SparkWord: Apollo.

Hey! Bin a while, how you been?” The sound of the disembodied voice is so close, it could be inside my head.

Startled by the intrusion, leathery winged creatures of the night drag a scantily clad angel into the terrifying shadows. A trail of ooze from her partially amputated wings glistens in the half light.

Hi, Monique.” I would open my eyes, but knowing I am asleep, there seems little point. “I miss not having you around. Written hardly anything since you disappeared. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company at this late hour?” No more than two hours could have passed since I stumbled to my bed in an absinthe-induced coma.

Thought you should know. You’ve been tagged on a Spark Word.”

Spark Word?” The name dredges through the guts of memory from a distant past. “You don’t mean SparkWord as from Mel’s Diner?”

The same, although who resurrected the diner, I have no idea.”

Thoughts of Evil Dead scurry through the dregs of sleep in my head. Whether they come from Monique or me, I am unsure, such are the uncertainties of communicating telepathically with an undead muse.

Do you know who tagged me?” Monique is unable to guess; I continue, “I bet it was that Miss Vish, may the lament of a thousand tortured, medieval poets torment her dreams. So, what is this sparkly word we are supposed to embrace?”

Apollo!” I sense smug satisfaction in her reply.

The NASA lunar expeditions of the last century,” I confirm, deliberately inserting my thoughts in conflict with hers.

My muse is bemused. “Everyone else is going for the Greek God angle, but it’s up to you… I suppose.”

I sense the disappointed apathy in her response. I’ve no doubt we will soon be writing about Greeks too, although I would much prefer a jaunt into the Sci-Fi world. But I am only the poor, deluded writer and must submit to the inevitable as demanded by the muse.

What have you got on Greek gods then?” I ask.

I was reading what some of the others have written, and…”

Do I pay my muse to glean inspiration from what others have written?” I interrupt.

You don’t pay your muse, not even in compliments! So…”

I feel admonished. She continues, “They seem to have the idea that Apollo, Lord of all muses, patron saint of art, poetry and music, is some young, muscle-ripped, tanned Adonis going around performing grand acts beneficial to humans.”

I suppose you are going to refute this romantic notion, then.”

I’m a muse. I’ve met Apollo. I know Apollo quite well.”

I chuckle silently. My muse amuses me. I sense a deeper knowledge than she cares to admit.

She sighs loudly enough to convince me she draws her last breath until I remember she has not breathed air in the last fifty years. “Maybe he was an Adonis three millennium ago, but he has aged, and not in a good way.”

I thought Greek gods were immortal.”

They still age, especially if they won’t pay heed to their diet. Too much wine and ambrosia, I suspect. If you can imagine a pot-bellied, 250-pound flabby pig dressed in a toga, you would be nearer the truth. He’s almost bald yet resorts to wearing a wig in public. Most of his teeth are missing and he has bad breath. He has that disgusting body odour of a dirty old man with a urinary problem. A twitch on the left side of his face makes you think he is winking at you. That’s really creepy. The worst, though, he still thinks he is God’s gift or Zeus’s gift to the opposite sex. Same sex too if stories I hear are correct. He claims conquest over most of the muses, both male and female.”

You seem to know a lot. Have you ever…?”

This muse doest not do kiss and tell.”

For a moment, I wonder if I’m pushing her too far. She seems offended. “Come on Monique. This is me you’re talking to. It’s not as if you’re telling the whole world. What’s he like in bed?”

She pauses for several moments as if struggling to keep the knowledge from me. Hiding the truth when communicating telepathically, however, is almost impossible. “I’ve certainly known better.”

As a prostitute in your previous life, I guess you do have ample experience to pass judgement.”

If Monique had been a dog, I’m sure she would have growled at me for reminding her of the events leading to her death. “He convinced me that sex was part of the indoctrination ritual of a new muse. It was only the one time, though. He called me a frigid bitch. That was after I told him his dick was too small to satisfy even a cockroach.” She giggles. “I hadn’t intended the pun. You see what I did? Dick, cock roach?”

Her sense of humour hasn’t changed since I last saw her. “When does the writing need to be complete?” I am still tempted to explore moon landings, aliens, and the dark side of the celestial sphere.

Whenever. The weekend should do, I think. If you need my help, just call.”

Just one thing,” I say. “Did Apollo not have a sister, Selene, goddess of the moon and magic?”


