Chapter One: Within the Valley

Chapter One: Within the Valley

A Chapter by Mika Franolich
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The story begins in a stormy valley as a solitary man approaches a mysterious castle, because I decided to be cliche. Warning: Suggestions of cannibalism

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The gusts of snow drove unremittingly across the land, sweeping away all signs of life. Not even the mountains that loomed in the near distance, towering over the sheltered valley like hardened guards, cast a shadow into the pure, blinding white of the blizzard’s wrath. The storm was centered over the valley as if God had sensed the impurities ingrained into the very earth, cast there by the evil that resided within, and was wiping out the valley to begin anew with the tears of sentinel angels who had long stood watching as the corruption crept forth.

Through the storm trudged one solitary man who had avoided the hand of God, a huddled gray mass that pushed determinedly against the punishing blows of the howling wind and biting cold. He had been on his way to Galway, Ireland, just west of Loughrea, and had settled on taking a shortcut through the mountains rather than attempting the long, grueling trip around them. He gritted his chattering teeth as he wondered if that choice would be his death. If he had made a mistake as foolish as the Donner party by yielding to the persuasive yet apparently injudicious desire to sooner end his journey rather than do as common sense demanded and follow the beaten path. No, in the end he didn’t need to wonder, as he already knew the answer. He was trapped in a hellhole with seemingly no way out except one, the route all mortals take in the end. His one and only consolation now was barely a reality in his mind, more a glimpse, a flash that had come and gone so quickly it was as if he were asleep and it had all been a part of a dream. But the hope that he had not been hallucinating was all he had to desperately cling to. And oh, what a fragile hope it was and how desperately he clung. Before he had breached the trees of the valley, before the gentle, almost calming snowfall had turned into a full tempest with winds that seemed to want to rip the very soul from his body, he had thought he had glimpsed a light off in the distance through a gap in the woodline. The sight was gone as quickly as he’d seen it and had never returned, and he told himself then he’d imagined it. But now, with shelter being his only hope for survival, he vigorously rubbed his arms to contain the last dredges of warmth the freeze had yet to drive from him and trudged ever onward through the mounting piles of snow, telling himself all the while that safety was ahead.

He almost wanted to give up. In this storm even if there was a shelter up ahead and even if it was close enough to reach he could not know if he was heading towards it. The blizzard that drove relentlessly at him was so thick he could not see his hand when he held it aloft. He could be walking in circles and have no way of knowing. But he had come this far from the battle of the Diamonds, and he would not surrender to the product of heaven’s wrath yet. He had deserted the army for his baby. His pregnant wife was due, and with impossible odds and no morale left in the army he fought for, he knew he would not survive another battle. He had refused in that moment when death and newfound life loomed upon him on divided sides of one path, in the form of orders and a babe, to die. He had chosen his way and it was one shielded by old weeping willows sending their tears and piercing shadows down onto him, filling him with their mournful mark. Yes, it was a path cast with shame, but it was now his to stick to, and it was far more lively than the dead shambles that lined the road at the other end. He had decided the army that forcibly enlisted him could go join the devil- he would not let his child enter the world fatherless. His child is what had brought him to the valley and what compelled him onwards even then when he wanted to relent to the fury of the storm.

By what he believed a miracle, he arrived at what he saw was a grand castle. Not even the storm could hide the heaven-reaching towers and massive parapets that forced their mark of black into its raging reaches. The towering heights and cowing sanctity of the visage before him was the very vision of the city of David at Zion. He rushed at the castle, his frost-bitten lips opening to issue a parched cry of relief. Pushing through the snow that now came to above his knees, he managed to reach the huge wooden doors that stood like the most lovely song of heaven before him.

He painstakingly struggled to open the heavy barriers, his strength all but leached from his body. The doors were unrelenting in the face of his feeble shoves and refused him the shelter beyond. He knew nobody would hear his knocks above the overwhelming howl of the wind, which had filled his head with a persistent scream since it had first begun. Desperate, he began walking along the castle searching despairingly for a window. Reaching one, he lifted his pack that had been strapped securely to his front in an attempt to shield himself from the snow and used his remaining strength to launch through the stain glass window in front of him. The glass shattered, tinkling down like stardust onto the earth, tiny pieces of cool yet somehow hellish fire mixing bitterly with the tears of the angels.

He clambered into the safe and warm confines of the castle with unconstrained relief and collapsed onto the floor a hopeless mess, yet, for the first time that day, comforted.  Arms outstretched, he lay among the shattered glass, breathing heavily with eyes closed. He knew he needed to rise and find a place to hide but for the moment, at least, he wanted to absorb that moment and its promise of life. He could only hope nobody found the shattered window for a while to come.

