Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Stillborn XXIII (Henry)


There was a moan from the entrance and Henry turned around once more to see two men, both dressed the same as all the other cultists, with a heavily pregnant woman supported between them.  She was half-undressed, her distended belly covered in swirls of drying blood that did not seem to be hers.  The rest of her clothing appeared fashionable, all warm, yet muted colours.  Traces of mascara ran down her cheeks.

She’s not one of them, he realised, but where did they find her?

The woman staggered forwards, legs apart apart, as contractions rocked her abdomen,  Her hands gripped the shoulders of the two men like claws.

“Welcome, Hazel,” the Priestess said and as Henry turned back to her he saw she wore an almost serene smile.  “I know you have been through a lot this evening, but you are in safe hands now.”

The woman - Hazel - continued forwards until she was just a few feet away from Henry’s pew, then, as a particularly powerful contraction hit her, she stumbled and the two men lost their grip on her.  She tumbled forwards, hands flying out in front of her in protective instinct and, equally instinctual, Henry found himself leaping out of his seat (barely noticing the pain in his hip as he did) and reaching out for her.

She turned in an instant.  One moment she was a pregnant woman imperilled by her fall, the next she was something like a beast, eyes screwed up tight above a snarling mouth; the one hand catching her weight on the stone floor of the Kirk even as the other swung through the air to slash at Henry with her nails.  He barely managed managed to get out of her way, falling backwards against his pew and feeling the pain in his hip suddenly flare into agony.

“Stay away from my baby,” Hazel shrieked, “stay away!” and despite the pain Henry found himself trying to huddle closer to the end of the pew, terrified.

The two men who had been supporting her were at her side immediately and she seemed suddenly subdued as they lifted her back to her feet and helped her on her way towards the Priestess, the communion table and the pool of blood.  But Henry had his own supporters and it was with incredible relief that he accepted Paige and Charlie’s help, one to grab each hand, to get him back onto his feet and into the pew.  By the time he had righted himself and rubbed away some of the pain he saw that the woman had made it to the edge of the pool of bloody wax.

“Hazel,” the Priestess said gently, “you have been chosen for the greatest of honours.”  She reached out and took each of Hazel’s hands from their resting places on the shoulders of the two men and held them, gently, supportively, in her own.  “You have been chosen to rebirth the Son of God.  Your womb has become a gateway to the celestial realms, a place most holy and sacred and soon, so soon, it will open and He who has been veiled in flesh once more shall arrive.  Then, this world will end and be replaced by something infinitely better: paradise, a new Eden, the final Heaven for those who believe.”  She brought her hands and Hazel’s down onto Hazel’s blood-smeared belly and smiled.  “Are you ready for this glorious burden, Hazel?”

“I am,” the woman replied and her voice sounded far-off now, as if she were reciting lines from within a dream.

But as she spoke those words Henry noticed that something had changed about the pool at their feet.  The candles were flickering wildly now and the liquid between them was rippling, bulging in several places near the centre and sending waves outward.  It was as hypnotic as it was awful.

What new horror is this? he asked himself, but it was the Priestess who answered.

“Behold,” she said, letting go of Hazel’s hands and taking a step away from the pool, even as a gnarled, blood-soaked hand emerged from within, “the midwife of the Lord.”

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Stillborn XXII (Paige)


Paige was terrified.  Of all the things they had seen and experienced this night, nothing compared to the ritual she was witnessing now.  All the monsters of night and mist, of memory and recrimination, had nothing, nothing at all, on this congregation of pale, dark humans.  There were so many of them, all dressed the same, all with the same solemn expressions, all praying the same ancient words in the same dull tones.  It had been decades since she had last been in a church, but that church, she knew instinctively, had been alive and thriving.  This, however, was a church of death and it seemed easier to understand, in the light of all she had witnessed, that the monsters were real, that the town was empty, that her life had become a nightmare of unimaginable proportions, than that these people were ready to worship the cause of it all, that they had willed it and prayed for it for generations, that, in the depths of their souls, this seemed to them like paradise.

And then she began to wonder.  She looked around at the faces as they muttered their prayers, listened to the buzz of their liturgy, and wondered, did they all really want this?  Did they all really believe?  Where there perhaps many here who, in the throws of their day job and the business of family life, never gave a thought to St. Margaret and the second coming she was supposed to birth?  Could it be that this was just like any other religion, its adherents part fervent, part nominal.  And what then?  What of those who never really prayed for this moment?  What must they make of it now?  Some, no doubt had been shocked into faith once more, but the others, were they hoping for a way out?

