The Scary Nary (A wicked rhyme)

Children never ventured into the Nary wood.

They knew all too well and understood

of the dangers that fell,

and tales that were told,

and retold again;

stories of now and then.

#

They were handed down

by infinite numbers

of older sisters

and older brothers,

of brood before

and since brood began.

You must pass this on in hand.

#

A thing that tricked with a joy, so fresh

it beguiled you, then riled you,

then wrenched your flesh.

Against its hide, it wrapped you up.

It sucked you dry to fill its cup.

#

You knew it was close if no bird flew by,

or no chipmunk popped his body outside.

You might see a snail

or worms at the bottom

where the air was stale

under leaves that smelled rotten.

The feet of the Nary could be seen in this dirt.

Beware if you step on its toes, be alert!

#

Where the wind did not blow,

it was too big to hide

but, you were too close to know

the Nary next to your side.

Once you were caught you were gone forever.

The Scary Nary was very clever

#

It would hold you then scold you with fingers of whips

like willow tree branches with needles as tips.

It had arms that were lengthy and wretched like rakes.

It had hands that were haunted and hanging with hooks.

Toes that were wicked and snarky like snakes,

and eyes that were void like the specs of a spook.

#

Grown-ups never ventured to the wood past the meadow.

It was misunderstood, not amused by its shadow.

They had forgotten and joked and jeered at the fable.

They worked and toiled, and no longer able.

#

But when boys weren’t boys

and not yet men,

they neglected their toys

for adventure, and when

their courage was built

and they longed to do

what their minds intended,

the Nary woods brought a challenge anew,

that could not be dispelled or amended.

#

And somewhere between

foal and mare,

not pup or dog,

not cub nor bear.

A boy was brazen

and forced to dare.

#

So, when a school year was ending and the air was still cool.

One gathered the hearty and not the fool.

A group of three decided to venture

to the forbidden wood to test their measure.

#

After one had gathered them up,

they three, all wrestled and riled and thumped.

“We’ll go to the forest and see if it’s true.”

The first said it was.

The second wasn’t sure.

The third said it wasn’t.

So, the challenge was pure.

#

Meticulously they planned with tact and tool.

They pilfered and packed what they could from their school,

from their father’s sheds,

and from under their beds.

They were ready for the worst kind of ghoul.

#

They spit and shook for now and forever.

They would not dampen their oath nor sever

the pact they had made or themselves from adventure.

#

Before the cows on the farm

they were a long way from harm.

Near the grouse in the meadow

they felt slightly unsettled.

Past the deer in the dell

they were halfway to hell.

#

Beyond the dells, the three stood

one by another,

They’d go if they could

but froze by the wood,

“It all looks too gruesome,”

they shuddered.

#

One said to his friend,

“go in and return and bring back the news.”

“You’re crazy my brother the Nary is true.”

And they could not agree on none or all three,

and all three was the best they could do.

#

So, as boys dare and dare as they do,

one dared another and another made two.

When one stood alone he rallied behind.

Now all three were stalking in line.

#

They crept through the thickets,

the vines and the nettles,

milk-thistles, pines, and peddles.

Until the vines became few

and the ground became gray

and worms squirmed about

in the rot and decay.

#

Still deeper they slunk

til’ they stood near a giant

that had a large trunk;

a tree that stood high and reliant.

#

It spread out like a dome

where no animals roamed

but the boys grew more bold and defiant.

#

The tree stood tall with arms outstretched;

hanging limbs with leaves like gnarled nets.

Draped with toys and forget-me-nots.

All made of wood and carved to a liking

that boys adored and girls found striking.

#

Nothing shined though objects shown,

no more than figures it had grown

of things that resembled fun and good.

All for the taking, if you could.

Oh what a dare, oh what a deed.

Their childish hearts were filled with greed.

#

And of all that was rotten,

if only they feared

what the fragile fear

of shriek and terror

and hold me, dear,

they might still be alive

and not forgotten.

#

They stepped on the roots

and the twigs that were buried

that crunched and alerted

the hives of the Nary.

They grabbed at the branches

like shelves of a store,

and tugged at the toys

that it carried.

#

There the wind did not blow

and this carnival show

was too much for the boys to ignore.

#

It awoke in a sudden

It wrapped them up tight.

They were coiled in a thicket,

of gossamer plight.

#

The one who was leader

became embroiled in thorns

that wove like a web,

and tightened its horns.

It squeezed and released

until his screams had ceased

and tossed him atop

where it finished the feast.

At the highest branches, he stopped.

#

Another was grabbed by the face and shook.

By the eyes and mouth, he was took.

Driving its shanks

down his throat to its length

and out through his head like a hook.

#

Out of his back

more branches emerged,

more leaves were sprouted

and his juices were purged.

He sagged there a carcass

to be siphoned and squeezed

as his skin became bark

and dry like the trees.

#

The last one was pulled

to the side of the trunk

as a mouth and eyes opened

it swallowed a chunk.

With teeth like daggers

and eyes deathly dark

the lad was halved

at the waist

as from a shark.

#

But nothing was wasted

and it took the last bite.

Of the last boy it tasted

he tasted of fright.

#

A prize for the Nary,

oh how he was good

and this one’s face

forever stood

in the crags

of the bark

on its trunk

in the wood.

#

The Nary wood, as time does tell.

Not a childish place of Jack and Jill.

Not on hill or dale,

but a forest of fear and fail.

#

So, remember,

when you see a face gnarled in wood

on a tree, in a forest,

beyond a meadow and dell

and you know that you shouldn’t

yet, you do just as well.

Just remember the childhood

stories they tell.

A lesson of will

so that you will grow merry…

No child escapes the Scary Nary.

Mascotte

In the year 1822, in the South Pacific aboard the Ameritas, Allen Markum looked to the front of the ship. There, its figurehead, a sea monster named Mascotte, was carved into its prow. Allen gazed beyond and out over the endlessly rumpled ocean. The waves rose and fell like many gills of a living thing. Its vastness was beautiful, but also a reminder of how small the great ship was.

Allen pulled on a rope along with two other men. His splitting fingertips stung, but he dared not stop. 

“Raise the mainsail below the first yard,” a voice ordered.

Allen turned his attention to the first mate. A chiseled jaw young man of nearly the same age, his buttoned short coat exaggerated his tall, slender figure. He read aloud from a wooden plaque the setting of sails for the evening.

Allen glanced down at his own meager clothing. A shocking crack rang his skull that brought his attention back to his work. Though the pain was excruciating, Allen knew better than to let hold of the rope.

“Stop yer lollies,” the familiar but terrifying voice of the boatswain shouted. He pointed at Allen with his club, a belaying pin used to secure ropes. 

“Aye, aye,” Allen answered. His head throbbed and his body ached in all places where the salty water entered his open wounds. 

After they raised the mainsail, Allen rubbed the bump on the back of his head and cautiously looked at his assailant. Zebadiah Booth, the boatswain, handled the ship’s supplies and was assistant to the captain. 

Zebadiah’s round head with thick tufted brows and mutton chop side whiskers framed his sunburnt face. He was sturdy and fattened from good eating but roughened from life aboard a ship. His skin displayed the same roughness as the salted pork the sailors ate at every meal.

Captain Neal smoked a pipe and watched from atop the quarterdeck at the rear of the ship. His short, stout figure was unmoved by the heave of the vessel.

Zebadiah looked to the captain, who nodded with pleasure. Then he disappeared below deck. The first mate continued to shout his orders.

The crew’s attention shifted toward the rear of the ship when Zebadiah clamored to the main deck, pale and wide-eyed. He climbed the steps of the quarterdeck, nearly out of breath. Alarm was expressed upon his face. He whispered to the captain.

