The undulation of the wind through the flowers
gave the field living motion not unlike the sea. There was a vastness there, in the deep draws
taken by the earth. There was life in
the exhalation, and the golden aroma of the sun.
Traveling through Aer was as descending
the biggest mountain in all the world.
It started with snow by the icy waters along its coast, then the land
became simply gray, a vast, uneven expanse of rocky terrain with sparse patches
of grass and lonely stands of bent, but hearty trees. Woolly goats lingered along the treacherous
path while small, walled towns cropped up out of seemingly nowhere, as if from
the rock itself. At times fields of
flowers or simply of grass spilled over the hillside leading to such towns. Elk strayed out of the deeper woods further
inland and stood motionless in the morning mist, eyeing the passing travelers
with wise dark eyes.
scream rose from downstairs. Drayden
looked instinctively behind him, listening to the eerie silence that followed
the shout. A cat bolted through his
peripheral vision, out the door and into the hall. Drayden turned back to Leighon, and stared
momentarily stunned at the empty space in front of him. He didn’t know what to think and so thought
nothing for the time present. Standing
slowly, he backed away from where his friend should have been and wasn’t, then
turned and exited the room.
through the door, looking down both sides of a hallway that protruded over the
first floor like a balcony. To his
right, the passage ran between walls and doors and to his left, it extended
toward a flight of stairs. A glimpse
over the banister showed a tiled floor scattered with broken pottery, a strewn
plant, and at least one body. Drayden
didn’t stop to examine, allowing lingering adrenaline to carry him toward and
down the stairs. He stepped on something
near the bottom and was thrown awkwardly forward. He leaned back to catch his balance, and
failed. His ankle bent and his knee
scraped the last two stairs before his hip felt the marble beneath the red
carpeting. The thing that tripped him
had come down to the base of the steps with him and now lay on the floor in
blatant disregard to Drayden’s automatic denial. He recoiled from the hand that had somehow
wound up on the stairs without the rest of its body, swallowed his revulsion,
and rose slowly when his back met with the wall.
he began to take in the room. The sights
he had already seen were brighter with detail.
The sounds were heard now, deciphered; a clock ticking, what might have
been a dog eating…a dog that smelled as if it had been rolling in its own waste
for several days. The efforts of his
churning stomach and his pounding heart were almost enough to make him vomit,
but he managed to hold it in, and proceeded toward the exit.
sidestepped along the wall, eyeing the front door that was just a few feet
away. He recalled someone saying to him
when he was a child not to run from dogs, that it attracted their
attention. For some reason, he heeded
the old advice. Slowly, the black and
white marble came fully into view.
was a man slumped beside the clock, the front of his shirt almost black with
blood, a pistol in his hand. Judging by
his position, his off aim had shattered the potted plant. A second man lay prone near the center of the
room, illumined grotesquely in his pool of blood by the chandelier high overhead. The third man, missing his hand, lay crumpled
and red beneath a man—or a manlike thing—with skin that was almost transparent,
overlong legs oddly folded beneath its lean frame, and ragged flaps of skin and
bone protruding from its spiny back.
Arms nearly as long as it was tall extended over the length of the
victim, skeletal hands pinning the man at the head and ankles while it bent
over his chest and gnawed as if at the sweet and sour flesh of a plum.
and yet mesmerized, Drayden failed to watch his slowing steps and kicked what
the severed hand must have been holding.
The gun spun around on the marble and bounced off the baseboard, sliding
to a stop approximately three feet out from the wall, directly in Drayden’s
path to the front door.
creature lifted its blood-smeared face, spotted Drayden, and narrowed bulbous
black eyes. It was completely hairless,
colored beneath its milky skin with the webbed pattern of its veins. It flapped the useless fins, or wings, and
showed Drayden all of its countless needle-sharp teeth as it hissed at
him. Consciously and helplessly, Drayden
stood frozen in place, awed by the impossibility of what he was seeing.
grotesque thing leaned away from its kill, moved its hideous maw, and somehow
formed discernible words.
stared, feeling again like he would vomit, and at the same time as if his
breath had run out.
repeated itself. “Stranger—feed—now.”
glanced at the dead man torn open before the creature, wondering if it had said
the same thing to him. He wondered next
how far he would get if he bolted for the door.
started its request again, and then the man beneath the chandelier
groaned. He stretched one arm forward,
using the other for leverage as he tried to push himself up and crawl away at
the same time. God, he was still alive!
creature pivoted to face the rising survivor, coiled back like a serpent with
limbs, and propelled itself forward and through the air, oddly frog-like. Clawed fingers sank into already torn flesh
and the thing brought its victim down again.
Even seeing this and understanding now how the three strangers had
fallen so quickly, Drayden thought to take advantage of the creature’s distraction
and dove on sheer impulse for the gun he had kicked. He’d never fired one before in his life, but
somehow he gripped the weapon accurately, and while rolling over, pulled one
part with his thumb, and squeezed the other with his forefinger. He scarcely heard the explosion even as it was
amplified by the acoustics of the hall, nor did he truly see the blossom of red
that unfurled before his eyes as the creature was hurled back in mid-leap. Warmth splashed Drayden’s brow and neck and
spattered his hands, but he did not take the time to notice it, hurriedly
sitting upright, dragging himself away from the beast as he tried and failed to
hadn’t killed it. It lay momentarily on
its back, then sprang forward. Drayden
failed to fire again, but held the pistol steady, which seemed to be enough to
make the creature reconsider a second leap.
It crouched before him, hissing, bleeding low on the shoulder.
Drayden shouted, feeling his muscles begin to quake under the strain of his
fear. “Stranger fire again! Do you understand?”
black orbs of sight blinked wrongly. A
long-nailed hand lifted partly in front of the gore-stained face. “Stranger—no—fire! It—understands!”
Drayden dared to say, “Stranger leaves.
“No! It stays!”
Drayden shouted again. In reply
the creature hissed, but stayed put.
Drayden spared a glance at the front door, then noted the stairs in his
peripheral vision. “Leighon!”
readjusted his faltering aim. “It stays
where it is!” He rose slowly to his
feet, seeing nothing but the creature.
He took a step back.
yowl sounded suddenly from upstairs, as if a cat had just had its tail stepped
on…or severed. The noise drew a startled
glance from Drayden, a mistake which led to a blur of white; a powerfully lean
form tackling him, death staring him in the face with eyes like obsidian
stones. One hand pinned him at the
shoulder, the other squeezed his wrist so tightly that the claws cut into his
skin. He understood as the blood was
quickly loosed how the third man had lost the gun and his hand along with
it. Understanding that helped him to
realize that he still had the gun and he fought to aim it at the creature as he
pushed at its chest with his other hand trying to keep the head and its mouth
full of teeth away from his throat.
bit down on the pain and panic, twisted his wrist in the razor sharp grasp, and
fired. Liquid warmth splattered his
skin. The claws relinquished their grip
and the weight of the creature fell away, crumpling limp beside him. One of the long legs still draped him and he
convulsed out from under it, unaware of the repeated curses that spilled off
his lips. He didn’t stop scooting away
until the wall stopped him. He sat there
cradling his bleeding arm and the gun, eyes on the fallen creature. If it so much as twitched, it was getting the
rest of the bullets, however many there were remaining in the weapon.
It didn’t move, though. It didn’t even hint at a spasm and slowly,
Drayden dropped the pistol, and started to breathe again.
The songs of these creatures would charm and
lure susceptible men and women, leading them often off course if they were
aboard a ship, but more precisely, they would entice an individual into the
water, whether from deck or fromshore. The victims would then drown, thus feeding
the sea and its inhabitants.