Handful after handful, she tugged on the gigantic banner dangling down from beneath the window. It was heavy, the cloth thin, but large and heavily weathered, having dangled here for so many years. Every tug she gave it, her legs and knees planted against the chair stuck against the wall, using the full strength of her body, only brought it so many few inches closer inside. Again and again she repeated this process with great effort, gaining only the slightest traction, as she pulled the heavy cloth inside the window. However it continually sank down, some great weight tugging on the lower end.
Esper took a step back, both hands wrapped tightly around the tangled cloth dangling through the window, the fold bellowing in the wind. Beads of sweat stung her eyes, unable to remove either of her hands from the cloth, she squinted, rubbing her face against her shoulder; her long hair getting in the way and sticking to her face instead. Another pull, the cloth came an inch closer, but at the same time she felt herself sliding forward, as it almost seemed to pull back, as if some other force were trying to stop her from taking it.
Her mind raced as she worked, thinking about the dead. They were coming. She wished she had papa’s rope, it would have made pulling this easier. It was her fault, the dead were here because she left the rope there. Why did she leave the rope?! The girl let out another frustrated scream with a closed mouth, pulling again on the giant cloth banner as she did so. Another inch. She wasn’t working fast enough. The girl couldn’t see them, but she knew they would be at the door to the tower any second now. ‘Thunk’ sure enough, the wooden construction several floors down rattled, as it was struck with brute force by the many hands of the clawing dead.
Wretched wails soared through the air, rising up towards the open windows of the tower, as a harbinger of their coming. One deathly cry caused the next, causing the next, all cascading into a great wail of sorrowful hunger. The drawing in of the air constantly into their broken and torn bodies, letting off a whistle, like that of the shearing winds rising up from the chasm along the base of the tower. Esper pulled on the cloth again, gaining another inch, it wasn’t fast enough she thought. Again she pulled on the cloth, the nausea in her body rising. The brain-numbing pain shooting up from her leg, slowly becoming too prevalent to ignore, no matter how high her adrenaline surged.
‘Thunk’ more crashes against the door. Several of the wails from below faltered as they dissipated into the darkness deep down. Her mind depicted the image of a swarm of rotting bodies pushing up the narrow stairway towards the door. The current of the dead was hindered by the fortified construction, trickling off the steep ledges, as countless numbers of them were pushed into the abyss by their own just as before. It didn’t matter though, for those that fell, hundreds more came after them, pushing themselves up the stairs to have their attempt at the door.
She pulled on the cloth again, getting quite a good amount inside now. Would this be enough?
It had to be enough. There was no time left. They would be here soon. The door would break soon. Her mind raced with further ideas. She could use her spell? No, there were too many. They would rush up the tower and no spell in the world would hide her from that many hungry eyes. She pulled once more, looking around for a solution to her next problem. The chair. Of course. With the cloth still in her hand, she knelt down onto the ground, clenching the cloth tightly to her chest with one arm. The other, she placed beneath the large chair still by the window. With all the strength she could muster, she lifted it up off the ground, only barely managing to get two feet into the air.
Esper bent down further and pinned the folded cloth down to the ground with her body weight, as she slid it beneath the legs of the chair now in the air. Hastily she pressed it inward and back as far as the amount that she had would go, before letting the heavy chair slam back down on-top of it. She held her breath and pose for a second, waiting to see if it would slip out. Nothing happened.
‘Thunk’ something cracked downstairs, the door wouldn’t hold much longer. She turned around, grabbing the robe bag behind her to get out the old stone knife.
No, “what am I thinking?” thought the girl to herself. The stone knife was in her pouch, not in the bag. Letting go of the still smelling cloth wrap, she reached down towards the cord wrapping around her new dress, and took out the pouch from beneath it. Undoing the small string quickly, she took out the crude knife and hastily stuffed the cloth pouch bag beneath the cord. Clenching the stone knife tightly in her grasp, she turned back towards the banner and took hold of it, stabbing into the side with the primitive blade.
