The Gallows God
So there was a bit of a lapse there over the hollidays, but now I'm back. Determined to end this year with 52 stories no matter what, and to kick off the new year I give you this one, baed on the following from Reddit:
” For years the voices in your head has been nothing but muffled whispers, utter gibberish and indecipherable. Today however, the voices in your head started speaking to you, and every word they uttered began to make sense, it’s terrifying.”
He dreamed of ice, of the bellowing crack of glaciers and the stinging howl of frozen winds. He stood upon the bow of some ancient ship, before him rose the steep cliffs of the fjord, ice coated and foreboding, and beneath him, churning and frothing in the wind, frigid black waters impossibly deep. He could hear voices in the howling of the wind, distant and hollow voices, their words escaping him as they always did. And then it shifted.
He hung upon the branches of a great and gnarled tree. All around him white featureless terrain, an endless plain of ice and snow shrouded in the haze of a raging snowstorm. The ropes binding him to the grey branches chafed and cut his arms, drops of warm blood falling to the snow beneath. As he looked around he saw through the snow the shape of a man approaching. Upon his head a wide brimmed hat and in his hand a tall spear, and on his shoulders the black shapers of two large birds. The voices on the wind grew clearer, and now he could make out a word here and a phrase there, but the words quickly faded from his mind.
Even within the dream he felt confused. The voices had been with him for as long as he could remember, but never had he understood them, they were just background noise, like the rasp of a dead phone line. Then the figure stopped, far enough away to remain hidden within the snowstorm, but close enough that he could feel its gaze fall upon him. ”I am coming mortal.”
The voice was deep and ancient, it brought forth visions of blood and storms, of the relentless flow of glaciers and the crimson pain of violent death.
His eyes snapped open and he sat bolt upright, the sheets clinging to his clammy skin, he felt his heart beat hard in his chest and his breathing was heavy and irregular. He tried to take a few deep breaths to calm himself and shuddered in the cold air. He turned on the lamp on his bedside table and sat there for a while trying to calm himself. At the back of his mind he could hear the voices, no longer nothing but gibberish, but slowly becoming clearer. Getting out of bed he put on a thick robe and wandered through the darkened house and in to the bathroom.
The lights turned on with a hum and he leaned over the sink, splashing hot water on his face. As he looked up and stared at himself in the mirror the face staring back at him was hollow eyed and ragged. No wonder, he hadn’t had a good nights sleep in weeks. He couldn’t remember how long the dream, or some part of it, had haunted him but in the last few weeks it had gotten more real and more intense. ”The gallows call.” In panic he looked around for the source of the voice, but it was just him here, as alone as always. Behind him he heard a plink from the sink and as he looked down he saw a small shard of ice dissolve in the warm water streaming out of the faucet. He let out a pained and lonely groan. Clearly he was loosing his mind. Some strange dream haunting him, voices in his mind that weren’t his, and now hallucinations. Terror gripped him as he stumbled back to the bedroom and collapsed on the bed, panic crushing his chest like a vice.
It was hours later that that he walked out the front door and down the hill towards the town. His mind was a haze, thoughts unfocused, it felt as if his senses were encased in cotton wool. The hours between now and when he first woke up were a confused jumble of half sleep, strange dreams mingling with reality. He pulled his coat closer to ward off the cold winds blowing in from the ocean. The small town spread out below him, nestled between rugged cliffs and perched on the edge of the cold black waters of the ocean. The light seeping through the grey clouds was pale and cold, shining off the snow lining the road. He could see the fishing boats come and go from the harbour, from up here on the hill they looked small and vulnerable out the there on the freezing waves. As much as he tried to ignore them he could hear the voices on the wind clearly, talking to him, telling him dark things he could not comprehend. Painting for him pictures of carrion birds, of gallows, of blood flowing from fresh wounds and with it the cawing of ravens and the terrified screams of livestock at the slaughter.
He walked through the isles of the supermarket, absentmindedly filling his shopping cart from some mental list he was no longer fully aware of. The lady at the register chatted with him for a while as he payed, asked him how he was holding up now that mother had passed. He made smalltalk, reassured her that he was alright, now that the funeral was done with he could let go he said. He wasn’t sure how he actually felt, so it was best to just play the game he thought. All the while the voices assaulted him, making thinking near impossible as his mind was filled with grotesque images and voices screaming at him of sacrifice and death. He shot her a tight smile as he left the supermarket and wandered off down to the docks, and found himself standing there staring out at the churning sea until the cold woke him from his thoughts and he headed off home.
