Forest Full of Mirrors

The forest is full of mirrors that reflect the thirteen angels of the land. It is the only safe way to gaze upon them. To see their glory directly would hammer one to silence. It would chain a throat with despair.

The first angel is the angel of moss. She has long hair that drips gray from the limbs of oaks. Her wings are invisible but you can feel them in the breeze as they stroke your sweat to coolness. On hot days I sit beneath her perch, though I dare not sit too long. She might notice.

The angel of leaves wears many colors, changing them with every season. Green is her favorite but sometimes her silks flame red and yellow. At other times they are threadbare, showing the branching of her veins. In the cold, damp winter they are rotted black.

The angel of stone has pitted eyes that glitter like mica. Those orbs watch the little creatures wandering past. They study those who squirm and crawl and hop the forest floor. They decide who to sacrifice and who to spare.

There is another angel who lives in the hives of bees. Striped in black and yellow, she has feelers upon her head. It is said that her coat of pollen is an aphrodisiac. I believe that is true though I have never chanced a taste.

The angel of owls sweeps in silence through the tangled woods. Nothing hears him in flight, but everything flees when he calls. I have heard this piping on eldritch nights—and remain haunted.

The misted angel wears a diaphanous gown. She is cool to the touch. Through the darkest hours, she pants wetly with want. But in the dawn she floats in innocence to heaven. Do not bother to wave. In return she will offer naught.

The river angel’s wings are white in the rapids, deep and green in the pools. Like a child, he chuckles and laughs as he plays. But do not make him angry. He thrashes against his banks then. He turns the world to shambles.

The angel of light glitters like a hoard of gems. She dances with the mirrors, preening for the trees. I suspect she is vain. But why shouldn’t she be? She is more lovely than the sweet face of the moon.

The wings of the ninth angel make a gate. It opens and closes like a bellows. Sometimes things come through. Awful things. Monstrous things. They hide in the light; they stalk the night. Even though they may know your name, do not make them your friend.

The angel of wicked dreams leaves his feathers scattered on the forest floor. Never seek them. Their promise is honeyed; their taste is foul. They often resemble  mushrooms and toadstools. Sometimes they follow you home and beg to come inside and bleed.

Even the worms have an angel. He is small and ugly and his pinions are lost. He crawls on his belly in the soil. He has no throat with which to scream. But listen close and you still may hear him. Pray that you don’t.

I once knew the angel with the dirty wings. We were lovers in a snake’s embrace. She left me a gift when we parted, half of one of her fangs broken off in my heart. The thirteenth angel is the worst. Or the best. If you should look right at him, you’d only see yourself. He is a mirror all his own. He would laugh when you laugh, cry when you cry. But in the end he’d eat your soul with a wink.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

Soul Unturned

Entwined beneath an afternoon sun, two lovers work in a tiny graveyard in an orchard gone to seed. Sweat pearls their limbs and beads their hair. Their voices moan and echo. The moment passes. As evening shadows begin to sing, they kiss and sigh.

“You sure you want this?” Dean asks. “No changing minds later.”
“I want to be young and in love forever.” Leandra replies

Dean nods, kisses the hollow of her throat. Her blue veins shed warmth. Her life beats there. He can drink it when the time comes. Already they’ve been drawing each other’s blood with needles and sharing it to deepen their bond.

Dean lies back on a grave, drawing Leandra down beside him. They wait, holding hands as their last sunset comes creeping. Shadows stretch. On the horizon, earth colors of red and yellow give way to metallic purples and pulsing blacks. Darkness caresses daylight into oblivion.

Leandra sits up. “You hear it?”
Dean joins her. “Yes. They’re coming!”

A humming seeps from the air. The night sky blossoms, as if god has set off fireworks meant only for them. Brilliant scarlets and muted maroons build a backdrop against which gold and white droplets spray. An image of a great raptor appears, striking from ebony space.

Dean closes his eyes against the glory. “The Angel!” he shouts.
Leandra says nothing. Her eyes are open; they bleed crystal tears with razor edges.

The angel lands with a snap of crimson pinions. It is legion; its eyes are moonlets.

