The Hollow Men – Part Two

Previously

…“Fair warning though,” she looked over her shoulder, “she doesn’t much get along with living people.” She added with a smirk that made me hesitant to trust her…

~~~~~

“You’re not going anywhere alone with that harlot!” My mother from across the table at breakfast the next morning.

“I could go with her – ” my eldest brother offered.

My mother scoffed. “As if! You’re not allowed anywhere near that girl.”

“It’s not like I’m going to start being her next partner in crime, ma,” I chimed in, “we’re just going to visit the crematory she’s studying at.”

My father returned to the table with a steaming cup in hand, “what for, Nic?”

I stammered, “…curiosity – ”

“Nic’s been going on about hearing voices and spirits in the courtyard.”

Both my parents and the rest of my siblings turned curious and weary glances on me. I shot Khaleef a snarling glare.

My mother started again, “well you can forget it, we’re not going to let you go off and fill your head with more nonsense like that.”

“She doesn’t even believe…ugh whatever.” I had no sooner resigned to finishing breakfast in silence before a knock came to the side-door.

“Got it!” My younger sister shot up and rushed to the door. We all turned our heads and her voice came back, “oh, hello; speak of the devil – ”

“Jun!”

Both my mom and I snapped at the same time and I shot up out of my seat to meet my sister and our guest at the door. Olivia stood there with a curious look across her dark brows. The scent of smoke wafted in with her. I nudged my sister out of the way, “thank you, Jun,” to which she wrinkled her nose and returned to the breakfast room just around the corner.

“Uh, come on in. We’re just finishing breakfast.” And I stepped to the side to allow her in.

Olivia seemed hesitant and she shook her head gently with a nervous chuckle, “I’ll pass.” She then thumbed over her shoulder and kept her voice low as she spoke, “I’ll keep the ol’ croon company while she waits.”

I followed her signal, leaning slightly out of the door frame to peer down into the courtyard where there sat a figure bundled up in a huge shawl cross-legged on the bench underneath the tree where I usually studied.

“I reached out last night to give her a heads up. She kinda just showed up this morning. So, yeah, we’ll just wait out here…I think she’s enjoying the fresh air…”

At that point, Khaleef eased his way around the corner carrying his dirty plate and heading to the kitchen. “Olivia…hey.”

She flashed a grin in a somewhat dismissive wave as she turned and made her way back out to the courtyard. He twisted his mouth and hung his shoulders continuing onto the kitchen, though, at the moment, I could not bring myself to much care considering his jealous betrayal of late. I shut the door.

“What was that about?” My mother as I reentered the breakfast room.

“Turns out the plans for the crematory are off anyway.” I shrugged and took my seat again. My mother perked her brow and questioned: is that so? I nodded, simply, and finished my breakfast in silence.

It was my day to clean up after breakfast. I was slowly working my way through the plates and casserole dish, listening to the sound of my family bickering in the living room, when another knock came at the side-door.

“Got it!” I chimed out over the voice of Jun from the other room claiming the same. and dried my hands on a spare rag as I quickly made over to the door. I expected Olivia again. She was not alone.

~~~~~

Daily Prompt: Simmer

Word of the Day: hypogeal

 

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The Hollow Men – Part One

I was sixteen when I began to hear them.

Their voices came to me, for the first time, within the quaint courtyard tucked quietly between my family’s home and the next over. When we were not entertaining there, the intimate common area offered a calming escape from the intricacies of my psuedo-aristocratic childhood amongst trees and the gentle crackling of the fire-pit table.

Gentle moonlight brushed my skin pouring in through withering tree leaves blowing and tumbling in the wilting Fall winds. I sat with my neck craned downward, hunched over my studies illuminated by a single flickering torch candle in the small stand next to me.

At first, I thought it was the hollowing of the wind.

A low and slow chorus of incoherent tones caught my ear. I turned up my head from my studies and cautiously scanned around me, my shifting eyes scouring the faint darkness.

…beware fowl men…

My heart turned and I slammed my book shut – I shot to my feet and searched – a part of me hoped that it was just the neighbor twins up to their usual tomfoolery; unfortunately, I found myself alone in the courtyard and the voices continued to hum from places incorporeal. Still, I was convinced it was some sort of prank and resolved to resign for the night.

The following night, the voices came to me again, and so, I decided to tell my brother.

