Fiction that explores the monsters and strangers among us.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Travelers in the North Country


New to this series? Read from the beginning of the story by clicking here.

***
When the short, plump innkeeper opened the door, a thin man of medium height pushed his way in. The innkeeper attempted to close the door behind the rover, but a rush of raw spirit forced him back. An aroma of burned sulfur filled his nostrils. The hair on the back of his neck rose.

The innkeeper sought his voice. His mouth and jaw moved up and down, but nothing came out. He swallowed hard and found a weak, faded and stammering voice. “Do you wish food, wine, and a place to sleep? For these you must have coins.” He spoke in Greek tainted with bits of the Aramaic common to the townsfolk.

The gray cat at the innkeeper’s feet noticed the black demons drenched in brimstone. It stood with its hackles up and screeched. The innkeeper kicked the cat, and finding his normal voice, said to it, “Here, you, what’s this?”

The traveler reached into his cloak and pulled coins from a purse revealing a long knife tucked into his belt as he did so. He dropped a few coins in the innkeeper’s hands.

“These will do. Welcome, stranger, and eat. Follow me. Here is a place for you at table. Don’t mind the cat.”

The man checked the spot where the innkeeper indicated. Other travelers filled the table. A blind man wore rags so must have had a good day’s begging to afford a night of comfort. Another had but one leg and a stick nearby to lean upon. A third leaned his head on his hand and slept while two flies buzzed between his cup and a half empty plate. The traveler ignored the others at the table and strode off towards a man staring out the latticework window. That man wore a coarse cloth and leather outfit with a short skirt. His hand rested on the hilt of a sword.

“As you wish, sir,” called the innkeeper to the traveler. Nodding towards the man by the window, the innkeeper said, “He is of the king’s guard over there. A quiet man. You two are well met.”

The innkeeper shook his head as he turned towards the kitchen. He lifted one of the coins to his mouth and bit into it.

Across the room, the traveler addressed the military man in Latin-stained Aramaic. “She is here.”

The spirits gathered about the two men, some hanging from the ceiling, some crawling like roaches on the floor. The cat backed away from the specters towards the warmth of the kitchen.

The military man sniffed the air and winced at the pungent odor that followed the traveler. “She has been busy in the marketplace. We should act tonight,” he replied.

“You have your sword.”

“Herod said to wait for you. When he says ‘wait,’ I wait. When he says ‘act,’ I act. Let us act before the storm worsens.”

“Let’s eat. The road was long today. Uphill. Why this infernal town of all places?”

“She is here, Hillalel.”

“You are a simple man, Bezalel. I on the other hand am a hungry one. A bit of wine, some cheese, bread and a warm hearth. She’ll still be around in the morning.”

The dark fiends leapt upon the two men, with half digging their claws into their brains, while the others sank tentacles into their hearts, each encouraging the men on their journey.

“I feel twitchy. Shouldn’t we be about our business?” Bezalel scratched at his back.

“This place has an air about it. I don’t like it here. I feel... well, you are right, Bezalel. Let’s go.” Turning to leave, Hillalel shouted, “Innkeeper.”

The innkeeper came running. He could not see the black demons infesting the men, but he shook in their presence and stuttered. “Yes, sir, your food is prepared. The girl brings a hot stew, see?”

“Hold the food and wine” Hillalel waved off the innkeeper.

The two men trudged out, dragging with them an invisible army of evil clutching with their claws and tentacles.

“She is down this way,” said Bezalel.

“Yes, I know.”
***
To Dwell Among Us continues tomorrow.

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