His hopes were found to be in vain.

A croaking voice, which sounded to him like the chorus of heaven itself after the endless shrieking of the wind, met his ears. He had never been more relieved, nor more terrified.

“We’ve been waiting for you.”

He was filled with adrenaline at the sound. His eyes flew open as he jolted upright and whipped his head from side to side. His eyes darted around the room in search of the source of the voice. He did not have to look far.

“Follow me. Leave your pack,” the woman who stood before him commanded with the same creaky tone before he could say anything. He was taken aback when he saw she had been right in front of him- he had never heard her approach, and he was certain there was nobody there when he had lunged through the window moments before. Could he have fallen asleep without realizing it? But then why would she say that they had been expecting him?

He stared soundlessly at the woman as he sat unmoving on the floor. He was completely clueless about everything- how she was standing before him, what she meant by her cryptic statement- but he was most staggered by the sight of her. The vision before him could not have been older than twenty-five, yet her voice had led him to the conclusion she was archaic. He had presumed he would be met with salt and cracks sinking into a hardened surface, the very image of time itself. Just like earth exposed too long to the sun, he had expected all vitality to be drained, leaving nothing except for a barren foundation as a shadow of what once was. Yet he was met with the image of a darkened beauty- her skin glowed with the unrestrained privilege of youth, her hair was a clear and shiny black that would not see the regrettable touch of gray for many years to come, and inside of her was a fire so strong that the man was certain it was the heat of it that warmed the very room he lay in. She suffered none from her darkness, for she seemed to shine into the dark interior of the parlor he had landed in, only glowing brighter as her surroundings grew dimmer, as if she sucked the very life from them.

As he sat stunned on the floor, taking all of her in, the darkened beauty he had been appraising was walking slowly and gracefully away, treading lightly over the cushioned rug that he had landed on.

“You may follow me into the unknown or embrace the early death you only just avoided by entering the throes of this furious blizzard once more,” she issued the ultimatum with no inflection to reveal any hint of emotion, as if offering him his death were as casual a thing as sipping tea.

He remained sitting, still terrified of what would happen. He had broken the window of the castle- whatever the lord’s intent was, it could not be pleasant, and he was neither ready to die by the blizzard, be punished at the Lord’s hand, nor to be sent back off into the war he had narrowly escaped from.

“Choose,” she commanded with just as steady a tone as she had said everything else.

That last command was all he needed. Rising, he followed her, somewhat pacified. He was a soldier, after all. If need arose, he could kill her and any other nuisances.

She led him down a dimly lit hallway lined with flickering candles in gothic-era holders that were placed between stoney-faced and empty-eyed visages of people long past. Surrounded by darkened wood frames as grim as the paintings themselves, they were the only things in the castle not teeming with energy. The subjects of the paintings were long gone, their bodies returned to be nothing more than dirt in the earth, leaving only the sad and meaningless rendering of their image behind in an inefficacious attempt to be remembered.

“This place has seen many lives,” he remarked as he appraised each hauntingly dull piece in turn.

“More than can be discerned from these depictions,” came the strange reply.

“So this castle has been the site of many battles?”

“Of a sort. It has not seen any grand wars, but many fights have been won,” her answer drifted back to him clearly, yet it still seemed to him to be a purposely abstruse riddle. It had its desired effect: it told the man little yet filled him with an unexplainable sense of dread. He quickly gathered himself enough to continue on, having paused to stare at the retreating woman’s form in a fruitless attempt to get a better sense of her. Something about her shook him to his core. It wasn’t just her, though, it was also the mansion, where every panel moaned with unreleased pain and every spire and wall seemed to conceal a sordid secret. It was a mansion bulging with barely-concealed secrets that had been carefully gathered and contained over eons, and it seemed to the man about to rupture. In front of him the woman began singing, as though to hide the pained voices that called out to him from the darkened corners.

He searched for something to say, anything to end the thoughts that were racing through his head and to silence that eerie song.

“Who is the current lord of this land?”

“You needn’t worry about that.”

“But if I am to be meeting him…”

“Oh, you will not be meeting him. You shall only be meeting one other person tonight,” she informed him before once more resuming her song. He looked around nervously as rustling, this time very real, began. Nobody was in sight.

“Who is that, pray tell?”

“Be our guest, be our guest…” she began to sing in a clear voice, so unlike her usual one as she ignored his query.

“It must be earlier than I expected, for so many people to be awake,” the man remarked in a way that he hoped didn’t show how nervous he truly was. As he looked about him and listened that feeling only began to grow, and he found he couldn’t stop the cold sweat that broke out across his skin.

