Archive for fantasy

Forbidden Tomes: THE ACCURSED

Posted in Forbidden Tomes, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Happy March, ghouls – we’re beginning to get a taste of spring in the air. It’s a time of reawakening, good weather, and fertility. Unless you’re in a Joyce Carol Oates book. In one of her only outwardly supernatural works, Oates weaves a disturbing portrait of historical Princeton as it falls under the power of demons. Things get weird in the sepulchral spring of THE ACCURSED.

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It’s 1905 and we’re in Princeton. While some actual figures appear in the background, like Woodrow Wilson and Upton Sinclair (who were at Princeton then), the main story depicts the Slade family as the daughter – set to be married – is targeted by a vampiric demon. When the demon takes young Slade as his unwilling wife, the surrounding characters (accurate and fictional alike) fall into madness, betrayal, and violence. It really sucks when demons walk into history; they tend to ruin things.

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Having read a few other works by Oates, I expected this one to be like those – psychological, grim, and very disturbing. While it is all of those things, this novel sports a wonderful, crooked sense of humor as well. Like Shirley Jackson’s work, there is social satire to spare here, stemming from these real people’s responses to demonic activity. And though it may be funny, it also tends to get nasty. Oates has created a synthesis of the macabre, the grotesque, the political, and the tragic. It’s pure literary fun to watch Mark Twain, Jack London and Sinclair interact in a world where demons roam.

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Being a part of Oates’s Gothic series (which includes “Bellefleur” and “The Mysteries of Winterthurn”), this novel is written in high language and spares no detail. It moves slowly, which for some is a turn-off. But for those who are willing to wait for the Gothic nightmares to begin, the payoff is all the better for what is established before. The imagery and manifestations are suitably bizarre – possessed babies, toad-demons in a bog-castle, snakes ejecting from men’s throats – and, even better, visually represent the neuroses of the characters. Oates is brutal with the psychological dissection of her creations, and this is no exception.

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In spite of its slow pace and its ultimate focus on satire over horror, “The Accursed” is a wicked ghost story – more so because the supernatural elements explore the human characters. The period setting and springtime aura give the uncanny occurrences an air of elegance, almost loveliness. Oates’s universe is pleasant… until it’s not. The madness and horror that seep (or explode) through the historical trappings is of the highest order. It’s a hellish tale, poking through the fallacy of human belief and their sureness in themselves, finding corpses instead.

For an old-fashioned but gruesome epic of phantoms and broken minds, Oates has given us a gift. She is a craftsman of the highest order, as long as one has the patience. So take the vow and enter this work of nightmares – but know that those vows are binding.

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Short Story: DREAM-BLADE

Posted in Original Writing, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2016 by smuckyproductions

A piece of flash fiction that introduces an entity I mentioned in a few short stories. Intended as a player in the Red Door mythos. More on that soon…

DREAM-BLADE

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Above the blue sphere it could feel all. The dark pulse of sound and thought shred through it, washing over its invisible parts, the touch of strangers. It shuddered and began to whirl.

Mmmmvvvvvvvvvvvhhhhhhhhhhhh…

The blue sphere dimmed. It sensed infinite voices sigh in unison. Their thoughts muddled, confused with other things, and melted altogether. It trembled its blades and prepared. Yet, nothing rose from the sphere. There was no word for resistance in its vocabulary. It spun faster.

Mmmvvvvggggghhhgggg…

As always, some thoughts congealed and screamed. It had lost those minds. They would either wake and deem it a nightmare or self-destruct. The sleeping ones were its prize. It sensed their thoughts twitching, lifting, and responding. Their blue sphere turned grey. Humming with hunger, it quickened its vibrations and began to harvest.

The grey shape of their world faded, turned black, and then burst forth with a multitude of awful colors, spraying through the frequency, screaming with forms that deliquesced when the vibrations found them. Shapes emptied and thoughts became monsters as its frequency surrounded the sphere. Calling. Consuming. Whirring at a speed that destroyed.

Mmmmvvvvhhhhhh.

Mvh ghhhbbtyyyyyyg.

The last of the colors died out, and it was finished.

Some time later, perhaps in seconds or in eons, the blue sphere awoke. It would acknowledge its emptiness, but without thought, it could not despair. As the abandoned vessels wandered and wondered they would at times turn to the sky, the infinite blackness, where they could still hear the whirring of the dream-blade retreating in space.

