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“From the Dusty Road”

An Emissary of Death finds his path along Death’s Road blocked by an Atrocity who seeks o devour the Emissary’s lantern and the countless souls therein…

A short story which is a part of the inspiration for my upcoming novel, “From the Dusty Road” and recently submitted to the website Glimmer Train.

The above link contains an audio file of my narration of the story but if anyone’s curious as to the content… Well, here’s the opening segment…

A thick fog crept slowly against the earth. A sluggish miasma of translucent grays and murky whites that flowed with no visible destination though the source of it is clear as the stars on a moonless night sky. The source is a young man standing precariously upon the edge of teenaged years yet there is no mistaking the age in his movements. It is a kind of unnatural grace that could only be born from countless decades of practice. With every step he took, wafts of mist rose from the ground, the pads of his feet almost freezing to the touch even when buried beneath the thickness of workman boots.

He carries with him no pack of supplies to survive the midnight hours and no bag of food for an upcoming dawn’s feasting. Nothing to indicate that he was prepared for a lengthy journey save for one thing. A long rod of wood upon the end of which hung a single lantern that swayed gently to his every step. The lantern’s creaking upon the pole was a fitting accompaniment to the heavy sound of his footsteps as he carelessly carried it upon his shoulder, its light trailing behind him like a gleeful pup.

The only true bit of color to his otherwise black ensemble is the necklace he bore much like the lantern and its pole. A long chain of finely polished silver upon which hung but a single, powerful sigil. A human skull carved of gleaming ivory sat heavily upon his chest with glaring eyes of bloodied rubies and fangs of glistening obsidian. A bit of grisly decoration and nothing more save as a means of identifying not the one who wore such a macabre symbol but the one for whom he did so out of duty.

His attire is befitting of a man made for walking down long, winding roads though there is still a style of elegance to the cloths, silent speakers who whispered their impressions of wealth and greatness upon any open eyes who happened to be listening. One such article in particular is the wide fedora that sits atop his head, black as noontime shadows, with a massive feather, white as freshly fallen snow, sticking out from its velvet ribbon. It was the one gift he had been given since the start of his travels by an unseen benefactor. The softly glowing feather had an unseen message tied to it, a shard of hope that he no longer bothered in believing any longer.

He has spent so much immeasurable time on the midnight road he has all but given up on the promise of hope, the end of the road. There was no such thing as hope awaiting him for the road never forked, never turned, and most certainly did not end. It was a fool’s dream, a childish fantasy, to even remember the light of the sun beating down upon him once more and to feel its encompassing warmth, a mother’s love, surrounding him in a fiery embrace.

A cloud shuffled along its merry way and the full moon shined freely once more, reflecting its pale light against emerald eyes that looked ahead with an inhuman detachment down the long, dusty road. The road held no signs of life left along its winding body. The passing footsteps of those who walked it before were lost long ago to an uncaring wind. In the woods that loomed along the path, eyes glistened, watching as the traveler continued on his journey. They made no steps to aid or hinder him though some could not help their nightly vocalizations to the midnight sky.

Crickets well into their twilight symphony continued onwards to the next crescendo as the questionings of owls echoed down from the high canopy. A wondrous example of the true beauty in the night and nothing more than disgusting lies. Echoes of life long past and nothing more in this morbid realm though there was one true, living thing that edged on the outskirts. It is hiding away in the darkness, well away from the light of the traveler’s lantern and the open road upon which he traveled.

It is a festering sore of cruel depravity that hungers for more than living flesh and warm blood. It is out there hunting even now, its travels echoing upon the long, desolate road as it searches for another hapless fool to stumble down into its massive gullet. The traveler knows of this horrendous beast but shows no inkling of fear. Why should he? The beast hungers for living flesh and warm blood, and he possesses little of either to satisfy its palette.

The melody of the night abruptly halts before a man’s scream tears through the sudden silence. The traveler pauses long enough to wait out the simpering echoes. He waits a moment before he glances back up to his lantern. He sees that the light within has not brightened and the traveler’s eyes narrow.

That is impossible. He thinks to himself. The light should brighten with the arrival of another soul…

Another scream, a woman’s, pierces the darkness. The traveler looks forward to the road and waits a minute more before slowly glancing back up at his lantern. It remains the same and that’s when he hears it. It is a horrible culmination of the worst kinds of noise. The crunching of bones, the tearing of flesh, and the shredding of souls, and a new sudden silence descends in an empty wood. He swings the lantern forward to light the path ahead rather then what lay behind him for the first time since he began his long endless journey.