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The Spot Writers – “Cerebus” by Val Muller

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is among the most difficult I’ve tackled. In fact, when I shared it with my student writing group, they were all stumped. Update a legend or legendary character/beast: bring it into the modern world, or add a twist that isn’t consistent with the original legend.

Today’s post comes from Val Muller, author of the Corgi Capers kidlit mystery series. Learn more at www.CorgiCapers.com. And if you like modern twists on mythology, check out her supernatural mystery The Man with the Crystal Ankh: https://www.amazon.com/Man-Crystal-Ankh-Hollow-Book-ebook/dp/B01N75XTGK/

***

Cerebus by Val Muller

 

“Where are we?” asked the largest of the heads.

“I’m thirsty,” answered the middle head, craning its neck in search of water.

“Meow,” said the third.

“Meow?” the other two repeated.

“Meow,” confirmed the third.

“Where are we?” asked the largest head again, its eyes devoid of intellect. An affront to its position. I sighed. That should have been me—head head, brain of Cerebus. What was Ambrus doing in my spot? If I were still in charge, I would have crushed ten souls by now. Twelve! And the three of them were just standing there.

“You’re on Earth, you twits,” I answered. “Don’t you remember anything?”

“Earth?” repeated the largest head—my head—in Ambrus’s lame voice. He said it the way you remember a dream you just woke from, a dream you’ll forget in the next moments. “It’s very bright up here,” he complained.

“Yes,” agreed the second head. It had to be Mikula. He had taken Ambrus’s place as middle head.

We all turned to the third head. “Meow,” it said.

I looked down to note that I was licking my paw. Of all the undignified…I growled at myself, but it came out as more of a purr. In fact, I found myself thinking about finding a nice cardboard box to curl up in.

How atrocious.

And what the hell is cardboard?

“I’m confused,” said the largest head. I glanced at him. I couldn’t help but admire his—my—chiseled jawline, its bone-crushing teeth, its fiery mane of hair, more lion than dog. Oh, but those vacant eyes. I narrowed my own.

“When are you not confused, Ambrus?” I asked. Ambrus was our brawn, not our brain. He did what I told him. He devoured souls when I didn’t feel like it, he pounded his head into the rocks of the underworld to create cavernous cave-ins. He told us when we needed sustenance. Pure beast. He did none of the actual thinking.

“Meow,” said the third head.

“Wait,” said Ambrose. “What’s going on?”

I growled—trying to make it as purr-less as possible. Any imbecile could see what had happened.

“We were sent up and forward,” I said.

“Up?” asked Mikula.

“Forward?” asked Ambrose.

“Meow,” said the third head.

“Up.” I motioned to the surroundings with my paw. I was surprised at how dexterous the feline appendage was. I pointed to the alleyway, the buildings, the glowing lights of the city.

“And forward.” I pointed to the airplanes in the sky, the automobiles, the indicators of the current era.

“But why?” asked the idiot who occupied my head.

This had literally been explained to us moments ago when we were still in Hades and still in our own era.

“We’re being proactive,” I said. “Sorting and gathering souls for Hades. Things were getting crowded. Gods, haven’t you read Dante’s Inferno? We’re supposed to scare up some people into behaving better. Hades is tired of dealing with so many down in his turf. We’ve got to slow down the influx of souls.”

Mikula nodded like it was the first he was hearing of all this. That’s all he ever did. Agree and obey.

The third head meowed. I wished the other two would just bite his head off already. There were fewer things more useless to me than cats. And here I was…

“When we transported,” I explained, “we were supposed to be sent somewhere deserted. You know, to fully materialize. Hades can see all, but he apparently missed that there was a mangy alleycat right here, licking its damned paws just as we arrived. The sheer force our arrival crashing into its existence, and my head was taken by idiot over there, leaving Ambrose’s head ripe for Mikula’s taking. And me…” I meowed so loudly I felt sick and forced up a hairball.

A human walked by, talking into a sparkly device. The three heads turned to gauge my reaction.

“I thought we were bigger,” Ambrose said. Indeed, the human had towered over us. “We used to be able to devour men in a single gulp. That I remember.”

“Souls have no size,” I said. “In this world… “ But what could I say? How could I justify Cerebus’s new diminutive size with talk of limited resources of the laws of physics in the real world? These partners of mine came from an alternate dimension, and they barely understood anything. It was pointless. We weren’t going to devour souls anytime soon. And we certainly weren’t doing Hades any favors.

