Linosa’s Number (Free Fiction)

Linosa’s Number

A.J. Brown

A cobblestone road leads through the town and up the lush green hill toward Castle Linosa. Tree limbs, like long arms with outstretched fingers covered with brown and green skin, stretch across the road, intermingling with other trees that form an arch over the pathway. The branches blocked out the moon, not allowing any light to penetrate the hallowed path. It’s been said the trees are alive and bones protrude from their bark, but we do not look to see if this is true. Most men, both knight and thief alike, turn back before reaching the cobblestone pathway, but not us, not on this night, not when our reward awaits us.

Past the trees and into the open expanse that lay before us, we continue on, a band of seven—a number chosen for its lucky implications—men on horse back. Our torches light the night and the path before us. Just ahead we see the castle, thanks to the now visible moon high above it. It’s like an onlooking eye watching as we approach.

Looking back to the trees, we see one of our number is missing, probably having turned back from fright. We are now six, the lucky number no longer on our side. Still, we press on, our fortunes calling us, though some say it is our death that beckons.

The path cuts through a field of tall grass and stakes that are sunk in the ground. The remains of many men who ventured this way hang from them, mostly only skin and bones and hair. We take a collective breath and move forward, our eyes on the dark structure that looms ahead, its voice whispering to us, aching for us.

Once through the field of corpses we reach the giant moat, its drawbridge conveniently lowered for us to cross. Another glance around and we see we have been reduced to a band of five. Off in the distance a scream fills the night. Mercifully, the scream is silenced.

Sweat beads on our heads, and even though we wipe them with our backhands the water pours off us. Hearts in our throats, we press onward. 

Horse and buggyThe first horse steps onto the drawbridge, its shoe creating a hollow clop that echoes in the night. The horse whinnies and bucks onto its hind legs, then jerks forward as if pulled by an unseen force. Its front legs come down on the bridge, one of them losing its footing, sending it and its rider into the murky black waters below us. Our number is now four.

The other horses back away, refusing to step hoof onto the wretched bridge. We are left with only one choice. Though uncomfortable with it, we dismount our horses. As we step onto the bridge, the horses gallop away, back toward the field of corpses and the trees of the dead.

We proceed onto the bridge and across it, each of us with shaky legs, none of us speaking so much as one word. At the other end we see the gates have been raised, its spiked tips high in the air, held up by a giant chain that looks too heavy for any army of men to lift.

As we head through the gates the invisible grip on the chain releases and the gate falls. We scramble, diving into the courtyard as it crashes down with a thunderous boom. Beneath the gate, pierced and crushed by its weight is yet another of our rapidly declining band of men. We stand in the courtyard, backing away from the gate, and we are only three. If we ever wanted to turn back, that opportunity is lost to us forever.

The main doors to the keep are open and we go inside, our goal nearly met, though at the expense of our brethren. Through the dark we climb the steps, our torches lighting the way before us. There are rooms—hundreds of them, but we are only interested in the one where his body lies, where the Inconnu is. There we will find him, his head severed and a stake through his evil heart. And there, too, shall we find riches beyond riches and wealth that will give us lives of a kings if we see fit to live that way.

We reach a door and, though it screams on its hinges, it opens easily. Stepping inside, we see it is the stairwell leading down into almost complete darkness below; into the abyss that is the Inconnu’s burial place.

Our hearts hammer in our chests as we descend the stairs, one by one, dust stirring and rats skittering away. Bats screech overhead and a rush of cool air blows through us. Turning around, we look and now it is just us two: you and I, alone in Castle Linosa, where the greatest vampire that ever roamed the earth was finally slain in his sleep by a heathen, one like us.

Further down we go, our nerves on edge, our bodies soaked with sweat and grime and our hearts beating in our throats, chests, and temples. Our own breathing echoes off the walls and tickles our necks. We hold hands for fear of being left alone or of being the next one taken by the horrid beasts that is the castle and its surrounding lands.

Upon reaching level ground, we let out a collective breath and hold each other tight. The giant door looms over us but opens at the slightest touch, as if its master awaits our arrival. Stepping through the threshold, we see through the flickering light of our torches, we see his coffin, the lid open. We can’t see inside, but that does not matter. He is dead and what surrounds him are the riches we seek. Gold and silver and jewels. Harps and mandolins and ukuleles of bronze line walls; swords of lamentium and armor of gold and jewels; coins and diamonds.

We have finally arrived and the abundance of what we see is greater than we can fathom. I turn and see that your torch lies upon the floor and you are nowhere to be seen. Calling your name, I spin slowly in a circle, taking in the shadows that surround me, hoping, nay, praying I see you pillaging. But you are nowhere to be seen.

My hair stands on end as our number is now down to one.

A wind blows through the crypt and my torch whispers its final breath before blowing out. In the dark, tears fill my eyes and I am but a statue in the room, frozen feet, and paralyzed muscles.

Then I hear the movement in front of me and I know it is you and that I am not alone anymore. We are two again. You and I. My heart leaps silently in joy. I call your name and see your . . . eyes. But they are not the same. These are red ovals in the dark with yellow irises and deep purple pupils.

I feel the sting in my throat as a rush of air swipes by me and I know it is not you in here with me. As I fall to my knees, I realize our number is still two—he and I. But as my face hits the floor, my blood seeps into the gold and silver, and I know his number is still one.

__________

Linosa’s Number was a fun, but tricky story to write. Keeping the language and present tense throughout was difficult. I found myself rewriting portions of it because I slipped into past tense or into third person perspective instead of first (then, conveniently second for a paragraph or two) a few times.

When I wrote this piece I still liked vampires. To be completely honest, vampires dominated my stories for the first few years I wrote. I also wrote a lot more poetry back then. I think this piece reflects that in its almost lyrical feel in spots. 

I hope you enjoyed Linosa’s Number and I hope you will like, comment, and share this to your social media pages. It helps me to get the stories to other folks that way.

A.J.

 

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