“Show me!” He spouted, forgetting his studies at his desk and eagerly following. We sat down in the corner underneath the drooping leaves of the tallest tree and I bade him be silent. We listened for a time before, again, the words came to me:

…shackled children; beware fowl men…

“I still don’t hear anything…” My brother turned a brow up at me and I back at him. I explained the voices as best I could: a slow harrowing breeze of gentle words, separate and disinterested in being heard, a stream of consciousness from somewhere beyond. He seemed to give it the college try before he shook his head, “I don’t have time for games and ghost stories, Nic,” and rose to leave.

I watched him exit the courtyard, walking the stairs and returning through the kitchen side-door. I was left in the dark, alone – or so it seemed. A presences stuck with me, keeping me from returning to my studies, and I sat with a book splayed over my lap, watching the candle fire flicker and my own foggy breath break on intangible shapes surrounding. I shuddered and closed my eyes.

“You always sit out here in the dark like a creep?” The faint scent of tobacco and theine reached me just before her voice. I opened my eyes and turned up to see the neighbor’s eldest, Olivia, leaning against the stair rails by their side-door and slowly puffing away at a slim cigarette. Our eyes met and I froze underneath her studious scrutiny.

She expelled a long drag, impatiently waiting me to speak. “Nichelle, yeah?” She broke the silence and sauntered down the steps toward me.

“Yeah…” I turned down my head and my eyes away from her, staring down at the densely packed words of my textbook. I could feel her gaze hovering over me and the mixed aroma of her rolled cigarillo tickled my senses. She made a disgruntled harrumph as she plopped down next to me on the bench. When I looked up at her she was leaning toward me and peering down at the open book on my lap.

…wayward…

“So, what have they got you pegged for?” She looked at me and we met eyes again. I looked away.

“Social Work & Substance Counselling…”

“Ah,” she puffed, “a model for all the people of the Commonality; a regular urban angel.” It was easy enough to tell she was mocking me – not personally, I figured. I returned the question.

“Cremation,” she offered dryly.

I must have turned my eyes on her with a little too much enthusiasm. She perked a brow and gave a wry frown. I attempted to quell some of my enthusiasm. “Have you…ever heard voices before?”

Now she was really giving me the eye, “like…what? Ghosts? Spirits of the dead?” She smirked and began to chuckle, shaking her head. I twisted my mouth and dropped my shoulders and after a moment she spoke again: “my mentor goes on about spirits sometimes, but I think you’re a little young to be going senile, yeah?”

I pushed passed her snark. “What does you mentor say?”

