Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #1297691
Terror from two thousand years ago faces a young priest on a search for Legends
The Black Dog
This story doesn't begin in 1840 where most of the events take place.
No. It begins a millennium and a half earlier, in 244 AD, for this is when the beast was created. Maybe I should start with what exactly this beast is, it is the black dog.
The story began on the moors between Scotland and England in the year 244 AD. For this is when the first Romans started arriving upon the shores of the island with the intent of spreading their religion and ways of governing. These new ways may have been better for some, but to bring change to something as vast and cherished as the religion of an entire island is not often looked upon in a good light. This is the way the druids, who had not yet devolved into simple priests, but were those who ordered the running of the hierarchy, looked upon it. For if these Romans were allowed to proceed, then their entire faith, their island and their people would be undone.
But these druids had wisdom and patience on their side. When they looked into the future, as the wise will do, they saw that they could not stop these new warriors from the south. So they resigned themselves to two courses of action. Primarily, they would retreat to the Isle of the Dragon and wait for these Romans and their new gods to pass. In time, would come the rebirth of the druid's own lords. Lords of power over the natural world of the trees and the land. The second part of their plan lay in the warrior that they would birth to defend themselves against the threat of being forgotten. This was the aforementioned black dog.
Although fearful of the immediate arrival of these Roman legions, they realized the importance of this undertaking which would preserve them and their ways of life while they were awaiting the passage of time.
From far and wide, the wisest druids came. Those who knew came to council, those who feared came for guidance, those who planned came to be heard, but those who came were destined to be there. Gathering under the greatest, oldest and most gnarled of the old oaks, they met in the stone circle. It was not as grandiose or as colossal as some of the stone circles to the south, but it was a place of power...old power.
They held their meeting upon the autumn equinox and by a coincidence which was, in fact, simply the way nature would have it, under the full hunter's moon.
Twenty one in total. All of them with their staffs, which not only traveled with them in all of their journeys, but held their powers in the carvings and charms which hung from them.
Moving to the center of their circle, the oldest of the priests knelt and began his chant. Soon the others began to intone as well, some with voices as old as nature. Others joined with signs and hand gestures which had replaced their voices, as long ago they had spoken such magic as would never allow them to speak again.
These movements and chants awoke the soul of something from even before the birth of the trees. The sky realized it. The air grew colder by degrees, bringing with it the first snow of the year, on a gale so strong that many of these old ones had trouble keeping their feet. They could only rely on the powers of the equinox and the moon which they had gathered under, to strengthen them.
Then began the trembling of the woods around them. The leaves which had changed colors in early autumn began to fall in torrents and combine with the blowing snow which until recently had been nonexistent, but as of now was biting each of their faces and blinding their eyes. Circling into a supernatural whirlwind, which took stand over the arch druid in the center of the circle and then surrounded him. To the awe of all who stood near, as the circling fury of cold contracted and contracted around the arch druid like a pulse, it seemed to be falling into him. Into the man himself.
Suddenly, and with no warning, the whirlwind burst into a flame of such power that the men surrounding the arch druid were knocked backwards, sprawling upon their asses. This fire grew to an inferno as tall as the trees themselves and all those around covered their faces in fear of being either burned or blinded. The heat of the sudden flame scorched them and pulled the breaths from their chests.
And then it was gone.
No. Not gone, but the inferno had shrunk to a flame which was the same height that the man it had consumed had been. A flame without the anger and violence of a blaze alighted within the storms and winds of deep magic, but that of the flame of a candle burning steadily and truly; as if completely unaffected by its surroundings. The fire acted as if it was some sort of reflection of a flame burning in another place, a place of peace, a place of the first druids.
Then as the old sorcerers, still trying to regain their feet while feeling for singed beards and eyebrows, but struggling with the ever present snow and gale force, turned to see the flame which had begun to change shape. Instead of glowing as a candle flame will do, it began to grow in intensity and brightness until it shown more like a static flash of lightning. Again, they shielded their eyes, but as this brightness grew, so did their fear.
Having believed in a magic this strong, but never having seen it take form, their eyes darted to each others in wonder and trepidation. Locked in a near paralysis, and with no other thought than to escape as the stag of seven tines runs from the hunting dogs, they were about to run as fast as they damned well could. That is until they heard it.
