Friday, 10 July 2015

Dark Stones

For this week's Flash Fiction Challenge, Chuck sent us to this website for our title:

The random title generator was kind and among a few impossible sounding titles lay this one:

Dark Stones

They say this country was once nothing but trees.  A vast forest filling every space from the Northernmost tip down to the Southern shores.  The story goes that Redcliff, well that’s where they cut the first tree down.

One tree quickly became hundreds, and Redcliff grew in size in the growing clearing.  Men used the wood from the trees to build shelters, and then as the town grew and craftsmen became more skilled, the shelters became more and more advanced.  The trees made homes.  Redcliff, well it grew to become a small city, its wooden houses bustling for space in the winding streets as the market sellers bustled through them.  If you'd looked down on Redcliff from above, it would have looked as if someone had just rearranged the trees rather than destroyed them.  But after a while, that changed.  Men began to look for alternatives to wood.  Instead of using the forest's bounty, they used dark stones, quarried from Startemoor and dragged down vast tracks to the city.

Those dark stones from up high on the moor, they'd stood there for many, many years.  They'd seen the last fall and more.  Well, I think something of the darkness seeped from inside those stones, and bled into the men themselves.  The dark leaked into them until they were as cold and hard as the stones themselves.  It shouldn't surprise you.  Men have been seduced by things weaker than stone before.

Who am I?  I am a stranger here.  I am a man of nature.  I live in the shrinking woods which surround this town.  I live in the sea which laps at the harbour below.  I hide in the other darknesses - the shadows of those huge dark-walled houses, and watch the black spaces in between those stones.  For the dark there, that is where men forget to look.

One of these new dark stone houses belonged to a man named Yeddon Crane.  He was one of those rare men who suit darkness.  A thin, wispy, unkind man, with angular jutting features and graying hair which looked itself like it had been quarried from up there on the hills of the moor.  He was cruel, but weak, until that house was built.  The evil in those stones, it completed him, and made him crueler still.  It found a home for itself there in his soul, and grew.  Crane began to make money from the work of others, through extortion, blackmail and threats. And as his power grew, so too did his home, as he bought up more of those stones until his was the largest building in Redcliff - a giant, ugly, sprawling place which seemed to suck the light from the air around.  He called it Nagrak.

When Nagrak had no room left to grow into, Yeddon Crane built it upwards until its shadow could be felt in almost half the city.  Crane locked himself in that house, his fortress, and around him grew a group of men forged from the same evil.  Men who followed Yeddon Crane and delighted in the grand acts of violence that he demanded of them.  Acts which kept Crane's own shadow felt across Redcliff. Each evening Crane would wander the rooms of Nagrak, caressing the walls, feeling the dark power that leeched from those stones.

Eventually his house grew so high that it could not be built any taller.  The top turrets moved slightly in the breeze and occasional stones fell from the highest towers, crashing through the lovingly thatched roofs of the surrounding families’ homes.  After a while, a series of “mysterious” fires began to plague those homes around Nagrak.  Crane’s megalithic construction spread out again, built on the ashed remains of those wooden homes and the cremated families unlucky enough to be inside. Nagrak's outer walls eventually reached the edge of the forest and once again the wood prepared itself to shrink back from the axes of men.

By this time a small ecosystem had begun to thrive in the walls, floors and ceilings of Crane’s house. Birds nested in its towers and upper stories.  Bats swooped from its eaves.  Small rodents and mice made homes for themselves in the dusty cracks in the corners of Nagrak's many rooms, and in the most remote recesses stray cats hunted them in packs.  Above all, insects thrived throughout the megalith, and joining them from the trees at the edge of the forest crawled a small black and orange beetle - Nicrophorus Susurrus.  It crept into the dark places between the stones of Nagrak, heavy with eggs, and added to the ecology, beginning to trail through those crevices and cracks in the walls leaving a trail of thousands and thousands of eggs, fertilised using the stored sperm from her previous precious sexual conquests.

