So here is my latest flash fiction, begun and published on the same day. IGNIS FATUUS is my response to Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge from terribleminds.com. My prompts for this were drawn from his blog by the roll of the dice, and were Lovecraftian superhero. I probably went overboard on the lovecraftian and didn’t concentrate enough on superhero, but anyhoo…. I had 2000 words to work with, and went over by about 20
It was with the heaviest of hearts that I agreed to be casket-bearer for what would be a third major funeral in 28 days. February is a grim month of its own accord, without the added misery of burying three mayors in such a short period. The first mayor, Anna Kloom, had been killed in a car wreck. A product of our time and a temporal disease, as death by car wreck can only be called a modern phenomenon, it aroused little suspicion. Indeed, by the reports disseminated through quiet whispers, originating with those on the scene and scattered to every ear in our diminutive town, had either vehicle been even a few feet in variance from its actual location there would have been no wreck at all.
It was with some considerable shock that only two weeks later the interim mayor was found dead in her parlor, seemingly from injuries related to a drunken fall. The suggestion that drink was a disease that held her more than a little captive had been discussed, behind closed doors, at the session in which she was approved to act as interim mayor, but it could not have crossed even the most disapproving mind that drink would be a cause of death, and so suddenly, as reality conceived. The death of Interim Mayor Shelley Grimes was more than a coincidence, and even the unenlightened and uneducated amongst the population began to quietly mutter that the office of mayor was cursed.
Mayor Terrell Avery’s death, exactly two weeks after Mayor Grimes, stopped the hushed whispers as suspicions were converted to words and great accusations began to be hurled by the populace, like giants hurling boulders from mountaintops. Terrell Avery was murdered, there could be no doubt about it. He was found in his office, the back of his head caved in by the claw hammer that lay on the floor beside him. If the other deaths had been murder cleverly hidden, this last murder was brazenly advertised for what it was.
So I assisted in carrying the casket, for the sake of the family and my friend, to the location of his eternal slumber. It was always a peculiar thing for me, the burying of the dead, as we go to such great lengths, even in our so called “enlightened” times, to assure that our dead do not return from their great journey. We seal them in vaults, lock caskets, and place them so deeply in the ground that should their slumber be interrupted they shall have not the least chance to claw their way through the depths of earth we place upon them. In this way, we somehow believe that death has itself been buried, and we might be safe to go to our homes and forever believe that the blackness outside is something not to be feared.
I took it upon myself to determine if there might be a connection amongst these three deaths, as I have, through some miracle of planetary alignment and my location upon the Earth at my birth, inhuman powers to manipulate the world around me, as well as manipulate my own conscience so as to be able to move my spiritual, thinking essence without the assistance of my body. I can, in effect, move as if I’m a cloud, my body remaining peacefully unaware of its missing intellect, blissfully asleep.
I began the process on the very evening of my friend’s death, locking my doors and extinguishing my lights to feign sleep to the neighbors as well as my own body. My conscience moved, as easily as a breeze across naked skin, to the vehicle in which Mayor Kloom had been so grievously injured.
Initially I could discern nothing unusual in the vehicle, save the volume of blood. But then, the object became as clear as a bright star on a dark night.
The hammer was wedged under her seat, undiscovered by accident investigators due to the twisting of wreckage around it. Had I not been drifting through the vehicle in my cloud-state, I would have missed it as well. It was unusual in that it appeared to have a hand-carved tree branch as a handle, and a skull engraved in the ancient steel of the head. My nightly investigation found that the same characteristics had been discovered on the hammer at the scene of Mayor Avery’s death and a third had been found near the body of Mayor Grimes, although she seemed to have suffered no injuries from having been struck with the accursed tool. It confirmed my suspicions, however, that there was indeed a connection between the deaths.
It took considerably longer to connect the hammers to any earthly institution, if one could call it that: The Order was a deeply secret society, one that was barely spoken of outside its own membership, and even amongst themselves they knew very little of one another. They had no uniform, no costume, no rings to set them apart from the innocent around them. They didn’t need such things, for two members of The Order, even if complete strangers, could immediately recognize the accursed darkness in the soul of a brother upon first sight.
The Order worked in matters of death, of conspiracies and evils and plans that, by what few accounts were ever given, were not laid out by man. They were the devil’s henchmen.
It was with this knowledge that I began my nightly searches, moving as a phantasm through the community in search of members of this haunted and damned occult. With great anxiety I made my nightly excursions, as every minute that passed created another moment in which The Order could execute their sinister plans. It was a race with the devil himself, and to lose meant, at the very least, someone else would die. In the end I felt, with an entirely rational dread, that the one that died would be me.
