Darkwind

Posted on October 9, 2008

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I remember the wind on that first night, rattling the shutters, shifting the coarse-dusted snow.  I slept huddled against my brother, struggling to be warm, wishing there was a fire in the hearth, and some heat within that house’s walls, and cursing my uncle for a fool or a lunatic. It was three-fourths into a long dark winter, the coldest I have ever seen there at the house at the mouth of Darkwind Pass, and there had not been an ember in the chimney from evening into night.  Nothing but that endless wind.

That was many years ago.  My brother and I had arrived there in a sled shortly after midday, my brother driving, me riding beside him.  We had been traveling north for two and a half days to find my uncle.

I was coming to serve him, to be his apprentice and his heir, to learn from him in the wayhouse of which he was master.  He had no children of his own, so he’d sent to my father asking if I could go and live with him.  Then as now, positions were few.  And I was fifteen, age enough to leave home.  And I was a second son.  So my father accepted the invitation and sent me forth with my brother.  My brother came along with me only as my traveling companion, because he was older than me.  He would start back home the next day with the mare and sled.

As my brother and I drew near the house, we saw our uncle’s sign hanging above the door.  It was brightly painted, in the image of a ragged jester who held a crown before him like a serving dish and seemed to ponder it.  About the house itself there was no movement, no smoke in the chimney or noises of men.  Just the rocking and the creaking of the sign.

“What do you think?” my brother asked.  “Has our uncle gone collecting firewood?”

I didn’t know, but my brother seemed to be proved immediately correct, because, hardly a moment later, a voice hailed us and we turned and saw a man with an axe pausing at the corner of the house.

“Boy, is that you arrived?” he asked.

“It’s me,” I said, “if you are my uncle, Jeran Grey.”

He nodded.  “And this is my other nephew, I would guess. Have you brought the goods I ordered?”

“Yes, uncle.”

Along with myself, my uncle had asked for certain supplies to be delivered.

“Then we’ll unload them and go inside,” he said.

While we spoke another man, smaller than my uncle, came and stood beside him at the house corner.  I mistook him for a boy at first, but saw my error when my uncle moved nearer.  The other man was small only in comparison to my uncle’s height.  Indeed, I realized as my uncle approached that I had never heard of anyone so tall as him in my family before, none than anyone had mentioned.

Although my brother and I were weary after a long ride, still, unloading the sled was almost welcome at the end of a cold morning.  We could warm a little at the labour, and the wind kept us lively and earnest at our work.  Although my uncle and his companion worked with us side by side, it wasn’t until everything was unloaded – my uncle’s goods and my own – the sled put away, and the horse led to the stable, that I had a chance to observe the two of them closely.

They were a curious pair.

All the Greys I had met before that moment were really much alike.  Our faces have pronounced features, our bodies are broad, our limbs are muscular (including the women), and most of us are not tall.  My father called it sturdy, and my mother, when she was teasing, called it squat.  (She was not, of course, a Grey by birth.)  Yet my father would have reached hardly to shoulder height placed next to my uncle Jeran.  I wondered why my father had said not a word about this tallest of all our family.

And Jeran was thin.  Even his face was thin.  In his face I saw the greatest family resemblance somehow, and especially that he was my father’s brother – in the set of the mouth and jaw, the way the brow sheltered the eye, and so on – but it was also in the face that the differences were most noticeable.  It was as if my father’s image had been taken and distorted in a bent mirror.

Some would have called him gaunt, but I saw no hunger in him, or true hardship or disease.  He was vigorous, and there was nothing in his leanness that suggested a lack of food.  His cheeks were not hollow, only flattened.  The bones of his skull were less prominent even than my own.  Rather, to eyes used to seeing members of his family in a blunter configuration, he appeared as if he had been lengthened, tied – face, body, hands and limbs – into some curious device and stretched.  Still, his movements were supple and his hands adept.

My uncle’s companion was strange in a more earthly way.  He had a clumsy and disheveled look, a looseness about the mouth, an unselfconsciousness of expression, which told me he was a halfwit.  Otherwise, he was red-headed and perhaps twenty, with a tuft of wispy red beard on his chin and a raw, ruddy complexion.

My uncle saw me staring at his companion and realized that he had not introduced him.  He reached out a spindly hand and spread it atop the man’s crown. “This is my good servant, Muric,” he said.

I smiled a little at his gesture, but Jeran simply turned and led us out of the wind and in his door.

