The Hours of Creeping Night - a Collection of Dark Speculative Short Fiction (3 page)

BOOK: The Hours of Creeping Night - a Collection of Dark Speculative Short Fiction
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Screaming deafly in the drowning medium of the Wendigo’s flesh, the terrified Safat fell past bubbles of blood and tangles of meat, until it fell all the way out of the Wendigo’s back and into the snow.

The confused Wendigo pivoted with uncanny speed to face the troublesome snack. Lying crumpled in a tangled mass of mud, ice and blood, the Safat looked up wide-eyed at the faceless monster. The Wendigo swallowed the Safat whole once more, and once more the Safat fell right through the creature.

Frustrated and puzzled, the Wendigo towered above the tiny bird. It began to snow, but the Safat was now too cold to shiver and didn’t dare breathe as the Wendigo peered down at it with empty eyes.

Finally, the Wendigo shifted and a sharp crack came from within it, like the breaking of a stone heart. The Wendigo deflated down into a merciful bow, its antlers touching the snow just before the Safat. Though relieved, the Safat dared not move. A sighing, strangely human, moan resonated from the pit of the Wendigo.

Cautiously, the little Safat stepped onto the offered antlers. No sooner had his clawed feet left the snow, the Wendigo rose up to its ten-foot height and slid uphill through the trees. The broken Safat was nearly knocked backwards by the rush of air.

In almost no time, they reached the top of the mountain. The Wendigo stopped as abruptly as it had started. It stooped, the ice within it grinding, long enough for the Safat to hop from its perch before drifting away into the woods.

The Safat looked about. It had finally reached the sky. The air was thin and fit comfortably in his fluttering lungs. He looked down at the clouds from the great altitude he had finally reached. But the sky shone with a splendour he could not reach, and when night fell slowly about him, the stars twinkled in painful temptation. All the while, the sky was void of movement: his family was not there. For the first time, he realised he was truly alone.

Turning in defeat, the Safat was greeted by the silent figure of the Wendigo. It had returned to watch the little bird with the cursed life, the tiny creature who had survived the mighty force of the ocean, continual famine, all the predators of the woodland, the freezing cold, and the wrath of the Wendigo itself. Now, the Wendigo watched as the Safat survived the breaking of its heart.

Gliding toward the little creature, the Wendigo stooped once more. The Safat stepped onto the antlers with a heavy but grateful heart.

The strangest sight is not the ever-flying Safat in the skies, nor the wood-spirit Wendigo hunting its prey. It is a fallen Safat perched on the antlers of a merciful Wendigo, haunting the woods in unison.

 

The
Atheist’s Soul

 

I
look down at the gulls and the jackdaws. They glide through the mist, fading and reappearing as they ride the thermals, lamenting to no one with their sad cries. The clouds roll over the cliff edge. Behind me, scattered leafless trees grow sideways in submission to the endless wind. In the distance, I can hear the lighthouse’s apathetic warning.

I look down at my bare feet. My toes curl at the edge of the cliff. The wiry grass is sharp, but my flesh is beginning to numb in the cold. Rubble crumbles and falls – falls too far to see. I can just make out the waves breaking against the rocks. The sea is a distant hush – a sound unrelated to the violence below. The wind could easily unbalance me. I am waiting until it does. But then I am aware of a presence behind me.

I step back. An audience of one breaks the spell around me. The man is wearing a fine suit. Something about him makes me feel heavy and cold inside. The wind doesn’t rustle his hair. He is stark against the mist; everything looks dull and hazy around him. He is an anchor of reality as the illusion of life rages around him.

 He puts his hand in his pocket, pulls out a business card and hands it to me. It reads in gold lettering:
The Cliffside Hotel – residence by exclusive invitation only
. ‘Please come this way, sir,’ he says. His gravity pulls me.

I follow him through a gateway concealed by perspective. We descend spiral stone steps, deeper and deeper into the cliff. The man stops to unlock a grandly carved mahogany door at the bottom of the stairs, and pushes it wide for me to enter.

