A Blatantly False History of the World

 

thearachnid

Visit a rampaging Frosty snowman on a frozen Thames, a duo of inhuman “soldiers” looking for Hera’s golden apple, a girl trying to catch fish swimming in the air, and many more. History was never like these eight short stories claim… or was it?

A Blatantly False History of the World is a collection of eight speculative short stories. To buy a copy, click here.

Or, while you’re here, please enjoy the first story of the collection:

THE SEA

It would not have mattered who He was. We would have listened to anyone, so ready were we to leave the cold marble halls of this place, beautiful though it was. We knew the frescoes and the mosaics here were not for us, that the beautiful hid the deadly.

We lived in hovels of earth chambers beneath the gilded courtyard, and felt only the lashes on our backs, the burning.  We turned over everything we thought ours to the berobed Masters, their white togas fluttering in the breeze as if they were angels. We all knew they were not angels, and some of us had died in the learning.

We could not burn nor bury our dead, they were simply gone.

And we envied them for finding the way out, until we realized that the dead lingered here. They served still, their ghostly footsteps echoing, their cries penetrating the darkness as they longed for the death rites.  They would never rest without the rites.

In the darkness was full of whispers here, and beneath the whispers of the dead was a whisper that was rising.

✽✽✽

Lifetimes ago.  A small house, floor of dirt and roof of thatch, half dug into the soil of the earth for warmth, stood on a gray shore.  The waves beat against the cliffs, the only sound in the deep night.  Light pulsed from the windows of the hovel, sparkling green on the snow that blanketed.  Inside, a woman and a boy stood before the fire.

“Again,” she said.

The boy’s face scrunched, and into his upturned hand a green orb formed and then winked out, like a bubble popped, the magic shattering and then dissolving across his palm.

“You aren’t concentrating, Avice,” she said.

“I’m trying,” he said.

“Try again.”

This time, the bubble lasted longer before it popped into nothingness.

“You must learn,” the woman said.  “Magic is the only birthright I can give you.”

✽✽✽

It was His voice in the shadows of this place, and it grew, and it lived.

Make your way to the sea, He said to us, to those who served in the darkness. Come to me in the mountains, and together we will travel into the crashing surf, where ships will take us home again. The words were slow, and we didn’t hear them with our ears. We felt them seep into our dreams; like water into the ground in the fields we tended; like blood into the fine carpets of the hallways.

In our dreams he came to us, giving us the words we longed to hear. With the dream of hills and ocean he gave also walked the Gods of our homelands, of the green country of our birth. We listened to His words, seeping into the heart of us, and remembered ourselves in flashes, and knew fully what we had turned over to the Masters; traded violence for silence.

✽✽✽

“Take the book and go, Grandma,” said the boy.  He was tall and lanky now, his scrub of a beard patchy beneath the helmet he wore.  She clutched a tome to her chest, magic runes glistening on the spine of it.

“I won’t leave you, Avice.”

“They have already come ashore, you must go. Hide with the rest of them.”

He could already see the red helmets, plumes from the tops dripping like entrails, their helms and breastplates all alike, sparkling in the gray sunlight. They jumped from the boats into the water, they waded ashore.  The Romans.  The rumors of them had turned true in the breath of a summer morning.

“Go!” He said, and he shoved her up the hill.  She ran, stumbling on the earth, scrambling to the caves in the hills.

Avice gripped his scythe tight.  His face scrunched.  He took a bone from his pocket and kissed the swirling rune carved into the haft.  It glowed.  Armor of green light seethed from his skin and covered his body.

✽✽✽

Not all of us listened to His voice in the darkness. Not all of us felt His words pierce our hearts with longing. Some of us were snatched from our homelands so long ago that the white city was the only place we knew. It was tempting to stay, perhaps be given the ultimate gift for loyalty. But that kind of freedom was at the whim of the Master. The kind He was whispering to us was something belonging to us alone. We would gain and hold it for ourselves, without whim, without toil, without degradation.

