This ocean picture explains my internal emotional state right now quite well: choppy, dark, grey, something I’d like to drown in…anyway.
I wanted to put a writing sample up and just finished my final draft of Cruel, a short story about a dystopian society where many people have been possessed by demons called “Cruels,” with those left to become prisoners to the sadistic monsters.
Aveline is a free woman hiding in the woods with her family, but when her mother becomes very ill, she must sneak into the nearby Cruel city of Yearn to find a cure. She is immediately snatched up by an idiotic, vengeful Cruel who has his own plans on how to use Aveline to his advantage.
Also, quick update: I will soon by moving this blog to one with a domain I own. I am going to focus ashleyrcarlson.com on a variety of things surrounding dating and mainly, breaking up. Being in the midst of a break-up myself, I feel it impertinent to not only share my own experiences navigating the waters of my newly-single life, but also discussing creativity as it pertains to love, art, heartbreak, and, writing of course.
Here is an excerpt of “Cruel,” and if you would like to see more, subscribe to my blog. I will send the entire story in a PDF file to those who subscribe. Thank you!
Until then, take care everyone and look for my new blog soon.
by Ashley Carlson
It’s been two years since the Regime took over, turning this country into something unrecognizable. I’m almost certain my sister was captured last week.
“I still don’t like that you’re going alone,” Tarrant says as we stand over my mother. I squeeze the rag and dribble cool water on her feverish face; my mom bats it away.
“You wouldn’t be doing me any favors by coming and you know that,” I say, looking over at him. Beams of light stream down into the tornado shelter, illuminating dust particles and his strained expression.
I lean down and murmur a quick goodbye into my mother’s hair, but she’s too delirious at this point to hear me. I hand the rag to Tarrant and grab my tiny backpack from the ground. Nodding to the others, I climb the steps out of the shelter as he follows me. “Wait a second,” Tarrant says, following me through the trees. I ignore him, swallowing hard. He finally grabs my arm.
“Have you thought about my proposal?”
“I don’t have a lot of time right now, you said so yourself, and the sun is setting already,” I say as my answer.
“But I need to know,” Tarrant continues. I finally look at him, the man I’ve fallen for against my better judgment, and let him embrace me.
“Yes, all right? My answer would’ve been yes, if things were different,” I murmur into his shoulder, wetting the fabric. “But marriage these days is absurd, assuming I even make it back tonight—”
“Don’t. Don’t you say that,” he says. “You are coming back, and when you do, I want you to be my wife.”
“Why? So we can suffer that much more if I’m taken as one of their slaves? Or you’re found and tortured long enough to give up my whereabouts? It’s dangerous to even considerit.”
“Those monsters took our homes, our families, our goddamned bodies for themselves. You’re going to let them take away the decision to love each other too?”
“They haven’t taken that away,” I say, as quiet as the rustling leaves overhead.
Tarrant breathes hard and cups my face in his calloused hands, leaning down to kiss me. His lips are familiar and soft, and a sob wells in my chest at the thought I’ll never feel this again.
“I have to go,” I say as I push him away gently. Tarrant stares at me helplessly, still clinging to my hands. It must be difficult for him to let me go into the Cruel city of Yearn without his protection, but he’s an escaped prisoner and therefore a target.
“I’ll see you soon,” he says with vehemence. “I love you.” I don’t respond, the words sticking in my throat. I turn and run.
The decrepit city of Yearn comes into view, the sharpened spires topping most buildings. Dangling forms run the length of every one, too far up to discern their human features—but I still know what they are. Realizing that Tarrant’s gruesome reports are true makes it harder to breathe, so I slow to a walk.
“The Cruels impale disobedient prisoners on them,” he’d said last night as we made rabbit stew, a rare and filling meal. “They leave the bodies to rot in the sun—a trophy and a warning to the rest of us.” Tarrant usually refrained from telling me about his experiences there; he’d escaped less than a year ago and still had frequent nightmares. I’d wake him from the worst ones with kisses, and we’d talk about our lives before the Cruel Regime.
It had started as a religious movement called Zestia, growing over several months. Their leader eluded the media during that time until the newly-elected president’s Address to the Nation.
I still remember how the president gazed from the screen with oddly blank eyes, like a robot would. We didn’t know yet that the demon spirit of a Cruel controlled him. When he’d completed his speech a striking man came to the podium, announcing himself as Rocx, Zestia’s leader.
