All Your Childhood Fears
“I don’t know, I think he’s creepy. I mean, look at his eyes.” The voice was accompanied by whispered mutterings that flitted through the assembly hall like living things. The small group of children turned as a single creature to stare boldly at the new boy.
For his own part, the boy sat alone at one of the small round tables, surrounded by flickering candlelight and not bothering to look in any particular direction. Seated at the head of the room, he was removed from the groups of other students that filled similar tables behind him.
Incidentally, the children with the loud, overly bold voices were right. He was a creepy boy. He looked to be about ten years in age, when in fact he was twelve. He was small, almost painfully thin, and a good deal of his face and profile were hidden behind shoulder length brown hair. His clothes had about them the age and appearance of long use, prompting many of the other students to place him in a lower class than them. They therefore assumed that he was the child of a destitute family, or of some disgraced and formerly noble lineage, taken in by the school in an act of uncharacteristic charity.
His face was as lean as the rest of him, dominated by a largish nose and a strikingly angular chin for someone of his age. His thin lips seemed timid as opposed to cruel. But most unsettling about the boy’s appearance were his eyes.
The eyes themselves were strange by their very colour. Depending on the light, which in the assembly hall flickered around from a thousand candles, the boy’s eyes appeared either pale violet or turquoise. The children closest to him, those that were bold enough to stare, could see that his eyes were filled with tiny flecks of gold, which caught the light from all directions.
The sound of a heavy chair scraping on the stone floor carried throughout the entire hall, and the assembled students fell silent. At the head of the room, the stately old gentleman with the pinched features and dark brown tweed jacket stood with authority, clearing his throat. The boy had met this man earlier that very day. His name was Aurelius Grimwald, the Headmaster of the school.
When Grimwald spoke to the students his long moustaches bristled with every word, and his voice carried into the silence like a fine brass instrument.
“My dear students, and assembled faculty, tonight we welcome a new member to our academic family, and I think that we should all greet him with the respect he most certainly deserves, as each of us do in our own ways. He comes to us from a proud and noble family from the county surrounding the far away town of Colchester, and he is to be welcomed into our third year class. A merry welcome to you, Jacob Crowe.”
Grimwald held out his hand towards Jacob where he sat, and the student body again turned to look both at and through him. His eyes darting up at the sound of his name, Jacob looked around at the myriad faces that surrounded him.
“Now, before the meal begins, I have some start of term announcements to make.”
Jacob had stopped listening, still staring around at the other students long after their attention had turned to the Headmaster. The students were all dressed in the same drab olive school uniform. He didn’t mind that the school had yet to find one for him. The uniforms seemed to amplify their sameness, once again reminding Jacob of a living thing in their conformity. This served to only increase his feeling of unease, as if he moved too suddenly, that living thing would devour him whole.
He shivered, head shaking, clearing the thought away.
The Headmaster’s voice continued on, but Jacob couldn’t focus. His unease mounted, and Jacob felt that he was being watched.
Jacob fidgeted in his seat, looking around, and that was when he caught the boy staring at him. An inexplicably small boy lost amidst the throng of the assembly. Jacob had managed to catch the boy’s eyes a mere second before they darted away. Then the smaller boy turned his head, casting his face in shadow as his messily cropped hair blocked the candlelight and created a pool of indiscernible darkness. So Jacob was left to consider the rest of the boy; this boy who stood out from the crowd.
His hair was black, and his figure slight. What Jacob had seen of his features showed that they were just as fragile and small, and he surmised that the boy was no older than ten. He sat in a small shadow apart from the other boys, and he seemed such a meager and unassuming presence that Jacob was at a loss to fathom why the boy had been staring at him.
The sharp sound of clapping brought Jacob’s attention back to the Headmaster. Three claps and the double doors on the right side of the room swung open. Through this door came a line of white cotton clad servants who flowed into the room to the sound of hundreds of young knucklebones rapped against the old oak of the dining tables. Their arms laden with trays of dishes and canters of drink, the line of women and boys dispersed, swayed and swerved, to the tables throughout the hall. Jacob watched as they went about their serving tasks, silently and differentially, their eyes cast to the floor as one. They moved in abject servitude, to which Jacob himself was unaccustomed. His mother and father had never kept servants, despite the estate and wealth they had enjoyed. And just as suddenly as they appeared, they were gone, once the first course had been served.
