Hey all. Well, Dark Shadow is out to the publishers, we’ll see what they say. I’ve been working on another project too, but its not ready for show and tell just yet. Anywho, here’s something to pass the time, as it were. Enjoy!
Green grass churned under the hooves of the galloping stallions. One black, one brown, both challenged by their riders to race across the rolling hills of Southlorn. The foam at their mouths and desperate pants from their lungs told how hard and how far they’d run.
At the crest of a hill that seemed taller than most, the older of two young men called a halt to their furious ride.
“You’d think we would have found her by now.”
Younger by only a day, Degra scanned the green and grey horizon.
“If she’s out here. I still have my doubts.”
“They why didn’t she come back?”
“Could be any number of reasons. Got lost, got hurt. Killed? If he were that worried, Lord Dyron would’ve sent someone to look for her.”
“Except these aren’t Dyron’s lands. Not yet, anyway. The Duke would throw a fit if he caught Lord Dyron’s men out here. But us, we’re just a couple of, shall we say, lost kids.”
Degra, looked out again to the far distance where the green hills met the grey sky.
“Meandra can take care of herself, Jimn. A lot better than the two of us. Look, we’ve been out here all day and it’ll take us into tonight to get back. We didn’t find her, and that’s it. Let’s just go before we get in even worse trouble.”
Jimn sat silently astride his black stallion, searching the distance. Degra was about to reiterate the urgency of their return when Jimn cut him off.
“Something doesn’t look right.”
Degra followed Jimn’s outstretched arm and finger, pointing due south.
“There. Keep looking south. Something’s not right.”
Degra had already seen the south and it all looked completely normal. But when Jimn got his head into something, the quickest way to get it out again was to just do whatever it was he wanted, and then when it failed he would at last relent to logic.
The hills and sky looked much as they had the previous minute.
Degra had to admit though, to himself if not to his long-standing friend, that his curiosity was aroused. It was something about the way Jimn spoke; more strained than usual, more urgent, perhaps? Whatever it was, it kept Degra’s eyes pointed in the same direction as his friend. Until he too suddenly found something, something not quite, right.
Way out, three hills distant at least, the air seemed to shimmer. It was like those hot, hot days of summer in their youth when they’d run through someone’s barren field. The dirt was burning so badly they could feel the heat through the leather in their boots. On those days, the very air above the ground would distort, waving to them like a beacon. Over here it’s cooler, it would seem to say. Of course, it never was.
The air in the distance seemed to wave to them now, and though it was indeed a warm day, it was nothing like those hot summers.
“Yea, I think I do see something.”
“We have to check that out.” And Jimn was gone before Degra could even begin to protest, much less offer the logical explanation he had begun forming.
Jimn rode his stallion hard; the evening sun was falling lower and lower.
Degra gave up any hope of returning to town that night. Oh, the punishment they were going to receive when they did come back. Damn it Jimn.
Dusk was threatening to fall when the pair finally reached the hill where they thought they’d seen the shimmering in the distance. But the air was no longer waving like the heat waves of old summers, either here or off in the distance.
They no longer saw anything wrong, but they felt it. Like the terror that had washed over them when they went near the old Connor house as ten-year-old boys. But there was no ghost in the window this time, no nightmares after the fact for days on end. This was sheer panic for seemingly no reason at all.
“Okay nothing’s out here, you satisfied?”
Jimn sat still on his mount, studying the rolling plain before him. Degra prodded again, fear growing inside him. Couldn’t Jimn feel this too?
“Can we go now?”
In answer, Jimn slid down off his mount, walking slowly, deliberately, his eyes locked on, something. Degra sighed in exasperation.
“We’re going to be so late. C’mon Jimn. Look, I’m going to back without you if you don’t…”
Degra’s words fell limp from his lips, his voice trailing off in utter, dreadful surprise. Now he couldn’t speak, he couldn’t move. His eyes were locked open. What he’d just seen with them confirmed his deep dread, and rose it a hundredfold. Jimn had just, disappeared.