Family-Friendly Horror in GRAVITY FALLS

Posted in Dark Musings, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Last night witnessed the finale of television’s greatest modern kid’s show, GRAVITY FALLS. Had someone pitched this to me and said “it’ll be a massive hit for Disney,” I would have laughed at them. How can a family-friendly Twin Peaks with hints of X Files and Lovecraft become a hit? As awesome as that sounds, today’s market for kids has become so PC and watered down that we would never expect Disney to greenlight such a dark premise. And yet, here we are.

Gravity-Falls

One of the contributing factors to this show’s success was its older audience. Millennials, people in their twenties, latched onto Gravity Falls and made it their own. In addition to attracting the Disney demographic, its intelligence and darkness widened the audience ingeniously. I think that’s a great sign.

I fell in love with this show because it was clear that Alex Hirsch loved the same things I did. He offered a part to David Lynch, references Lovecraft and John Carpenter all the time, and was not afraid to make things freaky. I’ll never forget the Summerween Trickster or Bill Cipher’s horrible laugh. Seriously, how did those things get into a kid’s show? Didn’t it traumatize people? Yes, it probably did – but I forget that I had my own traumatic content as a kid, too. And I loved it.

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Kids are far more resilient than we tend to believe. My generation grew up with safe  bubblegum shows too, but we also had Tim Burton, Scooby Doo, Snow White, Harry Potter and much more – all brands targeted at children, but featuring some seriously messed up shit. And I’m pretty sure we turned out fine. Being frightened in this controlled way taught us about darkness, and also taught us how to overcome it. Sure, we were still protected by a TV screen, but we understood what fear meant. That’s vital.

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Gravity Falls finds its boldness in its willingness to frighten, to thrill, and to break hearts. The monsters in this show are not easily defeated – the lead villain manipulates people’s minds and reveals their darkest desires, for God’s sake. Even I, a horror film maniac, got chills from some of these episodes. Carpenter’s The Thing makes an appearance, ghosts turn people into trees, and a dimension of nightmares opens to wreak havoc on a town that we’ve come to love.

And through this, Hirsch builds a story about growing up, familial bonds, and the prevailing strength of friendship. He couldn’t tug at our heartstrings so painfully without raising the stakes. So, against the normal child-safe mold, the Falls finale becomes a life-or-death fight for humanity. The plot structure is brilliant and the unfolding is shockingly terrifying. Without giving away the denouement, though, I’ll say this – Hirsch does not play it safe. He ends his show with tenderness, but also tough truth. And through that realism, the viewers feel what it means to grow, to change, and to celebrate those things. It’s not hackneyed or cheap – Hirsch earns these themes.MABEL, DIPPER

I could ramble on for several posts, but I’ll leave this one here. I hope that the success of Gravity Falls allows children’s media to explore the dark, the serious, and the scary – because it is important to encounter those emotions. Let this usher in an era of smarter and deeper content. Kudos to you, Alex Hirsch, for giving us this amazing series.

Short Story: DIANE’S WAY OUT, Part 2

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 6, 2016 by smuckyproductions

Part two of two. For the beginning, CLICK HERE.

DIANE’S WAY OUT (2)

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Her tears were falling now, and she sobbed without sound. The presence moved closer, so that its weight was on top of her, and though it was comforting, she shook with a chill beyond words – an extraterrestrial chill. Absurdly, she found herself wondering, why aren’t my tears turning to ice?

The chill then focused on the underside of her chin, and her head was lifted upward by a phantom hand. Her eyes found no others to look into, but the voice went on, “Would you like me to help you?”

The voice took its time, and in the pause, the sounds of the house overwhelmed Diane. She could hear the soft sleep breath of her children, the rumble of her husband’s snore, whispering in unison around her. Then the voice giggled and said, “You must leave that to me. Our methods are complex, and your mind would not comprehend them, not without damaging itself. But these methods are – how would you say? Foolproof. We do not know failure.”

In spite of the cold, Diane smiled, and then laughed aloud. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, foolproof. What do I do? What do you want me to do?”

“Go back to sleep,” the voice said, caressing. “You were, in fact, never awake at all – but go to sleep. When morning comes, you will find your wish granted. Do you understand?”