The Delicate Fragrance of Violets. 2

Part 2 of my Friday Frights submission for prompt, Psychological Horror. Word count: 2500

The Delicate Fragrance of Violets.

By Robert A. Read

Part 2.

The hostel feels similar to a hotel, although, unlike a place of vacation, we have to work. I have been here for almost three months. There are five residents other than myself, but including the elderly lady who runs the house. From the window of my room, I see narrow streets between tall, dour buildings of grey stone. Like yesterday and many days before, it rains. Not heavy rain, but enough to make one damp and cold; that dreary October drizzle reminding me of cold dark days of winter—the only thing imminent in my future.

My accommodation is twenty miles from the village in which I grew up. I have spent many weeks, now, contemplating the idea of visiting my old home. The thought of seeing my parents scares me. I remember the whipping I received after an hour’s tardiness for a meal. What would be my punishment after all this time, and I can think of no excuse for my absence.

I have continually put off the visit. Now, thought of Violet gives me encouragement. For the past week, I have heard her calling to me in my dreams. Her voice is accompanied by that wonderful fragrance of her flowers. At first, I believed it impossible she could still be living in the village. Now, I am convinced she will be there to greet me. I only wish there was some way I could contact her, but, as I still have no family name or address, such a wish is meaningless.

A single deck bus leaves the market square at ten-thirty each morning on a circuitous route through the surrounding villages. Today, being a non-market day, few people use the public service. The sky is grey and overcast, but no rain, for now. However, I expect it to return before the day is over. As the bus pulls away, I feel a sensation of unease in my stomach. Is it caused by the excitement of making such a venture or trepidation at the possibility of seeing my parents and confronting my past life?

The only registered stop, at which I can disembark from the vehicle, is in the centre of the village. It still leaves me a further half mile to walk to the house I knew as home. The trepidation I feel is almost enough to make me pay the additional fare to travel directly back to the hostel. Doors of the bus whir and hiss to close. My only means of escape leaves me alone and shivering in the dim, fearful surroundings of a past-life I am still unable to recall with clarity.

One main street passes through the village. There are few people to be seen, as I would expect with children in school and many adults at work. Two women pass along the footpath on the far side of the road. The older tugs a leather strap attached to a surly black and white dog, while the younger pushes a small child in a push-chair. Engrossed in their own conversation they make no acknowledgement at my nod of head in greeting.

A sharp bend and several tall trees will prevent me from seeing my destination until I am almost at a brick wall in front of the house. My footsteps slow involuntarily as I negotiate the corner. I am afraid to look. Then I am around the apex of the curve with uninterrupted view.

I stand transfixed. I cannot believe my eyes. There is no house!

Grassy lawns stretch back to the whitewashed walls of two small bungalows. A young man, a stranger to me, is painting a fence that runs along one side of the plot of land. An ivy-covered brick wall had bordered the plot when I lived here. He is unaware of my presence. I watch him for several minutes applying the paint until he turns the corner behind the house and moves out of my sight.

On the opposite side of the road is a small shop—a village grocery store—with, next to it, a thatch-roofed pub called The Royal Oak. A sign on the door of the shop indicates it is closed for lunch. The doors of the pub, however, are open and welcoming. I feel nervous approaching. This will be the first time I have been inside a pub. During the years I lived in the village, my age forbade me from entering. My knowledge is limited to depictions of such establishments on television.

The landlord, like the fence painting man and the two women, is unknown to me. He is a heavily built man with a large, bushy, red moustache and equally red and bushy eyebrows. He wears a yellow waistcoat over a blue shirt with a yellow bow-tie.

He greets me quite enthusiastically, so I request a glass of sweet cider and ask to see a bar menu. The ploughman’s lunch of cheese, pickled onions, fresh-baked bread and salad sounds appetizing, so I place my order. Sitting at the bar on a high stool, waiting for the food, I survey the interior with interest. Electric lighting gives a dim yellow ambiance reflected in the bottles and glassware behind the landlord. Flames from a small, log fire stutter in an open grate opposite the door through which I entered. Several small, wooden tables with accompanying chairs are placed at intervals around the wall. Apart from five more stools like the one on which I sit, the area in front of the bar is empty. The smell of hops in spilled beer that has soaked into the wooden counter, mixed with stale cigarette smoke is strong to my unaccustomed senses.

