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Michael Steven
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Somnium Trivium


Michael Steven

 

    I sit in the glow of kerosene light, repenting each dream not with cross and prayer but with quill and ink. For I allow them to breathe because I allow them to exist and take shape, haunting my dying sleep. With every stroke I expel my demons back to where they came, yet they still come. Night after night they toil in the shadows, hidden behind a dream. Even now I can feel them conspiring against me in the furthest reaches of my mind. Their faces void of all expression, they swing their hammers and drag stone, constructing the bridge when I slumber.

    The slick black streets outside my window remain deserted and drip crescent moonlight. My hands, however, are alive with fear and pour out the night’s dream with feverish speed. To recall such events is in itself tiring work, the fine details lay hidden in a winter’s fog but the shapes remain. That which cannot be articulated in word must be drawn from my vague memory of the account. It is here on my writer’s chair that I reflect and begin the ritual.

    I stood in the shadows of my mind, gazing up to the heavens. The moon burned without flame and the stars shone like ice chips, my head whirled with such a sight. On the mountain’s edge I peered down at a town below, the post-Victorian homes illuminated warmth, smokestacks bellowed big grey clouds into the sky, I have never in my life felt more in the moment as I did then. Charlie, as I have come to know him, stood in silence at the rear of the dream, allowing me to breathe it all in before he spoke.

“Do you hear them, Allen?”

    I did not receive the question at first. I was lost wandering the sky. My finger traced the belt of Orion, Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka, the three kings.

“I said, can you hear them beyond the thicket?”

    Deep inside the woods I could hear hammers strike rock and the sounds of a dozen feet shuffling against the forest floor, they were here all along working in secret behind the veil.

“What do they want?”

“Fear the moon, Allen for it’s ajar.”

    Before I could answer I awoke in a sweat, my sheets were stuck to the backs of my arms and I was breathing, heavy. I wrote and I drew all that my memory would allow. I wrote about the town and how it glowed in the night and how the stars in the sky made my eyes swell. I drew pictures, pictures of Charlie mostly, what he was wearing and how he stood with that slight hitch in his hip, pointing at the moon. I described to the best of my ability the noises the builders produced and how it made my stomach turn. The days bled together making it very difficult to decipher early morning and late nights, they have become entangled and I fear they may never come undone.

    If I needed sleep I did so during the day where as I found the dreams to be less intense but still very much alive. The moon had become my only real source of time, how it went from crescent to more gibbous let me know the weeks were in fact slipping away. Recently I have made a strange revelation, a smell. I figured at first it was I who was producing such a revolting odour, that is what the smell was, revolting. I washed vigorously, I washed bed sheets and linen, I washed my body and all my belongings but alas, I could not rid the room of such a foul stench, in fact it still remains, the stench of a dozen builders sweating over heavy stone.

    I put aside my quill and retired for the night all the while knowing it would get much use in the early hours of the morning when the moon is still hanging on before daylight arrives. I toss and turn in my sleep but cannot shake the feeling of being watched. My arms, possessed, burst above me, stiffly they reach for the sky. My hands twist and bend, my fingers form crooked black sigils transitioning from one to the next. My head bends and contorts beyond my will, my mouth is stretched past its limits. I thrash about as my body descends into madness. My feet flail and kick about, my hands reach for the quill that lay next to my bedside, they have forsaken me and begin to stab wildly at the bed sheets sending ink and blood splatter across the walls. My eyes dart from side to side hidden under their lids.

“Wake up, you must wake up!”

    The quill begins to find its mark and tattoo up and down my legs and stomach. The tip snaps off after its final blow and only then was I allowed to resurface and reclaim my body. I try to stand but stumble to my knees looking out the window only to find a full moon peering down at me.

    I was lost, huddled in the corner holding myself, unaware of how much my body was shaking and bleeding. I could not stand nor pity myself, I had to write before it was too late. With my quill now bust I had no other option; I must use my own ink. My legs run scarlet and pool at my feet. I lean forward, dip my finger and begin to write. I cast my finger along the walls bleeding one image to the next, the diary of a madman written in red. I blanket the walls with an archaic bloody hieroglyphic of nightmares, my eyes glazed, pulsing with lack of sleep. The moon, now full, projects a ghastly light over my work. I thumb the holes my quill produced in order to deliver the entire story upon the walls.

