Today. Somewhere in Appalachia. Memories of an Old Woman:
"No matter what the other folks say, I want you to know that Rufus was never a bad boy. Never. In fact he was the kindest, most gentle soul I have ever known. And I have known many. You see, during the troubles, that thing wasn't really Rufus. Oh maybe at the end, the very end when he had come back. But he was back for just a second. Because when the Big Man scared the thing out of him, when he sent it back to the void where it came from. Well, Rufus came back to us to say goodbye, right before he died."
"Oh you want to know about the Big Man? The others don’t talk about Him much do they? That’s cause they weren’t there. I was there for it all. I met the Big Man. I spoke to him. He even touched me, when he rescued me, he touched me, right here, on my forehead. After that I could read, I could write. Not just english mind you, but french and spanish and latin. Even arabic. And since then I have been able to see things. Things that other folks can’t. Oh many folks hereabouts shun me, say that I am a witch. “That I am a crazy old woman that speaks to the dead and sees spirits”. That ain’t really true. Oh I have seen the dead, the newly dead at least. I can tell you that there is a place beyond this world of pain and sorrow. But a witch? No. I can’t cast spells, or curse people. Hell, I ain’t never even rode a broom. But enough about me. You don’t want my story. You want to know about Rufus. And know you shall…"
"Now to understand Rufus, you first have to know about his Daddy, and I suppose his Mama too. But mostly about his Daddy, because that is where this thing started. You see, Rufus' Daddy was my Daddy’s brother. And when he was a young man he left this place, his home. He left his home to fight the Kaiser’s huns in France. As I recall he was gone for a while. He fought in the war, but he didn’t come right back when they was done. In fact he was gone for more than five years, all told. And according to my Daddy, well, according to him, his brother Clayton, that’s what Rufus’ daddy was called, he didn’t come back right. Oh I know what you are going to say. Plenty of soldiers come back home, but they don't really come back. I ain't talking about the shell shock, mind you. It was something more. You see, my Daddy said there was darkness to Clayton. A hole in his soul."
"Well like I was saying, he did come home. And eventually my grand daddy insisted that Clayton wed. Start a family. Do what a man does naturally. Because that was the way of things. So he was wed to a younger girl. A strong girl, shy and I was told pretty enough. Though I heard she was an orphan. At least without kin in these parts. My grand daddy made sure he had a house, and Clayton had plenty of money from when he was away. So things should have been fine...but they weren't fine. In fact that was when it really started. The story of Gnome. That was what everybody called Rufus, on account of how he looked. What? You ain’t knowed that either? Well then, I guess it was good that you came to talk to me after all..."
November 17 1924. Somewhere in Appalachia. A Last Conversation Between Two Brothers:
It was cold. But it was always cold in the mountains, especially this time of year. And there was already a fair amount of snow on the ground. Cecil was worried. He had not heard from his brother Clayton or his new wife, Mary Ann, for almost three weeks now. And today he woke up worried. Maybe worried was not the right word? It was more a sense of dread. A feeling that something was wrong and he needed to see his younger brother as soon as possible.
He had his daughter, Tessa in his arms. She was his youngest. He turned to his wife and gave her the girl, ignoring both the child’s cries and her reaching arms. “I’m going to see Clayton. I will be back soon enough.” He turned away before his wife could reply and left the house.
It took a moment to get the truck started. It was a good truck, only a year old, and Cecil knew many of his neighbors envied him for it. Cecil drove the half-hour to his brother’s house deep in thought. His brother Clayton had never been the same since returning from that damned war, but Cecil felt it was more than that. Clayton wasn’t the only local boy that had been called to fight in Wilson’s war, but he was the only one that Cecil had heard about that did not return home directly after it was done. So where did he go? No one knew. Did he stay in the whore houses of Paris? Did he travel? He would not speak of this time. But he was gone for nearly FIVE years after the war. Cecil had been convinced that his brother had died - either in battle or from the Spanish Flu. But then last year he was just back.
But Cecil had to admit, Clayton was not the same man, not at all. Oh he had heard tell about the shell shock that veteran’s of Wilson’s war suffered. His Daddy had told him that veterans of the War Between the States had suffered similar ailments the rest of their lives. But Cecil suspected there was more to the changes in his younger brother...he just could not figure out what.
