O, the Forests of Bhak’khu

October 22, 2016 § 1 Comment

I heard the song a Traveller sang
Which from his mouth with sadness rang
His words befouled with acrid tang
From the forests of Bhak’khu

He told me first of paths he trod14650165_10153858498955334_9193476899983822235_n
‘Cross singing sands and peat-brown sod
Away from men and dying gods
To the forests of Bhak’khu

He walked on heath and moor and fen
Tramped through valley, creek and glen
Past monuments built before men
Knew the forests of Bhak’khu

One morn upon a mist-cloaked hill
He spied an omen, dark and ill,
A corpse who told him ‘Death waits still
In the forests of Bhak’khu’.

‘You may speak true but my reply
Is everything that’s lived must die.
If Death’s both here and there then why
‘ware the forests of Bhak’khu?

The corpse collapsed back into dust
As time turns iron into rust
The Traveller knew then that he must
Reach the forests Bhak’khu

On sun-scorched pan of glass and salt
A serpent, basking, cried out ‘Halt!’
‘No man of wisdom, nor base dolt
Seeks the forests of Bhak’khu’

‘Return forthwith from whence ye came
Renounce your wealth, renounce your name
Renounce all hope that you might tame
All the forests of Bhak’khu’

‘O snake,’ our Traveller did beseech
‘Beguile me not with fork-tongued speech
For the fastness I shall surely breach
Of the forests of Bhak’khu’

The serpent hissed a venom-curse
‘For good or ill, for all things worse
Your sight will fade, your heart will burst
In the forests of Bhak’khu!’

And with such words it disappeared
As shadows spake that evening neared
The Traveller knew why many feared
Of the forests of Bhak’khu.

One night a slinking, jet-black cat
Whispered softly, slyly that
‘You’ll be as tasty as a rat
In the forests of Bhak’khu’

A girl-child wrapped in blood-stained rags
Flanked by a dozen toothless hags
Said ‘What are kings and all their flags
‘Gainst the forests of Bhak’khu?’

Yet nothing kept him from his road
Not howling shaman daubed with wode
Nor armoured knight of solemn code
From the forests of Bhak’khu

He walked for weeks and months and years
His hair grew long around his ears
His eyes were filled with countless tears
For the forests of Bhak’khu

He saw again the corpse, the knight
The cat that came in dead of night
The girl whose rags were once as bright
As the forests of Bhak’khu

They watched him from beside the trail
The knight stood strong, the girl-child frail
The cat smiled at the corpse’s wail
‘O, the forests of Bhak’khu!’

The serpent and the shaman came
Once each to mock his quest again
‘All you’ll find is loss and pain
In the forests of Bhak’khu’

‘Leave me visions, spirits all!
On my quest I’ll never stall
Even if you raise a wall
Round the forests of Bhak’khu!’

With darkness then the land was crowned
Pale ash rained down, without a sound
The Traveller knew he now was bound
For the forests of Bhak’khu

Yet slowly came into his view
A place he realised he knew
‘What is this place that comes in lieu
Of the forests of Bhak’khu?’

A town, with buildings tumbled down
Ash-stained corpses on the ground
And blackened trees grown all around
‘Like the forests of Bhak’khu…’

Down street and alley he did roam
Past crumbled well, ‘neath shattered dome
He gabbled that ‘This looks like home
Not the forests of Bhak’khu’

He found me huddled not far off
My ravaged body bound with cloth
‘What is this place?’ I spat, then coughed.
‘’tis the forests of Bhak’khu’

The Traveller gasped, fell to his knees
‘It cannot be! Recant ye, please!
My soul, my life! My heart doth freeze!
Curse the forests of Bhak’khu’

He told me then of serpent, child
The knight most stern, the shaman wild
The night-time cat, the corpse reviled
And the forests of Bhak’khu

Loss and pain his prize, they said
I made for him a ragged bed
In moonlight cold he lay there, dead
In the forests of Bhak’khu

I heard the song a Traveller sang
Which from his mouth with sadness rang
His words befouled with acrid tang
From the forests of Bhak’khu.

When wakens the serpent?

August 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

“When wakens the serpent?”
The old man asks
No word returns
From he who basks.

“When wakens the serpent?”
A whisper, low
“I woke within you
Long ago”.

