Sunday, November 27, 2016

Jogging in the Shadows


I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving with their friends and families. My story this week was based upon a short story prompt from a complete of weeks ago entitled "Pumpkins".

I apologize that I didn't get it out last Sunday as I was on vacation with my family. Hopefully everyone will enjoy the story, though. Let me know what you think! I appreciate all feedback!


James Meadows

"Jogging in the Shadows"
by James J Meadows III

Left, right, left, right…

Each foot fell in front of the other in an almost hypnotic rhythm as I raced down the dimly lit sidewalk on my nightly jog. I liked jogging at night. It was just about the only time when the temperatures were cool enough for someone to go jogging – unless you count the morning, which I don’t. There is no way I am getting up early to go running. No, I’m a night owl, and the night is where I feel at peace.

Over the bridge, past the small pond, and across the entrance to the apartment complex, I made my way along the well-trodden path. Soon, I found myself in a line of thick trees, which provided some protection for my eyes against the glaring headlights of the busy street they lined.

I couldn’t count the number of times I had run this path. Suffice to say, however, I knew the exact distance I was from my house during every piece of the journey, including what time I should be making and how much further I had to go. I knew its every feature by heart.

Over the cracked tile which wound around the ancient oak tree, past the park bench set just a few steps back from the trail, and past the old brick well at the end of the fence line.

It took me about five or six steps before I snapped out of my trance long enough for my brain to process what my eyes had just registered. There wasn’t a brick well on my run.

I turned around, jogging backwards for a few steps, and looked behind me. Sure enough, there was an old-fashioned brick well, with a wooden cover and an old bucket, sitting right in the middle of a small grassy area, which I knew was normally blank. Even more strange, sitting on top of the well was a jack-o-lantern, whose grotesque chiseled features, illuminated by the candle burning in the center, left an odd impression in my mind. Where did they come from?

I spun back around, resuming my jog as I tried to wrap my head around the weirdness of the situation. On the one hand, a well should not suddenly appear in the middle of a park where it didn’t exist before. Furthermore, it was the middle of spring. People didn’t light jack-o-lanterns in the middle of spring. Heck, it wasn’t even pumpkin season. No place would be carrying pumpkins this time of year.

At the same time, though, as I reminded myself, it was a public park, where kids host plays, residents put on shows and neighborhoods have their community events. The whole thing was probably just some sort of prop. I decided to take a closer look at it on the way back. After all, I didn’t get a good look at it as I passed in the dark.

Speaking of the dark, I glanced around. It was much darker than usual in this area. The lamp posts seemed to be out. I lifted my eyes to look at them. Sure enough, all of them were completely black, as though the area was experiencing a power outage.

I glanced ahead at the nearby intersection to see if the traffic signals were out also. Sure enough, they were out. And I mean they were out – not flashing red, like you sometimes see. They were completely black. This made me feel a little leery about crossing the usually busy intersection. Even at this time of night, the road was still fairly well traveled. It was then, I became struck by the sudden realization that I hadn’t seen a car in several minutes of running now, and the intersection was entirely empty.

If I was feeling confused before, I was totally unnerved now. I had a strong desire to turn back on my run. Still, I managed to suppress the desire. I was being silly. I was allowing my imagination to get the better of me. There was a reasonable explanation for all of this and there was no reason for me to abandon my run. I was only a couple of miles into the run anyway.

I was just crossing the intersection, when I felt a strange chill in the air. It was like running through an invisible wall of evil. The hairs on the back of my neck rose, like antennae picking up the dark broadcast of some sinister radio signal. My body involuntarily shuddered, goose bumps rising on my arms, and my footsteps faltering, as though drained of all strength.

Only my resolve to continue on my run compelled me forward, though at a much slower pace as I fought to force my legs ahead.

“Come on,” I muttered to myself, gesturing forward with my hand the way I always did when trying to encourage myself.

