This Week’s Prompt:55. Man followed by invisible thing.
The Relevant Research:The Little People In Life
The two men squatted in the bushes across the old house in the woods. For the last ten years, it had been assumed that no one lived in the woods, and that this house had long been abandoned.
“Alright, so review. Old man’s on the second floor, behind the blue door. You run up there and…deal with him, in case he tries to get something on either of us. Vergil said, flick the sack open for the third time. Only one sort of person lived this far from the world, in derlict houses.
“Then I put everything that looks vaguely valuable in the sack. You get his books from his room, and any of the weird stuff he has up there. We make a break for it, and if anyone asks, he broke your kids leg.”
“I thought the fall did that.”
“Then he caused your kid to fall. Look, witches are strange like that.”
“Aren’t women witches?”
“Remember Godfrey? He was a witch, stole all that cattle and got so big.”
“Okay. So I kill-”
“Deal with the old man and steal all his magic stuff. Why do I wanna do that?”
“So we can give it to the church to get rid. You know. In case he’s bound some stuff in the pages. Don’t wanna burn it all and make things worse, letting loose Lord knows what, right?” Vergil said. Of course, Dominic would forget all about it when they got back with the loot. Vergil could get to work getting himself some of the old man’s magic, and all that came with that.
The two men rushed quietly from the bushes. The front door of the building was locked, but it was an old wooden door and Dominic had a hatchet. Cutting open the front,they were able to get in and get to work. Vergil busied himself with tossing silver into the bag—there was a lot, Vergil noted, probably to facilate his witch craft—as well as a number of knives and carved wooden plates. He examined a well made drinking horn when he heard thrashing from up stairs. Vergil sighed, looking around for anything more valuable before seeing an iron glint near the fireplace.
A spear was held across a shield with carefully scrawled runes along its edge. Something from the old country. Something mighty from the old country. Vergil decided that this was also his and no way in hell was Dominic to know of it. He dropped his bag and took the spear down carefully, before running out the door and jamming it beneath some old and bending roots. All the better, he thought, to come back to later. Judging from the noise, Dominic still had some work to do.
The two had no difficulty removing the rest, and Dominic didn’t bother asking about the books when Vergil gave him some silver. No, all was well. That night, Vergil hid all his plunder beneath his bed and wasted the night away doing his best to make sense of the books letters and pictures. All seemed well.
In the midst of the night, Vergil’s breath left him. He awoke, cold and transfixed, gasping for air. Around him the room seemed to swell and deflate, his lungs taken out of his chest and made into the entire house. Footsteps ran across his stomach, like a herd of cats waiting, clawing and prodding him as he was trapped and struggling. Eventually, he collapsed back, into a dreamless sleep.
When he awoke, he found his limbs ached in every which way. Vergil pulled himself up from his bed, his knees no longer obeying him entirely. He pulled himself along the ground as a seal, blood painfully returning to his still waking legs. At last, he managed to grab a walking stick, and struggle to his feet. Taking a deep breath, he pushed himself along the road. The morning mists were still on the ground, hiding the occasionally loose stone that scrapped his hands when he fell.
Vergil had already concluded he was cursed.
With stings in his side, hungry and tired, he arrived at Dominic’s home. Best to see if both theives had been struck down, Vergil reckoned. He rapt on the door with his staff, supporting himself with the wall. Dominic opened the door, coughing slightly, his skin a slightly sickly green.
“Okay, so, maybe he was actually a witch.” Vergil said, with a pained smile. Dominic grimaced and nodded.
“So now what? We go to the priest?” Dominic asked, the door still in hand.
“What, and confess? No. No, we just…ah!” Vergil said, snapping his fingers together. “I know! We must have forgotten to bury him. Right, of course. He’s restless, that’s all. We bury him, read some scripture over him, and there you go.”
“Right, but don’t we need a priest for last rites?” Dominic asked, scratching his chin.
“What’s with you and getting clergy involved?” Vergil muttered.
“What is it with you and avoiding them?” Dominic asked, looking towards the church and giving Vergil a sidelong glance.
Vergil eventually relented. The two went and fetched Father Lionel, and explained that they had come across a deceased old man in the woods. Neither made much mention of sickness, and Vergil did his best to hide the pains in his joints. The priest was shocked such a grizzly robbery could occur, and agreed to come and help in the burial of the poor dead man.
The old man hadn’t moved from his bed. Vergil was almost dissapointed. By now, use of his legs had returned to him in no small measure, and he was able to assit dominic in wrapping the body in his bloody sheet. The makeshift cloth coffin was carried down the stairs, to the aghast priest. The priest, of course, agreed to bury the man here, nearer to home. The church cemetary was nearly full in those days, as Vergil and Dominic well knew.
