Inktober 2019 – Ancient

McAllister hated to run. She didn’t like it in in the moderate warmth of spring in Wisconsin. She found it morally objectionable in the crushing heat of the dig site, yards above sea level, in the perpetual summer of equatorial Africa. And yet, when Babatunde had described what he and the other grad students had found, running had seemed to be the appropriate response. She still didn’t like it, and liked it less with every step.

Babatunde, younger and at least theoretically used to the heat, although he had claimed the years in Wisconsin had taken his childhood callus off, rejoined the circle around the dig before she was half-way across. When she saw the collective body language of the dig team, she began to forget the heat.

Each previous discovery of some interesting artifact had made a similar cluster, as those facing the tedium of freeing yet another potsherd from nearly indistinguishable dirt sought a moment of novelty. But in all those cases, the formation was tighter, the urge to gawp surging like a tide against the generally informal training of archaeologists to watch where they were stepping. This group was wider, the ones at the front trying to shrink away, the ones at the back keeping them there as shields.

The faces, too, were arresting. Not the usual wonder of fresh discovery, or at least not that alone. If she didn’t know the context and was shown only the faces, McAllister would have called it religious awe, of the sort brimstone preachers wanted to induce.

Babatunde tapped shoulders, but didn’t try to lead McAllister through the hole in the formation. He let her pass, pointing to the low point they had made in a midden which had stopped stinking about the time people figured out how to make bronze.

It looked like just about anything else they’d found, its colour informed by the soil removed from around it, its shape wrenched askew by the pressure of increasing depth of burial and the effect of time. A box, was her first thought, and that was unusual enough. The people they were uncovering were big on baskets and bowls, but hadn’t appeared to be aware of joinery until now.

There was something familiar about that box, though, and McAllister carefully squatted to get a closer look. As she did, she noticed that the box appeared to have a little rack attached at one end, holding a jumble small rectangular items. She struggled to keep assumptions at bay when a small back-of-head voice suggested dice, but the things were familiar.

Familiar in a context she had almost forgotten, and when it came to her, she stumbled back, heedless of where her feet were going, until the other diggers were supporting her.

Archaeology was detective work, at its base. The lives of long-gone people were imperfectly revealed by the things and the bodies they left behind, and the situation in which those things were left. McAllister barely registered her own face adopting the same stunned amazement as the rest of her dig team as she tried to imagine how they might, using the principle of her discipline, explain the beige thing that lay before her.

McAllister began to weep, hardly noticing, in the face of what finding an Apple II under a layer of eight thousand year old cooking waste would mean for her discipline.

“Inktober 2019 – Ancient” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Ghost

There was a line of six photographs laid out on the table. Each one showed the front of Oliver’s house, dimly lit by a post-sunset sky and streetlight on the far side of a tree. The position of the camera was the same in all, as was the colour of the sky, suggesting without need to refer to the timestamps in the lower right corners of each that each was taken in quick succession.

Oliver gave them a cursory glance, then looked across the table at the young couple who had brought them. If not for the current circumstance, he thought he would think well of them, because they seemed pleasant enough.  They were polite, well-spoken, and their visible tattoos were interesting rather than shocking. The letter they had left in his mailbox was, some modern failures of punctuation aside, entirely unthreatening. He realized only now it had been a mistake to even respond to it.

“It appears that this investigation of yours is already underway,” he said, with a coolness that seemed to strike home. Both his visitors blushed, and he almost forgave them.

“We thought…” said Will, the taller of the two, before having to clear his throat. He was all in black, from hair to shoes, and Oliver marked him as a goth, although either non-confrontational or under-committed. “We thought, since we were dropping off the letter, we’d…”

“Take advantage of being here.” Oliver said the first two words with careful emphasis, drawing another blush. “I’m sorry, but I really do think you’re wasting your time here.”

“Mr. Whitlaw, please.” Aurora was much less thematic. Oliver couldn’t decide if she was affecting professional dress or if she had simply come directly from some kind of higher-end retail job. “We just want to look into the stories about your house.”

