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Caesar IV Heaven » Forums » Story Archives » The Vines - A Short Story
Topic Subject:The Vines - A Short Story
Civis Romanus
posted 10-25-00 11:14 ET (US)         
Please indulge me, if you will, this opportunity to make a solo offering in recognition that All Hallow's Eve shall be upon us in only a few more sunrises. Therefore, with your understanding, this will not be a team writing project.

I hope you will enjoy the break and find what follows entertaining if only for the brief time it will take to read the limited number of posts involved.

So now, without further preface, I offer the tale called:


[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-27-2000).]

Civis Romanus
posted 10-25-00 11:25 ET (US)     1 / 7       
The bronze metal gate swung squealing on unoiled hinges until the hand that slowly propelled it found for the gate its home against the latch of the crypt's metal door frame. The modest echo from the gate's closing that came alive within the stone walls of the crypt gathered itself for a final effort and rushed forward for the bronze barred opening.

It found for itself a home in the hearing of the sole person standing at the entrance: Septimus Publicus, a young man called Sep by those who knew him well... and there were few who did in the place where he lived.

He secured the latch as the vibrations of the gate's closure ceased to tingle in his thumb and index finger. Then he paused to peer one last time that evening into the crypt and at each of its four niches, two on each side of the crypt. Three of the niches contained a sarcophagus. The empty niche above his sister's would be his someday. It should have been for the husband of his sister; but that could not be, for she never reached an age when marriage was possible... she died still a child.

It was on this spot that Sep, only 15 years of age himself, found her amidst the small fires, eye burning smoke, debris and destruction wrought by the lightning lit fire that coursed through his father's vineyard. Claudia had dropped her hold on his hand and then ran from him when in her child's mind she realized her private place was threatened and her cache of favorite dolls and toys might burn. Indeed they did burn... and the sweet, young, 9-year old girl could not save them or herself as the flames seared the life from her body.

Fifteen year old Sep helped his father build the crypt as a final home for his sister. Then, soon afterwards, helped his mother place his dead father's body in its final resting place, the strain of life and regrowing the vineyard ending his father's days too soon. At 19 Sep's mother joined the others in the crypt. The doctors said it was a fever brought on by the will of the gods. Sep could not understand why the gods would do such a thing and turned from them once and finally as the lid of the sarcophagus settled over his mother's body.

As he stepped back from the door to the crypt, these memories flooded his mind while his vision adjusted to the cool brightness of the full moon rising into the sky. Around him stood row after row of low staked and high staked grape vines, the leaves just now beginning to yellow and their crop of clustered fruit gone to the harvest... with just a few exceptions. For here and there a small cluster of dwarfed grapes could still be seen on the vines as if abandoned or ignored. In fact they were abandoned, as they were not fruit of the proper size at harvest to impress the vintners. So as a final insult to the ability of their parenting plant, the fruit was left there to wither, dry and rot away.

To Be Continued.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-25-2000).]

Civis Romanus
posted 10-26-00 11:35 ET (US)     2 / 7       
Sep glanced once more in the direction of the crypt then turned about to find his way back to his small villa on the edge of the vineyard. There was an ill-defined path between the villa and the crypt that he followed during the day, but at night it was nearly undetectable.

In the limited view provided by dim moonlight Sep could just barely see the middle and edges of the bare ground that marked the path. Here and there tendrils of vine sought their way across the path or hanged seemingly without support in mid air just above the ground anywhere from the level of a man's knee to his neck. Down this pathway Sep's feet carried him as he sought the security and comfort of his room and then his sleeping couch.

But first, just about 20 meters beyond the crypt, his attention was caught by a small cluster of hanging fruit, its normal burgundy red now colored a pale grey by the moon.
He reached up to cradle the cluster in his hand for a closer look. Just as he suspected, the fruit was small and wrinkled, except for one grape. It seemed unusually plump and fruitful. On impluse he plucked the grape from its place and felt it. Yes... It seemed ripe. It seemed edible.
So he opened his mouth and gently placed the fruit there, then bit down with side teeth.

