The Balcony (originally published on Creepypasta.com)

I sat, staring blankly at the screen, for how long I can’t be quite sure. Desperate for something to watch, read, listen to… In search of some stimulation that might exhaust my mind to the point where going to bed seemed like a good idea. I closed my eyes and strained hard – pressing for some idea of what to type in the search bar but nothing came.

It wasn’t apparent to me how long I’d been sitting there, postponing sleep, gazing with glazed eyes at the monitor and refreshing the same social network feeds over and over again, waiting for some fuckwit I didn’t know or care about to update the world on their life happenings. Nothing changed, though – it was well past 2 am and most people were rolling over, ripping up the sheets and drooling on their pretty pillowcases.

Somewhere between the ears a sharp pain fired off and I realized I had a headache. Oh great… again. I reached for the bottle of ibuprofen sitting conveniently by my computer mouse and washed two of them down with the last mouthful of my warm beer. Refresh. Nothing happening. Couldn’t think of a song to listen to. Refresh. Same thing. No ideas for articles to read. Refresh. Nothing. They’re all sleeping, dammit. I snapped the laptop lid shut. Went to look out the window.

There was a streetlamp directly across the street from my little apartment, which I suppose was the reason I hated going to bed so much. One of the reasons, anyways. There wasn’t much to look at outside, either. Thin blanket of snow on the ground. Still cars in the neighbor’s driveway. Couldn’t see the stars… must have been cloudy. The apartment was even less interesting. A pile of half-read novels lined up on the shelf, arranged by size from biggest to smallest (dimensions, not pages). Drying rack full of dishes that were probably dry by now, but that could wait until tomorrow. Old flower-patterned couch made even more garish by the bright, blue and yellow striped blanket hanging over the back. And the walls…

The walls were the thing I hated most. Painted in that inoffensive, bland, mind-numbingly expressionless light beige that seemed to be omnipresent in every fucking apartment I’d ever been in. What I wouldn’t have given to paint those fucking walls. It would have been worth it, even if the damned landlord kept my damage deposit.

Leaving the window, I paced along the wall, dragging my hand as I had done over and over again, in moments of boredom. Around the kitchen/living room – divided by a half wall and made distinct by a clumsy architectural divider that reached off from the main wall by a couple feet – and around the corner to the short and narrow hallway that lead to my bedroom on the left and bathroom at the end. Strolled lazily into the bedroom, flicked on the light, looked around, flicked it off, and walked out again. Stopped for a quick piss in the bathroom. Frowned in the mirror. Then made my way back to the chair. I started flicking through the books on the shelf, but I couldn’t decide which one to read, so I gave up and sat down on the horrendous couch, staring out the sliding glass balcony door.

And that’s when I saw it.

At first, I thought my glasses were skewed, and I took them off, gave them a ritual wiping in my t-shirt, and put them back on again. No, it was still there. Hmph… that’s weird… It wasn’t anything shocking, nor was it one of those things that causes you to jump up in outrage – it just seemed a little bit… odd.

I had been looking at the picture frame sitting on the half wall that stretched partway across the floor between the kitchen and living room, which was perpendicular to the couch I was sitting on – and something about it didn’t look quite right. The picture frame was alright. The half wall looked right – as much as any half wall can – but there was something funny about were it joined to the outer wall of the apartment. I couldn’t be quite sure what it was, exactly, but it seemed like the outer wall was a good foot or more farther from me on the kitchen side than it was on the living room side.

I gave it a frown, then a giggle. Obviously, the landlord had done a bad job with the renovations and had done some miscalculations, and the inner paneling on the kitchen side was curved on one end. I didn’t know much about carpentry, but I had a basic understanding. Yeah, that’s it.

I got up, walked to the fridge for another beer and glanced at the wall again. My explanation didn’t convince me, as the wall looked flat as a wall could be. It was the damnedest thing, because from the kitchen side, the wall looked perfectly normal. Maybe it was the other side that was off. But I strolled back to the living room, and the wall on that side looked normal too. It didn’t make sense. I decided to forget about it, and set myself back on the couch and opened my beer – but there it was again. The wall in the kitchen looked farther than it should be, or the living room wall looked too close… it was hard to tell which was the case, but something was off, that much was certain.

I took a gulp of beer and got up again. I walked over to the corner in the kitchen and ran my hand along the wall near the floor. It certainly looked like things were joining up at right angles. I did the same on the living room side – it looked perfectly normal. I even grabbed a book and stuck it between the floor and the wall, and slid it across on both sides, and in both rooms the book fit snugly where the floor and wall met. Then I did the same, between the wall and the room divider. Perfect right angles. I sat back on the couch again, and now it seemed even more apparent.

It was as if the kitchen was longer than the living room, and impossibly so, as they both shared the same square space and outer wall of the building. It didn’t make sense. The wall to the left was definitely farther than it was on the right side of the half wall, but how could that be so? I shuffled my way around the rooms, observing the dimensions with squinting discretion, from every conceivable angle. No curve, no obvious deviations. If I could believe what my eyes were seeing – and I had no reason to doubt them before now – the kitchen should be protruding from the side of the building by about 12-15 inches.

I was flabbergasted. It just shouldn’t be. Even the thickness of the walls, which I guessed at about six inches, wouldn’t account for such an error. It wasn’t the way that geometry worked, but when I looked again from the couch the difference between the distances on the two sides was impossible to ignore. What the hell…

Surely, I thought, that there was some mistake, and the wall was joined awkwardly and I just hadn’t noticed it before. I’d have to go out on the balcony to reassure myself, and take a look at the outside wall of the building. My balcony ran the entire length of the kitchen/living room wall, placing the discontinuity about halfway down its length. Surely the exterior of the wall would reveal an outward jump. Now it made sense. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before. I slid open the glass door and tip toed out into the winter air, the thin snow layer crunching and squeaking under my socks.

But to my surprise, the wall was entirely flat. I flicked on the balcony light to be sure. Perfectly flat. Straight, with no visible joins or angles anywhere. I pressed my hands hard against the cold vinyl siding and ran them from the sliding glass door all the way to the railing at the end. Defeated, I made my way back inside, and slid the door shut. I peeled off my wet socks and hung them over the edge of the bathtub to dry, and retreated to the couch once more, rubbing my cold feet.

It was at this point I started to feel uncomfortable, in a way that was almost indescribable. The very image of what I was seeing didn’t make sense. It was such a departure from simple logic that my brain couldn’t concoct any sort of explanation at all. The sensation that trickled over me was something that I can only describe as the opposite of deja vu. The sheer unfamiliar and nonsensical nature of the wall was all I could think about. I had to prove to myself that it wasn’t real.

I stomped down the hall to my bedroom, bare feet slapping on the floor, snatched my belt off the dresser and brought it out. I moved the chair, slid the kitchen table out of the way, so I had a quick, clear path around the half wall. I even took the picture frames off the half wall, and laid them on the table. Nothing to get in the way.

I started on the right side. I let the belt buckle touch the outer wall, and pulled it tight. The distance from the the wall to the end of the divider was about half the length of the belt. I pinched my fingers hard on the belt, marking the length I had measured. Now… I marched around, to the kitchen, put the belt buckle against the wall and pulled the belt tight.

Impossible, I thought. It was truly impossible. The belt wouldn’t even reach from the wall the the end of the divider. I leaned against the wall, my mind whirring with thoughts, questions. The one thought that dominated my being was that the space I was standing in, leaning against that wall, should not exist! If common sense were any sense at all, I should be on the balcony right now, staring at the vinyl siding on the outside of the building. A sudden feeling of dread washed over me – I felt hot and sick and shaky. I started to wonder what might happen If i were to close my eyes, but at that thought, the fear become so intense that I jumped away from the wall and ran to the bathroom where I promptly retched up my beer and what undigested remains there were of my supper.

What was happening to me? I had to sleep. Yes, that’s it. I was exhausted, and it had been a long week. Maybe it was the headache pills, I thought – I had downed them with alcohol, after all. And mixing drugs with booze can do crazy stuff, right? I closed my eyes hard, nodding my head and trying to convince myself that I had to be hallucinating. I was sleep depraved. I needed sleep.

