Perculus knelt in the center of a patch of dense reeds, his trousers undone and Sophia’s bodice clutched in his fist, when he heard the rustling to his left. He dropped the lacy thing and reached for his belt. Yanking it far too tight, so it cinched slicing lines into his stomach, he stood and looked around.
“Hello?” His voice quivered with shame that teetered on fright. “Mr. Halopen?”
He waited in the quiet, unsure that he could continue the act after a fright like that, but there was still a chance. Her scent clung to the garment, overpowering his senses, filling his chest with each inhalation, not even the repugnance of the swamp could cool his lust. Soon, he thought. Soon he would smell her again.
Perculus knelt back down and began adjusting his belt, easing the tension that constricted his abdomen, when he heard it again. The crack of a branch, followed by something else. A slithering. It was behind him now. Thoughts of the noble girl were flushed from his mind, the vats of lust refilled with cool dread. Slowly, he adjusted his posture, straightening his back until his eyes peaked above the fluttering tips of the reeds.
Sight of the swirling green stalks faded to the swampy landscape. Black barked trees, some standing, some fallen, all covered in flaky, parasitic moss. Ground absorbent and wet. The occasional rock or stump. As he scanned the swampland, Perculus passed a tree that seemed to be a few years from folding over upon itself under the weight of accumulated moss. He continued his searching when a shadow shifted. He looked back at the tree. His heart pulsed. Yes, there was something hiding behind there.
Perculus kept his eyes trained on the trunk and felt amongst the soggy ground, searching for something to strike with. His fingers came across the bodice and the rock it rested upon to keep the marshy ground from staining the lace perfection. Perculus swore beneath his breath. He knelt down, snatched up the bodice, and hung it atop the patch of reeds. Then, he grabbed the rock, a fist sized chunk of limestone, and stood.
Slowly, he eased his way through the reeds, trying to contain the noise of the shivering stalks, but when his boot met the muddy ground and gave a loud squelch, he abandoned the silent plan and darted forward as fast as his legs would go. He swung around the trunk, raised the rock, and brought it crashing down. The blow gouged an ugly chunk of dead wood and the tree groaned in protest. Perculus sucked in a deep breath. What was this foolishness consuming his heart? He, the son of a hero of the 3rd Comets War was afraid of things in the swamp?
Perculus felt a soft tap on his hip and he spun with the rock raised. He brought it hurtling down and stopped inches from her face.
“Oh by The Ancients Cassandra,” he said, tossing the stone. “What are you doing out here?”
The blacksmith’s youngest daughter stared up at him. She flashed a wide toothy grin and waved her pudgy, muck stained fingers. Perculus looked out at the swamp. They were some two miles from the outskirts of the village. There was no footpath that led here, no old horse trail. This place was useless and empty. He choose it for that reason. Because if anyone were to find him here… He remembered the bodice. He could see it amongst the mess of reeds. What if someone went looking for Cassy? They would follow her tracks here. They would search for her and they would find it.
“Okay,” he said, putting his hands on her shoulders. “I need you to do this for me Cassy. Put your hands over your eyes and don’t move until I come back. Understand?”
Cassandra nodded and moved her hands to her face, leaving black smudges across her cheeks. That was fine, he could fix that on the walk back.
Perculus picked up the rock again and entered the reeds. He took the bodice, knelt down, and placed it upon the rock. Then, he pulled a handful of stalks from the patch and covered it best he could. It was an unconvincing disguise but it would do for now. They needed to get out of here before someone came looking.
Perculus stood back up. Cassandra was where he’d left her, eyes still covered. Good. Now he just had to follow the tracks back home. As he exited the reeds, he looked at the footprints leading back towards the village. Cutting through the mud, he could see his as clear as the stars on a cloudless night, but there, next to them, a path of massive, three pronged impressions stained the mud, leading all the way back to where Cassandra stood, her hands now hanging down by her side.
Cassandra smiled and her face rippled inwards, the mask peeling away to the black thing beneath. Perculus screamed and stumbled backward into the reeds, his head striking the rock. As the black thing filled his vision, he took in a final inhalation of Sophia.
Mr. Hughes notes that “The Collector” is part of a larger work in progress.
Andrew Hughes has been writing and publishing short stories for the past decade. One of these, The Crab Catcher, was recently reprinted in Brilliant Flash Fiction’s Best Of anthology. He currently lives in Arizona, working as a criminologist, and taking care of the world’s most adorable white husky.
I made a couple of quick changes yesterday that make The Chamber just a bit cooler.
At the top of the primary widget area (on the right) is now a door with The Chamber’s name and “Slattery Publishing” underneath. This will serve as a cover so that websites that can post a magazine cover will have this. I will change it from time to time until I capture the magazine’s mood just right.
If you click on the door, you will be taken to the About page, which serves as a reception area of sorts. As time progresses, I will try to make it look more and more like a spooky reception area.
