the wyrm [short story]

I’m not particularly proud of this story as I don’t find it particularly enticing. It is merely a prompt fill for a challenge I partook in. It is my first attempt at anything fantasy oriented and not Hannibal related at all. It is just here for posterity at this point.

I realize now what kinds of voices I prefer in stories. As I write novels like Charm City and Scarwood, I’m beginning to appreciate a slightly different kind of world-building.

Original short story challenge from Writers Write:

Prompt: Desperate times | Word Count: 1000

For three thousand years, the little girl’s ancestors had housed a wyrm nestled in a small box, clutching a gold coin. They had called the wyrm a maðkur, but the little girl refused to think of it as a maggot, so her father proposed she name their family talisman herself. At seven, though she had never seen the creature, she named it Sváfnir.

She was a quiet girl, sickly and friendless, but a lover of flora and fauna. She fed the elk that wandered by their farm and set out bones for the serpents at night.

She’d been told that their wyrm had remained locked in its box for years – her family unwilling to be bitten or poisoned by its tail. Over generations, its kind had morphed into beasts the size of wild dogs.

No longer tucked in caves, hoarding treasure, they now dug through piles of refuse and bothered farmers when they swooped from the sky to pluck lambs from the fields.

Long ago, men had dug gold from the earth and pressed it. The wyrms had a taste for the soft yellow ore. They waited patiently until smiths and kings had filled the villages with currency, then slaughtered the men and hoarded that gold, consuming troves which gilded their backs and bellies. With their newfound strength and splendor, they burned fields and poisoned lakes. And when the creatures grew tired from their glut, they wallowed with each other and laid hundreds of eggs before they slept.

With great feasts comes great famine, and after that age, men grew wise. They bartered and coins were no longer pressed. Those old serpents died, refusing to eat anything but gold. Their offspring had grown dull and listless, scattering to the mountainside to hoard what measly coins they could find, until the creatures starved.

The remaining wyrms adapted, turning brown and feeding on scraps, not treasure. The creatures remained gaunt and manageable – their clutches small in number – and the villagers paid them no mind.

Coins became unheard of. If they were uncovered, they were buried or tossed into rivers. The mystical men, however, protected what few remained as there was something magical about the control they had over the wyrms.

It was well-meaning of the girl’s father to show her Sváfnir one night. It was cold, she was lonely, motherless, and he had nothing else to offer.

That night, under the cover of darkness, her father brought the box to her bedside and opened it. The little wyrm hissed, the girl jumped, and her father almost clapped the lid. She stopped him, however, her eyes fixed upon the blue beads staring back.

The creature clutched the chewed coin and its head twisted to view the curious gaze which faced it after hundreds of years of solitude. She smiled and called it by its new name.
It hissed and she giggled. It then rolled, showing off it’s diamond-crusted belly, hissing again. She laughed and felt its jagged scales, her father holding his breath as he watched. Her father told her of a time when gold had once filled their family’s pockets, food had toppled from plates, and their forge had never grown cold. The wyrm was thought to protect their family, so they were charged with protecting him in kind. Her father closed the box and put it away, happy to see a smile on his daughter’s once somber face.

Her curiosity over Sváfnir did not flounder. Her father was shocked to find the wyrm in her apron pocket one morning. He was furious to see her in the fields with him, tossing and catching the mangled coin, but over time, the pair became inseparable. He was kept hidden in her dress or at the nape of her neck for years. They grew a fierce and tangible love, never apart and no longer alone.

The girl had become a woman when a bitter wind swept the valley. Crops failed and the feral wyrms chewed the wool off the sheep and the flesh from the remaining elk. Sváfnir spent his days gripping his coin while the weak woman grew white and lame.

With neither food in storage nor goods to trade, her father feared for her life. He sought help from a mystical man and a tonic of herbs and milk brought color to his ill daughter’s cheeks.
Weeks passed and she asked of Sváfnir. She was told that he was sleeping soundly on his treasure. When she was able to walk again, she was eager to see her dear companion and retrieved the box to peer inside.

She opened the lid and found her friend waiting – his eyes and body weak. He hissed and crawled to rest in the woman’s cool palm. His coin was gone, now lining the pocket of a mystic, and with it went his gilded scales and gem-encrusted belly. His eyes had yellowed and skin browned, but when she spoke his name – her voice sullen and heartbroken – he hissed as he always had.

Wyrms don’t live through the ages as they did when the mines were open and prosperous. Without gold, Sváfnir’s bones grew brittle and his wings sagged. When he became too sickly to move, the girl spent weeks keeping him warm until the spring thaw brought lamb and fish to their table. The wyrm’s taste for gold never wavered, however, and he refused all the food she offered.

