Wednesday, July 18, 2012

He Rises

The sky was darkening, but it was only midday. In a desert oasis, this can mean only one thing. A storm was brewing, no doubt coming to engulf the small village in the north of the kingdom. The storms had been more violent this season, unusual since the scribes and the almanacs have little history of such a weather patterns. The citizens were speaking as though this were a hint of the end days, others believed it was the coming of a new age. Most tried to ignore it, focused more on their work, trying to make a decent wage to look toward the future.

A boy in his teen years straddles a rafter of a skeletal frame of what will soon be a two story house for a wealthy merchant in town. The merchant, as always, showed his prestige without care, flaunting his gold and his fleece and never sharing with the common villager anymore than what was due to them for labor.

That must be why he requested a new house be built on the outskirts of town. No doubt the merchant was noticing a growing hostility toward him. It was only a matter of time until he left the village completely. His kind was unwelcomed in this village, small, quaint, and private.

The desert sand began to pick up and travel in the wind like sandpaper scraping against raw wooden planks. The boy was used to this of course. He lived his life in these deserted building frames, creating what others would live in, his living, by trade was to accommodate others. His hard work was paid in modest commodity such as goats, chickens, receiving the occasional gold piece. But never had he received anything that would last more than a week at a time.

His skin was dark from hours in the blistering sun, rough from the sandy wind and the harsh dry climate. His hands were calloused from wielding his hammer, slamming the nails into wooden planks made his arms strong and lean. He wore a linen loin cloth, draped down to his knees, and sandals woven by his mother. He usually wore a family Sudra, a headpiece of long material that protected his neck and head from the scorching sun. He was a strong child, much stronger than he should be for his age, the other children seemed jealous of his ambitious work, his crafty hands, and the dedication to the jobs that he was offered.

He was nailing in the final spikes into a wooden joint plank connecting it to the second story floor boards when he heard the bells ringing. The sound that some emergency or danger was approaching. He looked down to see his fellow employees dashing toward the encampment. It was then he looked toward the horizon and saw the shadow of clouds, the brown and tan hues of swirling rocks and sand. The storm approaches the village, a severe one by the looks of it.

He dropped from the rafter, landing like an acrobat and without hesitation dashed toward the encampment along with the rest of those out in the open. He overheard the foreman saying that the job was finished for the day, and that he prays to God that what work they have done does not come crumbling down before them. He tells the employees to run home, to lock the doors, cover the windows, and wait it out. He also says that work will commence the following day at the regular morning hour.

The young carpenter went home, running as fast as he could through the field, over fences holding goats and the occasional wondering chickens. He climbed over a barrel or two of wine as he passed the local market square. His small quaint house rested in a nook between two large clay buildings that have been renovated for commercial trade. To his left was a seamstress, and a tailor, their work was renown throughout parts of the kingdom. To his right there was a Shochet, known to most as a meat house. The smell of the rotten parts had a tendency to travel into his home, often making her mother feel ill.

The boy jumps over a wall and lands across the street from his front door. In no time, he’s at the door, preparing to open it when he hears a dish crash against the other side. He looks toward the horizon, the storm was still some ways out, and he could wait some time before it arrived. He put his ear toward the door.

“I can’t stand this anymore Joseph, why do you always bring this up! I can’t change what has happened in the past! I’ve never lied to you, I never will!” The woman was in tears, a sharp purple bruise was forming on her cheekbone, swelling, distorting her otherwise beautiful complexion.

“Because what you say is a lie, it’s unbelievable, and it’ll be the death of me, woman!” Joseph yelled back at her before taking another swig of wine from a goatskin bag. He has clearly been drinking most of the day, his face sluggish, eyes drawn heavy as though he were preparing for sleep. His words were frail, but loud, syllables running into one another forming what would seem to be one worded sentences.

Joseph had recently been injured on the job, like his boy, he was a carpenter and was a master at his craft. An unexpected accident had made a heavy stone fall from a wall of a newly constructed building. The stone crashed against his leg, easily breaking it. Fortunately, the break was clean and the village doctors believed that with the aid of God, and a splint, that he would have a full recovery. In the meantime the boy was expected to pick up the slack.

 She cradles herself in the corner of the small kitchen, dinner had yet to be prepared, the chicken hanging by its ankles, skinned, and bled. It had only needed to be put on the stove. A step that was clearly derailed by the argument that incurred. She began to cry, placing her head between her knees, wrapping her arms over the back of her skull. She sulked as Joseph stumbled to the door with his makeshift wooden crutch after hearing a noise.

