“Are there gnomes under there!!!???” In the shrillest of voices the man, who was standing on the corner in nothing more than a shiny, teal hand-towel said this. Amshrad shivered and cringed as he heard this - this purest of follies. He had been observing the man in the towel for some time from across the cobblestone street, perched on a granite-cross topping the gravestone underfoot. His shape melded into the night and shadows around him. Amshrad’s garb accentuated his unity with the embracing darkness and rendered himself invisible to the toweled man. Amshrad’s high-necked sweater that was blacker than coal, his boot-cut pants that were the hue of midnight, and his boots that were no lighter in tone than the darkest of smoke all smothered his otherwise bright paleness. The continuity of his ebony silhouette was broken only by the pallid flesh of his hands and face. Burgundy echoed in the night from his hair, but the toweled man heard no noise of this. Amshrad’ pin-prick grey eyes appeared as stars in the backdrop and the toweled man paid them no mind.
Amshrad was reminded of his first time when he hadn’t succeeded. It was the same place he was now, although much more populated and a block or two down. He stalked then because he had to and he did so now because he had to, that had never changed. He was nervous that night long ago and was twitching with appetite, gritting his teeth. Unfortunately his jittery prey heard him and dashed off like a bunny in a garden bed being discovered by the gardener. What had changed since then was Amshrad’ determination and skill. He had learned so much. Patience.
It was not so stressing that the man Amshrad studied now was nearly naked and a ghostly, gangly representation of a man for Amshrad bore his own gaunt visage. It was the fact that the toweled man inquired as to the presence of gnomes under a bloated corpse, strewn carelessly on the street. That and the toweled man had been talking to his little quivering dog tucked under his arm while he and his dog bent closer to inspect the corpulent corpse. He dug his finger into the dead, dissolving belly. The man’s towel plummeted and revealed his shame to the world as he struggled to free his digit from the corpse. What am I seeing?
Amshrad sifted through all the documented cases of stupid people that he had crossed paths with during his lifetime in his mind. Nothing, not even the substitute teacher who had claimed that a local dragon had recently eaten his dog came close to this situation. Not even the Fanta-starved transient who had asked Amshrad how he would make bread in the winter when the trees died and then proceeded to shake nearby trees for all the flour they could yield had measured up to this. The stupidity was not even consistent. That was especially true for the case Amshrad was witnessing now. Although Amshrad had an aversion to these indigents, his morbid curiosity often held him in place to see what ignorance they were capable of. This aside from the fact that Amshrad believed it was important to study his prey due to the many breed of it these days.
“When in doubt, pull out!” In the same strident shrillness these words were screeched from the mutt-toting man. The grip Amshrad had on his highlighter and current fetish - which he had been fiddling with all along - tightened as that statement reached his brain. The sheer nonsense of the declaration had triggered a reflex which made Amshrad’s fists weaken the integrity of the highlighter. In the same instance, Amshrad witnessed the toweled man’s finger popping free from the corpse’s cavity in a spray of decomposing juices and a flurry of rancid pieces of fat. The mosaic of globules came to a rest as the toweled man reeled and landed on the ashen earth. While he collected his thoughts, his shaken lump of fur twitched to his side and hopped into his lap. Then, something caught the toweled man’s attention, for the he whipped his head around and glared off into the night haze. Amshrad focused on a row of pine trees several hundred meters beyond the pale man. My eyes only see trees, nothing more.
Amshrad’ eyes, after an encounter with the less intellectually inclined, were filled with red prior to this instance. He would rant with rage, hinge on hate, and condemn with contempt. He would break things in half and through them as well, if the situation called for it. In recent times, red had become obsolete-Amshrad eyes now swam in deep crimson. That’s when he found he needed a mantra item to calm himself, much like his highlighter.
“CHRISTMAS TREES!!!!!!!” The man was indeed fixed upon the trees beyond the ashen field which stretched for miles. Neon-yellow fluid glowed brightly over Amshrad’s pale hands as its shell splintered. Amshrad’ anger in witnessing this man being so utterly foolish had finally peaked. After that voice stopped ringing inside Amshrad’s braincase he saw the sorry soul speed into the coniferous oblivion. Foolish to follow a fool.
