Into The Cave

“Come down here my little pretties,” Cackled the small wrinkled goblin, disappearing around the bend, “May way my witty, for tonight we feast on twilight and fun.”

The creature waved at the two youths, not even glancing back to make sure they were following. Mel and Rob looked at one another, unsure of what to make of their situation as darkness grew around them. The small lamp that the goblin held bobbed deeper into the cave, throwing up vast shadows that dance around them.

“Are you sure about this, Rob?” Mel asked, her face pale in the dancing light.

Rob looked past her farther into the cave. His face seemed to lose some of its boyishness as hard lines grew around his mouth and forehead.

“They have her down here, Mel. We can’t just leave her.” Even as he spoke his feet were moving him past her own, following the echoing voice of their strange guide. Mel stood still, looking down at her feet as the light faded. Dirt and blood stained her sweater and faded jeans. It had started out as such a normal weekend, just a babysitting job and then dinner and a movie with Rob. But now, this.

“Mel, you know what they are going to do to her the minute the moon’s up right?” Rob had paused, looking back at her, waiting for her to follow.

His patience ran out and desperation filled his voice as he spoke, “They’re going to-”

“I know exactly what they will do to her. I know what I need to do.” Mel clenched her fists as she held herself back from yelling. She knew what these caves held, she herself had been in the same position. But now, it was her turn to act.

The glow disappeared altogether and the two were left in the dark. Mel groped in the darkness for her pocket. Then pulling out a long dagger she held it up before her, reflecting the light from outside the tunnel all around. Next to her, Rob clicked on a flashlight.

“Let’s go find her.” She said, squaring her shoulders and following Rob down the path.

Time passed and a gradual increase in the glow ahead told them they were making some progress. But the light was an eerie red, and she felt it cling to her skin as mist or even cobwebs would.

“Are we close?” She asked Rob, unsure if he would answer. He just shrugged and they kept on. Silence fell between them and Mel felt her anxiety grow. Waves of feeling ran over her body and she shook with each step.

Rob’s flashlight played upon the walls and floor, noting where each turn and branch of the path occurred. And for the briefest of moments, Mel had the strong urge to stop and watch as each rock was passed over with light, but there was no time.

They came to a sharp curve in the path, several empty doorways led away from the spot. To Mel each opening looked like a gaping mouth, stretching wide and waiting for unsuspecting prey to fall in. The air seemed to vibrate with red.

“Where do we go from here?” It a dumb question, but she had to ask it.

“Wait,” Said Rob, cocking his head to one side like a dog. “Listen! Do you hear that?”

Snatches of singing and laughter came from beyond all the doorways and staircases and out of sight around the corner.

“I don’t think it made it that far into the cave, maybe we can catch up.” And with those words Rob stepped forward, almost flinging himself into the waiting dark.

Mel hesitated a millisecond and then followed, knife in hand. Their feet moved noiselessly through the gravel, but something, or more accurately someone in the passage. Rock shifted and pebbles fell. And with that an urge to run and hide gripped the two together.

“We’ve got to keep trying, her life is depending on us.”  Mel’s voice surprised her as she looked at where they had come from. She was about to revel in the powerful feeling of standing up for the right thing, but a peel of high pitched screams filled the cave.

It was a young voice, female.

“Go!” Shouted Rob as he ran, flashlight blazing a path through the dark. The screaming continued until tears were streaming down both their faces. And then, as they came around a corner and into a vast atrium both drew back in horror. The sound seemed to expand filling their senses. And then, with a bubble and hiss a doorway opened beside them, billowing smoke and red light poured out.

Mel screamed. Rob wretched.

An archway of human skulls grew from the stone around them, lining the doorway that had just opened. Cobwebs clung to their teeth and eye sockets while sheets of dust settled anew on every surface. The screaming intensified, from just beyond the door.

A stench filled the room as Rob pulled at Mel backing away from the spectacle. Empty eye sockets stared at them, pleading, laughing, screaming, and crying all at once. The screams continued.

“We have to get her!” Screamed Rob, brandishing the sword in his hands at the archway.

Mel nodded, knowing the worst was to come. Death looked down upon the friends as, together, they threw themselves under the arch.

-M.E. InkOwl

Grandmother Agnes

“Careful there, young master!” Crooned a voice issuing from a throat harsh with age. The very air shivered at the sound. Martin shook sandy blond curls from an apple-cheeked face as he stopped on the muddy lane. The young boy turned around, looking back down the rain-soaked pathway. There, limping between wagon ruts that ran deep into rock-strewn trenches, walked an aged woman.

If Martin had been older and had paid more attention to the grave expression his mother had given him earlier that day he would have given heed to her words on the Widow Agnes.

But youth had stolen away wisdom and fear, replacing it with what would turn out to be fatal ignorance.

