Short Stories

I will use this page to post reports and comments regarding my most recent short stories. Of course, these stories come as the result of inspiration and time, so they will not be posted on a regular schedule. Feel free to leave a comment.

“A Waning Moon”

I’m a little torn about how to present this story. As it is right now, it is a split narrative that begins centuries ago in northern Europe and ends in the 1980’s in a small town on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. The two stories develop concurrently, complimenting each other, until the final conclusion in the eighties. Each narrative could be a stand alone story, but they work well together, and it would be a shame to separate them.

In terms of getting this story published in a magazine, however, the word count becomes prohibitive – hence my dilemma. I intend to work on them as one piece, and when I’m done, I’ll just to see what kind of reception it gets.

Either as a collective or separate narratives, these stories will fit into a larger group of stories involving the same characters. I’m excited to see how they develop.

Here are the set-ups for each of the narratives: Centuries ago, in a northern European mountain range, there is a remote temple devoted to the worship of the White Goddess. One day, during an unnatural storm that has raged for days, the head priestess of the temple spots the figure of a man curled outside the walls of their keep. They bring him in and discover that life still stirs within his snow-encrusted body….

In a town on the outskirts of the Rocky Mountains, news of a series of murders has brought a chill to the normally festive summer season. While she is working one evening, a young waitress watches uneasily as a strange drifter comes into her diner….

Genre: Fantasy, horror.

Length: Currently, forty-seven pages (double spaced) and 17, 500 words.

Sample Text: “A Waning Moon”

It is winter.

In crimson snow,

I slouch shivering

beneath the goddess night.

Talons steam –

gleam with shimmering moonlight

that pales the murdering stain.

I’ve killed again.

Prologue

Snow continued to drift down. The trees were sculpted with it—winter’s own foliage, delicate, crisp, beautiful in the full moonlight. It was an hour before sunrise, yet the tips of the northern mountains already had a hint of crimson, as if the fire that had recently raged within the valley had left its trace upon their summits.

Nestled in blacked banks of snow, the burnt out husk of Lunan Sa temple smoldered. Beyond the perimeter of the fire, there stood a man wrapped in a cloak, watching small billows curl up and dissipate in the air. Crystal flakes drifted into the embers adding whisps of steam to the thinning black smoke. Heat still emanated from the wreckage. The previous day, the structure had stood as a refuge from winter, now it let forth the last of its warmth in a slow surrender.

The man shifted his weight, stamping booted feet against the cold and pulling the cloak more tightly about his shoulders. His breath came out in puffs of white. Beneath the heavy fabric there came a muffled clink of metal that suggested the presence of armor. Time passed as the snow fell. The coals slowly died.

Although the day was calm, an occasional breeze pushed along the smoke, and carried with it the smell of burnt flesh. The wards of the temple—the priestesses of the White Goddess—had been unable to escape the fire and died within. Only the man studying the fire had escaped. Only him and the beast that had brought about this calamity.

Part One: Strangers

The evening sun came through the blinds in slanted shafts that split the interior of the diner into strips of light and darkness. The afternoon had been dry and windy, unusual for that area of the country. With the dying of the day, however, the wind had passed and now particles of dust hovered in the air. It was still hot, and but for the muted conversation of an old couple in a rear booth of the café, quiet. The pair sat in cracked vinyl seats, hunched toward one another, gnarled hands clutching. In the strange twilight, they resembled stunted trolls more than humans.

The long countertop across from the front window was deserted. A waitress stood behind it, leaning back against the wall and absent-mindedly wiping a chipped mug. As the cloth twisted with her motion, it flicked through the layers of shadow and illumination. The warmth, the stillness, and the unusual play of light created by her own rhythmic movement, all combined to draw her into a dream-like state. She looked striped with black and white paint – a primitive mask. Her eyes sparkled; beneath a bar of shadow, her lips glistened.

The woman was young, perhaps twenty, as yet unscathed by the drudgery of her occupation, and even at rest, there was something about her carriage that proclaimed a frank independence. Atop her head, long. curly blonde hair had been tied back and pinned into a beautiful chaos. 

She was bored.

Behind her, a rectangular window opened into the kitchen. From there, she heard the sound of running water and the occasional snatches of song. The tap was turned off and a voice called out, “Michelle?”

It took her a moment to climb out of her trance, then she turned. “Yeah?”

“I’m almost done here; you wanna tell those old cronies to go home?”

She sprang up on her tiptoes, whispering, “Keep your voice down. They’ll hear you.”