On the about page, I have replaced the photo that was at the top with a video I made using Kizoa, Pixabay, and YouTube. With this I am trying to give the viewer a virtual entrance into The Chamber’s offices. I have put this below for your ease of viewing. Let me know what you think not only of the video, but also of how it fits in with the About page and The Chamber in general. I will be toying with this from time to time.
I am tinkering with the idea of making The Chamber not only a pleasurable reading experience but also a virtual experience as well.
A strange name given for such a strange find: Pulp.
The reason I call it this is because I have no other word in my limited vocabulary to explain it. It’s small, black and has the density of rough dough.
Then there’s the colours. Those beautiful and unique flickers of microscopic light in the thing that make noises, words of a language I’ve never heard before.
I’d been walking down the riverside like any other day, the route I take home from work. On the opposite side of the river beneath the bridge, a black patch no bigger than a football caught my eye. At first, I believed it to be some kind of stain, perhaps oil or tar embedded upon the weathered stone holding up the banking.
However, the angle of the sunlight made the patch sparkle with fizzling colour. It was attractive: calling.
My visceral instinct was to leave it alone, to hurry on past and forget about this peculiar patch hugging the waterline.
But then it moved.
It didn’t drip down the rocky surface with liquid texture as expected. Instead the stain slithered in the slowest of motions; changing shape and contracting with itself.
Safe to say the inquisitiveness (or naivety) got the better of me as I raced forward to the river crossing not thirty feet in front of my position.
I had to find out what this thing was.
Some inner conscience suggested that maybe some animal was in danger, overcome with a substance and needed help to be set free back to the wild.
Panic set in when the stain vanished from view. My strides turned into a full blown sprint as I rushed over the creaky wooden crossing and back down the graveled footpath.
I kept my head over the banking, watching the water splash against the rock with murky turbidity.
Still no sign of the stain; my heart raced ready to implode.
I’d suffered from anxiety since I lost my brother to a drug overdose almost eight months ago. He’d been two-years my elder and fallen into the wrong crowd, no matter how much we tried to help him it fell on deaf ears.
Not being able to find the insignificant blob brought all those anxieties flooding back in my body. Too much to bear. I stopped closing my eyes before I passed out. Oxygen intake was minimal as my legs turned to cigarette ash and I fell hitting the ground hard with my backside.
Trying hard to concentrate on my breathing, the world span in shuddering movements making the vomit swell in the pit of my stomach.
The flop made everything suddenly stop dead like a fairground ride coming to a sudden halt.
My senses returned.
Anxiety washed away with the flowing water; my breathing returned to normal as I saw the dough wiggle onto the path. Crouching over the thing I remained cautious; in my twenty-three years in this world I had never witnessed anything as surreal.
The shuffling black blob stopped moving and began to spread on the gravel, thinning out like a puddle, perfectly circular.
That’s when I saw the lights up close.
Blinking rainbows of colour. Colours I’d struggle to describe. Purple intertwined with green with flashes of orange. It was beautiful, like looking up at the night sky observing a fireworks display. The colours wrapped themselves around one another and I couldn’t help but become transfixed.
The voice from the black puddle spoke to me in a tongue not from any place on the earth, yet for some unconceivable reason I was able to understand.
‘I can show you things, secrets beyond this world,’ it said.
‘What are you?’ I asked, my eyes still invested in the lights.
‘Nothing that can be told, but can be shown if you take me.’
I asked, ‘take you, where?’
‘Take me with you, wherever you go and I will show you the places beyond.’
The lights on the black puddle flickered like a power failure slowly fading out. I was left blinking, still crouched over this thing with a severe headache. The black mass had now retracted itself back into the blobby dough – the pulp.
The lights, I wanted to see those gleeful lights again.
Reaching down, I took the black blob into my hands; its texture – smooth and bone-dry. Before anyone could see I rushed home with the putty squelching between my fingers.
I lived alone on the east side of town in a rundown block of apartments. A few girls had come and gone in my disastrous love life up to now, they usually leave when the realisation hits them that my ambition is non-existent and my overwhelming anxious needs take precedent. I’m the kind of person that enjoys routine; anything against the norm brings back that desire to wallow in a shell of self-pity.
Yet, here I am taking this otherworldly thing into my life, somehow against my wish, but it’s attractive … addictive.
I’ve come to see that I don’t need anyone. I have something that no other person has.
I have Pulp.
I’ve come to learn that I also don’t need food anymore, I haven’t eaten for over sixty hours and I still feel great. I don’t need so-called friends, Pulp told me that all they do is stab me in the back anyways, which I can believe. That’s why I smashed my mobile phone to smithereens, goodbye social media and good riddance to the backstabbers.
There has been a few knocks at my door wondering if I’m all right from certain people.
‘Hey, are you in there?’ Katy had asked from behind the door.
I replied pretending with a few coughs, ‘I’m fine, just the flu I think.’
Katy had been one of those girl’s I spoke about earlier. She ended the relationship, “friend-zoning” me because of different life aspirations, really I knew it was due to my skydiving psyche.
