Unedited, uncensored, unsettling…
Now this is a story, all about how, my life got flipped turned upside down, and I’d like to take a minute – just sit right there – I’ll tell you how I became the curator of Stitched Saturday. But I digress…
Weeks ago, back on the 28th of January, I posted up the following eerie visual as inspiration;
I’m pleased to say that a number of fine writers answered the clarion call, and we have a bloody fine selection of awesome tales for your delectation and delight this evening. I’ll go as far as saying that the stories below are some of the very best submissions we’ve had for Stitched Saturday – they’re all brilliant.
Our festivities kick off with the awesome Kiss of the Carrion God by the equally awesome Mike L Lane, followed by the chilling The One From Above from the twisted mind of Ezekiel Kincaid. Once you’ve got your breath back from reading those, we’re taking a Bird’s Eye View from the lofty talent of Daniel L. Naden. You’ve got me finishing off proceedings with my new tale Remedium.
Admit it, you’re spoiled. In the next couple of days, I’ll be posting up the inspirational picture for March. In the meantime, enjoy the horror from some masters of the art (and me) and don’t forget…
Kiss of the Carrion God- Mike L Lane
“Why?” Ambrose asked, breaking the silence. He tried to remain calm, but couldn’t hide the terror swelling in his throat.
“You know why,” Phineas sighed. There was nothing to discuss. The lot had been cast and the law declared long ago.
“Tell me again, father,” Ambrose urged, grasping Phineas’ wrist. His son’s cold, damp palm raised goosebumps on his flesh. “Tell me of the Worm Moon and Zeul Sărut-”
Phineas whirled on his son, his fists raised and his face a blood flushed scowl.
“DO NOT SPEAK HIS NAME ALOUD LEST HE COME!”
His thunderous voice echoed in the room and his fists slammed onto the heavy oak table rattling plates in the cupboard. The lantern flickered momentarily and Ambrose ducked his eyes.
“You are no longer a child, so don’t pretend to be one,” Phineas said. His harsh tone hid the pity he felt for Ambrose. With a heavy breath he lifted the young man’s chin. “Discussing it won’t change what must be done.”
“I’m sorry, father,” he said. Ambrose had always been a timid child, but as a man he talked when his nerves were on edge. “I thought it might help pass the time.”
Phineas opened the window and stared into the overcast horizon, wrapping his robe tight to brave the cold. A setting sun cowered behind full, dark clouds; the smell of rain thick in the air. Wind swept through the deserted street where no villagers haggled over prices and no children skipped rope or shot marbles in the alley below. Not long ago, Ambrose played with his friends there as a boy. Now the street vendors had packed their carts and moved inside, locked safe behind shut windows and barred doors. With the absence of grinding carriage wheels and clopping horse hooves the cobblestone road lay silent and still as the grave; his tavern a mausoleum below. The barren oak shielded the desolate thoroughfare with its arms outstretched to the heavens for mercy. Nothing stirred in its branches. Phineas glanced back to his son’s downcast face. The Worm Moon would rise soon, but he supposed there was still some time.
“He’s known as the Carrion God,” he began, unhooking the tavern sign from the swivel-arm post and pulling it inside. “People seldom speak his old name, lest his kiss curse us all.”
Phineas made the sign of the Trinity and murmured a silent prayer before returning to the table.
“The Kiss of God, they call him,” he continued. “Though to me that sounds like a vampyre and the Carrion God is no person at all, alive or dead, but a malevolent spirit more interested in the flesh than blood. The ignorant say he is Death incarnate, but the Carrion God is no Reaper. The Reaper isn’t held back by the season, the moons, the hours or minutes. He harvests what he wants when he wants it.”
“Then what is he, father?” Ambrose asked.
“In the days of old, villagers held a carnival in celebration of the Crow Moon- what we now call the Worm Moon. It was the end of winter, when the crows arrived in droves as a sign of the spring to come. Same as the worms crawling up from the thawed earth, I suppose. The streets filled with people, happy to be rid of the harsh winter and eager to plant for the summer harvest.”
Phineas placed seeds into the mortar and ground them with the pestle as he spoke.