I flushed the toilet, brushed my teeth, splashed water in my face, and turned to look down the hall. I realized then that I had left the balcony door ajar, and the cold winter air was putting a chill in the apartment. I started, but stopped again, when my peripheral vision revealed to me something which unnerved me in a way I had never known. It was at that point which I began to think I was losing my mind.

On the left side of the half wall, the kitchen stretched on, far beyond the physical limitations of my building, and filling that impossible space was – and It frightens me say it – a perfect mirror image of my own kitchen. The table, chairs, cupboards, and even the overflowing drying rack lay in perfect reverse imitation of my own, real kitchen. It was as though the wall of the kitchen had been replaced by a reflective surface, but as far as I could tell, this was not the case.

I breathed deep, shaking uncontrollably as I made my way slowly down the hall to the kitchen. I stopped halfway, at the linen closet which sat opposite my bedroom door, and grabbed the broom. I unscrewed the broom handle and clutched it tightly as I would a spear. It did nothing to make me feel safer.

I moved slowly – one foot at a time – holding the broom handle out in front of me and breathing heavily. As I got nearer, though, I could see that the discontinuity did not only mirror the kitchen – it was the entire apartment.

When I reached the point where the wall had been, I stopped and stretched out my hand. Nothing but empty air. This couldn’t be a hallucination, could it? No – something else was at work here. Something frighteningly real.

There was a draft moving through the air, flowing like a soft wind, and I realized that the sliding door to the balcony must also be ajar over there. I should close it. That seemed to make sense, at least.

I prepared myself to enter the space that should not be. Something about it still made me afraid to close my eyes, so I decided to try my best not to blink before walking over. Come on, you got this. I had a goal now. Simple enough, but still, that small purpose helped quiet the thoughts in my head a little. I swallowed, breathed deep, and walked into the impossible room. Made my way past the chairs, the books – even the fucking picture frames were there, but something about the pictures wasn’t right, and I averted my eyes as I passed. I turned right around the half wall and came to face the balcony door. I was right. It was open. However, what I saw beyond the door was not what I had expected. I had prepared myself – by taking into account the twisted anti-logic of the discontinuity – to encounter a second balcony. This was a whole new deviation. Nonetheless, I made my way through, back into the real living room, and slide the balcony door shut.

I sat on the couch again, picked up the half-drunk beer, and took a gulp. Spilled some on my shirt. I didn’t know what else to do but try and understand the situation as best I could. There was no balcony anymore. From where I sat, I could see the second kitchen to my left, beyond the real one, and through the sliding glass door I could see the opposing living room, couch and all – even the bloody half-drunk beer sitting on the coffee table. If I told myself that the kitchen wall and the balcony door were mirrors, I could nearly believe I was still sane. Yeah, I thought, it’s just a mirror. Just a big fucking illusion. Reflection. There’s the coffee table… my couch… my beer… all that’s missing is…

I heard a noise behind me, coming from what sounded like the bedroom. A faint “thwump”, like the sound of something soft clumsily hitting the floor. I froze. I could feel my eyes tighten. My pulse throbbed sickeningly in my neck. I could feel the cold sweat seeping through my clothes. I had to escape.

I clutched the broom handle as tightly as I could and ran for the front door. I grabbed the knob, whipped open the chain lock, and twisted it open in a frenzy. Tears filled my eyes and the scream my body had tried to produce had stopped at the dry lump on my throat. I slammed it shut again, as hard as I could have, and locked it. I pressed my back against the door and let myself slide limply down, down, down onto the floor. There was no exit. Outside the door had been just another entrance way like my own. An exact reflection.

And then I heard the noise again… thwump… coming from the bedroom. And again… thwump… louder this time. Thwump. The bedroom door opened slowly. Thwump. They were footsteps. Thwump… thwump… They were coming down the hall.

I do not know what gave me the strength to move in that instant. Some primal instinct, some basic will to survive kicked in. I would not sit sobbing in a corner, waiting for whatever cruel and impossible fate awaited me. I would not.

I launched myself from the entrance way, and made for the balcony door. I flew across the kitchen. Grappled the half wall and swung my weight as best as I could across the living room floor. I snatched the sliding door handle, heaved it open, and burst into the room that should not be. I drove it shut behind me, flicked the lock, and ran left, around the half wall to face whatever it was that had come from this impossible place – not daring to blink until I passed the boundary back into the real kitchen. I stopped short. The wall had returned. Solid. Real. I would have to go back through the balcony door again, but at least I had the upper hand – the door was locked from this side.

I clenched my fists so tightly around the broom handle that my fingernails must be drawing blood from my palms. My eyes were stinging now, but I still dared not blink. I could not let the perverse logic of the space get a chance to warp itself again. Not while I was still inside it.

Then, there was another noise. Not the muffled footsteps from before, but a clear, sharp “tick.” The sound of metal and springs and intricate precision.

The sound of the balcony door being locked from the other side.

No… I rushed to the sliding door and unlocked it, but it wouldn’t budge. I could see the lock switch on the other side – the real side – and it was engaged. I screamed. I swore. I cried. I yanked and tore and heaved and kicked and pounded the door, over and over and over. There was no use. No matter how much force I put on the damned door, it wasn’t going to move. It didn’t even shake. As long as it was locked from the other side, I would never be able to open it. I was defeated. My eyes were still open – I refused to let myself blink, and my vision had gone horribly blurry. They burned like fire from the air and my hysteria, but I couldn’t blink. I could not let that happen. I had to keep the real world in sight.

And then I saw the figure.. I watched with horror through the glass as the figure reclined on my couch. They picked up my half-drunk beer and took a long swig. They were looking in my direction. Staring out the glass of the sliding door right at me. By now my eyes were aching so badly and my vision so impaired that I could scarcely pick out any details, but I knew what it was. The realization of it was the end for me. I have not felt true, unhindered hope, or joy, or contentment since that moment, and I fear that I never shall. The figure on the other side was me.

It might have been an hour, maybe two, maybe three that I knelt there with my forehead against the glass. I never did let my eyes shut that night. I held the lids open for so long that my sight left me entirely. I do not know when it was that I finally slipped into unconsciousness, but it was not of my own free will.

When I awoke in the morning I found myself staring out onto the balcony. The sun was glowing through the trees and I could see crows flying in the distance. I slid the door open and fell out onto the snow-covered wood and stayed there for a very long time, watching the ice crystals melt in my breath. By the time the cold drove me inside, the sun was well up and cars were moving on the roads.

In the weeks and months that followed I paced in and out of that balcony door so many times a day I would lose count by noon. I didn’t want to stay in that apartment one moment longer, but the madness of the discontinuity wouldn’t let me leave. I was obsessed with finding a way back to the world from which I had come. The breaking point came sometime in March – I can’t remember when, exactly – when the landlord came pounding on my door, responding to multiple noise complaints. I had been attempting to tear down the kitchen wall with a framing hammer. There was a commotion, and I had a few very long talks with police, but eventually the landlord agreed not to press charges so long as I moved out immediately and paid an extra three months rent to cover the damages. I took the offer. I convinced the cops that I didn’t know much about renovating, but I was sick to death of that fucking paint and had to do something about it.

It’s been a few years now, and I’ve distanced myself from that place. I’ve since gotten a new job, made disastrous attempts at love. I’ve made things work as best I can, going from one day to the next. I’ve come to think of this world as real – I have no other choice. I will never return to the other side. Not now. As time goes on it becomes ever harder to remember that it ever existed in the first place. To this day, I can’t bear looking in the mirror. I seems to me that behind the eyes of my reflection there is some hint of malevolence… though at times it looks to me more like gloating.

I remind myself every morning that I am real. I am here. Wherever here is. Impossible or no, this world is mine now. I’ve come to see the obscure beauty in it. There is one thing that reminds me of the world I thought I knew, though – it happens every day when I watch the sun rising. I always expect it to come up in the west, but it never does.

It never does.

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A few updates and odd little things

Hey readers, for those of you who use Twitter, I’ve created an account to help publicize the blog. I will be using it to share my thoughts and bits of info that don’t make it into the blog. If you’re interested, check me out at:

https://twitter.com/kdanielsauthor?s=09

Let’s see what I can do with 140 characters or less.

I’ve finally concluded Deep Sleep and part 2 is available now right here on the blog. It has also been submitted to creepypasta.com where I hope it is received well.

On another note, NaNoWriMo is coming up, and fast, and I’m planning on participating again this year. Not sure what I’ll be working on, but I’ll share details here once it’s been decided.