“No,” Dean pleads.
“We seek forever,” Leandra counters.

The angel wraps its wings around the lovers, containing them within its umbra. From a spider’s mouth of chelicerae, the being extrudes a single fang upon which gleams a venom-pearl. Leandra licks the pearl. It bursts on her tongue into oily rivulets of purple, blue and green. Dean will not open his eyes but she shares the venom through a kiss. Spasms strike them both. They jerk and writhe, convulse and scream. Limbs twist; bones snap. From human, they are reborn. Into nothing human.

Leandra recovers first. Her eyes are wider now. They see the electromagnetic spectrum in infinite shades. Her ears are opened. They hear the beat of hearts across miles, the scurry of beetles under her feet, the twisting of worms beneath the earth.

“Thank you,” she says.

The angel holds out a tentacle and pulls her to her feet. She feels a weight at her shoulders, the fast-growing wings that will give her the sky. Laughing, she turns to her lover. Dean lies still, as if with exhaustion. She calls his name. He opens his eyes; they are ruins of rot. She cries out and drops to her knees, touching his face. He mewls from a mouth of blackened tongues and the stumps of broken teeth.

With tears, Leandra looks up at the angel. “What happened?” she pleads. “Help him!”

“The venom did not take,” the angel replies. “This is as far as he goes. We’ll have to leave him for the beast.”

“No!” Leandra protests. “It was supposed to be both of us. Together. Forever.”

No mercy in the angel’s voice as it speaks again. “You’ll find better lovers where we’re going. Come. Or stay. Your choice.”

Leandra glances at Dean. He doesn’t seem to recognize her. He grunts like a toad as his broken limbs scratch in the soil as if to burrow. Leandra stands. Her tears are of sorrow, and of joy, as the angel and the once-a-woman rise and arrow toward the portals of heaven. Behind them in the dirt, Dean digs his slow way to Hell.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

Wizard and Waif

Passing through the woods one dark and dreary day, an old wizard found a shivering waif sitting dejectedly beneath a tree alongside the road.

“Child,” the old man said. “Where are your parents?”

“Gone, Sir,” replied the waif, who appeared to be no more than ten or eleven.

“Gone where?”

The youth shrugged. “They sent me to gather wood for our campfire, but when I came back they were gone. I don’t know where.”

“Well, perhaps we can find them,” the wizard said, though he did not really believe it likely. This forest was infamous as a place where unwanted children were abandoned.

The wizard held out his hand. “Come with me, Lad. I’ll help you.”

Without hesitation, the waif rose and took the man’s hand. His grip was strong, and he was smiling. The wizard smiled back.

Knowing it would be dark soon, the wizard did not lead the waif far before stopping to camp.

“Do you want me to get wood?” the boy asked in a frightened voice.

The wizard smiled again. “Not at all, lad. You merely need to sit and watch.”

And as the boy watched, the wizard conjured up a swirling emerald campfire out of nothing but some glittering dust scattered on the ground. The fake fire crackled and spat like true flame. It gave off needed heat. The boy scooted close and held his hands out gratefully.

“It’s wonderful,” he told the wizard.

“Yes,” the wizard replied as he took a bundle off his back and drew out a packet of dried meat. He offered some to the boy and ate a few bites himself. He’d elected to start his fire near where a large, square stone rose from the soil. With a few groans and the crick/crack of old bones, he seated himself with his back to this stone. When he was comfortable, he found the waif looking at him.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“I…I was…wondering. I’ve heard…stories about this wood. People say bad things live here.”

The wizard chuckled. “No need to worry.” He lifted his hands and waved them about while murmuring strange words. The air around the little campsite began to glow a faint green. The color deepened until the two sat within a sphere of glittering light.

“There. Evil cannot cross that barrier. We’re perfectly safe in here.”

“No monsters?” the waif asked.

“Nope.”

“Not even werewolves and vampires?”

“Not even them.”

The youth sighed and relaxed. He finished his dried meat, then shivered and scooted even closer to the fire.

“Cold, small one?” the Wizard asked.

“A little.”

