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Author Topic: 'Ash-Quill Jack'.  (Read 1054 times)

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Offline KhorazTopic starter

'Ash-Quill Jack'.
« on: September 20, 2010, 08:04:24 PM »
The Tale of 'Ash-Quill Jack'.

In a town not far from here, our tale begins. The town as it was then had little to mark it out from those around it. A steady trade kept the town afloat, and most all took pride in its prosperity. In the center was a green before the town hall, where the children would play and the women would gather at midday to trade gossip. One tavern it had where the menfolk would meet at the eve, and a Church that all would attend each Sunday. All save one. A miserly man was he, a schoolmaster of black heart and mean spirit. So much so he refused even to share his name with the other townspeople.

“Call me Schoolmaster, for that is what I am”, he would croak. His hands were bony and his grip cold and firm. No man in the town had been spared the swish of his birch rod at least once of his childhood. Not Thomas the merchant, nor Peter the blacksmith, nor even Brother Matthew, the priest. He lived on the edge of the town near to the forest unfriended and bitter. His only companion was a scrawny magpie, whom he had named Jack. The filthy bird and the ragged man were inseparable, each staring out from behind a poorly-carpentered desk, black eyes twinkling with contempt. He had no time for luxuries, and saw any expense as extravagance. He had one suit he wore all of his days, and kept the strings of his purse fastened with a clasp he himself had fashioned from stone as cold as his gaze. He kept a quill of one of Jack's feathers, which he would replace from time to time when another was shed. Each Sunday, when God-fearing men said their prayers, he would take the ashes from his furnace and make a paste of them. It was with this grimy mush he would make the children practice their spelling and do their sums.

“To ash will you go, from ash will you write”, he would tell the children. And so he earned the nickname Ash-Quill Jack. In his wooden shack, he would spend his evenings with the bird by the fire counting his treasures. For you see, though he would not spend, he horded nonetheless. He and the bird loved to collect the trinkets of the townspeople. Each evening Jack would take to the air and cross the town, spying for beads or silvers to snatch away from unwary folk, and heft them back in his greedy beak. There, the two would place them in a small jewelery box and cackle to themselves as the stolen bygones glimmered in the firelight. None dared approach the cabin, much less challenge the schoolmaster to return the pieces of jewelery. Even the burliest man recalled his swiftness with the crop and though he was frail to the sight, the memory was more fearsome than any could bear. And so it continued until one fateful Christmas Eve.

Simon, a boisterous and self-assured young huntsman, was sat in the tavern, merry with festivities and drink. He announced to his fellows that in the morning, that most holy of days, he was to propose marriage to his sweetheart Elsa-Lee. With a flourish he revealed a precious ring belonging to his mother and of great value. So beautiful was the heirloom, inlaid with gold and a sparkling emerald that an audible gasp resounded around Simon. Just then the tavern shutters flew open and with a gust of wintry air the ring was snatched from Simon's hand. Quick as a flash, the huntsman drew his skinning knife and casting it through the air, embedded into a beam. Bleeding and helpless, Jack dropped his prize to the floor as an inhuman sound, half a scream, and half a caw, echoed through the town.

After that the schoolmaster did not leave the shack, though thick black smoke continued to billow from the tin chimney. Each night folk would hear the crowing of the bird in the tavern. His blood stained the pillar where the knife had bitten a notch into the wood and no amount of scrubbing would clean it. The stain remains still, so it is told. Eventually, Simon decided he must apologize to the old man, for he had taken Schoolmaster's sole joy. He approached the cabin and peering through the window, saw the room full of smoke. He called out and hearing nothing, feared the worst. Covering his mouth he plunged into the gloom.

A few days passed, and nothing was heard from Simon or Ash-Quill Jack. The mayor called a meeting in the green, and it was decided something needed to be done. A posse was swiftly formed, and with trepidation they approached the hut. The door creaked open as they approached, and inside was a ghastly sight. The hut was covered from floor to ceiling in soot, and in the fireplace was the body of the huntsman, charred almost beyond recognition. Above him, in his favorite chair and covered in soot was a motionless, grinning, Ash-Quill Jack.
In the grime at his feet were the words:


From the jewelery box the town recovered all their trinkets, plus something else:- a book containing a single word- ‘In’. The body of the huntsman was dragged from the burnt house as the roof collapsed.
However, the tale does not end there:-

Each Christmas Eve a child who had seen the book would hear a ghastly cawing from the fireplace. The following morning all that remained of him would be an ash outline in his bed. Stranger yet, inked in ash, the next word of this story finds its way into the book. Disbelieving children still dare one another to read from it and it is whispered that should all one thousand words be written Ash-Quill Jack will rise again, taking the last child's body for his own. But don't worry. It's only a

This was a little experiment of mine to see if I could write a more adult fairy tale-esque piece. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. It's rather old work but I'm quite fond of it... Please give me your comments; constructive criticism is always appreciated, or even just to tell me you didn't like it, or liked it... Anything would be lovely!
Many thanks.

Offline Oreo

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Re: 'Ash-Quill Jack'.
« Reply #1 on: September 20, 2010, 10:31:58 PM »
Very nicely crafted with an engaging storyline. It sounded, as you had hoped, much like a fairy tale or medieval/fantasy urban legend. I pointed to this in another story just a few days ago; you mention 'town' several times in succession in your opening paragraph. The repetition breaks the charm of the story. That is the only fault I could find with your tale, but mind, I am far from being an expert or gifted in such matters. *applause*

Offline KhorazTopic starter

Re: 'Ash-Quill Jack'.
« Reply #2 on: September 21, 2010, 10:50:14 AM »
Thank you very much for taking the time to read and comment :-) I'm glad that you enjoyed reading it, and after reading through myself, I agree that the repetition does cause some of the charm to waver; something to watch out for in future pieces.

Much obliged, thank you. *Bows deeply*

Offline CascataNerina

Re: 'Ash-Quill Jack'.
« Reply #3 on: September 22, 2010, 12:56:52 AM »
You aced that.  It sounds like a fairy tale.  It feels creepy and spine-tingling, and I love the way you ended it.  Great job.

Offline KhorazTopic starter

Re: 'Ash-Quill Jack'.
« Reply #4 on: September 22, 2010, 07:28:33 AM »
You aced that.  It sounds like a fairy tale.  It feels creepy and spine-tingling, and I love the way you ended it.  Great job.

Thank you very much for the compliment :-) I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Offline Nadir

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Re: 'Ash-Quill Jack'.
« Reply #5 on: September 22, 2010, 07:07:18 PM »
Wow, very nicely done!

Offline KhorazTopic starter

Re: 'Ash-Quill Jack'.
« Reply #6 on: September 22, 2010, 07:09:59 PM »
Thank you Eden for the lovely compliment :-) I'm glad you enjoyed it.