My second Sword & Planet spoof, The Horrors of Harrmel, continues the misadventures of erstwhile earthling Bernie Smith and his bride, Thanna Dora, “the most amazing woman on two worlds.” Bernie got zapped out of an Iowa cornfield by a shaft of light and deposited on a deadly, primitive planet called Persus. Did he adapt? Well, “When in Rome” and all that.
Near the end of the first book, The Wizard From Harrmel, they learn that Thanna Dora’s long-lost father, Skreen Dor, might still alive somewhere in the dreaded land of Harrmel. So in Book Two off they go, and the challenges during the endless journey get crazier—and more dangerous—by the mile.
The following scene is from Chapter Eight: The Walking Dead Folks In The Stuffy Forest. Bernie and Thanna Dora have entered a stifling forest where numerous corpses hang from trees. They had already encountered one of the corpses, a guy named Awl Ded, who fell from a tree and helpfully gave them directions.
More trudging, more stumbling, before we stopped again to check the map. Okay, the black line indicated that we had gotten back on the right path. Great, but we were hardly of a mind to celebrate.
Especially when more corpses dangling from tree branches began appearing all around us.
Guys and gals this time, all hanging from a dazzling array of multi-colored nooses. Eyes snapping open, staring at us, until Thanna Dora grabbed my hand.
“Do not look at them,” she whispered. “Let us keep our eyes straight ahead.”
We did, even when we heard branches cracking and bodies falling behind us. This went on for a time before it finally ended. But we kept on trucking for quite a while, until exhaustion forced us to sit down on a lichen-covered log in the closest thing to a clearing we’d yet come across and catch our breath.
That was when a parade of dead folks began weaving all through the clearing like a high school marching band, only in slow motion.
“Screw it, I’m too tired to move,” I muttered…a bit too loud, but this time I didn’t give a rat’s ass, and I’m pretty sure my bride felt the same.
These corpses weren’t like Awl Ded when he fell off the tree, but rather how he looked as he walked away, a translucent white that gave them a ghastly, ghostly appearance. They had all hanged themselves, as evidenced by their heads lolling to one side or the other. Despite performing their halftime show all around our sanctuary, it didn’t seem as if they stared directly at us. Still, this continued for a while in dead silence, and it started to become seriously creepy. Images of Thriller came to mind.
Finally Thanna Dora said, “This is so disturbing, Bernie, and yet…”
“And yet what?”
“I cannot help but feel sorry for all of them. If they indeed took their own lives, I wonder what could have been so terrible to make them do it.”
That’s my bride, a woman with a great big heart. Yeah, this was kind of sad, but it still creeped me out.
And you know what weirded me out even more? When the whole lot of them froze at the exact moment, like a band director had given them a cue. And also when the dangling heads all turned toward us, some having to be twisted around by a pair of hands. Yep, I started to grip the hilt of my sword…like that would do any good against ghosts.
“What…what do they want?” Thanna Dora hissed.
“Don’t know, but I suppose we’ll find out—”
I swallowed my words as four guys broke free of the marching band and zombie-walked toward us. We stood as they faced us from about eight feet away, my twitchy hand still deciding what to do with the weapon at my side.
Then, one of them took a step forward and bowed slightly, his head swiveling precariously. In a grating voice he said, “I…Uhn Ded.”
A second one joined him. “I…Brayn Ded.”
The next one grunted, “I…Evol Ded.”
Finally: “I…Grayfil Ded.”
Okay, I stood there, dumbfounded, but fortunately the class act of our small party approached them with a smile on her face. “It is so nice to meet all of you,” she said…a mite too loud, because I had to struggle not to clamp my hands over my ears. That wouldn’t be polite in mixed…uh, company.
Each of the four ghost-guys lifted an arm and pointed a wavering finger at my bride. “Woman…feel sorry,” Brayn Ded uttered. “Sorry for…us.”
Thanna Dora took a step back. “Yes, but…I didn’t mean—”
“No one ever…feel sorry,” Uhn Dead said.
“Thank…you.” Grayfil Ded bowed deeply, his head swinging around like a tether ball. Jeez!
Evol Ded gestured at all of the other corpses. “Woman ask…what make us…do it.”
“Yes, but you don’t have to tell—”
As one, every ghost-guy and ghost-gal in the clearing said, “Harrmel!”
Yeah, that made sense, but as far as I knew, that might be the last word I ever heard on this plane of existence. Gawd, my eardrums!
My bride, also shaking off the effects of standing next to an M-198 howitzer as it launched its shell, told the quartet, “Yes, we understand, and we will not ask you to elaborate.”
“But we will ask you to show us the way out of here,” I said…or at least I think that’s what I said, because I couldn’t hear my words.
Uhn Ded nodded, which of course made his head…you know. “Brayn Ded…fastest of us. He…show you.”
Grayfil Ded pointed at Thanna Dora again. “Never forget…nice woman…as long as…we die.”
Now that sounded weird, but I got it. With the entire marching band waving as best they could, we followed the speedy Brayn Ded—I’ve seen octogenarians with foot fungus move quicker—out of the clearing. We really hadn’t gotten much of a respite there, but I’ll take escaping this blasted forest over that any old time, and I know my bride felt the same. Brayn Ded led us in the direction that we had been going, so I suppose we were okay. Later, the mystery map confirmed that.