Dearest Gentle Readers,
The new year came and went with a small ‘pop’ and a rush of well wishes and Midnight Stars. Here in SW Illinois the weather has finally gotten down to being cold: In Chicago there is snow and freezing Lake winds and in NC there is unexpected cold and the ice that always comes but here the icy wind just flows over the ground unstopped from the Great Plains, even over powering the air currents of the mighty Mississippi. At the beginning of February will come Imbolc or Candlemass, the start of the end of Winter and the almost beginning of Spring. This to me is the start of a New Year, the final arrival of the Vernal Equinox and the last of frozen life under the soil to be replaced by the running shoots and vines of life above.
It is now a few days past Imbolc and the weather has gone from 60 degrees and barefoot to a chance of snow and or rain all week. I will admit that the barometric pressure change is hammering my body right now. Most of my close friends who have invisible illnesses are limping around too; from my beloved H in Virginia to dearest GE in Pennsylvania. The constant pain and patently ineffective pain killers wear you down on the inside emotions. Then if there is anything that can completely knock the pain out, chances are your brain is floating up there with kites, bluebirds, and rainbows. My hat’s off to the unknown cold call sales lady who when I said, sounding zombie like, “…I have a migraine” immediately lowered her voice and said “I get those too. We can call you back.” And then she hung up. Unknown Lady, I luv you. My only advice to those who are just starting the Road of Life with an invisible illness is to find a support network that is best for you whether it is a prayer group with your church, morning meditations at sun rise, or the folks from your book club; find a doctor who ‘gets it’ and understands you are not pill shopping and that pain really does impact lifestyle; and if you are in state where CBD is legal, swallow your pride and get your user card.
Lately I think I have been pampered rotten. My husband just says “…Well, thank you.” This morning he got me my pain syrup and around noon he brought me a granola bar and my water bottle. He made our supper and even put a little salt on my asparagus. (My ability to stand up straight and to walk a straight line was in question.). And he even gives me sweet kisses on the lips. This past Saturday he took me to the St Andrews Book Fair and carried the books for me out to the car. He listens when I tell him about my rocks and lets the latest pile of ‘wonder gravel’ sit on the kitchen counter. When I just have to go search the thrift store, he walks beside me and holds the basket while I hunt. He doesn’t complain that I do not have delicate girly feet and he is understanding when I have migraine hair. In my mind I am a high maintenance wife but people tell me it means things like weekly mani-pedis and expensive jewelry so I will have to try and call myself a strange maintenance wife. Most of all, thank you to a spouse that loves me.
Tonight is a wondrously bleak night, chilly and dank with an eerie fog settling in; to be replaced by a rising sun hidden by layers of grey clouds like wet bed sheets strung over the sky. In a few nights the forecast is for clear nights and freezing temperatures but I will be out for enough time to see my beloved Orion. Since I was old enough for my parents to point out the stars at night in a cold, barren, Southern Indiana winter, that constellation has been my guardian. While others could Find the North Star, The Bears. or the Seven Sisters, Subaru in Japan, the only constellation I could find was Orion. While I was soulfully and sadly alone in body and spirit during college, Orion was always there watching over me in the night sky: he was my comfort and my protector. Sometimes the sky was clear enough for me to see Bootes his faithful hound and I felt extra lucky if only for a few breathless moments. If any Gentle Reader can understand the struggling grasp of the unknown in the night’s darkness and reaching out in all the confusion and angst for a Known Guide then you understand.
OK, Folks, I actually got good reactions from my rather personal poetry and for that I am very thankful. I am a writer and so is my beloved spouse and occasionally we collaborate together on stories, each one responding to the other and adding to the story. One of our favorite themes is the world of Dungeons of Dragons, an admittance which says loud and clear that we are old school geeks. Many, many years ago my husband created his own continent in this setting and decided to give it a Wild West vibe. Now, as most table top roll players can attest to, we have run multiple games in this world and never finished a single game. As loving and patient as I hope I am, recreating the same character over six times and never getting her anywhere finally burnt my toast. One day he says to me “Why don’t we write a story with Mariesha in it, so you can finally create her the way you have wanted.” Then came me jumping up and down and hugging him and telling him of my undying love. “But, My Darling Husband, how do we start her off?” Several days later he announces “I came across this great name for the Capitol of Tabria…Cinerarium! It’s Victorian for mausoleum!!” That evening he also came home and presented me with my introduction to our story: Not quite steam punk, the continent of Kildare is a place all its own. And on this continent is the country of Tabria with the gloriously profound capital of Cinerarium.
I would like to introduce you to our world and my character who is rather dear to my heart. (With a bit of editing here or there I feel somewhat confident in the results.) *****CHAPTER ONE-ISH
The cut was shallow, Wharley was only marking where he’d make the real incisions; the boy would live through it no matter how he was screaming now. Twenty years in the future he’d be flashing the scars to get into some barmaids skirts, well, if this played out right. If not Wharley’d have another skin puppet and nobody would hear that voice again.
