Theodore Welstead was alone when the rains came. Sat in the great hall of his forsaken castle, he warmed himself by the fire burning at one end of the long room. On the walls a hundred braziers of wrought gold rested, but none were lit. The paint was flaking and the metal dulled by the ages, by years upon years of uselessness. Once a thousand men had sat on the benches running the hall’s length, food had been served on great platters by servants and music had echoed through the rooms, filling the cavernous building with life. But no longer.
The castle had once been called something, but the words had long since passed from the memories of the one man who remained to recall them. No doubt it had been a grand name, befitting of such a grand place. Situated atop a mountain the views were stunning, reaching to the horizon in every direction, vistas and valleys, lakes and forests and peaks below stretching as far as the eye could see. Or at least it used to be so.
One day, the world was beautiful and parties would light the mountain every night, celebrations of love and friendship continuing into the morning, blissful people falling in love with the night and awaking in lavish rooms above the clouds. The next, they were all gone and silence conquered Theodore’s world.
He woke up on that fateful day and awaited his servant to bring him breakfast, but no one came. He walked to the hall and found everyone gone, everyone but himself. That’s how he remembered it, at least. Sometimes he remembered faces of people he used to know, but no names. He had no need of names now, of names or words. His world consisted of three things: himself, the Castle and the Sky.
He was in his teens when everyone disappeared and to this day he hadn’t aged a day. His body was in the awkward stage between childhood and adulthood, a few spots spread across his face and shoulder length blonde hair, not short but by no means tall. Though the sun had risen and fallen many thousands of times, the aeons did not touch him as they had the castle.
That, then, is all you need to know about Theodore and his Castle in the Sky. Now, one day he awoke like any other. Huddled by the fire in a thin blanket, he stared out the windows, finding solace in the infinite depths of the grey sky. He stood on weary legs and paced to the balcony, humming tunelessly. Standing beneath the sky and above the sky, he surrendered himself to the void in which he lived, screaming an inhuman scream, a scream of loneliness and love, of hate and regret, despair and fear, hope and longing. Sure enough, the sky swallowed up his dreams and despairs and mercilessly turned its back on him for the hundred-thousandth time. And so Theodore was left alone again, a confused boy with an old man’s mind, the greatest lord of nothing.
Then it rained.
You must understand that for as long has he could remember, his world had remained the same. It had slowly decayed, with nothing changing each time the world turned. So the rain made all the difference in the world to him. Deep in his soul, the water trickling on his cheek awoke something deep, something fierce he hadn’t felt for far too long. He felt alive. A thought floated into his mind, a new thought, of sitting there with a girl, with someone he loved who he could confide in and defy the rain with. Of being content and sharing his cursed loneliness with another person. He thought of love.
But alas, still he was alone, with only the beast inside him for comfort. The feeling could never be sated, he knew. Never again could he go to sleep alone in his Castle. The horizon was his and he was the horizon. The maelstrom thundered around him and he was no longer a pathetic boy, but the storm itself. He was the world and the world was empty. Slowly, he climbed onto the thin stone curtain wall surrounding the balcony he stood upon, and tilted his head up to the wind. He was puzzled for a moment to find out the rain was salty, before realising he was, in fact, crying. And for that one moment, he was a god. Jumping forward, he joined the rain on its inexorable journey downwards, until he too was lost far beneath his castle. The storm passed, leaving a castle on a mountain empty.
When you show a man the world, he can never be satisfied with the life he has. And so Theodore Welstead was no more when the rains left.
Sitting on my bed of an evening, I look at the little imperfections in my life that frustrate me. Although I can’t see it, I can feel it, the broken slat at the end. It makes no difference by the looks of it, the bed still holds but it’s always there. I know that the draw in front of me is loose, that if I pull it the front will come off. Every day I tighten the screw, but when I come back the next it’s inexplicably loose again. So is the way of things, with me constantly trying to turn against the tide in vain.
Most of all is the mould upon my roof, crawling in from the window, invading my private sanctuary with insidious deliberation. Despite my best intents and building a fortress, it always creeps in, taunting and beckoning me to try and fight it back. The doubts and fears, paranoia doing its job against my wishes. And as it comes, slowly but surely, the slat stays broken and the draw comes loose again.
Every day, the same. Tightening my draw when I wake up and feeling the bed giving way, more pressure every time. The perfect look of it from the outside and the crippling problems beneath the surface. Sixteen years, and still I can’t break the mould.