The boy cursed at himself, the wind had picked up and sand got into his eyes. In the distress of the storm and the chaos on the other side of the door, he had tripped into it. His shoulder made a quick and sudden thud against the door, a sound that would obviously be noticed by the tenants within. He regained his footing, looking up and waited to see if the door opens, and who would welcome him. He hoped that it was unheard and that he could slip in unnoticed.

The door flew open, Joseph stood there looking down at his son. He smelled heavily of alcohol, no doubt overcome by the anger of his injury and of the boy he denounces. The man makes a grunt, looking over his shoulder to where his wife sat in ruin, the chicken hanging ominously overhead dripping a bit of remaining blood.

“Why are you home so early?” He says with a little agitation. He looks outside and sees that the sky has become blackened, that the wind was growing stronger and more violent. He looks down at his son and grunts, nodding his head realizing then that that the boy must have been sent home early because of the storm.

“Well, get inside, boy! Don’t need you out in this weather, endangering yourself! Come, come…” His eyes were hollow, his voice seemed vicious.

The boy knew that this argument was about him and that whatever had just happened, the outcome would not fare well in his favor. He chose not to speak of it, merely nodding to his father, he comes inside. He removes his Sudra, dropping it to the floor, a pile of windswept sand crashes, spilling in the small foyer of the doorway. He pats his linen cloth, dust and debris falling off like he had buried himself under a pile of sand.

He then notices his mother still sitting on the floor of the kitchen, her face concealed behind her legs. He runs toward her, giving only a simple glare to his father, Joseph, as he passes. He places his arms around her and whispers in her ear, “I’m home momma. Did he hurt you?”

She looks up at him and smiles. Her eyes are red and wet from the tears, but there remains a glimmer within them. She speaks with a weak and troubled voice, “My dearest son, Jesus.” She places the back of her hand on his cheek and then leans her head toward his shoulder. She makes sure to conceal her swollen cheek as best as she could. She shakes her head ever so softly and says to him, “I’m fine, my dearest one. I’m just glad you’re home.” 

<… To be continued?>

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Executioner

A boy stands before a crowd of spectators, some of which sneer and curse at his alleged atrocities. Others smear his family name in contempt and hatred. The boy is a mute and was unable to plead his own case. He does not understand why he stands before this altar of death, but he only knows that this is an end to his short existence.

He stands there bound by rope, his arms tied tightly behind his back, the dry hemp penetrates into his flesh, and it makes his skin itch. He looks around but cannot for the life of him understand why he is here, how he got here, what he did to deserve this fate. All he can see for certain is the broad-shouldered masked executioner wielding his axe, stained in blood from the last victim that it had encountered. A simple basket lay on the other side of the altar and he doesn’t know why.

There is a voice but the boy cannot understand it. The voice tells the crowd something, but he cannot hear it. The crowd roars in anger, many of them spit in his direction. A few cry under their burlap hoods. The whaling sound of mourners creeps into the frigid night likely to freeze and shatter as it hits the ground. The boy shivers from this wind, his heart jumps a beat and he can no longer feel his toes. He whimpers and tries to understand why.

In haste, the executioner puts the child down against the altar and his head fits nicely in the crook of the top edge. It almost feels comfortable if not for his hands bound behind him. With the touch of his neck he can feel that this wood has been well worn down, and smooth. It’s an odd sensation he thinks. He blinks and stares into the empty basket presently in front of him.

There is a striking sound of metal through flesh, a cracking noise, a snap, and then a muffled clunk as the metal becomes snug-deep into the altar’s wood. The child’s head rolls into the basket, silent, mouth open and eyes peering into the sky with a dead glare. The blood trickles down the front of the altar and then suddenly the body flicks and a twitch, coming to an abrupt stop as it plummets to the wooden platform.

The cheering ends and the crowds depart, but the executioner, he stands there silently looking over the body of the boy He knew this boy as his son, and he was unable to save him from this tragedy. Bound by the queen to do her bidding to the subjects found guilty of crimes against the state, her word was absolute and the responsibility of his death lay in her decision.

Yet, the executioner could not find solace in this fact. That it was he who brought down the axe upon his child’s neck. It was he who would have to live with this decision. He wonders if it was the right thing to do. He considers that it might have been wiser to break him free from the cavernous prison cell and then flee to another country. He wondered this and will now forever wonder this. His actions cannot be undone and he is now left here, on this platform, with the headless corpse of his son.

