Friday, February 8, 2008

Legion - Unfinished Fiction

I believe this piece of fiction was written in the Fall of 1996. It was turned in as my fiction piece for a Creative Writing course I was taking. "Legion" is an unfinished tale, darker in nature than most of the prose I was writing at the time. I have not edited the material since it was turned in, so there are some obvious sections which have the sign of amateur writing cast all over them. Despite that I enjoyed thinking through this tale. The copy I have on my computer has an additional three pages of copious notes on potential directions this story could have taken. Perhaps one day I will pick it up and realize that I need to finish it. Until then I hope you enjoy this first section...


by Michael I. Colwill

God help me, I’m probably the only one that knows what’s going on. It’s now been a full week since the killings started, brutal slayings that resulted in a great loss of life. The police have been unable to discover any clues as to the identity of the butcher. I wish I was as ignorant of everything going on in town as they were.

I sometimes wonder if I’m the only one that truly cares. So many people I know slain, and the rest of the town seems to grow steadily more callused as the numbers increase. Even with the fire at the grade school. Mrs. Misolt and five third graders burned to death before the fire fighters even got into the building. The whole town seems to be going to hell recently.

It all seemed to stem from my walk through the woods two weeks ago. The deadline for my new story was coming up fast, and I was still lacking a concept to put on paper. Everything I thought of seemed foolish, amateur, or done before. The pressure was just too much for me to take much longer. I decided I had to take a day off and relax.

That Saturday I slept in for the first time I can remember in years. After a hearty breakfast I decided to spend the day wandering around in the forest to the west of town. I knew the chance to get back to nature would help clear my head and relieve some of the stress I was feeling lately. So I slipped on my hiking boots and grabbed my favorite walking staff I had found nearly three years ago, when I first started to explore the woodland outside of town. The stick was roughly rounded on one end, the end I considered to be the top, and stood slightly taller than me.

The woods had been my favorite place to relax since I moved here from the city. It spanned a great distance, several dozen miles, from north to south. And stretched almost half that from the edge of town to the point where the landscape became more rugged before ascending into a lofty mountain range. I had only wandered about the outskirts of the forest that touched the edge of town. Come to think of it, I knew a majority of the people that lived in town, and nobody I had spoken to had ever traveled more than five miles into the forest.

I had all day free, so I decided to travel deeper into the forest than I had on previous excursions. But knowing that the afternoon could easily slip away before the march of the nighttime sky, I decided to keep track of how far I had gone. Although I loved to go camping, I really didn’t have any fondness for spending the night in these woods all alone. By the time I reached the edge of the forest the morning was passing into afternoon. I figured I had plenty of time to roam about, and still make it out before nightfall.

I traveled in what I thought was a fairly straight line as I entered the forest. I wanted to get past all the sites I had already explored. The first hour of walking was spent doing just that. The entire time I wandered in those woods I didn’t see another living creature, save two deer. And those I had seen on the very outskirts of the woods as I began my walk. The sun seemed to be making it through the mesh of branches hanging over my head without too much trouble. Although shadows seemed to cover most of the ground, there was still plenty of light for me to determine what direction I was headed.

There seemed to be some sort of barrier between the forest area I had traversed in the past and this new part standing before me. I reached up to wipe a bead of sweat from my brow. A sudden fear washed over my body as I gazed into the darkness before me. Slowly I began to walk further into the woods. It was almost like walking into a cave. The branches overhead were much thicker and shadows loomed everywhere the eye could see.

As I walked onward the woods seemed to grow thicker about me. It was almost as if the trees were closing in, preparing to snare me in some trap. I definitely felt something affect me like a physical thing—a warning that tripped my emotions. And a chill hung in the air penetrating my bones, dampening my soul. The hair all over my body seemed to be standing on end, as if expecting something to happen. The light grew dimmer as I continued further into the forest.