We are in a huge, bright lobby. Marble pillars, tall fountains, art in gold frames. In the distance, gentle music is playing. Left and right, the lobby splits into two long corridors. Directly ahead, the wall is transparent. It is textured like rock, but I can see through it to the clouds, the birds, the sea.

The man leads me down one of the corridors. ‘Your room, sir,’ he says as he opens one of the doors.  The room stretches out: red carpet, four poster bed, ensuite bathroom with a pool instead of a tub amidst a jungle of green plants. And the rock-textured wall with the view of the world.

Am I in Heaven?
I ask.

‘No,’ the man says.

A dark shadow falls in front of the window. I peer down to the rocks below, and see a body, broken and twisted. The waves shoulder to meet it with curious prods, animating it like a puppet, playing with it until, making its decision, it picks it up and drags it into the depths of the sea.

My mouth hangs open. I look back to the man, quizzically.

A dark shadow falls in front of the window.

The man has a wry smile on his face. He backs out of the room, locking the door behind him.

A dark shadow falls.

 

Dead
Cell

 

D
enton had been awake most of the night, as usual, but his body clock was tuned enough to know that it was well past morning. And yet, everything was still dark. Every day for the past fourteen years the slam of metal and the flicker of harsh synthetic light had been his wake-up call, the smell of burnt coffee penetrating the constant musk of sweat and stale cigarettes as the guards changed shift. But not today.

Around him, he could hear murmuring and whispering. The others were beginning to stir.

 ‘Hey, Denton.’ Ren kicked the top bunk from below. ‘You awake?’

‘...Yeah.’

‘What time is it?’

Ren sounded confused. Unlike Denton, he never had problems sleeping. Was usually out like a light the moment his head hit the pillow – sometimes the guards would have to beat him out of bed. He never woke up before lights-up.

The bed creaked as Ren got up. He went to the bars, a swollen shadow in the darkness.

There was a light thud as Denton jumped down from the top bunk. He flexed his wiry muscles and stretched. When he first arrived, the other inmates had laughed at his slight frame, called him a runt.  After Denton had put three inmates in the hospital wing and added three more years to his life sentence, most people left him alone. Ren, on the other hand, prided himself on his bulk; Denton looked like the kinda guy he could snap in half with one hand if he had to, but after sharing a cell with him for five years, he knew better than to try.

Ren wrapped his fingers around the bars. ‘Marv. Hey, Marv.’

‘Yeah I’m here,’ came a voice from the left.

‘What do you thinks going on?’

‘I dunno, man, but I’ve been awake for hours. Keep hearing noises, like. Scraping, banging.’

Ren paused. ‘Marv?’

‘Yeah.’

‘You owe me a smoke.’

Marv sighed. ‘Here.’

Ren reached through the bars into the darkness, fumbling to meet Marv’s outstretched hand. ‘Ah!’ Marv cried, banging against the bars as he snapped his arm back. ‘What the
hell
, man!’

‘What? What?’

‘Something grabbed my Goddamn arm! If this is some kind of sick joke the wardens are playing... I think someone scratched me – I’m fucking bleeding.’

Denton squinted, trying to see through the blackness. He could hear slow footsteps, heavy breathing.

‘Denton, you breathe like an animal,’ Ren said.

‘Not me.’ Denton stood a few feet back from the bars, trying to see out too. ‘Look, what’s that? Down there?’ Denton pushed past Ren and crouched down. He reached out past the dropped cigarette and pulled something back through the bars.

‘What is it, Dent?’

‘Warden hat. It’s... wet.’ He sniffed it. ‘Blood.’

‘What the hell, man, you can’t smell blood. Give it here.’ Ren snatched the hat. ‘What the hell is this shit?’

The other inmates were beginning to get restless. They were calling out and banging on the bars, yelling questions and threats.

Denton shrank back into the shadows. ‘I don’t like this,’ he said.

Ren jumped at the sound of a raw scream. It pierced the air before droning on until it faded into a laboured croak. The inmates went silent. Denton’s limbs felt heavy as his blood ran cold as lead.