“Yes, perfectly, yes. But… how will I repay you for being so kind?”

“Oh, Diane…” The cold moved over her shoulders, and she felt a touch of air against her ear. “That should not worry you. Your freedom is so close. Don’t you want it, no matter what?”

The dread that had been creeping inside her writhed briefly and she pulled away from the cold weight. The breath of her children was undeniable in her ears, prodding, invading. Again she saw the impression of an alien face staring down, with the faintest trace of impatience. What have I done? she thought, shivering.

Through the noise and the fear, the burst of a human voice came to her – John, waking, grunting her name. “Diane, where’re you?” And the bile in her stomach boiled, rising into her throat and mouth; her brain filled with a thick black tar, spewing loathsome anguish. She looked back to the face that was not there and said, “Yes, I do.”

The laughter that answered her was not kind – the very walls shuddered with it. “Very good, Diane. Now go to sleep, darling – you will wake up and see.”

Her ears swelled with a terrible sucking sound, and then the hallway was empty, warm and rid of the presence. Diane held herself against the terror that was worming through her limbs. She thought again, and not for the last time, what have I done?

After she had followed the voice’s orders and fallen into a deep sleep, Diane dreamt. In the dream she floated through a dark blue void, full of movement and rumbling speech. All around her, though she could not see them, she sensed beings of immense size and power; bodies of amorphous matter, faces of stale air, slipping into and out of each other like slime. And she knew, if she so much as twitched, she would alert them to her presence. All night she held her breath and watched them, waiting, trying not to scream.

—-

Diane knew that something was different when she opened her eyes and saw that the sun was too high. When John usually woke her to make breakfast each morning, the sun was still slipping through the window in weak strands; now it had grown full and bright. She sat up in a panic. John would have her head on a stick if she were late. It was not until she felt the dampness, already congealing, that she remembered what she had dreamed.

With a quiet gurgle in her throat, Diane stared at the dark stain on her skin, the sheets, and the pillow. The bed had become a thick lake of maroon. Her eyes wanted to follow the trail, onto the floor and up against the curtains where a crumpled mound lay still. She shut them to avoid this image, but it had already seared itself into her eyelids. There was no scream, for her lungs were filled with liquid terror, and for a moment she thought that she, too, was going to die.

In jagged fragments, the voice’s prophecy returned to her, and she started to understand. Though her feet were unsteady, she rushed into the hall, to the children’s room at the end of the house. They might still be asleep, after all, without her to wake them up. She tried to open the door at a regular speed, not too slowly, and winced as the handle crashed into the opposite wall. The room was dark, curtains drawn, still littered with the bedroom war of the previous night. Caroline’s arm hung out of the bed, still unmoving, and Ty’s little shape lay buried beneath his rocket ship comforter. They’re just asleep, of course, just sleeping, she told herself, placing a hand to her pounding chest. But the smell came to her in the end, and she knew; the voice had fulfilled its promise after all.

“Free,” Diane said to the dead air, going back into the hall, smiling painfully. “Free at last.” Time became strange for her, and it was not until noon that she called the police.

“And what time did you wake up? When did you find them?” the man said. He, like the others, arrived moments following Diane’s call; all day they had been sniffing like dogs. The three stretchers with the three bags on top had already been wheeled out, and once the investigators were gone, she would be alone in the house. That word dominated her, even through the questions. Alone.

Thus, the man’s last question almost escaped her. “Only a moment ago,” she said. “I mean, a moment before I called. I was so confused, I didn’t know what to do. There was so much… so much…”

She watched the man, but his expression did not change. “Only a moment ago,” he said. He looked at her, and she had the urge to slap him, for staring so intently. “That’s late to wake up, on a weekday. Isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is late, it is strange. John… he always wakes me. I slept so late, because he…”

“Sure, sure,” the man said. “But one thing gets at me, here. If you called us so soon after you woke up, how did you have time to get all dressed and cleaned?”

Diane gazed at him. The hours slipped away, you see, the void came back and I don’t remember! she started to say, but the voice, the strength, were not there. She knew the silence would not help her, and the choked noises were telling them another story. Did I put on makeup? Did I do my hair? She tried to laugh, but the man only looked more intently, and waved his hand to someone behind her.

“Miss,” he said, “I’m afraid we will have to hold you for further questioning.”

