This Week’s Prompt:56. Book or MS. too horrible to read—warned against reading it—someone reads and is found dead. Haverhill incident.
The Relevant Research:Forbidden Texts And Wild Men
Find Part 1 here.
The branches and roots made an effort to scratch and trip me as I went, following Charles’s map as best could be managed. The air was empty, the wind having wasted away any crickets. The warm blooded creatures of the wood stayed silent as I went through, either hiding to pounce or hiding from tooth and claw. There was only the crunch of my feet in the hillside wood, with a fog slowly setting in.
Eventually, I made out through the fog crags that were circled in Charles’ map. For a moment, I saw a huddled mass waiting at the top of the crag, leading up to the rectangular stone building at the top. I saw women and children and men in rags as pales as the moon with gasping mouths and pleading eyes staring up ward to the structure.
But as I drew close, my flash light illuminating them, the masses faded away into piles of stones, stacked one on top of the other and draped in leaves or rags. The leaves shook to give the impression of murmuring as I approached, the wind whipping this way and that. I wondered how, with so many trees to get in the way, the wind managed to stay so strong.
It wasn’t grand. It was a few slabs of stone, arranged and stacked into an almost crude shelter. Peering inside, however, I had to stifle a scream.
A body lay at the center of the hexagonal room, flesh having darkened with cold. A rotted tongue was still slumped out the side of his mouth, and much of his face had become bone, maggot holes punctured along it. I slowly walked closer, transfixed at the mutilated remains of Charles. If his body was clawed or cut, I couldn’t tell. Clearly, some thing had fed on him, and not that long ago.
As I recovered…Well, as I regained my ability to suffer and search, instead of suffer in stillness, I looked around the room cautious for the culprit. My light quickly found the statue, at who’s feet Charles lay. It was a robbed man, with curved ram horn, a thorny carved club in one hand, while the other pulled back a veil of hair. Beneath those locks, there was nothing. A blank stone, unmoved and unmarked, faced me. I want to say it stared at me, but there were no eyes, no even vauge lines that I could make into eyes. It didn’t grimace, it had no mouth. It was just the void, reaching out into my mind. It was disconcerting, so I looked down back at the body with some sense of shame.
Carefully examining the body, I found Charles’s hand clutched around something. Leaning close, it was a rolled piece of…something. It was a bright green scroll with a sweet smell strong enough that it overpowered the odor of death around the hand. I lightly kicked it with my shoe, and it fell out of his hand. A think coating of light green sludge coated it, the left overs of decay.
Holding my breath, I slowly took the sheet. It looked like paper, but it felt smoother than paper. I kept it rolled and turned to leave, planning on reading more when I slipped back into Morgant’s room. My light turned towards the entrance, out towards the woods, and the howling wind. The fog was still heavy on the ground and the grass crunched as I walked. And all the while, I felt the statue reaching down with it’s formless face, seeing without eyes. A hundred small eyes feeling down my back.
The crackling of the grass stopped in the forest, where all seemed softer. My mind slowly began to realize what I’d seen, what I’d done. Charles’s dead body, left at the altar, called out and I saw signs of it’s decay everywhere. The brown leaves reminded me of rotting flesh and breaking skin. He was dead. He was dead, and no one knew. Or worse, the thought that had been buried deep returned. Everyone knew. Everyone knew he was dead when I got here, and had tried to hide it from me. Morcant knew, but didn’t know I’d find the body.
The scroll, I realized, the scroll was the only proof I’d been there. But they’d find out I took it. If they all knew Charles was dead, and had left him there so long, they’d know the scrolls, the strange green thing in my hand, should be there. I’d have to leave immediately.
It was as this ran through my head that I heard them. A distant set of pipes, playing softly. Standing still, I heard an accompanying set of steps, slowly echoing mine almost perfectly. When my light turned about I saw only dimly something in the woods, a pair of eyes staring at me through the darkness. The owner of the eyes was at least six feet tall and drawing closer, not breaking eye contact. That was the last I could bear.
My legs out paced my mind, and my memory of fleeing out of the woods and to Morcant’s house. My hands dropped the light at the base of the tree, gripping and scurrying up into the branches in order to get to safety. As the window closed behind me, I began to breath again. Laughter bubbled up in my throat, out of nowhere. Laughter and sobbing while leaning on the wooden bear that guarded the bed. I pulled myself up, and turned back to the window. The moon was still gibbous and full, and as I sighed, I looked down upon the ancient wood and at the edge I saw it, for a moment. Glimmering eyes staring towards the house from the depths of wood, before vanishing into darkness.
With that in mind, and my heart still racing, I collapsed back onto the bed. Sleep wasn’t comfortable, and I don’t know if ever entirely came. There were moments that felt like waking, staring out the window to see a thing walking up right like a man, with ram’s horns and a leonid face. It’d pace the floor around the tree, it’s clawed hand outstretched and feeling the little marks I made when I climbed. Other times it’d stare up with very human eyes, beckoning me down with an outstretched hand and playing a set of pipes. Other times, I’d feel awake, but surrounded by darkness, and music would come from the floors.