Captain Neal’s eyebrows rose as he listened. He called the first mate who approached and stood near the steps looking upward. The same expression of concern grew over him. 

“You two men come with me!” The first mate ordered after he turned to face the crew.

Two powerful sailors followed the first mate below deck. Zebadiah descended the steps and faced the sailors.

“The barnacle madness!” Zebadiah shouted.

Every man’s expression changed to fright.

“Consumptive Morbus,” the captain announced. “Stay back from him when he’s brought top-side.”

“Finish tying down,” Zebadiah ordered.

The sailors resumed tying the ropes but looked around cautiously. They had just stopped when a hatch sprung open. The first mate and one of the men climbed out, pulling a rope that descended into the hull. 

They pulled the rope taut to the hatch’s side and strained to lift what was hidden at its end. Others joined the struggle.

A shrilling scream rose from the depth of the hole that grew stronger when the rope was drawn out. The hair on Allen’s neck became electrified, waiting for what was suspended at the end of the rope.

Finally, a leg was visible and then a body flopped out.  

“Keep back. Don’t let him touch ya lest you join him.” Zebadiah ordered.

The crew gathered, inching closer.

“He’s contaminous!” Shouted Zebadiah.

He then rushed to a casket and scooped a bucket of pickle juice. He stood over the man and doused him twice. “That’ll purify ‘im for the time,” Zebadiah announced with confidence.

The sailor rose to his feet dazed and blinked from the sting in his eyes. Allen froze with horror when he saw the man clearly. The sailor’s eyes bulged and his fingertips pointed wickedly.

Zebadiah rushed forward and rammed the sailor with his club in the gut.

The ailing man fell to his knees with a squeal and then bent over.

“Get the poles,” Zebadiah shouted.

Five men grabbed barge poles. They forced the frantic squirming man to his back.

He screamed with anger until he broke into cries and pleaded for release, “I won’t hurt anyone, I promise, I’ll stay apart from the others, please.”

Zebadiah clubbed the man unconscious. Then stood over him with contempt and nodded with self-approval. He glanced at the captain, whose eyes narrowed but did not blink. 

“A rope,” Zebadiah said aloud. 

The first mate took one of the many coiled ropes that hung along the railing and tossed it to Zebadiah who fashioned a simple noose. Everyone watched as he tied a bowline knot without looking at his hands. 

“Pin ‘im tight lest he wakes,” Zebadiah ordered. Then he looped the open end around the sailor’s neck without touching him and tossed the slack over a boom.

Allen watched the fear in the faces around him transformed into anger. Two men eagerly grabbed the opposite end of the rope and pulled with the force of their combined weight that tightened the knot and peeled the sailor from the floor headfirst.

“Throw him over,” the captain ordered.

They hoisted the body above the deck while the crew shouted insults. 

“Feed him to the sharks,” a voice cried out.

“He’s an abomination,” shouted another.

The sailor’s body hung with its elongated neck stretched in a way that made the torso appear disproportionate. The head tilted to the side with an outstretched tongue.

“Cut the first rope from his leg, but leave the other. ” The first mate ordered.

The leg rope was cut free. They pushed the boom out over the water and the body swung like a pendulum. The first mate gave a nod, and someone released the rope. The body splashed far below in the water, out of sight.

Captain Neal spoke, “Best that any man who grows sick from the Morbus should take matters into his own hands. You will be shown no mercy, here.”

The captain tapped his pipe against a railing, casting the spent ash into the swirling breeze around him. He then ascended the steps and stepped into his cabin.

After sunset, nobody spoke of the incident. Allen’s mind filled with thoughts of contamination. He looked around at the other men who sat in quiet contemplation.

#

That night Allen took his post at the topgallant of the mizzenmast during the second dogwatch. There, it magnified the pitch and roll of the ship. Near the top of the mast, Allen proudly rode the seas and stargazed.

With his feet upon the top cross member and a harness tied around his waist, the threat of falling was only fleeting, though a momentary lapse into slumber could be life-threatening. Any lack of vigilance could cause injury, and yet there were freedom and calmness at the top of the mast, away from the stark contrast of flogging and harsh work aboard deck. Sleep meant death, yet death meant to sleep. 

Against the coarse surface of the mast, Allen carved the final touches of an image of Mascotte among the other carvings of names and doodles that riddled its surface.

He called out to the foremast watchman, whose perch was above and nearest the prow. “Ahoy, Milton! Beware if ye piss on Mascotte. She’ll bite ya clean down to the gristle.”

“Pipe it, dog!” Milton called back.

Allen smiled and blew the wood bits from his carving and sighed in accomplishment, then dreamt of exotic ports and seafaring stories others told. Stories of hardy ho, lost at sea, and wayward woe.

The greatest woe of all was the contagion Consumptive Morbus or known to many sailors as Barnacle Madness. Always spoken of with great revulsion and horror, any sign of the disease was met with intense fright that could easily spread panic throughout a ship.

Allen hugged the mast with his face pressed against the image during a rough sway. The midnight-bell watch rang out and Allen began his downward climb. The ocean gave a sudden heave. He slipped at the cross-tree above the main yard and lacerated his leg below the knee on an iron fid that poked out from the mast. He struggled to descend amid the pain and gave way to the ache from his laceration when he reached the deck.

Ben, Allen’s most cherished mate aboard the ship, prepared to ascend. He noticed Allen’s injury, and paused with concern, “Here my friend, this will help ease your discomfort.” Ben retrieved a coconut from his satchel, removed a cork, and drenched the gash with the liquid inside.

Allen didn’t question the contents within the coconut. He trusted his friend’s judgment, for it was common to acquire a coconut and continue its use after the original contents were drunk. The container infused a hint of the exotic flavor with its next filling.

#

Below in the sleeping quarters of the berth deck, Allen dressed his wound and winced, then laid his aching body in the woven cradle of his hammock. He fell asleep and swung from side to side in a lullaby measured by the hum of the ocean and the moaning squelch of the hull.

Many hours into his sleep, a vivid stabbing pain that ran the length of his leg awakened him. Through a porthole, a band of moonlight cascaded upon his lower half. In the gleam, Allen pulled back the bandage of his wound to expose a grotesque encrusted ulcer spreading beyond the lesion.

Deep breaths and nervous twitches overcame him after he wiped the sweat from his eyes, and sensed sharp protruding barnacles that had erupted at his extremities, and encircled every orifice of his body. 

The barnacles resembled hard conical spirals of tightly nestled fingernails that came to a point. He held back a childish whimper as he realized in horror that he had contracted Consumptive Morbus. An urge to run swept over him. He shook in a state of panic. It overcame him with fear of not just the affliction but the cruel outcome of its revealing.

In the wee hours of the morning, Allen strained not to awaken the others who still slumbered in hammocks. He crept in between and under the suspended cradles that swayed against the yaw, heave, and surge of the ship in an unpredictable manner, tied in a maze throughout the berth deck.

Allen exited a hatch into the cool salty air. A moon shadow was cast over the rising steps to the quarterdeck. Allen crouched in the small wedge of darkness next to it.

In the night’s silence, creaking timbers and bumping tackle murmured like the movements of a sleeping giant. Primitive instincts rose within him that controlled his fear to run. Rather, he stalked toward the foremast with the stealth of a cat. He restrained his breathing against his pounding heart.

The straight edge of the gunwale railing tilted gently against the ocean’s horizon. The furthest most edge of the water was sharply cut by the faint blue that marked the sun’s intention to rise. A waning moon hung two fists above the West. Somewhere between night and day, animal and human, life and death, Allen’s tortured mind searched for safety.

