Inktober 2019 – Dragon

Chakura would not, a year earlier, have pictured herself doing this, and yet she had scaled the dragon’s tower without so much as turning the head of one of the guards. Now she was in the inner sanctum, where the guards dared not patrol. Not the human ones, as any rate.

She had seen signs of inhuman sentinels as she had crept closer to the innermost chamber, and she had done all she could to avoid their notice. There was no telling what they might do if aroused; they might manifest as a whirling cloud of razor-sharp blades or as nothing more than a disembodied screeching. Either way, the master of the tower would be alerted, and Chakura would not lay a finger upon his hoard.

Thus, she was careful, not racing the last few steps to the place where her quarry slept, and she was able to slip inside unheard, unseen, undetected. She could hear him breathing in his sleep as she made the last few needed preparations, then she drew her weapon and went to wake the dragon.

It only took a few minutes. Just a little threatening talk, and he had applied his thumb to the tablet. Only a few minutes, there at the top of his tower, but the culmination of weeks of groundwork by the coders. Perhaps if he had been a crime boss, it might have been harder, but the whole of his experience told him that lawyers would fix it and so to avoid her knife he had done as he was told.

By the time those lawyers were awake, the trail of servers would have collapsed, one after another treble-formatting itself after finishing its part in the relay, and all that he had transferred would have been deposited, unbreakably anonymous, into the hands of a thousand charities.

The dragon’s hoard was not emptied, of course. Only liquid assets could be extracted, so his factories, his airplanes, his dozens of empty houses, were all still his. He would survive. But thanks to Chakura, so would millions of poor who might have otherwise perished.

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

Inktober 2019 – Snow

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? The way it drifts down, great fat clumps of it sifting slowly past the window, and it you open the door you can hear it, almost fizzing, a more festive sound than rain’s hiss.

The world closes in when it snows like this. You can hardly see across the street, and you want to hug your family, all huddled together on the couch with mugs of hot chocolate, just enjoying the fact that you’re all together and warm. Even when it’s time for bed, the glow of the city trapped in the flakes means it’s never quite dark

And then, the next day, when the snowfall has stopped and the sun has just come up, everything shining brilliant white in those first minutes of the day. There’s a real sense of newness, as if the whole world had just been shipped, new and wrapped up against bumps in transit, all the familiar sights in front of the house obscured and waiting to be revealed, waiting to delight you with details forgotten during that brief concealment.

Of course, one can’t just stare out at it. Eventually, boots have to go on, shovels have to be taken up, and doors opened. Then you get to breath in the brisk, bright air, as sparkling as the smooth surface of the snow, and it feels like your lungs are being cleaned.

But then, there’s those footprints in the snow, the only ones laid down since the snow stopped. They come all the way along from the farthest corner of the block on the city sidewalk, turning at the path up to your front door, and covering half the distance from street to house. And there they stop, as if the walking person just vanished mid-stride.

Just the same as last year, and the year before, and as far back as memory stretches. And every year, just for a moment, you wonder why no one ever comes looking for the owner of those footprints, just before you scrape them out of existence.

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

Inktober 2019 – Pattern

“Please come inside. You’ll get sick.”

I had left my mentor alone with her reading to prepare our lunch, and as was not uncommon, which I returned with the plates I discovered that she had wandered out of her study. She was the grand scholar, after all, and her whims were the guiding force of our lives. I was starting to wonder if she wasn’t going senile, though. I wouldn’t have thought to look outdoors on a day like this if she hadn’t left the door open.

“No, come here, come here, you must see this.” She beckoned to me from the apex of the bridge, sodden sleeve flapping. I went, and when I stood beside her I put the umbrella she had walked past into her hand. Her fingers were ice cold.

“It’s very picturesque,” I said, glancing out over the lake that held her interest. The rain hazed the usual view, throwing a grey veil over all but the nearest houses of the village. None of the fishers had taken to the water today, their boats tied up on the shore, and the windless downpour made the lake into a pale slab, as flat and blank as cutting board. “Why don’t you come and have your lunch? I’ll make up a fire and…”

“Hush.” It was not the harsh tone she usually used when I vexed her. She almost sounded awestruck. Thoughts of senility gained strength, especially when she said, “I could hardly believe it when I heard it.”

I listened, but heard only the patter of raindrops on the umbrellas and the hiss of the broader rain dropping on the lake and surrounding landscape, white noise under random percussion. I put a hand under her nearer elbow, tried to gently get her moving in the direction of our cottage.