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The Miser

March 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

Not long ago, in a village not far away, a little girl was born to a farmer and his wife. She was the finest product of their meagre farm and grew unlike any crop of theirs had done before. The sun and moon themselves counted out her years, as she ran through field and forest and furrow. The farmer used to chase her, a mock-crown of ivy on his head and laughter in his throat, but always she would dart away from his outstretched arms. The farmer’s wife looked up from her tasks, sharpening tools or mending a cloak, and smiled to see them silhouetted in the evening’s light.

Yet one day, as crisp and bright as could be hoped for, the farmer stopped chasing his daughter and she looked back to see that a man much thinner than she remembered was waiting for her. “Father,” she called. “What is wrong? Why do you not chase me as you used to?” The farmer smiled quietly before replying in a voice like dust. “I am old now, daughter, and I have chased you as far as I can. My breath is spent. Go home to your mother, dear child, and I will rest here a while.” With that he rested and moved no more.

So the girl left her father and ran back to their little cottage, where a woman much thinner than she remembered was waiting for her. “Mother,” the girl called. “What is wrong? Why do you not sharpen our tools as you used to?” The farmer’s wife smiled quietly before replying in a voice like smoke. “I am old now, daughter, and I have sharpened as much as I can. My strength is spent. Go out into the wide world, dear child, and I will rest here a while.” With that she rested and moved no more.

So the girl left her mother and ran to the nearest town, her legs strong from years of running with her father, and she worked hard, her hands nimble from years of working with her mother. One day she had a husband, and later a daughter, and she gave life as it had been given to her. One day, a day as crisp and bright as could be hoped for, she found that she had given as much life as she could and she smiled quietly to herself. With that she rested and moved no more.

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Death is not a skeleton, not a withered body lying in the cold ground. Death is not the cough of lungs grown dry or the creak of bones grown stiff. These are the products of Life, because Life is always giving and gives until the very end. Death is a miser who takes everything, gives nothing.

Death is a miser and misers are to be pitied, not feared.

“I shall take the very breath from thine breast,” sayeth Death. “Thou canst not take what hast been freely given,” sayeth Life.

The left hand of Aux-Çevoires.

January 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

I went up to see him, like we all did, strapped into his swinging gibbet-cage on top of Dancers’ Hill. The thin, withered corpse naked but for a wrapping of black iron banding, its bald head angled back in a scream of agony – or of fury – with eyes plucked from the sockets, left hand hacked off at the wrist.

The left hand of Aux-Çevoires, the Alchemagos. The Poisoner of Melhaut, the Breathstealer, He-Who-Walks-In-Fog. The hand that I had seen only once, when he jabbed its discoloured fingers at my eyes before leaping through the stained glass of Our Lord Abiding’s rose window and down into the canal below.

So I went up to see him, like we all did, but I went at dusk when the night-mists begin to settle in the hollows and the sounds of the City are softer, distant. I went at dusk, to be alone.

I went at dusk, like a fool.

The walk is not long, but it is hard. Dancers’ Hill rises quickly from flat moorland on the far side of the Choke and its cover of thick gorse is left to run wild as a deterrent to the casually morbid. In the slow darkening of dusk, and as your breath begins to catch from effort, it feels as if your own life is ebbing away with every step of the climb. Yet suddenly, always suddenly, you are stood on the small tonsure of bare ground at the hill’s crown. Behind you the City’s lights glow amber and ignored. In front of you is the Dancing Master; the bent and blackened tree, impossibly ancient, that stretches out one arm to dangle the final home of the treacherous, the wickedly insane or the simply evil.

Aux-Çevoires was all of these so we hunted him down, across decades, until a time when the Dancing Master could offer him a lesson.

Nobody knows when he came to the City but it is likely that it was during, or sometime immediately before, the White Plague of AB412. Perhaps he was a young man then. Perhaps he has always been as old as he looked when I last saw him alive. Perhaps he was never even a man but simply a husk, animated by something unthinkable. Whatever he may have been, he was a murderer. A vampire, feeding off the fear of his victims.