The ship seemed to straddle this narrow dark space between the glow of milky moonlight and the crack of dawn. Above, the masts stabbed upward into the sky that was both black and piercing white from the magnitude of stars. The mainmast rose into the starry darkness, where Allen knew a man stood on watch in a crow’s nest above the top-gallant. Only the foresail was unfurled and the shrouds of climbing nets pointed outward from the middle of the masts like spider webs. Allen looked toward the prow of the ship where his only place of hiding could be.

He avoided detection until he reached the center of the ship. There, Allen came face to face with Zebadiah Booth. The silhouette of the boatswain stood before him, unmoving. His fuzzy brows rose starkly around the black recesses of his eyes. Each man paused at the sight of the other’s shadowy figure. Allen watched the darkened features of Zebadiah’s face change with the realization of his condition.

“Morbus.” The word quietly bubbled from Zebadiah’s lips.

With an animal’s instinct, Allen grabbed Zebadiah by the throat to prevent another sound. Easily, his jagged fingertips sliced through his tissue. He held him to the deck, choking him to death.

For a moment Allen crouched over the motionless body of the boatswain pondering the magnitude of what he had done. In a panic, Allen hurried to the front of the ship and hid in a small enclosure at the bow that was used to store tackle, convinced that his condition necessitated the act. 

When he overheard cries that alerted the captain to the boatswain’s murder, he feared the worst. He stayed hidden during intermittent calls of his name at daybreak and whispered stories of him falling overboard at midday. His paranoia swirled, knowing a search would expose his morbid secret. The box which smelled of rotted hemp rope became his bed.

Allen crept out briefly to steal a drink of water from a cask that night. In his box, he wavered between paranoid fear and hysterical chuckles. He lost his mind and developed an intense hunger for flesh.

The following day Allen awoke to a ruckus.

“Keep him back, boys, he has the Morbus.” the First mate ordered.

“Kill the scurvy maggot,” one yelled.

“Mongrel whoreson,” another called.

“He murdered Zeb,” someone cried.

The words were venomous and wavered with fear. Allen peeked out to witness Ben’s croustade figure with barnacled hands and face drove across the upper deck. The mob corralled Ben with barge poles. They pushed him back and forced him to stand upon the railing of the main deck while he clung to a rope extended from the mainsail.

The tumorous barnacles caused Ben’s eyes to bulge out, and his encrusted hands curved inward like a dog’s paws. Balanced between drowning or beating, he clenched his torn clothing and squeamishly cried.

Someone launched a pin from the crowd that tumbled through the air and landed a pulverizing blow to Ben’s skull. Knocked dizzy, as if in a trance, Ben’s rigid body tipped backward like a falling timber and disappeared beyond the gangway. A faint splash announced the end of the ruckus.

Allen stayed curled up in his box, morphing into something hideous and beyond imagination. He rummaged his hands across his body, analyzing his encrusted tumorous form, and realized that anything still human in him had nearly perished. The affliction intensified and Allen’s body changed through some ghastly pupa stage in a wooden cocoon.

That night, Allen emerged once again for a drink. His barnacle-riddled body was unrecognizable and his feverish hunger was voracious. At the bow, Milton climbed down from the foremast and stood in shock at the sight of a monster. Again, Allen seized his victim at the throat, but this time, he ate into his neck, down to the bone, then threw Milton’s corpse overboard before he crawled back into his box.

That morning, just before the seven-bells watch rang, Allen awoke to distinctive shouts, squeaking pulleys, lapping ropes, and the flapping release of sails. A panic he himself was familiar with; attack by a rival vessel.

He rehearsed the call to “man battle stations” at the exact moment it was being ordered. It revitalized him with a sense of duty as cannon blasts from the opposing ship grew nearer.

Allen peered out and observed the action. A full-rigged sloop neared. Square topsails and a familiar blue and red flag atop its mast signaled the dreaded Cormorant. 

Allen watched as the first mate struggled to gain control. The crewmen clamored over one another in a meager counter-attack. Captain Neal stood upon the quarterdeck with a raised sword. His mouth moved in shouts, but his voice never rose above the battle. The absence of the boatswain proved critical, for the upper deck was not stocked and organized. All seemed lost and Allen waited for the end, helplessly tasting death.

A cannon blast crippled the mainmast, and an explosion blew the figurehead off of the prow, along with the shell of Allen’s hiding place. Wood shards and burning embers rained from the sky. Thick waves of smoke and desperate yells filled the air. Suddenly, Allen’s, monstrous figure arose from the cloud of smoke at the bow and screamed out in wretched horror, his pent-up insanity burst forth.

All action ceased as the shocked faces of the men watched the monster rise. A dismayed crew, awed by what appeared to be the sea monster of the Ameritas come-to-life.

Someone cried out, “Mascotte!”

In unison, prayers, cries, and cheers filled the ranks.

The cannon fire mellowed and the attacking ship prepared to glide parallel to the Ameritas for its crew to board as a means of a decisive victory.

At that moment, the outer jib, attached to the foremast, swung in Allen’s direction. Heroically, he took hold and in a swashbuckling manner, clutched to the rope hanging from the jib. He leaped from the bow and launched his hideous figure towards the attacking vessel. The monster seemed to fly to the amazement and horror of the other ship’s crew.

At that moment, the mainmast of the Ameritas gave way and crashed through the mainsail of the other ship. It landed upon a loaded cannon before it slipped into the sea. The final blast from the cannon sent a projectile directly at Allen. In midair, the two collided in an explosive cloud of blood and infected tissue that descended upon the aggressors in a red mist.

As quickly as they came together, the two ships drifted apart. A moment of reassessment waved over both crews. The sailors of the Cormorant idled with indecision from the sudden turn of events.

Disturbed by the vision of the monster and unable to board, the crippled Cormorant drifted away like an enormous piece of flotsam that turned oddly with the rift of surging swells and rolled excessively to its port side without a sense of direction. The beleaguered Ameritas sailed slowly behind. 

A northeasterly wind pushed both ships in the same direction. The afternoon drew on and the ships maintained their course as Captain Neal considered revenge. The Cormorant continued to show no deliberate bearing except what the wind and waves brought upon it. 

Once again, the first mate called out the evening commands while the sails of the Cormorant showed no sign of change. That night, the crew of the Ameritas heard shrieking cries of madness whisper over the waves. Screams that resembled mythological sirens but of a hellish type as Consumptive Morbus overwhelmed the crew of the Cormorant.

###

Follow My Frozen Heart

My face freezes as I peer out from my mountain cave overlooking the village. The cold seizes me with shivers as my breaths quiver from sadness and anger.

The village glows through the falling snow that ever thickens. I can’t tell if I am numb from cold or grief as I peek down below at the cozy cottages resembling the embers of my fire.

Where my home sits at the edge of the forest, there are no lights. I can picture my mother laying in her bed. 

If only I had said I loved her.

My small fire pops and crackles with white flames. I sit back and poke the wood that glows orange through charred patches.

My cave is only big enough for me, but there is only me. The sides are rough and the opening is narrow. I stare out through its mouth and into a starless black. Around it, the windswept shards of accumulating ice point horizontal like teeth. Bit by bit, they grow and threaten to close as hunger and loneliness gnaw at me.

They must be searching for me. 

They won’t look far. Only a fool would leave the safety of a home in this weather, but I did.

You can’t take it back.

He deserved it. I had to do it. Everyone owed him. They should thank me, but they’ll hang me.

The fire.

With my last stick, I push the glowing parts together and then throw it in. I pull my feet close, my knees to my chest, and hide my face beneath my collar. My fingers clench, hidden in my coat sleeves. I shiver and weep for my mother, who I will never see again.

Oh, mama, I miss you.

