Hopefully you’ve read the excellent fiction rounded up for last Saturday’s Flash FIction Challenge – and if not, why not? However, one writer – Feind Gottes – had conjured up something larger than the challenge allowed. I asked him to submit it anyway because it’s always a shame for excellent horror fiction to go to waste, so here is the (wonderful) full story and the picture that inspired it.
And if you enjoyed this, don’t forget the latest Stitched Saturday challenge.
Smoke & Stone – Feind Gottes
There probably isn’t a ten year old in the universe that hasn’t thought about running away from home at least once. Usually the thought rears its head in times of distress when punishment for doing something stupid is imminent. Perhaps mom’s favorite lamp was broken while chasing the dog around the living room or something as normal as getting in a mud fight but for ten year old Johnny Cisneros the urge was brought on by something else. Johnny wanted to get away, pure and simple. His parents were overprotective to a fault and Johnny had adventure in his heart bursting to come out. He had nearly died during child birth which is why his parents were determined that nothing ever threatened his life again but Johnny longed to explore and go on adventures, to get away from the constant smothering affection of his mom and dad. He would stare out his window at the woods that began just a few hundred feet behind his country home. He had readied his backpack weeks ago just waiting for an opportunity to slip out and finally the moment had arrived.
As adventurous as Johnny felt in his heart he may never have worked up the courage if not for curiosity. He sat day after day in front of his window wiling away the hours daydreaming about exploring the woods he could see but never reach. His imagination would run wild with thoughts of finding an ancient dragon or meeting a group of wood elves who would take him back to their village where he could live free of his domineering parents or find ancient treasure buried deep in the dark of the woods. It was in the midst of a day dream where he was battling an ugly old troll that he saw something at the edge of the woods. It appeared to be some sort of person but not a normal one. He couldn’t make out much detail due to the distance but whoever it was seemed to be staring directly at him then to Johnny’s surprise it motioned for him to come to it. Johnny blinked several times thinking his eyes were just playing tricks on him but the thing was still motioning to him when he looked again. He rubbed his eyes and when he looked up again the thing was gone. He thought his imagination had finally gotten the best of him like his mother had always warned but the thing reappeared the next day and the next and the next always beckoning him to come to the woods only to disappear after a few minutes.
Johnny would lay in his bed at night trying to figure out how to sneak out of the house. His parents were so overprotective they had even installed alarms on the doors and windows so he couldn’t leave without alerting them. Curiosity and the need for adventure wore away at him as the thing at the edge of the woods reappeared beckoning him every afternoon. It took him more than a week to come up with a plan and now he merely waited for the opportune moment. Finally his wait was over, his moment had arrived as he heard the front door close behind his father off to get some supplies.
“Mom?” Johnny acted as modest as he could muster.
“Yes my precious?”
“It’s awfully warm today. Would it be ok if I cracked my window just a little to let in some fresh air? I promise just a crack.” He shot his mother his best puppy dog eyes.
His mother thought about it a long moment until he was positive she was going to say no then finally letting out a sigh she said, “Only a small crack and if I see a single bug you close it immediately. Understand?”
“Yes, yes I promise! Thank you mom!”
Johnny sprinted to his room waiting for the all clear that the alarm was turned off. Time passed slower than on Christmas Eve but at last his mother called out that it was okay. Johnny didn’t hesitate popping the latch on the window dropping it open as far as it would go.
“One hour only Johnny! Remember one single bug and you close it!” His mother called up the stairs.
Johnny ducked his head out of his doorway, “Thank you mom!” then for good measure adding, “You’re the best!”
Johnny waited with the patience of a five year old on his birthday staring at a stack of wrapped up mysteries. He had to force himself to wait a full five minutes with no sound of his mother coming up the stairs to check on him before springing into action. He quickly grabbed his backpack dropping it down to the ground below then removed the top sheet he had tied in knots hidden under his blanket. He stood just inside his doorway listening intently for footsteps on the stairs, hearing none he tied the sheet around his bedpost and dropped it out the window. He knew he had little time to scamper down and make it to the tree line before his mother came to check on him especially with an open window in the house. He was down his makeshift rope in a flash, grabbed his backpack and sprinted for the wood line. He knew he had to make it to cover before he was discovered or he’d never get another chance.
Johnny ran as fast as he possibly could ducking behind a tree just in time to hear his mother’s voice screaming his name. He stood as still as the tree itself hoping his mother hadn’t seen where he was headed. He expected to hear her tell him to come out from behind the tree but she just screamed out his name. He felt bad for a moment but finally he was away from the house, free for the first time in his life!
He looked with new eyes at the vast thicket of trees before him truly awed by the sight. The trees blocked most of the light but here and there Johnny could see beams of sunlight shining through like spotlights giving the forest an almost eerie glow. He couldn’t wait to begin his adventure.
The voice startled him so badly he nearly jumped out of his skin. He looked around hesitantly finally seeing the thing that had been beckoning to him for weeks. The thing was barely taller than his four foot frame but had an adult’s bulk. The thing was covered in thick brown fur from its feet to its waist where the coarse hair became sparser up to its chest where it thickened again before ending at its shoulders. The thing’s face looked more or less human but slightly pushed inward with a pair of horns sprouting forward from its temples topped off with shaggy, unkempt hair atop its head. Johnny had never seen anything like it even in a book of which he had many.