It sounded like the cross between a human screaming in anguish and the baying of a great dog, and then this scream became a voice.
”In my time, I have passed through the ninth gate, but I am now brought low to before the first door. I feel my strength and wisdom ebbing with such great speed that I may not have a chance to finish my words to you all.”
Although terrified, the other wizards recognized the voice of their teacher, the wisest, the arch druid, and froze. Some chanting wards of protection and still others simply having given in to their certain death, but all under the control of the fear which the fire had brought with it.
”Next to me in this place is a beast, a black dog. It was sent as our defense against the new order which is quickly approaching. For this gift from the pantheon, it shall take my life and the lessons I have taught during life. You shall all lose a shard of wisdom and faith, but to save what can be saved, I order the invocation of the broken wand. Time is short. Let it happen quickly.”
As these words were spoken, the searing white flame began to change in shape until it resembled an animal of sorts, dropping to its haunches and arching its back in its new born strength.
The others began to gain control of themselves once again. Not through lack of fear because it was still a powerful force and sat heavy on all their nerves with all the weight of this beast of fire which had appeared before them, but more due to the nature of the mission which they had been given.
With orders to follow, they had a reason to act, but the act which they must commit. Could it be?
They looked at each other in wonder and doubt until the youngest of the order raised his staff above his head and with a scream of strength, brought it smashing down onto one of the standing stones just behind him. With a loud crack, it splintered into two pieces. The rest repeated the action without thought. As the staffs broke there was almost an audible pull of power into the central flame, some of the older clerics toppling over under the weight of their years and the strength of the storm, and the younger ones rushed to their sides to aide them.
It was then the light went out. From what had seemed like brightest noonday, they were plunged into total darkness. Due to this unnatural change, their eyes were not quick to adjust, but they needed nothing more than their noses and the hair standing on their arms and the backs of their necks to tell of the beast's presence.
In much the same way that a buck will raise his muzzle into the air in fear of a predator, these greatest of holy men, all toppled and in masses, were raising their noses to the pitch darkness to smell the stink of rotten flesh, phosphorous and fear. They heard the deep growling from inside this black dog's foul body, and could see its piercing white eyes.
It was a span of seconds before one of the fellows could actually make out the shape of the thing. The size of it made him doubt his own vision. ”By the gods of the earth.” he whispered in more of an exhale than a voice. But even before the others could see it, the hound took one grand step and then bounded, a leap that would have paled the greatest of any hart being hunted by man or mortal dog. The shouts of fear and surprise that rose up from those it had leaped over were quickly covered by their coughing and gagging once the foul air it left behind had circled into their noses.
Two of the younger druids followed its path but quickly stopped when they saw the size of its paw prints left deep in the soft earth. Looking up at his ally in fear, the first placed his hand over the paw print and still did not cover it completely. Both men returned to the circle and gave their reports.
Once everyone had regained their feet and the unnatural winds had died away, the wisest teachers of the island had no option but to proceed on with their plan of traveling to the Isle of the Dragon. Prior to leaving, they attempted to strike a flame in the seared grass at the center of their gathering, but none would light and no ember would spark, by natural or ethereal means. Moving a few hundred yards to the north, they succeeded in building a fire and burning the remains of their staffs. After this, they each gathered a fresh fallen bough to lean on and walk with.
They were resigned to the trek to the place where they would be safe. Trailing off single file like a worm crawling along the lay of the land, they headed towards the coast, content but honestly more scared and in awe of the beast that had been created to protect their religion and ways of life against the new enemy.
This is how the tale begins, but this is not the story I intended to tell you. I intended to tell you the tale of a monk and Frenchman named Benjamin Vallet and his travels to the moors between Scotland and England in search of the great black dog of which he had heard rumor and legend.
` Benjamin, by definition, was someone to be trifled with.
He had thrown himself into his studies since the day he first attended the monastery and had done rather well, according to the other priests in the order. Even through all of this, he had the rather unusual quality of being superstitious. Studying everything from the ancient mysteries of the Maya and the Aztec, to the great wall of China, what interested him most were the ghost stories that arose from the old English folk. Starting with Stonehenge and proceeding to the studies of the druids and their teachings, Benjamin seemed to fall in love with these legends. He also fell in love with the fear that came along with them.