“Whatever do you mean?” the lady asked so calmly it could not have been a deception.

“The- voices…” the man croaked uncertainly as the mumbled words grew even louder.

“I am afraid I do not know what you mean. There are no people here.”

“But...”

“We’re almost there,” she interrupted him blithely before once more resuming singing.

She moved to the side of the hall, trailing her fingers along the black and red wall. When she moved aside, a painting was revealed. It covered the wall from top to bottom, its golden, intricate frame only serving to make the dangerous promise that lurked within all the more apparent. In it a man kneeled with his face upturned. Hands lovingly caressed either side of his face as welcoming lips edged closer to his. It was almost the image of two lovers stealing a moment away, yet it was much more depraved of a scene than that. Between the two people who were the focus of the painting fleeted something so inescapable even lovers cannot truly share it: the kneeling man, eyes wide, yielded his soul to the devil that had him ensnared in its vile grasp as it hovered above the man with an immeasurable glee in its eyes. Around them was a macabre scene of corpses that had already surrendered that integral part of themselves, lying emptily on the ground, gazing out on the world as if they were already dead. Demons, cherub skeletons and mutated creatures danced around the two in the center, completing the twisted scene before him.

The man felt a wave of nausea as they reached the painting and it took everything within him to control himself. As he stood there before the painting the jumbled whispers grew more insistent, coming at him faster and louder from all directions, as if there were a swarm of people around him; he had to control the overwhelming urge to sprint with everything he had back into the now quite welcoming blizzard. As the talking continued, each voice vying to be heard above the other, he began to register one repeated phrase, “Get out, get out, get out.” The intensity of the voices grew until they were a roar in his ears.

He wanted to run. He wanted to clap his hands over his ears and block out that harsh, terrorizing noise. Instead he stood fixated in place, suddenly colder than the blizzard that awaited him outside. Cold sweat began to pour out of him. He tried to speak but couldn’t; his tongue, now heavy and thick in his mouth, was rendered as immobile as the rest of him.

The woman continued on past the portrait without sparing it another glance. She casually rested at the door beside it, her fingers still on the wall, one hand resting gracefully on the door. “These walls hum with vitality, do they not?” she whispered almost lovingly as she trailed her hand down the door to the knob. With a final push, the door opened with a creak…

“Be our guest, be our guest…” sang the butcher as he brought his cleaver down onto a leg. Slicing off a piece of the meat, he dropped it down to the tattered cat beside him. The cat leaned its rotted nose down to give the meat a cursory sniff before hissing disdainfully, its shabby black fur spiking up along its hunched black.

“Donnae be so callous. We treat our guests wif respect,” the butcher brought down his cleaver once more as the cat wrapped itself about his leg with a cursory huff in reply. In the castle all was normal. Yet, in the town that rested ten miles past the valley, a carriage would soon roll in. It would bring with it a dream of happiness in the form of gleaming, golden walls and an optimistic, if loud and volatile, family of three, but what lurked on the horizon was a promise of a raining fire that would burn everything once glorious to a hellish crisp.



~ Four days later ~


The man in the carriage hopped down as a footman rushed to assist the Lady Mother and Lady Mihaela.

“Well, after an arduous journey, we have arrived!” the earl proclaimed grandly as he gazed around the village loftily.

The passerby’s gave him furtive glances as they hurried by, each with their head hung low. In the distance the sound of rushing water from a fall could be heard, but in the village not even a babe cried out. It was as quiet as the most uninhabited and isolated corner of the world so that if the family did not see it was a village with their own eyes they would not have believed it.

“I say, it is a rather grim place, is it not?” he observed huffily. Most of what the earl did was done huffily.

“Husband, let’s find the inn. It has been a tedious journey for all of us and I think we all could do with some rest.”

“Where do you think the castle is?” he continued, ignoring his wife, who he considered to be quite a nag, as usual.

“Does it matter at this moment?” the countess countered peevishly as only a lady could- her voice never raised, her tone never yielding any indication of her boiling disdain, but her haughty eyes imparting a world of seething criticism. Mihaela raised her head towards the sky as her parents parried words of sugar that were sharpened into daggers back and forth. The wind brushed past her hair softly, carrying with it the delicious smell of freshly baked bread from a nearby bakery. Mihaela could not help but think that the one moment she had experienced of warmth in those soft winds was the only gentle thing the land around her had to offer, for it seemed to have a cruel shadow over it that touched every fortified heart, every guarded blade of grass, every unseen corner of the land, dragging out all the purity and kindness that had surely once managed to survive there. Life was drained from the land, of that there was no doubt. Not only was there an absence of any noise that was usually so normal for a village- dogs barking, children laughing- but there was also no color in the entire land. Everything was dull, lackluster, as if someone  had come and paint over it with thick layers of gray until every blade of grass and every hidden soul dropped from the oppressiveness of it. The artist had been effective- nothing was left untarnished.

