a story tidbit

The man runs quickly down a muddy overgrown track. Branches whip as he races and behind him the sun drops below the tree line. He pants and scrambles as he moves through the scrub. A dishevelled beard, ratty clothes, and a scrawny collection of old furs cover his body. A fur bundle clutched to his panting chest. Clearly afraid, he runs. It must be saved.

In the distance a bell sounds, the tone warping strangely as it peals over the trees. Everything here is discordant.

When the man pauses his running it becomes clear how thin his frame is and how malnourished he must be. The fear in his eyes explaining why the ice and snow underfoot hardly slow him. He is breathing hard even while standing still, chest heaving.

The bell tones again, it’s tone becoming dull and flat far too soon. Is it dull or is his mind now addled? He stretches his back, breathes in deeply, then begins running again. As he moves his breath makes streams of fog behind him. He runs.

The bell tones a final time, the sound faint now but still ending shortly, like a hand has muffled the vibrations, like silencing the bark of an errant dog.

As he moves from the track into the proper woods the brush thins and the trees spread themselves sparsely so that the tepid moonlight teases down into the leaves, but does not reach enough of the ground below. His tired eyes gain nothing from the light except the realisation that almost any other night would have been better than the washed out light he has chosen tonight. Did he even choose? A slow hiss spoken far away reaches his ears. He runs faster.

His fear slides to dread, they know he has escaped. It knows too, and the safety of the border is well too far.

Reluctantly he stops running and then searches the trees around him. He reaches into the fur bundle to the small crucifix pecked from rotten wood by his bloody fingernails. It’s surface caked in old blood and the wood is black in the shallow light. Shaking hands bundle scrawled leathers into snow. His hands work to scape away the frost then the old earth so that the bundle can be sunk deep.

The hiss comes again, sounding louder and stronger. He can picture the brown and yellow teeth and thin craggy hands of the owner.

He presses the crucifix atop the replaced snow, and wipes his jittery hands down the sodden rough tunic. Standing still takes determination, he silently prays for a moment. It is all the time he really has left.

Resigned now, he runs again. Any direction, away from the bundle.

The third hiss is so close he can almost hear the chipper chatter of her teeth, her long drawn breath, and imagine the thin unpleasant smile; lips stretched too tight across sharpened teeth and eyes uncaring by design. “Ssss-slow my beautiful sssnow. You make me sssad, so don’t run so.”

Snow. His old name and the hiding place of the only legacy which matters now. His breath puffs between cracked lips as he lets out a grunted laugh. His legs slow him, his back rises, lifting his sweeping limbs from the ground. They have him again. She has him. As she materialises in front of him from the dank air his chin and arms shake, face wet with tears.

“Ahhhh, my beautiful boy. Home sssssnow, we must go.”

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