Friday, September 12, 2014

The Awakening

Part 4 of Annag's beginning.  If you haven't already, read parts onetwo, and three

 Lillian shuffled between the quickly made litter and the defiled clan house, directing the men of MacGoulan in the proper way to secure her human prize, and questioning Sionn.  

"You're familiar with the clan chief's sword, are you not?" she asked.

"Aye, I've seen it"

"Have you found it here?  Did Donnchadh die with his blade, is it with his body?"

Sionn tried to hide his disgust, "I did not search his remains, old woman! You said to burn it all."

Lillian smirked, "Before you light the fire, search for the sword. If you do not find it, search again after the fire has cleaned up the mess. Search every hovel here. Do not think to defy me, Sionn MacGoulan, don't for a minute think this same fate couldn't visit your home." Without waiting for an answer, she left him glaring after her as she returned to the litter that held Annag. 

The hairs rising on Sionn's neck convinced him to follow her commands. He watched as she directed his clansmen to accompany her, carrying the wounded girl with them. 


 Annag’s dreams were ugly and disordered. In them she ran, trying to escape the terror that began as her wedding feast. Trying not to believe Taog, her betrothed had been torn apart in front of her.

           Running from the vision of savaged flesh that had been her mother and the memory of her father being pulled down and slain.

           Fleeing the scream of her young sister before her head was ripped from her body.

          Trying not to see every one of her clansmen dismembered, bloodied.  Dead.

         Screaming herself to muffle the soothing voice that kept repeating, "It will be alright."

More frightening was the beast that walked beside her. A man with a wolf’s snout. Claws at the end of each finger. Together they walked from village to village, clan to clan. In each pace they left blood and death behind.

She raised her hands to wipe the tears from her face only to see claws growing from her own fingers.

She screamed in denial.

“It will be alright,girl.” Again the voice. Soothing. Compelling. Terrifying.

She’d cried out repeatedly in her fevered dreams. And each time that voice, those words “it will be alright’” mocked her.


Annag woke from the nightmare at midday. The sun blazing through the window across from her cot. She felt a strange relief, at least she was alone.

The room smelled of burning herbs and the taste on her tongue mirrored them. She tried to raise her head. Dizziness made that impossible. She could see the sky bleached white by the heat of the day. A wind gusted through the window, its breath drawing the last moisture from her mouth.

She lay back on the pillow, her mind sorting the dreams from reality. The burning pain on her back insisting far more of the nightmare was real than not.

Her solitude was too soon broken. The persistent voice from her dreams broke the silence.

“So, Annag, last of MacClarren, you’ve awoken finally.” Lillian filled the small space.

“Where am I? What has happened? I don’t remember, where is my family, where is Taog?” she asked the last question already knowing the answer.

“You are a guest in my home. For now.” The old woman appraised her. “What do you remember, girl?”

“Attack. By… wolves?” Annag closed her eyes as tears began to form, then opened them quickly as memories of blood and death swam behind her lids.

“Wolves?” Lillian snorted, “You know better, girl. The only wolves in this land are the one’s on two legs. How do you even know the word?”

“I don’t…”

“I do. Men that become beasts, the old stories. Wolf? Not really, just animals from a man’s black heart, made real by old magics.”

Annag tried to deny, she shook her head, “no, they are only tales to frighten children! Such things don’t exist, they cannot…”

“They cannot? Were you not frightened, ‘child’?” Lillian sneered at her. “Your clan is dead. MacClarren is no more. No father, chief. No mother. No precious little sister.” Lillian’s voice that had pretended comfort during the nightmares, threw aside the pretense. “And your MacGoulan boy? Ripped apart.”

“Stop! Stop it!” Annag tried to get up from the cot, Lillian pushed her back with the butt of her staff.

“You stop, girl. Stop puling like a babe. You are alive. And hard work it was to keep you that way.” Lillian eyed her sidelong. “What I really want to know, is how you survived, how you slew a dozen shape shifted men and only have a few scratches to show for it.”