Two elderly men sit at one of the tables in front of a bay window. They play at cards, the slap, as they lay them on the table, audible above the rustle of a newspaper the landlord is reading and the sound of kitchen utensils coming from a doorway behind him.

My meal finished, I lay the knife and fork together on the plate. The barman responds by taking the plate and asking if the food was to my satisfaction.

Excellent,” I reply. “I didn’t realize plough-men could eat so well here.”

He chuckles, causing the moustache to twitch beneath his nose. “I take it, you’re not local to this area,” he adds.

I take a deep breath. “Actually, I lived in this village many years ago. I’m here chasing childhood memories.”

He nods his head knowingly, so I continue, “The place has not changed a lot, but I recall a house with a thatched roof on the other side of the road.” I indicate with a small wave of my hand toward the window that looks out onto the road. “Do you know what happened to it?”

He shakes his head. “Only been the two bungalows in the six years I’ve run this pub, but old Tom Chandler may know.” He nods his head in the direction of the card players. “Lived here all his life, in fact, he’s been writing a book on the history of the village. He was collecting old photographs of village life from before the wars and earlier. Hey, Tom! Have you got a minute?”

Of the two, the one with his back to me turns his head. I feel I should recognize the name, Tom Chandler, but like so many other memories, it remains just beyond my grasp.

What’s up, Arrthurr?” His voice has the slur common to the area, as if he rolls the ‘Rs’ on his tongue like marbles.

Somebody here asking about a thatch-roofed house across the way. Do you know anything about it?”

Arrr, yeah.” He replies slowly before taking a deep breath and continuing, “The old McKinley house, they called it. Remember it well.” He shuffles to his feet with the aid of a walking stick, picks up his half empty tankard and meanders toward the bar still talking. “Weird, it was. Really weird. The house burned down. God-awful fire that was. Must have been almost twenty years ago.” He peers at me closely as he approaches, as if his sight is impaired. “I’m surprised you’re old enough to remember,” he adds.

I grin, not too toothily, I hope. “Only just. What happened?”

Don’t think exact details have ever been known. Most of the stories are mere speculation. I interviewed a lot of people for my book. Did Arthur tell you I have a small book on the village history, just recently been published?”

I nod my head. He continues, “I devote an entire chapter to that event. We don’t have that much excitement here, so it becomes urban legend. Mr. and Mrs McKinley came here from somewhere up north. Lancashire, I think. They had a daughter soon after they arrived. She must have been six or seven at the tine of the fire. She was a strange girl, weird, really weird, she was.”

‘Weird, really weird,’ sounds to me a favourite expression of Tom Chandler’s. I feel a fleeting familiarity with those words, but, like so many others, just beyond my memory.

I’m trying to remember her name, but…” He screws his face into an expression similar to one I know so well and use when memories elude me too. “I remember standing with Mrs. Adams as we watched her in the school yard.”

My look of surprise must register with him. “Yes,” he continues, “thirty years I was a teacher at the school here. She wasn’t in the years I took. I had the eight to elevens. Margaret Adams took the juniors, the five to eights. Anyway, we used to watch her through the window talking to herself. She never mixed with other children. We suspected she was being abused at home. She often came to school with welts and bruises on her arms and legs. Wasn’t much we could do though. It wasn’t right to get involved in those days, unless a child came to you for help. Even then, we could only notify the school inspectors of our suspicions.

I remember, it was late August, the night of that fire. We’d had an unusually warm period, so the thatch in the roof was dry. Once that straw catches… well, it’s like an inferno. Mr. Cooper saw the fire. He was landlord of the pub then. He phoned the fire brigade; about two in the morning, that was. No fire brigade in the village, you see. They had to come seven or eight miles, so by that time, it had well taken hold. My aunt had the shop on the corner in those days. She phoned me and several of the lads from the council houses at the other end of the village. We brought buckets, but nothing we could do other than try to keep the flames from spreading to the remaining houses.

It wasn’t until late morning they had the fire damped down enough to get into the house. Of course, there wasn’t much left by then. We assumed the whole family had perished in the flames, so you can imagine our surprise when one of the firefighters claimed he heard a child sobbing.

