above him, the short walk across the industrial ground, unlit as the grave before him. All that separates him from home and security.  I coil my steely muscles, my haunches taught.

               His foot leaves the yellow circle at the pavement edge and never meets the ground. There’s a short shriek, and he’s gone, never to be seen again.

               In the dark, I lick my lips.


Prompt: Dark

Word Count: 497

Day one of Short Shocktober done. Needs more polishing, but getting things finished to a short deadline was what this was about, not polishing them to a mirror shine.

Check out the Shocktober link above for the rest of the prompts, if you need some creative sparks for October.