My heart was beating faster than usual, as the tension ran through my body. Something inside of me tried to convince my legs to turn around and return to the safety of the town, to the comfort of my own home. The only thing I could do was keep on walking into what was turning out to be a veritable maze of tree trunks and branches.

I don’t recall how long I was walking before I came to a small clearing, although the sunlight did not permeate the thick web of branches that hung over the grassy barren patch of ground. In fact, the space was completely empty, save for a fallen tree trunk stretched across my path. I stepped over the log and sat down on it to rest for a moment.

It was then I noticed the quiet of the woods around me. I closed my eyes for a second and strained to hear anything in the forest land surrounding me. But the only thing that met my ears was the cold empty reply of silence. After opening my eyes I quickly scanned the trees. I had a strange sensation there were a million eyes on me. I simply couldn’t shake the feeling I wasn’t alone here. I saw only shadows keeping me company this afternoon. There didn’t seem to be any animals out there. I expected to at least hear the chirp of a bird or the hum of insects coming from somewhere. But I could pick out no sign that there might be something else out there, other than some kind of intuition telling me there was.

I decided I had to continue hiking into the forest and try to find a reason for this strange feeling I had. As I reached for my staff which I had set down next to me I paused. The stark difference in color between my staff and the wood of the tree trunk I was sitting on was remarkable. My staff retained its natural light brown color that it always had. But the wood where the bark had fallen off of the trunk was a mixture of ashen gray and the blue of a stormy sky. As I looked at the trees around me, they all seemed to exhibit a similar color. I merely would have thought it the result of the shadows on the wood. But the shadows didn’t have any sort of effect on my own staff. It was as if the wooden rod were the only bit of wood that ever knew life. The rest of the forest around me seemed frozen in a place only familiar with death. I pondered why this might be so as I took my staff and departed from the clearing, moving deeper into the forest.

I walked for a long time before I even considered returning to town before dark. I quickly glanced at my watch and muttered a curse. It had stopped at 3:47 PM, the second hand resting exactly at twelve. I tried to estimate what time it might be. But there was nowhere near enough light coming through for me to even venture a guess. I decided it was time to start heading back, although I knew I wouldn’t get out before the sun fell behind the mountains, casting their shadows over the forest.

I tried to determine in what direction the sun was shining from. But no matter how carefully I examined the few streaks of light that broke through the canopy I couldn’t make out in which direction the town was. It was then I discovered my first piece of evidence that someone else was in these woods. I could smell something drifting past me on a light breeze that seemed to be coming from nowhere at all. My mouth began to water as I realized that it was some sort of food being prepared. I couldn’t seem to make out a particular scent, however.

I decided from which direction I thought the aroma was coming and headed towards it. The trees began to grow even closer as I moved deeper into the woods. It was almost as if the very forest were trying to persuade me not to investigate the source of the smell that seemed to rest on all of my senses and draw me forward. I had to practically climb over spots in which the ground seemed to consist mostly of tree trunks sprouting from the forest floor.

And then the trees ended, as if someone set some border which they couldn’t cross. I came upon another clearing in the forest, this one being much larger than the last. And on the far end of the clearing there was a cabin facing me. It was really more like a hut or a cottage, a simple one-level dwelling with a thatched roof. The cottage was built out of the trees of the forest, giving it too a cold blue-gray color. There was a simple wooden door in front of me. And off to its left there was a warm light pouring through a small round window. Sticking up from the back of the house was a simple stone chimney, a small line of smoke slowly drifting up and away from the cottage.

But it was the light from the window I focus on right away. My heart lifted slightly, knowing I was not the only soul in these woods. Perhaps I would not have to spend the night in the cold dark clutches of these lifeless trees. As I closed the distance between me and the front door, that hopeless oppression which had been weighing me down out in the forest was lifting.

