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 Beast of Stone
“And they lived happily ever after...” The bard finished with a contented sigh, his lips pursed in a romantic gesture that followed every single one of his cheesy tales of romance.
“Ooi, shut yer trap, Radast!” A portly man bellowed from the other side of the campfire. The blazing flames danced, casting wild shadows amidst the three men, lighting up his face in a ruddy glow.
“I’m sick of all yer stupid romances! This prince meets that gal, then they live happily ever after.” The man spat out in disgust, his face contorting with poorly-disguised contempt. “Bah! I tell you!”
“How about yer tell a story of your own, huh, Olfrid?” The bard, whose name was Radast, spoke up in a rush of anger.
“Although I think you ain’t up for it, being a half-arse who could hardly even appreciate a proper story, one as told by meself. They too good for your mud-choked ears, I bet.”
Before the two men went against one another in a spar, a third man, his fair hair plastered wetly against his forehead, stepped in between them.
“Just stop it, both of yer. We aren’t here to kill one ‘nother, aren’t we?” Even softly spoken, his voice carried a certain authority that was registered by the two men.
Radast sat down first, a mutely rebellious expression upon his face, followed by Olfrid, who was still cursing and muttering hotly under his breath.
“We’re here as comrades, Olfrid. It will be good to remember that.” The sickly looking man gazed over at the still-muttering Olfrid. Without any warning, he bent over in a fit, coughing up a splotch of black blood. In a raspy voice, he continued,
“Radast had offered to tell us a story today, and we should appreciate it.” He gestured to the scowling bard.
“You already told yours yesterday, Olfrid, and mine the day before. With my conditions, I certainly don’t feel like tellin’ ya goons some wee stories today. Or do you disagree?” The man motioned at the portly Olfrid, daring him to go up against his verdict.
Olfrid bent his head down in a gesture of defeat, and a corner of the man’s eyes crinkled with amusement. “But we still could still have entertainment tonight, I think.” Scanning the edges of the camp, he shouted,
“Hey, you there!” He called out to a figure, humped just beyond the flickering flames of the campfire. “Do come over here for a wee bit, if yer don’t mind!”
The figure gathered himself up, his dark shawls brushing against the earthy forest floor. He is a new addition to the trio of traveling merchants, whom they had just met in the last town they stopped to trade with. The man had asked to join them with the reason that he was doing an errand for a friend up the country, and was afraid to traverse the dark woods alone.
For the last two days, the man had kept to himself, eating alone and talking in what had seemed more like a whisper to himself. Radast and Olfrid had kept away from him, both in superstitious fear and lack of curiosity, but, Harold, the head of their party, harbor no such feelings.
“Come, sit by us, kind stranger!” Harold greeted warmly. With a friendly gesture, he motioned at the two other merchants,
“Me and mah friends, we had already ran out of stories. Being a member of our traveling party now, would yer like to share one of yers?” His tone was amiable, but it also held a certain firmness to it, such that the offer couldn’t be easily refused.
The man spoke up clearly, in what had seemed like the first time in days, “If you people would like to.” His voice was deep and sonorous, like a minstrel’s, and carry well across the silence of the dark forest. That piqued the curiosity of the trio sitting around the fireplace, and they bent over in anticipation of the story.
“There was once a group of travelers, merchants all, traveling through the heart of a deep, dark forest. There were four of them, as there are four of us now.” The stranger glanced at the faces of men surrounding the campfire. A shadow hid half of his face, rendering an air of mystery to the tale.
“Having traverse through the forest for the whole day, the group came to a halt at a small clearing. One of the men slipped away from the group of four, while his friends were busy setting up their camp for the night. The man was parched, almost dying with thirst. With this spurring him onward, he blundered through the ominous forest. Without friend, and utterly alone…”
As if to torment his listeners, the man lifted up his mug and slowly tipped its contents against his lips. Streams of wine, dark crimson in the dim light, flowed languidly and trickled down his chin. The trio of men gazed at him, feeling as if they could die with curiosity, as the man finally finished his drink. With the wine smeared across his lips, the man could have been drinking blood in this poor, flickering light.