She kept scanning the faces until she found the one that told the story she expected.  A young woman, sitting dutifully beside her husband and children, eyes wide open with terror, staring back at her, for just a second, like a timid beast trapped in the headlights of a car.  For that one second, it seemed, volumes passed between them, of all the obligations and regret, the rituals that had become nothing suddenly meaning everything, the fear, the fear, the fear.  And then the young woman looked away, staring down at her hands like all the rest, her lips moving all but silent.

Remember that I have commanded you… She couldn’t fear, not like that woman, not like the others she knew there must be in that terrible congregation.  She must not fear because she was not one of them, because she had a choice and it was very possible that she could choose to hope.  ...be strong and courageous…  She could choose a different path, not to merely give in to the end, but to fight it and to remember that she was not alone, as that woman had seemed, though she was surrounded by others like her, but that ...the Lord your God is with you…

Can I choose that?  God?  Can I really?  She just didn’t feel ready, didn’t feel like she could take that leap and yet… and yet what else is there?  This ritual?  This death?  She had never wanted to believe so much in her whole life, but something was still stopping her.  What was it Henry had said?  He couldn’t believe in a God who would let this all happen.  Can I?

Her thoughts were cut short as the prayers around her ended with a sung, disharmonious, amen.  The priestess raised her hands and gestured to the square made by the candles at her feet.  Paige looked down to where she was pointing and was horrified to see that the bloody wax, which had been melting since they were first lit, had now formed a pool, exactly the size and shape of that square.  It was impossibly dark and red, its surface a sickly shine reflecting the candles all around.

“The time has come,” the Priestess said, “bring in the Surrogate.”

Monday, 16 November 2015

Stillborn XX - XXI (Henry, Charlie)


Henry shuddered as he passed through the side door and into the sanctuary of the kirk. It had been quite a long time since he had last stepped inside a church, and never had he done so in nothing but a hospital gown, but he was pretty sure that it was not supposed to be accompanied by a palpable sense of doom. It was like a tightening in his skin, a sudden weight to the air. He heard Paige gasp as she entered just a split second behind him and knew she was feeling the same thing.

“It’s okay,” he said, more to fill the suddenly oppressive, echoing silence as to offer any meaningful reassurance. “It’s okay,” he said again.

The sanctuary was pretty large, and though the floor space was mostly taken up with fixed pews, the space above seemed cavernous. Candles, hundreds of them, provided the only light, but they didn’t seem to touch the darkness above. There was a sense that this really was an ancient place and that even more ancient forces were at work in it.

“Take a seat,” the girl said, gesturing towards the nearest of the pews. Charlie stared, wide-eyed as always, by her side. There was no telling what was going on in his head.

Henry glanced at the pews, remembering the times as a boy he had run through the aisles of his father’s church, ducking in and out of the rows of fixed furniture. More innocent times, he thought. However did it come to this?

“Are you just going to stare at them, old man, or do you plan on actually listening to what I’m saying?” the girl demanded, giving Charlie’s arm another sharp yank - making him yelp once again - just to make her point.

“Okay, okay,” he said, sidling into the second row. Here, more than ever before, he wanted that empty first pew as a barrier.

Paige shuffled in beside him, never taking her eyes off the terrified boy. It was, perhaps, little more than a reflex when Henry put his arm around her, but she gave him a grateful look nonetheless.  Clara gave a grunt of satisfaction, then threw Charlie towards them so that he landed, like a puppet with no strings, to drape across the front pew.  Henry saw Paige reach for him, but the boy righted himself and shook his head.

“Well,” the girl said, taking a step towards the candle-lit communion table at the front of the Sanctuary, “we’re all here at last, so I think it must be time to get things started.”

Four other figures seemed to peel out of the shadows, all wearing similar dark, almost puritanical clothing to Clara. Each help a black candle, unlit, before them as they approached with ceremonial slowness towards the table.

There was something odd about them, something off which Henry could not quite put his finger on. Something about the way they moved, perhaps, like they were characters in an old silent movie, with not enough frames to appear completely natural, or how they were dressed - similar, yes, but as he stared at the cut of each garment it seemed they could all have come from very different eras - or how he could not see any of their faces, only shadow.

“The elders of past days await us,” came a voice from behind. Henry felt Paige jump even as he did. He turned around and saw a procession of dark-clad people, men, women and children, each pale faced and solemn, marching into the Kirk through the side-door, led by a woman in a long robe, the priestess of this cult, no doubt. It was she who had spoken and she continued her liturgy as the procession approached the table. “They hold their candles ready to be lit anew, ready to let in the light of truth, ready to spill the blood of our ancient covenant.”

