The Fallowing – The First, Part I

by Steppen Sawicki

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Novel: Occult adventure

There’s a bar in Carrington called The Oar.  It was once a posh hotel smack dab in the middle of what was once the city.  Now it was cracked and broken, the topmost windows gone, the HOTEL sign split in half.  But the inside was warm enough so long as you kept yourself in the lobby-turned-bar, and inviting enough so long as a few of what remained of the townspeople were gathered there.  And there were always townspeople in the bar.  Which made sense – Carrington was well-known for its beer, the only thing they had to trade, even if they did have to bring in hops and grain from the next town over.

I was there in the bar enjoying the fruits of Carrington’s labors, answering to the pokings and proddings of the people gathered there, listening to their plans of building more greenhouses and growing their own hops within two years.  A couple of the elders were drunk already.  One of the crowd held a sleeping baby, and a few kids were playing by the fire.

Once again the conversation came around to my being there.

“We’re so fortunate,” one of the tipsy women said.  “If you hadn’t come along when you did…”

I waved this off.  “The world works in mysterious ways,” I said, and took another sip of beer.

Three teenage girls had walked in only minutes ago and had joined the group clustered around me.  They had been roundly chastised for being out at night with the wolf out and about, even though half the town had braved the night to visit the bar.  All three girls were now staring at me without reserve.

“Well, what happened?” one of them asked.  She looked to Ben, who was seated close to me, arms wrapped in bandages, and then back to me.  “Tell us what happened,” she said, plaintive.

Before I could respond one of the old men spoke.

“You’re too late for the story.  Our visitor has already told it twice, and I’m sure she’s quite exhausted.  You’ll have to get the details from Ben later.”

“Nonsense,” I said.  “I’m still well awake.  I’d hate to deprive them of the tale.”

A few of the women protested, arguing that it was too late and too frightening for the children.  The girls, thinking it was them the women were concerned for, argued back.  I ended it all by clapping my emptied mug down on the table.

“I had just passed within the outskirts of your town,” I began.  “I had been traveling long –  perhaps fifty miles from the last outpost – and though I was weary, I was still on high alert.  You never know what you’ll come across in a new town, what changes will have occurred since last news of it.  I’ve been greeted with bullets on more than one occasion.  But this time would be different.  This time I would be welcomed with a scream of pain and horror.”

“I didn’t scream,” Ben objected.

“A cry then,” I amended.  “Of pain and horror.  I didn’t hesitate, but ran towards the sound, darting through the streets, hearing as I closed in the added noise of snarling and the gnash of teeth.  I rounded the last building in my way and there the scene stood before me.”

I framed the air before me with my hands as if I could still see it.

“The beast, twice the size of any man, filthy fur bristling, his paw the size of your skull.  Fangs bared and slavering, snapping and tearing at poor Ben, who was fending it off as best he could without any weapon.”

A few gasped at my description.  The younger children were silent now, listening attentively.  Even Ben was enthralled, and he had been there.

“I didn’t waste a moment.  I drew my pistol.”

This I mimed.

“I took aim.  I fired three shots, one to the shoulder, two to the head of the thing.  They hit true, and the beast yelped like a puppy and turned from its target.  It faced me, loathing and madness in its bloodshot eyes, and I met its gaze.  It was only a moment, but that moment stretched the seconds to minutes, as the beast weighed its options with the deliberation of a man.  In that gaze fury battled with the eery knowledge that he could not match the power that my gun lent me.  With one more snarl, one more gnash of bloodied teeth in my direction, it turned and ran like a coward.  I fired two more shots as it retreated, but if they found their mark the beast gave no sign save the drops of red it left in the snow.”

I shook my head as if saddened.

“I regret that I couldn’t give chase, but Ben was wounded.”

I very nearly continued, so caught up in the story that I almost told them what I wasn’t yet ready to unveil, wasn’t ready to discuss: that the tracks stamped into the snow following the fleeing creature were not entirely those of a wolf.

But right at that moment the door to the bar opened, chiming the little bell that hung on its corner, and the room fell into a hush as everyone stared at the boy that entered.  His hair was unkempt, his eyes framed by dark circles, and he didn’t notice the attention given him but only shuffled listlessly to the counter, looking to the floor ahead of him.

Conversation started again in the room, but slowly, as if the crowd were trying to overcome some embarrassment.

One of the girls leaned in close to me.  “That’s Simon,” she whispered.  “He and Carrie kind of had a thing going.”

Simon spoke to the man at the counter and handed over a sheet of paper.  He was either picking up groceries or alcohol.  Or both.

“Carrie?”  I said.  “The girl who…?”

Allen, the old man next to me, shook his gray head.  “It’s a shame you could only wound that wolf.  We must find it and put an end to this.”  He watched me as he said this, silently putting me to the task.

“I have reason to believe,” I said, “that girl was not killed by this wolf.”

Astonished faces stared at me from around the table.

“But you saw it yourself,” Allen protested.

“I did fight a wolf, yes.  However, I have been tracking a man, not a wolf.”

Astonishment turned to confusion, as well as a touch of horror in more than one face.  One spoke up, perhaps too loudly.  “Are you saying she was murdered?”

Simon might have heard.  He looked in our direction as the barman handed him a bag of goods.

“It’s possible,” I said.  “But I’ll have to see her body to confirm it.”

They mulled this over, glancing at each other.

“Very well,” Allen said.  “I can show you the body tomorrow.  But I assure you, once you see it you will have no doubt – no human could do such a thing.”

I rested my chin in my hands and I imagine my eyes grew even blacker in the sparse light as I looked back into the darkness in my memory.  But all I said was “Don’t be too certain of that.”