Boarding House

March 28, 2013 § 2 Comments

There’s somebody else in here, in this house. I can hear them. I hear footsteps in hallways, doors clicking closed in distant rooms. I’ll walk into a room where smoke rises from a just-snuffed candle. Creaking sounds, rhythmic and repetitive, lead me to a bedroom on the second floor where I find a rocking horse, cantering back and forth on dusty runners. I watch it slow to a halt.

Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop.

Not that I should be here, either. It was a bad night, rain sluicing down, and the door was ajar. I saw a candle flickering in a first-floor window and thought that I might be able to shelter for a while. I called out a greeting in the hallway. Not even echoes in response. I walked from room to deserted room until I found a bedroom and, without meaning to, I slept.

Boarding House

I woke after what could’ve been an hour or a day with the room muffled by a half-light gloom and my body stiff from sleeping in damp clothes. Dust and cobwebs caked the windows and I could see only dim shapes outside. I turned and, for the first time, noticed that a suit of clothes had been laid out on the dresser. Had they been there before I slept? Even now, I’m unsure. I found a jug of water beside the clothes and drank the brackish, stale liquid inside. Then I undressed, changed and left my own tattered garments on the bed. I’ve not seen them since. I’ve never found that room again.

Out in the hallway, lights shone dimly from glass globes lining the walls. Rain battered the grimy windows and filled the landing with its clatter but, on the edge of sound, I could hear a piano played haltingly in a room on the lower floor. Scales, repeating. I padded downstairs, cautiously, following the sound to a pair of double doors. They opened into a drawing room and the piano stopped, the last note damped off abruptly. It stood there, a grand, with its keys facing towards me like teeth. Like a smile. I turned, looking around the room, and started in fright as my eye caught movement. My own reflection in a gilt-edged mirror. I smiled ruefully and, as I did so, a jarring crash behind me made my heart leap. I spun around. The piano’s fallboard had slammed shut. Had been slammed shut. As I watched, chest heaving, the key turned slowly in the lock.

I fled, I admit. Out through the double doors and down the hall, past the stairs I’d recently descended, until I caught my foot on a runner and collapsed into a window seat. I sat for a while, with my head in clammy hands, until my breathing slowed to normal. A branch, blown by the wind outside, tapped the leaded glass. tap tap. I raised my head and looked down the hallway. tap tap. It seemed shorter than the distance I’d run, the drawing room’s double doors only a few paces away. tap tap. Something nagged at me. tap tap. Something wrong. tap tap. I suddenly realised. tap tap. Despite the rain, the wind had died away long since.

Tap tap.

Since then I have explored this house, this set of interlinked and seemingly endless rooms. I still hear other inhabitants in distant rooms. In the first few days I called out to them, pleaded with them, cursed them. For a while I tried to catch one, even to the extent of laying traps made from rugs and curtain cords. All to no avail. I’ve found fire-grates still warm to the touch, baskets lined with fresh breadcrumbs. I’ve found water gurgling down sinks, showerheads still dripping and wreathed in steam. I’ve found music boxes skipping a single line of music, tin monkeys shaking tin cups as their clockwork slowly winds down. Once, in what looked like an under-stair storage, I found an old upright piano and let my fingers walk out a few scales. I gasped as the shrill notes cut through me and filled my body with a half-remembered terror. I slammed the fallboard down and locked the wretched thing before I scurried on towards new horrors.

I wonder, sometimes, how far away I now am from the City. The windows are still grime-smeared and only just translucent but the dim light coming through them is tinged at the edges with flickering green. The paintings on the walls are strange. The walls themselves are strange, in ways I can’t express.

I feel unwelcome, watched and barely tolerated. I should leave. I would leave.

If I could find my way out.

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In Spaces

March 19, 2013 § 1 Comment

“It’s getting worse, Heinrich.”

“Hmmm?”

“The thaumarc. It’s…worse somehow. Brighter. Or darker, I’m not sure.”

“It’s the rain, I heard. They say that the rain leeches light from the sky and brightens the arc.”

“Do they? And you believe that?”

“As much as I believe anything else these days. Why does it matter, anyway? So it’s brighter…”

“Or darker.”

“Or darker, whichever. It’s always there. It always will be there. Damned robes and their mumbling…”

“Mumbling which is different from our work in what way, exactly?”

“I don’t mumble and I don’t meddle. I investigate, catalogue and understand…and I don’t rend holes in the Aether just to poke a staff into it and see what happens!”

“I see. How is your en-djinn, by the way?”

“Working. Barely. I swear that fool Smink can’t tell the difference between brass and copper. I almost fused the coil yesterday!”

“And that’s bad?”

“Oh, no…only if you think that the loss of a half-year’s work and the subsequent, brutal death of a local businessman is a bad thing.”

“Ah…”

“Yes, ‘ah’. Pass me that barsom-rod, would you?”

Pale Warders

March 14, 2013 § 2 Comments

A blackbird howls out through the night and here I am, waiting. There’s a faint hissing, like rain on a fire, as a soft blanket of snow starts to fall. The soil hardens, cracking. Cold seeps down to the roots. Walls close in. I hear children cry out from their beds, feel parents prickle with worry. There’s a storm close by.

Somewhere in the Fen, on a low hill next to a brackish pool, there is a cluster of wooden staves driven deep into the earth. Each is crowned with a human skull, held tight by twine and leather. Snow collects in their eye sockets. Ice hangs down from their jaws. Tattered ribbons flutter and crack. When the wind blows cold and fierce, sharp with dust from the Sleeping Cliffs, they sing out their ancient lament.

