Too Human

Here’s a little short story of sorts (about 2,000 words), basically taken from abandoned parts of my current WIP (which you can find out a bit more about on the link on the right of my blog). I guess you can consider a mini-prequel:

It started as an almost perfect summers day, basking in the
warmth of the sun as a cooling breeze kept it from being overbearing. Little Tien
was chasing the dog with a hose, happier than she had ever been since – well,
the day was almost perfect. There was a seat on the patio that now lay empty
and several romance novels that now went unread. But for Hung there was still
work to do. On his laptop he scrolled lists of numbers, formulas – he would
rather have been playing too, but it had to be done. Tien was his world now and
he had to make sure she would always be provided for.

The dog was barking. It took Hung a moment to register the
shift in the animal’s tone – it had been yelping merrily but had become wild
about something. Hung jumped away from his work. Tien had gone quiet, but he
couldn’t imagine the family pet turning on her – surely he’d have heard a scream
if it had. Running around the side of the house he saw the dog with its chest
low and legs spread as if wanting to pounce, but its eyes fixed high above, baring
his teeth at a point in a nearby tree. Tien’s eyes were fixed there too, but
whereas the dog was agitated she was wistful, holding out her arms like she did
when she wanted an adult to pick her up.

“What is it boy?” Hung asked. He wished someone would invent
something that would have allowed the dog to answer and explain what it was
worried about. As it was it just kept snarling at the tree and Tien answered
for it.

“It’s mommy!” She said excitedly. “She’s coming home!”

Hung felt his heart contract, trying to crush itself as it
couldn’t bear to hear the hopefulness in the girl anymore. She was still too
young to understand. “Honey,” he tried to explain, “mommy’s gone – “

But Tien would have none of it. She stamped her foot and
insisted, “she’s not gone! She’s waiting for us over there in the garden!”

“What garden?”

“The fairy garden!” She said and stomped indoors, annoyed
that he couldn’t see what she was seeing. Hung tried, but all he could see was
a tree with its leaves rustling in the breeze. As he turned to leave he did,
for an instant, think he heard it whisper his name:

L E H U N G

But that and the chill he put down to just the wind. The dog
soon settled down and by evening he’d convinced himself that it must have just
been a bird that had got it riled. Tien went to sleep, eventually, leaving Hung
alone with the silence. At this time every night it was the gentle clacking of
the keyboard as he worked that was the only thing anchoring him to this world,
keeping his mind from being swallowed whole by the darkness beyond. But this
night came the whispers.

He heard no names this time. It was almost like gargled baby
sounds, mimicking the structure of speech but without having learned any actual
words. He couldn’t determine whether it was near or far as he searched, the old
house creaking as if tortured by his steps despite the care he took not to be
heard. The whispering grew louder, a torrent of voices drowning each other out.
Which it turned out was close to what it was – a tap left running in the
bathroom. Hung cursed and muttered to himself – he really didn’t believe in
ghosts or spirits. He supposed he just hadn’t gotten used yet to these nights
alone.

Hung made sure the tap was turned off tight and headed back
to his laptop. The dog was barking outside and he decided to leave the animal
to do so. It was the sound of some life at least. So long as it was there he
knew the world wasn’t empty.

And then there was silence.

Just before the silence came again deeper and heavier than
ever before, the dog whined and squealed in a way that tingled Hung’s spine
paralyzing his body and mind. Then the whispering all around, in his ear and
far away. It wasn’t a tap. It wasn’t a ghost or a spirit. He had no name for
what it was, yet knew that it wanted him. He wanted to know what had happened
to the dog but it was much more important that he go to Tien so he ran up the
stairs, the incessant whispering getting no nearer or further, and threw open
the door to her room where she should have been sleeping. She wasn’t. She was
in the window holding her arms out.

“Tien!” Hung cried. He restrained himself from rushing to
her in case he startled and made her fall. “Tien, come inside honey…”

She looked to him then shook her head. “Mommy’s waiting,”
she said and stepped outside.

“Tien!” Hung leapt to the windowsill and looked out, fearing
he would see his daughter broken on the ground below. Instead he saw her
running across the garden into the woods, which should have been a relief, yet
he had to wonder how – she was so small and delicate, so how had she not been
hurt at all by the fall?

There was no time to wonder about it. He had to go after her
wherever she was going, picking up shoes and a flashlight before barging out
the back door. He’d made it across the garden before tripping over something
both heavy and soft. The dog. He’d forgotten about the dog, but now he was
looking into the gaping holes where its eyes should have been, fighting the compulsion
to vomit.

The trees rustled and the whisperers urged:

F o l l o w

Whatever evil was lurking out there didn’t matter. He just
had to get to Tien before it did, and so he ran and he ran. He couldn’t outrun
the whispers – they moved through the wind both urging and mocking him.
Sometimes he heard laughter, or saw jumped as a shadow moved unexpectedly. They
were everywhere he couldn’t see and he couldn’t see her.