“Those stories are outdated,” he said. “I have lived here almost thirty years, and never run into anything upsetting.”

“But…” Will pointed to the odd-one-out of the six shots, fourth in the series. In one of the dark upstairs windows, there was a slim pale figure, face as white as the torso. The head had no features but for a pair of great dark eyes, which seemed to be melting down toward the neck. “That’s definitely something.”

“A reflection from something on the other side of the street, maybe?” Oliver shrugged.

“But then why is it only in that one shot,” Aurora asked. “Look at the timestamps– there’s only a tenth of a second between the shots.”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged again. “Perhaps it’s something in your camera, rather than my house.”

That made them look at each other. Before either had a chance to get their feet back under them, he pressed on. “Look, you said in your letter you wanted to do an interview. Let’s go through your questions, and I’m sure you’ll be satisfied that your time will be better spent looking for hauntings in a livelier place.”

An hour later, Aurora and Will were stepping through the front door, thanking Oliver for his time. He bid them a polite good evening, while inwardly shouting and don’t come back! When they were off the porch, he turned out the light in the foyer, then stood and watched them, concealed by the sheer across the little window in the door and the glare of the porch light. They crossed to a small car, and drove away moments after climbing in. No more pictures taken.

Oliver went upstairs, shaking his head. He had heard the stories about the house from the neighbours when he and Ellen had moved in. Those stories had become cross-fence jokes during barbecue season, and had dropped entirely after the car accident. Perhaps, with the intrepid Aurora and Will seen off, their questions about cold spots and unexpected noises all answered in the negative, he would hear no more about those long-ago spectral tales.

He paused at the front bedroom, the one he and Ellen had always called the spare. He took a deep breath, partially because he was getting old and stairs were not getting easier, and partially because he hadn’t remembered to sigh with relief when his visitors drove off. He tapped at the door, then opened it just a crack.

“They’re gone,” he said. “I won’t be having them back.”

From somewhere in the darkness of the spare room, an echo of his sigh drifted.

“Inktober 2019 – Ghost” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Treasure

The author wishes apologize for this in advance. The idea would not step aside for a better one, and time was pressing.

“They’ve twigged to us, Captain! Milling around like an anthill!”

The shout came down from the maintop, where young John had been sent with the best glass on the ship. Simmonds sighed. The wind had failed in the night, not a flat calm, but such a mere breath that he had debated sending the boats out to tow, in hopes of presenting the village with a sudden apparition of the sloop Bounty’s Darling slipping into their little harbour before dawn.

But if the rumours about the hoard of old Inca gold were right, he didn’t want the men doubly tired, not only sleepless with anticipation while their watch was below but also destroyed from pulling on an oar, with a fight likely at the end of it. He could not imagine the villagers not putting up a fight to keep a vast chest of treasure. Better to have them fresh, he had decided. They could still over-awe the landsmen with the sloop’s guns, a dozen long six-pounders and an eighteen-pound carronade up on the quarterdeck.

But now, as the sloop’s approach brought the village over the horizon, Simmonds began to wonder if he had erred. Looking through his own glass, the activity John had described was certainly underway, but it seemed that the rag-tag militia he’d expected to meet the landing was going to be nothing but old men. A couple of dozen were doddering around on the shore, at the obvious landing spot, carrying scythes and pitchforks. Such a handful would melt like a sandcastle, even if he didn’t fire the guns on them first.

The youngsters of the village were just still visible, through gaps in the trees, dashing inland, men and women both. It made a sort of sense, Simmonds knew, given the hunger of the sugar plantations for labour. Would they flee like that, though, that if the rumours had substance? Simmonds felt his avaricious heart sinking.

“Sir!” John’s voice, floating down from the masthead once more. “Look by the church!”

Simmonds scanned the collection of buildings. The church was not much larger than any of the other hovels, only a little broader, and made taller by a slanting belfry. Before it, four muscular youths struggled with a small litter, two long bars supporting a box no more than two feet on a side.

Only two things were so heavy for that size, Simmonds knew, and no one would make a fuss about lead at a time like this.

