Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Yeseni Vampires

The Yeseni are  almost a complete cypher; aside from a few polychrome ceramic vessels and bone utensils that could easily have belonged to a neighboring tribe, there are few physical markers of their existence. What sets the Yeseni apart from their surviving neighbors is a single tomb.

The tomb was discovered after archaeologists drained a reservoir to examine what appeared to be submerged village. Along with the hut bases that had been visible from above-surface, there was a platform a distance away from the village. The platform was 2 meters in circumference and carved with a shallow sun-relief. Post holes indicated the area had once been fenced in. The ornamental nature of the platform, and its isolation from the village, led to speculation that it was of ceremonial importance.

Upon excavation of the platform, the crew found that a well extended beneath it. Crude depth markers set the well’s shaft length in excess of 30 meters. When a pump continued removing water past the capacity estimated for the space, the well was deemed part of a subterranean river and the pump was switched off. When the well failed to refill, an aide was lowered into the shaft and found the large interior space that would be dubbed ‘the crypt’: a perfectly circular room 4.5 meters in diameter. The walls held no torch sconces, leading to theories that light was discouraged in the small space. The floor was packed clay mixed with ash.

The floor was divided into sixteen partitions, and nine of them occupied by stone sarcophagi. Sarcophagi, and the complex burial customs that accompanied them, were not previously thought to exist in the area. Each held a sun-relief that mimicked the platform’s carved design. The sarcophagi were almost completely one piece, it was finally deduced that a small section at the end of the stone tube could be removed, providing barely enough space for a small adult to squeeze through. The sarcophagi were impregnable; archaeologists found that opening the end of one could not be done without destroying the integrity of the structure, so they delayed it until proper facilities could be established.

At this point night had fallen on the surface, so the crew regrouped and planned for the next morning’s operation. The floor of the chamber was still under six inches of water; this would necessitate removal so the crew could explore unhindered the next day. They had brought no photographic or videorecording equipment, so it was never fully established whether the murals existed before the second day of exploration.

The discovery of the murals was not without some furor, as the first team to enter the tomb had brought adequate lighting and were resolute that they had not seen the decorations.

The crew took photographs and film of the well’s murals, the first of many of what would become infamously significant. The murals were thought to be entirely non-representative, no figures, plants, or animal life could be discerned from the geometric patterns. The patterns themselves were theorized to be a crude kind of written language.

The cerulean present in the murals they guessed to be a formula similar to Han blue, the red a mercuric sulfide. The violet remained a mystery. It was too color-fast to be a vegetable pigment, and mineral violets had not been synthesized until hundreds of years after the projected age of the tomb. One dig member thought it to be obtained from some now-extinct Murex relative. All pigment conjecture aside, the question of how the murals had remained colorfast for so long remained unanswered, seeing as the walls were not limestone and no substitute fixative could be detected. The sarcophagi were fashioned from flood basalt, the room’s fixtures from a white alabaster not found in the area.

By now the archaeologists had developed a rhythm of work on the tomb. The site could only be worked by a few shifts a day because workers developed pressure headaches, presumably from the tomb’s depth. Three mild incidents of narcosis were reported in the first week. The next discovery was falsely attributed to mild cerebral edema: several crew members of an evening shift claimed the murals were more bright and saturated than their first sighting. At first dismissed, the claim was verified when the photo rushes arrived from the temporary darkroom set up in a nearby town: the murals had indeed become more vivid since the first day of observation. What was more, the phenomena was not confined to the tomb’s walls. A magazine abandoned overnight showed a marked increase in ink saturation; what was more, the photographic subjects had warped in the moist air, appearing to gain sunken hollows in their cheeks and eyes.

The shifts were commuted from three a day to merely one, and this only lasting fifteen minutes. Even so, the observers within the tomb noted visible changes to the murals within their presence. The geometric patterns began to have a derogatory effect on the crew, one ended up being airlifted to the city after collapsing from an epileptic seizure(no epilepsy had been extant in his family history.)

Seventeen days after the dig began, crew reported an auditory hallucination: knocking. They claimed it was not a knuckle-rap as one might hear on a door, it was more like the flat of a hand testing a surface for solidity. The hallucination did not decrease with time and distance from the pit. More and more crew members reported flu-like symptoms, but blood tests showed no increase in white blood cell count or any other typical response to a viral infection. Finally, the dig was halted when the dig foreman suffered a minor cut to his finger and the wound failed to clot. The foreman lost around two pints of blood in an hour. While he was flown back to the city for emergency procedures, a supposed “pump malfunction” caused water to pour back into the tomb. The shaft was flooded to 2/3 its original volume, the tomb itself presumed submerged once again.