“Fool!” There was the tone I was used to. She drew back, furling the umbrella I had pressed upon her. She swung it against the backs of my thighs, the blow sharp if not too hard. “This is why you study. Now, look at the lake.”

I looked again, and when she pointed I followed the gesture. Not far from the bridge, I watched the unremarkable reunion of rain and lake.

“What to you see, youngster?”

I weighed whether I  should try to be clever. Not with her in this odd mood. “Raindrops hitting the lake.”

“Yes.” Again, the low tones, nearly reverential. “A drop makes ripples, yes?” I agreed. “Look again. What do the ripples make.”

Which ones? was at the back of my throat, ready to jump out, but then I started to see what she meant. Each drop had its ripples. The countless impacts sent peaks and troughs across the lake, high and low, light and dark. I knew I wasn’t seeing what she saw, but there was something in the way those tiny waves moved together.

“Close the umbrella and listen.” Hardly even a whisper, right by my ear. I did as I was told. “See and hear.”

The lake ceased to be a uniform flatness before me. Light and dark. Dark and light. High and low. All churning, cooperative and antagonistic in turns, to make the image of a great face, as big as the lake was wide. The sound of the rainfall was a voice, whispering in a language I hadn’t known that I understood until this moment.

I shivered, although the damp had yet to penetrate my clothes. I trembled at the sudden knowledge the world was revealing to me, and before the storm ended I fled to the cottage, leaving my mentor all alone to face that enormous unrepentant confession.

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

Inktober 2019 – Swing

Every day for the past week, supper had been devoured in a hurry. Ethan had suddenly decided that the play structures in the little one-block park across the street, which had been there for his entire life, was the best sort of dessert. He had, in the way of little kids, decided that his visits to the slide, the teeter-totter, and the swings must come after supper, but he was more than willing to force the clock regarding just when after was.

Every day for the past week, Rose and I had taken turns courting indigestion, stuffing down our own supper to make sure he got his play-time in. It had been worth the effort, as Ethan had been flirting with insomnia previously, and this week had been a paradise of easy bed-times.

But tonight, he was carefully counting peas before each spoonful, and making potato sculptures with the slow deliberation of someone in a movie who has seen a UFO. It was my turn on playground duty, and I finished my supper long before he did. I exchanged a look with Rose when I stood to take out my plate, and we shared our confusion. Ethan had seemed as excited as every other night when the plates were going down, but that excitement had disappeared by the time he came in from the living room.

When he eventually finished, I said, “Ready for the playground?”

He looked up at me, corners of his mouth a little down-turned, eyebrows tented, and said, “Do I gotta?”

That demanded another look at Rose. She, behind him, was free to shrug. I felt myself mirroring his expression as I said, “Not if you don’t want to.”

His face cleared. Not all the way, but there was definitely relief. “Good. I’m gonna play Legos.”

I thought I should dig a little. I could understand a kid suddenly wanting to use a slide that he hadn’t taken notice of previously. It was like suddenly noticing that air exists; it’s been there all your short life, but one day you blow on a piece of paper and you’re aware of it. That playground was sort of the same. We’d taken him across when he was very wee, slung him on the little kid bucket-swings, then fallen out of the habit. It had become a mere part of the background until, for whatever reason last week, it came into focus.

To suddenly become disenchanted, though, was a bit of a worry.  That’s usually connected to a bad experience. When I’d been out with him, we’d been alone, and he hadn’t hurt himself on anything. Rose hadn’t mentioned anything, either. Maybe we’d missed something.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go across the street?”

“No.” He didn’t stop in his amble toward his room.

“Why not?”

He replied, as he rounded the corner out of the hall, but I didn’t understand what he said. “What was that, Ethan?”

He shouted the same response, as kids will, not just a little louder to carry the distance, but top volume. I still had no idea what he said, other than it had two syllables and might start with a G or a K. There was something in it, though, a slightly hectic edge, that made me drop it. I could ask again later, in hopes he would be more settled.

I was still afflicted with curiosity, so I went to the living room and had a look at the playground. It was just as it had been every other night previous, a line of structures on the near edge of the block, the rest of the space given to tiny ball diamond and an open field that saw little kids playing football in the fall. It was just as empty as ever, slide unslid, teeter-totters inert, only the swings showing any action, set going by the wind.