The wizard smiled and patted the earth beside him. “Come sit close to me and we can share our warmth.”

The boy hesitated a long moment, but then rose and moved to sit next to the wizard. The old man put an arm around the boy’s shoulders and drew him close. The lad rested his head on the wizard’s chest.

As the old man idly rubbed the youth’s back, the lad looked up at him. “I just have one more question,” he said.

“Yes?”

The waif smiled: “What if the evil is already inside the sphere?”

~ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

Fractured

Sun bright.

Autumn cool.

Cul-de-sac road.

Two story colonial home.

White.

Pine forest all around.

.

Pickup truck in driveway.

Driver’s door open.

Engine running.

Cell phone on seat.

One text message.

“He’s with her now!”

.

House’s front door thrown wide.

Entrance foyer.

Pine wood floor.

Shotgun shell.

Empty.

Dining room to the right.

Chair shattered.

Tabletop scored by lead pellets.

.

Doorway into kitchen.

Droplet of red on tile floor.

Granite counter tops.

Neat and tidy.

Wood block knife holder.

One slot empty.

.

Through the house toward the back.

Crimson petals the floor.

Bottom of stairs.

A woman’s house shoe.

Empty shotgun shell.

Stairway railing shattered.

.

Top of stairs.

Bedroom on right.

Door open.

Room empty.

.

Hallway.

Photos on the wall.

Blond man, blond woman, blond children.

.

Bathroom on right.

Broken door hanging on frame.

Shotgun shell.

Still smoking.

Shower curtain shredded.

Red splatters everything.

Man face down in tub.

Dark hair.

Partially dressed.

Not asleep.

.

Empty hallway.

Master bedroom on left.

Door open.

Floor carpeted in brown.

Dropped shotgun.

Shell jammed in the breech.

.

Dead woman on bed.

Blond.

Eyes staring.

Neck and face, purple and bloated.

Satin sleeping robe in disarray.

Blood drenches it.

Not the woman.

.

Master bathroom.

Gouts of scarlet.

Blond man on floor.

Breathing in rasps.

Wedding ring on finger.

Woman’s wedding ring in hand.

Steak knife between shoulders.

Other knife wounds dribble red.

Rasping stops.

.

Through the window.

Sun bright.

Autumn cool.

Dark haired woman by truck.

Gloved hands pick up cell phone.

Message erased.

Trees swallow her.

.

Along nearest highway.

School bus sighs to a stop.

Two blond children disembark.

Laughing.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

Snowflake Sanction

A dream woke Hank Jessup. He’d been a kid again, imagining Santa’s sleigh jingling overhead. Sad that it wasn’t real, Hank took a flashlight and stepped onto his deck for fresh air. Dark pines walled his house. The moon painted his yard in shadows.  

December in southern Louisiana. Christmas Eve. The air hung heavy, humid, warm. He’d lived here thirty years, seen two feeble snows that melted faster than boiled ice. He missed winter; no one should have windows open at Christmas. 

Snow cleanses the world.

Something winked, catching Hank’s eye. He looked up. Hundreds of fat white flakes descended through the moonlight.

Snow! It’s too warm. But what else could it be?

A smile tugged Hank’s lips. He flashed back to childhood Christmases, his last happy times. Snow sledding. Warm soup. Shiny presents. Maybe this snow would cleanse his life, his soul.  

Something like tiny voices caught Hank’s attention. He frowned. Hundreds of flakes had settled to earth now. Another landed on his deck railing. He reached to touch it, pulled suddenly back. It was no snowflake. He turned on his flashlight.

A tiny being cut away its white parachute, then drew a silver tube from its belt. Hank wanted to laugh, and shriek. It was a tiny elf, with yellow eyes and pointed ears. And sharp, sharp teeth.

“Wait!” Hank said as the creature pointed its tube and shouted:

“Merry Effing Christmas!”

A wintry blow stunned Hank. He dropped as if axed.

All over the earth, the same strange snow began to fall.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

Two Villages, Two Scholars

Two scholars finally get a chance for some field work to study the stone age cultures they’ve been reading about for years in the abstract. A helicopter takes them into a remote region and drops them off. It’ll return for them in late evening.