Once the second man took hold of her and led her to the car, surrounded by the flashing red-blue, Diane fell back into the void from whence the voice had come. It was colder now, and the voice distant, its non-face vague. As the flashing lights dimmed, she said to the darkness, “Why don’t you help me? This isn’t freedom. This is not what you promised.”

For some time the voice did not reply. Diane thought she could hear it, humming a song from far away. Her mind wandered in its absence, and the ghosts of a hundred news stories floated to her – the domestic violence, the acts of vengeance; and how did all of those stories end? How many of those sorry people went to trial and were told of their irreversible fate? She was not sure of the number, but she knew enough, and she felt the tears come down, spurred on by the truth of her destiny. And, summoned by her tears, the voice returned to her.

“Why do you despair, my child?” it cooed, so softly, around her. “I did help you. And now, here you are – your wish granted.”

“But I will be locked away,” Diane cried. “And they’ll sentence me… don’t you know they’ll choose that punishment? You said you would make me free, and let me be happy. Please…”

The voice laughed, and it was not cruel; her tears were stopped. “My child,” it said, “you musn’t be ungrateful, now, after all we have done. We have fulfilled our promise. You are free. They are gone from you now. They can’t hurt you any longer. Whatever else comes to you, they are gone, and thus you are free.”

 The voice left her then, and she saw that the driver was staring at her, but she did not mind him. Her thoughts were lost in the void, surrounded by the massive moving darkness, brushing past things that were dead, that she would soon join; and in the void, she understood that the voice was right. She smiled, and laughed. “Goodbye, John; goodbye, Caroline; Ty, my child, my children, goodbye. I will not see you where I am going.”

Short Story: DIANE’S WAY OUT, Part 1

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2016 by smuckyproductions

The first section to a horror story I wrote about a year ago. An homage to Shirley Jackson, with a bit of cosmic dread thrown in for good measure. 

DIANE’S WAY OUT

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The chicken, pink and raw, squelched when Diane pressed her nail into its surface. Too soft, she thought, and no blood. She retracted her nail and, shivering, wondered where that thought had come from. She dropped the mauled chicken onto the pan and listened to it burn.

Upstairs she heard one of her children scream. Her spine shuddered and she clenched her teeth against it. The scream must have come from Ty – still youthful and piggish, not yet fully human. Caroline was taunting him again, she was sure, pinching him or spitting at him. “Caroline, stop it!” Diane yelled, and the sound jarred her head into a dull throb. One day, I swear, one day… She pressed down on the chicken with a spatula until the juice sputtered in boiling snaps. They would complain about the chicken, and maybe the mashed potatoes, too. John would want something heartier – more exotic, he would say. She didn’t know what he meant by exotic. But the chicken was already in the freezer, and she did not have time to go to the store, not with the children tearing at each other in the back seat the whole ride. Let them complain.

“DADDY!” The scream rooted in Diane’s brain and she thought her head might rupture. John was home. A thin coil of dread unwound inside her.

The laughter, too, made her intestines cringe. It reminded her distantly of witches cackling before the sacrifice. She stared into the pan and tried to fill her ears with the juice’s sizzling. The stabs of their voices still came through – Caroline was telling her father about some contest she had won at school, as Ty squawked over her to be picked up. Bit by bit, their words blended together until all she could hear was a merciful drone; and then John said, “Where’s your mother?”

They betrayed her without a thought. “In the kitchen! In the kitchen!” She held the spatula like a knife as his careless footsteps crunched toward her. His frame, rectangular and silhouetted, appeared in the doorway.

“Dinner’s not ready yet?”

“No, I had a lot to do today. It won’t be much longer.”

His shape remained for a moment, glowering, then turned to the stairs and crunched away. She shot daggers through her eyes and wondered, too late, what would have happened if she had thrown the pan at him. The chicken, bubbling in the grease, had started to look like hardened skin.

It wasn’t so long before the meat was cooked through and the potatoes were mashed. In the pasty kitchen light, the potatoes looked like opaque sludge, the chicken like petrified flesh. She smiled at this notion, though she knew they would complain all the more, and today, she didn’t know if she could hold back. There was a dark sphere surrounding her when she took the platters into the dining room, where John and the children were already waiting. They glared at her from their places and she widened her smile until her sight blurred.