Lastly, keep an eye out for the first chapter of my upcoming short story/novella, One Final Round: a horror story in five parts. Expect that to premiere around Halloween.

That’s all for now.

Deep Sleep (Part 2)

I’ve told you before about my wife’s nightmares and the strange condition that caused her to fall in her dreams, passing through the bed and everything below it. I’ve told you about her disappearance and my frantic attempt to rescue her from the depths below our home. There’s more.

I went down to the basement upon hearing the sheriff’s yelling, and found him and the deputy getting ready to leave. Sheriff told me that they’d received a call from across town and needed to go check things out. I didn’t ask questions, I already had enough on my mind. Before he left, Sheriff Thompson turned back and gave me a long, piercing stare. I expected an accusation, maybe even a threat. Instead all he said was “Be careful.” Then the two of them left.

Liam and I continued our work, scraping shovel after shovel of dark, hard earth from the bottom of the hole. We didn’t talk. I was just glad my boy was there with me. It was in the early morning, around 4am, when Liam climbed up to get a drink of water. Ever since I had started digging in the basement, there had been strange, barely noticeable sounds from below. As the others and I started making progress the noises got louder and louder. It seemed to me that the sounds where coming from the ground itself, not something below it. I had hoped for a while that it was Karen calling out from down there in the ground, but I didn’t believe that anymore. It wasn’t human, and if it was, it was a sound that only a great big crowd of people could make. It was like a drone or chant, like dozens or even hundreds of people exhaling all at once or whispering the same low word without stopping to breathe. Now that I stood alone in the pit, surrounded on all sides by the metallic stone walls, it was louder and more persistent than ever.

I stopped digging for a moment to listen to it. The sound became like an echo, or many echoes, of many voices blended together in a long, undulating chant. The rocks vibrated with it, as though there was a pulse flowing through the stones all around me. The air in the pit throbbed, and I started getting dizzy.

Above me, standing on the edge of the pit, Liam was staring down. He looked worried. He opened his mouth and shouted something down at me but all I could hear was the deafening roar in my ears. Slowly, deliberately, I lifted my shovel and drove it hard into the earth at my feet.

The floor of the pit collapsed.

I fell, screaming, into the void below. There was a brief moment of darkness before I felt myself engulfed in cold water. When I opened my eyes I could see stones and debris sinking into shadows all around me.

As I swam to the surface I was shocked by the silence in the cavern. The bizarre chanting had stopped completely and I could hear Liam shouting to me from above. In my fall I had swallowed a mouthful of water in shock, and as I spat and choked on my way to a nearby ledge I realized that it was salty, like the ocean. The light from above made it clear that I floated in the center of what looked like a small subterranean lake. To either side of me I could see a ledge that ran around the perimeter of the pool, and I swam over and pulled myself out.

“Dad,” Liam shouted down, “are you okay!? Talk to me!”

I hollered back that I was alright, nothing broken, but I could still sense the panic in his voice as he scrambled to look for a way to get me out. I could hear him up there in the basement looking through shelves for rope. One of the ladders had fallen through with me and it was sunken somewhere beneath the black water of the pool. I thought about diving down and trying to retrieve it, but something in the back of my head shut that idea down immediately.

While I was in the middle of trying to figure out how big the cavern was and what direction it reached, I heard a hushed noise coming from above. The sound of clanging and shuffling had stopped.

“Liam,” I called out, is everything okay?”

Instantly I realized what an idiotic question I was asking of my son. In that same moment I understood what the hushed noises were and why Liam had gotten quiet.

“It’s okay, son.” I rubbed the salt and sweat from my eyes. “Don’t cry.”

I comforted him as best as I could. I tried to help him regain his confidence – that confidence that I had seen in him since he was a boy. That same confidence that allowed him to climb trees and race bicycles and dive from wharfs into the ocean with a smile on his happy young face.

But looking back now I know that I could have done more. I could have made him feel safer. The truth is, my tired mind was distracted – all I could think about was searching for Karen. If I had survived the fall, she must also be alive down there somewhere.

Once Liam was back to work, I asked him to do something for me. It would take time to prepare the rope in a way that would allow him to come down and for us both to climb back out, so I asked if he could get me a flashlight. If I was going to wait, I may as well take a look around the cavern. Liam dropped something down the hole and I swam out to retrieve it, taking care not to linger for too long in the middle of the pool – something made me not want to stay in the water for too long at a time. He had placed a flashlight in a plastic shopping bag and blown up the bag with air before tying it tight. When I got back to shore and pulled out the flashlight, it was a little wet but when I flicked the switch it flared to life and illuminated the cave around me.

It was even larger than I thought. The cave ceiling towered about 20 feet above my head, reaching a high point at the center where I had fallen through. The walls down there were even darker than where we had been digging above, almost perfectly black. When I ran my hand over the surface it felt as hard and smooth as glass. Careless, I nicked my thumb on a sharp edge of cavern wall. As I watched a thin line of red well up on my thumbprint, the sound of the chanting echoed for a moment across the waters of the cave. I felt the skin across the back of my shoulders tighten, and after a long moment I realized my vision was starting to go blurry.

Shaking my head, I snapped out of it and saw for the first time that on the opposite side of the pool the cave narrowed into a tunnel or hallway and wound off into the subterranean dark. I started to make my way around the ledge toward it, doing my best to keep my balance and ignoring the beginnings of the familiar hallucinations that came with sleep deprivation. Around me the walls of the cavern began to ripple like waves. Shadows loomed in the corner of my eye and for a moment I actually considered lying down to rest. I fought it off, and soon I had made my way around to the narrow tunnel and shone my light inside. I couldn’t see more than a hundred feet ahead, because after that the tunnel curved off the right and out of sight.

I was about to go back and check with Liam on how he was doing but at that moment the chanting sound came again. A lone, brief echo vibrated through the walls of the tunnel and then I knew for sure that that source of it was somewhere down that dark and narrow passageway.

I felt something then that I hadn’t noticed before – the sound had a kind of alluring quality to it. It frightened me, but at the same time it seemed to call to me. I admit, I found myself wanting to be closer to whatever it was that was making the sound. When I glanced back to the cavern pool, I saw with a shock that I was already at least fifty feet into the passageway. Had I been walking without realizing it, or was it the sound that had drawn me in?

I walked a little further in, just to see what was around that bend up ahead. I walked around the bend and onward down a wide, low-ceilinged part of the tunnel where low rumblings could be heard coming from the floor beneath my feet. From there, I stepped out into what I can only describe as a dome. Looking around, my eyes began to blur again. I could hardly believe what I was seeing.

Around the dome where at least a dozen other passages, maybe more, winding off out of sight throughout the underground. At the center was a deep, wide pit, rounded with an ancient stone stair that wound down into blackness. What was really strange, beyond anything else, was the wind moving around the cavern. It was so slight, so subtle, that it took the whole walk from the tunnel where I had come to the edge of the pit to notice it. Air was flowing, slowly and almost imperceptibly, out of the pit. After a few seconds, everything became still, and then that low and droning wind would flow back into the pit, followed by another brief pause of calm. The air pulsed, throbbed, around me. It felt like the breath of some enormous, sleeping thing.

I felt a droplet of water on my neck and looked up toward the ceiling of the dome. I realised, then, how far I’d walked. If my sense of direction was any good, I figured that the cavern where I stood was somewhere below the town harbour.

As I made my way back to the underground lake, I could hear Liam’s voice echoing down the tunnel. He wasn’t alone, and it sounded like the voices were coming towards me. As I reached the edge of the water, I could see Liam walking around with two other men, each of them holding flashlights. Through the glare, I could make out the faces of the Sheriff and Deputy flanking him on either side.

I told them what I’d found, and begged them to come with me back down the tunnel. Before I could go, though, Sheriff put a hand on my shoulder.

“The call we got,” he said. “The emergency.” The sheriff paused and glanced at Deputy Colby before continuing. “A boy’s missing. Disappeared. Mother checked on him after putting him to bed. He was just…”

“Gone,” Liam said, his voice shaking. “Just like Mom.”