While writing the story, I spoke to both fireman who found the girl, so I have a first-hand account. They both agree in detail. The first said he still has nightmares about the discovery. I don’t think anyone realized the old house had a cellar. Not many homes around here do. Part of the wooden floor had collapsed, which was how they got in. They found her sitting on a filthy mattress against the wall furthest from where the flames had been, which must have been how she survived. One really weird thing though, she was hugging the mummified corpse of a small boy.”

He seems to enjoy emphasising the horror in his narration. Although I hear his words, they make little sense. For a moment, they are only background noise against the muffled roar of flames. I taste the bitter smoke, like tar, filling my lungs. While I cower from the intense heat, I listen to the horrifying screams of my beloved Violet as she hugs me.

I only dimly perceive as the man continues to recount his story. “The coroner said the boy had been dead for about ten years. Police records from Blackburn, Lancashire, showed him as being the McKinleys’ first-born, Stephen McKinley. He disappeared, couple of years before they moved down here. That was the time of the infamous ‘Moors Murders’, so he was suspected to be another, never-found victim of child killers, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.

Anyway, his death was not by natural causes. Several fractures of the skull showed he had been beaten about the head. The police suspected child abuse by one or both parents, but with them now dead, it could only remain as suspicion. The girl was no witness, being born several years later, although her appearance at school supported the notion of abuse. How she found, or how long she knew about the lad’s body, no one knows. She was put in a welfare home, but I’m not sure what happened to her after that. My research for the book met a big, fat nothing. Perhaps she died, or, maybe she was given a new identity. Dammit! Wish I could remember her name.”

I have a feeling of surreality, as if this is a dream, as if nothing here is real and that I am watching characters portrayed in an old, black-and-white film. Who am I? I cannot remember my name or why I came here.

An old paraffin heater stands against the wall in the kitchen on the far side of the cellar door. The smell of spilled paraffin is overwhelming as I tip the heater on its side. Just one lighted match and he will regret what he did to Violet. The box of matches is kept in a drawer of the kitchen table. The drawer screeches too loudly as I pull it open, but I don’t think anyone heard.

If you’re interested, and you’d like a copy of the book, you could take it and read at your leisure.”

I realize Tom Chandler is still talking to me. Perhaps I nod my head, for he turns his attention to the man standing behind the bar. “Do you still have a couple of copies, Arthur?”

Then he is waving a slim paperback in front of me. “I’ll even sign it for you.” He speaks smugly, “What is your name?”

I have difficulty forming the words. The emotion of realizing, after all these years who Violet was, has rendered me speechless. I take from the inside pocket of my raincoat a card in a clear plastic envelope. It must be carried with me at all times in case of emergency. Beneath my name, it lists the medications I take and the contact details of the doctors who prescribed them.

He peers at the card for a moment, then looks at me before opening the book and scanning through several pages. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know,” he says. He takes a pen and scribbles some words on the inside cover before handing the book to me. Beneath the title, in blue ink, he has written:

To: Violet McKinley.

Deepest sympathy for the tragic loss of your family. May God grant you the strength to forgive and forget.

Tom Chandler. Author – October 1992.

Author's note: This story is intended to reflect my 
greatest psychological horror, of waking in a hospital 
with no memory of who I am or why I am there.

The Delicate Fragrance of Violets. 1

Having been without internet for most of last year,  this is first chance I’ve had to submit to Friday Frights for some time. This month’s topic of Psychological Horror intrigues me. This is a two-part story. Part 2 next week. 

Word count part 1 –  2300

The Delicate Fragrance of Violets.

By Robert A. Read

Part 1.

Who am I? What have I become? If only I could remember.

Memories are so important when we have nothing else. And yet, my memories seem nothing more than ghostly apparitions that haunt me through the moonlit hours before fading away like damp mist with the rising sun. Has it always been this way? How often have I been on the point of remembering something, but then it fails to come? Taste and smell tantalize. The scent of a hedgerow plant beckons me toward a garden that I cannot quite visualize, the taste of an apple or plum transports me to a small orchard where discarded fruits lie hidden in long grass. Sounds tease me; the faint cry of a baby, the far off bark of a dog, or the distant laughter of children at play and I could be lying on a grassy knoll, beneath a clear, blue afternoon sky. But are these memories or just my imagination?

Those sounds of children—today, I hear them against the background murmur of city traffic—remind me I was once in love. I was ten years of age, or was it five? With the passage of time, those years lost their significance. I try to remember from where I knew her, but the memory is vague. I think it must have been from school, but I cannot be certain.

