This Week’s Prompt: 71. Man has sold his soul to devil—returns to family from trip—life afterward—fear—culminating horror—novel length.
The Prior Research:Dealing With The Devil
I was on the porch, watching and waiting for Rinaldo’s return. My elder by a few years, he had gone to Germany to learn his letters and then to Russia following a scholar of theology and her child-sciences. I had feared I’d only see him again by chasing after him into the wilds, an idea I wasn’t necessarily opposed to. I was understandably delighted with mother and father when we received the message that he was coming home.
Our village was small—only the priest knew letters and numbers well. Rinaldo had managed to go abroad only after living in town for months and working himself to the bone while learning. They seemed magical, the scraps of paper and marks of the quill that transformed our misty covered home. With one hand they took, the other hand they gave, marking the words of the King and God as they went.
When Rinaldo broke the morning mist His sallow skin and bagged eyes gave that away as he walked down the path to our farm. My good brothers back was bent some, as if a rock bent him over. He came back wearing a fine red cap and dull cloak, a bag of belongings in his hand as and a iridescent feather sticking from his brow. Not waiting for him to get close, I rushed down to hug him close.
There was a pause on impact—a moment of uncertainty. That was to be expected—my brother had been slow even as a child, and no doubt exhaustion had made him slower. What I did not expect was for him to remain stiff as a board before resting a hand on my head and pushing me back.
“Off.” He said, his voice with none of the playful teasing I’d expected. When I took a moment to move, startled by his demeanor, he growled and pulled me back by the hair. “I said off.”
I stared as he continued down the path to our parents, who looked on a bit confused. They told me when I came in not to worry much on it. Rinaldo had been away for a long time, and was no doubt quite tired—travel and exhaustion change people, and no doubt after a good meal and rest Rinaldo would be back.
He stayed in his room for most of dinner—when at last he descended, he didn’t speak a word and took his plate with him to his study. My parents comforted themselves—exhaustion might have eaten at him, or perhaps he was in no mood for conversation. His absence at grace was troubling too. He had been a very prayerful person before his departure. Very talkative as well.
The next day, I went out as always to gather flowers on the hill before helping in the field to cheer him up. I was certain that would cheer him up—buttercups were an excellent cure for almost anything. It was almost harvest time, and mother and father needed all hands to keep the rodents away. When I ran up the field, I felt something crawl on my back. I turned around, and saw a single eye staring from Rinaldo’s room, barely illuminated in the twilight. It was uneasy, that eye—it seemed to clear and large to be Rinaldo’s, but it had some semblance. My body trembled and I felt as if my courage was shaken from me like dust from a cloth. Whatever the strange look from his room was, I had lost all desire to go near my home for the day. Maybe I’d stray into the fields, but the house gave off an unwelcome air.
Instead, I gathered my flowers and stayed in the field, watching the roads and waiting for the harvesting to start. I gathered a variety of flowers—buttercups, dandelions, all sorts of bright yellow flowers. I made my way towards town, away from my house. Dealing with Rinaldo, in his poor state, was beyond me this early in the morning. It was on the road that I saw her.
Lady DeFronte…I had known her as a highly respectable woman of the town. Dressed in her finery, she was walking alone the other way, all in green and red, with a strange look on her face. She barely noticed when I called out to her and waved—at first I took this to be the airs of a well off woman, who were wont to ignore children. But as she drew close, I saw a serene smile on her face, her eyes fixed ahead.
“Oh, Rinaldo’s younger. Is he returned yet?” She said when I got close enough to wave more pressingly.
“He came back yesterday. But he’s in a sour mood for now, I wouldn’t bother seeing him.”
“Oh, well, I will see what I can do about that.” She said her eyes fixed at some point past me, still smiling. She walked off before I could reply. I watched her walk off, her gait a bit stilted and strange.
I continued down the road to town, and saw a young bakers wife coming up the road with the morning’s bread. She had that same peaceful serene look, and waved passively back as I went along my way. I tried to warn her too about Rinaldo’s temper and mood, but she ignored me and carried on with her walk.
In town, nothing seemed amiss. I had meant to stop at the bakers to get bread, but that seemed pointless now. So instead I went about looking for a present or trinket for Rinaldo—something that might help anchor him back home. I looked around the market a bit, for some little thing, when a bit of movement caught my eye. I hadn’t seen the culprit clearly, but the size of the shape convinced me a stray cat had slipped down a corner. Forgetting my prior quest, I chased after the shape, and caught sight of it more clearly when it stood perched in the window sill.
It was like a rat in shape, the same thin hairless tail. But it was the size of a cat, with hands like a monkey. Its head, which appeared like a man, was tilted down to better fix its goat eyes upon me.It stared at me intently, and I felt that same disdain as at my home—a mixture of revulsion and fear that held me in place and nudged me back. It bared it’s mouth open at me, showing snake’s fangs along side a host of others, and made a low hissing noise when I tentatively took a step forward.
And then it was gone, into the house on which it was perched. I stared at the space it had left behind, before retreating. I lingered around town a bit more, visiting the smith’s son and the carpenter’s children. But even as we played in the streets, tossing stones, fighting with sticks, and other games, I felt that unease. That pair of eyes lurking on roofs or behind doors, staring hatefully. Animals do not look like that.
