By Aaron Ramsby
Drip… Drip… Drip… The slow drip had continued for days, echoing off the walls of the cave like cell. Wet bedrock walls pressed in on each side, creating a very small, claustrophobic enclosure. A small break in the back wall provided the only light that filtered through thick, rusted iron bars that could hold all but the strongest prisoners at bay. Erect against the far North wall, made from giant bars of thick, rusting steel, a door that had been made to contain a giant stood to remind the inmates held within that escape was impossible. Cells stretched on down the hall, the ramblings of many men, women, and some things that were unidentifiable argued, talked or ranted on and on about many subjects.
Rocking back and forth, in the darkest corner of his cell, a poor retch hugged his knees. Two royal knights stood looking down at the broken man before them, their weapons held at the ready. The bigger of the two knights held a long sword up to the broken man’s face, close enough that he could have shaved the man’s stubbly face.
The knight’s partner held a slightly less aggressive stance. His voice commanded obedience, as he spoke, his words slow, and methodical so as not to be misunderstood. “So tell me one last time what happened.”
Earlier that week, Bastian found himself walking through the forest looking for something he could use for his small shop. Being the local butcher was a hard thing in his small, poor village. Each and every day, he would sit at his table with enough to eat, but his heart sank when he thought of those who could not afford his goods. So every day he scoured the forest checking his traps for something he could possibly give to the local villagers who could barely afford to eat. While it was not much, it helped to appease his troubled mind.
Lost in thought, he had almost missed the shrill cry of a crow. Looking at the large bird, Bastian could not help but think of it would make a fine meal for one of the young, poor boys in his village that he tried to look after. The boy’s name was Eric, and he was like a son to Bastian. He wished that he was the boy’s father, rather than the wretched examples of human beings, that poor Eric called his parents. To call them parents was a wild stretch for even the most creative imagination. However Bastian had to suffer this fact in silence every day, knowing they were his parents whether he liked it or not. He would always smile when the boy came around, and offer him a small treat.
Bastian could not help but have his thoughts turn dark. He thought of how it would be nice if the parents were chopped up and baked into pies for the village to eat. However, as quickly as the thought came he shook it away. Knowing full well that this was something that he could never do, no matter how justified his reasoning, the pies would just taste terrible. The taste comes from the bodies experience, a bad animal, would be a bad taste. He could not even guess how terrible they might taste like.
Bastian could not help the large smile that spread on his face as he cautiously followed the crow as it fluttered from perch to perch. If only he could find a way to bring the bird down without harming the meat. The distance between the two slowly closed, and the capture of the elusive bird was almost within reach. The fat, and heavy set butcher licked his lips as he launched himself into the air, trying to catch his prey, and falling face first into a puddle of mud instead.
Seeing this comical display, the crow just turned its head sideways and laughed as it flew into some bushes mere feet from where the butcher lay in a puddle of mud. Bastian did not have a huge ego, but this insolent bird laughing at him was enough to cause his face to flush in anger. With nothing to lose, he charged straight through the bushes, his foot getting caught no more than a foot through the dense foliage.
Bastian held out his hands as he tumbled head first down the hill, knowing that this fall would surely end with a terrible landing and possibly a broken neck. Around and around he rolled as he skidded down the side of a small hill, hoping only that the broken neck would end it quickly. He did not wish to die out here alone. His fall was abruptly stopped by a plump, mound of sausage almost as fat, and large as he was.
He blinked his eyes, and rubbed at a sore spot on the back of his head. Surely he was seeing things, nothing like this could exist, especially out here in the woods. No amount of blinking or eye rubbing could erase the vision from his sight, he could not deny the plump cushion of sausage under his bulbous rear. Thoughts of the villagers flashed through his head, those hungry eyes, the lean faces… With a sausage this large, he could almost feed the entire village.
He let out a small cry of pain, as he felt a hot, greasy splash on his back. Try as he might, he could not quite reach around to his back, but the pain told him it was badly burnt The cry of a crow, and the sound of flapping wings announced the arrival of the crow Bastian had been following. He turned half around, to find the crow with a stringy strips of the sausage’s skin in its sharp talons, tearing chunks off with its beak and greedily swallowing the juicy meat.
With no time to waste, Bastian waddled as quickly as his pudgy legs could manage back to the village square. In his highly jovial manner, he called upon four of the strongest men in the village. Quickly retrieving his cart, the five men swiftly returned to the spot Bastian had left the sausage. A few hours later, the giant sausage sat in the center of the town square, resting high upon a table the locals generally used to for public meetings.
Word had spread, and it seemed that everyone in town heard of the giant prize and squeezed into the small town square. Bastian was especially pleased when he saw Eric’s face peaking between two villagers. His elation was slightly hampered when he saw Eric’s abusive parents standing behind him. Bastion took his mind off of them, by returning to his shop to gather his knives, so that the sausage could be carved properly. As he carved the sausage, villagers went to their homes returning with plates in hand.