Amshrad’s first night was much like this evening; except he met his lover. Their bond was not made in front of any witnesses, no pastor leading vows, no chapel or church save the elements nipping at their flesh. They were bound in the most somber of manners, yet it was one of the most amazing experiences of Amshrad. He did not recall every detail about that fateful night, though he remembered only how the light from inside Turia’s eyes shone brilliantly and was tinted blue-white. Near the closing of that day long ago, there was immense redemption and comfort embracing the purest love. That night, so long ago, was the night he was dead. That night, long ago, was the night he was wed. That night was the night he was bred. Turia would be there when he returned home this evening, ready to revive him again with little more than beholding her.
With a deft nudge from his long-pale fingers tipped with pointed-jetty nails, Amshrad’ ornate glasses traveled back up his pasty nose. Moonlight glinted off the copper finish of the rims inlaid with silvery skulls as he shifted on his perch. And with a breath, Amshrad’ shape was replaced by the shadow of a spindly tree surviving a single, burgundy leaf. Turia will comfort a lost soul.
He often wondered how many times he himself should have been dead, how many times he should have been gone from existence. There was a point when Amshrad had tried ending his own life because he had grown sick of seeing all he had known die and pass while he lived on. Turia, however, had not departed from his side during their journey through time together, inspiring him. Often she would whisper things to him that made him relax and his blood run warm again.
The mires Amshrad passed over every night on his route home warmed his cold heart, as well. They lay between his domain and the last settlement of humans in the area. It wasn’t much of a mystery why he enjoyed this spot for this was where it had happened - countless moons prior. It reminded him of who he was; this was his second birth place, his new beginning. Ethereal mists inhaled what little light there was from the moon fighting through the charcoal clouds and exhaled shadowy-wraiths that hovered over the glassy-bleakness of the Gaunt Swamp. Never could be a more apt name. Never gets old, either.
Amshrad could see that fateful day very clearly in his mind. Each time he passed over the Gaunt Swamp, recollections of his previous life arose. And each time he was surprised at how much of his previous life he still harbored in his mind. He helped formed a group of highly trained and skilled humans who were protectors for the bands of humans scattered and lost throughout the landscape. Scattered because the world’s population, in the late twenty-second century, had inevitably personified their prejudices and hatreds into veritable Horsemen, leaving the earth and its inhabitants decimated.
The surrounding cypress trees were withered and sickly in nature, adding to the luster found in the Gaunt Swamp. Cypress trees, at least this breed, resembled risen creatures more than anything alive. Nothing was healthy brown; nothing was bright green; all was in hue of un-life. Whites highlighted earthly browns and grays scorned blacks. Bones bulged beneath the peeling bark of the cypress’ slumping, weary branches. Rot oozed from the cores of their diseased knots. Amshrad thought perhaps the trees had been returned as he had been - that sort of thing would fit the Gaunt Swamp’s disposition. One place I should always welcome a visit to.
The living was not the only type of danger that the humans had to be wary of in this new era. Amshrad recalled that the archaic inhabitants of the world who had drifted into myths and legends became infuriated at the blatant disregard and misuse of their domain. Once the world was darkened and scorched by the humans, the inhuman emerged with a lust for removal of the human. Amshrad thought fondly of what it was like to live amidst not only hostile humans, but also the vengeful myths of old. So many times he found himself, or so he recalled, thinking how things have changed.
Not much was alive, in the sense Amshrad used to understand it, here in the Gaunt Swamp. For all he knew, the bats that shot through the Gaunt Swamp every night were the only inhabitants it had. Although, he did know that those bats had never once taken refuge there. With all its grim permanence, this bastion of humus powered Amshrad, allowed him to thrive. Cypress after cypress swayed towards Amshrad over the stagnant water and embraced his passing through the Murk, but receded and wept with his exiting. Soon I will return.
Amshrad had been investigating a lead from his superiors in the heart of the Swamp- he was alone, which was standard for his band of guardians. That is when the thing came to him, but he couldn’t recall from which direction. Amshrad did, at least, remember lodging his rough hewn blade into the sternum of that thing - yet it stood. He recalled how he was paralyzed with fright and awe; the creature in front of him stood and chuckled. It possessed demonic gait and speed, and then it was so graceful while in front of him. Amshrad could do nothing to stop that thing from grappling his dazed and frozen frame. The thing, which smelt of limitless sorrow and evil, embraced Amshrad with the purest form of daunting doom.
