Husk (The Start Of An Old Short Story)

So, when I first started at university, I wanted to write Fantasy; I used to read Tolkein and Gemmel as though they were my own personal bibles. Gemmel in particular; I’ve never met anyone who’d even heard so I kind of thought of him as one of MY authors, one of that illicit brotherhood who only I knew about.

Foolish, of course, but this was to be the start of a short story I was writing alongside a much longer piece, which I think I wrote about 100,000 words of before completely scrapping.

Anyway, I’ve been away for the entire weekend (in fact I only got back an hour or two ago) so I haven’t had the time to properly write anything and, with ‘work’ (my unpaid internship) still taking up a great deal of my time, it doesn’t look like I’ll have much chance to do anything except more of my terrible poetry and a little editing of The Caitiff.

So, for a change, here’s the start of a bad Fantasy story which I would like to revisit one day, if I ever get the time.

Husk, the Dead City, snarled in its slumber, each broken building of gnashing teeth formed from shattered stone, each poisonous corpse-breath an amalgamation of ash and dust in equal measure rising above the broken walls, the reputation of the haunted ground a better defence against the aggression of the cold, cruel north than the long-since fallen rock ever was.

As deadly a world as it was, the world that fought and screamed, bled and wept outside the rotting gates hanging from rusting nails, it barely ever made a mark on the City, which squatted on the coast like a tumour.

It was from within Husk itself, that the ruin came. The nights grew longer and the days grew darker, as the City bore down on all those who resided within its walls, great arms curling around its prey, like those of a parent around a child.

And, atop one of the watch-towers set into the crumbling walls, a spark flickered…

And a Dead Man drew a rusted blade across his arm.

The knife flickered, his blood arcing across the stone, landing in the flame with a soft hiss. Moments later, it came back at him, spat from the heart of the fire as though it was a taint, a cancer sent straight into the heat. The man glanced briefly at the stain, closer in hue to the black of a dungeon’s shadow than the rich red of a hero’s life. His thin lips, a weak red against the greying hair of his beard and the pale dullness of his flesh, parted, drawn tightly across his yellowing teeth. His hair, lank and greasy, fell around his face, throwing one eye into shadow. The broken, roughly knife-cut tips laying against his shoulders, like ghoulish fingers clutching for him.

He sighed, the blade skittering across the stone as his arm moved, the noise loud in the empty night. He rose from his seat, a piece of fallen tower from the upper floor, covered in the dust of years. He took the three short steps towards the flames, solemn and well-measured, as though a procession down a God’s throne room. He crouched, his ageing bones complaining as they pressed against his skin, blue, protruding veins emerging from the weathered flesh as worms from the dirt so far beneath his feet, maggots from a corpse beneath the moonlight, a rising exhaustion beneath the ageing youth.

As he clenched his fist, he saw the blood thicken about the razor-thin wound, an image he had seen so many times over the years. He stretched forward, his knuckles, his palm and his wrist passing through the flame, emerging unmarked from the other side. His forearm remained deep in the light, the blood bubbling under its baleful influence, the liquid spitting across his skin as they burst, running across the jagged mountains of his other scars.

They criss-crossed his arm like a scholar’s scratching on yellowed papyrus, around each one old burn marks, each one in the shape of a droplet of his blood, as though his own life was a poison to his flesh, though the fire itself caused him no discomfort.

He remained in that position for almost an hour, the fire waning under his stillness, his eyes closed and a faint smile playing across his face, an expression which suited him ill. Had anyone been watching this sick ceremony, this perversion of the natural order, they still might have smiled at such a childlike smile on such a cold figure, though their lips would be lying to them, and their minds would weep at such an abomination.

When he finally rose, wincing as his joints cut at him as sharply as his dagger had caught his flesh, the light flickered over him, as though a sun rising over the Dead City, each crevice, each ruined building of grey scar tissue half-hidden in their shadows, the darkness more pronounced now that the light had its grip on his body.

He was naked, clothed only in the shadows which thrived in this place and the scars which wrapped around his body, writhing against the dead flesh like the coils of some leviathan around the splintered planks of a long-sunken ship, some serpent tightening around a child’s chest or a noose pulling at a condemned man throat, ignoring the pale, narrow fingers scrabbling at the coarse rope.

He returned to his seat, turning his old, grey eyes away from the fire, facing out of the gaping hole in the side of his tower, drinking in the darkness with almost a sense of joy after the blinding force of the flames. The chill crept upon him suddenly, tendrils of the night air, driven from the distant mountains running icy fingers across his flesh. The sensation made him rise to his feet, his mouth tightening into a grim line.

Husk had a magic about it, the weather seemed to avoid the place as much as the living. His limbs trembled, fear creeping into his eyes as his body betrayed him, going into a fit. He leant against the wall, his fingers digging into the rough grooves of broken stone. The feeling passed, and he closed his eyes, his trembling now having little to do with the sudden cold.

Pat… Pat… Pat, pat…

He drew his arm back, staring in shock at the droplet of water, halting its passage as it leant against his ruined flesh. The rain lashed down, hammering against his naked skin for a moment before he staggered back under the stone overhang. He stood there, frozen at the sight of water hammering against the floor, filling in the rough floor, oceans forming before his eyes.

For the first time in years, he shivered.

Thanks for reading (and for putting up with my younger self’s crappy writing style). I hope I have the time to write something new soon.

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