Vessel and the Dying Light

Around the glades near the shire of Sruth Uaine not even the wind shifted the last leaf clinging to the ironwood branch. In the dwindling light I sat atop the ode-stone watching the perked ears of my fellow Slan as they wound silently through the deer paths. Every moment the sun journeyed closer to the horizon. Every moment hope died a little more.

I longed for that sensation beneath my paw pressed against the stone. Please, let some other Traveler sing to the stones. Let some Slan succeed, somewhere.

I spread out the toes of each footpaw. I was fleet. Perhaps if I joined in the pursuit? But no. Today, the shortest day of the year, did not belong to me nor any other of the bardic order. This day we were but witness to a ritual that belonged to the uninitiated youth. Who was I, a Traveler beyond her first life-span, to steal the honor from the fleet-pawed who had spent their seasons in practice sprints over hill and dale. My fingers caressed the stubborn stone. The magic thrummed against my pads, willing me to evoke the images of the past rituals. I nearly did before letting my ears fall. No, for I might miss the subtle song from another shire.

“Traveler?” A whisper stole my attention.

I leaned forward and stared down into the eyes of an adolescent stoat clutching a pouch on her belt. Stretched to her full height, she turned her gaze out to the filtering trees. I recalled her name from back in the shire, Dochas was a daughter of one of the druids not yet initiated into the order. She was not known for her grace. In fact her footpaws seemed to have minds of their own.

Her tail bristled and twitched as she went on. “Traveler, how … how do you know for sure today is the Solstice? I mean, could we … could we be wrong?”

“The sun speaks its truth. The path has stalled as only the eyes of those who measure know.” I smiled. “You fear that the search is for nothing.”

A tremble swept through her. “What if it was yesterday? What if we missed the opportunity? What if it is today and no one succeeds? Has that happened before?”

“Indeed, it has.” It took all my will-power not to summon the images of those pawful of harsh times. She already shook, no need to mire her fears. “Not in any age that I have born witness to, but in the distant past there have been winters where no beast of any shire has managed to locate the mighty Soitheach. And in some cases they found her in the dusk and failed to catch the wily beast.”

WinterSolsticeBoar

Her eyes searched with greater urgency.

“Without the touch of a paw and the connection to the legendary mother-boar, the harvest that followed was indeed meager. The forest ungenerous. Every shire in the land shed weight in the turn of the seasons. But don’t fret. Look to the sky. The sun’s rays still blush the horizon. So long as light remains, so too does hope.”

“Then … no one has found Soitheach?” She nearly climbed the stone pillar.

Silence reached out of the surface. No new song broke forth. I shook my head.

Dochas heaved a sigh. “How can no one find a boar that large?”

“The whole of our island is immense.” I shrugged. After all, ancient dragons filled the mountain caverns without a trace. Soitheach was indeed more massive than a normal boar, but she was no mountain.

Dochas’s ears drooped. A moment later they crept back up. A paw to rose to her lips.

I held my breath. Silence, for by now all of the young Slan had pressed away from us toward the distant stream.

Crack.

We both turned and gazed into the fiery rays piercing the wood from the distant hill. A mound moved through the bracken. A snorting shuffle carried through the forest. Dochas clung to the shadow of the stone, crouching low she slunk under a fallen truck of a tree and braced herself.

I narrowed my eyes against the blaze of the setting sun. The final fingers stretched into the sky. I sniffed, but no wind carried the scent. The stagnant air denied any hint as to the creature that came our way. Was it Soitheach’s hooves breaking a trail? Or some other immense beast?

Hold still, young one. Let this be your year. Soitheach, give this one the honor.

Yes, I am too old to believe in such a notion as to her hearing me. Or even my will calling forth a creature of legend. I know better than to assume they gave a damn about the lure of my insubstantial voice. A Traveler holds powerful magic, but the elements of nature hold to their own whims.

From the pouch on her belt, Dochas snatched out a mushroom the size of her splayed paw. Gently she blew on the cap toward the creature. Branches snapped and cracked. The ragged outline of the lumbering mound of flesh grew out of the forest. Tusks longer than a Slan’s arm arched toward the sky. Two beady eyes the color of a rippling stream glimmered beneath shaggy brows. A ridge of coarse frost-gray hair stretched along her back. In her wake the forest shivered, frost cracked the ground in her hoof prints.

Soitheach’s breath curled out of her mouth and rose into an icy fog. She turned her focus toward the tree. Dochas’s paw held the offering out like the wooden limb.