I was relieved when, finally, the cold grey winter sun woke me. My legs ached from running, and my back was killing me. I stretched and, nervously stared out the window. Nothing but the old tree, and some scratches that were either from me last night or a startled wild cat. A black bird was on the branch, not yet left for winter.
After I got changed, the smell of syrup began to waft into the room from down stairs. Morcant was smiling, making pancakes that were maybe an inch thick. Coated with syrup and topped with a small mound of butter, I nearly bolted down the stairs with exhausted hunger. Morcant chuckled as I nearly toppled over the chair.
“Sleeping exhaust you that much or did you skip supper?” Morcant said, as I pulled myself up.
“Uh, yeah.” I said, yawning. “Kept me up a bit even.”
As Morcant served an inch thick pancake to me, I forgot most of the night before. It faded into a vauge notion of something terrible having happened. Something awful, like a nightmare. And the ‘like’ slowly faded as we talked about the weather and chatted about Charles and the differences between this cosy hill town and the city. Both had a tendency, I observed, to become a washed out, gray place.
“Well, perhaps, but here at least spring brings green things.” Morcant said with a laugh. He picked up the plates, and asked if I was staying any longer. At the sound of green, something reminded me. That I needed to leave.
“No, no, I’ll be heading home. Don’t want to impose.” I said, wiping my face with a napkin. “And without any leads, I think I’d better head back. See if I can find someone more proffessional.”
I packed my things without interruption after that. I tucked the slimy green paper in my trunk, careful to leave it bound. Something might be stuck inside, and some impulse, a memory wraned me against reading it. There was something powerful bound up in that small leaflet. Next to it I put the new manuscripts, figuring post-mortem publishing would be best. I couldn’t remember, quite yet, the circumstances I found him in. But I knew Charles wasn’t going to be editing his thesis any time soon.
“Well, tell me if you need any help to the station.” Morcant said, as I lugged my case down the stairs. I politely said I could get myself home.
The road to the station was covered in sleet and snow, muted as I walked and pulled my trunk along. The only sound I could make out was the was the fluttering of wings. As I trudged that long walk back, train station in sight, I saw one more unusual sight. An owl. A large, white horned owl. Staring at me sleepily as I walked. As I sat, waiting for the train, it seemed to never move. It’s two eyes held fast to me, even as the train was heard coming closer to that old wood.
When I returnd to the city, the birds were strange there as well. The moment I set on the sidewalk home, a pair of pigeons cooed and followed me. They walked at my fight and, unafraid of my imposing stature, pecked at my shoes. A number of their fellows watched on from a wire, dozens of little eyes training on me and my trunk, as we came at last to my apartment. A number sat on the branches of the tree rising not far from my house, like feather fruit on an apple tree. A brave black bird sat atop the lamp post, staring pensively at my door and squawking when I went inside.
I spent the afternoon reading my mail, and preparing dinner to replace the lunch I missed on the train. Trains always make me sick when eating on them, so I’d grown accustomed to making large meals at the top of the three story apartment. And my aches from carrying the trunk with me all day were pressuring me towards sustenance even more. Either that, or collapsing on my bed.
After the hearty meal, I retired to bed, expecting nothing more to happen that night.
I awoke in the later hours of evening, to the sound of a thumping on the roof. Starting up, I rushed to the kitchen with a light. I intended to get a knife to fend off the intruder, whoever he was. Further, the kitchen had the most immediate window, looking out onto the street. I would see him if he made for a get away.
When I entered the kitchen, my light hit the window and immediately I was transfixed. A large face, leonid in form and with shimmering eyes, stared back at me.
The creature was evidently hanging from the roof tiles, staring in with those treacherous eyes. My heart seized as it, almost gently, scratched at the window. The sound cut through the air, claws carving into the glass. I wanted to scream, but my voice had already taken flight. The thing’s gaze held me fast as it brought forth a gnarled and thorned branch, a crude club. With a single blow, the glass was shattered on the floor.
The beast was too big to fit in the window, but like a rat squeezing it’s skeleton through the smallest of spaces, it managed. At this, my sense regained and I turned to run, opening the door to the stairs and slamming them behind me. I ran down the entire stair case, still in nothing but my night clothes, never looking back to see if that beast was still descending behind me. Never looking, in case those glowing eyes caught me again.
After reaching the outer most door, I stumbled into the cold winter night, and turned towards the building, the rush a bit to much for my lungs. Desperate to catch my breath, I saw that lumbering thing emerge from the window. It paused, crouched like a gargoyle on the roof tops. And then, it vanished like fog in the daylight.
When I returned to my room, I found everything in dissaray. Most notably, the beast had smashed open my trunk, splintering the top. The contents of the trunk were tossed everywhere, and bits of Charles’s manuscript were smashed onto the floor. All, however damaged, was accounted for. Except, the small green scroll.
This story is one I’m proud of in concept, and a degree execution. The original draft would have taken us into 6000 words, and that simply would have been too far over the goal. I intended to cut this down further, but ran out of time to edit, and only presenting on half of either story seemed unwise. So, another two parter.
Come back next week, for research into unseen ships at sea that reach into the sky.
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