In his final years before his first sabbatical away from the French monastery, he had found an old manuscript which was supposedly copied from an earlier version which was written in the language of the trees. This manuscript contained passages and legends pertaining to the creation of an animal which was sent to protect the old wizards in an ancient time of need. Born from the body of the high priest and said to have the powers of all the druids in turn, this tome contained dates as well as primitive maps which made the finding of the places mentioned within the book almost plausible. Although this sounds odd, this did not deter Benjamin.
In fact, it excited him even more and compounded his rantings to the head of his monastery about the Druids and why he needed to go and search out the origins of their stories. The border of Scotland and England is where Benjamin chose to go and commune with the people, learn what he could about their beliefs as well as their superstitions, and possibly, although unlikely, encounter this mysterious creature of fable and fear.... this black dog.
“So have you seen it yet? The old fellow at the tavern asked him.
“Course he has. It bit him square on the arse.” His cronies chimed in, and the fellows at the bar erupted in laughter at Benjamin’s sake.
“When I do catch it, I’m going to hide it in your underwear drawer.” Recoiling in mock fear, they began their laughter again, with pints in hand. Benjamin had put up with this teasing since he had come to Brogan’s Tor some weeks earlier, but he took it lightly. Taking another sip of his ale, he returned his attention to his own manuscript which he carried around as if it were the bible. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before he was once again forced to look up. This time he was worried. This time it was the voice of one Liam Noonan.
“I'll tell you why they tease him, boy.” His voice was harsh and thick with the accent of the land, and spoken through rotten teeth and even more rotten breath. People could not help but listen. Benjamin tried to look down into his book without paying any attention but Liam was the only fellow in the town that Benjamin honestly feared. He couldn’t help but listen. He didn't know why but he sometimes thought that if his quest did come to fruition, that Liam Noonan would be the kennel keeper.
“Don’t scare the boy, Liam.” The father said putting his arm around his young son who was listening, eyes wide, to the tale.
“That was not my intent, Paul. I just want the truth to be heard. They tease him, boy...”
By this time the entire tavern was quiet except for the crackling of the fire. All of the inhabitants had cocked their ears, including Benjamin, through his nervousness, to hear what the old man had to say. Scanning all of their faces, one by one, he again returned his gaze to the boy with his father's arm around him. “They tease him because he is the only fool in these parts who believes in the black dog of the moors.”
The lad’s eyes widened more with this and he looked up to his father's face as if to ask was it the truth, only to be met by his father shaking his head, if for no other purpose than to comfort the boy.
“Do you know the tale of the black dog, boy?” Liam asked again. By this time the entire tavern was on edge at what horrors this fellow might tell of, but the boy had an honest enough curiosity to reply.
“No sir, I don’t.” Liam narrowed his eyes at the lad, but then thinking twice, glanced up at the rest of the people in the tavern.
“That’s probably for the best, seeing as it is only a fairy story.”
There was a general sigh of relief that went up from the tavern as Noonan walked over to the nearest window of the pub and looked out at the waxing moon. Benjamin could not help but glance at him from over his book as he looked up with the white light of the nearly full moon shining down upon his face. Turning his head just a fraction, his eyes met Benjamin's. Quickly, he threw back the rest of his whiskey and returned to the bar. Benjamin stared at him for a few more seconds, hypnotized by the man and then, shaking it off, looked back down at his book, but the toothless sot’s words wouldn’t release him..
There were too many pieces, Benjamin thought to himself, which fit together for there to be no picture. With the moon destined to be full tomorrow night, the night of the equinox, Benjamin had a feeling... no, it was more than a feeling. It was a pull. If the black dog was out there, then that would be the night it would show its face.
He awoke to the sounds of screaming. Near jumping out of his bed, Benjamin ran to the door to discover the cause of the ruckus. The sound of claws against the wooden floor outside dissuaded him from opening the door. This, he soon discovered was for the best. With his back against the door, and his ears wide open, Benjamin listened as what must have been ten hounds ran through the house where he leased a room.
The impact of a dog hitting his door near knocked him off his feet. He was grateful he had been leaning against it with all his weight in his tiredness. It was only by chance he held his ground. Benjamin was terrified. What should he do? Why were they doing this?
Even before he had asked himself these questions, he knew there were no answers..