John waited only an instant before grumbling, “Chicken again?”

“There was nothing else. I didn’t have time to go to the store.”

“Didn’t have time,” John said to himself. “Didn’t have time. What was it that you did all day?”

Diane’s throat closed. She fumbled in her thoughts for the proper response, but it would not come. “It doesn’t matter, John, I’ll go tomorrow. We can enjoy this, can’t we?”

“I hate chicken,” Caroline said, and the words were needles in Diane’s ears.

“You will eat your chicken, you must. Now, let’s all sit down and have a nice dinner, all right?”

“But I don’t like it!” Caroline shouted.

Diane took her seat forcefully and served the chicken over Caroline’s yelling. Ty was inspired by his sister to laugh, a toad-like sound that could have been a strangled man’s last cries. Diane could not rid herself of that image. She wondered if there were any bones in this chicken, bones that could get stuck and scratch away, until the laughter turned to silent gasps.

“Overdone,” John muttered through his food.

She looked at him and saw that his plate was nearly empty. Hers remained untouched. It looked worse than before, dry and wrinkled, rotting.

—-

“Diane. I will let you out.”

The voice was in a dream, but when she woke, she found that the presence was real. It had filled the room while she slept – an alien heaviness across the ceiling. John slept on, breath rattling in his nose, without acknowledging the voice. She waited for another word, all the while wondering why she was not afraid.

From the air she heard, “Follow me.” Then the presence shook away from her, and as the door opened, it blew into the murk of the hallway. The air became light again, but it was now cold, and Diane new she had little choice but to, indeed, follow.

The hallway was still, except for the murmur of the children’s breaths drifting from their room. They had been resistant to the idea of sleep, as they were most nights, and Diane had barely been able to stop the screams without beating them into silence. Even when she had lain down, next to John’s sweat-stinking body, the screaming had threatened her with the possibility of its return. Her appetite had come back by then, but she refused to pay it attention – John had already thrown out her chicken in a fit of mute disgust. For her, sleep had come reluctantly and without grace. But she was awake now, facing an unseen intruder. That was the wrong word, of course, because this presence had made itself welcome. Diane was unafraid for the first time in a long, long while.

“Yes, Diane, you have no cause to fear me,” the voice cooed, smooth as black velvet. “I am here to make you happy again.”

That word sent a pulse of electricity into Diane’s skull. It was an awful suggestion, because she word was forbidden in her vocabulary. Yet, this honey voice was assuring. She knew, somehow, that it was not lying to her.

“How?” she whispered to the darkness.

“By granting your wish,” the voice laughed. “I know how long you’ve been calling. You thought no one was listening. I listened. And now, you will be free of your sorrows at last.”

Free. Diane felt weak. She leaned against the banister and closed her eyes. Against the lids, she thought she could see the projected image of her guest – a halo of white glow, surrounding the lightless impression of a smiling and inhuman face, carved out of the darkest shade. The first stab of dread went through her. What kind of face is this? she thought. She opened her eyes and the impression stayed, but only for a moment. The hallway was empty.

“What are you?” she said. Her voice was high and weightless, like a child’s.

“It would be difficult to explain to your ears,” the voice said carefully. “You may not understand. It is better if you do not, in fact. Let us just say that I am here to give you what you want.”

What I want, she thought. What is it that I want?

“Why, you want a happy life! You want to be rid of the people who take away your freedom! Is that not what you want?”

Each word ripped into Diane and she thought she might sob. Yes, she told herself, that is my terrible dream. She hated the intruder now, coming into her home like this, stealing her private thoughts, and resurrecting her want. What right did the intruder have? Her tears did not come, but she had to grip the banister to keep her knees from failing.

“You musn’t cry,” the voice said. “No one would blame you for dreaming of this. In fact, any other might not have been able to withstand it as long as you have. Day after day, enduring the screams and the crying, holding back when you just want to scream at them yourself so they understand how you suffer? Slaving away at meals that get thrown out and scrubbing the house clean only to watch them ruin it so gleefully; all this, and never a word of thanks, of kindness. You’re watching them make jokes, long and cruel ones, and you are the punch line. They never see you as a member of their family – you may as well be a prisoner of war. What person deserves this life, Diane? Not you, not anymore.”

—-

Stay tuned for Part 2 of DIANE’S WAY OUT tomorrow, 1/6!

