The Iron Writer Challenge #18
2013 Iron Writer Summer Solstice Challenge #18
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
A Kerosene Lamp
Pickled Pigs Feet
“What’s the kerosene level, boy?”
“Enough to see us home, Cap’n.” Rui sat dangling his long teenage legs over the bow of his father’s scow.
“I didn’t ask for your estimation of its longevity. How much?!! And you can get those flat feet up here and show me some respect. And bring the stern and bow lamps with you!… At the double, boy!”
Jack scrambled to his feet and a few minutes later presented himself on the bridge, arms extended, a lantern swinging from each hand. “There’s five litres in the can and each lamp is full, Sir!” He grinned.
His father made no movement of recognition. “Put them under the table. Now, about the dinner for the governor, pickled pigs feet is no substitute for chili fried chicken’s feet and when we get home you’ll have to check with the imperial court etiquette reference librarians regarding appropriate attire. We mustn’t get it wrong.”
“Yes, Father, and I’ll try the mainland for chicken’s feet. Isn’t it exciting, the governor coming to our little island.”
“Mme, I hope it’s just a courtesy call.”
“What could go wrong? You have the Emperor’s ear, the sun shines on all you survey and we will be home by dawn.”
Xi Ge Xing’s eyes narrowed, peering into the distance. Nothing must be left to chance. He turned dismissing his son with a flick of his head. The boy was ignorant … worthless now, but he would learn. He returned his gaze to the horizon. The tranquillity of the sea troubled him.
The wheel tugged slightly. He hardly felt it, but it was there. He stared again. The light was dancing on the water, nearer now. He freed the wheel and it rolled gently to starboard. It was the current. The wind was to port. He pulled it back and tried to hold his course, but the helm was shifting. He’d heard of this. The spirits of the deep playing games.
“All hands on deck!!” he bellowed. “Set all sail to windward. Get to the oars and row for your lives. Bowswain! Don’t spare the whip.”
Before the sails were set or the men were in their places, the sea had become a churning firmament, planks of driftwood beating against the hull, impeding the rowing of the crew. The wheel was heaved to port and bound in place.
The scow dipped and yawed, huge spinning waves swamping the bow. Yet gradually, imperceptibly, she began to turn. Inch by painful inch, the crew’s bloodied backs brought her round, until the shimmering petulant waters were but a horrifying memory and the men sat in exhausted agony, becalmed in a sun drenched daze.
No-body saw the towering wave which enveloped the ship.
Xi Ge Xing, his son and crew were never found and the governor expropriated the family’s lands without setting a foot on the island.
“Captain to Bridge from Hollodeck Four. What is our status?”
“Coming out of Warp speed into standard orbit, Sir.”
“Survey quadrant beta-delta-9 for all dark matter disturbance. I am on my way to the bridge.”
The Glowing Night
Anne Mason Smith
The night was dark. The only light was cast by the full moon, shrouded by the thick, dark clouds covering the sky. A voice echoed through the forest, high and shrill with fear.
“Turn the dang lantern on!” Lucille screamed at Parker, stomping her foot on the hard ground.
“What? Is Lucille scared of the dark?” Parker taunted, but turned the kerosene lantern’s light up.
Lucille huffed but didn’t argue, turning around and trudging through the dense undergrowth. As she bumped into something, she let out a shriek that sent chills up Parker’s arms. He rushed forward, ready to battle the monster that dare hurt his sister, but all he found was a piece of driftwood, resting beside the lake. He sighed and pushed it away with his foot.
“Dang, Lucille, get a grip,” he sighed.
“Me get a grip? You’re the one that barreled through those trees like King Kong was chasing you!” Lucille argued, placing a hand on her hip.
“I thought you were being attacked!” Parker quickly defended himself, drawing a steady breath, trying to keep his temper at bay.
“Whatever. I want to go home,” Lucille grumbled and continued forward, where she knew they had parked their truck just half an hour ago.
Parker rolled his eyes, but followed his sister. He glanced back at the driftwood, and suddenly a funny prank came to mind. He grinned, and ran back to get the driftwood, dragging the wood up to the truck. He quickly glanced in to make sure Lucille wasn’t looking. Luckily she wasn’t; her eyes were glued to a phone.
He chuckled and started to lift the wood into the bed of the truck, but as he laid it in the back, he spotted an eerie, bright glow on it, looking out of place in the darkness. Terror gripped Parker, and he yelled and threw the driftwood out of the truck, diving around the side of the car and jumping into the driver’s seat. More quickly than he ever had before, he yanked the car into drive and zoomed off down the highway.
“Hey!” Lucille screamed, clicking in her seatbelt.
“There was—there was a thing in the back of the truck!” Parker replied, his voice shaky.
The truck’s wheels squealed, drowning out Lucille’s reply as they hurtled into the Library’s parking lot. Lucille grit her teeth and crossed her arms, staying seated as Parker ran into the library. He rushed to the nearest librarian.
“Hello, hi there. There was an animal in the back of my truck. We were in the forest. It glowed,” Parker quickly told his situation.
The librarian seemed to take an awfully slow time as she typed in her computer. Finally, she looked up at Parker. “Come with me,” she coughed, heading into the library, her eyes scanning the many shelves of books. Finally, she pulled out one. “Oh, sweetie. It was just a glow worm,” she remarked, showing Parker the picture. Sure enough, it was the same creature that had been on the driftwood.
