S. K. INKSLINGER - SHORT-STORIES
A start up writer from Bangkok, Thailand. S. K. Inkslinger speaks three languages, fluent in Thai ad English while being moderate to novice in Mandarin. He currently studies as a first year medical student in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. His many passions lie in tales of fantasy, action, and thriller. His love of reading and writing stemmed from the fantastical tales and stories he had been exposed to over the years, and his desire to craft one of those stories by his own hands.
THE BEAST OF STONE (short story, The Ronin Express, Volume Two)
THE FLUTTERING HEARTBEAT (short story, The Ronin Express, Volume Two)
THE CREEPING SHADOWS (short story, The Ronin Express, Volume Two)
The Knight of Chimera (upcoming standalone fantasy novella July 2017)
The Bejeweled Chest (short story, Cirsova Magazine Issue #6 Fall 2017)
The Creeping Shadows
I felt pain erupted along my face. Branches raked through my skin, leaving trails of red along the pale flesh.
Still, I ran.
It’s getting closer. Breathing in exertion, as if my lungs, my windpipes, had turned to acid. As if each breath was like a thousand needles piercing the viscera.
Still, I ran.
I couldn’t see anything. It was dark. So dark. I felt the trees only when I scraped against them. Gory bruises peppered my arms and legs, the pain nearly overwhelming.
The trees seemed to be whispering among themselves. Or maybe that was just the wind.
Still, I ran.
I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it. Feel the forest shifted. Patches of darkness where moonlight dared not shine.
I smelled it. The distinctive odor like the rotting of a million rat carcasses.
I tasted blood within my mouth.
Still, I ran.
I felt my legs wobbled, weighted, as if by lead. I felt my mind went fuzzy, dragging me down toward the rotting earth. Yet my heart was threatening to tore itself from my chest. I bit my tongue harder, and tasted blood erupting in my mouth.
I must go on.
I stumbled, tripping over a hidden stone. My jaw hit the earth with a sickening crunch. I felt my head swam, threatening to drive me unconscious.
I feel it getting closer. Cold sweat trickled along my back, driving me forward with a fear worse than death.
With my fingers I clawed my way through the dirt. I felt my nails snapped, fingers cleaved and torn by the jagged rocks. The pain was blinding, and I grunted through clenched teeth.
I couldn’t do this. A wave of desperation flooded my mind.
It’s getting closer. I could feel the forest make way. With that was a low, guttural, inhuman sound.
The shadows… With a final heave, I pulled myself into the hollow space of a rotten log.
The world was darkness as I am slowly crushed from all sides. I squirmed forward, afraid to leave even a bit of me out in the open air. A worm wriggled into my eye, and I desperately try to shake it free. Insects crawled across my bare flesh, and I try my best not to scream.
I remember my Cecille, my lovely Cecille, drowned in a pool of her own blood. I remember the remains of my parents, torn and mangled upon their own beds. My friends and neighbors, their skulls smashed in, their faces barely recognizable. I howled their names in agony, but they could no longer hear it. Their eyes were cold, glazed, staring straight ahead in shock and terror.
Tears welled up in my eyes. I struggled to bit back a sob.
That was when all went quiet. The insects stopped their movements, then wriggled back into their holes.
A chill crept into my bones. The shadow thickens. I could hear the forest parting. I hold my breath. Listening. Waiting. Drenched in a terror as dark as the night.
The sound passes overhead. My heartbeat slowed, and I let out a breath in relief.
It’s gone now. It’s over.
I squirmed toward the end of the log. I glanced downward, checking the ruined condition of my hand. I looked up,
And it stared right back at me. Eight humongous eyes like blood rubies, amidst a sea of formless shadow.
I screamed at the top of my lungs. With my heart throbbing in terror, I forcefully yanked myself out of the log. My arms and legs sheared against its wooden surfaces, splinters of wood embedding into the wound.
