Monstrous Tales - Volume 4 by Dorothy Davies

EXTRACT FOR
Monstrous Tales - Volume 4

(Dorothy Davies)


Drink My Soul … Please (Rie Sheridan Rose)

 

—what dreams may come must give us pause....

Hamlet, William Shakespeare

 

The machine sat on the scarred oak counter…a tiny monitor with battered keyboard. It looked so innocent, its cursor blinking steadily, a little green pulse tallying electronic heartbeats. A single word of text glowed on the screen invitingly. “Engage...?”

Daniscar Zenov jerked upright with a gasp, staring around him in the darkness.

Just another dream.... He buried his face in his hands. Dear God…no more dreams. Please…no more dreams.

 

***

 

Elianora Vaire could only just remember a time before the War. She had been ten when it started. When it began, they predicted it would be over in days—ending with the long-feared destruction of the world. Instead, it took eighteen years.

The problem of radiation poisoning had been licked with the invention of the Doomsday Bombs. Cities might fall, but the air would be safe for the Powers-That-Be when they crawled out from under their rocks, so they didn’t hesitate to use the weapons. Civilizations that had stood for millennia were rubble in weeks.

Of course, there were things that those in power had failed to take into account. Such as the fact that military bases weren’t the only things housed in cities. So were factories and refineries, universities and banks....

By the end of the second year, the armies were fighting on horseback and on foot. By the end of the third year, the major fighting was down to desultory strikes by bands of roving commandos. The ordinary citizenry who managed by luck or curse to survive the initial destruction of their world began to pick up the broken threads of tattered lives.

Elianora and her father, Tikardo, were near nobility in the tenuous power structure of the New World economy. Tikardo had two horses to draw the sawed-off truck bed that served as his traveling showroom. He was a metal dealer who sold most of his wares to farmers struggling to revitalize the countryside. A used car salesman in the Before War world, the gleanings from his devastated lot had seen them through the worst times with relative ease when his neighbors started trying to rebuild. Scrap metal was a precious commodity in a world thrown back to its roots.

Elianora stepped out of the three-room cinder block home that seemed palatial compared to others in the neighborhood. She swept dark hair from her forehead with the back of a well-tanned arm. Her hands were covered with flour. It was a day of celebration. Word of the Cease-Fire had come through with the morning’s news-crier and she had decided to bake a cake. Not a true light and frothy confection like she vaguely remembered from childhood, but a treat for her father, nonetheless.

He was late. She expected him long before this. The day had been scorching hot. There might be no radiation, but dust clouds rising into the atmosphere from myriad bombings had never fully settled, making semi-tropics of formerly temperate areas. The cinder block dwellings stayed fairly cool, but having a cook fire inside would turn one into a kiln.

She set the pan containing her cake batter in the center of the outdoor convection oven and blew on red-hot coals. With a satisfied smile, she dusted her hands on her white linen shift and stood up, scanning the horizon once more.

On the edge of sight, she glimpsed a horse-drawn cart... but it was single harness, not her father’s double rig. A salesman’s signature toga fluttered in the light breeze beginning to stir as he waved to the girl by the cook fire. Her tall figure was well known to the whole village.

Elianora waved back and turned to step into the house. A piercing whistle stopped her in her tracks, and she spun to see Tikardo’s cart approaching from the south. She ran to meet him. Her mother had died when she was five—long before the War started—and Tikardo was the only constant she remembered.

“Papa, is it true?”

He didn’t need to ask for elaboration. “Yes, Angel, it’s true. The War is over.” He leapt lightly from the cart and enfolded her in a bear hug. “The War is finally over.”

Tikardo was a big man, darkly handsome. When the War had begun, he was the same age that Elianora was now, and it had taken numerous favors and all of his pre-War savings to be mustered out as a single parent. Many friends and relatives were not so lucky—a pain that gnawed at him daily—but one look at Elianora’s shining face proved the cost worthwhile.

Thankfully, she remembered nothing of those first terror-filled War years... and he had paid dearly again to make it so.

“I have a surprise for you, Lia.”

“What is it, Papa?” She glanced eagerly toward the rear of the cart.

“You’ll get it tomorrow,” he laughed.