“It’s not fair!” I cry out, but nobody can hear me as I sit against the back of my hideaway and look into my small fire that shimmers. It wavers from the gusts of frigid air that carries ice crystals from the storm. 

Blackened lines and spots are etched into the burning sticks. They resemble archaic writing on ancient scrolls. Their stories unfold as the heat scorches and shrinks the branches, releasing their memories.

I stare into the fluttering flames that dance upon the shrinking pieces of wood and drift into my memory of what happened.

***

My father made a life for us, herding goats. My mother made cheese. Now, at fourteen, I tended the goats and milked them while my father only sat and watched us. 

As we prospered, he disappeared at night. My mother said nothing, but became distant and sulked. A coldness grew between them. I often awoke to angry shouts that ended with a slammed door, and my father’s steps disappearing outside. My heart ached with a pain I could not understand.

My mother loved me, I knew this above anything else and I was her little boy. Though I was becoming a man, I cherished her touch on my cheek and the love she cooked into every meal like I was still a child. 

I escaped on mountain strolls, tending the goats. With only a walking stick and a knife, I would visit my secret place and daydream. Here I could vanish from the pain.

Upon my last return home, a large man stood at the door. Gundersen, the fat financier, stood with a smile of sadistic pleasure in a large fur coat and boots. My mother crumbled to her knees as she wept. I stood speechless as he held out a note of promise in front of our faces. My father borrowed against the farm and lost it.

A stabbing pain struck my gut as my mother released a horrid unnatural cry. Distraught, her eyes stared wildly and she stumbled to her bedroom, holding her arms over her chest in pain. Gundersen left and promised to return the next day. 

I stood alone in our cottage, petrified. The fear of Gundersen’s return was a nightmare.

Where will we go? What will we do?

I fell asleep, waiting for my father, who never returned.

The next morning I awoke to the bitter cold. Snow set on the window sills as a frosty powder misted in under the front door. A fire had not been started and everything seemed frozen from the horrific news of the previous day.

I entered my mother’s room where she lay in bed.

“Mother,” I whispered and stepped near. She didn’t move but lay pristine and angelic. I hesitated to wake her, but we had to go on. 

I put my hand to her shoulder. It felt rigid and I pulled my hand back. I reached out again. Her body was stiff. A strange sensation quivered through me, a paralyzing fear, followed by nausea. I sank with weakness but wanted to run. The sole anchor to life, my mother, was dead.

My mind swirled and I stepped back out from the room. In a panic, I ran from the home and staggered into the nearby woods. The world spun around me. I grasped the trunk of a tree, the only thing that stood strong. My feet stung with a fringed bite as I hugged this unmovable thing. The world stopped spinning and it filled me with an impulse to return.

I crept into the icy cottage. It now appeared as a replica of the place I once lived. Everything was frozen in time. Above a dormant fire pit, a cold iron pot with the last meal my mother cooked hung from a blackened bar. An emptiness tugged at my stomach, but the thought of food sickened me. 

I could not eat and I could not enter my mother’s room but tinkered with the thought she would emerge. Again and again, my mind rehearsed the moment only to swirl downward in despair knowing that she died feeling unloved. This overwhelmed me until my agony gave way to pure and corporeal hatred. My heart froze, my life ceased. Then, as if reborn, I saw beyond this crippling sadness. Though my father was to blame, Gundersen was at the heart of my hatred. His repugnant smile begged for revenge.

The snow continued. The cottage became colder. My breath fogged with the wickedness of death. I paced the front room holding my knife as I filled with rage. Then, I wandered out into the blank slate of wintery white.

Snow crunched under my steps as I ventured through the village. The homes glowed with fireplaces while the windows flashed with signs of life, laughing, singing, and some silent shadows.

I was but a shadow now. A figment that lived through the one motivation that filled my body, revenge. All sense of fear left me. Revenge burned within me. It was a wicked warmth, burning with anger. There was nothing else.

I stopped at the home of Gundersen and stood upon the landing before his front door. With my knife in hand, I waited and stared forward. As I knocked, a baritone voice surprised me from behind.

“I am here, boy.”

I turned around to the sight of the rotund man who stirred from drunkenness. Like an involuntary reflex, my arm thrust forward. The knife slid into his belly. I had the sensation of watching it happen from outside my body. My hand retracted and he fell to his knees, facing me with a howling expression of surprise. Again, the knife lunged forward and slid upward through his throat. He gagged and swirled his arms as if catching his balance.

At that moment, the door squeaked opened behind me and I heard a voice gasp in shock. Gundersen’s body tipped backward as my hand remained where it held the knife. The hair stood on my neck as a women’s scream shrilled from behind me. Gundersen clomped onto his back. I ran from the landing and out into the cold twilight.

My snow-filled steps lead me back to my home. I stood and looked at it for the last time. Then, I turned and fled to my only place of safety, my secret cave.

***

Here, I sit inside this rocky crag. The wind howls as curious snowflakes enter and twinkle before dying in the faint orange glow that surrounds me.

My head droops as I cry between shivering breaths. The storm moans through the narrowing mouth of the cave. My hunger aches, as the fire dies, and my eyes struggle to stay open.

My mother’s image fades as the flames flicker. The last stick puffs and joins the other blackened figures. They crackle and finish burning their stories as the darkening cave closes its icy jaws, as I drift into a freezing slumber and follow my frozen heart.

#

Breaking The Chain

 

Marlene sat in a wheelchair next to her bedroom window. She strained to look through its furthest most edge where she heard the laughter of children nearby. She sighed and drifted into thoughts of adventuring outside to play, longing to chase and run as she once did.

Her father entered the room. “Hey kiddo, your uncle Tanner will be stopping in. His layover was longer than he thought; flights canceled to Europe and all.”

Her big brown eyes lit up, “Uncle Tanner? Oh!” She said, then she sat up straight. 

Philip smiled, a smile that turned down on the ends. Marlene turned her chair to face him. He looked down at the blanket stretched tightly over her legs as if ironed overtop of her.

“Daddy, tell me about his trip to Mongolia,” she said with excitement. Her arms pushed to lift her body higher. 

Philip combed his fingers through his hair. “It’s not so great, he builds dams, that’s all,” then rolled his eyes. “Some of those places are dreadful. You’re safe and comfortable here.”

“Comfortable?” she snapped sarcastically. “You think not being able to walk for two years is comfortable?” She put her hands to her face, “I just want to get out… I… I want to travel the world like uncle Tanner.”

“No!” Philip shouted, then caught himself. “I’m sorry… I meant—”

“Since Mom died?” Marlene interrupted. 

Philip winced, “The accident, I meant,” his attention drifted off. Philip stepped behind Marlene and pushed her chair toward the door. 

A familiar silence grew that amplified the sound of the wheels across the wood floor. He rolled her through the hall toward the front room, but paused and straightened a picture of his brother standing on the bank of a river. He stared for a moment, then slowly moved forward again. 

“We’ll wait in the living room,” Philip said. “He’ll be here soon.” 

Outside, the air sang with children’s laughter louder than before and Marlene sighed with an ache while her father looked about the room. The shelves were adorned with exotic trinkets from around the world.

It’s just how mother liked it, Philip thought.

A taxi stopped in front of the house. Philip and Marlene waited while Tanner’s lumbering steps crossed the porch. There was a knock in the same moment Philip pulled open the door. 

In stepped Tanner, a wrinkle-suited, unshaven man filled the doorway. He put out his hand to shake. Philip swallowed and reached out reluctantly, like a chameleon inching its body along a branch.

“Tanner… How’s it going?” He asked dry-throated.

“Hello, Phil.” Tanner’s eyes shifted to Marlene.

