Strange Bedfellows


At last, the long awaited sequel (well, maybe not long awaited, and not exactly a sequel per se) to the short story “The Promise of Dawn”. I am not at all sure about how well this one works, or how well it will stand in comparison to the first offering of what I do still hope will turn into an ongoing series, but I offer it up now just as I banged it out. As always, I do hope it is enjoyed. This is a tale that is meant to be at least somewhat horrifying, perhaps even disturbing. I do urge though that if anyone out there thinks I may have GONE TOO FAR to please let me know. A little unsettling can be entertaining in the right doses, however I sincerely do not want to make anyone unduly upset or uncomfortable in the reading. Any and all feedback is welcomed and as always to all of my readers, cheers all.

A cautious shadow broke warily away from the deeper darkness of the tangled forest eaves, booted feet making hardly a noise upon the hard packed dirt of the road. Beyond the wood lay a good league of fields and pasture yet the former lay fallow while the latter grew rank and wild, un cropped by herd or flock, not the first signs the lone traveller had noted as he neared the village that lay ahead, signs that much was amiss. Overhead the earth’s moon was low on the horizon, a thin, waning crescent casting but a thin, feeble light that was all but washed out by the Corpse Moon, waxing gibbous, fat and high. The landscape was washed in pale, fell wyrdlight, twisting shadows, limning stalks and stems with a cold wavering flame. The distant sloping rooftops seemed turned to marble, what should have been shapes familiar, homely, welcoming took on aspects of the grave, becoming mausoleums and sepulchers huddling together around a swift flowing dark stream. Within the traveler’s breast was a growing sense of foreboding, cold and hard, filling him not with dread but a grim determination and a weary resignation. As the years had turned such sights had become all too familiar to his eyes. Beneath his heavy leathern cloak one hand tightened around the butt of a pistol as his even strides took him down towards the silence haunted streets.

There were no lights in any of the outlying cottages, every window glared black and empty where they were not heavily shuttered. This too spoke to his growing unease for in these dark times even farmers to bed with the sun would keep at least one light burning through the night and none would leave any part of their home unbarred past nightfall. The silence hung palpably, muffling his already stealthy footsteps as the dirt beneath his boots turned to rough cobbles as he neared the village square. In the distance a door flying loose in the grasp of the fitful, chill night breeze cracked like a gunshot, or more like the rattle of old bone upon bone as it rebounded from clapboard wall. No sound of livestock rustling in their sheds, no low, sleepy clucking from coops, not even a lone bark of a dog sounded as the stranger passed doorways and neatly fenced yards, the stillness etched sharply upon his senses.

At last the road opened up upon the village square, the wicked moonlight splashing over a multitude of twisted, writhing forms. Before the stranger’s eyes was painted a portrait of mind shattering horror in stark black and white. Around the low stone well in the center of the square several long tables lay upon trestles with many feasters still appearing at their revels. Food piled high lay roting upon platters or clutched in stiff fingers or even yet more grotesquely spilling from gaping jaws as those who dined had gorged themselves beyond need of food. Some others still had seemed less than satisfied with the pleasures of the table, having ravenously torn into the limbs or bellies of their fellows or themselves. All round about the tables other bodies were piled, some as if they had been dancing, twirling with abandon upon ankles eventually shattered. Others were locked in lascivious embraces, limbs twined and locked together, frozen in attitudes of unspeakable lust, some with fingers dug deep into their lover’s flesh, tearing and rending, features twisted into rictuses where pleasure and pain became one. At least two hundred souls and half again as many beasts lay strewn about in every shape and form of ignominy, with no respect to kind or sex or age. Even with eyes and heart hardened by many scenes of horror and butchery the stranger had to fight the clawing fingers of revulsion as they scrabbled along his spine, bubbling up his throat.

The silence of this unholy tableaux was broken softly, drawing the stranger’s eyes towards the shadowed rim of the well. A figure sat upon the lip on the far side, back towards him, crooning a macabre tuneless tune to itself. It was obscured by the darkness yet what could be seen of it was spindly, grayish flesh stretched taut over bone, emaciated trunk displaying ribs and vertebrae. The dark stranger froze, watching intently as the figure seemed to work at something in its grasp, arms seeming to stretch and tug, accompanied by faint, wet tearing sounds.

“Must be careful now, yes I must.” The voice was soft and high, a mockery of something feminine issuing from a throat unfamiliar with the tones of anything mortal. “Oh, such fun I’ve had and more is to come, so many bright ones to play with, oh yes.”

