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Outrunning the Storm

by
Michele Dutcher
Assisted

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Harris Tobias
Hold The Anchovies

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Harris Tobias
Lockdown

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Timothy O. Goyette

Transgression

by

John Henson Webb



a Lords of Misrule story

 

 

Servants awe children and keep them in subjection,

By telling them of Rawhead-and-Bloody Bones…

John Locke (1693)

 

 

Discourse with the Sidhe

 

Winter is the season for death.  All of nature is at its lowest ebb.

 

 Virgin snow drifted against the dark stones of the north wall of Peterborough Cathedral, settled over the living and the dead alike. Thomas English stood beyond the implied barrier of bright yellow incident tape, looking up at the intricate stonework on the square Norman tower, seemingly oblivious to the police activity down among the graves. His dead eye ached in the biting cold, the blind orb numb beneath the eyepatch.  Plainclothed officers made subdued conservation with coveralled attendants from the Coroner's Office, as they waited patiently for SOC to release the body.

 

English scanned the monuments in the Cathedral grounds, keeping the police in his limited peripheral vision. He could sense nothing out of the ordinary; except the ghost of pain that lingered about the frozen, eviscerated body, half-buried in the snow and hidden beneath a blue plastic sheet.

 

Despite himself, English was getting used to it, this being the third such death in as many weeks. And he already knew what they would discover if Koto hacked into the police computer system; the coroner would record it as death through shock due to blood-loss, occasioned by massive trauma to the thoracic cavity. Weapon or weapons would remain unidentified, though signature marks might indicate some form of artificial animal claw. Internal organs would be missing.

 

Koto Kannon stirred at his elbow; she looked unusually concerned, her calm demeanour for once ruffled. ‘This is too blatant. Those who understand will start to question why.’

 

English rocked on his heels and turned away from the small group of bystanders clustered against the vibrant yellow tape. ‘It almost feels like they're issuing a challenge.’ He didn't speak again for nearly a minute, as they walked slowly across the cathedral precincts. ‘Which they can't hope to meet!’

 

English wondered what species of anarchy would break loose if the eldritch took openly to the streets. But they were a fading people, spiraling down toward extinction. Why would they risk a conflict, one that could only hasten their ultimate demise?

 

Through a covenant forged between the upstart race of man and the waning world of the aes sidhe, the eldritch kept to the darker passageways that industrial man had built then promptly forgotten. Every village, town and city had them, created by the piling of one society upon the ruin of the previous; iron over stone, nuclear over steam. Each generation built the world anew, and left gaps to catch the unwanted and the unwary.  It was in those man-made crevices that the other inhabitants of the world existed, those that mankind now failed to see because their very existence upset the status quo that society strove so very hard to maintain. In the Information Age no one believed in fairies or ghosts or demons. English pursed his lips. Well maybe they ought to, before terminal complacency set in.

 

By agreement they met on neutral ground, a crypt beneath St John the Baptist's with access to the Victorian sewers that ran in a grid under Cathedral Square; halfway between the darkness and the light.

 

When the rituals were finished the eldritch tore away his human guise, to regard the human male and the female through large, blood-red eyes, set deep in moon-pale skin. English had long-since ceased to react to the inhuman beauty of the older races. Kannon's thoughts remained hidden behind the calm exterior she habitually displayed.

 

Thin, bloodless lips parted across ivory-razor teeth as the eldritch spoke.

 

“Rawhead is loose upon your world.  It has a taste for hearts and stomachs.” The sidhe looked almost abashed, slanted eyes downcast. ‘We have tried calling, but it refuses to listen. Your world is so much more attractive than our own.’

 

Thrust deep into the pockets of his greatcoat, English' hands balled into white-knuckled fists. “Why here? Why not some bigger city?”

 

“Rawhead sees only warm bodies; the surroundings are irrelevant. It followed a path to here. Do not think of it as a person, for Rawhead is a nightmare made manifest, the physical reality of a story to frighten children.”

 

Melancholy resonated in the musical voice of the fey. “We are alike you and I, for we both seek to prevent the slow disintegration of a world we cherish. Please do not think too harshly of Rawhead, for it is the offspring of a dying world and decay is in its nature.”

 

Recognizing the truth in the eldritch's words English shrugged his shoulders. “Humans are conditioned to operate on physical reality.  We lose touch with dreams when our childhood ends.”

 

The eldritch saw the phantom of sadness that momentarily clouded English's face; then the man regained his composure. “So how do we kill it?”

 

“You can’t”.

 

Covenant

 

A chill Easterly wind swept across the Great Fen, stirring the brown skeletons of reeds, whispering through bare branches. It cavorted over the rooftops of Sutton-in-the-Isle and sought for gaps under doors and around ill-fitting windows. Chimneys moaned with the cold.