A smile grew upon her face. She strained to sit tall, then reached into the air wide as if wanting to wrap her arms around the sun, “Uncle Tanner!”

“There’s my darling, Marli!” He bellowed, then pushed past Philip, who stepped back.

“Ooh, tell me about Mongolia,” she begged.

Philip interrupted. “He’s had a long trip, dear, let him relax.”

“No, no, Phil, ”Tanner dropped his suitcase and knelt next to her. “Mongolia, oh, you wouldn’t believe it.”

Marlene smiled. Her mouth fell half-open with anticipation. She scanned her uncle’s face for every nuance. 

Tanner held Marlene’s hand next to her side. “For sport, they ride a small horse whilst shooting arrows.”

“Really?” She questioned with a gaze. Her imagination danced somewhere beyond. Her eyes looked to the side for a moment.

Tanner felt her hand squeeze his fingers. He sensed her desire to hear his story, “Yes, yes, they’re expert riders, the best in the world.” He nodded with confidence, “and the children play a game called breaking the chain.”

Marlene stared deeply into his eyes with curiosity, “How is it played?” 

Her grip tightened with every word. He felt her pain but spoke gently. “Two lines of children stand apart, facing each other with their arms linked. A child’s name is called. Then, that child has to run at the other group and break through their arms. If she’s caught, she has to join them.”

Marlene giggled, “oh, wow.”

“Is this all we’re going to talk about?” Philip interrupted.

Tanner stood, still holding Marlene’s hand, “This isn’t about you, Phil. Marli’s the one who matters. She needs to feel alive to get better.”

“She can’t walk!” Philip answered sternly. His eyes widened, then he quickly covered his mouth. Marlene let go of her uncle’s hand. Her shoulders sunk.

Tanner watched Marlene look away in shame. “That’s not true!” Tanner answered abruptly. He turned to Phil, “she needs to live. You’re holding her back. Don’t you see?”

Philip grimaced. “Just stop! You always come in here with your fantastic stories about where you’ve been. You always have to be the one everyone loves most.”

“Loves?” Tanner questioned. “If it makes you feel better, Mother always loved you more.”

“More?” Philip replied. “They sent you to college while I stayed here.”

Tanner shook his head, “That’s not how it was. You were younger, and I had to be responsible.”

“Ha! Responsible? You were never around when things got tough. I had to pick up the pieces after Dad died.”

“I’m sorry, Phil, but I was starting my own life and mother was suffocating me… I just had to get out.”

 “You’re all Mom ever talked about,” Phil said as he looked around the room. “What has Tanner done? Where has Tanner been? I hated hearing your name.” 

“Listen, Phil, mother was afraid of going outside. Remember how Dad did everything?”

Philip gazed to the side, “No, it’s… He was the father. It was his job.”

“She was agoraphobic, she had a fear of the outdoors. After Dad and I were gone, she needed you out of fear.”

Philip cupped his palms as if holding something of value in front of himself, “After you left, mom begged me never to leave her, and I kept that promise.” 

Marlene sunk deeper into her wheelchair. Her eyes stared forward with a frozen expression.

Tanner ran his fingers through his hair. He looked upward, searching his mind, then looked at his brother. “We just don’t remember it the same. I had to get out and yes, my entire relationship with my family has been one big regret, but I can’t change that.”

Philip looked around at the trinkets. “That picture of you standing by the Yangtze River, I hate it.”

“The Volga,” Tanner corrected.

“Whatever, look at this house, the shelves, the walls all adorned with the greatness of Tanner. You’re a show-off.”

“You don’t understand!” Tanner curled his hands like claws near his gut. “I sent those things to remind you all that I was still alive. Do you know how many times I sat alone in hotel rooms and airports hoping to make it back for a holiday? Do you know how it felt to not be here when mother died?”

Marlene covered her ears, “Stop talking about it.”

Tanner spoke calmly, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here for you when Emily passed…” He turned to Marlene, “Your mother was a strong woman.”

Marlene wept, “I wish she was still alive.” She covered her face with her hands. “I feel like it’s my fault,” Her body bobbed, and she sobbed the words into her palms. 

Tanner put his hand to her shoulder. ”No, no, my dear girl, none of this is your fault. Your mother loved you very much, just as our mother loved me and your dad.”

Philip balled his fist, “I couldn’t save her! She always wanted to drive here and there when I could have done it.” He shouted, “But I can protect Marli, she’s safe here.” 

“But she’s not alive here,” Tanner answered

“You just want her to be like you.” Philip pointed around the room, “Look at all of this junk. I’d have thrown it all out, but mother liked it this way. So, I’ve kept it in her memory.”

“Mother liked it because it was her link to the outside.” Tanner answered, “Why do you think she never left the house?”

Philip closed his eyes, shaking his head, “She didn’t need to… Dad, and I were and…” Philip held the sides of his head as if stopping the noise of a freight train. “Why don’t you leave us alone? Just go to Tanzania or Siberia or wherever. What do you care?”

“I care Phil, more than you know. I know you’ve been…” Tanner looked around at the walls. “Chained to this house since childhood.” He looked at Phil, “but a life unchained is not without its pain.” Tanner picked up his case. His jaw muscles clenched.

“No! Uncle, no,” Marlene cried. “I want to go with you.”

Philip stared wide-eyed at Marlene and then his brother. His lips quivered with unspoken words.

Tanner kneeled next to her once again. He held her hand atop of the armrest. She squeezed his hand harder than before “Yes, oh yes, my dear, one day I’ll take you to see the pyramids and the Great Wall of China. It will be magnificent!”

Tears rolled down Marlene’s cheeks. She stared through her glassy eyes and out into the wild blue yonder of her imagination. A seemingly endless imagination of dreams poured from her crippled body and into a world of pure possibility.

“Get out!” Philip shouted as he pointed to the door, “She can’t walk! Understand?”

Tanner stood while still holding marlene’s hand and his suitcase in the other, “It’s you who can’t, Phil. You’re the one who couldn’t walk out of here, the same house we grew up in, and now you want to trap her because you’re afraid.”

Tanner turned to Marlene, “I’m sorry my dear, but I can’t stay if your father doesn’t want me. Don’t worry, you’ll walk again, I know you will!”

Marlene held tightly to him. Their hands broke apart when he leaned away and walked toward the door. His shoulders drooped equally under the weight of the suitcase and from the weight of Marlene’s pleas for him to stay.

Philip burst out of the door behind him, red-faced, “see what you’ve done!”

Tanner turned around defiantly, “no, what have YOU done, Phil?” 

“She has to accept the reality of her circumstances. She’ll never walk. Don’t you get it?” Philip shouted.

“It’s you who doesn’t get it,” Tanner replied.

While they stood on the porch facing each other, the door creaked open. In amazement, the men turned to see Marlene standing in the doorway. Her atrophied legs strained with quivers. Tanner smiled with surprise and dropped his case. 

Philip straightened his arms out toward her with his palms open as if to stop a collision, “no, you can’t!”

“Yes, you can,” Tanner ordered with a raised fist.

Marlene stepped from the doorway with an expression of pain and astonishment, gasping with each step. Philip’s arms stretched out, motioning to halt. Tanner’s arms reached out to catch her. Marlene took stiff-legged steps like a baby walking for the first time and fell into the arms of her uncle.

Philip dropped to his knees weeping, “no, no, you can’t leave me.”

“Yes, my dear, I’ve got you,” Tanner whispered, “now, there is nothing you can’t do.”

Marlene looked up into her uncle’s face to see tears roll down his cheeks. She turned to her father, who knelt next to them. His shoulders slouched as he wept into his palms.

“I can’t lose you too.” Philip cried.