“Come on,” I heard the words echo in my head. Except the voice wasn’t my own.

It was a strange, deep, echoing voice, like one might hear when speaking to an empty stadium. Even more disturbing than the voice, was the strange impression that accompanied it: the impression of a presence, a vile-wicked presence, watching me, waiting for me.

This was too much for me. Without needing another moment of thought or reflection, I stopped and spun back the direction I had come. Maybe I was just imagining things, but I didn’t care. I was getting out of here!

As I retraced my steps across the intersection, I felt the strange chill wash over me again, like a gust of wind coming from behind. This time it brought more than just goosebumps. A strange vision filled my mind, a vision of a man – if you wanted to call it a man, perhaps ‘a thing’ would be more accurate – running just a short ways behind me.

The ‘thing’ was man-like with two legs, two arms and a humanoid body structure, yet it possessed no face, no eyes, and no features. Rather, it seemed almost like a living, moving shadow approaching from behind me. The vision brought an almost irresistible urge to turn around and look over my shoulder, an urge I fought to resist as some distant instinct, buried deep within my mind, seemed to come to life, mingling with my fear, urging me to run for all my life was worth and not to look back.

Of all the times in my life where I found a ‘second-wind’ none compared to the burst of energy I found now. My previously weary legs sprang to life, sending me hurtling forward.

“Come on,” the voice whispered in my head again.

With it came a fresh vision. I could see more of the creatures. Some of them seemed to be wearing clothes, hats, and various garments now, yet the figures inside them remained dark as the night. An eerie sinister energy seemed to radiate off of them. I picked up my pace, as much as I could with my heart already aching like I was running a marathon.

This didn’t seem to make a difference. Rather, they seemed to go even faster in response to my increase, steadily growing nearer to me with each step I took. As they approached, the visions grew more intense, their dark forms more clear and their evil aura more intense.

I ran harder, my legs and feet screaming in protest. Yet I didn’t dare slow down. I had to run. I had to get away.

“Come on.”

The voice whispered more urgently, the words taking on an almost sinister delight, as though mocking me, or perhaps, inviting me to my doom. I didn’t care which. I just wanted to get away.

Then I saw it. A short distant ahead the well sat in the park with the bizarre jack-o-lantern on top, its grotesque candle-lit grin shining through the night. That was where all the strangeness began. Maybe if I could make it back there, everything would return to normal. It was a long shot. But at this point, it was all I had.

Straining with all my might, I sprinted toward the pumpkin, the black figures in hot pursuit; the vision growing ever clearer as they grew nearer. I was only a fifty yards away. They were getting closer. Only thirty yards away, they were practically on top of me. Only twenty yards away, I could see their shadowy hands rising. They were reaching out to me. Ten yards away, the nearest one almost had me. Five yards, his fingers were just inches from back.

I could feel him grab me. I could hear the vile voice laugh in my ears.  He was pulling me backward!


With the last burst of strength I could muster, I threw myself forward, out of the strange grasp, and fell tumbling onto the sidewalk, rolling past the well and its wicked decoration.

Everything was silent. The voice was gone. I looked up and stared around me. There were no figures. There was no well. There was no jack-o-lantern. Cars were passing down the road, their headlights illuminating the dark street along with the glow of the fully illuminated street lamps.

For several minutes I lay there gasping for air. I could feel the pain throbbing from my knees and arms where they struck the pavement. At that moment, however, I could care less. I was just thankful to be alive; thankful to be safe; thankful to be away from wherever or whatever I was experiencing.

Still gasping for air, I rose to my feet, my injured legs shaky beneath my frame and headed home to chart a new route for my evening runs.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

In the Necromancer's Lair


This short story was inspired by a short story prompt called "Dramatic Entrance". The story is written to stand alone, although my long-time readers will recognize the characters from the adventures of Annie and her Psuedo-Dragon which I first started writing in My Grandmother's Pendant and continued in Voices and Visions in a Dark Wood.

