Haunted is a medieval gothic fantasy short story by Justin Gedak about a woman in a dark frame of mind after the end of a war.
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Kara Adriane Allash felt haunted. There were things inside of her mind. Cold and slithering and full of shadows. Things she could not comprehend, or make sense of. Whispers from previous lives muddied into the bitter memories of her violent past. Her imagination was wild, yet distant and faded. There was an army of unspoken intentions riddled into her many betrayals and broken promises. Lost in a storm, and barely heard. Filled with a form of regret, but also with a tired hate.
Yet here she was. At the start of another day.
The early morning fog had hidden most of the mass graves on the battlefield this morning. From where Kara stood, the heaps of fallen soldiers looked like piles of hay on a farm field. They almost didn’t seem real.
She was walking back towards the bodies now. Even from where she was, the sour stench from the heaps of corpses was corrupting the morning’s cool air, sickening and disorienting the start of this new day.
The war was over, and Kara had won.
Before this all had started, she knew that no cost would have been too great–and she was right. She sacrificed everything, and everyone. So many died for this very moment. This moment of strolling up to piles of unnamed corpses. This moment of lonely yet haunted clarity. Of not having a way anymore, and of not having a purpose. Of being finished.
Now that it was all over the emptiness inside of her made her want to die. It made her want to walk into the depth of the fog, and never come back. To travel until she collapsed. To forget the pointlessness of what she had become.
Hear heart felt as if it were continuously dropping into some bottomless void. Forever lost and forever falling. There was a low dread in her stomach. She felt as if she should be crying, but nothing was coming out. She felt like a corpse herself in a sense. Hollowed of passion and compassion. A slave to what once was, and to what will never be.
The haunted feeling inside of her was that there was nothing left alive in her life. Everything was conquered and in the past. Everything good was gone. Everything she had admired once in herself was gone. There was just this shell. This tortured shell of what once felt human. The ghosts of whom she had betrayed to get this far lived inside of her now. They stood at the edges of her thoughts, near the things which slithered but were never seen.
As Kara came closer to the piles of corpses, she realized that the heaps were larger than she had anticipated. They towered over her. The smell was so thick and strong this close to the bodies that it was hard to breath. Littering the battlefield around the corpses was a multitude of shields, swords, and axes. They were sprawled chaotically, as if an explosion had gone off. As if Kara was the center of that explosion. As if she had caused the end of the known world. In many ways she had.
What remained of her generals would soon burn the bodies of the fallen soldiers. She had given specific directions before the battle had begun. To burn everything when it was over. To allow the dead to move on. That is, the dead that did not linger in her thoughts. Those would be there forever.
She wandered past the mass graves, and further into the fog. It felt as if it were devouring her. It felt as if it were quieting her thoughts a little, and easing the dread and the hopelessness. Muting the presence of the ghosts in her mind.
Behind her, she could hear the fires being started. Soon the flames would burn high.
It was a long time before she turned around to face the flames. From a distance they looked like the eyes of demons lingering in the dense fog (which now seemed like smoke from the underworld). It felt as if her inner world was burning away as well.
Tears streamed down her face. What had she become, and where will she go now? How would she continue without a purpose?
She heard screams.
Coming from the burning eyes? From the bodies and the graves?
She saw hints of movement around the fires.
She unsheathed her sword. Her hands tingled, and her heart seemed as if it would explode. Her thoughts were like an avalanche, tumbling down over reason. She was running towards the sounds now. Her mind filled with a sense of purpose.
There were more bodies around the fires, those of her generals–and also something else unexpected. Strange hairless creatures eating the generals. There were 6 of them, standing on two legs, and appearing very humanlike–except for their faces, which were long and gnarled like misshapen tree stumps filled with jagged teeth, and covered in fresh blood.
The things made coughing snarls when they saw Kara. Blood splattered out from their strange nostrils. Their eyes were dead pale, and void of any sense of emotion.
The rest of Kara’s army was far away by now. It was the generals who were ordered to burn the bodies. The soldiers were on their way home. Would they have heard the screams? Would they have waited to see the fires burn? Would they come back for her? She didn’t think so.
The monsters began moving closer to Kara, half circling her. As they moved, their muscles rippled. Their ugly mouths hung open from their misshapen faces. Their breath fogged in the cool air, proving that they were really here. Proving that they were truly alive, and not a hallucination.
What was this feeling that was in Kara now? Happiness?
Yes, there was a dark joy radiating inside of her. It didn’t exactly make sense, but she welcomed it completely. She was alive again. Free from the imprisonment of uselessness. The ghosts in her thoughts were so distant now she could hardly feel them.
One of the monsters lunged at Kara, and with a heavy swing she dragged her sword across the creature’s belly, spilling its insides. It screamed as it died, and Kara felt almost weightless from the sound.
Two more of the monsters pounced at her.
Limbs went flying, and blood splattered as Kara’s sword swung again.
More screams and more dying.
Again that feeling of weightlessness. Nothing else mattered right now. This was freedom.
Kara attacked two more, decapitating the first, and running her blade through the throat of the second. She was completely covered in fresh gore now, an uncontrollable smile stretched across her face.
The last remaining creature caught her off guard, and knocked the sword from her hand.
It pushed her over, and held her down.
It screamed into her face.
Panic filled Kara as she reached for a dagger from her belt, and dug it into the thing’s eye. The creature yelped and tumbled backward, before escaping into the fog.
Kara stood up, and looked at the violence that had just happened.
It all transpired so fast. A blur of death and emotion.
She pondered over how quickly she went from feeling so empty, to so fulfilled. It was something she had never thought possible. To change states so completely in such a short span of time. She also explored her feelings on how she felt about the monster escaping.
There was a hopeful eagerness. There were still battles to wage, and wars to win. There were still monsters to destroy.
She followed the trail of blood into the fog.
Her dark salvation.
Her pathway to purpose.
Written by Justin Gedak
Cover art By Justin Gedak