Olivia pondered for a moment, tapping away the ashen embers building up on the end of her cigarette. She gave a light shrug, “you’re genuinely interested, eh?” I nodded in response. “Well, I’m supposed to be on ‘vacation’ but the old coot is probably lonely without me anyway. If you really want to talk to her we can take the tram out to the crematory tomorrow.” She snuffed the rest of her cigarette then pocketed it for keeping before standing and beginning to head back in. “Fair warning though,” she looked over her shoulder, “she doesn’t much get along with living people.” She added with a smirk that made me hesitant to trust her.

~~~~~

Daily Prompt: Mystery

Word of the Day: bonce

 

Desire Faces Resolve

My heart raced and I could feel my knuckles whitening around my survival stick. As soon as I entered the treeline of Coal Wood, a blanket of darkness took the sky suddenly and the trees seemed to close in behind me. A mist thick as smoke conjured in surrounding and shrouding all from sight leaving only vague shadows slowly shifting in the night. When at first I thought them just trees, the further I walked the more I began to see that the shapes were moving in tandem with me. I could feel eyes closely watching.

The once bright light strapped to my stick now illuminated little more than a few feet within the consuming smog encircling me. I could, however, make out a dim floating light in the distance – the only real goal I had – and resolved to keep moving toward it hoping that my target lay there.

“How many more of you foolish Pilgrims are they going to send here, hm?”

The implant in my skull screamed to life just as the voice came as a cacophony of tones sharing words. It echoed from the mist, not omni-directional but constantly shifting. I twisted my head attempting to follow it but the fog would divulge nothing. It almost sounded amused.

I refocused my attention forward.

“Not that I mind much,” it continued, “though, the least they could do is send more than one at a time. Ya know? Give me a challenge!” The voice surged joined by glowing orbs like eyes what blinked to life within the fog, each locking onto me.

I froze and gripped my survival stick like a spear, ready to be set upon. Only the voice followed again – a mocking chuckle and “oooh.” They phantom eyes continued to rest on me.

I twisted my lip into a snarl and though I could feel the sieging grasp of fear pulling at my every nerve I willed myself to speak, hopefully containing the shaking anxiety I felt within, “I ain’t leavin’ here ’til you’re dead, Reaver!”

Another echoing cackle, “then we are in agreeance. I never planned on letting you leave, anyway.” The tone drawled out just as a creeping sensation ran up my legs.

I looked down at the blackened dirt and attempted to shift away but my legs would not move. There was nothing there but my legs were anchored to the forest floor. Just then the veil of fog began to peel back and the once shadowed forms revealed themselves as shambled figures, dirty and tattered, with empty eyes.

One shambled form threw itself at me, aiming its body to impale on my spear-like weapon, and the blade tore through its flesh with ease until it pushed up to my hands, its arms well within reach of me. Fresh blood spilled out over my hands and onto the tarred dirt. Unable to move otherwise, I pulled my weapon to one side to topple the twisted human to the ground and it was then that the others swarmed around me with vicious devitalizing intent.

Scrapping nails at my back and tearing teeth at my arms and legs, pain washed over me but my body was paralyzed in place form the hip down, unable to move or topple over. I bit my own tongue against the pain, unwilling to give Reaver the satisfaction of my pained screams. She would not taste even an ounce of victory.

I twisted one arm violently until I could wrench it free of the grasp of one of my assailants then reached over and with that freedom I jammed my fingertips into the eyes over another, latching onto his skull through the sockets, and began to feed off of the writhing soul inside the body.

~~~~~

Daily Prompt: Ghoulish

Word of The Day: heebie-jeebies

Hard Lessons

Previously

…I blinked but I took the key and then turned to my charge. She stared back with a proud grin on her face.

~~~~~

I furrowed my brow and took the room key from the attendant and gave him a thankful nod before turning toward the stairs to make for the second floor. I could tell the girl expected some kind of compliment or acknowledgment for her little sleight of mind. She would get none from me.

The room was quaint, one bed, but it was clean and sported the standard amenities: a bathroom, a small fridge, a personal signal tower to link to the Imperial Network, etc.

She shed her pack and shoes by the door and sighed happily then looked to me expectantly.

I placed down my own pack and sat down at the desk near the window, “I don’t want you doing that again.” Flatly.

She had made her way across the room and cranked the heater up before plopping down in front of it. She tilted her head to me when I spoke. “What?”

“You twisted that man’s mind. Don’t do it again.”

Her expression soured rapidly. “Well, trying to haggle with that asshole wasn’t getting us anywhere. So, I don’t know, you could show me some goddamned gratitude or something.”

“You deserve none,” I stated and I could see her jaw churn. I continued, “you twisted a man’s mind for your own gain never considering what that would mean for him. He registered a room to two nameless strangers for free – what do you think happens to him when his employers see that?”

“We’d be freezing our asses off if it wasn’t for me!” She glared.

“And that man may lose his job and be in our shoes because of you. Consider that the next time you think to twist someone’s mind.”

She huffed and turned back to warming herself near the heating unit. “Whatever.”

“Warm up and get your stuff together. We are not staying here. We will give the key back and find some place else.” She snapped her head in my direction but I refused to let her get a word out, “this ain’t a debate, Reaver. You’ve got five minutes then you pack up your shit and we’re leaving. Clear?”

She grumbled and I could feel the anger building in her, twisting the Veil around us. I must have meant something to her because I’m sure if she really wanted to she could have lashed out at me and possibly won. She didn’t.

“Fine.”

I stood up and made my way to the bathroom, figuring it best to put some distance between us for the next few moments. I leaned on the cheap laminated counter top and ran a hand through my hair. I was not cut out for this fathering crap.