“Wh… what are you?” Johnny tentatively asked.
“Merely a guide young sir but you may call me Jinn.” The thing had a friendly childlike voice.
“But what are you? Why have you been waving to me?” Johnny was curious as his fear waned.
“What I am is a forest guide named Jinn, to begin again. And I waved to you because you’re special Johnny, everyone in the forest knows that. I was sent to guide you home.”
“Home? My home is over there.” Johnny pointed back to the house where his mother was still screaming his name. “But how do you know my name?”
“You are known here Johnny because your home is sacred here, the place smoke and stone. Come, follow me and I will show you. It’s not far.
Johnny was reluctant thinking perhaps he had made a huge mistake. Maybe he should have listened to his mother but curiosity was already getting the better of him. He took a look back toward what he knew as home then fell in step with his guide Jinn.
Johnny prodded Jinn with questions as they walked deeper and deeper into the forest but Jinn would only tell him that he would get all his answers once he arrived home. Johnny gazed around in wonder never having seen such ancient trees up close before. He had barely ever been out of the house in which he lived. The only time he was allowed out was to visit the doctor which was often with his overprotective parents, every time he had a sniffle they’d rush him to the doctor. He was only beginning to realize how much he despised that house which was as much a prison to him as it was a home. Here he felt like Lewis and Clarke or Indiana Jones. He began to hope Jinn was leading him to some treasure or perhaps a city of gold.
Johnny had stopped asking questions until they had walked for some time in silence and the inevitable question nagged at him, “How much further Jinn?”
“Not far young man. See that large scary looking tree up ahead?”
Johnny could see exactly which tree Jinn was referring to. A few hundred feet ahead there was an extremely large tree that looked like something a witch would live in if the faery tales he had read were to be believed. “I see it.” He said.
“On the other side of that is our destination, the place of smoke and stone, your home.”
The last leg of any journey always feels like the longest and this one was no exception to the rule. Johnny was getting tired wishing he could sit and rest a moment but curiosity drove him on. He had to know what lay at the end of this proverbial rainbow. With his feet and legs aching they finally rounded the ugly ancient tree Jinn had pointed out a few moments before. As they did Johnny saw where it was they must be heading. There was a large opening in the hillside hidden behind the tree.
“What’s in there?” Johnny asked.
“Your home young one.”
Johnny’s curiosity was raging now as they stood at the cave mouth. He could hear voices coming from within. He looked to Jinn feeling a twinge a fear.
“They’re waiting for you. We’ve been waiting for you for a very long time young Johnny.”
“Why? I’m just a boy.”
“That’s why you’re so important. Now follow me and watch your step.” Jinn lit a torch just inside the cave entering the dark knowing Johnny would follow. He smiled unseen by the child.
They walked deep into the hillside at a steady downward slope for several minutes. Johnny avoided loose rocks and large toe stubbers along the path watching his step as he had been instructed. Before long he could see light ahead in the cave that didn’t seem to be from fire. The light was white but after a few more steps he began to smell smoke but like nothing he had ever smelled before. To him it smelled slightly of rotten eggs not knowing that that was the smell of sulfur.
“Brimstone, before you ask. What you smell is brimstone from deep within the Earth. We’re very close now.”
Johnny had only seen the word brimstone in books knowing it was usually found around volcanoes. Surely there wasn’t a volcano inside the cave, he thought. He needed to know what this place was and why he was here worse than ever. They rounded a final turn in the tunnel bringing the source of the light into view along with dozens of strange creatures.
The cave opened into a large central room where creatures unlike anything Johnny had ever seen were gathered apparently waiting for him. At the head of the weird congregation was a beast similar to Jinn though easily four times his size looking like Jinn’s older angry brother. Behind that bulking figure were dozens of what Johnny would have called mummies. The beings were seemingly faceless but unlike mummies wrapped in rags these things seemed to be carved out of stone. Johnny could only make out a few standing in the white light welling up from a pit in the center of the cave but he was sure there was a wide assortment of beasts gathered there. He was hopeful he might finally receive some answers since he couldn’t see any treasure awaiting him.
“Step forward boy.” The beast that looked like a larger version of Jinn snarled at him with a deep gnarly voice.
“Where am I? Who are you?”
“Inquisitive, aren’t you? I am Ladakh and this ancient place is the place of smoke and stone. Ancient ones like myself know it as Gethsemane. We’ve been waiting many millennia for you to come home.” Ladakh’s ancient voice boomed and echoed in the confined space.
“Why do you and Jinn keep calling this my home? I’m just a boy and my home is beyond the forest outside.” Johnny said, slightly annoyed.
“Jinn told you that you are special, no?”
“Yes but I’m not.”
“Oh, you’re beyond special, boy. You are one of a kind and that is why you are here. We tried to bring you here as a mere babe but the Lycus stopped us but now you are here, you are home.”