‘No one has heard from you in days,’ Katy said. ‘Your phone is off; you’re not posting anything online … are you sure you’re all right?’
Another cough, ‘I’m fine … like I said, just the flu.’
Those pesky folk, they think that they can just walk in and out of my life when it suits.
No thank you.
They seem to accept and leave without too much persuasion.
I’m a hindrance you see, Pulp told me that’s what they thought.
The same old question – ‘are you all right?’
I’m more than all right, if only they could see what I have been shown. If only they’d had their eyes opened to the true beauty that exists outside of our perceived reality.
They’re not ready to see my little friend just yet. It told me as much.
I speak with Pulp constantly; it’s all I need in my life now.
Asking its name, it just answers with something far too long for my lips to relay back. I’ll stick with Pulp, it doesn’t seem to mind.
Night and day I stare into the surface of the abyss, transported between the colours, the beautiful colours. I feel them, flashes of light from a distant world: a paradise beyond comprehension.
Everything is lost when I float in between the eternal space. Emotionless. I forget the anger, the anxiety, the need for love and sexual desires – everything.
Because in this void is freedom that I have never experienced.
Just me and the colours intertwining and embracing one another like passionate lovers.
Sleep has evaded me too. When I try to rest, I just think of staring back into Pulp. I just want to forget everything in this world now I understand the truth of what is beyond.
‘There is much more that you are not ready to understand, child of the earth,’ Pulp said.
It was dead at night and I asked Pulp to take me back to the colours, to relax in the void.
‘I am ready,’ I replied. ‘Please, show me.’
‘If you wish to seek out the truth behind our existence, then you must take us back to where we met.’
‘The river?’ I asked. ‘It’s the middle of the night, but I can do that,’ I said, shaking my head erratically. ‘Sure … sure … sure … anything you ask.’
I stood, dropping the blanket that had been wrapped around my frail body to keep warm. I must’ve broken the record in weight loss over such a short period of time. My bones were visible through my skin, I could feel every solid lump. In the bathroom mirror, my face was no better, huge bags drooped below my distant eyes. The hair on my head had receded at rapid rate.
My teeth: yellow and fragile like a corpse.
‘The body is nothing more than a vessel,’ Pulp said feeding from my insecurities. ‘It’s the soul that will endure into the next phase of existence.’
As I went to gather my coat from the floor, Pulp informed me that I wouldn’t be needing it.
When I questioned why I wouldn’t need clothes in the middle of the night, Pulp answered: ‘To see what is beyond, then you must come in the purest of forms. I shall keep you warm, child of the earth.’
My hands took hold of Pulp and it expanded, spreading and then wrapping its warm doughy body around me. It felt ecstatic. Loving.
Outside I set off, feeling the slight breeze hit my face. When we reached the riverbank I crouched down in the exact same place where I found Pulp.
How long had it been now since I met this savior of mine, three days? Two weeks? I couldn’t be sure anymore, time had become irrelevant as everything else. All that mattered now was seeing the truth of what was beyond; learning the secrets of this existence.
‘You have been a great host, child of the earth,’ Pulp said sliding off my body into an even puddle on the floor.
The cold hit me straight away, knifing my naked body.
Pulp started to flash its otherworldly colours.
I watched, mesmerized by the beauty.
‘You have fed me life with your soul, and in return I shall show you what lies beyond,’ Pulp said.
Pulp started to rise on the river’s edge, morphing from puddle to standing mirror.
I stood before it still gazing into the void of colour and ecstasy.
‘Come, child. Come and see!’
Raising my hand, I held my palm against the abyss, reaching out to touch the intertwining colours, to feel their love and warmth.
Tears spilled from my eyes due to all its magnificence.
‘Come with me … come and see what lies beyond.’
I stepped forward as all the colours suddenly vanished.
Losing my footing I fell forward as Pulp dropped to the banking in a heap of dough.
The water tore at my body with its icy blades.
I momentarily debated grappling against the cold and fighting my way back to the banking.
But my weak and aged limbs made no such effort. As my head bobbed up and below the surface I saw Pulp shuffle its way down the banking and into shadow like a feral animal.
I’d been sucked dry.
Suddenly I realised I was the insignificant one; a pawn in a much grander universe. It was time to leave this world that I no longer understood behind and seek out what lies beyond.
Pulp promised me such things.
The body is just a vessel … It’s the soul …
I didn’t want to believe that it was all treachery on Pulp’s part; I wasn’t just some host to feed the thing before it sent me to death.
No, there’s more, I’m sure of it.
I was ready to see the truth – to awaken.
The body is just a vessel …
Falling to the bottom of the river I wondered if I would ever see those magnificent colours again as all other lights went out.
Ethan works for a utilities company in South Yorkshire. Writing fiction has become a hobby over the past couple of years and he hopes to one day publish a novel. Ethan notes Stephen King and H.P Lovecraft as influences behind his work.