The fabric was strong and the knife that had cut her skin and flesh so many times barely seemed to bother the luxurious threads in the slightest. Placing her weight down onto the now taught fabric, she began furiously sawing into the side with the knife, trying to separate this piece of cloth from the rest of the banner. Wood splintered deep down below her, as the first hands began to reach through the boards. Their wails echoing through the hole and up the body of the tower now. They were coming. Punishment.
Frenzied, she ran the blade along the fabric. A thread snapped and she seemed to make some leeway in her progress. It wasn’t fast enough.
‘Thunk’ The knife wasn’t sharp enough. This wouldn’t work.
Esper jumped to her feet looking around the room. The desk! Jumping a step back to the desk, she tore open the drawers, looking for some sharp implement to help her cut through the cloth. Nothing. The next drawer. Nothing. The next drawer. Nothing! She screamed now, not even bothering to close her mouth. The whipping crack of thunder shot through the air. A stone sank in her heart, the gods knew her plan. They were stopping her again. Punishment.
In that second, as she spun around, she realized it wasn’t thunder this time though. No, there was no rain to come. Rather the taut banner had slipped loose, its great weight swinging back out towards the window. The thunderous crash she had heard was the heavy chair falling to the side, smashing against the floor as the world was pulled out from beneath it. Esper screamed again, letting her rage out as she threw everything around her off the desk all around the room in a series of violent swings. Her eyes wet and her mind red as she tossed the books out of the window, the ornate glass down the stairs. The strange short metal sticks across the room. She screamed. They were coming. The door shattered downstairs, finally giving way to their assault.
She could smell them. Their sour rot rose much faster than they could follow with their broken and mangled legs. Rank odors of fungal decomposition and sour meat preceding their coming. Her eyes shot around the room, there was nowhere to go. Her plan failed for the second time. She was going to die again. It was her fault. Punishment. Something wet ran down her face. There was nowhere to go. The rope. The chasm. She had neither now. She couldn’t hide from them this time. Esper turned to the window.
The sour smell was growing stronger and stronger, their wailing cries louder and louder. The sound of their steps shuffling up the flights of stairs one after the other, growing in cadence as they approached the final floor. Her thoughts went to the faces of her parents. To her kind giant of a father, whose great weight nearly killed her as his festering corpse crushed the bed she lay beneath. To her gentle, witchy mother who chased her out onto a branch swaying out over the deepest abyss, trying to satisfy the deep hunger the dead felt. It was her fault. Punishment.
Esper grabbed the greasy robe-bag, climbed onto the sideways chair and looked out the window. Even now with the doors breached, more dead swarmed into the tower. The streets were still full, as if all of the dead from the abyss below had found a way to collect inside of here. Just because of her. She looked sideways, down into the deep, seemingly endless abyss. It was her fault. Would it hurt this time? Drowning hurt. She didn’t want to die. But she didn’t want it to hurt. She turned back around, as she heard the whistling echoes breach the final floor. The bloody rotting faces of a dozen night-people pressing past each other, their eyes never leaving hers, as they rose up the stairs and took their first steps onto the floor towards her.
She didn’t want to die again. Punishment. Esper took a step back, climbing onto the ledge of the window as the dead came closer, now halfway through the small room. It would only be a second or two more until they reached her with their glassy eyes and grasping fingers. There was something behind her. She felt its eyes. Sitting on the framed glass pane splaying out sideways from the tower, was a large black bird with eyes of that same midnight hue. It nodded to her. She only managed to crack a weak smile towards it, as she leapt out of the window in abject desperation. Good enough, the pact was sealed.
Her arms latched over the framed window pane, the great black bird flying off in an explosion of feathers and movement, just before her weight crashed down onto the flimsy construction that was extruding out of the giant tower, in the middle of the air. Her knees smashed against the glass window painfully, the wooden frame digging into her ribs and skin, as she pulled herself forward against it. It wasn’t meant to hold this kind of weight. It would fall. She began to pull herself up, pressing with her legs on the bottom of the window frame which jutted out just an inch.
