Ebon Keep

Samuel had never known rats to be so emboldened in the daylight. They were always out at night, no matter what medieval city you wandered through. The sunlight simmering on cobblestones usually kept them at bay though, but not here, not in this small city. Since he’d wandered into the town he’d counted 22 rats dashing in front of him between empty buildings, piles of hay, and horseless carts, which marked the marketplace entrance of Ebon Keep. Samuel was tall, lanky, with dark skin and green eyes. He sold candles, which his family made at their farm by the river just south of the city. A donkey named Marmalade pulled the cart with him, which squeaked like the floorboard of a haunted mansion.

Samuel had not noticed a single person since entering Ebon Keep. The gate, a wooden wall with iron designs on top of it was dangling open like pair of broken of wings. The air was quiet, dusty, and slightly reeking of unchecked charcoal. Torches had been burning too long and sizzled away somewhere amongst the rock and straw huts.

Ebon Keep wasn’t a rich town. If you looked at it straight on from one of the grey walls surrounding it, the city was basically a bunch of caged huts with a few churches and pubs springing up among the rooftops. The important buildings were market with red roofs of stone, which was the favorite color of Ebon Keep’s queen, Rose. At the end of town was the castle, which was a square block with more red banners. Ebon Keep wasn’t a rich place, but it was the only walled city for miles, and it was busy with trade and travelling merchants like Samuel.

This made the eerie aura of abandoned houses even more taxing. His eyes were following his brain, but there wasn’t much of a connection. It was a spring day with little wind. It would be perfect for a seller in the marketplace.

“Hello?” Samuel yelled slightly. His own voice surprised him for a second.

Shadows in the afternoon answered back with bits of silence.

“Hello? Again. Hello?” He said.

Something screeched nearby, his donkey shuffled back and forth like it didn’t want its hoofs on the ground. Marmalade pulled back on the rope around his head and headed for the gate, pulling Samuel in tow.

“Okay, okay, you go stay outside, I’ll just stay here and look around a little bit more,” he said. The donkey turned back at him, and for a second Samuel felt like Marmalade was judging him.

After watching the animal leave, Samuel continued walking up and down the brick hills of Ebon Keep. Windows sat ajar and lifeless. A blacksmith anvil sat outside a smoking forge like a lonely mountain. Bird baths and feeders dangled empty and evaporated.

After about an hour of walking, Samuel was nearly to the castle. Up ahead, a crow swung down from the sky and landed on the drawbridge. From a distance, it looked like the grey drawbridge suddenly came to life and sucked the crow into its surface. It was like when you spread paint over a canvass and you layer over the empty spot. The crow didn’t make a sound. Then, the liquid grayness of the bridge suddenly scattered like mercury, revealing a wooden point of entry.

“What, what was that?” Samuel said. He was at the gate to cross the moat now. The courtyard of the castle was empty. There were suits of armor, red pillars etched into the rock, and long streaks of crimson carpet plastered onto the floor. At the end of the courtyard was a large wooden stage that lifted off the ground by a few feet. In the center of the platform, leading into the stone wall of the castle, was a giant glass cylinder, which jutted out like a scab. It reminded Samuel of those glass cases you put around flowers to protect them at night. The glass was littered with shallow and tiny scratches, to the point that it looked permanently fogged.

“Uh, hello?” Samuel said. He was wearing a light brown suit of armor, and tan cloak. When you traveled, you wanted a little bit of protection for the road. Samuel found himself patting the chest plate anxiously upon staring at the round, glass wall.

A form suddenly rushed up against the glass and pounded on it. Samuel pulled a dagger from his belt and tripped over his own feet backpedaling.

“Help me, please, help me!” A woman shouted. She waved her hands, motioning to Samuel’s left on the far side of the platform. Samuel shook his head back into reality, and sprinted over to the platform. The glass was less spoiled away from the center. The woman wandered up to the cylinder and pressed her hand against a grey lever. A round flap of glass opened and a jet of sweaty air popped outwards like a pimple.

“Let me out, let me out,” the woman shrieked. It was the queen. She was pale, red-haired, with a scarlet dress on with gold embroidery. Her body was massive, bubbling, and curled over with flaps of fat. Her skin was so pale it was translucent, so every vein was apparent in her hobbled body. Her face was a slab of dehydrated flesh. Her eyes were yellow and bloodshot. She had nearly lost all her hair.

“You need to let me out, you need to. It’s an order,” she shrieked at Samuel.

“What, what happened here? Where is everyone?”  He said.

The woman shook her head, which made her look like a painting beneath the tarnished glass.

“I, I hired a scientist to cure me of this disease that makes my skin and body this way. His name was Kain. He wanted people, humans to do his experiments on, but I wouldn’t allow it. I got him all the rats he wanted. My city is overrun with them below the walking stones and inside the catacombs,” the queen said.

Something screeched wildly in the empty city. They both heard it.

“Kain, he had a thing for the smaller creatures’ people took for granted. Reptiles too. He had an affinity for them. After killing so many rats to try and fix me, he made them crave us as food. Then, he split town. Now, I’m all that’s left,” she said.

Samuel didn’t know where to move. He wanted to run, but the screams of the rats were getting louder. He kept hearing them, and expecting them to appear in some wild, gray wave, but there was nothing.

“Go behind the throne room and up the stairs. Before my knights were eaten, they built this glass room for me. There is a door to get me out from the outside just up the stairs,” the queen said.

Samuel snapped it action. He ran up the curved flight of steps towards the back of the stage. The mortar beneath his feet was strange. It was soft, moving, like he was standing on the crest of a writhing, dusty wave. After about ten steps, Samuel stopped and screamed.

The hallway started to turn into a tunnel with barely any light on either side of it. The corridor was gone behind him. The air smelled of a stale salt, like when you open a woodland cabin that hasn’t been touched in months.

Without warning, the walls started to fall in on him. It was the rats. They’d tightened the hallway to get to the queen’s switch into a vice of fangs and untamed eyes.

Samuel tried to pull his feet free of the gnawing clouds below and above him. He could barely move either direction, but his instincts told him to flee, regardless of the queen’s predicament.

It took Samuel about thirty feet, just enough to get back into the room with the stage and the queen’s glass to realize he no longer had feet to walk with. Next came a tidal wave of fangs eating at his back and hair, which fell apart like wet clay with bits of red dye. Samuel couldn’t focus on a whole lot. He toppled over among the writhing scurry.

After a few moments, he was gone.

The rats fed, and fed, and fed. Nothing was left of the man after a few moments. It was like he’d never existed in the face of a starving, natural force. The queen rested her forehead against the glass. She laughed awkwardly and pounding it with her fist.

“You’ll never get me. You’ll never get me,” she screamed.

The rats heard her, but didn’t care.

I had a spare piece of fiction I wrote for my blog hanging out, so I thought I would publish one. I know I said it was Greenland Diaries and Greenland Diaries and Greenland Diaries occupying my mind, but this story sneaked out. Like this piece of fiction? You can get a collection for a dollar on the Kindle. Click HERE to check out Seven Monsters on Amazon’s Kindle.

One thought on “Ebon Keep

  1. Pingback: Monday Musings 6/5 – Patrick W. Marsh

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