“I want to apologize to the American people for my elusiveness,” Rocx said in elated tones. “But I was preparing for the event taking place tonight. The beginning of your salvation.”
He began to strip off his clothes and I’d looked away in embarrassment, my father and sister also in the room. Military personnel came to the stage, carrying a large wooden cross between them.
As my family watched in shock, my mother poked her head out from the kitchen.
“What’s happening?” she said, a drumstick in each hand. “What’s he doing?”
None of us answered, watching this strange man be laid upon the cross. He screamed as the nails were hammered into his extremities by the soldiers, before the cross was hoisted upright, a spotlight focusing on Rocx’s exposed body.
“He’s…he’s crucified himself,” my sister Fleur answered. My nephew Gabriel started to cry from his crib and she left to quiet him.
“He’s doing what?!” my mom said, leaving her post to stand with us. Rocx thrashed and whimpered from the screen, spurts of blood coloring the wood.
“The cameras are set to focus on him twenty-four seven. This guy says we’ll watch him die on live TV, and he’ll resurrect himself in three days. It’s fucking weird,” I said. There was no answer, and I turned to find my mom burrowed in my dad’s shirt.
“What? What is it?” I asked them, and my dad shook his head.
“We’d prefer it if you wouldn’t curse in our presence, Aveline. How about helping Mom in the kitchen?”
I obeyed, listening to my parents whisper from the living room. My mom returned, frowning. She was worried, that much was obvious. I paid it little mind—weird cult-y things were happening all the time in those days and my mom worried over them all.
This time though, my mom was right to worry. Three days later the entire nation watched as Zestia’s leader, proclaimed two and a half days dead by various doctors, opened his eyes and took a breath. In that moment, every child on Earth disappeared; from their beds, from their school buses…my nephew from Fleur’s arms. People said it was the end of the world, and only the innocent had been delivered by God. My sister’s screams from that day still haunt me, and she’s never been the same. I didn’t tell her, but I was glad Gabriel disappeared; it’s been a small relief at least that children were spared from what’s become a hell on Earth.
I crest the final hill to look upon the Cruel city, scanning the outskirts for guards. It’s dusk, Tarrant’s recommended time to sneak in—when Yearn’s citizens are preparing for the night of debauchery and perversion ahead.
Using my knife to dig into the hard dirt under the electric fence, I make a hole big enough to crawl through. Once on the other side, I unzip my backpack and change behind a bush, donning the dress of a Yearn prisoner. I take my knife and slice my legs and arms in places, ensuring a good amount of blood seeps through the fabric. Being bled already will make me less of a target, leading other Cruels to assume I belong to someone else. I hide my things under the shrubbery before walking towards the nearest road and surveying the prisoners nearby. No one makes eye contact with me, all of them hurrying to meet their Cruel owners for the night.
Almost all prisoners are women, with few females ever able to survive a Cruel possession. In the beginning months of the Regime, Rocx gave everyone a choice—possession by one of his spirit army, or a slave to those successfully controlled. When most female hosts died within hours, Cruels collected the males. My father shot himself in the backyard when they’d come for him, kissing each of us beforehand. We could hear the gunshot from our hideout, and I nearly broke my hand keeping my sister from charging inside.
A prisoner finally meets my eyes. She looks a little younger than I, and only has a few bloody marks on her gown. I smile and she returns it. We walk toward each other, me approaching the city center and her leaving it, and I mouth the word “medicine” very slowly. She frowns, so I say it once more. She shrugs her shoulders and whispers, “I’m new.”
“You’re new?” I ask, louder. “Have you met a girl named Fleur? Tall, dark hair like mine, showed up about a week ago?”
She thinks for a moment. “We did just get someone last night who fits that description. But she said her name was Kelly…”
“Kelly? Well that’s my sister’s middle na—”
Suddenly the girl looks past my shoulder, eyes wide, as a whip slices her across the face. She crumbles in pain and I turn towards the source. The Cruel towering over us is so grotesquely terrifying that he resembles a demon straight from Hell. He must have been one of the first possessed because his host body has disfigured over time to monstrous proportions. “Where are you headed off to, birdie?” he says, though I’m unsure of which one of us he’s referring to.