With the sound of the assembled students settling into their meal around him, Jacob dredged his spoon through the unctuous soup that sat uninvitingly on the table. He was enjoying the smell of the soup about as much as he was enjoying his first evening at the Charnylseth School for Boys.
As odd as dinner was, the dormitories were even more of a disturbing experience. Jacob had felt that strange creeping sensation through his spine the second he had started the climb up the triple staircases to the third floor of Sefton House, in the east wing of the school, to find his assigned room.
The floors and walls of the old school creaked and groaned, and the sound of the wind whispered from above. The hallway was cast in a soft light, coming from lanterns along each wall, and the crackle and hiss of the smouldering lights complimented the sound of the wind, adding cadence to the melody of whispers.
Jacob found the hallway empty, as he had been the last to leave the main hall after the meal had ended. He hadn’t eaten a thing, and felt none the worse for his fast. Many of the solid oak doors up and down both sides of the wide passageway were closed, their occupants quiet and entombed, no doubt resting before the first morning of classes.
Unlike most of the private schools of England, the four dormitories of Charnylseth were made up of single rooms, as opposed to the more common bunked accommodations of four or six students to a room. This, of course, owed well to the age, wealth and prestige of the school, and to the small student body in residence there during the winter of 1898. Sefton House, he had learned from his father, was the second oldest of the four. The oldest was called Arch House, and then third came Dunwell, both on the west wing of the school. Next to Sefton was Moorsmouth, in the east wing, built only six decades earlier.
Jacob’s father had imparted very little information to him, and almost nothing at all about his own childhood tutelage at the school.
Jacob’s footsteps, however soft, echoed unnervingly in the quiet hallway. Looking at the doors as he passed, and at the room numbers he left behind, he followed the eerily haunting music of ember and wind until he found his room.
Jacob closed himself in his room, and didn’t bother to explore it. Nor did he unpack. For a mere moment he tested the feel and mettle of the bed, touching the rough cotton sheets, smelling the acrid vinegar smell of cleaning astringents mingled with the thin char smoke from the hallway lanterns. Exhausted from the day, Jacob finally curled up on top of the blankets, staring out of the window at the grey night sky, and promptly fell asleep before he even realized his eyes had closed.
Screams in the dark.
It must have been some horribly wounded animal, a twisted bird or broken bat caught in the rafters above. But Jacob knew better than to hope for that. The sound was distinctly not coming from an animal. The sound continued, torn from a ragged throat in the middle of the night, waking Jacob out of the deepest of sleeps.
His eyes narrowed, head cocked, where he sat on the bed, now fully alert. His ears searched for the source of the sound, and since he was expecting it to come from the attic above, he was more than a little surprised to hear it coming from the room next to his.
Room Three-Twenty. The last room on the left.
As soon as Jacob’s feet hit the floor, he could hear the running footsteps in the hallway. Within moments, the commotion built outside of his door, with worried voices accompanying the strangled screams from the room next to his.
Jacob opened his door and stepped into the chaos outside. There were people everywhere; students, all asking the same questions, the younger ones crying, sleepy tears running from their rheumy eyes; the Prefect, trying to calm his fellow students as they filled the wide space to capacity; and even the Proctor, Mr. Fuches, a younger faculty member whom Jacob had met the day before. He towered over the throng of children, and was banging loudly on the door to room three-twenty, raising his deep bass voice over the noise.
“Martin, calm down and open the door. It’s Mr. Fuches, Martin. Please,” the frustration was clear in his voice, “Martin, you’ve your door locked!” It seemed that his voice alone would not magically gain him entry.
The Prefect, an older boy named William, tried his best to gather the younger children together through the jostling of the older ones, trying in vain to create some order.
And then the screaming stopped.
Mr. Fuches, desperate now, whispered to young William, who stood a mere three feet behind him. “Will, move them back, will you.” And as William quickly started herding the children away from the door and further down the hall, Mr. Fuches backed up. Jacob knew what was coming, and he watched as Mr. Fuches charged the door at a run.
Perhaps because of his size, for he was not only tall but broadly built, or perhaps because the door was bolted only with a small throw bolt on the inside, it did not offer much resistance. The man disappeared into the room along with the door.
“Martin! Where are you, boy?” The Proctor’s demanding yell had quickly turned to puzzlement, and Jacob inched his way towards the door, not wanting to see into the room, knowing what he would find inside.
