The Sun Hath Dried Us Black

by thelirivalley

1912

Arthur Carver stepped out of his house and greeted the dull, grey light with feigned purpose. The smell of wet smoke and fire still lingered in the air as he stood on his damp wooden porch surveying the wreckage before him. The storm had strewn barrels, pieces of wood, and various bits of hay all about the main square of their little Hamlet. It would be a fair bit of work to clean it up and Arthur knew that no one was going to simply volunteer, that left it up to him as acting Mayor to delegate the task. Once again he would be the cause of today’s strife and for a moment he considered simply doing it himself but he shook the thought from his mind when he remembered that after the town hall meeting he was to help Edward negotiate the cost of a few more horses from another village.

“Although, why waste an opportunity…” he said quietly to himself as he walked absentmindedly towards the center of the town square, stooping to pick up small pieces of wood and bits of hay as he walked. He made sure to do it in loud gestures so that the other townsfolk who were currently emerging from their houses saw the effort he was putting into cleaning the square himself. This way, he thought to himself, they wouldn’t see me as just delegating tasks later when I have to assign some people to clean all this up.

The townsfolk continued to come out of their houses, acting like scared children checking to see if their parents had stopped fighting, and sure enough the storm had come and gone leaving only broken bits of the turmoil behind. Some of them started to make a halfhearted attempt to clean up the destruction but after a few short minutes of idle work many stopped and began staring in Arthur’s direction. He noticed the citizens growing interest and in response decided to continue his philanthropic chore, keeping the slow but steady pace towards the center of the square, picking up each bit of rubble he could with a humble smile upon his face until his arms were filled.

He turned around and continued to walk backwards towards the center of the town square, looking towards the now gathering crowd which assembled in the direction he came from. He shyly nodded referencing the mound of debris in his open arms and with a crisp half frown on his face he made a gesture as if to say, “No need to thank me, I’m only human.” Arthur would have continued his self-congratulation had he not noticed that the faces of the townspeople were not depictions of praise or appreciation but rather that of absolute horror. Arthur stopped walking when he felt a soft poke in his back and turned around to see the body of a boy hanging by his feet.

“The body had been strung up sometime in the early morning,” Henry, the town doctor said in a gruff voice, “…and if you look here…” he pointed towards the gaping hole in the chest, “…his ribs are broken with an immense force. Just like…”

“Just like the others.” Arthur said crisply, cutting him off.

The townspeople gathered around the twisted tabloid in a hushed whisper, Arthur took a deep breath and turned towards the crowd as an eerie silence fell over them. The women held their children’s hands and the fathers, with stern faces, eyed those watching – as if to spot the perpetrator themselves. Arthur eyed the group and after a brief moment his eyes met those of the farmer Jacob Blakely, the victim’s father. Jacob’s eyes began welling up with tears as Arthur gave a slow reluctant nod confirming the farmers suspicions; that the naked boy strung up behind him was in fact his son. The crowd began to stir again as they witnessed the exchange between the two and after a deep breath Arthur addressed the townsfolk.

“Charlie Blakely was murdered this morning.”

He let the news wash over the crowd and saw some women gasp as the news trickled through the crowd like melting snow down a frozen waterfall, as if the boy behind him wasn’t proof enough. The elderly, who made up a fair portion of their little Hamlet, were much too old to be of any use and after the word was carried to those too blind or deaf to understand, he continued. He stopped for a moment considering what to say next and found himself at a loss for words, instead he opted for the logistics of the hours to follow before addressing the emotional weight this murder brought.

“I need volunteers to help clean up the square and a few to help Jacob with his son.” He said anxiously.

With the young boy’s death on their minds a fair number of offers were put out to aid the township and its people. After the duties had been assigned Arthur swallowed hard and reassured the townspeople with what little comfort he could muster and after a brief moment of silence for the young boy the crowd dissipated silently.

Over the past two months they had lost almost a dozen men, women and children. The previous mayor was among one of the first victims and Arthur, being a simple wood cutter, was only chosen because he was one of the few in town that could read and write, something his father had insisted upon from an early age. Since his reluctant acceptance of the position he not only lost many friends in the village but he had also lost a great deal of respect.

When he rounded the corner of the square he stopped between Edward’s barn and Ms. Margery’s house and looked back to see if anyone had seen him slip into the alley. When he was sure that no one had seen him he crouched down in the mud and wept. The image of the young boys lifeless eyes darted behind his own and for a few minutes he considered just giving up. He quickly shook the thought from his mind, through unfathomable sorrow these people have persevered, he would not do them the disservice of breaking first. He eventually wiped his eyes and turned to see a young boy standing at the far side of the makeshift alleyway and after the initial shock of seeing the him had passed, he let out a weak smile towards the boy who in turn smiled back.

Arthur waved him over and he nervously approached.

“Why are you crying?” the child asked Arthur who was taken aback by the boy’s sincerity. It humbled him earnestly so much that he had to take a deep breath to keep himself from tearing up again.

