Near where I grew up there’s an abandoned quarry. For over a century bluestone was mined there. A deep open pit cut into the earth; steep walls of dark basalt criss-crossed by fine veins of quartz, caverns and sink holes and shelves of hard rock. Forty years ago the quarry stopped being profitable, so the mine owners turned off the pumps, removed the equipment that still worked, and let the ground water rise. Within a few months the quarry had turned into a lake. The rising tide submerged the void, and what was left behind was forgotten and drowned beneath the surface. The mining company planted some trees, put up a few picnic tables and walked away. Because of the height of the quarry walls on one side, the lake stood sheltered from the wind that whipped over the land, the skin of the water still and inviting, a dark blue pearl in an amphitheatre of stone.
I was somewhere I had no business being, doing something that I shouldn’t, when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
Gerald glanced at the hitchhiker staring out the passenger side of his truck. “Did ya’ hear me, son?”
“I said, if you’re looking for mercy out that window, you won’t find it there. This world ain’t for giving mercy and when it does, it comes with a price.”
Slouched against the worn leather seat, the hitchhiker pulled his gaze away from the barren landscape, eyes drawn to the anomaly marring the desert sky. He inhaled a sharp breath and slid further into his seat, hands grasping the dashboard.
“It’s getting bigger,” he mumbled.
Oil running amber along a thin white line. In another time, in a different kind of world it would have its own strange grace. But here the amber turns to a sickly yellow green that rubs out the world.
The sound came once more. He stiffened. It was closer. His whole body knew it was closer. It was not just in the hearing. It approached. It made inroads. It said so. The metal toe. The kick. The slash. Ping Too smiling through his teeth. Oh, would Ping have a thirst for amontillado! Oh, were he himself the finest of stone masons, setting Ping Too up for the full sentence; to make an end of my labor, to force the last stone into place; to set the best of mortar, forever?
Caught between the professor and the captain!
I burned a witch to death last night. She was a standard specimen: long nose, black hair, broomstick, pointy hat. I looked for a cat but couldn’t find one, which is not unusual. In my experience, few witches travel with their cats. Ditto for cauldrons, wands, crystal balls, and any other magical items you can think of: Witches travel light.
The castle ruin was the only shelter Famine could see for miles, a shadow cast on withered land, on mud, bracken and brittle heather. And on bones. Beyond was the sea, and snow clouds on the horizon. The gatehouse, its great rounded towers broken and jagged at the tops, stood defiant in the desolation, like an old, wounded knight after a battle. Wind, sea-salt, and even War had not defeated it, and as Famine traced the silhouette against the sky, he could have believed the castle would withstand time itself, if such a thing were possible.