If there is one thing Steve has learned from being a fan of the music of the Smashing Pumpkins, it’s that a person should not limit themselves to one genre. This story is quite different from his previous post (which can be read here).
Steve is the writer/creator of the webcomic REDemption.
I can write surreal things here, way out where the Pillar Forest hides its darkest shadows. Among these trees you will find streams and ponds that turn to stone, and yet this place is not devoid of plant life. There are all sorts of flowers pushing up from the concrete, born where the earth shifted and the ground cracked.
At night the leafless branches over my head resemble skeletal fingers reaching down to grab me. I wonder where they would take me if they were to pluck me from my comfort. Then again, who’s to say they would take me anywhere? Maybe these wooden digits would simply decide to crush me. No one could accurately answer this question, not even the leader of our people, whom we address as “Holy One.”
Do not mistake him as a god; “Holy One” is merely a nickname he was given long before I was born. There are many rumors about who Holy One actually is. One time I heard that he was banished from his birthplace, and that’s what led him to find our settlement. (I’ve always wondered: if that were true then who exiled him, and for what?)
If I’m not hiding out in the Pillar Forest, then you can most likely find me paying a visit to the Crimson Circle. It is a majestic place. A long time ago, some unknown person carved a circle into the dirt and lined its perimeter with stones. (Rumor has it that my father helped position them, which means he knows who drew the circle, but he won’t confirm or deny this.) Then the creators removed two branches from the Golden Tree, which is just what it sounds like: a tree made of gold (the only one of its kind around here.) They lit the branches on fire and threw them into the circle.
As the smoke began to rise, the creators entered the ring and sat down. When they looked around, they saw pools of blood forming beneath each rock (hence the circle’s name). People who have looked into these puddles claim that not only can they see events from the past, but they can also physically relive them. Rumor has it that one creator touched the blood, and he found his body whisked away to whatever bygone era he saw in the red fluid. Once the past episode he had been viewing reached its conclusion, he was returned to the present.
A reader might wonder how this tale is known, and I’m happy to say the answer is quite simple: the creators of the Crimson Circle recorded their adventures (but not their names) in a series of books called The Visions of the Circle. It was a smart move on their part to compose these texts anonymously because otherwise people would have badgered them constantly about what made the whole thing tick, but they had no idea how the magic of the Circle worked. After all, it had been conceived as merely an experiment, inspired by a long session of smoking topeta leaves. (Topeta is an ancient fungus that grows leaf-like structures. If it is smoked, anyone who inhales the scent experiences great euphoria. An excessive amount is said to give someone advanced knowledge for a short period of time. For example, I personally know someone who could speak forty different languages after a long smoking session. His knowledge of these foreign tongues faded as the days passed.)
My friends and I avoid topeta leaves because no one knows what lasting effect they will have on the body (or mind). Instead we are drawn to something called the angor tree. This plant has mouth-shaped holes on its trunk. When you rub the tree’s bark (which feels like skin), a clear fluid pours out of these openings. Some people think this liquid is sour, but my tongue tastes only the sweetness of life itself when I consume it.
Sadly, there are very few angor trees in existence. Not only that but, if you look close enough at the few that remain, you will see decay moving across the bark, taking the form of ugly purple blotches that resemble bruises.
However, there is another place where we can obtain a similar fluid. Holy One has a four-legged pet named Sorren. Whenever we pet this creature, a strange orange sap appears on its skin. One of my friends collected some of this substance on his hand and then, to our disgust, licked it off. I was shocked to see a smile spread across his face. He said the sap reminded him of the angor tree secretions, so we all took turns petting Sorren and consuming this new treat. We discovered our friend’s description of the flavor was accurate.
This is a good place to live. We are able to accept each other’s love without any kind of complications or hang-ups. In fact, I have only one negative thing to say about my home: the annual sacrifice we have to make to the Clay Demons.
No one knows what these monsters are or where they came from. Records show their first visit to our village occurred over two centuries ago. They arrived during harvest season (which is when they always come, although never on the same exact day) and ordered the people to bring all females between the ages of thirteen and nineteen out to Dyer’s Field. The Demons said they would look over these young ladies and pick out three virgins to be slaughtered. If any of the selected women turned out to be defiled, then the monstrous beings said they would kill everyone.
I’m not quite sure how the three virgins are picked or why the Elders have to bring ALL the girls from the village, but I know enough to not bother asking because that’s knowledge the Elders would never share with me. Maybe this was so the Demons could pick which three will be taken the next year, but that is only my guess.
Not knowing who or what these creatures were, the Elders told the Demons they had no right to make such demands. Within hours, the vicious beasts had killed more than half the villagers and burned several buildings to the ground. From that point on, sacrifices were made without question.
I try not to dwell on this yearly event, although I cannot help but feel it shuffling around the back of my mind whenever I think of this beautiful young maiden that has caught my eye lately. Her name is Serrador. She has high, angular cheeks. Piercing dark eyes. Midnight hair. Blemish-free skin. With the briefest flash of the tiniest grin, she captivated me.
One day I happened to be walking past Serrador’s house while she was on the front porch. I dropped to my knees and took three multi-colored marbles out of my pocket. Then I put them on the ground to form the points of a triangle, and they started to glow. The space inside this geometric shape became illuminated as well. Serrador came down the stairs to observe my activities closer.
“Is this for me?” she asked.
I answered with a smile and a nod. When she responded with a grin of her own, I knew I had won her heart.
