Read Joe’s latest e-book: The Curse of Jaxx
Synopsis / Sample Pages
Born and raised into a solitary life on the turbulent sea’s edge of an otherwise deserted world, 500 denizens wander throughout their lonely castle, held in thrall to an unspeakable fear. Only Old Darius and the Elders, wizened and wise-seeming leaders of this outpost, understand the nature of the curse that holds them there, for the hieroglyphics carved deep into the stone curtain walls tell a tale no other can comprehend. Armor-clad sentries stand in vigil on the battlements facing the violent sea; the moon whispers to those who dare stare upon its face and drives to madness those who do not turn away; the citizens of this community love one another in their oppressed state. But all that is about to change.
Following the departure of a hale team of comrades into the nearby forest, where rumors of a path to salvation have led them, it is the otherwise marginalized citizen Marcus who makes a series of terrifying discoveries within the castle. Are the leaders of this cursed community true to their citizens? Is the nature of the very world they live in more disturbing than Marcus even realized? And is it time for the vigil to end? Will the creature Jaxx return to exact his revenge for a crime no one can remember? The sentries grip their halberds. The sea’s breakers smash violently against the castle wall. All await the meaning of the curse of Jaxx.
Part I – The Curse
In the time before I discovered the bloodied head of Old Darius in his hovel, his body still at seeming repose in bed with arms and hands by his sides, he had been known as the great sage and instructor of our community. Darius was the lone interpreter of hieroglyphic writings that had been chiseled deep into the stones of our castle’s walls by an unknown author many years ago. Some hieroglyphics required no interpretation for the 500 or so denizens of our castle. A series of dark-paint pictograms portrayed skilled workers—masons, stone cutters and makers of lime for the mortar that made the stones of the walls hold together. Those images told stories of craftsmen winding creepers and long limbs from the forest beyond our castle into a kind of complex scaffolding that allowed the masons to work at great heights and lay walls that easily cleared eight meters. Mostly, though, the images portrayed the abject anguish of men and women (and some children) engaging in the labor of moving great stones from a nearby quarry to where they could be hoisted by those masons into the gray sky. Hard labor had so clearly accompanied the castle project. It was unnerving to contemplate as good citizens that our home had been built upon the backs and blood of slaves. Writing had long been forbidden in our community so no narrative existed to shed light on details of that horrible time. Those pictograms told what little we knew of the castle’s development yet they represented a fraction of the otherwise impenetrable collection of hieroglyphics.
Those symbols were written with the same great care and deliberation that had made the castle a success. Chiseled into the insides of the walls facing the great bailey through which our citizens walked and congregated, they stretched along the breadth of our sanctuary and rose to a height beyond which one could not reach without aid. They told the tale, Old Darius taught during his sessions, of a great offense that had been executed by our antecedents some time long ago. Following that offense, the sun had grown dull and hurt, and slipped behind a perpetual veil of cloud. A breezy rain fell daily, the sole benefit of which was the capture of potable water in cisterns above the small, hewn-stone hovels we called our homes. A bleak feeling descended, so we were told, upon this coastline on which the castle was built some short time following the great and terrible offense.
As Old Darius traced his fingers within the carvings and told us what he understood; he explained that while details of the offense had not been inscribed, that their consequence was the curse that we, the offenders’ kin, suffered: life in this remote outpost in an otherwise godless and dead world.
Martin had whispered to me once in confidence that Darius knew more than what he told.
Old Darius was an eccentric figure with no family or mistress. We tolerated him as we tolerated each other. No rancor existed within our community as a chronic psyche of hopelessness—also bestowed as part of the curse, our sage explained—kept us enervated and withdrawn. I sensed that bold action on the part of any of our neighbors would unleash reprisal from that great unknowable force that had authored the hieroglyphics.
Darius consulted regularly with the community elders—all wizened beyond the seeming bounds of life—in the great hall beneath the castle keep. The rest of us he taught in the bailey by the gatehouse. Darius taught of the courage we must maintain, of the humility with which we must live and of the contemplation we must make of the offense that had concluded in our present condition. No one dared ask of a time before the castle and the offense, nor of conditions we had never experienced but somehow knew must be true: that there was a place where the sun shone unsullied by cloud, where people were given to laughter and where appetites were not sated by the near-rancid meat of foul beasts hunted by our sentries in the forested lands beyond the curtain walls.