Annag’s memories played in her mind. Her father’s blade. Where was her father’s blade. She almost asked the old woman, then hesitated. She had held the broadsword in her hands, where had it gone? Vague recollections of moonlight glinting on the iron. Surely she’d never left the clan house. But, where was the blade?”

She did not trust this old woman. Her answer was half truth, “My clansmen killed them before they fell themselves. I remember being wounded. I must have fainted, the beasts thought me dead already.”

Lillian weighed the words. “Perhaps. Perhaps that is so. We shall see, yes, we shall see.”

“Sionn! I remember Sionn, I want to speak to him, please.” Annag was ready to leave this place, this woman. She could go to MacGoulan, she had been betrothed.

Lillian laughed, “I think you don’t want to speak to Sionn, or any MacGoulan. The scratches you remember, the one’s healing on your pretty back? They carry… well let’s just say a sickness.”

“What do you mean? Am I dying? The babe, I carry a child!”

“Dead is what you’ll both be if you approach any MacGoulan. Those marks mean the beast is in you now, girl. You’re tainted.”

“No! You're lying, lying!” Annag stood up in spite of the dizziness, she wanted to strike Lillian. Stop the words that resurrected the dream. The dream of walking with the beast at her side, leaving death behind.

Lillian smiled knowingly at Annag. “Am I now?”

Don't be afraid to leave a comment, let me know what you think.  Concrit is welcome!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

MacGoulan Arrives

   More of the Chaos in Progress, this scene is the morning after the attack on Annag's wedding feast. Pt 1 The Wedding Feast  Pt 2 Unexpected Guests

 The morning sun slid hesitantly through the broken doorway. Flies began to gather around pools of blood and stray limbs. The lazy buzzing a sharp contrast to the panicked screams and roars of rage that filled the house hours earlier.

The small party from clan MacGoulan approached the doorway with blades drawn. Nerves were on edge since entering the cluster of stone huts and encountering unnatural silence. The bodies of the clan hounds, ripped apart, littered the tracks between homes. Their calls of greeting had gone unanswered at the nearest huts.

Sionn reluctantly peered through the doorway of the clan chief's home, then stumbled back, his breakfast returning to his throat.

"They're dead! All dead!", he cried. "Killed same as the hounds, torn..."

Another man had braved a bit farther into the carnage. "Sionn, there's not just the clan dead here. There's animal...I think." He looked around, trying to understand the bodies. The clans people were badly mutilated, the bodies violently torn and shredded. The other dead were more simply slain. By sword or club.

Those dead were not of the clan. Sionn reentered the house. "What kind of men were these?", he muttered as he took in the misshapen faces. More of a muzzle than nose or jaw. Hands that ended in razor sharp claws. ‘Wulver, men that became beasts,” he thought. Nightmares made more chilling by the light of day.

Sean gasped behind him. "Sionn! There are children dead here as well! And this child, this one has no head. Sionn what..." A small moan from the back wall interrupted his morbid inventory.

Sionn drew his broadsword and made his way toward the sound. There he found the woman, her clothing ripped and bloody. A dirk still gripped in trembling hands, her red hair a wild flame about her head.

As Sionn reached for her she scrambled closer to the wall, trying to lift the blade against him.

"Hush girl. I'm Sionn MacGoulan. Are you of MacClarren? Can you say what happened?"

She tried to focus on him, his resemblance to her betrothed returned her voice to her. "Taog? Where is Taog! Where is my mother? Father!" She struggled to stand. As her eyes took in the scene around her, she fell back.

This must be Annag, betrothed of his brother. Sionn threw his arm around her, when he touched her back she screamed in agony. He turned her gently to see what caused the pain. Three deep slashes crossed her back. Blood still seeping weakly from wounds that were an angry red.

Sionn let her fall to the floor. She'd been clawed by the beasts. The old stories made it clear what to do. What had to be done. The wounds were a death sentence. MacGoulan would not abide her, betrothed of Taog or not. She was cursed and they wouldn't suffer her to live, within or without the clan. Though it grieved him, Sionn drew his sword. Grabbing a fistful of the girl’s red hair, he pulled her head back, baring her throat.