    All that I could recall at first was Charlie, his voiced muffled, lost in the dark repeating the same incoherent chant over and over with frantic urgency. But what the words were, I could not comprehend. The builders came next, their whips cracked and feet stomped the earth flat, dragging stone by the hundreds. The foundation had been laid and arches carved out, it was exquisite and would be beautiful if not for its dark origins. The bridge arched into a great black void covered in low mist and in that void, a full moon. I needed to fight, of that much I was sure. I pushed and punched and grabbed at their arms pleading for them to stop but alas it was no use, their grip was tightening and I was losing my foothold on reality, the dream had demands that I could not fulfil. The chant continued in the background, lost among such dreadful things. Their clay faces, soulless and without empathy, paid me no mind and disregarded my presence. The smell of kerosene and putrid stink overcame the air and yet Charlie chanted on. My world and theirs were melting together, the door was nearly open. The chant grew louder and louder still unrecognizable but merging and blending and becoming a solid voice.

“ey’r  hre! ey’r  hre! ey’r  hre!”

    I focused in and tried to listen to the hysteric rambling chants of Charlie. His voice grew and grew, ice hit my veins and my heart wanted to burst.

“ey’r  hre! thy’r he! They’re here! THEY’RE HERE!”

    And that was when I awoke, standing here scribbling macabre images and ranting in the dark about things I could not possibly understand or begin to comprehend. My arms felt heavy with the burden of the task of transcribing the night terror. At some point, beyond my memory, the hammers began to ring from some distant land, a constant and consistent rhythm that I feared would last a lifetime. Mist began to gather at my feet, tugging at my ankles for attention. The stink of “them” mixed with the smell of blood sickened me, the room began to spin, my breath quickened, which only made things worse.

“It’s time to go Allen.”

    Startled, I spun around only to find Charlie sitting, legs crossed on the edge of my bed, his fingers tapped at his knee as if he had been waiting and was losing patience.

“What are you doing here, what do you want with me?”

    The moon struck his skin and he appeared to be somewhat transparent, an apparition come to life. Was he real or was I imprisoned in my dream or perhaps what feared me most, he had come through. But if he had made his way onto the plains of the living, what else found its way across?

“I am your chauffeur across the bridge.”

    It was at that moment I realised it was not about them crossing over, it was about taking me back to which they came. I had not imagined even in my wildest dreams that this turn of events would at all be possible.

    “Do not fear the builders, they are just that, builders. Just as I am your chauffer, assigned to guide you across the bridge Somnium Trivium.” His piercing blue eyes dimmed and brightened with every strike of the distant hammers.

    “You and the others will cross over, that much you can be certain. What happens on the other side lies in the hands of Hecate, the collector and queen of the crossroads.” His casual demeanour of the subject of my fate infuriated me. He spoke so candidly, as if I were but an item and not a person at all.

“What do you mean, others?”

    “Well Allen, this very town is up for collection. Many things in times past and even now vanish without much of a trace. The Roanoke Colony, the crew of Mary Celeste and the people of Indus Pakistan were all adopted by the great Hecate but not all are sworn in. She will pick through and discard the unworthy, casting them to the pits of oblivion while the few chosen will transcend to a higher judgment. You, I believe, are why we have come, fighting off the reaching arm of Hecate is no simple task and cannot be overlooked, consider this to be a blessing from the nine circles.”

       Charlie held out his hands in a soft and gentle manner which made me feel uneasy due to the fact I knew I had no choice but to follow. I received his invitation, his eyes glowed a heavy blue as he led the way. The streets that lay deserted each and every night are now alive with activity. The townsfolk walked hand in hand with their very own blue eyed escort as they marched with no resistance towards the bridge that I have come to know as Somnium Trivium.

The Invitation

Michael Steven

 

    The whistle of a train waned far behind mountain peaks while autumn winds blew the scents of the land from the ranging meadows to the swamp gas to the east. And on this dreary autumn day in the middle of those autumn winds and the waning whistle over the mountains lay the home of my dear friend Edward. Trees stood rot and cast sullen shadows over sunken earth. The ground was muck and the air stunk of those eastern swamp and spoiled foliage. Colonies of raven stood and sang on branches, plucking at the air above my carriage. The moonlight only enhanced these ghastly images, for the flowerbeds of geranium and lilac were a graveyard and looked to be deceased for a myriad of time. I was taken by such decay. If I had not known better, one would have thought this to be a home of a hermit or some castaway and not that of a doctor. I approached with hesitation for I knew not what to expect.

