This story was part of the July prompt for the Horror section of Absolute Write. It didn’t turn out how I’d hoped, but I do like the end result. 🙂 Read, comment, enjoy (I hope!)
The ground was covered with just enough light, fluffy snow to make it glow iridescent in the moonlight. There was something about winter that made the moon look farther away than normal, but tonight… tonight it broke through the hazy clouds like a silent protector, shining down upon the earth.
Though the sun was long retired, there seemed to be just as much light as there was in the daytime. The ivory hued moonlight brought the sleepy city Lancelot had sworn to protect to life in the way an oil painting of an ocean seemed to move upon the canvas. Motionless tides as real in the mind as the azure waves created by God- at least for those who’ve never seen an ocean with their own eyes.
It was the single thing Lancelot loved most about winter time- how the snow seemed to illuminate whatever it touched. The snow was a gift given from God to remind man all things start out pure. Depending on where it lands, it either remains pure until it expires, or becomes tainted by the dirt and grime of humanity. There was something so… poetic about that concept, he thought.
Lancelot was the only one out on the streets at this hour. Some referred to it as the ‘witching hour; men with more decorum never made mention of it.
Usually he had a partner to do night patrol with, to make the task less tedious, but Henry had run off to have relations with that raven–haired trollop just off the high street again. He secretly prayed for the day Henry’s wife would catch him in the act and flog his arse purple. If only the pathetic woman knew the extent of his unfaithfulness… If only Henry knew the extent of his wife’s unfaithfulness…
The thought made him smile. She had been sneaking out to meet him two or three nights a week for who knows how long now. Henry was such a selfish pig; he’d never even noticed her absence.
“You look like the proud cat who just caught a mouse.” A deep, steady voice spoke so softly, he wondered if perhaps he had imagined it.
Lancelot’s drew his sword and spun wildly trying to figure out where the voice was coming from. Though his stance remained strong and vigilant, his heartbeat raced. Behind him revealed only the footprints, ahead was virgin snow. He was alone.
A few yards down smoke began to pour out from a window of one of the homes. Lancelot ran towards it, his heart racing. A woman’s scream pierced through the smoky night air.
“Please, somebody help us!” She wailed.
Lancelot threw the door open and was forced back by the smoke and heat of the flames. The lone narrow window on the first floor was already devoured by the flames. There was no time to think, no time to breathe… The only way in was through the front door.
He backed up a few steps, pulled his sleeves down to cover his skin, and ran into the house. It was an inferno inside. Smoke choked him and his skin pulled and tightened from the heat. If he didn’t find them in the next few minutes, they would all die.
The screaming was coming from deep within the house. Lancelot made his way through the long hallway as fast as he could, calling out for the people to meet him halfway if they were able. Could anyone even hear him over the roar of the flames?
The soles of his shoes were fusing with the skin on his feet. His skin was blistering, and his feet were covered in boiling blood as he trudged further into hell. At this point, any sane man would have turned around and considered the cause lost… but something compelled him. He was incapable of turning back now.
The ceiling rumbled above his head. It wouldn’t be long now before the wood surrendered to its master. Before Lancelot could turn back a large beam fell from above, knocking him aside and pinning his leg to the ground with a sickening snap.
He was going to die in this hallway.
“Now you shall pay for the lives you’ve taken from this earth. How does it feel, Lancelot? How does it feel to die alone as you’re forced to feel life leave each of your organs one by one? Justice is always served in the end, isn’t it?” A cloaked man walked forward through the flames. His fingers were long and twisted, and completely untouched by the flames. The cloak glittered in the flames as it billowed out behind the demon-man.
Lancelot choked on the smoke. His lungs were working hard to suck oxygen in, but there was just not enough left in the room to satiate his thirst. He tried to speak, but only retching coughs came out.
“You don’t need to speak with your mouth. I can see into your mind and into your soul. It is, shall we say, a specialty of mine.” The demon laughed. “You’re wondering if I’m the angel of death. I can assure you, I’m certainly no angel and I wouldn’t touch your soul for all the gems under the crown. I’m simply here to collect my revenge.”
The flames twisted and contorted until they resembled people. Lancelot stared in horror as the faces that haunted him in his dreams became flesh and blood once more.
“From the flames of hate and the fires of cruelty, those you once issued great injustice against are here now, to stare into the eyes of you as you die. No act against man shall go unnoticed by those spinning the threads of humanity, Lancelot, surely you know that.”
He didn’t have to look at the beast to know it was feeding off of his pain. It’s long, gnarled finger ran up the length of his thigh, over the protruding bump where the bone had severed, and back down again.
“Pl- please.” He forced out through clenched teeth.
The fire shadows descended on him, forcing him back. Through the dark, twisted faces one emerged more defined than the rest. It was a face he knew well through the distortion. The memory of life leaving her body, leaving those eyes forever had tormented him every day for the last two months.
The woman glided forward, parting the sea of faces, and stood next to the demon. Her eyes were still full of that mysterious sadness he remembered all too well, even in the after-life. A beautiful, dark angel of misery, she was.
“Anna…” he whispered.
The demon roared with rage as the flames erupted violently around them. “You will refrain from addressing her!” He bellowed.
Lancelot screamed out in agony. How was it possible the flames could consume him so completely yet not allow him the reprieve of escaping this life?
He was in Hell.
Falling slowly into the hopelessness that had become his undying existence, Lancelot prayed for death. Somehow, he had become trapped between the worlds of mortal and immortal. Purgatory.
“This is the end for those who are indifferent to human life. You have no conscience, Lancelot. To defend those in danger is one thing, but to slaughter a human because of shameful prejudice destroys the soul.” Anna kneeled. Their eyes were level as she spoke to him. “You still have hope. Here you are neither in Hell nor Heaven, Lancelot. You still have a choice.”
He coughed. “Choice? You think anyone would chose pain and suffering? You must be mad.”
“You remember me, I can see it in your soul. Before you thrust your sword into my chest, I could see that you wished you didn’t have to do so. You killed me because of the label my life had taken on- because I was called a Druid. Those you serve never once asked if I’d committed a crime against humanity or if I was a sinner by nature.”
The druid girl took his hand and ran her fingers over his palm. “Your hands have seen so much innocent blood, but it is all in the past. We all have the choice to learn from the darkness or dive deeper into it.” She dropped his hand and stood.
Lancelot looked at his blistered hands, the charred remains of his clothing. In the inferno, he had been reduced to no more than a simple man. Status meant nothing, looks were reduced to ash but the soul… the soul remained. The flames began to twist and swirl once again, but this time instead of looming over him, they shrank into a singleflame that surrounded his body.
Instead of destruction, this flame brought healing and strength. Once again, his soul was filled with life and purpose.
“Sir… sir… You must wake up, you’re blocking the way.”
Lancelot’s head felt heavy and his body felt as if it had been trampled by a horse. He moaned and rolled over. The bright sunlight blinded him for a few moments, causing him to curse and rub his face.
“Blasted drunks.” The old man muttered and walked over him.
It took Lancelot a moment to work out how he had ended up in the middle of the street covered in dirt. The night before flooded his memory… and he knew what he had to do. He had been given a second chance and by God he would make every second count. There were rumors of a new cabinet of men being gathered in Camelot. Lancelot had always been attracted to the city, perhaps that was his destiny… Perhaps, that is where he would find his place- among the knights.