“He danced among them, a robed figure in black feathers gracefully sweeping through the crowd like an afternoon shadow. As this was a celebration of the Crow Moon, no one thought twice of his feathered face and protruding beak and they accepted him as one of their own. The festivities carried into the night until the Worm Moon peaked in a starless, overcast sky. The Carrion God leapt to the minstrel’s tune and pirouetted in the center of town like a wooden top; his arms wide and his robe unfurling like a Maypole. The crowd cheered in captive amazement as with each twirl he blew them a kiss- the Kiss of God.”
Phineas raised the pestle to inspect the seeds. Satisfied with the ground powder, he reached into the cupboard for two stone goblets and a corked bottle of the tavern’s finest wine.
“To their horror, his robe came alive as thousands of crows erupted in a flurry of black feathers blotting out the bonfire’s light. Like hard rain, his minions fell on the townsfolk with razor talons and sharp beaks. Screams replaced merriment as they cowered in horror, arms raised in defense. The crows ripped flesh with a winter-long hunger not easily sated, but the Carrion God let out a shrill whistle and they migrated to the roofs above, waiting for their master’s blessing.”
He nodded at the drawer and Ambrose fumbled for the bone handled corkscrew with trembling hands. Phineas’ heart ached at the sight, but he continued his tale.
“The Carrion God, his naked flesh seeping with busted sores and pus-filled blisters, waltzed through the chaos like a madman spreading disease with the casual wave of festered hands. The rank scent of rot wafted from him, a noxious wind of putrid meat and spoiled fruit. He touched them one by one before drifting into the night, his curse shared.”
Phineas twisted the corkscrew and pulled the cork from the bottle. The dense aroma filled the space between father and son and he wished there had been more time for it to age.
“But the crows remained, lining the roofs and cawing at the forsaken villagers. The barren oak’s branches slumped beneath their weight as they peered down with beady eyes and empty stomachs, awaiting their master’s kiss to fester. By the third night of the Worm Moon, it had. Boils rose on their skin like flowers in bloom. Ruddy red cheeks turned ashen gray. Eyes once merry and bright dulled to filmy orbs. Maggots hatched in the mouths of the living and inched their way down their throats and into the depths of warm intestines. Skin turned to rot and hair to brittle straw. Flies buzzed from their breath and they wallowed in misery as the Carrion God’s kiss slowly stripped the life from them. Once the air lay thick with the stench of pestilence, the crows dined on a feast of half-lives.”
Phineas poured wine into the goblets; one with the powder and one without.
“Few survived, but with them the tale of the Carrion God and the Worm Moon survived as well. From that day forward, law dictated sacrifices to keep the Carrion God away. When he sends his minions in search of flesh to rot, they’ll find the streets abandoned with nothing to report. Nothing save the one unfortunate soul left hanging high above the street.”
“The sacrifice,” Ambrose said.
“The one soul devoured alive to save the town from his kiss,” Phineas said, offering a goblet to him. Ambrose raised his wine with mock bravery. Phineas joined him and the two turned up their glasses.
“Will it hurt, father?” Ambrose asked, his voice wavering.
“I’m afraid so,” Phineas answered. He wouldn’t lie to his son with such little time left. There was no sign of the crows yet, but the hour was upon them. “The birds will eat their fill, but when they are done, they will move on with little interest and our town will be spared for another year.”
“I’m glad I was chosen,” Ambrose said, placing his goblet on the table. “It is an honorable death and I go willingly to spare the lives of my wife and children. To spare your life, father. May God have mercy on my soul. I love you, Papa.”
“And I you,” Phineas said, tears threatening to fall. “We must make haste. Get the chains.”
Phineas brought the tavern’s swivel-arm post closer to the window and Ambrose did as instructed. With the chains in his hands, reality set in. The thought of being eaten alive drained the energy from his legs. Phineas steadied Ambrose against the wall. “Will the potion lessen the pain, father?”
“I hope so, son,” he said as Ambrose’s eyes grew heavy. He slid to the floor with a protest on his lips the sedative wouldn’t allow. The father bent and kissed his son’s forehead.
Phineas unrobed and wrapped the chains around his arms and chest. He stepped onto the ledge and anchored himself to the sign post, taking one last look at his dear boy before shutting the window behind him.
