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Category Archives: Short stories

The Great Ziggurat | [Short Story]


Contextual background: Catharsis of Ur wakes to find himself in a room recovering from the attack of the Wahrlog, Specter. He was rescued by angelic sentries after trying to take his life in order to avoid the attack from Specter.

Suggested music track: Hunger, Amaranthe

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When Catharsis opened his eyes, he felt the dull stinging of burnt flesh on his face. He could smell it through the medicated jelly, covered by stained strips of papyrus bandages and mud. Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Calloused | [Short story]


I came upon a blog today by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields that contained a 100-words-or-less photo writing challenge – Friday Fictitioneers.

Below is my answer to the challenge based on the accompanying photo by C.E. Ayer.

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Stone by stone he built his wall.

Around his heart.

Leaving a mistrusting, too-small doorway with a lock on it for second chances.

No one knocked for none had dared to trespass beyond the chain guard and padlocks.

Love crouched at the wall’s base, waiting, but was unable to grow forward, toward the gateway to his heart. Past the chain links of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

 
28 Comments

Posted by on 11/23/2016 in Short stories

 

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Brain Bugs


This morning, as I was drinking a cup of coffee, a day after my 43rd birthday, I felt a convulsive scattering across the roof of my mouth.

I choked. And spit.

I looked down and saw the bug lying upside down in the light brown liquid, its legs kicking profusely.

I stared at it.

I knew what it was. And I knew where it came from.

My brain.

The bugs had been with me for as long as I could remember. They are part of my life.  I don’t like it, they just are.

At first I was afraid of them. Disgusted.  I could feel them crawling over the surface of my hippocampus and through the channels of my amygdala.

I used to scratch my forehead incessantly because I could feel something crawling under my skin,  beneath my skull. Like something had burrowed into my nasal passages at night and worked its way into my prefrontal cortex. And laid its eggs. That’s what my brother always told me. We all heard those stories as kids,  right?

I didn’t know what it was, or if it was even normal.  I was a pre-teen going through a lot of weird changes. A lot of things didn’t make sense at the time.

I remember my first experience with the bugs. I was in middle school at a friend’s birthday party.  Introverted, standing away from the crowd. I didn’t know why,  and I know it sounds selfish, but I just didn’t feel like being there.  The thought of being around groups of people was daunting to me. I forced myself to go,  knowing I wasn’t going to have any fun. I just wanted to be at home,  locked away in the safety of my bedroom where no one could bother…no, harm me.

So while I was at this party,  I felt the itching again. More intense this time.  I was worried someone would see me scratching and scrunching my nose,  point it out to others,  and people would ridicule me.  I tried to hide it. I don’t know why I didn’t go to the bathroom before it happened,  I just stood there. To my complete disgust,  the bug fell from my nose onto my sleeve. I gasped and swatted at it but it just dropped and scurried away into the corner.

I don’t think anyone noticed because no one said anything and people were even coming up to me to talk.

That’s when I knew I was different than a lot of other kids at school.

That was when I knew I had something.

I couldn’t sleep at night.  I could feel the bugs scurrying over the macaroni-like canals of my brain as I tossed and turned.  I was exhausted during the day but couldn’t sleep for beans at night.

I later learned about something called cortisol, and that it made a part of my brain larger and more active.  This is what caused my disturbances – what made it impossible to sleep.

I think the bugs make cortisol in their bodies and then inject it into my brain like venom. It’s what makes me feel and act the way I do.

“It’s just a phase”, my dad said. “Probably from you starting middle school this year.”

“You’ll get better, honey”, my mom comforted.

They just didn’t know.

I didn’t know.

Eventually I came to accept that the bugs were there to stay. I somehow got used to the itching. What choice did I have?

My parents sent me to therapy with my ludicrous and unexplainable rantings of “brain bugs”. The doctor was gentle and understanding while I explained through tears and hanging my head in shame .

“They’re always there”, I sobbed.

“I know”, he whispered. “We’re going to help you.”

I didn’t really understand what the medicine he gave me did,  or what it was called.  It had letters though-I think an “s” or two,  an “r”, and an “i”, or something like that. I was desperate. I couldn’t live like this anymore. Especially when no one believed me.