“So what? It’s the same thing every freakin’ night. We have to stay here while they reminisce about the devil knows what. I’d like to leave on time for once.”

“You’d like to leave early, you mean. We’re supposed to be open for another hour, and you know it.” She looked over her shoulder at the couple and flashed a comforting smile. They hadn’t heard a word. “Anyway, where’ve you got to go that’s so exciting?”

“Anywhere but here.”

“Don’t be selfish. You can give them another half hour.”

There came no reply from the disembodied voice, but the water was turned on again. After a moment the dreadful singing returned, “Michelle, my belle, these are words that….” At the distant booth, an aged head glanced over and frowned.

Michelle had dropped back down to her heels, then struck by a thought she peered back through the window, “Terry, don’t rush off when you’re done. Okay?”

“Need a walk home?”

“Didn’t you read today’s paper?”

“Never got around to it. What’s the news?”

Before Michelle could reply, a shadow crossed the picture window at the front of the diner. The bell on the jamb tinkled hollowly, and a man came in. At the sound of the bell, she heard Terry swear under his breath.

In silhouette, the man was a tall and slender image of darkness. When he stepped into the light of the diner, however, he looked like any other drifter passing through town, and Michelle tensed, dreading the inevitable confrontation. Increasingly in the past few years, their town had seen a marked rise in the number of homeless passing through their streets. Her heart went out to them, but the owner of the diner had threatened to fire her if she provided them with free meals. She also feared the rise in crime that invariably seemed to accompany their presence—the peaceful town she had grown up in didn’t seem that peaceful anymore.

The man wore jeans with a blue t-shirt and a black toque that had a faded red stain just above his right temple. It was too hot for the toque, and Michelle wondered how long it would be before he took it off. His gaze ran the length of the room, settling for a moment on the old couple at the back, then he strode forward and took a seat at the counter. After a moment, he turned his gaze toward Michelle and her discovered her staring.

Looking down, he said, “Coffee.” The voice had a melodious nature all out of character with his appearance.

She forced a smile, stumbling over her words, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…. It’s just that I’ve never seen you here before.”

He nodded and once again said, “Coffee.”

She fumbled for a mug, “Of course.”

He removed the toque, revealing blond hair that was clipped short, almost spiked. He laid it on the counter and smoothed it out. A scar began on his forehead and arched into his hair line. Michelle experienced a flash of recognition, thinking she knew him, then realized that he reminded her of one of the replicants from Blade Runner. The movie had just hit the theatres, and the association sent goosebumps along her forearm.

The drink was half poured, when she stopped and abruptly set the pot down, raising her hand to her mouth. “I forgot to ask. Did you want regular or unleaded?” His head was inclined slightly, eyes staring at the counter top. He didn’t answer.

“Better make it the strong stuff,” she whispered, and finished pouring the cup.

She approached him tentatively, setting the steaming mug in front of him. “Here you go,” she stammered. “Could I get you anything from the kitchen?”

He lifted his head, his eyes slowly coming into focus; a quick frown darkened his features. “Did you say something?” His eyes were a clear blue, but there was something in them that tugged at her heart.

Michelle stepped back a pace. “Would you like something to eat?” He shook his head. His gaze stayed on her, and Michelle found herself suddenly weak. Without any intention of doing so, she sat down on a stool resting on the opposite side of the counter. The man’s brow furrowed, but he said nothing. Embarrassed, she blurted out, “So, where are you from?”

He gave her a strange look, and it took a moment for him to reply. “I’m not from here.”

“I already guessed that. You have an accent.” Jesus, Michelle, just leave this guy alone.

“I do? Huh. Of course I do.” He shook his head, “I’m from Europe. Actually. But I’ve been moving around.”

He reached out and took hold of his coffee. His hands looked strong, and his forearms were corded with muscle. When he lifted the mug, his shoulders strained against the fabric of his T-shirt. Michelle quickly reassessed her first impression—he had looked thin when he came in, but she realized he had the trim build of an athlete. How old is this guy? He looks thirty, but they must have been tough years.

As the two spoke, the older couple seated at the back of the diner got up and made their way to the exit. They whispered to each other and hurried past the back of the stranger. Michelle eyed them apprehensively, not really wanting to be left alone, but she comforted herself with the thought that Terry was in the kitchen. She stood from her stool and spoke loud enough for them to hear, “Have a good evening you two. I’ll see you back here tomorrow.” She cringed, thinking, I bet Terry loved that. The couple hurried past without speaking. The bell at the door sounded as they left. She watched them shuffle along the sidewalk. Probably stiffed me again, she thought.