Clean the house, dust all the shelves, cook dinner, eat in front of the tv, brush teeth, then off to bed, the same routine as always. And now here he was again, in bed with the light on, a knot in his stomach as he lay there dreading the night, fearing being alone in the darkness with just his own thoughts and the voices, those damned voices.
He stood upon a plain of ice, behind him the great tree its bare branches spreading out above him, clawing at the clouds high above. All around him the voices screamed “A sacrifice is demanded.” “Ragnarok comes.” Something warm and sticky landed on his head and ran down his face. Warm blood. He looked up and saw a raven sitting in the branches above him, a human eye in its beak.
He began climbing up the trunk of the tree, and suddenly found himself once more hanging from the branches, to his right the raven cawed as the eye slid down its gullet. Now he could hear his mothers voice mingling with the others. “A clean home is a clean soul.” He’d heard her say it so often, but somehow the words felt different here, ominous somehow.
That is when he saw him again, the figure coming towards him through the blizzard. The raven lifted from the branch and landed on the mans left shoulder with a caw, on his right sat another of the birds. The man stopped closer to him this time and voices fell silent, the only sound now was the howling of the storm. “It is time mortal. The gallows thirst. The Allfather demands a sacrifice.” With that the ravens on his shoulders began to caw maniacally.
He awoke with a startled scream, sweat pouring down his brow. The room was dark and cold, frost coating the inside of the windows and outside the window he saw the moonlight reflecting off the black feathers of a raven as it sat silently watching him through the frosty glass. He threw off the sheets and stumbled to his feet, head spinning as he made his way to the bathroom. The image staring back at him from the mirror barely looked like him, gaunt and hollow eyed it stared back at him, a mocking image of what he once was. He turned the tap on and heard the pinging of ice as it hit the porcelain. He let out a muffled yell and stumbled back to the bedroom, all the while the voices screamed at him. “The gallows demand a sacrifice!” “Ragnarok comes, lead us!”
Outside the window the raven turned its black eyes on him and he stood there staring at it, dread filling his stomach. “It is time boy.” His mothers voice cutting through the din and confusion. Suddenly it all felt so clear and calm. He put on his clothes, made his bed and walked out the door.
He followed the raven up the hill and out towards the cliffs at the edge of the ocean. As he came closer he saw a tall hill, upon it a gnarled ash tree stood swaying in the wind and around the base of the will was a ring of moss covered stones. He remembered playing here sometimes as a child, climbing the branches and exploring the stones and crevasses of the hill. It was some old viking site he remembered vaguely, a burial mound or gallows ground. The raven landed on the tree and stared at him, cold black eyes glinting with malice. He put his hands on the tree, caressing it gently, feeling the rough bark against his hand, and then began to climb until he reached the first branches, someone had left two loops of rope up there, somewhere in the back of his clouded mind he thought it as strange. He slipped his hands in to the loops and let his feet go, and now he hung there from the ash tree, looking out over the rugged landscape.
The roar was deafening. As soon as he had seen the storm on the horizon it was upon him, a swirling chaos of snow and ice, it poured across the landscape like a river unleashed. And through the sailing snow he saw the man, this time he walked up to him. His beard was long and streaked with grey. Beneath the wide brimmed hat a solitary steely eye stared up at him. He felt the claws of the raven as it landed on his shoulder, its twin sitting on the mans right shoulder, staring at him with cold eyes. The pain was immediate and overwhelming. He felt the beak tear through his eye, and felt it ripped from its socket. He screamed in agony as blood gushed down his face and through the haze felt himself drop from the tree and land on his hands and knees before the Gallows god.
“This is how the world ends mortal, in ice and blood. This age of the world wiped out and new one birthed in its place.” The voice was cold and hard. The man lived him to his feet and then…
He couldn’t quite describe it. He felt the Allfather enter him, filling him up and wearing him like a coat. He screamed in agony, felt his mind shatter, and then it all fell silent.
He blinked and looked down upon the town below, his home, the place where he had lived his life. A life that was now ended, he could already feel himself slipping away, his feeble mind being absorbed by the consciousness of god. He felt the ice and snow blow past him, saw the boats in the harbour ripped from their moorings and break on the piers. Saw the houses rip apart and their inhabitants ripped to shreds in bursts of blood and entrails. And then then Odin one-eye began to walk down the hill and his mind faded away.