“Answer me!” he croaks, raising the whip and curling it around my right shoulder. “Who’s your owner?”
My brain is consumed by the whip’s searing hot pain, and I’ve completely forgotten the name Tarrant gave me to use. The Cruel slaps me, compounding the pain in my body.
“Magnurus, Chancellor Sithe. Our owner is Lord Magnurus,” the other girl says from the ground.
Sithe goes still, contemplating something.
“Not fair, it isn’t…getting all the good ones,” he mutters after a moment, before clasping my arm as he drags me toward the city center and away from my new friend.
“Tell her I’m here!” I yell in desperation, “and that Rachel is looking for her!” I use my middle name as well, hoping that if it’s Fleur, she’ll understand.
The girl nods as she gets up, taking off in the other direction.
“Quiet!” Sithe says, nearly yanking my arm from its socket. “You are just what I need to gain favor with the Most High again. The others will just be begging to have me back; they’ll eat their goddamned words when I’m rewarded for bringing you.”
He stops walking and reaches to fondle me, dragging his hand lightly over the fabric of my dress, breathing hard. I inch away. “That’s if I can keep from fucking you myself.”
We continue on, passing the rest of the prisoner’s quarters on Yearn’s outer rim. The lights of the city have brightened, the laughter of other Cruels echoing off the walls as they collect their women. Some prisoners are on their own, wearing fresh white gowns for their owners to color. I look up at one of Yearn’s high rises and immediately regret it. Against the inky sky are the spires, stacked with dozens of limp bodies. The Regime has angled numerous spotlights to ensure our direct view, and I can see hordes of crows flying in circles around each one, landing in places to peck at various body parts.
“I really couldn’t have found you at a better time,” Sithe says with glee, turning left into a deserted alley.
Oh no. We are alone; though I don’t think it’d matter much if someone saw us. He turns and pushes me against a wall.
“We’ll go to my place first; get you cleaned up. How long have you been here? Can’t be more than a day. You are just ripe for the Offering.” He grips my face again, examining me. I force myself to stare back at him, past the disfigured face and putrid breath, reminding myself that this was a man once. A human man, possibly a good one. No one knew where the host’s mind went after their body was taken over. Were they still in there, a helpless bystander to the torture done by their own hands?
“Come on,” Sithe says, continuing down the street. I start to breathe again once I realize he isn’t going to rape me in this alley. His home might have supplies for my mother, and maybe I can escape from there somehow. It’s my only option, because there’s no way in hell I’m overpowering him to keep searching—he’d probably kill me first.
Chancellor Sithe leads me to what was once a beautiful brownstone, motioning for the prisoner at the door to let us through. I pass by the man, fine-boned and young, and wonder if he knew Tarrant. Male prisoners are rare, most men either Cruel-possessed or killed off by now.
Sithe looks at him with contempt as we enter, leaning over and grabbing his groin. The young man jolts upon impact, but manages to stay upright as the Cruel grasps even tighter.
“Stop it!” I shout as tears squeeze from the male prisoner’s eyes. Before contemplating the ramifications, I start to pummel Sithe from behind. He pitches forward and I circle around to the front so I can reach his head, boxing him over the ears as hard as possible the way Tarrant taught me. Sithe lets go and turns around, eyes bulging in rage.
“You little cunt!” he roars, grasping my ponytail and dragging me towards the elevators. I can feel the hairs ripping from my scalp as he pulls.
The young prisoner watches me, nodding his head apologetically. Sithe isn’t looking at him, so the man holds his hand up to me in a strange gesture. The pointer and middle fingers of his hand are twisted together, and he nods again with a tiny smile. I scrunch my brow in confusion as the doors open and Sithe throws me inside. My head collides with the mirrored wall; warm blood soon drips from a wound down my back. I lay crumpled in the corner, trying to discern what the prisoner’s hand gesture meant. A message to Tarrant, or a warning? But why was he smiling?
“I’d do more than crack your head right now if it wasn’t for tonight’s ceremony,” Chancellor Sithe says, kicking my leg with his boot. “I can hear the others already, ‘just like Sithe, ruining his offerings before delivery.’ Assholes. Well, not this time,” the Cruel says as the doors open. He yanks me down the hallway, stopping in front of 201.
Let me know if you’d like to see more!