I really wanted this to stay under 10,000 words so I could submit it to The Horror For Good Anthology. But, I have to face it, short stories never were my forte (or even within the bounds of my ability, really). I need practice, but this took on a life of its own, and, while I think I can get ‘er down in about 25,000 words, I’ll never bring it in under 10,000.
It’s another excerpt of Josh’s story of The Reach–now in creepy hey-I’m-getting-to-know-those-guys-and-UNHOLY-HELL-what-is-THAT-draped-across-that-tree-limb??? form. I may post that bit, when I get up the nerve to write it. My writing doesn’t scare me. I should say, my writing DIDN’T scare me before THIS. Sure, parts of In Dark Places sent me under the computer desk, but that was all psychological horror stuff. THIS, though. MAN, there are bits that are causing me to look at Alesio and say, “You’re… sure?” and he just smiles awkwardly and we go on. The bonus? He’s shut Ethan up. 0.o
Anyway… that last bit would make sense if you’ve followed the blog or had been on the NaNoWriMo forums since 2010 and were familiar with the boy who flops on my bed at 4am or sneaks up behind me in the shower with, “Yeah, well, I was thinkin’–” and then goes on (and on and on) for hours… or heard me moan that my muse is a twenty-three year-old, skinny white boy from the Alaskan bush with Swedish ancestry and a mouth that won’t stop moving… I’ll forgive him, though, because his FarMor’s (that’s grandmother on his dad’s side for the non-Swedes out there) Blåbärspalt recipe is killer. Yeah. I said Blåbärspalt. It came out in a character interview about favorite foods growing up, and both Colin and I said, “What? What in the HELL is THAT?” I’d never heard of it, so I looked it up–Swedish blueberry dumplings. FarMor’s recipe DOES rock. Psychotic? Yeah, well, blame Ethan, because the boy does exist somewhere (and I mean beyond the OTHER Ethan Lindgren who friended him on Facebook… 0.o)
So, back to Alesio and Lita … and how they first sorta-kinda didn’t really start talking, since he speaks only Spanish and she speaks only Tlingit. But sometimes words are unnecessary ….
In late-August, the women arrived. They took a keen interest in the ceremonies of the Brothers, sometimes lingering in the back of the chapel as they sang through their rituals.
The women moved around the enclosure boldly. They had inquiring gazes that lingered on all the Brothers and their lay servants did.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
Alesio froze, unaware that one of the young women had followed him out into the forest. She spoke words he could not possibly understand, even as he presented her with the same conundrum. Alesio turned and attempted a smile. It was a smile she returned and, with a thrill of dread, Alesio recognized her. She was the young woman who had been in the canoe off their starboard bow as their ship had approached San Angelo Island. She was the woman who had gazed up at him and his brother as they conversed at the rail. Alesio swallowed the lump that had risen in his throat.
“What are you doing?” she asked again as she gestured toward the basket slung across his shoulder.
“I-I’m sorry,” he started lamely. He hesitated as she drew close beside him and looked down into the basket.
“You’re picking berries,” she said, her voice filled with shy laughter. She leaned closer. “Men don’t pick berries.”
“I’m,” Alesio started awkwardly as he put his hand to his chest and bowed slightly, “Brother Alesio.”
Her brow furrowed and he watched as she parroted the gesture. “Alé,” she said simply.
“No,” Alesio replied. “I’m Alé.”
Her expression brightened. “Alé,” she said and nodded enthusiastically. “Alleluia.”
Alesio felt his cheeks redden. “No,” he faltered, “Alesio.”
She would not be dissuaded. “Alleluia!” she laughed again and poked at him. “Alleluia!” Alesio started as she grabbed at his hand. “You’re missing the best spot for berries,” she laughed as she pulled at him.
“I really need to finish–”
She shook her head, pulling insistently at his hand. “This way!”
Alesio stumbled after her. “I don’t know if–” Alesio faltered as she led him further on, further into the cedars, away from the enclosure.
“Keep up,” she smiled as she pulled him over a large root that buckled across their path.
They moved deeper into the forest, the ground mossy and soft beneath their feet. He stole a glance at her; she moved easily among the roots, stepping gracefully down the twisting game trail. Alesio’s brain raced. Her hand was soft in his, the warmth of it alive and welcomed in the early autumn chill. He stumbled slightly as she stopped abruptly, still not releasing his hand, and looked around.
“This way,” she laughed, and he felt her tug again at his hand, pulling him more gently as she slowed to a walk.
Alesio looked around at the cedars; they were larger trees, more widely spaced, the ground beneath them nearly desolate save for an overlarge patch of bushes covered in plump, red berries. His breath caught as she drew him close beside her, her fingers twined around his as she reached for a berry.
“These are the best,” she continued as if he could understand every word she spoke. In his heart, he wished he could understand, but merely the sound of her voice reassured him. He gazed down at her silently, his mouth agape. She looked up at him and laughed quietly. “Taste,” she said, and he started as she popped a berry into his open mouth. Alesio blinked.
“Good,” he said. He nodded. “These are much better.”