I hesitated for a second before I knocked on the door. For some reason I had the crazy notion to walk away from this cottage and take my chances wandering through the black trees behind me. Right away I shrugged this insane notion from my mind and let my knuckles lightly rap on the door three times. Not hearing any movement from inside I knocked four times on the door, louder than before. I waited for what seemed to be a long time, and still no movement from inside. Starting to panic slightly at the thought of being stuck outside overnight, I pounded my fist on the door quickly seven times.

As soon as my hand lifted from the wood after the seventh knock a gust of icy cold wind swept past me, sending a black chill through me. The door of the cottage swung quickly away, causing me to jump and almost scream. The sound froze at the edge of my mouth, however, as I gazed at the figure standing before me. The light from inside blinded me to the details of his face. All I saw was the silhouette of a tall man clutching a black cloak around him. My eyes quickly started to adjust and I noticed the dark beard that hung from his pointy chin. And then I saw them, red as hot coals peering forth from two black pits that were the hollows of his eyes.

I fought the sudden urge to run as I gazed into those searing eyes that seemed to burn their way into my very core. Realizing how I must have looked to the man I tried to compose myself. Closing my mouth I waited for the color to start to return to my face.

“I’m sorry,” I stuttered, “You startled me.”

“Trust me, son, it was by no means intentional. You’re a long way from home. Is there something that I can assist you with?” His face was still in shadow, masking his features. Yet his voice had a melodious tone to it. I sensed the welcoming smile hidden by what seemed to be some obscure mask.

Forcing a smile to my own face I weakly replied. “I seem to have gotten myself lost. I’m sorry about bothering you, but you wouldn’t be able to point me in the direction of town, would you?”

“Dear man, you don’t mean to attempt returning home through these woods in the dark of night, do you? You would sooner find yourself in the middle of the mountains than you would back in town. Join me for the evening. You may rest here and wait for the morning light to guide you back to town.”

It was then that he stepped back from the doorway, allowing the light to fall upon his face. His red eyes did not glow so brightly now, perhaps that was just my imagination running wild. But they were set deep in his head, as if trying to remain in darkness. His thin nose came to a sharp point above his black mustache which ran down either side of his deep red lips to flow into the dark beard that hung from a slender face. His hair was black as night, descending past his shoulders.

The black cloak that the man wore covered a robe of the same color. This was pulled close about his waist by a scarlet rope, the ends hanging down the front. The sleeve of the robe draped down as he gestured for me to enter.

His invitation had a very calming and welcoming feel to it, I couldn’t refuse him. And so I crossed the threshold of the cottage. As I stepped onto the wood floor I felt an inexplicable warmth rise through my body. My previous fears forgotten, I let my gaze wander over the inside of the cottage.

It seemed strange how there could be so much room here when, from the outside, the cottage had seemed so small. Off to the left there was a kitchen area. A wooden table stood across from several wall cupboards that I assumed contained food and dishes. Near the front of the cottage, in front of the only window, stood a small round table upon which rested a single candle. A wooden chair sat on either side of it. To the right of the door was a large desk covered with scattered papers and dusty tomes. Pressed against the wall on top of the desk was a two-level bookcase, full of more books. All of the leather bound volumes seemed to be coated in dust. Near the back of the cottage was a gray cloth-curtained partition hanging from the rafters overhead. I assumed that the man’s sleeping quarters would be found on the other side.

Sitting on a large rug were two high-backed chairs, a small end table sitting between them. The circular rug was covered with several ornate designs and rested in front of the most dominating feature of the room. This was the fireplace, which lit the entire area. Inside of this stone hearth hung a large black cauldron. It was from here that the unusual smell I’d sensed earlier had originated. Inside the cauldron I could see some meat floating in a dark boiling liquid.

Above the fireplace was a wooden mantle, upon which I could see several objects. There were a couple of large candles, in extravagant brass holders. In between these two there were several carved stones and crystals in many different geometric shapes. In the center of the mantle sat an ornamental brass circle upon which rested a large glass sphere. This sphere seemed remarkably flawless, other than the fact that it didn’t reflect any light at all.

