Here Be Gods

Tag: short story

Again! Again!

“Again! Again!”

I smiled down at my little boy, “I’ve already told this story three times tonight.”

His eyes shone with glee as he simply repeated himself, “Again! Again!”

The sun had set, and the light outside was but moon and stars. My son was not at all tired yet, and neither was I. Stroking his blond hair I said, “Oh, alright, I will tell it again.”

“A long time ago, long before I was born, they told the story of a mischievous spirit called a pooka. Wherever the pooka went, it played pranks on people, but these were usually harmless. It found humans funny, and they, in turn, found its japes amusing. The pooka could take the form of whatever it wanted, and would often play among the human children, laughing and running about. One day, it was playing hide and seek with the children of a small village, and it really wanted to win. It took the form of a moss covered rock, knowing the children would never find it. Oh how it laughed to itself in glee, thinking of all the humans worrying about the child they could not find, lost all alone, in the woods, as night approached. But no one was looking for the pooka. The children had forgotten there was another playmate that day. They had forgotten the strange little child that none of them knew, and they had finished their little game and gone home for supper.

“When midnight came, and still no one looked for it, the pooka changed into an owl and went looking for the humans, wondering where they all were. There were no humans about, there were no torches lit, no search parties for the lost little child who had not been found. It searched all night for any sign that they had worried, and found none. As daylight broke upon the little village, the pooka had become angry, and vengeful. A dangerous thing is a pooka if you ignore its tricks.

“At first, it played the mean pranks it often played when it felt slighted. Milk soured, animals strayed, chairs broke, and food went missing. Still, the humans showed no sign of remorse. No offerings to the magical spirit were offered to soothe its rage. The pooka grew spiteful, and its pranks became dangerous. The baker broke his leg falling off a ladder, the local shepherd almost drowned crossing a river, and the village well dried up. One by one, the humans grew fearful, and they whispered among themselves, wondering what was causing their misfortunes. They imagined ghosts and ghouls, witches and wights, fairies and fuaths. They blamed one creature after another, but not once did they think of pookas, and this made the pooka very angry indeed.

“No longer was it thinking of simple pranks or jests, no longer did it want the people of the village to fear it. No, now it wanted the people of the village to suffer. So it called upon its kind, and from far and wide did the pookas come, each delighted at the grand caper the angry pooka proposed. One by one, the pookas tempted every child of the village away from the watchful eyes of the adults and the other children, and one by one, they stole the child away, putting one of their number in its place, until there was but one human child left in the village. One small, lone child, a little blond boy, just like you, who never ventured from his house, who preferred to play by himself indoors with his books and toys. And it was this little boy that the angry pooka chose to take the place of.

“It approached the house of the little blond boy one afternoon when his parents were still off at work, and taking the form of a puppy, it yipped and yapped, and scratched at the door of the house, trying to lure the child outside. But the child, who looked out at the frantic little animal jumping and prancing about outside his window, did not trust strange animals, just like you, and he turned away from the window and went back to his toys.

“The pooka returned the next day and took the form of a little old lady, frail and kindly, holding a basket of sweet things to entice the child outside. But the child was not fond of sweet things, just like you, and refused to answer the door for the stranger, and went back to his books. This upset the pooka, but what could it do? Even magical creatures have rules they must obey, and the pooka could not enter the house except in the form of the little boy. So once again, it had to go away, and the boy was safe another day.

“Day after day, the pooka returned, and it took form after form, each more irresistible than the last, but nothing it did could coax the little boy out of his house and into danger, for the boy was obedient, and his parents had told him never to go outside when they were away, and never to talk to strangers. Day after day, the pooka tried, and day after day it was frustrated, and the lone little boy who preferred books to all the silly little things other children found so fun remained safe in his house.”

My child beamed up at me and asked excitedly, “Did the pooka ever get him?”

“Never. Not as long as the boy remained inside, like a good little boy should, like you do, my child.” I kissed the top of his head as I finished my cautionary tale once more.

“Again! Again!”

I smiled down at my little boy and laughed, “You have heard this story four times tonight.”

He just smiled at me in that way every child smiles at their parent when they do not want to let the story end, “Again! Again!”

An owl hooted as the deep of the night settled in. My son was still not tired, and neither was I. Stroking his brown hair I said, “Oh, alright, I will tell it again.”

The Fuath of the Firth

“I would not go out to sea today. No, no, no….”

