Author Archives: karenrsanderson

The Dark Creature Passes, Part V

SPECIAL NOTE – This is horror. If you don’t like horror, turn back now. As you are turning back, notice the guy in the dark, voluminous cape. Walk toward that guy.

Part V: A Tortured Soul

By Karen R. Sanderson

I can’t breathe – the putrid smoke from the other souls is wafting over me. My bruised and bloodied neck aches where the chains hold me, pinned. I’m waiting for my turn – the old man with the wooden matches is coming my way. My arms are pinned to my sides; I am contained like a statue in this wooden box. It is too close, cloying, like a coffin. 

Moments ago I was freezing from the cold, my extremities tingling with frostbite, my body in fits of violent shivers. I turn my head and can see the old man at the container next to me. He’s crouched in front of the box, putting a match to the timbers and hay along its bottom. The air is getting hotter and more humid; I can hear human fluids popping and boiling. 

I cannot abide the screeching and wailing and screaming from the other souls! And the stench of burning flesh feels as if it is melting into my eyeballs, into my nostrils, settling its dust on my tongue. I start to choke on oily smoke, gagging silently as it fills my lungs. My throat tightens involuntarily. I can hear the crackling of wood and the snapping of bones.  

The old man is now standing in front of my box. I can see the top of his head and his wool-covered shoulders. The heat is so intense. The flames lick along and in between my toes; I can feel the fire making its way up my legs. And the incessant screaming! It is me – I am screaming. And the old man is grinning, orange flames reflected against his yellowed teeth. 


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The Dark Creature Passes, Part IV

SPECIAL NOTE – This is horror. If you don’t like horror, turn back now. As you are turning back, notice the guy in the dark, voluminous cape. Walk toward that guy.

Part Four: Cruckshank is Reborn 

By Karen R. Sanderson

A 21st century Kelvin Cruckshank strolled along the stone path which led from the barn to the back of the manor. The grounds had been redone – at his insistence – and even on an ominous night with no moon, he enjoyed the course. He could smell the rose and gardenia fragrance coming from the greenhouse beside the barn. Another addition made once he’d accepted his new position. 

He was a strapping young man of 17, though the look of him was older, wiser, more assured. Not one of his acquaintances would guess his youthful years. His dark Welsh features – black hair and hazel eyes – accompanied a fine ivory complexion. His dark lambskin gloves hid long, delicate fingers. 

He pulled open the back door to a new stainless-steel gallery and strode through, arrogance dripping. He needed no candle or flashlight to guide his way – he could see quite well in complete darkness. He hummed to himself – a jaunty tune he’d recently heard. After a turn here and there, he was at the door to the library; he pushed through that as well. 

Directly inside the library door was a coat rack with the former Creature’s cape and hat. These antique items were brushed every day and shook out to clear them of dust. He shrugged out of his wool coat and hung it next to his mentor’s cape. He wore no hat. These days it was not fashionable, and he chose not to draw attention to himself. Not until it was necessary. 

Young Cruckshank had outlived three assistants; his fourth was in the barn attending to the collected souls. Here in this shadowy room, a fire raging, he could not hear the screams.

At the sideboard, he poured three fingers of fine Kentucky bourbon into two rocks glasses and carried them over to the hearth: one glass on the assistant’s table, one on his own modest side table. He sat, fatigued, and kicked off his Parlanti boots. He placed his pair next to the mentor’s gleaming black riding boots to the side of the hearth. He sat back and relaxed. He brought the glass to his lips, burning liquid flowed over his tongue and down his dust-caked throat. 

He waited patiently for the assistant to join him for their evening exchange. 


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The Dark Creature Passes, Part III

SPECIAL NOTE – This is horror. If you don’t like horror, turn back now. As you are turning back, notice the guy in the dark, voluminous cape. Walk toward that guy.

Part Three: The Discourse and an Announcement 

by Karen R. Sanderson

The multi-storied stone monstrosity sat on a knoll, surrounded by dark leafless trees and knotted twisting vines. On either end of the structure was a large cupola, each a room in itself. Even during gray daylight, the manor house was dim and somewhat vague in its shape. At night, it appeared as an overgrown and ominous shadow. 

Cruckshank pulled open a wide wooden door leading into the kitchen. Gleaming copper pots hung still on racks above the scarred island. In an alcove, a diminutive table with its one chair was tidy and sat waiting for breakfast. A wrought iron wood stove hulked silently. Striking a match, he lit a tapered candle to guide his way through to the library. Though he’d walked this particular path thousands of times, it was his habit to have the candle. 

The old man shambled through cavernous hallways and through the central entryway on his march toward the library. Each rough stone wall boasted enormous woven tapestries. Portraits of lost souls in various stages of death and agony, life-sized and framed in shining gilt, observed the old man’s progress. 

He passed the central staircase, the landing of which would support a miner’s cottage. The wide stairs were heavily carpeted in lush burgundy wool so that footfalls were but a whisper. Overlooking the stairs and landing was a mammoth stained glass insert the size of a barn. Dark hues of the blood-colored glass panes whistled with the ghostly wind. 

The candle’s flame was blown out by an onerous breath curling down from the upper floors. Old Cruck stopped and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. The glow from under the library door beckoned him, and he walked toward it. 

Old Cruck lifted a misshapen hand and delivered two raps on the door to the library; he waited a couple of heartbeats and then entered. Without a word to the Dark Creature seated next to the fire, Cruckshank approached the carved and heavy mahogany sideboard. Picking up the glass decanter, he poured two glasses of Gautier brandy. The antiquated snifters were as large as a child’s head. The sparkling glass reflected the amber glow of the fire. Cruckshank shuffled toward the hearth and placed a snifter on the end table at his companion’s elbow. He settled into place on his side of the fire. Cruckshank remarked on the hearth. 

