Monday, 7 December 2009
A PATH FAMILIAR By Lee Hughes
A Path Familiar
Jon was dead on his feet and he needed to sleep. The dog and Tobin were keen to carry on. Just a few hours slumber, is all he wanted.
It'd been three days since the Box had been broken and the beast released. That was one messed up day that Jon was sure he'd never forget.
After the beast had fled, they'd gone about the task of finishing off the demon-hound that was partly made up of broken dead-man. Tobin took to the chore of hacking it to bits and then he burned it to ensure it wouldn't find a way to work its harm the following night, or any other.
The dog that had gone missing up on the mountain trundled through one of the gaps where a gate had once hung. It sniffed at the wreckage of the car, did the same at the smoke that rose from the makeshift funeral pyre and went to stand a little ways apart from them, staring in the direction of the beast's escape.
The dog came to heel as Tobin's father said a handful of prayers that lost their meaning in the distance from his lips to Jon's ears.
Jon could tell the dog had the scent of the beast; it must have been like a Bisto waft to a human nose.
Tobin and his father had grabbed a few things and tossed them into the boot of a knackered car that had been parked over by the ramshackle barn. Jon knew he had two choices that night. He could either stick around and explain the unexplainable, or go with the Preachers in case there was anything he could do whilst hoping that the world got to see the beast. That would be one-step towards being pardoned for all the deaths that they would be laying at his door. He opted for Tobin's piece-of-shit car.
The car proved useful in trailing the dog as it bounded after the beast's scent. Jon sat in the back, a hand pushing up at the roof. He was sure there was no suspension on the car. After the third field, he was positive of it.
The car stopped. Tobin turned in his seat. "We'll have to get out here."
"Thank fuck," Jon said, and clambered out of the car. His back cracked. "I'm sure I'm an inch or too shorter now. How much did you pay for that?" He nodded at the heap.
Tobin shrugged. "Nothing. Got it from scrap and did it up myself."
Jon stared at the wreck and wondered if the only tool at his disposal had been a big hammer.
Jon saw why they couldn't go any further. The moon was sprinkling the sea with silver. "What now?"
Tobin's father didn't turn around. "We get the ferry in the morning and try and find the scent from there."
"Okay, sounds like a plan. But, what if the Beast heads north towards Scotland and we start south?"
"We'll head south. From one generation to the next the original tale of how we became Preachers tells us that the original Preacher headed north after putting the Beast in the Box."
Jon couldn't really find any fault in that, he tried, but couldn't. "What time's the first boat off this rock?"
"Half-seven," Tobin said.
"That'll work. Any time later and some of the corpses will probably start getting discovered and they'll close the port," Jon said, he noticed Tobin's father had been quiet and was staring out to sea. "What's up?"
Mr. Preacher remained quiet for a few moments before replying, "It was my job to keep watch and make sure that the Box was never uncovered, I've failed."
Tobin reached out a hand; his father didn't shrug it off.
It was a very touching moment but Jon reckoned they didn't have the time for any 'Little House on the Prairie' sentimentality. "Okay, so we've established you feel guilty for the Box being broken. Though I don't think you should. It's not like someone wandered up the mountain and found it just sitting at the top with a hammer next to it with which to break it open. Look, a psycho that turned into a dog-thing at night was the one that found it. He killed a shit load of people. Hey, I dug it up. But I don't feel guilty. The psycho had a knife to an innocent woman's throat." Jon stopped there. He realised he was going into the territory where he'd remind Mr. Preacher that his wife and eldest son were dead."
The old man nodded following an awkward silence. He turned his back to the sea. "I'm arthritic in both legs and my right shoulder. I'd just slow you boys down. Besides, I might be of better use here. There's still the body of that woman up on the mountain. She'll be found before you've even managed to get to the mainland. I'll go get her, I'll get the man you said about in the garage too, if you give me the address. I'll give them both a respectful resting place and prayers, until you've gotten a good head start. Take the remains of the Box."
"Why?" Jon asked, feeling as if he'd just dropped one burden and a moment later he'd picked up another.
"If you catch up with the Beast and if you manage to better it, what will you keep it in?"
"Yeah, suppose you've got a point, though I wasn't too keen all those, 'If's.' you were using."
On the second morning of the hunt, Jon's main fear became real as he saw his mug-shot on the front of the daily papers. Tobin's portrait was there, but only half the size as if they only wanted to find Tobin half as much
Jon looked at the situation back on the island as if he had been the one investigating it.
Concerns would have been raised from one of two places with each easily leading to the other. It might have been Beth being absent from work for a second day running. Someone would have gone around to her house, rapped on the door, and garnered no answer. Police would have turned up and made a forced entry to certify she wasn't sprawled in a mess at the base of the stairs.
Mr. Preacher had said he'd take care of Mordecai's corpse. Yet, there'd still be a bounty of evidence. Mordecai had been missing of the bulk of his gullet so there would be gore staining the concrete floor.
Then there was the visitor's centre approach. Again, Mr. Preacher said that he would remove Beth's remains. It wouldn't make much of a difference, not even if he closed the blinds and locked the doors.
