"See, the only way you can see the demons is if you are under the table drunk. So, bottoms up, buttercup. We gotta fight."
(Credit for the original prompt goes to the people over at /r/writingprompts, see the original thread here!)
A Midnight Visitor
“Move, move. *Move*!” the words tumbled out of the old man’s mouth in one exasperated gasp, an adenoidal tone that drew thoughts of chiding grade school teachers and hoity-toity Europeans.
“Who are you, sir?” Blain stood in the door way of his home shying back against the skittering leaves and cold December breeze, a Glock 22 clutched in hand, kept out of sight at the small of his back. He relaxed a bit, staring down at the geriatric bag of bones who stood, hunched, at a near four foot ten. Four foot five if one was being generous and counting the wisps of white hair that clung to the side of the man’s scalp. An incredulous sneer twisted Blain’s lips, he wasn’t on the clock, why was he having to deal with weird stuff? A waft of old-person smell hit him square in the face, a foul mix of ‘nursing home’ mixed with ‘vagrant who lives out of the 76 Gas Station bathroom’. “It’s midnight.”
“You got cotton in your ears boy? I said *move*.” The old man stiff armed Blain in the chest with surprising vigor, driving a lumpy leather handbag into his chest.
“Hey!” Blain tucked the Glock into his belt line. He had a tolerance for old people, but it didn’t stretch too far past physical contact and flying arthritic fists. “What’ve you got in this thing, man—*sir*?” the professionalism of his training kicking into gear. The old man maintained a bleach-knuckled grip on the bag, Blain noticed a small black gym back in the other hand.
“I’ll tell you a-as we move.” The old man stuttered and fixed Blain with a startlingly hard gaze, rheumy eyes a piercing shade of blue. The adenoidal tone of voice shifted to one of command that motivated passiveness into action, a tone Blain himself used daily on the streets.
Good Lord. A 5150. Blain sighed, the least he could do was let the old man in out of the cold while he waited for his buddies to arrive and haul the man back to the nearest hospital for psych evals. “Come in.” Blain stepped aside, letting the old man shuffle through, a tireless pep to his step. Blain scanned the porch for anyone else, perhaps he was on one of those hidden camera shows that judged the reaction of people in odd situations. As far as he could tell though, staring past the naked willow tree that stood alone in a pool of moonlight that spilled across a five by four foot island of grass, there was no one else to be seen. Just his Tundra parked behind a red Malibu beneath a pair of street lamps.
Still, something tugged at Blain, never mind the odd occurrence of a late night visitor, but something in the man’s voice belied an urgency. He shut the door and secured the bolt in place, turning after the old man who’d made a quick path for the dining room.
“What’re you doing?” Blain cut through his kitchen toward the sound of chairs scraping on hardwood, snagging his phone up from a small bar top sink which currently served as a temporary holding place for all of his junk mail and past-due bills.
“You see, the only way you can see the—” The old man started, he was a flurry of motion around Blain’s table, an animated cartoon of the hunched form that had been in the doorway no more than a minute before.
“*Stop.*” Blain thrust a hand out toward the man as he hefted a bulbous ceramic vase from the center of the table. The old man ignored him, shifting the vase to one corner where wilted roses within shed pedals onto the floor.
“You see, the only way you can—”
“I’m calling the police, guy.” Blain thumbed the pass-code into his phone, watching as the old man unrolled the handbag across the cleared table revealing a myriad of crosses made from various materials, and glass vials full of some clear liquid.
“I wouldn’t do that.” The old man shook his head and grimaced, we don’t need any more lives at risk than we have now. “You’re Ophilia’s friend right?”
“What?” Blain pulled his Glock. He knew when he was being threatened. The old man noted it with a dismissive flick of the wrist. “Yes, what does she have to do with—”
“Do you have any Bacardi?”
*Bacardi?* Blain cocked an eyebrow. “Bacardi? Like, the alcohol?"
"Any will do really, just a personal preference." The old man shrugged.
"Look, alright, this must be a joke. Tell Ophilia the gig is up.” Blain didn’t want to mention the borderline shameful amount of alcohol he had tucked around the house—his breakup had hit him a little harder than he’d cared to have admitted. “I have a bit.” *How many of the guys back at the precinct were in on this little charade? Roberts was on shift right now, he’d be able to take the old man back to wherever it was he’d escaped from.* “Let’s go back out front.”
“Sorry,” The old man paused, studying Blain, “I guess I should’ve asked for Malibu. Come to think of it you look like a Malibu drinker. Ophilia is gathering the others.”
“What the hell do you want guy? Others?” Blain found Roberts number in his contacts, keeping a keen eye on the old man. *How did he look like a Malibu drinker? What does that even mean?* The old man shoved past, flipping open cabinet drawers and pantry doors.
“Ah.” The old man shuffled through the dozen-or-so half filled bottles. “More than enough. They’ll be here any minute. *Bacardi.* Perhaps we can get you to an AA meeting after this.” The old man pulled two handles from the cabinet. “Can always count on you lawmen to have alcohol handy.”