As always, I appreciate and enjoy any feedback! Let me know what you think. Also, if there are every any story ideas or prompts you'd like to send my way for me to try, let me know!

Have a Great Week!


"In the Necromancer's Lair"
by James J Meadows III

                “To restore balance to the worlds, you must retrieve the Pendant of the Last Kingdom. The ancient mystical talisman can be found in the stronghold of the Necromancer, the ancient lord of death. Find his lair, hidden within the secret kingdom of Radash, and return the pendant back to us. Or all will be lost.”

            Those were the seer’s words, which started this whole mission almost three weeks ago.

Now, I stood at the door to the Necromancer’s lair. Disguised as a small stone house in the middle of the city, it was the perfect camouflage, one which sent me on a two week long goose chase around town trying to find it.

Who knows? If not for the tip from a stranger at the local bar, I might still be searching for another three weeks - perhaps longer.

            “Remember, if all the legends are true, getting the pendant from him will not be easy,” whispered my invisible pseudo-dragon companion, Llander, his high pitched voice coming from just to my right. “He is said to be extremely powerful, capable of roasting us with nothing more than a flick of his wrist. We will need to move fast before he can do so.”

            I nodded, still staring at the door. Summoning my courage, I approached the barrier, advancing up the sidewalk until I stood almost directly in front of it. This was absolutely nuts.

I was just a simple teenage girl, with no notable powers, skills, or talents. Heck, I wasn’t even from this world. How could the great seer expect me, of all people, to defeat the mysterious necromancer, recover the lost Pendant, and restore balance to the worlds?

“Alright,” I said, my head spinning as I tried to wrap my mind around what I was about to do. “We will need to catch him off guard, I will try to keep him distracted while you rush in and grab the pendant.”

“How do you plan to do that?” my companion asked.

“Not sure,” I answer. “What I need is some sort of dramatic entrance, something no one will expect?”

“You are going to enter doing a theater routine?”

“No, not dramatic like that,” I replied, feeling a rush of annoyance at my companion’s usual inability to understand figurative language; it was a flaw all pseudo-dragons possessed. “I mean, dramatic as in do something big and grandiose!”

“You are going to make yourself larger?”

“No,” I said, my annoyance increasing. “I mean like bursting into the door, creating a lot of noise, something that will catch him off-guard so he won’t be able to take immediate action.”

“Oh,” my companion mused. “You are going to burst through the door? But won’t it be locked?”

I hesitated. Come to think about it, I never considered how we would actually open the door. In all the fantasy novels I always read, or various video games I played, you typically just walked inside the evil villain’s dungeon and confronted him.

“Um, I don’t suppose you have some sort of magic that can unlock a door?” I asked.

“That isn’t really a part of my race’s abilities,” he answered. “Maybe you can kick the door in?”

If I could see my companion, I would have rolled my eyes at him. I was five foot two and weighed one hundred pounds. I was more likely to get blown away by a breeze than kick in a door.

“Why don’t you kick it open,” I asked. “Your race is, like, part-dragon or something, isn’t it? Don’t you have some sort of supernatural strength?”

“I’m one foot tall and weigh about ten pounds, what do you think?”

“Well, we’ve got to figure out some way in!” I said, with no small amount of exasperation.

“If you’ll step aside, I have the key,” a deep voice sounded from behind me. “I can open the door for you.”

            A chill ran up my spine as I turned to see a tall black-robed figure towering above me. He had narrow grey lips, thin sallow skin, and long white hair flowing down from beneath the low hood.

            For a moment, I stood paralyzed with fear, gazing into his bloodshot eyes. I didn’t need an introduction to know I stood in the presence of the mysterious Lord of Death, who the seer had told me about; the one capable of turning me into a pillar of dust with just a word. He had apparently walked straight up to us while we were debating, without us even noticing. Now, we would pay.

            I stood there, holding my breath, waiting for my doom.