Instead of yielding a rush of pulp and juice, the fruit's skin held firm and did not break under the pressure of his bite. Strange, he thought. So he opened his mouth to reach in and retrieve the grape. But his fingers couldn't do their intended job... his mouth wouldn't open... his lips were sealed shut as if by glue... and in his mouth the grape began to quiver and move on its own.

As it twitched it also began to roll, first to one side of his mouth and then to the other. The feeling in his mouth warned his mind that the object was growing, swelling, expanding. With his tongue he sensed the skin of the grape tightening and becomming more rigid than before. Panic began to take control of his mind. He couldn't open his mouth; and he couldn't pry his lips apart with his own hands. The object continued to swell... bigger... bigger...

Then it burst and rank juices carried obscenely tasting pulp to the back of his throat and down its channels. The scent of putridity penetrated his nose through the air passages he used for breathing. He gagged, but still his mouth wouldn't open.

He began to stagger, his facial cheeks began to swell outwards and he noticed something more. On his tongue there was something... it was moving... no, it was walking. Higher, on the inside of his cheeks, something pointed touched them, first one side and then the other. Still, his cheeks continued to swell outwards. Then his face exploded...

No, Sep realized, his face didn't explode... his mouth... it finally opened and released what was caged within. He saw it then, a smallish creature with the wings of a bat, the body of a lizard and the face of... But he couldn't see its face for it fluttered its wings and kept its back to Sep until finally it turned in mid air and presented its face to him... IT WAS A HUMAN FACE! Horned but human. The eyes in the face focussed on his and the creature's lips curled back in a fiendish smile. The face was that of his sister Claudia and the smile was that of a demon.

To Be Continued.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-26-2000).]

Civis Romanus
posted 10-26-00 22:42 ET (US)     3 / 7       
The winged creature flapped its wings with more vigor, turned again in midair and flew directly away from Sep. He could follow its flight for a distance for the moonlight reflected off the creature's back. This pinpoint of light continued to expand the distance between itself and Sep, then suddenly stopped... or so it seemed to have stopped.

The light remained still, suspended in mid air, nearly unmoving. It began to grow from its mid air position downwards and outwards. What was a pin point became a circle; what was a circle became an evergrowing oval. Finally the base of the oval touched the earth of the path and it grew no more.

The pale blue/white light flickered slightly just as a voice materialized from nowhere yet seemed to be everywhere. "Stay away... Stay away... Stay away..." it seemed to say. Sep strained to listen. Did it come from the spectral light or did it come from somewhere else? He couldn't tell. Something tickled his calf muscle.

"Stay away... Stay away... Stay away..." Again the wailing voice. Something brushed against his arm. "Stay away... Stay away..." Something rubbed against his waist.

The light suddenly began to spin and approach him at a nearly impossible speed. Within the light something twisted and churned. Sep couldn't move. He was transfixed by the light and its inexplicable behavior. A meter before it collided with Sep the light suddenly stopped. At its upper area the light flared brightly and then began to coalesce into a... a... FACE! Claudia's again... her demonic face and sardonic grin less than a meter now from his own. "BEGONE!" it bellowed and a foul stench crossed his flared nostrils.

The earth erupted under his feet as sickened brown roots quickly trapped his ankles. He looked down to see yellow-green vine tendrils that had secretly wrapped themselves all about his body as he stood transfixed by the apparition. These immediately tightened their grip so that wrapped as he was, Sep had no chance to free arms, legs, feet or any other part of his body in defense.

The ground churned anew and his feet began to sink below the surface. He starred in horror as the ground pulled him further into its bowels. His legs... his waist... his chest.

He could not find the presence of mind to call for help, as if there was someone anywhere who could. He heard the apparition's diabolical laughter as the dirt reached his chin. It was then he found his voice... And Sep released his terror in a scream that echoed across the vineyard, through the valley and over the hills...