The three of them then stood round the empty plot. Dominic and Vergil slowly lowered the body into the ground as the priest read the rites allowed. Just as the body settled, before the dirt was shoveled in, Vergil’s grip on his staff was pricked with thorns. Letting out a yelp, he stumbled into the grave, onto the dead man’s rotting form. Vergil struggled to pull himself back out, scrambling backwards out of the grave and pushing himself back up with his stick, out of breath and sweating in pain.
The priest assumed it was the face of mortality that drove Vergil to gnashing and cursing on the ground in pain. He was, in a fashion, correct.
Vergil and Dominic slumped back to their haunts, and there decided to share bread. The burial of the old man had exhausted both of them, and in his misery Vergil had forgotten to eat in the morning. Dominic let Vergil rest as he acquired the bread and broke it between them. Vergil, near starving, ripped half his portion off with one bite, before turning and spitting it up.
“What the hell?” Vergil said, staring at the chunks of what for a moment looked like rat, before realizing it he was mold spread over the entirety of his meal. Dominic’s eyes widened as the mold spread over the bread in Vergil’s hand, and the smell of decay filled the air.
“I…I don’t think it was the ghost.” Dominic said slowly.
“Course it was! We just…the priest missed something.” Vergil said, rubbing his temple and trying to ignore the pleading in his stomach. “Beat you he wasn’t holy enough anyway. I’ll sort it out tonight, find something in the stuff we stole, and then this will be done with.”
“You’ll starve.” Dominic said gravely.
“I’ll go hungry a day to get a ghost off my back. Whatever that old man did, I’m sure he wrote down a cure or some such. After all, what’s the point of curses if they don’t have a cure?”
“Cursing folks.” Dominic said, frowning.
“That’s half it. Any good or smart wizard knows you curse people to get what you want. Then, you get’em to pay you to fix it. It’s like that priest down in south France. He’ll curse a family for you for a soverign. And if the family want’s to get cured, he’ll fix it for twice that much. If you pay thrice, he’ll never curse you in the first place.”
“What if they just wanna kill you?” Dominic said, scracthing his chin.
“We got axes and swords and poison for that. No need to wait till your beyond the grave for that.” Vergil said, pulling himself up and limping down the road.
The day seemed darker then before. His shadow ran long infront of him, the sun dimly red to his back. Vergil heard every sound now, his sickness having sharpened his ears at the cost of all else. The wind rustling between the leafs and branches held conspiracies and laughter. The creek giggled at his expense. Distant travlers and townsfolk sounded like a crowd all around him, and the birds whistled in horrible tones as he passed. Squirrels scurried up the trees, their tails flat and teeth bared. How rarely, Vergil noted, had he considered the close kinship between rats and squirrels until that long walk home. At last, beneath the wooden ribcage of the forest, he arrived at his home and set about sorting through the magician’s things.
He noted the spear as a cause at once. Such a fortunate and fine looking tool, a ghost might be jealous of it. The latin letters glimmered as he continued to dig. The books as well, but he was slow to part with those. Then there was the old horn. That might be the cause as well. Some spell worked on it, although a horn being the cause of his agony seemed less likely then a spear.
Gathering these around him, Vergil now wondered how to go about speaking with the dead man, or appeasing him. The strange thought occurred to him, to go out to the new grave. Yes, to the new grave. There, he could leave these, and get on with his life. The ghost would take them or not, and all would be well.
So, with spear and book and bent back, Vergil went walking into the woods at night. The moon was high, and if it weren’t for his coughing and clean shaven chin, a strange might have thought that in the woods walked Wotan, returned from his grave work. In the silence of night, puncuated by the hacking of his illness, Vergil at last came to the freshly turned grave and slumped down, to rest from the walk. The sickness had sapped his mind and body of it’s cohesion, such that his spirit would wander off at the slightest touch. Looking at the starry heavens, Vergil decided to rest.
He awoke, held in place by a hundred thousand pins and needles. He tried to scream in pain, but his mouth was sewn shut as well. Above the stars seemed to draw closer. But gone was their luster. Now they became shimmering eyes full of malace, glittering fangs stretching out in hunger. The array swirled around him, a sea that engulfed him and tore at his skin and muscle. Frozen and screaming, Vergil saw himself die.
Dominic found Vergil’s remains the next day in the woods. Neither horn nor spear nor book had been moved from his frost covered corpse, which defied the July sun. Not a thing out of place. Dominic rushed to Vergil’s house, convinced that the spirit had found what it wanted. And there, a great tree had been felled onto the house.
Inside the crushed remains of Vergil’s hovel, was the overturned bag. It did not take long for Dominic to notice what was missing. All the silver was there, neatly stacked despite the chaos around it. All that was missing were the knives.
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