By the summer, she’d lost her precious Sváfnir and laid him to rest in the fields where they’d played when she was just a girl. The next winter took her father, and the next her home when she could no longer care for her land.

On her deathbed, still alone and frail, the women remembered those year spent with her sweet Sváfnir. She had loved her family’s treasured protector, been comforted by his enduring companionship, and that friendship had been worth far more to her than all the gold in the land.

the great red dagon [boot tread]

Prompt from a comment on AO3:

How about a prompt based off of this:


Now, this is an interesting prompt. The link takes you to the 2001 Spanish movie based on the H.P. Lovecraft novella, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, but the title is also the name of a short story which the movie is not based on, Dagon.

For this prompt, I went with the short story, Dagon, which you can all read here. It’s only 2200 words. I went outside the box for this prompt. I hope you all enjoy it.

This ficlet was originally posted on Archive of Our Own (AO3) as a short story written by one of my reoccurring fictional characters, Hopper. At the time, it was an essay he had written for his creative writing class in 1956  (complete with several errors).

1627 words

Cristobal Diaz | OCEANA

No one believed me by the time we had reached the shore. I was mad. They called me “touched by the sea,” but had no idea of the horrors I had witnessed. They hauled me inland as per my request and gave me an unlimited supply of sedatives. I did not argue, and this is why.

We were halfway to Alaska, netting the mighty blue, when we were caught in a deluge that rivaled The Great Flood. Sheets pummeled us, drowning out orders and warnings, and the mighty wind cracked against us, tipping the vessel to its side. Even our great mass was not heavy enough to stabilize the hull. The stern let out a holler that put the lightning to shame, and we were suddenly in two pieces and drowning.

I floundered and tread until I hauled myself into a small lifeless boat, already filled with water and nearly sinking. I bailed what I could, and by the time only an inch of brine was left under my heels, the storm had vanished, and with it went my ship, the crew, and the choppy waters.

The sea was suddenly glass. No breeze rippled it or moved my boat. I was soaked and now dead in the water. I feared to reach over the side, as the sea seemed to cut my boat like a knife. I was set on a mirror that reflected the blinding sun, scorching my skin as I waited for someone or something to find me.

I never thought I would wish for a pistol to turn upon myself, but by day two, when I had not drifted a discernible distance or wetted my cracking lips, I yearned for a bullet to end it. That yearning was just as palpable on day three when they finally found me. They were not Americans on large vessels, or Inuits in dugout canoes. They did not glide across the glass to me, nor did they soar overhead and spot me from a trans-pacific flight. They came from below.

Black webbed fingers crept over the edge of my boat, two at first, and then three. Three hands turned to six and I scrambled to the stern. In a matter of seconds, the boat was flipped and the bright open sky bubbled above me. I thrashed but grew weak and those webbed fingers gripped my ankles and hauled me down until the bubbling sky was an abyss miles above.

They took me where the sun no longer feeds the sea plants.  They took me to a place where schools of fish refuse to hide and the mighty sharks won’t hunt. They took me to the bottom of a great chasm cut into the earth like a scar on the face of the sea floor. They took me to a stone chamber where I was left to choke and writhe on the lung-filling icy liquids of the deep, begging for death, though it never came.

Days are not days without the sun. Nights are not nights without the filling moon. Time is unending at the bottom, and the pain in my chest was ceaseless. If given the chance, however, I would relive those freshly inflicted pains until the earth collapsed upon itself. I would live again through every burning, aching false breath and the agony of my newly frozen eyes. I would welcome once more, my numb fingers and empty gut until the universe exploded, just to avoid reliving what would happen next.

He came one day or night, I know not which. He did not rap or call to me. I was hauled out and presented to him, tied with ropes to a cross made of metal pipes from my own ship.

White globes encircled and cast us in an eerie, bewitching light. He was not a man but a beast of the depths. His body was gray, cut from stone and covered in fleshy scales. His arms were that of a titan, bulging and brutal and at the ends he bore black webbed fingers. His head was more like a honed skull than a human face. Thick pouting lips covered the fangs that protruded from his jaw and golden eyes pierced me as I wrenched against my bone-chilling restraints. As he hovered in front of me, studying me as one might a rotting corpse that washed ashore, I finally saw the rest of him.

At his hip were not legs, but a long undulating silver tail. It shone like a mirror as it flicked below his body, reflecting the orbs that circled us. An icy chill radiated from it, and though I was already numb, the cold plowed through me and I shook.