It was then he sat bolt upright on his sleeping couch to see the 9-year old girl who stood there cower in fright, not knowing what to say or do... Bathed in sweat, mind fogged with the aftermath of involuntary fear, his eyes not seeing clearly, Sep said, "Claudia, why are you doing this?! Why are you here?!"


To be continued.

Civis Romanus
posted 10-27-00 14:03 ET (US)     4 / 7       
The young girl's eyes opened even wider than they were when she was greeted by Sep's primal scream. "M..M..Master Sep... Are you feeling badly?"

Sep's vision began to clear as wakefulness replaced sleep induced dullness. He quickly pulled bed linens up to his waist with a movement inspired by unconscious modesty.

"No, I'm well... Lydia."

"Yes Master Sep. Mother told me to wake you and tell you your morning meal is prepared."

"Thank you... uh, Lydia. Tell your mother I will there shortly."

It was Lydia, the daughter of one of his woman servants and one of his field workers. The girl turned to leave then hesitated. She looked back with a hopeful glance. "It will be permitted for us to go this evening, Master Sep?

"Go where, Lydia?" replied Sep.

"To the festival."

"Oh, yes... the festival." He remembered now. There was a small festival in the nearby village held annually at this time. He ceased to go after his mother died and forgot the date of its recurrence. "Of course, Lydia. You may all go." It made no sense to make their simple lives any duller or lonlier than his own had become. He indulged his few remaining workers in these ways.

The young girl's face brightened. "Thank you, Master Sep. I do love these festivals." Then her face became serious. "And please do not be long. My mother becomes very cross with me if I do not wake you in time and your meal becomes cold."

"Do not be worried, Lydia. I will hurry." Satisfied, Lydia left Sep's chamber for the serving area downstairs. Sep waited till she left, then threw back the linens covering himself and the sleeping couch. He padded, barefooted, to the pitcher and bowl he used each day for morning cleansing. He selected a short lengthed covering and tied it about his waist with a woven rope belt in the style of the times.

Sep kept to himself in the time since his mother died, more so than after he lost Claudia and his father. There were two he knew before. Young Crassus, a boy about his age, who a few years ago left his farm and family for adventure in the Legions. He was sent to the frontier the last Sep heard to fight barbarians in Germania. And there was pretty, brown-eyed, Croetia... a lovely girl, very comely, but with a deep disdane for servants and workers. Sep could not abide her cruel treatment of these lower class people and would not permit her by marriage to subject his household to similar ill will. So he was alone today as he had been alone throughout the days, weeks and years since his mother's passing. Not even the presence of a few servants and workers could make a change in his sense of isolation and resulting lonliness.

He finished his meal, thanked Lydia's mother for her work and walked towards the vineyard. In the distance he could see the roof of the crypt poking as it were above the higher of the staked vines. For though it was a dream, a nightmare in fact, every facet of it's setting was true... the stone crypt, its four niches, the bronze barred gate, the ill-defined path, the vines; except for the winged creature and the light.

A mugginess hanged in the air threatening to suffocate and smother any who dared breathe. Hmmm, thought Sep, the festival tonight may be in for some poor weather. This thought carried him to the edge of the vineyard. The path through the vines beckoned to him. Sep hesitated, then began to walk to the path's beginning. Stay away, the nightmarish voice had said; but it was only a nightmare, thought Sep. These were his family's vines, not the vines of the nightmare. Sep quickened his step and walked into the first of row upon row of staked yellow-green vines.

To Be Continued.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-27-2000).]

Civis Romanus
posted 10-29-00 11:05 ET (US)     5 / 7       
He had only travelled a short distance when he heard a noice in the vines. Scrape... scrape... scrape... Cautiously he approached the source of the noise. Pulling back an obstructing cluster of grape leafs he saw...

