The Beasts of Autumn – Short Story

This will be the last of my Fall themed short stories. I’m going to start leaning towards the genre that I prefer to write, which is fantasy fiction.  Thank you all of my new followers for your support.  Enjoy. 1,058 words.

The Beasts of Autumn – 10/09/13

                The term, as I’ve heard it used, is cut-flower.  Having been separated from your source of life.  In a patient state of un-living.  Receiving alms from friends with concern as the currency.  It’s a gentle and good thing they do, and I’m thankful.  Sometimes I forget the intent of their charity and focus only on how I haven’t yet found a magical potion to help forget my old unforgivens.  Jeremy hoots about that word and suggests that I look no further than alcohol for my elixir.  Alcohol is contemptible, especially this time of year.  Especially now, in the mid-morning hours, staring down the beasts of Autumn.

                But Jeremy is not a fool.  Only half that, and a splash of genuine friend for flavor.  He consoles me when I wrestle with the annual thoughts of her, that inamorata I once rightfully and proudly called my wife.  Now that I’ve struck the seven-year bell, I wonder if I may still call her that.  My wife.  Once upon a time, so the fairy tale reflects.  When they say happily ever after, they’re not speaking a full truth.  Even at its best, even in a make-believe world, sometime one of the two lovers will have to pass away.  I want to hear that part of the story, told from the voice left behind.

                In this season I have allergies.  Something in the fallen leaves sets me off, but it’s never so bad as to ruin a day.  When the first snow comes, I conveniently become allergic to driving.  A fair trade, since about that time everyone else conveniently forgets how to drive.  I make a fanciful display of pumpkins for my home, assorted on stair-step patterned shelves, directly beneath family photos from nine-some years ago.  The cinnamon candles I brandish year around suddenly make sense for a couple months, until winter decides to anathemize them again.  Nami says I should adapt my candles to the seasons and that it would help me appreciate cinnamon next year when the leaves start splitting off.  I would like to point her to any number of mental health manuals which suggest that hers is a bad idea.  Something about conditioning and associations.  Cinnamon smells like my wife, like my long lost heart.  I can hardly notice the scent anymore, but if I sent it away and in several months it suddenly returned, I imagine my reaction would be worse than frightful.

                It rains a lot during the fall months, to which I tip my hat and beg welcome.  There is nothing quite so stirring as a good long rain.  To be enameled by mother and her gentle nature.  The beasts of Autumn hush down a little bit more when the rain is here, and vanish completely at the first snowfall.  Only during this season of my life do I reflect so piercingly, and at such great sacrifice.  My world suffers without her.  Friends ask for my company and I decline, both to their displeasure and my own.  I think more about the children we never had, and whether they would like the rain or not.  Would their favorite color be yellow, like their mother?  Sickness makes Heaven seem cruel, and it steals away regardless of whether the new absence would be good for the world or not.  Maybe it’s best we had no progeny.  I would suffer to think about their lives if they’d inherited her pain.

                Things seem to get away from me, foremost of which is time.  I could have sworn the leaves were orange no more than two months ago.  To think that it has already been a year.  What even happened in the meantime?  I got laid off work.  I picked up something new, thanks be to Jeremy.  I went on one date and was soul-sick enough that my stomach caught the memo and helped me vomit once the evening was over.  I picked up a pet frog from Nami’s nephew.  Named it Jack Sparrow for absolutely no reason at all.  I think I went on vacation, but that might have been a couple years ago.  Really, I don’t like to track back too far.  The territory becomes unsteady.  Memories start returning, and they drag other things behind them.  I find it’s not worth it.  It isn’t worth the price of remembering.

                I read that in a book once.  The price of remembering.  When you’ve lost somebody, you begin to notice such snippets.  You incubate them in your chest and rehearse them in your sleep.  I know that price, because I barter every August.  I barter and pray the cost will drop, and that the year will be a little less lonely than the last.  Just another beast of Autumn that makes a parade of my life.  In the rare moments that I am transparent with others –and I assure you they are few – such notions make me feel overwhelmingly melodramatic.  I am a child, complaining about child-like things.  My wife died to a common, albeit crippling sickness.  So what if she passed away?  My neighbor recently lost her daughter to the sort of actions that result from overwhelming intoxication, fraternity parties and the occasional, homicidal boyfriend.  A killing stroke like that is a million miles more devastating than whatever plagues me.  But I can’t find it in myself to care.  I don’t truly feel for her loss.  Not from my gut.  Because the worst of my grief has manifested into the image of my greatest hatred.  A writhing contradiction best known as apathy.  Apathy is cold like a stone and sweet like the rain.  It makes me sick, and weary of trying to forgive myself again.  Apathy is a beast worse than hatred.

                But I let the apathy stay, because I’d rather it remained than pay the price of remembering.  I wonder what she’d think of my selfishness?  I shouldn’t dwell on it now.  That is a paper-thin question better left to steal my midnight hours.  I’m going to be awake anyways, what with the rain and my cinnamon candles and my cut-flower spirit.  I will remain that way as long as I can.  Until finally winter might come and the beasts of Autumn will rest in hibernation, resting dutifully and gaining strength for their return.  They are my tourniquet and I expect they always will be.  At least they’re consistent.

               

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The Drums (Short Story Original Work)

A mild horror piece for the Halloween season.  Please comment your thoughts and have a good day.  1,277 words.

“The Drums” – Written 09/21/13

                There was rain.  On a Hallows’ Eve, that meant something.  In the shadows of the manor Whitewine, it meant something more.  Whitewine was a cobweb of antiquity, and one could swear it was that way from the beginning.  But there had been people once.  A family of five and however many generations preceded them.  Noel was a Whitewine, so she knew it to be true, even if that was long ago and time had since filled the manor with desolation.  Noel was trusting and altogether knowledgeable in the stations most considered worth having knowledge.  But she was also young, frightfully empathetic, and tonight, very much alone.