The voice rang through the silence. Startled Sionn turned to the shattered doorway. A figure in long dress holding a crooked staff stood silhouetted by the sun. As she stepped into the room, he could see the wrinkled face of an elderly woman. He shook his head dismissively.

“She is tainted, old woman. And mostly dead anyway,” Sionn said. “She cannot be saved. Besides, you’ve no voice here.” He began to lift his blade again.

“Oh, but I do, boy. I so do.” She tapped her staff on the ground. A vibration began at her feet and traveled swiftly to Sionn. His arm numbed and the blade fell to the floor.

The other men backed warily away. “Don’t run off, now, children. I’ve more work for you.” Shedchuckled as the group looked nervously at each other, waiting for Sionn to tell them what to do.

It was the woman that spoke to them. “ First, bring that girl out of this filth.” When there was no immediately movement, she lifted her staff. Three men hurried to Annag’s side, lifted her roughly and scurried for the door.

“Carefully, children! Let’s not make her wounds any worse! And find a litter, you’ll move her to my home.” She turned to the other men standing amid the carnage. “The rest of you, gather what fuel you can. This must be burned. All of it. Burn the dead hounds as well.”

Sionn spoke finally, “Why not leave the girl to burn, also? She’s cursed. Whatever they were, she carries that taint now. I grew up hearing stories, I’d not believed them before, but, now…I say again, she cannot be saved.”

“I say she will be saved.” The woman’s eyes flashed at Sionn.

He snapped back, “And who are you to say this?”

“Me?” The old woman grinned unpleasantly. “Why, I am Lillian”


Unexpected Guests

This next part is not as serene as the introductory chapter found here.  Annag's life is about to change...

The sun had just begun to set when the clan hounds began to howl.

“Well, my daughter. I’m thinking that MacGoulan has finally arrived to take you away.” Donnchadh took Annag by the shoulders. “I wish only the best in life for you, child.” He blinked back the tears that threatened to escape. “I will sorely miss that sunset hair.” He gave her a great hug then turned quickly away.

Taog came forward to take her hand. They would greet his clansmen together.

The hounds had continued baying, louder and more excited. The laughter and chatter in the house matched their enthusiasm.

Until one of the hounds screamed in pain. And the tone of the baying changed from greeting to terror. Then fell silent.

As Donnchadh reached for his great broadsword, the heavy wooden door burst open. A dozen bodies poured through the opening.

Annag didn’t want to believes what she was seeing. This was not the MacGoulan. This was the stories told late at night to frighten children. These were nightmares come to visit.

Wulver!” she heard someone cry.

The beasts were upon the gathering in an instant. Taog pushed her behind him as the monsters came. She heard he screams of women and cries of men realizing they were too far from their weapons.

Her father’s blade swung hard at the first wave, one beast yelped in pain and turned away. Then targeted another man with only a heavy chair for defense. The pain maddened attacker ripped it from him, and his arm that had wielded it.

Other men had reached knives or swords, but they were no match for fangs and the claws that grew from hand-like paws.

Taog had no weapon, he made no sound when his throat was torn by gnashing teeth.

Her mother, Mara had joined Donnchadh, an iron fire poker her weapon. Six of the beasts closed on them. Annag heard her father roar his rage just before the hand that held his blade was severed by knife like teeth.

She watched his heavy broadsword fall to the ground. His body followed, pulled down by three of the creatures. She didn’t see her mother being torn apart next to him.

Annag’s eyes were still fixed on the blade. She’d made no sound. Her terror had stolen her screams. But her body lunged for the fallen weapon. Once it was in her hands, she felt her fear turn to anger. With strength she didn’t recognize, she swung the blade.

One beast fell, the wound in its neck pouring blood. She swung again. A second beast snarled in pain. As it backed away, one of her clansmen stuck a knife between its ribs.