I led them to the dome, all of them now believing that this was real. The four of us stood at the edge of the pit, staring into the darkness for a good long time. I looked at their faces, their eyes staring into the abyss. I could tell they could feel the breathing too. My hand was hurting, stinging with a sharp, cutting pain. When I looked down, I realized that I was still clutching Karen’s ring in my fist, so tight that it was pressed into the skin. I put it in my jeans pocket and started toward the grimy stone stair.

“Let’s go,” I said.

Down and down and down we walked, in circles around the pit that seemed to grow wider with every pass. The darkness around us was so absolute that it almost felt dense – solid. The beams from our flashlights were pathetic, illuminating only the winding steps directly in front of us with a pale, orange glow. The sounds of our footsteps on the stones made noises like the crunching of bones. Our breath trailed behind us in a mist.

After a few minutes of slow, careful walking, the stairs moved away from the wall and outward into the darkness. We walked out into that great big blackness, moving cautiously along the metre-wide walkway with unknowable depths on either side. We called out Karen’s name and the name of the lost boy as we walked, but there was no returning echo in that place. Our voices just died out without so much as a whisper, and I couldn’t help but feel like we weren’t underground anymore. I knew we were still in the cavern, somewhere deep below the harbour and the sleeping town, but looking around me it felt like we were walking through… nothingness. The darkness was endless. It was like we were somewhere in the cold and vast reaches of outer space – but there were no stars here. No lights except our own.

I could hear something out there. I could feel it. Something enormous. Moving. Breathing.

“There, ahead!” Sheriff Thompson shouted.

I shook myself out of the trance I’d fallen into and stared in front of us. My throat clamped shut and I wanted to scream out in relief but I was so overcome with emotion that all I could do was run to her. My Karen, my wife – there she was and she was alive! Alive! Before I could take in the scene or try to understand anything else I was there, wrapping my arms around her and sobbing. For that moment, those few seconds, nothing else in the world mattered. It was joy.

But it was all wrong.

Karen was alive – I could feel her breathing; her skin was warm to the touch – but what the hell was this thing she was sitting in? It was like a… a chair or… a throne? It was carved from what looked like solid bone but bones don’t get that big. It was all grey and dusty and covered in carvings that didn’t make sense to me. And why wasn’t she waking up? Why the hell were all these other people here – all resting in these bony chairs with their heads thrown back, silently sleeping? Who the hell were they all? And, Christ, some of them looked old. So old I couldn’t imagine them walking all the way down here. And why wasn’t she waking up?

Liam and I both shook Karen, shouted to try and get her to move but she wouldn’t open her eyes or respond. I tried to pull her up to her feet but it was like she was being held down by something. I couldn’t take her.

Sheriff Thompson and the deputy were both running around, shining their lights at the people seated around in that big circle trying to figure out who they were and if they were all okay. They found the boy – he was there too, nestled in the seat of his dusty throne. All told, there were eight. Men and women, the boy and another child – a young girl – all sitting, sleeping on this great stone platform in the middle of that impossible darkness down there under the ground. Across the circle from Karen, another seat waited. Empty.

As I fought to try and get Karen free, the hallucinations started again. The shadows around us swelled and bulged, and I saw the darkness as a vast, rippling curtain, holding back something that pressed on all sides around us. I squeezed my eyes shut, slapped my head to try and keep myself straight, but I was on the very edge of losing consciousness and I could hear the world growing quiet. I reached out a hand to Liam’s shoulder to try and steady myself but my hand just moved through the empty air. Liam was gone.

“Son,” I said as I turned around and saw him staring at the empty throne, “stay here with me.”

“Don’t you hear it?” he asked, not looking back. He took another step away from Karen and I. “It’s like it wants me.”

I didn’t know what to say, because the truth was, I could hear it. The sound from before, that echoed chanting, was back. Glancing over at the other two men and seeing their faces made it clear they were hearing it again, too.

“I know,” I said to Liam, walking towards him, “it’s been calling to me, too. Ever since I fell down here. Don’t listen to it.”

But he took another step toward the throne, and when he did the visions – the hallucinations from my sleep deprivation – got stronger. The air around me was boiling with movement. I made a move toward him and reached out, but my boy moved away from me.

“It’s where mom is,” he said. “I can talk to her there.”

“Your mom’s here!” I shouted, pointing back at the silent and sleeping Karen, “She’s right here! We just have to get her out of here and everything will be fine.”

“Listen to your dad, Liam” the Sheriff said, talking a step. “We don’t know what’s going on here but we all need to get ourselves and these people out – now.”

The chanting rose around us all, no longer distant but howling. My eyes widened in terror when I saw that the people around us, seated in the thrones, were now chanting along with it. Their eyes were shut – they were still asleep – but their mouths opened as they cried and moaned in unison with that sound, that otherworldly song that filled my mind with pain and longing. I saw the sheriff and deputy throw up their hands, trying to cover their ears and block it out. I stumbled ahead, trying to grab onto my son and hold him back, but I was too slow, too late.

Liam closed his eyes and walked calmly to his throne. He reached out a hand and grabbed hold of the bony structure, throwing himself into the seat. Then, all together, the nine in the circle whispered one short, sharp sound.

Then, silence.

Everything came apart. The world around us was shaking, rumbling. Screams and curses filled the air as the nine sleepers around us all woke and fell forward onto the ground. Liam whipped his head around, staring in shock at the throne he’d fallen from and clearly confused at what was happening. I ran to him, pulled him up. Together we ran back to Karen and she was moving, scrambling to her feet. She screamed our names and held onto us, her hands gripping like claws as the shadows in that deep place swirled and tore apart and rejoined again.
Deputy Colby scooped up the young boy in his arms and the Sheriff was trying to do the same with the little girl that was there but she kept fighting him, “No!” she kept yelling, “you don’t understand!” Finally, he was able to get a hold of her but she kept biting and thrashing in his arms.

“Okay,” Sheriff yelled above the rumbling noises, “We all need to-”

But he never had a chance to finish. Before he could so much as address the five adults that had gotten to their feet on the platform, they had run to the edge and thrown themselves off into the darkness.

“RUN!” I screamed, as dust, stones started to rain down from above. Liam and I both held one of Karen’s hands as we raced across the ledge and up the stairs of the cavern. The cops followed, hoisting the crying boy and the struggling, cursing girl over their shoulders. We ran as fast as our bodies could allow, our feet scratching and pawing at the stones as we climbed. At the stop of the circle stair we could see water rushing into the cavern from above – the ceiling was starting to cave in and all that water in the harbour was going to get down there in a hurry real soon.

We fled along the passageway back from where we’d come, back through the curving tunnel with the sounds of the collapsing earth all around. The smell of saltwater was strong in the air and wind was starting to rush out of the cave behind us.

Back at the underground lake we sent Deputy and Liam up the rope first so they could pull Karen and the boy up. Her hands were weak and she could hardly hold on but they got her out of there. Sheriff made me go next and he crawled right behind me grasping the still-struggling girl, the rope burning my hands because of how tightly I gripped it. We didn’t stop in the basement – we ran up the stairs and out onto the lawn with the crashing thunder noises following us.

The seven of us collapsed out onto the grass in the crisp dawn air and lay there listening to the rumbling sounds coming from below the ground. Everything was shaking. Then before our eyes, the house collapsed, exploding in a blast of sea water that rushed up through the cavern and pierced through the structure a good sixty feet into the air. The windows, walls, roof and all toppled and came tumbling down, drenched in the spray from that torrent of water. Everything we had, everything we owned was destroyed. Everything gone.

But we were alive.

Before long Sheriff had some other cops from the station come by and pick us up. They brought us all to the station where my family and I sat wrapped in blankets and holding on to one another, laughing, crying… not really knowing what to say or do. We held on, not letting go. Not for hours. The boy was okay – no injuries but clearly shaken and disturbed. His mother and father were there to get him in less than ten minutes, haphazardly dressed and clearly without having slept through the night. They asked Sheriff if this had anything to do with his nightmares, the awful nightmares he kept having and Sheriff shook his head but said nothing in reply only “He’s alright now. You’re alright.”

The girl, though… Nobody could figure out where the hell the girl had come from. She didn’t match the description of any missing persons case in the area, or even the province. Her clothes were strange – a ceremonial gown sewn by hand in a style that looked old-fashioned to put it lightly. She wouldn’t tell them her name and she fought so hard with them to try and get away that they had to lock her in a cell until she could be transferred to a facility. We could hear her muttering from down the hall of the station, whispering and talking to herself in a language that we couldn’t understand. The cops wouldn’t let us talk to her even though Karen insisted – she wanted to try and understand what had happened and she thought the girl might know something. She never did get the chance, though.