Each cut, would promptly scab over with a thick, meaty covering. He ignored this, and continued to slice, distributing the bounty to the villagers. He was so lost in his work, that he never heard the crow’s laughter fill the air as it watched from its perch, high up on the peak of one of the highest buildings in the village.
The hours melted away, as he continued to chop and hand out pieces of sausage all afternoon until well after the sun had fallen beneath the horizon. Finally, as the crickets began their nightly symphony, the village had ate their fill. At the end of the arduous task, Bastian noticed with shock, that the sausage had barely shrunk in size. No matter how much the people of the village had eaten the sausage stayed almost the same size. It was late, and after the seemingly endless hours of carving off pieces of sausage, he just wasn’t hungry. Instead he dragged himself to his home and crawled into bed. Bastion was sung to sleep, by the cheers and laughter of the entire village, as their celebration continued.
A burning pain lanced through Bastian’s back, violently rousing him from his slumber. His back must have blistered terribly during the night, only to then burst as he thrashed in the thrall of nightmares and dream demons. He couldn’t remember much of the terrors that had filled his dreams, just vague recollections of screaming villagers. Closing his eyes, he could still see the twisted faces of people he loved and cared for in pain and horror. He did his best to shake off the lingering dread by getting his shop ready for the morning customers.
As Bastian prepared, he began to notice something peculiar. The entire time he had been awake and working, the village had been dead quiet. No animal cries, no children cat calling each other as they chased each other through the streets, not even the normal groans of late sleepers pulling themselves reluctantly from their beds. The wind did not even move, to stir the dust, things were as silent and unnaturally still.
He peaked out of his shop, and looked around, to find the street outside empty. Slowly he moved through the town, searching for the villagers. Bastian only found piles of clothes laying in the streets or on the side of homes or shops. What kind of madness had caused this? He could not wrap his head around it, why would his fellow villagers take their clothes off in the middle of the streets. He reached down, and picked up a dust-covered blouse, and nearly jumped in shock, as a small sausage fell out from under the rough cloth.
This odd sight put him on edge, and he found himself waddling back to the town square. He finally stopped at the table in the center of the square, he turned slowly in place, as unbidden tears welled up in his eyes and fell to the dusty ground. Something unnatural had happened here.
All around him more piles of clothes littered the ground. Doors stood open, as a gentle breeze finally came in from the west, occasionally blowing them open and revealing even more piles of clothing just inside the darkened entryways. Something terrible had happened here as the butcher slumbered, and he could not help but fear it was his doing.
Something broke inside Bastian’s mind, when he heard an undulating cry that was like a scream of pain and fear. Slowly turning around, he watched as the flesh of the giant sausage flowed in waves, with parts of it straining to push from the casing. The face of a pig pushed forward, through the skin before being swallowed within the rolling mass of meat.
The cry of a crow rang out, and Bastian turned his head towards the sound. That cursed crow sat high upon the roof of a small barn near the edge of the square. The bird stared down at him with, its head cocking to and fro as it matched his stare. If he didn’t know better, he would swear that bird knew what was happening.
While staring at the crow, movement near the ground drew Bastian’s attention. One of the piles of clothing near his feet was moving.. Then another pile, and soon all the pile had started to sprng to life. Small, cylinders hidden within the clothing moved, squeezed and pushed across the ground like worms crossing a wet road. As these masses squeezed out of their cloth prisons, Bastian could clearly see that they were little sausages. Right before his eyes, the sausages grew stubby legs and arms, before racing right at him. They rushed toward him, a wave of little sausage men.
Bastian felt the tickle of insanity clawing at his mind with all he was seeing. Behind him a large thumping sound caught his attention. He turned his rotund body around to see what the sound was as little sausage men were running between his legs. A giant sausage man stood on top of the table. In waves, the giant sausage scooped up individual sausage men, each new sausage merged with the larger sausage with a small scream, some male, some female. Each cry was accompanied by a new face pushing at the sausage’s casing and then quickly being replaced by another.
He watched, barely able to move, as the sausage continued to move, squish and absorb the smaller sausages. It was only a matter of minutes before the sausage man legions were gone. As the last one merged with the giant sausage, it sprouted its own arms and legs. Sitting up, the sausage turned toward the butcher, and before his eyes Eric’s face pushed against the skin of the sausage. The little boy smiled, and winked at the butcher as the sausage slid off the table. Bastian could not say what happened after the sausage skipped away.
Days later the butcher was found by the knights of the kingdom, still glued to that same spot. His tears had dried up long ago, and all he could manage at this point was hoarse cries of despair. The knights of the realm detained him as they searched for other survivors. However, after days of searching, all the king’s horsemen and all the kings men knew they would never find the villagers ever again.
The smaller of the two knights turned to his partner and said. “This one is a lost case. Only survivor from that town, and he’s just a gibbering madman. I bet he killed them all himself… Cooked them all up and ate them. Sick bastard”
The heavy, metal door slammed shut before the butcher’s eyes regained focus and looked out into the hall. A small giggle escaped his cracked and bleeding lips. With a flutter of wings, a crow landed on the stone window ledge. It peered down at the broken man, and let out a loud caw. Bastian started to mumble quietly, but slowly the sound grew in strength.