I ran, my deaden legs a step away from collapsing, propelling me away from the shadows. The shadow that devours men and beast. The shapeless horror.
With each and every step, I could feel it getting closer. Feel it catching up.
One of its legs grazes the back of my neck.
I tripped, and rolled down the side of a steep hill. The world became a mad jumble of twigs and fallen stones. I hollered, trying to grasp a foothold in vain.
I rolled until the end of the slope. I plunge down a hand, trying to slow the descent. All was futile. I didn’t have time to cry out as my head cracked against a wall of timber.
My vision went black…
I woke up with a gasp, my bare flesh drenched in a sheen of cold sweat. Feeling a certain stiffness, I glanced down. My body was covered in bandages, from my scraped and torn fingernails, to the cuts and bruises that peppered across my body.
Where am I? Before I could voice the question aloud, a young woman emerged from a side room.
“I see you have woken,” She said, a bright smile upon her face, “You had slept for the better part of a day. I was quite worried there.” She was beautiful, her eyes glimmered, and sunlight was in her hair. She was a rare beauty such that I had never seen in a long time. Ever since… ever since my wife had passed away.
She reminded me of Cecille. My eyes refused to glance away from her. Despite knowing that I was staring at her. Despite knowing that I was being rude.
For some unknown reason, she reminded me so much of Cecille. So much, that it hurts... I turned away, trying my best to avoid her gaze. Filled with so much care, so much love.
“Is there something wrong?” She asked, quickly approaching me, her voice full of concern.
Instinctively, I flinched back.
She seemed pained, but tried her best not to show it, “Are those wounds still giving you pain? I could change those bandages if you want.”
Before she could move any closer, I quickly asked, “Where is this place?”
“Do you live alone?” It seemed rather odd, that a young woman like her would be living in the midst of the woods, isolated from the outside world. Surviving in this place, all alone.
After a long pause, she gave a hesitant reply, “In truth, I do.” Her eyes were downcast, her voice solemn. I had expected her to give a longer reply, but she just stood there, her gaze filled with a sense of bottomless grief.
I shouldn’t have interrogate her, I felt a pang of regret, She saved me when she could easily have left me out there. Out there for that… that thing….
“I am so sorry.” I went over to her, despite my throbbing wounds, “How can I be of help?”
I had planned to stay for only a few days at first, but time seemed to flow by. Days turned to weeks, and those weeks eventually turned to months. As I stayed, I eventually grow accustomed to her company, of that feeling of warmth like that I had never felt in such a long time.
Slowly but surely, I increasingly became fond of her life. Our life. This continues until one day I decided to stay for good, living out the rest of my days with her until we are brought apart by death. I told her, and she accepted. For we had fallen in love with each other, and both of us knew it.
We had been together for a while now, but he still seemed so secretive. He won’t mention his past, no matter how many times I would ask it of him. Sometimes, when I pushed too far, he would become enraged, and then he would hit me. He would really hit me…
Once, while in his cups, he let loose that he once had a lover, who had been killed by that “monster” of his.
There would be times when he would cry while staring out the cabin’s window. Claiming that he saw the monsters out there. The shadowy fiends that had slain his family and his friends.
For the first few times, I went out, striding into the midst of the night time forest. To find nothing there, noting out of the norm, not a single trace of the giant shadowy beast that he had claimed to glimpse.
Along with that, there’s something else that also bothered me. I had asked him about his village, and he was able to let that go easily enough. My knowledge in these regions, the small villagers that dotted the landscape, were unmatched, but I had never heard the name of his village before. Not once in my life. Nor had I heard tales of his shadowy monster, or any tidings of destructions or havoc that they have caused, much less than the deaths of an entire village.
At the back of my mind, a small part of me seemed to wondered. Wondered if he, this man that I love, could still be trusted…
In the lone cabin amidst the woods of night, there was an echo,
“I am going to be exposed… I am going to be exposed…”
I couldn’t believe how closed she still is, after all this time. I had trusted her, told her about my village, about what had happened to Cecille and the others. About the monster that had pursued me through the shadows of night.