In a deep, sonorous tone, he continued, “Alone, the man ventured far and wide, looking for pools and forest springs from which he could drank from. At last, after fruitless hours of searching, the merchant stumbled onto a vast, clear spring.”
At this point in the story, Radast stood up and excused himself, saying that he needed to tend to nature’s calling. Harold nodded his head distractedly before gesturing at the stranger to continue.
“Its water was luminous, clear as glass, and smelled faintly of jasmine and wildflowers. The man had no hesitation as he jumped into the pool and gulped thirstily. Humming gleefully, he spent some time there, washing off his road stains and relinquishing his thirst.”
“Just as he was about to leave the pool in search for his friends, the man felt it. He couldn’t move. Could not budge his limps, however hard he tried. With increasing fright, he glanced down at his own body and shrieked. His pale skin was slowly turning to stone, from the bare tips of his hands and feet, up to spread all across his body.”
“As he howled and cried in agony, the man’s screams were gradually replaced by a more guttural sound, the roars and howls of a beast. His eyes glowed like shards of ambers, bright and harsh as firelight. Fangs, sharp as sickles, erupted from his jaws. Claws, pointed as ebon knives, protruded from his fingers. With a beastly howl, the Tylu made of stone leaped out of the spring and prowled off into the night, searching its prey, its bloodlust never satiated.”
Pausing for effect, the stranger glanced at the men surrounding him amidst the firelight.
“Legend says that the Tylu still prowled these woods, hunting for its prey in the cover of night.” He eyed the duo with a sincerity that brought an unbidden chill deep into their bones.
“It says that the Tylu could disguise itself as humans, and sometimes travel along with them in groups.” The stranger’s tone had shifted into an eerie whisper that set the backs of Harold’s and Olfrid’s necks prickling.
"It blended in with its preys, where it waited patiently until the deep of night. When all were asleep, the Tylu would crept into their tents, and devoured them to the bones. Before any of its preys could scream, lest manage an escape. Only remnants of the travelers’ tents and smears of blood would be left the next morning, to be identified by other passersby. To warn them.”
The stranger’s tone was chilling as rasped on, “To caution them. That these woods are prowled by the Tylu. And they would need to beware.” Looking up, he gazed right into the eyes of the two men,
“Such that the old rhyme goes,”
Four travelers walk into the forest
One went alone, left them unsaid
Became the Tylu, who’s made of stone
Devour its victims, deep to the bone
At this, Olfrid shivered against a non-existent breeze. Harold rubbed at his arms, futilely trying to hid the goosebumps that had sprouted up along his bare flesh. Just before they could make any remark, Radast appeared from behind a row of hedges, his hair a wild tangle.
“Where in God’s name had yer been, Radast?” Olfrid shouted at the bard, trying to put on as much a brave air as possible. “Yer miss the whole goddamn tale!”
“Surrey, I got lost!” Radast swore in frustration, “Darnnit, had the story ended?”
While moving back toward his place by the fire, Radast noticed something queer in the shifting form of the stranger’s shadow. They were not in the shape of a man, but a monstrous beast. Its fangs like sickles, claws like knives, hunched over like a beast waiting for its prey.
Blasted angels, I must have been having too much to drink to be this fanciful. The bard mused drunkenly as he slumped onto his spot on the forest floor. Just as he went down, he caught the stranger’s pale eyes, bright as shards of ambers in this starless night.
Regaining his air of composure, Harold coughed, drawing all of the men’s attention toward him.
“It’s gettin’ late, ya’ll. We should try to catch some sleep before morn. I will take the first watch myself, if no one disagrees.” His voice rang loud and clear across the heavy silence of the forest, startling a few bats from their trees.
Still somewhat spooked out, the other men broke apart and went back to their respective tents. By the time the rain started pelting down, most of them had already gone into a fitful sleep.
The stranger shifted and squirmed uncomfortably in his furs, struggling with the idea of falling asleep. As if to make matters worse, the rain battering against his tent had found an opening, and ice-cold droplets made its way onto his bare skin. Just when he thought sleep was enclosing over him, there were noises.