There was one place more inspiring to Amshrad than the Gaunt Swamp and its past. That place was what he called the Lightning Fields. The Gaunt Swamp slowly gave birth to a vein of oily-water that smelled of spoiled meat, and it followed, with some angularity, crags draped with lichen for countless leagues. As far as Amshrad could see, gigantic boulders stabbed deep into the scorched-bow of the sky overhead. The dusted chalk-pillars held up all that was left in this world which he feared. What he feared and loved: chance alone. Every other stone-knife lodged in the sky acted as a conduit between, harnessing the power of lightning every other second. Streaks of sharp white adjudication dotted the horizons and encircled Amshrad. Yet the rush of narrowly avoiding blinding beam after blinding beam never lost its appeal. It had been this way for two centuries, and had never altered. Amshrad tried not to think of the consequences of being struck down by one of those bolts. That never worked; though, as his imagination always ran rampant with images of his own ashen demise. Just as Amshrad finished his portentous thought, he was shaken as a near granite-blade was illuminated by ten million volts of celestial wrath. The loudest white and the most blinding crack seared though Amshrad’ brain and sent him into a gyroscopic tumble. Luck, often enough, will save a man - if his courage holds.
At the very moment, that night long ago, when Amshrad wept for his soul, the whole world around him was enveloped in the purest of white light. The thing’s teeth withdrew from Amshrad’ neck and its ecstasy over feeding was interrupted when an obscure figure in the distance, in the heart of the light, screamed something incomprehensible. An imposing female voice reverberated in Amshrad’s bones as it seemed to be admonishing the thing. What proceeded has never been exactly clear to Amshrad, for he was quickly tossed to the reeds underfoot, and had no energy to get up to see what was happening. Amshrad recalled traveling to and fro, in and out of consciousness. He remembered his own warm blood painting the contours of his neck and shoulders. What was clear was the clanging of metal, screams, grunts, and curses; all the sounds of an epic struggle. On occasion, when Amshrad was conscious, he recalled flashes of bright indigo and sprays of red in the air. As the battle raged, the earth shuddered and the air blazed, as did Amshrad’ enfeebled body. The thing must have been vanquished in the conclusion of the struggle, for it was the most beautiful of sights that knelt over Amshrad’ violated body and spirit, not that ugly beast who had incapacitated him. He had never beheld such a face-full of affection and love before and it seemed to awaken something in him. He felt the most at ease in that moment than at any time prior that point in his life. As she pressed her bosom hidden in studded-leather closer and raised him into her lap for comfort, Amshrad reached out a trembling hand and gasped. The last thing Amshrad remembered before blacking out again was that the woman gently streaked a pattern into Amshrad’ forehead with her finger and breathed onto his lips.
When Amshrad had gathered his composure and regained his orientation, he noticed he had been sent askew from his path. However, it did not take more than a breath’s length for the spindly artery of pungency, imbedded into the boulders at the bases of the giant stones, to come back into Amshrad’ peripheral vision. The modest river was how Amshrad navigated through the Lightning Fields. It also allowed him to return easily to what remained of his heart and soul. After so many travels over the river’s duration, Amshrad knew how to return without it. It was a timeless companion, though, and he did not want to abandon it. Of things that yet exhilarated him in this world, following the river and dodging lightning definitely qualified. Amshrad had been subjected to many forms of injury, nearly all forms he could think of, and yet he lived. Again, his morbid curiosity compelled him to entice the only form of injury he had never incurred. Someday I shall feel its crackling grip upon my heart and mind.
Amshrad had awoken with a start and had no idea of where he had been or where he was. Standing over him was that same edifice of heavenly beauty that saved him. Her sinuously strong figure induced a swath of memories to divide his brain. Amshrad looked around and every time he blinked to clear his eyes, he saw blurred grays until finally he only saw pockets of color. When he could see clearly again, he peered into the eye’s of his future. She whispered her name with a hush; Turia. Where she had been sent from she did not say, but her purpose had been clear enough to Amshrad.
There was an equally exhilarating point in his journey home. It was actually at a juncture where the Lightning Fields and the river faded into a nebulous horizon. A thick, soupy, and abysmal fog diffused the lightning and he would see white, then gray, white again, gray once more, then nothing. In one instant all was clouded to Amshrad’s gaze, a few seconds later, the haze of the Lightning Fields regurgitated him to a much different place. The earthen floor below drops straight down, nearly back to the Pit of Acheron, while the rest of the world unravels in all directions to infinity.