    The home, void of life, appeared to be a growth on the land, a tumour protruding from the mountainside. I could not help but to gasp at such a sight. Although I had not made my way to visit in over a year I had to wonder what ill times had fallen upon my dear friend Edward. I took refuge upon the stoop to expel myself from the thrashings of those autumn winds and it was here I began to ponder on my friend and his mysterious letter. To receive word from Edward was not all that unusual. From his tales of cannibal tribes of Eastern Asia to the reaching peaks of Afghanistan where you could hear the gods sing were a welcome distraction of the mundane of casual life. It was however different as of recent. He had found something in those rolling hills of sand in Egypt; that I was certain and that is why he has summoned me with such urgency.

    I rapped upon the door and set my ear against the rotted wood. I listened for a stirring for I was certain the home to be vacant, the echoes of my arrival rang through the walls and appeared to be received by none. I rapped again, to my amazement I heard the sound of feet shuffling over hardwood and saw the shadow of a bent man approach through the transom which had a diaphanous film of purple and green ooze which I could not decipher a true origin. The latch of the door unbuckled and in those dark shadows of the home that once seemed vacant produced a skeleton covered in skin, a man I had once known but no longer resembled such memory as this. He was hideous and unkempt, grey hair hung in drapes around his neck and shoulders. He stunk of rancid earth and his eyes were set in bruised pools reflecting a declining body and mind.

    I held my chest and took a step back, the wind pulled at my legs and nearly toppled me if not for the pillars on the stoop. I kept my distance for I did not know what sickness crawled under his skin.

    “Edward, my God, is it typhus, what ailment plagues you!”

His long fingers of bone and skin and awful yellow nails lurched forward grabbing at the air as the shadows seemed to grow and consume our perimeter.

    “No illness Syre, I found something, something under the black sands of the Nile. You must come see!”

    He turned on his heels, his back hunched as if to be carrying with it a great burden. I took the invitation with much hesitation but ultimately succumbed to my curiosity. I followed the bent crooked man into the dark hallways of his home, the smell of decay and mold was incessant.

    “Edward, where has Mary gone?”

    “Mary?” He said, lighting a long red candle.

    “Yes, where has she gone?” I replied with shadows dancing on the walls.

    “Oh yes Mary.” He swallowed hard. “West I suspect.”

    “West, whatever do you mean west? If something has happened, you must tell me.”

    He simply tilted a nod and moved into the now dimly lit darkness, candle in hand he navigated the passageway with such dexterity that it came to reason he paced these forsaken halls in deep wonder night after night. I followed at arm’s length dropping my gaze to an accrual of books stacked in no particular order or design, some fallen on their top and others lay on their sides, pressed open to images of Heka priests and odd languages which made me feel uneasy and only added to the mystery surrounding such madness. The darkness grew in thickness as we ventured forth, it was not until Edward had stopped, mid stride, and gestured that I had realised we had come to the end of a narrow passage filled with bedrooms.

    “I hope these accommodations will suit all your needs my dear friend.” He said, pointing the tip of his candle into the void.

    The furniture was torn and nearly bust, moth eaten in most places, and the stench could only be put as unpleasant to say the least. A dark mass had pooled behind the loveseat and bore fat bloated flies that hung lazily in the air. I wafted the stench and flies from my vicinity and made myself at home as best as I could muster.

    “Thank you, Edward, this will do just fine for the time being. I do have questions concerning your welfare, and where exactly did you say Mary had gone?”

    “We will discuss on the matter in due time, for now, rest and take comfort. I will send for you later, and then we can talk on the subject over dinner, fair?”

    “Fair enough, I suppose.” I said, biting at my lip. 

    I settled in along with the evening that moved out of dreary purple dusk to a silver twilight sky that gave the landscape a cold still feeling. The wind rattled the already rotten frame and thus made the cloud of flies jump and swirl before descending back to their sticky find. I placed both hands on the bed to test the mattress fully expecting a symphony of squeaks and was not disappointed. I unpacked my belongings: a shirt and slacks as well as a necktie. Although I doubted I would be in need of it as I did not plan on extending my visit longer than required. To my surprise a delightful aroma of sizzling meat piqued my senses. I imagined a horrifying meal dripping with roaches but this, this was unexpected. The dinner bell chimed and so I made my way towards the kitchen.

*      *      *

    With the fire box filled and embers roaring, Edward sat with the fire and glow filling his face and warming his ever so thin skin in the darkness. It had been so long since they had guests, not since that boy stumbled across their lawn with his fountain of youth and blonde hair had he ever been this excited with anticipation. The pots boiled and danced with well peeled-potatoes and steak that was seasoned to perfection while the coffee, wine and pie with freshly whipped cream waited eagerly to join in. The whole house including the kitchen where Edward stood was filled with the aroma of a well-tailored meal.

    “Did you put the pie in the warming tray?” The voice of Mary could be heard from the depths of the shadows.