“They’re bringing our treasure out to us, lads,” Simmonds called, and his three-score rascals raised a cheer, some of the sharper-eyed ones able to point at the box-carriers even at this distance.

As they stood in for shore, it became clear that the box was not coming to the strand. The elderly coast guard was still there and had pulled some of the fishing boats around to give themselves paltry cover. The burly quartet was hustling, as well as they could manage, along a little path that ran along the foot of a jutting headland, a lance of rock that formed part of that small harbour’s protection.

“God above,” Simmonds said, realization taking his breath. “They mean to dump it into the ocean.” He cleared his throat, and said in the usual seagoing roar, “Master gunner, will grape fetch those men on the headland?”

Old reliable Martinez, standing by the aft-most long six, squinted over the water. “By the time we’s drawn number one and reloaded it, it should make the range.”

“Hop to it, then.  Sharpshooters aloft! We need to stop that box!”

Musket balls were striking flakes of rock near the feet of the four carriers by the time Martinez had the gun laid. The sloop had to yaw, to lose some way, to bring it to bear, and after the shot the smoke hung between gun and target for long seconds. When it dispersed, it was clear the aim had been off. One of the carriers was rushing to rejoin the other three as they struggled to support their burden, bloody from a dozen gouges left by rock splinters, but inconvenienced rather than disabled.

Before the gun was reloaded, the box was at the end of the headland. The porters seemed unnaturally protected from the furious musket fire, fully a dozen men in both tops now blazing away but not one hitting the mark. They pulled the bars free of the box, which was now close enough to see in the glass as a basket of iron straps around gleaming gold.

It would, Simmonds thought as they rolled it off the end of the rock, be the least buoyant thing in the world.

Their work done, the four men threw themselves into the water on the far side of the little headland, one pausing long enough despite the musketry to wave a rude gesture toward Bounty’s DarlingThe next rise of the ship showed a glimpse of the last one paddling industriously to safety around the edge of the headland.

There was no noise on the sloop but the sound of wind in the rigging. Simmonds felt all eyes upon him. He looked at the weather-signs in the sky. If they kept standing in, they might find the freshening wind pressing them onto the shore for days, in a village which promised no useful diversions for the crew.

“We’ll send a salute into those codgers on the shore, and then work back out to sea.” He stood at the railing, remembering how a small error not much more vexing than this had cost Captain Dunbar his spot. Pirate crews could be horribly democratic, and the vote was always for change.

A week later, when the people of the village had all filtered back, and the lookout on the heights had reported no sign of ships, the four men who had carried the box returned to the little spit. They took up the bars they had dropped there a week ago, then carefully slid off the rock and into the ocean. In short order they would have the box back ashore, and they laughed at the pirates who, like others before them, had been fooled by their simple ruse.

Had Simmonds but troubled to look, he would have found that the booty was only shin-deep.

“Inktober 2019 – Treasure” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Tread

There are few things as upsetting as the sound of a footstep in a house you know to be empty.

Standing here in the attic, searching through boxes by the light of a single bare bulb, it’s all too easy to let imagination get out of hand. I can not have heard the sound of a foot lowered carefully to the old boards of the floor below. Before I came up here, I made sure that the doors were locked, front and back. I looked in every room.

But I also know what I heard. There was no mistaking it. A foot on bare wood. The only bare wood floor is in the hall beneath me. The bedrooms all have carpet. The bathroom is closed. So the sound could only have come from the hall.

Directly under me.

So now, I stand here, trying to decide which is the better idea: go down and look, or wait here for someone to come up the ladder.

Either way, I don’t know what to do if there is someone there. Because I know the house is all locked up tight, and I know that the old couple who own the place are completely, utterly dead, lying side by side on their gore-soaked bed.

“Inktober 2019 – Tread” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Sling

The weight of the work-day had hardly begun to lift when Brett walked into his house. He thought he heard Samantha calling a greeting to him, but it was hard to tell over the furious stampede. All three kids thundered down the stairs, eyes sparkling with glee. They were all shouting something as they clustered around him, hugging his legs and tugging at him. He finally made out Rochelle, the oldest of the three, chanting “Come and see what we made!” over and over, and then realized that’s was all were saying, at different pitches and speeds.