Under his masked hood, the executioner weeps.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Malfeasance - ch. 2


Victor turned in his bed swallowed up in the satins and silks of the feather-down mattress. He had left the window open that evening to allow the fresh ocean breeze to fill the dank tower, his home. The boy slammed his head on the pillow before viciously handling it, puffing it, and again slamming his head on it. He could not get to sleep.

The breeze shifted and pushed the long transparent curtains up into an eerie levitation that seemed never to end, dancing on the air like a forlorn leaf in August. The unwary child watched the curtain display like a tantalizing exotic dance and he thought to himself what amazing things his Father must have seen throughout his adventures.

The boy could hear footsteps pounding down the hall. The peculiar noises weren’t normal for this time of night, so he thought to himself something must be wrong. Maybe it wasn’t as late as he had first considered, he pondered that that would make more sense. The moon was at its fullest as well, glowing red and turning the interior of his room into a crimson spectacle. Something about the night felt awkward and unnatural. He questioned what manner of witchery was afoot this evening that tormented him so.

Victor began to grow more frustrated at the noises that stopped him from entering slumber. He had a long day tomorrow; much like how every day was in the castle spire. In his castle fortress built in the side of the tallest mountain on the island the boy learned the arts, mathematics and sciences, he was taught to handle gun-blades and sword-play. Every day he was being taught and being prepared to control a kingdom.

He considered going out from his room and into the hall to demand that the noise be stopped. Being the son of the king has its advantages. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t hear the end of it from his teacher the next day. Humility was expected of a young prince and the use of authority was to be handled with care and diplomacy.

The child turned in his bed and he wrapped his head in the pillow. He faced the opposite side of the room from the door and gazed aimlessly into the darkest corner he could find. He would certainly find out what all the commotion was in the morning and how to resolve it in the future. No one would dare interfere with his sleep again. He would make a point of it that much he assured himself. But for now, for the love of the gods, sleep!

The door to the prince’s chamber opened abruptly. The sound of footsteps pounding against the wooden planks was heavy and bold. He heard the steps getting closer behind him but he was too afraid to turn around to see who it was. He closed his eyes and wished that he had slept with a dagger under his blanket tonight. His mother had recommended it when he was afraid of the dark. Why hadn’t he kept that suggestion in mind?

Wooden drawers from a nearby cabinet opened and the shuffling noise of clothes and trinkets consumed the room over the breeze and constant toil of muffled noises throughout the spire. Was someone going through his things? How dare someone go through his things!

A heavy accented voice bellowed something about something while shuffling and pulling open various drawers. The prince was not going to take any chances for this intruder going through his personal things and as if acting like a sleeping babe shifting positions as did the boy. His new angle gave him a better opportunity to see and attack this stranger.

“Young Master, now is not the time for games,” the intruder said to the boy without as much as giving a glimpse his direction.

The prince knew the voice of the dark figure above him He knew it as his teacher and protectorate, Thomas Valeck. The teacher was a tall lanky man in his mid fifties. The tufts of grey hair showed his age as did the crow’s feet beside his glimmering blue eyes. Victor had considered him a swashbuckler back in the day, a hero that flew about on clipper vessels fighting the wicked ways of pirates on the high seas. Perhaps he did, Thomas never denied his prowess with the sword or the gun, nor his knowledge of martial combat or topography. The teacher was everything Victor wanted his father to be, he considered this idea more often than he should.

Victor’s eyes narrowed at his teacher and scorned him for entering without permission. He was going to continue but Thomas silenced him the way a parent silences their child.

“Get your things together,” Thomas said, “we have to leave right now.”

His voice was full of urgency and caution. It was also suspiciously quiet considering the noise outside his room.

“Where are we –” Victor’s voice was halted again.

“Do as I say, we haven’t much time,” Thomas’ voice edged perilously near panic. “Do you remember the escape route I taught you?”

Victor nodded, “Aye, in the study, the secret door behind the book shelf.”

The prince had gotten up and slipped on some clothes that had been picked out by his teacher. They were simple and modest clothes assuredly not from his majesty’s noble wardrobe. Where had Thomas found these? He had inspected them, even smelled them before putting them on. At least they smelled clean he thought.

“Then where do you go?” Thomas followed up continuing his quiz on the boy.

“The stairwell leads into the mountain. Follow it until I reach the end of the tunnel out to the shore.”

