Charles Gramlich published four novels, two nonfiction books, two collections of short stories, and a chapbook of vampire haiku.
Ten thousand men, women, and children marched into the Valley of Sorrows near the sea, armored only in rags, carrying wood axes, hoes and scythes. They called themselves the “Chosen” while others knew them as the “Afflicted.” Before the walls of the white city that stood in that valley, the Chosen tore their hair and clawed their bodies while roaring in beast-voices against the blasphemous and the sinner. They were impressive in their numbers, but when they attacked the city like a swarm of insects their numbers began to melt away under the arrows and spears of the professional soldiers who manned the walls.
Only for a moment did fear lick the spines of the city’s defenders. So insane came the charge of the Afflicted that their wounded and dead began to pile up at the foot of the wall, creating a gory slope up which the remaining attackers climbed. It seemed for a short time that they might overtop the parapet. Within inches of that goal they surged, then fell away as their ranks withered in the winter of battle.
Afterward, slaves wearing masks stacked the bodies of the slain like kindling on the open plain. They anointed the dead with pitch and naphtha, then set them afire. Flames rose to greet the afternoon sun. The burnt remains were fed to the sea, where the water turned black with the fins of killer whales, sharks and other predators.
The masks given to the slaves were only an illusion of safety to keep them working. To prevent any contamination from reaching the city’s free citizens, the slaves were slaughtered beneath their own gate in the city’s coast-side wall. Repeated dousings of pitch and fire, poured from above, burned the slave’s bodies to ashes. And, as if in blessing from an approving heaven, a deluge of rain fell in early evening to wash the ashes into the sea.
As night arrived, a spontaneous festival sprang up in the city’s streets. Songs of rejoicing lifted. Wine was swilled and spilled. For a while, the joyous sounds covered a strange murmur that rose from beyond the city’s walls. That murmur grew louder and—one by one—the citizens heard it. Their celebrations faltered; they began to fear again.
Like a great, mad beast, the sea itself had started to roar.
About Charles Gramlich
Charles Gramlich moved to the New Orleans area in 1986 to teach psychology at a local university. He’s since published four novels, two nonfiction books, two collections of short stories, and a chapbook of vampire haiku.