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Black Door Pt. IV: Softly, Bearing Gifts

Welcome to Part IV of my short serial ‘Black Door’. Previous parts of this story, are here:

I: Softly Does It

II: Rowan

III: Adam

IV: Softly, Bearing Gifts

***

M

r Softly splashes into a muddy plashy, and growls at himself. This is not how to sneak. Especially not up through this tall, pine hillside, that is barren and brown and smells of spicy pine oil, each twig a pistol shot.

The next hour is silence. Branches thrust up to his guts in crazy angles, but he squeezes on through the standing dead, as greased as the wind may be.

He chuckles. No clothes catch or drag, like flickering sails.

Instead, he holds the gun.

The gun is wrapped in layers of cloth – a shirt from the old man’s cabin – and the warm checks hold Softly’s delicate claws away from the blistering meteorite of cold iron.

He wonders once again, if such a gift from one of its own will turn the Clutcher to talking, or whether it’ll just eviscerate him where he stands.

Make no mistake, there’s no love lost between Softly and Clutcher, oh no, and what’s more to the bother, it seems – suspiciously – that the Clutcher can see Softly, perhaps as clear as day.

Clear as day: that most disreputable of solar events.

Softly sighs, and continues to drag that heavy old gun up the hill, arms straight, chest wheezing, as if, for all the world, he’s carrying Death itself. Which, he suspects, he may well be. Man, Softly, Clutcher, they all carry their deaths with them – death to share, death to give or take.

And he with a Clutcher to befriend, or at worst, threaten.

Who knows what might happen if this offensive weapon went off? Indeed, he may wonder for some time immemorial, for this gun is not loaded.

More’s the pity.

Still, threats and surprises. General bluffery and skulduggery, invisible claws slipping around the throats of…

A hillside, where the light has gone from the ground; these shaggy-tailed, dogs-of-pine scattering needles on his head and arms. His own, fragrant scent of musky animal, wet cat, gives way to flecks of resin and amber droplets, tacky like honey. Flies fizzing around his invisible crevices. The sun dropping like a splot of fat beyond the ridge, the moon opening up like white cartilage in the bloody sky.

‘Come, Softly,’ its says. ‘Bring your bleedin’ iron and let’s have at ya.’

“Softly, softly,” he mutters. Wouldn’t do to rush it. “Clutcher is as clutcher does.” And my, my what long, long, fingers it has, for whiskings yer eye-bobs out, and sucking a peeper like a popsy.

But softly, softly, for the man called Adam is most necessary.

“Oh, yes,” mutters Softly. Guns and graves and whispered stories needed, if a weavings to capture. A wonderful, wonderful, weavings to make more’n invisible than invisible. A shadow of horrors, without a shadow.

Ha.

He slips past a branch, and more resin falls to invisible, upon the flesh he’d want as slough. But to do it, tricks and favours; eh, mah boy?And with that, finding the body; soft, and wet, hanging like a bony tent of flesh out here in the wilderness.

And guarding it?

Why, the Clutcher, like as not. Smell its spoor – like treacle, glands ripe – marked a branch right here with urine, oily as lamp oil.

A distance, yes, from cliff and the Black Door? “Complicated,” he hisses. But he wants the weavings, yes?

So does it.

Simple.

But the Clutcher is unpredictable.

While Softly has lived most of his life on the outskirts of urban brick and cobbled ways – in the damp truckle of cellars and beer-swilled alleys, dragging and eating whatever limb may drop, half-cut between his jaws – not so the Clutcher. Wilderness fills it like a bag.

Ah, the limbs, Softly muses: often sweet-meat tainted by beer, wine or cider, or his favourite, Stout. People like pig? Not so that apple goes. No, Stout to a liking. That’s what’s best. But the malty, treacly treat is rarer these days.

Licks his lips.

And now, the ridge, and into the crator. Birds die. No light. No moon. A reek of death behind pine, like a sewer running foul beneath a shady, dappled street. Gun ridged up in cloth, claw to the useless trigger. Aye, the weight of it dragging on his steely soul; metal on metal.

Softly, softly.

Ask yer question, bugger off. That’s what he says to himself.

Crash of leaves!

… whisked off his feet and pinned six feet up a tree trunk, like a plank to a broadside.

15 comments

1 Icy Sedgwick { 09.24.11 at 10:38 am }

Really evocative piece. You really luxuriate in all of the senses and it really brings this whole story to life.

2 Steve Green { 09.24.11 at 5:37 pm }

Oh, but I love this Mr Softly character, and the delicious turns of phrase that weave around him.

3 John Xero { 09.26.11 at 8:54 am }

I am really coming to like Mr. Softly (as a character, not as someone to meet in a alleyway, dark or daylit). Plots are afoot!

I like stories that hint at the building of an intricate web, with a character (especially a character of questionable motives) putting pieces carefully in place. And then I like watching the gears catch, and the whole machinery lurch to life within the story. The tricks and double crosses, the twists, both planned and otherwise. The kind you find in Mike Carey’s Lucifer or Gaiman’s American Gods.