The majority of the figures left the aisle and found a space in the pews - Clara now amongst them - while the priestess made her way, so painfully slowly, towards the table and the four ‘elders’. She took a taper, lit it on one of the candles on the communion table and then lit each of the four black candles in turn and now, Henry could see, they were not black at all, but the dark brown of congealed blood, blood which beaded beneath the flame to spill in rivulets down the sides. Each of the elders took their candle as it was lit and placed them at the four corners of a square before the table then, their role apparently complete, they vanished entirely.

The Priestess bowed her head and began to pray in Latin and the congregation, Henry, Paige and Charlie excluded, prayed with her.


Charlie felt as if he inhabited two worlds at once. There was the world of darkness, the world that he could see all around him, could hear in the chant of the cultists, could feel chilling his skin, could smell in the smoke and tallow and iron. But there was another world beyond all these senses, one that illumined him from within, which made him feel safe despite his circumstances, bold despite his fears and pure despite the evil he was witnessing. He straddled both worlds, but it seemed that he could draw strength from the inner world to face the outer, to bathe in the warmth and the light and brave the cold.

But what do I need to do? he asked, knowing that it was God, his guide, who gave the light and God, his protector to whom he spoke.

At first it seemed there was no answer, and then he realised that there had been one after all. It was simple, could be expressed in a single word, though God had chosen to use none: wait.

I will wait then, he thought and the light seemed to grow a little more within him.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Stillborn XIX (Paige)

XIX - Paige

            “Let go of him!” Paige shouted, taking another couple of steps towards the young woman holding Charlie captive, “let go of him now!”

            “Or what?” the woman – girl, really – asked.  “You’re not really in any position to be making threats.  You know that, right?”

            “Who are you?” Henry asked, stepping forward to rejoin Paige.

            “Sorry, old man, but we don’t have time for introductions.  You’re wanted inside; after all, you’re the guests of honour!”

            “For what?” Paige asked, feeling the numbness of shock starting to set in.

            “For the birth of course!  It’s a joyous occasion and you get to help make it happen.  You should feel very privileged.”

            “So it really is happening,” Henry said, sounding older and more tired than ever before and yet also resigned, like after years of running he was finally letting the truth catch up to him.

            “You’re the minister aren’t you?” the girl asked, a hint of amused curiosity in her voice.  “The way I hear it your family has a lot to answer for, but the way you’ve been acting lately you might as well be one of us.  The heretic hounds haven’t been barking so loud in recent years!”  She laughed, then yanked Charlie’s arm upwards until the boy yelped.  “We’ve chatted enough,” she said, “you want the boy unharmed?  Then get inside. Now!”

            Charlie yelped again as the girl dragged him around towards a side door of the kirk and, as Paige watched on feeling utterly helpless, the twitching, almost-human monsters began to shuffle around behind them, forming a circle from which there could be no escape.

            “What do we do?” she whispered to Henry beside her, “What on Earth can we do?”

            “There’s only one thing to do,” the old man replied with a sigh, “we go in.”

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Stillborn XVIII (Henry)

XVIII - Henry

            They were truly everywhere.  Every direction Henry turned, there they were, advancing slowly, with menacing posture and a disturbing, unnatural gait.  As tired as he was, all Henry wanted to do was to run, but there was nowhere to go.  Every exit had been covered.  It’s all over, he thought.

            Then Charlie bolted, leaping away from Paige in an instant and running towards the gap between two of the monsters.  There wasn’t much room and Henry knew that he would surely not make it, but perhaps the boy could.  It felt like his heart had wedged itself in his throat as he watched in horror and hope.

            “Charlie!” Paige cried, but Henry remained silent, only watching and waiting for the outcome.

            The boy was fast and agile.  As one of the monsters lunged towards him he darted to the left, then almost immediately back right so as to weave between two of the creatures, and then suddenly, gloriously, he was free, vanishing into the fog even as the creatures turned to chase him.  And as they did that, the way became clear.

            “Paige,” Henry said firmly, “now!”

            He reached for her arm, grasping it as well as he could and then he began to run.  It was hard going and painful thanks to the blow he had taken to his hip and he was out of breath within seconds, but there was nothing else for it: they had to move.

            Paige had taken a moment to really move with him, stunned as she was by all that seemed to be happening, but now she was at his side and together they were making a beeline for the point where Charlie had disappeared, weaving through the fog to dodge the hideous creatures that stalked the Kirkyard, stumbling past graves and nearly tripping on some of the lower monuments.

            “Charlie?” Paige called out again, “Charlie, where are you?”