“OK,” he said, loud enough to make himself heard. “Just let me get my shoes off.”

“No, Daddy!” Vanessa, the middle child, still pulling at him. “It’s outside! In the back yard!”

The four of them passed through the house. Brett waved at Samantha as they passed, but he was not allowed to stop, Rochelle and Vanessa each tugging at a hand, little Kayla dragging at a trouser pocket. As they passed, Brett looked a question at his wife, who shrugged. “A surprise for Daddy,” she said. “I wasn’t allowed to look.”

After a moment of near-disaster going down the stairs at the back of the kitchen, the formation passed out on the back deck. The kids let go of Brett, and with the same choral unity as before shouted “Ta-daaa!”

Brett stood, letting his admiration show on his face. Some kids would waste a day off school, just staring at a tablet, but not his girls. They definitely had drive.

“We made you a hammock, Daddy,” said Rochelle, giving Vanessa a little shove which failed to stifle a fit of giggles. “Try it!”

Brett shook his head, smiling. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Come on, Daddy,” Kayla piped. “It’s real comforbul!”

Brett looked at his shoes, but the smile remained. He hated to do anything to curb the kids’ enthusiasm, but there were limits he wouldn’t pass. “No, kids, I’m sorry.”

“Aw, come on.” Vanessa took hold of her hand again. She was still having trouble stifling giggles. “It’s a hammock. Sit in it.”

Brett lifted his hand until it slipped out of her grip. He had let them shove him through the house, but he was still a full grown man and able to resist three little girls. “No, it’s not a hammock.”

“It is a hammock,” Rochelle said, with the emphasis of a child’s transparent duplicity.

“No, sweetie. That’s a trebuchet. It’s really impressive, but I’m not going to sit in that. It’s dangerous, and after supper we’re going to have to take it down.”

Brett turned for the door, anticipating the delayed post-work beer, steeling himself against the disappointed groans. He stopped and turned to look at the huge machine again when Rochelle said, almost sullen and without a trace of deceit, “Mr. Gzowski from next door thought it was fun.”

“Inktober 2019 – Sling” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Misfit

There was a long silence, followed by a voice which sounded almost as exasperated as Marcus felt. “Did you try rotating it? It really should fit.”

“I’ve tried it from every sensible angle. I can turn it over, but since we both agree that the red studs have to go into the holes at the bottom of the socket, I don’t really see how that’s going to help.”

Another long pause. “I know we’ve checked already, but that part number is A-174-V-5?”

“B as in Bravo, Five?”

Marcus closed his eyes, awaiting the response. It was as exultant as he’d expected. “V as in Victor!”

“Right. That’s what I’m looking at, etched right onto the side of it. Alpha 174 Victor 5.” He looked at the part. It looked like it should fit. It slipped nicely into the socket he had taken the seemingly identical but burnt-out component from, but it wouldn’t seat. He pushed it in again, for the fifth time, and for the fifth time, it stopped, as if touching something spongy in the socket, stiff several millimetres proud of the casing it should lie flush with.

He held it beside its dead twin. The red was scorched from the studs on the bottom of the dead one, but there was no telling them apart otherwise. He replaced the dead one. It slid in with a satisfying click he could feel through his glove, and when he removed it, it resisted, just a little, just enough to inform the fingers that it had belonged right where it was.

“Look,” Marcus said, putting both parts, each useless as it currently was back in his bag, “I’m going back inside to try to figure this out. If you come up with anything, I hope you’ll be able to let me know.”

He paused at the airlock door, looking back toward the tiny spark of the Sun. Earth, from this distance, would be within his field of vision, although there was no telling it from countless other dots of brightness.

He realized that as he had paused, the communication delay had passed. The ship was not only racing out of the system, it was rotating ever so gently. The antenna could no longed see home, and so he could no longer talk to the customer support line. Whatever was wrong with spare part A-174-V-5, he would have to figure out on his own.