He kicked from the ledge and swung out above the street allowing the swivel-arm to lock into place. The cold night air bit into his naked flesh. The chains pulled taut into his skin as his weight sagged against them, but he ignored the pain. It was nothing compared to what awaited him. Phineas watched the horizon with labored breaths, waiting for the crows and the kiss of the Carrion God.
The One from Above – Ezekiel Kincaid
Brochan awoke to the light drizzle of rain on his face. His head thumped, keeping in time with a rhythmic beat that could only be heard in his mind. He licked his lips. The fresh rain water rolled across his dry tongue. The refreshment sparked a hint of life in his trepid body. With his eyes still closed, consciousness came in waves. He tried to take a deep breath. He went to expand his lungs but found that he could not press them very far. He made a second attempt, with no success. This new-found lack of ability registered as panic in his brain. Brochan’s eyes burst open. Through blurred vision, he saw his bare feet, and wondered why they felt so cold. His eyelids shuddered. He went to bring a hand to rub his eyes, but it wouldn’t move. He tried his other, but still no give.
Then came the pain. His arms ached with a throbbing, deadening hurt. With his vision returning, he looked to his left, and screamed. Then to his right and screamed again. Brochan hung, suspended in mid-air. He swayed, ropes wrapped around his wrists, elbows, and shoulders. The ropes linked to a thin wooden plank, which had been connected to a large wooden beam. The beam protruded out from the mow of a two-story home.
Brochan cried out. “Get me down! Someone! Anyone, help!” Brochan knew why he hung suspended on the side of a house, and that knowledge caused a fear to well in his entire being. A fear like no other. The type of fear that made his bone marrow like ice and tingled all the way down to his testicles. Ag-sin-selardi would descend, and its tentacles would drain him dry.
Every nineteen years the creature comes to the town of Lanark, Scotland, craving flesh. The town folks learned the hard way that the best course of action did not consists in confrontation, but sacrifice. When the creature first appeared in 1417, the entire population had almost been wiped out in a foolish attempt to defeat the monster. Now, a hundred years later, they had well established the tradition of leaving it a sacrifice. This time, Brochan had been chosen.
Brochan went to scream again but caught himself. It would be a fruitless endeavor. Everyone had been gone for hours. The town sat as quiet as a cemetery.
The thunder rumbled, and Brochan gasped. He looked out across the town, to the church that sat a top the hill. The black clouds began to gather and swirl. Moments later, they parted, and beams of light shot through, illuminating the church. The building shone like a beacon of hope. No, of false hope, giving the impression that God would save, but Brochan knew better. God would not save him. Brochan would have to wait and see God upon death.
A loud blast rang out from the clouds. It sounded like a shofar, but deeper. Much deeper. A round structure descended from the hole in the clouds. As it did, Brochan noticed it resembled a cylinder. Clouds formed in a whirlwind around it, and lightning strikes flashed forth.
Six tentacles emerged from the clouds and submerged into the whirlwind around the cylinder. The sight caused Brochan’s gut to knot tighter than the ropes around his arms. His heart felt as if it would explode in his chest. His bowels and bladder gave way. He could hear his urine and excrement splatter on the cobblestone road below him. Then the bile came. White, with the putrid smell of old meat. He could feel it dribble off his chin.
The houses around him began to shake. He peered down the road into the distance, his vision going no further than where the it curved. Moments later, slithering around the curve, came one of the tentacles. It came quick, like the lightening flashes. The creature knew Brochan hung there, and Brochan knew he only had seconds left to live.
The tentacle snaked toward Brochan, its scales green and yellow bands, shimmering in the dim light. Its girth, filling the street. The end, sharp and hooked. Brochan decided he would not close his eyes. He would not go the way of the coward. He watched, as the tentacle veered up like a serpent, and struck. Its hook jabbed into Brachan’s sternum with a pop, then traveled up into the middle of his rib cage making a ripping sound. Blood spewed from Brochan’s mouth in a red mist.
The world around Brochan grew dim. He felt something extend out the tentacle hook and travel further up into his chest. Then he heard a slurping sound. As the creature drained Brochan’s innards, he felt as if he was being turned inside out.