In the morning when the cops went to check on her in the cell, she was gone. No trace left behind, no means of escape. The security footage – according to Sheriff Thompson – revealed nothing.

The talk around the town was that during the earthquake the entire harbour damn near dried up, with water rushing in from the ocean and being swallowed in a great big crack as fast as it could go. All the boats were sitting lop-sided in the muck, fish flapping around on the seabed. It was the better part of an hour before things went back to normal and the damages to the boats and properties were catastrophic. It was on the news and everything, and there’s talk of geologists going in and surveying the area.

Some people said they saw something else, though, after the harbour had filled up with water again. Some sort of shape came moving out of the crack in the seabed, they say – a big thing that caused a swell of current behind it as it moved. Folks on a crabbing boat up the coast said they saw something too – some kind of big shadow moving under their vessel. Too big to be a whale, they said, more like a dozen whales or so all joined together, or something else entirely that caused a great big swell of waves and moved north along the coast faster than they could keep up with it.

We ended up getting out of town after all that went down. Karen took some time off to wait on a transfer and I gave up the work with the boys. My brother took us under his roof in the city. We’re closer to Liam now and get to see him more often. We still haven’t found work but that’s alright – we can live off the insurance money for a while and the two of us don’t need a big house anyways. Maybe we’ll look for a nice little apartment. We don’t need much – we’ve got each other, now.

Sometimes I’ll ask Karen about what happened but she doesn’t like to talk about it anymore. She did say one thing that bothered me. It still bothers me. She said that if Liam and I weren’t there when she’d woken up in the cave, and if we weren’t holding onto her as tightly as we were, she would’ve jumped too. She would have thrown herself off into the darkness to fall forever into whatever it was that waited below.

She hasn’t had the nightmares since, but I still can’t let it go. I can’t sleep while she’s dreaming. I lie awake watching her with a coffee, book or whatever I need in hand to keep the sleep away. There’s plenty of time to sleep when she’s awake – plenty of time to relax when I know she’s busy. Besides, I don’t like falling asleep that much anymore. My sleep used to be peaceful oblivion – no thoughts or dreams to disturb me. Nothing but pure rest. That’s how it used to be.

Sometimes when I’m alone now I’ll think about the darkness down there below the earth. My mind gets stuck on that empty nothingness and I imagine being one of those poor souls who threw themselves over the edge, or that strange little girl who disappeared from the station. I imagine falling forever, expecting to hit the bottom of some dark and terrible pit, but continuing to just fall. Down, down, down.

I’ve starting dreaming about it, too.

Welcome to Seal Cove, we hope you survive your stay.

I’ve published 4 short horror stories online over the past few years, and all of them share something in common: they all take place in the same world.

They take place all within the same region for the most part. The town of Seal Cove was first introduced in “Loon Harbour”, but is also the setting for “Deep Sleep” and its upcoming sequel (to be released later this month). The apartment that the unlucky narrator in “The Forgotten” calls home is the same apartment introduced in my earliest work published on creepypasta.com, “The Balcony.” This apartment is also visited by RCMP officer Kevin Porter – the narrator of “Loon Harbour” – in an unnamed cameo.

Of course, all of these connections are tenuous at best, and not knowing that these stories are connected isn’t going to take away from the average reader’s experience. It does, however, make a difference to me. When I’m working on one of these tales, I’m constantly working out in my mind where these stories fit in the timeframe of my world, and what characters are connected in what way. For me, having that shared universe really heightens the mood and makes the writing experience all that more enjoyable.

Because of the connections between these stories and upcoming stories, I’d like to create a compilation, organized in my preferred reading order, so that a reader can follow the events of what’s happening in my terrible little world. I am considering having this made downloadable as an ebook, but if that doesn’t work out I will dedicate a portion of the website to this compilation so that anybody who is curious can enjoy it.

As for now, I am editing the sequel to “Deep Sleep” and hoping to have it online by next week, and possibly even sooner. I also have a new story that I’m working on that will be my longest piece of horror yet: a five chapter piece of work that I’m very excited about. In case you were wondering, yes, it is connected to my other stories, and yes, it takes place in that lovely little seaside town that I can’t get enough of. My hope is that this next piece of work will start to tie my fictional world together, bringing precious characters and locations explored to the forefront again.

Keep an eye out for more coming soon.

Dunes (a poem)

oh, we watch those holes,
those wholesome moans.
the velvet breath.

we coalesce
we lift.
we drift.

rolling, washing through the grass.
the summer sun reflects
across our teeth.

the heat,
the breeze,
we float with ease
and rise to disappear.

oh, that frothing mist awaits:
that great blue orb of the sky

Thoughts on a Sunday Morning #2

Another lazy morning, another beautiful day. I’m sitting in a chair by the open window and a cool breeze is coming in, bringing all the smells of spring with it. I wanted to share something small, but something that bears a lot of weight with it for writers.

The importance of writing things down, that is.

Now, that seems obvious. As writers, this is something we do constantly. What I’m referring to, though, is writing things down immediately. As soon as they enter your head. From time to time lines or ideas drift into our knowing, uninvited but not unwelcome. More often than not it is these random thoughts which I find most inspiring, rather than the stuff I write when I’m focusing on writing.

For example, just this morning I was cleaning up around the house, and a line popped into my head without my anticipation: “pray the lock right off the church door.” I don’t know where that came from, but there’s something in there that has caught my attention.

I write these lines down as soon as I can, because if I don’t do it right away they’re gone. Forgotten. A maybe it was a little seed of a poem, or that description that my prose has been missing. Either way, if you don’t reach out and grab it right away, it’s lost. Inspiration is hard to come by, so it’s be a shame to see those little freebies go to waste.

On a side note, happy mother’s day to all you mothers, moms and mommas out there. Have that second cup of coffee, read a book. Relax, if you can.

That’s all for now. Happy writing.

The Keeping of the Light – Chapter 17 – The Darkness

The sound of horns came echoing down the cold stone corridor. Lhorrenhelm was opening its harbour to an incoming ship. There were voices too, but he couldn’t pick out what they were saying.

“How long will they keep us here?” Jamie asked his comrades. Felicia’s amethyst hung cold against his chest.

“Until they have decided what to do with us,” said Hektor.

“Until they hang us,” said Mavis.

“Until you die,” said the darkness. The man in the cell next to them was such a torment, Jamie wondered whether the guards had placed him there to drive prisoners mad. The man the voice belonged to gave a different name every time they asked it of him, and seemed to want nothing more than to dampen their spirits even lower than they had fallen. He spoke often of death.

The trio had been half-dragged, half-carried through the city square gates and up the steps to the High Keeper’s tower. There was a moment where Jamie thought the guards were taking them to the High Keeper herself, and he had smiled in relief. It had not lasted long. The guards took them down, down, over steps carved into the stone of the headland on which the tower stood. Their possessions were taken from them – food, tools, weapons all. The small bag of rings brought a grim expression to the guards’ faces when they seized it, and in a second of panic Jamie had cried “Shalsa! Shalsa and the raiders. The Oyen is with them!” but the guards merely stared at him and locked the bars shut. The darkness had laughed and welcomed them to his home.

It was the third morning since their capture, judging by the sliver of light that was poking through the slit of a window down the corridor. It was the only other light besides a torch that flickered a few cells down. Mavis had spent most of his time pacing. Hektor, bickering with the darkness. Jamie, staring into the barred hole in the center of their cell that plunged out of sight. He had no idea how deep it went, but at times he thought he heard waves crashing below.

“She wont talk to you. She don’t talk to crazies,” said the darkness.

“Shut your mouth,” said Hektor. His voice was hoarse.

“Hehe, you’re crazier than me. Crazier than old Yanny. They hung him,” said the darkness.

“Gods, would you shut it?” Hektor rubbed his eyes, clearly frustrated.

“Yanny-yilly, swinging silly, hanging in the wind, hehe!” the darkness sang. He clapped at delight when Hektor cursed him, his mother, and his mother’s mother.

“Lyca,” Mavis said. “Gods above and below, Jamie, we said we’d bring back help.”

