POSTCARDS FROM HELL: by the first gas light

story 1

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Once upon a time there lived a princess who did not believe she was a princess.

Her angel wings were invisible and even though the men and women who raised her in hell knew she had wings, they acted like she wasn’t flying whenever she flew.

The evil octopodes dressed up in suits of human explained the phenomenon as something evil. They convinced her that every time she flew, something she could control as easily as you and I can control our lungs’ need for oxygen, she was committing a heinous, unforgivable sin.

So, the princess who did not believe she was a princess filled with shame each time she flew with her invisible wings, until one day the grey-purple smog was too heavy to lift.

Something within simply snapped. And she couldn’t take it anymore. She couldn’t take believing that she was evil with an act that she knew in her heart did no harm to anyone.

She had seen the way her octopode dressed in human suit guardians, those she believed loved her as much as she loved them, used their bruises and burnt tongues to sting each other.

She has watched them inflict gashes in others, allow those wounds to fester until puss collected and began to overflow.

She watched them laugh.

The princess who didn’t believe she was a princess knew that she wasn’t like that. But there was nobody – not one single soul – in the land, hell, who could withstand the curse that awaited anyone who spoke against the octopodes.

One early autumn eve, the princess who did not believe she was a princess, fell into a fitful slumber after a long day harvesting marigold, lavender, turnip, and thyme.

She woke from a nightmare in which some creature had crept into hell and murdered all the people.

It was a blood bath.

Jo was terrified. She ran to her parents’ room still half-stunned. Her mother turned on the bedside light and pulled Jo to her.

“There, there, sweetheart,” her mother put a glass of cool liquid to her lips. “You’ll be alright. It’s was just a dream. Tell me, what happened?”

In her paralyzed panic, she blurted out what she saw, with no reason to fear that there would be consequences.

Her mother looked at her father. There was something strange on their faces, an odd shadow of fear or something.

Her mother took a deep breath. “You’re a woman now, Jo, these things may come to you from time to time.”

“Thyme,” said her father. “Were you harvesting today, Jo?”

The child nodded. On the edge of weeping. The blood and the pain still fresh in her mind’s eye.

“Oh no,” her father said.

“What?”

“I’ve heard of this before. Back when I was young. There were a few groups of women harvesting a certain mixture of herbs and berries in one day because of a late crop year and somehow the combination brought on powerful visions in their sleep.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” her mother said.

He shook his head at the sad story. “No, I’m afraid it wasn’t good at all. The women had dreamed the same dream and it was seen as a prophecy. It was also of violent death to come, and the villagers hadn’t heard of anything like it. They were terrified.”

Her father looked down at his nails.

“The villagers demanded that these young girls give them the answers to how to protect themselves. But they had none. At first it was believed to be a lie. Nobody had the knowledge at first to recognize the herbs could induce powerful visions. They decided the girls had played a cruel joke on them because one had not long before been deemed unfit for marriage in a political power play. The sad part is that the girls knew nothing of the politics behind suddenly branding the one unfit. The girls, as had the villagers, believed everything the elders told them. But it was getting to the elders, their guilt and bad deeds, after these dreams came to light. Because the dreams sounded like it could be the flood that was said to come once the land was overtaken by sinners. It was a flood the elders had not told anyone of, but they started to suspect someone on the outside of their inner circle was just as devious as they were.”

Jo gasped, more entranced by this story than her horrifying blood bath nightmares at that point.

“I know,” he said. “The very first death came about just as the girls had prophicized. The elders panicked and risked bringing in a midwife from a far away village. This woman told the elders of the herbs and suggested the girls be made to drink a concoction to induce more visions. She said it was the only way to get an answer. The elders agreed. The girls woke the first night terrified to see the same dreams only in more vivid colours and scents and textures. The next night was more of the same. The midwife suggested to continue with the herbs until at least one of the girls was able to withstand the fright of witnessing such gruesome fates in order to stay calm enough inside the dream to seek a solution.”

“Did it work, father?”

“No.”

“Oh my god! What happened?”

“The violent deaths kept happening and most of the girls were driven crazy by being forced to live such violence in their dreams each night. The ones who didn’t go crazy were charged with heresy and told if they didn’t give up the answer, they would be dragged into the forest and left to die at the hands of wild beasts. The truth was that the girls didn’t have the answer, but the remaining elders were so terrified and stuck in paranoia, it was impossible for them to trust anyone, including themselves.”

“How did it end, Father?”

“The three girls who had remained sane were drug into the forest and left to die and the prophesy was carried out exactly as the visions said. They all died in the end. And there was only one thing that would have saved any of them.”

He looked at his nails again.

“What!”

“The only thing that would have saved them would have been if the girls had kept the visions to themselves. Just kept it all inside. You see, it was actually in their telling of the visions that the prophecies were able to come true. People have been dreaming of blood baths for years and none ever came true until they were told.”

“But father,” Jo gasped, “I’ve just told you and mother of my horrible nightmares which were every bit a blood bath as the ones in the story you just told me.”

“Hush, sweetheart,” said her mother. “I’m sure your father has a solution.”