As the airlock pressurized, Marcus laughed. It suddenly occurred to him that he had the rest of his life to figure it out, but possibly only one chance to get it right.

“Inktober 2019 – Misfit” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Ornament

Tobin was reaching into the tree, seemingly up to his elbows when Nadine came into the room. She almost yelled at him, then realized she would likely just set off the catastrophe she wanted to avoid. She took a deep breath and said, in as calm a tone as she could manage, “Please be careful.”

“It’s fine,” Tobin said, muffled by his own upraised arm. Nadine stood rigid, coffee mug creaking in pale-knuckled fingers, hardly daring to breath until with a final jingle he withdrew. He turned with a look of pride, which turned to confusion when he saw his wife’s face.

“What’s the problem?” he said.

“Why were you fishing around in the tree like that?”

“I was moving The Elf.”

Nadine sighed, resuming her course through the room. She resented The Elf, an infinitely worse infiltration of surveillance culture into the festive season than the lyrics of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. The argument she and Tobin had entered when he’d brought the thing home was not a marriage-wrecker, but it was an uncommon point of soreness between them. If he had consulted before he’d brought it home, she would have vetoed, but he’d just hauled it out in front of the kids, who had been amused. At the time.

“Why do you have to put it in the tree?” Nadine asked as she sat. “I thought it was supposed to stay on a shelf.” She  tried to keep her eyes on the TV, but in the end she scanned the tree for it, finding its judgmental little pink face peering from between a couple of silver icicles and… damn it… Nana’s glass ball.

“Oh, they say in the book to do that,” Tobin said, settling onto the couch. “It keeps the kids from peeking into the presents.”

“Have our kids ever…” She cut herself off, making gestures of negation with both hands. If they kept arguing about The Elf, the little beast would start to affect the marriage, and Nadine was entirely aware of how stupid that would be. “Anyway, when you want to move it tomorrow, let me do it.”

“Why?”

“Because if I break Nana’s ornament, then I don’t have to be mad at you.”

Tobin frowned, then became appropriately horrified. He knew exactly how much that big opalescent ball meant to Nadine. It was the only thing either of them had to which “heirloom” could be properly applied. It was not intrinsically worth much at all, as far as either of them knew, but it connected Nadine across a span of three maternal generations. It was a distillation of what both of them understood as the real Christmas spirit.

“You got it,” Tobin said, and then turned on the TV.

The next morning, between breakfast and the arrival of the school bus, Kaori and Devan engaged in the usual sort of pre-Yule speculation common to all children. Nadine looked in on them occasionally as she made got their lunches and hers packed, and saw The Elf Effect at work. Each child would occasionally stop, peering over one shoulder or the other, body rigid with anticipation of spotting the filthy little homunculus.

As far as she could tell, neither of them had actually spotted the thing in its perch in the tree. Their counter-surveillance was broadcast, as it were, taking in the whole living room, rather than focused aloft. She thought of pointing it out to them, just so the anticipation would break, but the demands of the morning preparations kept her from acting on the urge, and soon the bus’s appearance took away the kids and the opportunity.

After supper, the morning scenes began to play out again. Nadine remembered her intention from the morning, and was drawing breath to act upon it when she realized that she couldn’t see The Elf where she expected it. Nana’s ornament was an easy landmark, and the sappy face was nowhere near it.

A quiver of anger went through her, modified by the fact of the antique decoration still being there and whole. She filed the matter until later.

As it happened, Tobin raised it while the kids were brushing their teeth. “Nadine, where’s The Elf?”

She asked him to repeat himself. When he did, verbatim, she said, “I didn’t touch it.”

“Well then where is the little dickens?” Tobin stepped in close, craning to look between the branches.

When he started to reach toward the tree, clearly intent on pressing limbs aside, Nadine stood. “Hold up, there. Let me.”

They traded places, and Nadine stood tip-toe to look into the tree. The little lights shed their diverse glows into the depths of the needles, making it clear that The Elf was not just slumped further down the branch. She reached for Nana’s ornament, thinking that she would take it down and set it aside to allow for a more energetic search.