Again the door was hit, and again he kept his feet. The baying of the animal behind the wooden barrier sent such fear through him that he temporarily went into a state of paralysis. A third time the animal struck the door, and a third time Benjamin held his ground. In such sheer terror, he did not think as he struck the door himself from the inside and let out a scream that was a cross between shock and anger. There was a low growl outside the door, then there was nothing, just the sound of clawed paws hurrying down the hallway and to the stairwell.
He stayed with his back against the door for countless seconds as the surges of adrenaline slowly ebbed. After five or ten minutes, Benjamin couldn't be sure, he dared to open the door. Already the stink of death was in the air. Waiting another minute, he edged out into the hallway and took in his surroundings. The pools of blood on the floor were enough of an answer for him.
It was time to go, but he would surely not do so unarmed. Nervously, he moved down the stairs into the main hall where there were bows and full quivers hung above the fireplace. Although there were also muskets, Benjamin had had more experience in the art of archery and didn’t trust the new fangled technology.
At one point, he had to step over a body with a face so mangled that he wouldn’t have been able to recognize it, were it not for the innkeeper’s white apron, which now was a sickly red. The face had been completely removed by fang and claw and the chest cavity was near hollowed out. Near sick, Benjamin ran to the fireplace, grabbed the bow and arrows, and was not so carefully out the door. The whole time he was thinking of where he could find help.
Running to the town square with bow in hand and two full quivers over his shoulder, he looked down each of the lanes and any herd paths he crossed. Each and every one led to a cabin or small cottage with either its door swinging open or having been torn clear off its hinges. There were screams in the air and the howl of dogs. All of these in combination drove Benjamin on with more terror and expedience. With the tavern still within eye shot, he took up position in one of the hedges that stretched along the far side of the crossroads at the town square.
Here, he had time, not only to catch his breath and sort out his thoughts, but to prick his ears as well. Putting his draw hand on the string, he sat back prepared and breathed deeply. He did not have an answer to the horror that was happening around him, but if it was these hounds, he could not think of a time when he had seen such animals act so savagely or uncontrolled.
The black dog must be to blame, and the bodies in the inn were only the beginning, if these open doors and screams were any sign of what lie ahead.
Then he heard something he did not expect. It sounded like...
Rolling up onto one knee, Benjamin lifted his head over the hedge to get a clear view of the door of the tavern. There, he saw the shape of a beast on its haunches having a seizure, or what seemed to be a seizure and making the sound of something ill. Raising his bow to arm's length, and fingering the string, the clouds above split to expose the full moon which lit the sickly silhouette. He suddenly realized that it was not an animal at all, but a man doubled over and being very ill.
Still crazed by this insane night, this was outweighed by Benjamin's gladness to see another human who, although in anguish, was not torn limb from limb. Checking his surroundings for four legged enemies, Benjamin stood up and crossed the last few yards to the tavern. The man vomiting, shocked by his approach, darted a look up at him. It was Liam Noonan.
Benjamin was overtaken with fear, but the direness of the situation forced his fear into submission. On all fours, and with a puddle of what had recently been in his stomach strewn across the dirt path in front of him, Benjamin tried to give Liam what dignity he could. Looking around nervously, he realized that Liam was not yet done and for another minute or so, he continued his retching with Benjamin standing nervously behind him.
Never could Benjamin remember feeling so awkward or helpless as then. Standing in desperate need of a man who not only did he fear down to his soles, but who was retching for what seemed like all the time they couldn't afford to lose... and there was absolutely nothing he could do but stand nervously and wait.
Finally and without a care of the other man's presence, Liam stood up, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
Mustering what nonchalance he could, “Are you alright?” asked Benjamin.
“He's near. Tonight is the night we shall see him.” He was referring to the black dog and Benjamin knew this full well.
“I’m going to get my crossbow, and then I suggest we take up the high ground. I'll meet you in the churchyard.” Liam nodded with these final words and began a lopping jog across the towns square. With his shoulders hunched, he looked almost like a lupine himself.
“Hellfire and brimstone.” Benjamin muttered and he was alone again.
During his sprint to the church, Benjamin encountered two hounds prowling side by side near the stables and looking quite ravenous. When one turned to look at him with those demon possessed eyes, Benjamin let out a whelp, but he was quick to regain his wits. Saying a quick prayer under his breath, the next thing he let go was an arrow from his string. Due to his fear, he had not aimed true and the arrow hit the barn door with a loud chock.