“Yes, young master, but we cannot use the route we predetermined.” Thomas threw a bag of the prince’s clothes he had selected to him.

“What is this about Thomas?” Victor caught the bag and tried changing the subject.

Thomas shook his head and leaned toward the boy and whispered, “The world has finally gone mad.”

The boy swallowed hard as he processed the words. He looked deep into his teacher’s eyes and for once he felt unadulterated powerlessness and fear. The yelling throughout the castle had become clear to him. Someone was after him, but where was the guard? Why hadn’t they come for him first? Why was it his teacher that came to aide him?

Thomas could sense the dreadful feelings consuming the boy. His innocent eyes and face gave him away too easy. Victor hadn’t been a good student in the arts of deception, not yet. He was still too young to be dropped into the pit of politics. It was a skill that the boy would learn later.

“Victor, listen to me now. Only me,” The seriousness of Thomas’ voice grabbed the boy’s core attention, “Follow close behind me and do not fall behind. Don’t be frightened young master, today you become a man. I will explain everything when we are safe.”

Victor wanted to ask so many questions but Thomas put him at ease, at least for the moment he gave the boy a sense of commitment. All will be answered when they were safe Victor thought to himself. The boy nodded to him and slipped the bag around his shoulders.

“I’m ready Thomas.” The prince said to him with new found fervency.

Thomas clenched Victor’s shoulder and squeezed tightly. He nodded to him and smiled. The teacher lifted up and moved gracefully toward the door and placed his ear against it. The teacher withdrew his gun-blade and held it near the seam of light that entered from the hallway. With that same hand he extended his index finger to his lips and hushed the young prince.

The protectorate squeezed the bronze doorknob and turned it slowly. The clicking sound of metal contraptions unbolting the door sounded louder than it really was. Victor was afraid of what might be on the other side of the door. He was even more concerned with the route to the study where the escape door was located. Never before had he thought and practiced the movements he was about to commit himself to.

A crack of gunfire erupted in the hallway. There was a shout of pain and then an expected heavy thud followed. There was a howling scream of pain that was quelled by a sudden chopping sound that rattled the floorboards viciously. Victor felt the hairs of his neck straighten. A sudden chill overcame him and he felt flushed as if he was about to pass out. He looked towards Thomas who was in turn watching him.

Victor took in a deep breath and recovered himself. He nodded his head and leaned heavy against the cabinet where his clothes were. He was ready to spring out and down the hall. From there he would dash right at the T intersection and dash across the hall and into the third door on the left. He repeated these directions to himself over and over.

“Are you ready Young Master?” Thomas asked one last time. His body was leaning against the door, his fingers rewrapping around the stock of his gun. The bolt was drawn into the door and all that was necessary was a quick pull and the light in the hall way would flood the room.

“Aye,” Victor said.

The door opened fast and slammed heavily against the wall. Victor felt the collar of his shirt being tugged violently. The prince was thrown into a furious dash, striding with the spread of a gazelle he stayed focused on his objective. His eyes squinted from the instant flood of light making it difficult for him to see his surroundings.

Run straight, turn right, one-two-three doors, cross the hall, enter study, ESCAPE!

Victor leaped and stumbled over a corpse. He was so focused that he couldn’t recall if the body was a guard or a servant. He could hear himself breathing hard and fast. His chest pounded violently and it felt as though his chest was about to cave in. Tears were in his eyes and he struggled to keep up with his teacher. The prince was being tugged about like a rag doll and it was up to him not to stumble and fall or even worse, to get caught by whatever men sought him.

Another shot was fired from somewhere near the sound recoiled in the boy’s ear and a pitched chime sung in his skull. Victor raised his hand searching for something to grasp. His fingers found around Thomas’ wrist and he held tightly to his cuff. The prince noticed for no apparent reason other than because it was there that Thomas’ fist still clenched bare-knuckle white on his collar, held for dear life.

A picture frame shattered above the two of them as they dashed around the corner. Debris flew about and Victor covered his face seconds too late as shards of wood and fabric lashed the side of his face. At that moment the boy knew that someone was shooting at them.

“THOMAS!” Victor yelled out for him, either to speed up or to help him move faster through the gauntlet. Either way the sounds of the hallway swept his shout away into a fray of chaos. A nearby vase fell from an ornate wooden side table. The porcelain shattered loudly at Thomas’ boots. Victor nearly slipped on a smooth fragmented piece of the puzzle but he kept himself up merely by the arm that held to his collar.

