Wednesday, November 18, 2009


by G. Alden Davis

I couldn’t recall my last meal, and the poison would continue to weaken me until I could find something to eat. I needed something to absorb and expel the remaining venom. While I seemed more lucid now, I knew that somewhere in my veins there remained a great reservoir of the nasty stuff, held back by a twisted passage and ready to burst the dam, flooding my system with delusions, fever, and death. Unfolding from the sandstone hole, I took several shaky steps down to the canyon floor.

The area was filled with cool, cyan highlights and deep indigo shadows. The moonlight sparkled from the gypsum; winking stars the size of sand grains flashed along the ground. I looked out across the valley floor and was shocked by what I saw.

Standing in silhouette at the far end of the playa was a huge, square shape, obviously unnatural even among the erosion-sculptured features of the area. Made from materials native to the area, it nonetheless stood out from the cliffs, looking down on the valley floor from a single eyesocket high in it’s front. What I saw outlined in that socket identified the structure: a large bell hung there, in the top window of a crumbling, adobe church. A mission, I reminded myself, and approached the hulking shape on unsteady legs.

A hundred yards from it, I began to notice occasional artifacts thrust up through the hardpack like things attempting escape rather than items half-buried in the dried alkaline mud. Some of these forms were familiar; part of a wagon wheel was exposed, it’s spokes broken like snapped ribs. Far off to the side I could see other, less familiar shapes reaching from the crust. Some of those forms exuded menace from their rusted iron edges.

In what must have once served as the mission’s yard, I tripped over an object firmly trapped in the flats and slammed face-first into the ground. Stars erupted across my sight as pain exploded in my jaw. I felt my front teeth pushed through the soft flesh of my lip. The metallic tinge of the venom mixed with the coppery flavor of blood and again my stomach rebelled, heaving air and pink spittle. I got to my knees and looked back at what my foot had caught.

There was a wooden bucket half anchored in the dried mud, two of it’s slats freshly snapped off in my fall. Something odd had been scattered from the smashed container, and I crawled back for a better look. From the ruined bucket were spilled half a dozen objects that resembled giant nail-clippings, each fully as wide as my hand. I picked one up, and turning it over I saw the exposed bone, attached to the crescent of hornlike material I had thought of as a toenail. I was not far off.

Maneuvering it into the moonlight, I saw that I was holding the skeletal remains of a kind of hoof, likely a horse or mule. The chitin of the hoof itself was disintegrating, but enough remained of the ankle to discover a disquieting detail; the bone had been neatly shorn off by a blade, sharp and quick enough to prevent splintering at the stump. My reflexes were for once not slowed by the poison, and I threw the thing down in disgust. It hit the ground, rattling against the other spilled objects, and I saw to my unease that the bucket had been filled with dismembered hooves, now splayed out in the dirt.

Old as they obviously were, the violence of their past left a stain to the touch, and a tang to the eye that saw them. What of this place? I looked away from the scattered hooves and into the seeping night.

Shadows cast from moonlight leaned thick in the wedges of rock. The canyon was a box, and here at its end, jagged arms wrapped around the ruins. There were secrets held here, some still and silent while others screamed for release. I stood under the eye of the moon and felt primitive instincts seize inside me. Here in the box of unsteady cliffs, the crumbling remains of the mission held a murder of echoes, whispers and dreams no longer like sounds but more like captive raptors kept in a cage of bones. My skull was like that ruined church and those black birds beat at the backs of my eyes. Then the scream was in me.

I felt my flesh tear away in an agony of ribbons, surpassing the pain of the poison’s worst moments. Everywhere was red and all of it screamed. The last bit of my mind was ripped away in a storm of blood and angry wind.

The storm lasted a life and a half, each increment of time ended with more of my life torn way. Aching, and unable to focus, I feared my mind had been crushed out completely. When I came around, my bleak senses found that the night had remained and the moon had moved only a fraction.

Again there was that temporal jolt- that of hours passing within a minute- which made me feel like time was somehow broken- no longer a smooth drive but one showing seasons of frost-heaves. The way was cracked and jaggedly ragged; moments no longer butted up end-to-end, and in my carpenter’s mind I could not keep a grasp on that understanding. Everything fit in my universe. Measure twice and cut once. What if you measured twice and came up with wholly divergent figures? What if a short plank grew longer beneath the rule? I tried to judge time by the height of the sun and the depth of the shadowed walls. Even that method proved imperfect as the shadows themselves were undependable.

At the moment I observed this, the shadows were deeper than before and crawled thick up the clay walls, like black milk running backwards. All the shadows, cast by the moon, seemed to be slowly oozing upward as if drawn back to their lunar source.