Nothing happened. He just continued standing there staring at me for a second, before making a slight gesture with his right hand, which I now realized was holding a key, as though requesting me to move out of the way.

            With a quick nervous step, I moved aside. To my surprise, he proceeded right past me, with complete nonchalance, placing the key into the door, twisting it, and pushing it open. He then turned around, looking at something behind me, and waved his hand. I looked back and realized there was a small cart full of vegetables, meats, and various other supplies sitting on the lawn, a short distance behind where he stood a moment before.

            In response to his wave, the cart rolled forward, advancing through the door and down a short hallway visible within. He took a couple of steps after it before turning around.

            “Are you coming?”

            I stood irresolute for a second. This was not in any way what I was expecting. My instinct was to look at my companion for advice. Then, I remembered he was invisible. I was on my own with this decision. Still, it wasn’t like I had any better plan of what to do next. So I went ahead.

            He led me through an entry hall, into a large sitting room attached to a kitchen. I followed him in before giving a sudden scream of fear, backing into the wall behind me. The kitchen and sitting room were filled with walking skeletons, their bones, teeth and eyeless skulls devoid of all flesh, organs and decorations, save for the dirty, moth-eaten clothes hanging from their frames.

            Our host ignored my outcry.

            “Roger,” he called, addressing one of the skeletons. “Fetch some drinks for our guests.”

The skeleton replied with a rather rude gesture, involving one hand and one finger.

            "Don’t you give me any lip,” our host snarled. “Just do it! That’s an order!”

            The skeleton retreated into the kitchen as our host turned back to us. Meanwhile, other skeletons began collecting the various foods, wines, and supplies from his cart, placing them into cupboards and spaces around the kitchen.

            “The undead can be such a pain at times,” he said, with a small sigh. “But if I don’t keep them in line, the wandering hordes will go wreaking havoc across the kingdom like they used to. Please, sit down.”

            He gestured toward a series of plush armchairs and couches. I took a seat on the nearest one, feeling completely bewildered.

            “Anyway,” he said, taking a seat across from me. “You must be Annie.”

            “How did you know my name?” I asked, rather surprised, not just at his knowledge of my name but also at the fact that he called me by it. Though I always introduced myself by name, so far no one else in this world had used it.

            “I know a lot of things,” he answered. “Your name is just one of them, though if you’d rather me call you ‘Light Child’ like everyone else, I will do so.”

            “No, please, call me Annie,” I said, feeling a rush of relief.

In some ways, it was nice to actually have what seemed like a normal conversation with someone; though, at the same time, considering I hadn’t met a single other person in this world who seemed capable of such conversations, this only added to the already surreal quality of the scene.

            All-in-all, though, holding a conversation was much better than the alternative. I only hoped my companion was taking advantage of this time to look for the pendant. As I had no way to tell, I decided I would just keep the conversation going as long as possible and hopefully buy some time.

            “Do you have a name?” I asked.

            “Probably,” he answered. “I couldn’t tell you what it is, though. No one has called me by it for centuries. They always call me by various pseudonyms and titles. After a while, I just forgot what it was.”

            “Oh,” I replied, unsure quite where to take the conversation from here.

            Fortunately, the skeleton, dubbed Roger, came back about that time carrying a pair of glasses and a small ceramic container, which reminded me forcibly of a dog bowl. He handed one glass to the Necromancer, one to me, and placed the bowl on the ground beside me. They were all filled with a strange, glowing, greenish-liquid. The drink in the bowl started getting lapped up as soon as it touched the ground - so much for my companion scouring the place for the pendant.

            I studied the drink, feeling somewhat apprehensive.

            “It isn’t poisoned or drugged or anything,” my host replied.

            “That is okay, pseudo-dragons are immune to poisons,” came my companion’s voice from beside me.

            “Yeah, I know,” the necromancer responded. “I was talking to her – Earthlings aren’t.”