I took the pills every day like he told me. After a few weeks, the itching began to subside. It was still there,  just not as intense.  Muted. I learned how to keep the bugs more-or-less contained,  though they were always there . At least the medicine helped prevent them from falling out of my ears or nose. I could still feel them moving back and forth inside my skull but I was numb at the same time.  I think the medicine made me feel that way – zombie-ish.

I remember that several months after I began therapy,  I noticed a girl standing by herself in the cafeteria. She was pretty so I didn’t understand why she was by herself. Probably just waiting on some friends I guessed.

Her eyes darted around the room, almost like she was nervous or didn’t want to be there.

And then I saw her scratch her forehead and wrinkle her nose a few times.

When I walked over to her,  she sheepishly looked at me with the one eye that wasn’t hidden behind her beautiful brown hair.

“I’ve got ’em, too”, I told her,  casting my gaze down to the ground.

A tear glistened down her cheek.

“Come on”, I nodded.

She smiled. Her eyebrow lifted.

And we turned and got into line to buy our food

 
10 Comments

Posted by on 10/25/2016 in Short stories

 

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The Sickness and the Seal | [Short Story]


Contextual background: A brief history of Ür and its rise to greatness is given along with the story of how affliction came to be.

The walled city of Ür had not always been the great fortress in which Catharsis had dwelled. It was once a lonely oasis in the desert, won by nomadic herdsman who had battled for its possession in order to nourish their herds and provide sustenance for their families. A place of healing in the middle of a harsh, windswept, barren land. The grand-eldest male by the name of Ür, gave the fertile gem its name – earliest in the elder tongue.

Soon after, blood clans made pilgrimage to the lush gardens of the watering hole and joined their families of the original community. They brought with them their customs and beliefs, families, and herds. They added their lands to the original estate and struck its edges to mark their claim with altars to their deities.

Down through the time of unrecorded and recorded history, the oasis community of Ür matured in size and prestige, quickly mounting to power as an unrivaled city-state and controlling the land to its horizons. Through many generations did Ür prosper under a golden age. It basked in its splendor, taking in travelers far and wide. All who knew of Ür knew of its greatness, even far beyond the horizons of its realm. It prospered in its glory and was regarded as a bastion to the weary, lost, disheartened, and broken.

Its strength came in its acceptance of its citizenry’s diversity, welcoming all who wished entrance, save for those whose lives consisted of the worst of mannerisms – greed, pride, lying, thievery, conceit, ill will, bigotry, and murder. Nay, even those lost souls were granted sanctuary if they received the king’s oath of fealty, making their pledge of faithfulness and good will to both their master and fellow man. For only the pure and good willed were permitted stay within the city’s walls.

But it soon came to pass that an unnamable sickness came to the people of Ür.

It was an invisible sickness to most – only visible and comprehendible to those who endured it. It was so believed to steal freely throughout the walled city, creeping like some menacing fog yet without detection. It could not be fought because it could not be seen, and a sense of mistrust and paranoia soon descended on the land. From whence did this pestilence emanate? Why did it torment the people of the glorious citadel? How could it be routed out? What were its ailments? Was it escapable?

Soon whispers in taverns and alleyways gave rise to the belief it was a punishment from the gods of the soil, water, and heavens for man’s abuse of their resources. Man’s lack of respect for what the deities had preciously and graciously imparted unto them.

Whispers soon turned into a dark, unspoken secret realization that it was a torment conjured from the Wahrlog – the evil demon lord that lay beyond the Marshlands of Melancholia and deep in the Quagmire of Hopelessness. Sent to plague humankind. And so this belief held steadfast amongst the citizens within the city’s walls.

The people named it affliction.

Sacrifices were made to appease the demon who created affliction. Fruits, flowers, and grains were laid before the great gates and in the marketplace. The blood of animals was shed and smeared on the doorposts and windows of the earthen hovels of the city. Great warriors were sacrificed.

But to no avail.

Affliction still swept its invisible hand across the land like some gray blanket of hopelessness.

It did not exist completely unseen, however. For those afflicted showed similar signs of the invisible illness. They could identify each other for they were the only ones to see it. It was not invisible to them. They held another certainty in their common – they were all visited by the Wahrlog.

To not be afflicted, one had to know what was to be looked for so that it might be named and identified. “Those who do not see” were blessed amongst the masses, for they would never know the loneliness that gripped its prey. They would never feel the talons of melancholy nor the depths of the deep dark pain it spawned.