“Do make yourself comfortable.”

I forced myself not to jump at the sudden intrusion of that euphonious voice into my thoughts.

I started to slowly walk away from the door where this strange man stood. Cautiously I approached one of the black chairs that sat in front of the mesmerizing flames which danced around the bottom of the cauldron. I was suddenly aware of the way I had been clutching my walking staff. I started to loosen my grip on the wood, letting the blood flow back through the knuckles. But I still retained a firm grip, realizing that the presence of the staff brought comfort in this strange place.

The sound of grating wood caused me to spin about. A heavy wood beam had been placed across the door. The man was facing me now, a smile curled upon his lips. My heart skipped a beat as he began to walk toward me.

“You never know what might be lurking in the shadows. A person can’t be too cautious out here in the forest.”

He passed by me and moved to the chair closest to the curtained area.

“Please, have a seat,” he said, gesturing to the dark chair on the other side of the small table.

I lowered myself into the armchair after I rested my staff against the high back. The seat was extremely comfortable and I felt myself relaxing with the warmth from the fireplace. As I glanced over at the man I noticed that his sight rested on something beyond me. He appeared to be looking at my staff!

The empty far-away look disappeared from his eyes as they shifted and glanced into mine. A smile passed across his face as he spoke, “I apologize for being so rude. I am called Akuma. And you would be?”

“My name is Michael,” I replied. Akuma lifted an eyebrow at this, apparently interested at the discovery.

“Does this mean that you are a man of God?” he inquired. The puzzled look on me prompted him to elaborate. “That is what your name means, you know.”

“Oh. Well…yes, I guess it does,” I replied. “I guess it’s been a long time since I’ve thought about that.”

He sat looking at me expectantly. I was about to question the stare when he repeated his previous question that I had yet to answer: “Are you a Godly man, Michael?”

I shifted uncomfortably in the chair. “I suppose I am. I never gave it too much thought.”

I didn’t feel like giving him the entire history of my spiritual life. Over the last few years there hasn’t been much of one to speak of. I had been raised in the church and had always considered myself an active Christian. However, the complicated manipulations of organized religion had set fire to the cross which I had unquestioningly loved as a youth. I saw the hypocrites it had made out of several of the friends I used to associate with when I was younger. I decided not to let it do that to me.

A clawing noise brought me out of my daydream. I again noticed Akuma examining the staff that rested against my chair. I was about to ask him about his interest when that noise once again occurred. It seemed to be some sort of clawing coming from behind the curtain. My sudden glance at the curtain seemed to pull Akuma from his own thoughts.

“Do not concern yourself over that,” he said. “It is merely my pet, Zouo. He poses no threat to you at all, unless I wish it, that is.” This last seemed to be some twisted attempt at humor, although I felt it as more a threat than as humor.

“Tell me,” he continued, “where did you come by your staff?”

My hand wrapped around the shaft as I glanced over at it. I lifted it from the back of the chair as I turned to Akuma. “Why do you ask?”

“It seems to be remarkably well made,” he explained. “The material that it’s made of appears very strong. I was merely admiring the craftsmanship.”

Satisfied with that I shared the story of my staff’s discovery. “A few years ago, during the winter, I decided to take a walk in the woods. This was nothing unusual, as I tend to do this to relax. As I was walking along that day I came to an area that seemed to have some particularly deep snow drifts. Seeing no way around them, I decided to plod my way through. I’d made it no more than ten feet when I tripped on something buried in a drift. After I picked myself up I glanced back to see what I had stumbled on. I found the rounded head of this staff protruding from the snow that was white enough to blind a man. I dug it out and found it to be the perfect size for a walking stick and it seemed to have been carved by someone who knew what he was doing. So I kept it.”

He looked like he was going to reply when both of us heard a scratching noise on the floor behind my chair. As I glanced around I felt something grab hold of the bottom of my staff and try to take off with it. Luckily I had firmed up my grip before it got loose. It was then that I noticed the lizard-like creature that was attempting to steal the staff.