The local government has since designated the area a national heritage site, replacing the stone platform and barring any further archaeological operations. Many of the original crew retired shortly after the dig.


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For Want of a Nail

I give to you now a life in two tellings.

Werner Oberst was a frustrated young man in 1924. He had been tinkering with engines his entire life, but he came from a family tradition of pharmacists. As a shining new party was rising to power in the government, Werner himself was truly coming into adulthood.


1930 and Werner Oberst was stagnating. He had watched as his immediate superior, Elmer Bader, submitted one lackluster plan after another. Curled up like secret cats in his desk, his own vellum scrolls itched his palms with avarice. Finally, after another failure, Werner could no longer take it. Grabbing up the rolls from his desk and tucking something the size of an ashtray in his pocket, Werner caught the door before it could swing shut after another contestant.

Klaus Nagel was under only the 19th reichleiter, and after that the chancellor himself. Werner’s hands trembled with passion and he blurted: “Herr Nagel —I would speak with you.”

Nagel looked merely incensed at the intrusion, but Werner knew he had precious little time in which to make his point.

“You have been employing a fool,” he said breathlessly, “a visionless luddite who has been keeping you from success.”

Nagel burst into laughter.

“So what is this I see before me now?” he chortled, “Archimedes in short pants?” Some of his humor abated. “Those are serious accusations to be leveling against your superior, young Oberst.”

Werner, in a frenzy, laid down his plans, papering the desk before him. His knowledge rushed outin a babbling stream of technical jargon. Nagel gaped, fascinated, as Werner spoke of his improvements on the hover model Bader had been toiling with forever. Here and here and here—but Nagel held up his hand.

“Plans are all very well and good,” he said, “but unless what you say is implementable, I cannot allow you to further occupy my time.”

That was when Oberst fetched his trump card from his pocket. Kobold mkII hovered a generous four feet from the office floor, no matter how the field beneath it was disturbed. Werner watched Nagel watch the small model as it purred around the office, and felt the first hot rush of satisfaction.

Nagel threw an arm around his shoulder.

“Of course,” he said conversationally, “we must give a fitting reprimand to Bader for smothering such talent.”

Oberst did not laugh, but modestly looked at the floor.


Werner Oberst emigrated to New York in 1926, when the so-called “Jazz Age” was in full swing. With him were two uncles and a female cousin who quickly disappeared into the dance halls, never to surface again. Werner and his uncles found an already-thriving German community in Schenectady, where the two uncles managed to borrow and beg a modest enough sum to open a single-room drug store. Werner swept up and helped clerk for his uncles. Their eyesight was failing, but Werner hoped to put off his ascendency to management as long as possible. Engineering beckoned, and Werner began apprenticeship at the firm of Baum and Binbauer. He began hoping again that he might find success in his dream. Then one night after returning from the firm he met his younger uncle’s wife Magda at the door. She was a second-generation emigre, marceled hair thrown into disarray as she clutched her nephew’s lapels.

“Werner, your uncle Hans—something happened,” she gasped.

In this method, Werner was informed he would now be full partner in his uncle’s store.


1936. Project Riese had been moving along at a respectable clip. Oberst did not begrudge them their success. It only lit a fire of friendly competition beneath the bellies of his own Project Sigfried workers.

Spain’s own Wunderwaffe equivalent was nonexistant, pressing Werner’s department into overtime to produce enough to back Franco’s rebels. Werner welcomed the challenge. Everything had fallen into place so easily for him it made him wary. He welcomed any chance at failure, let it show God that he was not so proud to think himself invincible.

But it appeared he was.

Even after Riese’s Klimpst committed dishonorable suicide for failing to deliver a functioning shield mechanism, Werner was able to pick up the slack. Horst Biehl, until then a minor engineer on the team, had been tinkering with quantum probability and had found a way to implement it on a much more workable scale. The layman’s explanation was that the bullets that hit the tank they used for demonstration were flung to a universe where there had been no tank to hit. Werner made sure so give Horst full credit for the discovery and took him out for a beer afterward. He made no attempts to court treachery. His team was the most amicable, the most united research team in the entire reich. Werner made it so because he knew what became of frustrated underlings.