Desperate, anguished breathes came from behind her from inside the room. Dozens of furious hands clawing out of the window towards the girl, just barely missing her by a few inches with every swipe. She looked back towards the dead piling up at the window as the flood of them from down below pressed on, packing the construction full, far past its intended capacity. Yet more kept swarming in, crushing the rest inside through the sheer pressure of the force of their multitudes. Esper pulled herself up higher, feeling the window sag at the hinges ever so slightly as she did. It wasn’t meant to hold this kind of weight, it was going to fall.
She bent herself over the thing, putting her stomach sideways over it. Her top half dangling halfway over the other side, her eyes looking down to the many gazing up back at hers. The whistling breathes grew louder and louder and the deathly wails of the creatures released once more. A dire sting like a needle driving through her skull caused her to wince, but only caused her to grab on ever tighter. Slowly, she shifted her body over sideways, so she laid lengthwise atop the open window, just realizing she still had the bag in her hand. The thought of dropping it came to her, it would be easier to climb without it.
Climb. Climb. The word stuck with her in that second and she looked back to the night-people still crushing themselves against the window. Why weren’t they climbing? She knew they could climb trees. Why weren’t they climbing out to reach her? One of the hands reaching out of the window fell back as another took its place. That one then too being diminished, as another forced themselves to the window. One hand reaching out for her after another, only to be forced away by those behind them who were forced away by those behind them. A great thousand hands grasping greedily towards her and pushing their own away, in the attempt to reach the girl. Their own numbers were too many, none of them could even manage to climb up onto the window from inside before being ousted by another behind them.
Her fist clenched the bag tightly, as she looked up in front of her. The downward slanted hang of the tower roof, if she could get up there, she would be safe from them for the time. The window wouldn’t hold her forever. She wrapped her legs and arms around the window on both sides and then inched forward like a worm, crawling through the mud of a rainy day. She wasn’t sure why, but the odd thought made her smile. As she closed in closer to the roof, she also came closer to the waiting arms of the hungry, which relentlessly swung for her, their fingers grazing the glass pane, leaving it besmirched with red blood and blue rot.
Esper was nearly at the inside edge of the window, just barely untouchable by the night-people. The hang of the roof was just before her now, a head’s height higher than herself. She took a final deep, panicked breath and shot back upright, the window below her groaning with the sudden movement. Grasping forward, she locked her fingers on the edge of the roof with one hand and threw the little bag up atop it with the other. It struck the slanted roof and began sliding down and she was afraid it would fall off, but before it did, it seemed to catch itself on the edge. On a slant that was meant to let rain flow off and away.
Looking back down towards the night people, she saw their ravenous maws and heard the deathly whistles of their hollow breathing, as they seemed to suck in all the air around them into some unseen chasm, never stopping to exhale. Their eyes, glossed over and white, conveyed no emotion. She wanted to say something to them. Some condolences. Some apology. Some words to make herself feel better. But none came to her and none would have been heard by them anyways. The girl rose up, placing her wobbly knees on the frame of the window and pushed herself up and onto the roof of the tower.
Once she was there, she pressed herself against the tiles tightly. Knowing that the swarm of the many was just below her, their hungry eyes staring vacantly upwards towards the roof. Their hands were still reaching into the air, towards something they could never grasp. The roof was slanted with only a small few inches-long, straight piece on the bottom, on which she rested the heels of her boots. The slope of the tower was steep, too steep to climb up more than this. Her stomach pressed against the stone tiles that she leaned against in an angle and she shut her eyes, realizing now how wet they were, as the dew pressed out of them, as her lids shut tightly closed.
