Author: Ava Kelly

Knock, Knock

Knock, Knock

Black and white photograph of a hand holding onto a chain.

November 2020 short story (fantasy, horror, nonbinary character, folklore). For the Patreon post, click here.

Author’s note. This story is inspired by a superstition from Dobrogea (Romania). It is said that those who are called late at night or when alone, must wait for their name (or the knock on the door, or the banging at the window) to repeat three times. Otherworldly creatures only perform their lure of choice twice. To make sure it’s another human, one must wait for the third attempt.

On November 30th, Romania observes the holiday of Sfântu’ Andrei (Saint Andrew). The night of Sântandrei is the one when magic is at its strongest, when the strigoi walk the earth, when the wolves go hunting. It is the night that heralds the coming of winter.

On this day, join us. Celebrate the beginning of the end, so that the cycle can begin anew with the following spring.

*** *** ***

“Oh, and one more thing,” the caretaker says as they stop in front of a door. He unlocks it, and then pauses just outside the room, the corridor stretching dark around them. “If you hear knocking at night, don’t answer.”

Liam raises an eyebrow, ready to roll his eyes, but the grin the guy gives him, like he knows what Liam might say, stops his reaction. Instead, he asks, “And why is that?”, playing along.

“You don’t want visitors.” The answer is as cryptic as expected.

Liam huffs. “What if it’s you then? Or room service.”

“We call ahead. If it knocks twice, don’t open the door.”

Liam lets the air rush out of his lungs in an unabated sigh. Right. Tourist attraction, haunted house or whatever, it’s why he’s here after all. To investigate this cabin out in the hell-knows where. There are rumors people might be disappearing from the area and the deputy chief has tasked Liam with a surveillance assignment. Chances of fabrication are high, of some guy spreading rumors online to up his ratings, but it doesn’t mean they should ignore the request made by the sheriff of Lethe, a small nearby town stretching over the slope of the mountain.

“Let me guess,” Liam says, barely holding back a snort, “only devils knock twice.” The phrase has been all over some specialty forums, making its rounds among those passionate about urban legends and places with a paranormal flavor.

The caretaker’s grin widens, oily at the edges. “Got it, city-boy.”

Liam’s skin crawls and he hides the incoming shudder by sidestepping into the room.

“I’ll keep it in mind,” he says over the sound of the door closing.

It echoes.

***

Rain patters on the window. Soft, at first, but with increasing force as the wind howls through the pine trees. It’s as eerie as advertised and Liam has to give the owners credit. This place would create a wonderful experience for the horror aficionados. Lost in thought, he almost doesn’t hear it, that’s how much it drowns under the drumming on the glass.

A knock at the door.

Chill spreads through the soles of his bare feet and Liam stops, pajama pants halfway up his thighs. He listens, intently, for another. When nothing follows, he shakes his head and finishes preparing for bed.

Knock.

Second one.

This time, Liam freezes with his hand on the bed covers, a leg already raised off the hardboards. He huffs with a headshake, half impressed, half warily curious. For a fleeting moment he considers indulging in the show, but the sooner he can eliminate the theatrics, the better he can do his job.

He wonders, idly, if there are any hidden cameras around the room as he walks to the door, yanks it open—

***

There are bones inside the fingers and the meat around them shakes with pain. The teeth are blunt. More bones to run the tongue onto. It catches on a sharper edge, but it’s not enough to cut. The vision is dull, just like everything else about the new container.

Wood, there’s wood under the fingers and the bones of the knees. Scratches, without avail. Wants to scream but nothing comes out of anywhere.

The fingers are too thick and soft, meat soft, to rip at the throat but still presses them there, where voice should form. The flesh ripples under numb nerve endings. The skin is clammy, wet and cold and so, so disgusting.

Ao gags. The ripples change shape. Maybe they need to ripple differently. They try, again and once more.

There.

A sound.

Their hearing is just as impaired as the rest of them.

The body feels like a cage, bounding them to the unrelenting void that presses from all sides. They give into the shaking of the bones and collapse. The air scratches at the throat, but Ao pushes through inhaling and exhaling, trying to clear their mind.

Beyond everything, beyond bones and flesh and cold, it dawns on Ao that they’re alone. There’s no thrumming of otherness inside their mind, no companionship. The human better be appreciating the warmth of the homefire.