Half a mile from the small village in which I grew up, stands a small coppice of trees. Deciduous leaved branches of beech, ash and elm intertwine with the evergreens of laurel and yew. I close my eyes and, in my mind, touch again the cool, green, moss-covered bark. I loved to walk alone among those trees, safe, protected.

A Sunday in May. Shafts of golden light, like arrows, pierced the foliage to strike the carpet of the previous year’s fallen leaves, through which, the first shoots of new grass thrust tiny blades, like green needles. Among the fresh, new growth rose many delicate, trumpet-shaped, purple flowers, so petite, so fragile, a kitten could crush them beneath its paws.

I see her now as I close my eyes, sitting cross-legged on the floral carpet, with her back towards the smooth trunk of a massive beech. Her hair shimmered, falling around her shoulders, like water dancing over pebbles in a stream. One by one, she plucked the tiny, mauve flowers, weaving and plaiting them lovingly into long strings which she draped over her knees.

Hidden in the shadows cast by a clump of glossy, large-leaved laurel bushes, I watched for many minutes, making no sound, hardly daring to breathe. My eye, my heart, my sanity she snatched and held captive in those minutes, with her demure, angelic beauty.

Perhaps I moved. She looked up. Her eyes opened wide in a stare like a rabbit caught in the headlights from a car. Scrambling to her feet, the chains of flowers slithered to the ground. Her hands fumbled for the hem of her blue frock, tugging at the fabric and pulling it down to cover her knees before brushing at minute twigs and leaf-mould.

Stepping out from the shade, I moved toward her.

Please don’t step on the flowers.” Her voice was high-pitched, trembling, anxious.

As if about to tread, barefooted, on broken glass, I froze. “Sorry,” I muttered. Then slowly placing the balls of my feet between the fragile blooms, I moved closer. As I did so, she took several steps backward until her back was against the trunk of the tree. At the sudden jolt arresting her momentum, one hand shot to her mouth, as if to stifle a scream.

I too paused. Stooping, I retrieved several chains of flowers from where they had fallen. The perfume drifted upward around my bowed head, as delicate as the blooms themselves. Closing my eyes, I inhaled a slow deep breath to appreciate the tantalizing allure. The scent of those flowers comes to me, even now, as I lay here in darkness.

Extending the hand that held the chains toward her, I said, “Don’t these flowers have a wonderful smell?”

Yes. They’re violets.” Although not taking them from me the pitch of her voice dropped by several semitones.

I think they would look even lovelier if you wore them round your neck or in your hair.” A small shake of my hand I intended for her to realize I wanted her to take them from me.

In silence, we held eye contact for several moments before she took two small steps toward me. “That’s why I’m making them into chains,” she said, “cos my name too is Violet, and tomorrow is my birthday.” She took the flowers from me.

Oh! I didn’t know. I wish I had. I would have brought you a present.” A lack of money made such an act impossible at that time, but it felt the right thing to say.

That’s all right. How could you know?” The smile on her face as she said those words remains with me even as all other memories fade into dark forgetfulness.

Can I help you to pick more? There must be hundreds around here.” I indicated with my hand to the ground around us.

We knelt side by side, picking the tiny mauve flowers. I did most of the picking, while she wove them into the chains. Embarrassment at being in such close company to a girl tied my tongue in knots, creating an uncomfortable silence between us. Several times we both began speaking at once causing more embarrassment as we each insisted the other speak first. Many times I caught her looking at me with furtive glances from her grey eyes. She looked away the moment our eyes met.

The sun sinking almost to the horizon reminded me of the unusually rapid passing of time. Mother served the meal promptly at 6:00 every evening. The position of the sun showed that I would be more than an hour late. Trouble awaited if past experience had taught me anything.

I didn’t realize the time has passed so quickly,” I said struggling to my feet. My legs felt stiff from where the moist soil had left cold, damp patches on my knees. “I must get home straight away or I shall be late for dinner.”

She sighed. “Okay. Thank you.” The words seemed to be spoken with such sadness as if she mourned the death of a cherished pet.

With an uncomfortable feeling in my chest as my heart jumped and fluttered, I asked, “Don’t you have to be home yet, too?”

I don’t have far to go. I’ll be all right for a while longer.”