Mariesha slowly lowered herself onto the rafter, the centuries old wood creaking ever so slightly but still holding her weight. Below her, one of the trio of flesh golems standing around Wharley’s stone slab looked about the warehouse, its dim intelligence barely aware of something being amiss.
Wharley made another thin cut, running along the boy’s sternum and down the length of his stomach. This was all the practice Warley was going to get; it was move now or mop the little burk up. Perching directly over-head, Mariesha willed Murder into her hands. In seconds the barbed metal lengths of the animate chain wound around her, one length into each hand and the third length of chain coiling at her hip. Its movements were almost sensual in a strange, living weapon-of-gruesome-death kind of way.
An older flesh puppet appeared from the shadows at Wharley’s side, its face a frozen mask of rigor. Mariesha’s eyes narrowed; she knew the victim: That was Ashley Taber, the daughter of a street-side vendor and a seamstress. Wharley had snatched her from her bed two fortnights prior, and had even left her still steaming entrails on the family stoop for the sunrise. He had enjoyed watching their reactions from his carriage as he waited down the street, and that had almost gained him the rope: Just two more ticks and Mariesh’d have had Wharley then and there.
Shifting slightly on the wooden beam, Mariesha glanced back toward the doors at the far end of the warehouse turned charnel house. Where was Elsbeth? She’d hesitated leaving her recorder on her own, but in the past months they had worked together Elsbeth had held her own well enough in scrapes. Then again Wharley and his meat-puppets weren’t alleyway thugs nicking the random purse.
As if on queue the doors burst open and in walked a vision of scarlet velvet. As much as Mariesha looked the tomboy Elsbeth looked the lady, voluminous skirts swishing about her as she walked, complete with a bustle and the matching little cap perched atop her head. When Mariesha had first met the woman she had almost fallen out laughing at the thought of the dainty Elsbeth scumming about in the dregs of Cinerarium with her. In the name of the seven gods she even had her matching ladies fur muff at her belt.
“In the name of the crown you are all under arrest!” Elsbeth declared as she strode undaunted past the packs of ghouls and meat-men that were prowling the shadows along the edges of the broken warehouse. “You will stand down or all necessary force will be used.”
“Of all the Recorders in the kingdom I get the dramatic one.” Came to Mariesha’s mind ruefully as she leaped silently to one of the massive supports behind the table and in another blink dropped down onto the floor, waiting in the shadows.
“This is your one and only chance to surrender.” Elsbeth finished as her gloved hands slipped into the ever-present fur muff at her waist.
In the shadows Mariesha smiled, her fangs glinting ever so slightly in the dimly flickering ghost-lights around the table.
“Kill it.” Wharley croaked, pointing at the Recorder.
All across the wretched place, filthy faces cracked in smiles, though none as dark as the one Mariesha watched come across her recorder’s lips. “By your leave, Inspector?”
Mariesha almost laughed as she called out. “By all means, Els.”
One day, Mariesha thought as she started for the table, she was going to have to get Elsbeth to really show her the details of those dresses. Oh, the hells would freeze solid before Mariesha herself would willingly wear one into the streets, but damned if they weren’t fun to watch.
In mid-stride all the petticoats and ruffles fell away from Elsbeth, revealing nothing but long black boots and the chain mail hidden away beneath. When her hands emerged from the muff they were shrouded in all manner of blade and hook and barb. Elsbeth called them her ‘work gloves’, and ladylike gloves she had all manner of, but the work these were intended for was specific.
The first ghoul that reached Elsbeth turned into a fountain of blood and shredded flesh, tumbling off into the darkness. Mariesha didn’t watch any more than that: There was death to be done by her hand.
Two steps away from the support post and Murder was already spinning at full speed, a blur of barbs extending from each of Mareisha’s hands as the chain moved too fast to see. The first flesh golem had half turned when Mariesha struck, the third animate chain wrapping around her already mailed fist. Steel and barbs slammed into the back of the creature’s knee, ripping muscle and shattering bone, sending the golem backwards as the opposite length of chain whipped down and around to wrap around its neck. Spinning forward Mariesha leaped onto the table itself, Murder pulling tight. Her motion combined with the golems backward fall popped its distorted head from its bulging shoulders.
“Eustace Wharley you are under arrest for the murder of Henry Fosters…” started the Inspector.
Wharley scrambled backwards, Murder just missing him, as the other two golems surged forward and the mountainous wall of half rotted muscle pressed in from each side of the table as the child strapped down at Mariesha’s feet wailed.
“… Alistair Young…”
Both lengths of chain came back to speed, Mariesha sidestepping clumsy grasps of the golems to lash out in all directions: Blood and bits of pallid gore flying in every direction.