“Please young master, halt!” The aged form called, waving an arm.  The boy stopped, looking around the rolling fens and vague outline or trees. Away off from the path stood a foreboding line of trees, the beginning of the North Forest. Martin had been expressly forbidden to walk even within its shadows lest an Undesirable should take him into its depths.

And now an Undesireable was calling out to him. And he was deaf to the mounting danger.

It was as the boy admired the rain washed scene before him that the woman picked up her skirts and, with unnatural strides, closed the gap between them. As he turned back towards her she slowed, walking with wooden shoes caked in mud. Her stooped form wrapped body streamed with the days stormwater.

“Hello there my sweet, having a lovely stroll this afternoon?”

Her bent form picked carefully over a chosen pathway. Wizened hair stuck out from a wide-brimmed hat.

“Sorry to you disturb you, young master, but I have need of your services.” Her voice called to him, as gentle as a grandmother’s embrace.

“Who are you?” Martin called back, more curious than suspicious, “Why are you so old?”

The widow Agnes cackled to the sky and she smiled wide, showing only a handful of teeth to the boy. He smiled too, considering himself sharp-witted.

“I am old, young master because I am a grandmother!”

Martin’s face brightened at the woman’s words, “A Grandmother? Like Grandmother Anna back in the village?”

The Widow Agnes smiled as if her lips were filled with honey.

“Why of course, dear one!” She pulled his arm through hers and they both set off down the path, leading to the edge of the forest.

Martin followed, feeling a sort of kinship to the woman. He would indeed be her hero today, and maybe she would even offer to give him a treat in return.

The crosses over into the forest and found themselves in a small clearing hoarders by a woven fence taller than either of them were. The fate stoodnipen and they passed on through. 

A cozy hovel with slanted eaves smiles back at them, windows glowing in the darkness of the storm.

All around Martin sat carved and woven figures made by deft and talented hands.

“What are those?” Martin said, pointing to one side of the slanted house. A line of woven wreaths and figurines hung, swinging in the wind. The house’s eves had kept them, as well as a vast pile of cut wood from becoming soaked in the storm.

The Widow Agnes smiled in delight and lifted, “Those are my wares I sell in town, my dear! Don’t you see them all over town? I usually sell them at the Harvest festival.”

Martin tried to remember but all was distracted as a delicious wave of baked bread and roasting meat filled his senses.

They boy’s mouth filled with saliva as he spoke, “Are those meat pies baking in your stove?”

“Why yes, Dear one!” Said the widow Agnes as she gestured for him to follow her through the yard. A fire burned in the worn hut as Martin walked quickly behind the old woman.

The Widow Agnes waved at several  piles of twigs dripping with rain.“I’ll save you a fresh meat pie if you just help me gather these bundles of sticks and lean them against that table there.”

Martin could taste the buttery crust in his mouth already. His stomach spoke for him with a growl.

“Delightful child! Thank you ever so much!” Clapped the Widow.

It was short work, made all the easier by promises of food and drink beyond the young boy’s imagining. Soon all the bundles sat round a narrow table.

Martin notice a beautiful entwining oval of symbols ringing the wood surface, large enough for him to lay himself down in.

“Grandmother Agnes, what is this here? It’s strange and beautiful!”

The boy missed a hungry look from the wizened woman as she fetched a black candle stick from inside her hovel.

“Oh my dear! Those are carvings made by my grandchildren! I was blessed with thirteen shining grandchildren!” Her face reflected a deep sadness at the memories. At her words Martin wanted to hold her close.

“But alas thirteen was an unlucky number for my family, and they all died. Every one.”

“I’m . . . So sorry.” He said, resting a hand on one frail shoulder. He continued to stare at the symbols as the woman sniffed into a dirty cloth. He missed the flash of excitement that crossed upon the twisted face. Yellow catlike eye flashed around as she gently patted his hand.

“Never you mind about that, it’s ancient history, written in the good Lords book.” She said. 

The woman held on tight to his hand, tracing lines and unnoticed symbols across his palm.

“Could you do one more thing for me, Child? As a grandchild would for their grandmother?” She added pressing something firmly into his palm.

The boy’s shoulders relaxed and his eyes grew heavy lidded.

Yes,” he said, voice thick and unfamiliar to his ears, “anything for you, Grandmother.”

A thin rivulet of blood courses it’s way over his fingers and down onto the wood tables carved surface.

“Excellent!” She all but cried as Martin hoisted himself up, blood continuing to drip onto the bundled twigs.

“Step up onto the table and lie down for me, yes just like that, all the children would do that for me.”

Martin laid down, feeling cool rain pelt against his skin. He felt calm and at peace with the world. At the edge of his vision the grizzled main of grey hair moved around him in a gentle dance. The widows voice whispered low, growling working her chest.