Well, if you’re sure.” I still felt awkward at leaving her. “Bye then.”

* * *

With parents, I shared a difficult relationship. Frequent punishment for the smallest misdemeanour led to me spending many hours, often the entire night, locked in the cellar. The rattle from the iron bolt on the outside of the door, as it closed is another memory that will never leave. A switch on the wall of the kitchen outside this door operated a single, dim electric light bulb set in the ceiling of the cellar, and always turned off the moment I was inside. Many nights I spent, whimpering and shivering with pain and cold, in the terrifying darkness.

That evening, my late return resulted in a night incarcerated without food or drink. After the heavy wooden door closed with its solid thud, and the grating of the bolt sliding metal against metal into its recess, I groped about in darkness for the damp mattress in the corner. Still fully dressed, I lay down, curling myself against the wall while trying not to breathe the pungent, dank odour. That night I did not cry. That night I dreamed of Violet. In my imagination, she shared the stinking mattress with me. As we huddled together for warmth, the scent of violets in her hair comforted me. I regretted not having waited a little longer so we could walk back to the village together. My punishment would have been no different. As it was, I had no knowledge of where she lived, or even of her family name. I wished I had been given the foresight to arrange another rendezvous with her.

The following Sunday afternoon, again, drew me to the location of our first meeting. Of the violets, there remained nothing more than a few straggling survivors. They only bloom for about ten days in spring. Of my Violet, there also was no sign.

At the edge of the coppice, a barrow mound rises forty or fifty feet above the ground, the top of which makes a vantage point to oversee, in the distance, the first houses of the village. Around eighty feet in diameter, they were tombs for the leaders of the ancient Celtic tribes that inhabited the chalk plains of Southern England three millennium ago.

Too young to have any fear of tombs or the bones interred within, I began to climb in the hope I might see Violet heading towards me. Mid-afternoon sunshine glared like a search-light from a clear sky into my face. With my eyes watering from the brightness, I climbed almost blind.

Before reaching the summit, a child’s voice hushed me into motionless silence. I closed my eyes to clear the blindness. My sight returned, bringing her into focus. Kneeling beside a small bush of yellow flowering gorse, she pointed to a spot ten paces in front of her, where four young rabbits chased each other among the tussocks of grass. We watched their antics in silence until, at the shriek of a buzzard circling in the sky overhead, they fled into holes in the side of the hill.

My memories after this point become more vague. We talked of many things, although topics remain vague. Time flashed by, with hours seeming to last no more than minutes. Violet gave no indication that she was expected to be home at a certain time. With the sun setting, she laughed when I voiced my concern that she should be out so long. I bade her goodbye knowing that the sky would be almost dark by the time I got to the front door of my home.

My punishment, that night, included a severe beating from my father’s buckled, leather belt before I was locked in the cellar. In agony, I cowered on the damp mattress until Violet came to me, soothing my injuries with her violet scented fingers. I would not let her see, but I think she knew I had been crying. She kissed me until I fell into uneasy sleep.

We played out the same scenario many times through that long hot summer. Although we made no definite plans to meet from one week to the next, at certain times I was drawn to the coppice of trees and the barrow mound. Violet was always there before me, and always stayed when I had to leave. I bore my punishments with dignity, even looking forward to them, knowing that she would come to my bed to comfort me.

Knowledge of my relationship with Violet remained with me alone. If I ever showed signs of happiness, smiled or laughed with enjoyment, I suffered beatings far more painful than if I wore a sombre mask of enmity. As an only child, I bore the blame for any untoward occurrence in the home, from a broken cup to my father losing his job, or my difficult and painful birth causing mother’s continual state of depressed anxiety.

And then I became ill!

Of the cause or the manner of my illness, or the events leading up to it, I have no memory. Neither can I remember how long it lasted. Perhaps it was a month, perhaps a year or two, or even a decade. The time merges into one brief instant that lasts for an eternity. One moment I recollect my life of near normality, with school, home, the punishments and yet the joy of being with Violet. The next, I woke in hospital; they told me it was a hospital.

My psyche seemed to hover in a shroud of mist or smoke outside of my body where I could only dimly perceive the events taking place. Apparitions, ghost-like images, of men and women dressed in white coats while moving in never ending procession around my bed, drifted like bubbles in and out my consciousness. I remember low, mumbling voices making sounds that had no meaning. Had they a language of their own that was alien to my ears, talking amongst themselves, as if I did not exist? These memories are even less substantial, those brief, surreal recollections one retains after waking from a dream.

