Stranger Times

Writing Prompt: You make soup for dinner, but its too hot to eat, so you go downstairs to use the bathroom. When you get back upstairs, your soup is cold. Looking around the room, you notice it looks like you’ve been gone for days.

Lanslow settled himself at the table before a bowl of soup, and with spoon in hand took a sip.

“It’s stone cold?” he spat, spraying the table with a fine, rust coloured residue. But worse than the taste was the stench that the soup now carried, a reeking of age as if the thing had been left out for days and not merely minutes.

How? 

How he could have missed this should have been the first question he asked. His cottage… no, this isn’t my cottage. The damp on the woodwork, the rot in the timbers, the slime dripping down the walls. Webs cascaded the ceiling, each one festering with flies struggling against their eight-legged pursuers.

The fire he’d left burning had long ago simmered down and out, baring barely even blackened ash. A fine dust instead whirled round the chimney breast, whipped up by the scattering winds.

And the windows? The frames were crooked, the glass shattered, the dead of the night seeping in through the cracks. The carpets were stained, the floor boards collapsing… what creature could do such a thing?

Time.

Lanslow had his suspicions. Lately there had been talk in the village of a traveller, a man who was capable of great miracles by the mere flutter of his hands. He’d been described as both ancient as the Earth and yet young as a pup, decrepit and yet handsome, wrinkled and yet firm, sagging and yet bulging. 

Impossible. Of course it was impossible. You simply can’t be young and old, you’re one or the other, never both! And what of Lanslow’s soup? Of his home? The work of foul magic, it certainly smells the sort. An illusion. 

“That’s enough now.” Lan called out against the winds, “Switch it off.”

He heard a low grumble, from underfoot, and when he strained to look he saw a face growing out of the wood work. First came a twisted nose, then eyes of emerald green and finally splintered lips that barked as they parted to speak, “What’s the meaning of this, why am I here?” the floor groaned, “Step off of me creature.” it growled, biting at Lan’s feet.

“Why are you here? How in the Hell am I supposed to know? This was… this is my home!”

The floor gave a grunt, “Servants of our Mother shouldn’t be grown from out of homes, they should be grown from out of Great Oaks in the Gardens of the Lost.”

“What by all the Gods are you on about?” Lan’s stomach sunk, the sudden realisation he was talking to his floor had hit him hard. His home? Where? As he looked around he saw the walls were fading, the floor rising up, the furniture that was (table, chairs, drawers and dresser) melting down, all to form… a body?

The floor’s head grew a neck and from below that sprouted a mound like a hill. The oddities of Lan’s house – books, candles, the poker from the fireplace, a pot, some pans, five forks and eight spoons – jutted out from various crags on the earthly skin of the creature. Lan struggled to keep to his feet as he was sent rolling back out of his house, thrown to bare ground before the dim-lit stars. Above him the floor had risen to full being, a single arm and three legs (and I’ll be damned if they ever get it right), lively now but still rotting from within. Field mice scattered from the floor’s inner chest, and several roaches settled above its curtain of a brow.

“Burghl, Son of Mother Nature, at your service.” the house that made a… what ever this is… gave a bow, stretching out a lone arm and bending at its three door shaped knees. “Why have you summoned me?”

“My home…” Lan stuttered, his eyes set wide against the midnight glare. This monstrosity with emerald eyes looked puzzled… but friendly, it is friendly, isn’t it?

“I am not unfriendly.” Burghl replied.

Lan jumped back, startled, “You can hear my thoughts?”

“I am your thoughts.” Burghl laughed, “I see you did not mean to summon me. Should I return then?” the household started to shake, its walls folding inward.

“No! Wait.” then Lan suddenly thought; for what?

“You read my mind.” Burghl gave a short grunt, “For what? For what reason am I here?” but to Burghl that soon became clear. Perhaps this wasn’t quite a garden, and it surely wasn’t lost, but these hills, the rolling lands coated by the night, how had he missed it? 

A servant betrayed by his master. Burghl sighed. It was in the way the young fretted with old, lively colours merging with the grey, the mountains still new-born roots and yet bearing peaks that seared the tops of clouds. “He wants to speak with you.” Burhgl grimaced, baring a mouth full of nails.

“Who does?”

Burghl searched the reaches of his memory, of their memory… “The one you called traveller.”

“I really don’t feel so good…” Lan’s feet gave, he stumbled to the ground and let his body lie there.

“Are you getting up?”

No, and I wish you’d go away.

“You had your chance to send me back. Stubborn youngling.” Burghl swept his hand across the ground, burnt brick cruising over fresh grown grass, and gathered Lan up, closing a cage of pointed fingers all around him.

“I’m forty eight, I’ll have you know.” not that it matters.

“You are right, it doesn’t.” Burghl lifted one carpeted foot after the other, taking great strides over the lands to where a shallow ditch had formed at the base of the mountains.

The Reink Mountains don’t look too good.

“They are caught, youngling, between time. See the roots, how they wrap around the mountain’s body? If left they will fall, the roots will strangle their future-selves for no other reason than one cannot survive in the wake of the other… it will be devastating, the fall out that is.”

Fall out?

Burghl nodded slowly as they rushed over miles of land with barely an effort of moving, “It will shatter what walls hold this place together. Logic nor Time nor Science can hope to bare their weight. What was will crush what is, and what is will soon devour what will be. Past, present, future, each will fall upon the other. Tragic, really.” Burghl bowed his heavy head, “But he doesn’t want that, he wants you.” The skies flew by in a frenzy, forests a blur on the grounds below, “I would offer this advice, please be polite.”

Lan shook his head defiantly, bursting into a fit of hysterical laughter. This isn’t real. Homes don’t form giants, giants don’t read minds AND mountains certainly don’t strangle themselves.

“It seems then that we’re doomed to ignorance.” Burghl sighed, “Look around you, deny me if you can.”

This isn’t real. Lan repeated, curling himself into a ball, closing his eyes to rid them of these nightmarish visions. But even in that place behind his eyelids he could feel it all, swooping past below him.

“I’m afraid it’s all very real…” Burghl set his emerald eyes on the closing horizons an echo of Mockingbirds fluttered freely past. Poetic, the echo of time and the mocking of Lan. “We’re here.” Burghl coughed, and began to lower his hand, placing Lan again upon the ground.

Lan kept his eyes closed, praying he might wake at any given moment. Then he startled as the sound of clapping rang loud before his face.

“It’s bad manors, you know,” a voice began, holding all the wisdom of age in a prepubescent titter, “to keep a man waiting.”

Copyright © K R Perry 2019

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