Slowly, moving just a fraction of an inch at a time the stranger tried to close the distance between himself and the slender shadow, hoping to God that it wouldn’t make note of him amidst its grisly work and wicked burbling. Only one chance would he get, no more. Words of Banishing flickered breifly behind his eyes but died before reaching his lips. No shade was this, no protrusion of the infernal upon the realm of life and light, ’twas a manifestation, one of Hell’s legion given form and shape. The stranger felt the unfamiliar clutching of fear’s fingers about his heart at the thought, silent prayers falling from his lips as he eased the pistol from his baldric, ever so slowly bringing it to bear upon the humped dome of the thing’s skull, thumbing the hammer ever so gently back. God above, Lord of Hosts, lend me your strength, hold mine hand in yours oh God, let my shot strike thy foe true. He was within feet of it, separated only by the circumference of the well mouth, cold sweat running down his spine, breath held behind the fence of his bared teeth, inching the flint back, back, praying for all he was worth…it must be the same instant, not even a fraction betwixt cocking and firing, it must be NOW!!!

The shadows fled the bright orange of the muzzle flare, the retort of the shot echoing and rebounding over and again throughout the charnel house square yet the silver ball cleaved only moonlight. The ragged, spindly form was just another shadow, whirling with terrifying speed, spinning the man about as he desperately sought his foe, spent pistol flung aside, hand darting to the hilt of his sword, eyes casting this way and that in near desperation.

“What has I hear then?” The sickly sweet of the voice purred “oh what has we here, a fresh playmate I thinks, yes”

Within the shadows cast by the low eaves of a house at the edge of the square a deeper darkness stirred. Stepping slowly forward, one arm extended in the way one would slip on a coat the demon emerged, pulling a gasp from the stranger’s lips as the Corpse Moon’s light revealed nightmare. New flesh adorned the horrid, thin frame, drooping and sagging, an ill fitting suit that had once been the outer covering of one of the village women hung in grotesque parody of life. The skin of the extended arm hung limp at the ends, fingers dangling and empty, yet a horrid writhing beneath crept up its length, filling it, giving it shape. The stranger staggered backwards, wretching, dragging his sword from its sheath, breath coming in ragged gasps as he fought down revulsion and terror.

“God have mercy on thy sons and daughters” the words rose in strangled whisper even as his fist clenched upon the hilt, the knuckles beneath his leathern gauntlets going white as he prepared to fight, his only hope that he may kill it before it rent his life from him.

“God lives here no longer” the demon chuckled in its high voice, raising its head, deep, dark eyes peering from the empty holes in its borrowed face. “We have come to take…possession…of what is by rights ours oh dear Nameless one”

Nameless tensed yet was not near fast enough, the demon’s limbs given the Devil’s own speed, the backhanded blow spinning him off his feet, sending him skidding onto his hands and knees, sword skittering off as numbed fingers let go their grip. Fighting to catch his breath, Nameless rolled onto his back, drawing his second pistol, knowing in the pit of his stomach how futile a gesture it was. He cocked back the flint, boot heels sliding over the cobbles greased with blood and other fluids none would care to contemplate as he backed away from were the fiend last was, eyes raking the moonlit square.

“Oh, we can’t be having that, oh no we can’t” a sudden shadow loomed over Nameless’ features as with ungodly strength the creature ripped the pistol from his hand, dropping it to the ground with a disdainful clatter. Nameless looked up into eyes that became wells of hunger, pits which no amount of gluttony or license would ever hope to fill. A smile writhed upon lips that should never have been able to still take such shapes as with a second sharp blow consciousness was driven from Nameless who fell back into almost welcomed oblivion.

*****

“We shall not be needing this I thinks”

Nameless rose slowly back to consciousness, feeling a tugging as his breastplate was pulled off of him, the ringing of it sounding as thunder in his aching head. He could feel its presence, could feel it hovering just above him, the foulness of it washing over him like a tide of filth, causing his flesh to writhe as if could flee. His heart hammered within his chest, ribs aching, each breath a stuttering agony, eyes screwed tightly shut, dreading their opening. Yet digging deep within himself Nameless forced his lids to open. Oh God how he wished he had kept them closed.

The demon squatted over him, its suit of mortal flesh now seeming to fit it more snugly; Nameless watching in morbid fascination as the sags became smooth, muscles beneath the skin cleaving to that which lay further beneath. Soon the crouched form above him was no longer hellish but rather that of the woman it had once been, although no less horrible for the illusion of mortality. The figure was fine and full, what once must have caught many a farm lad’s eye, naked and gleaming now in the swollen maggot light of the hellish moon.