As he poked his head around the frame of the door, his hands gripping the violated wood, he could smell the violence. It hung in the air like an expensive Parisian perfume. Except this was not the smell of wildflowers or spices, and nor was it the smell of anything pleasant at all.
It was the smell of blood, the unmistakable stench of death.
The other students crowded behind Jacob. A couple of the older students eyed Jacob warily for a moment, but having the curiosity of boys their age, they stared into the empty room.
Mr. Fuches was now opening the drawers of the bureau, looking under the bed and searching every dark corner of the deserted room, all the while calling out to Martin, who was no longer there.
As curious as the entire scene was, Jacob had seen all he needed to for now. Martin was not there, nor would he ever be again. Something horrible had happened to him, and Jacob knew simply because he could smell it. He could feel the aura of the room as if it were tangible, touchable. He had no clue as to what had happened yet, but the horror of that was overshadowed by the fact that no one else seemed to be able to smell the blood. The room smelled as if drenched in it, and yet it was clean and undisturbed. He alone could feel the evil that had been here, and he shivered, backing away from the yawning mouth of the room.
He alone knew. And it was a puzzle that would guarantee him no more sleep that night.
The mystery of Martin Blackwell’s disappearance was the main topic of discussion the next morning, at least among the students. The faculty discussed it behind closed doors, in whispers and arguments that Jacob was not privy too.
His first morning of classes was a blur. In science class, he sat staring at the pages of the volume that Mr. Skrimmshaw had the students read passages from. In English, neither the brightly lit classroom, nor the enthusiasm of Ms. Young, the only learned woman of the faculty, brightened his mood even an ounce. Soon after that it was tea time, and Jacob had followed the other students out into the courtyard, herded like a farm animal out under the grey skies that offered little or no warmth.
The thin ground cover of snow and frost crunched under his heel where he sat, mindlessly drawing nonsense shapes with his foot. However, he was anything but mindless. What could make a boy disappear, and from inside of a locked room no less? There were any number of odd and mysterious things that Jacob had learned about in his short span of years, and none of them were things that a child his age had any right to know about. And so he sat, pondering, questioning; searching his own limited experience for something, anything that would give him an answer to his plague of thoughts and worries.
So involved in his own musing was he that he didn’t even notice the young boy that appeared no more than a few feet away from him. When the boy sneezed loudly however, Jacob looked up, and he saw it was the strange boy who had been staring at him during dinner the night before. His curiosity piqued, he slid along the stone fountain wall they were sitting on, closer to the boy. Jacob had to talk to somebody at school eventually. It might as well be a fellow outsider.
When Jacob cleared his throat, he got no response from the boy, who was sitting with his head in a book, his face once again obscured by the ragged mop of hair. Snatching a peek at the large oversized book, which looked as if bound for giants in the small hands of the boy, Jacob saw strange illustrations and voluminous text in Latin and some Greek. Impressed, Jacob tried the direct approach.
The boy still did not look up, but Jacob heard a small voice emerge from behind the veil of black hair.
“I was just wondering,” he continued, “what is that you’re reading?”
“It’s a volume of the Athens Congress on Demonology.” The boy continued to stare at the pages, not offering anything else.
It was finally a comment that piqued the boy’s interest, for he looked up. The black hair fell into place revealing the most startlingly blue eyes Jacob had ever seen. They were the pale blue of winter skies, or the ice blue eyes of a wolf cub. Jacob had been right. The boy’s features were small and slight, and somewhat effeminate, probably owing to his young age. His full lips were surmounted by a tiny button of a nose. Jacob just blinked at him, startled for a moment by the boy’s beauty, as opposed to any aspect of handsomeness.
“What’s strange?” The boy stared hard at Jacob.
Jacob just smiled timidly at the boy. “Well, for starters, that’s a strange topic for a book, at least around here. I’m sure that’s not from the school library. And it’s also strange that someone of your age would read both Greek and Latin.” No insult was meant in what he said, there never was. Jacob was just not very good at talking to others, especially his peers.
The boy gave Jacob a disdainful look, and turned his head back to the tightly inked pages of the book.
“It’s not strange at all. I am twelve years old, you know, just like you I assume, and I not only know Latin and Greek, but French, German and Russian as well.” Jacob meant to apologize for any slight he had made, but the boy continued. “But you are right. The library here has little of anything, much less something like this. It was a gift from my mother.”