“I’ll fetch you something that will warm you,” my uncle said, and disappeared, taking Muric with him and leaving us in the wayhouse common-room.  A short time later, Muric returned bringing blankets, which we gratefully wrapped about our shoulders.

“I thought we’d get a tastier thing than this to warm us,” my brother said in a low voice. “Perhaps our uncle has a kitchen elsewhere.”  He added, nodding, “There’s a good enough hearth behind that screen, I expect.  And it could warm us on the outside, too, while we waited.”

I peered at the cold brass hearth screen, polished yet dim, within the shadows at the far side of the room.

“Maybe,” I said, “our uncle thinks it is extravagant to heat such a hall to suit only us.”

My brother spat air, and wrinkled his nose, and tugged at his blanket so it covered him better.

The lighting in the room that we were in was only guttering yellow torch flame, so I could not see very well at first.  It was a while before I realized that the furnishings of the room were not the rough benches and plank tables that I expected, but chairs wrought by craftsmen, and tables with scrollworks and sculpted and inlaid designs. Even the firescreen was intricate and had a master smith’s hand in it.

I showed this to my brother.  With some mild surprise, after looking more closely at those furnishings which were nearest him, he said, “Perhaps your new home is not so poor and uncomfortable as I thought.”

These unexpected furnishings were rich and unusual indeed for such a desolate house.  My brother and I, keeping the blankets tight wrapped about our shoulders, stood up to examine them closer.  We began our survey at our end of the room, and I at least had worked my way almost to the fireplace when my uncle came.

“Nephews,” he said, calling out a trifle sharply as he entered the door, “here is some lunch for us.  Bread, a bit of stew, and a mulled beer.”  He brought these over to a table, and, setting them down, he looked over at us, studying me especially, I thought.  All were hungry, Jeran and his servant too, who came and joined us, so we sat down and ate without conversation.

At the end of the meal, my brother said:  “A fine lunch, uncle, thank you.”

For the rest of the afternoon, Jeran left us alone. My brother and I explored the house for a while, looking here and there in a random fashion, then sat down to talk together until the light waned.  We met my uncle at supper, but he was sullen and taciturn, so we ate another silent meal.  After supper, we were once more left to ourselves.

“By the look of it,” my brother said, “you’ll have some lonely days here.”

“Cold ones too, if we have no guests.”

“Yes, that as well.”  My brother paused for a moment and seemed to think.  Then his look cheered suddenly.  “But there’s no need for you or me to be cold tonight,” he said, smiling and tossing his blanket aside.  “We have wood in the sled, remember.  It will do for a good fire, and at our expense and not our uncle’s.”  He stood up quickly and found his boots.  Pulling them on, he said: “I’ll fetch the wood.  You prepare the hearth.”

Fire!  I was even warmed in anticipation of it.  I got up and went over to the firescreen as my brother took down a torch from the wall and moved to the door.  He already had opened the door, the wind blowing snow into the room, when I pulled the firescreen aside. I must have made a sound at that moment although I can’t recall it, because my brother stopped there at the door and turned.  Then he closed out the wind again with a leaning of his hand.

“What is this?” he asked.

When I’d pulled the hearth screen aside, I had seen – and my brother saw it then also – that there was no hearth.  Where the hearth once was, or should have been, there had been erected a wall of mortared stone.

We were bewildered, both of us, and puzzled.  What expectation could be more natural in that cold country than to find a hearth in the common-room of an inn? We even thought that we had somehow missed it and turned around to examine the room again to find a hearth unblocked by stone.  But there were no others.

My brother considered that this was more than merely strange; it was a cause for worry.  No inn could survive in that place without a hearth to warm the guests.  He thought about me abandoned in such a place. “I’ll speak to Jeran,” he said.  “If he has no explanation, you’ll return with me tomorrow.”

We started out immediately to find my uncle, but were hardly a step beyond the chamber when we encountered his servant Muric.  He guided us to a room near the back of the building where Jeran sat, apparently doing nothing.  We came to him with a purposeful step, determined to have an answer. Yet he greeted us without surprise, as if he’d been waiting for us to come.

My brother questioned him.

He’d blocked the hearth, my uncle said, in anticipation of a newer one.  It was foolish of him to do so while the other was not yet finished, he had realized that right away. And immediately he had blocked up the old, the progress on the new one had slowed, slower than he hoped, far slower than it had gone before.  However, the old hearth had been badly fashioned.  A fire would not stay lit in it, and when the wind blew, ashes were spewed all around the room.  He’d acted in haste, without judgment, but he could not take back what had already been done.

