The car was too far away. Anna’s feet didn’t quite touch the ground properly as she staggered backwards, never taking her eyes from the place where evil, where murder, where hell had stood and dared her to react on emotions alone. Knowing she almost did exactly what it wanted. Almost met death at the hands of the enemy she’d never believed in. The scary fairy-tale.
The shaking in her core was like a timpani. Her chest rattled as she struggled to get breath into her lungs, to move at the same time, to shrink and shrivel, to disappear.
Anna wanted to scream. She wanted to run across the tracks and take it on. She wanted to kill it, avenge Stepan. She wanted to get in her car and drive – anywhere in the direction of away.
The storm in her mind overwhelmed logic and clarity. A cyclonic volume of anger, hate and fear lashed at her body and mind, heart and soul.
It couldn’t be real. She’d never believed it for a moment. Not once. Not ever. Not until this very moment. Was it real? Really, really real? Or was she inheriting the family madness?
She’d spent her life finding a way to be independent. To move on from the family traditions, the crazy obligations, the war against things that didn’t exist. That couldn’t exist. Fairy-tales were not real. That thing couldn’t be real.
Except she’d just met it. The enemy. And if the enemy was real, if it had murdered Stepan, told her how it murdered him, and what he’d said, what of the rest of the tales she’d been told? What if they were true?
What if Nan wasn’t an eccentric old woman who told fairy tales of such things? What if she wasn’t mad or paranoid or delusional, or any of the other things the doctors said?
On an urge, Anna reached behind herself, as if to scratch her back. Her fingers dug into the muscles, tried to find the bump. Prayed she wouldn’t feel it, that it wouldn’t be true.
Her gut froze before her feet stopped.
Try the other side.
Two lumps. Not tiny bumps, not humps, but lumps that were warm and pulsing, as if they were alive, separate beings under her skin.
She gasped. Tried to breathe in and out; her world changed polarity, spun everything upside down, inside out, twisted and warped.
It didn’t mean anything. It didn’t mean what she thought it did. It wasn’t possible. Not even slightly. Not real. Not – not – not real.
One foot skidded, the ankle twisted on a piece of stone or gravel.
Anna stopped. No, she hadn’t stopped. She’d fallen. Her backside was on the road, both hands down by her side, eyes fixed and unmoving from the memory of that vision and its location.
The realisation that all the stories were real hit her like an avalanche, smashed into her head like tons of rock and ice and snow. Loud. Shuddering. Earth shattering.
The enemy was real.
Stepan’s death wasn’t suicide.
The murderer was here. It lured Anna into a trap. To kill her. And if the stories from Nan were true, if Anna died, the last line of Sylph died with her. There was only ever one in each generation. Anna wasn’t good enough to deal with it. She’d been stupid. Childish.
The enemy would win. Take over this plane of the sheaf-verse.
They wouldn’t know what hit them.
Anna didn’t know what’d hit her. It felt like a flaming asteroid just smashed all her beliefs to ash.
Her fingers shook as she dragged her phone out; as she stared at the non-existent line for connectivity. No bars. Out of range. Out of service. Out of touch.
How could she get a message to Nan? Or better yet, her mother Illi, whom Anna had never met because she was away ‘doing the family business’ – as Valki, Warrior of the Way.
Anna shuddered. She’d never believed it. Never.
Stories to keep a wayward child in line, an independent and difficult child who didn’t believe anything she couldn’t see, touch, taste, smell, hear.
The words she’d spoken to the harridan weren’t words she’d prepared – they leapt directly from her soul. They were as real as her ability to get within the emotional guard-bubble people wrapped themselves in.
The side-panel of the car banged her head. She’d reached the car. Her hands and feet stopped moving. Her eyes remained fixed and unclosing, focused on one thing – that space, there, where it had warned her. The metal of the car ticked as it flexed in the rapidly cooling night air.
Shit! Crap. She needed better swear words. It was real. It was all real.
How could she deal with that? What could she do? How – how – how could she fight that thing?
She shook the phone, glared up at the tower.
What could she do? The harridan was right. Anna was untrained, unskilled, and about as unworthy of the Valki Warrior tag as a new-born kitten.
She could get in the car, drive far enough to get a signal, call Nan, and leave it in her hands.
Or call her mother, return one of the millions of calls she’d ignored for most of her adult life.
Or run and hide and …
No. Stop. Be sensible.
If she ran, the harridan might get out. The wards might not be what she thought they were. They might be what the harridan used to keep people out of her lair.
Which meant, no matter how far Anna went, it would know, and it would follow. A wolf’s nose was as good as a stick in comparison to one of the gnaDenaiad, according to Nan.
It had her scent. And it got her scent from Stepan. As it murdered him. As he said her name with his last breath.
Anna was right. It was her fault Stepan died. If she hadn’t shown an interest, if she hadn’t …
No. Stop. Blame wouldn’t fix it.
Running wouldn’t fix it.
Valki Illi wouldn’t get there in time – Anna had to believe the harridan sent her out of the way, that it knew what it was doing. It was dangerous to think otherwise.
Nan wouldn’t fix it. She’d probably tell Anna that this was her task, her test of skills in the Path that led to the Way.
And if she left town now, what would happen to Bud? ‘New, not quite ready to be all he is meant to be,’ was what Sylv said.
Anna shook her head, hard, banged it against the car door. Another innocent would die if she walked away now.
She would not call that thing by the name it chose. Would not give it the pleasure of the mask, wouldn’t let her know just how effective it had been to hide in plain sight behind a simple word.
Okay. She couldn’t leave. She couldn’t call anyone. What else?
Research the location, find the opening. The gnaDenaiad always had a portal to the plane of origin. The doorway was the main focus of all the stories. Find the door.
To do that, she’d need the internet, or a local, or both. And newspapers. Would there be somewhere to find the old newspapers?
It was a start. Something to focus on.
In the back of her mind, though, was the secret need to call Nan, to let her know, to get help. To talk to someone who would understand the cold knot of fear that wrenched at her bones.
And right now, she needed a toilet. And a change of undies.
I hope you enjoyed that short excerpt of the story: The Valki of Three Salt Springs, urban/rural fantasy/horror
pic from Pixabay (isn’t it great!).