Marlene extended one of her arms toward her father. She placed her hand upon his shoulder, “It’s ok, Dad… We’ll go together.” 

Philip stood. His eyes looked away in shame. Tanner and Marlene embraced him. They huddled together with their arms around each other as the laughter of nearby children danced in the air.

###

CAUGHT IN PIE TOWN

CHAPTER 1

NATE

Had you shaken a snow globe, then flash-froze it, the action, though unmoving, would still be expressed. This was the appearance of Nate Jackson. His eyes welled with a horrid vision, his hands clenched something that wasn’t there, and his mouth stretched open cupping a moan that never emerged as his motionless body lay near the entrance of a vacant lot. Something had shaken him, rattled his soul and then froze it…

To read more, click the link below.

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THE FLAVORIST

the-flavorist_sm

     “Mortem praeparare meum novum maximum cofectio!”Adolf Van De Groot bellows from the mezzanine above a gathering of chocolate makers in the grand hall of the Van De Groot Chocolaterie located in the heart of Brussels. 

     His commanding voice reverberates through the hallowed hall with the reverence of his great ancestors, “I have chosen you all to witness my greatest confection. Chocolate so creamy, so decadent, so perfect, it will be the joy of the world. A raging storm of flavor I have named Chocolate Thunder!”

 

 

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AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

 

Mascotte

In the year 1822, in the South Pacific aboard the Ameritas, Allen Markum looked to the front of the ship. There, its figurehead, a sea monster named Mascotte, was carved into its prow. Allen gazed beyond and out over the endlessly rumpled ocean. The waves rose and fell like many gills of a living thing. Its vastness was beautiful, but also a reminder of how small the great ship was.

Allen pulled on a rope along with two other men. His splitting fingertips stung, but he dared not stop. 

“Raise the mainsail below the first yard,” a voice ordered.

Allen turned his attention to the first mate. A chiseled jaw young man of nearly the same age, his buttoned short coat exaggerated his tall, slender figure. He read aloud from a wooden plaque the setting of sails for the evening.

Allen glanced down at his own meager clothing. A shocking crack rang his skull that brought his attention back to his work. Though the pain was excruciating, Allen knew better than to let hold of the rope.

“Stop yer lollies,” the familiar but terrifying voice of the boatswain shouted. He pointed at Allen with his club, a belaying pin used to secure ropes. 

“Aye, aye,” Allen answered. His head throbbed and his body ached in all places where the salty water entered his open wounds. 

After they raised the mainsail, Allen rubbed the bump on the back of his head and cautiously looked at his assailant. Zebadiah Booth, the boatswain, handled the ship’s supplies and was assistant to the captain. 

Zebadiah’s round head with thick tufted brows and mutton chop side whiskers framed his sunburnt face. He was sturdy and fattened from good eating but roughened from life aboard a ship. His skin displayed the same roughness as the salted pork the sailors ate at every meal.

Captain Neal smoked a pipe and watched from atop the quarterdeck at the rear of the ship. His short, stout figure was unmoved by the heave of the vessel.

Zebadiah looked to the captain, who nodded with pleasure. Then he disappeared below deck. The first mate continued to shout his orders.

The crew’s attention shifted toward the rear of the ship when Zebadiah clamored to the main deck, pale and wide-eyed. He climbed the steps of the quarterdeck, nearly out of breath. Alarm was expressed upon his face. He whispered to the captain.

Captain Neal’s eyebrows rose as he listened. He called the first mate who approached and stood near the steps looking upward. The same expression of concern grew over him. 

“You two men come with me!” The first mate ordered after he turned to face the crew.

Two powerful sailors followed the first mate below deck. Zebadiah descended the steps and faced the sailors.

“The barnacle madness!” Zebadiah shouted.

Every man’s expression changed to fright.

“Consumptive Morbus,” the captain announced. “Stay back from him when he’s brought top-side.”

“Finish tying down,” Zebadiah ordered.

The sailors resumed tying the ropes but looked around cautiously. They had just stopped when a hatch sprung open. The first mate and one of the men climbed out, pulling a rope that descended into the hull. 

They pulled the rope taut to the hatch’s side and strained to lift what was hidden at its end. Others joined the struggle.

A shrilling scream rose from the depth of the hole that grew stronger when the rope was drawn out. The hair on Allen’s neck became electrified, waiting for what was suspended at the end of the rope.

Finally, a leg was visible and then a body flopped out.  

“Keep back. Don’t let him touch ya lest you join him.” Zebadiah ordered.

The crew gathered, inching closer.

“He’s contaminous!” Shouted Zebadiah.

He then rushed to a casket and scooped a bucket of pickle juice. He stood over the man and doused him twice. “That’ll purify ‘im for the time,” Zebadiah announced with confidence.

The sailor rose to his feet dazed and blinked from the sting in his eyes. Allen froze with horror when he saw the man clearly. The sailor’s eyes bulged and his fingertips pointed wickedly.

Zebadiah rushed forward and rammed the sailor with his club in the gut.

The ailing man fell to his knees with a squeal and then bent over.

“Get the poles,” Zebadiah shouted.

Five men grabbed barge poles. They forced the frantic squirming man to his back.

He screamed with anger until he broke into cries and pleaded for release, “I won’t hurt anyone, I promise, I’ll stay apart from the others, please.”

Zebadiah clubbed the man unconscious. Then stood over him with contempt and nodded with self-approval. He glanced at the captain, whose eyes narrowed but did not blink. 

“A rope,” Zebadiah said aloud. 

The first mate took one of the many coiled ropes that hung along the railing and tossed it to Zebadiah who fashioned a simple noose. Everyone watched as he tied a bowline knot without looking at his hands. 

“Pin ‘im tight lest he wakes,” Zebadiah ordered. Then he looped the open end around the sailor’s neck without touching him and tossed the slack over a boom.

Allen watched the fear in the faces around him transformed into anger. Two men eagerly grabbed the opposite end of the rope and pulled with the force of their combined weight that tightened the knot and peeled the sailor from the floor headfirst.

“Throw him over,” the captain ordered.

They hoisted the body above the deck while the crew shouted insults. 

“Feed him to the sharks,” a voice cried out.

“He’s an abomination,” shouted another.

The sailor’s body hung with its elongated neck stretched in a way that made the torso appear disproportionate. The head tilted to the side with an outstretched tongue.

“Cut the first rope from his leg, but leave the other. ” The first mate ordered.

The leg rope was cut free. They pushed the boom out over the water and the body swung like a pendulum. The first mate gave a nod, and someone released the rope. The body splashed far below in the water, out of sight.

Captain Neal spoke, “Best that any man who grows sick from the Morbus should take matters into his own hands. You will be shown no mercy, here.”

The captain tapped his pipe against a railing, casting the spent ash into the swirling breeze around him. He then ascended the steps and stepped into his cabin.

After sunset, nobody spoke of the incident. Allen’s mind filled with thoughts of contamination. He looked around at the other men who sat in quiet contemplation.

#

That night Allen took his post at the topgallant of the mizzenmast during the second dogwatch. There, it magnified the pitch and roll of the ship. Near the top of the mast, Allen proudly rode the seas and stargazed.

With his feet upon the top cross member and a harness tied around his waist, the threat of falling was only fleeting, though a momentary lapse into slumber could be life-threatening. Any lack of vigilance could cause injury, and yet there were freedom and calmness at the top of the mast, away from the stark contrast of flogging and harsh work aboard deck. Sleep meant death, yet death meant to sleep. 

Against the coarse surface of the mast, Allen carved the final touches of an image of Mascotte among the other carvings of names and doodles that riddled its surface.

He called out to the foremast watchman, whose perch was above and nearest the prow. “Ahoy, Milton! Beware if ye piss on Mascotte. She’ll bite ya clean down to the gristle.”

