It’s been a long time since I posted something, but now I’m getting back on the blogging bandwagon!
I’d like to start things off by posting a story I wrote for the Newgrounds Halloween contest in 2012. It is titled “Here Comes the Reaper”. I have always found the Grim Reaper to be a rather interesting mythological character. He’s not really good or evil, he just performs an unsavory task, one which is incredibly necessary if our world is to continue supporting life.
At least, that’s how he’s normally portrayed. Occasionally he’s a bad guy who must be eluded. My story kind of plays with that idea, not so much that the Reaper is evil, but that he’s kind of a jerk. The story ended up taking 2nd place in the contest, and I’m rather pleased with it overall. Scroll down to read it.
But first I would like to announce that this blog will have an actual REGULAR update schedule as of today. Every Thursday morning (probably around 10AM Central Time) I will be posting installments of a longer running series. I wrote a short story about Russian mech pilots a long time ago and had always planned to expand upon the idea. So now I’ve decided that I’ll be posting chapters of their story right here each week. Next week will feature the original “pilot” episode and after that there will be a new section. So come back next week for: “Snow Can Kill“!
Here Comes the Reaper
Oswyn’s eyes were raw from crying. He lifted his head from the table where he had been slumped for God only knew how long. The lack of light seeping in through the cracks in the wall told him that night had fallen. The little house was mostly empty, containing a simple fire pit off to one side with a small stack of firewood and a little ax. and a straw mattress for sleeping. Besides the table and a few chairs there was no furniture. Oswyn shivered. The thin wooden walls did little to keep out the noises of the village and even less to keep out the cold of the night. He stared into the candle burning low on the table. The flickering light cast dancing shadows on the mud walls of their home.
No. It was only his home now, he corrected himself.
Crawa lay on table in front of him, hands clasped over her chest. Oswyn ran a hand through her wavy, golden hair. In the light of the candle it appeared as though her head was covered in wreath of flames. Oswyn found the image disturbing. It reminded him too much of the sermons he had heard from Father Alric. Osywn knew what was waiting for all of them once they died. Oswyn began to get angry as he thought of the cruelty inflicted upon him. He gripped Crawa’s soft hands and began to pray. He prayed to God to save her soul from the pits of eternal fire. She didn’t deserve to burn. Oswyn prayed for God to return her to him. It wasn’t fair that He had taken her so soon. Hadn’t he always been faithful? Was this how he was to be repayed?
“I can tell you where she’s really going if you like” A voice echoed around the room.
Oswyn jumped up from the table, sending the chair crashing into a pile of firewood. He spun around determined to confront whoever disturbed his mourning.
“Where are you, whelp!? With God as my witness I’ll thrash you!” Oswyn raged at the shadows before tripping on the spilled wood. He gritted his teeth in frustration at being humiliated so in front of this unknown interloper. Is this your way of saying ‘no’, God? Am I to be seen as a fool by one who would make light of my pain? Hot tears ran down Oswyn’s face as he rose.
“Show yourself” Oswyn whispered hoarsely.
“That’s the spirit.” the voice chuckled.
A dark stain appeared on the wall opposite him. The wood seemed to fester and decay. Mold sprouted, grew, and died in seconds. The stain spread outward in a rough circle until it nearly touched the floor and ceiling.
Oswyn backed away from the growing stain as a putrid smell began to emanate from it.
“Demon…” he breathed. His tormentor was not some impudent soul from the village, come to taunt him in his grief, this was the Devil himself, come to steal Crawa forever.
“I wouldn’t worry about them either.” The center of the spot began to bulge outwards, pulsing as if alive. As the bulge grew it began to split down the middle. Thick, black liquid began to pour from the split, forming steaming puddles on the dirt floor. With a mighty convulsion the bulge tore in two and vomited out a hulking figure.
Oswyn cried out and ran to the door. He slammed his fists against it but found that it would not budge. He cried out for someone to come help him, but his voice caught in his throat.