“Cooked them up and ate them… I did, for I am the bu– bu– bat– bas– ba– b– b– baker! Yes, yes… the Baker. I take the delicious live meat and I bake them into pies and eat them. That is what I am, I am what that is. I will car– ca– cu– cut you, then cook you, then bake you all…”
*** (SIDE STORY: Bastian’s Resolve) ***
The sound of the sea shore echoed through the small, wooden shack. Bastion took a moment from sharpening his knives to listen to the sound. If he closed his eyes he could almost imagine himself being in a sea shell. The sound was intoxicating, that is until he heard labored breathing that brought him out of his reverie. Looking to his left, he looked at his unexpected but wonderful guest.
Walrus stood against the wall, tied within his own fishing nets. His head bobbed up and down as he struggled to stay awake. Bits and pieces of bread and pie crust covered his whiskers of his swollen and beaten face. The overalls, and once white shirt he wore was besmirched with blood. A thin stream dribbled out of a stump, where his left arm had been earlier in the day. An ever widening pool of blood grew beneath his feet with every beat of his heart.
Bastion went back to sharpen his knives as he walked up to walrus, lightly tapped his face as one would try to wake another and said. “I am sorry my friend, I know my first two pies were terrible, but it is not you… How can you cook anything with these poor tools and spices? The next bit, I believe should be called Walrus Bisque. I do hope you can keep awake long enough to continue to be my taste tester…”
The pie maker turned back to the ramshackle stove that was a combination of old cans, hard planks of wood and bits and pieces of fisherman’s netting. Anyone looking at it would have been shocked to see that it had not exploded into flames at any given time. Precariously rocking back and forth, a large steaming pot spilled over every few seconds, causing flare ups and causing a burning smell to permeate the air. In Bastion’s eyes, it was the smell of cooking and love for those who accept the treats after a hard day of baking. The copper smell emanating from Walrus gave the air in the shack a magical feeling of life.
Picking up a spoon from a small bench set near the stove, Bastion scooped up a large helping off the top of the steaming pot. Holding the spoon up to his nose, he took a large breathe… To allow all the flavors present to run across his pallet. Pursing his lips as if to kiss the hot batch, he took a small taste. If the walrus had been awake to see the bakers face, it would have caused him to quake in fear. Hot grease flew out in a wide fan as Bastion spit out the disgusting taste.
Flying into a rage, he kicked over the steaming pot, snuffing out the fire in the stove. His anger snuffing out any realization of the grease that stained his clothes. “How could such a prime piece of meat taste so disgusting? You are not a fish, we are not making fish stew! Answer me damn you!”
Bastion grabbed a butchers cleaver off his belt and threw it with all his might at Walrus. The poor unconscious beast fell to the ground, next to the wall as the fishing net was cut clean through. The cleaver vibrated with the force of the impact, half of metal blade had imbedded itself in the wooden planks making up the wall. Fishing poles and other odds and ends fell off the wall to bury Walrus.
Bastion stood, stamping his feet, throwing his arms randomly in the air in pure frustration. “No..no..no…no! This is not right, this is not right!”
The baker did not pay attention to what he was doing. Fire caught his pant leg, burning a track up, following the hot great that had soaked into his vestments. Working with so much blubber created the perfect fuel for the living heat. His entire form caught a blaze, and in his pain and fear he ran through the back wall towards the sea. Board flew, nails popped out of the planks, fire kissed but did not take to the siding of the small shack. Bastion was stumbling, screaming and flailing, running right into the surging waves. A sizzling noise could be heard, on top of the smell of cooked flesh.
Crawling on hands and knees, Bastion pulled his weary form from the cold and briny sea. He could not fathom how he had caught a flame with the stove doused with the over turned Walrus Bisque. The pain was excruciating, but he pulled himself forward with sheer willpower alone. As he stared up into the shack. He could not help but feel confused at the small, flickering light that glowed within it. There had been no lights on short of the cooking stove, yet a small flickering called the bakers attention as much as a moth to a flame. Hidden behind a few planks, he had found his prize.
Hot grease had congealed in the time he was in sea, and collected within some burnt pieces of the fishing nets. Over time the heat had fused the two into a long stalagmite of grease. Sticking out of the top of it, a small flame wavered at the tip of a piece of fishing net. Bastion felt the words slipping through his ruined face. Sliding between the layers of flesh that had ran like wax during his personal inferno, the words he mumbled reached his own ears.
“C…ca..ca..cann..candle.. ? Essence of flesh… Candle… I am not a baker… I seek the essence… I am a candle maker… no…no…NO! I am Bastion the candle stick maker… he.. he.. ha hahahahaha…”
Bastion stumbled out of the small shack, mumbling to himself. Walking into the edge of the water, he walked down the shore clutching to his chest the first of his candles.
This is dedicated to two people that helped bring this about. SlamfistMedia and Marianya. Two friends of the highest caliber.