“Do you think I’m pretty?” The voice was breathy now, soft, a caress almost even as it tore open his tunic, baring his chest. “I know you think so, despite your efforts, your mind is just as all men’s, simple, hungry, filled with…lust.” Its fingertips ran lightly over Nameless’ skin, tracing over the line upon line of scripture tattooed over every inch, lines from each of the Great Books meant to ward, to protect.

“Why would you disfigure yourself so, with such doggerel?” Nameless struggled beneath the gloating thing yet found his muscles would not obey, something within the voice lulled his body, holding him just as fast as if it were iron bands. “Did you think they might save you?” Mockery dripped from every word as the cold hands caressed him, yet horror fought with something deeper and darker within Nameless’ breast, something tugged at by the voice and the questing hands.

“Fight if you must, it makes the savor sweeter” downwards now the hands slithered, confident, sure, coaxing. In his mind Nameless ran through verse upon verse, prayers, litanies, anything to steel his mind, to wrest back control, but to no avail. He could feel himself stirring, rising up, his flesh responding to irresistible summons. “Castigate and castrate yourself all you like, you cannot resist…you are all the same, you priests and whores, all chained to the flesh, slaves to your petty, miserable appetites…in the end, you are all just like me, you all want me, crave the bounty I have to offer, will feast and gorge till you are all undone and empty.”

The hands unclasped gun belt and baldric, jerking away his remaining pistols, letting them drop just out of reach, tantalizing, Nameless’ rigid fingers only a hair’s breadth away yet for all intents and purposes as unreachable as the hellish moon glaring down from above. He strained to cry out, to scream a denial yet the words strangled in his throat even as the demon freed him from his britches, its icy hand running lovingly over his rigid manhood.

“How lovely and strong you are, tis a pity such strength should all go to waste. Spilling so much blood yet never any seed, all for masters you know glut themselves at my table.”

Inside his head Nameless screamed, his mind trying to hold fast to The Word yet filled now with riotous thoughts, sweat and limbs, bodies writhing, as it spoke to his flesh. He was helpless in the rebellion of his body, the corridors of his mind echoed now to desperate pleas…no, no, please, My Lord, no, no…NO!!!! Hot tears streamed down his cheeks as the wicked thing above him moved, shifting slightly, moaning now like an animal in heat. Nameless felt a cold, loathsome slickness envelope him, clinging, pulling as the semblance of a woman slowly moved above him, shuddering as much at the struggle within him as any carnal pleasures. He could feel a rhythmic pulsing growing, tried in desperation to fight it off, knowing full well what this thing wanted, more than his soul, more than the fear and hatred and lust it was dragging from him, more than anything it desired to be born into this world with actual shape, an abomination and a plague forever upon the world. Yet fight as hard as he could it had him within its grasp, reaching past all shields of will or faith deep into the darkest reaches of his mind, pulling out the agonies of his body’s betrayal as within the tiny shelter of his mind Nameless screamed pathetic, waning defiance.

*****

“Ahem”

It was a soft clearing of the throat, yet it carried behind it the power to still the whole world. For a single moment that stretched itself beyond all reason silence reigned again over the grim cobblestones of the village square. The weight above Nameless shifted, turning its head in predatory fashion, drawing away its attentions. Then, even further beyond reason a flute began to play, a low, warbling melody, something flowing as slow and sure and smooth as the stream passing along the other side of the square. The demon still held Nameless within the foulness of itself, he was still beneath its weight, but he found he could move, life returning to limbs as his fingers began to crawl with what to him seemed agonizing slowness towards the butt of the pistol that had been cast aside with his gunbelt. The body above swayed softly as the flute continued to play, seeming entranced by the slow rising and falling of the tune, completely oblivious to its former prey beneath it. Once more, it was the harsh click of the flintlock cocking back that drew its full attention, head snapping around just as Nameless pulled the trigger, having brought the gun to bear belt and all, the leather scorching as the shot rang out. The silver shot slammed into the thing’s chest, Nameless having not the control of his limbs enough to aim for the head, the flesh splitting like overripe fruit over what lay beneath. The close range sent the foul creature sprawling backwards, hissing and spitting, writhing as it hit the ground. With strength and speed born of pure desperation Nameless rolled to the side, still half blinded by the powder flash, hand scrabbling along the ground headless of the mortal remains strewn about as it searched for his sword. With his other hand, Nameless flung his belt over his shoulder, fearing to feel the counterattack at any moment, knowing full well his foe was far from slain.