After some length of time unmeasurable to my awareness, the memories did become more real. None of the hospital staff were friendly towards me. They treated me with contempt as if I were a prisoner rather than a patient. I had no visitors. That my parents stayed away did not surprise me, but I yearned for news of Violet. I spent entire days watching for her to walk through the door. She never did and I could not understand why. We had been so close.

Intense moments of melancholic loneliness drove me to contemplate suicide, by jumping from a window. My room was situated several stories above a concrete plaza. I remember two nurses clinging to me, as I attempted to force open the glass panels.

Eventually, a day came when the doctors told me I was well enough to leave. The thought of returning home filled me with dread. I said as much to the one who gave me the news. He told me not to be concerned as I would be convalescing in a rehabilitation hostel.

The Blues Harmonica Player

Returning from a Halloween party, I pass a large cemetery. My home is opposite the stone arch and iron gates. About to cross the road, the haunting notes from a harmonica reverberate on the cold night air.

I play guitar and harmonica for a blues band—the traditional Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker blues, yet I stand, mesmerized by the music until the last haunting notes die away. I would give anything to play half as well. I can bend notes producing the blues wail and play a haunting reverb, but a decent player, like this one tonight, can play a full chromatic scale on a ten-note harp.

Thus inspired, I practice every night for a full year, to improve my technique while listening at the open widow for a repeat performance from this mysterious musician. There is only the silence of the tombs backed by the hum of traffic…

…until the last night in October.

At around midnight, the quavering strains of sound, again, send shivers down my spine raising hairs on my neck.

Entering the cemetery, howling tones drift on the swirling autumn breeze, first to my left, then to my right. I follow the sound along winding paths between sepulchers, tombs and graves, past stone angels and ancient sarcophagi. Closer until, I know, around the next bend I will see my mysterious musician.

Then the notes stop. The final chord fades, leaving only the rustling whisper of falling leaves. I look all around, but not a soul can I see.

Re-invigorated to achieve perfection, I practice harder and longer throughout the following days. Another year passes while I yearn to hear again my musical mentor. I believe my playing becomes almost passable during this time.

All Hallows Eve, I am waiting, listening, expectant. Then I hear—music. Taking my blues harp, I again cross the road into the cemetery, raise the instrument to my lips and play the opening notes of a haunting riff I composed a few weeks ago. The mystery musician pauses, listening. Then he returns an answering riff. I follow his notes with an answer of my own, while moving among the tombs and graves. Closer I approach as we exchange arpeggios. My rendition reaches its climax; I wait for his answer. He responds.

I step into a small, moonlit clearing among willow and yew trees. No one is there. Confused, I wait as the last notes die away. The only thing I see is a grave marked with a wooden cross.

There is a name engraved in the wood. Unable to read, I stoop and then kneel to stare at the letters. I cannot believe my eyes. It is a name I know so well. The engraved letters are the same as those I use when writing my own. The date of birth is also the same as mine. I am horrified. I read on to the date of the mysterious harmonica player’s death—31 October, three years ago to this very day.

©2012 Robert A. Read.

Come the end of each October,
                        when the skies look grey and sober,
When the mist rolls on the water,
                        falls this dark All Hallows Night.
Keening wind that moans and mutters,
                      round the window panes and shutters;
Dreary rain that fills the gutters,
                        stains the stone that once was white.
Then, the dead can walk unhindered,
                      walk abroad till dawn’s first light.
Nameless horrors taking flight.

Gates of Hell, that death unhitches;
                       vampires, demons, wolves and witches,
Loosed upon this world of sorrow –
                       all Pandora’s boxed delight.
Lucifer, whose voice like thunder,
                       rends the tombs and crypts asunder,
Raise the dead from six feet under;
                       zombies stalk you through the night.
Seek the flesh that may release them
                       from apocalyptic plight
On this dark, All Hallows night.

Werewolf shape-shifts in the shadows
                       of the trees beside the meadows,
Where the cattle graze and tremble
                       at its fearful howls, in fright.
Werewolf wends his wayward wander,
                       through the woods to houses yonder,
Snatches small child from beyond her
                       mother’s reach and darkened sight.
Feeds upon the bloody carcass
                       of the poor angelic mite;
One more death on Hallows night.