Everything outside was silent. He couldn’t hear the bustle of the village or the sound of animals in the field. He looked between the cracks in the wood and saw only darkness, a completely impenetrable blackness that no torches or stars had ever illuminated.
“Leaving already? I thought you wanted to have a little chat?” A baritone voice came from behind Oswyn. Oswyn slowly turned to face the creature that emerged from his wall.
Standing before him was a massive hunched figure. Oswyn reasoned that if it stood up straight it would easily be over eight feet tall. Its body was covered in a dirty brown robe, which did little to hide the curved spine and odd lumps covering its back. The figure was peering down at Crawa’s body, looking her up and down as if appraising her. Its face was hidden by the hood of its robes, but Oswyn could see its breath. It extended an arm towards her face, a skeletal hand emerging from the sleeve. Shreds of gray skin hung from the fingers, the exposed bone gleaming in the light of the candle. The figure stroked Crawa’s face with its gruesome appendage.
“Don’t touch her!” Oswyn managed to squeak. The figure looked up and Oswyn wished he hadn’t gotten its attention.
Beneath the hood was a face, or rather, the suggestion of a face. The same black ooze which had spilled from the wall covered the face beneath the hood. The ooze covered its features in pulsating mask of black sludge. The slime ran down the creature’s face before dripping from its chin. Although Oswyn wasn’t sure if there was any flesh beneath the muck, he could easily see that there was no nose. The mouth hung open and Oswyn saw that there were no lips or tongue, just white teeth stained with the black tar. But for all this horror, the eyes were the worst.
From within the sea of filth two small pits glowed. Whether they were reflecting the light of the candle or burned with some inner fire, Oswyn could not tell. They had no lids, and the black tar flowed around them as if reluctant to get too close. The sunken pits bore straight into Oswyn’s head, and the dead light they gave off was almost too much for him.
“Please, don’t think that my deigning to show myself means that you can order me around. I could have done this without you remaining any the wiser.” The figure lurched towards him. Its steps were uneven and its lumpen form swayed as it approached. “I just thought that you might like to have some answers. It’s rare for one of you to be so… questioning.”
As the devil (For Oswyn decided that no matter what the thing said, it could be nothing else.) approached and crouched in front of Oswyn, the stench of a bog assaulted his nose. The thing reeked of decay. Oswyn tried to crawl away from it, but found that his muscles had ceased to obey him. He couldn’t move his eyes away from the devil’s face. At this distance, Oswyn saw that it wasn’t slime which covered the skeletal form of the devil, but thousands of shiny black maggots. They writhed over one another, occasionally falling to the ground where they melted away.
The devil cocked his head to one side and looked Oswyn up and down. “You want to know don’t you? You want to know what’s going to happen to her.” He jerked his head in Crawa’s direction. “You want to know what’s going to happen to you, to everyone. That’s why you question the one thing in your universe you were taught to obey unconditionally.” The devil nodded, agreeing with itself.
“Always an interesting group, you humans. You can’t even imagine the ways in which you will invent to cause death.” The devil drew in a breath, sucking one of the hapless maggots into its maw, and closed its eyes as if savoring the sensation. “So creative. So many new and wondrous ways to inflict pain.” The devil opened its eyes suddenly and moved his face close to Oswyn’s. “Actually, I think I will help you imagine it.” One of the skeletal hands shot out from within the robes and grabbed Oswyn’s head. The long skeletal fingers completely encircled his head and Oswyn felt a jolt as energy flowed through his mind.
He saw images of men. Men in strange clothing and armor. Men in blue, green, gray, and odd patterns which blended into the scenery. Some men wore simple shirts while others had ornately designed armor that gleamed in the sun. He saw men wielding bizarre instruments. He saw men point wooden tubes at each other and bloody holes appeared as if by magic in their foes. Large metal cylinders belched fire and thunder. He saw bodies thrown through the air and torn to shreds by invisible forces. Great boxy beasts festooned with more tubes lumbered over the battlefields ripping invisible swathes of death through yet more men in strange helms.
