Halloween's coming HTL. Enjoy.
I vowed never to speak of these events in my lifetime. But now, in these final hours of my life, I consider this vow fulfilled.
For what I speak of would seem almost a tale of the fantastic, something told after imbibing too much of the spirits and the imaginations were left relaxed to think of such wild stories. And although my mind would wish it simply to be so, my body bears still the scar of that terrible, dark event. My mind still haunts me with both memory and restless dream. But running even deeper still, my soul bleeds from the horrors that have haunted me throughout. And as I draw one breath closer to the last, gentle reader, let me finally tell you my tale......
The Journey Down the Tear
Summer 1868, the Adirondack Mountains. My name is John Taylor. And on this particular day, I had spent the better part trapping and hunting wild game from the southern face of Mount Marcy. The day had yielded many kills. But with my powder low and my skins near empty, I headed back to my small camp at the shores of Lake Tear of the Clouds to at last make my way homeward. The air was fresh but also heavy with the dusty scent of the conifers about me; hemlock pines intermingled with redwoods, Douglas-firs, and the ancient majesty of oak. Somewhere above, a trio of Bicknell's were warbling their flute like choir as they fluttered from one branch to the next, apparently warning the nearby pair of Gray Jays that this was their nesting lot.
Even during the heart of summer, the air carried with it that cold sliver of ice and snow from the higher peaks. In fact, it wasn't uncommon to awaken some mornings to heavy frost or even a fine sheen of snow even this late in the season. Which was why I hurried to pack my canoe before sunset, wanting to rest in my own very soft and very warm bed than on the cold spiny stone that made up Mount Marcy's feet. In my hurry though, I should have paid more attention to how low the canoe was set as I took paddle towards the Hudson. Perhaps then I wouldn't have experienced what I did. Though now, in hindsight, I consider it the work of the Divine that I was given forewarning for the events that came after.
As light lay dying, I realized then that I had overloaded with the day's spoils. Down through the shallows of Lake Tear, I could occasionally feel the bottom of my craft strafe and groan gently against the grit and the granite beneath me. Against better judgement, however, I thought it best to press forward towards the Hudson. With deeper waters, with calmer waters, I could make it to Parson's Outpost in time for a late supper. But as the narrows threw water and froth at greater alarm, I began to rethink my plans. Too late, unfortunately, as the waters funneled between two spindly fingers of grey stone. Normally, I could tuck forward, arms resting ahead and press by unmolested. But with my tail set lower, I ran hard ground, hearing wood splinter as my canoe hit jagged teeth hidden under the roil. I felt cold waters suddenly brace and surge against my back, the spray and foam licking my neck as I desperately shifted forward in the cutout, trying to at least slip past this obstacle and make my way to land. But now the surge had caused the fast sinking boat to twist in the current, making both balance and foothold a precious commodity.
By either sheer will or a reckless last grasp for survival, I had reached the bow, which allowed me to reach out towards the more solid stoneworks to the side. I had no sooner cleared myself from this tumult when the canoe, already weakened by rough tide, suddenly pitched near vertical and split in twain as neatly as one would fold a piece of parchment end to end. Slowly, as I made my way towards firmer earth, I caught one last fleeting glimpse of splintered wood and the day's livelihood drift and bob down the narrows of Lake Tear. I took no fortune in being alive, but cursed at being both drenched and stranded in the wild wood as cold twilight slowly embraced the sky.
I had to work fast, to make both shelter and warmth before the last sliver of light sank down behind the long steppes of Mount Whiteface. I moved higher above Lake Tear to avoid the encroaching phantom mist that enshrouded its nightly passage, fumbling with chilled fingers to light a small fire, though it took a longer while than I liked due to both my chill and the mist damp tinder. Though not impossible, it was infuriating. But with this, finally at least, I had enough light to make a lean-to of saplings and moss and built away from the wind to give me at least a decent night's respite, though rudimentary comforts did little to lift my spirits. Shedding off my drenched buckskins I placed them near and above the fire, taking a check of my personal affects still with me. Though my rifle was at the bottom of the Tear, making my powder all but useless (and even then, it would do little good otherwise since it was wet), I still had my bowie and skinning knife, as well as my toss hatchet. Though they offered less of the long range lethality of my now lost rifle, they were weapons of good stout and stock. Danny Coultry, the outpost's smithy, knew how to make things last. These fine aides had been with me for six seasons and still worked just as well as the day I'd bought them. With stock taken, I at last settled in for the night, content at least to be both alive and ready to be at home by late day morrow.