As abruptly as it had begun, the tune changed sharply, the flautist moving from the somnolent air to a quick reel, the notes tumbling over each other in wild profusion, almost discordant. Nameless shook the daze from his head, fingers finding at last the hilt of his sword, sweeping it up with a gritty ring off of the cobbles. Whatever lingering effects the siren creature’s spell had upon his mind or limbs seemed to be washed away as Nameless turned to face the thing, now itself crouched on all fours, legs bent beneath it, fingers out and splayed, head swiveling from side to side in what appeared to be confusion. It cast its gaze back and forth between the unseen player and Nameless, now approaching it with grim determination.

With a sudden hiss, the demon leapt with a speed greater than a hunting wolf yet to its surprise and alarm its prey had moved with yet greater swiftness still. Instead of the feel of rending flesh it felt only the bitter burn of cold iron as Nameless’ blade drew a searing line across its belly. So began a grim and terrible dance through the otherwise grave still mortuary of the village square. The soaring notes of the wild flute seemed to fill Nameless with strength and speed whilst at the same time confounding and befuddling his foe as they twisted and turned in deadly strife, each telling a score or more of wounds upon the other, yet Nameless just a bit more than the hellspawn, just enough.

“Curse your bleating feeble monkey!!” voice shrieking vituperation as the thing circled, “when I have finished my game with this tasty morsel I shall flay your living mind open, I shall drink your shrieking agony like mother’s milk!!!” Yet the threats seemed empty, the playing only increasing its rising rhythm. The once shapely figure was rent and torn, the breasts sagging forward like some obscene tunic from where the first shot had torn into it and other thin tatters of flesh hung oozing thick, dead blood from where Nameless’ blade had cut or pierced. It narrowly avoided another lightning quick lunge, shaking its head as the air around it filled with a weird frenzy.

Despite the aid of the mysterious minstrel, Nameless was flagging, his head still aching from the blow that had rendered him senseless earlier, vitality dripping from him slowly as blood flowed from the wounds the beast had given him during their predatory dance. Breath came fast and ragged through clenched teeth, his face a mask of ferocity and desperation as he knew even with help unlooked for he could not bring down his enemy with blade alone.

Keeping his weaving blade on guard, Nameless fumbled at the belt over his shoulder, allowing himself a small, grim rictus of a smile as a metallic cylinder settled into his palm. Feinting right, his left hand thumbed free the stop holding the small piston in place, slamming it down upon his thigh, feeling the delicate glass bubbles within shattering, counting slowly, one breath, two, three…

The creature snapped out a hand, catching the flung cylinder just as it ruptured. The first flash was blue white, actinic, flaring throughout the square, casting its own counter shadows to those cast by the Corpse Moon still high above. The second flare was a hungry, sooty orange as screaming in agony the demon was engulfed in flame. It lunged towards its former victim turned tormentor, flailing limbs trailing greasy flames. Nameless sprung away from the cursing, spitting thing as it writhed, the morbid flesh covering it falling away in great, crackling gobbets. In mad desperation it turned, fleeing towards the darkness of the well mouth. In the air, seeming to match the greedy crackling of the flames, the notes of the flute lent a different fire to Nameless’ limbs as he dove between the fiend and its only path to escape. Tossing his sword, Nameless caught it by the blade just below the hilts, reversing his grip so that the sword was pommel up, the straight quillions casting a long shadow, the moonlight behind his back throwing a perfect cross upon the still shrieking abomination.

“You think you have won?!?!” it spat, the remains of the village woman’s face still clinging in charred shreds to the hideous mockery of a face beneath. “You miserable worm, dog, scrabbler of refuse and offal at the master’s table, you have won nothing…” as the fiend cursed and railed, as the flames began to devour its shape Nameless began to chant, the exorcism pouring from his lips with conviction, all doubt and fear gone, nothing remained but cold, bitter hatred. “Nameless!!! Our master remembers, remembers your name well, you will burn in hell with all the rest, you will BURN!!!”

The village rang out with the final rage of the demon as with a defiant shout Nameless completed the rite, the echoes of it smothering the thing’s final curse as it crumbled within its pyre. The silence that feel afterward was nearly in and of itself deafening, as if the drama of what had just transpired had swallowed all sound, even that of the devilish flautist.

“Aye, I will” the bleak resignation within Nameless’ voice fell limply into the night as he sagged in place, drenched in sweat and blood, swaying. The world seemed to spin beneath him and he would have fallen if not just then another voice ruptured the silence.

“As fearsome a warrior as thou art, me thinks at least one of thine blades would need sheathing” there was a wry humor in the rough tones, one could almost hear the wink within them. Barking out a mirthless laugh, Nameless fumbled with his gear, the statement’s absurdity stabbing through his weariness. He even felt a slow flush creep up his neck as he re-tied the lacings of his breeches, the ridiculousness of how he must have looked for that last desperate battle playing out now in his mind.