“Oh yes, there is a solution. To never tell another soul of this dream. And, Jo, if you have another dream as this one, keep it to yourself. Don’t speak another word of it, no matter how often it comes to you.”

“Do you feel better now?”

“I do feel a bit better, I suppose.”

Jo felt uncertain, but she didn’t want to say anything that might break the carefully balanced belief that was forming in her mind. She needed time to allow it to set.

The last thing she wanted was to bring about a prophecy of death and destruction. Especially if she didn’t have a way to help those who were fated to die such violent deaths.

“One more thing,” he said. “You must never, ever write about it. Putting a vision to paper is almost more effective in bringing about a prophecy than telling it.”

Only a few months later, the nightmares began to fade. She was no less afraid each time she was forced to step into that hell, but something beyond her control had eased the colours and textures and scents.

Soon, the taste of blood in her throat left her.

That summer, her father married her to the son of a rich businessman. He had potential to make a very comfortable living, which would ensure that Jo’s parents would be taken care of well into their lives.

In a back alley, between the blacksmith and the bakery, Jo’s father bartered with his future son-in-law’s father.

He told him of his daughter’s visionary dreams. Of her God given gifts. He said if he was given a dowry fit for a king, he would give him the secrets to controlling Jo, and therefore her gift.

Jo was married to Basil the week after that exchange.

Basil was given the keys to a new home, as well as the knowledge passed down by her father.

As much as his father was a business man, Basil was not a risk taker. He put Jo’s gifts to sleep as soon as he’d had his fun and he recognized his own wrong doings in her dreams. He didn’t want to get caught. But more than that, he didn’t want to miss out on the promised gift of everlasting abundance that came with Jo’s dreams.

She was put to sleep for nearly twenty years. On standby, if you will, for when the family needed her gifts.

During that time, Jo was happy to be a housewife. Her heart was large. But she wasn’t able to bear children in the early years of their marriage. So, she busied herself with making a home and planting a beautiful garden.

In their first year together, Jo planted three walnut trees in the backyard, lilac bushes in the sideyards, and a beautiful flower garden in the front.

She also planted a ten by ten herb garden.

Jo was a great cook. The secret, as she had learned from the cooks and nurses who raised her (kin whose families had less money than hers), was always the right combination of spices.

Basil and Jo grew apart. He spent more and more time trying to build a business that was failing miserably.

Basil believed that his hand-me-down evil wizardry which kept Jo’s gift sleeping would last forever. He thought it required no maintenance. He got lazy. He started to set his sights on other young potential profits. He believed that if he had the power to bury her gift, he also had the power to awaken the gift in others.

But while Basil was away working long days and nights, Jo took breaks from tending her garden under her now mature walnut trees. Her hands pungent with thyme and lilac and marigold, she sat under her trees to eat oranges and pomegranates and cucumber sandwiches.

She took walks beneath the Milky Way and the moon on nights Basil had to stay extra late.

Jo began to grow restless. She began to have trouble sleeping, though she didn’t know why.

And then, one afternoon, drowsy from the sun and a morning working her garden, she doze off in the front room.

It was barely dusk when she woke terrified. She was paralyzed. The blood was unbearable.

The dreams of her youth long forgotten, Jo began to write down the dreams as quickly as possible. To get them out of her. She could not stand to see images of those she knew and loved murdered in such horrific and yet absurd ways.

For example, her own parents were bound and gagged on a large steamship and then tossed into the ocean. Men with lanterns stood on deck to watch. Jo felt the claustrophobic weight of not wanting to breathe out, not wanting to let go of the life within.

And then she was up on deck with the men. She watched her parents’ skin split open. She saw giant squids burst from her parents’ bodies.

The men already had their guns out. They shot into the ocean. These creatures were furious, they climbed up the side of the ship to attack.

As they fought, one brave young boy set fire to two sticks of dynamite, stuffed them into two steel buckets of fish guts and slid the buckets to the sea creatures.

They exploded into really gross bits and pieces of slime and blubber and tentacles.

As soon as she wrote down everything she remembered, Jo felt better. She went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. She decided to stay out of the heat the next day. She didn’t say anything to Basil. Because he didn’t come home.

Sixty days later, Jo received a caller with bad news. The young gentleman from the village where she was raised told her that both her parents had died.

She was devastated. Memories of that conversation in their bed so long ago came flooding into her mind. She couldn’t keep it out. Everything came in too fast for her to push it away.

Again, Jo found herself on the floor, weighted by the murderous shame that came from a belief she had something to do with their death.

“But I didn’t know!” She begged for mercy. The pain was unbearable. “Please help me. I didn’t know.”

A bright light, a light so bright she had to open her eyes to see where it came from, descended upon Jo. This light was warm and it circled her like the loving arms of a new mother.

A gentle, loving voice came with the light.

“You did nothing wrong, Jo, darling. Those dreams didn’t bring about the fate of your parents. And neither did writing it down.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will.”

With that, Jo cried herself to sleep in the arms of the warm, white-gold light.

Author: tendrilwise

Hi, I have a diploma in Journalism, I've published a novel, and I am currently studying psychology. My odd way of viewing the world either gets me kicked out of parties or invited to them. Jenn McKay

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