Monday, August 12, 2013


I have had the good fortune to make a new friend recently; an amazingly talented gentleman by the name of Thomas.  Thomas is, among other things, a freelance photographer and an aspiring writer.  His work can be found at  Recently, I challenged him to post some pictures from one of his shoots on Facebook, and we would each use said picture as inspiration for a short story.  Both stories as well as the picture are below.  Please take a moment to read them and then leave a comment stating which is your favorite.  Thanks!

Now for the stories.


     Brother Geordino ranked as one of the lower scribes in the monastery and he was comfortable with that. He lacked ambition, he did not feel a higher calling, and he saw no reason to put extra effort behind any of the tasks assigned to him by Father Pascale. His superiors had tried to motivate him, punish him, even plead with him that his work was for God and not just the monastery, but it had no effect. Brother Geordino was happy with who he was and there was no point in changing.His latest task – a necessary chore, but assigned to him as punishment – was to transcribe one of the smaller tomes given to the monks by the local landowner upon his death. The estate had been sizable, but most of the old duke’s library had been copies of copies and nothing that required the monk’s attentions beyond cataloguing and storage. A few, however, were one-of-a-kind esoteric texts with dubious authors and histories. So-called spell books and questionable bestiaries of impossible creatures filled a small trunk which was given to Geordino for safekeeping. When the other monks realized he simply was not making any progress, harsher measures were taken. 
     The trunk now sat behind the young monk. It was the only thing in this room beside his chamber pot, a 
small cot, the desk at which he wrote and the chair upon which he sat. All other distractions had been removed. All other activities as well. Brother Geordino was left locked in this tower room with a narrow window overlooking the courtyard and a single door barred from the outside. At the base of the door was a swinging flap of wood on hinges – an ingenious design by the always eager blacksmith, Brother Hamilton. The chamber pot was pushed out, cleaned, and returned to him. Twice a day, meals were pushed through on a small covered tray. The other monks would see this as horrible, perhaps cruel, punishment. Geordino felt it was a fair arrangement. All he was required to do was write what he saw in the old book, and all his needs were cared for. They would release him when he was done – so Brother Geordino took his time.
     To make the task last as long as possible, the young monk would often bow his black-haired head over 
the other cracked and fading books in the trunk left in his room. While the sounds of life rose from the courtyard, he would be silently sliding his fingers over old parchment pages and sometimes mouthing the words of the secular and sometimes heretical texts. Knowledge was knowledge, and so the monks had often copied and stored documents and tomes that were even sacrilegious – a sort of ‘know thy enemy’ mentality. It was not that the information was a transgression, it was the fact that it was new that pulled at Brother Geordino’s attention. It was highly likely that these books were one-of-a-kind original writings; and the authors had to have been mad. 
     Visions of leopards with wings, vines that encircled the globe, and clouds that crashed into mountains with the weight and solidity of granite, swirled from the old scratchmark handwriting. And the handwriting was different from book to book, which took some effort for Brother Geordino to decipher. Besides the complete strangeness of the creatures and places described in the stories, there was nothing to connect these books one to another. Nothing except one name, and it may have been the name of a person or an animal or simply a power. It was treated with the reverence and casual understanding one would use for ‘sunshine’. None of the various authors described or explained the name, but it was mentioned at odd intervals as though to give credence to all else.
      It was always used without real context, as though expecting any reader would automatically know full-well what or who ‘Irvati’ was, and it was obviously something to be held in awe. But without any explanation or background, Geordino ignored it in favor of the more imaginative (if just as inexplicable) descriptions of madness.
