Marcii (The Dreadhunt Trilogy Book 1), page 1
Book One of The Dreadhunt Trilogy
By Ross Turner
Unfortunately, people are vile creatures with imagination enough only for harm,
It may take many forms, but it stems always from the same fears and hatreds and jealousies,
I suppose the dream is that, one day, it might stop,
Because an awful lot has happened at our opposite ends of the Earth,
I’m very lucky to have you,
The midnight stars above the beachfront continue to await our return,
I miss you dearly still,
Fear coursed through Tom’s veins as the lunging shadows pursued him.
The air that night was cold and shrill and it stung in his chest as he drew every deep, shuddering lungful. When he exhaled his breaths billowed out in vast white clouds. But every time they did, swelling and rising and bursting from his heaving ribs, they soon disappeared behind him, as he raced across the cornfields in the rich blackness.
Beneath his feet the ground was uneven and littered with potholes. Every juddering step that he took threatened to strike him off balance and throw him to the ground. But he pressed on nonetheless, for he had little other choice.
Though there was no light for him to see by, his eyes were well adjusted to the darkness.
His legs churned beneath his body mechanically, resisting the looming fatigue well, for they had a lifetime’s experience of toiling in the fields behind them. Occasionally a fence line appeared before him, materialising from the night at the very last second. Each one in turn, just like the last, was fully prepared to halt his escape.
But he took them in his stride, leaping from his stronger leg and vaulting the wooden barriers with ease.
Always next to him in the dim light, Max, his trusty canine, ran dutifully by his side.
Born and raised on these fields for the sole purpose of herding Tom’s sheep, Max knew the meadows inside and out. He dove through and under and over every obstacle that faced them, feeling the cold earth trace swiftly by beneath his paws.
Panting heavily through fear rather than exhaustion, the sheepdog held close to his handler’s side. Though he could not see it, what he smelled and heard in the darkness all around them struck terror in his tiny, frantic heart.
For five years Max had lived here, playing and working amidst the hay bales and the barns and the crops. His short life had been so far, up until that point, a very happy one.
But that particular autumn had brought with it a new kind of turn in the seasons that Max had never before experienced. As he ran through the night by Tom’s side, plummeting across very fields that he’d only a few months ago been chasing rabbits in, his terrified mind was as far from happiness as seemed possible.
His nose was no longer filled with the exciting scent of game, but instead a smell that brought with it the dread of a hunt.
Suddenly, his luck finally wearing a little too thin, Tom lost his footing on a particularly steep rut between two fields. With a shrill cry his own momentum threw him harshly to the ground. He clattered into a pile of unseen equipment and his senses were thrown awry.
Max could smell fresh blood.
Tom cradled his leg for a second and felt thick, warm liquid ooze between his fingertips.
He cursed under his breath and glanced around uselessly, for he could not see very far at all through the darkness.
Max barked anxiously between warning growls, urging his handler back to his feet.
Obliging, knowing he had to move, the injured farmer clambered to stand, using whatever it was he’d fallen into to steady himself.
But it was too late.
Something loomed in the blackness, close enough for him to see that it was there, but far enough away to be unable to make out what it was.
Max bared his teeth fiercely and leapt forwards, protecting his handler out of sheer instinct.
“No Max!” Tom cried, reaching out his hand as if that would stop him, but his voice was lost to the emptiness all around.
There came a growl and a rippling snarl, either from Max, or from whatever that thing was, Tom didn’t know.
Then followed a yelp and a whimper.
Dread filled Tom’s heart.
That was definitely Max.
The blurry silhouette loomed before him in the gloom once more and to his feet was tossed what looked to be a tightly wrapped bundle, thick with fur. It was rounded and small and drenched in some kind of thick, glistening liquid.
It rolled the last few feet before coming to rest directly before Tom. He felt his stomach lurch as if it had just fallen through his bowels.
He tore his gaze away.
Heaving and retching, Tom was unable to look back and his eyes were thick with angry tears.
A scream echoed out through the night and his tearful gaze snapped to his left, eyes on the farmhouse.
“NO!” He cried out involuntarily, lurching forwards and breaking into a dead run once more, ignoring the pain that flared in his leg and the monsters that lurked all around him.
The flickering lanterns hung evenly about the house lighted the windows and served as beacons in the pitch black night, illuminating their home for all to see. Though there wasn’t all that much light from them, the white, wooden porch that wrapped around Tom’s home was clear as day, and seemed so welcoming amidst the darkness.
When the rain came, thick and fast, it pelted the poor man for all he was worth.
The clouds had been looming above sinisterly, but he had not noticed.
He did not care.
He wasn’t going to lose his wife too.
The suddenly saturated ground turned instantly to mud beneath his feet and his racing strides began to churn and slip and slide. His progress grew slower and tougher and more exhausting by the second.