As to the powers of my birth, there was the aforementioned ability to move about the earth as a ghost, and in my rare correspondence with others as a superhero I referred to myself as The Revenant. This power gave me the ability to see everything, no matter how carefully or completely hidden. Yet, I could find nothing in my town after a week of searching. I became panicked, and dedicated more of my time with each passing day. I searched outside of the town, I searched the basements and attics of houses and libraries and municipal buildings until I nearly gave up.
As my specter was exiting a small church building at the outskirts of town an overwhelming sense of dread, as if death itself had been woven into a blanket and draped over my countenance, descended up on me. It being 4:00 in the morning, I expected an empty street. Yet my consciousness detected something akin to myself, as if there were a second ghost, in the street before me. I gazed upon the form of a human, although clearly it bore not even a casual relationship to humanity. It made no attempt to avoid my gaze, yet was nearly impossible to look upon, it being so hopelessly and endlessly dark. Had a hole been torn in the very fabric of spacetime and all the infinite darkness that is nothingness been compressed into the size of a human, it could not have rivaled the darkness that stood naked before me. I paused, unable to tear my gaze from this accursed darkness, sensing that I was in great peril but frozen by that all-powerful dread that bound me in place. Through sheer willpower, I forced myself to move away from the thing, each movement of my ethereal conscience demanding all the control I could command. The darkness did not move its physical presentation to me, yet maintained a grip on my heart even as I gained distance from our place of meeting, as if the very act of observing the thing had made it a part of me. The monstrosity, alone on that street in its hellish darkness, had caused me, for the first time in my life, not only fear: it had placed in my soul an immense panic. Through a single vision of darkness I imagined hellhounds following, tracking the cold void in my heart that had been placed there by the vision of IT. IT was homing in on my terror, being called to the blackness within me.
With distance from the IT I was able to gain speed, and with great haste I rushed back to my body. I woke drenched in sweat and clutching my pillows as if they alone held me above the abyss, one slip away from an eternal fall.
That day was passed fitfully. I was unable to completely grasp, let alone come to terms with, the events of the preceding evening. There could be no question that IT had seen me, that IT knew where I was and what I was up to. IT had allowed me to escape, I felt sure, for within that darkness swirled the promise of an endless, uncaring power. It bestowed upon me, even in the bright sunshine of the daylight, a sharp and enduring dread that the night would be my end. I was so sure of this fact that I drafted my will and began setting things in order for my own death.
The approach of the night set me on new waves of panic, which I was only able to control by remembering that I was The Revenant, and my spectral projection could not in fact be harmed. While this calmed the panic, it did nothing for the dread. The malignant night approached, and I must face IT in the darkness of that night.
As I had done nightly for thirteen days, I laid my physical body down and sent my psychic embodiment out into the world, again a ghost in a haunted town. Determined to settle matters permanently, I sent my conscience across town to the site where IT had so overwhelmed me on the previous evening. The town grew quiet as the citizens, innocent of the malevolence that had taken root within their city, went to bed. House after house grew dark and quiet, until eventually not even the strobe-flashes from televisions could be seen behind the darkened glass windows. I waited for IT, but IT did not show. Relief attempted to pour itself into my heart, but had no room to enter, the dread within was still so great. I was making myself available for the darkness, as I knew I could not run from it. Yet the darkness was not present.
In this fashion I passed the entire night. Realizing that IT would not be returning to the locus of our previous meeting, I decided that I would simply return to my body. As my ghostly presence approached my physical self, the dread returned. Each meter that passed in closing with my body doubled the malice I felt in my heart, darkness and anger and shame and EVIL seeping into my body seemingly by osmosis.
IT was in my front yard. Awaiting my return.
The realization that IT knew where I kept my body on these nightly excursions was the last piece of the puzzle. IT couldn’t damage The Revenant, but my physical body might be killed as easily as killing a sleeping child.
“What are you? Why are you here?”
“I’m here for The Revenant, it’s been 14 days since I have been fed. Your fear is magnificent, and makes the feeding all the better.”
“I know nothing of you, but I will fight through the fear.” It occurred to me at this point that words were not in fact being said at all. The conversation was going on within my very own consciensness. “I am The Revenant, a spectre, and you cannot destroy me!”
“You are nothing, save perhaps Ignis Fatuus, and your words mean nothing. You led me here last night, in your panicked escape, and tonight you will cease to be a threat to The Order.”
The darkness swirled, and for the first time I sensed a person, a member of The Order, in my home. I was too late. The hammer descended, smashing my skull and releasing The Revenant into the Ether, to be consumed by IT at his convenience.