“You could put a team of horses in there, easy.” Old Cruck took a sip from his snifter. 

“You have gotten old my friend. When did this happen?” said the Dark Creature. 

“Hmph. It’s been happening for the last 67 years, sir,” Cruckshank said. 

“Sixty-seven years it’s been? You are then, what, 84?”  

Cruckshank nodded. A prickly tingling presented itself in the old man’s stomach and snaked its way across his chest and arms

Why these odd questions? These were quite uncommon inquiries coming from the Dark Creature. 

“Are you dismissing me, sir?” 

“Ghosts and tortured souls, no! Just making observations…conversation.” 

Cruckshank relaxed somewhat, though the aura in the library seemed to have grown more gloomy. The Creature across the carpet from him had bowed his head. After several moments, Cruckshank wondered if he had fallen asleep. 

Cruckshank cleared his throat softly. “I am getting rather worn out, I suppose. Consigning souls to their fates, all the time here buried in snow and breathing frigid air. So cold, constantly. It can be somewhat lonely all day while you are gone, sir. I’m a mere mortal after all.”

“Yes, lonely, I suppose.” There was another pause in the discourse, more comfortable this time.

 A knot in a log on the fire cracked like a shot from a Miquelet pistol. Strengthening winds pushed stiffened branches against the glass of the window, it’s screeching muted somewhat by the heavy brocade draperies. Cruckshank straightened his lapels, pulling and tucking his coat tails beneath his legs. The brandy and the warmth of the raging fire were making his sagging eyelids feel leaden.  

“You don’t feel like sharing your stories tonight, sir?” 

“Perhaps you could tell me a story or two, Cruck.” 

“Me? Tell you stories, sir? Oh.” This was quite odd; actually had never happened in all their 67 years together. “Well, let’s see. That disgusting soul who shot the constable – he was quite sorry and tried to blame his upbringing and his besotted father. Quite a temper he had himself! Pah! Then there was that awful man who preyed on weak, lost children – he was sobbing when I put the flame to him – much like a child himself! Then there was that woman – ” 

“Cruckshank, I will retire.” 

Cruckshank mistook his intent – he thought the Dark Creature was ready for his slumber. The Creature’s posture slumped. Cruckshank felt a bit disconcerted. The Creature seemed to be melting into the deep pit of the velvet chair, one hand limp by his side. The other hand rested on the end table, near his snifter. His features seemed to have softened and sagged, too. 

“Ah, yes, of course, sir. I’ve already locked up.” Cruckshank rose from his chair and stood still, hands at his sides. 

“No, you do not understand. I am done, finished.” 

“What…” Cruckshank stood still, his mouth agape. Disturbing thoughts invaded his mind; I’m being let go, I’m done, I’ll get the match put to my box now. 

 Before the old man could gather more thoughts to speak, the Dark Creature continued. 

“And you have been tasked as my replacement.” 

Cruckshank’s knees started to buckle; he took one staggering step backwards, dropping into his chair. His heart was beating like a hammer on an anvil, veins in his head throbbed. His surprise was absolute and complete. And then he had a thought that made him smile.

“Will I be young again, sir? A young man of 17?” Now his eyes sparkled in the flickering flames emanating from the hearth. 

“Yes, Cruck. You will be renewed, refreshed, you will again be 17 years old. Just as you came to me.” 

The Dark Creature and the old man settled into a comfortable silence. Their opposing faces were a visual disagreement. The Creature frowned, the old man grinned. 

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The Dark Creature Passes, Part II

SPECIAL NOTE – This is horror. If you don’t like horror, turn back now. As you are turning back, notice the guy in the dark, voluminous cape. Walk toward that guy.

The Dark Creature Ruminates

By Karen R. Sanderson


I think of my 200-plus years, coming to an end. I’ve left Cruckshank at the barn to deal with my collection of souls. He has no idea this was my last trip. I’m retiring, perhaps to the South of France or Tuscany. Or Portland, Maine! Any place without the putrid smell of brimstone would serve me well. How I have come to detest that ghastly stink. 

Once tonight’s souls are dealt with, Cruckshank will join me in the darkened library. We will repose in front of a roiling, hearty fire for a warm brandy and the discourse of the evening’s events. How he loves to listen to the tales of my night’s wanderings and soul-gathering.

I was distressed to see how the old sot appeared this evening. From outside the muted glow of the barn light, I could see him huddled with a rotted blanket pulled around his shoulders. He’s gotten old; I think he must be nearly 80 now. Coming to me as a young man of 17, he was full of vigor and intensity. His face reflects each year with a crinkle and crease. His hands have become knotted like twisted branches, his posture now bowed. 

The approval on my retirement has been delivered, and tonight I need to tell ole Cruck he’s done as Despatcher of Souls. I am sad that I must tell him this, sad that we will no longer share these affable nights together. I will retire, and he will replace me among the Collectors. His mind and his body will be reborn. He will be young again, and young for as long as he wishes. He will have endless days of rest, and endless nights, as each collection and his memories will line up like rail carriages attached to a locomotive. 

My time as a Collector is done, as is my time as an immortal. I’m giving it up. I wonder if Cruck will be pleased at his promotion. Does he imagine immortality, the perks of superior health and vitality? Has he ever considered such an empyrean existence? 

I ruminate on the humans, the souls amassed at their end – they get to their final days and ask for more time, more time! I, who have had an overabundance of time, have grown fatigued by it. And eventually, I too will pass on, and my soul will be collected. 


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