I cocked my head. What a clever little mite.

Step by frostbitten step, Soitheach wandered toward her with nostrils wide sucking in the scent. I clung to my perch. A faint finger of light speared the sky. If Dochas moved, the fleet hooves of the beast would carry her well out of range. All it would take was a flinch and the year would be of fallow fields.

Hold! Chasing now would be folly. Patience, young one!

A paw-width away. Every breath of the mighty boar stirred the fur on Dochas’s paw. Still as the steadfast oak she remained, not even blinking as Soitheach’s flanks twitched. Saliva dripped from her open mouth leaving behind a killing frost.

Soitheach lifted her head and engulfed the mushroom. A string of fluid connected paw and beast.

My heart thrummed. It wasn’t enough. Reach, slow… but reach!

Soitheach ground the fungus between her teeth, grunting with obvious pleasure. Her eyes hooded over.

Swift as lightning Dochas’s paw caressed down the muzzle.

Louder than thunder Soitheach squealed her displeasure. She reared her bulk up onto her hunches and nearly tumbled onto her bristly backside. That fate Dochas did not escape. She toppled tail over muzzle behind the tree. She narrowly missed being crushed by the hooves of the bucking boar.

The forest shattered as Soitheach plowed up the hillside leaving a breathless young stoat in her wake bathed in the final blush of the evening sun. Alarmed voices called from all around, ears bobbed in the distance. Dochas lay there gasping for breath, rooted to the spot as she stared where the legend has once stood in four frosted hoof prints.

My heart raced, the song this year … was mine to sing! I bore witness. From my neck I grasped my kenaz and willed the pendant into a fiddle. Already the prose formed in my mind.

Dochas of the shire of Sruth Uaine, you shall be ever-remembered. You, and you alone by your cleverness, have blessed the new year. Tomorrow, when the day grows longer, we may rejoice and sing your name.


A blessed holidays to you and yours, with a happy new year!

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The Harpening

One would think that living in a shire surrounded by the next generation of elite story-tellers would be captivating. Well, life in the shire of Coarrunn is boring as watching moss grow on a fallen log. I’ve been here now for a couple years learning my bardic skills from Master Bard Ais from sun-up to sun-down. Nothing but sit your fuzzy rear here and listen.

We’re bards! We’re supposed to tell!

“Ealaidh.” Seinn, an adolescent wolf several years older than me, ruffled the hair between my ears as he joined me by the river. “Aren’t you supposed to be listening to Ais’s lecture on the Bones of Lore.”

I mock-yawned and smirked. “Makes me snore.”

“This isn’t rhyming class.”

With a toothy grin, I replied, “Why all the sass?”

He rolled his eyes. “You’re such a pain.”

“I can’t complain.”

Tweaking my ear, he couldn’t help a little grin. “That cheeky-nature of yours is going to get you into trouble.”

I wrapped my arms around my legs and sighed. “I just want to do something besides listen all day. We’re minstrels-in-training, shouldn’t we be playing instruments, singing, and stuff?”

Seinn adjusted the red scarf around his neck, a nervous habit of his. “Well, yeah, eventually. I mean, I am, but you won’t for a few more turns of the seasons.”

I shot bolt upright. “What? A few more … what will I be doing in all that time … listening to snore-fests?”

“Fraid so. It’s what the novice whelps do. Now, let’s go.” He turned and trudged off.

I lingered by the rippling stream, finding its voice more interesting than my tutor’s. The sensation of a glare burning at my back stirred me to my footpaws. I kicked a pebble and the water swallowed my offering. Grimly, I embraced my fate and followed Seinn back towards the shire.

We passed by the glade where his harping class was about to start. The wolf offered me a hard glare and pointed over the hill to where Ais would be lecturing. With my shoulders rolled forward, I padded on … until I heard the paws of my fellow slan on the strings.

The tinkling beauty called me. Scampering through the brush I edged to the backside of the class to watch as row after row of older novice bards plucked dutifully in echo of the Master Harpist at the front. The lure pulled me, my footpaws nearly dancing, toward an empty harp at the back of the group.

My paws itched, a sensation so dire that if I didn’t touch the strings to make them sing I would cease to exist. The world lived suspended in those strings and playing them released it.

The first touch, tentative, but it brought forth a delicate cascade of sound. My heart leapt. I slid onto the seat and listened to the tune as played by the Master. Fingers shifted, already knowing the way. The moment the silence fell, I repeated the simple tune with the others. Stopping at the end felt like clogging a river. But I listened again. This time more notes than what I had heard poured through. They didn’t stop at the end of the passage.