A glint caught my eye and I saw in his hand what I will never forget. He held a knife, bowed like a raptor’s claw. I couldn’t yell through the water which perpetually filled my mouth, nor thrash against my crucifix. I was stuck and waiting to be gutted like a fish.

Just below my ribs, I felt the knife slide into my body. My mouth grew agape but no shriek echoed through my watery prison. I swallowed my tongue in agonizing pain as I watched the creature disappear in a cloud of vibrant red.

My body burned and writhed and another rosy murk pulsed from below. I was twisted and yanked and was again consumed by another throb of crimson fog. When the attack suddenly ceased and the water began to clear, I felt my chest slowly rise as I floated from my lower half. Then two sharp gashes cut my wrists from my hands and consequentially my restraints, and I was left adrift.

When I awoke I had been returned to my stone cave at the bottom of the endless chasm. My body had been massacred and I shook with shock and misery. I dared not touch myself, for I knew no hands remained. When my torment grew too great, I finally pawed at my phantom legs with what was left of my frozen stumps. What I found were tingling fingers sliding down a slimy tail. Over my gut were coarse and crudely-stitched cords, laced between my soft flesh and the cold silvery tail of my captor.

In the glow of the single orb that lit my cell, I could see in its moonlight my black webbed hands. They did not move like my hands, they ached with each flick of my wrist. They trembled and pulsed, sending long black veins up my now naked arms.

I dared not look upon my tail. It was grotesque and unnatural and I was fearful of it. I could move around my cell with ease and grace, but the sheer magnitude of its strength terrified me. It had razors down its spine, and in its silver scales, I could see the outline of my face. I’d looked once, and what I saw was ungodly so I never looked again.

I was neither fed nor clothed, but left for an eternity to rot. Over time, my skin bloated and softened like a dead fish and chunks were nibbled away by passing crabs. I gradually covered in a slippery mucous by the fungus that grew on the walls of my craggy hole.

I begged for sweet death to come and rescue me, since my heart had stopped beating years before, but that cruel witch never came. Perhaps she was as scared of him as I was.

He returned not long after I’d given up. I’d burrowed beneath the sandy bottom when I felt fingers grasp my gritty hair. I was ripped from the ground and twisted to face him, his golden eyes furious at what his glorious tail had become. It hung loose and pathetic from my abdomen, the cords pulling and gaping below my navel. My white skin stretched and tore from the mighty girth hanging from it, and a lack of use had caused my long black fingers to twist into ebony claws.

He bared his silvery fangs, bubbles erupting from his nose and mouth. I had laid unmoving on the seabed, allowing the bottom dwellers to pick at my skin and my sanity, and he was furious at this disrespect I showed him. The knife glinted again and I closed my eyes this time, as it tore into me with an even greater and more ferocious fervor. We were plunged again into a great red plume that devoured us both, and then some. I waited for more, but there was only one crimson tide before the creature, and the depths, took my consciousness from me.

When I awoke on my back, surrounded by merchants ordering me to breathe, they were certain it was a nightmare I had witnessed. The men yelled and screamed and demanded to know who I was and from where I had come. I spoke of a creature who gave me black hands and I showed them. They scoffed at my lily-white fingers. I pleaded for their faith that a creature sewed a tail to me, but when I kicked my legs, they laughed.

I was mad. I was locked away where I begged for sedation. Instead, they plunged me into twilight sleep, though I had already lived through a decade of that at the bottom of the great ocean. They left me to flounder in a forgotten room in a long-abandoned building. They left me weak and comatose, waiting yet again for death, and this punishment was fair and just. They said I had been “touched by the sea,” and would never know how right they truly were.

The sea had touched me, gutted me, molested me. It had drowned me, stitched me, and presented me with an abysmal new perspective. The sea had given me a rare gift, and I wasted it.

gitche gumee [short story]

This was created in January 2018 for the 12 Short Stories writing challenge. The title is pronounced “git-chee goo-mee.”

1200 words.

Topeka Capital Journal

I first saw Cookie while I was being shoved against a dumpster behind a shitty bar in Duluth. Cook hated that name about as much as I hated my own. My head was ringing and I was left crawling around, hiding from an unpaid tab that had left me fucked up and bleeding from the nose. He’d watched his buddy deck me and drag me outside, and then Cook flipped a coin. He helped me after that, because, apparently, it was my lucky day.

I remember his deep voice yelling at me to stay on the ground while his buddy paced, looking for a reason to finish me. I could barely tell what he was saying through his thick accent and the shaggy gray beard covering his lips. His buddy walked away like a good man. Cook did not.