A gentle touch caressed the back of her hood, blowing it to the side as the wind softly rose up into the night over the tower and over her. “What? Go away,” said the girl. Esper turned her head to the side and looked into the night, seeing nothing. She turned over quickly, placing her back against the roof now. The wind blew onward higher, the current streaming up from the depths below. Sheering up so many miles of rock, carrying with it the fragrance of so many dark places and things from the recesses of the abyss. The earthy, old smell overtaking the space around her, as the currents blew away the sour, acrid odor of the night-people.
Her red eyes gazing through the hollow sockets of the skull mask, she stared upward, into the dark night sky. There was nothing but bleak, emptiness to see. There was void above her and chaos and desecration below. What would she do? If she stayed here until day, the night people would leave for a while. But then what? Then what. The bridge was broken, she couldn’t cross. She was stuck here. Just like down in Neuntel. She was stuck here with the night-people, and they were here with her. Why? What did she do?
All she wanted was to see the surface. To see new places, meet new people, eat new foods and drinks. Experience new smells and new emotions, yet wherever she went, the night-people seemed to follow. They wanted her. It was her fault. This was punishment. The warm night air was heavy and damp, as it had always been down here. Her hand shot to her chest, as the cold sting of the needle struck her once more. The girl reached into her dress, grasping the necklace beneath her fingers. It was icy to the touch, still almost painfully so, but she let the cold burn her fingers. Her skin turned dark red where the metal sat. That was okay, this was punishment.
The old idea came to her, would it work? She didn’t know, but she was willing to bet her life on it once, so she would again. She wouldn’t be stuck here. She wouldn’t stay in this dead town like she had in the one before. She had to rise. To climb. That was her promise. With her right foot, she slid the bag on the ledge carefully towards herself, placing it between her feet. Carefully, bending downward, she grabbed it and straightened herself back up against the roof. Her fingers working, she undid the greasy knot and looked inside.
The jar with tallow was shattered, but she had figured that already. The contents hadn’t smeared around too badly, but the food wasn’t safe to eat, if there was some of the glass left in it. The little lantern too, was coated in the fat. Taking it out she wished she had pockets in her dress. The girl shook it off, sending small droplets of grease flying through the air. She placed the small hook of the lantern around her cord belt next to her pouch. Then with a deep pain in her chest, she shook out the robe and watched as the delicious food that Journeyman had shared with her fell down into the abyss.
Several times she shook the robe through the air, until nothing else seemed to fall off. The girl looked down and then back upright. Deciding for herself that the other side was better. If she fell here, she might land where the dead could find her. Carefully she shuffled one foot after the other, sliding around the round roof of the tower. As she came to face the back side, she looked across the chasm, towards the broken bridge. All of the guardsman and the strange people had left, leaving nothing behind but the devastated town that they had abandoned without hesitation.
Below her was nothing but endless void now, spanning all the way down. Esper took the robe by the sleeves, folding it over lengthwise and grabbing the corners as well and she waited for the wind to come. She knew it would. They had made a deal after all. Soon, she heard the sheer as it tore up the chasm, as if hearing her wordless call. The sound of a thousand knives, drawing across a thousand rock-faces, as the mighty surge tore upwards with violent force lifting her hair, dress and cloak with its furious gust.
Esper took a deep breath, clenching tightly onto the folded corners of the too large robe, held it high above her head and jumped.
Support "Oratoria: Bury the Dead"
- Floor 69 of the metaphorical-dungeon
- Novice Writer
Socially awkward witches, sad hugs, dramatic adventures, spooky stuff, and comfy dungeons: My name is D.M. Rhodes, but I love to write about those things under the moniker 'Razzmatazz'. (Hopefully full-time, one day soon!) I’m a hobby occultist and, more boringly, I’m an XR expert, as well as a government-trained media and information specialist.
The main genres that I write in are litRPG-fantasy, action, adventure, romance, tragedy, horror, and slice-of-life. I seriously vibe with religious and occult overtones mixed in with super obscure story concepts. °( ~ )°
Thanks for taking an interest! Because of supportive readers like yourself, I can keep following my socially unacceptable dream! (I'm going to become the wizard-king.)
– Always open for feedback!