EalaidhHarpOdeStone

Behind my closed eyes, the glade dissolved to be replaced by a mighty star-fall and a celestial river of brilliant lights. Rich blues, purples, and pinks danced in the void. Around me will-o-wisps flickered in brilliant sequences. A speckled beast dove through the celestial waters, one of the mighty dragon-kin. She arched her head and extended her frill releasing a mighty roar that shook the heavens.

A paw grasped my shoulder. I opened my eyes to find the Master Harpist staring at me in awe, a strange twitch to the corner of his eye. “Young one, you should not be playing yet. You have yet to master your powers.”

I withdrew my claws from the strings and folded my paws pleadingly. “But, I must play … ”

He extended a paw over the class, drawing my attention to it. Every student, even Seinn sat slack-jawed staring at the glimmering images projected in the air around me … my celestial river! “You must release them from your enchantment, whelp.” He knelt before me, gazing into my eyes. “In all my years, I have never seen one of such raw power. No, you must be careful and learn slowly or you may convince a beast that something is there when it is not. Or lead them to be lost to the past.”

I stared at the strings, glimpsing the other bards trapped in my image fog. “I … I don’t know how.”

The Master Harpist heaved a sigh. “And that proves my point. You, most of all, must refrain until Ais has tempered your abilities. For now, I want you to mimic what I play.” He carefully plucked out a sequence.

When he finished, I played it. The moment I struck the last note, the bards all blinked and the dreamy expression faded. Seinn stared at me, confusion in his unblinking gaze.

The Master Harpist took my paws and folded them in my lap. “Now, you don’t touch another harp, understand?”

I couldn’t even nod. The lingering sensation of completeness called to me to touch the strings. The instrument itself promised power sweet and alluring. Without even knowing it I had enchanted a dozen other bards-in-training into an enthralled image fog.

My claw drifted toward a string. The Master Harpist pushed it back away. “There’s another class you should be in right now. Your time will come, whelp. But it is most definitely not now. Off with you before you steal my students again.”

Dutifully I left, over my shoulder I watched planning my next chance to play. At least I was no longer bored.

Halloween Reprise: Once Beatin’, Twice Die

Once Beatin’, Twice Die

Reposted twisted humor story in the spirit of the season of tricks and treats. This tale was inspired by a prompt with a 36 hour writing frame: Pooky and the Pumpkin Parlor. My story triggered a need for the creation of second place, previously only the top running story was to be awarded but they liked my tale so much and wanted to publish it online. Enjoy this delicious devilry …

quantumkitty

I clutched my pumpkin to my chest. Every jostle of the cardboard box I rode in threatened to dislodge my precious prize.

My pumpkin. No one could take it from me. I flexed my claws into the fleshy rind. The juice wicked into my fur. I purred.

The floor of my box dropped. I landed hard and rolled to the side with a hiss. A moment later her face appeared over the edge of the box. A face that looked like a frog had mated with a gourd. Madame Euphrasia.

I spat at her and flexed my claws into the pumpkin.

“Pooky, are you sure you want to go through with this?” She offered me a tight-lipped smile. “Come on now, it was a terribly long walk down here, to the Pumpkin Parlor. But I promise to forgive you.”

“Rowwwrrr!”

“Sweetie.”

I hugged my pumpkin tighter.

Madame Euphrasia reached up and adjusted her pointy hat. “Have it your way you little—”

My hackles rose. I fixed her with a glare.

“—darling.” She softened her expression.

My pumpkin. So soft and squelchy in my claws. Mmm.

The box rocked to the side and I tumbled onto the rust-tinted counter of the Pumpkin Parlor. Jack’o’lanterns hung from the ceiling and cast a warm glow over the spirits floating to the tables delivering alcohol. The entire room glowed in shades of unbroken orange. Well, all save the patrons. The collective monstrosities seated all around were exempt from the color code. A pack of werewolves dressed in black leather perched on stools further down the counter devouring a rack of lamb. In the corner booth a stitched man resembling a burly rag doll slouched with a daisy in his hand. A cappuccino steamed before him.

Even though I had not been here long, I remembered this place. I craned my head to see if I could find that nice wooden box I had once slept in.

A hand slammed the counter. Madame Euphrasia leaned over and glared at the swinging door. “Momordica! Momordica, you mountebank. This is your damn place. I know you are back there. Get your wiley ass out here right now!”