    “Of course, my dear, I wouldn’t think of letting it go cold.” He said, stacking an assortment of plates. “Do you think I know not the importance of this day?”

    “And is the wine ready?” Her voice haunted.

    “Yes.” Edward said, clenching his jaw and pointing at the wine.

    “But did you grind up—"

    “Be gone woman! Leave me to my devices and cease your pestering shadow!” The darkness became silent but ever so watchful as he toiled over the cast iron stove. “He will eat and drink his weight and when he is fat and ripe we shall bleed him dry.” He said rubbing his hands together.

    Call for him.”

*     *     *

    I followed my nose and the echo of the dinner bell, feeling my way through the halls until I sensed the kitchen’s warm embrace. Edward was hovering over the stove mumbling to himself, some sort of tic he has picked up since my last visit, perhaps it’s the absence of Mary or simply being left alone that has him acting as such.  There were as many as four pots boiling and what appeared to be an abundance of various dishes and spices across the kitchen counter.

    I sat myself at one of the many chairs. “Are we having guests?” I said gesturing with both hands at the copious amount of food.

    “It has been so long since we have had visitors, I figured why not indulge.”

    “We?” I replied raising an eyebrow.

    “Ah, my apologies, Mary, her departure still slips my mind. My memory isn’t quite what it used to be.”

    “And where was it that you said Mary had gone?”

    “He’s trying to knock you off balance, seize him at once!” Mary said, echoing off the walls of Edward’s skull.

He suppressed a cough waving his thin hand at the air around him as if to shake away the cobwebs.

    “West, Syre, she has gone west to visit relatives.”

    A thick silence washed over our conversation and it dawned on me that perhaps since my arrival I had become a bit irritable from my travels and even perhaps I have been a tad unfair to my dear friend. For all I know Mary had taken refuge west and who am I to meddle in his affairs, rubbing dirt in his wounds will only complicate the matter.

    “I apologize, forgive me Edward, I did not mean to sour the evening. I really do appreciate all the fine work you have done here; it has been so long since I had a home cooked meal.”

    “And what a meal we will have!” Edward said, presenting a dark bottle of wine.

    I sat in anticipation as he began to serve up dinner. There were at least three plates of broiled steak served with baked potatoes dripping cheese and beans as well as asparagus toast, topped with fresh parsley butter. The plates kept coming one after another: a thick beef stew, beet salad and bottles and bottles of wine, “My goodness!” I burst out loud. Edward seemed to take such pride in my reaction; he stood over me with a great grin full of teeth as he poured me yet another glass of red wine. The meal was to die for; the wine was dusty and aged far beyond our years and tasted bitter yet sweet, with a fragrance I could not quite put a finger on. We drank and gushed over old times and days past, we talked of love and lovers lost and what we would do when we turned grey and old, both purposely overlooking the fact we were grey and old.

    We laughed until my jaw became slack and my speech labored; I doubled over and began to spew upon the floor. I raised my head to make contact with Edward and found my eyes blurry and swimming in my skull; four glasses of wine have never had me so out of sorts. Hands, cold bony hands and fingers wrapped around my face, holding me still. I gagged on my tongue as my head was tilted backwards, the bitter yet sweet taste of wine hit my mouth and cascaded down my neck. I could see Edward looking down on me but not only Edward, I could see a small boy with beautiful blonde hair being held in the arms of Mary, a ghostly apparition of both. I fought off my captor for he was weak and frail but my limbs were beginning to dull and weigh heavy at my sides. I crashed into the table as I tried to stand, showering dishes and bottles in all directions. I seized the doorway, stumbling into the darkness, my feet became tangled among the many books discarded in the hall. I fell upon the floor in great agony for my limbs lacked strength; I could feel Edward’s body press against mine, a sharp piece of what I presume to be glass pressed against my neck.

    “Stick him, bleed him like a pig!”

 The object stuck deeper into my neck forcing me to wince in pain as I was now at his mercy.

    “Don’t move, not even a hair, old boy, or I will bleed you out on this floor and lap you up.” Edward said, pounding the words in my ear.

The sickness had me over for I opened my mouth only to be returned with silence.

    “Atta boy, it will not take long now, let the darkness take you.”

I fought my eyes open but knew it was a losing battle, my vision became a tunnel filled with stars and then –

   When I came to, I had very little memory of what happened; my hands were bound behind a chair and my body ached, a fierce amount. It appeared I was in the basement, I had been down here only once before but basements had a feel and this had one like no other. I shuffled my feet upon the floor only to find it felt grainy against the wood; at first I assumed it was gravel or perhaps dirt but after sometime it dawned on me, it was sand.

