FICTIONAL FRIGHTS: David Martin’s “Into The Night”

10485387_10203434254808611_9184670790092433749_nFor our second entry into our new FICTIONAL FRIGHTS column, we’re going a completely different direction. While the first story was a rock-n-roll, bloody time, “Into the Night” by David Martin goes a completely different way, injecting readers into another time and world in which there are things that threaten our Medieval characters’ very existence. It’s a fun story, full of imagination and the kind of horror that we really don’t get to see very often, a breathe of fresh air and a story to thoroughly enjoy!

We hope you enjoy, “Into The Night“, and we’ll be throwing “I’m Tired of Dying” your way next, within the next week. Read on!


INTOTHENIGHT

Deep shadows covered the little village of Quillet as the last rays of sunlight faded in the west. A dozen cheap plaster houses surrounded an open muddy area, littered with straw and animal dung. Chickens clucked in their pens, while small dogs sniffed about the vacant village square. The orange glow of hearth fires emanated from some of the houses, while others remained dark – having been abandoned in hard times. A score of children and adolescents lounged in the lamplight on the steps of the priest’s house, which also served as the parish church and the village meeting hall.

Angry shouts could be heard from within, as the adults bitterly debated the latest failed harvest. This was the third failed harvest in a row. The adults claimed it was bizarre in nature, striking only Bourdagne. So far, they’d managed to get by with a lot of outside help, but one more crop failure could mean mass starvation. Most of the villagers believed the almighty was punishing them for sins – though they couldn’t seem to agree on which particular sin had God so enraged, or just who, specifically, he was mad at. Outside, the youngsters were holding a debate of their own, milder in tone, but still fierce.

“The night is evil here,” insisted Durant. “It has a presence, so thick you could cut it with a knife. It’s not like that anywhere else. You don’t know what it’s like coming here from Paris.”

Adam immediately pointed out the flaw in Durant’s reasoning. “That’s because Paris is a city. It’s well lighted, and there’s lots of people. The countryside is gonna’ be creepier, because it’s darker. You just don’t know any different.”

Durant shook his head. “My dad knows different. He’s lived in the country before. He lived here when he was younger. He says it wasn’t always like this; says the nights were the same as any other place. But when he moved back here with us, we all could tell something was wrong. It’s not the same.”

Adam barely resisted the temptation to call Mr. de Sens a coward. “Maybe he just got used to Paris. Ever think of that?”

At that point, Florent stepped in on behalf of his little brother. “In other places, parents have to warn their children not to wander off at night. Here, they don’t have to. Can’t you see? Everyone’s terrified. You all need to wake up!”

“All men fear the night,” said Adam. “It is natural.”

“Natural for you maybe,” Florent shot back, “natural for a coward.”

Adam absorbed the shock. He’d just been called a coward – in front of Marie Tibaut, no less. This could not stand. In Adam’s opinion, which unfortunately seemed to be shared by most of the other boys, Marie Tibaut was the prettiest girl in the village. Quillet was home to four Maries, of whom two were present. Between Marie Tibaut and Marie l’Ami; only Tibaut drew Adam’s interest. At 12 l’Ami was far too young for Adam, and way too skinny to be attractive. At 13, however, with a full figure and a pretty smile, Marie Tibaut was just right. Just looking at her was maddening. Arriving in Quillet less than a year ago, the de Sens brothers had badly upset Adam’s world. Florent was a bully who had drawn the notice of Marie Tibaut away from Adam; and his younger brother Durant was a nosey, annoying little turd. While Durant constantly provoked Adam, Florent used his little brother as an excuse to turn Adam into the villain and then bully him. Gradually, a rift had formed among the village youngsters, with an increasing majority siding with Florent and Durant.

Looking out at the blackness that slowly coiled around the narrow protective glow of the lamplight, Adam began to wonder for the first time if he wasn’t wrong. He couldn’t remember a time when night had not been terrifying, but it seemed strange that no one at all went out at night. Alone among the counties of France, Bourdagne had no roving bands of thieves and murderers to plague hapless travelers. Trappers had reported drops in animal populations of all kinds, including wolves and other predators. Why, then, be so terrified of the night? There were reports of mysterious disappearances, but nothing, thought Adam, to justify such universal alarm. Adam felt his stomach knot in terror as he made up his mind; every instinct in his body screamed against what he was about to do, but it was too late, he was committed.

Turning to Florent and looking him straight in the eyes, he said “I was speaking of men in general, you stunted fool. I am in no way afraid of the night.”

Florent let out a haughty laugh. “Big words, little man. It’s easy for a rabbit to say it’s a lion, but that don’t make it true.”

Looking back into the darkness, Adam replied “who said I mean to stop at words? It’s just darkness, after all.” Adam turned his feet toward the night.