Turning slowly, at last he took in the form of his deliverer. The man was long and lean, dressed in a tailcoat of violent and conflicting colors, with skin tight britches of cream buckskin, thigh high riding boots with the tops turned down at the knee and an obscenely large codpiece. To add to the bizarreness of his garb, the man was crowned by a mad tangle of hair, falling in wiry profusion to his shoulders from a hairline revealing a great deal of gleaming pate. His bright, sharp, blue eyes twinkled above a thick, scraggly beard with piercing clarity and, despite the dire straights just barely passed, gleamed with a merriment hardly holding with the situation. He leaned back upon a bench near one of the ghastly tables, seeming oblivious to the morbid company he was surrounded by, one leg thrust out, the other bent at the knee and crossed over the other, his arms cradling his flute to his chest.

Nameless was dumbstruck and nearly laughed aloud again at this mad apparition until his own sharp gaze rested on the thick, golden torque gleaming about the man’s neck. With a sudden indrawn hiss of breath Nameless raised the point of his sword, stepping back and on guard.

“If you insist upon further belligerence, I shall be more than happy to oblige thee, although twould be a wasteful shame to save your life only to reave it from thee.” Shifting slightly, the minstrel patted the hilts of his own sword. “Methinks I would easily be the master of thee given your recent exertions, and I would weep most fulsomely for at least half a minute’s span after I cut thee to mince.”

“I think I must concede the point” Nameless lowered his own blade slowly, knowing full well he would be a dead man if he pressed the argument. “It seems I am in your debt pagan, though not happily.”

“No debt at all to those who share a common purpose, though methods and means may differ. Not only The Nameless guard what light remains.” Springing lightly up and spinning his flute about in one hand the new stranger executed a low and complicated bow before rising and extending his hand. “Well met my un-monickered friend, allow me to unburden at least one of my many names upon thee, call me Strange Ian.”

With at least some show of reluctance Nameless took the man’s hand, shaking it firmly. Strange Ian grinned broadly, flashing a quick wink. “I have known a few hellcats in my day yet none quite this persistent, even if they did promise a similar fate, much worse than death.”

“and pray, what fate might that be?”

“marriage” the jest jarred another small chuckle from Nameless’ lips, more from its excruciating inappropriateness than any actual humor. Nameless stumbled, swaying still further, nearly swooning. His new acquaintance’s face creased in concern and he shifted his grip from Nameless’ hand to across his shoulders, allowing the weary man to sag against his rangy frame.

“Steady on lad, let us get you seen to” up close Strange Ian could see more clearly the relative youth of the grim warrior, his features softening just a bit in something like pity, for he knew something of this man’s burden. “Come” Ian’s tone changed yet again to one of joviality “I know a fine place just a little ways down the road where weary travelers may rest behind high walls, the mead flows steady, and the amusements not nearly as dire”. With slow steps the two set forth, pausing only to gather Nameless’ scattered gear. “Let us mend thy wounds, drink to our victory until we are stinking and we can attempt to convert one another.”

“I am forbidden drink” Nameless mumbled, staggering along, barely registering Strange Ian’s continuing prattle.

“Well, I am enjoined by my  faith to celebrate any triumph with a great deal of mead, so I make to you the following proposal. I shall drink your share and you shall thus be sober, all the better to beat the heathen out of me”

“Fair enough, lay on you mad bastard.” The curse slipped from Nameless’ lips without thought, the chaos of the night had his mind reeling. He had bested a demon in its flesh with the aid of this madman from the Isle of Bloody Queen Bess, how much more strange could things possibly become? “If I live through to this den of iniquity of yours, I swear to God I’ll have you safely in the fold by dawn.”

Together the two limped down the cold road as the Corpse Moon set, the horrors of the night vanquished for now and behind them, the remaining shadows chased along by Strange Ian’s hearty laughter.

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2 Responses to “Strange Bedfellows”

  1. arthur swillbucket gambleshaft Says:

    500lb of words
    content writing for software
    jigsaw pieces laying on the floor
    give each blob a name and begin stitching the quilt
    oh did i say content writing for gaming software?
    corner someone with crayons and paper
    quit hiding this stuff

  2. melon skull maddison Says:

    this volume of work indicates an itch you surely like scratching
    more power to you
    you certainly are also this
    another point of proof that the kaleidoscope must be turned
    new perspectives await
    Lovecraft would be proud – like many others
    a writer must…

    and if i had a boat

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