Yes, my uncle agreed that it was not an ideal season to construct a new hearth, but no season was except for summer, and that was far away.  And winter brought the fewest travelers.  Though they did, yes, complain noisily about the lack of heat and fire when they stayed with him.

The explanation wasn’t utterly satisfactory, I could see that in my brother’s attitude, and my uncle saw it, too.

“I will look after him,” said Jeran with emphasis.  “Do you think I can’t?  I’m not poor, as you should have seen by now.”

My uncle was my brother’s elder, and what he said about his wealth was true, so my brother could say little more.  He knew that I must remain behind all the same when he departed in the morning.

It was late, so we went to the room our uncle had assigned to us, and crept into bed.  Since we had not been warm throughout the entire day, we shivered throughout the night, waking often, and, through our chattering teeth, naming Jeran over and over the worst variety of simpleton.

Morning arrived eventually, and we got up stiff and forsaken and found Jeran up before us, outside in a small sheltered courtyard, cooking breakfast over an open fire.  It was a good breakfast, and before he departed my brother had almost forgiven our uncle.

But he spoke a final word to me.  “If you find our uncle is truly not capable,” my brother said, “if he has forgotten what brought him wealth before, come home.  Or send to us.  I’ll vouch for you with father.”

I thanked him.  Soon thereafter he left, driving the mare up the road which had brought us there, and vanishing beyond the bend.

*                   *                   *

I was alone.  Though I have sat in this house and listened, never have I heard the loneliness at the mouth of Darkwind Pass so much as I did in those first weeks. The loneliness sounded in the wind, and the wind was always there.

I have now known that wind in all seasons.  Over the barren stones of spring and summer, the wind comes as a moaning cry.  In the long, night-shrouded winter, the wind hisses over the pale shifting snow.  Amidst the leaves of frost-bright autumn, amidst the sparse defiant trees that root amid the stones, the wind shuffles and whispers.

It is a lonely and desolate country, but it was hardly again so desolate as it was then.  I heard that sign which hung above the door creaking, creaking on its hinges.  I wanted to go home.  I wanted to escape the wind.  I needed company and Jeran and his idiot servant were company to no one – except each other.  I almost surrendered to the wind and to the loneliness, I almost hanged myself, except I could not bear to think that the wind might find me, and I too would hang creaking, creaking, from a beam of that cold house.

My father had never talked to me much about his brother. They had parted twenty years since and had seldom visited. But one thing he did say was that my uncle was a solitary man.  Indeed, he was.  Jeran spoke little, except when it was necessary.  He pursued his tasks, and expected me and Muric to pursue ours.

Unfortunately there was almost nothing to do.  The travelers along that road came seldom, and seldom did they stop at our inn.  Those who, owing to circumstance, found they had to stay over, complained sourly about the lack of warmth and fire.  When the weather or the return of the light permitted them to leave, they never dawdled an hour.

In those first weeks, in the few times I had the strength to quell my loneliness, in the few times I could move and act of my own volition, I discussed the new fireplace with my uncle.  He could hardly have forgotten, he said.  He was building it.  And sometimes I would actually see him doing so.  But the construction made little progress, and the old hearth remained walled up and cold.

But it was the longing for company that most concerned me.  After a month, I found that even Jeran in his aloofness appeared friendly.  I noticed myself seeking out his presence, or sometimes covertly watching him across a room that we both were working in.  He would tolerate me so long as I made no noise, and he extended a similar favour to Muric.

One of Jeran’s habits was to go to the common room in the evenings and sit there silently with his servant.  It was to me almost a social occasion, and even before I began

thinking of my uncle as company, I would go and join them there.  As I began to rally from the worst effects of my loneliness and homesickness, I began to observe Jeran. Eventually penetrating his reticence, I discovered that he hated the wind as much as I did, and more, that he was afraid of it.  What he did there, sitting in his chair, was listen, listen warily, as if the wind was stalking him and he was determined to escape it.

On these same evenings, sometimes an unusual thing happened.  After staring into his master’s face from a position near his chair, the idiot servant Muric would approach Jeran and touch him as if to feel the texture of his skin, sometimes moving his fingers along the cheek. Oddly, my uncle would hardly take notice of this.  In reaction he’d simply brush the poor half-wit away as if he were a fly or a kitten.  Rebuffed, Muric would turn his attention to his own face, pulling the flesh downwards with his hands and opening his mouth stupidly.  In the end he’d shake his head, baffled.  Once, after I’d become familiar to him, he came up and touched my face also, but I reacted with such repulsion that he never did it again.

