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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Michael Steven: Nightspeak

ym_94_nightspeak_hstanton.jpg
Art by Henry Stanton 2022

NIGHTSPEAK

 

Michael Steven

 

    Flesh to bone and back again, death feeds life and with every blemish on her face a new creature is born. We cannot conquer, master, or tame such a beast. To overcome we must abandon our ways and walk and play by nature’s rules. In this place no man has ever stood or cried out of fear, here we are the first.

     I do pray for sleep, like our path it eludes us. My compass has been set upon my hired hand to which I heard he is the best, for that I have become unsure. The mangey hill that overlooks the swampy land beyond disappears as we venture forth, only to return at days end. I have gone as far as to count my strides and leave rocky formations, all of which are no longer present the following day. As if matters could not be more dire, my companion has developed the oddest of nightly habits. He chatters you see. I can hear his tongue and teeth clicking away an awful sound. At times I swear I can hear him just outside my tent wandering the night chattering away. Like a child, my hands grip blankets tight as the seconds tick away. Dawn was near.

    “Morning.” Simon greeted, his mouth full of morning stew that made his words come out wet.

    I returned a nod of agreement. The sun rose steady, its creamy glow laid a soft blanket of warmth giving comfort against Simon’s beady eyes and dark stubble. Sunken, he rocked in his seat looking more insect than man.

    “Did you sleep well?” Simon asked, his mouth now empty, voice sounding hoarse.

    Hoarse indeed, perhaps my companion’s throat has fallen victim to his own chatter. “Did you not hear the commotion?” I asked, hoping to shed light on the situation.

    Simon stirred his stew a bit, keeping his eyes down. “Commotion? Can’t say I did. Slept right through the night I’m afraid.” He broke eyes with his meal, “perhaps a dream?”

    “Perhaps.”

    With the sun hanging low in the sky, we thought best to pack camp while the day air still cool. Civilization according to the map was seven miles due north through thick brush, this news would have been welcomed if not for earlier failed attempts. Simon revealed that ‘we should arrive at Ft. Jackson by midday. Long before the night falls’ but this, like before, held little weight. The forest thick, pressed our shoulders like the weight of the ocean, claustrophobic and exhausted we ventured forth. Only feet away he would dart in and out of sight only to reappear to my left then again to my right, he was all around me and yet nowhere to be found. Ancient trees with their long branches tore holes and jagged scars in our clothes, their wandering fingers felt purposeful as if to deter us from moving further, yet we pressed forward, and I too pressed my question.

    “Are you feeling well?” I could not see his face, only his torn pants and shirt were visible.

    “Well? I feel fine, why do you ask?” His shirt rippled in the wind but there was hardly a breeze.

    “Your throat this morning.”

    Simon returned silence; his shirt continued to dance in the breezeless forest air. Something lay hidden, almost visible through the gashes in his shirt. Things with far too many legs and eyes crawled on his skin I am sure of it. I could almost see them scurry in and out of his torn flaps. There for a moment but gone before I could catch sight. His body had become an upturned log, a hiding place for the forest floor. I feared his presence, yet I needed him. Simon’s head bowed from side to side before craning up towards the falling sun. His body creaked like old boards as his bones became too big for his skin, it was a horrible sight. Then it began, his teeth clicked away a dreadful tattoo that stirred the nature of the forest. A spider spun strange geometry above my head as if to catch the very sounds radiating from Simon’s mouth. Two birds fought mid flight as something large in the distance called our attention with outreached hands. I felt faint, my eyes rolled back, I staggered and clung to the nearest tree. Simon turned on his heels, his eyes now colorful flowers blinking with every exhale of his sunken chest.

    I reached out a hand “Stop, please stop.” Pointless my pleads became as Simon picked up pace in my direction, the pedals on his face blinked rapidly. I fell to one knee with outreached hands, “No!” my screams echoed as the pounding of feet in soft dirt closed in. I shielded my eyes as darkness took hold.