It was incredible. Scurrying back and forth on the floor was what appeared to be a miniature dragon. It was only about three feet long from head to tail. But the thing was a spitting image of all the dragons described in those fantasy books I’d read in my youth.

I stood up to try to loosen the thing’s grip on my staff. As I rose, the thing gave a quick jerk on the staff, throwing me off balance. I started to trip forward, my hand still grasping the staff. There was no chance for me to correct my balancing problem. And so I reached out to grab the only thing I saw that might be able to keep me from falling on my face—the gray curtain.

There was a ripping sound above me as the entire curtain fell to the floor with me. I heard a small gasp, or was it a curse, from Akuma and what must have been a bark of sorts from the dragon. Then there was only silence in the room. I threw the curtain off of me and quickly gained my feet, prepared to apologize for the damage I’d done. It was then that I saw what that gray curtain had been hiding. My heart froze as I tried to comprehend the horror that stood before me.

Sitting against the wall where Akuma’s bed should have been was an altar. It’s base consisted of packed earth that had bones of all sorts protruding from it. Sitting atop this was a row of human skulls of various sizes. Some of them were sitting upright, others tipped this way and that, and a few of them had been flipped upside down. Resting on the skulls was a large piece of marble, several inches thick. Resting above this was some sort of padded cushion that encircled the outer rim of the marble. It was nearly a foot tall and a foot wide. This cushion created a wide gaping hole the size of a large man in the center of the altar.

It was this cushion-like barrier that caused my stomach to turn. It was covered with human flesh. The flesh had been stretched taut and neatly sewn together in large patches. I could make out various parts of anatomy that had been used to make this detestable shrine. In one spot could be seen several thin strips that came from a hand. Sewn in above that and to the right was a large piece that had several hairs sticking out of it, having come from a man’s leg. And below this was the stretched and distorted mask of a human face. The gaping holes where the eyes had been stared at me like vacant black pits.

I wanted to run, but my feet were frozen. I couldn’t help but find myself gruesomely fascinated with this monstrous construction. The fear that was coursing through multiplied a hundredfold when I found myself approaching the devilish tabernacle.

Some force that was beyond me was compelling me to advance towards the altar. I quickly found myself standing in front of the thing, staring into the gaping hole in the top. I didn’t seem surprised to find that the hole opened into a great shadowy pit. I couldn’t see anything inside of the hole, only an emptiness that stretched eternally downward. I screamed in terror when I looked into that shadowy world where no light could ever hope to intrude. Then came the other screams. They started individually and quietly, and slowly added shriek to shriek. In a very short time the entire cabin was shaking with the tormented cries of millions of lost souls.

The terror suddenly freed me from my frozen position before this demon’s altar. I began to back slowly away from the gaping hole, my eyes fixed on the darkness. Then I remembered Akuma. I spun about, holding my staff in front of me to fend off any advances he may have made. He stood in front of the chair where I had left him. I stared into his eyes, the red glow having returned to them. A thin smile was curled upon his scarlet lips. The dragon pet was nowhere to be seen.

“What the hell is that thing?” I screamed at him, readying my staff for a swing.

“That is us, my dear Michael. That will be your home once we’ve finished with you. It is a place full of nothing but constant darkness and fear.”

As he spoke he took a step towards me. I swung the staff with all my might, trying to knock him out so I could escape. He ducked underneath my swing with surprising agility. But I was ready for this. I tightened my grip, preparing to take him with a back swing.

Just as I started to bring my staff around again, I felt something slam into the back of my left shoulder. I righted myself holding the staff out in front of me. Akuma still stood in front of the chair, and Zouo was now crouched on the floor near the cauldron, his black eyes fixed on the staff in my hands.