Regret grips them, sharp and foul. The progenitors have rules in place for this very reason, urging patience and experience before visiting. Ao was too curious, too rushed to taste and understand, and they sneaked into the calling chamber without a tether, to avoid immediate discovery. The growl they want to let rumble through their chest, as they search for comfort, fails to emerge.

It’s not worth it, they conclude. Ao can already imagine the mouth-slit of their hatcher allotting the punishment of having their name removed.

The shivering subsides, after a long while, and they push at the flesh until it stands on its own. Still a bit trembling, more fatigued than anticipated, the sensation peculiar and unwelcome. This sort of body should require much less energy to yield, and yet Ao is drained. One thing is sure, though. They’re not coming back here anytime soon. It’s sickening.

They’re looking around for a blade to pierce the flesh and draw blood, since they don’t have sharp talons anymore, when the boundary of the space gapes opens. A human stands there, baring mouth-bones, and Ao tries to do the same.

“You don’t have to do that. I know your kind doesn’t smile.”

A hand lifts and that’s—

The meat of their belly lurks and Ao takes a step back. Stumbles. It’s hard to walk with only two legs.

“Easy, now.” The human is nearing, arm extended, but there’s nowhere to run, not when Ao’s back hits a wall. Or is it a table? A thing solid enough to hold them there.

Just like it.

Ao can’t look anywhere else, chest hurting with the pounding from within. There’s no escape and the thought pushes something fetid up the throat. The rune nestled in the human’s palm is hot when it touches the shoulder and Ao knows they’ll be trapped if it gets past the thin cloth that covers it. Knows, somehow, that they’ll need to cut off the meat on which the sigil will sit.

“There we go, let’s tame that spirit of yours.”

The tainted symbol presses, as unyielding as basalt, until it burns, only this time Ao does hear their own scream. The human falters at the sound, so they take the chance and push. Hard.

***

There isn’t much will left in Ao, but they use it all to run and run. The ground, frigid and squelching with water, trips them, as if it wants to keep them here. All around, immovable creatures whisper among their own shedding flesh, unending dead spikes piercing at the soles of the feet.

One of them, of the living wood, trips them with its limbs sticking out of the ground and Ao snarls. It’s not enough to make it go away. The time they lose ends their run because next they know, something has gotten hold of a leg, pulling them back.

Ao twists, uncooperative body flopping through the mud. They can’t give up, won’t, and they grip at things until their fingers bleed, until they can kick, until they free themself. Ao scuttles away again, but not back into the dark sea of tall monsters. Light’s coming from the side, and that’s where they go. As Ao gets near, its color less faded, they smell it.

Home.

Hope swells under their ribs, more painful than the fear, as Ao pushes the large door open. The space is wide, covered in putrefaction. Yet, right there, in the very middle, is a homefire spawn. It’s tiny, an infinitesimal piece, but it halts them. They stumble to it, caution forgotten, basking in its warmth.

Snickt.

Something locks around their throat, heavy enough to make Ao crumple, knees on the ground.

The human spits, flinging water and dirt with savage hands. “You’re feisty, but no worries. You’ll learn, just like the others.”

Others.

That’s when Ao hears. Sees. Around them, bodies are strapped to tall poles, whining softly, the holes in their chests leaking sluggish amber. They’re human vessels, but he recognizes what they are underneath. Kin. Harvested for their essence.

“Here. Let me make some room.” Ahead, the human rips a hollowed body off its hook, knocks on the stained wood of the pole. Once. “This one’s yours.” A perverted simulacrum of their invitation to visit. Twice.

Ao goes.

***

Liam closes half of his eyes, soaking in the comforting presence of the progenitors for one moment longer. It does little to muffle Ao’s pain, swirling at the back of his mind. From across the chasm he can feel his old fingertips bleed, beckoning. I’ll bring them home, he promises, as the wall of the calling chamber closes behind him.

*** *** ***

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Aegis Alight 2020

Aegis Alight 2020

Collection: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, LGBTQIA+.

Release date:  16 December 2020

Aegis Alight (2020 Collection) is a free collection of twelve stories published in each month of 2020. These are stories of other worlds, other places. Stories of creatures helping, of cryptids descending from otherness to join those in need.

The stories can be read on this website or on Patreon (see links below). The collection is available for download as an .epub file.