1932. Werner had been married to Magda for five years. She had given him no children, and Werner was satisfied with that. He wanted no legacy, though he was not ashamed of his work. After his second uncle had died, Werner had sent for more family to populate the pharmacy. But emigration had pinched off from the motherland, and Werner was forced to make do with local boys. All second-generation Americans, all itching with ambition. Werner could not blame them. He had been the same way once, until fate had settled him into this hollow.

Still, let it never be said that the Oberst men begrudged a little work.

Werner woke at five-thirty, drank the thick coffee his wife made for him, and opened his shop. He stocked medicines and morphine, and was quick with a multilingual joke for his customers. Only occasionally did he take his plans down from their secret place in the rafters and look on them with longing.


1939. The Americans had finally deigned enter the war when Germany hit their Eastern seaport with their new Kugelwaffe, devastating the great city of New York. It was a moral victory as well as a tactical one. The new Babylon of the West had been a shelter for many fleeing the regime’s rule. Now the ground forces were demoralized at the loss of such a beloved city.

Werner celebrated the news in a parka, clasping his flute of champagne in one mittened hand. Down at base Thule they took turns at the radio, giving a blow-by-blow commentary to the others working on the transport module. Werner oversaw, glowing with pride as his workers competently slotted machined tubes into ports. Five days after the devastation of New York and all its filth, Werner gave the order.

The air in the portal they had built seemed to grow taut, and then gained the iridescence of a soap bubble. Werner gave the next order.

His team began tossing intimate objects through. After a delay of one and .67 hours(down to the second) Werner began hearing radio reports from all the way back in Germany. He smiled as the spoke with increasing awe of the objects appearing in his laboratory, from nuts and bolts to larger spanners, from small dead mice to live dogs and finally Helmut Pharnsworth(who had drawn the lucky straw.)

The surprised explosion of laughter and applause as Helmut hit the floor in Silesia, whole and hale as ever, made a small tear come to Werner’s eye.


1942. Werner walked with a slight limp to work. He was developing gout, his doctor told him. And an ulcer. And his hair was whitening in far excess of anyone else at his age.

Werner simply nodded and got back to work.

What else could one do? Lay down their hammer and chisel and say ‘I simply don’t wish to work’? Even after they had tossed a brick through his shop window, Werner had needed to work a full day. Customers needed medicine, though they were fewer in these days. Magda still got up with him, still made coffee, but now she reported to a bomb factory, to rivet shells from dawn to dusk. Werner was excused from military service for all his myriad health concerns.

Though it had pleased him at first, Werner regretted that they had not anglicized his name. Now people tripped him on the sidewalk, called him ‘captain kraut’ and asked him where he hid his uniform. At first, when people had asked him whether he was jewish, Werner had learned to look wistful and say “I wish I had the pleasure,” now he simply nodded and got out of their way.

It was ironic, really. When he had first arrived, they treated jews no better than they treated him now. But suddenly everyone was a patriot, everyone trying to protect their country from the threat of a pharmacist with an ulcer.


In the waning months of 1945, the first führer had been deposed. Now, three years later, Werner received notification of his suicide. He kept his face carefully neutral, because of the source of the news.

“A tragic loss,” he said crisply, “he brought much to the reich, but was ultimately obsolete.”

Erich Godel’s pink face took on a wet sheen. Evidently this was the right answer. The new führer enclosed him in a damp handshake. Werner didn’t know what it was, but the man was always slightly moist and straining at the seams, like a sausage. He was also oddly emotional, and sobbed with the change of the wind.

But temperament was not indicative of skill. This was the man who had personally deposed Goebbels with piano wire. Dangerous, if not respectable. And he had loosened the reigns to Werner’s department, which had been chafing since the failed Gdansk maneuver.

“Werner, you are a fellow Rhinelander like myself,” Godel said, taking a seat with much effort. “I wish only for your success, as compatriot and as a scientist. Tell me what you need.”

Werner allowed himself a small pause. “I wish to have full access to Riese’s paperwork, your grace.”

And a wet smile oozed across Erich’s face.