Just hearing the word was a little stab of pain for Jacob, and to cover it up he chuckled, smiling.
“It’s still strange”
“Yeah, well you’re strange.”
“Is that why you were staring at me last night” He just had to know.
“Well, yes, it was strange to see you sitting by yourself like a dirty ruffian when it’s so obviously easy to make friends here.” The boy was deliberately baiting him, he knew, his words dripping with sarcasm.
“But you were sitting alone as well, sulking in the shadows as I recall.”
“That’s because I prefer my own company, rather than being excluded from that of others. I could make friends if I so wished. So what are you that you can’t make any other friends and so must harass me, some kind scalawag or incompetent?”
“A little bit of both, I’m afraid. Call it a gift.”
That drew a chuckle from the boy. So Jacob did the next logical thing he could think of. He extended his had to the boy.
“My name is Jacob.”
“Yes I know, Jacob Crowe, from Colchester.” The boy looked up again, and eyed Jacob’s hand warily as if it were a viper coiled to strike.
“Well, do you have a name, or do I just call you Demon Boy.”
The boy cocked his head, and smiled.
“Well, are you going to shake my bloody hand and tell me a name, or shall I be left in a state of blissful ignorance?”
The boy gripped Jacob’s hand softly, and Jacob once again marveled at the inherent smallness of the boy.
“Samuel Hewitt. Sam.”
There was a moment of silence that was not entirely uncomfortable.
“So I suppose you’ve heard of the disappearance last night?”
Sam frowned at him. “
Of course I have. Martin was just a little boy, only nine. His parents are going to be devastated.”
“Well, not if he’s found.”
“Yes, of course, a little boy ran away, from within a locked room on the third floor of a bleeding castle. I’m sure he’ll be found rightly and properly soon.”
Jacob could only laugh. What else could he do, really? He knew that something strange had been at work the night before. Something perhaps monstrous enough to make a little boy scream and wail like a wounded, dying animal.
“So, what happened then? What do you think?” Jacob asked, testing the mettle of this precocious and assured young man.
Sam held up the book he was holding, so that Jacob could see the illustration on the embossed and gilded cover. It was a horrific recreation of a woodcutting, depicting a gnarled and hoary demon roasting infants on a wooden spit. The recognition of the picture chilled Jacob.
“Is it so unbelievable?”
“No. How can you be sure?”
“Well, I’m not, at least not entirely. That’s why I’ve started looking into it, doing research.” Sam eyed Jacob quizzically and just then seemed to come to a decision. “And you’re going to help me.” Just like that, a matter of fact statement. He was so bloody confident, Jacob thought, and not that shy after all.
“Fine, agreed. Where do we begin? I’ve never been good with research.”
Just then the Prefect who had drawn yard duty began ringing the massive hand bell, signaling the end of the break. Sam stood up, tucking the tome into a carry sack that hung over his shoulder, and tightened his coat tighter around himself, almost self consciously.
“Well, Jacob Crowe, we start tonight. Come to my room and we’ll begin looking. I’m in room two-eleven, one floor down from you.”
And with that, Sam Hewitt walked away, towards the school and the next class before lunch. Wondering just how the boy knew so much about demons, and why he himself had agreed to help without any reason or need for explanation, Jacob sighed, and followed the other students into the mid-morning gloom of the old school.
That same night, Jacob marveled at the sheer volume of texts that Sam produced from the trunk that lay at the foot of his bed.
“I never did own much in the way of clothing, but books, those I have in spades” Sam declared proudly, peering into the crowded trunk.
Sam’s room was just as spartanly decorated as his own, except for a few knickknacks and personal items. Glancing at the obscure titles of the books, he now seized the opportunity to ask the question that had been burning in his head throughout the day.
“So how come you know so much about demons?”
“Well, I don’t really. It’s more of a hobby than anything else, and one that I inherited from my father. He was a university professor, you see, the history of the occult and such. Naturally, I wanted to be just like him when I grew up, hence,” and his words trailed off as he stood up and surveyed his pile of books.
“We don’t have much to go on yet, but we should look anyway. You start on the Grimoire De Loreas. I’ll keep on the Athens Conference and see if there is anything I missed.”
As Sam sat cross legged on the bed, carrying a massive, black covered book in his small arms, the same book Sam had been reading that morning.