But that wasn’t right. One of the swings was moving, one of the big-kid ones that was just a straight strip of rubberized canvas. The others, another of the same sort and two of the little-kid baskets, hung like plumb-bobs. I looked past the swings, to the trees of the block beyond, and saw no sign of wind stirring their canopies.

Just that one swing, swishing through a broad arc, an enormous pendulum without a clock.

I watched, mesmerized. I wanted to call Ethan out of his room, get him to say that word again so I would know what it was. But I was starting to think that I had heard it as clearly as it could be heard, and I also remembered the slight tinge of hysteria in his voice when he repeated it.

As I stared, someone came in view. I didn’t know his name, I just recognized him from a similar passage the last time I was out there with my son. An older man, accompanied by a small trotting dog and a mild fug of smoke from his pipe. I had nodded at him then, as he passed, and he responded in kind, the standard suburban mutual acknowledgement. He didn’t look in my direction this time, but he did glance at the mobile swing without slowing his pace.

A moment after he was past the swing, it stopped dead at the bottom of its travel, suddenly as immobile as the others.

I craned to see the man as he departed. Neither he nor his dog seemed concerned. When I lost sight of them, I pressed my ear to the window, listening for… anything.

I almost jumped when the thunder of Ethan’s feet came up through the floor and into the glass. He had pounded out of his room, carrying something made entirely of blue Lego, with an unlikely arrangement of wheels. “Daddy, can we go out and play now?”

There was no sign of the nervousness that had gripped him earlier. I turned, and saw all the swings hanging and still in the light of golden hour.

“I thought you didn’t want to go tonight,” I said, cursing myself internally for wanting to rekindle worry in my innocent, happy boy.

“It’s OK,” he said, laying down the Lego thing as he headed for the shoe rack at the front door. “It found someone else.”

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

Inktober 2019 – Frail

The last block before home stretched out ahead of Katrina. It only felt like it was uphill. She sighed, took a better grip on the canvas shopping bag in her left hand and the cane in her right, and got underway once more.

As she made her way past the car without wheels or windows, Katrina wondered once again whether it wasn’t time to move. The neighbourhood had definitely gone downhill since she had moved in, back in ’95, and it hadn’t been wonderful even then. She had been younger, more certain of herself, and she had considered the future only in terms of what would stretch her pension out as far as it could reach. Now that she was realizing that she might come to the end of her physical reserves before the financial ones, the relative cheapness of her apartment was losing its power to convince her.

Still… she considered the other apartments, on her side of the street and the other. She knew people here, some well. That had been quite a feat, after leaving her job; discovering how to treat people as something other than tools or threats. She was proud of herself for managing it, back when she was more supple in mind and limb. The prospect of having to go through that process again, now, was daunting.

“It’s my rut, and I’ll lie in it,” she muttered, smiling.

In the next building along, a door banged open. A man stepped into the sidewalk in front of Katrina. He was a recent arrival, one she didn’t know, but she had noted him. She might have had to expand the categories she applied to people, but she had kept possible threat on her list. He was loud, frequently abusive to passers-by and neighbours, and was willing to show a switchblade. He was no longer young, but was still young enough to be stupid in his strength. He was an argument for moving.

And he had locked his gaze upon her.

“Hey, Granny,” he said, booming artificial joviality. She knew the look on his face, a moon full of mean joy at the prospect of some bullying. She kept moving, already on a course to pass him by.

He stepped into her path. “What you got in the bag, Granny? Got treats for me?”

Katrina stopped. “No treats.”

He frowned, which did not change his demeanor in the least. He stuck his hand out.

He was more than a head taller than she was, probably less than half her age. She had seen his kind, over and again, and she could almost smell the desire to hurt coming off him. He would push her down, because he was stronger and she was there, and if her hip broke it would just be a better joke.

She held up the bag, offering it to him, distracting from the cane. She turned her right hand hand over, letting the shaft of the cane run through her hand until the rubber foot stopped against her little finger.

When he grabbed for the bag, he tried to get her hand into his fist as well. She pulled back just a little, pleased that she’d got the timing so right, and his hand closed on nothing but bag. She gave the bag a little tug, and when he yanked…

She knew exactly where she was. She was not mentally transported to the dim back alley on the wrong side of the Wall, back when there was a Wall in Berlin. She was not imagining the man in front of her to be anything other than what he was, however much he shared a soul with a some Stasi thug. But when she hooked his foot with her cane, when she yanked him all the way off balance, she remembered exactly the fierce joy that came from knowing she had done it right, that the fight was already won and lost and that she was on the side that survived.