1951. The last toast had died down. Werner was merry with drink and compliment. The final speaker(Greenburg, his name was, nice boy) held up a gold pocket watch.

“For Werner,” he enunciated, “for many long years of service. May he give many more.”

Werner’s eyes shone as he accepted it. He blew his nose as he received a gamut of back-pats and squeezed shoulders from the retreating men. The banquet hall slowly emptied of pharmacy workers, owners, and neighborhood men. Teddy, his nephew by marriage, lagged behind.

“You want to go home now, uncle?” he asked in passable German.

Werner waved a hand at him. “The night is young,” he responded in English, “why not go out dancing?”

The look on the young man’s face told Werner he was not far off the mark, but out of filial loyalty he held out his uncle’s coat. The young man bundled him into a cab and off to his brownstone.

Werner leaned on him heavily as they fell in the front door. Teddy settled his uncle into a chair and went into the kitchen to start coffee brewing. Magda had long since succumbed to tuburculosis, working in a factory had only hastened her end.

Werner held the pocket watch in both hands, running a thumb over the surface engraving of a bald eagle.

“Tell me, Teddy,” he called to the kitchen, “this is a high honor, is it not?”

“One of the highest, unc.”

“The highest,” Werner mumbled to himself, turning the watch over in his hands. He called again: “I suppose this means, then, that there is nobody better?”

“None better than you, unc.” The boy was rattling around the cupboards for the cup measure. It was still on the draining board, but Werner did not tell his nephew that. Rather, he slipped away to his room, leaving the watch on the arm of his easy chair. When the gunshot came a minute later Teddy dropped the spoon full of grounds, peppering the floor with black grains, and ran to his uncle’s aid. The door to his room was locked. When the police battered it open, Werner was facedown on his desk.

Teddy stood in the doorway, gripping his elbow with one hand.

“I don’t understand,” he said, “I don’t understand. He was just given a major award.”

The officer with the pencil grunted and scribbled something. “He leave a note?”

“Well, no. Not unless you count those.” Teddy pointed to the plans beneath his uncle’s head, blurred and faded with age.


“Warsaw has fallen?” Werner asked dully.

“Warsaw has fallen, but at great cost,” Theodor said cautiously.

Werner ran his fingers through prematurely graying hair. He did not need to be told directly what his underling was tactfully witholding. Warsaw had been a victory, but not a triumph.

“Gdansk still stands?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

“Gdansk still stands, Herr Oberst.”

“And Skutnik has bested me?”

There was a moment’s pregnant pause, then: “on this occasion, Skutnik has bested you, sir.”

When had the tide turned? When had the magic stopped working? Werner had gotten old overnight. Skutnik had appeared by miracle to best him at every turn. Maybe the errant reports of the Wojsko Polskie employing psychics had not been mere bunk.

“What has the führer said, Theodor?”

That pause again—dammit!

“Nothing, Herr Oberst.”

Werner laid his head in his hands. Nothing was worse than a reprimand. Nothing meant no future. Nothing meant Werner was not worth comment.

“I did my best,” he said suddenly.


Werner had taken a medal from its case on the desk and was running his thumb over the reichsadler on its surface.

“I did try. And I had so much success.”

“You did, Herr Oberst.” The young man was evidently relieved at this change of topic. “You had much success.”

“But that does not matter now, does it?” Werner spoke to his hands. “There is always someone better, isn’t there? Always someone better.”

Theodor grasped for words. “I will make you some tea, Herr Oberst,” he said numbly.

While he was filling the kettle, he heard the crack of a machine pistol. Theodor dropped the kettle and immediately ran to the wireless. He summoned Schultz of the SS, giving a report of the inventor’s final moments.

“…he appeared to be in some distress and shut himself up in his room.”

“That is understandable. He has been on suicide watch for some time.” The commander’s voice was resigned. “Coward. Shooting himself before passing his last plans onto us. Can you force the door?”

“It is not locked, your honor.” Theodor stepped into the room. “He is seated at his desk, the pistol is in his hand. It is definitely suicide.”

“Has he left a confession?”

“There is a paper beneath his head. Let me see.” Theodor wiped away the blood already drying on the surface. “It is a pharmacy paper.”

“Was he abusing drugs? Perhaps we can exploit this.”

“No, Herr Schultz. It is from 1924.”

“Useless then.”