The second dog was startled and flinching, then looked at him. Stringing another arrow, Benjamin knew he could not afford to make the same mistake a second time. This arrow struck the second hound just to the right of his head and sunk about half way down its shaft into the hound's shoulder.
He had practiced archery at the monastery in France, but these English yew bows could hurl an arrow hard. He knew his shoulder and forearm would pay for it in the morning, but he wasn't even sure he would have that long himself and was glad to invest all he had in every shot he made.
The hound made no sound, but fell backwards from the impact. Leaping up again to start after him, the wounded dog realized it had lost the use of its foreleg and stumbled. The other animal was just realizing what had happened as it was struck in the side of the ribcage by Benjamin’s third arrow.
Both bleeding, the two animals turned on their easiest prey and began to tear at each other. Although it was a vicious and enraged battle, both animals were wounded, which made it sickly and slow to watch. This is something Benjamin did not stay around to do. With the adrenaline fueled fear again upon him, he flat bolted for the church trying to keep an eye and an ear open for dogs, but much more intent on that wooden fence which marked the beginning of the sacred ground.
As he approached the church at speed he saw something that he had not expected. Seven hounds had taken up position around the wooden fence that surrounded the small church. Circling and baying, the animals would not cross onto the church yard, but they would also not let anyone from the outside enter.
Standing in a row of trees about twenty yards from the animals and their yen for blood, Benjamin waited for his heart to slow. Meanwhile all the thoughts of how this was the worst idea and how he was a fool for coming here flitted through his head.
He breathed and his heart began to beat a regular tattoo as opposed to the random quickness it had beat for the past while.
Benjamin had an idea. It wasn't the most ingenious plan, but it had worked before. Readying two arrows, he notched one, aimed and let fly, striking one of the dogs broadside. Knowing the others would be quick to reason where the arrow had come from, he let another fly in short order, this one struck the largest of the dogs. As he had seen before, the animals quickly turned on each other at the smell of blood, as Benjamin had assumed would happen.
Dogs do not eat their own, but these were not sane animals. These dogs, who just yesterday had been the pets and companions of the local gentry had become homicidal and insane.
In the presence of wounded prey, whatever its species, the rest began to drive into the foray now acting more savage than ever. This was his chance. He sprinted quickly, but quietly to the far corner of the church, hurtling the fence as he did. The animals did not notice him through their evil gluttony. He was quickly inside the large oaken doorway.
The priest stood up from his kneeling position. “Who is it?”
“It is I, Father. Friar Benjamin.” He panted as he closed the heavy doors behind him. The nearly blind priest recognized his accent at once having eaten with him at the tavern as well as in his own cells, discussing religious matters over the past weeks. Then the priest made the best suggestion that Benjamin had heard since he had risen that afternoon. “I think we are safe here for a short time. I suggest we use that time to pray.”
Getting on their knees in front of the altar, both men recited, in unison, prayers in latin that were well known to all clergy, no matter where they came from.
As if by preordination, as the two men said their amens synchronously, the door opened behind them and in stepped Liam Noonan, wearing a long coat and armed with an angry looking crossbow.
Anticipating the priest's question, Benjamin said to him “It's Liam.” in a hushed voice.
The old father cast his head up making it appear as if he were looking to heaven, but in reality he was focusing his ears where they could best hear the man. “Have you come to pray?”
“You could say that.” said Liam, gruffly catching his breath and drawing back the string on his weapon. “I've come to prey on hound.”
It had been no more than five minutes when Benjamin spoke up.
“I've finished it.”
Liam had given orders with no explanation or reason, for Benjamin to write… something, maybe a chant, maybe a song, against the black dog. For as Liam said, “You know words and ritual. That is your religion, isn’t it?” He had also ordered the priest to keep praying. Who knew? It may help and it would certainly keep the blind codger out of his way. The Father did this whole heartedly. As both of the men worked feverishly on their tasks, Liam stood nervously looking out the window, watching the pack of dogs grow and counting the seconds.
“Well, let's hear it.”
To be spawned as defense
'Gainst those who were sent
From the lands in a distant sea.