     Gradually, between idle daydreaming, lazily reading the other stories and attempting to pronounce the ridiculous nonsense from ‘spell books’, Brother Geordino made progress in his assignment. The chickenscratch writing made the transcription tedious, and, though he was content to take his time with the work, he was as carefully exacting as his he had been trained. Each word, indeed each strange spelling of each unusual word, was transcribed with care onto fresh and sturdier paper in a heavy book of standard size. When completed, it would fit on a shelf with other copied texts and there be safe for more learned scholars to study and interpret. And this one would take some studying, Brother Geordino decided. When actually at work, one’s mind often did not focus on the words or meanings of the copy – all attention to detail was on the letters themselves and ensuring that penmanship was exact (though he sometimes took liberty in illustrating the margins or capitals at the beginning of chapters). Once every few days he would allow himself to read back through what he had transcribed and found it made no sense. It was difficult to even remember the sequence of events in the book, such was the strangeness.His puzzlement was interrupted as another tray of food scratched across the stone floor and the swinging hatch fell back into place on the door with a squeak of hinges. Brother Geordino looked at the metal dome through half-lidded eyes, barely seeing it. He was no longer even curious what meal would be hidden beneath. He realized he was bored, and it took some effort for him to care enough about the food to push his chair back and rise from his position at the desk. His robes whispered against his ankles and he took the few steps to the tray, cradled it on one hand and lifted the cover. Soup. Perhaps broth would be a more apt description. Some stale bread beside the old bowl. 
     As the young monk sat back down and lifted his spoon to dip into the almost clear liquid, some thought 
bubbled up in the back of his mind. For a moment he paused there, spoon in hand like a lost man would 
hold a candle in a strange and dark room. The thought was troubling Brother Geordino, but he couldn’t 
place just what it was. There was something familiar, but bothersome. He almost shrugged and let it go, but then his mind grasped hold of the concerning doubt. He had eaten soup earlier today. And yesterday. The bread, too. Not the same soup, perhaps. Certainly not the same bread. This was not some idle feeling of déjà-vu. He had been eating soup for quite a while, now, and it had never really occurred to him to think anything of it. How long ago had it been that he’d been given a chicken bone with greasy meat on it? How long before that was the roast pork? And the greens? Surely just last week – but no, he remembered soup then.
     His brow furrowed, but after a moment it ceased to bother him. He finally allowed the shrug and began 
to slurp at his meal. He forgot about his concern until the next morning.
     Upon awaking, Brother Geordino performed his usual toilet and pushed the chamber pot out through the hatch and into the hall, followed by the tray with its empty soup bowl. He felt no compunction to get back to the book just yet, so returned to his cot and leaned his back against the cool stone wall. Resting uncomfortably under his backside, he felt one of the other tomes he had been idly flipping through in the days before. He reached for it, now, and opened it to the middle and started to lose himself in the description of a city covered in dust. It would help distract him from the morning sounds of the other monks performing their chores in the courtyard below.Three pages later, he paused with his finger against the word ‘Irvati’ and frowned. Something was bothering him again. He remembered the evening prior and felt his frown deepen. These lapses in his comfortable routine were starting to irritate him in ways he’d never experienced before. Almost against his will, he tried to chase down what the bother was this time. It had nothing to do with food, for his meal would not arrive for some hours. It wasn’t the book, because he had read this one before, many 
times in fact, and it had never given him anything but pleasure and amusement in its strangeness. Geordino rolled his eyes and let out a loud sigh that echoed in the silence.That’s when it felt like someone punched him just below the ribs. It was utterly silent in his room. Of course it normally was silent IN his room, but there was not even the sound of movement outside. No clang of metal from Brother Hamilton’s forge, no muttered conversation of monks passing below his tower. Even the bustle from the small stables and chicken roost was missing. Ridiculously, Geordino feared he had gone deaf and loudly cleared his throat just to hear some sound in the stillness. That sound, too, echoed and seemed to hang on the early morning dust.
     This was no longer the niggling doubt of memory. The monk threw down the book and jumped to his feet. Even now he expected all the familiar noises of the monastery to come back like hearing does after the deafening peal of thunder. This silence was so total as to make his chest feel tight – or maybe it was the fear. He moved toward the door, hesitated, then knocked. The was usually one of the brothers near enough to come answer through the heavy wood. He had long ago stopped asking for news or gossip – he hadn’t cared then, but thought it polite. They brought him ink on a regular basis, so he had no other needs beyond the chamber pot and tray of food. Now, though, he needed to hear the slap of sandals and a hushed voice on the other side.
     There was nothing.