What am I supposed to do now? I can’t go over there, what if that happens to me? Oh, why couldn’t we just go home when I wanted?
Degra wanted to turn and run, knew he probably should. But nineteen years creates a great deal of loyalty, and Degra knew he’d never forgive himself if he left Jimn here with no idea what happened.
It took his most determination to simply dismount, and every step forward seemed weighted with heavy stones. It almost seemed as though someone or something were trying to push him back, keep him away. It occurred to him that Jimn had been walking much the same way, though he’d been too preoccupied with leaving to give that much consideration at the moment. He thought about now, though.
He stood near where Jimn had disappeared, looking, listening. Nothing.
“Jimn?” Degra called out, and again. No answer.
Degra scanned the horizon. Though the shimmering was gone, the scene simply looked wrong. Like he were staring at an extremely detailed painting, almost like real-life, but not quite.
With no answer yet, and his courage beginning to wane considerably, Degra took that next step forward.
And the world went dark.
It was like the sun sank in an instant. He was still standing on the hill, but it was now a moonless night. All around him, the darkness was everywhere.
Jimn, at least, was alright. Just a few steps away, he was standing upright, still looking forward. Relief escaped Degra’s lips and soul, if only for a moment.
As he stepped forward to take his friend’s attention, Degra looked up into the new horizon. Now he knew why Jimn was standing still, looking out across the hills that were now black with ash and burst grass. Now he knew why Meandra, one of Lord Dyron’s best and most loyal fighters, hadn’t returned from these lands. And he knew it was now quite likely he and Jimn wouldn’t be back either.
In the distance, in a valley that was carved out the hillside, stood a solid black castle. Tall, round towers stood at the corners, rising high into the night, black shadows against a darkened sky. Wicked battlements rose a hundred feet into the air. A tall, imposing structure arose from within the black walls, rising twice as high as the towers around it. Pointed stones jabbed at the night from its heights.
Most impressive of all was the absence of masonry. Degra knew a little about stonework, and the subtle lines made when one block was stacked upon another. There were none of those here. It was as though the entire structure were carved out of one massive block of black granite.
And the castle was not empty. Dark shapes prowled the tops of the walls. Degra could almost feel dark eyes watching him from dim lights twinkling in the dark stone towers.
Degra wanted to run, needed to run. He had to grab Jimn, and run for their lives. It was the only thought in his mind.
But their feet wouldn’t move. Their legs were held stock still by a terror that froze them solid, from the tips of their nose to the marrow of their bones. And their eyes were locked on the black citadel at the bottom of a burned and broken hill.
At last, after a forever of fear, Degra tore his gaze away and moved close enough to grab the shoulder of his oldest and dearest friend.
“Jimn, we have to get out of here. Jimn!”
The young man, older by a day, stood rooted in place. Slowly his head turned. Jimn’s eyes were wide in terror, reminding Degra of their journey to a real, live haunted house. This look though, was ten times worse. Jimn’s face was a shade of pale Degra had never seen before. That look alone again held Degra still for a moment. When he again tore himself from the grip of terror, Degra repeated his plea, with no response from his friend.
Suddenly Degra’s legs came out from under him, as though his very strength had been sapped away. Degra fell to his knees, and had to fight to stay upright at all.
Jimn fell to his knees as well, then went all the way down, face first into the blackened earth. Degra tried to get up, but his legs refused to budge.
Then he heard them, footsteps of doom. One, then many; metallic, booted feet coming nearer. Degra tried to turn his head, force it around to see who or what was about to bring his end, their end. It would not move.
The steps were near now, whoever it was would see them clearly. Degra wanted to see them, but his body would no longer respond to his commands. As the last of his strength left him, and his own body followed Jimn’s onto the black dirt, Degra thought he heard a deep, almost metallic voice. But he was never sure. He was never sure of anything after that, ever.
See you in the Future,
J S Eaton