Out now! | Download here (Mediafire, no account required) or here (Patreon) | Goodreads |

Update! Aegis Alight (2020 Collection) now contains nine stories. We are planning something big for three of the fairy tales! If you’d like to be the first to be notified, follow Atthis Arts on Kickstarter.

List of stories

Deathless (January 2020) Urban Fantasy, Death. Free. “My name is Amara and I was lost once.” Read on this website or on Patreon.

Red Quartergiant (February 2020) Science Fiction, Space. Free. “We knew from the moment it appeared that something was wrong—” Read on this website or on Patreon.

The Forgotten Stormrider (March 2020) Fantasy, Found Family, Nonbinary Character, Folklore. Free. “The morning stretches wet and crisp over the garden.” Read on this website or on Patreon.

The Implant Merchant (April 2020) Science Fiction, Fantasy, Transgender Character. Free. “Ronnie waves a cybernetic eye, dangling it from its connectors.” Read on this website or on Patreon.

The River Is Alive, Even Under Thick Winter Ice (May 2020) Fantasy, Transgender Character. Free. “The visitor to an abandoned temple claims the offering left for her.” Read on this website or on Patreon.

The Dragon and the Curse of the Glittering Tower (June 2020) Fantasy, Aromantic, Asexual. We are planning something big for this fairy tale! If you’d like to be the first to be notified, follow Atthis Arts on Kickstarter

The Dragon at the Bottom of the Sea (July 2020) Fantasy, Disabled Character. We are planning something big for this fairy tale! If you’d like to be the first to be notified, follow Atthis Arts on Kickstarter

The Dragon, the Princess, and the Knight (August 2020) Fantasy, Nonbinary Character. We are planning something big for this fairy tale! If you’d like to be the first to be notified, follow Atthis Arts on Kickstarter

Worldmaker (September 2020) Fantasy. Free. “Worldmaking is dangerous.” Read on this website or on Patreon.

Lost Cub (October 2020) Fantasy, Ghosts. Free. “A lost hunter meets a lost cub.” Read on this website or on Patreon.

Knock, Knock (November 2020) Fantasy, Horror, Nonbinary Character, Folklore. Free. “If it knocks twice…” Read on this website or on Patreon.

The Hollow Planet (December 2020) Science Fiction, Fantasy, Nonbinary Character. Free. “A binary system is engaged in an oscillating orbit inside a pocket of perfectly empty space.” Read on this website or on Patreon.

If you enjoyed these stories and wish to support me, you can buy me a coffee!

Catch a Falling Snowflake

Catch a Falling Snowflake

Novella: Contemporary, Holiday, Intercultural, Transgender, Family.

Release date: November 2020

The previous winter, Leon followed his twin sister Sara to a new town where she could be with her partner, Amber. There, Leon’s boyfriend Nick, friends Jeff and Daniel, and their nine-year-old daughter Abby, swiftly swept him up into their lives, a newfound family.

After a year of growing their relationship, Leon is ready to take it to the next level. Nick, however, has been stalling. When Ben, Abby’s best friend, is suddenly abandoned, Leon is excited to finally care for the children he’s always wanted. Haunted by the mistakes of his past, Nick attempts to reconcile his feelings of inadequacy as a parent with Leon’s wishes.

Against the backdrop of winter holidays filled with traditions from around the world, it is up to Leon to decide if he’s willing to stand by Nick, or if he should find his happiness elsewhere.

Catch a Falling Snowflake, the fourth story in the Snow Globes holiday series, can be read as a stand-alone, but greater enjoyment will come with reading about these characters in the order written.

Series: Snow Globes

Publisher: NineStar Press

Out now! NineStarPress | GoodReads | Universal link | Amazon | Apple Books |Smashwords | Barnes & Noble | Kobo |

Lost Cub

Lost Cub

Color photograph of a deep orange and red sunset over an urban cityscape.

October 2020 flash fiction (fantasy, ghosts). For the Patreon post, click here.

*** *** ***

Marina sniffed at the discarded can behind the big box of discarded cans, hoping something would be left from the humans. No luck here, either, so she pushed away, stomach growling, and moved to the next one. She was pondering traveling further downwind, into unknown territory—which was less appealing than an empty belly, a reminder of how lost she was without a family out here in the wilderness—when she heard it. The cries of a cub, miserable mewling coming from around the corner.

Marina’s instincts drove her forward, though she’d never been a cub carer in the family. She used to hunt, until her hunt had separated her from the rest.