I scaled my pumpkin and curled around the coiled stem. The little curly twigs sproing when I bat them with a paw. I liked that.

“Momordica. Come out before I go back there and drag you out. We need to talk about that sh—“

I hissed and skewered the pumpkin with all ten claws.

She gulped. “—sweet transaction we had the other day.”

Why did that crazy old coot have to raise her voice so much? Never, in all my nine-lives had I known such an unappreciative human.

The door squealed open and Momordica sauntered in, bedecked in shades of ochre. Even his top hat was a rich shade as he flicked it off his head with a bow. “Madame Euphrasia. Pleasant to see you this eve. How may I assist one of my finest patrons?”

Several of the customers narrowed their eyes before returning to their meals.

I resumed playing with the curlicues. Twang. Twang. The hollow gourd responded with a thump. Thump. Thump.

“There is a problem with Pooky. It must be remedied immediately and with great care.”

Momordica glanced down at me and widened his golden eyes. “The darling kitten I sold you just a fortnight ago? He looks perfectly healthy. And I assure you that black cats are all the rage as witch’s familiars. Give him a bit more time. He’ll grow on you.”

She balled her fists and gave me a sideways glance. A bead of sweat rolled down her knobby brow. “I am running out of time. The little bea—creature won’t obey. This is serious, Momordica.”

Obey, schmobey. It’s not like she asked nicely. I rubbed my cheek against the stem of the pumpkin and purred. The hollow reverberated, thump, thump, thump. I wanted to open it. But it was too soon. Too soon to look see.

“Madame Euphrasia, Pooky is just a sweet little kitten. What harm could he manage aside from stealing a ball of yarn?”

“You see that pumpkin?” She smiled like someone pulled her lips apart with fish hooks. “He won’t give it back.”

“A pumpkin?” He burst into laughter. “A pumpkin? I have a whole field of pumpkins. What kind do you wish? Let Pooky keep that one.”

“You don’t understand.”

Light flickered through a glass of whiskey on the counter. Pretty. Must become mine. I slid down the side of the pumpkin and kept my tail brushing against it. With a paw I ticked the side of the glass.

It vanished. But the liquid remained. An amber puddle spread over the wood and dampened Momordica’s gloved fingers.

Where the glass was now was it half empty? Was it half full? Was there even a glass in the first place? If I looked I would know and that would spoil everything. Ohh, my tail is moving. Must get the tail.

He leaned back. “Remarkable!”

“You see? This is no normal cat.”

“Well, of course he isn’t. He’s a witch’s familiar now.”

“But I didn’t teach him that damn trick. You need to understand what he’s stolen.”

I leapt back onto the pumpkin and licked my paws taking care to get between each claw. She flinched as I eyed her.

Momordica leaned forward.

“He’s stolen my heart.”

He laughed so hard he ceased to breath for a moment. “Aww, now that’s so sweet. He’s not a bad kitty. He’s a miracle worker. Who would’ve known you even had a heart?”

“It’s not funny!” She tore open the first few buttons on her dress collar to reveal my claw marks on her flesh. “I mean he literally stole the damn organ!”

I arched my back and growled deep in my throat.

“The sweet, darling animal! I mean, he cares so much … but … but … I need it back. Momordica, I think he has it in the pumpkin. I have no idea how he did it. Where did you find him?” Her face grew pale as a saucer of milk.

Mmm, milk.

He took a few steps back eyeing me. I sunk my claws into the flesh of the pumpkin. My pumpkin. Thump thump, thump thump.

“I found him in a box in the graveyard. Poor thing was half alive, half dead. I carried him here not having any idea if when I opened the box he’d still be here.”

Thump thump. The beat in the pumpkin stuttered. Oh dear. Thump thump … thump … THUD.

She dropped to the floor.

I sighed and abandoned the pumpkin on the counter. No point in looking now. I already knew the answer.

Momordica grabbed it and smashed it open with his fist. Crimson mingled with orange pulp, the witch’s heart cradled in the core. Apparently my touch can only sustain an organ for so long. Who knew.

He looked at me. I glared back before raising a paw to groom off the pumpkin pulp.

“Who would’ve known! Tell me, Pooky, why did you do that?”

Curiosity. I leapt back into the box and pulled the flaps closed. Memories of a past half-life tumbled back to me. The inside of a box, and the musings of a human named Schrodinger.


Happy Halloween! Mwahahaha!