None of these creatures halted Nagrak’s growth.  Crane had the forest felled all the way to the base of Chuckwell Hill and Nagrak replaced the trees.  By this time the building dwarfed the rest of Redcliff.  Easily large enough to be called a town in its own right, its various wings and corridors sprawled across the previously forested plains and Yeddon Crane still stayed entombed in its walls. His nightly caress of the stones had become more ardent.  The power in those dark stones was a drug to him.  He felt a strong need to become as close to the walls as was possible and most nights his stroking gave way to touches of his tongue.  He kissed those dark stone’s crevices as erotically if they were his lover.

One such night, in one of Nagrak's huge lofty central halls, Crane’s lust became unbearable.  It was overwhelming.  A passion he’d never felt for another.  Along with his lascivious embrace of the walls, Crane began to use Nagrak’s craggy gaps for his other swollen desires.  That night however, Crane didn’t just love the walls around him, for within those crevices he thrust into, kissing and licking feverishly, lay the eggs of the Nicrophorus Susurrus.  Oblivious - lost in his desire - Crane devoured them.

A few months later Yeddon Crane sat in a huge chair sipping at a glass of wine, waiting for his men to bring a man before him.  A man who had had the temerity to walk on Crane’s land without invitaton.  Crane had felt unusual all day, but as he sipped at his drink and heard the clatter of his arrival he began to feel better.  Power flowed through him as he prepared for the man.  He would make sure he knew how worthless he was before he met his end.  He would make sure he begged for mercy before he begged for death.  The door was thrown open and the poor soul was dragged in.  He’d already been badly beaten, his face was swelled with bruising and blood dripped from a deep gash in his head and from his battered lips.  Crane smiled thinly.

He drew breath to address the wretch, but a peculiar feeling overwhelmed him and he felt a tickle in his throat.  He lifted his wine to clear the blockage, and noticed a strange small black and orange beetle on the stem of his glass.  And a second on the rim.  He set the glass down and another beetle fell on to the table beside it.  Crane slammed his fist down crushing the beast.  He felt a surge within him.  A black blur began at the corner of his vision.  The strange tickling in his throat grew, and an scratching sensation began underneath his foreskin.  He coughed, and something rose into his mouth.  A single beetle.  Identical to the others.  Crushing that one between his fingers, Crane looked up.  His followers faces were etched with panic, they were mouthing words at him and pointing, the bleeding wretch on the floor had begun to scream.  Crane struggled to make out the words, his ears felt blocked somehow - as if he was under water.  All he could hear was a rising hum.  An alien noise.  He looked back up to question his men but they had begun to back away, their faces contorted with fear.

Before he had a chance to understand what was happening, Crane noticed that the walls around him were crawling with those same beetles.  The blur at the corner of his eyes spread and in just minutes Yeddon Crane was blinded by a flow of black and orange crawling from his eyes.  His optic nerve and retina crushed by the stampede and his cornia's scratched and pupils bloody from the tearing of thousands of legs.  In the blackness of his amaurosis, Crane fumbled for his chair and got to his feet clumsily. He felt a surge in his throat and Crane tried to scream, but his voice was choked back as hundreds upon hundreds of Nicrophorus Susurrus filled his throat and nasal cavities, all making their way to the surface.  They swarmed from beneath his clothes - his groin and rear pits of agony, and his naval torn open as the beetles crawled from his every orifice.  No one was there to help - his men had long fled the room, tripping over each other in their haste and Yeddon Crane, once the most powerful man in Redcliff, lay near death on the floor, covered in a swarm of orange and black.

In a final spasm of suffering, Crane died.  The walls and floor of the rooms of Nagrak teemed with the Nicrophorus Susurrus - the "Death Seed" Beetle.  Those who had made their way upwards, made the already precarious top towers even more unstable and stones fell from Nagrak's heights.  Down below, beetles still crawled from every orifice of the dead man and unable to find the woodland their genomes told them to expect, they began to bury back in through the cooling skin - using the corpse of Yeddon Crane as their ancestors had used the trees which once stood here.  As the colour drained from the decimated body, the stones of Nagrak momentarily seemed to take on a deeper hue themselves.  Then the stones faded again, as the only man left in Nagrak stood up before the insect ridden corpse, bloodied and laughing hysterically.

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