Her hand froze by the hanger. Nana’s ornament was slightly translucent, and normally there was a hint of the lights behind it. Now it was dark, and its usually unblemished surface seemed marked… except the marks were within.

Two blank eyes and a wry smile, The Elf’s features, were just visible through the pearly glass. They lay not at all in their usual relation. Broadened and smeary, they brought the word dissolved rushing out of Nadine’s imagination. Even as she stood, hesitating, one of the eyes disappeared, swirling away from the other and losing coherence.

With the reverence she usually showed it, Nadine took the ornament from the tree. She cradled it in both hands as she moved away. “OK, you see if you can find your Elf,” she said, her back to Tobin.

She dared not let him see the way she was smiling.

“Inktober 2019 – Ornament” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Wild

Marcie shrank away from her friends in their boisterous jollity, their giggles echoing down the alley. They were having as much fun as they had promised her, but it was less infectious than she had hoped. Perhaps if she had drunk as much as them, she would have loosened up more, but without loosening up more, she couldn’t bring herself to get that drunk.

They had cajoled her into coming out with them, efforts she had resisted until Nancy, her room-mate and the nicest of the bunch, had leaned in close and pointed out that there was little point in coming to the big city university if she was going to keep her head locked up in the small town she grew up in.

It had not been Nancy’s idea to cut through this alley, but she had not said anything against it. It seemed like a bad idea to Marcie, but so did a half-dozen back-to-back shooters. Go along to get along had been working so far, so she said nothing.

She also said nothing, because she was in no position to utter “I told you so” when three masculine shadows detached from the end of the alley, derisive chuckling filling the sudden silence as the drunken giggles choked off.

The man nearest them, still just a silhouette against the lights of the street, put his arm out to one side, turned the knife he held so it caught those lights. “OK, ladies,” he said, the shape of a predatory grin informing the sound of the words, “who’s first?”

“How about me?”

The three drunk women turned to look at Marcie. Marcie, who has hardly spoken the whole night.

Marcie, in the least hot outfit, slacks instead of a skirt, sensible flats instead of heels.

Marcie, who had helped her father and her grandfather in the slaughter barn since she was ten years old, who was not in the least squeamish.

Marcie, who had all but tripped over a piece of the hollow square steel that street signs are mounted to, a piece not quite three feet long, heavy but not unwieldy.

Her first night out on the town, and the girl went wild.

“Inktober 2019 – Wild” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Legend

The muffled sound of the dust storm increased for several seconds, and Morris looked toward the doors that separated the foyer from receiving hall. Pilgrims came at all times, but to come on a day like this… they must either be very devout or very reckless.

Three people entered. They had clearly taken a moment to beat the dust from their riding clothes, but it still sifted from their hats. Morris wondered at the perseverance. Even with doubled bandannas, breathing would have been a chore in such weather.

“Welcome, travelers,” Morris said. He was not dressed appropriately, expecting no visitors, but he held himself with the dignity of his post. “What do you seek?”

“Water,” said one of them, without hesitation. A woman, if the tone of voice was a guide.

“Of course.” Morris gestured to the long sink on the wall beside the door, behind them. The three looked, then back at Morris. They did not take a step. If anything, one of them recoiled slightly.

“You have running water,” asked another, his voice deep, and probably pleasant when not afflicted by dust.

“Fed from a cistern on the hill above us,” Morris said. This was a place of enough wonders, without pretending to any others. “It’s still quite full; winter was hard but left us that gift. Please, drink and wash. You may hang your coats and hats over there.”

There was some residue of hesitation, but they did as they were told, and before they were done, they were reveling in it. Morris smiled. The entire point of this place was to provide solace, and to see these pilgrims enjoying the simple pleasure of water not drawn from a well or carried from a stream was part of his reward.

When they were done, they slowly approached Morris. He stood by the great door to the sanctum, smiling gently at them to balance the forbidding essence of the great iron-bound portal. “Please tell me your names.”