She looked around the wall warily, and then stopped in her tracks. The crying came from a human cub. Long fur on the head, fluttery purple on the rest of the body. Marina licked her whiskers and sniffed the air again.

Weird.

The human cub smelled not like it should. Like nothing at all, in fact.

She must’ve stood there staring for too long, because suddenly, the human was in her face, a long drawn sigh escaping their mouth.

“Whoa. Where did you come from?”

Marina swished her tail in warning, flashed a fang for good measure.

“Won’t hurt you, kitty, don’t worry. Can’t, see?”

The upper paw of the human slid through the ground and then into the air again. Marina took a step back. The human kept looking and looking, not moving again, and then it made a sound Marina didn’t recognize.

“Curious, aren’t you, Marina? And brave.”

At her name, she sat back on her haunches. Sadly, her hunger was not forgotten and the human made the same noise, this time showing their own fangs.

“You’re lost, but you’re in luck. I know where your home is. Or at least I think… Would you like to try and see if we can find it?”

Definitely, she would, so when the human stood, Marina followed.

“My name’s—was Simone. Nice to meet you, kitty.”

Marina gave a whine and bumped her nose into Simone’s hand. Not ignored, the gesture, even though her whiskers passed through it, giving her a chill.

***

It felt like forever, as they meandered through the human forest of stone, but then the walls of home came into sight and Marina felt like weeping forever.

“So you are from the zoo,” Simone said. “I guess you’re lucky, then. Off you go.”

Marina felt like this kindness should be returned. Not out of obligation, but because Simone had been crying and no cub should suffer like that. Instead of jumping over to the gate, she leaned closer, circling Simone’s legs.

“Oh. Thank you, but—”

Marina stressed her offer for help with the growling intended for the cubs of her own family. Simone huffed and curled closer to the ground.

“You can’t help me. You’d have to be like me, but you aren’t yet. So go ahead, go home.”

Simone showed her teeth and Marina tried to match it, before she reluctantly left.

***

Summers and winters came and went. Their cubs had cubs of their own, and Marina had slowed in her hunting. She spent the days letting the little ones practice pouncing on her tail.

Until, one evening, Simone appeared next to her.

And Marina knew, from her smells, from her touch, that—

“How help.”

“Have you been thinking about it all this time?”

“Word can. Weird.” And it was, to feel her sounds turn into human ones.

“Yeah, I see that. I guess out here in the netherworld we can understand each other differently, huh? Do I seem to speak panther to you?”

“Perhaps,” Marina thought and it materialized into speech. “Weird.” She swished her tail with impatience. “Go.”

Simone made that strange sound again, only now Marina could tell what it was. Laughter. Though small and sad.

They walked again, side by side, until Simone stopped in front of windows. Inside, two humans yelled at each other in the midst of a dirty nest, abandoned and decrepit.

“They’re the ones who hurt me,” Simone whispered. “And I want nothing more than to hurt them back. It’s why I’m stuck here.”

“You mine. Friend. Family.”

Marina attacked.

***

Later, as they stood atop a tall metal tree, Simone’s legs dangling in the wind, Marina felt it.

A pull, growing stronger with each happy laugh bubbling out of Simone.

“Kitty, can you feel—Whoa. Shall we, then? Another adventure?”

Marina placed her paw in Simone’s hand and let go.

Together, they were both found.

*** *** ***

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Worldmaker

Worldmaker

Color close-up photograph of tree roots.

September 2020 flash fiction (fantasy). For the Patreon post, click here.

*** *** ***

Right where the river bends around the mountain, in between sharp rocks and the stretch of green, wavy hills, a tree stands. Its trunk is thick with age, branches stretching over to one side, as if it grew trying to shelter the patch of ground beneath from the scorching sun.

Mel knows when they’re close, even from underneath the scarf wrapped tight around her furless witchmother’s neck. Mel can hear her quickening heartbeat where she’s nestled against her chest, safely hidden from the world. Soon, though, they stop and sunlight shines over her eyes as Mother pulls the fabric apart.

“Here you go,” she says and Mel jumps to the ground.

The tree is… well, old, obviously. Mel rounds it, searching for the spark of life still residing inside the wood. It’s difficult, but she finds it, a barely-there whisper.

Almost gone, but holding onto the world with all its might. It wants to survive.

They must hurry, then. Mel flicks her tail, rushing to Mother, and meows her consent. This is it, this is the place.