And then she heard the sound his head made, or perhaps it was his neck, as it hit the lamp post behind him. She knew, even before she saw how limp he lay on the ground, that his days of menacing old women were at an end. Suddenly, she was transported back in time, and could only see the sparring room where her training had begun, could only hear the voice of her instructor. When he had lectured them on the essential frailty of the human body, he had wanted to make sure they understood what might happen to them, if they got the lessons wrong.

When she came back to herself, she realized that she was sitting on the front step of her own building. A young woman sat beside her, wearing a dark uniform that almost set off another fugue before Katrina recognized it as police. A blanket had been put over her shoulders, and her cane set across her knees, making her the very picture of a little old lady, confused at the ruckus of witnesses giving statements and emergency medical technicians giving up.

The next day, she began to look at retirement communities. She felt her cover had been blown, and she should get to a safe house, however unfamiliar.

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

Inktober 2019 – Enchanted

I lost the path hours ago, and sunset is upon me. The woods are certainly deep, and they grow darker by the moment, but I no longer think they’re lovely. I wonder, not for the first time today, how many idiots like me Robert Frost has sent to their doom

I think I hear something, away to the right, and freeze, straining to listen. The last thing I need now is to stumble in front of a bear.

Definitely a sound, but not the crunch of stealthy paw on leaves, nor a warning growl. I’d almost swear it’s someone humming a tune. I’d cry with relief if I was sure of what I’m hearing. I turn my head one way and the other until I’m sure of the direction.

I find myself standing in… well, not a clearing, exactly. It would be a clearing, if not for the gigantic tree in the middle of it. I don’t remember seeing any other oaks during my wandering today; I guess this one used up the whole oak budget. It has to be more than eight feet across at the base, and I can’t begin to guess how high.

A moment after I come into the clearing, the source of the tune appears. A young woman is dancing around getting the tree, and before I even get a clear look at her, I feel elation, because I can any least get directions to town.

But now I have had a clear look at her, and which way to town? is not the first question that I want to ask. I realize that there’s more light in this clearing than there was outside, and I wonder why I can’t make out any lamps up in the tree. There’s just a pervasive illumination, a little greener and bluer than daylight, as if the clearing is slightly underwater.

And I also wonder whether it’s the light or the length of time since I last had some water that’s making my vision go funny, because with this much light around, I should be able to tell what she’s wearing. I blink, and then I rub, trying to clear the problem, but it’s still there. Her face is clear enough, clear enough that I can see how striking her eyes are, wide and hazel, as she returns my stare, and I can see the small bright teeth shown as she smiles at me.

And so I don’t know why I can’t tell what she’s wearing. A part of me is trying to suggest that she’s not wearing anything, which is ridiculous, because it’s too cold for that, and because no one is going to be so completely unembarrassed to be naked in front of a stranger, and because I have seen a naked woman before and I know what one looks like and she doesn’t look like that. For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on.

But she has a very nice smile, and when she starts singing I think it’s about the nicest thing I’ve ever heard. She sings to the tree, but that makes sense. The words are a language the tree knows. I sure don’t.

It would be a shame to interrupt, though, so I withdraw to the edge of the clearing, to wait for her to finish her song. The mossy ground looks comfortable enough, once I kick a couple of these skulls aside, and I settle down cross-legged to wait.

Such a pretty song. I sort of hope it doesn’t end too soon.

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

Inktober 2019 – Husky

“Mama?”

Tina lowered the shirt she was working on. Ben was sitting on the floor in front of her, inside a rough semi-circle of toy vehicles. He was not looking in her direction.

“What is it, sweetie?” She watched as he reached out a careful finger to roll an excavator back and forth, marveling at how gentle he could be.

“When will I look like everyone else?”

Suddenly, Tina was glad that he wasn’t looking at her, because she knew her face must have shown the sudden pang. Part of the adoption process had been preparing for just that sort of question, but the longing tone of it made a hollow in her heart. She took a deep breath.

“Ben, you know that Daddy and I don’t look like each other. Right? He’s much paler than I am, and I’m shorter than he is.”

A nod. The excavator stopped, and a black steam locomotive started to describe figures of eight in the air over it.

