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.

Demonic Jack

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

Image

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.

Friday Frights: The Parisian Apocalypse

My Friday Frights submission: Issue 59: prompt – Apocalypse. Word count – 1200,

If you had said to me two years ago, that I was to become the instigator of the Parisian apocalypse, I, madame, would have said you were mad. Now, with hordes of the undead prowling the streets, I must plead my case, explaining my innocence.

Please, don’t all speak at once. May I suggest you leave your questions until I have finished. Thankyou.

As some of you know, I am a writer of occult horror. My interest in the occult began as a youth, when I discovered references to an ancestor of mine from some three hundred years ago, Sir Francis Dashwood, Grand Master of The Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe. Perhaps you know of the order from the more notorious name of the “Hell-FireClub.” Many half-truths and fabrications have been invented by the popular media, but no one really knows what rituals took place in the caves below West Wycombe. Perhaps it was only fitting that our family motto “Fay Ce Que Voudras”, meaning “Do As You Will” should be used by the best known practitioner of the black arts, Aleister Crowley.

Unbeknown to most readers, I suspect, the rituals described in my novels I base on actual events, practices and experience gained during my years of study while at Bath University. Many of you, media reporters, may not believe, but I can assure you, demonology and the occult is very real.

My involvement with the present day situation began when I was introduced to one, Sébastien Charnay. His father owned the funeral parlour just off Rue de Rivoli. A few months after the first meeting, he came to me with a request that I might help him in a necromancy ritual. As you may, or may not, know, necromancy is a way of communicating with the spirit of a deceased person with the intention of gaining information of which that person had knowledge during the time they were alive.

In the story Sébastien gave me, a young lady friend of his had been murdered. After several weeks of police investigation they, being no nearer to the discovery of her murderer, had released the body for burial. Sébastien discovered this on seeing the corpse in his father’s funeral parlour. His idea was to contact her spirit – Nicole her name was – and discover the identity of her killer. He showed me a ritual, from a 16th Century Grimoir of Demonology, which he hoped to use.

I accept, I should have been more astute in checking a translation of the ritual, but I saw this as a chance to use the rites of the ancient Mages for good rather than as the power of darkness to which the past has accredited such practices. I saw no reason to suggest Sébastien may have had ulterior motives.

We conducted the ritual in the funeral parlour on the night of 17th September, the day before Nicole’s burial. Sébastien read the invocation in the language in which it was originally written, a form of Latin and ancient French. As you know, even my present-day French is not good. I had no idea if his pronunciation of the words was correct. Nothing appeared to happen; no materialization of the girl’s spirit. I say nothing happened, but a vivid blue light appeared momentarily over the coffin. It was there for a split second then was gone, as if some spiritual entity had tried to come through. I assumed the ritual was either incomplete, or incorrectly read.

Sébastien seemed resigned to the fact that we had done all we could, and apologised for having, apparently, wasted my time. I realize, now, how rapidly he seemed to want me gone.

Back in my apartment, unable to sleep, I was concerned as to why the ritual did not work. I have used necromancy on several occasions in the past quite successfully. I began by searching the internet for information on the spiritual entity – you would probably say demon – Sébastien had invoked, Frucissire.

Eventually, my web browser unearthed – figuratively speaking – a reference to, “Cabalistiques Magiques, Grands Secretes des Liber Juratus.” A quick word search through the text produced the information I was looking for. I read, Frucissire revives the dead…”

Revives the dead – To reanimate!  Not to communicate! I wondered, did Sébastien know this? His attitude at the end of the ritual suggested he did, but I was certain he did not realize the danger to which he was exposing himself. A reanimated corpse without a soul? A zombie! I could only assume Sébastien’s relationship with Nicole was more intense than “just friends,” as he had indicated to me.

I tried to phone him immediately, but there was no answer. My concern was such that I actually ran the threekilometres across Pont de Sully at 4:00 am that morning rather than phone and wait for a taxi. The funeralparlour where I left Sébastien such a short while ago was a chaotic shambles of destruction. I dreaded actually entering, but enter, I did. I almost wish I hadn’t.

Several coffins complete with corpses had been scattered, literally picked up and thrown, about the room. Sébastien was dead. His naked, headless torso hung out of the coffin in which Nicole had lain. Nicole’s corpse was missing.

As you know, the police report at the time laid the blame on a crime syndicate, assuming Nicole was involved in organized prostitution. That her body was removed and the murder of Sébastien conducted by the group for reasons unknown. This belief was strengthened by the discovery from a comparison of the DNA in a semen sample, taken from Nicole during the original investigation, being identical with the DNA profile in Sébastien’s blood. They believed her death had been the result of a sexual game that had gone wrong, and that Sébastien, coincidentally or not, was her murderer. This confirmed, to me, his infatuation for bringing her back to life, The head of Sébastien has never been found.

The zombie apocalypse is not the result of failed military experiments, or of biochemical, hazardous waste as depicted in films. It is the work of the demonic entity, Frucissire, As Sébastien summoned the demon, he is the only one with the power to banish it. But as you know, Sébastien is dead. The demon walks this earth and we have no power to return it to its domain.