The woman spoke. “I’m Agatha Fletcher, this is Gerrow Smith, and this is Jonah Gerrowchild.” Morris nodded to each of them in turn.

Welcome, all of you,” he said. “Your cattle are safely in the shelter?”

Gerrow said, “We came on foot.”

Morris’s eyebrows went up. “You left them back in Fernton?” Fernton, the nearest town, was more than a day’s walk away.

“We came on foot,” Gerrow repeated, with an emphasis that made Morris’s heart quiver.

“So devout,” he said, trying to keep his voice even. He looked them up and down. No sign of weapons, not even the ubiquitous knives that everyone outside carried, used for both dining and brawls.

“More than you know, sir,” Agatha said. “If the rumours are true, August means to stay with you.”

Eyebrows up again, Morris looked at the youth. It had been a long time since any young person joined them, and here was one too young to have even taken a trade-name.

Just as interesting was the evident dynamic he saw written on the faces of the three. Agatha was clearly devout, a sparkle in her eye that the candle over the sanctum door hardly accounted for; she burned with the hope which Morris and the rest of the order hoped to nourish. August was embarrassed, although Morris could not tell if it was at having their ambition revealed for them or simply because embarrassment was the constant companion of that age. Gerrow was a worry. Whatever else showed on his face, it was plain he was not resigned to the idea of leaving his offspring in a cloister, however worthy the cloister might be.

He would bear watching.

“Well, then,” he said, “let us show you the wonders we hold safe.”

He rapped at the portal. There were several different sequences, the meanings as diverse as where is my relief? to I am lost, release flaming oil against invaders. The bolts were withdrawn once he completed pilgrims here, normal caution and he stood to one side.

The three stepped forward, watched now by Jerome and Daria. Good, competent warders, Morris thought, easily able to take three foot-sore pilgrims in hand. And then, he saw with a delight which nearly made him laugh that the pilgrims were genuine.

All three dropped to their knees, eyes wide, mouths agape with awe. They had been told that this place was stuffed with wonders, no doubt had heard descriptions of the strange relics of the lost past, but now they were presented with one, and the fact of it, right there in front of them, simple as it was, had dashed them to the floor.

The incandescent bulbs in the sanctum, glowing with steady white light, were just a hint of what lay in the vaults below.

“Inktober 2019 – Legend” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Inktober 2019 – Overgrown

The kids were making such a ruckus, I had to say goodbye twice. It was worth it, the ragged chorus of I love yous reminding me that we were raising the kids right.

As I stepped off the porch, onto the little path that ran to the driveway, I noticed the tiny yellow dot of a dandelion’s newly-formed blossom peeping from the otherwise uniform green of our lawn. I’d probably take care of it myself when I got back, although it was the sort of minor chore that allowances were built on.

When I reached the front corner of the car, I realized I had left behind my shopping bag. I could have just gone, brought home the four items in one of the store’s plastic bags, but if I kept neglecting the reusable bag, it would never become a habit. I spun in place.

The grass on either side of the walkway was suddenly knee high, thistles and ragweed visible in the yellowish stalks. I took a shocked step back, took in the way the ornamental cedars on either side of the picture window had gone shaggy, swelling to hide all but a grimy black sliver of the glass behind them. Above, the gutters bore a line of saplings.

I touched the hood of the car, without looking at it. Firm, smooth painted metal under my hand. I moved the opposite foot a little, heard the shush of long grass, felt a tickling on the arm on that side. Without turning my head, I could see the neighbour’s house, trim and unchanged, the lawn on their side of our little shared fence cropped like a golfing green.

I tried to not blink as I moved back toward the house, afraid what other changes might come if I took my eyes away. I stepped onto the first step, paint crumbling away from satiny grey wood. The door had shed its paint, too. The doorknob was dim verdigris, and its corruption had made a long stain under it.

I hesitated as I reached for the knob, not fearing to touch it, but terrified of what I might discover by opening it.

I stepped through the door, back into the embrace of my family.

“Inktober 2019 – Overgrown” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.