~~~~~

Daily Prompt: Gratitude

Word of The Day: psychomancy

Qualms

They had recommended me a protege near a year ago; she had talent, I could admit that much, but she was far too sentimental for the job. I suppose they figured if anyone could reign in her temperament it was me. I explicitly disagreed but, turns out, they were not necessarily asking. They shackled me with the responsibility despite my reservations; I had more than a few questions about what our little “Order” actually meant after that but I assumed they had their reasons. Before I knew it, I was playing ‘sensei’ to a fiery, ill-mannered girl whom I was sure would be the death of me…

———-

I figured a good place to start would be teaching her to read signs, so we mostly traveled on the girl’s intuition at the beginning. In the pique of Winter she led us to Kantover, a commercial town I had avoided on numerous occasions. Trade-towns like Kantover were desolate places for ‘bo’s where the people wanted money over anything and were often ill-tempered toward transients who had little or none.

By the time we made it into the city, the wind chill had nearly frozen us to the bone. I immediately sought out an inn – any place where we could get a comfortable night sleep and warm up; I knew it would not be cheap but I was sure I could work something out…I hoped I could work something out.

The man at the front desk of the smallest Inn I could find frowned at us upon entry. He clearly peered at us and questioned expectantly. I tried to haggle out a price.

“Sorry, but no. We are not in the habit of accepting migrate workers. We do not take credit. You may warm up in the lobby, if you wish, but if you are not here to rent a room — ”

“There is a room available.” He turned to grab a room key then turned back to us and handed it to me. “Room 215. Thank you for choosing Middtin Inn.”

I blinked but I took the key and then turned to my charge. She stared back with a proud grin on her face.

~~ToBeContinued~~

Daily Prompt: Prefer

Word of the Day: guisard

Never A Stranger

A impending downpour marked the events for the coming evening. The storm had rolled in suddenly and not one of us trekking over those rock smattered rolling hills were prepared for it. Not on our own, anyhow.

There were five of us, one pair and three airedales, all traveling our own way. The five of us threw what we had together and made a modest camp between two convex rock walls where we could hopefully avoid most of the run off. Ponchos and tarps and walking staffs were pitched in to craft a makeshift canopy and everyone gave what they could to set a fire near the edge of our somewhat cramped arrangement. With that, we settled on making food before the rain decided to begin in earnest and we were forced to sit practically pressed knee to knee.

Thunder rolled in along with the heavy aroma of the community stew steaming in a large pot over a crackling flame. Chunks and swathes from our individual stashes served to make what was to be, if nothing else, filling – something to keep us warm throughout the night.

Tenderfoot had tasked himself with charge over prepping the food. He claimed proudly that he could best any so-called chef, ‘bo or no, regardless of what fancy ingredients they used; he spouted all this with a huge bandana over his face which held back his prominent graying beard. It was sanitary, he said, common courtesy, really.

At one point, I took to hovering over his shoulder and silently scrutinized the amalgam he was stirring and he swatted, shooing me like I were a pesky fly. “Ay! Don’t go eyein’ it like that. You’ll ruin it with yer skepticism!”

I wrinkled my nose at that but before I could start an argument with the old-timer another voice chimed in.

“Just leave ‘im to it, hun. I’m sure it c’ain’t be no worse than anything we’ve ever had.” A melodic drawl from Niecey lounging at the edge of the tarp with who was said to be her uncle, Effex.

“Ya won’t have anything half as good anywhere else, miss! So count yerself lucky!” Tenderfoot spouted.

She waved her hand dismissively and then signalled me over to where she and her uncle sat.

I meandered over and knelt across from them. The young man worked quickly, deliberately and silently, never looking up from his craft – a long, slender piece of wood which seemed to be on its way to a wind instrument of sorts.

“He started it a few days ago.” Niecey shrugged, “I’m guessing he’s gunna want me to play whatever it is…” She trailed her glance to Effex who looked up, just then, and nodded gently. Niecey shrugged again. And this time with a warm tinge as she turned her eyes back to me, “keep your ears open for our next single. It’ll take some practice but that ain’t never stopped me before.”

Three twangs of metal declared that supper was ready and Tenderfoot spooned a hefty helping into each of our bowls but it barely seemed to put a dent in the hodge-podged feast.

“Help yerselves to as much as ya like,” Tenderfoot exclaimed and added, “but just so ya know, I ain’t breakin’ up no fights over the last bit.”