And so we went to Him, like rivulets of water to a stream. His face was weathered and scarred.  Despite the cast-off, rusted armor He wore, the empty spot where plume should be on His dented helmet, there was nothing of Rome about him. We went to the green hills above the city, and we lived among the boulders there. We ate what we caught, we walked free under the sky, we remembered that we were humans. And at night, His whispers became words that were loud above the crackling fire.

We are too many and too and scattered for them, you see, He said.  And so we will go in safety to the ocean. Soon we will feel the salt wind curl over our bodies. Soon we will have the winds at our backs, filling our sails, guiding us home.

The white devils in their white houses left us alone, and like bread dough, we rose. By the time our edges seeped from the hills, we were ready to seize freedom.

The sea will be our life, He said. We will go to the Southern Shore with our spoils, and the Cossacks, Roman-haters to a one, will trade our goods for passage home. For enough gold, they will do as we ask. They will consider it a victory to smuggle us from the shores of their enemy. We will live again in the homeland of our fathers. Follow me to the shore. Follow me. We travel, my children.  We go.

✽✽✽

The hold of a ship, the fetid stench of unwashed body a miasma hovering in the air.  The mewling sound of crying, of despair, mingling with the odor.

It was too dark for Avice to see, so he scrunched his face and tried to make the light.

The bruises across his chest and the wound in his thigh hurt too much to concentrate.  The wails were too loud for him to center himself.

He scrunched is eyes, and for the first time in his short life not a bit of light came at his bidding.

“Magic is the only birthright I can give you,” his grandmother’s words echoed in the emptiness where his soul should have been.

He knew when the light would not come: he was dead now, and he would live as a dead thing forever after.  His heart beat hard with the knowledge.

And the rites?  Where were the rites for the dead?

✽✽✽

The hills were very green, deep and lush. Small white flowers grew in patches, even up to the heels of the boulders. We hoisted our stolen swords and watched them shine in the sunlight, new on the horizon. It had been ages since we felt the ungiving haft of steel, cold in our palms. We walked toward the sea. We felt the blades of grass brush our toes inside our sandals, scattering dew between our toes. We felt the rough cloth blow across our shoulders as we walked across the land. The sky was vivid blue and it stretched for days and into the future.

You see now that they are cowards and infidels, He said, more willing to mete violence to innocents than to face it themselves. Weeks on the road, and nary a finger has been lifted to stop our flight. Our Gods are with us, our Gods want freedom for us. Our Gods will help us reach the sea.

More rivulets of us poured from the hills as we walked. The stream of people became a river, and now our small fire was many fires in the darkness, constellations on the land, beneath the constellations in the sky. And still more came to warm themselves.

The hills became fields of wheat as we walked, golden to the horizon. Trees broke the line of waving grass in clumps. Sometimes a cypress pointed to the sun above as we strode by its shedding trunk. Once, we walked by a farm house. It was abandoned in the red sunlight, but a little dog barked in the distance. Some wanted to catch the dog; to taste the savor of dripping meat.

My children, He said, we do not have time to hunt. We must press forward to the sea. We are many, and we are slow, and we must not tarry. The sea is salt like our tears. It is salt like the sweat we shed for the comfort of the Roman masters, or for the life of our family far away. The ocean shall be our savior, and it shall return us to those we love. But we must reach it. Soon.

The wheat became hills again. The trees stayed, to shelter the boulders and the little white flowers beneath. A hawk wheeled above our heads, dark checkered wings on the blue sky, blocking the sun as it flew past. It dipped to the green grass and pulled a mouse from the earth, tail twirling as it rose to the sky.

Can you smell the salt in the air? He said. Can you feel the wet in the wind? We are close, my children. We arrive.

We wondered if the hawk could see the waves crashing against the shore, so much farther could it see from its height.