They were soft, tap tap tap, against the folds of his tent, near the entrance. Frowning, he rubbed the sleep off his eyes and threaded groggily toward the opening. He was more than surprised to found the three companions standing before his tent, drenched in the maddening rain.
“What are you lot doing here?” The stranger questioned, his tone made crabby by the lack of sleep. “It’s late in the night, and raining cats and dogs out here.” Despite his irritation, the man’s voice was tinged with a thinly veiled curiosity.
“What about the other three?” Radast inquired. His voice was cold as marble, lacking any emotions.
“What? I can’t hear you.” The stranger shouted over the din of the brewing storm.
“What about the other three?” Olfrid asked. His voice was strangely low and guttural, like a beast’s growl.
“You mean the tale?” The stranger cursed and swore vehemently, almost spitting out his words of rage, “Why in god’s blasted name would you come in the middle of the night, asking after a damn folk story? Off with you!”
“What about the other three?” Harold whispered hollowly. Glancing up, the stranger saw that his eyes too, had a hollow look to them. No – they were not hollow. They were shards of amber, bright as firelight in this dark, cloudy night. The two other men had eyes like this. They stared at him, flashing the most horrible of smiles.
With a flash of lightning illuminating the forest, he saw that the three had skin as smooth as stone. Their fangs were sharp as sickles, their claws like knives. The stranger gave one final scream as his blood gushed out in a fountain, painting the nighttime forest a lurid red.
Four travelers walk into the forest
One went alone, left them unsaid
Became the Tylu, who’s made of stone
Devour its victims, deep to the bone
Beware, travelers, or they will find you
Caught you unaware, as one of your own
Where the Dead Tread
The freezing breeze rushed past, cracking the inner of his bones. The grisly black earth teemed with the scent of death. The pitch-black sky loomed above like a black hole, ready to suck in everything in its path. The stems of dead trees crackled menacingly, and their lumpy branches waved like demonic fingers in the wind.
The ominous earth gave way to copious slabs of stone. Some of them were made from smooth, polished marbles. Others were not as ornamental, made from rugged, gray-ish black stone. However, they both of share a certain characteristic.
They contained ornately written inscriptions, death plagues, commemorating the information of their long dead owners. The inscriptions enlisted the tomb owner’s name, year of birth and death, and a brief description of them when they were still alive or what they were remembered for.
Multitudes of the plaques were already worn out by time. Rock brittles had chipped off, some engravings were so worn out that they were illegible, and mosses and vines grew up around the plaques.
As the tumultuous clouds parted, the silver lunar gradually lighted up the gloomy night sky. The lunar beam shone through the entirety of the area. Its light reached even the darkest cracks and crevices, and visibility became significantly clearer than before.
The lone cemetery was not very large in size. It was surrounded on all four sides by black iron fences, with two polished metal gates marking the entrance and exit. To the eastern end of the area stood an Orthodox church.
Some of their mournful melodies escaped into the cemetery and lingered in the area, like a lullaby to the dead. On the northern and southern end of the cemetery is the villagers’ residential area. The time is late, all of the lights were off and the villagers fast asleep.
The only sounds in the area were the cold night wind blowing against the tiled brick roofs. Finally, to the west, was a wild patch of forest. Strident howls of wolves and other creatures echoed through the night, chilling anyone who heard it.
The pacific nature did not continue for long. The black metal gates clanged open with a creaky groan. A tall, black-clad figure strode hurriedly into the graveyard, his leather shoes scrunching the dried leaves upon the ground. He usually walked with assertive steps, but the man was evidently not in control of his emotions today. He was a man in his mid-30s and wore a stylish black business suit. He had a strong face, with square jaws and a rough chin with stubbles.
Gleaming beneath a fringe of short black hair were eyes that gleamed like topaz and the deep blue sea. His destination was a grave in the center of the cemetery that was distinctive from the others. The grave’s plaque was wrought from marble of the best grade, and its surface was richly polished.
Upon reaching the grave, he stood there, staring at the plaque with a mixture of emotions: grief, confusion, and disbelieve. The sight affected him gravely, his hands loosened, letting a rose bouquet and small ring box clattering onto the ground.