The world around me was silent and flat in the aftermath of the red thunder. I smelled faint ozone and iron though the night was cloudless and riddled with stars. It was more a product of blood than rain, I surmised.

When I trusted my feet again, I stumbled towards the adobe arch leading into the mission. A small window shaped like a cross overlooked the gate, which once held up the crusted iron portcullis that lay aside on the ground, gnarled and beaten. The desert has few smells in old places, the air being too dry to work up a rot. But once within the threshold of that ruin, a murky odor hung sour in the air. It smelled of deep, sweet decay.

I cursed the lack of light and the throb in my skull equally as I stepped further into the entry. An enormous room surrounded me, with an ancient wooden platform directly above, accessed by narrow ladders. I could make out vague doorways in the walls at the far end, where the last of the moonlight streamed through broken roof beams. I marveled at the condition of the place, still shaken from the roar of the blood storm.

My eyes adjusted to the dimness and I moved across the room. The three doors seemed identical until I approached; the center one was intermittently lit by a flickering orange glow. The source of the light was distant and slim, from where I stood it was vague at it’s brightest. I went through the clay arch and faced a stairway leading down. It was brighter at the end of the stone steps two hundred feet below. From a chamber under the floor of the mission, the flame light filtered up. I heard movement, like the sliding of stone, from below.

I crept down the steps with a stealth that must have come as an artifact of the toxic sting. I was never before known for my agility, yet my feet refused to make even the slightest grit of friction as I padded the descent. I reaching a landing where a wooden door stood. From the edges of the timbers the quiet flare of light traced, it’s source just beyond this last seal. I reached to pull at the rusted latch.

My fingertips fused to the crusty iron as sudden voices sounded just beyond. Grunting words of a language I didn’t know, I heard an exchange of anger and the loud shuffling of heavy objects. More strained voices and a dull, metallic clunk. I pushed my face to the wooden slats, peering through the narrows warped in the boards. I found a slim view into torchlight, and within the slice of room I could make out shapes of men. They moved quickly and repeatedly, lifting and stacking something out of my limited sight. While I could only see parts of the men as they moved, what I saw made me realize that the venom had not passed from my veins, that the effects had not diminished. The toxins were going again, the strange hysteria had returned. Either that or I had somehow become lost in time.

Under torchlight, two men in armour toiled at a fevered, unseen labor. They uttered unfamiliar grumbles as they worked, casting nervous glances up at the door. I tried to use my newfound senses to inspect the men in detail, but was startled to hear noises behind me.

The stutter of human fear, screams that sounded like pewling echoed down the dark stairs from the darker night above. The rumble of hooves stamped by, amidst a terrible, nearing violence.

My eyes were watering as I put them back to the crack, searching for the faces of these men. I needed an escape if the bloodstorm had returned, I needed allies if it was worse. The men inside had loaded their limit and were struggling to shoulder massive, hide sacks. This done, they drew swords and advanced on the door, clumsy with the weight but still armed. I stepped back and splashed.

The stairs were dry and dusty when I descended, but now the barely audible flow was more apparent. Something wet was soaking into my shoes. I looked behind, the horror already forming before I saw the flood running dark down the stairs. I was sick with the overpowering copper stink of blood. I sank back, into an alcove, just as the door opened and the men stepped out.

They staggered into the cascading blood, their torches showing it for the nightmare red it really was. It covered their boots like oil, bringing both of them down together. They struggled, trying to right themselves, unable to get up with the heavy sacks twisted around them. They worked at it with the speed of fear, making simple mistakes in the rush to recover, to stand, to get out of the blood. The torches had dropped and sputtered as they lay half in the red pool at the base of the steps.

I dared a look up the stairs towards the source of the blood, not wanting to believe it was real. It had to be some kind of fever dream or vision. Near the top of the stairs, a pile of forms bled in torrents. I could discern only parts of bodies, clothing tattered and clinging wet to the limbs.

The soldiers struggling saw it then, and let out shrieks that not only decried horror, but recognition. They crossed their chests and began to pray, and I realized they were speaking Spanish, thick with an accent. As they prayed they unbuckled their armor, and wept.

I stayed back, out of sight, until the roaring thing thundered down the stairs and took the men to hell.

THE FOLD continues tomorrow with Part 8

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Archive of Stories
and Authors

Sanford Meschkow's

Sanford Meschkow is a retired former
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Brian "Flesheater" Stoneking's

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Owen R. Powell's

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Edward Morris's

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Gene Stewart's

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Adam Bolivar's

Adam Bolivar's

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David Agranoff's

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