“I know,” he said, staring into the hole. “But they have to let us out, they have to at least listen to us. We haven’t done anything.”

“Swinging, swinging in the wind. You’ll hang, you will, you crazy lot,” said the darkness. Hektor ground his teeth.

“He’s right,” Mavis said. “They think we killed those guards and took the rings. You saw, Jamie, they all wear rings. Every guard, man or woman.”

“Murder, murder, lies and flies,” said the darkness.

“They can’t,” said Jamie. “They have to at least listen.”

“It was a stupid idea.” Mavis looked at Jamie, his face flushed. “Your stupid idea.”

“Easy, Hunter,” said Hektor. “It’s bad enough with sing-song over there getting under our skins. We best not fight each other.”

The darkness laughed. “Sing-song, hang-long…”

“SHUT UP!” they yelled in unison.

“Well it was my stupid idea or what, Mave? Sit around and starve? Let Geoffrey die?” Jamie’s face felt hot.

“We could have persuaded Mikhal to be a little more generous, if you ask me,” Mavis said.

“Gods, Mavis, he saved our lives-”

Your life,” he interjected. “It was you who needed saving. Your plan and your life. Whose fault is it we’re here?”

Jamie stood up, fists tight. Why is he being so damned idiotic? “My fault, is it? If you could’ve kept your mouth shut when those raiders showed up-”

“Lads…” Hektor said, helplessly.

“And what, Jamie? Huh? Let them kill us? Gods, at least I give a shit about making it back. I’d swear you were trying to get us killed, leading us here.”

“Of course I care. And what’s your big push? So excited to run back to Lyca and be the big hero for her, are you? Did you forget why we left in the first place?”

“I’m doing this for Geoffrey, you ass.” Mavis glared at him.

“You don’t give a shit about Geoffrey, you’re just-”

Mavis slammed a fist into Jamie’s face and sent him reeling backwards into the stone wall. “Fight, fight! Kill, KILL!” said the darkness. Hektor jumped to his feet and grabbed Mavis by the shoulders, holding him back.

“Say what you want,” Mavis said, through gritted teeth, “the only reason you wanted to do this was because you wanted to find Felicia. You selfish ass.”

Jamie rubbed his jaw, thinking desperately for something to fire back with, but he couldn’t find the words. Mavis’ words hit so close to the truth that he simply let them sink in for a moment. The two friends stared at each other. Slowly, their breathing quieted, and Mavis stopped struggling under Hektor’s hold.

“I’m sorry, Mave,” Jamie finally said. “And you, Hektor. I’m sorry I dragged you both into this.”

Mavis seemed to be suddenly fascinated by the ground at his feet. He stared down, rubbing his knuckles. “Yeah… well… sorry about the… you know…”

Hektor shook his head and sat back on the cold floor. “Y’lads got it out then?” They nodded. “Good.”

“Oh, why so quiet, friendly-friends?” asked the darkness. Nobody bothered to answer, not even Hektor. The three of them sat in silence, each awkwardly tending to some small, irrelevant task. In the distance Jamie could hear more horns, and some commotion echoing up through the hole in the floor.

“Two mice outside my cell. Squeak!” said the darkness suddenly.

“Gods, do you ever speak anything that isn’t nonsense?” asked Hektor. Jamie was convinced that if he rolled his eyes any farther, they might get stuck inside his head.

“Oh, I know lots, friendlies. Lots of good squeaky things. Ask me one question, and I’ll give you two answers, hehe!” the darkness replied.

“Oh gods, here we go,” said Hektor.

“Alright then, sing-song. What’s the Oyen? Make yourself useful, ’cause I’m dying to know.” Jamie asked.

“Oh, don’t encourage him, Jamie,” Mavis groaned.

“Hehe, I know lots of that,” said the darkness. “Two answers for you.”

“Go on, then. Surprise me,” Jamie said.

“It’s near and far away,” he said.

“That’s very helpful,” Mavis said.

“No no, I’m not done,” the darkness said. “It’s old and new to you.”

“Kill me,” said Hektor.

“No, better is…” The darkness paused. “No, never mind. Stupid question, friendlies. You asked it all wrong. Hehe.”

It looked as though Hektor was about to erupt into an insult session with the man, but at that moment voices could be heard coming down the corridor. “D’ya hear that?” Mavis asked. The others nodded. They walked cautiously to the bars and tried to peer out. It was a group of guards. Three men, two women. Each was armed with a short spear, and one of them was carrying rope.

“Yanny-yilly, swinging silly…” the darkness sang.

The guards stopped in front of the trio’s cell, and the man with the rope stared for a moment before speaking to them.

“You spoke of a name when you were arrested,” he said. “Speak it again, clearly.”

Jamie nodded nervously, and said, “Shalsa.”

The guard with the rope looked at his fellow guards. They each returned his glance with a short nod. Finally, he turned back to Jamie. “Very well. Hold your hands behind your back.”

“Where are you taking us?” Mavis asked.

“Quiet, prisoner. Hands behind your back. We’re granting your wish. You’re coming to see the High Keeper.”

The Keeping of the Light – Chapter 16 – The Captain’s Daughter

“We’ll make landfall in a day, Ratt reckons,” said the captain of the Cormorant to his daughter. “I bet him a cask o’ black beer I’ll get us there before the sun rises on the morrow.”

“Isn’t the beer sour?” she asked.

“Don’t make a bet you don’t mind losing,” he replied, winking. “Ratt won’t know the difference anyways. That git’ll drink anything that makes his head spin.”

“Ratt’s not half bad, Poppa.”

“Aye, s’long as he keeps his mouth shut. Never heard so many lies come outta one hole before. Why d’ya think I keeps him up in the crow’s nest?” The captain snorted and spat over the gunwale, clacking his tongue when it hit the water.

“What about the things he’s been saying about our… passenger?” She glanced sideways at her father. “Are those lies too?”

“I wouldn’t worry too much ’bout what Ratt says about him, Rory.”

Rory squinted. “But he says we can’t trust men like the Iri’khul. Says they’re savage like. Says they’ve got no respect for regular people.”

The captain frowned. “Y’never been away from the shield for more than a week at sea til now. Y’never seen places I have, or people. I’ve been all over the south coast of Lhor. Seen the shores o’ glass four times. Been farther east than anyone I reckon in hundreds o’ years. I’ve sailed south to Iri’kh more’n once in my day, I’ll grant ye, and done a good deal o’ trading there. They ain’t so different from you or I. Might look different, believe in a few other things but that’s bout the size of it.”

“So, they’re not killers, then?” Rory asked.

The captain snorted again. “All men are killers when they need be. Don’t take a name to make a killer. Jus’ takes conditions.”

“I guess.”

“I know.” The captain spat before turning away. “Killer or not, ye needn’t worry bout him til we get ashore. Bugger’s sick as a swile pup. Can’t handle the water.”

That much was a relief, at least. Rory hadn’t been aboard when the crew had brought the Iri’khul onto the Cormorant, and the mysterious passenger had been secluded to his cabin below deck since they left port at Koppet. All her father had told her was that the southerner was requested in Lhorrenhelm by the High Keeper. In Rory’s mind, it meant only two possible things: he was being brought to answer for some terrible crime, or he was a man of importance. After hearing Ratt’s talk of wild tree-men and the horrors committed in the dark forests of the south, Rory assumed that the former was more likely.

She squinted at the horizon ahead and thought that she could see a sliver of land, but it was too far to be sure, and dusk was approaching. Overhead, stars were winking into view. When she was still a little girl her mother told her that people had names for shapes in the stars before the time of the dark war. Heroes and monsters that lived forever in the night skies, coming and going with the turn of the years. Sometimes on clear nights she would lie on the deck of her father’s ship and look for the shapes in the lights above, but all she could ever see were specks dotted here and there. There seemed no more sense in the stars to her than in dust motes stirred from a musty blanket.

The water was unusually calm for winter, but the air unforgivably cold. This time of year, most ships north of the Shield would be staying at port, save for important runs. Their captains would spend the coldest months living off the spoils from the last season of ferrying, trading and smuggling. Rory’s father had more bravery than most, she figured. Then again, what choice did her father have but answer the call of the High Keeper at Lhorrenhelm? What consequence would have befallen her family had he denied and stayed ashore? It was ill will to say no to the powers that protect, and Lhorrenhelm was a city with a reputation for prowling on men of the sea. More of mother’s tales, she thought. Perhaps as foolish as the shapes in the stars.

