Monday, October 24, 2011

The Isle of Secrets

Once upon a time there was a kingdom ruled by a king with red eyes.

There is an island out there hidden from normal eyes. Some seek it out and never find it. Some stumble upon it blindly. It has been called many names -- the Island of the Unbidden, the Obscure Isle -- but the name that most use is the Isle of Secrets. Legend states that the island is littered with the secrets of dead men, maps of hidden riches, accounts of untold treasures.

You are one of the few to find the island. The sand crunches underneath your foot as you step forward, past the trees, when you see a road. It starts from nowhere and seems to go nowhere, but when the sunlight hits it, you see a shine of metal. Hurriedly, you step foward and pick up a coin -- small and dark, probably made of copper, it can't be worth more than a pence. You pocket the coin and walk on the road, careful to check and see if there are any more coins littering the ground.

Soon, you come across more of the coins and you pick them up, worthless though they are. Surely there will be better treasure than this, you know. You have heard all the tales of this island. You know what you could find here. The images of gold coins and jewels as big as your fist rise up in your mind. However, the next object you come across on the road is neither gold nor jewel. Instead, it is a dagger, sharp and bloody. You pick it up and pocket it, not really knowing why.

There are more worthless coins scattered on the road, but you leave them be, because you see something better. There is a chest made of wood and bronze in the middle of the road. You race towards it and try to open it, but the chest is locked. You take out the dagger and pick at the lock until it springs open, but there are no treasures inside. It is filled with dozens of letters bound together. You discard them and close the chest again.

You do not know how long this road lasts, but you continue walking along it. The sun, which beat down so much on your shoulders, is now going down under the horizon and night is finally descending. There are no more coins on the road, but you see something ahead and rush towards it. In the dark it is hard to see, so you lean down and pick it up. It's a piece of rope, twisted and turned into a noose. You throw the noose back on the ground and continue your walk.

The road is ending, you can see. No, wait, it doesn't end -- instead, it appears to intersect with another road you had not seen before. It is a crossroads. And in the middle of the crossroads, you can see a pile of objects. This must be the treasure, you think, and rush forward. But the night makes you blind and there is something in front of the pile, in the exact center of the crossroads. As you slow, you see it open its eyes, its blood-red eyes.

You try to stop and stumble, you trip and fall onto the ground. The Red-Eyed King stands above you on four legs. You can hear its growl, like the rumble of the earth. It is larger than you ever imagined.

You pull the dagger from your pocket and brandish it in front of you. Blood drips from the knife. Where did the blood come from? You remember now. This is your dagger, the dagger you used to kill. The letters belonged to the man you killed, the writings of a life cut short. And that was your noose, the noose that you should have been hanged with before you left. Before the island found you. Before the Red-Eyed King found you.

The Red-Eyed King looks you in the eyes. It has taken all of your secrets. This is its treasure. The pile behind it, you can see now, is not gold nor jewels, but the bodies of men like yourself. You feel its breath on your face and you feel tears crawling down your cheek.

The Red-Eyed King steps forward and opens its jaws.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Fountain of Forever

Once upon a time there was a kingdom ruled by a king who wandered.

Once upon a time there was a king without a kingdom.

Once upon a time there was a king.

Once upon a time.


Hello there. Sorry to interrupt your story so abruptly, but I noticed you were starting to speak of the Wandering King, yes? Why, I know that story so well, I could retell it in my sleep. Ah, the adventures I could tell you, the tales of treacherous mountains that would crash into one another, of storms that could tear the flesh from your bones, of rivers ruled by fearsome jaguars.

But you wish to know about the Wandering King. You wish to know about the King Without a Kingdom, the King Within and Without. Well, alright, let me tell you the story.

Once there was a king whose kingdom was prosperous. He had everything that he could ever have wanted -- and therein was the problem. He had no need for money, no need to go out and seduce women (what with his generous harem), no need to do anything. So he stayed in his castle and wished that there was something he still needed, something he wanted. You of course know the saying that you should take care of what you wish for, yes? So you can probably guess what is going to happen next.

So, the king, having made this wish, is suddenly confronted with a visitor to his kingdom. Now, normally this would not be such a big deal, because his was a prosperous kingdom, so it had a lot of visitors. But this visitor was different -- he had approached the king's palace without making a noise and asked to speak with the king about his most fervent wish. The king looked at this visitor and noticed his ashen skin and sickly demeaner and wondered if perhaps he had escaped from a leper colony. "What makes you think you can help me?" the king asked the ashen man.

"I know of one thing you cannot have," the ashen man said. "One thing that you wish to possess, but which you can never possess."

The king stood up at this thought -- was there such a thing? "Speak of this and I will grant you anything in my kingdom you want," he said.

"I want for nothing," the ashen man said (and the king believed this for the ashen man looked as if he was on the edge of death's domain). "I do, however, wish to lead you on your journey."

"Journey?" the king said. "To where?"

The ashen man smiled. "To the undying waters. To the place where death is no more. To the Fountain of Life, your majesty."

And so the king was hooked. He had everything, but it would not last. Nothing would last, not the jaguars or the rivers or the mountains. But by drinking the waters of the Eternal Fountain, well, he would last forever; he would outlive his wives, spend all his money, do everything he wished and it would not matter, for he would always be able to do more. So he agreed: he would go with the ashen man to the place where the Fountain was and both he and the ashen man would drink in its deathless waters.