            “How do you know the world I’m from?” I asked. I was growing more than a bit unnerved by his seemingly vast knowledge of me. “And how do you know what my race is and isn’t immune to?”

            He gave a small laugh.

            “My dear young lady, they wouldn’t have appointed me Keeper of the World Pendants, if I didn’t have a pretty good knowledge of the various worlds,” he replied. “I suppose that is what you came here for, after all. Here you go.”

            The necromancer reached into his robes, withdrawing a large golden medallion, featuring a bright blue circular gem situated inside a ring of gold, attached to a thick chain necklace. I recognized it instantly as the one my grandmother used to always wear. He tossed it over to me in a haphazard manner. I caught it, even more confused than before.

            “You’re just giving this to me?” I asked.

            “Of course,” he replied, “Why not? You’re the rightful bearer, chosen by the previous bearer to take over their legacy. Plus, you passed the first test.”

            “What test?” I asked.

            “Finding me,” he answered, “and having the courage to confront me.”

            “But, you haven’t been dangerous at all,” I replied. “What kind of test is that?”

            “A real one,” he said. “Many of the greatest fears people face are in their heads. Being able and willing to face and overcome your own internal fears is the first step to facing the real fears and dangers which confront you the rest of the way.”

            “The rest of the way…” I said, my voice trailing off as the realization dawned that this might only be the first test.

            “My dear, did the seer not talk to you about the many vile forces seeking to throw the worlds out of balance for their own dark schemes?” He asked. “Do you really believe obtaining the pendant and returning to your world will be so easy with such enemies?”

            “I guess, I hoped,” I replied.

He smiled at those words.

            “But what does this pendant have to do with anything?” I pressed. “This is just a simple necklace that my grandmother used to wear. What does it have to do with bringing balance and safety to the worlds?”

            “Each world in our multi-verse of worlds has a pendant associated with it,” he answered. “This world, being the center of all worlds, is the repository from which they are distributed. Within each world, there is one bearer of their pendant, who is tasked with guarding and protecting it.”

            “Your grandmother took on the responsibility when she came to this world ages ago,” he continued. “When she passed away, she willed you to be the next guardian.”

            “Then, why didn’t she just give it to me herself?” I asked. “Why did I get brought into this world?”

            “The pendant must attune itself to the wearer, if it will give them the power of their world,” he said. “While you wear the pendant in your world, you will attract all the blessings, joys and happiness of your world; or else, you will attract all the pain, grief and suffering of your world. It all depends upon you! If you are to unlocked the good and benevolent powers of the pendant, you must learn to attune yourself to it and unlock its secrets. These things can only be done here.”

            “So, what do I do now?”

            “Now?” He asked. “Well, you can finish your drink for one. Then, I would put the pendant on. Afterward, I encourage you to head back to the seer. I expect as you travel there, your next step will be revealed to you. Be open to the power of the pendant and its messages. Do so, and the whole world, and the secrets of all the worlds, will open up to you. Protect it, for dark forces want the medallion for themselves, and will try to prevent your unlocking it.”

            I studied the pendant, twirling it around in my hands. I felt myself reeling from the shock of all I had just heard. I took a sip from my drink as I thought about everything I had gone through. The drink possessed a odd, sweet flavor which reminded me, strangely, of flowers. My mind was too preoccupied to enjoy it, though.

Only ten minutes ago, I had stood at the door, trying to figure out a way to make a dramatic entrance so I could get the pendant. Now, a part of me wished I could make a dramatic exit to get rid of it.

            Yet, the weight of the obligation, and the knowledge of the faith everyone had in me, stayed my hand. I could see the concerned faces of the seer and her people, asking me to help them. I couldn’t let them down. I put the pendant around my neck, placed down my drink, and rose from the chair.

            “Thank you,” I said. “I appreciate your straight-forward answers. You are the only one who has given me any. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll see myself out.”

            With those words, I strode boldly back toward the door and the waiting world beyond.