by C.F Hughes
My attempt at a horror story - now being expanded into a novella. What do you all think?
|While certainly vile in all respects, the rotting room contained within the small, musty hovel nonetheless brought forth a perverted sense of grace. A specifically trained eye, one with an appreciation for this sort of thing, could plainly see the devotion of its maker or, if you will, its perpetrator. For a scene such as described, the latter term would be most appropriate.
Beyond the river lay the home, well outside of town, on the outskirts of a small district known as Graceful – a sick joke, as the area was home to all manner of heretics, of thieves and cutthroats and miscreants. The seclusion of the place, when coupled with the relative scarcity of any well-meaning neighbours gave rise to one realising the sheer amount of forethought dedicated to the morbid pursuit of the atrocities’ maker.
Three indistinct figures stood at the doorway to the hovel, framed by the harsh glare of the late afternoon sun. The tallest among them stood in the middle, the reflected glint of his chainmail armour serving not to light the fetid darkness within but to make it,
somehow, more sinister. His demeanour was one of frank, honest rage as he slowly drew his sword and strode forth inside, closely followed by his two companions. One followed quickly, his hunched, brown-robed form scurrying inside with righteous haste, accompanied by harsh, heavy breathing from beneath his drawn hood. The other, a portly man in peasant garb, followed more reluctantly.
Once they were all entombed within, the tall one turned to the nervous figure, who was hovering around near the threshold.
‘Close the door, Peter,’ he said to him. Peter, after a short glance at the robed man, quickly did so.
The armoured man then turned to his monk companion. ‘Does the abbot know yet?’
A shake of the head. ‘Nay, milord,’ he said. ‘Master Gerick has been... out of his mind when he heard of the last one. I thought it best to... keep him misinformed of other such... events.’
‘Good job.’ Richard Mortimer, sergeant of the Lyston guard, now turned to Peter, who still hadn’t moved from his shadowed haven near the doorway.
‘When did you discover this, pray?’ he asked.
Peter swallowed, wiped the sweat from his brow, then spoke. ‘About an hour ago, milord,’ he said, his hands shaking and eyes darting quickly within their sockets.’ I jus’ got back from the market an’ I thought to stop in on ol’ Lady Gammage, ya know, see how her an her lovely daughter were doin’ an...’ he paused to take a deep breath, and continued. ‘An, so an, I was goin’ past this here house, an’ I heard a scream, ya know, an...’ Peter whimpered, and fell to the ground. His body shook as wracking sobs overtook his wretched form.
Richard grunted, and turned to the monk. ‘Light a fire, will you?’ he asked. ‘I am yet to see what has taken place here.’
The monk stared at Richard for a moment, then reached into his robes. After a moment of searching, his hand re-emerged with a piece of flint and a small knife. He hunched over the small hearth in the centre of the room, and in a moment a small fire was burning, banishing the shadows but revealing something altogether more evil than mere darkness. When the light broke upon the far wall of the room, Peter, who had hazarded a glance from between his parted fingers, gave a great shriek and collapsed unconscious. The monk looked on silently, his reaction dumbed by his former overexposure to such morbid stimuli. Richard, steeling himself, turned directly around to face the wall.
His first thoughts were of hell; specifically, how does one deal with those who have clearly escaped from it? Or were they expelled on some wanton whim of Lucifer? Is there even a layer deep enough in those wretched bowels of damnation to contain such horrific debauchery?
On an initial glance, the wall appeared to be of relatively mundane composition, though possessing a sort of organic quality, somewhat akin to leather. Only after a moment, during which his constrictive human mind readjusted itself to take on that which seems unthinkable, did he fully comprehend the wall’s true nature.
The wall was covered with skin. Human skin.
Richard felt the bile rise within his throat. He gagged, turned, then vomited upon the earthen floor of the hovel. Dry retching, he managed to pull himself upright from his hunched regurgitation, then forced himself to re-asses the scene of the crime.
Turning his attention again to the grisly mural, he forced himself to note the smaller details. The amount of skin was large, too large to have come from a single person. He noted the intricate needlework upon the hide, and came to the realisation that it was not one large skin but many, of various colours, textures, grades, all sewn together with delicate precision. A quick guess calculated the number of people upon the wall to be several. Several souls taken in pursuit of an immeasurably dark and horrific ritual, several taken, abducted in the night, ripped from them their lives, their God-given lives. Richard’s previous faith in humanity was quickly evaporating in the face of such dreadful occurrences; long had he served in the Lyston guard, and many lurid sights indeed he had seen. But this! Crime unforgivable!