She spun around hearing her young sister’s scream. She swung again, but was far too late. A moan fled from her chest as she saw her sweet  sister’s head fall from her shoulders. Her grief fuelled fury made certain the beast that was responsible was headless a moment later.

She felt fire skate across her back. She turned, blade singing through the small space. The beast that struck her was already down. The man that slew it lay dying from too many wounds, a small smile gracing his face in that final act.

Annag didn’t know how much time had passed since the attack had begun. She only knew that it was suddenly silent. No more beasts came at her. No more screams of her clan. No more growls of the unnatural beasts.

As she became aware of her rasping breath, her racing heart, her eyes took in the horror before them. Her family, her people, dismembered, mutilated, all dead. The silence was broken by one last scream. She fell to the ground as it escaped her exhausted body.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Meeting in Renewal

An excerpt from a project I've been working with for what seems like forever.  Tara is a character in the story of Katrina's Kitchen.  Will this be part of the whole?  Some of it will.  I like to learn more about the supporting cast in my stories.  This is one of those excercises. 

Tara had been home from work about an hour, her waitress shift at the Kitchen had seemed particularly long today. She usually enjoyed the camaraderie of the townies and the news from the big city brought by the regular commuters. But, today she had only felt anxious. Ready to leave.

After a bowl of microwaved soup and a hot shower, she crawled early into her pajamas. To relax, she had pulled a pile of yarn and a half completed afghan into her lap. The monotonous rhythm of the hook as it formed loops and knots lulled her into a zen like state.

Crochet was still new to her, and seemed out of place in her life. But she had found solace in it. When she’d first come to Renewal eight years before, she had been close to a mental breakdown. She never had figured out why she was drawn there. A little dot on the big Nebraska map. It was a good thing she had, in Renewal she had regained her sanity and learned how to cope with her “gift”.

After a near fatal car accident five years before coming to the little town, she began to hear voices. At first she thought it was similar to ringing in the ears, a residual effect of the injuries. As the voices became clearer, she began to think she was crazy. Then, as she “listened” she realized she was hearing other peoples thoughts.

At first it was kind of fun, then kind of creepy. In time it became overwhelming. She couldn’t turn off the noise. In a crowded room it was as though hundreds of people were trying to carry on hundreds of conversations. It started to be impossible for her to work, go out to eat, or even to the grocery.

To make it worse, no one believed her. The doctors wanted to medicate her. Her family wanted to commit her. She tried a psychic, but all that accomplished was learning that at least this one was a fake, more interested in her coming to work for him to read his clients minds and trick them out of more money.

After a day that left her wanting to rip her ears off, she got into her car and started to drive. Aimlessly she thought. Looking for a place with no people. She had decided to find an isolated lake house or something similar. If she avoided people she might someday sleep again.

Tara had been three weeks on the road when she found herself rolling into the tiny town of Renewal, Nebraska. Main street was the absolute stereotype of small towns everywhere. Farmers in overalls. Pick up trucks. The local diner. A closed theater.

It took a minute or two for her to notice, she didn’t hear the town folk. She did hear one voice, and only one. And it spoke directly to her, “Come on in for a cup of coffee, sweetie. Take a break and we’ll work this out.”

Though her instinct said hit the gas, she was shaking so badly it made much more safety sense to pull into a parking space. As she sat paralyzed by fear, she ventured a look around. Leaned against the door jamb of the diner, looking her way, was a woman.

Tara sat still trying to look anywhere but at the woman in the diner’s doorway. When she ventured a second glance in her direction, the woman smiled and waved, beckoning her to come. Again the voice in her head, “It’s okay, really. I can help. That’s why you're here, right?”

With a giggle that edged on hysterics, Tara rolled down the car window. “Uh, excuse me? Do I know you, ma’am?”

The woman walked toward her car, “Not yet, sweetie, but that’s okay. I make friends fast.” At least this line was not just in Tara’s head. “ And I just made a fresh pot of coffee, no one else is here for me to talk to right now. I could use the company.” She’d reached the car door now. Tara met her eyes, they were light brown and shining with humor. She must've been in her late thirties or early forties. Her black hair was mostly covered by a colorful bandanna, and what she could see was tightly curled..

