Artwork by Joshua Insole

Their bodies had not been easy to dismantle, it had taken brute force and determination. At first, he hadn’t been sure what to do or why he felt the compulsion. He allowed Y Greal Sanctaidd to guide him, had listened to it as it whispered in the darkness. He’d applied sharpened rocks to slice the skin and cut through the muscle, and afterwards he’d pried and pulled using his bare hands.

Once their bodies had been reduced to their basic components — stacked neatly in two piles, one for the adult, one for the infant — he sat and gazed at the gore. How long he remained there he had no idea; he couldn’t remember when he’d started the process. Had it been day? Night? He glanced out of the bunker. It was dark beyond.

He meditated on what he was supposed to do next, but the visions wouldn’t come — he’d been abandoned. Was this a test? A test of his resolve? Of his ingenuity? He stared long and hard at Y Greal, until his eyes pulsed from the green glow and his skin was blistered and raw.

“There are three comforts of old age,” said the elderly woman to his left. She was all shrivelled up, like a raisin.

“Hm?” he asked, curious. “And what are those?” With his teeth gone, it sounded more like, And wo’ ah ‘ohw? It was no matter, however — the old bat appeared to have understood him. He dimly recognised her. From where, he could not say. If she’d asked him his name, he’d have come up emptyhanded.

“Number one—” she raised one gnarled finger “—is fire.” She cast a glance at Y Greal. “Not quite what I had in mind, but close enough.”

He grinned into the throbbing radiance. It grinned back. “And the second?” An’ ‘er ‘econd?

Another gnarled finger raised. “Number two,” she said as she regarded him with the empty sockets of her eyes, “is tobacco.”

He frowned. He didn’t have any tobacco. He was about to tell the crone this, when she shooed his words away before they’d even had the chance to take form. “How long have you been here?”

He stopped and thought. He shook his head. He had no idea.

“Too long. Too long to not have sampled the local flora. There grows on the precipice a weed. This weed does not grow anywhere else, for it is an eyesore. Harvest it. Smoke it.”

He was about to say, “Sure, why not?” when he discovered he was outside, beneath the starless sky. Lo and behold, from out of the gravel sprouted an ugly little thing. He crouched down and inspected it. In the darkness, the green of the stem and leaf was almost black. To say that there was the head of a flower at the tip would have been a misnomer — rather, there was a misshapen tumour. He plucked it from the base and suppressed a shudder when he saw the roots that wriggled in the air, like spider legs.

With the awful thing in his hand, he turned to head back to the bunker and was astounded to discover he was already there.

“Good, you found it. Bravo.” The old lady clapped, but no sound could be heard.

“Let’s see, you’ve got fire—” one raised finger “—and tobacco, of sorts—” a second finger “—now all we need is… oh yes, tea!”

“Tea?” ‘ea?

“Yes, tea.”

“I haven’t got any tea.” I aven’ go’ anee ‘ea.

“Why, of course you do!” The old lady gestured towards the little black teapot that he didn’t remember owning.

“Oh.” Stumped, he approached the pot. Swirls of steam drifted from the spout. The smell that wafted from the charred pot was something awful. He turned away and gagged. Had his stomach not been empty, he would have surely brought up its contents onto the floor of the bunker.

Behind him, the weed had been lit and placed at the base of Y Greal Sanctaidd, which continued to pulse and throb, indifferent to his actions. Rotten smoke coughed from the green-black flame and circled around his head in a halo of decay.

“Look,” said the old lady. “See.”

He didn’t want to look; he wanted more than anything to leave that rusted thing be. But he floated through the air on legs that did not move, he reached for the lid with hands that were not his, he saw the contents that steeped within through the eyes of another.

Oh my God, he wanted to say.

The old lady crowed laughter and clapped her hands together. She rocked back and forth on a chair that was not there. “God? God? What god?” She gestured to Y Greal. “What use of a God have you? You renounced whatever deity you once claimed to believe in when you began your prayers to us.”

The old crone leaned in close — somehow, she now towered above him — and he could see that her eyes were rotten. No pupils twitched in those clouded orbs. She grinned a grin that was both toothy and toothless. Her skin sagged and drooped from her bones, as if naught but a dress draped upon a hanger. The smell on her breath was death.

She prodded a knotted finger into and then through his chest. His heart seized up and the blood in his veins turned to ice. He gasped for a breath that would not come because his lungs had been calcified into stone.

“And your prayers have been answered.”

27th August 2020

Written for the August 2020 BlogBattle: Tea

Read the rest of Tales From Boddi Craig here!

5 thoughts on “Bragu

  1. Gary

    Brute force and heft… no sure about heft here, although to counter that negativity you do use one of my go to words for hag… crone. Not sure why, but I do like that word and here it fits perfectly.

    Love the way one could question reality here. Imagine what you need and it’s there. Dream, real or… as it appears… manipulation of actuality by said hag to remove free will and bend it to a cause. The real horror for me is our pseudo protagonist being manipulated rather like a puppet that can see, but not react consciously to unfolding events.

    Y Greal Sanctaidd made me chuckle too… for some reason it conjured up Monty Python with the grating voice saying “It’s a Grail…” A bit of Da Vinci Code maybe… a misspelling leading to an artefact that’s not quite what history remembers as true? Worship me and prosper, says spider to fly…

    The Crone works really well here. To me that’s a real character. No bat of eyelid to the opening gore, suggesting things that creates a path or illusion for the puppet to follow. If you ever need a ceremony of invocation doing by unwilling minds then who you gonna call?