The infamy of Melhaut is well-known; the bloated victims leaking and bursting as they staggered drunkenly in the streets; the escalating quarantine measures that couldn’t stop their screams echoing through the night; the very buildings themselves infected with malignancy, even all these years later. I remember hearing a shout go up and seeing the figure of a woman, still in the early stages but obviously lost to infection, run howling along the shallow incline of a gambrel roof. A Boxer took her with a shot from a trycklock and she burned as she fell into the streets.

Yes, Melhaut is well-known but Melhaut was a war and its atrocities on a scale that made them mercifully incomprehensible. It is the smaller crimes that make my throat burn with bile and wake me in my sleep; the candlemaker, almost suspiciously healthy in himself, whose corrupted sweat caused every 18th candle to gout yellow, choking fumes when lit; the mother who unwittingly killed her babies, driving herself into collapse as she tried to feed them more and yet more but ignorant of the fact that it was her own tainted milk that poisoned them; the sewerman, no longer aware of the difference between night and day, who went to work as the full moon rose and was found, reduced to a small pile of teeth, by the morning shift.

Yet the worst crime he ever committed was to kill the hope, the peace of mind, of thousands. The backstreet jack-a-knife can be avoided or struggled with. Hunger can be prevented with hard work or thrift. Even old age can be balanced against a life well-lived or the sight of a grandchild. When all this can be taken away on a whim, without reason, then life becomes meaningless. He killed many without lifting even a finger of his filth-stained hand.

So I went up to see him, like we all did, just to make sure that it was actually him, that it was finally over.

I looked up at him as I thought all this and realised that I’d been holding my breath. I let it out and with it came all the horror of the years gone by, all the faces pleading with me to save them when I couldn’t. I wept and howled, beating the cage with my fists until my strength left me and I fell to the ground, into blackness…

I awoke to cold seeping into my bones and a bright half-moon hanging high in the night sky, silhouetting the gibbet above me. Something tugged at my hair. A rat, no doubt, drawn by the smell of decomposition. I clutched at it, flinging it from me. Its claws raked out, leaving sharp lines of fire across my throat. I cursed it, I cursed the foolishness that had drawn me here and I cursed, as I had cursed so often before, whatever passed for the soul of Aux-Çevoires. I turned to spit but my throat was dry, hoarse with curses, so I simply glared up at the corpse.

And that is when I heard it. Under the whispering of a night-time breeze, under the creak of the settling gallows-tree, even under the distant murmurings of the slumbering City was a sound like dust falling on paper. I became silent, immobile and focusing every ounce of concentration on that sound. It became rhythmic, rising and falling like far-off waves. Like a memory of breathing.

Or of laughter.

Another sound, louder now and close by, made me spin around to see the vague smear of something crawling in the shadow of the Dancing Master.  The rat I had flung into the darkness? No! Not the rat but a spider, bloated and dragging itself along the ground. Dragging itself out of the shadows and into the light…

I howled denial into the cold, uncaring night as the moonlight shone down on the horror that crept towards me. There had been no rat. There had been no spider. Crawling slowly, impossibly, in jerking movements and with fresh blood, the blood it had scratched from my throat, glistening on its talons was a blackened, distended hand.

The left hand of Aux-Çevoires.

The left hand of Aux-Çevoires.

I fled, crazed and unthinking, as the paper-thin laughter echoed in my mind. With no distinct direction to follow my limbs took me home, back into the City. I should have disappeared into the Fen, taken this death out to the monsters and abominations that haunt the horizon. But I did not, and now I am too weak to move. Fire fills my head and my eyes steam like coals. My lungs gurgle with every breath. My hands are bound tightly with cloth but still they swell and drip with thick, grey fluid. Soon I will no longer be able to hold this pen. Soon I will be dead.

I write this note as an apology. I caught the Alchemagos, brought him to trial and to punishment, but I am his final victim and, in being so, I continue his work. I will die. I will seep foul fluids into my clothing and belongings, tainting them irreparably. I will blossom spores into the air of this room that will waft through cracks and crevices, into the lungs of others. I will be found and will be removed, spreading the infection like the soft touch of autumn mist.

It is a mist that preludes a storm, ushered in from beyond death itself by the left hand of Aux-Çevoires.