Ellena woke with a start. Noises from outside were drifting in through the open window, left open in the hot summer night. She realised it was screaming, high pitched and loud, many voices mixed together. ‘Drunks.’ She muttered to herself darkly, before turning to the wall and burrowing her head deep in her pillows, trying in vain to block out the shouting. Sighing wearily, she rolled out of bed muttering curses and padded along the floor to the window. Pulling back the curtains, she saw a dozen or so people running down the street, screaming their heads off and laughing, bottles in hand. Grimacing, she slammed the window and turned back to get in bed and go back to sleep. ‘Bloody idiots.’ She walked over, yawning, as she heard a noise. The smallest of noises, a gentle creaking, from the landing, right outside her door. ‘It’s nothing,’ she whispered to herself, hardly daring to breathe. ‘Just… just the floorboards.’ Somehow she didn’t quite believe that.
Creeping along, ever so slowly, she approached the doorway quiet as a mouse. Timidly she placed one hand on the handle and breathed in silently, working up the courage to open the way, to see. She could feel the insidious force behind it, urging her to look. A voice inside her, whispering, forcing. Breathing out, she began to count down. Three. She had to look. How could she go back to sleep, not knowing if something was out there? Two. She was being silly. Of course nothing was out there. The house was locked, no one could have got in. One. She heard it again. A floorboard creaking, directly outside the room. Her stomach was churning, fear gripping her heart in an iron vice. Suddenly she thought of the screams outside. What if one of them had broken in? How drunk would they be? In a spur of madness, she pushed down quietly on the handle and let the door open a fraction. Peering through, she let her eyes adjust to the darkness of the hallway and saw… nothing. Sighing, half with annoyance and half relief, she began to close the door again and go to sleep before she woke her parents. Glancing over to their room, the sickness in her gut suddenly returned. Her parents always closed the door, as habit more than anything, but they did it; the door was closed every night without fail. Their door was wide open. What’s more, outside it was a muddy footprint, faint on the carpet in the gloom, but unmistakable.
Almost in a daze, she walked silently through the dark, drifting like a ghost along the short hall. It was no more than four steps to the open door, but in the half light with the blood pounding in her head, time stretched out indefinitely, seconds taking hours, hours taking days and days taking seconds. Reality lost all meaning, with only the open door meaning anything to her. Eventually, she stood in front of it, staring into oblivion. Inside, all was black. The meagre light filtering from her room into the landing was lost now, swallowed up by the cavernous entrance, leaving only a terrible void and a foreboding sense of fear wrapping its cruel hands around her. Squinting into the inky blackness, hardly daring to move, she tried to pick out shapes. She could vaguely make out the bed, directly ahead. A pale square glowed on the wall, the heavy curtains letting the slightest light in, not enough to show anything else. Steeling herself, she stretched her hand out into the room, running her smooth hand along the rough wall, searching for the light switch. She began to doubt herself, why she was doing this. Even if there was someone in there, what could she do? If there wasn’t, her parents would wake up and shout at her for waking them. Bracing herself, she placed her finger atop the switch. Hopefully if she had the element of surprise, she’d stun the intruder and run downstairs to the phone while he was reeling. She applied the slightest pressure to the switch and heard the click, before the room was bathed in light.
The vomit bubbled up her throat, burning, as her insides churned at the scene laid out before her.
Her parents’ bed was flooded with crimson, their bodies sprawled across it, blood flooding out from their shredded necks, bubbling peacefully in a tide of death with the stink of an abattoir. The sheets were saturated, the red flow claiming everything for its bloody dominion. What should have been inside was outside, flesh parted like the red sea, bodies ripped like a child’s doll, stomachs torn with ragged flaps of meat spread out. Tentatively stepping back, the young girl struggled to process what she was seeing. Closing her eyes, she tried to think, but reason was escaping like trying to remember a dream. The images were imprinted on the insides of her eyelids, the people who had cared for her for years gone, leaving only jokes of bodies behind. She was vaguely aware she could smell it now, the sickly sweet smell of the corpses.
‘Gone…’ she moaned, the voice not even seeming her own. Saying it still didn’t make it real, like she was viewing the terrible massacre through another’s eyes. Strangely, she felt nothing. Surely after seeing your parents’ bodies lying lifeless you should feel something? But no, all she could think of was the smell. She felt completely empty, not even the slightest sadness or remorse. The people she loved were dead, her life was completely changed at fifteen, yet… nothing.
A creak. Like a switch, she broke out of the daze and was suddenly, terribly aware of the situation. Something had killed her family and it was behind her. Something had broken in and ripped the life from her mother and father before she even awoke. She had walked in while it was hiding from her and now she was trapped. The sights must have robbed any sense of fear that lingered in her, for she turned around without hesitation and screamed at the top of her voice, to catch it off guard. Yet as soon as she saw what it was, her voice whimpered and died out.