    Hmm, almost said CroneBusters there…. good job I didn’t!

    I’m seeing a touch of scene exploration now too. Dipping in and out of chronology and concept testing. As you know I do that all the time ha, ha.

    I’m guessing here, but the crone feels like an avatar for the thing the monks are protecting. I say protecting but I’m no longer certain of the exact meaning. Protecting the village or manipulated to ensure no true “religious” exorcists appear. In that sense the crone is actually manipulating at a whole new level of suggestion.

    Now I’m thinking of Kings It… dormant and returning every so often. Does this antagonist have a similar cycle over centuries? Returning to Boddi Craig to rest before the next cycle of carnage? The island being it’s castle with those within unwitting puppets? The equivalent of Wamphyri Zgany? Not sure about the latter spelling!

    Awesome concepts Joshua. It so needs a real WIP to manifest in.

    • Joshua G. J. Insole

      Yes, after reviewing I think you’re right! I’ve changed the word now — thanks for the feedback! A gap between what I wanted to say in my mind and the fingers that typed… 😀

      Yes, I was trying to go for the “rollercoaster” effect — being strapped in, unable to control, just pulled along for the ride once the events have been set in motion. I like the slippery slope idea, of making a mistake and being unable to rectify the issue, things cascading and escalating from the initial flame — I think it’s quite a scary thought, speaking as someone who likes to believe in forgiveness and acceptance!

      Haha, CroneBusters. Yes, I quite liked her as well — I have big plans for her (in past and future events of BC). I worry a bit that this is all a tad confusing or jumbled for readers, but as the creator I like how the prompts act as tiny jigsaw pieces to a puzzle that goes on further than the eye can see… I took inspiration from your explorations with your universe and characters — Rose, the Amanuensis, and so on — thought I’d have a go. I’m also thinking of trying the same thing out with the Reedsy short stories — 3k words a week every week, that’s a book in a year. Very different universe, though!

      I’ve got answers to some of these questions, but not all, haha! You’ve really started the ball rolling — a tad Indiana Jones-esque, it feels, with so many ideas! Thanks for the great comment Gary, we’ve touched on this before, but it’s always great to have proper engagement with a story. 😊 Really motivates the writing muscles!

      Slowly working my way through the backlog of BB stories, by the way! Hope to catch up on all (including yours — the titles alone sound great) by the end of the day… I hope! 🙂

      • Gary

        Often happens here too. The mind ahead of the typing, get stuck with a word, chuck something in and highlight it for later. Can’t stop the flow once it’s going kind of thing.

        The roller coaster effect is what I saw at the first scene change. Drifting on the subconscious with the mind watching in from afar. Almost trance or dream like under the manipulation of the crone. I tried that with the God Strain as the virus took over the executive function and sent the host mind into a corner.

        I gather this “flowed” from a steam of conscious writing method. Set off and see where it goes. That’s the beauty of random backstory playing. Never quite know what’s going to happen. It’s a bit like reading a book for the first time. It might be why I can’t plan books ahead of writing them. Doing that ruins the fun lol.

        I’m aware mine must be reader confusing too. Might be why the comments are scarce. Not so easy to dip in if you’re not following the greater plot. Mine fly all over chronology and worlds with constant back referencing. Helps me, but probably not anyone else 🤔

        I keep looking in on Reedsy now too. Not actually tried it, but I did have an account so must have intended doing it eons ago and forgot… bit like my dust ridden manuscripts ha, ha.

        3k a week is easily doable. It’s about time management and habit. Mines rubbish right now, but that pub thing should ease back now. Once it’s open (Monday) the intensity should drop. Really ought to put that to good use!

        I hope the random questions do help stimulate the grey matter too. Nothing like other eyes seeing things the writer might not consider. Helps (IMO) create a better fleshed out world. Even if the question raised is not used, I often play it out anyway. See how characters might react. It sometimes helps adjust them slightly.

        Same here, I’m almost up to date with this months. I think you’re one behind on mine now too lol

  2. aebranson

    Deeper and darker this story goes! The appearance of the hag was an unexpected twist, and the descriptions of her and everything else in this setting are truly chilling. The ‘tobacco’ got my gray cells stirring. The hag tells the man to smoke it, I presumed in a pipe, but it seems instead to be offered up as a type of incense. The smoke from the fire is rotten … very interesting! Fire is often portrayed as cleansing, and smoke from incense (or in some Native American cultures, tobacco) symbolizes carrying prayers up to heaven. But here it stays earthbound in a halo of decay! As for the contents of the tea, I immediately envisioned bits of his wife and daughter floating in the muck, but you don’t tell us … great way to string the readers along, and I do hope to find out what it was! Considering you’ve described a form of Black Mass, where everything is opposite of that which is pure and good, this story is pure evil … great job! I’m also beginning to fixate on the exact identity of Y Greal Sanctaidd, which means because my knowledge of Welsh is very limited, I’m going to look it up … and that shows how much I’ve been intrigued. Hope to learn more with the next prompt!

    • Joshua G. J. Insole

      Thank you! I rather liked the ghost-hag, and had a lot of fun writing her. 😀 I hope I get the chance to use her again…

      Yes, those slight incongruencies were intentional, I wanted to have this “dream” effect, where not everything is quite right! Very cool that you noted Native American cultures, I hadn’t even thought of that — pure accident, but a nice one at that. Haha, yes, I know what the contents of the tea were, and toyed with the idea of revealing or not… perhaps I’ll come back to that tea in detail. 😉

      Thanks again! I always look forward to these insightful comments of yours. 🙂

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