Where were they? The stretch to the study was longer than he had expected it to be. Did they turn right? Is that where he received the cuts to his face? Victor recited the route toward the study again and again doing his best to forge his mind shut from the ensuing confusion. Of course he had turned right. The doors to his left he recalled were passing fast, the vase he remembered was near the second door. The third door was –

“Get the boy!” A voice shouted over the noise like the crack of thunder in a terrible storm.

There was another gunshot followed by another. The third door was passed them. The next door was their escape but it looked so distant. Victor could see the door nearing and he stretched his arm out for it knowing well that it was still out of his reach. There was another sharp pain in Victor’s ear as another gun fired in the hall. Thomas tripped over his own foot and stumbled forward. He lost his grip on Victor who was thrown forward with excess momentum.

The prince charged towards the door and picked up his stride from the throw as if it never hindered his movement. He stopped and watched from the far end of the hall two sentries heading his direction. They wore the King’s tabard but he couldn’t be sure if they were friend or foe. He looked behind him and saw Thomas on his knees and behind Thomas were three more men in pursuit.

The two men behind Thomas wore the King’s tabard and were aiming their gun-blades at Victor. The third man must have been the one directing the orders He was different than the others. He wore blinding red robes like those worn by the bishops of his church. Was he directing the guards to get him? Victor’s hand clutched the doorknob to his escape.

“Go on Victor! Move your ass!” Thomas tried to get to his feet but failed.

Thomas held his side and with his good arm he flicked the back of his hand at him as though shooing a fly away from him. The guards were pursuing from both directions. Victor ripped open the door and as he did two bullet holes snapped through the wood. Wood shards flail about.

“Halt! Stop and forfeit!” The guards demanded loudly between gunshots.

Victor took another glance toward Thomas and then without thinking of his own safety ran toward him. He dropped to his knees and slid on the marble floor tile toward Thomas. Victor wrapped his arm around his teacher’s waist and lifted him to his feet.

“Stupid boy,” Thomas hissed with irritation and needled pain.

“I’m not leaving you behind Thomas!” Victor grunted loudly as he pulled Thomas with him.

Insults were the least of the boy’s concern. As they made it to the opening the door in front of them swung from the impact of bullets tearing holes through it. The two of them were threw themselves inside the room and Victor bolted the door closed shut. Thomas was on his feet and was moving quickly toward the book case and to the inconspicuous lever that would lead them to safety.

His majesty looked desperately for something to put in the way of the guards once they broke through the door. The room was simple however there wasn’t much in the way of obstacles. A chair, a table, none of this would be adequate enough. The bookcases were more that welcome but he was too weak and his teacher was injured.

Victor jumped back in surprise as the first crashing hammer-noise hit the door. He turned his attention from his search of furnitureback to the door frantically looking for anything to fend off the guards but he stood there defeated and pitiful. Another shattering crash rattled the doorframe followed by a crack of wood, and the tip of a gun-blade pierced through the door.

“This isn’t going to hold them for long Thomas!” Victor yelled over his shoulder.

There was nothing around him that could quickly be put in the way to hinder their pursuit. He could hear the voices of the sentries on the other side of the door. The voices of the guards were filled with malice and discontent. Victor took a shocking step backward when another blade slashed through the wood, a wide sliver flew away from the door letting in light.

“Thomas!” Victor shouted with fright. “We don’t have much time!”

There was a grinding sound of stone against stone and in the darkness Victor could see something even darker. The fireplace was shifting to the right giving way for a small escape tunnel for the two desperate men.

“Lets go Your Majesty,” Thomas said, his voice resounded with pain. There was a quivering in his voice.

The door pounded and shook again, another sliver of wood tore off door. Light and the peering eyes of sentries watched hatefully as the two swept into the darkness. There was a pained howl from the hallway followed by more violent smashing and pounding on the door.

Victor went first down the stair well followed instantly by Thomas who held to the boy like a crutch. He also grabbed a staff from the stone wall with what little light was given from the torn out slits from the door.

“We’ll be safe soon,” The protectorate said weakly.

The sound of grinding stone filled the small black spiral stairwell. Dust fell from the ceiling of the tunnel as the fireplace moved back into place. Moments later the two were overwhelmed in darkness so dark that Victor couldn’t see his face even if he placed it directly in front of his eyes. He did his best to take steps down but the stairwell was old and the stairs were uneven and sweating with humidity from the bowels of the mountain.

“I can’t see anything Thomas. It’s as though I’m blind.” Victor growled to Thomas. His voice echoed back to him.

