My Journey Home
I drifted through the Adirondacks for hours, buffeted and torn by the current on my mad tear towards home. I was tired, bruised, my blood felt as sluggish and as cold as the waters. But after witnessing the rise of that phantom brigade the night prior, I was willing, more than willing, to risk discomfort to speed my way towards civilization. As twilight gave way to the morning herald, I finally decided to beach myself and continue on foot. I pulled myself bodily on a small shoal of sand and pebbly earth, shaking violently from the chill. Every part of me felt raw, my skin almost throbbing to dislodge the ice within my veins. Reaching into the folds of my underclothes, my hands braced upon the hatchet and bowie that I had tucked there before passing into the drink. Of my skinning knife however, I know not where it went, I can only guess that it joined my rifle at the bottom of Lake Tear. Slowly, as my eyes and my mind adjusted to the new day's light, I forced my protesting legs to move, to finally stand and continue my journey home. I could only guess how far the evil at my back had progressed through the night, for I dared not even aglance towards the mountains, else I would think myself too stupefied to move if I happened to see even a glimmer of those nightmare creatures.
Keeping deliberate path along the shoreline, I forged ahead, my movements jerk-forward at first as my legs shook off the night's chill. My arms were tucked under close to my body, head bowed, as I plodded barefoot along the shore. All about me I could hear the cacophony of morning birds; the sharp pitch of Mourning Warblers, the crooning call of a Crossbill, I could even hear that gentle rhythmic thump of a woodpecker with almost perfect clarity of sound. I thought it strange at first, but then realized that at that grave of evil, even the wild of the wood feared to call attention to their presence. These two forces seemed so at odds and so stark in this place. It is amazing that a land so full and vibrant and alive held such a vicious and black heart.
Though it's always been true that the Adirondacks provides and gives life to those fortunate to appreciate its gifts. Those who break their backs from sunrise to sunset and give thanks at a table filled with the season's bounty. But it is also a place more than willing to end the fool who think themselves her better. We've all heard the tales of course; city folk who think to seek fortune in the mines, or go on ill-thought marches into the unknown wood never to be heard from again, or found upon bodies in lone wood cabins, thin and malnourished, having wasted away in their own homes during the hard, lean seasons that hit upon the land from time to time. These proud and foolhardy men and women thought themselves the mountains' master, only to end up broken and destitute by it.
But all that pales when compared to the evil now loose.
I became keenly aware of my surroundings, now familiar with sight and mark. I spied an escarpment used the season previous to hunt a passing moose herd, and the leaning ancient oak I'd used the season before that to camp and clean the skin of both the elk and deer during the fall. Moving to higher points I guessed that I was roughly a mile from the tannery built across the small inlet from Parson's Outpost. Knowing these things oddly lifted my spirits for the first time in several hours, giving me a strength and spring of body to complete my task. But as I headed forward atop the small knoll before me, that renewed energy was all but taken from me. For there, perched upon a conifer branch like some waiting vulture searching for prey, was a Bone Man. A scout.
He sat almost prostrate, legs splayed and shoulders hunched forward, scanning the small clearing ahead, its head cocked slightly to the left as if listening. I immediately pressed my body low, until I was all but fetal, my eyes never leaving sight of this rogue sentry. It presented me with a quandary. Were I to go back and around I knew it that precious time would be lost, not to mention that this thing would no doubt spot my passage. But to move forward meant violence would be required. And against this animate evil, that decision might prove to be fatal. Nevertheless, I set my mind to a cause that made all reason recoil and twist in my head. Moving forward slightly to give myself a clear line-of-sight, I slowly leveled up my toss hatchet for a pitch at the monster's unsuspecting head. It was there that reason tried one last time to interject itself before I took irreversible course in my plan. It was a simple thought, dangerous and perfect in its symmetry. Something that gave me that almost split second hesitation.
How do you kill something.................when it is already dead?
Tensing, holding my breath, and lining up one last time, I let loose my weapon. Time seemed to almost crawl to a stop once I did. I could almost see the iron blade turn end upon end, caught in the splinter of sunlight through the trees to flicker in shadow and light, before it buried its working end deep dead center between the creature's shoulder blades. It pitched forward, letting out a gawking hissing noise as it plunged, headfirst and arms gesticulating wildly, towards the ground. As it landed, its head twisted and bent unnatural, the skull resting against the shoulder bone as the body twisted in an almost ninety-degree slant.The sickening pop of bone, like a handful of twigs being broken, assailed my senses briefly. The creature lay there quiet and still, face down as its neck angled irregular, poking slightly through that grey molded skin. I moved forward cautiously, bowie gripped knuckles white, towards the Bone Man.
Before I could close distance, however, the creature had begun to move. Its arms folded in, pushing its body up, its head dangling and lolling on a splinter of bone and skin. I raced towards this thinning wraith, reversing the grip upon my bowie, and leapt upon it in wild fury. I pinned it to the ground, stabbing viciously, screaming, yelling, letting loose my fear in a long and wailing battle cry. In a final act, I double-fisted my knife, and with one final scream, drove it full strength through the creature's skull, rending through skin, bone, and straight through into the soft soil. The creature finally lay quiet, a death rattle escaping its parched and cracked lips in an almost dry, hissing voice. I sat there for a moment, heaving in great gasps of air, trying slowly to calm myself. That I was capable of such vicious industry! It seemed to confound me to my core. I was not a man who sought violence for the sake of it. Nor did I condone it when alternatives were still present. But I understood that it was a necessity at times, when a man or an animal left you no choice. But to take upon it with such wanton abandon, to embrace its destructive power, it seemed against me and yet so easy to understand.
Having collected myself, I gingerly reached and yanked my knife free, wiping the dust and grit on its metal sheen against my overalls. I stood, kicking the body over, ready in the event that this specter would once again rise, but knowing somehow that it had been done in. Its eyes, that what I thought to be black twinkling pearls of death, were actually a deep set crimson, its yellow aged and broken teeth pointed like animal fangs. About its neck on tattered string lay a medallion, about as big around as a silver dollar, the gold and precious stones shimmering lightly in the sun. I picked upon it, turning it over with a thumb. It was an image of of a raven, its eyes glittering some red rough stone, the feathers about its wings flecked with golden hue.
Not knowing of any tribe that currently decorated their persons with such, I thought to seek council from Old Tom Redcrow, an old brave moved into the Outpost several seasons back. With a quick jerk I meant to break the thin thread from around the creature's neck, but instead found it pulled through its already tenuous base, sending the Bone Man's head spinning about before landing and rolling over once with a thump. Retrieving my hatchet and making away with renewed haste, I headed down into the small glade leading towards the tannery.
To Be Continued.........
Short Story: The Bone Dancers - Part 2
Blog entry posted by wastelander75, Oct 3, 2012.