Our children harbored no reservation as it came to inquiring about our confinement. They asked questions. But they did not participate in Darius’ sessions in the bailey. Tradition had been that by some annual torch-lit rite within the great hall, our young people transformed into adults. One role appointed to several members of our community was of “confessor,” and it a role granted to those whose tongues were honest and brave. I was one. It was to the confessors that responsibility fell to share the breadth of stories of our history as imparted by Old Darius. By these means were adults made of our young ones—by sharing the full knowledge they had long sought with spontaneous questions but which they now quickly wished away.
At the edge of the forest beyond our castle and discernible from the crenellated battlements and through the grid of portcullis bars that fell between the castle gateway and the moat, lay that great quarry from which stones had been drawn for the curtain walls and the keep long ago. That quarry was a deep, hard scar in the earth that cut into and was absorbed within the gnarled, creeper-strewn trees. The quarry’s presence marked something more than just the place from which we were reminded of the hard-suffering slaves who drew and moved stones. It also represented that perpetual anxiety with which we were so strangely afflicted. Few within our community could muster courage to pass outside the castle. Only our sentries regularly called for the raising of that old, creaking portcullis and the lowering by rope and winches of that great wood-plank bridge across the moat so they might delve into the black forest and hunt porcine beasts whose bad-tasting, roasted carcasses made our diet (in addition to withered vegetables from small plots). In the sentries’ hands and in their ability to successfully return with meat was the means of our survival. And yet the number of denizens within our community continued to grow as food grew ever harder to come by. Growing hunger, a swelling population and passing time told that we could not live perpetually in this condition though no other recourse seemed possible.
I have said we lived without rancor though that does not mean we lived in peace or lacked understanding of a deep violence. For while forest surrounded our castle on three sides there abutted our on its fourth, the sea. One hundred long feet below our sentry-manned battlements, a line of unceasing, fierce breakers smashed relentlessly against the stone foundation of our most powerful wall with a driving fury. From upon the battlements, one could discern far below those delirious whitecaps bursting upon stone and exploding upward into spreading sprays that brought nightmares to those who witnessed them. Even from down behind the wall the breakers’ startling sound was like that of a siege.
Our castle jutted a little beyond the line of hard coast, so no ebbing of the breakers’ power even accompanied the outgoing of the tide. What our sentries might have experienced exposed on the battlements to the most maddening of the sea’s sight and sound, I cannot say. Their chiseled expressions, night-black eyes and brick-like chins, their helm-garbed heads and plate armor-protected bodies, and, finally, their spear-clutching hands, reflected all we knew of those men selected as sentries for their bravery and strength. Many times had I ascended to the battlements myself to overlook that ocean, a vast, turbulent plain of water empty of all save for the disruption of a single bulbous stone’s hump rising a few miles out and yet was I driven back down quickly by the crashing, horrible music.
One element existed, nevertheless, that demonstrated an even worse kind of violence than the sea’s fury. Worse, I say, as it had proven its worth in taking the life of one of our youngest members. This was the great moon that rose full above us at night. For as the clouds dulled every day’s light to a sad gray they cleared or parted at dusk. And while upon most nights, the moon appeared in some stage of waxing or waning, and offered but an odd little sliver of light, on those nights when the disk appeared full, its cratered face peered out with a kind of intense consciousness. Staring for too long brought strange ideas to my head—others had testified similarly—as well as the hint of a whisper that spoke a word not good for my mind. The moon seemed, like that inexplicable dread clinging to us, like something more or other than physical, like something not quite of the world in which we lived.
One night of the full moon, a child rose from the fireside hearth of his family’s residence long after all had retired. We suspect he stumbled out to the bailey and looked upon the moon’s broad face while no other kept vigil over him (save for the sentries facing out to sea and forest) nor had stirred sufficiently from rest during the youngster’s excursion to confirm this theory. We found the boy the following morning writhing on the ground of that bailey as though in great agony. Though Old Darius attempted to soothe the boy’s suddenly troubled mind—the boy’s eyes now revealed the soul of a different manner of creature from the one we had known the day before—his efforts were in vain. Two nights later, the child rushed up to the battlements, darted past the reaching hands of the sentries and pitched himself to the stones one hundred feet below. His corpse was carried away at the breakers’ first surge. Darius considered it a merciful end for one overcome with madness.