 

Despite sitting within the confines of the small fenland village, the medieval church of St Andrew held itself aloof from its surroundings. Its grey dressed stones leached the colour from a clouded grey sky. About its walls lay the quiet reserve of a graveyard. Two visitors arrived to disturb the peace.

 

A crow hopped sideways upon its perch of a lichen-stained, pale marble headstone.  Beak aimed at the brooding sky, one dark eye contemplated the man standing at the foot of the grave.  Ruffling its feathers and settling its wings the black bird cawed harshly at Thomas English.  English stood quietly, hands in the pockets of his checkered coat, waiting for the bird to tire of its game.  It didn't take long; spirits of nature were notoriously impatient.

 

“What?  What?” asked a harsh croaking.

 

English withdrew a hand and pitched an azure glass bead onto the snow beside the flecked stone monument.  The crow studied the gift; dropped to the cold ground to peer closely at the smooth blue pebble.  Then it turned its attention back to the man.

 

“One?  One!  Want two! Want two!”

 

“And I want information.”

 

The bird gave voice to a petulant caw, English remained quiet, each breath steaming; even the simplest game had rules.

 

With a clatter the crow snatched up the offering, hauled itself into the chill air and flapped away toward St Andrew's.  It circled the old tower before alighting upon one of the crenulations ringing the roof.  English accepted the invitation and entered the church, sparing a glance for Koto Kannon, where she stood outside the lich gate, arms folded, leaning against her bright, blue motorcycle.  She raised her chin in acknowledgement.

 

A tight and uneven stone spiral deposited English onto the parapet at the top of the square, two-tier bell-tower.  Feet crunching upon undisturbed snow he crossed to where the bird waited, facing out toward Winter-shrouded fens.

 

Bobbing its entire body the crow cawed and croaked, the harsh calls echoing about the church.  Then it faced English.

 

“One bauble, one question!”

 

English rested his elbows within an embrasure, addressing the bird-shape without looking at it.

 

“Where is Rawhead?”

 

Ruffling its feathers the bird hopped sideways, its head mere inches from English's shoulder.  “Rawhead, bloodybones, rawbones, heart-eater.  Rawhead walks in the world of man.  Bloodybones likes the taste of men.  Rawhead is asleep where the dark is always black.” The bird ruffled its ebon feathers.  “Look in the darkness.”

 

It wasn't much of an answer, but then nature spirits weren't as concerned with detail as were the sons of Eve.  English withdrew his left hand from a deep coat pocket and held it open before the crow.  The spirit remained silent as it studied the diamond thus displayed.

 


“I want a straight answer; no riddles!”

 

So the crow told English where to look and plucked a long black feather to guide him there.

 

Shades of the Past

 

 At night, if you look with educated eyes, other streets and alleys appear among those trod by day.  They twist and fold between the day-lit thoroughfares, existing in gaps between the fabric of modern civilisation.

 

On Church Street, opposite the tired stones of St John the Baptist, between a bakery and a building society there runs a partially covered alley that leads to a private car park.  Where the alley emerges beneath a starlit sky there is a seam in the brickwork where two walls of differing ages meet.  Office workers and tourists sense nothing unusual in the alley except, perhaps, a cold draft that seems to come from nowhere.  Even with only one eye English saw more.  But then he always had.

 

Stroking the crow feather against weather-worn brick English waited for the shrouding unreality to cease.  Soundlessly the seam widened, the bricks rearranging themselves into the mouth of an even darker, narrow snicket; their precise movements causing small vortices of snowflakes in the disturbed air.  The thin walk thus created led to a snow-covered, cobbled courtyard trapped between high Victorian dwellings.  Faint illumination flickered behind a few leaded windows, just visible through the descending snowflakes.  In the yard stood an ornate water pump feeding an ice-bound, gargoyle-carved stone trough.

 

English halted beside the trough, looking around at the buildings. Part of him marveled at the architecture; part of him awaited the coming confrontation.  Kannon prowled the cobbled space, her delicate footprints etching knotwork in the covering of snow.

 

The majority of people survive day-to-day through their mistaken belief that the world is as it seems; that all threats are mundane, all fears can be rationalised.  English stood in uncertain territory, between the real and the possible.  That put him in harm's way.

 

Tilting back his head, English shouted into the night sky.

 

“Rawhead!  A son of Eve craves your attention!”

 

As the cry echoed within the confines of the yard a few more windows darkened.  English waited, white flakes settling about him, letting his single eye wander across all the dark spaces that gathered about the courtyard.

