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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

The Book of Leaves - 30. The Blacksmith's Son

Darkness had gathered completely by the time Crowe reached Bennett’s house, a small cabin that sat on five acres of land. He stopped outside the fence and watched the glowing windows. Before second thoughts could prevail the door flew open. A dark furry shape bounded excitedly towards him, kicking up snow, tongue lawing from a maw that could easily crush Hansel’s skull. As such, the friendly beast, Cedric, circled his legs, barking excitedly and licking his hands.

“Git away from ‘im!” Jebadiah ambled out of the house, a shotgun in both hands. Standing on the porch, he aimed the shotgun at the air and fired. The hound yipped before scampering back towards the house, with his tail in between his legs. Jebadiah glared at Hansel. He had the same powerful build as his son, but none of his son’s light humor or mischievous notions. He was all anger and bitterness and stupidity, but Hansel knew he was one not to be pressed.

“What in the Void do you think you’re doing at my house, boy?” the blacksmith demanded.

“I came to see Bennett.” Crowe took a step towards Jebediah. The blacksmith cocked his weapons aiming straight at the practitioner.

“Well he doesn’t want to see you - now walk away before I put a hole in your fuckin’ bony little chest!” The blacksmith’s cheeks were flushed with a fury and hate Hansel had long ago stopped trying to understand. Now he regretted not bringing his staff with him. All he’d brought with him for protection was his mother’s copy of The Book of Leaves, and her necklace which he now wore around his neck. He hadn’t thought he would have to fend for his life against Jeb’s father, no matter how much the blacksmith disliked him.

“Sir, please -”

Hardened snow exploded outward just a foot away from him so that white pellets rained down on his head like hail. Crowe jumped, his yelp echoing through the dark.

“I said GIT!” the blacksmith roared. “Next time, I won’t miss…”

Fear turned to fury. Crowe glared back at him. “Then I guess you’ll have to shoot me!” he shouted back, “because I’m not leaving until I see him! If he doesn’t want to see me, then he can tell me himself.”

Jeb’s face shifted as if the practitioner had slapped him. His shoulder slumped and leaned against the front of the house as if it was the only thing that kept him standing. “It wouldn’t be his voice you heard, but the voice of the thing inside him. Bennett...Bennett’s dead…”

Then he began to sob. Great racking sobs that made his shoulders shake. Crowe walked into the house where the shadows awaited him. He crept down the shadowed hallway towards Bennett’s room. He clutched The Book of Leaves in one hand, his pennant in the other. He could hear someone take great, phlegmy breaths on the other side. The air inside the house was freezing, even with a fire guttering in the hearth. The true test of courage would not be in standing up to Bennett's father, but facing whatever existed beyond the door.

He went inside.

The stench inside the room was unbearable. Bennett had not been locked away inside this room for a few days, but a few weeks. The air stink of unwashed flesh and spoiled meat; of human waste and corruption. Bennett's wrists and ankles were chafed raw and bloody from trying to break free from his restraints. He'd clawed at himself and his skin possessed a sickly gray pallor. But none of it was as disturbing as looking into Bennett's eyes and seeing the creature that looked back at Hansel. Eyes reddened by an ancient evil that held a fathomless amount of knowledge. The malevolent spirit had brought the taint of the Void with it. He's not Bennett, Hansel thought. Not anymore.

When Bennett's father appeared he seemed to have diminished in size as well as spirit. Now that he looked upon the thing that had taken his son, Crowe could see the signs of a man who had given up completely: the dark bags beneath his eyes, the stale buildup of sweat, and the vaporous odor of whiskey. Hansel searched himself for any pity he might feel for the blacksmith's circumstances and found himself empty. "Is there anything you can do for him?" Jeb asked in a dead voice. Never mind that the man had threatened to shoot him dead only moments ago.

"I don't know."

"I've tried everything. I brought the vicar to pray over him, tried feeding him, bathing him. He won't ingest anything. He's slowly withering before my eyes and I can't do anything." Jeb leaned his head against the wall and began to sob in a hoarse, gravelly voice. "You don't know what it feels like to be a father who can't do anything to help his son. Not even put him out of his misery."

The creature watched Crowe, lips peeling back from yellowed teeth. The eyes, red and corrupt as a blistering sky, were filled only with a relentless hunger. And maybe fear. Fear of what, Hansel did not know, but he could sense it…maybe even exploit it.

"Blood flows through your veins as sap does from a tree," said another voice from within the room. Petras appeared by Bennett's side, a specter only the practitioner could see. He held a dagger in his hand much like the one Crowe had used to pierce the tree on the night of the snowstorm. The old man, or rather the thing that looked like him, held the dagger up to his wrist before drawing the blade across his flesh. Immediately blood, the illusion of it, began to flow.. Jeb stood over in the corner of the room, still muttering to himself, unaware that a transaction was being settled.

The entity that had taken on Petras' guise brought his bleeding wrist to Bennett's mouth in demonstration. The creature inside Bennett's body flinched back. Bennett's father can't see him, but the demon can, Crowe thought, watching in fascination. Bennett's head snapped forward when the practitioner drew closer. He jerked violently at the chains that bound him to the wall. He gnashed his teeth at Crowe and snarled like a rabid animal; there were no traces left of the boy the practitioner had grown up with. His breath smelled of rotting meat. Look at the mess you've gone and gotten yourself into. And now I'm here to get you out of it.

Crowe looked to Jeb. "I need a dagger."

The blacksmith straightened. He watched the practitioner suspiciously. "What in the Void for?"

"I'm going to save his life."

Crowe didn't think it would work, but at this point he was willing to try anything. Bennett was worth a little knick. When he approached, Bennett began to thrash about violently. He gnashed his teeth at the two men; he kicked the floor with the heels of his boots and howled defiantly in a high pitched voice that turned Hansel's blood to ice. Hansel made a hasty cut along his wrists and the blood began to flow for real this time.

"Hold him down," the practitioner huffed. Blood seeped through his fingers. When the man did not move, Hansel glared at him. "Do you want him to live, or not?"

Crowe pressed his wrist to his best Bennett's mouth. The effect was almost immediate. Bennett jerked upright. His body grew limp. His eyes widened so that the only thing Hansel could see in them was the red. Oh Mercius help me! I've killed him…

"What did you do to him?" Jeb cried. He knelt down on the floor by his son.

Bennett retched. His legs jerked and kicked, hands clenching into fists. "He's choking," Crowe said shakily. "Roll him over." Bennett fell over on his belly. A thick, black sludge poured from his mouth. His face darkened, first bright red then violet.

Crowe could not watch the rest of the scene play out. The entire time he'd been fighting his own battle to breathe while his lungs felt as if they had been clamped shut with wire. He managed to reach the porch of the cabin before the bile exploded from him. Icy wetness seeped through the leggings of his trousers as he knelt down in the snow. Sobs he didn't even know he'd been holding onto broke free. What if in trying to help him, I killed him? Mercius help me…

He heard the door crash open. He heard Bennett's father's powerful footsteps crashing through the night like an angry bull. He tensed, preparing to feel those hands wrap around his throat and throttle the life out of him in a rage. He did not expect those hands to seize him in a back-breaking hug. He could only stand there in a state of stupefied confusion as an earthquake shook the world around him.

"You saved him," Jeb said in between great gushing sobs. Each word was spoken as if in answer to a wish come true. They forced their way into Crowe's skull and shook him to his core. They revolted every bit as much as they exalted.

Copyright © 2023 ValentineDavis21; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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