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A Strange Day in July


written from #3 of The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
with thanks to wgosline

Jessalyn was climbing on the big rocks.

“You aren’t worried you’ll spoil your dress?” Stephen asked.

“Naw. well—” Arms out, she navigated the spine of a granite boulder. “Dad started to say something, and then Rajni said it was fine.”

“So they’re just getting married at your house? This afternoon, no church, no nothing?”

“Yup. Just the man from city hall and us.”

Stephen considered the rocks at his feet. “Are you even going out to dinner?”

“Nope. We’re just having a thing and then we’re cooking chicken vindaloop. Raj is just wearing pants but she said I could wear the dress since it was so pretty.”

Stephen found a chip of rose quartz and pocketed it. “So… they don’t have any guests?”

“Her parents are still in Boston. I tried to tell them about you but they said it was just family.”

Stephen let his shoulder lift and drop. Boston. Boston. Boston would take Jessalyn, and there would be no more afternoons on the rocks. He blew on a twig until it grew wings and darted away.

Jessalyn stood, hands linked at her front, looking out over the water.

“You wanna make a log fly?”

Stephen shook his head.


“I don’t feel it.”

This morning he had woke before the dawn and rolled over to look out the window. He could see a corner of Jessalyn’s house, the white clapboard and the blue shingles, and the elm where her tire swing swung from. He felt if he looked hard enough, he could melt the walls see-through, and then she could look back. But she was probably asleep, everyone was asleep but him.

Jessalyn’s mouth worked, turning down a little at the corners. She was thinking.

Excitedly, she turned to him. “How about you make two of me! Then one of me can go to Boston, and one of me can stay here with you!”

But even as he thought what a wonderful idea it was, Stephen realized he wouldn’t be able to do it.

Gramma had said it best: “Stephen, you’ve got the hands of a wizard but the heart of a 73-year-old tax lawyer.”

Stephen had magic in his fingers but he was too practical to implement things on his own. How could you levitate the bed when you knew very well that solid objects obeyed gravity?

Jessalyn ground her heel into the rock.

“You know my uncle told me something,” she said. She picked up a smooth, flat rock and held it out to him. “if you can skip a rock all the way out to the end of the world, you’ll never be separated from the people you love.”

He studied her. “Is that really true?”

“Sure it is. C’mon—” she dumped the rock in his hand.

Stephen stood at the edge of the water and hefted the rock. Feeling the weight, the balance, finding the right place to grip it. He sighted along the horizon, where the water became a dark blue line, and took a shot.

The rock took three skips and sank.

“Darn.” Jessalyn shaded her eyes with her hands. “I guess you need practice.”

Stephen stared at his empty hand.

“Nevermind, here’s a better one.”

She dropped a bit of limestone with a white line of quartz cutting through the center into his waiting hand.

Stephen took his time making the shot. Conditions had to be perfect.

Fifteen great skips. Gramma had taught him how to skip, and she was the best around. But then a bass breached the water, mouth open for a mosquito, and swallowed the rock.

“Mulligan,” Jessalyn said faithfully.

Stephen asked, “how many rocks do I have to skip? If I skip a thousand and only one gets through, does it count?”

“You just need three rocks.” Jessalyn sounded so solemn and calm that he really did believe it. “even if just one gets through, you’ll get your wish.”

“I thought it was about not being separated.”

“If that’s your wish.” Jessalyn looked behind them, at the houses. “it’s getting close. I wish I could stay out here all day.”

Stephen didn’t dare hope. “Can you?”

“No. first they have to get married and then we have to eat.” Jessalyn’s tone plumped with excitement. “Then she’s gonna show me how to do my hair!”

“Wow,” Stephen said, “neat.”

He stared out to the river, she at their houses.

“When I’m gone, I’m sure you’ll do lots of cool things. Maybe you’ll make the mountain into a sleeping dragon. Or…” she craned her head to look at the sand. Ants were making a tidy black line by her feet.

“Maybe,” Stephen said.

She didn’t get it. No one did. Stephen was blessed with everything except imagination. He needed other people to make it work, because his head was too firmly lodged in reality.

A brown silhouette detached from the white house. Her call did not carry all the way to them, but they could both unmistakably see the figure waving.