“Pipe it, dog!” Milton called back.

Allen smiled and blew the wood bits from his carving and sighed in accomplishment, then dreamt of exotic ports and seafaring stories others told. Stories of hardy ho, lost at sea, and wayward woe.

The greatest woe of all was the contagion Consumptive Morbus or known to many sailors as Barnacle Madness. Always spoken of with great revulsion and horror, any sign of the disease was met with intense fright that could easily spread panic throughout a ship.

Allen hugged the mast with his face pressed against the image during a rough sway. The midnight-bell watch rang out and Allen began his downward climb. The ocean gave a sudden heave. He slipped at the cross-tree above the main yard and lacerated his leg below the knee on an iron fid that poked out from the mast. He struggled to descend amid the pain and gave way to the ache from his laceration when he reached the deck.

Ben, Allen’s most cherished mate aboard the ship, prepared to ascend. He noticed Allen’s injury, and paused with concern, “Here my friend, this will help ease your discomfort.” Ben retrieved a coconut from his satchel, removed a cork, and drenched the gash with the liquid inside.

Allen didn’t question the contents within the coconut. He trusted his friend’s judgment, for it was common to acquire a coconut and continue its use after the original contents were drunk. The container infused a hint of the exotic flavor with its next filling.

#

Below in the sleeping quarters of the berth deck, Allen dressed his wound and winced, then laid his aching body in the woven cradle of his hammock. He fell asleep and swung from side to side in a lullaby measured by the hum of the ocean and the moaning squelch of the hull.

Many hours into his sleep, a vivid stabbing pain that ran the length of his leg awakened him. Through a porthole, a band of moonlight cascaded upon his lower half. In the gleam, Allen pulled back the bandage of his wound to expose a grotesque encrusted ulcer spreading beyond the lesion.

Deep breaths and nervous twitches overcame him after he wiped the sweat from his eyes, and sensed sharp protruding barnacles that had erupted at his extremities, and encircled every orifice of his body. 

The barnacles resembled hard conical spirals of tightly nestled fingernails that came to a point. He held back a childish whimper as he realized in horror that he had contracted Consumptive Morbus. An urge to run swept over him. He shook in a state of panic. It overcame him with fear of not just the affliction but the cruel outcome of its revealing.

In the wee hours of the morning, Allen strained not to awaken the others who still slumbered in hammocks. He crept in between and under the suspended cradles that swayed against the yaw, heave, and surge of the ship in an unpredictable manner, tied in a maze throughout the berth deck.

Allen exited a hatch into the cool salty air. A moon shadow was cast over the rising steps to the quarterdeck. Allen crouched in the small wedge of darkness next to it.

In the night’s silence, creaking timbers and bumping tackle murmured like the movements of a sleeping giant. Primitive instincts rose within him that controlled his fear to run. Rather, he stalked toward the foremast with the stealth of a cat. He restrained his breathing against his pounding heart.

The straight edge of the gunwale railing tilted gently against the ocean’s horizon. The furthest most edge of the water was sharply cut by the faint blue that marked the sun’s intention to rise. A waning moon hung two fists above the West. Somewhere between night and day, animal and human, life and death, Allen’s tortured mind searched for safety.

The ship seemed to straddle this narrow dark space between the glow of milky moonlight and the crack of dawn. Above, the masts stabbed upward into the sky that was both black and piercing white from the magnitude of stars. The mainmast rose into the starry darkness, where Allen knew a man stood on watch in a crow’s nest above the top-gallant. Only the foresail was unfurled and the shrouds of climbing nets pointed outward from the middle of the masts like spider webs. Allen looked toward the prow of the ship where his only place of hiding could be.

He avoided detection until he reached the center of the ship. There, Allen came face to face with Zebadiah Booth. The silhouette of the boatswain stood before him, unmoving. His fuzzy brows rose starkly around the black recesses of his eyes. Each man paused at the sight of the other’s shadowy figure. Allen watched the darkened features of Zebadiah’s face change with the realization of his condition.

“Morbus.” The word quietly bubbled from Zebadiah’s lips.

With an animal’s instinct, Allen grabbed Zebadiah by the throat to prevent another sound. Easily, his jagged fingertips sliced through his tissue. He held him to the deck, choking him to death.

For a moment Allen crouched over the motionless body of the boatswain pondering the magnitude of what he had done. In a panic, Allen hurried to the front of the ship and hid in a small enclosure at the bow that was used to store tackle, convinced that his condition necessitated the act. 

When he overheard cries that alerted the captain to the boatswain’s murder, he feared the worst. He stayed hidden during intermittent calls of his name at daybreak and whispered stories of him falling overboard at midday. His paranoia swirled, knowing a search would expose his morbid secret. The box which smelled of rotted hemp rope became his bed.

Allen crept out briefly to steal a drink of water from a cask that night. In his box, he wavered between paranoid fear and hysterical chuckles. He lost his mind and developed an intense hunger for flesh.

The following day Allen awoke to a ruckus.

“Keep him back, boys, he has the Morbus.” the First mate ordered.

“Kill the scurvy maggot,” one yelled.

“Mongrel whoreson,” another called.

“He murdered Zeb,” someone cried.

The words were venomous and wavered with fear. Allen peeked out to witness Ben’s croustade figure with barnacled hands and face drove across the upper deck. The mob corralled Ben with barge poles. They pushed him back and forced him to stand upon the railing of the main deck while he clung to a rope extended from the mainsail.

The tumorous barnacles caused Ben’s eyes to bulge out, and his encrusted hands curved inward like a dog’s paws. Balanced between drowning or beating, he clenched his torn clothing and squeamishly cried.

Someone launched a pin from the crowd that tumbled through the air and landed a pulverizing blow to Ben’s skull. Knocked dizzy, as if in a trance, Ben’s rigid body tipped backward like a falling timber and disappeared beyond the gangway. A faint splash announced the end of the ruckus.

Allen stayed curled up in his box, morphing into something hideous and beyond imagination. He rummaged his hands across his body, analyzing his encrusted tumorous form, and realized that anything still human in him had nearly perished. The affliction intensified and Allen’s body changed through some ghastly pupa stage in a wooden cocoon.

That night, Allen emerged once again for a drink. His barnacle-riddled body was unrecognizable and his feverish hunger was voracious. At the bow, Milton climbed down from the foremast and stood in shock at the sight of a monster. Again, Allen seized his victim at the throat, but this time, he ate into his neck, down to the bone, then threw Milton’s corpse overboard before he crawled back into his box.

That morning, just before the seven-bells watch rang, Allen awoke to distinctive shouts, squeaking pulleys, lapping ropes, and the flapping release of sails. A panic he himself was familiar with; attack by a rival vessel.

He rehearsed the call to “man battle stations” at the exact moment it was being ordered. It revitalized him with a sense of duty as cannon blasts from the opposing ship grew nearer.

Allen peered out and observed the action. A full-rigged sloop neared. Square topsails and a familiar blue and red flag atop its mast signaled the dreaded Cormorant. 

Allen watched as the first mate struggled to gain control. The crewmen clamored over one another in a meager counter-attack. Captain Neal stood upon the quarterdeck with a raised sword. His mouth moved in shouts, but his voice never rose above the battle. The absence of the boatswain proved critical, for the upper deck was not stocked and organized. All seemed lost and Allen waited for the end, helplessly tasting death.

A cannon blast crippled the mainmast, and an explosion blew the figurehead off of the prow, along with the shell of Allen’s hiding place. Wood shards and burning embers rained from the sky. Thick waves of smoke and desperate yells filled the air. Suddenly, Allen’s, monstrous figure arose from the cloud of smoke at the bow and screamed out in wretched horror, his pent-up insanity burst forth.