When Ag-sin-selardi had swallowed every organ, and drained every drop of blood, and slurped every muscle from the bone, it left the emaciated corpse of Brochan, now nothing but skin and bones, to dangle in the storm like a wind chime.
The tentacles retracted, the cylinder ascended back into the clouds, and the creature left, its blood lust satisfied for another nineteen years.
Bird’s Eye View – Daniel L. Naden
At first, the rain was a blessing, small, but welcome.
The crowds came to watch his crucifixion. They always came to watch punishments for all varieties of crimes, to jeer and throw rotten food and shit from the streets — sometimes they threw deadlier things: rocks, chunks of wood, and worse. But the rain kept the all but the most motivated home.
The hawkers were there, for sure, and the thieves and pickpockets that worked the crowds around them. He found the brass-balled audacity amazing, youngsters risking their hands or a lift on the crossbar while someone, like him, was losing a hand or getting lifted themselves. Beyond them, however, the street was only half-full. Half as many people to throw and mock. The shiriff’s thugs still crucified him, stretched him on the cross-bar and hoisted him high above the muddy streets. The pain was exquisite and he lost time for awhile, but when he came to his senses, the crowd had mostly given up. A few of the pickpocket urchin kids tried to stir up some outrage, shouting things like “Get him!” and “Fuckin’ killer!” and throwing mud balls at him, but the rain was just too much. The crowd eventually slipped away and the man settled in on his long, painful path to death.
The man couldn’t remember his name. He’d forgotten it in the dungeons of the Lord’s castle, forgotten on purpose. He recalled the torture, three years’ worth at the pleasure of the Lord’s executioner and dungeon master. He could feel every stroke, every humiliation and agony, along with the demoralizing boredom of spending day after day, waiting for the bastard to show again. Still, his discipline was strong enough to allow him to hide his identity. Names hold power and, though he had broken, time and again, under the agonies he’d endured, the man withheld his name, and the name of the who had purchased his services. In time, after he’d become little more than a mumbling wraith, the Lord had sentenced him to death. Crucifixion, rather than a quicker hanging or trip to the headsman’s block. The Lord apparently held grudges against assassin’s sent to kill him.
Fog rolled in like a breaker, sliding onto shore.
The castle was built on a pile of rock, defensible and giving it a beautiful view of the coast, but the village at its feet was on the flat land next to the coast and, as such, was prone to ocean weather. The man awoke from a dream of drowning and a cacophony of noise that he realized only after they’d left to belong to a murder of crows, taking flight from perches near him. Something seemed to have frightened them off — certainly it wasn’t him, their intended meal. The crows circled over him, once, twice, then flew away. Moments later fog arrived, bizarre, unnatural.
It came in almost like a solid, a uniform six feet high with a defined leading edge that pushed between buildings to fill the head of the street, before moving on to engulf the first hawkers’ carts and the few patrons left there. The screams began immediately, combined with the horrific sounds of flesh being ripped apart. The fog advanced, claiming more of the street and the people in it, violence, echoing off the buildings.
As it passed beneath him, the man saw a maelstrom of activity, just beneath his feet. Long sinuous arms, slashing claws, a barely glimpsed head, teeth and a shape straight out of the bowels of Otherworld. Whirlwinds of motion and carnage seen just through the veil of gray. It lasted forever, and only minutes, time where he felt almost fortunate to have been crucified, fortunate to be above death even more brutal than his own.
When the fog passed, the street was empty, picked clean. Carts and hawkers and people were gone, as if they’d never been there at all. The man remained, a sole survivor, and around him, the silence absolute.
He lost time again, adrenaline from the terror of the fog warring with exhaustion and suffocation from hanging from his arms. When he came to, the crows were circling again, whether they were working up the courage to return to their intended feast of … well … him, or if they were leaving him again in the anticipation of — of the recurrence of something awful, the man couldn’t say. He dared not guess.
He might’ve stayed to die. The man knew he wouldn’t be awake and aware for much longer. But then, he saw wisps, runners of fog questing out from the seaward side of the street, seeping between the buildings, exploring. He saw a thin finger of mist slip through the window of his building, along the gallows arm, down the crossbar to caress his cheek. When it pulled away, back through the open window, his cheek was scored, vertical lines of fire, as if made by claws. Suddenly, the man realized he might not live long enough for his crucifixion to kill him.