Catharsis could see clearly, the others whom had been afflicted with the same torment with which he himself lived. He could sense their numbness, almost smell it as they wallowed through their daily lives cocooned in their catatonic shells. He could see the lethargy and apathy in their eyes as clear as he could see the noonday sun, or the abundance of his crops. He could see that their solitude and isolation were manifestations of the affliction of the darkness – that constrictor which grips its victim and strangles him of life.

Catharsis had lived with these things for the grander part of his life and it greatly added to his confusion about who he was as a man. He oftentimes felt alone in his struggle. Wishing this affliction would leave him. Often times wishing for his own life to end to escape his life of grey.

*          *          *

Affliction soon found its way to the royal family and took the life of the regent’s heir – it had not preference nor prejudice against whom it took. Shock and panic drove through the city’s streets. How could this sickness have impressed royal blood?! How could it taint such pure bloodlines? What mockery was this?

And so, to combat affliction an edict went out from the royal family and the priesthood: those who were tormented with affliction would be scarred by the branding man’s iron for all to see. They would be labeled with the eternal mark upon their forehead to be ostracized, outcast, and stigmatized.

Identified by the seal, shunned, and avoided so their inexplainable poison would be naught able to disease others.

 
 

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Catharsis and the Angels


michael

Catharsis hung there.

Limp. Swaying from the rafter that supported his mud and straw-thatched roof.

He could hear the cord stretch and groan from his weight as his eyes became heavy.

Back and forth.

Back.

And.

Forth.

His eyes began to close as the cord tightened and choked off his life wind. Choking his hope. His will to live. His resilience.

He hadn’t the will to raise his arms and save himself. He could have he supposed. But he refused. He felt a calming peace blanketing him as his life energy fell through the soles of his feet, leaving his body forever.

Finally.

Finally he would be free of this torment.

Finally he would have peace.

Peace from this Wahrlog of the Darkness.

The Darkness. A darkness so consuming, so debilitating, that each day was a struggle. A struggle to rise each morning. A struggle to tend to his fields. A struggle to continue life. A life coated with apathy.

He had hid it well from his fellow villagers. Masked it behind his toiling in the fields. Masked it behind his inward solitude. Disguised it with the will to be alone. To remain undiscovered and unbranded with the Stigma.

He knew others who had been discovered. Who had been branded on their forehead with the seal of their affliction – their illness. He remembered seeing the searing iron hissing as it sunk into their flesh. Leaving a soft cloud of smoke as it pushed deeper into them.

And their screams.

Their screams.

They were forever labeled in society by those they knew. Those they loved. Those they had children with. Their families. Their neighbors.

Branded.

Shunned.

Stigmatized.

Some, like himself, afflicted with the darkness – the deep, dark, debilitating depression he knew since he was a child.

Others, afflicted with the fear – remnants of some past traumatic stressing life event that had ripped their soul in half, and forced them to relive their past horrors. Manifest in the forms of flashbacks and tortured by the night harpies of terror. He could hear their screams at night.

Alone.

In the darkness.

Others, afflicted with the rage – elevated, hyper levels of anxiousness brought on by some outside trigger. Issuing in a brain pandemonium of paranoia and irritability. Lashing out at those whom they held closest as they wandered through their personal fog of war.

Through his closing vision, Catharsis could faintly make out the Specter emerging from the darkness. Moving closer. Stretching his pale white claws from his cloak, his talons scratching the walls of Catharsis’ mud home. Digging into the hardened clay and leaving deep cuts as chunks of adobe were ripped away. In and out of his slumber, Catharsis thought how they resembled his fields that he had just returned from. Their perfect rows whose cast shadows aligned harmoniously in the setting sun.

This was his last thought of peacefulness as Catharsis’ eyes closed.

And Specter’s grip closed around his throat.

*     *     *

At the instant the beast secured his grip to claim his prize, a magnificent burst of white light flooded the room.

Specter shrieked like a hung pig being bled dry and lurched back from the blazon firestorm that enshrouded the hanging body.

Two forms took their place next to the body of Catharsis. On either side, like stark angelic sentries sent to protect him from the Wahrlog. They raised their hands and in a fluid motion brought them down, lances appearing and striking the mud floor.

Specter hissed and the sentries lowered their weapons, tips pointed at its open throat.

A sentry stepped forward a crouched in the dirt, bracing itself with its weapon. Slowly and deliberately it scratched a line across the floor, fire following in a steady trail.