    I awoke in night; the day had passed without me. Simon sat on a rock toying with small branches, his face sullen and wandering. A dream is all, I took comfort here and simply fell asleep. “Simon? Where are we?” my voice soft and confused.

    He pointed to a path of moonlit darkness. I squinted trying to shake my hazy mind. Just through the break in trees the hill appeared. Its wide shoulders and deep crevices displayed a ghastly face with little emotion.

    We were back to where we started, there was at this point no where left to run, another day walking in circles with no hope of salvation. I gathered to my feet and dusted myself off, “Now what?” I feared his answer.

    “We make camp.” Simon replied with an empty tone. His now relaxed shirt brought no comfort.

    The thought of another night in the shadow of the hill brought gooseflesh and cold waves of anxiety. My mind, like Simon, had begun to spin towards madness. The moon bloomed with howling dogs that rattled my tent or were they cries of children? Night transformed simple things into unfamiliar creatures. I peered at my companion’s tent, it flexed and released like a lung echoing sounds of grinding teeth. His dreadful words were incoherent, I either could not understand or choose not to.

    I cried out “Simon!” The air became electric, the hairs on my arms and neck stood tall. I turned my gaze to the sky and cried out again, “Please God Simon!” My words lost on the moonlight highway.  

    Large, serrated clouds pregnant with lightning now loomed eerily atop the hill. The horrors I saw brought new fear to this place. Twisted shadows caught starlight and gave shape, savages danced on the ridge to the workings of Simon’s tongue and teeth. Man is the only animal to hide its nudity, yet these beasts danced as bare as the moonlight on their skin. I reverted my eyes to a flash of lightning that set the hill ablaze. Flames roared. An orgy of hands reached the heavens. Golden hair gave birth from flaming tips, its body now faces swallowing the hill and night sky. Tilted they did, turned and fed on each other’s mouths in a long kiss.

    Simon appeared at my side, his eyes sparkled silver in the night, breath hot as he chattered in my ear. I tried to pull away but like the clashing clouds and thunderous sky I drew near. He spoke of the world as if it were sentient. “We come from it and not it from us,” his hand pointed to the masquerade of creatures “we are no less natural than those who dance in the shadows. Flesh to bone and back again, God will hold your soul within the seed of life and from it a forest will grow.” Simon beckoned to the hill “the fire will cleanse this land and bring us back to the beginning, and so the cycle will continue.”

    My jaw grew tense and tongue new form. Simon’s starry eyes washed over me and so my teeth began to chatter as his did those dreadful days ago. My mind began to bend leading me to thoughts of a great oasis and words never possible and so I spoke with ease in this strange fashion “lead the way.”






Michael Stevens’s stories have been published in Yellow Mama and Black Petals. Suffering from chronic anxiety and night terrors, Michael has found comfort in writing. It was through telling stories he was able to unburden himself of the fears that plague his sleep. What had started as a sort of therapeutic release has now been a 3-year journey of telling stories. With a nightmare journal bursting at the seams, he sees no end in sight.




Henry Stanton's fiction, poetry and paintings appear in 2River, The A3 Review, Avatar, The Baltimore City Paper, The Baltimore Sun Magazine, High Shelf Press, Kestrel, North of Oxford, Outlaw Poetry, PCC Inscape, Pindeldyboz, Rusty Truck, Salt & Syntax, SmokeLong Quarterly, The William and Mary Review, Word Riot, The Write Launch, and Yellow Mama, among other publications. 

His poetry was selected for the A3 Review Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the Eyewear 9th Fortnight Prize for Poetry.  His fiction received an Honorable Mention acceptance for the Salt & Syntax Fiction Contest and was selected as a finalist for the Pen 2 Paper Annual Writing Contest.

A selection of Henry Stanton's paintings are currently on show at Atwater's Catonsville and can be viewed at the following website www.brightportfal.com.  A selection of Henry Stanton’s published fiction and poetry can be located for reading in the library at www.brightportfal.com.

Henry Stanton is the Founding & Managing Editor of The Raw Art Reviewwww.therawartreview.com.







In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2022