He walked closer, slowly, deliberately, every step a mad test of raw endurance and sanity. The air, he noted, was surprisingly heavy; a sickly, metallic musk hung within the confines of the hovel, a feverish sort of odour, almost visible as a hanging fog, a deathly miasma. He leaned closer, and squinted. The sporadic hearth light made it difficult to note the finer details of the grotesque thing, but from what he could see... just the merest suggestion of a diagram, mayhap? A series of lines, perhaps some form of written text?
Behind him, the monk had, after some fidgeting amidst the hovel’s darkened clutter, produced a torch. Lighting it upon the hearth, he walk forward, and stood next to Richard. Thus lit, the grisly spectacle was now fully visible, its visceral glory made plain to all. Soldier and monk leaned closer. One reeled in renewed disgust. The other stared intently. Brother Kay ran his finger along the mural, following each line of bloody text. He murmured quietly under his breathe, uttering snatches of words and guttural sounds, languages long ago lost and damned.
Richard returned, and stood beside Kay. After some time, he looked up.
‘Is it’- Richard began.
‘Yes. Blood.’ Kay shuffled closer, and continued his unenviable task.
‘God’s wounds,’ muttered Richard. ‘God’s bloody wounds.’ He scrutinised the text again, and shuddered. ‘I assume you can translate it?’
‘That I can, God willing.’
‘Good. But what worries me are those... illuminations.’
Brother Kay gave a harsh, sarcastic chuckle. ‘Indeed,’ said he, ‘though holy they are not. These... are images of Lucifer; they celebrate his existence, they depict... his work. What do you make of them?’
Richard squinted. The actual diagrams were horrors unto themselves. Whilst the wall of skin was terrible enough, it still seemed nought but a surreal thing of fiction, of fantasy even, yet held forth the demeanour of that which is perfectly normal, though bastardised in some minor way.
But the diagrams, oh, the diagrams! Sheer bloody-minded madness! Spectacles of chaos, all reason torn asunder! The people upon the foul canvas... the details so livid, so intricate, so beautiful, so awful... Here, an eye torn out, and fed to the victim; there, a man disembowelled, and strangled with his own bile-coated entrails; in the centre, a woman, a young girl, lain upon the ground, her womb torn apart, exposed to the dreadful darkness of human extremes, cold, unrelenting.
Beneath them all, a larger image, one of a man suspended by his arms while a smaller figure beneath a crimson cloak tended to him with deathly ministrations, a large knife in one hand, a flap of removed skin in the other. The flaying.
Richard slowly shook his head. ‘What is beginning to worry me,’ he began, ‘is where lie the bones of those poor souls.’ He sat down heavily, and mopped at his sweating brow. When Brother Kay did not answer, he looked up. The monk was across the room, poking his head into a hitherto-overlooked doorway.
‘I think, sergeant,’ he said, slowly and deliberately, ‘that their bones are... not the primary concern, at... the moment.’
Richard stood. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked.
‘Master Peter only... heard the scream this morning, see, so... the bodies should still be... fresh.’ He beckoned towards the open doorway. ‘See... for yourself, Richard.’ Having said this, Kay hobbled to the other side of the room, and sat down upon the earth, his back to the wall.
Richard strode, as confidently as was possible, to the ajar doorway. Reaching it, he held onto the edge of the doorframe, and slowly leaned into the room.
Pain-distorted maws gaped at him, their last painful moments etched forever upon tortured faces. Eyes dangled from sockets, hanging sightless in the thick, feverish air. Flies buzzed madly about, the only sign of life in a dead, decaying room.
Several bodies. Several souls. Several skinless corpses suspended by their feet from the thatched ceiling of this small hovel, swaying gently from some invisible breeze. Blood ran in slow rivulets along their exposed sinews, coating the floor, softening the earth beneath them. The muscles sagged from the bone, the organs tumbled from their cavities.
Richard closed the door, and turned to Kay.
‘Burn it. Burn it down. No other shall hear of this until they are caught.’
He left, slamming the door behind him.
Kay sighed. Then laughed. A long, mad laugh that would have rent the early evening air had any sound been able to escape the hovel’s confines. Laughter, as he stood, and drew his short knife. Laughed, as he ran, almost danced over to where Peter lay in his fainting stupor. Laughter, as he open the man’s mouth, yanked out his tongue and, in one fluid movement, sliced it off.
A cry, a terrible, guttural sound, born of no tongue, but of throaty, horrid anguish. Peter thrashed about madly, rolling on the floor, struggling to stem the flow of watery blood. Kay watched with dull amusement for a few moments, then delivered a swift kick to the man’s ribs.
Peter curled up and quietly whimpered as Kay advanced, knife in hand, bearing a hideous smile. His eyes careened madly within their sockets, darting about the room, before becoming transfixed upon the sinful canvas upon the far wall. Kay saw his prolonged glance, and broadened his smile.
‘Oh yes,’ he said, all trace of strain and stutter gone from his voice. ‘You shall join the others.’