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A Long Walk Alone

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His toes are starting to burn, but burning is better than no feeling at all. He wraps his scarf tighter against his nose and mouth, his hot breath beading sweat onto his brow. His nerves are shot – stretched out too thin like strings of a violin ready to be plucked. To play the melody that will be the soundtrack of his death. His swan song. He laughs bitterly as he continues to trudge through the ankle-deep snow.

The snow stretches for miles, untouched and glistening. In the very centre of the beautiful blank canvas stands a lone tree. It is huge and hulking and magnificent. The branches are outstretched and drooping with the weight of the thick cover of packed snow. It looks like a canopy – like a shelter created by nature. A haven in this dismal time.

His fur-lined boots crunch through the snow. His progression is slow and weighty and it makes his heart hammer harder and harder. His pack is slowing him down even more but he can’t risk leaving it behind. His crossbow is his only chance of survival.

He feels exposed in this huge expanse of whiteness. He looks back at his progression, seeing the churned-up trail behind him and he hopes that the thing isn’t smart enough to follow footprints. Tears well in his eyes at the emptiness behind him. He still half expects to see his little daughter struggling to keep up. Her arms flailing as the packed snow refuses to let her pass. Her little chubby face red from the harsh wind. But it’s just him now, and he wonders how long he’ll last.

He reaches the tree and pushes the willowing branches aside. A small avalanche of snow assaults him. Some of it goes down the back of his coat and he grits his teeth in frustration. He goes under the shelter and brushes himself off – his gloved hands slapping away the stuff from his coat and pants. He’s walking backwards towards the trunk, focusing more on getting himself clean than where he is going. The snow is a lot thinner under here and so he stamps his boots to free them of the stuff. The top of his head brushes against something and he assumes it’s a low branch. He turns, and almost chokes on his own shock. He stumbles back, trips on his feet and sprawls out on his back amongst the crisp snow and twigs.

Hanging above him is a body. It’s swinging on a frozen rope. The body itself is blue with frost and missing its legs. Beneath it, the thin layer of snow is red with old blood. Bile rises in his throat and he has to press his fist against his mouth to keep it down.

So much for a haven.

But the snow had looked so neat and crisp. The thing must have at least stayed away since the last snowfall, which was in the night. Knowing there is no other place to rest, he uses his last ounce of energy to climb up the tree as high as he can.

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The Horror Within

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The shadows danced in the flickering torch light, my trembling hands pressing lightly against the smooth stone wall as I observed my surroundings coolly.

The cobbled hallway stretched on and the torches that were mounted every dozen feet or so did little to help my vision penetrate the dim light.

Every step I took was attempted with the utmost secrecy as I made my way in the direction of the college’s magical archives.

As I rounded the corner, the sounds of hushed voices fluttered in the air. Instinctively, I felt every muscle in my body tense. Standing stalk still, I forced myself to hide away into one of the hall’s many narrow classroom doorways.

“You must search for Malik! He cannot be allowed to perform the ritual!” A whispering voice spoke as an assortment of footsteps seemed to join it. “It’s your fault he can even accomplish this in the first place.” Another voice answered; this one sounded effeminate, angry and annoyed.

It could have been one of the many professors that lectured here but it was too difficult to tell at this distance. Tilting my head away from the whispers, I had to remind myself to not idly waste time. Pushing out from my dark shelter, I turned and double backed the way I came searching for a detour.

The voices and footsteps were echoing out from the far corner down the hall and they were all too close for comfort.
Years of preparation were in danger of being destroyed! I had spent so many days and nights secreting the materials in and out of the archives that were usually reserved for only the most accomplished of scholars.

Usually.

My eager and apparent innocent demeanor had earned me the title of the assistant to the curator and I had taken every advantage it afforded me to delve into the taboo secrets that were forbidden by law.

Blood rites, conjuration and divination into the outer planes were a few of the many subjects I had conspired to learn under my instructor’s complacent watch.

Reminding myself of the task at hand, I realized that the large wooden double doors of the archives had just come into view. I quietly padded down the last steps of the northern most stairway towards the doors.