“The corridor is old Young Master. Tis much older than you and I,” Thomas said, “one moment.”

Thomas lifted his weight off of Victor and blindly felt for something on his body. He was muttering something incoherently under his breath. It was a habit that Victor grew to dislike about his teacher and it was always a sign of when Thomas was growing anxious or angry.

“What is it Thomas?” Victor asked with frustration.

The prince had also grown anxious. He thought to himself, now wasn’t the time for rest. They were being pursued by guards that could not have been more than a stone’s throw away on the other side of the granite fireplace. As he considered this for a moment he could hear a subtle pounding echo in the stairwell. The muffled pounding of stone and the quiet hush of voices gave way to fright. There was no doubt that the enemy was upon them just trying to find a way to move the fireplace. Victor only hoped that the secret passage remained secret for as long as it took for them to vanish.

Victor heard a strike of flint and saw sparks flash around the room. He turned his head and watched the sparks again and for an instant he saw red. The flash struck a third time and Victor squint his eyes and looked down at Thomas’s chest he saw red. Instantly he could feel the warmth of fire and the sound of it greedily roaring as it swallowed the oxygen around them.

“Aye, now we can see where we’re going,” Thomas smiled down at Victor and gave a promising reassurance that things would be fine. The swashbuckler effect that Victor had learned to love about his teacher kept him courageous.

“You’re injured Thomas,” Victor’s gasped in horror as he saw Thomas’ clothes covered in red.

“Just keep walking, we have a long walk ahead of us Your Majesty,” Thomas spoke, “it’s just a flesh wound.”

“Will they follow us?” Victor asked as he began his trek down the long corridor.

“Aye, they will pursue us,” Thomas said flatly, “we won’t be safe until we leave the island.”

Victor put his hand to his cheek and felt splinters from where the picture frame shattered from the hallway. He remembered how close to death he was and how he felt pure danger and fear for the first time in his life. It was still too early for him to process everything that had just happened.

He didn’t know what to think of anyone anymore, his guards had just tried to kill him, his teacher was injured and to what degree he couldn’t tell. The young prince tried to put everything together but there was so much uncertainty. Victor concluded in all of this turmoil that there was no going back to the way things were. Thomas was right, he was no longer allowed a childhood.

Malfeasance - ch. 1

1/The Uninvited

The nights were often the worst.

Working as sentry for the Republic came with its toll of labor but the job was well worth the effort. During an economic recession jobs were scarce, crops this year had burned under the harsh and furious tropical sun, and the storms and pirates have made merchant trade to the island all but impossible this season. With all of these problems, a simple thing as working nightshift didn’t seem so bad. The worst that happens while patrolling at night was the insatiable silence.

Jonas should be happy that he was standing guard here at the Eastern Gate of the city. He knew that he and his comrades held the important role of defending the city from enemies that would loot and pillage them. That is if the city ever had an enemy. Night after night they stood there burning their candles and peering vigilant across the land inside the towers that made up the scaled walls which kept the wilderness at bay.

The young sentry volunteered for roving duty this evening after standing countless hours in the small columned towers on the wall all week. Something about the confining area on the tower platforms made him feel nervous. The roving duty gave him the ability to stretch his legs and to mingle with the evening patrons and merchants before the dusk. But, now it was quiet and he was alone in the darkness while those he mingled with slept in peace knowing they were safeguarded.

Something about the moon seemed peculiar this particular evening or so Jonas had thought to himself. The haze of the moon was a subtle red and the size of the orb was remarkably larger than it should be.

There was an old saying he repeated out loud which reminded him of his childhood, “The blood moon’s crop, and the dead man’s field. Be graced by heaven’s greatest meal. ”He didn’t really know what the lullaby meant, but his mother said it to him on nights like this and it always brought him comfort.

The sound of something falling clamored in the blackness of a nearby alley. Jonas shook his head and snapped out of his dazed dreaming state. The sentry took a steady jog toward the alley remaining in the light. He clutched to his sidearm preparing to draw his blade and fire at a moment’s notice. This time of night thugs and bandits roam looking for easy prey that should have long since gone home.

“Hello?” He ordered toward the shadows. There was no reply and so he repeated himself, “By order of the King’s Order, come out of the darkness!” He directed with all the authority given to him as a sentry.

He only received silence.