Still, she remained secluded, walled off whenever I mentioned her private life. Up until now, she had never revealed a single detail, no matter how minor, about her past before she met me.
There were several occasions in which I would just attempt to ask about it, and she would shriek at me. She would screech and threw objects with a violence I had never thought imaginable. Once, a vase shattered just inches beside my face, and their jagged pieces flew and left a deep gash upon my cheek.
Then, in the cabin’s underground basement, I had found a shoe. A man’s shoe, in a size larger than mine. She rarely went to the basement, and on that day, I had gone to check at the food store.
She hadn’t known about it. Hadn’t known that when I saw that single shoe, my world and my belief had almost fallen apart.
It was probably her father’s shoes, I thought, yet unable to convince myself. To think about it, she had never mentioned her father, or other members of her family. Had never mentioned why she came to live alone in these woods, far away from any other towns and dwellings. Far away from anyone else…
Unbidden, my mind wandered back to the those old campfire tales I was terrified of as a kid. Tales of a beautiful lady living alone in the woods. Tales of a wary traveler stumbling upon her lonely cottage, and ending up staying there for some time. Tales of how the woman turned out to be a sort of monstrosity, a she-devil who lures on men and feast upon their flesh.
How the man-traveler in those stories would run. Cold sweat trickled down my skin, pricking my back like a thousand icy needles.
She is the woman I love, and I wanted to believe in her. But at that moment I’m no longer sure if I could still trust her…
In the lone cabin amidst the woods of night, there was an echo,
“I am going to be exposed… I am going to be exposed…”
There were woman's claw marks on his body. When we first met, I had patched up the various wounds upon him. There were bruises, cuts, and scrapes he had sustained during the hectic run through the forest. However, underlying those, I found a series of claw marks. Women’s scratch marks.
They were vicious, covered in dried blood and purple bruises. They were not the marks of some casual love making, but something more... upsetting. I don't know what at that time. They seemed superficial and unimportant compared to the other wounds, so back then I had ignored them.
Now, I wasn’t so sure that it was nothing. He told me about his lover, and how she had been killed by the shadowy monster. But what if… what if that wasn’t the truth? What if those wounds had been her last attempt to defend herself? That as her dying scream was choked off, she had raked her nails against her lover's back, desperately fighting the man who is killing her? Her final message, her final struggle?
Today it is his turn to gather up firewood from the surrounding forest. I acted normally, as if nothing had happened, as if this suspicion had never clouded my love for him.
The instant the cabin door banged shut, I leaped up the stairs. Taking them two at a time, I arrived at the second floor, where the bedrooms are located. With a heart thumping madly, I pushed open the door into his room. It parted with a slow, mournful Creak…
I ravaged through his objects, picking through them in a fit of desperation.
I just needed something that will prove he is innocent of all this. Please. Something!
That was when my hand struck against something. It was cold and hard. Metallic. I bent over, reaching my hand deeper into the dark space of the drawer.
It was a locket. Heart-shaped. Covered in blood.
Its lids clasped over a sheet of paper. A letter, its edges slightly torn and tattered.
With trembling hands, I unfolded the wrinkled pages of the letter. They were written in a woman’s handwritings, but the words seemed rush, barely incomprehensible in some places.
Dear, you know that I love you.
I would never even imagine betraying you.
You know that I would never do it. I will never leave you.
I love you. I love you. I love you.
I’m sorry for what I have done. I’m sorry I even consider it.
I will never do it again.
Please, let me go…
I clamped a hand over my mouth to kept myself from screaming. That was when I heard the door banged shut...
After I banged the door shut, I waited for some moments before sneaking back into the cabin. It had been my turn to go and fetch firewood today, so I pretended to leave, only to return.