     Geordino stepped back from the door, lips pursed. He realized he was trying to hold back a – what? A 
cry for help? A scream? Steeling himself against such a ridiculous notion, he returned to the door and brought his fist up. Using the heel of his hand, he gave it a few good hits. As soon as he did, the door rattled gently, then slowly creaked on its hinges. Dust fell from the lock. Looking closer, he realized that wasn’t the case at all. The dust that fell WAS the lock. It had been rusted through and apparently crumbled at the strike of his hand. Beyond that was the truly odd sight, however. Sitting in a chair in the hall, currently catching a sunbeam from the rising sun peeking over the window, was an old man in a monk’s robe. His arm hung down by his side. When he started to approach, Brother Geordino gagged. The hand that was visible below the sleeve was decrepit and bony. Skeletal. Leaning down to see beneath the hood, he realized that the face of the old man matched. It was not an old man – it was an ancient corpse with its chin resting on its sunken chest, mummified from the passage of time. Geordino gave the cadaver a wide berth and hastily went down the stairs at the end of the hall. He did not cry out. Somehow he knew what he’d find.
     In each room, in most halls, and in the courtyard, there were the corpses of his brothers. They were all mummified, and they were all comfortable. Most were in chairs, though a few looked like they had slumped against a wall and slid to the floor. A couple of the monks were still in their cots. The chicken roost was full of dust. The pigs and cow were unspeakable mounds of leather and bone, half buried in the rock and rubble that had been the front wall of the monastery. Now the main gate was a heap of broken down stone.
     The monastery was in ruins. 
     Brother Geordino’s shoulders slumped. He did not feel fear or confusion. Of course he did not understand, but yet he felt like this was as it should be. This was what had to happen. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, a piece of himself screamed that he had done this, that it was his fault, and that it wasn’t normal at all. But like the guttering flame of an untended candle, that quiet voice soon winked out. The monk turned away from the remains of the monastery gate and began slowly plodding back to his tower. There was nothing left to do but write. He didn’t feel like doing anything else, anyway. When he returned to his room, he thoughtlessly closed the door behind him again. The chair screeched offensively as he pulled it back from the desk and sat down. He brought the pen to paper and began transcribing the book once more. When he was done, he would begin on the next. And then the next. There was nothing else to do, and he was comfortable. He didn’t feel like doing anything else.A tray slid through the hatch in his door, causing the hinges to squeak. It was followed by a clean chamber pot.
     Brother Geordino began to write.

Hob Nail
     It was an old, old, town; weary, battle-worn, decrepit. Fissures chased each other up and down the streets.  The houses bore broken shutters and flaking paint, cinder blocks instead of stairs. Once prosperous, the town had let time take its toll, had borne the helplessness of disease, the evils of man, and the battering of winds by growing bitter and hard.  Its fury sustained it.The old woman was the same.  Her mouth frowned around a set of mail-order dentures, smoking an endless stream of foul-smelling cigarettes that she rolled herself out of pipe tobacco, tamping the threads with cracked and yellowed nail.  She wore a series of stained and shapeless shifts from which her crepey arms protruded. Day and night, rain or shine she sat on her porch and rocked.  She rocked and stared through slitted, beady eyes at the old courthouse that lay across the street.
     The courthouse It had been abandoned decades before.  Every now and then someone would petition the city to knock it down, but still it stood, it's silent bell tower pointing an accusing finger at the heavens. In the evenings folks would pay to take tours, to see if they could find the ghost that was said to be haunting the crumbling halls.  One day a couple; young, fresh-faced, their nervous laughter trilling up and down the street walked up to the edifice. They pulled on the doors.  Nothing.  Undeterred, the young man jumped and grabbed a barred window, sputtering and pawing at his face as the rust flaked into his eyes.  After a brief, whispered conversation they crossed the street to where the crone sat looking.
"Excuse me, Ma'am," the young man said, "do you know the story of the ghost they say haunts over there," he gestured over his shoulder.  The old woman blew smoke in a thin stream, squinting through the haze.    
     "Ayuh," she said at last, "I knows it."
     The girl giggled again, shrilly, and the young man murmured something in her ear.
     "Would you mind telling us?" he asked.
     The old woman closed her eyes and her chin sunk into her chest.  The ash on her cigarette grew long and the couple was just about to leave when suddenly she looked up.
     "Why'nt you set down," she said.  She lit another cigarette and began.