A beast of black
To turn them back
Carrying famine, death and disease.
‘Tis nature and time
Controlled by a rhyme
White fang, white eye, tis the beast.
Equinox and full moon
They will be his ruin
With first snow blowing from the east.
“That's all you could come up with?” Liam asked..
“Well, what do you want?!” Benjamin almost hollered with nerves. “English is my second language. I thought we could kill these things with bows and arrows.”
“You can.” said Liam, looking more stern than ever. “But not the black dog. He's the one who made them all mad. The source of their power. It's him, according to legend, we have to sedate, take his heart out, and then burn everything.”
“Wait a minute,” said Benjamin, trying to remember from his text. “And then we have to spread the ashes over a holy place so he will not return.”
Liam nodded slowly, narrowing his eyes at Benjamin. A sign of.... respect? Curiosity at the power of his lore?
“You know your legends, Brother. Now let's see if you can turn them into practice.”
Suddenly there was the howl of a great beast which sounded like it was a scream of a human in anguish. Liam, Benjamin and the Father all spun around to look at the door.
“We'll be safe here, correct?” asked the Father, in a pleading voice.
“You should stay inside. The others haven't come into the churchyard because there is some humanity in them, either from dealings with men or the flesh they have eaten. They fear the ‘sacred ground’. The black dog...” As Liam said this, another howl louder and sounding much closer than the first came from behind the church door.
“The black dog is something older. He was born of fire and doesn't have that fear. He will cross the church ground and he won't think twice about doing so. That's where you come in, Voltaire.” he said pointing at Benjamin. “I'm just hoping that chant you wrote will put him to sleep, and that he doesn't take offense to your damned French accent.” Benjamin was shaken by this, but composed himself. “This is no time for jokes.”
“Who's joking.” sneered Noonan.
It was then that the Father walked up to them with his staff. Casting his eyes toward Liam for no earthly reason, he felt along the staff, raised it above his head and brought it down onto the stone floor, cracking the crucifix from its head. “This has served me well, but now I think it would serve better as a weapon than a holy relic.” Liam took it in his hand and, hefting the weight and was forced to agree with the priest.
“This is maple.” He said out loud, but more to himself than anyone else. “Where are the stairs to the second floor?” asked Liam. Before the priest could tell him, Benjamin interrupted.
“I'm not going out there alone, not with that.... thing.” With this, another howl, sounding like it was right outside of the oaken doors.
“Yes you are, but I will be there when you need me. You wanted to see the beast and now is your chance. Have faith in yourself and your God. The best advice that your God would give you right now is to remember the chant.” Liam was off like a shot to the second floor and after giving a quick blessing the priest returned to the front of the church and began his prayers again.
Benjamin was paralyzed with terror, but was reminded of the chant. It was all he had. Liam said it would work. It was his only defense. Without thinking, it began to come from his lips.
For some unknown reason and with some unknown strength, he put his hands on the inside of the large oak church doors and pushed. They swung open into the night.
He stood on the steps of the church, shaking in his shoes, but reciting the chant. Over and over he said it as the beast drew nearer.
As it got within a few yards of the church grounds, the other dogs, which had been circling the lawn separated for him. Again the howl. So loud this time it nearly deafened Benjamin. Near driving him to the brink of insanity, but his lips kept moving. It was the chant, and it was growing louder.
Stopping at the edge of the holy ground, Benjamin could see every detail of the animal, and no story, no legend could have prepared him for this. The great hound lowered its muzzle and sniffed at the soil. It did not stop. Step by step he continued forwards.
By now, Benjamin was visibly trembling. His mind was awash with fear, but at the same time, there was the chant, as if written in fire upon his brain, it kept coming from his lips and growing louder and louder until it was more akin to a scream. The black dog approached. Step by step it drew closer and with each step it seemed as if the ground under its feet was burning, but still there was the chant. The great black dog looked at him, squarely in the eye, for it was the same height that he was. It opened its mouth in a howl, but then stopped. The beast would not howl while Benjamin kept up the chant, and at present, Benjamin could think of nothing else to do but to chant in a shout of rebellious terror against the black dog..