“What did you mean when you said ‘yet’?” Jacob asked as he began flipping the pages of the Grimoire.
“Well, strange things always happen here, and from what I can gather they have always been happening. So I think it is safe to assume that more students will disappear, and we’ll have a chance to look into it and find out what is happening.”
Sam continued to turn the pages of the book, but Jacob was curious now. Curious for the knowledge his father had failed to give him; curious for the knowledge that he needed.
“What kind of things?”
Sam looked up at him.
“You mean, you don’t know?” He seemed skeptical, as if the tales of Charnylseth were common knowledge.
“No, I don’t. I mean, my father was once a student here, but he told me practically nothing. It seems he would have known about things like this.”
“Well, this place is built on the exact site where the fortress of the Second Legion had stood centuries ago. They were the Augusta, the famed legion of the emperor Augustus, and during the Roman occupation of Britain their Second Cohort was stationed here to defend the village of Aqua Sulis, or rather present bay Bath. The historian Lemitus wrote about it, oh, in about 270 AD. Here, I’ll show you.”
Sam jumped from the bed, and rummaging through the trunk, he produced a codex of tightly bound vellum pages, which bore strikingly small columns of printing in Latin. The scrollwork that decorated the pages told Jacob that this was a copy made by monks, and a very valuable one at that.
Sam turned to an elaborately decorated page. “See, here, this is the story of the Second Legion. One night, the entire cohort disappeared, and the fortress was leveled to the ground. No one ever knew what happened, how or why. Over two thousand people were just gone. Lemitus writes that it might have been the local Britons, possibly Cambrian Celts, that killed them all, but there has never been any evidence of that. I think something far worse happened here that night.”
“What makes you think that?” Jacob asked the question despite the wintry chill that traveled up his spine and settled around his neck like an uncomfortable pet.
“It was something that happened here, many years later. In the twelfth century, a monastery was built on the ancient ruins of the fortress, and the legend says that...” Sam stopped talking in mid-sentence, and when Jacob started to ask what was wrong, he was quieted with a harsh shushing sound from Sam’s lips.
Sam seemed to straining to hear something that Jacob, try as he may, just could not hear. All he could hear was the dull thud of his heart beating through his ears, and for what seemed like an eternity, he sat and watched Sam, tense and waiting.
Sam suddenly grabbed his hand and made to dash from the room. “Come on,” the boy yelled, “it’s happening again!”
Bewildered, Jacob followed the running steps of Sam’s feet. Their feet made barely a sound without shoes, and they descended the stairs at a reckless speed, Sam trying to arrive in enough time to help, Jacob trying to keep up.
Once on the first floor, Sam dashed to the third door on the right, twisting the doorknob sharply. As he came to a faltering stop next to Sam and the door, Jacob could clearly hear the sound of someone whimpering inside. It was the terrible sound of a scared child whimpering in the dark.
Without hesitation, Sam threw the door open and then stood in the open portal as light flickered into the room. Both Sam and Jacob stood transfixed, staring at the nightmare tableau that was arranged in the room.
In the centre of the room there stood, or rather hovered, a shadow thicker than all the rest. Jacob could almost feel its malice and malcontent; its twisted nature to horrify and devour. But for all of its power, it was insubstantial as smoke. It played games with the eyes and cloyed the mind with fear.
Jacob instinctively knew what he had to do. It wasn’t much, but it was all he had on such short notice.
Sam watched in awe. Jacob walked calmly into the room in a manner totally at odds with the voice in his head, which was screaming at him to run away, and fast. He reached into the pocket of his night robe, pulled out an object that went unseen by Sam, and held it over his head where he came to stand behind the shadow. The cold clamminess of the dark toyed with him, danced around him, and recognizing him for what he was it recoiled across the room, unprepared.
Then Jacob did something completely unexpected.
Standing in the centre of the room, he yelled at the top of his vocal range, howling at the shadow in a voice that was not his, but yet strangely was.
“EVERTO GENITUS!” And with that curse, he hurled the object at the shadow, which at once was struck apart, its halves coalescing with the other shadows. A sibilant hiss sounded throughout the room, and then all that was left was the regular dark, and the sobs of the terrified boy.
Sam, overcoming his awe, rushed into the room and sat on the bed to comfort the little boy, who could not have been a day over eight years old. The boy was sobbing uncontrollably, and his teeth were chattering. It was colder in the room, Sam noticed. The boy squeaked through his cries, a small frightened voice.