He breathed out a sigh of relief and thanked the librarian, walking out to the car. He spotted Lucille eating his precious jar of pickled pigs feet. She licked her fingers and looked up innocently at Parker.
“Hey, I deserved it, sitting through your screaming,” Lucille quickly made up an excuse.
“Whatever,” Parker sighed.
I strode hastily down the beach, cursing the fog that prevented the glow of my old kerosene lantern from casting light more than a meter around me. The eerie sound of the waves crashing into the shore, combined with the pieces of driftwood that had to be circumvented every few strides or so made it a harrowing journey to the old lighthouse. I hoped to find answers to the questions that had plagued my mind since finding an ancient piece of parchment, covered with alien characters, many months ago. I had written one Professor O’Hara weeks before, asking him if he could help me decipher this old text, being the foremost authority on ancient texts and ciphers in Crimean Gothic. I had explained to him my countless visits to university libraries, asking the reference librarians where the relevant texts were, and inevitably take home a mountain of tomes that would only lead me to false translations (as I was certain the text wouldn’t contain the phrase “the gateway to darkness is opened by the whisper of a pastry”). I had received only a brief response from the Professor; a map of the Yorkshire coast, and a written note telling me to come to the marked lighthouse in 5 days time, wherein my questions would be answered.
Presently, I was wrenching open the old lighthouse door, warped by ages of harsh sea air. I stepped inside, forced shut the door behind me, and held up my lantern to provide illumination throughout the chamber. The room was large, but hauntingly empty. I called out, “Professor, are you here?”, but received no response. I hastily made my way up the stairs which bordered the room, and discovered the trapdoor which opened upwards was locked. I descended the stairs in the opposite direction, and the door at the base of the stairwell lead me to a basement chamber, resembling the first room, only this was lined with shelves, packed with jars of pickled things of every variety. Pigs feet, fish heads, and innumerable other unidentifiable things. My stomach twisted with the scent of formaldehyde, but I pressed on down the next flight of stairs, towards a faint sound of music. The door was locked tight, and I pounded on it with my free hand. “Professor?” I called again, shouting into the closed door. Suddenly, the door was ripped open! A flash of cruel blue eyes, a sharp pain on the side of my head and I was plunged into sudden blackness.
I know not what is to become of me. I live off of the food that is carried up to me nightly, and always, the repetition of that same, mad phrase, “Not long now, Mr. Edmunds. You’ll have your answers soon,” accompanied by phantom images of alien characters scrawled on old parchment, and those leering, cruel blue eyes, fogged with insanity.
I wonder if those questions are what drove Professor O’Hara mad, and if I shall live long enough to hear the answers.
Alex glanced up from his notes. There were scant few people around. It was quiet, even for the library. It would be closing soon. Nevertheless, this assignment wasn’t going to write itself. He looked beyond the rows of shelves neatly stacked with ordered volumes, none of which had thus far proven useful. He sighed, then, his eyes wandering, rested on one of the young reference librarians, cataloguing the day’s returns. Now she was well stacked,he thought. He gathered his notes and approached the desk, sliding the book across the counter.
“Just the one?”
He nodded, but said nothing.
The young woman took the book from his hand and rubbed it vigorously back and forth across a metal plate on the counter. There was something erotic in the way she did so. He reluctantly pushed the thought from his mind. She had soft pale skin and wore a crisp tailored blouse that made the most of her curves. As she pushed the book back to him she leaned forward and Alex’s gaze was drawn to a simple cross with a loop at its head that hovered from a silver chain against her white décolletage.
“Is there something else you’d like to check out?” She enquired, perhaps noticing his eyes lingering a moment too long.
“Not unless you know anything about Byron”.
“There from thy daughter, sister wife, at midnight drain the stream of life.”
“You do know Byron?”
“Not personally, but I’m familiar with his work.”
“This may be presumptuous, but would you help me?”
She looked around the foyer. Only the two of them remained. “Okay.”
She moved to the entrance and locked the door for the night. Then she gestured to a small alcove behind the counter. “Follow me”
Alex nodded. “Okay.”
Through the door she picked up an old kerosene lantern that sat atop a stairwell. “You’ll need this”, she said and led him down a steep staircase. She walked briskly, almost silently, and Alex had to hurry not to be left in the darkness. Eventually the stairwell opened into a large underground hall. Here, like the library above, rows of old books sat neatly ordered in the gloom, gathering dust.
Alex noticed other things. Preserving jars with what looked like pickled pigs feet rested on a shelf at head height. As they went further there were other specimens. Things that looked like rats, except, as they got larger Alex realised they weren’t rats at all, but preserved human organs.
“What is this stuff?”
“These are my private collections.”
“Yes. Everyone needs a pursuit Alex. Without one we are mere driftwood, hollow and without purpose.”
“How do you know my name? I never…”
“Your library card.”
“Oh…so what is it you collect?”
“Things I like.” She faced him. “Do you like me Alex?”
“I like you too.”
Then, she leaned forward guiding his hands around her hips into a passionate embrace.
Alex scarcely felt her teeth as they pierced the flesh of his neck.