Hello friends! Today is a very exciting day because Quill Pen Writer is officially four years old! I wanted to thank each and every one of ...

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Hello friends! Today is a very exciting day because Quill Pen Writer is officially four years old! I wanted to thank each and every one of you; those who are new, those who followed along as I found my style and voice, and those who give every kindness in the comment section. I so appreciate all of you for coming over every week and letting me share my thoughts. You're amazing!

As a special thank you, I thought I might share a short story I wrote recently: Five Tolls. Hope you enjoy!


Five Tolls
by Melissa Gravitis

There was a corpse by Ezee’s door.

Peering into the murk of the apartment hallway, she tapped her broken nail on the doorframe. The stench of old wine and fresh blood held stiff the rows of doors on either side. No sign of the customer who had deposited the rug-swallowed corpse.

A chill nipped the back of her neck, for clients knew to stay and tell Ezee where they wanted the body found, or where it should disappear. River or earth? she’d ask as they thumbed their purse drawstrings.

But it was just the corpse, and a small pouch on the rotting planks.

“Abrax?” Ezee called. She scooped up the pouch and sorted through its contents; two silvers stamped with the king’s dagger jaw and low brows. She bit into her tongue to trap a sigh. What a cheap-boot, her mother would have muttered.

Ezee strangled the voice before it could sneak in again.

Abrax nudged aside her arm, and blinked at the rolled rug. “Where we puttin’ him?” His skinny fingers ran around the edge of his compass. Four years ago they’d stolen it off a lady whose neck had been snapped, fingers still tight around its smooth gold coating.

“River. Get the weights.”

They ducked back into their room. Frost snuck through the grimy windowpane and pinched the windowsill with white fingers. Between their two beds – Abrax’s heaped with soft furs he could stroke at night – Ezee had wedged a chest, a basin of now-frozen water, and a knife sharpener. She fished out a pair of gloves from the chest while Abrax grabbed the weights beside the wheezing fire.

“Should I feed it?”

“’Less you want to lose your toes when we get back.”

The fire cackled as Abrax slid two logs onto spitting embers. Then he slung the weights over his shoulders and tucked the compass into his pocket. “You didn’t talk to anyone. ‘Bout the body.”

“No.”

“How we know it’s the river, then?” Brown eyes, big and wide enough to make her think he was still six instead of sixteen, grew worry lines. This wasn’t in the rules.

“It’s cheaper. Easier.” Ezee slid on her lumpy gloves to shake off the cold, then stepped over the corpse. “Come on, I’ll grab the feet.”

Abrax moved to the other side of the corpse. With the grunt of three they lifted either end, and started marching him down the hallway. It was a him, with the denseness of the weight; women’s feet, and especially their boots, were never this heavy.

A door cracked open as they trudged down the hallway. The reek of Kern’s poisons floated out with his rasp, “I’ll 'ave one for you next week.”

“I’ll have the shovel.” She kept walking backwards, head craned to spy if any of her usual friendly and good-citizen neighbours were going to try and fling open their doors into her head. 

“Ezee.” Abrax always said her name like it was something to be held during these bitter nights, not the hard recommendation on the streets. “He smells like a da.”

Breath cramped in her lungs. “What?”

“Smells like Da’s woodsmoke, but richer. Like he got the good stuff.” Abrax’s arms were relaxed as he held onto the corpse’s upper end, as if he barely felt the weight. His eyes were in another place, another time. Where parents cared.

Ezee’s spit was flooded with all the joy of a rotting lime. “Your nose’s better than mine.”

He smiled. “I know.”

***

They carried the corpse into a patchy attempt at a garden. The night’s snow smothered any grimace of green or brown, a pillow held over nature’s mouth until it gasped then kicked then stilled. Cold dragged frigid teeth down Ezee’s spine. She bared her own at it.

Abrax lowered his nose to the rug and took a deep whiff. “Da’d like the stuff he smoked.”

“Stop talking about Da,” she snapped.

His head drew back, eyes widening. Then his fingers started twitching around the corpse, back and forth, back and forth, his breathing quickening.

“I’m sorry, Ab. I’m sorry.” Ezee’s boots sunk into snow as she swallowed. “I didn’t mean it, I’m just cold, all right?”

Abrax’s fingers twitched harder. The corpse began to slip. “You yelled at me.”

“I didn’t mean to, the cold---”

“Don’t yell!” He clapped his hands over his ears. The corpse thumped skull first into the ground. Her brother’s fingers twitched until he grabbed hold of the compass and started stroking its smooth edge.

Ezee closed her eyes. She should’ve known better, should’ve been better. She pulled Abrax out because of the yelling, the bruised knuckles and bruised chests, the hard words about him having a broken head. It wasn’t broken. Just different.

She lowered the rest of the corpse into the snow and made her words soft as his furs. “I’m sorry. I broke the rule by yelling.” Her breath formed a trembling white cloud between them. “I love you.”

His fingers slowed around the compass, breaths beginning to steady again. “We gotta get rid of him quick. The da. It’s a rule.”