“I gotta go,” Jessalyn said mournfully. She looked to Stephen, as if awaiting a cue. Stephen lifted a hand, didn’t quite wave, and dropped it. Jessalyn skipped back up the rocks, climbing like an experienced mountaineer. Stephen waited for the last one, and then struck. Jessalyn leapt down and drifted, ankles together, skirt billowing out like a dandelion puff. She looked back and laughed. Her hair blew like brown snakes around her face. Stephen left it a few seconds more, smiling broadly, before he returned her feet to earth. Jessalyn walked just as fast as before, racing to throw herself into a new life.

Stephen combed the shore. There were too many that were almost right, but unbalanced, or smooth except for one point. It had to be perfect.

There was a shiny black one, black and round like a UFO. Stephen looked at it in his hand, wished magic into it.

Please, he thought, please, for me. Just this once.

He sighted along the horizon. The rock felt good on his palm.

He turned his ammo over and over in his hand. Planted his feet, squared his hips, and sighted.

Jessa, Jessa, Jessa, please.

He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back.


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Hello all!

Since Friday’s entry was a little thin on the ground, I’m going to post my entries for the 2015 Creepypasta cook-off, run by the exquisitely gross Bogleech.

Here they are, in no particular order:


The House of Sleep

Little Brother

Past Tense

Planter Park

Wendigo Weather

The whole thing is worth a look so please stop in:

2015 Creepypasta cook-off

special thanks to Mr. Wojicik for throwing this contest and letting me enter so much every year


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Personal Dictionary


Acknowledging that everyone is at least a little bit awful.


A hand held out for no reason.


Having something to hold in your hands at the end of the day.


Our daily bread.


Trying to walk off a broken leg.


Having no mental fuel for the fire but rubbing one out for the third time today anyway.


Something that will consume your every waking hour if you don’t watch out.


Something you take to the back room, no one wants to see that.


Filling in the cracks with gold.


The first time you realize you’re human.


Walking alone at night and realizing you aren’t dead.


Is a word we don’t use in this house.


A temporary madness.


A delicious waste of time.


Staring into the dark of your closet on nights when your father goes home to his real family.


Something that happens to other people.


Taking a weighted compliment with a smile that says dear-god-but-you’re-older-than-my-father-but-we-have-to-see-each-other-every-day-so-let’s-just-get-through-this-shall-we?


A delicacy only afforded to cowards.


Everything fucking up in just the right way.


Looking out your window and not seeing the world beyond it.


A long fugue that seems restful until you wake to the same pain you fell asleep from.


Receding from all directions at once.


is repetitious.


is repetitious.


is not the absence of failure.

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Love’s Labors

You’ve heard this story before, I suppose.

Well, what is there for me to do but tell my side of things? By laying out the facts, one may find that I was the victim in all this.

The start was hard. We grew in a time of famine. You cannot imagine the things a man will do for hunger.

There were too many of us already. She was the last. Father endeavored to spare her the worst of it so she grew up spoiled, not knowing a day’s work. She had hair of gold and skin so translucent you could count her little ribs. Father died with her name on his lips, not a word for the other nine of us.

Oh, she knew work after that. I made it my mission to see that she did.

I had always been the one unpleasant labors were pushed off to. When another child arrived I had hoped it would alleviate my burden, but no, it doubled. Suddenly I was to care for this insipid little wisp so that she could run and play, something none of us ever got to do. She didn’t even know how to spin by the time she reached womanhood, probably expecting to get by on her pretty charms. How loathsome to think she was right in the end.

The man she married was just as stupid as she.

He was the type most would have described as “poor but honest.” A kind way to describe a man who would settle for life as a woodcutter. I knew when he came mooning about our home that no good would come of it, and I was ultimately right.

I had no more word of her until she died. Then the wretch came begging to me like a starveling dog, hat in hand. They’d had two whelps. Twins. Two mouths from one birth, a terrible sign as any.

I suppose I only said yes because I wanted the opportunity to prove myself better than she. And almost immediately, I set that household to rights.

The twins(blond, of course) had been born in a time between famines. To them, life was abundance, ripe for the picking. I put a stop to their idle ways immediately. The girl I set to hard tasks, like combing burrs out of the wool I would spin. The boy I sent to help his father, until I learned the coward was excusing his son and doing it all himself. I could see my sister in their faces, a resemblance I could not thrash away with willow twigs.