Ellena was small for a teenager, but even to an average sized person the figure would’ve towered above them. As it was, she had to physically look up to see its face. A terrible face, gaunt and savage, milky white skin stretched tight over protruding bones, with matted brown hair trailing down over its eyes. One eye, at least, for the other was ripped out, leaving a bloody hole in its face, caked with dried blood and mangled skin. One cheek was also ripped open, exposing the raw flesh beneath, pus leaking out of the corrupted flesh, which smelt worse than the corpses. Around the mouth more blood was beginning to dry, yet it was clear that unlike the rest of the creature, this was fresh. This was her parents’.
Gazing into its one good eye, she was transfixed. Unlike human eyes, it was utterly and completely black, like a piece of marble had been fashioned into a sphere and implanted in the socket. But it was translucent, grey shapes swirling in the depths of its darkness. If the eyes were the windows to the soul, the soul of that thing was a place she never wanted to go, seeming to scream silent screams, tormenting her. As it grew larger and larger she felt she was falling into it, sliding into its beautiful trance. For the slightest moment, her gaze slipped and with that the spell was broken. The gaping face of it was inches from her own, mouth drawing silent breaths as it enveloped hers. The long, strong arms wrapped her in their deadly embrace, pulling her closer to it. Each touch of its body burnt, like a flame licking her skin, turning her whole body into flame. She wanted the warmth, wanted its power, wanted to feel the heat seep into her bones and take her for its own.
Pushing it away was the hardest thing she’d ever done. But push she did, shoving the damned thing in the chest and sending it reeling. For all its deadly terror and power for entrancing her, it was surprisingly weak. It stumbled backwards across the hall, collapsing to the ground. Despite the gnawing horror of how close she’d come to whatever awaited her in that force, she forced herself to act swiftly. Grabbing an antique clock from a chest of drawers, she leaped over and brought it down hard on the creature’s head. Again and again it collided with the skull, covering her in blood. Only after its head was completely caved in and its brain limply clinging onto a few strands did she at last put the weapon down and curl up into a ball next to it, sobbing with relief and horror after the exertion. It was over at last.
Something must have affected her by that heat, for looking up she saw her mother walking towards her, radiant and smiling kindly. She knew she was dead, but she couldn’t help herself. Climbing to her feet, she walked forward and embraced her, wrapping her arms around the waist of the woman who’d raised her. Had she been dreaming? It had been a sunny day, maybe she’d been suffering sunstroke. It didn’t matter, for she was safe. She began laughing, laughing at the absurd notion of monsters sucking her soul. It all sounded so silly. She was still smiling when her mother kissed her. Still smiling when she felt a familiar warmth, still smiling as the blood began flowing from her neck.
On a long, warm spring evening, Master Hughes sat at his desk, head cradled in his hands, sat in front of an old computer monitor. At one side he had a steaming hot chocolate, at the other a half eaten pack of Jelly Babies and in front of him the bane of all authors: a white, blank page, with not a word on it. He was suffering writer’s block. No signs betrayed his despair: he didn’t sweat, nor shake, nor do anything out of the ordinary; he didn’t really do anything at all, just sat there finding excuses not to write. Absent mindedly, he stretched his arm out to grab a jelly baby, pulling it from its wrapper, crinkling as it relinquished its contents. Popping it in his mouth, he chewed for a few seconds then swallowed, leaving a sweet taste in his mouth. Not long after, her claimed another of the sweets, the cycle beginning again. Once the packet was empty, he picked up a pen, leant over a notebook and started writing, as if possessed by a burst of inspiration, a smile of triumph on his face. He quickly scrawled a line in the book, which read in messy writing ‘The Writing Block Parable’, before sitting back in his chair, frowning and putting the lid back on his pen. Just as soon as the inspiration had come, it had fled again, leaving him with four words and an ominous collection of lines to be filled. Turning back to the keyboard, he typed up the title from the notebook and began hitting keys in the hope something legible would appear. After a few minutes, he had a couple of paragraphs written, describing the story of a man with writers block. After all, they always said to write what you know about and that was all he really knew at that moment in time. He briefly pondered who ‘they’ actually were, before deciding it didn’t matter and proof read his work. ‘Hm, his writing block caused his rise and demise,’ he muttered to himself, a slightly confused look on his face, ‘I just wrote the shortest Greek Tragedy of all time.’ Writing down a few sentences to conclude the story, he hit ‘publish’ and went to get a new pack of Jelly Babies.