Apparent final note and confession of Procurator-Medico Alnstein. Found amongst personal effects, post-mortem. Immediate quarantine procedures instigated on discovery. 1,203 related deaths confirmed as of time of report, including 57 officers and related auxiliaries. 721 further possibles. 3 Boxer units subsequently deemed inoperable or lost-in-operations.

Recommend noted area be sanctioned Red/Black immediate, full disassociation.

Veteran

November 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

…knew abart no rules did i never knew never knew carnt blame me for not knowin fings I dont know if I dont know I dont know em speshly if I dont get tol I dont know em makes sense dunnit but you tryn tell it to a gang o tins and yerll get a rap on the napper for yer troubles and no mistake right darn in the gutter with yer gear all filched and no sight o gettin it back not from tins the barstards not wi them all swaggrin and hollerin like they owns the place which they damn near do at least darn ere as far as anyone cares where an ol tick jus mindin is bisness gets a whallop an more jus for walkin the street all quiet like when e dint even know e wernt sposed to be walkin it cos e dunt know no better and no buggr tol im even tho e fort inna war an got a meddle for killin ooever it was we sposed to be killin back then and dun is job wi no complaynin even when there was boms and worse flyin abart or some militry tin was carryin on and a-hollerin just cos o some jonnies boots or summat I don’t recall proper no more lotta water under the bridge yer might say lotta water aye that an more besides jus to keep the chill orf y’see which is why they never believes us when I tells em I was followin a burgler or summat up in them eeves e was but they carnt see im even when I tells em you afta kinda look outta the side o yer eye a bit and not strayt at im or yerl see nowt but they jus larfs and sez eres summink for the side o yer eye and gis me the rap like I sez an this geezers up there on the roof all shifty like an creepin alon but I gets the rap again an im darn like an ol bag o spuds and probly not worf as much for all that not that any o em gis a penny for us at the best o times least of all when a gang o tins is all abart an shakin theyr sticks like they was avin a fair ol dance wi some sweet gel an not an ol tick oo fort inna war an all that besides but I keeps tellin em even when theys layin on the ol boot that I never even seen no poster or no sine or whatever they was sayin an i was just an ol tick lookin for some place to keep outta the chill and tryna keep shifty folks orf peepls roofs when they don’t deserve no feller wandrin abart all over ther ouses even less than some ol tick deserves the rap when ee never knew abart no rools cos no bugr done never tell im abart em an you cant blame im if he never knew can ye makes sense an i never done red no poster never red it did i an i never…

Plaster

October 24, 2013 § 1 Comment

Man lies on bed. Stares. Wall. Plaster peels, partly. Echo of rain on tin, on wood, on tin again. Always noise yet not-noise persistence of indefinite sound. Hand moves, retreats. Wind on glass, glass on frame. Creak of elsewhere. Rafter. Laughter, perhaps. Old dust and webs. Thin blanket of age. Left, lost life. Guttering.

Blood Hand

Man lies on bed. Stares. Ceiling. Plaster peels, moreso. Shadows sit, soft. Rust rhythm, removed. Grasp of light, gasp of lightness. Twilight. Darkness. Warmth fades, cooling.

Man lies on bed. Stares. Nowhere.

Plaster peels. Crumbles. Collapses.

Handle

May 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

There’s a man by the Choke with a turn-handle organ and he plays as the shadows walk by. There’s a monkey beside him with an old, rusty cup and she dances for the copper they throw.

Sometimes he wonders whether he turns the handle or the handle is now turning him but the song is near ending and the monkey’s stopped dancing so he puts the machine in reverse.

.esrever ni enihcam eht stup eh os gnicnad deppots s’yeknom eht dna gnidne raen si gnos eht tub mih gninrut won si eldnah eht ro eldnah eht snrut eh rehtehw srednow eh semitemoS

.worht yeht reppoc eht rof secnad ehs dna puc ytsur ,dlo na htiw mih ediseb yeknom a s’erehT .yb klaw swodahs eht sa syalp eh dna nagro eldnah-nrut a htiw ekohC eht yb nam a s’erehT

There’s a man by the Choke with a turn-handle organ and he plays as the shadows walk by. There’s a monkey beside him with an old, rusty cup and she dances for the copper they throw.

Sometimes he wonders whether he turns the handle or the handle is now turning him but the song is near ending and the monkey’s stopped dancing so he puts the machine in reverse.

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