Tears trickled down his cheeks as the man stood there silently in the lonely graveyard, weeping, never satiated… In the midst of silence, the man muttered softly, to body resting beneath his feet or to himself, none could say,
“Ya lyublyu tebya, Anastasiya…” I love you, Anastasia…
With his voice cracking with emotions, the man continued solemnly, “I was going to propose to you, did you know that? Despite the precautions and restraints of both our parents’, I was about to propose to you, when…” His voice faltered slightly at this point, “When it happened.” A single drop of tear rolled onto the dry, frosted earth of the cemetery.
“I was working when I heard of what had happened to you, and I just couldn’t believe my ears. Couldn’t believe what I had heard had been the truth.” His eyes were pale films of years, wet and glistening,
“The truth that you are no longer here struck me like an anvil, like a hammer driven right into my heart. I couldn’t stand, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t even bring myself to come here at first.”
His voice was barely a rasp as he continued, “Ya proshu proshcheniya, Anastasiya” I am sorry, Anastasiya.
With a slump, the man fell onto is knees before the grave of the woman he loved most in his life, “I am sorry that I hadn’t been there for you, that I hadn’t hold your hand when it had happened, that I hadn’t visited you sooner, when I could have. I am so sorry…”
As if an omen of sort, or the response to a heartfelt prayer, the light from the only lamp in the cemetery flickered, then went out. Beneath the black lamppost stood the glimmering form of a woman clad entirely in white, her golden-blonde hair blowing freely in a non-existent breeze.
“Victor…” The spirit called out, her voice melodious yet shrilling to the ears. The man was entirely oblivious to the fact, as he gaped at the figure in shock and wonder.
“Anastasiya!” Victor gasped as he sprinted toward the glimmering spirit. Within seconds, his arm went around her and he could feel her again. The warmth of her body, the smell of sunlight in her hair, the feel of her tender hands brushing against his.
Then everything was gone in a flash, the ghost returning to its pale, shimmering form, and Victor thrown back with a force beyond the power of a frail woman.
“I miss you so much…” Victor sighed despondently, his tone filled with regret and longing.
“I miss you too, Victor. I couldn’t bear to leave you, and our love held my soul to this world.” The lady replied with her queer, melodic voice, her tone tinged with profound sorrow.
For hours, they talked, and the contents of both their hearts came tumbling out in great heaps and bounds. Finally, as the clock strikes twelve, Anastasiya gaze up at the cloudy night sky and sighed,
“I must be going, Victor. It is time…” Her face, as she turned back to Victor, was a mask of regret and sadness.
“I cannot bear to part with you, my love. My Anastasiya, even for one more time.” Victor replied sternly, his face set in grim determination.
With a shrill, inhuman laugh from the lady as a reply, she went sprinting through the cemetery, leaving Victor to run after her. They chased each other around the graveyard for what seemed like hours, their feet marking paths through the mounds of dry leaves.
As they sprinted around the stony death plagues, Anastasiya sang melodies upon melodies with her beautiful yet haunting voice, setting chills deep into Victor’s bones. One of the songs he remembered, the tragic and macabre Szomorú Vasárnap (Gloomy Sunday):
The heavy gusts of the previous night had sent some of the dry leaves into great heaps upon the cemetery’s frozen ground. The grave keeper hummed a mirthless tune as he set to work, clearing piles of leaves off the dusty, ragged tombstones.
His broom making contact with something hard and solid, the grave keeper brushed off the leaves cluttering over a tombstone, larger and noticeably more lavish than the others. When he discovered what was underneath, the man gave a ragged scream, and made a run for the exit out of the cemetery.
It was the body of a man in his mid-30s, clad in a business suit that is now dusty and stained. He had a strong face, with square jaws and a rough chin with stubbles.
His eyes, once a brilliant topaz blue, was now glazed and cloudy like the surface of a muddy pond. His stare was leadenly fixed ahead, as if gazing at something with a great intensity. His lips were frozen in the formation of a word, a promise…
From the boughs of trees, came a voice like the shuffling of leaves, ghostly and silent,
We will be together, my love, never to part. Never again. Forever
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