The scholars quickly identify two local villages of interest. One sits high on the edge of a great cliff; the other lies in a deep gorge at the foot of the same cliff. The scientists are glad to be observing from a distance when they see that the village in the gorge is surrounded by bone fields of butchered creatures. They identify both animal and human skeletons. The cliff-side village, on the other hand, is remarkably tidy and clear of any kind of debris.

Towards evening, a radio message comes in from the city. A tremendous storm has arisen over the airfield and the retrieval helicopter can’t take off. The two men will have to camp for the night. The chopper will come for them in the morning.

The men had not planned to camp in the wild but they’d prepared anyway. They have a tent, some supplies, and a cook stove. Their main problem is to decide just where to lay their heads. Finally, they pitch their tent high on the cliff, near the tidy village and well away from the settlement in the gorge where they witnessed the bones. Exhausted from their exciting day, both men fall asleep easily. Neither of them awakes.

Soon, more bones are tossed over the cliff to join the debris pile below.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

Cthulhumas

One week before Christmas, Todd noticed a mystery present under the tree. Purple paper wrapped it; no card was attached. It was paperback size. Todd figured his wife, Kelly, was behind it.

The present had grown the next day. And the next. Todd grinned. Kelly was imaginative. She enjoyed the occasional prank. The mystery entranced their seven-year-old, Hannah. She shook the growing present each evening; it made no sound.

Christmas morning. Boiling with excitement, Hannah hurried her parents to the living room. With amazing restraint, she passed out those presents with names on them. Then she studied the purple one. It was as big now as a wide-screen TV.

The present must be for Hannah but Todd couldn’t imagine its nature. He winked at Kelly, leaned to whisper: “Cool idea. Making it ‘grow.’ She loves it.”

“What?”

“Who gets the purple one?” Hannah interrupted.

“You open it,” Todd said. “Then we’ll know. Anything really cool is mine.”

“Dad!” Hannah protested. But she grinned.

Kelly whispered back to Todd: “I thought it was you.”

A terrible sludge of pressure filled Todd’s gut. As Hannah reached for the present, he shouted, “No!”

Hannah ripped back the paper on a glittering universe of cold stars pinned against a backdrop of one tremendous eye. A huge, mustard-colored tentacle reached from that universe and grabbed Hannah.

More tentacles lashed at Todd and Kelly as they lunged, screaming, for their daughter. All screaming stopped as the Old One shouldered out of his universe into ours.

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

The Slice of Razored Wings


I lie on cool moss while the sky drips sun. The world brims with light. It stars my eyes until I see little more than a melted, gold-dust haze. But my ears are open and aware. My skin entangles the moment. For a pleasant fragment of time, my mind lies fallow.

Then something with razored wings slices through the stillness and savages my serenity. A kiss stings; a whisper bites. Thoughts and emotions bloom and settle, like bubbles on a slough. They are foreign, alien. I deny them. But subtle movements become a roil. Shapes rise, lift shaggy heads from the mire. They are draped in silken folds of weed and mud. Beautiful and repellant, they smile with bold teeth, they lick lips of glory.

The promises they bear are fanged and holy, like talons dipped in sacred filth. And now I can see the glitter of fatal edges even through my blindsight. Old scars fold open like the petals of rotted roses. Thoughts take wing, hateful raptors that slice through the ruby heavens of doubt. They shriek upon me.

To save myself, I lift the twin shields of kindness and cowardice. But they are worn and rusty. A sharp strike may shatter them and leave me defenseless before this predator. And so in desperation I call out the beast’s name. With hope of a reprieve, I plead for mercy.

From love.

 

~ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

A Single Breath

A whale surfaces. Exhales. Foul air spumes thirty feet high. The droplets fall, winking with sunlight beneath the blue sky. The whale draws a fresh breath. It flows crisp and cool into his lungs before he slides back beneath the waves. He doesn’t dive, just lets himself slowly sink, using his flippers and fluke only for balance.