Rather than take that chance, her father agreed and ordered his men to chop the ice away from the Cormorant with mauls and axes and they were on their way north the following evening. They were greeted by a blood-red sunset that deckhand Alto said meant safe sailing. He had been right, for the most part. The fourth day greeted them with snow, the fifth with wind, sharper than good steel. She had asked her father how long the blizzard would last, but he only laughed, spat, and said “This is no blizzard, girl. This is but a belch from the Further.”

The storm only lasted a night, but it was a long one. She busied herself in the galley, aiding the six-fingered cook, Rolf, with fish stew and listening to the Iri’khul retching in his cabin down the passageway. Once during the night Rolf bid her to carry him a bowl of broth to calm his stomach, but when she knocked on the cabin door the only answer was the sound of dry heaving and coughing. She left the bowl outside the door, but the rolling of the ship knocked it over, leaving only a cold stain on the planks. She didn’t mind though. Better to scrub floorboards than face the Iri’khul.

Leaning over the gunwale, she gazed north and thought she could see a faint light in the distance. Burning a deep red, not like the white light of the stars. Blood red. That would be the Lightkeeper’s tower, warning of the ragged reef on which so many ships had been torn asunder. Beacon of safety, she thought with a grimace. Drowning frightened her. For as long as she could remember, Rory would wake up in the night, cold and sweating and gasping for breath. “I’m drowning!” she would tell her mother, but her mother always said “Hush, child. You’re safe.” That was when she was younger. In those days she would scream in the night. Now she was stronger, harder. Now she refused to let anyone hear her cry or see her fear, but it was there all the same.

When her drowning dream came that night, Rory couldn’t bear to lie down again. She swore she could taste the salt in her throat, feel the deep, stabbing cold in her lungs. It was cold, though, damn cold. Curiously quiet, and still. She decided to go on deck for some air.

Outside the wind had calmed, and the Cormorant was drifting through the water as smoothly as a fish. The water was smooth as glass, and to the north she could see that red glow burning closer and brighter than before and tainted with flickers of orange from time to time. She could see other lights too, smaller and dimmer. And the stars, where had they gone? The sky was dark with thick, brooding clouds, and only here and there the moon’s glow sifted though in ghostly beams.

“A beautiful night for walking in dark,” said a deep, quiet voice behind her.

Rory spun round and saw that sitting on the deck, leaning limply against the mast behind her was the shape of a man. As he stood, he towered over her head. Rory thought he must have been at least seven feet tall, with arms that hung nearly to his knees. His long face was framed with a mane of brown hair (though in her mind she thought it was fur) that grew thick about his neck and hung over the front of his cloak. His brow was hard set, and his shoulders were as broad as a man and a half, but something about him seemed oddly frail.

“Are you afraid of me, young one?” the Iri’khul asked of her.

Rory shook her head. “No,” she lied.

He smiled. “Good. I have been alone for long, ulu’k. Too sick for talk for long.” He walked near to her, holding the gunwale for support.

Rory shifted a few inches away from him. “What did you call me? Oolook?”

“Ulu’k. It means ‘friend’ in my home tongue.” He made a gesture, brushing his long thumb over his heart.

“I’m not your friend,” she said.

“Uru’k is my friend. Ulu’k is friend to Iri’kh. Your people are friend to my people.” He closed his eyes, looking sad. “Were friend, I mean. Before the dark.”

Rory looked at the southerner’s face and felt suddenly unafraid. He was being kind to her. Ratt is full of shit after all. “Ulu’k,” she said, attempting to imitate the gesture.

He laughed weakly and shook his head. “Another word for me. But you understand. I can be ulu’k for you.” He looked into the water below and looked like he was about to be sick again, but after a moment regained his composure. “I am not good with floating on water.”

“I didn’t think so,” she said. “We’ll be there soon, though.”

“Good,” he said. He turned to her. “I am Krikka Kol I’khir. Maybe only Krikka better for you?”

“Krikka,” she said. “My name’s Rory Halk. My father is the captain.”

“Roooar-reee,” he said, sounding it out. “Your name is hard, ulu’k. I will practice.” He pointed at the red-orange light to the north. “I come to counsel the High Keeper. Bring many histories. Scrolls from the Hidden Hall.”

“The Hidden Hall?” Rory asked, intrigued. “What do you do there?”

“It is where we keep histories,” he said, shrugging. “In Iri’kh all histories are written, and we keep them safe in the Hidden Hall. All things, true or made up. We have histories of your lands too. And Lhor, also. Some histories that been not read for long time. Old things, from when these lands were young. Long before ulu’k or Krikka come into world. Histories the High Keeper wants.”

“So… you’re like a librarian?” Rory laughed. The idea of the great, hairy Iri’kh sorting through papers seemed absurd.

“This is who keeps histories?” Krikka asked.

“Yah, sort of.”

“Then I am a lie-barren. Good,” he said smiling. “You been to Lhorrenhelm before, ulu’k?”

“No, never, have you?”

“No.”

“Oh,” she said. A glow was rising in the east. “You scared?”

“Some. Why do you come here, for first time?”

Rory looked to the north again, at the city flickering into life ahead. “I don’t know, Krikka.” Wish I did. “My father insisted I come with him this time, even though he never brings me to the capitol. I can’t help but feel something’s on his mind.”

Krikka gave her a studying look, before promptly vomiting over the gunwale. “Ahk’ik!” Rory supposed he was swearing. Then he said, “I hope your visit is good, ulu’k.”

“Aye,” said Rory, “me too.”

The Keeping of the Light – Chapter 15 – Leaving and Dreaming

There was still smoke drifting from a few chimneys when they left. Rivermouth, for the first time in centuries, was empty.

She had been up most of the night, gathering what supplies they had that could fit in their three old canvas packs. Food stuffs and tools first. Then clothes – the warmest furs and cloaks they had. Next, Lyca gathered the things she couldn’t bear to leave behind. An old brass flute Mavis had given her. A belt hatchet, for whatever good it might do. The musty hare-paw charm that had once been her mother’s. That morning, she and Geoffrey had gathered their bags, Lyca’s alder crutch, and made their way to the ice to meet with the others.

It was strangely quiet with so many people gathered together. Very few spoke, other than quips about the weather or the necessary precautions. Most were stone-faced and quietly packing their families onto the huge sleds that stood waiting as the Riverfolk fed their moose and tightened harness straps.

Her leg was still far from healed. Each step brought a stab of hot pain that seemed to shoot from her thigh to her heart, and the wrappings were still coming off soiled and stinking. Yet, this day was better than the last, and that was a good thing.

The five massive sleds stood like strange, sloped huts on the ice. Lyca saw that smoke was spitting from slender chimneys in their roofs, which meant there must be stoves on the inside. She spotted Old Crewe leaning against the nearest sled and limped over.

“Morning to you,” she said.

“To you as well,” he replied. “It is good or bad?”

“Sad.”

“Aye, that it is.”

Within the hour they had pulled away from Rivermouth. The cabins, the trading post, the stead all stood still as stones and empty as air. No axes splitting wood. No doors slamming shut with the wind. No voices, no songs, no secrets. Through driving snow and blistering wind they dredged on throughout the day. Men and women, bayfolk and riverfolk alike made turns walking and resting in the sleds. It took two people to guide the three pairs of moose hauling each sled, and more were needed to walk ahead and prod the ice with poles in search of weaknesses or holes. Lyca had been forced to remain inside with the old and the sick – those who were too weak or in too much pain to walk beside the sleds.

She felt guilty for not helping lead with the others, but otherwise she didn’t mind it in the sled. She sat with Geoffrey and Old Crewe and Missus Bekka, listening to the elders’ tales from wayback about people long gone and deeds that had mostly been forgotten. Below them, the great wooden skis slid on, grinding across edges of ice and swishing over pools of fresh-fallen snow. As the day wore on, Lyca kept pulling back the flap of the sled door to see where they were. By late morning they passed Quartz Cove, which seemed as empty and quiet as Rivermouth now was. The tiny stove crackled away. Fuelled by wet sticks and turpentine, fat and old rope. Between tales the silence became broken by Sherylyn’s whimpers. Every time the sled hit an upthrust ice pan she would moan with pain. Lyca wasn’t sure whether the older woman was awake or asleep half the time. Either way, she feared Sherylyn would soon join her husband in death.