I really was fighting uphill. It’s a wonder I didn’t give up. But I made it my life, time and time again, to remind them that the only guard against hardship was labor. I had a lock fashioned for the pantry and kept the key on my person at all times.

The idiots formed a cabal, whispering away from me all the time. They never once said a word against me out loud, only whispered behind my back. I rationed their food strictly, daring them to speak out, but not even that milksop I married raised objection. They bore up under their burdens like whipped dogs.

The famine continued. We were stocked, but for how long? I took accounts and found one way we could be sure to stretch the stores.

I told my husband he was to sell the children into labor.

He would not hear it, rolled over in bed as if I wasn’t even there. He had not touched me once since my arrival, anyway.

I told him the children had been sneaking food in-between meals, and would soon eat us out of house and home.

He said that he would work twice as hard to cover anything they had lost. And besides, didn’t I have the only key to the pantry?

I had to think on that one. Finally, I asked him if he would rather watch his children starve to death, slowly. He had no retort, so I went on. At least if they went somewhere else, they might find better fortune than this miserable hovel. And if he would not sell them, better to set them free?

He took some time. I chipped away at him a week before he broke down.

In the end he took the children with him to the deep woods, sniveling all the while. He came back a broken man, and would not respond to me until shouts came from the trees.

They’d found a way back. The boy, blue cunning in his eyes, had found a way to mark the path. No idea where he got that from.

I had to work another week before their father would try again. I gave them barely a morsel on each plate, mixing sand in the bread and mud in the porridge.

Finally, he hitched up the oxen and left.

It was dark when he came back. Alone.

I had prepared a slightly larger dinner as reward. His face assumed a look of such pain I assumed he had stuck himself, the clumsy beast.

He asked where I had been hiding it.

I replied that I had not hid anything, we were merely able to consume bigger portions now that our burden was gone. The man wept like an animal, rubbing his head against the door lintel.

He came toward me, so I grabbed the poker to defend myself. Damned if I would die at the hand of an imbecile.

He asked me if I had ever loved them.

Love? I told him that if love was a cake, perhaps his wife would have been able to prevent her death from malnourishment. Love had nothing to do with survival, it did not guard against famine or war or illness. Love was the idiot’s opiate, the thing he dosed himself with to ignore the world.

His face fell. He said he needed to get firewood and left.

I stirred the fire with the poker and contemplated simply ending it, feeding him the toadstools that grew in the garden. If I was to be defamed in my own household there was nothing else for it.

He called to me. There was a stick holding up the logs he wanted, wedged in such a tight space his own hands could not reach it. Would I please, please come out?

Leave it to the man to bungle something simple as firewood.

He seemed oddly tragic, waiting with his cap in his hand at the woodpile. Probably still moping about his children.

Just up there, did I see?

I could not, so I mounted a log and leaned into the crevice.

The wood shifted. There was a sudden crack and a sharp pain in my head and I fell.

I shouted at him that he was an idiot, and that he had hurt me. The wretch had nothing to say, just wept and wept. When I was done giving him the sharp side of my tongue I left him there, sobbing like a child, and went in. I was no longer hungry for dinner, and tried to warm myself by the fire. I couldn’t get warm enough because the idiot had not brought in firewood. By the time he came back in, earth all over his hands, I was already abed.

You know what happens next. They came back, with riches they probably stole. They babbled something about a witch and an oven, but I know their propensity for tales. Their wretch father embraced them while I asked him how long he expected their findings to last. They ignored me. He told them I had been ill. Ill? A poor excuse for their behavior.

In celebration, he knocked the lock off the pantry and they glutted. I told him if the food was to last more than a week, I should prepare it, but he did not listen, would not respond to my hand on his shoulder. They supped and spoke and drank while offering me none.

Here it has stood since that day.

We are no longer hungry. The children had brought back enough that their father no longer needed to labor. They pass the time by telling stories at the fireside instead. I am never warm enough, because they take all the best places at the hearth and shut me out. They have all taken up ignoring me, the one whose pragmatism kept them from self-destruction so long. I hold my tongue now. No better justice than leaving them to their own selfish gluttony.

Sometimes the girl slips away. I follow her, expecting some reedy paramour to whisk her away and start the cycle of poverty all over again, but she only goes to gather cowslips and lay them on a great mound of earth in the garden. The pile is crowned by a crucifix clumsily fashioned from alder twigs. I wonder if it is the witch they spoke of.

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