This Week’s Prompt: 58. A queer village—in a valley, reached by a long road and visible from the crest of the hill from which that road descends—or close to a dense and antique forest.
In the days leading up to incident of September 1st, 1859, there were a number of sightings around the world. Spiritualists and visionaries recorded, perhaps in retrospect, the warnings and signals from the sky. Perhaps one of the most enduring of these, for those who have delved into the tales around the event itself, is that of Joesph Cormac.
Joesph Cormac’s regular travel, as accounts of the incident all make clear, ran from his workplace down an old road and along the Svern river bank. The road is famed for it’s demonic owner, who rides in the dead of night to steal away sinners. Further, the woods that surround it like skin on a serpent are known for there flickering lights that lure men into the hands of ghostly robbers. Others have been swept up onto mountain tops by the whispers of unseen maidens.
But Cormac had a peculiar banality to his life. While few report such things without a good deal of prodding, Cormac only revealed further layers of dead normality. Even those who regularly saw the fae denizens of the world invisible said that the world seemed to loose it’s fog around Cormac. That lines were crisper, nights brighter. Cormac himself attributed this to his simpleness, having spent much time observing things as they were, not as he would have them be. It was, he said, from working with stone so much. It left little room for the bizarre, if one only focused on the geometry and carvings of rocks.
So it is no surprise that on September 1st, at ten o’clock, he was not too worried at the sight of a large dog digging in a bush. Some tellers maintain the bush had thorns, and that Cormac should have been more wary for the lack of blood. Others say it was just a large creature, and that approaching strays is always a bad idea. Both are correct. Cormac himself confessed on a few occasions to feeling a bit sentimental towards dogs and animals of the woods. This fondness moved him to approach the wild creature, which seemed to have stuck it’s head in the thorn bushes.
As he called out, however, the dog showed no signs of recognition. It simply dug deeper into the bush, making a small pile of dirt. Cormac pressed on, encouraged by the lack of growling as he drew near. He put his hand on the canine’s back, petting it’s fur and whispering to it to get it’s attention. When his hand touched the dog’s back, which he maintains was cold and wet, like a fish with fur, it turned to face him.
Cormac objects often to this terminology, for the dog had no face. No head at all. There was a neck that ended in a gruesome wound, smoke rising from it like a fire was in the dog’s belly. The noise it made, according to Mr. Cormac, was a deep gurgling sound, like a drowning man gasping for air. It held him transfixed for but a moment, punctuating it’s noises with gasps of silence before Mr. Cormac’s sense returned and he bolted away.
Mr. Cormac’s fear did not lead him back to the road, however. Rather, called by perhaps a sense to hide or recalling the geography of his home and seeking a short cut, he ran further into the woods, away from the road. And as I said, Mr. Cormac had no fear or experience with the supernatural or unseen. He had no reason, even in his primeval soul, to fear that in the woods worse things waited. Such was the confidence of his banality.
After an approximate thirty minutes of flight, Mr. Cormac recovered his breath leaning on tree, no longer hearing the dreadful footfalls of the dog in pursuit. There was a silence in the air as he walked. His steps made no sound on the August grass. In the distance, he saw lights faintly on the hills, that he reasoned were lost travelers or robbers. He tried then to understand what the pale thing was, lurking in the bushes. By his own account, Mr. Cormac then and there swore off all alcohol for the rest of his life, reasoning that a forgotten pint now haunted him. He then carried on, until a slight movement caught his eye.
The silence was in fact its herald. For there, up ahead, was the pale dog, perched down and facing him. There were no eyes to see it’s expression, no teeth to bare. Nothing but the vacant hole that dripped smoking blood onto the stones. It sat, and raised it’s neck, smoke wafting up into signals in the night sky. A distant shape on the mountains came into clearer focus, small sigils floating on high. A silent howl to the moon.
This time Mr. Cormac found more fight then fear, tossing stones at the dog to scare it off. But it’s fur, so cold and wet, held fast to the stones he hurled, giving the beast a hide of gravel. It did stop its smoke, and bent low, a beast ready to pounce on its prey. Mr. Cormac stopped as the thing rippled down the stone outcropping and with a hungry gait approached him. Cowering, he promised the insensate thing that he meant it no harm, that he would play fetch. He seized a random tree branch, and gestured it to the non-existent eyes of the creature, before tossing it off in the distance, and running the other direction.
Mr. Cormac got a good distance before he heard the sound of footsteps behind him again. The hound was not far off it seemed, and so Mr. Cormac sprinted faster and faster. He reached again the old Roman road, and cobblestones having zig-zagged through the trees and bushes. Now, in his panic, a host of sounds roared towards him. A pack of hounds, it seemed, followed just behind him and on his tales. The galloping of a horse thudded behind them, a horn staggering them. Something old awoke in Mr. Cormac, something wise enough to keep his head away from the host he heard.
At last his breath ran out as he collapsed beneath a common beech tree, it’s canopy sheltering him from the sky. Gasping for air, he heard the sounds of the hounds and huntsman fade away into the night, no doubt having found another fool to chase. It was now well past midnight, and the lights on the hill seemed to be fingers reaching up into the heavens. At last, Cormac thought, he could rest.
He drew long, sharp breaths as he rested, staring at the hill side. And there he saw a pale shape running up, coming to a full stop on the top of the hill, and tilting upward. And then another, familiar smoke rising from them into alien shapes. At last, a light was seen, rising from those hills. Cormac thought for an instant he’d run all the night away, as shining lines appeared on the hillside, dancing lightly between the fae hounds and their towers of smoke. It transfixed him until a pale hand gripped his shoulder. The fae had found him, their hunt growing quieter the closer they drew. The hounds were upon him, immersing him in smoke and shade. Mr. Cormac, in terror, recited a rote prayer.
The sudden onset of the aurora appears to have save him, although Mr. Cormac attributes it to his prayer. At the rising light, the hounds vanished and the hand let him free. It seems they mistook the coming flare for the sun itself, which they may never see.
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