(From When Kings Clash, by J.E. Lowder)
The bluish light from the two firesticks burned a hole in the dark. Despite Vonn and ’s skepticism in their mother’s beliefs, the shadows still sent shivers through them. They pressed close to her side.
“Your father came to me…in a dream.” She shoved the firestick this way and that. “All I could see was his face.”
The boys snickered. Tonight, like all the others, was just another exercise in craziness.
“He was ghostly pale. Said we was to bury him so he wouldn’t wander these woods forever.”
She led them up a hill and they continued to laugh.
“Then the vision opened up, like someone takin’ a sheet off a corpse, and I could see everythin’.”
At the summit, she stopped and held her firestick overhead. Mälque copied her.
Two dead bodies lay in the ravine.
The boys gasped. Mälque fumbled his firestick and Vonn dropped his shovel. As Wurmlins, they’d seen their share of dead bodies, but nothing prepared them for this. Arms jutted skyward, frozen in place; fingers hooked as if digging to escape, but from what they could only wonder.
“Ain’t laughin’ now, are you?”
They took in her expression. The bluish light from the firesticks made her already wild eyes pulse. A faint smile twitched at the corners of her mouth as if discovering morbid bodies at night was commonplace.
“Still think your mom’s crazy?”
Young heads wagged as they focused once again on the corpses.
“Now pick up that shovel and come on.”
She led them downhill with long strides and stopped beside the bodies.
“Look,” Vonn half-whispered from around her side. “Their skin’s blue!”
Mälque stuck out his firestick for a better look. Despite the men’s grimy faces and hands, a bluish tint could be seen. But it was their twisted arms jutting straight up, their gnarled fingers reaching for the unknown, and their legs lying every which a way that made his skin crawl.
“Why are they all twisted up like that?”
“Hush up!” She lowered her light to the bodies to identify them. “I recognize these two. They were part of your father’s pack. But where’s he?”
She swept her firestick searching for any sign of her husband’s body. “He aint’ here,” she mumbled to herself. “But I already knew that, ‘cause I had the dream.” And then to the boys: “I sense he’s close by. He’s already walkin’ the woods as a spirit…whisperin’. Ya hear him?”
She pushed her face close to Vonn and Mälque. The glow from the firestick cut deep shadows into her face making her feral eyes all the more terrifying. They leaned away from her. “Can you boys feel him; hear him,” she asked, eager for them to join her on her supernatural journey. “Gotta believe. Gotta listen.”
Unable or unwilling to connect with their father’s ghost, they shook their heads, spooked by the night’s portents as well as her expression.
“Don’t ya worry,” she offered with a half-smile. “One day, you’ll hear whispers too. I promise. Now come on.”
She spun away and resumed her quick gait deeper into the woods. When they skirted around a huge tree, Vonn and Mälque froze in place.
They found another body.
His lower portion – from his waistline down to his boots – stood erect, as if awaiting their arrival, while his upper half lay nearby.
Their mother approached the upper torso lying in the leaves, not the least bit distraught by the macabre scene.
“It’s just like I dreamed,” she mumbled, more to herself than to her sons. “But what sorta monster kills like this?”
She knelt for a better look and thrust her firestick close to identify the face. A death mask of blue skin surrounded glossed over eyes; mouth – agape with leaves stuck to pale lips – locked in what undoubtedly was his last scream. “Yep, that’s him.”
Vonn dropped his shovel and turned to throw up.
Mälque buckled to the ground and also puked. When their convulsions ended, they wiped mouths with their sleeves. Vonn retrieved his shovel and offered Mälque his hand.
“Look at her,” Mälque whispered as he was pulled to his feet. “Not a tear or even a scream.”
“I know. This ain’t right.”
She rose and made her way to the erect half and sized it up like they’d seen her do a slab of meat at the market. She ran her hand back and forth over the torso’s top as if to make sure it wasn’t a mirage.
“Cut clean in two,” she half-marveled as she continued sweeping her hand back and forth, “and ain’t a drop of blood no where. But how?”
She jerked her hand away as if stung by a wasp and hopped away from the corpse.
“Boys, come here!” Fear was in her voice as she waved them over. “Hurry.”
Her tone told them they were in danger, so they ran to her side.
Mälque eyed his father’s corpse but when the bile returned, focused instead on his mother’s face. Her twitching smile was gone, replaced by taut lips stretched across yellowed teeth; her eyes were narrow slits that searched for danger.
“What’s wrong,” he asked.
“Shh!” She backed them away, her firestick darting this way and
that, probing the darkness – for what, the boys could only wonder.
When she felt they were far enough away from the grisly scene, she knelt and took in their confused looks. “You boys listen, and listen good.”
They could hear the fear in her voice; smell it on her sweat.
“You don’t tell no one what you just saw, you hear?” She shook them to make sure they understood.
Mälque squinted at her in confusion.
She zeroed in on her youngest son. “No one, Mälque. No one.”
“But who cut him in…”
She covered his mouth with her hand.
“Ain’t seen this kinda thing since the Dark War.” She paused to make sure he would be quiet.
“Boys, listen to me.” She released her hold on Malque. “An Awakenin’ has occurred. Dangerous creatures you’ve never seen before prowl about, or make their dens in dead trees. Those are called fea dracas – tiny dragons that’ll swarm and eat ya alive. Never go near trees like that, I don’t care how brave ya feel. Understand me?”
They nodded. She continued.
“Stay sharp. Whatever killed your dad is still out there.” She eyed the darkness surrounding them. “These woods are cursed. Cursed.”
She turned her attention back to her sons. “You’ll hear whispers, and I ain’t talkin’ about voices from the grave, neither. They might come from Claire or Ebon. Sweet as songbirds. Might even sound the same, promisin’ this or that. Ignore them. Stay true to the whispers in your head.”
She tapped their foreheads to make her point.
“You’re gonna see things ya never seen before, too. Crazy things. Don’t pay them no mind neither.”
Her eyes narrowed, she pressed closer, her nose touching theirs, hot breath vaporizing before their eyes. “‘Cause chances are…” Her eyes darted left then right to make sure they were still alone. Zeroing in on their wide-eyed expressions again, she finished. “Storytellers from Claire are on the prowl.”
The boys gasped, well versed by their mother on the horrors she ascribed to the tellers of tales.
“Conniving men and women.” Yellowed teeth were gritted now, words sharpened by painful memories cut open the night’s stillness. “Magic herbs that can ease pain and heal, or kill. Stories that can open the ground like a grave or,” she wet her lips, “make ya wish ya was dead.”
She wiped the snot running from her nose as if to clear the memories of the past. “No matter what happens to me, you two stay together. Don’t trust no one. Not even other Wurmlins.” Softer still. “Especially other Wurmlins.”
She snapped her head away, either spooked by something nearby or merely checking their surroundings. Convinced they were still safe and alone, she looked back into their frightened faces.
“Now help me bury ‘em. Don’t need our tribe knowin’ about the Awakenin’. Not yet, anyways.”
She marched to her husband’s body but the boys didn’t follow.
Vonn and Mälque exchanged worried glances.
“Boys!” She flashed them a hot look and waved them on.
They swallowed the bile rising into their throats and crept forward, the only sound coming from Vonn’s shovel that he dragged through the dead leaves.