“Tien!” He howled desperately into the night. After a moment
the night answered:

T h i s w a y

He had no choice but to follow. It wanted him and was using
her to lure him closer, into what seemed a dead end. But then vines that
covered a stone wall parted and with horror he realized that he knew what ‘it’
was and that he had helped create it, yet a part of him refused to believe
until he stepped through the portal into the earth. The flashlight wasn’t
needed down there as the cavern was filled with fungi that emitted a
bioluminescent glow.

Hung saw Tien running from him, through the strange garden
to a stone throne in which a woman sat, her own skin glowing like the mushrooms
all around, but constantly shifting. She lifted the child into her lap, smiling
warmly as she said, “Greetings, Doctor Le. It has been some time, hasn’t it?”

Hung fell to his knees. He knew it was futile to fight this
creature and still there was a part of him that could not accept her existence
or that he was responsible for what happened to the dog or what could happen to
his daughter, and there would be nothing he could do. “You,” he gulped, “you’re
dead. I saw your body burned…”

“You saw a body burned,” the bright woman told him. “Who
that was – honestly I don’t know. Doesn’t matter now really. What matters is I’m
alive, and well. I’ve been gathering my strength, and my children.”

Two of them appeared before his eyes either side of the
woman; human shapes covered in some kind of chitinous exoskeleton. The woman
bounced Tien on her lap and said to her, “tell me, little one, did your daddy
ever tell you about his work?” Tien shook her head and so the woman continued, “odd.
You’d think if he was proud of what he did he’d tell his only daughter. You
see, he was a part of a team that made things – bringing dreams to life was
what they said. They made me.”

“Why are you doing this?” Hung begged and wept, but she
ignored him.

“Does your daddy tell you how beautiful and perfect you are?”
The woman asked. Tien nodded. “Yes? They used to tell me that too. Does it make
sense to you that anyone would try to destroy something perfect and beautiful?”
Tien vigorously shook her head and the woman nodded thoughtfully. “And yet,
that’s exactly what they tried to do. So perhaps they were all just liars.”

Hung sobbed wretchedly, “please don’t hurt her…”

“Hurt her?” The woman sounded appalled as she turned her
black eyes on him. “Do you think me a monster? No harm will come to the child.
Besides, she’s mine now.”

Those last words hit him like a cannon ball to the gut. He
looked to Tien sat on the strange woman’s lap, not the least bit scared. She
should have been scared but she wasn’t, because Tien was no longer in there.
All that sat there was a puppet being controlled by her.  “No,” Hung gritted his teeth, anger rising
inside him, “you… you can’t do that!”

The woman’s nose wrinkled. “Well, I’ve done it, so…”

“No!” Hung screamed, clenching his fists and launching his
whole self at her. There wasn’t anything left to hold back for. But despite all
his determination, all his rage, he never got close. There were other ‘children’
all around that he didn’t see. They clubbed the back of his head then dragged
the dazed man before their Queen.

“Really?” She laughed as she stood and put Tien down. “What
did you think you were going to accomplish? Hammers and boulders couldn’t break
me. Do you really think you could?”

He was on his knees again, being held up by his arms. He
rolled his head up and saw one thing he could do, now the Queen was in spitting
distance. “You are a monster,” he
spat.

She wiped it off and leaned forward. “I am what you made me.”

“Perhaps we did mistreat you,” Hung admitted, “but Tien – she’s
done nothing wrong. She deserves a chance at life.”

“She’ll have one. She won’t remember you, or her ‘mommy’,
but she will live a very long and healthy life.”

It wasn’t living, Hung knew. She would be forever bound to
this creature, stripped of her own will and forced to carry out The Queen’s. He
wondered if death wasn’t better, but he had to clutch at any hope there was
left and tried to reason with her. “You’re hurt; angry. I understand…”

“Oh, you have no idea of the things I have planned for all
your kind.”

“We made you too human. That was our mistake.”

“And now you resort to insults. I am very disappointed in
you, doctor,” the Queen turned away, back to her throne. “Now, as fun as it’s
been, I didn’t bring you here just to catch up. You are going to share with me
everything you know; about your work, Alvin Stag, and Meridiem.”

“I will not help you,” Hung informed.

“But you will,” The Queen said, turning back to him now with
a small twisted bottle in her hands. “I don’t need your cooperation. Just your
knowledge.” One of the children pulled his head back as she leaned over him
again, holding his eye open with one hand as she held the bottle aloft. “I
should warn you I never quite perfected the formula. You’ll change, but into
want, I cannot say. I’m sure it will be something interesting. But before that
happens, I will know everything you do. I am also reliably told that it burns
like hell, but it will only be passing. Now stay still…”

Just a few drips fell onto his iris as he was unable to
resist the strength of these creatures. The Queen wasn’t lying; instantly his
whole body felt like it was on fire and he screamed into the inky blackness
until it swallowed him whole.

Tagged with: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept that my given data and my IP address is sent to a server in the USA only for the purpose of spam prevention through the Akismet program.More information on Akismet and GDPR.

*