Short Story: BEARING GIFTS

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 23, 2015 by smuckyproductions

 

In the nights before Christmas, a different kind of gift giving… one kept in shadow.

BEARING GIFTS

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The snow tried to follow her inside, buffeting the dust and gauze of the empty hall, until she forced the door shut. Without the wind and the snow’s glare, the house was utterly desolate. In the early days it had nauseated her to be alone there. She could feel the weight of all the silent rooms, the winding corridors pressing down on her, tempting their secrets. Now she had grown accustomed, though the wind still sounded like a warning as it begged for entry.

Clutching her bundle, she stepped across the wasted floorboards and approached the ballroom doors, which hung ajar in anticipation. Their moaning movement revealed what once had been a grand ballroom. She imagined it, glowing with candles and extravagant fabrics, a rebellion against the blasted land outside. All that remained of that glamour were the web-shrouded chandeliers and the cavernous yawning windows. They still leaked blue light into the room, enough to reveal the silhouette crouched in the center.

She never took more than three steps into the room. It was enough to made the shadow stir, ripple into movement. A sigh whipped around the ceiling; then, the wheezing voice. “You bring dinner.”

So many years and those words still rattled her spine. “Yes, I did.”

She did not look at the shadow anymore. In the beginning she had made the mistake of doing so. The impressions of grey flesh, distended from misery, and the tatters of an unused bridal gown squeezed over the rotten frame, would never leave her mind. It was best to close her eyes and present the bundle blind.

There was shifting, the crackle of old bones, then the bundle was ripped from her arms. She tried not to listen as the bundle stirred, cried, then extinguished with the crunching of teeth. The chewing dragged on for several moments until the swallowing throat belched and groaned in disgusted satisfaction.

“Done,” the voice sobbed. “Done…”

The sobbing was the worst. She could bear the grotesque shape, the chewing; even the preparation, creeping into silent homes and lifting the bundles from their cradles to satisfy her ward. That was all, she knew, necessary. But to hear this creature, who had once twirled beneath the chandelier with ultimate grace and promise, shaking and blubbering in such degeneration… She ran from the room, holding her hands over her ears until she had burst back into the storm.

Outside and concealed, she withdrew the knife from her dress. She had been carrying it for weeks. When the sobbing became too awful she would use it and end the cycle, allow that deformed body to rest. It would be an act of mercy. But the time had not yet come. She could still hear the innocence, the pure beauty, of that cursed child, trapped somewhere in the body of a beast.

Short Story: ON THE WIND

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Here is a story for the beginning of winter, and the strange, liminal phenomenon of snowstorms at night.

ON THE WIND

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The streets emptied themselves when the snow fell in earnest. Lamps pooled cold light on abandoned drifts, frozen seas of ice, an alien landscape laid over one too familiar. Houses revealed their warmth through glowing windows and shuttered walls. Inside, people pretended to listen to the wind, ignoring how it begged. Trees bowed to the wind, earth withdrew to escape its blast. It owned the world on these nights. And across its domain it carried voices.

On the sunlit days that clamored with the cries of the living, these voices would be lost. They waited until the snow fell in thick palls and masked their whispers. Then they disembarked from close hollows and reunited with the world that was once theirs. Anyone who wandered into the storm might hear their cries, brushing against frozen ears, but no one ever believed what they heard. In that way the voices were merciful. They wanted one thing, and it did not concern the living.

In a flurry of ice and wind the voices collided. It was almost like touching. Their forgotten molecules flew against each other and joined. Through the dark rushing air they could feel their words.

My love.

I longed for you. I almost couldn’t –

Hush. We are here. We are here.

Trees moaned, branches sagged, the moon hid behind grey clouds. The wind became their breath and their flesh. For a moment, so brief in the span of their eternity, they could press against and into each other. It was a kind of intimacy that they had never known while still alive. They tried to cry and howl, instead whispering their ecstasy over the snow, which stirred and trembled at the sound.

It was never long enough. The wind returned and ripped them apart before they could ever finish. Daylight began to seep into the kingdom of ice, banishing all who muttered there. They whistled in torment as the gusts carried their particles back into the dark emptiness, where they would wait for another storm; and as they went their voices whipped the snow, dangling from blind rooftops and sleeping trees, into glistening icicles.