It retracted and regained its position.

“Though shall not pass” the two sentries whispered.

Specter lurched through the flame and in one swift movement was impaled on their spears. Instantaneously, Specter disintegrated into the light, taking with him his shadows and his darkness.

*     *     *

As one sentry held fast the body of Catharsis, the other swiftly swung its lance at the noose, cutting him free.

Lowering him to the ground the sentries whispered, “you are safe child.”

 

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Love and the Maiden


Before Catharsis passed through his Breaking Point against the Wahrlog of Darkness, there were many days his mind would wander.

One thing he thought about was love.

He wondered…wondered if he was ever capable of it.

He thought he was. Or rather, many paths in his life supported that he was capable of what he thought was an elusive emotion:

Ages ago he had been married. Wasn’t this love?

He had helped bare a daughter into the world. Surely this was an act of love.

He often stopped along the rocky roadside to help strangers whose carts had succumbed to wear. Or those who had been bogged down in the tumultuous weather and storms. This had to be love.

Or when he could, he offered what he had to his neighbors or friends in need. Without doubt, this was love.

Wasn’t it?

It seemed he could go on and on with these proofs and until the settling sun descended over the city wall, and the moon ascended with its blanket of darkness, enshrouding Ǚr and the surrounding countryside. Tucking it in.

He could summon endless proof of love.

But he could find no proof in feeling it. The Darkness muted it.

Often times those three words felt empty. He wanted to feel them. But for some reason he couldn’t feel them.

He could only act them out.

Perhaps that was enough in itself.

Perhaps love was not a feeling.

Perhaps it was a choice.

*          *          *

Many years after the loss of his marriage to the Darkness, he had experienced intimate Relationship with a woman who suffered with Affliction as he did. It was the first time in a long time he held this communal bond with another.

Someone who understood his life with clarity.

It was upon this last thought on which his mind wandered…

Her struggle was not with the same beast as his – this Wahrlog of Darkness.

No, hers was with other beasts; these Wahrlogs of Affliction who exacted their punishments as Rage and Fear.

Yet she, she seemed so oddly capable of love and tenderness. Regardless of the terrors and harpies she battled every night. So inclined to it with all her humanness and personal torments. Greater than Catharsis himself had ever dealt with. So much greater than he was capable of.

It came so naturally to her.

She tended to him and more importantly, understood him. She validated his misgivings and second thoughts.

When they both were strong, they were both strong. But when they were weak, they were oh so weak. So weak that no force could bring them back after they had been ripped asunder. She always seemed to bring them back though.

It seemed over the years that he had lost love. Lost it to the damned Darkness.

Lost it to apathy.

Lost it to lethargy.

Lost it to reclusiveness.

Lost it to the punishment of the relentless Specter – that Wahrlog of Darkness that scratched the walls of his soul with its sinister talons. Torturing him from the dark recesses of his mind.

Relentlessly.

When he pushed back to fight for what he wanted, It dug its claws deeper through the flesh of his back. Injecting the venom of lethargy and apathy until it dripped into his soul. Sedating him from the surrounding world. Wrapping its free arm around his neck in a stranglehold. Choking off his breath. Choking off his will to pursue what he had wanted.

And then Catharsis would succumb to the Darkness yet again.

Until he made himself alone.

It made Catharsis do things he didn’t want to do. It made him hurt those that were closest to him. It made him callous. It incited him with irate intolerance. Sometimes causing him to lash out in a sleep-deprived state. Venomous forked tongue. That’s what the Darkness did to his soul.

And so it was that at just the time he believed he was beginning to live a normal life. A life consistent with his fellow citizens in the village. It was about that time that it all fell apart.

It was an unfortunate fact of his life.

But.

Sometimes love does not win.

 

 
 

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The Ivory Tower | [Short Story]


Author’s Note: By its origin, this blog was started as a way for me to grow and survive through my depression, not as a vehicle for me to post short stories. Recently however, I’ve become interested in delving into some ideas I’ve had. This has largely been the inspiration of my good blogging friend Matthew Malin at “Confessions“. One story of his started it all – “A Sheep Named Wolf” and I encourage you to read it before reading any further. Matthew, thank you my friend for your support, encouragement, and for starting me on this journey. I’m interested in seeing where it leads…

Across the plain of Ǚr, far away from the citadel itself, there stood a shining tower of polished limestone. It was a colossal structure. Towering over the fields below. Dominating the landscape to the horizon, over which the plain’s namesake kingdom lay.