She held his hand as she picked berries from the bush and dropped them into the basket. “I’ll help you. You can say you were with me to protect me,” she said conversationally. Alesio hesitated for a moment, unsure whether to withdraw his hand. He watched as she continued to pull berries from the bush. She dropped another handful into the basket. “Help you,” she said again, “not do it for you.” She gestured to the bush with a toss of her head.
“Oh,” he said quickly, snapping back to himself. He smiled awkwardly at her as he began to pluck the berries from the bush.
“Better you should hunt,” she said, her hand twisting easily within his as she reached for some of the berries higher up on the bush. She hesitated. “Or fish. My brother could teach you to make halibut hooks.” She continued to speak easily. He nodded politely, his fingers continuing to pull at the berries. “This is women’s work.” Alesio did not reply, he merely enjoyed the sound of her voice. He started as she turned suddenly placed a warm, berry-stained hand against his cheek. An electric shock surged through his every synapse. She smiled, and her voice became softer. “I do not believe you are a woman.”
“You were alone in the forest with her.” Alesio lay on his back, gazing up at the rafters of the dormitory he and the other Brothers shared. Around him, the soft snores of Rafael and Ezer were so familiar that they melded into the background noise of night. Outside, a high wind teased at the tops of the cedars, more a sigh than a moan as it climbed up and over San Angelo Island. Alesio drew a breath and rubbed at his eyes. Behind his eyes, he could see Father Rodriquez pacing the breadth of the chapel. Worrying.
“She followed me, Father,” Alesio replied, not lifting his head. “I only went to find berries for Brother Anicet’s pigments. He’s fond of that red.”
“Santiago is fond of that red,” Father Rodriquez replied without hesitation, referring to the Native boy who had taken to their scribe completely, “and Brother Anicet is fond of encouraging the boy’s talent with a quill.”
“Yes, Father,” Alesio replied meekly.
Father Rodriquez sighed. “You must understand the delicate nature of our mission here, Brother,” he started, his voice softening. “Lita is Aaron’s sister–”
“Father,” Alesio began earnestly in his defense. Michele held up his hand.
“And she is a truly beautiful young woman,” Michele continued. Alesio bowed his head. “I would not have you fall into sin–”
Alesio felt his heart hammer against his chest; his eyes closed. “No, Father,” he managed, sure that his master knew his every thought.
“I trust you, Brother,” Michele assured him softly. Alesio felt his heart twist suddenly.
Upon his mat, Alesio shifted slightly, his hands clasped tightly against his chest as he continued to blink sleepily up at the rafters.
“I trust you, Brother….” Alesio heard the words again, more distantly, echoing from somewhere far away as his brain began its slide toward sleep.
“I’m sorry, Father,” he heard himself say.
Alesio sighed and settled back beneath his blanket. He felt the warmth of a hand against his cheek.
“I trust you, Brother….” Father Rodriquez’s voice was more distant as Alesio yawned.
The warmth slid to the side of his neck, began to prickle toward his chest.
“You will need to work hard to remember those newly-made vows….” Lucas’ voice was a low, cold snarl against his ear.
Alesio’s breathing became ragged as pressure bore down against his chest, pinning him to his mat. He looked up as Lucas leaned in close. “I’m not like you,” Alesio gasped, his lungs suddenly aching with the effort of filing them. Lucas’ dark eyes flashed savagely and Alesio let out a startled cry as he felt Lucas reach for his sword. Alesio winced, folding his body in upon himself as Lucas drew the blade across him from his groin to his shoulder, cutting him deeply.
“You bleed as other men,” Lucas hissed suddenly, his eyes gleaming brightly.
Alesio’s hands flailed against the wound, his eyes wild as he stared up at his brother who continued to regard him quietly. He heard the bright rasp as Lucas sheathed the blade and leaned closer. Alesio writhed as sharp hands closed on him, prodding him, probing him, stretching his skin, assessing him.
“You feel as other men,” Lucas hissed. He leaned suddenly closer. “Is it true the Brothers use each other like women?”
Alesio’s eyes grew wide as he stared at Lucas. “What–?” he faltered.
Behind Lucas’ dark eyes, a glimmer of green escaped. Alesio began to tremble as the green brightened suddenly. “We have not witnessed it,” Lucas’ voice became a low growl. “Show us–”
Alesio struggled to back away. “It’s not true,” he said, finally finding his voice, his hands still flailing, bearing down pressure on the cut that had laid the muscles across his abdomen open.
It drew back. Alesio trembled, realizing not the shadow of his brother, but of a formless thing. “I trust you, Brother,” it hissed, its voice falling lower.
“What?” Alesio breathed. his heart pounding in his chest.
It nodded, bending low to wrap itself around Alesio; it pressed at him like a constrictor, its presence smooth and moist, cooling the wound. “You are most like us….”
Don’t forget CONTEST #1 of the 12 Days of Creepfest! I’ll be posting 4 total, so there are four chances to WIN BIG! Contest #1 is for a Deadman’s Reach ball cap! Look below for the prompt! Contest #2 will go out tomorrow (all contests run until the end of the hop — and because you have less time to be more creative later on, the prizes get BIGGER!)
♫On the Fourth Day of Creepfest, My True Love Gave to Me…♫
Yeah, well … you’re gonna LOVE this…