“You’re a perceptive one, yes?” Arthur managed to say with a smile, a short step back from the emotional thoughts that swam around his mind. The child just nodded, a large smile on his darkened filth covered face.

“Well… I’m crying because I’m…..because I don’t know what to do.” Arthur said honestly. “I want so much to make sure everyone is safe in our little town, but no matter what I do……some people still get hurt.” Arthur felt a great sense of relief confiding his feelings to the young boy and then felt immediately guilty for burdening a small child with such raw honest emotion. The boy just remained silent, a large grin plastered on his face. After a long pause Arthur looked at the his face again, this time studying it, the details of which felt oddly familiar; then his heart sank. Arthur leaned forward from his crouched position and sunk his hands into the wet mud as tears began to well in his eyes again, he kept his head down as if ashamed as he continued.

“…and because I couldn’t save you Charlie.” The pale white figure standing before him dissipated as Arthur stood up, wiping the tears from his eyes. He waited in the dark alley for a few minutes thinking over the events that had transpired, recalling the past murders and seeing that they were without a single indication of its stopping. Arthur turned back towards the empty alley and spoke to the vacant space where the boy once stood.

“It will not happen again.” Arthur said as if the matter were settled. He brushed the mud off his hands and headed straight towards the Doctor’s house in stride.

“What’s on your mind, Arthur?” Henry said without turning his attention away from the open book on the table before him. Arthur had burst into his house moments earlier and was now standing as if ready for a confrontation.

“Why the hell are you still a Doctor? Do we even need a Doctor anymore?” Arthur shot at him as he began pacing back and forth in the front room of Henry’s house, his footsteps echoing loudly with each hollow knock on the wooden floor. Henry calmly closed the book and turned around in his chair to see Arthurs face which was still wet with tears. After a short beat Henry addressed Arthur as a father would his child.

“Don’t pretend you’re mad at me.” Henry said dismissively and then slowly stood up walking towards the dining room table. He very carefully picked up a small white linen handkerchief so as not to spill its contents and walked over to Arthur whose face now showed embarrassment after being scolded by Henry.

“After looking at Charlie I noticed something different about his wound.” Arthur’s eyes dashed towards the handkerchief nervously as Henry continued.

“There were long pieces of wood within his wound Arthur, as if he were impaled by a tree.” Henry revealed the small blood stained pieces of wood that lined the handkerchief’s creases. Arthur examined them with a puzzled look and after a moment he carefully took the handkerchief from Henry’s hand and reached in to pick up a large splinter. With the piece between his thumb and forefinger he held it out a few inches from his face, examining it with curious bewilderment and a moment later Henry noticed a flash of excitement behind Arthur’s eyes.

“I know this wood.” He said almost excitedly, “it’s Birchwood and the nearest birch trees are a half hour walk from here.”

“It’s something.” Said Henry quietly, nodding to Arthur as if to support his thesis.

“It is something.” Arthur said in agreement. He stood there for a moment, rolling the large splinter between his thumb and forefinger while he pondered what to do next. The image of the young boy flashed once again through his mind and then to the past few months, the death, the fear; the overwhelming sadness that has plagued their small town and with a confident nod towards Henry he said, “I’ll be back later.” Henry saw the pain in Arthurs eyes and the drive hidden behind them and instead of debate, simply spoke to him.

“You won’t have much time….” Henry said nervously. After a beat he turned around and grabbed something off the desk behind him, “Here. Just in case.” Henry handed him a small crude blade, which Arthur took with a worried look.

“I’ll be fine.” Arthur said as he flew out of the house and began running into the woods.

The woods were pitch black but years of navigating in the dark had all but rendered the darkness obsolete to Arthur’s eyes. As he dashed between the trees towards the Birch woods he thought of his time growing up in the village and how often he had played in these woods; they would play hide and seek, follow the leader or hide the rope for hours on end, even after they were said to be haunted.

Growing up in the village there were often tales of a Revenant that lived in the caves below the village and the forest surrounding them. The Revenant was said to be a merciless evil spirit that killed without remorse, devoured the flesh and meat of animals and was covered head to toe in a thick impenetrable hide. Its scales were as large as your hand and when it moved, it scraped along the ground as if it was not meant to move. As a child the stories terrified Arthur and only now, running through the dark woods searching for a murderer, did the thought of the Revenant creep back into his mind.

He had just passed the Sheer Wood when he stopped dead in his tracks. A cold creeped up his back and there, standing before him, was Charlie; the same as he had seen him in the Alley.

“Charlie?” He asked quietly, almost to himself.

He nervously took a few steps towards him but the ghostly figure only turned and began walking away to the right of his intended direction. Initially Arthur stumbled forward as if to continue on his way but he stopped after a few steps and looked instead to the direction Charlie walked. The woods were thicker and darker in that direction but it wasn’t that which enticed Arthur rather there was something else; an odd scent in the air. Arthur looked longingly towards the Birch Woods and against his better judgement strayed off course in hopes of following Charlie’s spirit.