Finally Tara gathered the courage to open the car door and step out. The woman was a few inches shorter that she was. “I’m Katie Crowe, I own the diner here, Katrina’s Kitchen. But do not, please, call me Katrina. I’m just Katie.” She smiled at Tara again, holding her hand out. Tara gave her hand to Katie, the two stood a moment, then Katie returned her hand. “Lets get to that cup, now. And we’ll chat a while before the dinner crowd shows up.”

Tara followed Katie inside. The diner was brightly lit, the fresh pot of coffee filled the space with its rich smell. Katie poured two mugs and ushered Tara to one of the empty booths. “Thank you.” Tara managed to say. “Um, I'm kind of confused, or ….”

“Hush, people come to see me for lots of reasons. And just like you, they don’t know why they ended up here. I’m not really sure either. “ Katie grinned with honest mirth, “I must have a magnetic personality!”

Tara shyly grinned back, Katie’s good humor was catching. “I get the feeling you know why I’m here even if I don't.” Tara shifted a bit, embarrassed by her situation.

“I get dreams. They give me a heads up when someone is headed my way. They don’t, though, tell me your name. So how about you tell me.” Katie cocked her head, giving Tara the feeling she was settling in for a story. She chuckled to herself. Alrighty, she thought, you want a story, I can give you one.

“My name’s Tara Roman, and I hear people’s thoughts.” She steeled herself for the raised eyebrows or blank stares she had gotten from her family and doctor.

“Well, Tara, I knew you could hear me. And I know you've been bombarded by other’s thought noise for a long time. So I kind of made myself loud enough to block everyone else out.”

“Oh. I wondered about that. I haven’t heard anyone but you since I drove into town.” Tara had gotten over her trepidation in the excitement of Katie’s statement. Maybe, just maybe, this woman could help her. “Can you cure me?”

“You don't need cured, girl. You just need to know how to control your gift.”

That was the beginning of her life in Renewal. Katie told her that she needed something to be louder than the voices. She suggested knitting, but Tara was hopeless. Even after enlisting the help of the town’s resident old lady, Missy McKay, Tara could not get the hang of it.

It was May Harrison that showed her crochet. And Katie taught her to use the stitch counting to focus on her own thoughts instead of letting everyone else’s drown them out. It worked, in time. The more she counted, the fainter the outside voices became. Soon she could tune them out without the stitch counting. She still crocheted though. She loved the feel of the yarn sliding through her fingers. She loved giving her finished projects as gifts. She loved the perfect quiet that happened as she worked.

Until this day. As she counted and began to fall lazily into her yarn trance, she began to repeat a phrase. “It will be alright.” The words meant nothing to Tara, she didn’t even know how long she had been repeating them before she became aware.

She stopped her hook, frowning as she tried to pin point a voice or thought that had triggered the phrase. She had learned to listen when she wanted to, which was seldom. She liked people better when their secrets remained secret. But she had occasionally reached out to trouble minds, to help or comfort. But she found no source for this chant.

She shrugged, and picked up her work, ready to start counting again. The mess she held, though, had no resemblance to the cute teddy bear she’d been making. What should have been a snub button style nose was too long. Becoming a lupine muzzle. The bobbed tail, also elongated into a decidedly doggish look.

“What the hell is this?” she said out loud as she pulled the yarn, hurriedly undoing the disturbing shape that had been forming. She rewound the yarn into a loose ball and picked up her hook to start anew. “One and two and three and four and alright, alright. It’ll be alright.” She stopped mid stitch. “Oh no, no you don’t. Get out of my head!”

Tara threw the yarn and half finished project into her work basket. She spent several minutes controlling her breathing. Still shaken, she got up and started pacing. She went from room to room in her small home, looking for something to explain the repetitive words that were now echoing in her mind.

Finally she gave up, went to her fridge and grabbed a beer. After two more, the voice was much quieter, she fell asleep on the sofa in her living room with all the lights on.