And then it happened. With a crash from the circular stained glass window above the church door, a silhouette flashed through the night's moon light surrounded by shards of glass. Falling for nearly ten feet, and keeping the tip of the spear pointed directly at the beast's spine, the wooden shaft landed with a sickening, popping crack, and Liam with a heavy thump, in a toppled mound. The animal barked a scream of sheer pain, and could not regain its feet due to a shattered backbone.
Writhing in spasms, Liam wrestled to stay atop the monster while it lunged and heaved its death throes. It seemed like an eternity before the creature stopped moving.
But however long it took in reality, Benjamin was still standing steadfast on the stairs of the church, eyes open as wide as milk saucers, bellowing his chant.
Liam regained his feet. He drew out an eighteen inch long hunting knife and began to carve at the beast's side. At one point, Benjamin got up the courage to glance down at what was actually happening, but seeing the old fellow up to his elbows in the entrails of the hound only caused him to look up at the moonlit night sky and chant even more loudly, still not blinking once. The tale goes that for the next hour, while the dog was put on the fire the father had built, along with its heart which Liam had cut out, Benjamin did not move. He simply stood on the stairs of the church, shaking and bellowed his chant.
When the fire had grown to a roar, Liam came over to Benjamin and put his arm around him. Benjamin nervously opened his left eye to look at him. “Come on boy, I have something to show you.” Even with this invite, Benjamin had a hard time getting control of his legs again. Liam circled the church and was followed shortly by Benjamin. When he saw the fire burning, something released and he could finally allow himself to believe that the beast was dead and he was able to stop repeating the chant, although he continued to silently say it over and over in his head during their walk. Breathing deeply, Benjamin looked at both Liam and the Father. For the first time that night, Benjamin realized fully where and what he was and what had happened... and promptly proceeded to pass out.
Awakening well before sun up the next morning, Benjamin found himself lying under a tree in the churchyard. Rubbing his eyes to the last light of the full moon, he stood up to find Liam and the priest lying by the ashes of the previous night's fire. Benjamin was reminded of the last of the rites to destroy the beast and began to pick up the ashes and scatter them across the churchyard, so that the animal would never return.
When he had finished, he sat down near the blackened spot on the earth and prodded Liam awake. Waking up slowly, it took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust in the night's darkness. Sitting up, he regained himself and thought about the events of the night before.
“If I'm not mistaken, last night was...” Taking a second to think, Benjamin interrupted him.
“Yes, it was. But it's taken care of now. I finished the job.” As he pointed to the place where the ashes were, Liam looked at him with squinted eyes and after a few seconds of thought slowly nodded.“I have to take you someplace.”
Benjamin had no choice but to follow. The two men walked to the gate in the wooden fence that surrounded the churchyard, slowly opened it and walked west, into the wood.
The two men walked on in the predawn morning. Benjamin feeling as if he was half in a dream. Maybe it was the tiredness, the events of the night before or the fact that the adrenaline was finally beginning to ebb, but he felt every step was bringing him further back into reality. Luckily, Liam was here as a guide and he seemed to know each step of this path as if he had blazed it himself.
Benjamin chuckled to himself at this thought. Even though he was used to cobblestone streets and paved walkways, even a simpleton could guess from the apparent age of the trees they were walking between (What were they? Oaks?) this herd path must have been here for a hundred years or more. Probably more from the eerie feel of it.
The stick that Liam carried made a soft, deep thud sound as is landed each time on the packed dirt. It was the same stick the priest had given him earlier yesterday? tonight? and although the top was still jagged and carved to a vicious point and the blood had been wiped away, Benjamin wondered why he was using it for a support. Possibly a trophy? Truly, it was originally intended as a walking staff, just with more ornament than it had at present. Now, it was rudimentary, utilitarian, and a recently used deadly weapon. This struck an odd chord in Benjamin's mind, but Liam had been an odd fellow since they had met. He might have dwelt on it, but he was growing tired.
Sometime late in the trek the sky began to lighten. The walk didn't take a full two hours, but his judgement may have been deceived by the thickness of the canopy above which blocked out the morning light so thoroughly. Add to this the narrowness of the path, for most of its length it was only wide enough for the two men to walk single file. Benjamin behind Liam, one behind the other. Like a single creature moving through the wood. His main view was the center of the old fellow's back, and as tired as he was now, that was just fine with him.
