Presented, without comment (save this one) is the first chapter in what I’ve been working on the past year or so. Enjoy!
Part I: Red Circle
The boy ran through the forest, away from the horrible sound of those rattling bones. He was so frightened that, for a moment, he even forgot who he was.
Heinrich. My name is Heinrich. I am Heinrich von Eppanhof, son of Johannes von Eppanhof. I am from Vienna, capital of the most powerful empire on the continent.
And a skeleton is chasing me.
There should be no such thing, he knew. Skeletons were supposed to stay in the ground, notwithstanding what the Scriptures say. And he didn’t believe, couldn’t believe, that such a fate was what lay ahead in the resurrection.
At least the thing was away from Ilsa. But Ilsa, clinging to a rock in the Danube, was not out of trouble. Not yet. If he did not find help soon, she would learn that the depths of those normally placid waters could be just as deadly as any monster from the depths of her nightmares. But there would also danger in whatever help he may come across; anyone wandering in these woods at this late hour might be a worse kind of monster. The human kind.
He would have fought the skeleton, of course, but like a fool he had left his sword at home. I won’t need it, he had told himself. The Empire is safe. What danger could there be in spending a romantic night by the river with the one he loved?
Now he could see what a stupid, cosseted scion of nobility he truly was.
Soft. I am soft and I am paying the price. His father would be disappointed in him. As usual. Even now, racing for his life through the forest, he could hear his father’s stern words: “A man must always be prepared, Heinrich. What were you thinking?”
Right now, Father . . . right now all I am thinking about is how to stay alive.
The clattering grew closer, as did that chill, that icy blast of inhumanity emanating from the skeleton. It was like a smell; not aggressive scent of decay, not exactly. It was aggressive, yes, but aggressive in its complete emptiness, as though the skeleton inhabited a void that drew in the life and warmth surrounding it.
One slip, one loss of ground, and that emptiness would be upon him. And what then?
But the moon was his friend that night, her light filtering through the trees to guide him with a silvery finger. He always thought of the moon as a her, mysterious and seductive in the night sky, coyly revealing only one side of her face to her waiting earthbound suitors.
More flighty mooning, his thoughts yet again turning to tales of lords and ladies, love and adventure. No wonder both his father and Karl his sword instructor thought him an unserious boy.
He was a man, or would be soon. And he had to start acting like one.
He hopped the gnarled branch of an oak, hoping that the thing behind him would trip, falling to the ground in an explosion of lifeless bones.
But when he peeked over his shoulder the thing still followed, grinning malevolently and holding aloft a long, thick bone. Where that bone came from, Heinrich couldn’t say; the skeleton seemed to have all of its in place. But that was a mystery to ponder on another, safer day.
He turned back and found himself face-to-face with a tree that had seemed to leap into his path. With a grace he did not know he possessed he spun, skirting the tree and continuing his flight for at least a few moments more.
Suddenly he was out of the forest and onto the road, bursting from the wilderness in a spray of leaves and branches. The sight of that hard-packed dirt, so familiar to him, had never been so welcome. And there, a little further ahead, he saw the shadowy form of someone walking towards the city. A man. A large one.
The man carried no torch. Who wanders down the road without light? Heinrich thought, even with the moon so bright? But a drowning man did not scoff at the lifeline dangling before him, even if it lead up into the unknown.
“Help!” he screamed, panic giving his voice strength. “Over here, help!”
A strong wind blew towards the city, stray leaves swirling along the road. The man’s cloak fluttered around his legs like folded wings. He stopped moving and turned, but did not come running.
Heinrich opened his mouth to yell again, but something hard struck his head, cutting off his cry. He fell to his knees as though in prayer before toppling forward with his face in the dirt. Next to him, a long bone fell to the road with a heavy thump.
He lay, wondering what the skeleton would do to him and how much it would hurt. But before the panic overtook him he felt an odd calm envelop him like a warm blanket. Things will not be so bad on the other side, he thought. There would be no pain and no sorrow, no skeletons chasing him through dark forests. He would see his mother again . . . Continue reading “The Rust Man: Chapter 1”