© Carole Cummings
Cold. He hadn’t expected it to be so cold.
The wind was still but the air rimy, heavy in his chest, on his shoulders. The sun hid behind a stratum of silver-gray, its light like old metal and just as cold against his skin. He could almost taste it on his tongue—bitter and sour, with a hard tang that settled behind his teeth and slithered down his backbone.
Or maybe that was just fear.
Merrick wanted to shiver, but didn’t want to have to hear the discordant chitter of black iron that would remind him he was no initiate here, no volunteer walking willingly into the jaws of Fate. He’d fought the chains like a feral beast.
Even his kin had cast their tiles against him when his name had been called from the deeping stygian hollows of the mountain. Better to lose a useless third son, his father had told him coldly, than to suffer the wrath of Crepuscule.
That last had been hushed. Even Merrick’s bold, swart father was afraid to say the name too loudly.
A subtle rumble settled beneath Merrick’s bare feet, wending up to his gut before he realized it came from around him. No, beneath him. Not inside him. Not of him, not panicked imagination, and not too-real nightmare.
Writhing, almost. A worming crawl. Small rocks and debris slid loose and grazed the tor with tiny little clacks and rattles. The sound of approaching terror, slouch-slithering towards him on its belly, bringing with it every fear and dread-filled conjecture that had flittered through Merrick’s mind since they’d clapped the irons around his wrists and dragged him up the mountain’s flank.
And then, when he was all used up, broken or perhaps even dead—Please, let me die first—then, perhaps…
Merrick couldn’t even think the words, let alone force them from his spitless mouth:
Please, don’t let it eat me.
Snacking on his limbs, crunching on his bones… Could there be a worse fate? Yes, his mind supplied, tooth-jarring panic in his own tremulous voice, you could still be alive when it takes the first bite.
And that only after thousands of other horrors for which Merrick had no name, no capacity to fathom.
He couldn’t help the shudder this time, and the disharmony of the chains was like biting metal. His skin prickled cold, a knot of profound fear settling too tight in his belly.
His back was straight and his shoulders jutted at a proud angle as he watched the long, talon-like fingers crest the crag at his feet, but he could not straighten his neck from its shameful bend. He watched out the corner of his eye; to look away was both desperate want and anathema.
Black and dark—ill-matched words for the complete void of light that drooped its way towards him. Pitch, perhaps. Sunless. Lightless. Merrick had not the words to put a name to it. Only ‘Crepuscule’, and now he supposed he knew why the monstrosity had been named so.
The lamps of its eye blinked bilious-yellow, dragging over Merrick’s skin like a crawling march of vile insects, lingering for so long that Merrick could swear the stare had a physical weight.
Merrick’s mind caromed out into shocked imaginings, already feeling the touch, his body reacting in ways that made him judder, fingers flexing and wrists twisting inside their bits of iron. Traitorous, incongruous… oh God—was this arousal?
Was he a monster, too?
Its maw was nearly shapeless, smaller than Merrick had thought, but he didn’t doubt it could stretch, widen, gape to accommodate its chosen meals, and the flashing hint of wicked teeth only ramped up his dread. It smacked its awful lips, pulled them into a horrible twist of a smile, and then…
Did it just… chuckle?
Merrick blinked, cut his glance more firmly sideways, but its smile curled into a stomach-turning grin, so he shut his eyes tight.
“Um,” it said, voice jagged against Merrick’s skin, shattering over him like broken glass. “Mikey? I’m sorry, I forgot my line.”
Merrick’s eyes clamped tighter, hands fisting. Goddamnit.
“My name isn’t Mikey.”
“Right, Merrick, sorry.” A pause, a shift, then: “And what’s mine again?”
Bloody goddamn rotten stupid—
Unbelievable. A hundred bucks on eBay right down the drain.
Merr— Oh, what was the point?
Michael’s shoulders slumped, and he opened his eyes. No great, dark beast, but a wide, muscular frame that pulled a slant of shadows from the dim light and bent it to every curve and contour; no awful yellow eyes that pored over him with lust and intent, but hazel-blue, blinking at him with sincere chagrin. At least it looked sincere.
Michael sighed. “Crepuscule.”
“Crepuscule, yeah.” A nod. “Did you tell me what that means?”
“It means ‘twilight’, Jake.” Michael wormed his hands out of the cuffs with something he suspected was a pout. It should be a pout. He deserved to pout, damn it. He’d worked so hard to set the mood. “Crepuscule Monstrum. As in ‘twilight monster’.”
Jake blinked up at him from his crouch on the floor. “Isn’t that Latin?”
“Well…” Jake shrugged. “The painting’s German.”
Michael could’ve clocked him. “The painting’s freaky,” he snapped, really irritated now, and so not in the mood anymore. He threw the cuffs at Jake, hard enough to hurt, but Jake just ducked out of their trajectory. Fucker. “You’re the one who wanted to role-play,” Michael barked as he snapped up a robe and stomped to the bedroom door, “If you’re not going to take it seriously, I’m not buying you another print—of anything, ever again.”
“Save it,” Michael growled as he headed down the hall and to the livingroom and the TV, now that his planned entertainment had fallen through. Thank God for John Stewart. “A hundred bucks on eBay,” he muttered and clicked the remote. “Happy fucking birthday, Jake. Dumbass.”~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Wow, was THAT a roller coaster ride! Thank you, Carole!
Carole Cummings is the author of the wonderful Aisling trilogy -- Part One, Guardian, got a 5 Marble review here and 5 Stars from the Jessewave reviewers and thoughtful readers.
Part 2: Dream will be along from Prizm Press in the next few weeks, and I can hardly wait!
Buy here, in print or ebook, or at Amazon.