A shadow fell over Florent’s face as he realized what Adam was suggesting. “Shut up you fool, and sit down.”

Turning to his friend Houdart, among his few remaining allies, Adam asked “that stag your dad found, where is it again?”

“Out past the beaver dam,” said the freckled trapper’s boy, “there’s a game trail that leads northwest from the island downstream of the dam, on the west bank. It’s no more than a couple hundred paces from the stream.” Grinning stupidly between his chubby freckled cheeks, Houdart innocently asked “why do you want to know? It’s no good for eating – dead by disease or something. Been rotting for days.”

Looking back at his companions, Adam noticed Marie-Tibaut staring at him, eyes wide in terror. Shaking her head vigorously, she said “no Adam! Stop it. I know you’re not a coward! We all know you’re not a coward.”

Florent grinned sneakily and replied “yeah, fool. Look who needs a girl to come to his rescue.”

Florent still wasn’t convinced he was going to go through with it. That sealed the deal. Adam’s back was against a wall – but at least he could put Florent in the same position. “Come on! Don’t you guys want to see what rotting a stag looks like? Let’s go there.”

“Don’t be stupid,” the older de Sens boy replied, fear suddenly creeping into his voice. “Going out into the woods alone is dangerous even in normal times.”

Adam laughed “alone? That means you’re too scared to come with me. Look who’s the coward now! So tell me Flower Maid,” he rolled the insult off his tongue with a measure of delight, “you call me a coward, but you’re too scared to walk into the darkness. What’s more cowardly than a coward? Do they even have words for that?” To punctuate his victory, Adam turned to the left, away from the village. Summoning every ounce of courage he had, he began to descend the steps of the priest’s house.

Hearing steps behind him, Adam turned and saw Florent approaching.  “I’m no coward,” said the older boy, “and it’s too dangerous for you to be in the woods alone. I’ll go too.”

At that moment a fierce debate erupted amongst the assembled youngsters. Several small children and both Maries objected vehemently to the proposed expedition. Some of the youngest children even tried to run to the adults for help, but they were stopped by older children, who feared the wrath of their parents.

The adults had strictly forbidden the children from entering the house during the meeting. They’d said they were discussing matters unfit for children, and threatened severe reprisals for disobedience. By contrast, they had not been explicitly forbidden from leaving the village – a fact that Adam quickly pointed out. Why was he doing this? What did he have to prove? As his eyes turned repeatedly to Marie-Tibaut, he realized, deep down, the answer to that question.

As it became evident that Adam and Florent were set on their mad expedition, some of the other boys volunteered to join them. First, Durant ran to his older brother, refusing to allow Florent to go into the woods without him. Then Houdart joined Adam, wisely bringing a lantern from the side of the priest’s house. After the four older boys had assembled in the darkness at the edge of the village, Marie-Tibaut surprised everyone by electing to join them. Although she continued to object vociferously to the venture as a whole, she claimed that someone needed to keep the foolish boys from getting themselves killed. She told the younger Marie to stay and watch over the little ones, while the rest ventured into the night.

Against the shrill protests of their younger brothers and sisters, the five adolescents proceeded silently down the path away from the village. Taking the lantern from Houdart, Adam led the way, with Florent at his side. Coming upon the opening to the forest trail, Adam turned his gaze and the lantern to the side of the road, illuminating the gap in the underbrush that marked the next stage of their journey. To the eye alone, it looked like an ordinary forest of oak and beech; but something deep in Adam’s soul told him to fear the darkness between those trees.

Leading his companions into the coiled, evil woods, Adam shuddered at the twisted shapes reaching toward him from the darkness, as if to grab him and drag him into the depths of the earth. Without his companions, he would have turned round and fled back to the village. Of course, they had been down this trail many times before – but always during the day.

Now, in the darkness of night, every rock, tree, and twisted branch, so mundane in daylight, seemed to harbor an evil, unreal presence, as though it could transform at any moment into a monster from the bowels of hell. Perhaps they were in hell already, and the forest was just a paper thin disguise, barely fooling the eyes.

Adam’s rational mind scoffed at such nonsense. It was just a forest, same as always, except without the sunlight. The bishop insisted hell wasn’t even a real place – at least not physically. He’d said that hell was just the state of the soul without God; that anyone without God was already in hell, even in this life.

After about an hour, the shrubbery parted to reveal the black liquid body of the stream, reflecting the light from Adam’s lantern and the starlight from the clear night sky. They were almost there. Looking to his left, Adam saw the beaver dam in the distance – visible only as a break in the oily blackness of the water. Turning to his right, he led the group downstream, along the riverbank, until the stream split in two, leaving an island in the middle. Here, they could cross without getting their feet wet. Skillfully hopping from stone to stone, Adam made his way to the island. Behind him, he heard a yell and a splash. Young Durant had slipped and fallen into the stream. Marie and Florent quickly came to his aid, while Adam forcibly restrained himself from laughing.