“Wait. Who’s they?” Blain set a hand on the old man’s shoulder.
“Demons.” The old man shrugged free, back toward the dining room table.
“Demons?” Blain lifted the phone to his ear wheeling back toward the front door as the line began to ring. The old man’s reflection played out on the black face of the oven like it were a TV screen for a moment as he rummaged around his gym bag. The sound of Velcro ripping tugged at his curiosity, Blain gave his Glock a cursory look. “Go get your drinks elsewhere.” He didn’t have time for this—the old man was going back out front.
“No cops Blain.” Blain turned back around to see that the old man had donned a Kevlar vest.
*“Gun, gun, gun.”* Blain shouted reflexively, retreating back into the meager cover offered by kitchen counters and appliances, dropping his phone and raising the Glock as he registered the shotgun cradled in one arm. A tactical piece better suited for the SWAT team armory than this guy’s own collection.
“Drop it.” Blain ordered, his heart racing. “Drop the weapon guy, or you’re gone.”
The windows of the house began to rattle, the front door shuddering against its bolt. The smell of sulfur and brimstone permeated the walls. Through the window blinds a reddish glow began to pulsate softly. Blain watched sharp white beams of light dance along his backyard fence through his sliding glass door. Tactical lights cutting like knives through the midnight blackness. The old man hit a light switch on the wall, plunging the area into relative darkness.
“What the hell is going on!” Blain demanded. Between the Academy, and twelve years on the street, he’d never experienced this before. He drew a ragged breath, attempting to calm his heart’s frenzied beat.
“You see.” The old man was just a bulky mess of shadows now, faintly illuminated by the light spilling through from outside. He’d emptied the contents of one of the small glass vials into one of the Bacardi handles and offered it forward to Blain. “the only way you can see the demons, is if you’re under-the-table drunk. So bottoms up, buttercup. We gotta fight.”
Tales tell of a blacksmith at the top of the mountain. He knows the future, but says nothing. He only makes you what you need. (Credit for the original prompt goes to those at /r/writingprompts, you can find the original thread here!)
The Mountain's Smith.
“Bring it around!” Havelock whipped his fist in a circular motion above his head as he exited the great cabin and strode to the middle of the ship. Crewmen heaved on various lines, reefing the sails while the blustering wind settled into a sporadic moment of relative calm. This looks like the right area. Images of the maps he’d had sprawled out over his desk flashed through his mind.
The Autumn’s Dawn groaned, listing port side. Havelock’s lungs burned, stabs of ice scraping his throat as he drew breath, ready to bark more orders. The morning air was laced with scents of the pine trees which bristled on the mountainside, wrapped in white powder coats of snow which glittered under sunlight spilling across the horizon from the east.
“Aye Cap’n.” The gruff voice of Havelock’s First Mate answered from the helm of the ship, standing upon a raised dais that jutted forward from the aftcastle out over quarterdeck.
“That’s it.” Havelock nodded, satisfied. He wheeled toward a flight of stairs which curved up past the side of the ship before turning back into the aftcastle. Through his gloves he could feel the smooth wood of the ship’s railing which, despite his fur-lined gloves, radiated a coldness that bit through his flesh and seeped into his bones. The sooner we get back to the Lowlands the better. Havelock glanced over the ships edge, they drifted a few hundred yards above the mountainside which cut a steep decline toward grassy fields a mile or two below. A gust of wind lashed up beside the ship, Havelock recoiled, reflexively clamping a hand down atop his tricorne hat before it was snatched away. He was met with a warm smile from Azar as he bound from the stairs up to the helm.
“Morning Cap’n.” Azar tugged at one of his beards auburn braids. The dwarf a near four feet tall, almost matched by the height of the ship’s wheel. Bound in a fur coat, he looked closer to a bristlebear than a dwarf. Frost had formed along the fringes of his beard, and above the bushy brows which overshadowed sunken hazel eyes. “A lit’l chilly, but nothin’ too bad, eh?” He sniffed, his nose reddened by the cold.
“This is the one day you’ll hear me say I envy your beard my friend.” Havelock smirked for a moment before a lash of wind stung his cheeks and harried his eyes.
“I’d say flight goggles would help.” Azar guided the wheel of the ship slowly right as they followed the curve of the mountain, “but that won’t help here. Fog up in an instant. We’ll have to snag ones better suited for cold weather next tim—”
“No we won’t. Tell the Great Library we’re never going to a region this cold again. Damn the Professori, if they’re so curious about folklore and myth, they can come out here themselves.”
“Taleferon better be right about the location.” Havelock studied the valley which spread from horizon to horizon ahead of the ship, a beautiful patchwork of cultivated wheat fields, swaying plains of heather, a few grain silos and farmsteads. The hinterlands just past the fields, stretching from the coastline to the west, visible past the mountainside, gave way to marshes and rolling hills that vanished at the horizon. He watched a trio of skyships—likely merchant craft given their bloated hulls—running a course over the coastal bluffs, likely bound for one of the monastic cities that laid somewhere past the hinterlands.
“He’s your elf.” Azar grunted. “Don’t know why you keep him aboard.”
“He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.”
“An’ most arrog’nt. There ain’t a spot on the ship I can’t hear him whine about somethin’ or another.”
“He can come off as a little condescending.” Havelock admitted. He strained his ears for a moment, and even past the clank of ratlines, the snaps of fabric, and the groaning of his ship, somewhere below deck he could here the shrill intonations of Taleferon, likely berating himself over a perplexing book, or disagreeing whole-heartedly with an Professori’s faulty thesis. “Chalk it up to cultural differences. Is that our spot?”
A plume of thick smoke rose from a break in the pines, where the rocky mountainside separated to reveal a clearing nestled in relative obscurity.
“It may be.” Azar turned the wheel slightly sharper, angling the ship nearer. “Bring ‘er to a stop!” Azar commanded, shouting out across the deck as well as into the mouth of a communications tube that ran to personnel below deck. The crew moved in a near-immediate response to the orders, tossing weights over the side and stretching counter-sails at just the right angle to catch opposing wind.
The Autumn’s Dawn began to slow.
“Have the hull lift readied. I’ll take it down.”
“What size compliment do you want to accompany you Cap’n?” Azar stepped away from the wheel, “shall I fetch my gear?”
“Stay with the ship. I was reading some of the notes from the library. Man up here’s a hermit, doesn’t speak to more than one person at a time—or, at all. Apparently.”
“If he don’t speak at all, why’s it matter if anyone comes with?”
“I’d rather we not cause more of a stir than we have to. Let’s just see if this guy exists, and we can bring our reports back to the Professori and the Great Library. I’ll be fine.” Havelock tapped his fingers along the four garnet castingstones embedded in the knuckles of his glove and jostled the hilt of his cutlass, “I’ll be fine.” He repeated, a bit of reassurance in answer to Azar’s suspicious gaze. “Tell them I’m coming down.”
The square platform rattled and jolted as it separated from the hull of The Autumn’s Dawn, lowered by four heavy chains, thick as some men’s torsos. Havelock held to the railing which lined three of the platform’s four sides, watching the interior of the hull raise away from him and the ruddy face of the crewman at the lift’s controls shrink from just over the lip of the hole. The scent of pine grew more intense, Havelock caught the minty taste of the air. The lift squelched to a halt, rocking in the hands of the wind just a foot from the snowy ground.
He flashed a thumbs up and stepped down from the platform, his boots sinking a half foot into the snow to firm ground below. An eagerness filled him, fueled by mystery and curiosity. The papers the Professori and Great Library had left him outlined a legendary blacksmith who called these craggy peaks home, blessed in craft as well as the ability to see ones future—and give them what they’d need.
“So what do I need?” Havelock muttered as he trudged through the snow, up a slight incline toward a stone structure which sat wide and low to the ground, from wall to wall of the clearing formed by the mountainside, a single black door at its center. The rattle of chains behind him signaled the ascent of the hull’s lift, and the loss of any quick escape should something prove wrong.
As Havelock left the shadow of The Autumn’s Dawn, the door to the blacksmith cracked open, squealing on large hinges as a large figure stepped into the light. Havelock glanced back toward his ship, seeing the squat form of Azar, contrasted with the lanky silhouette of Taleferon back-lighted by the sun. Half a dozen crew manned the railing, rifles in hand.
That won’t really help. Havelock sighed. A bald man had appeared, soot stained high cheeks, and a thick smock clung to his heavily muscled form. As Havelock drew closer, the cold air vanished, replaced by a wall of heat radiating from the entirety of the structure. He looked up at the blacksmith who stood at least a foot taller than he, and realized he had no eyebrows.
“Hello there.” Havelock gave a polite wave, pine mixed with the scent of smoke and oils now, the snow had given way to a patch of reddened earth. “I’m Captain Havelock Stormbound of the—”
The blacksmith held a finger up, quieting Havelock, before extending a closed fist.
Havelock reached a hand out to receive whatever he was being offered. A silver key dropped down into his glove, its shaft faceted with what Havelock recognized as the five known casting stones, each color contrasting with the next. Red, green, white, blue, and black. Havelock looked up at the blacksmith. “What do you expect me to do with this?”
The blacksmith shrugged, turning away and retreating back into the confines of his smithy.
“So?” Azar called from above, his words echoed off the mountainside. Havelock sighed, noting the position of the three skyships further inland since he’d first spotted them, before he looked up toward his first mate.
“It’s a key!”
“For what?” Azar turned toward Taleferon who’d evidently said something the dwarf hadn’t liked.
“Winds know!” Havelock shrugged, starting for the lift being lowered back down.
I post on this blog rather sporadically as some of you may have noticed! As I balance out writing with "the day job" I will do my best to post more consistently.
Thank you for your support and feedback!
Matthew Taylor was born February 13, 1991 in Simi Valley, California. He earned a Bachelor's degree in Political Science from California State University Channel Islands, where he served as treasurer and briefly President of one of the campus's two political clubs. While earning his degree he continued to write and hone his craft, eventually releasing an initial few short stories on Kindle.