Oswyn tried to cry out as he was suddenly thrust into the sky. He saw men encased in steel leviathans dropping objects on impossibly large cities, erasing them with fire. Smaller metal demons tore through the large ones, causing them to spiral out of control and bleed smoke. Finally his sight was stolen from him in a flash of light so intense it shone brighter then the sun. The last image the devil showed him was a pillar of smoke and ash that towered above the Earth as dozens of similar pillars began to rise in the distance.
“That’s about enough of that I think.” The devil’s voice rang in Oswyn’s ears, breaking the trance and returning him to his small house. “You won’t be around to see any of that anyway, so I’ll keep the grand finale to myself.”
“Horrors. Monsters.” Osywn whispered to himself. “How can such things be the work of men?”
The devil rose from his crouch and turned away from Oswyn. “I assure you they are. That’s why you humans are my favorite. Of all the living things I collect, only humans have such an appetite and ingenuity for killing their own. Reminds me of myself sometimes.” He reached the table where Crawa lay and placed his skeletal hands on her brow again. “But, I think I might have just given you more questions then I could possibly answer, so I’ll get back to the reason I came here.” He turned his face towards Oswyn and the black face split into a grin again. “You want to see where she’s going?”
Oswyn snapped back into focus at the mention of Crawa. He stumbled over the table. “You can’t take her. I don’t want to see. I just want her back.”
The devil sighed turned back to Crawa’s still form. “Too bad. I’ll show you anyway.”
Glowing red needles shot from the tips of the devil’s fingers and pierced Crawa’s head. Oswyn yelled for the devil to stop, to not defile his beloved, but realized that there was no blood. In fact there were no wounds at all. The needles passed through Crawa as if she were not there. The devil swirled them around inside her head as if looking for something.
“Come on then, let Oswyn get a look at you.” the devil cooed as it worked. The needles’ smooth movements halted.
It had caught something.
The devil began to pull his hands away from Crawa’s body. The needles quivered as the devil struggled to pull the thing out through the forehead. The devil grinned at Oswyn, the lights in its eyes glowing a bright blue now. “Putting up quite a fight, this one. I think she likes you.”
Oswyn whimpered as he saw what the devil had a hold of. From within Crawa’s head came a translucent figure. Its skin shimmered, as if tiny stars twinkled within. Oswyn immediately recognized the face. Even with the tortured expression and ethereal body, Oswyn would recognize the woman he loved anywhere. She screamed silently at Oswyn, her eyes imploring him to help her.
The red needles, glowing brighter now as they pulled the spirit out of Crawa’s body, bit deep into the silvery flesh. They stretched her face in grotesque ways, pulling her from her body the way someone would pull a worm from an apple.
Noticing the expression of grief and horror on Owyn’s face, the devil leaned close and whispered, “Be glad that I’ve silenced her to your ears. Her screams are most exquisite for me, but I imagine you would find it quite distressing.”
With one last effort the devil pulled the spirit from the body entirely. Raising his hand in the air so he could admire his work, the devil looked the glowing figure from head to toe before nodding approvingly. “She was a fine woman Oswyn. I’m sure you would have been very happy together.”
Crawa’s spirit shivered on the ends of the needles, her limbs thrashing occasionally in a vain attempt to shake free. Her eyes never left Oswyn’s face and he he had to turn away from sorrow and shame. He wanted to help her, but what could he do against a beast like the one which stood before him. He needed to buy time in order to figure something out.
“How can you spend so much time gathering a single soul when there are so many dead?”
The devil hesitated for a moment before tearing its eyes from Crawa’s howling face. “The world doesn’t work the same way for me as it does for you, Oswyn. I’m here right now talking to you, but I’m also in the next village taking an old man. I’m in the senate, watching Caesar die. I’m in a trench in France taking scores of young men.”