I pause, waiting for the incoherent babble of questions from the newspaper reporters in front of the dais. There is only silence. I look up. Every face is staring at something on the stage behind me.

Turning, I gasp in horror at the nightmare creatures shuffling, arms outstretched, toward me…

© 2012. Robert A. Read

Author’s note: You wish to reanimate a corpse? Frucissire really is the demon to invoke. You will need a copy of Cabalistiques Magiques, Grands Secretes des Liber Juratus which may be difficult to obtain. There are not that many in existence. The one on internet is incomplete. Just remember: you really, really would be creating a zombie.

She Wasn’t Invited.

Image

This is the first dinner party I’ve held in this house. Although I’ve dwelt here for several years, my contact with neighbours, until now, has been minimal. Well, not only am I a foreigner in their country, but I’m a writer, and as an author of stories macabre in the horror genre, I am entitled to a little eccentricity.

Then last year, with the arrival of new neighbours, things changed. Around the same age as me, they also were not of this country. We found we had many things in common, such as tastes in music, art and entertainment. After being invited to many dinner parties they have organised and from whence, I was introduced to many of the neighbours I previously shunned, I realized I had become accepted in the community. Over the past few months, I have received several invitations to visit the homes of these people for a meal. Recently, I have been made to feel uncomfortable that none of them have ever visited my home.

I made all the excuses I could think of, my kitchen skills are non-existent; living alone, the house is a mess; the cats are likely to maul strangers and I will not be held responsible. All my motives were scorned. For this reason, I decided on this little soiree. Not intended as a big celebration I have invited six of those inhabiting homes of closest proximity.

My three black cats have taken exception to the intrusion and decided on their own night out. I suspect there is a feline party in progress in one of the barns adjoining my property.

I am sitting at the head of the table for easier access to the kitchen from where I can serve the food to my guests. To my left and facing the staircase to the upper floor are Michelle and her husband Guillom, and Nicole. The other three guests have their backs to the stairs.

The music is playing at reduced volume through the speakers in the room, a little haunting music from bands like Nox Arcania.. Conversation ebbs and flows as the effect of the wine loosens tongues. I have just served the main course, I thought something traditionally English, a cottage pie made to my own recipe, which includes mushrooms, red wine, sour cream and English cheese. At the first taste, and to my utmost surprise, they all compliment me on my cooking.

As they begin eating, Michelle nudges my arm. “I didn’t know you had a daughter staying here with you. Or is it a granddaughter?”

I am certain there is a look of shock on my face as I reply, “No, there is no one staying here other than me.”

“Well who is that?” She points a finger at the staircase. “There, at the top of the stairs.”

I turn my head in the direction she is pointing.

Oh no!

There in the half light stands a small figure wearing an ankle length nightgown. In one hand she holds a battered teddy bear by its one ear. Her head and shoulders are in deep shadow. She begins to descend the stairs. As the dim light s illuminate her face, I hear the hiss of indrawn breath from the guests on my left.

The grey-white nightgown is torn, splattered with green mildew and stained with rust: or is it blood? Shoulder length dark, almost black hair, lank, tousled, uncombed, frames her face. It glistens in the poor light as if from some slimy film that drips and congeals on the fabric of her dress.

The skin on her hands and face is parchment yellow and drawn so tight over the bones as to make her little more than a walking skeleton, a withered frame almost the colour of a corn husk. Her lips are shrivelled, blackened by death making her mouth little more than a gash through which decaying, broken teeth protrude. A sickly yellow parody of a tongue squirms lizard-like from the lower jaw.

She has the eyes of the dead, large white sightless orbs sunken into the sockets in her skull, but they glow with an eerie pallid light. Green mucous oozes from a hideous slit across her throat.

The stench of something that has lain dead under rotting leaves for far too long invades the room, overpowering the aroma of cooking.

The air is rent by screams from two of the female guests, and I hear chairs scraping and grating across the wooden floor. A male voice growls, “What the fuck?”

There is the clatter of a chair falling and the tinkle of breaking glass and cutlery scattering on the floor. I an unable to move, rooted to my chair as those eyes of the damned stare, burning into mine. She reaches the bottom of the stairs, not walking, but floating several inches above the ground.

As if the heat is being sucked from the room, the temperature falls alarmingly. I am aware of people shouting and running. A door slams and I realize I am left alone with this gruesome, grotesque apparition.

I swallow the lump in my throat that is restricting my breathing and try to speak. After several attempts I manage to croak the words “Monique! Why? Why now?”

The room is silent, but a telepathic voice fills my mind. “You didn’t even invite me. And after all we’ve done together…”

Authors Note:

Monique is my muse. A French call-girl—I musn’t call her a whore, she gets upset. She was murdered in spring of 1966 by some insane psychopath. She is/was the owner of a skull I unearthed while digging in the garden, and which now sits in pride of place in a cabinet beside my computer. She frequently appears to me in spectral form, often when I’m not expecting a visitation, and always with the intention of putting the fear of God into me.

© 2012. Robert A. Read.