Turia sought to educate Amshrad about what he had become and how to survive his new disease and life. She explained what had happened as if to a child; Amshrad understood that had been to insure he was to fully grasp what had happened. A disease it was, as it infected people and destroyed them by the touch of a carrier. Now, he was infected, he was destroyed, and she was going to save him. Turia had become his guardian until he was strong and experienced enough to be on his own. Turia and Amshrad pressed far from the human population, nearly to the ancient’s land. There they lived together in bliss. Amshrad had never known such compassion and never had experienced love, let alone this unconditional and grateful kind he felt for her. He had only thought that experience was a figment of his imagination.
The Maw quaffed the acrid pleasantry of the modest river Amshrad had been following home as a black-bear would bee’s honey. It was an oval gorge, the Maw, walled by jagged rocks and abandoned spires. At the center of the Maw stood a tree whose own history marched towards infinity as did its stature, yet the tree did not even reach the top of the Maw. The tree was twenty-five full arm-lengths wide at its base and nearly three times as high as the base was wide at its most skyward branch. It often reminded Amshrad of a skeletal-hand with hundreds of twisted fingers erupting out of the ground, clawing at the air. All around the gnarled, wooden edifice, sinews of archaic grasses waved inwards. Amshrad always paused in the sky at this moment to take in the Maw’s absolute expansiveness and splendor. Perfectly hidden away.
Amshrad had come to ground level at the tree’s base and hovered a bit in thought. Overhead he noticed the amazing spectacle that followed his nightly ventures. Hundreds of flickering bats spiraled and converged onto the limbs of Amshrad’s tree. The cacophony made his eyes briefly shut and he would feel the bats’ echoes within his core. These bats were now his familiars. After planting his feet firmly and swallowing the cool, crisp air he began his deliberate stride towards the tree while the last few straggler bats claimed crooks in the upper fifth of the tree. That always makes me sneeze.
Dim light filled the large entrance of his domain as he lit several candles located on wrought iron sconces with a flick of his fingers. Spirals of browned time layered the ceiling of his dwelling and matched the surface at his feet. Amshrad quietly made his way to the middle of the room at which point a spiral stair case descended into the ground. He followed its pattern for several feet before stepping onto a cold stone floor.Amshrad had not stridden two paces as he heard the faintest of moans emanate from his chamber. It was actually their bedroom, underground for obvious reasons to him. What does Turia taunt me with?
As he opened his chamber door his blood stopped flowing. All he had wanted to come home to was his heart and soul both of which lived in the beautiful entity known as Turia who was his add-on-life-long companion. Amshrad wanted to curl up next to her and feel part of something, he wanted to feel whole. He would hold her in new circumstances. WHAT IS THIS DEVILRY?
Amshrad rushed to his Turia’s side; she was chained to the chamber wall by her throat and feet. There was not enough slack to allow her body to fully slump to the floor. At the base of each of Turia’s shoulder’s were bloodied stumps of feathered flesh. Amshrad crumpled to the ground at her side and embraced her nearly lifeless body in his arms. He could not see straight with the onset of his emotions, but he could see clearly enough the vision of the disgraced remains of Turia’s burnt wings smoldering in a heap by her side. His inside felt simultaneously on fire and inevitably numb. Amshrad strained to comfort Turia, but he was no strong hearted person. She had several large wounds on her arms and legs, almost as if there had been a sort of gruesome, cruel bloodletting. Amshrad had not noticed all of her velvet-life that he had sat in and that was pooling around him. In all his anger, he had to know who was responsible. The adrenaline that was still active in his body made him crazy with searing thoughts of merciless justice and revenge for this cruel act of cowardice. Nothing in the world can reconcile this foul deed!
“Who did this . . . what foulest breed of thing or man . . . who my love? Who has killed us both this day?” Amshrad asked as his voice shook from sorrow, agony, and rage. He brushed back her matted hair in an attempt to see one last glimpse of her wondrous eyes.
Turia managed to open her eyes slightly and there Amshrad saw the light of her soul no longer lit. She struggled to speak through her broken spirit and even more broken body. It came out so painfully for Amshrad to hear that he cried out in contempt for the person who believed such a woman as Turia deserved this fate. A hand reached up and touched his cheek. He felt her say that she loved him one last time. His heart was focused now.
“Th . . . ancients . . . why? I was one of . . . ,” was all that Turia could utter before she gasped her last, sweet breath.
Amshrad’ fists clenched to the point of breaking, ground his teeth to dust, and screamed with tragic despair, and then he curled himself tightly around Turia’s body as if to absorb the last of her warmth to inspire himself. My heart and soul - no more. Now, I have truly died.