Spectre of the child now haunting
                       woodland glade where death came, taunting:
Mournful cries, she calls for parents
                       passed beyond the veil of night.
Ever is she doomed to prowling,
                       like the wolf her lonely howling,
When full devil moon is scowling,
                       echoes through the silver light.
She will wander, ever searching
                       for release from demon’s might.
Just one more All Hallows night.

To the Sabbat, broomstick riding
                       witches with black cats confiding.
Open heath beneath the sky, where
                       Satan calls them in their flight.
Naked, round the fire dancing,
                       widdershins the circle prancing,
Chanting, even though they can’t sing,
                       to perform unholy rite.
Pan, the horn-clad god presiding,
                       knowing all with second sight,
Ruler of All Hallows night.

Crucible and cauldron boiling,
                       now they cast their spells, despoiling
Fields of corn with fungus growth, a
                       pestilence of mildewed blight.
Calves may die before the morrow,
                       bringing farmers grief and sorrow;
They, for comfort, seek to borrow,
                       holy words to ease their plight.
But the dogma from the churches
                       has no Godly power to fight
Darkness this unholy night.

Vampire, rising from the grave, he
                       mocks the vampire killer, bravely
Armed with crucifix and stake of
                       wood, who dares to stand and fight.
Vampire bites the hapless hero,
                       drains his blood from full to zero;
Stands and laughs like Emperor Nero
                       watched Rome burn in flames so bright.
Wipes the blood from fangs which gleam in
                       pallid, sickly-pale moonlight.
He’s undead, tonight’s his night.

Rain on rotting linen falling,
                       listening to the old ones calling
From the pyramids in Egypt,
                       stands the mummy, bandaged tight.
Now’s the time he must deliver
                       talisman of ancient river,
Stolen from the life-force giver;
                       to his Pharaoh lost despite
Knowledge he would live forever
                       ‘mong the constellations bright
Of this sacred Hallows night.

Hid behind a sepulcher of
                       lichened stone, with matted hair, a
Ghoul of once commanding stature
                       stares into the darkening night.
Crouching low deformed and hoary,
                       eats dead human flesh: that’s gory;
He could tell a gruesome story
                       connoisseurs of fear and fright.
Will you listen to his ramblings?
                       Will you listen now, despite
Needs to flee this morbid sight?

Though you’ve all had ample warning
                       that you may not live till morning,
Still, the last day of October’s
                       welcomed in with great delight.
Standing on the doorstep, bandy-
                     legged children beg for candy
In their costumed garb so dandy,
                       fearless of the ghastly sight
That awaits them in the shadows
                       Hides another evil sprite
This macabre All Hallows night.

All Hallows Night.

Demonic Jack

Friday Frights submission for DarkMedia City  week 61.  A poem for prompt – Down a Dark Alley:


You lurk in the shadows at the end of the street,
Where the trash cans are scattered in chaos complete,
And the old down-and-out, drinking meths for a treat,
Warms his hands on a fire that throws out little heat:
There, the gray misty fog, wet and cold like a sheet,
Winds around with a stench of decayed rotting meat;
And you wait to decide who in death you will greet,
As you stand in the shadows on clawed scaly feet.

No need of a knife, instead sharp teeth and claws:
Yet no one hears screams, just the soft padding paws,
And the beating of wings, and the mandible jaws,
Ripping and tearing like serrated saws,
When they slice through the flesh without even a pause,
Disembowelling your victims for no reason or cause;
Just leaving the bones to the old rat that gnaws,
While you disappear like the breeze through a gauze.

With the mist from the Thames rolling over the shore,
Jack the Ripper, they thought, had left red blood and gore
In the old lumber yard where the homeless and poor,
Local residents, there, were all shocked to the core,
At the death of a woman known by some as a whore,
In the old lodging house, in a room with locked door:
One more Whitechapel murder, the corpse on the floor,
Has baffled police like so many before.

To the mist on the Thames, no turning your back;
For deep in the shadows he waits to attack,
With leathery skin that he wears like a mac:
His eyes burn like fire as he looks for a snack;
After eating his fill he’ll depart to the track
Of the underground railway, darkness so black,
To the labrynths of hell, he escapes through a crack;
The demon they call by the name of, “Ole Jack.”

©2012 Robert A. Read.