All Stories, Fantasy, Horror

Beasts by Claire Marsh

Boots sank into the damp ground, charting his path through the mud. The long, gnarled wooden stick added its own accompanying impressions. Pulling the brim of his hat low to guard against the puddles of rain exploiting gaps in the trees, Vincent walked. Unconcerned about the trail he left, knowing nature would conceal it long before any of them rose. He’d dedicated his life to knowing their practices. A commitment borne of bloodline. They hunted. They executed. Without exception.

Not impervious to cold, his eyes streamed and mucous pooled in the bushy hair on his top lip. Vincent tuned these out, prioritising more strategic perceptions. Useless senses, thoughts and emotions were detachable. Only one led him, the weight. He felt it, under the earth, the heaviness of the souls. The sensation had thickness to it, like coagulated blood, entities clawing against each other. A dominion of the dead beneath the soil.

Vincent pressed through the woodland, his stick parting overgrowth. The path untrodden and his limbs dense with the weight of the dead. Vincent’s pace slowed over rockier terrain. Lungs filled with the sweet scent of alder trees and mustiness of decaying leaves that never reached his awareness. His blood drained downward; body trained to follow its pull. The impact strengthened the closer he got, focusing him on detachment. It could tempt them. A consciousness divided is easily compelled. They could push power outward, slither it inside a hollowed mind, tendrils seizing hold. His vulnerability was a calculated risk, they preferred to rise with the moon. Once he found their dominion, they’d be nearby. Bounded to their dead.

He froze, recognising it immediately, dilated pupils engulfed his bright amber irises. A rectangular patch of barren soil bearing no vegetation, in an expanse of wild thicket. The absence of life beneath mirrored above. Close to losing consciousness, Vincent invited his senses to reconnect. Blood obediently flowed to his head. He still felt them below, but less acutely. Opening to them completely would threaten their hatred for the living overwhelming him.

Hundreds of bodies, torsos and limbs with clinging flesh, skeletons, skulls stacked, compressed, and buried. Some a month dead, others marked centuries of decay. Their souls caged with them, lucid and tormented. He planned to step on the soil, knew their essences would grapple towards him, compelled to consume life. Their screams and frenzied rage resonating out to the minds of their captors. Luring them toward him, he merely had to wait. Wait for the embodiment of the dead. Wait for the witches.   

Vincent had patience. He’d walked hours beneath canopies of trees, glimpsing a stormy grey sky. Now he stood silent, back straighter than the trunk at his, watching sky change above dead earth. Hues darkened and a full moon began its shine. Different creatures prowled unseen, altering the sounds of darkness, malignant magic keeping them cautious.

He walked to its centre, boot heels sinking and resisting retraction. The dead beneath alive with obsession. He sat cross-legged on the wet mud, agitating them, forcing delirium. The witches waked to agonising, relentless screeching and screaming. Impossible to resist. Vincent’s eyes glowed honey, beacons amidst the darkness. Slowing the beating of the heart in his chest, minimising the actions of barely human lungs. Vincent forfeited his act of humanness. Rising sinuously, body unfurling, he levitated slightly from the soil. His stick tightly gripped.

Witches came from all directions. Moving toward him as beasts, long bony fingers with yellowed talons dragging them across the ground on all fours. Naked, their skin textured like leather, ravaged and ashen. Faces bloodied, some devouring small creatures, sucking meat from bones. Tearing, dragging, and hissing rang through the clearing. Continuously pooling from the treelines. Numerous covens. All holding back from touching the soil, hissing, encircling him. The crude spiral carvings started to glow on Vincent’s stick, tinging the beasts with an orangey glimmer.

Vincent raised higher, inviting attack. Their throats emitted harsh, scratching guttural noises. The vocal patterns primitive, forced out, repeated. The heart in Vincent’s chest raced, reverberated in his eardrums, his body dragged downward. Clutching his stick tighter, Vincent replicated vocalisations, reversing the magic to calcify the beast casting it. They advanced, row upon row pulling their bodies onto the soil. Power magnified dragged from victims beneath, shaking the ground and thundering from their throats. Vincent tried elevating further, stick horizontally gripped with both hands, he braced against the power. His nose and eyes bleeding; skull being compressed.

No longer hearing anything beyond pressure in his ears, they swarmed, magic relentlessly attacking. His stick flickered and faltered but held, mesmerising a dozen or so, their minds trapped in the spirals. Other witches tore the flesh from their necks, clambering over their fallen bodies to advance. Vincent’s left eye protruded, his teeth chattered and smashed. The witches’ harnessing of souls a temporary compulsion, returning to the dead what was theirs.

An animalistic cry raged low in his body and howled from his mouth. His power burned from inside. Head tipped back, eyes ablaze, Vincent’s aggression erupted. It contorted his face, the human skin a coating concealing the destruction within. He pounced, down amongst them instantly. Throats cursed, talons clawed and teeth ripped at him. He barrelled into their bodies, crunched spines, and punched their heads back snapping necks with gleeful ease. Moving between them, a snarling flash too fast for their eyes. The herd thinned, most destroyed, some retreated bloodied. The most powerful remained, unmoving, chanting scraping their throats.

Vincent’s eyes flamed red with blood and violence. He thirsted for their power, as their dead thirsted for life. The witches only slowing him now. His stick thrust through their stomachs, brains, necks. His bare hands ripped apart ribcages and wrenched out hearts. Eyes returned to amber; Vincent consumed the last beast’s heart whole. Failing organs could be replaced with human parts, but only consuming witches’ magic made him live eternal. Wiping his mouth on his sleeve, he tossed a lit match on their heaped remains and stepped into the trees.

Claire Marsh

Image by Harmony Lawrence from Pixabay – very dark picture of trees in a forest with just a faint glow of moonlight.

10 thoughts on “Beasts by Claire Marsh”

  1. Claire

    I’ve read this one three times, and each time it holds up strongly. I found this an original take on an ancient idea. The idea of there always being someone weirder and more powerful is appealing. The sinister gloom is beautifully presented.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow, thank you Leila, that is such a wonderful compliment that you’ve read it multiple times. Also, “sinister gloom” is now going in to my favourite phrases! Take care.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Leila, thank you so much for this feedback, what a lovely compliment that you’ve read it multiple times. You do have to feel a tad sorry for the witches! And “sinister gloom” might now be one of my favourite phrases!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly, why should the weekend get all the fun!!! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment Steven, v. much appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll be honest in saying that this is not a genre I read a lot of. Having said that your rich, powerful descriptions make the pure visceral actions really make this stand out.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Paul – thank you! I do genuinely love writing descriptions and have to reign myself in or my word counts would go through the roof. Thank you for taking the time to comment as well, I really appreciate it. Hope you have a lovely weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

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