But he did not stop.
Unsure if they were even still pursuing him, whatever they were, Tom staggered the last hundred feet or so to his farmstead.
Surely they hadn’t just left.
They were toying with him now.
The wooden farmhouse was quaint. It had six or seven steps leading up to the porch that framed the broken and shattered door.
Tom scrambled up the steps and reached out to pull what was left of the front door open. He was blinded suddenly by the lanterns that hung on either side of the doorframe and the door fell away from its hinges at his mere touch, revealing all that lay beyond.
He left a few drops of fresh blood behind him on the wooden steps and floor of the porch, for the cut to his leg was deep and still spewed liquids of all different colours, mixing with the raindrops as they went.
Racing inside, breathing heavily, his body coursing with adrenaline, he froze for a moment, taking in the view that beheld him.
He swallowed nervously and crept slowly through his own house, passing like a ghost in and out of the hallway and the living room and the kitchen, feeling as though he didn’t belong there.
Though his gaze fell immediately upon the ghastly sight all around him, his mind refused to comprehend what he was seeing.
It was smeared across the wooden floors and splattered up and down the whitewashed walls, tarnishing the paintings and memories that hung there.
The vile liquid seemed infinite, staining chairs and tables, leather settees and futons and thick, plush rugs alike, r
Tom’s gaze poured over the sight in horror. He would never be able to erase these images from his memory. Even if he were to gouge his eyes out right there and then, he would forever see.
And yet even still, there was something else that he could not place.
The rain hammered heavily upon the house, pounding deafeningly on the roof and the walls and the windows.
But that was not it.
Pain in his leg flashed afresh and he glanced down to see yet more blood, saturating his one trouser leg and boot.
But that was not it either.
He took a deep, shuddering breath, in through his nose and out through his mouth.
And only then did he realise what it was, as the dank scent hanging heavily all around him finally registered in his battered senses.
Yes, he could smell the blood, for indeed there was enough of it.
But there was something else, equally as pungent, if not even more so.
The house stunk of wet dog.
Tom’s eyes fell then to the wooden stairwell. It sat against the wall that ran along one side of the hallway and was lined on the other side with a sturdy banister.
The blood was smeared up the steps in almost perfectly straight lines, dotted with thicker droplets here and there.
He followed the trail, climbing slowly, placing his feet carefully and feeling the slippery wood beneath the thick soles of his damp boots.
Seven steps up, only four away from the landing at the top, Tom skipped a step, grimacing as he stretched over it silently on his injured leg.
It would have creaked beneath his weight and given him away.
It always had done.
He finally made it to the landing and the blood smeared trail curved round to the right and beneath the closed door of their bedroom.
Barely breathing at all, gripped by fear, Tom reached out and pushed the bedroom door slowly open with his fingertips.
He shuddered and went icy cold at the sight beyond the doorway.
The poor man had indeed found his wife, or perhaps more accurately, what was left of her, scattered callously about their bedroom, all over the place.
Collapsing to the floor, covered instantly in his wife’s blood, trembling and shaking, Tom dragged himself further down the hallway, unable to draw the strength to stand any longer.
The nonconforming step on the stairway, fourth from the top, creaked loudly behind him, but he did not turn to look who or what had sounded it.
The overpowering scent of wet dog reached his nostrils once more and the sharp scraping of claws against the wooden floorboards flooded panic through his veins afresh.
Suddenly a tall, black figure loomed at the end of the landing.
He knew there was another behind him: the one that had followed him up the stairs.
And then a third emerged from the door to the spare bedroom on his left.
They were everywhere.
He was surrounded.
Desperately trying not to look up at first, though he knew that wouldn’t stop them, Tom gritted his teeth harshly, never one to go down without a fight.
Launching all of a sudden to his feet, feeling fire flash in his injured leg, he charged forward with his fists raised, screaming foul curses as he did so.
He did not last.
Stood at the opposite end of the landing, silent and unseen, a young girl no older than eight or nine watched the slaughter peculiarly.
The man before her, whom she knew only as a farmer, was not even thirty years of age. The beasts ripped him to shreds right before her eyes as she looked on.
Torn limb from limb, blood spraying in every possible direction, Tom screamed and shrieked and bellowed, fighting to his very last breath. It was not a particularly long battle however, and then the house soon fell silent once again.
Only the stench and the blood and the monsters and the little girl remained.
Her clothes were ragged and torn, patched hastily back together at many of the seams. She had light brown hair with bits of twigs sticking out of it here and there and her face was dirty, as if she hadn’t washed for weeks.
Most notable of all however, was her expression.
Through tawny brown eyes she watched the carnage and her calm, calculated gaze surveyed the massacre with not a flicker of emotion.