This whale is old, tired. He hasn’t eaten in a while. He wants to rest. No other whales are around. He’d been swimming with a small pod but had fallen behind. That doesn’t seem to matter.

The water is a clear and diffuse yellow here just beneath the surface. It glows warm from the sun and the whale wants to hang onto that warmth. But the effort required to do so is tremendous. He sinks a little further, his flippers stroking fitfully at the water.

Yellow light turns green, then turquoise. The water cools a little. It’s like a vast liquid gem, flawed with bubbles and whorls of current. There are no fish, no krill. He is at the center of the turbulence. Then the turbulence dies away. The green water darkens toward emerald. He sinks.

How much farther does he need to travel to reach the krill fields? Will there be anything left when he arrives? Will any of the other whales still be there? His flippers stir, then still.

He sinks a little more. The water is purple now, like twilight at the surface. But unlike at the surface, there is no wind, no roughness of waves. The ocean has a silken stillness to it. A memory comes. His first mate. Her flank brushed his, sometimes as silken as this ocean, sometimes so barnacled-rough that it scratched his flesh.

The memory passes. The ocean darkens. He drowses.

The world is black when he awakens. He drifts through a formless void. A faint pressure in his lungs lets him know that he will need to rise soon. He will have to breathe, and the surface is a long swim away now.

Then light distracts him, glittering, dancing light. He recalls youthful nights, broaching beneath a festival sky strewn with stars. A song stirs deep within but does not pass his throat. These lights are not stars; they are luminescent plankton stirred by his decent through their level. And he is not young. There is no song left.

The moment is here. He must swim now or never swim again. The surface is far away; his lungs begin to strain. Working his fluke and flippers, he begins to rise. Then he stops. The plankton have drifted away from him. He is in blackness again. Alone. The water is cold, cold.

All tension bleeds from his body. He sinks. Deeper and deeper. At some point he exhales. And the bubbles rise. In a while they will burst on the surface, and there will never be more.

~ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.

God of Dreams

A milk-pale rain fell from a blurred black sky. It tingled softly on my exposed arms. Behind me stood a lake of shimmer. My birthplace, perhaps. I could not remember how I’d gotten here.

I walked, not looking at the path my feet trod. Instead, I stared into the sky, which gradually cleared until I could see a myriad of stars, an entire alien milky way in the shape of a blunt-winged moth. In the aftermath of the rain, peacefulness steamed like humidity on my skin.

I came to an arch so old that plants grew from the soil accumulated in the cracks of the stone. I passed beneath it into an abandoned field grown wild. “I am disembodied,” I said. “I am dreaming.” And I knew what that meant; the rules of normal physics no longer applied to me.

Flight is a blessing for lucid dreamers. I lifted my arms—and though sometimes in such dreams I struggle to get off the ground—there was no struggle tonight. I soared with ease into the air, let myself spin slowly with my arms out and my fingers scratching trails of light from the darkness.

A forest of new growth surrounded me. I ducked and wove through the trees, dodging black branches that grasped for me. My laughter bubbled as I came out above the woods and saw the moon grown full and bright and red as a molten coin. Beneath the moon flitted dozens of dragonflies with white and black bodies and spiderweb wings. I joined them, and they were not afraid.

Now, Luna magnetized my gaze again. I spoke to myself: “I don’t have time to fly to the moon.” But something inside me wondered if I did. I reached my hands, prepared myself for the leap to space.

Flight faltered; I fell. I grabbed for a tree limb but it broke beneath my weight and I plummeted down, away from the light and toward the deep, still, forever night below. And yet, I smiled. For this was a dream and nothing could harm me.

Or so I thought until I landed: and flesh gave way, and bones shattered, and punctured lungs spasmed as blood painted an abstract scream across the darkness. And so I lay, while dragonflies came to hover, while they fitted their bodies together and became a deity with a thousand eyes and a thousand wings and limbs as numerous as the skulls of the dead.

With a tongue long and coiled black as a snake, the dragonfly god whispered in my bleeding ears: “I am the architect of dreams. And in time, all who sleep become my prey.”

∼ Charles Gramlich

© Copyright Charles Gramlich. All Rights Reserved.