It mirrored the sun’s reflection as a fine gem in the crown of the king. Or a polished plate of glass in the courtyard at midday. It pulsed radiance and even from afar off, emitted a brilliance that was known across the plain.

Its alabaster skin was a testament to its beauty. Each stone finely blended and buffed with the other so that all chinked together like a single dragon’s scale.

It was embedded with many different shades of blue polished gems and minerals that blinked at every angle. Not so much as to overtake the gleaming snowy surface. But merely to accent.

Channels of soft, dark azurite ran starkly down its vertical edges, bordered by thin lines of fixed sapphire.

Thick lazulite crystals adorned its horizontal precipices, giving off a faintly cloudy deep green aura, comparable to the ocean’s depths as seen from the gull’s eye overhead. A halo atop the chalk white faces of the tower.

Many knew of its exquisiteness through story or song only, for none in numbers were allowed too close, nevertheless entrance. Only able to cast eyes on it from afar.

Despite all its beauty and grandeur, it became more intimidating in its features, as any outsider drew closer. One would rather call it a citadel than a tower, for it was well fortified and garrisoned many citizens. The same citizens who had built it over the years, enduring the cold winds, stiletto rains, and molten sun.

Though still opulent to the eyes, one could observe battlements and parapets atop the four megalithic walls. Flanking the spire that shot into the sky like a spike into the heavens. Or a compass point by which the rest of the land would calibrate its remaining three directional points.

A selfish, self-centeredness.

An arrogant and haughty feat of engineering designed to show all who gazed upon it the bigotry and seclusion of its citizenry.

A pinnacle of privilege.

The meters-thick walls of the gatehouse itself menaced any who approached its entrance. Appearing as a harbinger and to vex outsiders, warding them away from the inhabitants. Visitors were not taken kindly to.

Several less imposing, yet formidable keeps, buttressed the corners of the tower’s walls. Upon closer observation, the finer subtleties of the tower came into view – murder holes, curtain walls, and arrowslits. Accoutrements of defense and to prevent impregnation.

Encircling the citadel like some leviathan was a moat. Many spoke how when the trench was dug, the moat was filled with blood. Perhaps the result of the dripping sweat and toil from the backs and brows of the builders. Perhaps the result of each family’s dedication and loyalty in assisting their loved ones in the task.

As the population of the garrison grew over the years, and more and more citizens left their families behind, the consistency of the lifeblood seemed to break down. Thin itself out. Devolve and dilute into something thinner and less consistent. A primordial liquid. That of water.

*     *     *

Of the songs sung and tales told of the tower’s beginnings, many knew. They had been passed down through the ages by bards, minstrels, and poets. Alongside firey pits and dusty roads.

Long after the world had been destroyed by Deluge.

And Fire had scorched the forests into plains.

Ages after Wormwood sheared the mountains to the earth.

And Plague had destroyed the animals and Famine had decimated humanity.

Many eons after the earth had been purified and reborn.

Just after man had begun to repopulate the earth.

[Collection of history as transcribed from ruins of the old language]

 The tower’s beginnings coincided with The Great Departing. A time of schism marked by a splitting of the earliest members of the new humanity.

Though not a splitting in the true sense.

Rather a leaving.

A departure of those from their young familial units.

A shunning compounded by rejection and neglect.

Those who had a misplaced reality, replaced with a self-righteous bigotry. A skewed, inarguable view of observable facts. A non-acceptance of the world around them. Complete with all its imperfections.

They were the tower’s builders.

They built its four walls. Those gleaming, soaring partitions that separated them from the rest of humanity.

Self-righteousness facing the north.

Ignorance facing the south.

Bigotry facing the east.

And intolerance facing the west.

They insulated and protected themselves against their loved ones. Their soul mates. Their compatriots. Their mentors. Their childhood friends. And their confidants.

They betrayed them out of their haughty arrogance. Leaving those whom were closest to them out in the cold to be ravaged down to the bones and sinews by the wolves. At times when relationship was needed the most.

And they established their new life secluded from any pollution from the outside world.

A holier-than-thou cocoon life of conceit.

In their ivory tower.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on 05/16/2016 in Short stories

 

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