After a few more minutes, how many Benjamin really didn't want to venture a guess, Liam slowed, then stopped. Using both hands, he leaned all his weight on his makeshift crutch and looked up at the sky above. It was still hazy purple red, for the sun had not crest the eastern horizon.
Benjamin was surprised to notice that the thick cover they had been walking under had broken into an open circle of grass roughly ten yards across. Why hadn't he noticed when they entered this clearing? He blamed it on his personal exhaustion. Also the dark circle of earth at the center of the clearing that looked almost like a fire pit. Why didn't that belong here? It seemed out of place... but why?
Liam, without looking at him spoke for the first time in over an hour. "So, Brother. Any guesses why I brought you here?" As he said this, he again began to move, slowly toward the bald place at the center of the clearing.
"No. Not really.” Benjamin yawned as he said this, drawing out his words. “I was hoping there would be a lake so we could take a cold bath. Something to wash last night off of us." Benjamin chuckled tiredly. "We have no food, so not breakfast? I give up. Tell me."
"Does it remind you of the churchyard at all?" Liam asked. By now, he had gotten to the center of the circle and turned to face Benjamin.
“What are you doing?” asked Benjamin blearily, for Liam, in the center of the circle, had taken the top of the Father's staff in one hand and put his knee about middle way down it, as if he were intent on breaking it in two.
“I asked” Liam repeated, “does this place remind you of your Christian holy ground?”
Benjamin didn't even understand the comparison. "Should it?" He asked, confused, but trying to clear his head. "It's not mowed. It's not fenced in. There aren't even any grave markers. Why would you compare this place to holy ground?”
And that was when it happened. Three things in conjunction that opened Benjamin's eyes and mind to a fear he had never even fathomed. First came the realization. Liam had asked if this reminded him of “his” holy ground. His eyes narrowed in thought as all he had learned locked into place.
This beast was created thousands of years ago, before the Christian church had even come to these borders. So if the spell of making and destruction spoke of “spreading its ashes on holy ground”, there was no way the authors could have even conceived of a churchyard when they were written. They meant a place like this.
But that is not where Benjamin had spread them. His eyes began to widen in fear and he began to back away slowly when the Father's spear cracked loudly in half. There was an almost audible pulling of something that was inside Liam and he fell to the ground without the support of the stick.
From the ground he looked up at Benjamin. “You were the one it was created to protect us from. You from the south who came fifteen centuries ago to undo us and our legends. If you understood our gods and goddesses at all you would have run to this place with those ashes... but now....”
Benjamin smelled, heard and felt it at the same time. The rotten flesh atop sulphur burning entered his nose making him want to retch. The deep throat grumbling of a beast unthinkably large. One he had faced last night and had, oh so wrongly, assumed he had finished. And that bowel wrenching fear. And unnatural feeling that had physical grip. Tears began to form in his eyes as his lips began to quaver.
Then, beyond hope, the verse he had written came into his head. It started like quite mumbled nonsense over his trembling lips, but became louder and more coherent. He began the chant anon.
The black dog that had appeared from... somewhere behind the fallen form of Liam Noonan, began to step forward and over the old man. It approached Benjamin as it had the night before, and once again Benjamin Vallet held his ground and recited the rhyme, the quatrain he had written against the evil. The beast grew closer. Step by step until it was within a mere yard from his face.
This is where the chant made the black dog falter last night. This is when the glass broke and the angel disguised as an old man had fallen from heaven and impaled the hound.
The dog snapped it's muzzle insanely at Benjamin. One, two, three times, barking ferocious as searing breath and spittle splattered his face. Like an underfed cur showing another dog who would be the leader either by submission or death, it snapped and snarled at him again.
“That rhyme, you fool, is another sign of why you aren't wanted here. You stand on ceremony and written word. Those aren't the natural world.” The voice of Liam was a barking laugh. “You only have two options now. What your instincts tell you to do. You can run... or you can fight.”
Benjamin knew he only had one option. He turned and he began to sprint. He hadn't taken three steps before he felt the fangs of the black dog grab hold of his neck. He didn't feel anything more. Nothing worth mentioning.
That is the story I came to tell you of. A young man curious about ancient legends, dangerous ancient legends, and the consequence of that curiosity. I have told my tale and now I must be going.
Now where did I put my walking stick? Damn. Looks like I've broken it. Hmmm. What to do now? Ha ha.