Dance of the Bone Men
I knew not at what time I finally fell asleep, nor exactly when the riotous calamity near had awakened me. It was still night, however, and the fire had long since faded to ash and cinder. The moon, that ochreous ball of twilight, had spread its ghostly silver light down across the mountains, reflecting off the fine coat of frost that had settled upon the Adirondacks. It took my still sleeping mind a while to realize that what I was hearing around me in the twilight were the beating of drums. At first guess a dozen maybe, perhaps more. Thunderous. Ground thumping. And close. With bowie and hatchet in hand, I glanced across Lake Tear, seeing nothing but a thick blanket of vapor. Even so, the sounds were not coming from there, but closer. Above, higher above the hillock, I thought. Setting upon a low crawl, I made my way up the slope, noting that the beating warsong did indeed grow louder as I made my way to the top. And as I rounded this small summit, taking caution to stay low and hidden in the thick alder and bitterberry brush, what I saw horrified me to the bone, and even now, in my dreaming, still does.
Down below me lay a flat and horseshoe crest of bare land, cairns of stone and stilted wood lay strewn across this place, decorated with a multitude of various wares; feathers and headdresses, stone hewed hammers, axes of flint and rare obsidian, torn and paint-smeared bucklers of animal hides, the occasional feather-and-leather strapped spear. Gifts for the dead. Gifts for the war tribe buried below me. Gifts for the resting souls within this Indian holy ground. Only now I saw that the dead were neither restful or, for that matter, holy. Near and abouts I saw hands, arms, bodies rising from these cairns and burial mounds all across this vale. They were thin of frame, sunken-eyed, skin wrinkled and wrapped in shredded tatter over grey and yellowed bone.
By twilight's glow, their dead eyes shone black like pitch, their skin that dead man's grey. Some stood naked, their linens and death shrouds long decayed beyond matter. Under light of moon their skin glowed almost phosphorous pale as they gathered their host. It was there that I heard, in the lull of the warbeat, that taunt, clicking of aged sinew against brittle bone, like a piece of hemp rope being twisted and pulled rough. It was the sound that these matchstick men made as they moved and made movement with bodies that begged to be at rest. In greater number it sounded almost insectile, like locusts settling about a crop. My heart thumped heavy against my chest, matching almost in perfect pitch and rhythm to their warsong. My initial curiosity was being chiseled away by terror, and I found myself shaking not from the cold, but from fear with every unholy roll of their drums.
And just as suddenly. The drums ceased.
Having gathered in great number in the center of their camp, they encircled a lone grave, the night suddenly still. No night bird sang, no wood beetle stirred. Not even the creaking of these Bone Men could be heard. It was an unnatural quiet, as if a gathered storm fast approaching had stopped, not to give respite to the earthly hosts, but to simply gather strength to unleash full its terrible vengeance. And, after what felt like an age of peace, so it was that this false quiet broke, as blue ethereal flame rose from this cairn, bathing these unholy men in flickering blue and white ghost fire. Stone and earth broke away from this mound, as skeletal fingers broke free from their once still prison. Long, thin arms gave way to a bulbous crown, then to broad shoulders, to a thin but powerful frame, and at last to long shankly legs. As he moved from his resting hole, a few Bone Men moved forward to adorn his body with all kinds of trinkets and garbs; a long-tailed feathered headdress, a few feathers missing like teeth in an old broken comb, a beaded bone chest plate, its glass orbs twinkling like stars in the night. He was given a great flinted spear and buckler to compliment his war dress. And as his Bone Men faded back with the wrinkled fold of their kin, the great war chief thrust his spear above his head, letting out a grating, shrieking war cry that rippled across this undead throng until the vale thundered with their evil fury. In my mind I knew that they had arisen for only one thing, to do murderous deed upon the living flesh. And the closest place to slake their thirst for blood would be Parson's Outpost. Leaving my place of post, I slid back down the hillock, past my makeshift camp, and without thought or perseverance of my well being in these cold frigid waters, slid into the misty waters of Lake Tear of of the Clouds to make haste home.
I just prayed to the Heavenly Host that he would give me both the will and the strength to get there in time........
To Be Continued
Short Story: The Bone Dancers
Blog entry posted by wastelander75, Oct 2, 2012.
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