“And Mrs. Wei next door doesn’t look like anyone in this house, but she’s nice.”

“I like her cookies.” The locomotive was swooping from side to side. Tina couldn’t tell if he was relaxing or becoming agitated. He was a calm child, had been since the day they brought him home, but kids were kids and she couldn’t help worrying.

“If I looked just like Mrs. Wei, how would you know who to call Mama?” She said it lightly, trying to draw a laugh. It was a little selfish, because she loved the way he laughed, but also… if he was laughing, then he couldn’t be upset.

“Braeden called me fatty.”

Braeden had been the prime source of misery in Ben’s life, one of those little rotters that seems to lurk in every classroom. The one time Tina had been called to the school, Braeden had been at the bottom of it, but of course it was Ben that was in trouble for the broken desk. Braeden had only been asking Ben “what happened to your real parents,” over and over, as if Ben hadn’t told him about the crash on the first three rounds. The principal hadn’t seen Braeden’s culpability in the event. At least at the start of the meeting. Tina had brought him around.

“Braeden…” She sighed, digging herself out from under the shirt. She reached down to stroke Ben’s hair. He kept weaving the engine in the air, but did not pull away. “Braeden is jealous.”

“Really?” Finally, he turned and looked at her, the sudden movement throwing her hand from his head.

“Sure. He’s only ever lived here. You’re not even eight years old, and you’ve been on two planets.” He frowned, confusion rather than anger, and she touched his cheek. “You were born on Burlington, remember?”

“No.” A smile, a little mischief in his eye. “I was too little.”

“You know what I mean,” Tina said, leaning in to close. She had not thought, when she first saw him and knew he was to be her child, that she could love him any more, but every day seemed to stretch that pliable emotion a little more.

“So Mrs. Wouters is jealous, too.”

That damn witch, Tina thought of the neighbour on the other side. She had been the one drawback to the neighbourhood, only apparent a month after moving in, a constant stream of fault-finding and gossip that would apparently never dry up. Tina had made a policy of avoiding Wouters as much as possible, but as much as possible was never, sadly, the same as absolutely and at all times.

The day before, she had been going out as Ben and Tina were coming in, and she had offered a venomous compliment on the way Tina altered Ben’s clothes to fit. Tina had thought that Ben, still innocent of so many layers of adult conversation, had missed that, but apparently not.

“You bet she’s jealous,” Tina said, inventing quickly. “You think she had anyone who can lift her fridge when something rolls under it?”

“She doesn’t?”

“No, she does not! I’m a very lucky Mama!” She slid out of the chair to kneel beside Ben, careful to sweep a bulldozer and lunar ore hauler from under her knee. “Give your lucky Mama a hug.”

Carefully, Ben put his thick arms around her and gave her a squeeze which did not quite make her bones creak. She smiled, and returned the hug with all the pressure she could muster.

“Now, come help with supper,” she said. “Daddy will be home soon.”

She stood and took a step back. Ben, her little boy, as wide as he was tall, straightened his legs, and with the enthusiasm of his age bounded up. In one third the gravity his ancestors had been engineered for, the leap took him as high as his mother’s head, and he pantomimed a kiss at her in the moment between up and down.

She followed, heart full of love, but also worried for the future. He had to turn sideways to get through doors now; what of five years hence?

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

Inktober 2019 – Build

“Ygor, I will need a left arm here.”

When, after several seconds, he heard nothing but a nervous shuffling right beside him, the doctor looked up from his stitching. Raising the magnifying goggles, he saw Ygor was still watching from just outside spurting distance, where he had retreated to after bringing over the most recent leg.

“Well?” When Ygor dropped his gaze to the floor, apparently embarrassed, the doctor felt his heart sink. “We’re not out, are we?”

Ygor’s head snapped up, professional pride displacing the bashfulness. “No, doctor. It’s not that.”

“Thank goodness.” The doctor took a deep breath, sighed out his relief, then returned to his original point. “Let’s have that arm then. This scaffolding can’t last indefinitely, and…” he paused, listening to a distant grumble of thunder, “We might be able to finish tonight with some effort.”

“Should we?”

“What?” The doctor almost dropped the spool of thread he held.

“Should we… finish?” Ygor ducked his head again, then found an inner reserve of courage. “It doesn’t seem quite right, what we’re doing.”