The sun had just begun to dip as they approached Passer’s Point, and a team was sent to converse with the Lightkeeper about the happenings of the last few days. Lyca chewed her fingers with anticipation but was relieved to hear of Jamie and Mavis’ passing through. The word from the Lightkeeper was that the two men had nearly drowned in their attempt to reach the stead, and that Jamie had nearly been lost to the water. However, it seemed that they had left the stead in good spirits, if under prepared. She couldn’t lose hope now. Hope was all they had. Stranger still was that a message had been intended for Old Crewe from the High Keeper of Lhorrenhelm, but the Lightkeeper didn’t know what it was. Old Crewe didn’t speak of it, which Lyca thought was odd.

From Passer’s Point they cut straight across the ice to the western shore. The decision to do so had taken much contemplation, and no shortage of unkind words between Gerrik Hull and Mr Straulk. In the end, though, the old merchant gave in. They would be in the lee of the western cliffs, and the ice near to shore would be more solid there.

On through the evening and into the dark the great moose plowed, over the ice edges sharp as axes and snow drifts high as a man’s waist at times. The travellers supped on a thin broth that contained some oily trace of fish and wherein floated the sparse remains of a withered root or two. The Lightkeeper had spared them a small bag of salt, which helped. His stores were not entirely low, but he refused to part with more than the salt, insisting that his purpose was to maintain those who lost their way. There were always those who lost their way.

The first night, Lyca’s sleep came in fits. She would drift off slowly into some lofty dream, only to be awoken moments later by a jolt of the sled, or a voice crying out in the night. Once, she woke in a tearful mess, convinced beyond reason that they had broken through the ice and were all going to drown, but Missus Bekka brought her back to her senses with a swift slap on the cheek.

“Your leg will not bear your burden – let your wits do the walking.”

“But we’re drowning,” she muttered, breathless. To her surprise, the old woman laughed and patted her gingerly on the shoulder.

“Dear Lyca, we will not drown.”

“Aye,” came a deep voice from the flap of the sled door. Tiny, coming in from the cold to swap with another traveller. “We won’t drown. You’d freeze before any water got in yer lungs.”

That first night seemed to last forever. More dreams came and went. She was in a field, surrounded by the skeletal remains of houses. She was stabbing a giant lynx, over and over, blood splattering in her eyes. She was swaying atop a wall of stone, as an angry sea boiled a hundred feet below.

Daybreak brought some sense of relief. Missus Bekka assured her she must have been in a fever, as she had been mumbling and rolling about in her sleep. Lyca changed her wrappings and found that while they were still dirty, the smell was less strong now. Someone announced that they were in the shadow of the western cliffs and Lyca limped her way to the flap to look outside. The sight that met her was astonishing – a sheer face, reaching to dizzying heights and decorated in a forest of thousands of crystal clear icicles. A frozen waterfall. As the bleak winter sun crept higher and let a few blades of light through the black clouds, rainbows shot from the cliff face like flames. Her eyes watered as orbs of perfect blue, silver, red and violet shivered in the morning air. A moment later it was gone, and the ice became cold and still once again.

The day moved on as the one before had done, with the grinding, shuffling pace of their five-sled caravan. Once, near midday, a riverfolk boy in his teens came to check on Sherylyn and spent more than enough time confirming that Lyca was indeed well.

“The boy fancies you,” said Old Crewe with a devilish grin.

“The boy is too young to know what’s good for him. He didn’t smell my rags this morning,” she joked. “Still, I had been that young when Mavis first came knocking on Mother’s door.”

“Do you remember much about your mother?” he asked. “I knew never my own.”

“My mother…” she stopped for a moment, to think. “My father died when I was young, before squirt here was born,” she said, ruffling Geoffrey’s hair. “My mother was a strong woman. Hands like talons. When she’d be fletching I’d watch her fingers moving, zipping off vanes from feather, yanking twine so tight you’d think it’d cut through her skin. She used to say Father called her ‘hide hands’ when they first met.” She laughed. “Hide hands, can you imagine!”

“He must’ve got some tellings off from her for that,” Old Crewe chuckled.

“I’ll bet he did. She could be soft when she wanted to be, though. Hands like leather, but they were gentler than water.”

“I don’t remember,” Geoffrey said, his eyes welling up.

“Shush now,” Lyca said. She pulled him close. “Momma loved you, squirt. She’d be so proud of you.”

Nightfall came with whispers of torchlight along the eastern shore, but Tiny assured them it was too dark and blurred by snow to see anything for sure. It was probably hunters.

“What if it’s the men? Mavis and Jamie?” she prodded. “What if they got trapped, or injured?” Tiny only shook his head at that.

“They’d be farther south by now. And besides, it’s too many lights to be them, if it’s torches we’re all squintin’ at.”

“How many?” asked the riverfolk teen, now resting inside.

“Two dozen or more, I reckon,” he said, and squeezed his huge frame through the door and back into the freezing night. “Cursin’ wind,” Lyca heard a voice outside say.

Hours dragged on and the walking kept switching with the resting, the resting with the walking. Lyca dozed off, more deeply than the night before, and it was some time before she woke again.

“Beggin’ pardon,” Old Crewe said, sitting back down in his nest of furs and blankets. “Fire nearly went out. Had to tend to the stove.”

“Don’t beg any pardons, I’m glad you didn’t let us shiver. Bad dreams and such, y’know.”

“No more’n usual,” the old man said. Lyca had been dreaming again. Not of ghost towns or monsters but of her mother. Old Crewe must have seen something of it in her face. “Something botherin’ you?”

“It’s nothing, really,” she said. Old Crewe’s pondering expression made her want to tell all, though. The old mapmaker had been kind. There was a long pause.

“My mother,” Lyca started. “I lied to you, Mister Crewe, about Momma.” It wasn’t easy. “My father was dead long before I could remember him. Crushed under the weight of some tree felled by a careless young woodsman he was teaching. Happened just a couple of years after I was born. Momma was all I knew growing up. And Geoffrey… he doesn’t know.” She looked over at the young boy, who was snoring lightly in his sleep.

Old Crewe leaned in as far as his bent back would allow. “Doesn’t know what, Lyca?”

“Geoffrey’s not my true brother.” The words came out tasting sour. “Geoffrey’s father was a stranger. Some… man. My mother and him met when I was young. I never even knew who he was. I only knew he was the reason Momma would take a trip to Quartz Cove once a week for a summer. Must have been some miner, I suppose.”

Old Crewe’s mouth was in a frown, but his eyes were kind. “What became of him?” he asked.

“I don’t know, for sure. He disappeared a few months before Geoffrey was born. I didn’t care. I didn’t know him anyways. All I wanted was a little brother or a sister. But the day he was born, that’s when Momma…” Remembering was poison. “That’s when she died.”

“Lyca, Lyca,” the old man said quietly. “You must miss her very much.”

“I do.”

It was quiet for a long time. Lyca listened to the little fire crackling, and occasionally a moose snorted out in the dark. It was perhaps an hour before the mapmaker spoke again.

“Beggin’ pardon again, Lyca. You weren’t the only one who lied.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, confused.

“My hometown isn’t Greepetown, like I told you before.”

“Really?”

“No, not hardly. Didn’t you think it strange, that of all these riverfolk, none seemed to recognize me?”

She had thought it was strange, but she hadn’t given it much thought. “Yes, now that you mention it, I did notice that. Then where are you from, Mister Crewe?”

Old Crewe looked around the tent quietly, listening carefully to the sounds of snores and Sherylyn’s soft whimpering. “I’ll tell you all about that sometime soon, when there are fewer ears around.”

Lyca thought of something. “And the letter that the lightkeeper mentioned, do you know what that was about?”

“I have an idea,” he said, nodding solemnly. “But it’s best you get some sleep. Ask again when we reach the capitol, and I’ll tell you all I know. If anybody’s earned that much, it’s you.” The old man closed his eyes and the sled went silent.

But Lyca didn’t sleep. Her mind was alive with thoughts of the strange dreams, and of her mother. She pulled her brother’s blanket a little tighter to keep out the cold and leaned back in her furs, waiting for the sun to rise.