It seemed no one had even searched down here yet in the archives themselves. My pursuers must have assumed that I would attempt the rituals away from the college grounds to avoid their interference.

‘They think too little of me.’ I thought to myself, a smug smile growing on my face as I reached for the wooden doors’ iron handles. My reach faltered as I realized my hands were trembling. It was difficult at this point to tell if it was from fear or excitement.

Shaking the thoughts away, I resumed pushing heavy oak doors open. They swung easily; the archives left unlocked by a ‘certain someone’ earlier in the evening when they watched the Curator leave for the night.

The doors were truly a testament of the craftsmen who balanced them delicately on their hinges in the year’s past. The very same hinges that squealed loudly in detest to their late-night use.

Surprise shot through me as I sharply turned to look over my shoulder at the staircase.

I forgot to grease the bloody hinges!

The yawning silence that followed went uninterrupted for a brief few moments. Relief flooded through my mind as I exhaled a breath that had somehow found itself stuck in my chest.

Grinding my teeth in frustration, the doors closed with similar argument as I shut them.

This time however, I swung them quickly to cut the noise down as I crossed into the threshold of the room. Hustling over to the nearest bookshelf by the door, I reached behind it into the tight space between the wall and the shelf.

The object I was searching for was still there. A hard beam made of yew that I had stashed away days previously. I had it cut by the village woodsman to a very specific size weeks ago. A size that with some clever positioning would work well as a barricade.

Awkwardly pushing the beam into the frame of the door, I grunted with exertion as I delivered some small applications of brute force to ensure it was thoroughly lodged across the entry way.

Satisfaction grew in my heart as I turned away to face the grandeur of the college’s archives.

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A Letter From The Grave

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Me

I remember how cold I was, how scared. My eyes opened slowly, heavy from whatever drugs you had poisoned
me with. Damp, dark and freezing; those are the words I used to describe the stone room I awoke in. You were
not there when I woke up, though, it was just me and my thoughts.

Relief poured through my tired body when I heard footsteps; I should have known they would be yours.

Before the first girl arrived, I was lonely and scared, in constant fear of what you would do when you came in next. You never spoke, just watched as I ate, as I drank, as I cried. You watched with a confused expression on your face as if you had never seen a real human before. It scared me.

The First Girl

You always picked the pretty ones. The first girl to arrive after me was Robyn, black hair swinging as she fought you; punching, kicking, scratching and scraping. Until you injected her with something, and she fell to the floor like a rag doll her head cracking painfully on the concrete.

I remember being mesmerised by her clear, pale skin; her black hair and plump lips. It made me feel worthless with my bruises and flat, brown hair.

She arose angry, cursing at you again and again until her voice cracked.

She wouldn’t speak to me though. She just sat and stared, analysing. It wasn’t until she saw the littering of bruises on my skin that she started to warm to me.

It was the next day that she finally conversed with me, her voice dry and cracked – yet she’d refuse to drink any water. “I’m not touching anything that that creep gives us,” She would say, determined, “I’d rather die.”

The next day she guzzled the whole bottle of water in one sitting.

The Second Girl

Abbey was next, her arrival like a kick to the throat. I remember looking at her school uniform and clenching my fists so hard that my nails broke the skin.

She was still drugged as you yanked her through the large metal door, murmuring nonsense into your empty chest. Robyn, who was much braver than me, lunged at you. You dropped the young girl on the floor to backhand Robyn around the face. This was the first time you ever hit one of us.

Abbey cried a lot that day, wet, incurable sobs that racked through her tiny frame. It felt good to comfort someone.

We didn’t eat until Robyn went to her knees to apologise.

The Third Girl

Lily was next. Beautiful of course, and scarred – jagged lines marking from wrist to elbow. Robyn didn’t fight this time; her punishment was still too vivid, the memory of you in her mouth too rich. Witnessing the limp woman, dropped like trash at her feet, made Abbey cry again.

You wrinkled your nose. “Don’t cry,” You said, “It’s ugly.”

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