Without the tiniest hint of a reaction, she continued to look on.
And then, just as quickly as she had come, she was gone, leaving nothing behind her in her wake.
Newmarket buzzed with life, filled to the brim with people swarming like insects.
This was a town that had spent its entire existence centred solely around trade, and the hustle and bustle here was simply a way of life.
Long stalls and tall stands and open tents were covered with taught canvas, mounted on high poles just in case of rain. The makeshift streets and walkways between them teemed and heaved with the gathered masses.
The shouts and cries of stall owners and market masters all merged together into one huge din. To any who were unaccustomed to such things it filled their senses with absolute chaos.
Bright colours flashed everywhere as townspeople flocked between the stands and were barraged with a hundred and more goods for sale.
Many items were genuine; many more were not.
The same could be said for those running the stalls.
Many of them were honest, whilst again, many more of them were not.
In fact, the same can be said as a general rule for mankind.
Marcii made her way as best she could through the heaving market in the very centre of town. The teeming crowds of people all around didn’t give her a huge berth, but they clearly stepped one way or the other to avoid her.
They didn’t offer the same courtesy to others.
That could simply have been because they didn’t want to walk into her, but then, people had been avoiding her for her entire life, so she didn’t really even notice it any more.
For as far as she could see in every direction there were stalls and stands and tents, and then yet even more beyond that.
She was not overly tall however and at sixteen years of age, she probably wasn’t going to get much taller. She sighed heavily and suspected that she would forever feel lost amidst this rough, endless sea of trade.
Marcii slipped through the bustling, hurrying crowds, scurrying around her to and fro in every direction, unconsciously parting the waves as she went.
Almost everyone she saw, whether they acknowledged her or not, she recognised.
Having lived in Newmarket her entire life, the young Marcii Dougherty knew most people by face, if not by name. It was not the biggest town in the land, but its inhabitants numbered in the thousands rather than the hundreds.
People hurried past her without looking, more often than not in a world of their own, focused on the overwhelming market and the deafening noise and the blinding colours.
Marcii saw blacksmiths, tailors, barbers, coopers, farmers, people of all trades and occupations cutting around. Each was dressed just as appropriately and indeed as predictably as you might imagine.
The Newmarket blacksmith strode across the square, taking broad strides as he went and carrying several sets of farming tools in his strong embrace. His thick leather apron was drawn about his stout frame and spotted with burn marks that had scorched the leather here and there.
He knew Marcii quite well, but he was too tall and the square too crowded for him to see her.
Next she saw the tailor: a tall, slim woman with short, cropped, chocolate coloured hair and similarly coloured, sharp eyes. Though she was some ways away across the square she spotted Marcii’s jet black hair, straight and long, through the teeming masses. Pausing her sweeping observation of the crowds for a second, she caught the gaze of Marcii’s bright, almost luminous yellow eyes, peering out from behind her black fringe.
The tailor smiled falsel
Marcii paid little attention, for such things she’d become accustomed to and rarely even noticed these days.
She drifted between the stalls and tents, slicing her way through the crowds as if she were poisonous. Every time she settled at a stand she scanned the wares for sale quickly, pausing there only briefly, and moving on immediately whenever she didn’t find what she was looking for.
The alluring scent of food and drink of all varieties reached her nostrils and her stomach growled fiercely in response, but she did not stop to eat.
Her mother, Amanda Dougherty, had given her a very specific list of things she needed to buy. Marcii knew her mother would be very angry if she spent the money she’d given her on anything besides what was on that list.
Once every four or five stalls or so Marcii paused for longer than just a few moments and dipped her small hands into the deep pockets of the brown, leather over jacket that she wore. The jacket was heavy but it kept the cold at bay, for the seasons were most definitely on the turn and the days were growing noticeably shorter and harsher.
Retrieving the coins scattered about the very bottoms of her pockets and exchanging them for the goods she needed, Marcii purchased everything from vegetables and meats to cloth and kitchenware.
All the stall owners served her without question, but there was no dispute that they eyed her warily as she approached, as if she was most certainly not to be trusted.
This was likely not down to anything Marcii had actually done wrong.
The very town itself had grown full and rife with distrust and fear of late.
Nonetheless, Marcii was polite and courteous as ever, just as her parents had raised her and her older sister to be.
She turned away from the stall she’d just visited, stuffing a bag of carrots into one of her deep pockets as she did so. Her step was quick and she almost collided with somebody standing close behind her, only catching the figure in the corner of her eye at the last second.
Other author's books:
- Marcii (The Dreadhunt Trilogy Book 1)The Souls of the Ocean (Book Two in The Tamarack Series)The Kingdom of Tamarack (Book One in The Tamarack Series)
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