Someone would have gone up there to use the services and found them closed and complained. An irate grunt from the Department of Tourism and Leisure would have been up there in a flash to see what was going on. They would open up and be faced with the stains of slaughter in the kitchen, and the open butchery in the gift shop. Mr. Preacher would never have been able to clean it all up.
Then there was the big hole in the heart of the floor that Jon had been forced to excavate by the psycho. He knew there was no way that old Mr. Preacher would have been able to fill it in, not with his arthritis. If he'd tried, it would have likely ended up his final resting place.
Jon could easily visualize the appearance of flashing lights, complete with the noise of 'nee-nawing'. They'd find Beth's car parked halfway down the mountain in the car-park, his prints all over the passenger's door and interior. They'd head to the Preacher's farm, figuring that two of the Preacher family hadn't turned up for work the morning after a massacre. The police would find the remnants of a funeral pyre, and with a little more searching, would come up with the bodies of Mordecai, Beth, and Mr. Preacher's own family.
The prints found on the car would match his on the police database. Once Mordecai had been identified it would add another link to him. Jon started thinking fast. There were two hunts now on, the manhunt for him and the demon-hunt.
They'd kept to the countryside as much as they could. With their pictures being bandied about here and there, it wasn't worth the risk cutting through populated places.
The duo had discussed in bewilderment at how the dog had followed the scent through towns and cities and that no one had seen the passing of a great, big Hell-Beast.
Tobin had come up with the most credible answer. "Perhaps it learned its lesson after last time when it got slain and then imprisoned."
"So you reckon its gone invisible?"
"It’s a demon, who knows what it can, or can't do."
"Well that's gonna make it a piece of piss to find."
"We've got the dog, and the dog has the scent."
They looked down at the Alsatian.
Jon was now on-the-record knackered. Tobin sighed and gave in. They'd stumbled across an old and outwardly forsaken cottage. The pair had bartered. Jon had started the bidding at a four-hour rest. Tobin had counter offered two. They settled on four.
Tobin stared at the cottage. "It looks rundown."
Jon tested the door and said, "You should feel right at home."
"What?" Tobin wasn't sure he heard Jon accurately.
"Nothing," Jon said, and used his shoulder as the key to the door.
The interior showed that no one had lived there in quite a few decades. The furniture was gone, including the carpets. There was just one busted chair in the middle of the dusty room.
Tobin said, "You sure you want to take a nap in here?" He turned back to Jon who'd already claimed himself a spot in the corner. He closed his eyes. "Four hours. You can talk to me again in four hours."
Jon opened his eyes. He wondered whether it had been such a good idea to sleep on the concrete floor.
"Tobin?" He called, noticing the lad and the dog weren't in the room. The large holdall that they'd been carting the relics of the Box within was gone too. He rubbed at his neck as he wandered through into the other room. At one time in the distant past, it had been a kitchen.
There was a window covered in enough shit to make it only one-step up from being a wall. He walked over but didn't relish rubbing his sleeve to make a cleaner spot. He made do with the hazy view it offered.
He saw Tobin walking through the feral vegetation of the rear garden, the dog following. Jon made for the backdoor. It was hanging on off its elderly hinges just like the front door, only Jon wasn't accountable for this one, time was.
Jon was about to shout something. He could see that Tobin was chatting to himself just like a mentalist. He was on the cusp of shouting a witty observation but something held him in check, it felt somehow wrong, he kept quiet.
He watched as the one-sided tête-à-tête continued for another few minutes. When the conversation seemed to be winding up Tobin appeared grave, but nodded as if in accord with himself over something.
Jon waited until Tobin was utterly done flapping his lips before putting his own to work. "You all right?" He asked.
Tobin looked over as if he hadn't been doing anything abnormal. "You're awake."
Jon noticed the look on Tobin's face so kept his answer straightforward, "Yeah, the four hours we'd agreed upon was up. Where's the bones?"
"I buried them."
"I thought we needed them?"
"It seemed the right thing to do, it felt right." He pointed behind him. "There's a ruin back there, it's Wulf's hut."
Jon waded through the grass, passed Tobin and the dog. He could see the leftovers of a small building. Nothing more than a four-foot high ring of roughly hewn stones with a break where the door would have stood.
It struck Jon hard seeing the bodily image of the chronicle that Mordecai had told him. There was a moment where it seemed a dizzying coincidence. Then he realised that they were now on the identical route it had taken all those centuries ago.
Jon ignored the absurdity and asked, "I take it that's who you were talking to?"
Tobin nodded. "Wulf's now at peace, it's been a long time in coming, but he was prepared to wait for an eternity if it kept things as they should be." He seemed disinclined to elaborate.
Jon wasn't going to let it drop. "So what are we supposed to use now if we manage to beat the thing, a Safeway's carrier-bag?"
The dog moved off through the deep grass to continue the hunt. Tobin started after the dog and said, "Mine"
Lee Hughes's short fiction has appeared on or in, Cern Zoo: Nemonymous 9, Thrillers, Killers 'N' Chillers, Microhorror, A Twist of Noir, Every Day Fiction, New Flesh Magazine, The Daily Tourniquet, Powder Burn Flash, Blink-Ink and FlashShots. Find out more at: