An Excerpt

Or a Short? Could be both, depending on how it’s read, but … it’s still TDF (and it was so exciting to be Australian), so here is something that’s been done before:

Retribution

The dreams had claws; they dragged at her skin, screamed at her, sucked at her life force. The weight of numbers pulled her down into the morass of pain and horror, of creatures that wanted to eat her, wanted to tear her flesh from her body. They wanted her soul, her spirit. She felt them; heard them scream, heard their minds – the claws pulled her apart, piece by piece.

Van struggled to pull herself into waking. A dream – a nightmare. It had to be. She tried to scream. No sound came out. She pushed at her mouth to force it open so she could scream. She had to wake up. Her fingers pinched at her mouth. It didn’t wake her. She tried to fight off the arms attached to the claws, swiped at them, dragged them off. It didn’t work. Too many. There were too many.

She cried; hot tears burned down her cheeks.

Why could she feel her tears? Was she crying in the real world? Why couldn’t she wake? She knew she was asleep, knew this was a nightmare. She knew she had to wake up. If she didn’t, she would die.

Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. She would see her mother again. And Olympia. She let go. Felt her body being dragged down through the gelid mass, felt the black swirl of oily death reach for her. She would drown in this hell; it would be worth it to be with her family. She would be with them, wouldn’t she? If this was death they would be here, wouldn’t they?

Her mother’s face rose into view, wafted like a reflection on not-quite-still water.

“This is not where you belong. This is not your time.” The voice belonged to her mother, but the lips had not moved.

“Mum,” she tried to whisper.

“In this place, I am not what I was to you. I am not physical. I am not your mother. I am still Rosa Lapa, the child of Pella, but that is a label, not . . . what I am now.” The voice stilled; a tinkle of piano keys synchronised with the lapping of the watery edges of the face. “I am Rose. There are no last names here, no other names, only the names we have attached ourselves to.” The voice wavered. “I am fallen. This is where I belong now. My soul pays penance for my actions – and lack of them.” The face looked away; a silver mark drew a fine line from one eye down her cheek. A single small drop of shining essence fell from her chin. The creatures below fell on it, as if starved for that tiny thing. “And She, my other child, is not here. Her soul has moved to another level.”

The vision wavered, almost disappeared. Van cried out, but the only sound she heard was the keening of the things attached to her arms. She reached out towards the vision, tried to hold it. Sobs wracked her body.

“Mum,” she thought she screamed.

“My name is Rose. I cannot hold you. I am the architect of my own fate. I cannot forgive.” The voice drifted again, seemed now to come from behind Van.

“My first child. Do not ask me to name you here, in this place.” A deep sadness echoed in the dark eyes that looked at Van. “What you did wasn’t a deliberate act. Your soul does not have to pay this price,” the face looked down at the creatures. “I do. I acted with intent. My ignorance and failure are inexcusable. You can leave here. Believe it. The only creatures that belong here,” she pointed down, “are those who intended to take a life – you did not.” The face drifted closer, an icy touch, a slither on her skin, came with it. “Go home. Live your life. Live as an innocent would live. Your actions were not deliberate. Go home. And do not speak your sister’s name in this place. Do not bring her here. I will not let her be part of this.” The vision faded. “And do not come again. You will become nothing if you come here again.”

Van struggled against the snare of claws, screamed at the pain. She looked down into the morass. The faces were blank, human but not. Soulless. Without souls. That was what they wanted. Needed.

Not from her. Not from her mother. Not from – she tried to think of her sister’s name, but it slipped away – my sister. Van would find a way to give her mother peace. There must be a way for – Rose, my name is still Rose – to move on to where – Sister – was now. There had to be a way for them to be together. At peace.

The roiling black mass swam up against her; all the faces coalesced into one, separated out into hundreds, thousands, countless swirls of bloated faces screaming with mouths wide open, teeth bared, eyes black and bloody.

One face swam closer, became familiar. The face of the man she killed. The name on her list. She reached for him. He reached for her. Ice burned her hands as he touched her with the tips of his translucent, greasy fingers.

They were in a cold, dark emptiness. His eyes were red, wide; his mouth open, toothless.

The empty black space around them was full of black eyes scarred by ages, eyes that had never seen light. A creeping cold numbness crept up Van’s scalp, folded over her face, slid down her back, became her only sensation.

She opened her mouth, nothing came out.

His thoughts rode back to her, tingled on her mind like an ice burn.

<<I am not the one. It was not me. Your mistake. I am not the one. Not me. Mistake. You made a mistake. You belong here. I am not the one you seek. I am not redemption.>>

It was a lie. Do ghosts lie? Can ghosts lie? If they came to this place, was this a place for truth? How could she know? For sure? With absolute certainty?

She hadn’t meant to kill him. It had been an accident. He must know that. Van had only meant to find evidence, and pass it on. It wasn’t her fault.

A movement to her left. She looked. Cold fear knotted at her belly. A black man, with brown eyes, shining white sclera, pink on his lips where they parted in a smile. Van smiled back. This man had black skin, but she knew he was a complete man, not one of the soulless. She felt his life force, saw the glow of energy around him.

<< You cannot trust the soulless,>> the black man’s mind said. <<They will lie. They do not forgive.>> He moved his head around, and as he did, a grove of ghost gums seemed to settle on the blackness, drove back the fetid cold. Leaves rattled on the high branches. There was no breeze.

<<Are you real?>>

<<I am real. You are real. The trees are real. We do not abide here, but we can visit – briefly. This ritual of death is not for you at this time. You must leave this place, or leave your soul.>> His eyes bored into her. They were now the only things she could see, but she still felt the blackness, the ravening cold of the soulless. <<She,>> he looked back over his shoulder, <<has chosen to wait for him; to hold him here so he cannot be reborn. It is the worst fate, and the best choice.>> His voice dimmed, softened at the end. <<There are many now. Too many.>> His hands reached toward her.

<<You should leave here now.>> His hand was warm on her wrist. <<Do you know how to leave?>> he asked.

Van cried, tears spilled in burning tracks down her cheeks as she shook her head.


Copyright Cage Dunn 2016.

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