I love what I do, and that is because of you all. Just knowing complete strangers from around the world read and enjoy my writing fills me with the drive to continue. Great news comes in threes. I met a literary agent at the local farmer’s market a few weeks ago and she is very interested in my work. It helps that her husband is an active duty Marine and she is all about the troops.
The second news is I have a new publisher for my Sleeping Gods series. Bad news is I am changing the title to Forgotten Gods since my last publisher didn’t do much for me and another series has found great success. No big deal. The new publisher is getting those books into the major chain stores= VICTORY.
So in the spirit of that, I am presenting to you a never seen story that has gone through many evolutions. I call this ditty: Twelve Nightmares. Enjoy.
Fog clung to buildings and streets like a small child’s blanket. Late spring had been particularly damp this year in upstate New York, yet something else. A deep sense of foreboding gripped the small town as the curtain of night fell. Rumors circled of strange happenings in the deep dark, bodies found in mangled pieces. Shops closed down early and anxious fathers waited downstairs in their favorite chairs with a shotgun just in case.
Preston Thewls had heard the rumors and just as quickly discounted them for some scare campaign by the chief of police. It was almost the turn of the twentieth century and people were filled with ideations and scares towards what the coming century might bring. For Preston, a licensed tax collector, they were naught but dry antics to make children do better in school and keep the population in line. He scoffed at the idea of some winged nightmare stalking the small town.
Everyone else had gone home for the day, allowing Preston the chance to finish his work in peace. The sun had already fallen behind the distant mountain tops by the time he blew out the desk lamp of his small office and gathered his jacket and hat. Preston locked the door and started to make his way home. He stifled a yawn. Tired, Preston absentmindedly stretched his back out as he walked. A long day behind a desk often left the middle aged man with a sore back. Still, it was much better than having to do labor for a living.
The fog was particularly thick this night, pushing a chill strong enough to make him bundle up within his jacket. Preston shivered and turned down a side street so that he could get home faster. A bachelor, he never found the time for the nuances of romance or the warmth of a woman. Work drove Preston, work and the natural greed he’d been born with. That devotion had served him well. He’d soon have enough to retire and move away from this nothing town.
Hot wind blew across his face. A flutter of wings from the rooftops. Preston looked up and watched a single feather drift lazily down like falling snow. The shadows appeared darker, more ominous. A tingle of fear crept through his spine. Preston pulled down his hat and walked faster. A low growl menaced from the shadows. His heart pumped faster, harder. Two red lights, nothing more than pinpricks in the constricting darkness, blared back at him from the shadows. Was that a face?
He walked faster, nearly breaking into a run. The shadows swirled. A nauseating smell rushed at him. He knew that smell. It was the aroma of death. Preston felt his heart freeze. What is happening? He tried to move, to run, to scream. Shadow edged closer. Sweat beaded on his brow. Every heartbeat was the sound of a drum sounding the call to march. Time slowed and Preston felt the icy grasp of death inching closer around his nape. His vision narrowed to the point where the red lights were all he saw. Terror filled his soul. He began to whisper an old prayer half remembered from childhood.
Realization struck hard when it finally came. Those weren’t red lights he was so mesmerized by. They were eyes. Eyes as black and hideous as all the demons from Hell’s heart. Only now did he understand. The eyes blinked once before Preston felt a bone shattering impact. The spray of something warm hit his face. Blood. The acrid tang hung in the air like a light mist. Preston Thewls died with a silent scream carved upon his lips.
Emerson Sedgewick awoke with a start. His chest hurt. The youth, no more than twenty-two clutched his side, willed the pain away. He tossed the covers back and immediately regretted it. His bedroom was chillier than usual. Damned weather, he silently cursed. Emerson slid from the bed and went into the small, slightly dingy bathroom. He looked into the broken mirror with normally blue eyes now bloodshot and tired. Sleep hadn’t been kind to him lately. He tossed and turned, often with violent images burned into his mind. Nightmares.
Emerson splashed water on his face and rubbed hard with both hands. He had close cropped blonde hair and a light bit of growth on his face. Women often complimented him on his deep blue eyes. Lightly muscled, he was right at six feet tall. He sighed. The sun wasn’t even up yet. He was about to turn when he noticed dark spots on his ribs. Emerson looked down. His eyes widened in horror upon discovering his entire upper body was covered in ugly bruises.
“What in the…?” he gasped.
The mirror fogged over as a cold gust of wind smashed the bedroom window open. Darkness crept into the mirror. A face, but not quite. Emerson shivered from a combination of cold and sheer dread filling his apartment. The heavy click of horses marching down the cobblestone road seemed to match his heartbeat. Emerson looked into the mirror and saw the face of evil.