“You called them parents, I believe. They were not your parents. They were Magi of the First Order, the ones we call Lycus. I doubt that means anything to you. Magi of the First Order are a coven of witches and wizards our kind have battled since the dawn of time. They practice magic of the darkest evil. They protect Indigo Children like you from us. They want us kept deep in the dark places of the world, out of sight and forgotten. We have remained hidden and waiting for thousands of years for an Indigo Child like you, but no more! Only you can destroy the Magi and free us! Just as you longed to be free so do we!”
“How do I know you aren’t the evil ones and lying to me?”
“Smart boy!” Ladakh bellowed, “Did we keep you shut inside? No, but they did. That place was protected from us by their dark magic that is why I sent Jinn hoping he could urge you to escape on your own. The Lycus have kept us away from the special ones like you. You are an Indigo Child. You may look like them but your soul is not of this world boy. You are one of us, you belong here. Can you not feel it?” Ladakh’s voice softened for the first time.
“What are you then and where am I from if not from here? Do you mean I’m an alien?” Tears welled up in Johnny’s eyes as he tried to comprehend what he was learning.
“You’re not an alien in the way you think. You’re not from another planet. You are from another dimension. Do you understand what that means?”
“I think so.”
“There are many planes of existence Johnny. On this plane you are Johnny a ten year old boy with little knowledge that has been held prisoner by the Lycus. On your natural plane, the plane where your soul dwells, you are Cygnus. On this plane that is what you would call a God. We brought you here to reconnect you with Cygnus so that you may free us. Gethsemane, the place of smoke and stone, is a convergence point where other planes, other dimensions can be reached but only by someone special like you, an Indigo Child. Understand?”
“How do I help?”
Ladakh smiled at Jinn as a murmur ran through the rest of the creatures gathered in the cave.
“All you have to do is step into the white flame. It will not burn you or harm you in any way. You may feel strange for a moment as your soul travels through dimensions but when you re-emerge you will be Cygnus, the wise and powerful.”
“How do I know what you say is true? What if you are the evil that the Lycus are holding at bay and not the other way around like you say? What will you do once you are free?”
“You are wise beyond your years Johnny. Why would I tell you all this if it weren’t true? I could easily pick you up and swallow you whole or toss you in the flame but I didn’t, I wanted you to understand.” Ladakh winked at Jinn as Johnny pondered his words.
“I guess that’s true. I’ll do it!” A loud cheer echoed in the cave at Johnny’s proclamation.
Johnny stepped to the edge of the pit holding the white flame. The smell of brimstone was powerful here making him gag for a moment. He hesitated wondering if he was doing the right thing. Could he really be a god on another plane of existence? Part of him wanted it to be true but below that another part of him was screaming out a warning. Could Ladakh be trusted? Had these creatures been pushed into the dark for the right or wrong reasons? He had no way to know what was true and he was sure neither these creatures nor his parents, who were apparently a witch and a wizard, could be trusted to tell him the truth. He had to find out for himself. He had to step into the white flame and hope.
He heard his mother, the witch, scream his name as he stepped into the flame. Instantly a cacophony of celebration rose from the cave and then he was gone. White light surged all around him as he sped through dimensions.
While Johnny Cisneros sped across dimensions Ladakh ran forward to meet the witch. Ladakh lifted her with one mighty clawed hand longing to crush her into oblivion but wanting to savor the moment. His kind had lost to hers for time immemorial and now it was his turn to shine. He pulled the witch close.
“The world will run red with the blood of your kind. Darkness will wash away the stench of you for all eternity. You should have educated the boy instead of hiding him away. You failed Opal. The blood he spills with us is on your head. Any last words?” Ladakh savored his taunts.
“You have no idea what you’ve done. You’ve learned nothing all these millennia trapped in the dark thinking only of revenge and nothing else! You think he’ll return as your dark lord savior but that’s not Cygnus you bloated idiot. Enjoy your last moments of existence Ladakh! HAHAHAHAHA!” Opal cackled.
“Lies!” Ladakh yelled.
“Say hello to Harut for me! The angel of sorcery is who you’ve summoned. You are all doomed! HAHAHAHAAHA!” Opal cackled again at her revelation.
Ladakh yelled out in anger squeezing the witch until he felt her ribs snap like dry twigs beneath his fingers. Turning the witch’s body to mush did nothing to quell his anger so next he bit her head off grinding her skull to dust with his teeth. Still his anger wasn’t quenched. Blood still spurted from her headless body as he tore off her arms one by one tossing them to his gathered horde and then her legs as well. The torso he tossed to his son Jinn after letting out a howl of anger that would have woken the dead.
Before the echo of Ladakh’s howl was finished reverberating off the cave walls bolts of lightning like an electric spider web shot out of the pit dropping a dozen of the horde dead on the spot. Ladakh readied himself knowing now the witch’s words were true. It was not Cygnus returning to reign in darkness for all eternity but Harut come to wipe out his kind completely. The Magi had won this plane but Ladakh knew his kind had infinite chances. He smiled as a bolt of sorcerer’s light put his light out.