We walked hand in hand down to the Field of Beds, a place where lovers often go. When two people lay down to share themselves with each other, the ground softens and feels like a mattress. As we coupled, our bodies released an intense golden glow, the ultimate hue of affection. Tiny creatures (known as halo-bytes) came to form a canopy over us. We made love all day beneath their protection. Once we were done, this halo changed from light to liquid, which the ground drank up greedily, becoming solid once again beneath us. Then we fell asleep in each other’s arms.
When I awoke, Serrador was gone; she hadn’t left a single trace behind. While her disappearance seemed odd to me, it didn’t disturb me until I got back to town and saw everyone running around as if they’d lost their minds. Then I realized why they were so frantic: it was the time of year when the Clay Demons demanded their annual sacrifice. Still, their arrival hadn’t caused this much panic in years. What was going on now?
I went home, hoping my parents would have an answer for me. Upon entering, I found my parents frantically packing up our belongings. When my father saw me, he grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me so hard I thought the whipping motion would snap my neck.
“Where have you been?” he roared. “Off playing stupid games?”
“Father, please! What is going on?” I cried.
He stopped shaking me and explained what had happened.
Several hours ago, the Elders had taken all the women of the appropriate age out to Dyer’s Field for the sacrifice. The Demons grew angry when they realized there was a female missing. They knew she was gone because there are a handful of villagers who were hired by the Demons as census takers. It is their duty to report a female head count to the monsters one week before the ceremony.
Why would anyone willingly take up such a task for the monsters who slay the daughters of their friends and neighbors? Here we have yet another easy answer: in return for their efforts, the Demons promise to leave the daughters of the census takers untouched. Needless to say, these selfish folk are treated as outcasts. They don’t even reside within the perimeter of the village proper; they are housed about a mile away from the rest of us.
Unwilling to start the ceremony until all females were accounted for, the Demons told the Elders to organize a search party and track her down. It took some time, but eventually she was located and brought out to the Field. Unfortunately, her arrival only served to increase their anger when, upon inspecting her, the Demons discovered the girl was not a virgin.
I wondered why the demons would be so mad if only one girl turned out to be sexually active. Then it struck me: they wanted every girl on that field to be a virgin because they never picked out which three they were going to take until the moment they arrived in the field. In order for the Demons to have the widest selection possible, every girl had to be pure.
There was no room for discussion, explanations, or excuses. The demons made quick work of killing the defiled girl, all the other women, and the Elders.
Every year there is a lookout positioned in a tower at the edge of our village, assigned to keep an eye on the ceremony. He saw the initial attack and reported that the Demons were headed toward our settlement. Judging by their rate of movement, they would be here in a day.
I stood there in stunned silence. The Clay Demons would kill anyone that got in their path. We had to evacuate the only home we’d ever known, but where could we possibly go?
“What does Holy One say about all this?” I asked.
“He’s going to take us to the surface world that he once knew,” mother said. “The Clay Demons wouldn’t dare follow us up.”
“Isn’t there anything we could do to stop them from destroying the village?” I said.
“Yes. Holy One said something similar to this happened ages ago. The only way to stop their rampage is if the male who took the girl’s virginity offers his life to save the rest of the village,” Father said.
Swallowing hard, I asked, “What was the name of the defiled girl?”
Mother said one word: “Serrador.”
I shut my eyes, as if that would convert my reality into nothing more than a horrible dream. Guilt weighed on me so heavily that I felt like I was sinking into the ground, but I couldn’t tell because I had gone numb. My soul dissolved, and my body felt like a deserted castle: I was full of large, wondrous rooms that possessed treasures of unequaled beauty, but they had all gone to waste.
My parents ordered me to go to my room and pack, but instead I sat there staring at the wall. I knew what had to be done in order to make my villagers wake up from this collective nightmare, but it took me a while to work up the courage for it.
When my parents weren’t paying attention, I snuck out of the house. Mine was a lonely walk to the east, and there were so many thoughts running through my brain that I could barely acknowledge all of them: My sweet Serrador, dead. The Elders, butchered for a deception that wasn’t even theirs. Holy One, ready to show everyone the secret passage to the over-world that he’d sealed off ages ago and vowed to never open. It was all my fault.
I started to doubt my mission, wondering if the Demons would truly spare my village in exchange for my life. Then again, they had honored their pact with the census takers for all these years. Didn’t it stand to reason that they’d respect this one as well? One could only hope.
I passed the homes of the census takers and kept on walking, not quite sure where I should stop to wait for the Demons. Eventually I settled on a nondescript spot about two miles outside the village.
The Clay Demons had gotten considerably closer. I sat very still and silent, waiting for my enemies to come so I could explain who I was, a revelation which (I hoped) would save my family and friends from having to leave this wonderful life under light.
Aside from writing short stories, Steve also has a poetry collection and book for martial arts enthusiasts on Amazon. Click on the link below to go to his author page. The other link is to the previous story he published here on Writer to Writers. Thanks for reading!
Author: Redemption Comics
Steve Grogan was born in the often-filmed city of Troy, NY. He has written in a variety of formats (novels, short stories, poems, screen and stage plays, blogs/articles) and genres (horror, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, drama).
Steve is also a father, a boyfriend, a musician, a fitness fanatic, and a martial artist. He has been studying Wing Chun Kung Fu since 1995, and he maintains a blog/YouTube channel that describe his training habits, epiphanies, and advancement. It also candidly discusses his stumbling blocks, such as his struggle with nutrition and mental health issues.
He is no relation to the New England Patriots quarterback from the 1980’s.