There is a room in the basement that I had never been able to enter. The thick wooden door was kept closed by a lock of iron. Whenever I asked her about it, she would always change the subject, if not went outright furious. The only way to access the room is through a key she always kept on her body.
Yesterday night, I had given her a present. A necklace I had made by looping beads of colorful stones along a strand of rope. I felt the sting of betrayal as I saw the genuine smile upon her lips. I clasped the ornament around her neck, then moved down my hand to hold her by the waist.
There, holding her, I slipped my hand into a pocket of her dress and pulled out the key. She didn’t suspect a thing as I kissed her, and told her that I love her.
I really do love her. I just wish, with all the love I have, that I could trust her.
I didn’t see her, didn’t caught even a glimpse, as I crept toward the basement.
She is probably in her room.
Making as little sound as I could, I gingerly lifted up the door leading down to the basement. It opened soundlessly, the oiled hinges gleaming against the light of my torch.
With cautious steps, I made my way downward. Everything is pitch black, and I would have lost my way without the torch.
Holding my breath, I tiptoed toward the locked door at the far end of the basement. Slowly, I slid the key in, and winced sharply as the lock open with a sharp Click.
Hearing no sounds of movement from above, I assumed that the sound was muffled enough that she didn’t hear it. I continued forward.
It was a small room. Feeling the walls, I could say that much. From the dim light, I couldn’t make out most of the things in the room. However, it was enough to illuminate an object besides me.
With blood roaring in my ears, I pry open the doors of the closet.
Inside were male clothes. Dozens of them. Splattered in red.
Besides this pile was a knife. Its blade crusted with dry blood.
I gasped, drawing back as if I had been slapped. My fingers slipping, I let go of the flaming torch. It clattered against the floorboards, and they caught alight instantly. I cursed and rushed out of the room, banging the doors shut behind me.
I leaped down the steps, taking them two at a time, almost tripping in my haste.
I need to run. To get myself as far away from this place as possible. I raced down the steps, heart pounding, as I finally reached the base of the stair.
That was when I saw him. Emerging from the basement, smoke billowing around him. His face filled with a madness I should have picked out long ago.
“Darling.” He started. His voice was warm and soothing, like they always are, but she could see through them now.
“Get back away from me!” I shrieked, grabbing hold the kitchen knife and pointing it towards him.
At the same instant, he ripped out an iron poker from the flaming hearth. Its tip glowed with heat as he held the rod menacingly with both hands. His arms flexed, ready to strike.
“Darling, calm down,” He said in a tone that was supposed to be gentle. Yet I could hear it. The calmness that belied his suppressed emotions. The rage that boiled dangerously within.
“I will stab you if you get any closer!” I screamed, desperately backing away. “Murderer!” I glanced back toward the cabin’s door. It’s not too far away.
“I’m not a murderer!” He roared, losing all pretense of serenity, “You are!”
“I should have known from the start,” I said, trying to buy some time. “Those monsters that you talk of. The dark shadows among the trees. It never really exists, does it?”
I stole a quick glance at the door. It’s closer, but still not enough. “You were the one that killed your lover and the people in your village!”
He flinched visibly, and stared at her with an incredulous expression “You are truly mad, are you? I discovered your secret room in the basement. You lured men here, using your charm and your pretense of kindness.” His voice was shaking, his hands gripped tightly around the poker. “Then you kill them!”
I stole another quick glance at the cabin door. This time it’s close enough for me to sprint toward. Curls of smoke rose up from the floorboards beneath, and I saw him glance over his shoulder, fear plain in his eyes.
“Back off!” I yelled, swinging the knife at the man whom I used to love. The blade went nowhere near him, but it was enough to make him back away. With that, I bounded toward the door and kicked it open.
It was midnight, and everything was black as pitch. Gritting my teeth, I sprinted forward into the dark, misty forest.