He had every right to be as boastful as he was. How a man managed to make a pile of scraps and leftovers into an honest decent meal was beyond me. Niecey said nothing but ate contentedly while Effex hummed to himself happily and shoveled the food into his mouth which seemed to please Tenderfoot who beamed confidently while he ate. Beyond the arrhythmic clatter of spoons on bowls and the pitter pattering crescendo of a storm to be, there was silence. And my eyes finally fell to the fifth element of our patch-worked party: a rather large man who introduced himself as Deadwood. He did not eat.

It took me awhile to work up the courage to actually speak to him, I mean, besides more than a passing word or relay of information. If anybody was half as curious as me, they said nothing nor asked any questions. It wasn’t until we had all turned in for the night, filed in to the crevasse where we hoped to sleep out the worst of the tempest. He sat closest to the exit next to me and then the pair followed while Tenderfoot tucked himself into the corner of the would-be cave.

Maybe something in the surreal darkness gave me the confidence to speak, or, perhaps, which was more likely, I had lost all sense to curiosity.

“Deadwood…” I practically squeaked.

“Catmint.” I could FEEL him looking at me in the dark.

I chose my words carefully, “you’re…from the Commonality?”

“I am.”

“You served with them.”

“I did.”

“Why did you leave?”

“I did not. I was labeled defective and to be recycled.”

“But….why?”

“I refused to follow orders. You ‘uncivilized pests’ are misrepresented by The Empire. It took me many months to realize this. I apologize; however, I will right my wrong doings.”

“What did you do?” I heart raced in my chest in anticipation for the answer. Thunder and then lightening followed and for a brief moment I could see he had still not moved from where he sat. Staring at me.

“Stalked and murdered thirteen people much like you. Three-Owls; Pastor Vex; Summerwind – ”

I lurched forward and attempted to press my hand to his mouth in attempts to shush him. I barely made out a blur of motion. A wrenching pain shocked my wrist. I felt a dull pain just between my ear and my jaw. I can’t remember if I yelped.

~~~~~

Daily Prompt: Identity, Surreal

Word of the Day: deadwood, sawbones

Feeding The Flame Of The Dying Star

He looked down at his phone and wrinkled his nose. A sigh escaped him and he pushed it away – not out of sight, but just…away.

He clicked over to his work again and stared, blankly, then turned and clicked over to another page and ogled over other artworks. Painting; writings; weldings….

He glanced over to his phone again. He grabbed it long enough to check the time then grumbled and slammed it back down.

“She hates it. She hates it and you’re a damned fool and you should…”

Ping.

He snapped his head to his phone and snatched it up with such elation he felt that he could crush it.

Bruce,

Sorry, we decided to go with another piece. Also, I’m a little busy tonight, what with a big rush coming around; we should reschedule.

Best of luck,
Olivia

~~~~~

Daily Prompt: Expect

Word of the Day: ducky

Consuming Desires

The Council sat in a semi circle around me and I stood quietly before them, expectantly – they only ever called on me for one thing these days…

“We once called her Reaver” The ethereal image of a young lady slowly twisted to recognition in front of me, an ill-mannered grin stretched across her gaunt face. She was practically a kid.

“As you know, it is the responsibility of us all to govern our kind; especially now, as we face a world that fears and condemns us.”

I always scoffed at that. “Our kind” – as if we were something alien; inhumane; or some other kind. It only gave credence to the propaganda cast on us by the Commonality: vagabonds and freaks what should be shunned, if not “put down” on sight.

Terminology aside, if she had become what the Commonality claimed us to be, then they were right to call on me and I was more than proud to take on the task. I at least agreed with them on that much.

I pondered the details, “so, what, grab and return?”

“She is beyond saving,” Centermass stated plainly and I twisted my mouth at that but nodded, regardless, and exited the meeting circle, opening my eyes unto the small fire and campsite I had scavenged together.

I sighed, stamped out the flame, and packed my things…

———-

The footprints she left behind along The Railways were unmistakable; corruption ate away at the land in her wake and sprites were driven insane and turned to pitiful twisted things, discarded and simply hanging on. One finally managed to reel me in.

“You look tired ‘bo.” Its smooth, roguish flitter of a voice came to me along the beaten paths through Coal Wood.

I turned a narrow gaze on the lively sprite as it wriggled mischievously around me, brushing against my arms; it’s winged serpentine form resembled nothing natural I knew of.