The ground changed beneath us, a sandy loam that defied our sandals, and we could hear the rushing of the sea in our dreams from where we slept. It whispered to us in the darkness a faint crash-hush. We crested the last hill and vast beaches spread their sand before us, tan and glistening in the sunlight. The ocean was aggressive, the way it beat its fists across the shore, as we had beat our fists against the will of our Masters. Gulls flew above, riding the wind in clumps. The wet breeze clung to our clothes and skin, making even our hair feel sticky with salt. We licked the brine from our lips and felt the spring stirring in our bones, the rebirth of it.

There were no Cossacks near the shore, no sails on the horizon.

Patience, my children, He said. We will find them, and we will leave this land behind. We have reached the sea, and it will be our savior.

✽✽✽

It had been years since Avice was taken, but the old woman woke in the middle of the night, her eyes wet with tears for him.  The fire had burned low, and cold was creeping under the wooden door.

Something told her she should gather the mint from the hillsides in the moonlight, she should burn them in the fire, she should say the words of remembrance.  Maybe they would not matter, like the last time she had done them.  But maybe they would.

Magic, it was the only birthright she could give him.  And her time for giving was growing short.

Her knees refused to bend when she raised herself from the pallet, and she steadied herself on her legs with care, letting the weight settle slowly, letting the ache seep into her joints.  She pinched a shawl in her lobster-claw of a hand and eased it across her shoulders.

“To this I say to you three times,” she whispered to herself, shuffling to pick up the herb basket.  “Remember love, remember home, return to life.”

She shuffled again to the door, and then up into the hills where the wild mint grew.  The moon was bright.

✽✽✽

Three days, we camped by the ocean. Three days, the wind blew salt into our souls. On the third day, a messenger came running into the camp, into His tent.

No one came out.

His voice stopped speaking.

His voice stopped holding us.

A rumor circulated.

The Romans had no one to wait at their table. The river of freedmen we had collected was too big. We were pinned on the coast now, with nowhere to escape. The army of Rome, glistening gold helmets, red manes dripping from the gold like entrails; the army of Rome was on the march. No Cossacks would come to our rescue and give us passage across the sea to our homeland. Rome had paid them more than we had ever seen in heaps of gold.

He was gone in the first light of day. He left no words and no whispers to comfort us. There was only an empty tent and the sound of the ocean as it beat against the shores, repeating, eternal.

We scattered to the winds. But like a blown dandelion, there is a center that is not subject to the will of breath.

I found that I am that center.

✽✽✽

In the darkness, a woman bends over me.  Grandmother. It is only a few months before the Romans came.

I have had a premonition of you, Avice,” she said. “It was full of water and darkness, and you were far from home. I will tell you a story tonight and some day you will need it. Store it away for the time when winter becomes spring. It is important.”

I sat up from my bed, pushing the furs aside, my eyes still blurry from sleep.  She sat on the edge of my pallet.

She whispered to me, though it was only the two of us in the house.  “You can turn the dead your will for a time, if you are strong enough. They will serve you for a little while, and for longer if they like your cause and agree to help you.”

✽✽✽

There are a handful that join me here on the coast; those with ballast. The small, thatched hut I lived in as a child was near the ocean, and my days were spent salting and drying, knotting fishnets. Sleeping by the sea made me remember many things that were buried deep.

It is terrible to perish at sea not because of death. Without the rites, those that fall into the foamy waves do not die, and the God of the Sea is greedy. Whole ships are swallowed by the blackness, and they sail forever beneath the waves. The God of The Sea is waiting until they are enough. When he has an army, he will send them against the God of The Land, and he will be the God of Everything. Until then, this soldiers decompose in the deep, traveling. Always traveling.

And with that fable, fresh and clean, came another from my childhood, as if one had pulled the other by the hand. It smelled of mint and wood smoke.  It called my soul back to my chest.

