A Winter’s Night

I whispered, “When the winter snow falls, hide your eyes. When the winter wind blows, stay by the fire.”
The beginning of an ancient warding, one I prayed still held power, but in my heart I knew there would be no stopping her. I knew the moment I heard her roar tremble the trees, the wild winds bellow my name. I ran, chased by the frenzy of her storm.
I sealed my fate that moonlit evening in the forest.
There would be no escape, however long I might pray. I was hers. Even now I could hear her voice shrieking through the frigid squall howling around my hunting lodge.

I am the Bride of Winter. I am the Reaper of Night.
I stand on the edge of insanity, of cruelty, outside the deceptive warmth of the fire.
And I see you, Nikolai. You cannot hide.

I shouted in defiance, “I can try!”
She laughed.

I am the stilled heartbeat of the dead. I feel their remnants, their throbbing fury careening through the veins of the living. They sing to me. They scream to me. I answer with sweet whispers that swirl and fester in your subconscious thoughts.
Shiver in your terror, slumber in your fetid nightmares.
You have lost.

I slumped in my chair. Three nights now, three nights she stalked me inside the never ending storm. I threw the last log on the fire and murmured, “Keep away, oh, Winter Bride, your storm at bay against the fire. Stay away, stay away, Reaper of the Night, or you will burn with the flames.” The windows rattled within a fierce screech and a hail of ice slammed against the panes. Her wailing voice followed.

Fire is fleeting, its warmth an illusion.
It will die. Everything will die. Yet, I remain. Resurrected eternal to swallow the yowling nightmare shame and veniality. I will outlast the fire. I will outlast your words. My ice will steal along the edges of light, slithering frost to pierce your heart.
You will be mine.

I knew her words to be true, even as my mind swelled with inescapable bitterness.
I didn’t mean any of it. There was no thought, only madness. What is one girl’s death, after all? And such a low-born thing, seeking marriage, threatening to ruin me. I had better prospects for a wife than her. Why should I have settled? Who should blame me for acting rashly, violently? The girl should have known her place.
I stared into the wavering flames. “Perhaps I should have burned your bones, Katia, instead of burying them? Perhaps your spirit would have been quiet then and not called to her?”

It would not have mattered. Your fate sealed itself with the act of her death. Wronged bones rest uneasy in the grave. Innocent blood stains the ground in sacred trespass. The act itself calls to me, as restless spirits beg for vengeance. You cannot escape the blood spilled. You cannot run from your own nightmare.

At least I had that solace.
It was the only thing I had as I waited.
The hours passed as the wood burned until only a flicker of flame remained.
I sighed. “There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, if the fire dies.”
As the darkness came, I heard the creak of the door and the cold winter wind blew into my bones. I turned and welcomed my deadly Bride.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2021 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

Hand of Glory

Its master, a thief and would-be sorcerer, placed it on the porch, this Hand of Glory, its stump impaled onto a metal candle holder. He stared at the gruesome thing, shrivelled past the point of decay, fingers dipped in wax and said to burn with the devil’s own light.

He nodded to himself and cocked his head. “A year to this very day, since I cut you from the body of that gallows corpse. Since I made you. You’d best be worth the trouble. The books said you are made of death and magic, let’s see if it’s true.”

He struck a match and set the five wicks alight, flames shining against the night, their glow flickering through the swirling fog. Small wisps of smoke curled upward and a sweet stench hung in the air, swirling with the vapours. The scented smoke snaked towards the doors and windows of the home sliding through the cracks.

The thief smiled. “Well done. Now they’ll sleep while I steal.” He picked the door lock and crept inside to do his thievery, while the spell of the candle kept the family oblivious. In his work, the thief gave no more thought to his unholy creation.

Outside, the Hand shimmered, its magic alive with other schemes. Its smoke shifted, a second trail of perfumed fumes wafting into the night, beckoning. For tonight, on the unhallowed eve of its making, the Hand of Glory summoned someone special.

A figure stood in the fog’s shadows staring at the ghastly candle. The wind blew cold around her and the grass wilted. Fog clung to her ragged cloak and the smell of decay trailed the footsteps that led her here. The Hand of Glory called to her, unwavering and persistent.

A groan slipped from her lips and the candle flame answered with a flicker. The odour of mouldy roses mixed with the wind and the shadows deepened, shifting as if alive. The woman moved forward, her sleeve tickling the stump of her wrist where a hand had been in life. She stared at the shrivelled thing on the porch, at the preserved appendage once hers.

“He should not ‘ave done it.” Her whisper creaked from a voice unused for a year and ravaged by the hangman’s noose. Her bitter words sliced harshly through the silence. The candle burned brighter. “He should’ve left well enough alone.”

The woman sighed, bending over to pluck the Hand of Glory from its candleholder. She shoved the wicked thing against her stump, where it melded to her flesh, still burning with five flickering flames. She reached out and pushed open the door. The thief turned, saw her and gasped.

She smiled. “Hello, husband. Never thought you’d see me again, I wager. Did you betray me to the hangman just for this?” She held up the Hand of Glory, back where it belonged. “Don’t matter none, ‘cause we’ll be together again, real soon.” She stepped forward to the sound of a scream.

She smiled. Tonight she would have her revenge.

~ A. F. Stewart

© Copyright 2019 A. F. Stewart. All Rights Reserved.

 

Kept Secrets

Darkness devoured every ounce of light.

Opening her eyes, Beth’s mind spun, groping for traction as to where she was and how she’d gotten there. The air, musty and thick, made breathing difficult and she wheezed with each panting breath. Her hands and feet were bound, her sense of balance distorted.

She screamed, but the words caught in her throat, trapped behind a wad of fabric shoved into her mouth. Beth scanned the void for a hint of anything that might bring details to her surroundings.

Somewhere in the distance, a door creaked open, ushering in a sliver of light, only to slam shut seconds later. Her chest heaved and rivulets of tears streamed down her cheeks when a familiar sound came to her. The clacking of boot heels on wooden floors echoed like cannons as they made their way closer.

Beth’s pulse echoed in her ears. An orange light flickered in the inky blackness and a figure approached from the other end of the space. Shadows morphed on the walls and ceiling as the naked flame danced its way closer.

She tried to push herself backwards but couldn’t; her body was useless. An ominous silhouette strode closer and the girl recognized Gloria’s sharp features – her stepmother’s features. Her mind’s eye flashed a scene of Gloria bringing her a glass of wine at the dinner party; her last memory before waking up in the void.

Beth cowered as her father’s wife leaned closer and spoke in a raspy, malevolent tone. “You’ll not speak of my secret in life nor death. Of this, I’m sure.”

Gloria rested the candle on the ground and Beth shuddered as the old witch’s bony hands came into view. In one hand, a large needle with wire tailing from the eyelet; in the other, a small vial of liquid gleaned in the glowing candlelight.

Beth strained against her bindings, but she was too weak to break free. Gloria removed the cloth from Beth’s mouth and grabbed her chin before tilting her head back, forcing the potion down her throat.

Beth’s head swum in confusion as the concoction took effect and she slipped in and out of consciousness.

Intermittent flashes of reality only offered hints as to Gloria’s purpose; the biting pain as her stepmother forced the wire through Beth’s lips made those intentions all too clear.

Darkness devoured every ounce of light.

~ Craig McGray

© Copyright 2014 Craig McGray. All Rights Reserved