Eventually, I decided to head home. I knew mother and father would be cross by now, but I hoped I could explain it away. On the way back, I felt a sigh of relief. The road was free of the strange eyes that shown. Night was coming soon, but that merely painted the sky red instead as the stars began to shine. I had discarded my old flowers—most had wilted by now, except one I kept behind my ear. It was sturdy and fresh, until the house came into sight. I felt it wilt into a sickly shape as I stepped onto the door and slipped inside.
The house was dark. And almost silent, save strange scrapping and settling sounds. My courage again fled, as I crossed the threshold. Turning into the kitchen, I saw mother and father seated in their chairs, eating quietly—but the thing on the table was a fowl I’d never seen before. It was colored wrong—almost bronze and with flesh that smelled slightly.
Fearful of punishment and of the strange meal, I slowly walked to the table. Neither greeted me when I sat down. I reached out slowly to cut a piece of the strange meat, but felt an smack on hand. I recoiled and glanced around. Neither of my parents had moved. I tried again, more cautiously this time, but the pain on my hand returned. Terrified now at the invisible force, I pushed back and left the table.
My parents didn’t say a word.
It didn’t matter where I went in the house—there was that feeling in the air of something rotten and wrong. My heart raced, and my brain filled with terrors that refused to take on a good shape—that something lurked just out of sight, or beneath the chairs and floorboards. The roof of the attic shook, and I heard moans and the scraping of furniture on the floor above me.
I decided to flee then and there. Even as young as I was, I knew something unholy resided in our house—and looking out the window it wasn’t hard to find. Our crops, our harvest, had been carved strangely. A may pole had been driven into the field, with ribbons running down. Letters ran along the ribbons, which at the end had a pack of strange creatures, visible only slightly by the moonlight. Around and around they went, carving strange rings and spirals into the ground. I felt the strange pressure in my brain, as if the pole were working its way through my skull, carving into my thoughts with a deadening nail. It was not a pain like a slap or a sore, but an ache, like a bruise that was pressed insistently. I saw other figures in the field, drawing closer—a knight clad in red, with a winged shape on his shield, in the distance of the field, with a woman dressed in purple on the back of his monstrous horse. I knew, somewhere in my soul, if I stayed much longer, the pole would fix me in this place.
So I slipped away into the night, back to the road. I knew of one man who knew letters besides Rinaldo, and might know the cause at our home. The priest found me pounding on the chapel door.
“Child, what has you out at this hour?” Father Tabris asked, staring at me.
“Something’s wrong with my brother.” I said, staring up with wide eyes. “He’s…something’s wrong since he’s come home.”
“…come inside, I’ll put some tea on.” Father Tabris said, nodding.
I will give the good Father this—he was very patient with a girl that no doubt seemed mad at first. I hadn’t the forethought to bring proof with me. I had seen the strange goings on by night, and what could I have gathered? The strange rat? A bloody parchment with my brother and the devil’s signature? The poultry? They all repulsed me, and at least one would bite me. Still the Father took it all into consideration. At first I thought it was humor, but I saw in his eyes that something simalir was ruminating.
“I had…concerns about your brother’s arrival. I found a dead cat in the sanctuary, dragged to the altar—and stained on the floor were small hand prints, like it was taken by a violent child or dwarf.” Father Tabris said, looking at his tea. “It wasn’t long before I went and found the creature responsible—at a glance I thought it was a particularly large rat. I drove it off with a stone—or so I thought.”
“Do you know what’s happened with my brother?” I asked. Father Tabris seemed unable to hear, continuing on.
“It was strange, too, that your brother came so soon. I remember, his letter, it seemed so calm in handwriting for a boy coming home to his family. I took it as discipline well exercised—that he had maintained such a hand only after years of penmanship. But perhaps that was another missed warning. Perhaps, I should have seen those shapes in the morning mist—small, mayhaps, but fateful in the end.” Father Tabris said, looking at his silver cross, running his fingers on it.
“Do you know what–”
“Yes, I know what happened to your brother.” Father Trabis said, standing and going to his desk, rifling through his papers. “He has made, I fear, arrangements with a power I cannot compel. Exorcism, sadly, was not much of my teaching. But I am aware of some folk that still lurk abroad…”
“Abroad…Not far, but away. I had intended to leave this night alone, but if you too haven’t fallen under his spell—it is best we go together, there is safety in numbers at night and along on the road.”
“Wait, we can’t—leave now? Your a priest!” I said dropping my tea, the clay cracking and the tea running over the floor.
“I am, yes.” Father Trabis said nodding.
“Priests defend their flock from wolves!” I protested.
“Yes, shepherds fend off wolves. But we are not dealing with wolves. We are dealing with bandits in the night—and for that we need a different man of God.” The priest said, shaking his head. “I will not make you come—but your brother’s depredations will only grow.”
We left that night. I hope to return soon.
I am…not happy with this story. I had planned it to be longer (the third act is missing, and the first act/section goes too fast for my liking). It’s a shame that I spent a lot of these last few weeks moving and getting used to a new place–I really think the basic concept here could be a great horror story. Aw well, I suppose that’s for the Patreon next year. Speaking of…
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