After a short sprint Arthur pushed through the thick brush and came upon a large unnatural looking cave entrance. He stood there in silence as he became overwhelmingly aware of the world around him; the forest still damp and quiet after last night’s storm, the glistening rocks of the cave shimmering in the moonlight and after a deep breath he entered the cave.

The cavern was blacker than night and the scent of moss and stone overwhelmed his senses. He paused, allowing his eyes to adjust to the darkness and quietly crept further into the cave. As he walked, he ran his fingers along the walls and touched the ancient stone as if asking for safe passage through its hallways. After a short venture into the cave he began to smell it again, a foul stench akin to burning flesh and as he rounded a jutting rock his eyes began to ache as light seeped into the darkness blurring his vision. Then he heard a sound that made him stop in his tracks; a sort of scraping and what sounded like the sharp clattering of bones.

Peering over the rock he saw what lay before him; an open room as bright as the sun and in the corner a creature hunched over covered in orange fire and stone. Arthur swallowed hard and hid again behind the rock to gather himself. Fear greedily consumed what little courage he had left and he stared into the dark passage he had come from. He closed his eyes and for a moment convinced himself to just leave this all behind and head back to the village but when he opened his eyes the dark passage before him was blocked. There, hanged by his feet just as Arthur had seen him before, was Charlie’s lifeless body. In that moment Arthur knew he could not let the Revenant live and with new found purpose he peered over the rock again.

As the creature moved the large fiery scales shifted as well; changing their colour, growing and splitting as it moved about the cave as if being controlled by the creature themselves. Arthur continued watching, hoping to see a weakness and as it moved away from the fire the scales grew darker and more stone-like. Arthur stuck to the shadows and slowly entered the main part of the cave moving around the side and sticking to the shadows to avoid the creature’s direct line of sight. As he passed behind it he saw large runic markings on its largest scales depicting twisted and obtuse images.

Slowly he unsheathed Henry’s blade and closed his eyes for a moment before attacking. In the darkness behind his eyes he saw Charlie playing in the town square with his father, as he often did. They were dancing under the full moon and slowly other villagers started to join them until the entire town was out smiling and laughing under the night sky. However, just as Arthur felt a sense of comfort the town was consumed by a blinding bright light, moments later the townspeople were screaming and pleading for salvation. Through the chaos Arthur could see Charlie had dropped to his knees as his skin became engulfed in liquid fire. Arthur witnessed each villager; their skin began to peel and turn black and their screams became more indecipherable behind the gurgled blood filled sounds they produced. As their tongues and lips burned away the pleads for mercy stopped altogether and became monstrous guttural noises. Then in an instant the light was gone and all that was left were the crisp and blackened versions of the peaceful villagers they had once been: frozen in twisted positions begging for mercy. When he opened his eyes he attacked.

He lunged at the creature with all his might and stabbed it deep within its thick hide. The blade danced between the large scales and pierced the soft underbelly of the creature as it let out a howling scream which reverberated off the walls of the cave. With a sharp scraping the creature clattered onto its back revealing its hideous face; devoid of all expression, featureless and cold with nothing but slits for eyes and from behind it came the horrible screams of an empty language.

Arthur stood over the creature ready to stab again but he stopped himself as the it held out a single five fingered hand in protest as if to say, “stop.” Arthur looked down at the monster who, with its free hand, removed a sort of shell from its own head. Underneath was an aged man with a grey beard and he was pleading for his life.

“S..s…stop! P…please…” The man said as he lay on his back, the tone of which revealed the years in his voice. The crackling fire illuminated his aged complexion, showing the lines in his face and scars on his lips from years of strife. Arthur just stood there studying the man and then turned his attention to the room itself. There was a bed-roll, a large shiny scale-like object next to a large version of the blade Arthur now held in his hands and sitting next to it on the floor; a large Wooden Spike stained with dark blood.

“You are the creature?” Arthur asked him in the dark, his head swimming with questions about the tableau before him, “You are what has been murdering our people and killing our children? Just a man?”

The man’s face grew white as a wave of realization and fear washed over him. Arthur looked at the blade in his hand and took a deep breath drawing in the fragrant aroma of Human blood. Realizing that he’d been without blood for at least the last few hours he let out a sigh of happiness and greedily began to lick the blade.

“You’re just a human.” Arthur said with surprise toward the quivering man on the floor before him. He tossed the blade aside and bent down biting down on the man’s soft flesh and began draining the blood from his body as he writhed beneath Arthur’s hold.

As the dim light within the man’s eyes faded to black Arthur thought of all the terror a simple human had caused their village. After a few blissful minutes the body beneath him stopped squirming and Arthur could feel the life drain from the man’s body, his soul leaving this world for whatever afterlife it sought. With a sigh of relief he fell back against the cold stone wall of the cave and wiped the crimson blood from his chin. He stayed in the cave until the next night so as not to be caught in the sunlight and travelled back to town to share the good news of the towns freedom from the monster in the cave. Although he contemplated the idea, he ultimately decided never to tell the town that it was just a Human who terrorized them for all those months, as it was more important to Arthur that his fellow Vampires continued to believe that Humans were harmless.

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