 

A gust of wind drew the falling snow into a spiral, snatched at the hem of English's coat.  The last of the lit windows grew dark.  Kannon became invisible in the angle of a shadowed corner.

               

It began as an exhalation, built to a moan, ended as a deep, reverberating roar.  The sound pulled a monster in its wake.  As the roar died Rawhead was painted as a vacuum within the field of falling snow, a hunched darkness trailing long claws, hooves thudding on the white carpet.  The muzzle opened, tusks parted before a snakeskin tongue; Rawhead tasted the air, turned toward English.

 

English faced a monster dressed of rags, a pitiful collection of detritus; a matted tangle of horse-hair and sheep's wool; flint flakes from a thousand cobbled street; rusty nails mislaid by generations of carpenters; scraps of willow discarded by thatchers and weavers; splinters of oak from the birth of an Elizabethan warship. But from the scraps and tatters Rawhead stood forth, so much more than the sum of his mismatched parts, sewn together by the power of innumerable sleepless nights. The embers of a blacksmith's forge burned in place of eyes.

 

Curved talons of fragmented stone opened and closed to an unheard rhythm. The monster advanced upon English, who stood his ground, willed the trembling from his limbs; Rawhead carried a perpetual coldness which frosted all it touched. Despite its bulk, the creature left no trace of its passage, its hooves not once disturbing the white blanket they moved upon.

 

Awaiting his moment, English raised his right hand, and a small silver mirror entwined with pure silver thread. He held the mirror as if it were a miniature shield, trying for an angle on which to catch Rawhead’s reflection. The creature lashed out, stone talons reaching. Avoiding the blow English stumbled, his booted feet sliding upon the hidden cobbles. Both hands out to brace his fall he smashed the mirror against the iron pump handle.

 

Rawhead surged forward, saliva-flecked jaws open, teeth shining in the moonlight. English scrambled to keep the trough between himself and the monster, cold fingers plucking at slivers of glass embedded in the palm of his hand. From her hidden vantage Kannon made a decision, threw an unadorned dagger at Rawhead.

 

Concentrating hard on the throw, her skin glowing milk-white beneath the revealing moon, she aimed at one of the creature’s oak-beam legs. She had to refrain from dispelling him, he'd only return under the next moon, but she had to slow his pursuit of English. Her aim was true; the blade struck the monster in the thigh and bit deep. Rawhead growled, his pace slowed the merest fraction, but it afforded English the time to circle the trough and retrieve the largest remaining fragment of mirror.

 

Glancing between the mirrored glass and Rawhead’s limping form, English retwined the silver thread, the complex pattern made more difficult by the fragment’s irregular shape. Once his preparations were complete English halted, stood his ground, let the monster advance.

 

Drawn by the sounds of a heartbeat and blood surging through veins, Rawhead stopped before English, mouth open, tongue questing past curled tusks, claws raised. English thrust the mirror before the creature's face, a shiver of pale light ran along the broken edge. Rawhead glanced at the distraction, caught a glimpse of itself in the smooth surface; just the merest glimpse, but that was enough. Claws reaching for English's throat, Rawhead froze in place. The spark of the forge died in his eyes; the darkness reasserted itself, Rawhead became nothing but his own reflection, trapped within the shine of the mirror.

 

Carefully, following the crows' directions, English wrapped an embroidered blue cloth around the fragment of mirror, before tying more silver thread about it in yet another complex pattern.

 

Kannon watched until English had finished his work. She strode across the snow and looked scornfully at the small blue bundle. Then she took English's blood spattered hand in her own and began ministering to his wounds.

 

The sound of the cathedral bell echoed across the rooftops of Peterborough, but all was silent in the crypt beneath St John's.

Standing before a troop of eldritch English pulled the wrapped package from a pocket. He stepped forward and offered it to the seelie elder. The sidhe received the tainted gift, cradling the blue-wreathed fragment in its pale hands. A gusted breath and it looked into English's single eye.

 

“My people and our past thank you.”

 

When the aes sidhe had filed from the dark room English returned to the surface and the faint promise of dawn. He buttoned his coat to the collar against the cold, pulled its hood over his head. Kannon watched as he left the church, then walked up to him and put her arm through his.

 

Snow crunching beneath their booted feet, Kannon steered English toward the promise of a warm breakfast.

 

 

© Iain Henson 2012

 

 


Read more stories by this author



2012-11-18 17:48:02
rinachambevicto -

2012-11-15 09:31:20
reslerdonn -

2012-11-10 06:41:24
micheledutcher - I really enjoyed this story because of its straight ahead 'here's a tale of suspense'. There's something that goes bump in the night, and the main character has to get it before it gets him. Loved the setting, and the last sentence. Good job!

2012-11-03 02:12:53
tkindtretta -




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