It was so dark I could barely see anything. I stumbled forward blindly, hoping against hope to run into some kind of human dwelling.
I heard the forest shifted. My steps came to a halt.
It’s not possible. He was a madman. A murderer. I clutched at the knife’s handle, feeling my hand went numb with the exertion.
I smelled it. The odor like that of a million rotting rat carcasses.
It isn’t possible.
“Get away from me. BACK AWAY!” I hollered, swinging my knife madly at the surrounding darkness. I turned around,
That was when I see it. Eight humongous eyes, like blood rubies, staring right back at me.
What he said about the monster was true...
I screamed as the shadow launched itself at me.
The flames roared around me, engulfing the wooden cabin like a ravenous beast. I could feel the heat radiating off it, threatening to burn off my skin. Smoke churned and clogged the air. I could barely see. I could barely breathe.
I stared dumbfounded at the single entrance out of the cabin, the entrance which she had used to escape.
The monster lurked in those woods. Either I die by its hand, or by the flames.
Pillars of flames blazed around me, dancing like a living thing. The fire has spread through the entire structure now, reaching up to lick at the timber ceiling up above.
A searing beam crashed down from the ceiling, just inches before where I was standing. Completely blocking off my escape path as the door itself burst into a wall of flames.
Realizing the utter hopelessness of my situation, I laughed.
I laughed madly as I felt my clothing caught on the flames. Then I screamed.
The Fluttering Heartbeat
It hurts…. Pain, so much pain. I felt as if my body is tearing itself into pieces. My vision, my world, is blackened.
I could hear it, the rattling of the bed’s metal railings. The deaden sound as their wheels rolled along a smooth, polished floor. The smell of drugs and chemicals wafted in the air like a haze, embracing those in it with the stench of the dead and the living.
“Doctor, he’s losing his consciousness!” A shrill cry sounded from my left, the speaker moving, breathless, along with me. High-pitched. A woman. I mused distractedly, my mind meandering with the drugs.
“Isn’t the ER ready yet? Darn it!” A man’s gruff voice barked from the right. “I notify them 10 minutes ago that we’ll have a patient coming in!” My vision lightened up periodically as rows upon rows of neon light passes overhead.
Am I… dying? It was a strange thought. I had never fear, even thought, of dying before. Now that the final moment is upon me, images from the past starts drifting into my head, like a current of memories, both cherished and long forgotten.
I could remember the warmth as she would caress me. Her touch gentle as we hold hands. Her bare body bronze with hours she had spent in the sun. She would giggle as we strolled along the beach, her ashen blond hair streaming with the wind. Sometimes they would lay there, and made love upon the course sands, the ocean waves crashing against sea rocks in the background.
I miss her. I miss those old days of ours…
In my whole life, I had love, had discover love, only once. She was my one and only. She alone no one could replace…
As I recall the love I had for her, however I also felt a sense of amnesia induced horror. My memories are a jumble of torn-up fragments, and I can’t recall who she is. Who is she?
I mused as the railings bang jarringly besides me, the whole bed shaking as if it was coming apart.
“He’s losing a lot of blood!” One of the nurses cried out, her voice trembling with uncontained anxiety. “Grab that packet of blood over there!” The male doctor thundered, and I could feel strings and needles being passed beneath my skin.
I could still remember that Christmas party, from years ago. We were classmates, but she was also my first crush. That day, she made a gingerbread man cookie for me. It had always been a joke of ours, what with both of us having hazel brown eyes. Her hair, however, was different.
Now that I think of it, what color was her hair?
A voice seemed to whisper to me, the voice of an adolescent girl,
It was a family trait. This color of Christmas flowers…
The bed jolted to a stop. “His pressure’s dropping dangerously low.” The doctor shouted in a tone of urgency, “Give me 500 mg of epinephrine!”
I heard the sound of a cap being popped open, then felt the pressure as a needle was inserted into my arm. As my heart gave off a more vigorous beat, the procession scrambled on, the rush of their steps indicating an ever increasing sense of urgency.