“This is coming very late in the game, Ygor.” The doctor spoke with icy slowness.  “If you had objections, you should have brought them up before we got this far along.”

“Well, until last week, I though you were just… you know…” The courage failed, but the way he glanced out the window toward distant Ingolstadt made his meaning plain to the doctor.

“Just reviving a corpse?” Ygor nodded. “Just creating a semblance of humanity, imbuing the spark of life into the disparate flesh of a tinkered-together homunculus?”

“Yeah, that.” Ygor took an unthinking step back, then grabbed at an upright to keep from slipping off the little work platform they stood on.

“That was fine for cousin Victor,” the doctor said. “Victor, for all his mechanical skills, lacks an artistic imagination. Besides, why should I do exactly what he did? He already proved it was possible.

“My creation, Ygor, will be the talk of the biennale in Florence, not just a source of nervous gossip in the medical schools. Now, will you please nip down to the Lefts bin and get me a nice-looking arm so I can finish this junction?”

Ygor nodded, shuffling toward the first of the four ladders he would have to climb to reach the parts stores. When he was halfway down, he paused to take in the doctor’s masterwork, trying to see it through its creators eyes. If it was actually able to support its own weight as it trundled overland to the art show, the intricately arranged network of arms, legs and torsos would indeed be admired by the cognoscenti of Europe’s art world.

From a distance, at least, where the details were less obvious. And probably only from up-wind.

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

Inktober 2019 – Freeze

Daisuke knew he had to find shelter soon or Yuki-onna would find him. She had already found Hanzo, taking his warmth and leaving him a mere heap of brittle meat. But then, when the boat had struck, Hanzo had been thrown into the water, been soaked through and through; by the time he floundered ashore, he was already drunk on the cold, an obvious target for the snow-woman’s seduction.

It was memory of the look on Hanzo’s face that kept him going. The man had not slipped into the tranquil death which legends of Yuki-onna promised. It was plain he had been in agony at the end.

They should have listened to the old man. He had told them the weather was going wrong. Daisuke swore at his feet, burning with cold, then he swore an oath to beg old Hayato to forgive him for the foolish words they’d shouted at him, he and Hanzo both. Surely, though, not even Hayato had foreseen a storm like this. A blizzard, this early, with the leaves still almost all green? A typhoon so late, out of the north? Both seemed ridiculous. Both had combined to come for him.

Out of the whirling snow, a regular shape began to form. Daisuke shuffled a little faster, not knowing exactly what he saw ahead, but knowing only that it was a structure of some kind. Shelter. The promise of people. A place to hide from Yuki-onna.

It was a wall, the kind that enclosed a rich man’s compound. Daisuke knew of no place like that anywhere near the village, but he had no idea where they had been driven ashore. It could be Hokkaido, for all he knew. Even China wasn’t impossible.

Weeping, the tears sticking his eyes shut now and then, he patted along the wall, seeking a gate. He found a gap, where part of the wall had fallen inward. He made a noise, possibly of joy, possibly of dismay, and picked his way across the rubble. He was at least now in the lee of the wall.

Finally, he found the buildings the wall enclosed. The larger buildings of the compound were roofless ruins, gutted by a fire the warmth of which was long gone. Staggering across the snowy gravel of an abandoned garden, Daisuke found an out-building almost completely intact, only a few small holes in the paper of the door. It jammed once as he tried to slide it open and he nearly let the frustration drive him into a frenzy, but he took hold of himself and was soon inside, the door intact and closed behind him.

The little shed was a single room without a window, square, hardly as wide or deep as he was tall. The floor was flagstones, just like the yard between it and the garden. Some kind of storage space, but Daisuke did not know enough about the economy of grand houses to guess what it had been meant for. Until the storm ended, he decided, it would be where they kept desperate fishermen. He huddled into a corner, arms around knees and tried to shiver himself back to warmth.

When Daisuke woke, it was darker. Sleep had come on him unbidden. He knew instantly that it had been a mistake to stop there, on the bare cold stone floor. He could hardly move. There was no feeling in his hands or feet; he looked to make sure they were still there and cried out at the sight of his feet. He tipped onto his side, beginning a slow creep on elbows and knees for the door, hoping to find some other shelter with a raised floor.

When he found he could not open the door this time, he battered his way through it, pushing aside the thin bits of wood with his face. For a moment, a shred of paper clung to his face, blinding him, and when the wind took it away from him, he saw her, standing on the far side of the neglected garden.