Long, bass moans. High, keening wails. The hollow voice of the unquiet dead.

Bone Watchers

No living thing can suffer to hear them, it is said, and even the proudly fearless Grimmelkin mark warnings in their hunters’ language of scratches and scent. A few creatures stray here, unwise or unthinking, hoping to find shelter in the lee of the hill. Their bones lie scattered around, shifting sometimes into strange patterns. Even in the far-off City, barely visible but for a faint smudge of colour on the horizon, restless citizens mutter of dark dreams, hobgoblins lurk under children’s beds and a certain few take up their knives. Against themselves. Against others.

I know these things, when few others do.

I have been there.

I am there now.

I am singing.

Artist’s impression reproduced courtesy Mr P. Warwick Wilson,
Department of Anthrochology, Constant University

Sleep, Sleep & Do Not Wake

March 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

I’ve never left the City. Not really. Nobody that I know of has ever left the City. It’s not like you can’t go, there’s nothing to stop you, but…well, it’s just that nobody ever does. I sometimes wonder if there’s anything else outside the City. I walked for a whole day once, down past Riddle’s Bed and over the Choke out into the Fen but you could still see buildings and smoke rising up all around. When it’s foggy you can go there and it feels like there’s nobody else left alive but then I worry about Fen Dogs so I don’t stay there for that long.

Sleep, Sleep & Do Not Wake

It’s cloudy today. Might rain later. I don’t mind the rain, really, I like the way it sounds on the ground. I might go to Riddle’s Bed before it starts, though. I like to go there and read the writing on the stones. It’s like the stones are there just to remember the people who’ve died even if no one else does. I try to remember as many names as I can, just to help the stones. Pieter Garman, that’s one. I don’t go there at night, though. I don’t like to think of all those people lying under the ground. I sometimes wonder if they wake up at night. We live above ground and sleep at night so if they’re below ground they might just sleep in the day, mightn’t they?

They might. I don’t like to risk it.

Colours

March 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

///Colours// thinks the Bat. //Colours kill these days/Worse than kill/Make you wished you’d been killed//

The Bat shifts its weight, hunkering down onto the tiled roof. The brass wings arcing from its back click and settle into a new position. They scrape the chimney behind it and leave pale gouges in the crumbling mortar.

///Colours// thinks the Bat. //Colours give life these days/Food and coin/Depends who asks/Depends who wants/Bat knows who wants/Bat asks/Bat gets//

A croaking chuckle comes from the darkness beneath the Bat’s cowl, then turns quickly into a rasping cough. The brass wings shudder, scratching more lines into the chimney stack. Pale mortar falls like snow. Like ash.

///Colours take// thinks the Bat. //Colours take their payment/Yes/Not food/Not coin/Just Bat/Poor Bat//

The cowled head shakes slowly. More coughing, harsh and dry.

///Colours are Bat// thinks the Bat. //Bat is colours/Nothing between/Not anymore//

Above the chimney stack, above the Bat, something in the energy field seems to turn inside out and slowly bleeds into a translucent purple. Brass wings crackle in response, flaring incandescent sparks from their tips, and the Bat looks up.

///Colours change// thinks the Bat. //Bat must move/Bat must search/Must search for secrets/City secrets/Sky secrets/Colour secrets//

The Bat rises into a hunched, half-bent stance and its wings flare above it. Crackling arcs of energy, searing webs of purple, violet and white, jump from wing-tip to wing-tip and skitter along the brazen vanes.

With a flex of its shoulders that sends a shimmering ripple through the wings of pure power now held above its twisted form, the Bat stalks off through the chimney stacks to hunt for his secrets.

Peripheral Thaumaturgy

March 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

At the gutter-fringes of the Limbic Quarter, the human run-off from more traditional thaumic occupations blends into new and strangely twisted hybridisations. Some are transient, self-selecting themselves out of viability through accident or stagnation, but many persist into predatory or parasitic niches where they feed on the remnants of the underclass.

Aromanciers haunt the alleyways, grey-blue clouds of nerve-quickening prestidigitalis incense flowing from censers or trailing from the hems of their glyph-strewn robes, as they take furtive audience from watery-eyed adherents of the Red Lotus. Strange and fluting gibberings, repetitive litanies of nonsense numbers and other half-aware strangeness float in the air around their wavering figures, weaving through their smoke-smothered words.

With joints made arthritic and twisted by constant flexion/extension, jitter-witches pulse erratically with the coronal discharge of stolen nervous energy. Their scorch-marked sacks rattle-clack-clack with collections of spark-filled jars, glowing dully like fairy fireflies and destined eventually for the braincase of some scuttling Jack-A-Doll.

But the worst, perhaps, lurks in rock-lined cellars where the strangely bubbling vats of promethean demi-urgeons belch and roil as pallid patchwork creatures gestate within their brass-bound wombs. The bristling ozone stench of sparking lode-bearers, suspended on copper wires above smoke-glass jars of acid, twists and escapes up through corroded grilles to burn eyes and nostrils far above.

Citizens are reminded that unlicenced thaumaturgical endeavours are prohibited by Law.

Optick image of a confiscated demi-urgeon terata (destroyed)
Reproduced by kind courtesy of His Lordship’s Dept. of Maintenance & Pursuance

Tick Cant

March 7, 2013 § Leave a comment

Tick Cant

“Bad place. No welcome here. Move on.”

On a doorpost, or nearby tree.

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