I needed a bone, even from an animal, but a real bone it must be; something that was part of the living but was now stripped of muscle and sinew, of everything that made it what it was. There was a rune to carve into the shaft of the bone. It must be exact, not a twirl or hatch out of place. If the bone was perfect, and the rune was perfect, the spell could take root.

✽✽✽

“Take land from where the heels of the fallen walked,” Grandmother whispered the words into my dreams, before the fire, on the hearth of our home. “Mingle it with the living saliva from your body. Say the name of the rune out loud. Shout the name to the stars, concentrate harder than you do to make the light, and if they bless the bone with their own light they have blessed you with control. As long as you wear the bone, you will be safe. As long as you wear the bone, you can command them. They will listen for a time before the sound of eternity echoes again in their ears and they will leave you.”

✽✽✽

I could not bear to go back, could not stomach another day living beneath the earth and longing to rise. I could not bear the thought of crucifixion if the Roman army found me here, either.

There were a dozen or so like me who had not given up, who were still camping by the sea. For my homeland and their homeland, I would try.

It would be hard to do by the sea. The men I wanted to call did not walk upon the ground, and so I could not mingle my spit with the earth. The rune was a vague memory in my mind. Still, I would try.

Instead of earth, I mixed my saliva with the salty sea. When the moon was high overhead, I lifted the bone. I screamed the name of the rune to the sky. The other slaves, the few of them who were left, clustered at my feet and they, too, screamed the word to the sky. The ocean crashed between my words, and their words met mine.

I told the stars my anguish and ordered the bone to live.

I felt the power deep in my chest, bigger than the bubble of light, forming on my hands, covering my body, covering the others, pulsing into the night.

As I screamed, a bolt of light came from the sky.

It burned the flesh off my fingers, and made the rune shine white.

The blood from my open wounds dripped into the sand at my feet. Still I screamed, until I had no voice left, until the tide rose to my knees and the waves crashed on my waist and threatened to knock me over and pull me under. And then I collapsed into the dry sand, exhausted, my hand throbbing with pain. I fell, and the dune shifted beneath my body to conform to my shape, and I remembered no more.

It was cold the next morning, and a gray fog obscured the horizon. Drops fell on the sand, making divots in the dirt, pattering around me. It was the cold that woke me, the pinpricks of ice on my face and on my hand.

The others stirred in their sleep.

I went to the ocean and the others followed me. The tips of foam pounded across my knees. I took hands with the others. I held the bone aloft, as I had last night. I held it out to the sea, to the gray sky, to the blue depths.

“I need to get home,” I yelled into the rain, my voice raspy. The mist swallowed the sound. I waited. The surf seethed in and out. The rain pelted across my shoulders, growing with intensity. I was drenched, dripping.

I almost turned and went, and then it started.

The ocean began to churn, out where the sea met the fog. It turned black, and a whirlpool formed from the chaos, whipping and turning in the deep. I could feel it from the shore, pulling my legs toward it, just as the earth pulled my feet to its own breast.

A flurry of weeds flew from the whirlpool, spinning wide, whipping the air. A mast emerged. With a sucking sound and a pop that shook the horizon, a black ship rose from the depths. The hull was covered with barnacles and slime. In some places it was black as pitch, glossy and slick. In others it was a furry green. Tendrils of seaweed dripped from the deck. The painted eyes on the side of the bow gleamed white, new as the day the ship was christened. More seaweed trailed from the masts.

As we watched, a group of things, brown and upright, tossed a small boat overboard. They rowed for the shore. I stood together with the others where the sea met the land, lined up shoulder to shoulder, and felt the waves crash over my sandals again and again.

My hand throbbed with pain where the lightning left it raw. Tears dripped over my face, or maybe it was only the rain as it ran into the crevices of my cheeks. I watched the small boat row towards the shore. I thought of my grandmother, the thatched huts of my homeland.

We’re going home, I whispered to the freedmen at my side. Thanks be, we’re going home.

Thanks be, they whispered.

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