“…Mary Beth Potter…”
Murder, as he always did, tore at the eyes of the creatures around the inspector. Blinded, the golems were undaunted but even more inaccurate and twice they came within a bird’s breath of smashing the bound child. Cursing Mariesha lashed downwards, severing the leather straps that held the near catatonic boy in place. When he didn’t move, Mariehsha ducked another clumsy blow and bodily shoved him from the monsters’ midst.
“Els, protect the boy!” Mariesha shouted before vaulting off of the table in pursuit of Wharley, her attackers in tow. “Now where was I? Yeah…the murder of Beatrice Brown…”
Somewhere in the darkness behind her, Mariesha heard, “Yes Mam!”
Flesh puppets now rose from the pitch black at the back of the warehouse; the reanimated corpses of tormented innocents. Mariesha didn’t know how Wharely was giving them the power that he was, but the little monstrosities were stronger and faster than any undead their size had a right to be.
Mariesha laid into the last golem in earnest, Murder tearing at the patches where the creature had been sewn together. What meat that wasn’t bodily torn from the creature fell from its frame as the metal staples and stiff sinew strips gave way.
Another wall of emotionless faces rose before Mariesha as she pressed after Wharley. The meat puppets attacked without hesitation and with more coordination than the towering flesh golems, darting wide around Murder’s arcing reach, seeking to press in on their master’s foe from all sides.
In the shadows past the flesh-puppets Mariesha could just see Wharley pausing long enough to look back at her as he stood next to a fetid mound of discarded body parts twice his own height. For a brief moment he smiled, the long dead flesh of his own face wrinkling at the twisted motion.
“There will be…” Wharley’s voice started to rasp.
Murder lashed out at its full length, the chain’s reach tripling in mid spin. The puppets, caught off guard, dove for the shadows though all felt the magic weapons barbs; eyes, muscle, or throats, whatever Murder touched was torn asunder.
“And Nathaniel Wharley!” Mariesha shouted, sprinting forward, extending Murder again to its fullest length.
Wharley’s smug expression shattered in an instant, his hunched figure diving into the rotted meat of his discard pile.
Mariesha cursed imaginatively under her breath, as she turned back toward the surrounding puppets. There was no point now in searching for Wharley; he was gone. The man was using blood magics that were well beyond what he should have had access to, and a rancid mound such as the towering discard pile was his gateway to anywhere else where fetid pools of blood awaited him. Denied the guidance of their master, the meat-puppets about the warehouse fell to Mareisha and Elsbeth in short order.
Covered in substances she’d rather not ponder, Mariesha made her way back to the table where the boy had been bound. “Els? You lost?”
“No, mam.” Came the reply, Elsbeth appearing a moment later. She was as covered in gore as Mariesha, bits of it still dangling from the gruesome hooked gloves on her hands. “We only have a few left to actually arrest.” She said sheepishly as she walked to Mariesha’s side.
“Where’s the boy?” Asked the Inspector, hoping the child was not pinned under a fallen mound of body parts.
“He’s hiding under the table.”
“Huh, so he is.” Leaning over and down, Mariesha tried to smile reassuringly and caught sight of a pair of eyes staring back out at her. “You hurt?” No answer came from the pale terror stricken child. “Well, nothin’ that a bath and some balms won’t fix,” said the Inspector trying her hardest to sound nice.
Mariesha willed her chain to wrap around her waist and shoulder, the three separate ends sliding up from the edges of the table, and stuck her hand under the table after shaking extra gore off of it, “Come on kid, time to go… before the flies start.”
“I don’t suppose you caught him?”
Mariesha growled and shook her head, looking back up at Elsbeth. “Nah, but we have enough dead bits ’round here that the necromancers should be able to tell us more about what he’s doing.”
“…and we cost him dearly this ‘morn.”
Walking toward the far door with the child in tow, Mariesha nodded. “And we saved the kid. I’ll go see if I can signal down a connie. Now that Wharley’s gone his coin shouldn’t forbid them coming in now.” Just short of the door itself, Mariesha paused. “Is it mornin’ already?
Elsbeth nodded, walking back to where the lower half of her dress still stood. “Yes it is. Actually it’s almost dawn.” TO BE CONTINUED
And now back to the real world, Gentle Reader. I want to also share my ideas for Easter with you and give a few pictures of my corner of the world. I have so many places and buildings with an essence to share, a feeling I hope you can understand.
I truly hope this story of Mareisha is a step in the correct direction for the evolution of this blog and is equally enjoyable for the readers and of course that my sentiment and written experiences are as welcome as a fires warmth on a freezing Winters Night and as refreshing as cold head waters on a hot Summer Day.
Until the next time, may God’s Nature bring you crystalline beauty and the Sophia bless you with clear sight, Be Well.