Jonas tightened his grip on the hilt of his sidearm. The weapon was made of steel, iron, and wood. It resembled a short stock sawed shotgun with a long two-handed handle grip. The wood stretched around to form the trigger-well and the stock clamped tightly to the iron steel of the barrel. The barrel stopped short of two feet but from where the barrel ended, the metal melded to the top of the barrel converged to form a blade that extended an additional foot. These gun-blades had become more common in recent years. The discovery of gunpowder illuminated the fascination of artists and militants alike.

The sentry took great care in each step as he entered the alley. Jonas kicked over a wooden box. He had withdrawn his gun-blade and aimlessly held it in front of him into the darkness. The box made a cumbersome noise as it fell and flipped to the ground. A fat sewer rat scurried away from the sentry and made a mad dash to a nearby flood drain.

Jonas jumped back, “Gods damn it!” He took in a deep breath and shook his head while sliding his blade back into his hilt.

A voice yelled toward Jonas from the lit quarter of the eastern gate. Jonas stepped back into the light and waved toward the voice. He took another look down that alley not completely satisfied with the thought that the tiny rodent was capable of such tremendous racket.

Stop imagining things, he thought to himself.

Jonas returned to his post near the gate. He planted one of his iron boots into the dirt beneath him and lifted his other boot to rest on a wooden pillar holding up an overhang for a merchant market that was busy with patrons during the early morning. But it was strange to see everything so vacant and immobile at night. He had never grown accustomed to it, not really. Something about it often reminded him of ghost towns. It left him with a sunken unwelcoming feeling.

The sound of sand and boots scratching cobblestone came from Jonas’ right. He perks his ears and turns his head to notice the other roving guard for the night’s round. Jonas didn’t care for him as much as other guards in his squad and he couldn’t quite place why. Perhaps it could be the way his smug face poised patronizing smirks after each sarcastic remark, or maybe it was the way he spat obscenities as if he were a pirate they were defending the city from. Either way, there was something deep in Jonas’ core that would never accept Geradi as part of his squad.

“Seen anything worth mentioning Jonas?” Geradi’s voice was burly and scratched as if he drank too much and smoked the heaviest weed.

Jonas shrugged.

Geradi removes his helmet and shakes his head. His hair flails about and he combs it a little. He walks towards the opposite side of the street and poses similar to Jonas. He lifts his leg on a pillar for an overhang. He crosses his arms and holds his helm lazily in one of his metal-gloved hands.

“Aye, damn night shifts Jonas. There isn't 'nothing fuckin’ good of ‘em!” Geradi looks towards Jonas and gives him one of those smug grins that he loathed.

Jonas shuddered a little and nodded back to him, “Aye.”

The obnoxious sentry lifts off his post and goes toward a corner of an exterior table where he must have placed his belongings for the evening, “Eh. Jonas, I figured – The night be young and hell of a good breeze, nay?”

“I figured why not, eh?” He asked the question but he continued talking expecting or not caring for a response. Geradi pulled some bloated lambskin bladder. He turns around to Jonas and grins again, “This should warm things up a little Lad – at the least keep us busy!”

Geradi tips the bladder up and pours the liquid into his mouth. Moments later the loathsome guard clenched his teeth together taking in a deep breath, his eyes large and watering. He clears his throat and extends his hand toward Jonas, holding the lambskin bladder and swinging the contents to and fro, “Try some, it’ll grow ye into a man yet Jonas!”

“Nay, that’s alright – we shouldn’t be drinking on duty Geradi. Ye' know this.”

“Perhaps ye be right but when was the last time you saw a fuckin infraction in this city eh?” Geradi had a point. Oddly enough, the city had very little crime and under the circumstances of recession, the kingdom’s propaganda was doing well in sustaining the morale of the people.

Jonas smiled a little and shook his head at him, “You’re just using this as an excuse to drink…” He pointed out the obvious as he often did. He watched Geradi pull the bladder up to his lips to take another helping of whatever putrid sauce was held within.

Something had pulled Jonas’ attention from the drinking sentry to somewhere behind him on the stone wall. The street torches kept the main drive lit clear but left heavy shadows out against the distant perimeter walls. It was somewhere on the wall that Jonas swore he saw the silhouette of a second person walking toward the staggering drunkard.

As quick as the torch’s light flickered in the wind so was the sight of the second form.

“Hey Jonas!” Geradi waved at him.

For the second time that evening the young sentry had become withdrawn and yanked into a paranoid disillusion. He blinked and brought his attention back to Geradi and his bladder of ale.