She slapped her hands together and shrugged, “Well, I guess I’d better get some work done. Just give a shout if you need me.” Walking backward, she approached the kitchen entrance, then spun about and ducked out of sight. Jesus, I’m acting like a little kid. What is wrong with me?

But she knew what was wrong: Only a month ago, three murders—on three consecutive nights—had stunned their small community. The killings had taken place in a city an hour down the highway, that was true, but it was still close enough to send a chill through the summer nights. And the killer not been caught. The media speculated that the man wasn’t a local, more likely, he was one of the many drifters that passed through the region….

The grill area was empty.

“Terry?” she whispered. She checked the staff room at the back, but no one was there. He’d gone and left her by herself. She mumbled, “That asshole,” then froze, realizing that she was alone with her last customer. Feelings twisted and conflicted: for certain, he wasn’t a local, and his behaviour seemed was cryptically vague, but then again, how does a killer act? And his haunted expression made her feel more sympathetic than frightened. She noticed that one of her hands had a death-grip on the kitchen countertop. She let go and forced it to relax.

She stood still for several minutes, indecisive and uneasy with the silence. Then walking to the front, she stripped off her apron, mentally running over an excuse for closing early and chasing the stranger out into the night.

When she stepped into the dining area, however, the man was already gone and had left money on the counter. The bell on the door hadn’t sounded at all.

* * *

Re Sa Kempler Shannon stood shivering on the balcony of the temple library. She was wrapped in furs, yet the icy wind still found its way to her skin. Looking out from the southern walls of the temple, she stood on the lee side of the storm that had trapped them indoors for more than two days. Even so, snow whirled and the voice of the tempest howled about her. The surrounding forest was only visible through temporary gaps in the storm, and then only as a darker smudge in the washed linen landscape.  Above the shadowed trees, the mountains were completely lost to sight.

She’d been high priestess at Lunan Sa for five years, and in that time, she had never before experienced such a sense of isolation.

She heard a voice shout in her ear, “What are you doing out here, Shae?”

Shannon turned, startled by the presence of another fur clad figure on the balcony. Most of the face was covered, but the green eyes were enough for her to recognize her subordinate and friend, Sa Kempler Ciara. Shannon shouted back, “The Goddess hides her face.”

Ciara looked for themoon, but nothing could be seen in the storm. She nodded, although the gesture was lost beneath her heavy hood. “It’s a haunted night. Why are you out here? These winds could sweep you right off the ledge.”

Shannon didn’t answer. It sounds like demons wailing, she thought. Normally on such a night, when the winter stirred her and sleep seemed impossible, she would take refuge in the Candle Chamber of Lunan Sa. It was a place for prayer and silent contemplation, and it was there that the temple housed the moonstone. Small and milky blue, shaped like a teardrop, the stone was foundational to the order’s faith in the White Goddess.

For generations, the belief had passed down that a high priestess could use the stone to commune with the Goddess—to be a medium between Her and the followers of the Moon. As the Re Sa Kempler, that was Shannon’s primary purpose, but Shannon was a failure: try as she might, the stone always sat lifeless in her hand, and she’d never heard the Goddess speak. Worse than a failure, she was a fraud, for she never let her failure be known to the other priestesses. A part of her doubted the old belief—how could some rock, no matter how pretty, hold the key to communicating with the Goddess? And why would She need such a thing? The Goddess was boundless. The entire idea reeked of dogma.

Shannon shook her head, trying to pull herself free from the mire of self-doubt and religious skepticism; after all, questioning her faith was another type of failure. Which comes first, she couldn’t help but wonder, lack of faith or doctrines of the absurd? I wish I could be more like Ciara, solid as a rockMaybe it’s just this storm that’s got me so on edge.

Still, regardless of her inability with the stone, the Chamber was a peaceful place to escape a stormy night. The problem was that it was occupied. One of the Rubla Sheme—the order of knights sworn to protect the worshipers of the Moon—had come to Lunan Sa before sunset on the last clear day before the storm. He’d introduced himself to Shannon, eaten, and then slept for several hours. It was common for knights like him to make pilgrimages to the remote temples, but they usually didn’t come in the dead of winter. His said his name was Cillian Fay, and his presence should have brought her comfort. There was something about the knight, however, that made Shannon uneasy, and it disturbed her that his name was unfamiliar to her. She’d appointed sister Bronach to keep an eye on him.