The shackles had cut cruelly into his wrists, but they weren’t tight now, didn’t seem as tight as they’d been when he’d originally been lifted above the street. Folding his thumbs into his palms, straining against fatigue and crushing pain, be began swinging, left, then right, against the slack in the chains. He could feel his hands slip, feel the bite of the iron, lubricated by his blood, feel the skin slowly peeling up. When he had as much motion he could generate, he let hes weight fall, entirely on his left hand. It popped free with pain more intense than any he’d suffered so far.
Free of his balancing weight, the shackle chains clattered through the rinks, accelerating as he plummeted to the ground. His right hand pulled up, briefly, his thumb taking the terrible weight of his falling body. It was just a second, sheer agony, then his thumb shattered and his right hand came free.
The man hit the ground hard and lost time once more.
He heard the crows again, woke to find them circling over him. Dropped his right hand to lever himself up and almost blacked out from the white-hot wave of agony that came from it. Somehow, he managed to stay awake.
Raucous caws of the crows. They were closer to the ground, noisy, diving at him, growing more animated. Were they trying to tell him something?
The man struggled to his knees, then slid up the wall to finally stand. Behind him, over his shoulder, he saw the fog again, a wall of it higher than the top of the tallest building on the street. It was moving slowly, but he could hear sounds, not human carnage, but the sound of buildings being … what … devoured? Destroyed?
The fog was headed his way. The crows were leaving, flying away, down the street, toward whatever safety they thought they could find.
The last time, the man had a bird’s eye view of the carnage inside it. This time, he’d have to trust the crows to lead him out. He might not escape, but he had to try.
Slowly, painfully, the man began to run. The fog filled in the street behind him.
Remedium – David Court
It was difficult to tell the time of day anymore, Bardolph thought. Regardless of the hour, the plumes of black smoke that belched from the numerous funeral pyres, blocked out sky and sun alike. The streets were empty except for the hunched forms of the Plague Doctors going about their business.
Business, it would appear, was good.
It had only been a week since the grim malaise had befallen the coastal town of Hyrdemouth, but the plague had already accounted for much of the settlement’s populace, in one way or another. Many were already dead, dragged from their homes or from the streets where they fell and thrown onto the perpetually burning fires in the town centre. Some had been saved, chosen by God to be taken to the monastery that stood atop the hill and looked down upon the doomed town. The others, Bardolph included, simply waited in their homes, in the thralls of the early stages of infection.
Either it’d be the Grim Reaper that came for them, or a Plague Doctor. All prayed for the latter.
Bardolph poured himself another glass of water from his ever-dwindling supplies. He had two days at the most before he’d be forced to venture out for more, every lungful taken in that foul salted air increasing his risk of breathing in more of the plague’s evil, and hastening his demise. He had food for a week, but had foolishly underestimated how much water he’d need. Perhaps he could barter with his neighbours, but there’d been no sound from their home over the last day and a half.
Every time he heard the bells, he’d dash to his window and peer through the slats, hoping that they sounded for him. The Plague Doctors appeared to be working from a parchment list, knocking on people’s doors and freeing them from this pestilence, taking them to the monastery to be cured.
The monks on the hill used to be regular visitors to the town, but in recent months had kept to themselves. Some in the town said they’d predicted the spread of the plague, and had set to working on a cure, even before the first victim.
The doctors wandered the streets in groups of two or three, bell-lined domes of thick fabric protecting them from the outside world. Tiny gauzed holes in their cloaks would belch out jets of hot steam like tiny chimneys. They all wore masks that hid their features, only the brightness of their eyes visible through the tiny slits which afforded them limited vision.
Bardolph was as his wit’s end; every warm flush was the onset of the next phase of the plague, every cough or itch the progression of the foul malady. Every dot of sediment that swirled in his glass of water was evidence of the virulence that surrounded them all.
It was that night, as Bardolph tossed and turned through dreams of illness and corruption, when the knock sounded. Three harsh blows on his wooden door, delivered by the tip of a Plague Doctor’s stick. Sitting bolt upright with a start, he prayed to God the sound hadn’t merely been part of his dream.