One night when this scene was being enacted once more, my uncle unexpectedly turned to me.  “Muric is puzzled by my looks,” he said.  “I cannot blame the poor beast.  I am

changed.”  He halted a moment.  “You are puzzled too, I think.  We have a strange house:  a walled chimney, an idiot, a homesick boy and an innkeeper who dislikes company.”

I was so surprised by this piece of conversation after so many evenings of silence that I didn’t know how to answer.

“Do you remember three nights ago?” he asked.

“You….”  I couldn’t continue, not knowing with absolute certainty what he was referring to.

“I screamed,” he said.  “We had a guest.  One guest, our first in nine days.  I woke him with my screaming.”

I remembered.  Waking, sitting up in my bed with my stomach fluttering like a flock of birds taking wing.

“The wind was bad that night,” said Jeran, with a look almost of self-mockery on his face.  “Yes, I often scream when the wind is bad.”  Jeran paused and listened for a while.  Then he started again, slowly, like a cart ensnared by mud.  I saw that it was difficult for him to depart from his custom of silence, but he continued regardless.  He began to tell a story; I thought it was to amuse me at first.  But he stopped once in the course of it and said:  “I have to tell you this because soon the wind will find me again.  It caught me, it almost caught me once and I escaped.  But I won’t escape again,” he said.  “Sethunordin changed me.  Muric can see what the change has done.”  He held up a long-fingered hand and looked at it. “I know I won’t escape it twice.”

Jeran commenced his story by pointing to the walled up hearth.  “It was there I saw Sethunordin.  Have you heard his name?  It was there I saw him and I thought he was just a little grey man….”

*                   *                   *

He looked like a little grey man, but he had a laugh like the snap of coals and a voice like ashes in a grate. When Jeran first discovered him, it was accidental, as such things are.  Jeran woke before the fire and saw the grey man stooping and placing a log carefully into the waning coals.

Sethunordin, of course, was not a man at all, but an elemental, a minor demon.  When Jeran discovered him, they struck a common sort of bargain, fire for luck, and the hearth and chimney were reserved for Sethunordin’s exclusive habitation.  (“I did not need them for living in myself,” said Jeran with an unexpected irony, “so long as I could share their use for cooking and such.”)

Fire for luck, except that the price of firewood was high, except that Jeran did not really believe in luck – although his fortunes thereafter noticeably increased.  The trees nearby were unsuitable for burning, and he had to get fuel hauled in by wagon or sled.  (He had not been woodcutting when my brother and I first met him, as we had thought.  He’d been doing something else requiring an axe.) My uncle was somewhat of a miserly man.  What he wanted was comfort and the luxury of being forever alone.  But he could never manage it without riches.  And riches were what the travelers brought when they knocked on his door, crossing eastward through the Darkwind Pass and turning, in those days at least, south in great numbers to the wars in Cathindos.

That was a time of many outlaws also, yet Jeran and his inn were never victims.  Instead he prospered, built additional rooms, hired more servants (of necessity, although he did not like the company) and still never quite accustomed himself to his new wealth.  Business was always good, but sometimes less so than others.  He felt in the leaner days that his bargain with the small demon was unfair.  But he held to it, even if grudgingly.  In a chill wind, customers or not, the hearth burned all the night through.

But after many years, and season upon season of dirty travelers with their endless talk and loud laughter, and Jeran always without his coveted peace – finally he was rich enough to close the inn, to retire.  Sethunordin would have to make another bargain, if he had one that Jeran liked.

The evening he made his decision, Jeran went walking through the trees.  He was lightly cloaked for the season. In the still air, he listened to the crisp tread of his boots.  There were only two customers in his house that night, and they expected to leave by morning.  What better opportunity would he have to take down his sign?  How many years had it been since he had his solitude?  He smiled to think that he had earned it at last. There was no need to go on.  He would remove his sign.  He would send home his servants.  He would retire to his solitude and his peace.

Jeran Grey turned back to his house, his decision made, an anticipatory contentment in his step.

The innkeeper waited in the common room with his customers until they had departed to their beds.  He waited a little longer for them to settle and sleep, then called to the grey demon.