Ezee pushed up what she remembered a smile looked like. “Yeah. So let’s not break any more.”

A bell toll fractured the frosted air. Its booming brass ripped through the ground, squeezing Ezee’s heart as she counted its pounds. One. Two. Three. Not the time then. Four. Five.

The last toll rang out to the earth’s shudder.

Her mouth went dry. A single moment of wintry silence held, and then the cry came from every corner of the city.

“The king is dead! The king is dead!”

Abrax’s mouth opened. He looked down at the corpse, neatly bundled in a rug and sinking into the muddy snow.

“No.” Ezee shook her head, clawing back her nervous laughter. “It’s not possible.” Their clients were predictable as dogs; they dealt in small murders. Wives, husbands, unwanted relatives, the man at the tavern who might have cheated at cards.

No one who knew the king knew Ezee. The palace was in the district of swept paths and warm fires and bloated bellies, not hollow ones.

“It’s not possible,” she repeated, because truths knew only silence.

***

“Let’s check his face.”

“We can’t.” Ezee tracked the steady strides of a man coming down the main street. They’d halted at the end of an alleyway breeding mould and soot to wait in the shadows. Most nights only drunkards stumbled across the cobbles to pitchy ballads, and they would forget Ezee and Abrax by dawn, but this hour was the kind of gritty midnight every fool would remember. She had to be careful.

“If we check, we’ll know he’s no king. We can show people if they think he is.” Pride entered Abrax’s voice, the same stirring he got any time he tried to help.

Ezee almost said no, that it would be stupid to let anyone see any corpse’s face; getting rid of bodies also meant making sure the witness level stayed at zero. But… It wasn’t like it could be the king.

“Fine. Quickly.”

Material rustled as Abrax peeled back the layers of rug to look at the corpse’s face. Ezee stayed focused on the street, waiting for a break. Her nerves tingled. If only she could have dumped it in the alley for the dogs, let them take care of the body. But Kern had seen them leave; if word got around that she hadn’t done it properly, she’d lose business.

The room would be gone. Bowls empty. There’d be no furs for Abrax and even her touch wouldn’t settle the shadows digging hungry talons into his sleep.

“We’re clear. Let’s go.” She tried to tug the corpse forward, but it didn’t move. “Ab?”

Nothing. 

She turned her head.

Abrax was propping the corpse's head up by the neck. A head covered in the wiry hair of sixty winters, flecks of blood caught in a white beard. The man’s jaw was that like a dagger, cutting into a single point, while bushy eyebrows sunk heavily onto the purple lids of new death.

“It’s a coincidence,” Ezee choked out. “Just another old man.”

Abrax whimpered. “I saw him. In the parade, last year. It’s him.” He set down his end and threw back layers of the rug. He grabbed hold of a swollen wrist. A golden ring carved with the flames of royalty took a sickly yellow sheen in the moonlight. “Look!”

“It’s a trick.” The edges of Ezee’s world spun. “That’s… no. It doesn’t even look real. Must be a fake.”

He ripped the ring off the stiff finger and bit down on it. “Gold.”

Ezee’s breaths turned shallow. The bell rang again, five hammerings that shook the city’s core. “Wrap him up. And put that ring back!”

They tossed the layers of the rug back on then secured them with shaking hands. Once the dead king was balanced between them, Ezee turned to watch the street once more. Candlelight flickered to life in apartment windows above. The air pulsed with the building rhythm of footsteps and creaking doors.

“Run.”

They bolted across the street, boots sliding through frozen mud and muck. Her breaths were stripped bare by the cold. The corpse held loose then tense between them, until they broke into another small alleyway. Moonlight dripped onto the cracked cobblestones, each drop a reminder of the passing seconds.

The city was waking.

***

“It’s the same as with any other body.” As Ezee lugged the king to the river's edge, she made her voice smooth as combed fur. “Being a king doesn’t mean he can’t sink to the bottom. It just means we need to be a little more quiet. And quicker.”

“Like rats?”

“Like rats.”

They set the king down and Abrax untangled the weights from where he’d slung them around his shoulders. In the shadows from the tenements looming over the riverbanks, his movements were ripples in the darkness. To the right, the river slid through the city like a snake of ice, mumbling darkly beneath a nearby bridge as they chained the body. Corpses liked to float and bring attention to themselves, but when you locked them up, they became prisoners of the river floor.

Ezee tried to steady her thundering heart by sucking in the brittle, crisp air. There was no reason to panic, everything was fine. Just fine. She glanced at the tenelement windows overlooking the river – dull with faint candlelight, and closed. More than fine.

“Done.” Abrax clicked together the final weight, eyes red. “He was a da, I told you. I told you I smelt it.”

“And now his daughter’ll be queen. Come on.”  They took their ends of the corpse, then Ezee waded into the river shallows. The hit of ice water jolted her heart against her ribs.

Abrax only toed the water. “She’ll be sad.”

“Royals are different. Not like us, Ab.” The river sucked at her waist, but for the king to be truly buried, both of them had to go deeper.