As he neared his door, he could hear the gentle sound of tinkling bells beyond it, and he afforded himself the rare luxury of optimism. His prayers were answered when he flung the door open, confronted by the bulky form of two Plague Doctors standing on his threshold. One held a parchment sheet, pointing to Bardolph’s name with a leather-gloved finger.
“Is it true?” Bardolph, his voice breaking. He could feel himself on the verge of weeping.
“You will be cured!” both Doctors announced, their voices partially muffled by their masks and breathing apparatus.
God be praised. He turned to grab some of his meagre belongings, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him, gently ushering him onto the streets.
As he was led through the meandering roads towards the monastery, he could feel the eyes of the townsfolk boring into him. There wasn’t a man or woman amongst them who didn’t wish they were in Bardolph’s place, and he couldn’t bring himself to make eye contact with any of them. He felt almost guilty, spared when many of them – his friends and neighbours – would die within the days to come.
A weight fell from his shoulders as he passed through the town gates, away from accusing eyes. The air felt cleaner here, more breathable. On the walk up the shallow hill, the reassuring silhouette of the monastery framed by a star-lit sky, they passed other Plague Doctors who were making their way back into the town. Their ringing bells faded into the distance.
“What happens now?” he asked, as the monastery doors opened before them and they stepped inside.
“You will be cured!” they repeated.
He was taken to a bare brick room, where they carefully cut away his clothes with thick black iron scissors. Each strip of fabric and rag was thrown into a pile in the corner. Shivering and naked, they placed buckets of fresh water in front of him, urging him to wash.
It made sense. The plague may well have been festering in his clothes, and it was important to cleanse oneself of any trace of it.
It felt uncomfortable, washing in front of them. They simply stared at him with unblinking eyes. The first time he’d finished washing, they’d insisted he do it again, clearly unsatisfied with his standards of cleanliness. This happened three more times before they both nodded, sated with his efforts.
“What happens now?” he asked again, already predicting the answer.
“You will be cured!” they proudly announced, louder this time. They ushered him through to an adjacent lantern-lined corridor. Bardolph felt the brief warmth on his naked skin, as he passed each one.
The door opened in front of them and a cold wind swept against them all, goose bumps instantly rising on Bardolph’s skin. There was a scent on the wind, the harsh salt of the sea and… something else. Something unpleasant.
The room looked like it had once been a prayer room, but now all the stools and tables had been pushed against one wall, and the room had been reconditioned for a blasphemous purpose. The tilework on the floor had been ripped up, a pit dug in its place. The pit had been filled with coarse salt, glistening pink in the candlelight, and no doubt evaporated from collected sea water.
A dozen or so naked figures were lying in it, pressed into the salt floor. All were in varying state of mummification; some fresh, and looking more asleep than dead, others long decreased with sunken flesh pulled taut around gaunt forms. Throats were slashed open, an array of brutal red scarves adorning them all.
More were hung from hooks against the back wall, the longest dead of them all. They were all missing limbs; arms, legs, or slices of torso detached from each.
Bardolph tried to scream, but the breath had gone from him.
He heard the sound of thick canvas shifting and the tolling of tiny bells, the sound of the monks removing their heavy adornments. With a heavy push, they sent him flailing towards the salt pit. He kept his footing, but only just, and turned to face the monks.
They were corpulent figures, hanging with wasted flesh. Dried fat and blood caked draping flesh jowls, razor sharp yellow teeth glinting in the light of flickering torches. Blasphemies that were once men, transformed by inhuman acts.
His companion smiled and stepped towards the fear-paralysed Bardolph.
A skilled blade, wielded with the precision of an expert butcher, whistled through the air and ripped open Bardolph’s throat. The ice-cold touch of it left him numb and clutching at the blood that poured from him as a torrent, as though it were possible to stem the flow. He stumbled into the salt, a thousand pin-prick shards pressing into his flesh.
The red stain beneath him grew, white crystals shifting to pink. A pink that shifted to red, darkening along with all his surroundings, as the light went from his eyes.
“As we promised,” slobbered one of them, red-flecked phlegm spraying from blood-swollen lips, “They’re all curing nicely”.