The five of them assembled in an open area with the river at their back. On all other sides, they were surrounded by a thick tangle of trees and shrubbery. A sickening waft of rotting death scorched their noses. Following the scent to the northwest, Adam saw the opening to the game trail: a narrow gap between thick bushes. Looking at the game trail, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was gazing into the gaping mouth of hell, itself. Some powerful instinct told him that to venture further was madness; that he should run home as fast as possible and never look back. Apparently he wasn’t alone in his feelings, because he heard Durant behind him, say “Come on guys, this has gone far enough. Let’s go home.”

Against his better instincts, Adam turned to the little shit and replied “what’s the matter, scared? Need your mommy? Run little boy, run!”

“You leave him alone you bully!” said Florent.

Adam found it endlessly ironic when Florent called him a bully – that de Sens boy was the biggest bully in the village. But the prodding had worked. Now Durant was determined to prove himself: “I… I… was just saying, seems like a waste of time, you know? If you guys really want to keep going, let’s do it.”

Instantly, Adam regretted teasing the boy – now he had no choice. He started down the trail. Even with his companions, every step down the path was an agonizing exercise in sheer terror. The game trail was narrower than the first path, and thick brush closed in on them, threatening to suffocate. Even with the lantern, Adam could barely see two feet in front of his face. Yet still he led them ever deeper into the black and hungry woods.

Suddenly, Adam burst into the open, breaking through a wall of foliage and tripping over a gnarled oak root. As he fell, he lost his grip on the lantern, which flew from his hand into a clearing. Pain shot through his limbs as he skinned his palms and knees on the hard, knotted roots and twigs. Instantly, Adam’s ears were scorched by blood-curdling screams from the others, behind him. Looking up, Adam beheld the cause of the screaming – a sight so horrifyingly surreal as to induce madness with a single glance.

Illuminated by the fallen lantern, several creatures were gathered about the festering corpse of a fallen stag, feasting on the diseased remains. Shriveled skin and rotting flesh barely covered the bones of the corpse. The stench of death and disease was overpowering. Yet they gnawed eagerly as though it were plum pudding; some sticking their heads into the festering mess like pigs to the slop, others holding limbs to their mouths like mutton legs. But the worst part was the creatures themselves: twisted, misshapen monstrosities that shouldn’t exist in this world – or any other. Most had horns, fur, and cloven hooves. A few had bat-like wings. One had feathers but no wings. Manlike in form, but with animal features, all of them looked grotesquely malformed – like their physical existence was a tortured abomination. Adam had seen composite creatures like these painted on manuscripts and carved in stone. They’d looked unreal, almost comical. But here in the deep forest, seeing them face to face, in the flesh, was terrifying beyond words. He could see the yellow flesh hanging from their teeth and the putrid fluids glistening on their fur, reflecting the lamplight. He could hear the snorting and crunching and smacking of lips as they chomped eagerly at their meal. The sickening musk of their bodies mingled with the stench of the dead stag.

The terror brought on a rush of furious, manic energy. Adam launched himself from the ground and turned tail, fleeing the way he’d come. In moments, he found himself bursting from the brush and splashing across the stream, barely aware of the soaking wet and freezing cold. Soon, he was hurdling through the forest, tripping over his feet, pulling himself up, and resuming his frantic flight. By the time he made it back to the village, Adam was covered in bloody bruises and scratches. Houdart had made it ahead of him, and the adults were pouring out of the meeting hall, with much alarm. Adam sprinted right into the arms of his father, who embraced him tightly. Grabbing him firmly by the shoulders, Adam’s father knelt down, looked him in the eyes, and asked “son, what happened?”

Adam realized he was shaking so much he could barely speak. “D-D-Demons,” he stammered “demons in the woods.”

“Where are the others?” asked another adult.

At last, in the safety of his father’s arms, Adam remembered his companions. During the flight, he’d been vaguely of others about him. Looking up the road, he saw Florent running toward the village, holding the hand of his little brother, who struggled to keep up. Mr. and Mrs. de Sens ran to their sons, calling to them in relief.

Then Adam heard the horrified voice of Mrs. Tibaut “where’s Marie? Where is she?”

Gathered together in the lamplight before the priest’s house, the whole village waited tensely for Marie Tibaut to return. She never did.


 

I’m Tired of Dying” hits Icons of Fright’s FICTIONAL FRIGHTS this Wednesday, and like “Into The Night“, is a complete 180 from the previous story. We hope you like the variety of short horror stories we’re bringing to you twice a week. As always, if you’ve like to submit a story to be looked at, feel free to e-mail jerry (jerry@iconsoffright.com) and check back!

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