All action ceased as the shocked faces of the men watched the monster rise. A dismayed crew, awed by what appeared to be the sea monster of the Ameritas come-to-life.

Someone cried out, “Mascotte!”

In unison, prayers, cries, and cheers filled the ranks.

The cannon fire mellowed and the attacking ship prepared to glide parallel to the Ameritas for its crew to board as a means of a decisive victory.

At that moment, the outer jib, attached to the foremast, swung in Allen’s direction. Heroically, he took hold and in a swashbuckling manner, clutched to the rope hanging from the jib. He leaped from the bow and launched his hideous figure towards the attacking vessel. The monster seemed to fly to the amazement and horror of the other ship’s crew.

At that moment, the mainmast of the Ameritas gave way and crashed through the mainsail of the other ship. It landed upon a loaded cannon before it slipped into the sea. The final blast from the cannon sent a projectile directly at Allen. In midair, the two collided in an explosive cloud of blood and infected tissue that descended upon the aggressors in a red mist.

As quickly as they came together, the two ships drifted apart. A moment of reassessment waved over both crews. The sailors of the Cormorant idled with indecision from the sudden turn of events.

Disturbed by the vision of the monster and unable to board, the crippled Cormorant drifted away like an enormous piece of flotsam that turned oddly with the rift of surging swells and rolled excessively to its port side without a sense of direction. The beleaguered Ameritas sailed slowly behind. 

A northeasterly wind pushed both ships in the same direction. The afternoon drew on and the ships maintained their course as Captain Neal considered revenge. The Cormorant continued to show no deliberate bearing except what the wind and waves brought upon it. 

Once again, the first mate called out the evening commands while the sails of the Cormorant showed no sign of change. That night, the crew of the Ameritas heard shrieking cries of madness whisper over the waves. Screams that resembled mythological sirens but of a hellish type as Consumptive Morbus overwhelmed the crew of the Cormorant.

###

The Scary Nary (A wicked rhyme)

Children never ventured into the Nary wood.

They knew all too well and understood

of the dangers that fell,

and stories that were told,

and retold again;

old stories of now and then.

#

They were handed down

by infinite numbers

of older sisters

and older brothers,

of brood before

and since brood began.

You must pass this on in hand.

#

A thing that tricked with a joy, so fresh

it beguiled you, then riled you,

then wrenched your flesh.

#

Against its hide, it wrapped you up.

It sucked you dry to fill its cup.

Once you were caught you were gone forever.

The Scary Nary was very clever.

#

You knew it was close if no bird flew by,

or no chipmunk popped his body outside.

You might see a snail

or worms at the bottom

when the air was stale

under leaves that smelled rotten.

#

The feet of the Nary

could be seen in this dirt.

Beware if you step on its toes.

Be alert!

#

Where the wind did not blow,

he was too big to hide

but, you were too close to know

the Nary next to your side.

#

It would hold you

then scold you

with fingers of whips

like willow tree branches

with needles as tips.

It had arms that were lengthy

and wretched like rakes.

It had hands that were haunted

and hanging with hooks.

Toes that were wicked

and snarky like snakes,

and eyes that were void

like the specs of a spook.

#

The grown-ups never ventured to the wood past the meadow.

It was misunderstood, not amused by its shadow.

They had forgotten and joked and jeered at the fable.

They worked and toiled, and no longer able.

#

But when boys weren’t boys

and not yet men,

they neglected their toys

for adventure, and when

their courage was built

and they longed to do

what their minds intended,

the Nary woods brought a challenge anew,

that could not be dispelled or amended.

#

And somewhere between

foal and mare,

not pup or dog,

not cub nor bear.

A boy was brazen

and forced to dare.

#

So, when a school year was ending and the air was still cool.

One gathered the hearty and not the fool.

A group of three decided to venture

to the forbidden wood to test their measure.

#

After one had gathered them up,

they three, all wrestled and riled and thumped.

“We’ll go to the forest and see if it’s true.”

The first said it was.

The second wasn’t sure.

The third said it wasn’t.

So, the challenge was pure.

#

Meticulously they planned with tact and tool.

They pilfered and packed what they could from their school,

from their father’s sheds,

and from under their beds.

They were ready for the worst kind of ghoul.

#

They spit and shook for now and forever.

They would not dampen their oath nor sever

the pact that they made or themselves from adventure.

#

Before the cows on the farm

they were a long way from harm.

Near the grouse in the meadow

they felt slightly unsettled.

Passed the deer in the dell

they were halfway to hell.

#

Past the dells the three stood

one by another,

They’d go if they could

but froze by the wood,

“It all looks too gruesome,”

They shuddered.

#

One said to his friend

“Go in and return and bring back the news.”

“You’re crazy my brother the Nary is true.”

And they could not agree on none or all three,

and all three was the best they could do.

#

So, as boys dare and dare as they do,

one dared another and another made two.

When one stood alone he rallied behind.

Now all three were stalking in line.

#

They crept through the thickets,

the vines and the nettles,

milk-thistles, pines and peddles.

Until the vines became few

and the ground became gray

and worms squirmed about

in the rot and decay.

#

Still deeper they slunk

til’ they stood by a giant

that had a large trunk;

a tree that stood high and reliant.

#

It spread out like a dome

where no animals roamed

but the boys grew more bold and defiant.

#

The tree stood tall with arms outstretched;

hanging limbs with leaves like gnarled nets.

Draped with toys and forget-me-nots.

All made of wood and carved to a liking

that boys adored and girls found striking.

#

Nothing shined though objects shown,

more than figures it had grown

of things that resembled fun and good.

All for the taking, if you could.

#

Oh what a dare, oh what a deed.

Their childish hearts were filled with greed.

#

And of all that was rotten,

if only they feared

what the fragile fear

of shriek and terror

and “hold me, dear,”

they might still be alive

and not forgotten.

#

They stepped on the roots

and the twigs that were buried

that crunched and alerted

the hives of the Nary.

They grabbed at the branches

like shelves of a store,

and tugged at the toys

that it carried.

#

There the wind did not blow

and this carnival show

was too much for the boys to ignore.

#

It awoke in a sudden

It wrapped them up tight.

They were coiled in a thicket,

of gossamer plight.

#

The one who was the leader

became embroiled in thorns

that wove like a web,

and tightened its horns.

It squeezed and released

until his screams had ceased

and tossed him atop

where it finished the feast.

At the highest branches, he stopped.

#

Another was grabbed

by the face and shook.

By the eyes and mouth, he was took.

Driving its shanks

down his throat to its length

and out through his head

like a hook.

#

Out of his back

more branches emerged,

more leaves were sprouted

and his juices were purged.

He sagged there a carcass

to be siphoned and squeezed

as his skin became bark

and dry like the trees.

#

The last one was pulled

to the side of the trunk

as a mouth and eyes opened

it swallowed a chunk.

With teeth like daggers

and eyes deathly dark

the lad was halved

at the waist

as from a shark.

#

But nothing was wasted

and it took the last bite.

Of the last boy it tasted,

he tasted of fright.

#

A prize for the Nary,

oh how he was good

and this one’s face

forever stood

in the crags

of the bark

on its trunk

in the wood.

#

The Nary wood, as time does tell.

Not a childish place of Jack and Jill.

Not on hill or dale,

but a forest of fear and fail.

#

So, remember,

when you see a face gnarled in wood

on a tree, in a forest,

beyond a meadow and dell

and you know that you shouldn’t.

Yet, you do just as well.

Just remember the childhood

stories they tell.

#

A lesson of will

so that you will grow merry…

No child escapes the Scary Nary.

#