The face laughed, deep and unnerving. “Not quite. I am the inner Hell of your mind. A source of torment and majesty far beyond human comprehension. I am death, the destroyer of souls. I,” it paused, “am you.”
Emerson shook his head. “No. No, no.”
“You have no choice. This is a birth right, a gift. The crown prince of Hell has answered your pleas.”
“You can’t be real!” Emerson shouted and pounded a fist on the mirror. Shards of glass splashed onto the floor like so many drops of rain.
Clawed hands reached from the mirror to grab him by the throat. The demon leaned closer, its horned head entering the tiny bathroom. “Oh but I am real. You made me. All of your foolish nightmares and child-like fears. Did you truly think we didn’t listen all those empty, lonely nights when you dared to dream? I am everything the darkness in your heart desires.”
Tears trickled from the corners of his eyes. Emerson struggled in the grasp but the demon was much too powerful. A sinking inevitability wormed into his resolve. He weakened. Blackness swirled around, warming him while stealing his strength. Emerson passed out to the vile sound of a demon’s laugh. The laughter pounded deeper than the crash of waves, fiercer than the distant storm approaching. He understood without a shadow of a doubt that the storm had indeed arrived. Evil had come.
He didn’t know what time it was when he awoke. The sounds of people going about their daily business on the street below his apartment suggested just past midday. Cold sweat veiled his face in a clammy muck. He blinked rapidly to clear his vision. Pieces of glass lay scattered around him. The demon! His heart began to beat faster. Was it all a dream? He frantically looked about, relaxing only upon finding the same boring things he was used to seeing over the last few years.
Emerson didn’t fully understand what had happened to him. The stronger part of his mind wanted to rationalize that it couldn’t be real. Phantasms and demons. Who would believe such a tale? Emerson struggled to push the memories from his mind. His very sanity balanced on it. The best thing, he decided, was to try and go about his daily routine. Perhaps that would restore some semblance of normalcy. It took him almost an hour to prepare for work. Even then his first few steps out of his apartment were shaky.
He felt random passersby were staring at him. Silently accusing him for what he had unleashed upon the world. Emerson felt hated, ostracized. His cheeks were sunken, his eyes withdrawn and hollow. He hadn’t eaten much in days. His clothes were ill fit and bore an almost ragged appearance. He passed the local paper boy with an uneasy look. The youth stood on an upturned box and shouted the headlines. “Local tax collector latest victim in string of unsolved murders.” Emerson cringed inward. He reluctantly bought the paper and skimmed through the main article. To his horror, he learned that yet another body had been discovered, brutally mutilated and tossed aside like old trash. That made the death toll ten since the beginning of summer. Thoughts of his confrontation with the mirror slowly ebbed into his mind. Why do I feel responsible? I didn’t kill anyone, did I?
A criminal’s anxiousness crept into his thoughts. Every eye suddenly focused on him. His every movement was being chronicled and reported. He was a monster. Guilty. Small beads of perspiration formed on his brow. Emerson did his best to maintain composure. Paranoia warred with his sanity. So focused on himself, he was almost run over by a horse drawn carriage, the driver cursing him as it went by. He felt his skin begin to itch. With great difficulty he pushed through the crowd, keeping his eyes down to avoid the piercing stares that seemed to sense what had taken control of his life. It was through great pain that he managed to get through the work day and hurry home. He had no intentions of speaking to anyone, leastwise not until he could figure out what was happening.
Halfway across town a police officer went about his beat. Sweat stains gathered under his arms, bleeding through the light blue fabric of his shirt. His night stick hung from his belt and a .45 was holstered on the opposite hip. Up until this year none of the small town’s beat cops had carried fire arms. They hadn’t needed to. He stifled a yawn just as a high pitched scream broke the serenity of the waning day. Pigeons burst from their rooftop perch.
The officer hurried to where he believed the scream came from him. His instincts served him well, much to his regret. He rounded the corner to find a young woman with her head buried in the shoulder of an elderly gentleman. She was crying uncontrollably. The older man’s face was drained of color. The officer looked down and felt his stomach rebel. A broken and torn body lay strewn across the width of the alley. A pungent smell curdled the air. Rats scurried away, back to their holes with small mouthfuls of decaying flesh. The officer vomited.
Doing his best to recover from the violence before him, the officer shifted through the remains. He hoped to find some evidence of who the victim was or who had committed this crime. Much to his dismay the only clue he found was a hole punched into a wooden door on the opposite of the alley. A hole punched by a human fist.