‘What the hell, man?’ someone cried from the other side of the block. ‘Trying to freak us out? Well it ain’t working. Screw you guys! You sadistic bastards! This shit ain’t legal! Come over here - I’ll show you scary!’ The inmate banged against the bars with each exclamation.

Denton had a knot in his guts. Part of him wanted to tell the bastard to shut up, but a bigger part of him wanted to see what would happen if he kept up the noise. Denton could make out shapes darting through the darkness. He blinked, trying to focus, unsure whether it was his strained eyes creating illusions. All the shapes were moving in one direction, towards the shouting guy.

The slam of metal accompanied a torrent of screeches.
Slam! Slam! Slam-slam!
Denton could do nothing but listen. He held his breath. Prayed to himself that the bars would hold, not for them, but for him: if their bars gave way, then so would his.

Metal crashed to the concrete floor. The screams rose to terrified madness. Some of the other inmates were shouting, but most were listening. The screaming died; the only sounds left were wet, slurping, crunching. 

Denton’s mind raced. Perhaps wild mountain cats had wandered from their territory in a desperate search for food, he thought. Escaped zoo animals? Or even a new form of psychological torture the guards were enacting on one of their twisted power trips?

Eventually, the noises stopped. Denton stood against the cold, concrete wall of his cell, several feet back from the bars, and watched the shadows disperse. They were too tall to be animals. They shuffled around, their breathing heavy and laboured, or they stood in small groups.

‘What the hell is wrong with them?’ whispered Ren.

Denton didn’t answer. All the inmates were silent in the darkness, and he suddenly felt very alone. Something scuttled over his foot, and he jerked involuntarily, dragging his foot across the concrete. All the dark shapes turned as one towards him. Denton stood perfectly still, breathing slowly until the shapes lost interest.

It took Ren a while before he heard his name being whispered from the cell next to him.

He crept closer to the bars. It was Marv’s cellmate. ‘Yeah?’

‘It’s Marv. I think he’s having a panic attack or something. He’s breathing all heavy and won’t talk.’

‘Why the hell would I know what to do, kid?’

‘... I’m just freaking out a bit, y’know?’

‘Just shut it.’ Ren snapped.

Marv’ raspy breathing became louder and louder, until he was grunting like an angry pig.

‘Marv, snap outta–’

There was a thud and an
ooof
as Marv slammed the boy against the wall with a snarl.

The kid screamed. ‘Get him off me! He’s biting me, he’s
biting
me!’

Denton backed deeper into his cell as the shadows shuffled closer, like curious school children watching a playground fight. A few of them swiped at the air, growling. There was an almighty roar from the cell, followed by a snap and a terrible ripping sound. The boy went quiet.  Somewhere, Denton could hear sobbing.

‘Screw this shit.’ Denton heard the deep, undeniable voice of Big John.

Big John and his cellmate, Jay, were the biggest guys in the joint. Near seven foot tall, and muscles as big as footballs. ‘Over here, motherfuckers!’ Big John’s voice boomed through the chaos. The two of them started banging on the bars, shouting. Denton’s eyes had adjusted to the darkness, and he saw the shadows more clearly now. They looked like people. Most were upright, hunched over. Others crawled like beasts, knuckling the ground as they ran. Their eyes were wide and white, reflecting tiny pinpricks of light. They screamed through raw throats, jaws stretched to breaking point, and ran as one mass of darkness towards Big John’s cell.

Slam
. They hit, a hammer of flesh.
Slam-slam
. They crawled up the bars, their screeches so shrill they made Denton’s eardrums reverberate in his head until he thought they would split. Big John and Jay spurred them on, banging on the bars. The concrete crumbled. The cell door came off. Big John and Jay grabbed it like a shield. The creatures pressed in on them, pushing the barred frame into the cell. ‘One, two, three!’ Big John boomed, and with a roar they pushed.

They pushed the door out of the cell, forcing the mass of creatures back, knocking most of them over and crushing some beneath the bars.

BOOK: The Hours of Creeping Night - a Collection of Dark Speculative Short Fiction
9.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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