“I know of a place, a place to ease your troubles. A cottage. Warm and full of food and – and there is a friendly gal there. You look so tired. There is a place. It is close.” It wriggled and writhed and prodded – persistent.

“I’d like that.” The words escaped me incoherently. I followed it down a brambled path unquestioning. The forest progressively died around us until we were trekking past blackened dirt and shriveled trees and dark figures mindlessly meandering.

“Our Lady led us here. We all pitch in. You’ll fit right in, I swear, I swear. You must meet the Lady; she will like you.” The sprite chimed on as I followed, feeding me pleasantries and painting pictures of a perfect community…

~~~~~

Daily Prompt: Release

Word of the Day: prelocutionary

Something Inside

She sat down, flipped open her notepad, and started this with a purpose; she felt she had something to prove – something she needed to get out.

She considered the prompt, the words and …what they meant, and then, uncontrollably, unfathomably, from places she did not understand, she slowly wept. She huffed and set her pen down and sat back in her chair – she took a moment to collect herself.

She wiped away a tear.

What the hell was that about?

After a moment she sat up again and straightened her posture and picked up her pen again and pondered down at her notebook. She turned the words over in her mind.

A tear blotched her paper well before she even began to write and it slowly bubbled and the edges of the blotch turned hot grey, eating away through the layers. Consuming.

“This is a bad idea.” She huffed and slammed her notepad closed and wiped away her tears. She shook her head and grimaced, “this was a stupid idea.”

The pad flipped open again, the blotch now black and rotting.

She pushed back, out of her chair, and slammed the book shut as she rose, holding it down and she lurched forward, driving the head of her pen through the cover and the pages and straight through to her desk. The rot crept through and to the pen, consuming it in its growing blight. A dark ooze drooled out over her desk.

Her heart raced and she turned her back on it. She fled the room and slammed the door, pressing her back to it.

“How long do you expect to live like this?” The hollow voice came to her just before the faintly shaped wisp.

She wrinkled her brow and walked past the sprite, wordless, and down the hall into her living room where she could see three more doors, tendrils of wriggling black pulsating through the cracks and creeping out across the walls and floors.

“It will never end…” the hollow voice again.

She had since curled up on the couch there next to the corpse of a rotting, blackened, tabby.

“You cling to things you have no power over…”

“Just fuck off.”

“It will consume you…”

“Then let it!” She snarled and snapped and flared her nostrils, a hideous black oozing from her eyes.

The sprite gave no response and it faded from that place and left the girl there, nestled against the last life she had ever loved until she and the everyone she knew was consumed by her contempt.

~~~~~

Daily Prompt: Express

Word of the Day: nocent

Deadly Allure

For the seventeenth time this week she boarded the train and walked by without a word.

Goddammit! Why would I not speak? Why could I not simply open my mouth and say “hello”? I sighed and hung my head.

“Oh, hello.” Her voice lulled on me and she smiled a gentle smile. I felt my heart race.

We met eyes. I felt myself fall, enamored by her gaze. A smile to match her own crept onto my face –

But wait. Why would she speak to me? My face twisted, disbelieving and accusing.

“Can I help you?”

“I-I was just saying hello…you looked upset…” A look of geniality. A tilt of her head. A stray lock of flaxen brunette.

I rescinded my outward accusation, “I’m sorry,” I forced a smile despite myself, “that was rude.” I then motioned to the empty spot next to me on the bench. “It’s not taken if you need a seat.” I offered.

She happily accepted, crossing close by me and sitting carefully. Her sweet scent lingered in the air around me. My heart accelerated further. I inched over, away from her, to put more distance between us.

She leaned in toward me, curious, eyes wide and innocent.

“Do I frighten you?” Her voice came as a hollow echo in my mind. Her expression turned momentarily, a flash of a grin from ear to ear so sudden I shuddered and blinked. When I opened my eyes again she was there, innocent eyed and worried. I offered no response but directed my eyes away and looked down at my hands balled into fists at my knees.

The train chimed as it arrived at its next stop.

“Are you alright?” The lull that had entangled me previously.

“I-I’m fine.” I forced words as I stood up and quickly joined the crowd of those disembarking.

“Sir?” Her voice trailed after me, gentle, soothing, alluring. Even so I ignored and shouldered through the bustling crowds.

“Run as you will, but you will never escape…”

~~~~~~

Daily Prompt: Flavorful