“I thought I saw something.” He told Geradi. He thought he should have a drink to calm his nerves, as stupid as it may be Geradi might have a point about one thing. Nothing ever happened in this city. The harvest moon must be playing tricks on him this evening.

As if reading his mind, Geradi tossed Jonas the lambskin bag. The sound of liquor sloshing about inside the bladder was welcoming to Jonas’ lips. To resist the temptation was too much and Jonas smiled at Geradi. He nods to him and puts the funnel of the bladder to his lips. To hell with it, the young sentry said to himself. He drains some of the burning liquid down his throat.

His eyes instantly became warm and his belly burned with liquor that fulfilled some gratification he hadn’t had for some time. Jonas wiped his mouth with his forearm and nodded to his comrade.

Before Jonas was able to take his eyes from Geradi back to the lambskin bag a light flickered and a shadow cast again on the wall where he had saw it earlier. The shade was moving sporadic and violently, growing larger as though closing in on Geradi’s cast shadow.

The strange growing shadow suddenly overwhelmed Geradi’s shadow. The black silhouette raised its arms displaying vicious talons that drove down violently into Geradi’s much smaller shadow. Even though the flicker of the fire moved the shadows here and there on the wall, the two forms appeared to dance in unison as though there were some invisible creature behind him, as though they were in a fight, as if Geradi were struggling.

Jonas dropped the bladder in surprise and fear. He shouted his comrade’s name but he didn’t hear a voice come out of his throat. He couldn’t quite hear anything and the sounds around him had become muffled as though he were underwater. It was then it occurred to him to look behind him for similar shadows. How foolish of him not to consider that from the start!

The young sentry turns himself around. The movement felt like it took an eternity. His eyes opened wide as he watched a massive shadow around his own just as he witnessed moments ago. The claws of this massive creature looked capable of tearing meat, and so it came to no surprised to him when they did.

White searing pain blinded Jonas as he could feel countless punctures tearing into his flesh. The pulsing feel of blood vessels popping inside muscle and sinew, the sound of meat ripping from a butcher’s hook reminded him of the market place he had been standing. He looked down to realize that he was no longer standing at all and it felt as though he were being held. Held and torn apart.

Jonas wanted to scream for the attention of the other guards but there was no sound. His body had become paralyzed and he had begun gasping for air. He rolled his eyes up toward the nearest tower and watched a fellow sentry lazily walk back and forth inside. He could think of one word: Helpless.

Tears ran down his face as he listened to his joints popping out of socket. He could feel his blood warming his skin, soaking his tunic. He wanted it all to end already but time seemed to stop for him. Again he attempted to shout but was met with the same conclusion. He was helpless and could only hope for someone to notice him hanging, bleeding, and becoming disassembled in levitation. He had turned his back to look at his shadow and could no better look over his shoulder to see if Geradi was sharing the same fate. He suspected he was, but thinking became fragmented between sessions of pain making it all very pointless.

A tower guard yawned and gazed out into the distance of jungle, forest, fields and farmlands. He shook his head and rubbed his eyes. He turned around to look down at the courtyard. It took him a moment to realize what he was witnessing. The sentry had to look twice just to be sure.

From his perspective he could see two sentries twitching and convulsing in the fire light. Pools of blood glinting from the sparkling torches accumulated under their levitating feet. He turned his attention toward the guard tower adjacent and opposite to him from the gate. He saw no one standing in guard. He stood straight up and had attempted to escape and to find help.

The tower guard made two steps toward the center of the tower and toward the hatchway to the ladder before falling to his knees to a burning pain against his throat. He held his neck with both hands and looked down at his body and the floor. A pool of blood had already formed. It was his blood. He knew it was his blood. It was a lot of his blood. As quick as he realized it, he fell against the floor of the tower drifting off to sleep and to his death.

Then there was silence.

The gear system that lifted the east gate began to move on its own. The sound of chains clanging against metal guide-loops interrupted the quiet. The churn of machinery echoed loudly into the city but it seemed it wasn’t enough to gather the attention of the interior guards.

It took no time for the beasts outside the wall to storm within the confinements of the city. The small impish creatures clawed at the wood and stone of the city. These small quick moving monsters were followed by heavier troll-like ferocities that stood twice the height of a man. Store fronts were torn apart and swiped away like a relentless hurricane storming through the city. The terrible crashing noises of metal, wood, and the screams of mortals found in their way flooded the night. Heckle of hyenas and the roar of lions teased the city daring it to awaken and fight back the scourge.