When Cillian awoke the next morning, he went straight to the Candle Chamber and in the past two days, he had only left it to eat and sleep. The acolytes, whose duty it was to keep the candles alight, had reported to Shannon that when he was in the Chamber, the knight remained motionless before the stone, frozen in a posture of deep meditation. Shannon didn’t like it, but Cillian was well within his rights to access the Chamber. She especially didn’t like it that night when the wind was howling and keeping her from her bed.

She shook her head, somewhat envious of the knight’s devotion but wondering if it was not touched by fanaticism. The temple was located high in the mountains, a week’s journey from the nearest settlement. He must have been close to exhaustion when he reached it. Begrudgingly, she admitted to herself that an aspect of her disapproval was jealousy, she worried that he might be able to connect with the stone in a way that she had not. No doubt the Goddess looked on her pettiness with disapproval.

Ciara leaned close to her ear. “I understand that freezing to death is a lot like drowning.”

Shannon let out a short laugh. “All right, I’ve had enough.”

They turned their backs to the storm and pulled open the heavy door leading into the warmth of the temple. Ciara had stepped across the threshold when one of the high priestess’ pale hands clutched at her shoulder.

“Wait.”

She turned back, confused at the anxiety in her companion’s voice. “What is…?”

“Quiet. Listen.” Shannon pulled Ciara back onto the balcony and into the cutting wind. The Re Sa Kempler had thrown back her hood and leaned over the balustrade, straining to see past the driving wind. Suddenly her body stiffened, and she pointed earthward. “I thought I heard something. There, look.”

Ciara rushed to her side and searching into the swirling madness of snow, spotted what she thought to be an animal curled beside the entrance to the keep.

Shannon shouted against the wind, “Is that a man?” and she spun about, rushing into the building. Ciara looked again. She shook her head in confusion, convinced that it was a wolf that had attracted their attention.

Moments later, the high priestess had gathered four guardians of the temple and stood beside they lifted the heavy beam that barred the gates to the temple keep. A small group of excited priestesses gathered to watch as they pulled one of the portals open.

It was indeed a man, curled and frozen by the southern wall. They rushed out, fearful of wolves, lifted his stiff body and carried him into the temple compound. Once they pushed the gate closed and dropped the beam in place, Shannon had them take the stranger to the main hall of the keep. A fire there cracked within a large hearth, and warm air enwreathed them as they laid him onto a table.

Shannon had little hope that he lived, but once inside, they detected life in the snow encrusted body. The Re Sa Kempler commanded that hot wine be brought, and she assisted the half frozen man to take it sparingly down his throat. More landed on the floor than passed his lips, but bit by bit, he began to revive. He started shivering with a violence that frightened priestesses, and for a moment, they believed he was possesses or that they had brought a snow demon into their keep. Shannon set the wine aside and had the priestesses wrap him in blankets.

When the snow crusting his face and hair began to melt, and his shivers subsided, Shannon was surprised to see how young he was, no more than eighteen years. He had smooth skin with mouse-brown hair and grey eyes; and even though he was hunched forward, she realized he was much taller than she had first thought. He glanced around him, nervous and confused, and when one of the guards made a sudden movement, he pulled back and cringed. Shannon considered sending the guards away but then thought better of it. They had, after all, just let a stranger into their midst. She tried to question him, but before he could offer a coherent response, his eyes rolled white, and one of the temple guards had to catch him before he slipped to the floor. Shannon had them carry him to one of the spare bed chambers, instructing the acolytes to let her know when he woke up the next morning.

Cillian had spent the night in the Candle chamber. The young man remained in a deep sleep from which the sa kemplere had not attempted to wake him, and Shannon could only speculate regarding his arrival at their keep. As unlikely as it sounded, the only reasonable explanation was that he had lost his way in the blizzard and by coincidence ended up at their gate. But why was he there? Because the temple’s location was so remote, it was impossible that he had travelled there by foot, so he must have left his horse out in the storm. Early in the morning, Shannon called Colm, the captain of the day guard, and instructed him to take one other soldier and travel as far as the mountain pass leading out from their valley. The storm still raged, but he obeyed without protest.

The two returned several hours later. They had to fight through wind and heavy snow, but they’d found the remains of an animal several miles from the keep. Based on the tattered saddle and riding gear, and the bones scattered nearby, it seemed obvious that the stranger had travelled by horse. They could not say for certain what fate befell the horse—the storm obliterated any tracks—but the most likely explanation was that the mountain wolves had come to feast. It was extraordinary that the boy had survived.

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