“I’m done now, Sethunordin,” he said.  “I’ve no more use for your good fortune.  Perhaps you can find another landlord and burn his firewood instead of mine.”

“Does our bargain continue until your last traveler is gone?” asked the small gray man.

“That will be tomorrow,” said Jeran. “Burn all you wish until then.”

“Not tomorrow,” said Sethunordin.

The storm that arose to usurp the calmness of that night was a war of furies, and it lasted many days.  It blasted the snow and hid the light of the sun, so no one could tell whether it shone or not.  And his two travelers did not dare venture from Jeran’s wayhouse.  Meanwhile the hearth blazed and the supply of wood faded until there was none left at all.  It was impossible to get more.  Jeran himself went out with his axe, thinking to find fuel in the lumber of an outbuilding, but was so blinded with the snow and wind that he became lost.  He stumbled aimlessly in the storm, until he chanced to hear the creaking of his sign.  He followed it, found and pounded upon his door until he was let in, and never went out again until the storm ended. One more excursion was made.  When there seemed to be a lull, the idiot servant went out, but the wind returned suddenly, savagely, to its former strength, and the servant did not come back.

Jeran brooded.  For fuel they had to use cupboards, and when the cupboards were burned, they had to use furniture. He saw his chairs, chairs wrought by master hands, of the finest craft – saw them broken and converted to ash.  He saw tables chopped and splintered, their exotic woods sometimes sizzling for a while in the coals before they reluctantly caught.  He saw his wealth transformed into smoke and flame, saw it disappear hour by hour, and finally refused to burn anything more.

“Does your word mean nothing, Jeran Grey?” asked Sethunordin.

“You caused the storm,” said Jeran.

“I am not a god,” said the little gray man.

“But where is our bargain then?  Muric is lost.  My goods go to warm your chimney.  Where is my luck?”

“Here, even if you do not know it.”

“There’ll be no more burning,” said Jeran.  “No more.”  An idea then came to him.  He had observed Sethunordin many times.  He knew that he was not a man, nor even actually like a man.  He was constructed in a different way, and Jeran thought he knew what that way was.  A cup stood within reach of his hand, a cup brimful of tea lately brewed over Sethunordin’s fire.  Jeran took hold of it.

“This will be the end of our bargain, demon,” he said. And he threw the contents of the cup at the little grey man.

Sethunordin was nimble, almost nimble enough to avoid the thrown tea.  But the liquid fanned as it was thrown, fanned, and a spray of it caught him on the brow and a drop touched his eye.  Where the liquid caught him, it hissed and bubbled, and the grey flesh melted and ran.  The drop that touched his eye, pitted it.  The demon howled.  He spat and dervished and crushed his hands against his wound.  Yet it was only a wound.  Sethunordin was not destroyed.  Thus Jeran knew that whatever grievous fate was to follow, he had brought it on himself.

The demon changed, translated himself into what he truly was.  Flame leaped in the grey man’s hair, his tongue turned yellow lava, and his eyes became live cinders.  His flesh glowed dull orange from the heat within him.  But there were two dark places, a slash of carbon black across his brow and a blemish in his eye from which flowed a thin trail of fiery liquid.

The elemental gazed at the innkeeper.  He placed his hands together so the fingers touched, and he flexed the fingers strangely so the knuckles cracked like popping twigs.  Then he spoke.

“This is your curse, Innkeeper Grey.  I have made the wind your enemy.  Be wary of it.”

And Jeran felt a change within him, felt something unravel within the fabric of his flesh, and the grey man disappeared forever.

The storm ended little more than a day and two nights afterwards, and four days after that Muric was found.  He had sheltered in an abandoned hut a hard day’s travel from the inn.

And Jeran found that Sethunordin had not lied about his luck.  It had sheltered with the innkeeper in the storm, and the demon – perhaps knowing that Jeran could no longer savour it – had not annulled it when the bargain was broken.  One of Jeran’s travelers was a lord in his own land, a high lord, although for his own purposes he traveled as a common merchant.  When the lord returned home, he remembered Jeran, remembered a generous landlord and a generous warmth in a cold land.  He dispatched servants with gifts, with furnishings more rich than those destroyed, and with gold.  It was not a hundredth part of the lord’s riches, but it made Jeran wealthy.

But my uncle was demon-cursed and took no joy in his good fortune.  He sealed the hearth, poured snow down the chimney, and sent for me.  The rest I have told.

I think it was about a week after I heard Jeran’s tale that I asked him, glancing at the bricked-over fireplace: “Do you think he is still gone, uncle?”