We met at work. I glared at her, that first time. She eyed me like a freak, for we barely knew each other then. What was most striking about her was her hands. They were rough and callused, hard from years of use. She told me that she had to work hard to supply her family over the years.
She told me that she came from another town. Then why did I felt that she was so familiar? As if I had seen her somewhere before, somewhere within this vortex of memories that was mine… Who is she?
I sense a violent jolt as I was lifted up and place onto another bed, this one nailed against the ground.
“Doctor, he’s undergoing cardiac arrest!” There was a rush of commotion as carts and trolleys of equipment were pulled in, their contents haphazardly brought into usage.
“Start preparing the defibrillator!” The male doctor ordered sharply, and I felt a pair of rough hands pressed savagely against my chest.
She was beautiful. Oh, beautiful beyond imagining. My meager skills at words would do her no justice. As mediocre as my local café was, she stood out like a sore thumb, a pale idol amidst the faceless crowd.
I went to her table, as usual, and we chat about the common things; the weather, the local news, our dreams and aspirations. Despite being some years older than I am, I could feel that she was nervous. Tremendously so, for she had a shy and timid nature.
Come to think of it, I had never seen her talk to anyone else besides me. I know that I will never fall in love with anyone else.
“Charge the defibrillator to 300 volts!” A gruff command ripped through my fading consciousness. All of a sudden, the skin above my chest was dabbed with a smooth, gel-like cream that sends prickles along my bare flesh.
I felt cold. So cold…
She had always been kind, despite the heinous things other kids had done to me. We would engage in a chase, where I leaped and stumbled, waving my pudgy firsts and squealing in childish laughter.
We would skulk around the bushes for hours, playing games of hide and seek, until her father came out calling for her. In the growing hours of the night, I often fail to spot her, from the color of her skin and eyes and hair. It was a past time we always repeat daily, until the day she moved away.
After that, I never saw her again, or did I?
Who is she? My head throbbed abominably, feeling as if it was going to split. I swear that I could tasted blood on my mouth.
“500 volts!” The voice came again, and my whole body shook as if I was on fire. As if I was dancing a tune of life and death.
She was kind to me. She was timid and shy. She was confident. She was a classmate. A colleague. A childhood friend. Her skin was tanned bronze by the sun. Pale and creamy white. Dark as a moonless night. Her hands were soft and gentle. They were rough and callused, like a man’s.
How could I trust myself, if I couldn’t trust my own memories? My mind, my body, my memories were fragmented, like scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. My head pounded incessantly, driving me to the verge of insanity. To the verge of splitting apart.
She is the one, the true love, the only love of my life. I had known no one else, nor had I ever given my heart to another. Yet as I am sure of this, I am no longer certain that I could believe in myself. In all truths, there is that one question that is still bugging me.
Who is she?
Then all was darkness…
My hands felt numb, my fingers blistered from hours of use. Come to think of it, I had never invited her to my place. Especially not here.
I am standing in my own backyard, surrounded by low-lying bushes on all sides. The floor was carpeted with green grasses, interspersed with small clumps of trees and rocks coated with moss.
I grunted as I heaved up another pile of soil and dumped it on the ground beside me. After hours of work, I had finally done it. At long last, I had discovered it. The secret behind my fragmented memories, my broken mind.
I gaze down at the large pit I had unearthed in the backyard. In there were the women I had glimpsed in my near-death flashes of memories. Them, and many more…
She had hazel-brown eyes, and hair the color of Christmas leaves. She had ashen blond hair and skin tanned bronze by the sun. She had skin as dark as midnight, a kind and caring childhood friend. She was a pale, radiant beauty, despite the fact that only her skull is grinning back at him now. Them, and many more, much more than he could have counted.
With a grin, I leaned forward and took in the sight,
Finally, I had found her. I had found them all…