His face fell. His boots edged into the river, hands around the king’s neck through the rug. “Isn’t that a rule? Be sad when you lose something?”

A light flared to life on the nearby bridge. The clump of footsteps on cobbles, the rattle of window locks.

Come in deeper, she nearly screamed. Now.

But Ezee only tightened her grip on the king’s ankles. “You’re right, she’ll be sad, but this is our rule. Come up to your waist.”

His eyes flicked back and forth, then he slowly, slow as water freezing, came in up to his thighs.

Ezee’s boots shuffled along the river's pebble floor, her teeth chattering. “Deeper, Ab. Deeper.” They were almost there. They just had to make sure the body couldn’t be seen from the---

“Oi!” A woman leaned out of a window above, clutching a candle. “What're you doing?”

More windows nearby snapped open.

Abrax’s eyes widened. Ezee’s heart slammed her chest, bruising it a frantic purple. She let go of the king with one hand and grabbed hold of her brother’s. Her voice dropped. “This is a new rule. You’re running home, and you’re not going to let anyone see you.”

“No new rules, no new rules…” His voice grew shrill.

She stroked a centering circle on his palm, a path of comfort over and over. “I’ll finish here. You need to make sure the fire doesn’t go out at home. That’s the most important rule of all.” When he didn’t move, she withdrew her hand. “Ab, please.”

His shoulders shook, but as the voices grew more demanding above, he backed up to riverbanks. “Most important,” he whispered. Tears swelled in his eyes, shoving pain into Ezee like an elbow to the gut.

Then, one hand on his compass, he ran.

“Someone stop them,” came the cry from the window.

“Jarek! The soldiers!”

Ezee stood frozen until her brother’s shadow disappeared. She didn’t look up, didn’t say anything as numbness crawled through her veins. Then she waded in until her boots scurried for any grip on the river floor, currents yanking at the king.

“What’s she carrying?”

“I said get the cursed soldiers Jarek!”

Ezee stared down at the tips of the king’s boots poking out from the rug. She rubbed at a spot of blood until the leather was as bright as a steady, fed fire. Another day, another corpse, she would’ve run. But the eyes and shouts above were nails, each holler nailing guilty to her skull. Everyone was watching her, not Abrax. He could make it. 

If she ran, soldiers would follow her home. They'd take Abrax. Kill them both.

The water clawed at her, froth tumbling against her tunic.

She let go.

Within a blink, the river sucked the king down and away.

Ezee shivered and waded back to the banks now filling with yelling, stumbling people. The numbness spread from her feet to every nerve, the silence of feeling louder than any of their screams. Run, her heart pleaded, for him.

But looking into the night from a window high up, it was easy to see things. Things could be imagined, like that two waded into a river instead of one. A murderer's confession would put to rights those mistakes.

Ezee pulled off her wet gloves and met city's burning gaze. “I did it,” she shouted. If a chasm wasn’t opening in her, silencing the echo of I love you, Ab, she would have cried. But dripping tears, was not a rule.

There was another, one warm and soft as furs, that was.


So Ezee coated her voice in malice and screamed as soldiers burst onto the riverbank, “I killed the king.”


I hope you enjoyed this peek into Abrax and Ezee's wintry world! Thank you all again for your continual support and encouragement on the blog; I wouldn't still be doing this without all the amazing friends I've made through it. So thank you, thank you, thank you! <3


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14 comments:

  1. This story is SO good!!! So spine-tingling and dark, but I loved it. O_O Your style is incredible.

    Thank you for sharing! And HAPPY BLOGIVERSARY!!! <333

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awww thanks Lila, I'm so happy you liked it! Hehe, my style does lean towards a darker tone, whoops. xD

      THANK YOU! <3 <3 <3

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  2. That story was FANTASTIC, Melissa! *heart eyes*

    and HAPPY BLOGOVERSARY!!! Four years is such an impressive amount of time to be blogging, so congratulations! I can't wait to see what you do in the coming years! <3

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    Replies
    1. *massive hugs* You're so sweet Nicole, thank you for all your support and kind words! I'm so glad you enjoyed the story!

      Thank you!! I can't wait to one day celebrate your four year blogoversary. <3

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  3. I love your story. So spooky, but good. Happy blogiversery!

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    1. Thanks Rachel, so glad you enjoyed despite the spookiness haha! <3

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  4. That story was awesome!!

    Congrats on four years!! I hope you have many more!

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Thanks so much Sarah! I really appreciate all your support. <3 <3

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  5. HAPPY BLOGIVERSARY!! *confetti*

    That story was so good!! I loved Abrax and Ezee's relationship and then that ending. <3 I would love to see more of these characters!

    theonesthatreallymatter.blogspot.com

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    Replies
    1. *dances in confetti* Thanks so much Emily!

      Awww thank you! I'm so happy to hear you connected with them. <3 Maybe one day I'll have another story about them!

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  6. Replies
    1. Thanks so much for all your support Victoria! <3

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  7. That was fantastic! I forgot how immersive and intricately detailed your writing is.
    You're so talented!!!

    ReplyDelete