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Her Father

By Don Hoyt All Rights Reserved ©


Her Father

 Under the pallid light of the moon, Alys stepped prudently through the weald, doing her best to avoid any roots and stones that could trip her. She was being followed, and so knew that a single misstep could possibly mean her demise. Glancing over her shoulder, she returned her gaze to the tenuous path ahead. Behind her she heard rustling; whatever was following her was keeping its distance, though infallibly getting closer each second. She took another glance: ashes and oaks, cedars and maples; the dark shapes of foliage illumined by the moonlight--but no sign of anything.

Ahead at the top of a gentle slope sat a small wood cabin, a few scintillating candles perched on the window-sills, their orange glow piercing the night. Quickening her step, she went towards the house. Behind her, the rustling faded into the distance.

She shut the door and fastened the lock, heart hammering in her chest. "Was he there?" Her mother scrutinised her from her seat by the fireplace, her countenance menacing in the dim light.

"Yes, mother," she responded, "He was there."

"And the ingredient?"

Alys reached into her robe, pulling out a small glass jar. Within were the remnants of what was once a human finger, now decayed to nought but bone. She handed it over to her mother, who snatched it from her. "It was a modest price." She unfettered a bag that was hanging from her belt and held it out. Her mother shook her head.

"You may keep it." She looked at her daughter through dark and beady eyes, furrowing her brows. "Were you followed?"

"I..." Alys thought of her mother's adverse reaction the last time this happened. "No."

"Are you certain?"

"Yes," she replied with a nod.

Satisfied with that answer, her mother set the jar on the mantelshelf with the rest of the oddities and herbs. Many were plants, some pieces of the human body; a lone eye floated in an auburn liquid, peering out at them. "Come the full moon," she said, running her fingers over the jars, "your father will return to us."

"It won't look like him," her daughter stated, "he'll look like some agglomeration of...whoever these pieces belonged to."

She grinned. "Better than nought, isn't it? It'll sound like him, act like him; have his memories. Yes, methinks that's much better than nought."

If you insist, mother. She glared at the back of her head, glancing away when her mother turned. "I'm going to sleep."

"Good night, dear." Her mother smiled faintly.

It was cold at the top of the stairs; even colder still within her room, where she had to layer on two extra blankets--though it didn't stop her from shivering. Grimacing, she closed her eyes and curled into the fetal position, attempting to keep herself warm. After a few moments she rolled over, adjusting the covers. No matter how she tried to lay, there seemed to be a horrible cold that permeated the room. Creaaak. Startled, she sat up in bed, looking around in the darkness. Perhaps it was her imagination, but her door appeared to be slightly ajar. She gripped her covers, holding them tightly against her. Creaak. The door opened further, and she blanched at what she saw. A phantasmagoric figure drifted torpidly into the room, bringing with it a terrible chill. It stopped by the side of her bed, gazing at her with empty eyes. 'Hello, Alys,' it said.

She trembled, trying her best not to scream. "What do you want?"

'It's not about what I want; it's about what I don't want. Do you understand?'

Alys shook her head.

'Your mother must not go through with this ritual. It is of the uppermost import that she does not succeed. The finger you purchased today was mine own.'

Alys considered this for a moment. "Truly?"

'Truly. I have no desire to return to a corporeal form; if this monster of yours is created, then I will be trapped in that body, along with the other unfortunate souls whose pieces you seek to besmirch.'

"But father--"

'Is alive. Necromancy can only work on those whom are actually dead.'

She stared at the spirit, uncertainty plaguing her mind. Could it be speaking the truth? Her father had died many years ago when werewolves invaded their hamlet. He was part of the militia that defended the town, meeting the wolves with blades, torches and pitchforks. While a few wolves were injured in the fight, all of them managed to get away; withal, it came at a cost. Many of the villagers were either slaughtered or taken away to be fed upon, and the militia was wiped out. Alys had been a young girl at the time, hiding fearfully behind her mother's dress as Jed, their neighbor, knocked upon their door with the news. Her mother was livid, swearing she would both bring him back and eradicate wolf-kind. With a terse bow and another apology, Jed left them. Gradually as the weeks went by, her mother's spirits festered, turning her from a jovial peasant to an irascible witch and necromancer. No one had come knocking on the door any longer once they learned of her dark arts. "Alive..." The word slipped off her tongue, a cynosure of hope.

'You would not recognise him, I am afraid.' The spirit floated towards the window, laying a phantom hand against the glass. 'He has imbibed the blood of the wolf, and ergo is forever changed.'

"You mean to say--"

'He hunts 'neath the moon with his bretheren, hearkening to the primordial song of the hunt. He is man no longer.'

Alys nigh sobbed at the news, clutching her blankets even tighter. For several seconds she was silent. Finally, she said: "What would you have me do?"

'Take the ingredients you and your mother have collected, and take them far away--inter them so that they might never be found.'

She stepped slowly down the stairs, avoiding the ones she knew creaked. Perched upon the mantelshelf sat her mother's grisly assortment: a toe; a finger; an eyeball; a jar filled with a blackish red substance she knew was human blood. Quickly she grabbed them one by one off the shelf, placing them in her pouch. As she reached for the last jar, she heard her mother's footsteps coming down the stairs. She grabbed the last one and hastily dropped it into her pouch, going for the door. As she removed the lock, her mother spoke. "Alys?" she said, brow furrowed in confusion, "What are you doing awake at this hour?"

Alys silently faced her mother. The old woman looked at her, then to the empty mantelshelf. Her eyes widened in surprise, but before she could react Alys had bolted out the door and disappeared into the gelid night. She could vaguely hear her mother's screaming as the trees blurred past, eventually fading into silence.

She continued to run until her legs burned, the woods and shadows getting thicker around her. Eventually she came to a small clearing, a grassy field with a tor seated at the northern edge. At the base of the tor was a pile of rocks, a cairn perhaps, covered in ivy. Alys meandered over to it, feeling the jars in her satchel. She brought them out and laid them upon the dirt, taking a flat and sharp stone from the pile, beginning the arduous process of digging a hole.

After an hour passed, she had dug a hole large enough to fit all the jars. She placed them within, then piled the dirt back on. While the upheaved earth did look conspicuous against the grassy field, she didn't expect her mother to find this place; she was much too afraid of the wolves. She packed the dirt with her hands then stood, wiping her hands on her dress.

A twig snapped, blaring out against the silence. Alys spun around, her panicked eyes scanning the trees for signs of movement. At first she couldn't see a thing, but out of the corner of her eye she caught something: A large, hulking black shadow was moving between the trees, two white pin-pricks staring straight at her. Heart thumping in her chest, her mind was telling her to run as fast as possible, but there was something else, too; a strange, ineffable curiosity. She took a hesitant step forward, then another.

The wolf ambled forwards, regarding her casually as the moon shimmered off its fur. It was large, over six feet tall, and had green eyes with a black pelt. Alys held her breath as it came towards her, staying still as stone despite shaking within. It stopped a few paces away from her, gazing at the diminutive human before him. Their eyes met, and for the first time in a long time Alys smiled; she'd know those eyes anywhere. They were always kind and caring, keeping her safe during the autumn fairs; watching as she took her first steps--they were there when they visited the ancient ruins of Seshm, walking on the jagged rocks by the ocean. The last time she had seen those eyes had been over eight years ago, but she remembered them as if it had been yesterday. Trembling, she held out her hand...

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