Mihaela came to from her dark musings as her mother approached.

“Mihaela, darling, your handkerchief. You mustn’t breathe in this miasma.”

“Yes, Lady Mother,” Mihaela replied demurely as she delicately raised the handkerchief she kept on her person to her gracefully upturned nose.

“The air these poor put off is much too dangerous for ones such as ourselves to breathe.”

“I do think the land is much more toxic,” Mihaela softly rejoined, not appreciating her mother’s words, but her mother had already turned away, her attention drawn by what she considered to be a much more pressing matter.

“Whatever do you mean there is no inn?” Mihaela’s mother demanded as she marched towards the unfortunate footman who had been forced to give the family the upsetting news.

“I say, how is that possible?” the earl huffed.

“I’m sorry, my lord and lady,” the footman said quickly as he bowed his head, as if he were somehow to blame for the minor inconvenience.

“We shall have to continue onto the castle tonight. It is a grievous discourtesy, to appear unannounced in such a fashion, but I am afraid circumstances render it unavoidable,” the countess sighed as she tugged her silky, tea green gloves that were decorated with tiny, white flowers into place.

“I am sorry, my lady, but I already requested a guide to the castle. Apparently there was a blizzard a few short days ago. The road to the castle is impassable.”

“Do you really mean to tell me we are stuck in this village for the night?” the countess demanded shrilly. It was a voice she had never before used and had never dreamed of using, yet the horror of residing in one of the village cottages for even a second proved to be too much for her delicate sensibilities. One of the maids that had accompanied the family on the long journey quickly placed an arm around the countess to support her as she swooned.

“I’m sorry to say it could be for more than a night, my lady,” the footman nervously rejoined.

“This is unacceptable!” the count insisted stubbornly as a look of horror overcame the face of the countess.

“Wherever will we sleep? In one of these shacks?” the countess moaned bitterly as she placed her face into her hands despairingly, like if she blocked out everything it would all become untrue.

“I have secured lodging in what the villagers assure me is the most comfortable cottage.”

“Oh, good heavens!” the countess cried out weakly.

“You are absolutely certain that there is no way to the castle?” the count persisted.

“Quite, my lord.”

The count sighed hopelessly as he gazed off into the distance, as though he could spot a path to the castle nobody yet knew of.

“Very well, then. We have no choice other than to graciously accept whatever abode this village has to offer. But I want it seen to that it is properly cleaned first!”

“As you wish, my lord. I’ll see to it,” the footman replied, and Mihaela was impressed at how he retained his composure. Her mother, on the other hand, was anything but calm, still too distracted by what, to her, was her worst nightmare come true.

“You cannot seriously think that I will spend even one second in one of these decrepit buildings! They are a grievance to simply behold,” the countess stiffly protested, suddenly able to collect herself enough to object to what was happening.

The count bestowed his wife with a doting smile as he grasped her hand in his, leaning down to place a tender yet mocking kiss on a silken back.

“Come now, dear, you are finally receiving all that you deserve. Why do you spurn it?”

Leaving his wife momentarily speechless, though with sputter aplenty, the count spun on his heel and strode off to see what there was in way of entertainment in the town, his portly belly jiggling along the way.


Two hours later (and many dusty attendants) the cottage was cleaned from top to bottom and made as comfortable as possible for the count’s occupancy. It wasn’t bad, as far as lodging went- it was a two story affair with light juniper wood walls and darker wood paneling. Inside was a stone fireplace where a fire crackled, sending warmth seeping throughout the well-furnished house. There was a parlor which contained a threadbare tapestry, remnant of times long past when knights and God roamed the lands freely. Wide windows lined one side of the wall- at one time they would have let in the beautiful yellow rays of the sun to dance as fire does across the honey wood of the floor, but now they just let in the gloom of the gray clouds that loomed like a curse over the village. Beside the parlor was a study with a desk. There was a chip in the corner, testament to the toothing years of a son that was never coming back. In the corner of the room was a scribbled drawing on the wall that no amount of scrubbing could remove from a time when a girl, now all grown up, had been allowed in the study. On the second floor were the bedrooms whose walls held the cherished memories of life; they had seen love, birth, stolen kisses, sacred bonds, moments of true weakness, and exposures of deepest strength. Each moment had left its mark on the very fabric of the house so they were forever etched and would remain in eternity. Like the chip in the table and the drawing on the wall, they would remain for as long as the house stood, and when the house fell those moments would still be carried on in the dust from the bones of it. The memories would go into eternity, and there were many memories the house had to offer to those who cared to look. Throughout its life the house had seen so much felicity, yet each moment was touched by a tangible darkness that lent a bitter taste to it because, in the end, nothing escapes the darkness. Even the whitest of lights are corrupted by that intruding force.