“What...was that thing?”
“We don’t know.” Sam said, and the boy started crying harder.
“It looked...like a troll.”
Sam continued stroking the boy’s hair. “It’s okay, shhh. It can’t hurt you anymore. It can’t hurt anyone anymore.”
Sam looked at Jacob, and they both knew the lie for what it was, even as Sam kept repeating it. It hadn’t looked like a troll to either of them, and something inside of both of them said that it was far from finished.
By the time the boy had calmed enough to be tucked back into bed the sun was rising like a pale finger above the trees that forested the lands around the school. On their way back to the second floor, Sam stopped Jacob on the stairs, a hand on his arm.
“What was that you threw at the shadow?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Sam glared at him. “Try me.”
“It was a finger bone from the remains of Saint Inquititus, one of the followers of John the Baptist.”
Sam just stared at him, his jaw hanging slack.
“You mean that was a relic?”
“A holy relic, yes. It sometimes works against demons.”
Sam flashed back to Jacob’s yell as he confronted the shadow. It had been a Latin phrase, meaning “demon begone”. It seemed that there was more to this Jacob Crowe than even Sam had realized.
“And do you always make it a habit of carrying holy relics around on your person, or were we just fortunate tonight?”
Jacob looked down at him, frowning. “No, I only sometimes carry it with me for good luck. And it’s quite priceless, so we’ll have to go back and look for it tomorrow.”
“Why not go grab it now.”
“Because it’s the only thing keeping little Timothy safe until the sun rises.”
Sam looked hard into Jacob’s eyes, watching the golden flecks catch the light, giving him an otherworldly appearance. He closed his eyes, shaking his head.
“How did you know where and when it was attacking?” Jacob asked.
“I sometimes get pictures in my head, strong feelings more like, when something strange is happening. I guess that’s why I’ve stayed here when others have moved to other schools. It’s why I’m different.”
Oh, you are different all right, thought Jacob, you’re a sensitive! Jacob had only read about them, undeveloped as they are as children, but he knew how powerful they could become if they survived to adulthood.
“So, what was that thing?” Sam asked.
“Haven’t a clue. I was hoping you could tell me, with all of your books and things.”
Great, thought Sam. He was tired, yet intrigued by this strange boy who knew too many dark secrets, it seemed.
“Well, we need at least some sleep. The sun is coming up, so it must be close to five in the morning. Then after classes, we can figure out what it was.”
“We have to.”
“And why is that?”
“Because I think I may have upset whatever it is, so I am pretty sure it will come for me tonight.”
With that revelation, Jacob walked up the stairs, leaving Sam standing there, gaping at him, bewildered by what should have been obvious from the start.
It was lunch time in the great assembly hall, and Jacob sat alone, musing over problems that he seemed to have inherited through no fault of his own. Why hadn’t his father sent him to a normal school? Instead, he had been carried off to the other side of the country to play in a den for ghosts and goblins, or so it seemed.
Jacob was already composing in his head the scathing letter he would write to his father when he was startled out of his imaginings by the solid boom of a heavy book being dropped on the table. The book was promptly followed by Sam, who dropped his diminutive frame into the chair next to Jacob with a self-satisfied sigh.
“I’ve found it!” He said in a profound whisper.
Sam just scowled at him. “Don’t be an imbecile. I’ve found the demon!” He beamed with pride.
“Well, are you going to tell me?”
“It’s a narwytch.”
“Okay and where did you find it?”
“Here!” Sam thumped his hand of the black covered text of the Grimoire from the night before. Sam opened the book to a marked page, and turned it towards Jacob.
“In Germany, they call them Nacht Hexe, and in Latin they are called Nox Noctis Veneficus. They’re a sort of night hag, and they prey on the souls of children, particularly young ones, but mostly age doesn’t matter as long as the meat is fresh.”
“That’s disgusting.” Jacob looked at the illustration in the Grimoire, which showed a creature that was part shadow and part elderly woman.
“Remember what Timothy said, that it looked like a troll, when all we saw was a shadow. Well, when a narwytch appears, it takes the shape of whatever its victim fears the most. It immobilizes the victim with fear so that it can feed.”
“Great. The ghost is a shape-shifter.”
“It’s not really a ghost per se. It has to assume physical form so that it can change shape and feed, and that’s how we can stop it!”