                There was rain and it came hard.  Against the ceramic shingle rooftop of the manor, it struck like an army of drummers.  This was a good thing.  The drone of their fall helped muffle each creak in the aged manor floor as Noel stepped within.  It muted her imagination, which would have otherwise suggested there was somebody walking through the upstairs.  But Noel’s mind was prone to remembering, and it remembered awful things at the worst of times.  Whitewine was a family, one of her own blood.  And in a time before hers, they were considered very much unholy.  She would never have thought to thank the rain, because she underestimated its kindness.  For without the rain, she would have heard the moans from the basement cellar.  Moans very real, despite her being alone.

                There was rain, but soon it might stop.  Nobody was allowed in the manor without rain’s company, especially during the after dark hours.  Noel knew this, but decided to take the risk regardless.  The family Whitewine was notorious for their business of stealing people.  Noel had learned such in the news columns of decades passed.  When finally the family had been caught in evidential movements and the manor was searched for missing persons, the town militia did not understand how sundered the minds of Whitewine truly were.  Their discovery led them to a home for bones and things which bled out slowly.  The kidnapped persons were not wholly themselves any longer.  Through rigorous and generous torture, only parts of their minds and bodies remained intact.  Many were stripped nude, strung up by manacles in the cold cellar until their feet had gone black and flaky.  They would beat their heads back against the cellar wall, trying to lull themselves into death.  Some succeeded, others simply cracked their brains.  Some were missing their tongues, eyes, lips, or ears, later found assorted in the children’s bedrooms.  There were worse things than this, things that would make the devil proud, but those memories were dark and the worst representations of man, so Noel dutifully tried to forget them.  But these crimes were not easily forgotten.  Not by man, by God, or by time.

                There was rain, and it made the air cold.  Noel wondered sometimes if God forgave people like these.  Did heaven also delight in their company?  She was unsure what to think of it all.  But that wasn’t important now.  The manor was important.  Basking in its history and acclimating to its macabre silence.  Except it wasn’t silent.  There was always a sound of drums.  The rain now making earth its pasture.  There was something more to the noise, but it was lost in the rain, to her benefit.  Young Noel would find the Whitewine legacy on her own very soon.  Once the dust guided her down to the cellar.  All in time, all in time.

                Still there was rain, but it was drawing to a close.  The yearning patter began to crawl to a stop, leaving all natural life refreshed and thankful.  In this saturated world, hope was as alive as it sounded.  And that was beautiful.  But though the rain reached the manor, it held no cure for the bitter memories within.  Those memories of pain and hatred and cruelty of the greatest sort.  Noel remembered them from her readings, and for years her imagination had played with her, trained her for this moment.  This was not good, nor beautiful, as she would soon find out.  Not that she expected different from God’s worst sinners.  But within her dark dreams came a whistle, something entirely unexpected because of its ferocity.  Dread crept onto her the way only it knew how.  With a smile and slow courtesy.  The whistle was not in her mind, like she first believed it might have been.  It came from the boards between her feet, twenty feet into a grave of the earth and the black heart of the Whitewine manor.  Noel flinched and stepped forward, quickly finding the door to the basement cellar.

                The rain died and ceased its pounding.  The new absence reminded Noel of an old heart, finally giving up its struggle.  There was quiet, but only for a moment, until the girl reached for the cellar door.  As she did, the drums dawned again.  Rather, she only finally began to hear what had always been.  These drums belonged more than the rain and it was their right to stay.  They thudded like a dull fist striking a table and echoed twice as deep.  Noel spun the knob and yanked open the door.  She was welcomed by a years-old stink.  Something like wood rot and disease.  The clouded light from outside filled in the cellar as she descended.  There were windows, veiled by the webs of a hundred dead spiders, and everything was of tattered stone.  It looked and smelled as unhallowed as she’d imagined.  But the drums were different.  They were a raw beat, unsettlingly alive and visceral.  With the bravery of a fool, Noel began to search for that rhythm growing ever louder.

                There was no rain, but still the drums sounded.  As she lurked ahead, Noel was increasingly aware of her thin frailty.  She was a scarecrow.  All straw and thread, no spine or substance.  But the drums had her.  For a breath she reconsidered if it wasn’t all in her mind.  That would be simple and explanative, but it would also be very untrue.  In the furthest back, towards the darkest end of the basement, she found a man in suffering.  Iron shackles arrested him, and they lay at his sides.  Noel cringed at the slope of his body.  It was as though his spine had been pulled apart and fastened into a stretch, with only his upper torso and head supported by the cellar wall.  An unsettling gray crust had baked over his skin, while his jaw seemed broken and slack, swaying back and forth with each toss of his head.  Both of his manacles were affixed by chain and nail to a slab of wood behind his head, forever preventing escape.  Noel shivered.

                Where was the rain? She wanted it back.  Again and again the dead man would crack its head against the wood.  It was a dull thump, thump filled with resigned defeat, something Noel took to mean that he’d wanted to die for so long, only for death to never come.  Thump, thump it continued, just like the rain.  Thump, thump went the drums.  It quickly became too much.  Maybe Noel cast herself away from that horror, that godless tomb.  She couldn’t remember, even years later.  Again she tried to counsel herself into believing that the Whitewine’s sins had long since ended.  The dead man was just as he was, dead.  A disaster of her mind, fabricated from long nights of reading Whitewine lore.  It didn’t really matter.  Every moment the rains came thereafter, she remembered the drums.  And of course they remembered her, too.  Goodnight, Noel.