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Flash fiction: "The Sordid Sky" by Derek Manuel
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Last month, we issued out a call for flash fiction submissions to publish in our newsletters. We are still looking for stories, but in the meantime, here's our first accepted piece. We hope you enjoy.
"THE SORDID SKY"
by Derek Manuel
THE SUN SETS, slowly smothering in a lake of simmering blood. Daniel stands on the hill that looms over the town, the pale storm brooding overhead. The clouds distend and throb, swollen and soft.

He cracks open the case, runs his fingers along the f-holes, feels the taut gut strings. Something ugly made into something beautiful for an ugly purpose. A sacrifice of blood. Blood for blood.

He is old, and with every passing year he has doubted his father more. But the signs are clear now. He holds the talisman hanging at his throat, the cold, glimmering talon of the ancient foe, to remember his purpose and steel his resolve.

He draws in a long breath of fetid air, hoping to still his trembling fingers. As his eyes wander, he sees a boy hiding behind the gaunt trunk of a walnut tree whose dead branches reach up like emaciated fingers to the indifferent heavens. The boy is a mere twig himself, no older than Daniel was when he learned of his terrible destiny.
 
* * *
 
DANIEL WAS EIGHT years-old when his mother called his father a madman. He watched his father shake the fierce talon on the silver chain at her, spittle flying from his lips.

She had heard his secret lessons given in hushed tones. She grabbed Daniel’s small wrist, pulling at him, but he would not let her take him away from his father and his sacred duty. It pained him to look at the tears streaming down her face, but he knew what had to be done. When he pulled away, he broke her grip and her heart.

They stood in the foyer, watching her grow smaller and smaller in the numbing distance. Blood dripped from his father’s quill, pattering on the floor.

Blood dripped from Daniel’s fingers as he practiced for hours on end. Never quite fast enough. Never quite good enough.
He was the only hope, his father told him. The only one who could keep the fiends at bay.
 
* * *
 
HE PULLS THE bow quickly across the strings. Short, sharp, low tones blast through the air, desperate blows against the impending assault.

A lesion ruptures in the cloud above. A creature falls at his feet, a chunk of phlegm spat out of heaven. It writhes in pain. It croaks and sputters, its opalescent eyes staring at him, through him. He saws at the strings.

He looks around, hoping his achievement will be appreciated, but he is alone. The boy is running down the rocky road to the town below.
 
* * *
 
ON HIS THIRTEENTH birthday, Daniel awoke to a slow thumping noise, a portentous pendulum. He descended the stairs slowly, not noticing the rhythm of his footsteps, the same sinking, slowing sound. He wondered if his father had hoped to find peace. There was no peace in his eyes.

Daniel cut him down, sent for the undertaker, and then started on his task. He broke the crimson seal and got to work memorizing his father's sheet music. Thirteen pages of notes painstakingly set down in the faint brown of old blood. The music of the blood. The cursed duty in the blood.

Daniel could never rehearse any part of this piece. He could only memorize it. Like any magic, it grew weaker every time it was used. It would only be safe in his mind, where no one could hear it.
 
* * *
 
HIS HEART SWELLS with pride as the horror at his feet grows still. He plays faster and faster. He hopes against hope that his efforts will be enough this time.

The throbbing thunderhead opens up, slit with a gigantic razor. A torrent of pus comes down. It smells so wretchedly sweet that he gags.

Wild shrieks fill the air. Tears stream down his face. Glistening goose bumps rise on his arms.

He has always been afraid, all his life, every moment. He would have warned the town, but to what end? No one would have believed him. No one has ever believed him.

Gazing skyward, he sees more of the fiends. Minuscule in the distance at first, but spiraling in, growing and speeding and fiercely mad in their haphazard flight. As they approach the hill, he sees the magic working, the flames eating away at their terrible wings, brighter and hotter with each note he plays. A thousand tiny, repulsive arms beat the sordid sky.

But men from the town are following the boy up the rocky lane with their pitchforks and scythes, their chair legs and shovels. They are assuring each other of Daniel’s doom. They never trusted the bastard, they say, and they were right all along. He will never get away with this, they say.

They seize him, pulling him one way and his violin the other. His grip on the instrument breaks, and so does his mind. The music stops; the onslaught from above redoubles.

The creatures pour into the town, smashing through roofs, tearing through doors with their steely talons. They cackle, cold and hollow. Daniel’s empty gut is icy. They are laughing for him. They are laughing at him.

As the townsfolk hit him with their fists and their feet, he laughs, too.
 

Derek Manuel is a writer of speculative fiction, mostly horror, and an occasional podcaster. He lives in muggy, muddy Louisiana with a dog and no cats. His day job involves muttering strange and powerful incantations in broken Latin to a robed figure with a disapproving countenance.

He has also been a grocery store cashier, an unimpressive guitarist, a Netflix addict, an occasional podcaster, and a lapsed blogger. You can follow him on Twitter @dmthewriter and check out his humor blog at betterlikeme.com.

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