    I sat in loneliness for some time and as I began to doze, I suddenly had a chill, eyes were on me. I craned my head to one side, only to find a still image of Mary and that fair-haired boy lurking in the shadows. They did not move or waver upon my notice; they simply stood as statues watching. Before me sat a box, a wooden crate to be exact, it was dusty and crawling with web and on the side stamped in big black letters read Cairo, Egypt. Beyond the box and beyond the shadows, Edward stood watching with sharp feral eyes.

    “I must say Syre, I am quite impressed with your body’s tolerance, it took far less opium to subdue Mary and the boy; thank goodness for your love of the spirits.”

    “Opium, what is the meaning of all this!?” I said, with wet eyes.

    “Such a question deserves an equal truth. You see, one goes to Paris to feed the soul and London to feed the mind, in Asia you pick the flower and sip the black smoke but on the shores of the Nile you feed the body and it feeds on you.”

    “I don’t know what has come over you, but I am quite at my ends with all this. If whatever is in that box has warped your mind, then you must let me help you.” I said with rushed speech and quick breath.

    “Yes, help me you shall.” he said, with a crisp nod.

    Edward gently placed his hand upon the wooden crate and dusted away the web, he never took his eyes off me. He reached down with his blind hand and tossed open the lid, a cloud of dust escaped into the air forcing me to take a deep cough. He reached inside, shuffled around, and produced a cup. I felt a bit underwhelmed; I expected a scroll or amulet even perhaps a grimoire of some sort, but a cup?

The cup itself was somewhat ordinary, it was clay and bore handles on either side giving it a look that of a petrified face with ears. Edward presented it to me, palm up.

    “This, this is the find of my life; I cannot believe it to be true and that I hold it in my hand.”

    “What is it, a cup? And why do you curse your life for such a simple trinket?”

    “Trinket! How dare you degrade such a find to merely a—"

I swiped a kick in Edward’s direction, he pulled back and my foot only met dead air.

    “Ha! Excellent try, but your fate is sealed my dear friend.” Edward laughed, exposing rough lines in his loose grey skin.

   He circled behind me, I felt his cold dead hand of bone press against my arm and hold me stiff. I felt the edge of a knife rest upon my shoulder and work its way down my arm finally stopping at a cluster of veins in the pit of my arm. He dug in with the tip of the blade and began to twist, I shrieked at the top of my lungs “What in the hell have you done!” The twisting continued. My arm turned white and cold as warm blood rolled down and pooled at the top of my hand. He then placed the cup at the tips of my fingers where the blood had fallen and filled it to the rim; he raised me a toast and began to drink.

    This ritual lasted to what I believe to be twenty-two days, it was hard to track as I was bled, my mind became dull. He fed me yes, and water I was given but not much else, all the while the fair-haired boy and Mary stood and watched, never leaving my side. Edward drank me three meals a day and when the mark of twenty-two days had arrived I was thin and white, my pale skin shone in the darkness of that basement like a full moon on a dark hill. I raised my head and took in the sights of Edward feeding on my life and noticed something—he was no longer thin and frail but robust and well kept. He was clean and well manicured, his hair was short as it was in my old memory and he seemed tall, no, not just tall but towering. It appeared that Edward was reversing in age, I could not believe my fleeting eyes. I was bled for many more days following this realization, I was sticky and those fat bloated flies took flight all around my sick body.

    I cannot recall the exact moment, but my eyes became so very heavy, my lids fell and I wished me a prayer they would never open. When I had finally willed them to life I was no longer bound to a chair. I was standing shoulder to shoulder with Mary. Shocked, for I did not have any memory of being released, I looked down at my hands and they were grey and transparent and had no feeling. I looked across the room and witnessed to my horror my mouth hanging open as insects with far too many legs dug at my dead tongue that lay flat on my chin. My body sat motionless, slumped in a chair, ghostly bone white covered in heaping pools of crimson. I have fed the beast all that I had and now I am but an empty shell to be buried out back with the rest of the fallen.

    In the silence of death, I heard the whistle of a train far behind mountain peaks while those autumn winds that seemed so far ago blew the scents of the land from the ranging meadows to the swamp gas of the east. And in those autumn winds I sit here now grey and without hope. The door to my once dear friend began to ring, the sound echoed off the walls of what must appear to be vacant home in a desolate land.

Michael Steven has had three stories published previously: "The Mirror" and "Hell Rift” in Black Petals, and “Somnium Trivium” in Yellow Mama

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