It was Lucindus, his oldest and most faithful worker. Releasing a breath he didn't realize he was holding Sep found a path through the vines a little ways away and walked to where Lucindus was using a hoe.

"Good morning, Lucindus," said Sep when the old man lifted his head to see what his poor hearing had only now detected.

"Good morning, Master Sep. I am working this soil. It seems to have been disturbed by something... something from underneath."

Sep looked down. Dirt was piled into tortured hills here and there and not smoothed into a neat channel like Lucindus would normally leave in the vineyard.

"My son, too, has found others," continued the old man. Laetus, Lucindus' son was the father of Lydia, the young girl who awakened Sep that morning. It was Laetus' wife Sari who fixed his morning meal. They constituted the majority of the staff of his household. The others... well, they were a migratory lot. Here for the harvest and then going elsewhere. Right now, he supposed the others were in the higher elevation where apples were being harvested. The grape harvest had ended weeks ago.

As was his way, Sep himself picked up an idle hoe and began to work the ground as well. This brought a smile to Lucindus' face. The old man knew his station, but still looked upon Sep as something of a son, ever since he first began to take young Sep into the vineyard at the behest of Sep's father with the charge to teach young Sep about the vines.

"You will be goint to the festival this evening, won't you, Lucindus?" Sep asked.

"Yes, Master Sep, if it is permitted."

"Of course. Enjoy the festival, Lucindus. Take with you some cheese from the storage room and some of the other foods. Sari will know what we can spare."

"But you will be alone again this evening, Master? Why don't you come too," suggested the old man.

"I would prefer not to, Lucindus. That is all. I would prefer not to." Lucindus knew when to end dialogue with Sep. That time had come.

"Yes, Master Sep." He looked up at the thin grey-streaked clouds beginning to form overhead. "I only hope it doesn't rain and spoil the festival." Sep felt the increasing mugginess and nodded in agreement. Then he resumed his labor and they said little else.

The day passed as many had before. A break for a second meal and then a return to the vineyard. Sep had worked his way to the edge of the crypt. On one wall of the crypt he could see two indentations as if something had been cast against the wall to mar its stonework. Indeed something had. Unknown at the time to his family he had carried their small statue of Ceres with him, and when the stone lid was placed over his sister's small tortured body, he had walked to this wall of the crypt and smashed it against the wall shattering the statue into small pieces. He would have done the same to the statue of Jupiter he carried, but by then his parents had heard the noise and his crying and prevented him from destroying the chief god's statue.

"Ceres should have saved her from the fire in the vines!" he had said to them. His father simply held out his hand for the statue of Jupiter without saying a word. Sep looked at the statue in his hand and then gave it to his father. The boy then ran from the vineyard to sob his grief in his room.

When his mother died of the fever, there was no one to hold out a hand to Sep, and he did then what he would have done before. The crumbled pieces of the statue of Jupiter still lay on the ground intermingled with the debris from the statue of Ceres. A new indentation marked the place on the wall where the statue had been cast by Sep's hand.

As the afternoon wore on, Sep noted the position of the sun where it could still be seen in the thickening clouds. His few workers were beginning to leave the vineyard and make their way to their hovels to prepare and depart for the festival. Eventually, Sep was the only person in the vineyard.

He looked once more skywards. The clouds to the west were thick, dark and roiling. They moved slowly, but with deliberateness. They would be upon them right when the festival was at its peak. Sep shook his head. Just like the gods to spoil something like that.

He swung the hoe to the back of his neck, rested it across his shoulder and stabilized it there by hooking his arms over the shaft. Then he began his walk back to the villa.
Something grabbed his hoe and spun him slightly to the side. A vine... entangled in the blade of the hoe. Sep removed the hoe from his shoulder and pulled back, tearing some of the vine's tendrils from its grasp on the hoe. Hmmm, the path was too narrow to carry the hoe like that. So he carried it now more like a soldier would carry a pila.