Oswyn was barely listening to the devil’s speech as he searched the room for something to strike with. His eyes locked on the simple ax he used to cut fire wood. It lay under the logs he had disturbed when he fell. He could probably reach it with a single lunge. Whether or not it would do any good once he got it, Oswyn didn’t know.
Oswyn gasped as the devil thrust its face towards his. “And, silly Oswyn, I’m in your head. I can hear your thoughts remember?” The maggots were wriggling faster now and the light within the eyes was turning a dark red.
Oswyn fell backwards, scrambling for the ax. Maybe he could throw it and sever one of the arms holding Crawa. Maybe then she could get away. Oswyn wasn’t even sure if that was a good thing or not. She was already dead after all. Where would her spirit go? Would she be doomed to wander the Earth forever as a ghost?
Oswyn decided that anything was better then going wherever this devil intended to take her.
“You really think so Oswyn? Well then let me show you!” the devil roared as Oswyn lifted the ax to throw it. The devil’s mouth opened impossibly wide and spewed bile at Oswyn’s arm. Pain flared from the spot where the disgusting ooze touched him and he cried out in horror as the flesh began to slough off the bones. By the time it hit the ground it had turned into a lump of dissolving mush, leaving only the scent of long decayed bodies. Oswyn trembled as he looked up into the devil’s eyes. They were now blazing red, tiny licks of flame scorching the maggots around the edges.
“You have absolutely no idea what you are dealing with right now Oswyn. I thought you’d be a little smarter then that. Especially after I showed you what I’m capable of.” The devil drew himself up and sighed. “But I guess I expected too much from a stupid human. I’ll keep my promise though. You want to know where she’s going? Where you’re all going? Fine.”
Oswyn couldn’t make a noise as the devil spoke. He wanted to shout, he wanted to get up and launch himself at the beast but he couldn’t move. His right arm, which now ended just above the elbow, throbbed in pain. It didn’t bleed. The wound was covered in knotted scar tissue, forming a lumpy cap. Oswyn wondered whether that was a natural reaction to the acid or if the devil was merely showing him mercy.
The devil’s eyes narrowed to slits, the light which escaped from them cooling to a dull yellow. Azure smoke began to seep from its mouth and its robes began to flutter. With a hoarse bellow the devil’s eyes snapped open and a shockwave burst from its mouth. Oswyn struggled to remain sitting upright as the energy buffeted him. The devil looked down on him disdainfully, the way a man looked at a wounded insect scrambling in the dirt.
“The channel is open now, Oswyn. Behold the fate which awaits all things which live in this universe.” With another blast of energy the robes hiding the devil’s bulky form whipped open.
Tears streamed down Oswyn’s face as he looked upon the devil’s body. Where the skin was visible under the coat of maggots it was pallid and gray. The stomach was distended to a gross degree. The lumps that had been hidden by the robes turned out to be faces and limbs of men and women half absorbed into the devil’s body. They twitched spasmodically as the maggots burrowed into their flesh, their faces frozen in expressions of absolute pain and terror.
With a sickening sound of tearing flesh the oversized abdomen began to split down the middle. As the gap widened a howling wind burst out buffeting Oswyn as he stared into the pale light which emanated from the cavernous opening. The devil seemed to stretch, his spine uncurling until he stood fully erect. The devil grinned maniacally, its eyes feverish with delight.
“Isn’t it wonderful Oswyn?! No Heaven! No Hell! Just an eternity of waking death!” The devil cackled as Oswyn peered into the devil’s stomach.
Within the ragged hole was an impossibly long chamber. Oswyn crawled forward and looked through the hole, unable to believe what he was seeing. The chamber was cylindrical in shape and extended beyond the limit of his sight so that he could not see the far wall. The pale light coming from the far end lit the entire space. Looking up and down, Oswyn saw that the curving walls were more then fifty feet above and below the opening.