            They kept moving and all around them the mute night came alive with the moans and sighs of the monsters and their own heavy footfalls, but there was no sign of Charlie

            “Oh God, where is he?” Paige demanded as they stumbled to a momentary halt whilst Henry tried to catch his breath, “Where can he have got to?”

            “I… don’t… know…” was all Henry could manage, but he was scouring the darkness and fog around them, looking for some kind of clue, and then there it was: a light in the darkness.

            “Over there!” he said, pointing and then Paige was nearly dragging him forwards leading on towards the slight, flickering glow.

            It’s a candle or something, Henry thought as they approached it, but where would Charlie have gotten one of those?

            And then he saw that there was not one person by the flame, but two; one taller and one shorter.  Could it be Josh? he wondered, but as they got closer still he saw that, just on the edge of the candle’s tiny circle of light, there lingered the monsters they had been running away from, forming a crude semi-circle and waiting; twitching and waiting.

            They stumbled to a halt a few feet away from the figures and watched warily.

            “Charlie?” Paige asked one more time, “Is that you, Charlie?”

            The figures stepped forward and resolved into the boy and a young woman holding his arm in a tight grasp with one hand and the candle in the other.

            “He’s quite fine,” she said, “but time is running short and I’m running low on patience.”

Monday, 12 November 2012

Stillborn XVII (Charlie)

XVII - Charlie

            Charlie led the way across the road and into the Kirkyard.  Paige and Henry followed behind him, hesitant and uncertain, but he knew that it was where they must go and that there it must all end.  The anticipation of that, of the nightmare, perhaps, being over, was almost enough to make him skip and he ran the last few steps into the Kirkyard, barely restraining a whoop of excitement.

            Once he was surrounded by grass and cold granite headstones, however, he felt a change in the atmosphere – something dark and oppressive.  His excitement fled and he stopped, shivering, waiting for the others to catch up.  He almost expected Paige to ask him what was wrong when she reached him standing there, all his exuberance gone in an instant, but instead she rushed over to him and enveloped him in a hug.

            “It’s going to be alright,” she said, though she was shivering now too, “everything’s going to be fine.”

            “This is the place alright,” Henry said coming up beside them and repressing a shudder, “I can feel it.  Don’t ask me how I can, but I can.”

            “I can feel it too,” Paige added.

            Charlie merely nodded, holding tight onto Paige.

            “Well then,” Henry continued, “I suppose we had better find a way inside.”

            He took a few steps forward, until his silhouette began to fade a little in the fog, then he turned back, gazing at his companions a moment before continuing.  Paige took Charlie’s hand and then they followed.

            Gravestones loomed out of a steadily thickening fog all around them, rising up like phantoms only to melt away as they were passed.  The ground felt unusually solid under their feet and when they stepped on a patch of grass it gave with an icy crunch.  Everything seemed to grow colder and more still.

            The Kirk itself was invisible to them now, though they knew it must be there, just a little way ahead, hidden in mist and darkness.  On any normal night it would be floodlit and the gateway to the Kirkyard from the high street side was lit too, though with an almost eerie glow created by a set of lights filtered green.  They had always left Charlie feeling a little wary around them, as if they were the glow from dead man’s candles, corpse light, but now he missed that glow, just as he missed the flood lighting and the ambience of streetlights and cosy apartment windows.  It was hard to believe that it had only been moments ago that he had been feeling hopeful, for now it seemed that this night must never end.

            A shadow moved off to the right and Charlie’s eyes darted to catch what it might have been, but no sooner had he looked one way than he had the impression of movement in the opposite direction.

            “What was that?” Paige asked, sounding frightened.

            “I don’t know,” Henry replied in a voice that said that he had seen it too, “but keep moving.”

            Charlie tried to obey, placing one foot steadily in front of the other when all he really wanted to do was to run, or freeze.  His body couldn’t decide which.  And more shadows seemed to appear in the fog everywhere he looked.  They were advancing  towards them, slowly, but with a strange, fidgeting sort of motion that sent an involuntary shiver down Charlie’s spine.

            “Oh god,” Paige said as one of them seemed to break through the wall of fog to appear fully before them, all charred, sticky flesh, faceless and familiar, “it’s one of them!”

            She began backing away when they felt a movement behind them.  Charlie wriggled free of Paige’s grasp to spin and see what it was, only to find more of the creatures advancing from behind.

            They were surrounded.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

On Holiday!

So, this is where I both revel in the fact that I'm away for the next 10 days and demonstrate my contrition at the fact that I have missed two episodes of Murkland and will miss many more whilst I am away.  expect Murkland to resume its usual schedule on Wednesday 7th Novemeber.

Thank you for reading,