A few steps more and then... the ground moved just ahead. Dirt rose in an enlarging lump. Something moved beneath the dirt. Sep brought his hoe down in an almost reflex reaction. His body tensed, his mind worked quickly to create a plan of escape. The dirt continued to move, then a channel opened at the top of the mound... and a small furred head poked above the dirt, looked around and disappeared.

Sep started to laugh. "Sep, you fool, even the gophers have their power over you," he said to himself. Without further hesitation he continued his walk to the villa where he would clean up and partake of the supper Sari was sure to leave for him. Then he would visit the crypt in the evening as was his usual practice.

The little pinpoint of light that materialized near the crypt floated motionless in the air, visible only against the backdrop of the crypt's stone wall. It seemed to hover there calmly observing Sep's back as the young man walked from the vineyard to his small villa. Patiently, it would continue to wait... until the time was right.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-29-2000).]

Civis Romanus
posted 10-30-00 16:09 ET (US)     6 / 7       
Sep's workers and servants were gone to the festival, each and every one. He left the plates holding the remnants of his supper on the table while he hurried somewhat to leave for his walk to the crypt.

Once outside the door, he saw the dense clouds overhead. Strange, as threatening as they appeared, there was no smell of rain in the air. He remembered a night like this once before... Do not dwell on the past, Sep, he told himself; but was only partially able to convince his mind to follow his instructions. He strode into the vineyard to follow the ill-defined path to the crypt.

From far, far away he could hear a deep throated noise that sounded like the wheels of one hundred chariots rolling across a wooden bridge. Thunder, but far and away. He quickened his stride. Vines brushed against his cloak and touched his ankles and arms as he walked the path. With each second step he was another meter closer to the crypt. Stay away? Did he hear that voice again? Stay away? It seemed to be carried on the wind.

Wind? Well, not quite a wind, but the strong breeze caught his attention. Something illuminated the horizon at its very edge. Lightning. Maybe this was not the best evening to fulfill his ritual at the crypt. So distracted by thoughts and his surroundings, Sep realized only as it loomed up in front of him, that he had already completed the walk to the crypt. Before him was the bronze gate. It took only the simple and well remembered movement of thumb and index finger to open the gate as he had so many times before.

Now inside he looked once more upon the sarcophagus of his sister on the lower level to his left side. On his right side he looked at the sarcophagus of his father and that of his mother just above. The stiffening breeze outside and the rumble of thunder seemed unable to penetrate the walls and even the barrier of the seemingly open bronze gate. In here he felt at ease, safe and secure. What false god could have delivered such a dream to him only the night before? He pondered and had no answer. No answers were forthcoming from anything in the quiet within the tomb; but nonetheless, at least for the moment, within the crypt among the vines, Sep did not feel alone.

He may have thought that he tarried in the crypt for only a few moments, but it was only his preoccupied mind fooling him once again. Sep finally rose from his reverie and opened the bronze gate to leave. The sky was illuminated by a brilliant flash and the wind increased its speed by another degree. Vines bent in submission and the stakes on which they were clinging bowed with each gust of strong wind. Ear-splitting thunder followed immediately upon the heels of the light. Still there was no hint of rain.

Lightning strikes now surrounded Sep. Thunderclap followed thunderclap so closely his body vibrated as if it were a stringed instrument being strummed. Then a scent did catch his awareness... smoke!

He looked around from where he stood. Behind him was a steady orange glow and a yellow flickering at its peak. To his right was another glowing area. And to his left he saw the same. Suddenly the area before him was lit by near blinding white light. Immediately, the stench of charred vegetation reached his nose. The air was rent by a chest rattling explosion of sound as the thunderclap finally reached him. He made his decision... he ran directly towards where the last lightning bolt had struck. Not in the same place twice, he thought.

Orange began to illuminate the area in front of him. He couldn't see flames yet, but knew they were there. He also couldn't see the bright spot of light that danced along the top of the vines, moving faster than Sep and just out of range of his peripheral vision.