“You’re mad, old man.”

“Aye, mad. Mad, and alive, boyo.”

The young captain snorted and turned his back to the old timer, but as he lashed his gear on deck, he cast a wary eye up at the clouds for signs of trouble. No one paid attention to the old coot who haunted the docks for as long as any could remember, but the young captain was as superstitious as any who plied the seas. It did not do to ignore any warning entirely. He snorted again at the clouds, tiny and dispersing. There was no sign of storm in the sky, and no portent of any in the offing. The young captain turned back toward the senile old man, unable to resist taunting his elder, “I fear no tempest this day.”

The old man was shuffling about with his back half-turned, collecting trash left over from the meals of gulls and fishermen alike. He just shook his head and replied, “Nay, no foul gale today, boyo. Yet I would not go to sea today, not through that firth. No, no, no….”

“What’s wrong with the firth then?”

“There’s a fuath in the firth, and it’s no friend to sailors. Not today.”

“A fua… Hells take you, you crazy old bastard! You try to jinx me with ancient spirits? There’s no such thing as fuaths! Be gone and let me work!” The young man of the sea spat and gestured rudely, watching the lunatic wander down the pier before returning to the task at hand. He wanted to beat the tide , and could little afford delays, mystical or otherwise. Yet, even as he worked feverishly, the captain cast a glance every few minutes at the wandering form of the muttering madman, and another glance at the opening to the ocean beyond the bay.

There were old stories about the firth, older than any could remember. Old tales told by old men in older taverns when the winds were howling and the shingles shuddering, over bitter ales in the fluttering candle light of the deep night. He had heard these tales, growing up in the village, but had grown up and grown wary. Even had he still believed in faerie stories, he had never heard tell of a fuath in the firth. It seemed such a silly reason to stay in port.

His preparations at last done and his two crewmen arrived and on board, the young captain cast off and set sail, with one final sneer at the old man still rambling about on the dock. For some reason no one could explain later, the young captain never noticed his was the only ship setting out that day.

The old man no one knew well stood up and put another piece of garbage in his sack, muttering to no one in particular, his eyes flickering a little strangely, “I would not go to sea today. No, no, no…”

A Memory of Ash and Snow

Wisps of ash floated down from the growing cloud of smoke. There was no breeze, but the heat of the flames buffeted the smoldering flakes of wood and cloth, gently guiding the delicate remnants of the blaze away from the still raging fire even from a distance. Even without a wind to tear them apart, the flakes were gossamer thin, fragile, vulnerable, often disintegrating into dust before they could reach the ground. Every so often there was a sharp pop from the inferno, and a shower of white hot cinders shot out into the darkness of the night, a spray of short-lived flares, melting snow wherever they came to rest. The cabin burned for hours, sputtering and dying only when the timbers had burned well below the snowbanks, extinguishing only when the still frozen ground would allow the conflagration to go no further.

Between the low lying storm clouds, gathering strength to unleash another torrent of snow the next day, and the thick obscuring smoke from the blaze, the inferno was almost invisible even at full strength, vanishing entirely from view any further than a few yards by the time the last few guttering flames gave out at last and all that remained were quickly cooling embers. The blizzard that broke the next day lasted for a week, dumping layer after layer of fresh snow upon the land, burying all sign there had ever been a fire or home for many months after. When the spring came, later that year than any on record, the gathered snows melted slowly, clumps and drifts lingering over any depression and against any protrusion that could be used for cover. What had once been a cabin offered little shelter for the retreating snows, but it was enough to mask all signs that life had ever dwelt there for a few weeks longer. The days were turning toward the simmering, sweltering summer season before anyone happened upon the ruin.

A small child, enjoying the first weekend the weather had allowed him to ride his new bicycle, stopped in front of the blackened outlines in the ground of what had once been a house. He was far from his own home, far from any neighbors he knew, and far from the paths and roads he normally played along. This deep into the wild, down the badly maintained dirt road, he had not expected to find anything. The weeds and brambles had already started reasserting their natural right over the narrow road, adding to the illusion that no one had lived here for longer than was true. The child wondered about what he found, but made no note of it. There was nothing special about charred debris in the deep woods, and his were not the worries of the grown up world. Laughing away whatever fears or worries the oddity aroused, the child pedalled away toward home, leaving the last testament to what had once been a home behind, to be overgrown, not to be seen again.

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