“Are you sure?”

Mel hisses, impatience crawling in her bones, only adding to the trembling of her muscles. She can’t hold on for much longer, either. If Mother doesn’t agree, they’d need to find something else, and by then it might be too late.

Mel’s power would take Mother instead. She found Mel as a tiny kitten, fed her, kept her warm, told her stories. Mel doesn’t want her to suffer for helping.

She bats a paw at Mother’s leg.

“Fine, fine, I get it. Hold on.”

The candles come out, the herbs and the tiny bowl in which they’ll be crushed.

Not long after, Mother chants, sprinkling the powder over the flames. The tension in Mel’s limbs fades little by little, until she can curl up between the roots sticking out of the ground like tendrils of another universe.

In a way, it is. A different world. Will be, a different life.

She lets out a long breath, the last for a while, and closes her eyes.

***

Moonlight shines gray over the land, cast down from between branches. The wind carries shuffling sounds of green leaves swaying, and Mel’s ears twitch. The gentle fingers smoothing the fur on her head and back stop as she yawns. Mel growls a bit, showing displeasure, but Mother laughs. She’s petting Mel again, so it doesn’t matter.

The bark of the tree creaks with another yawn.

“Well, hello there,” Mother says. “I hope you don’t mind we barged in on you.”

The wooden face leaning out from the tree looks a lot like Mother’s, and Mel blinks with satisfaction.

The lady of the tree stretches her arms, her back, and her legs as she steps fully out. With awe, she inspects her limbs one by one. Then she looks up, at the new life blooming in the tree.

“I thought my days were counted,” she whispers, gravelly and gritty, like branches against each other. “Thank you.”

Mel tucks her front paws under herself better, and rests her head down. She could use another nap. Mother’s voice drifts in the air above, talking to their new friend about names, and magic, and how to protect against dangers. What it means to be born in this world.

With a sigh, Mel closes her eyes. The power inside her has quieted, even though another spark has already started swirling behind her ribs. When she’s older, she’ll be able to take Mother with her to visit the worlds growing within herself, hold on to more than one at a time. For now, though, all she can do is gift them and wait. They’re safe.

*** *** ***

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The River Is Alive, Even Under Thick Winter Ice

The River Is Alive, Even Under Thick Winter Ice

Color image of ivy leaves and stone.

May 2020 flash fiction (fantasy, transgender character). For the Patreon post, click here.

*** *** ***

On the steps of the temple, between peeling columns, the visitor stands. Above, clouds rumble with lingering thunder. She watches for a while, speaking silently to the fading fury, surrounded by petrichor. The forest is never quiet after rain, droplets sliding off leaves, moss sighing softly in the breeze, trees stretching their roots.

Long ago, the roof of the temple crumbled. Long ago, the stone walls eroded under the song of patient winds. Long ago, ivy wound its way inside, blanketing the space.

The altar, though, remains untouched, a shine to it akin to the one it held on the day of its creation.

Upon it, a tired body rests. Curled, shivering, limbs weak and breaths wheezing.

She nears, carefully. Gentles a hand through the messy hair, soothing.

“We heard the call,” she whispers, mindful of causing fear. “But this shouldn’t happen. Your world gave up worshipping sacrifices.”

The youth’s teeth are chattering, and the words come out stilted. “Father thinks otherwise. ”

“Hmm. I see. And why would he offer his child?”

“Useless. Not a—not a son.”

“A daughter?”

The nod is shaky, but undoubtedly an affirmation.

“And what would you like for your sacrifice?”

The girl laughs. It sounds hollow, as it echoes in the temple. “I don’t know, what am I worth to you?”

“A future,” the visitor says. “Come with me and explore your choices, or withdraw your offering and I’ll return you to your world.”

“I don’t understand, what do you get out of it?”

“Why do I have to be rewarded? You have worth to yourself.”

“Even if I… let’s say I want to read books all day?”

“Yes. There’s this old house that gets lonely, down in the city. It could use a companion that doesn’t talk too much. Sensitive hearing, you see.”

The laughter, this time, blooms with genuine mirth. The choice is made, the visitor can feel it, but she waits for confirmation all the same.

“I’ll go with you,” the girl says, “if you tell me your name.”

“Ah. I have many, which you’ll know in time. But one of them translates to: the river is alive, even under thick winter ice.

*** *** ***

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