The orange glow was spreading to his right and to his left before him. Disaster! The dirt seemingly grasped him by his feet and cast him into a row of vines. Head first he plunged into their yellow-green mass. Tendrils found their way around him as he thrashed about trying to free himself. Grape leaves struck his face with stinging slaps. Pieces of broken stakes entangled in vine struck him when he pulled too hard on the vines. He struggled more as the breeze brought fresh smoke across the vineyard to him.

The bright pinpoint of light picked a place just above Sep and floated there. Sep struggled more, before finally paying attention to his hearing and the strange sound that was trying to make itself heard. Giggling? Is that giggling?

"Who is it!?" called out the frightened young man. "Show yourself! I need help here! Sari!? Lydia!? PLEASE... The vines are burning and I am trapped!" It was then he saw the pinpoint of light above him and all of the fear of the nightmare returned to his mind and soul.

To Be Concluded.

Civis Romanus
posted 10-31-00 12:02 ET (US)     7 / 7       
The pinpoint of light lowered itself to float before Sep's face. It was then he heard the voice and realized it came from the light.

"I told you to stay away," the light said. Sep started at the words and, surprisingly, found himself readily freed of the entangling vines. He sat up amidst the smoke and ash and looked at the light, fear reduced, but body still tense and his mind wary.

"Now follow me if you want to see another day," continued the light. Sep rose to his feet then winced and shielded himself as a wall of flame erupted between himself and the crypt. "Hurry!" urged the light.

Sep instinctively followed the light as it led him on a winding, invisible and seemingly aimless path through the vines. Here and there the light told him to break through a patch of staked vine to find a new escape route from the fires raging around him. So in this manner, the light before him and the fire behind and around him, he was led to the very edge of the vineyard and to the safety of the open ground between the vines and his villa. Moments after stepping free of the vines, the very edge of the vineyard erupted into orange and yellow flame.

And then it rained...

Hissing steam and acrid smoke filled the air as the heavens did its best to douse the flames. The light merely maintained its place floating in the rain laden air. Then the rain stopped. Except for an isolated tongue of flame here and there, the fire had been extinguished. These whisps of flame soon died out as well.

The light began to settle to the ground and then to Sep's startled eyes, began to separate into three distinct pinpoints of light. Then they grew and coalesced, first at the base of each light and then progressively upwards.

The first to reveal its identity was the smallest of the three. Radiating light from her ivory face and white gown, it was the image of Claudia. She giggled and said, "Surprised, Sep?" Then she giggled again. The second and third light took the form of his father and mother. They said nothing but smiled benevolently on their son.

As always, it was the chatty Claudia who spoke for them all. "You should have listened when I told you to stay away, Sep. Oh, well. You are safe now. Maybe next time you'll listen to me... We have to go now. We are only permitted to be away a short time."

"Away from where, Claudia?" asked Sep.

"Oh... (she giggled) I'm not supposed to tell you about that. Anyway, we do have to go."

"Will I see you again?" Sep asked, moistness unavoidably forming in his eyes.

"Hmmm... Maybe," said Claudia. "If you're good." Then she turned and looked at what was left of the vineyard. "And if you take care of the vines."

"I will Claudia... Mother. I will replant them Father, just as you did." Sep stopped in mid thought... Was this why his father worked so feverishly to replant the vines after his sister was laid to rest? Did she come to him in the vineyard as a light? His father was just too old then to work so hard, but he had tried... I will try too, thought Sep.

"Goodbye, Sep."

"Goodbye, Claudia.

"We love you, Sep." Then the three lights faded away.

Sep looked through tear filled eyes at the devastion that had been his and his family's vineyard. These vines will grow again, he vowed. These vines will be green and lush with fruit. He had no doubt he would succeed in his vow because Septimus knew so long as he grew the vines he would never be alone.



THE VINES Copyright 2000 Civis Romanus. All rights reserved.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 10-31-2000).]

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