I was too lost to care and too drunk to notice where I was being led, or by who, so when I woke up in a motel room, sore and still bleeding, there was no shock to be had.

Cook was a chef, a good one, and he fed me that morning and the next. He’d worked for twenty-five years in a boatyard – a familiar haunt for me, seeing as I grew up on one just off the Gulf. We ended up smoking and drinking and sharing more than just a bed for a few nights. We shared memories.

I was a kid during the war, thank God. He’d served and said he loved every bloody minute of it. I’d always wanted to be a cop when I grew up. He laughed because he’d never been anything but a cook and a crook.

When it came time to share the deeper, darker parts of me, I choked, but there was something in his lonely eyes that egged me on. I told him who I was and from where I’d run, and he listened with such rapt attention that I thought I might be speaking the words of God. When I described how I’d snapped and killed them all, he didn’t look at me like I should be thrown in the clink or a nuthouse. He just nodded and said welcome to the club.

He got me a job on his boat – the big one, according to the locals. I had nowhere to go and the earth was burning my feet, so I figured the sea might just wash away some of my sins.

It was a clear day in November when we set off hauling ore from some mill in northern Wisconsin. We were part of the twenty-eight-man crew plus the captain. He was a good captain – well-seasoned, as Cook called him – who stayed on the bridge, piping music through the intercom. The crew fucking loved it; hell, every port loved it. They were a treasured attraction on Superior. People came from miles away just to watch them dock: a salty, drunken family that danced and sang across the deck.

After what I had done, I had a hard time believing life could be as happy-go-lucky as a clear blue sky and careless merriment on a barge. I’d been branded a hero. They gave me the key to the city and a hefty raise without knowing the truth. They cocked eyebrows and shook heads when I turned in my badge and gun the next week. They said I was out of my mind to leave my post. They offered me more money and a better position – in an office rather than patrolling cells – but I couldn’t go back. They thought I had saved my boys, and I had. But I was also who’d started the fire.

They burned for days but screamed for what felt like longer. They smoldered and smoked – tall black plumes reaching for the heavens – until all that was left was a big brick box filled with a hundred locked coffins. It was declared an act of God, and maybe they were right. God does have a penchant for watching his children burn.

When people heard my name, they beamed and wanted to shake my hand – the hand that had chained doors, flushed keys, and sloshed gasoline across the floor. I was apparently made in God’s vengeful image, but no one was the wiser. I left town after that.

The lake afforded smooth sailing for my maiden voyage, and I felt free for the first time in years. The solid ground had carried too much weight for my taste, but the water and the breeze gave me life. I could’ve learned to love that.

Cook took me on deck and told me of the ports, kitchen, and who onboard had new wives or new babies waiting for them in Detroit. He didn’t care, but he knew. He called me a clever boy and a good friend. When my eyes glazed and my attention waned, he clapped my back and told me murder was a relative term used only by men. We were not men there. We were something different. We were divine, but caught between the devil and the deep blue.

That evening brought with it gray clouds and a dangerous wind. Cook called the gales a bad air. The gusts picked up, and the waves beat their fury on the sides of the boat. We rocked and the great hull bellowed into the night. The crew battened down but the good captain forged on despite the warnings. I, the coward, prayed like a child in Cook’s bunk. He didn’t like it, but he let me.

God came knocking on that boat, throwing our bodies and teasing the hungry water. We could hear him in the bones of the ship. We could see him in the flickering bulbs and the panicked faces of the crew. We could feel his wrath when he pelted us with an icy rain and twisted her so far that she finally cracked open.

A pitch black void howled above and a damp doom laid beneath, and no coin would let us pick which direction we preferred. That night we were all left drowning.

I could hear the tears and the frantic calls of dying men locked in their fate. I was one of them this time, and I welcomed the dark waters into my mouth and lungs, because you cannot play or battle God and expect a fair fight.

Days passed, and when I peeled open my eyes, I was staring at the hazy light filtering through the window of Cook’s motel room. My chest burned and my body shook, and he was studying me from the corner, smoke pouring from his broken nose like a serpent.

He didn’t smile or scoff, or tell me why my face was bloodied and my hair gritty with sand. He just helped me redress, tucked a map and his wallet in my back pocket, and said fortune favors the bold. He donned a pack, lit me a smoke, and opened the motel door. The room was flooded with the healing fire of the mid-morning sun and the gongs of a church ringing through the streets. Twenty-nine bells of mourning rang through Detroit, and I’ve yet to hear a sweeter sound.