But it wasn’t just the scale of the place which made Oswyn doubt his vision. Chained to every surface by cruelly spiked lengths of iron chain were bodies. Countless bodies. And they weren’t all human. Oswyn saw grotesque creatures chained amongst the millions of forms. Monstrosities with too many limbs, beasts with shapes that hurt his mind to look at, and creatures he couldn’t even begin to describe assaulted his senses with screeching and hooting that human ears were never meant hear. Oswyn swept his eyes around the chamber, taking in a new horror with each passing second. He saw men and women twisting in their chains, the spikes holding them fast and pressing into their skin.
Some had grievous wounds on their bodies while others appeared completely whole. Oswyn recognized some of the strange costumes and garments he had seen in the vision the devil had shown him. Oswyn reached out to touch the nearest person. It was a young man draped in chain-mail and a white tunic. A red cross covered his chest. The man’s intestines protruded from a deep slash which extended from one side of his abdomen to the other. As Oswyn’s hand neared, the man stirred and painfully twisted his head to face him. His glassy eyes widened and a mournful wail escaped from his lips. Just before Oswyn could reach him a skeletal hand grabbed his wrist. Pulled from the opening and back into his house, Oswyn found himself dangling in the grip of the devil. The devil lifted him up until they were face to face.
“Now, now, Oswyn. You wouldn’t want to get trapped in there early would you? It’s only a matter of time I assure you. I’ve already got your spot ready, just like I’ve got a spot for everything that ever has, is, or will live.”
Oswyn struggled in the devil’s grip. “How is that possible? How can you have the souls of those who haven’t even lived yet?”
The devil grinned and dropped Oswyn to the floor. “I’ve already shown you what you wanted to know. No more questions.” The devil looked to Crawa’s spirit, still snagged on the needles of the devil’s other hand. She had ceased her struggling and was staring into the abyss in the devil’s stomach, her face contorted with fear. “It’s time I finished my business here and was on my way.”
The devil shoved the spirit through the hole. Oswyn cried out as Crawa’s spirit was immediately ensnared by spiked chains which drew her away from the opening and into the infinite length of the horrible tomb. Oswyn got to his feet and made to go after her but the opening was already closing, the flesh knitting back together and the maggots spreading out to cover the expansive stomach once again. When the breach had sealed completely, the devil patted his stomach as if satisfied after a large meal. The devil turned towards the black spot on the wall it had emerged from and placed one hand on the black stain. The stain rippled and became liquid, a shimmering black pool of slime sitting impossibly on the wall.
“You foul beast. Devil!” Oswyn sputtered from where he stood. Tears filled his eyes once again. He wanted to strike out somehow but knew it was futile. The devil paused and regarded Oswyn over its lumpen shoulder.
“I told you I wasn’t a devil or a demon. I am something far grander then a fallen angel from your silly religion.” Then without another word it disappeared into the murk. The stain shrank until it too vanished as if it had never been. There was no sign of the ooze that had spilled from it onto the floor. No sign of the maggots which had flowed from the terrible creature’s body. Only the ruined nub of his arm remained to prove that it had ever been there.
Oswyn walked over to the table which still carried Crawa’s body. The skin seemed empty now, as if the last vestige of her vitality had been taken away. Her hair had lost its luster and failed to even reflect the light from the candles. She felt exceptionally cold to the touch and her skin was rough and dry.
She was truly gone now.
A thin ray of light stabbing through the cracks in the wooden wall told Oswyn that morning was coming. He righted a chair and sat down heavily. He stared at the spot on the wall where the demon, or whatever it was, had come from. He gingerly felt the nub at the end of his arm. He knew that it would return someday. It would return for him. Oswyn would wait. He imagined that it could hear him right now, that it was listening to his thoughts still.
‘Then know this, abomination. I’ll be waiting for you. And I’ll be ready.’