And a cliffhanger! Great stuff. *^_^*

4 Stephen Hewitt { 09.26.11 at 9:20 pm }

@Icy — wherever it goes, I’m having fun. 🙂

@Steve — Mr Softly is rather amusing to write. If I stop, he takes over…

@John — You probably wouldn’t want to meet Mr Softly in a dark alley. Things are definitely in motion — wheels within wheels. 😉

5 Joan { 09.27.11 at 1:50 pm }

The story is really starting to get going now. Softly is shown more as he is with his long claws. There is more information about Clutcher also, and a need of Adam. It’s all starting to come together. I like the idea of the weaving – it’s coming through more strongly as something specific – there is a close tie-up between imagery and the actual in your writing, which is striking. I like the idea of everyone and everything carrying their own deaths with them – Softly isn’t a ‘man’. He’s wet cat.

6 Stephen Hewitt { 10.04.11 at 8:48 am }

@Joan — it’s a strange thing writing a weekly serial, hoping that folks can follow what’s going on from week to week. I like to reveal things in their own time in whatever I’m writing, so I’m glad folk are patient and sticking with it. As there is much about fate in this story, then deaths, indeed, could be seen to be be carried along. And Softly is definitely something unusual, though probably isn’t entirely sure what he is, either.

7 Helen { 10.05.11 at 6:45 am }

Mr. Softly is a character that continues to surprise – I like the way the characters weave in and out of each other and one is not quiet sure which way it’s all going….

8 Stephen Hewitt { 10.15.11 at 10:49 am }

@Helen — Mr Softly is very much into surprises, particularly on foggy nights. 😉

9 Harry B. Sanderford { 10.05.11 at 4:22 pm }

Just catching up to this one and sure glad I did! You have such a gift for story-telling. I’m off to the next chapter!

10 Stephen Hewitt { 10.15.11 at 11:03 am }

@Harry — glad you liked this one Harry. As things get a little darker here-and-there, and I’m glad for every reader who has ventured this far 🙂

11 Aidan Fritz { 10.08.11 at 4:38 am }

You’ve done a great job with the voice of Mr. Softly. Within the first paragraph I was enjoying his voice and reveling in the way it evoked the scene where we first met him.

12 Stephen Hewitt { 10.15.11 at 11:16 am }

@Aidan — thanks Aidan. Mr Softly is a pleasure to write, though I do have to keep him away from the other stories in my head, particularly if they are small and fluttery. St 😉

13 Joan { 10.13.11 at 5:11 pm }

To read a serial – I have gone back and read the others in order to see how this follows – but I’ve just re-read this now – it’s some weeks since I visited your site – and I’ll try going straight on to the next piece – for me, this piece seemed to tie together with the earlier ones, and I had a clearer idea of where I was and where we might be going.
There’s a trick to writing a serial – don’t ask me what it is, but cliffhangers, as someone mentioned, can be quite important.
Charles Dickens wrote a lot of his stuff as serials – but I find you have to be in a particular mood for Charles Dickens.
Showing my age here, but the children’s writer, Enid Blyton – long dead and gone, may she rest in peace – she tended to write a cliffhanger style. I used to read them to my children as bedtime stories (changing phrases like ‘that was queer …’ to ‘that was strange …’, and ‘she dressed in a very gay fashion’, to ‘she dressed in a very colourful way’, and … oh, changing some women’s names etc – honestly, these words, phrases and names did not mean what they mean now).
Anyway, in the end I had to stop the reading (to my children) in the middle of a chapter, or they’d never sleep – no good leaving them with a cliffhanger at the end.
Enid Blyton has had some bad press, but it was through reading her when I was a kid that got me interested in literature in the first place. I could recommend the ‘Adventure’ series (available now with the original vocabulary). The first two ‘Famous Fives’ are actually very good, in my opinion. The ‘Secret Sevens’ are too much like the early Harry Potters (I’ve only read the first two of those).

14 Stephen Hewitt { 10.15.11 at 11:42 am }

@Joan — if there’s a clearer idea of what’s going on, then this is good. I’m trying to gradually focus things but, inevitably, in my own sweet time. Ach, I’ll get there 😉

It was funny putting that cliffhanger in — first one I’ve ever written, and came about as much to split a gigantic post in half as it was planned. But, when I noticed a natural break, I was a happy man. The end of Part V was a gentle move to repeat the cliffhangery, but with a four foot drop onto mildly pointy scarp.

I still find Dickens incredible, not only for his awesome writing and bus-loads of characters, but for the fact that he serialized all his works and didn’t have a word processor. Quill cramp? I think so.

Enid Blyton is awesome. Ursula Le Guin got me started with ‘A Wizard of Earthsea‘, but the Famous Five, the Faraway Tree, etc. were what carried me on. As much as the language has changed, they’re still great books. By all accounts, Enid wasn’t perhaps the nicest individual, but she still had a way with stories. Strangely enough, I don’t know if I’ve read much of the Adventure series. I must have, surely? Rates well on Amazon. And as for the Secret Seven, I didn’t like them either, for some reason, while I was entirely devoted to the Famous Five.

St.

15 Joan { 10.13.11 at 5:22 pm }

Oh – it was John Xero who mentioned the cliffhanger – sorry, John – I usually make a point of properly acknowledging people.

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