Suddenly Martin’s mind was transported back into his home, where his mother had said, “Now boy, remember to stay away from the forest, there the Undesirable lies in wait to steal young children away for dark purposes.”

“But who is an Undesirable , Mother?” He heard himself ask, feeling himself slipping deeper into his own essence.

“The Widow Agnes for one, she’s a Witch she is. You’ll never come back to me while under her spell.” Thunder his mother’s voice.

His eyes flew up as he jerked awake. Above his head the Widow Agnes stood with a lit candle in her hands it’s black stick glowing unnaturally between her gnarled fingers.

He watched her as she lifted the candle up into the air, water hissing from the flame. A look of demonic zeal and fervor gripped her face and she smile wide broken yellow teeth.

It was then that young Martin realized what the Widow Agnes was up to, even as the candle fell from her withered and cracked hands and onto the pile of kindling at her feet.

“But I thought you were a good grandmother!” He screamed, kicking now tethered legs. “Let me go!”

“Ahahahaha!” She all but screamed in ecstasy, “I’m not your grandmother you sorry brat!”
The fire spread to under the pyre where Martin sat screaming and crying. Around him, the circle of carved symbols and blood began to glow.

The widow Agnes threw her hands into the air with a laugh and shrieked, “I’m a VVitch!”

-M.E. InkOwl

Guest Submission: Long Journey to Hell

It was one of Heaven’s cunning emigration policies. Citizens were led to believe that secure poverty was better than a journey into insecurity.

Raphael almost didn’t make it. He wasn’t even at the middle of the journey, when all his strength left him. He was reduced to a skeleton with featherless wings. He didn’t lose his wing with one fatal tear, like the first wave of immigrants did. It hurt beyond compare, but it was over in one painful second. Those who took the long way lost their old self like a leper loses his skin, slowly and painfully aware how they became less and less.

Feathers and small broken bones littered the winding pilgrim road. Raphael’s shoes turned into rotten scraps and then into nothing. He was left with nothing but the road under his soles. The dust felt almost intolerable, it covered the landscape, tiny smoke-flavoured specks invaded Raphael’s lungs and eyes and soul. He inhaled the dirt of the other pilgrims, the ash of burning wings and the trash of unwanted memories.

Raphael lay on the side of a ditch and waited for life to drain away from him. He waited and waited but Death was not walking those parts of the universe that day. Raphael wondered what happened to ‘hell-dwellers’ and ‘celestials’ when they arrived to the end of their long existence. After some contemplation he concluded that he most probably would just stop existing, disappearing like the flame of a candle when blown out. His eyelids grew heavier with the weight of unfulfilled dreams.

Raphael put his hand on his heart and asked for the forgiveness of his beloved ones. He failed them.

Death had a light touch and stroked Raphael’s face with endless patience. Water dripped on Raphael1s deserted lips. As it reached his tongue he realised it was more than pure water: it tasted of life and a will harder than steel. Morning sunlight and childhood giggles filled his soul. When he gasped for breath, the air soared into his lungs and he realised he wasn’t going to die. When he opened his eyes, his saviour had already left.

Raphael only found a slim bottle of “Mercy,” the sparkling version with extra minerals and hope. He felt surprised and grateful although he had no idea how it all happened. His mysterious benefactor had also washed his feet and wrapped them in white linen and also tided the stumps of his wings. Raphael fell to his knees and wept.

After his eyes ran dry of tears, he got up and continued his journey. His body felt lighter and his soul gleamed with a strange warm feeling. The journey was still long and after a time even his new shoes became rags and the bottle of Mercy didn’t give him consolation anymore. But he wasn’t going to give up anymore, he knew he’d arrive to his destination. Days melted into each other and time stuck to him as an overchewed gum. Then one day he smelled water. First it was no more than a faint dampness on his skin, then as he got closer he could see the river and the bridges dipping their feet in the waves.

Where there is water, there is life; this was one of the wisdoms Raphael learnt from Ms. Colomba in Generic Cosmography.

Raphael made the last meters running, staggering, almost falling over the stones. He arrived to the river just outside the city. It flowed with the slow grace of the great ones who don’t care about the passing in time. Raphael smashed into the water, the lukewarm waves embracing him like a mother the prodigious son.

After climbing out, he sat down on the muddy bank and tried to get used to the emptiness on his back. It was the happiest day of his life. (…)

-Fanni Suto

Author Bio:

I’m from Hungary, but I live in France.

Favourite literature: I love Sandman by Neil Gaiman and anything by Antal Szerb, who is a Hungarian writer from the first half of the 20th century. He’s got pretty good English translations, worth checking out.

I love writing because I care about other people even if it’s me who made them up. Writing is something which makes me truly happy and stimulated.

You can follow Fanni’s writing on her blog Ink Maps And Macarons.