“I know I’m not going to like the sound of this.” Jacob said, rolling his eyes. Sam just smiled; a wicked little boy’s smile.
“Probably not, but were going to try it tonight.”
When Jacob stared holes through his head, Sam just smiled wider.
“Don’t worry; I won’t let it get you.”
Definitely not shy, Jacob thought to himself, but he was a cheeky little bastard.
That night, shortly before midnight, Jacob lay in his own bed, shivering despite the heavy woolen blanket that was draped over him. He shivered not because of the cold, however, but because of what he knew was coming for him in the darkness. He shivered not with dread but rather with a sort of breathless anticipation. It was the sort of feeling you had when you knew that the monsters were real. I hope I’m ready for this, Jacob thought.
“You had better be right about this Sam.” He whispered, and all he received in response was a muffled sneeze from an unseen source in the room.
He hadn’t slept at all the previous night, and even now his eyelids were getting heavy. The temptation to roll over and drift into sleep was becoming unbearable.
He didn’t have long to wait, for he had been prophetically and predictably right.
The temperature in the room plummeted dramatically. Jacob’s breath plumed in front of his face, and yet still he had no fear, only resignation. The inevitable knowledge that comes from knowing one is live bait for a trap.
Without warning, Jacob could feel the shadow gliding through his room. It had a sickly weight that pushed hard on his chest, quickening his pulse. It was a malevolent presence, and Jacob could almost imagine its clotted chuckle as it spied his sleeping and vulnerable form on the bed. He appeared safe and warm, save for the horror about to take him. Jacob dared not open his eyes.
With the sound of sibilant hissing, and the rancorous cough and fleshy gurgle of some long dead and rotted lich returned from beyond, there came a feather light weight on the foot of the bed.
The horror was crawling onto the bed with him!
Sam, from his vantage place in the closet, was receiving nothing but hellish delight from the psychic aether in the room. He could feel the diseased rejoicing of the narwytch as if it was the very air he was breathing in his cramped hiding place. And then there came a thought, in a nightmare voice thick with blood and heavier, more loathsome things. Sweet fresh meat, the voice delighted, and powerful, such a meal!
Jacob threw the blankets off of himself, and quickly sitting up in the bed he promptly froze with terror! Don’t be afraid, he thought over and over; don’t be afraid. But how could he not be, for his worst nightmare had climbed onto his bed!
Jacob saw a young woman, or at least what had once been one. Jacob stared at her hands where they leaned on the bed; stared at the bloody handprints on the white woolen blanket. She was dressed in the remains of a dress, and wispy tatters breezed around her, clinging with moss and mold and the dirt of the grave. Her skin was mottled, decayed and blackened, and she smelled of rot and putrescence.
But her face was the worst of all. She stared at him with one sightless dead eye, and one darkened socket. Her wide grin betrayed a mouth full of teeth gone to rot, and her skin cracked and dripped from her face with the ooze of her decomposition. Jacob could only stare in horror at her face, the face that he had loved all of his life now run to the rotted visage of the eternity of the grave.
Jacob stared because it was the face of his mother.
His fear choking him, he managed to squeak out with breathless words. “What are you?”
The woman (his mother, he screamed in his mind) opened her mouth wider, the skin splitting and rending along her cheeks, fragile and ready to slough off of the bone. She spoke with the crackle and grief of the dead, yet beneath it all her voice was just as sweet and charming as he remembered it to be.
“I am that which all children fear, but you need not, darling one.” She held out her hands to Jacob. “Oh how I’ve missed you, sweet boy. Come and hold me.”
And Jacob screamed, silent and damned, a scream from his very soul that no one could hear.
Sam had waited for Jacob’s yell, his signal, and yet it never came. Worried, and feeling the growing horror deep in his bones, he knew what had happened. It was up to him, he thought. He never would have thought that someone of Crowe’s talent could be undone by any spirit or creature; not with his power; not with his parentage.
Sam threw open the closet door, watching in fear as Jacob sat screaming silently on the bed, the colour draining from his face leaving his wide eyes haunted and crazed. Above him hovered the shadow. The narwytch was using its power to scare him, to feed off of his soul and his fear. And Sam was the only one who could stop it.
Keeping far back from the bed, Sam gripped the recovered bone talisman that hung around his neck tightly. And with a trembling voice he began to speak the words he had spent all day memorizing.