“He has no need to come back now,” Jeran replied

I looked at his strange stretched countenance.  I thought I could see fear there, but courage also, or it might have been resignation.  He had turned silent, so for a moment I listened to the wind.  The winter was almost over.  There had even been a day of thaw when the snow melted and as quickly froze again, leaving a crust of ice.  It would be the final wind of winter that was blowing, and it was a clear wind.

I listened, and thought I heard a cry.

“Did you hear that, uncle?” I asked.

“What?”

“A voice.  I thought it was a voice.”

“No.”

“I wasn’t sure.”

There was another sound, no illusion this time, a clatter of something hard striking the roof.  Jeran and I both looked toward the ceiling. “What is it?” I asked.

“Perhaps a branch broken from a tree, and thrown.”

We listened again, but there were no further sounds from above.  I wondered if Jeran’s curse could touch me also.

“What is the curse, uncle,” I asked.  “Do you know?”

“Yes,” he said.

“What is it then?”

He did not answer for a moment, instead gestured strangely, drew his hands down his face as I had seen Muric doing, and closed his eyes.  Then he said:  “We are true to our stock.  We are not tall, none of us, are we?”

“What do you mean?”

“There are no tall women, and no tall men.  My brother never told you I was tall, did he?”

“No,” I said, struggling to find his message.  “Do you say your curse has made you tall?”

“I escaped, I escaped once,” he said.

“Escaped what, uncle?”

Jeran did not say, seeming immobilized by his thoughts.  I thought I heard a sound then, like ashes falling in a grate.  Jeran wrapped the cloak he was wearing tighter around him.  “Do you feel a draught?” he asked.

There was a chill in the room.  “Perhaps it’s coming from the door,” I said.  But it was not towards the door that I moved, but the hearth.

“What is it?” my uncle asked.

“I don’t know.”  There was something about the hearth, about the wall of stones blocking it, which I hadn’t noticed before.  A flaw, a mark.  As I approached the hearth I saw that the mark was actually an opening in the stones, an aperture.  “Uncle…” I said, turning.  But as I turned, the whole facade of stones tumbled apart, the stones and the mortar binding them dissolving into dust.  A cloud of ashes billowed into the room.

Jeran saw the destruction of the wall of stones.  He sprang from his chair and tried to run.  But he fell before he reached the doorway.  A sound came out of him, hollow as the echo of a scream.  His hands scratched on the tiles as he attempted to crawl the rest of the way, but his fingers could get no purchase on the floor.

“Uncle,” I asked, “what’s happening?”

He shouted something which was too strange to understand, and spread his arms apart and caught each edge of the doorway.  The wind was tugging at him, pulling him to the fireplace, stretching him towards it, elongating his limbs, his arms, his fingers.

Jeran let out another cry, and it was a wailing, and it was a storm making a mockery of voices.  His limbs continued to stretch until his body was so thin it could almost reach

across the room.  I ran over and took hold of his arm and began pulling at him.  But his flesh was fluid to the touch; I couldn’t maintain my hold.  I released his arm and grasped his head, but it stretched and grew in my hands.  His features passed my fingers like ripples on the water and his voice was no more than a sobbing moan.

By then his legs had reached the hearth and the wind was sucking his body up the chimney.  His features were fading, becoming insubstantial.  There were hollows where once he had eyes and mouth, dark hollows through which ashes blew.

Finally, his body was gone and all I saw was his transparent face distorted in the fireplace and his arms stretched thinly across the room.  His purchase on the door loosened, but I caught his fingers and hooked them with my own, and his arms gradually disappeared into the chimney until all that was left were his diaphanous fingers billowing in the wind and finally slipping away, drifting slowly amid the grey dust and ashes.

Half mad, I ran out the door and into the night, crying: “Jeran, Jeran Grey,” and for answer I heard a howling in the trees.  I looked and I thought I saw him there, caught in the black barren branches, glowing slightly in the starlight and the snow.  I thought I saw his face there, his mouth open, wailing his terror and his pain.  But it might have been the moon veiled behind the mist.

I thought I heard his voice, but it might have been the storm crying over the stones, calling out my name.  And I thought I felt a madness blowing through my mind, but it was only me as I lay dreaming of the wind.

But I did not lie dreaming.  It was only the dark and only the wind.  It was only Jeran Grey groaning in the storm.

©2008 by Theo G. Collins.  All rights reserved.