Akuma showed no concern over the staff as he once again stepped forward, raising a hand as if looking for an opening to tear me apart. This time I managed to surprise him. I brought the bottom end of the staff up, connecting with his left knee. A blinding flash of light sparked from the end of the staff as I heard a hundred voices scream out in pain.

I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye and reversed my grip on the staff so that I could lash out at Zouo. Seeing the rounded end of the staff flying at him, the creature leapt into the air and scurried away. The staff struck the cauldron with another blinding flash. The cauldron was thrown against the back of the large hearth, splashing some of the black liquid inside out of it. I brought my right arm up to fend off the spill, but some of it splashed against the underside of my forearm. The pain was nearly unbearable, and I fought to retain consciousness as my vision started to blur.

My sight cleared and I saw Akuma kneeling on the floor, clutching his left knee. As he looked up at me I saw my own death in his eyes. Out of fear for more than my life, I weakly swung the staff at him again. He almost managed to clear the swing, but it caught him on the left side of his face, cutting through his thick beard. This threw him back against the floor, and I saw my opportunity to escape. I darted past the great hearth, scaring Zouo away with another swing. Then I redirected my charge towards the small table below the window. As I neared the wall I threw my body forward in a full dive, right through the window.

I barely noticed the cold chill that hung in the night air as I hit the ground, groaning as I thudded. I forced myself to my feet, my arm still searing from the burn of the cauldron’s dark contents. I fought off the urge to faint as I charged to the trees opposite me. I reached the first heavy clump and climbed my way through at breakneck speed. Before I knew it, I was tearing through the thicket aimlessly, driven by a need to put as much distance between me and that cottage as possible.

“Michael!!!” The scream ripped through the night air, slashing into my mind as if it hadn’t been spoken aloud. “Run to the meek safety of your town. But know this, you will join us at our altar. You belong to me-e-e!!!”

That scream burned into me, stealing all of the energy from me. I couldn’t force myself to go any farther. As I started to collapse among the dead trees all around me, I prayed that I had run far enough. The last thing I remembered before the darkness overtook me was pressing my staff firmly against my body, as if it would shield me from the shadows.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

BEEP - BEEP - BEEP - BEEP - BEEP! I lashed out at the alarm clock sitting on the night stand next to my bed. I missed terribly, my hand striking the base of the touch lamp that sat there. The small light slid across the surface and then crashed to floor. BEEP - BEEP - BEEP! After a small curse I launched a second assault at the alarm, this one meeting with success.

After repeating this four times, I dragged my weary body out from under the heavy quilt that my grandmother had made for me years ago. I stood tall, stretching my hands towards the ceiling in order to work all the kinks out of my back. With only one eye slightly cocked open, I stumbled across the clothes garnished floor to the bathroom.

I clumsily stumbled through my morning routine half-consciously. After the first twenty minutes of my shower I began to wake up. Walking out of the bathroom, still drowsy but alert, I struggled to pull a pair of faded blue jeans on.

As I zipped up the comfortable jeans I turned toward the bedroom door and noticed my walking staff leaning against the wall in one corner of the room. I froze , the horrific images returning to me. I quickly spun around, scanning my room. It was then that it occurred to me that that frightful event might have been the results of the leftover pizza I had scraped out of the fridge before going to bed.

I started to laugh. Wow! That was one of the most vivid nightmares I have ever had. It was so damn scary just thinking about it, I thought it would’ve made a great story. I’d have to find the time to sit down and write it up.

I brought my hands up to rub my temples, and then ran them through my thick brown hair as I remembered the cold pepperoni pizza and peach wine cooler I had while watching one of the hundreds of late late shows on cable.

My hands froze at the crown of my head, the color drained from my face as I looked into the mirror mounted on the back of my bedroom door. On the underside of my right forearm I saw three large marks. I pulled my right arm down to examine them. The skin seemed to be ripped away as three dark red scars bulged up on my arm. I ran my left hand carefully across the three numbers they made: three, four, seven.