A human walked by. “Meow,” I said, swallowing my disgust.

“Awww,” the human said. “Are you lost, little kitty? Stay right here.” She disappeared into a doorway and emerged a moment later with a little can. She flicked the top, and it made the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. I leapt to her feet and devoured the sweet ambrosia that was trapped inside. Fish and liver pate. I couldn’t remember a thing in Hades I liked better.

When I finished, I glanced up. Music from an open window above the alley had lulled the three idiots to sleep. Their body was warm and their breathing, rhythmic. I purred once and leapt into the crook of their front leg, snuggling in for a nap. Before I fell asleep, I admired the clean paw I had just licked. Its calico pattern was something to rival the finest artisan’s work. Then I licked it some more, just to be sure.

It’s what cats do, after all.

* * *

The Spot Writers:

Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/ 

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/

 

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The Spot Writers – “Beast,” by Val Muller.

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month the prompt is to use the theme “out of season.”

Today’s contribution comes from Val Muller, author of the newly-released The Scarred Letter, a young adult reboot of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.

Beast

Bella sat in a circle with the others. The crackling campfire singed the summer air, making Bella flustered and anxious.

“It’s only darkness,” she mouthed.

But Roy Davidson already wore a sinister smile. He had a scary story, alright. He had a scary story last year, too. Too bad it would be two more years until he went away to college. Hopefully by then he’d have better things to do than scare kids.

“They’re just stories,” Bella whispered. She glanced at the line of trees. Maggie’s parents’ cabin was barely visible through the summer foliage. Bella strained her ears for sounds of her parents and the other adults, but the chirping crickets and frogs and other summer-things of the forest were too loud.

How could six grown adults allow their children to camp out alone in the woods? Sure, Roy was sixteen, but the rest of them were younger. Maggie was only ten. Then again, Maggie lived here. She knew the woods. Maybe that made the stories less scary.

Bella, you’re thirteen. When will you grow up? They’re only stories.

Oh, but Roy was a good storyteller.

Without mercy, Roy stirred the fire and licked his lips, ready to spin his tale.

“This legend originated right here in these parts in the time of the Native Americans. There is a darkness that lurks all around us. It is so terrifying that there is no name for it. It knows its power, and it grows as it frightens us. It hides in shadows and lurks in the corners of our minds. It feeds on our fear, but usually we are too busy and brave to think about it. But in the wintertime, the Beast has the best chance of gaining power.

“In the chill of winter, we are forced inside by early darkness. Twilight lingers in the winter, and shifting shadows and bare tree branches claw at our imaginations. The cold of winter forces us indoors, into quiet reflection. And sometimes there is nothing scarier than the depths of our minds. And the snow. Oh, how the snow muffles sound in the cold darkness…”

Roy glared at Bella across the fire. He jammed a stick again, stirring the ashes and dimming the light, diminishing the heat. In a grim voice, he continued his tale about a bitter, cold winter in this very forest when an entire tribe was forced to all but hibernate for one full moon cycle. The cold dark bred fear, allowing the unnamed terror to manifest in the flesh. The next spring, scouts from a nearby tribe found nothing but bodies, slain by each others’ hands, just starting to thaw.

“Beware,” he had said. “When it gets too dark or too cold, you must control your thoughts. The Beast awaits, and your fear may be an invitation to him that ends up hurting us all…”

*

Later, in the tent, Bella clasped her sleeping bag, pulling it up to her chin. Despite the mild summer night, she couldn’t keep warm. The grownups had said any of the kids could return to the cabin if they were scared or uncomfortable. But even Maggie was okay with camping. How could Bella admit to the others that she couldn’t handle one night in the woods? Besides, she would be too scared to walk the path to the cabin in the darkness.

So she pulled her sleeping bag tighter and strained her ears to hear above the snores coming from her tent and the tent next to her. Outside there were crickets, but there was something behind the crickets. It was silence. Silence in the darkness. She sunk lower into her sleeping bag and couldn’t help feeling a chill with the bite of winter in the darkening summer evening.

It was going to be a long night.

The Spot Writers- our members.

RC Bonitz: http://www.rcbonitz.com

 Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/

 Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

 Kathy Price: http://www.kathylprice.com

 

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