     "The woman was named Elzabeth McLemore, 'n she was the daughter of one of the sharecroppers way out'n the middle of nowhere.  Nothin' but scrub pines and red clay on either side.  Her family had horses, 'n evver now and then the farrier would travel out that way to see if there was anythin' they needed.  Elzabeth grew into a fine lookin' woman. Cherokee blood runs strong in these parts and it showed in her.  She had long black hair that fell near to her waist, 'n black eyes that flashed.  The farriers wife died and soon he went lookin' for another and it was Elzabeth that he decided he wanted.  They got married an' he was as happy as could be but everbody in town knew that she was just miserable.  She hated livin' in town, said there was too many people about.  She missed her family and she faulted her husband for the hours he spent in the smithy. She took to spending time down there with him, not visitn' just staring off into space.  Folks said she was part addled.  Then she had her baby and it got even worse.
     The little girl was as purty as her Mama and as charmin' as her Daddy, but Elzabeth just pure hated the sight of her.  She wouldn't hold her, would hardly feed her, an' it got worse as the girl got older.  Her Mama passed stories, and carted that child to ever' preacher and doctor in town, sayin' that the girl was sick, or maybe possessed.  She said that the girl got the shakes sometimes that just wouldn't stop, that she talked words that no one could understand.  She swore the girl was evil, said her eyes glowed sometimes at night. Nobody took much stock in what she said,though. Some folks just figgured it was part of her strangeness, others thought that she was jealous.  'Cause her husband, he was just ate up with that little girl.  Took her with her everywhere he went and called her Hob Nail 'cause she was so short 'n sturdy. Strong.  That girl, as pretty and pampered as she was, was as strong as some grown men.  Lord but he was proud 'a that little girl, always kep' her dressed in the finest clothes an' would bring her dolls 'n such.  Soon Elzabeth wouldn't even look at the girl, shied away from her when the girl came up for a hug.  Still, what she did, folks never expected it."
     The women grew silent again for a long while, staring at the courthouse spire.  Suddenly she startled, looked wide eyed at the young couple as if she had forgotten who they were.  Her nostrils flared and her slipper clad feet scrabbled against the wood on the porch.  Then she calmed, began again.
     "The farrier came home one day after a long coupl'a days on the road.  As he started down the street, he noticed that there was no smoke comin' from his house or from the smithy.  That was passin' odd, 'cause the nights had started to grow cold.  He came to the top of the hill, that'n right there that runs through town, and saw there were no lanterns burnin' neither.  He started to ride faster.  He got to the house and sure enough it was dark, cold.  He went out to the forge 'n that was the same.  It was so dark by then that he didn't see Elzabeth 'til he nearly tripped over her.  She lay on the floor, covered in blood, her black eyes huge.  Her hands had been burned, so bad that they weren't nothin' but a melted mess.  Her daughter, though, little Hob Nail, was nowhere to be seen and Elzabeth wasn't talkin'.  Well her Daddy called out a search party and they spent days ridin' up and down the hills, knockin' on doors, while Elzabeth just sat and stared, her hands wrapped an' covered with a poultice.  It were three days before anyone thought to look in the big ol' fire pit in the forge, and that's when they found 'em.  The little girl's doll; her favorite one that her Daddy has brought her from two counties over, and a little leather shoe.  Somehow, they'd gotten kicked to the side an' the fire had spared them before it had burned itself out.  'N that's when they knew.  They knew what that woman had done.
      She was taken to the prison and set to be hanged; the first woman in Jackson County ever to be put in jail, let alone set to be executed. There were those who disagreed, who said that since they never found the body that somethin' else coulda happened.  Still, the law was the law and soon the time was a comin'.  A buncha men set to building some gallows out back.  It made ever'one in town a little scairt, listenin' to the hammerin and knowing what it was for.  They never got around to the deed, though.  One night someone or mebbe someones, they never knew who, broke into the jail.  They took to Elzabeth with a horse whip until she was done.  They said the jailer 'near passed out when he saw her and that the cell was covered in vomit from everyone who went in there to help bring her out.  Eventually they got her body out, but her spirit, that lives there still, screaming while the whip comes down over and over again.  Some folks think it's 'cause she's sorry for what she did, others think it's cause she wants folks to know she didn't do it at all."
     For the first time in over an hour, the young man spoke up, his voice rusty and cracked with disuse.  "What do you think?" he asked.
     The old woman looked up and for an instant they could have sworn her eyes flashed green.  "Those old stories," she said, eyeing the bell tower, "I reckon you can't never tell." 

1 comment:

  1. Both plenty creepy, all right, but I like the first one better. It's a very close call.