Yuki-onna. The woman who killed men in the snow, the legend somehow become present. It was hard to make her out in the dim snowfall, but he knew it must be her. What other woman would be there, in that dead place, a serene figure in the jūnihitoe of court? What other woman would wear jūnihitoe that was all the non-colours of winter, all whites and greys, never a tone of life to be seen?

She opened her arms, slowly, ready to welcome him into her embrace.

Daisuke tried to rise and flee. He barely even broke into a shamble, doing little more than propelling himself to land face-first on the icy flagstones. He began to grovel away, using his forearms to drag himself. When he heard the crunch of a light footstep on gravel, he looked back.

Her arms were up and the many jackets were open like wings, revealing a deep blackness inside. He could not see her legs, although she took immense strides, covering the distance between them in no time.

And now that she was close, he could see that the upraised hands were not hands, just black twigs at the ends of slender birch branches. The face which regarded him was a blank white mask, no lips, no nostrils, just tiny black shark eyes .

From out of the darkness within her robes came a thousand long, sharp knives, but not knives, because knives were not clear. Not icicles, because icicles could not bend as they wrapped around his legs, some plunging into the hard cold flesh to wake it with a worse burning, some clutching to pull him back, pull him into the darkness and then in their turn thrust into his groin and chest and fill him with the agonizing venom of winter.

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

Inktober 2019 – Bait

Yvonne stood beside the open window for a moment, apparently enjoying the coolness of the night breeze that wafted across the overgrown garden. After regarding the golden moon for a few seconds, she put her hand on the latch, swinging the frame until it was nearly closed, but leaving a finger’s-width gap. Less than a minute later, the warm glow of the bedside lamp went out, leaving the whole house dark.

Sometime later, a shadow flowed up out of the garden, gliding up the wall while a cloud passed before the moon to pass silently through the open window. The cloud moved on, and the renewed glow revealed a tall man, clad in worn clothes several generations out of fashion, standing at the side of Yvonne’s bed. He gazed down at her, eyes fixed on the length of neck which showed white above the dark nightgown she wore. Slowly, he began to bend toward her, then froze,.

The movement was detected too late. A cord drew the window closed even as it released a rosary concealed in the blind. The crucifix rattled against the panes as it came to rest right beside the window’s latch. Two men raced in from the hall, throwing on the light. One bore a cross in each hand, the other a boar-spear cut short for ease of use indoors. The spear’s blade and cruciform guard glittered with the blessed oil applied to them shortly before sunset that night.

“Caught you at last!” Doctor Crenshaw boomed. He reached back to hang a cross on a small shining nail driven into the door’s lintel, although he kept his eyes locked with those of the creature by the bed. Its features were an inhuman rictus of hate and frustration. “Higsby, are you ready?”

Higsby tore his own eyes from the ghastly visage to fix upon his mark, the middle of the creature’s chest. He brought his hands up until the shaft of the spear was parallel to the floor, level with his own thudding heart. “Give the word, sir,” he said, secretly pleased with the even calmness of his voice.

Yvonne had pushed herself up to the head of the bed. She looked from her two rescuers to the vampire. “The plan has worked perfectly,” she said, smiling.

With a flick, she tossed the bedclothes over the doctor. His muffled cry of surprise was lost under the roar of the shotgun Yvonne had shared her bed with. Higsby, pierced in a half-dozen places by heavy buckshot, dropped the spear before slumping against the door, his last breath wheezing out.

The second barrel ruined the bedclothes and ended the doctor’s efforts to remove them.

Yvonne broke the gun’s action, the spent cases pattering onto the floor by the bed. She set the weapon down, and stood. The vampire, his features returned to those of a handsome older man, took her hand in his.

“Thank you so much,” he said. “They have been hounding me for months. I have hardly slept since the spring.”

“Not at all,” Yvonne replied. She laid her free hand over the clasp they held. “People like them… my brother died because that breed of idiot got up a torch-and-pitchfork parade. I consider it a duty.”

“Are you sure there is no… gift… I might bestow?” His voice dropped into a sultry purr.

“No, no.” Yvonne let go of his hand, and as she continued she began to gather her clothes. “You’d best get along. I’m burning this place down as soon as I’m dressed. But do be in touch if you find yourself in need of any more help. You did a find job of drawing those two in, and I’d be happy to use… to work with you again.”

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