“What is it?” she repeated, an edge of impatience rising in her voice—she was unused to delayed gratification.

“Dani’s coming home.”

 

***

 

In a temporary camp halfway across the village, War-weary soldiers enjoyed the first safe sleep many of them could remember. There was nothing left worth fighting for by the end of the fifth year... but duty dies hard, and no one ever said “stop.” So the raids had gone on... and on... and on. Until the Powers-That-Be finally remembered the word “cease-fire.”

There was a wistful quality to the air as the sun managed to break through the dust clouds just in time to set. The low arcing beams gave the utilitarian buildings fleeting warmth they aesthetically lacked.

Daniscar Zenov closed his eyes and breathed in the spring sunset.

Maybe tonight I’ll sleep.

Lately he’d been too tired to sleep... and too afraid. With sleep came dreams and dreams were definitely something to be feared.

Dani could remember the time before the War much more clearly than former neighbor Elianora. He had been seventeen when the War began and keen to fight. It had seemed like the ultimate adventure to a headstrong teenager.

For more than half his life he had been a soldier. The adventure had worn off with his first scavenging mission into a newly bombed city. The death and destruction had left him violently ill—to the raucous amusement of his older comrades—and he had vowed then and there to survive the War at any cost.

It hasn’t always been easy either, he reflected, absently massaging the right arm he had nearly lost three years ago.

But the scars he bore on his body could never touch those on his soul... Dani sighed, with a wry half-smile. Such thoughts did no one good. His left hand strayed to the chain around his neck and the battered locket that hung from it.

The talisman had kept him going through more than one rough spot. Without opening it, he could see the images inside. In one half of the locket rested a family portrait of a happy couple and a grinning blond teenager—how very long ago that photo session seemed—images from another life.

In the other was a picture hastily cut and wedged into the opening. It showed a dark-haired solemn-eyed little girl, trying so hard to look older than her ten years... He ran his good hand through lank blond hair that lay like bleached straw across his leathery forehead. A jagged scar ran from left cheek to temple. His gray-green eyes no longer laughed.

Will she even know me…?

He stepped to the doorway of the cinder block hut he was assigned to with the rest of his squad. With a sigh, Dani pushed aside the tinkling curtain of scrap metal serving as door, stooping to go inside.

Tomorrow I will find out...

 

***

 

Elianora pulled back in her father’s arms. “W-what?”

“Dani’s coming home. I saw him this afternoon. We’re the closest thing to family he has left, so I invited him to lunch. He’ll be here tomorrow about noon.”

She walked to the cook pit in a daze, automatically checking the progress of her cake.    “Lia...?”

“Dani’s coming home...” she whispered, one hand straying to neatly braided hair. “Excuse me, Papa.” She pulled the cake out of the oven, setting it on the edge of the pit to cool and continuing into the house.

She drifted into the small alcove Tiko had partitioned off for her. She went to the far corner and knelt before a rickety shelf upon which sat a small carved wooden box—one of the few mementos of her mother she still possessed.

She carefully unlocked the casket with a tiny key she wore around her neck. Inside the box was what she possessed of Daniscar. She made herself comfortable on the floor and spread out her treasures one by one. There was a larger copy of the family photo in his locket, heavily creased from years when she had slept with it clutched tightly in her hand. A second photo showed a younger Dani tossing six-year-old Lia into the air as she squealed with laughter. A crumpled piece of paper wadded up in anger many years ago, then lovingly smoothed out declared LIA LOVES DANI FOREVER in careful block print. And there was the letter.

Tikardo had read it to her gently the first time because she wasn’t able to decipher the scrawled cursive yet... and he held her close as she cried herself to sleep, only able to grasp that her beloved Dani was leaving her, and not the reason why. Not that she fully understood even now why the seventeen-year-old had lied his way into the army.

Later that night, she had quietly walked out of the house and run barefoot in her nightgown to tap urgently on his window.

Tearfully, she had forced her photograph on him, promising to wait forever... and now he was coming home. At last. She had never forgotten—or betrayed—her promise, but long ago despaired of keeping it when no word came.

Her vague memories were now older than Dani was when he left.

Does he even remember me after all the horrors he must have suffered?

Tomorrow she would find out...