“Quodcumque vos exsisto,” he intoned, the Latin coming easy from his lips, “Licentia is plagiarius vita, Dimitto viscus quod cruor, quod reverto ut socius vorago.”
The shadow hissed and shrieked, but did not advance on Sam. It merely turned away from Jacob, and tried to coalesce in the middle of the small room, growing larger with each hiss from its shapeless form.
Sam watched as Jacob shook his head, his face ashen as the dead, tears flowing freely from his haunted eyes. The invocation Sam had started seemed to have broken whatever hold the narwytch had had on Jacob, and it was true. All Jacob saw was the shadow, writing and growing in his room as he blinked his watering eyes and stood up on the bed.
For using what he most feared against him, the creature was going to be punished.
“Jacob, say the words, quickly!” Sam yelled.
Together they continued the prayer, the spell that would excise the narwytch from this plane.
“In nomen rex silenti mortuus...”
The shadow pulsed with unholy power, drawing on the solid darkness of the room, and the night itself, to fill the air in between the boys as if it were the very portal to hell itself.
“Quodcumque vos exsisto...”
The boys watched as the shadow took shape, but not just one shape. A hundred nightmare creatures, one after the other, writhed and screamed in the darkness; all hideous, all of them evil and twisted.
To the dying shrieks of the damned, Jacob and Sam weathered the twist of fell winds that threatened to knock them senseless. And yelling into that black maw of unholy power, they finished the spell.
“Nox Everto Genitus!”
All sound seemed to stop, and with a great sucking motion, the air was drawn into the dark chasm of the shadow. With a breath of icy and mind numbing thought, the shadow vanished into nothing.
Sam closed his eyes and breathed the warming air. They had done it; the narwytch was gone.
His eyes opened at the sound of Jacob collapsing on the bed. The boy’s body was wracked by tremors, and his sobs of grief filled the room as the shadow had done. Sam was confused. This was not the cold and strong Jacob Crowe he had expected. This was not the last descendant of a family known for having faced such horrors with courage and boundless power.
This was a scared little boy.
And for the second times in as many nights, Sam lay and held a crying boy, waiting for a sleep that would not come.
The next afternoon, there came a knock at Sam’s door. Finally getting to sleep himself not an hour before, he grumbled as he pulled his body out of bed and threw on a dressing gown. When he opened the heavy door, he was met with the blackened and weary eyes of Jacob Crowe, where he stood leaning heavily against the doorframe.
“It was my mother.” That was all that he said. Sam beckoned him into the room, and Jacob sat on the bed, his long hair hanging down as his head bowed. Sam sat on the floor in front of him, looking up into his eyes.
“The narwytch you mean. It appeared as your mother.”
Jacob sighed, deep from within, and Sam knew it was from a place of pain and never-ending loss.
“But why would you be afraid of your own mother?”
Jacob looked directly into Sam’s eyes.
“My mother has been dead for almost six months.”
Sam was shocked. With all that he knew of the history of the Crowe family, he hadn’t known this.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.” Sam knew what Jacob was going through. His own pain at losing his father had never lessened.
“How could you have known, I’ve never mentioned anything of my family,” Jacob was puzzled and just a little angry. So many people had said that they were sorry when it had happened.
“Well,” Sam began, “I may know more about you and your family than I previously let on.” He looked up sheepishly at Jacob, who smiled. It was a grim smile, but it was there none the less.
“How,” Jacob asked.
“My father being what he was, he knew all about your father; who he was, what he did. He wrote about your father in his notes. I have them if you want to read them sometime.”
“And so like the father, so goes the son, in both of our cases.”
Now Sam smiled, with a smile that still held some secrets.
“Of course. Besides, you being sent here was not a coincidence. You were meant to come here. Something evil and unholy is brewing in this place and who better than a Crowe to try and stop it.”
“How do you know that the narwytch wasn’t the only thing in the school?”
“Because I read books, and I know that a narwytch does not act alone. Someone, or rather something, had to have been controlling it. Well, or at least conjured it. So I think we’re going to have a lot of work to do, you and I. We’ve only seen the tip of the horror buried in this place.”
Jacob shook his head at the funny, enigmatic little boy, sitting there so proudly on the floor. A friend where he never expected to find one, he thought.
“Quite. You’re a strange boy, Samuel Hewitt.”
Sam looked seriously at him, a half smile playing on his small lips.
“You and me both.”
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