What followed was a long, harrowing journey that would last many pages if I decided to write it out completely. Needless to say, the king and the ashen man traveled for many months, following the map that the ashen man had memorized long ago. He told the king he had seen the Fountain once, but he had been a young man then and thought immortality was not worth it. This was all the backstory the ashen man would give the king, even though the king would ask many questions during their quest. The ashen man would often refuse to answer; the king never even learned his name.

Finally, after a year of travel, the ashen man stopped them and said, "It is here."

The king looked around, but could not see any fountain. Instead, he saw what looked like ruins and the burnt remains of villages. "Where are we?" the king asked.

"Where?" The ashen man said. "We are inside your kingdom. We have traveled in a circle, your majesty. We are back to where we started."

The king looked around and saw that the ruins were of his own castle and the burnt villages the villages of his subjects. "What has happened here? What happened to my kingdom?"

"What do you think?" the ashen man asked. "After their king went away, they were invaded and pillaged by their neighbors. Your subjects are dead or scattered now, their lives ruined by the wishes of their king."

"I did not mean this," the king said. "And why are we here? You promised me you were taking me to the Eternal Fountain."

"I did," the ashen man said. "And I keep my promises. Look there." He pointed and the king saw a small pool of muddy water. "This is your Fountain of Life. It will grant you everlasting life once you drink of it."

"You lie," the king said. "You have ruined my kingdom for mud and water."

"I do not lie," the ashen man said. "And you have ruined the kingdom yourself. The pool will grant life, I tell you. Just drink."

So the king lowered himself down to the ground and drank the muddy water, while the ashen man stood over him. "Everlasting life," the ashen man said, "all you have to do is drink, drink and let me in." The ashen man then collapsed to the ground, while the king rose. "Life," the king said. "Everlasting life. Of course."

And so the king walked away from the body of the ashen man, who had now embraced death. And the king discarded his crown and, after a while, his skin turned sickly and gray.

Did you like that story? Did it amuse you? Then my work is done. I will return to you your regular storyteller, but not before I leave you this warning: the Wandering King is still out there, still tempting people with eternal life. But eternal life does not mean you will not start dying; it merely means you will not stop.


Monday, October 17, 2011

The Kingdom of Heaven

Once upon a time there was a kingdom ruled by a king without flesh.

You find the entrance to this kingdom is a pair of gates, rusted and broken down. Beside the gates, there once was a sign that read 'IN REMEMBRANCE OF THE DEAD.' However, time has eroded the sign, wearing down so many letters that now it seems to read 'EMBRACE THE DEAD.' You walk through the ruined gates and into the kingdom proper.

At first, you see no buildings, just mounds of earth. Soon, the mounds of earth become larger and become mounds of earth and stone, tumuli, barrows for the buried. These barrows become bigger and bigger and then soon they are cairns, mounds of stones four feet high. The cairns go away, however, and become simple markers. Tombstones made of natural fieldstone, then soon granite, limestone, marble, sandstone, slate. There are no names carved into these tombstones, however -- no inscriptions, no epitaphs. Nothing to mark who was buried here or why.

Soon the gravestones start to become larger and change their shape, becoming more and more elaborate. They form into crosses, stars, anchors, crowns, horseshoes, skulls, laurels, hourglasses, and even angels, their hands covering their weeping faces.

The elaborate tombstones come to an end and beyond them is a field of urns. Row upon row of urns, the ashes within safely tucked away. Still no sign of names or dates of birth or death. There are urns made of wood, of stone, or metal. Iron urns and bronze urns and even urns gilded in gold. The urnfields end and after comes the vaults, the monuments, the crypts and shrines and sepulchres, row after row after row of them.

Astonished, you walk among this kingdom, where you have not yet seen one living soul, surrounded by stones and the dead.

The crypts get larger and larger as you walk past, growing into mausoleums and burial vaults and then, suddenly, they come to an end. No more buildings, no more structures, no more urns or tombstones or cairns. Instead, in front of you, are huge stones, megaliths, tilted so that they stand around creating a pair of triangles. How someone could have moved them into that shape, you do not know.

Inside the shade of the megaliths, you see something move. Curious about what would live in a place that seems to worship the dead, you walk forward inside the triangle that the megaliths have made. As soon as your foot steps within, he appears to you -- a man, around your height, wearing dark clothes strewn with dirt. He must be the one who digs the graves, you think. His face is covered with a strange mask, probably to help block out the smell of decay and rot.

He looks at you and you realize that you are wrong, so very wrong. This is no man. This is the Fleshless King.

You move backwards, trying to get away from the Fleshless King, but you trip over a stone and hit your head upon the edge of one of the megaliths. As darkness overtakes your vision, you see the Fleshless King approach.

You awake inside a wooden coffin as you hear the sound of dirt raining down. The Fleshless King has provided you with a single match and, as you strike it, you see the words etched above you: embrace him.

As the earth covers your grave, you feel the knife beside you and you realize: you are going to die. Now you can only decide how you will die - suffocating in the dark or by your own hand?

You grip the knife and decide.

Above you, the Fleshless King stands and waits for the dead.