© 2018 Mika Franolich


Author's Note

Mika Franolich
What do you think of the dialogue? Was it wooden, unrealistic, strange, disconcerting? What did you like and dislike? Any and all comments are welcome! ^.^

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I like they way you opened the story up, the man trudging his way to the castle is likeable by default for his resilience and bravery. Not only being a soldier but also one who has abandoned the army for a better purpose. I am left with many questions about this castle, which is good, I think that element of mystery kept me invested. I'm thinking, is this a good place for him to be? Is the woman going to help him or use him for another purpose?

The earl and his family having the destination of the castle only adds to the suspense. This chapter is very well put together overall.

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

The dialogue was quite good. A lot of strange things going on here. You hook the reader in the beginning and snare them with your magic at the end.
You have a wonderful grasp on descriptive wording.
Great job.

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Mika Franolich

4 Years Ago

Thank you so much! You're really too kind o///o
Is there anything that you as a reader found.. read more
The descriptions are fantastic. I could feel the cold and the force of the blizzard as the man journeyed through it, and felt the fear of the eeriness in the castle. The nostalgic feeling of the house in the end was very well put and I'd like too experiment writing about something of that fashion now that I've read it. Very inspiring. The dialogue seemed to thoroughly match the image of each character, such as the mysteriousness of the lady in the castle matching her subtle yet spooky words, where as the earl and countess were more clearly envisioned as typical upperclass folk just on the sharpness of their words. I really like it, I can't wait to read the next chapter!

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Mika Franolich

4 Years Ago

Aww, thank you so much for your kind words! Honestly I'm feeling kind of sick from anxiety because I.. read more
An excellent read. I thought the dialogue was nicely said.I enjoyed the allusion to Beauty and the Beast when the butcher sang "Be our guest" At least, that's the first thing I thought of when I saw that dialogue.

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Mika Franolich

4 Years Ago

Thank you so much for your review, Jordan!
This story was actually loosely based on Vlad (th.. read more
Hi

Your choice of words and a general rhythm of the story is pretty good. The opening paints a vivid enough picture of the scenario, and the next few paragraphs tell the readers about the main character's predicament and backstory.

While all of that is fine, I think you can work on two things which I feel will improve your story even more. The first is that you got a little verbose when you started describing the character's situation. It can easily happen when we want to write about a character's emotions and inner conflict, but the key is to present those circumstances in the best possible words. By best possible, I mean choosing words that do not feel like you are rambling on about something yet give the reader all the information you want. A second or third round of editing usually helps with this. Since I have always faced this issue and still face it to some degree, I can understand how it must be for you. But trust me, those rephrasing rounds will make your work better.

The second thing is that when you are describing a scenario, make sure you put yourself in the eyes of a reader and then look at your text. You started off well, but then trailed off a little when you put all your focus on the protagonist and his situation. If you can strike a balance, nothing like it.


Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Mika Franolich

4 Years Ago

Thank you for your honest feedback! You were the first one who gave me a review that told me things .. read more
A very good opening chapter. Good use of description made the story believable. I like the storyline and the characters. Very good use of dialogue. You held my attention to the last words. Thank you Mika for sharing the excellent chapter.
Coyote

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Mika Franolich

4 Years Ago

I like they way you opened the story up, the man trudging his way to the castle is likeable by default for his resilience and bravery. Not only being a soldier but also one who has abandoned the army for a better purpose. I am left with many questions about this castle, which is good, I think that element of mystery kept me invested. I'm thinking, is this a good place for him to be? Is the woman going to help him or use him for another purpose?

The earl and his family having the destination of the castle only adds to the suspense. This chapter is very well put together overall.

Posted 4 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on July 23, 2018
Last Updated on July 26, 2018
Tags: corruption, Darkness, butcher, murder, storm, blizzard, war, soldier, supernatural, supernatural forces, cannibalism, royals, family, hate, grief, Ireland, God, Christianity, religion


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Mika Franolich
Mika Franolich

NJ



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Just a 20 year old college girl with... a plan? What plan? Review me and be warned... I will review you >:) haha, jk, I promise I'm nice. more..

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