Cecil finally pulled up to his brother’s place. The first thing he noticed was there was no smoke coming from either chimney - on a cold day like this? He drove up to the front of the place. And turned off the truck. Cecil began walking up the snow covered path to the house and wondered to himself, where are the dogs? Normally the hounds went wild whenever he approached the house, now? Nothing. How odd.
As he reached the porch he noticed someone was sitting there...it was Clayton. He was sitting in his rocking chair, a clay jar of shine in his left hand, his shotgun across his knees and he was totally naked.
“Clayton? By God man! You will freeze to death. What are you doing?” Cecil demanded.
Clayton looked up into his face. His eyes were hollow...as if he were focused on something, and somewhere else. He then acknowledged his brother was in front of him: “Cecil? How are you here?”
“What do you mean? I drove here! What are you doing outside? Why are you naked? And where is Mary Ann?” Cecil rapidly fired these questions at his brother. Clayton sat there for a good half of a minute without responding. Cecil’s heart rapidly filled with dread. “Clayton. Clayton, look at me. Where is your wife?” He asked his brother, his tone calm, yet still demanding. This seemed to reach Clayton.
“Mary Ann is inside. She is in bed.” Clayton Responded in a slow neutral tone.
“In bed? This late on a Monday morning? Clayton, what has happened?” He feared the response.
Clayton stared at his brother, his eyes welled with tears. “It came back. I thought I was free of it, but it can still ride me. It came back...it will return again...I cannot bear it’s return. It will be riding me again.”
“What came back? What do you mean...riding you? ” Cecil asked slowly.
“After the war. The thing in the catacombs...Paris...the catacombs...we let it out...I got away. I got away...but it let me? It rode me out...it killed the others. It rode me out. I thought it was gone. But I didn’t get away, you see? It can still ride me.” Clayton babbled.
“Clayton. It is all right, first we have to get you inside...out of the cold. And we have to find Mary Ann.” Cecil started to take off his coat as he approached his brother, intending to drape it over his shoulders. It was then that Clayton quickly lifted the shotgun and aimed it at his brother. Both barrells cocked.
“Clayton! What in the Lord’s name are you doing? It is me, your brother Cecil. I am here to help you!” Cecil yelled as he stepped back a few paces.
Clayton seemed somewhere else, his eyes were wide and filled with the look of madness. A madness brought on by pure...horror. The look only lasted for a few moments and then he focused on his brother. “Cecil. I am sorry. I did not wish for any of this to happen.” He said with a tone of the most chilling calm...like a man resigned to his fate.
“Clayton. Clayton what have you done? What did you do to Mary Ann?” Cecil asked, his heart beating like a drum.
“I did not do anything Cecil. It was riding me. It can ride me still, and it will ride me at any time. I cannot bear it. Nor can I risk it returning. Please understand.”
“What is it? What is riding you? What does that even mean?” Cecil implored.
Before Ceil could act, Clayton quickly reversed the shotgun and placed the barrels under his own chin, and as Cecil screamed “NO!” Clayton pulled both triggers...the blast was deafening and Clayton’s head disintegrated, his headless corpse flew backward, but the rocking chair kept it from hitting the floor behind him. Blood and brains splattered Cecil, who fell back screaming.
Cecil lay on the floor of the porch curled into a ball until the blood that splattered him began to turn cold. He did not know how long he had lain there in shock and despair. However, he knew he would have to get up, face what had happened. Go into the house and discover what fresh horror awaited him. Cecil rose slowly, trying not to look upon his brother’s headless corpse, he went into the house to find his sister-in-law's body.
He searched room by room, finally he made his way to the master bedroom. And that is where he found her - lying in bed, naked and alive. Curled in a fetal position - much like I was on the porch just a few minutes ago. Cecil said to himself. She was filthy and stank horribly. The bed was soiled. “What in God’s name happened here?” Cecil asked aloud.
“Mary Ann? It is me Cecil. Are you well?” He asked her gently. There was no response. He approached her and looked into her eyes. She was completely catatonic and did not acknowledge there was someone there in front of her. He tried again in a few minutes but the results were the same. Cecil began the arduous task of cleaning, dressing and carrying his unresponsive sister-in-law to his truck. He took her out the back of the house to avoid seeing his brother, as much for his sake as for hers. He placed her on the passenger side. And before he began the drive back he asked himself aloud: “Do I take her to the Doc’s first, or do I go to the Sheriff? Or do I go to Daddy first?” At that, a pain equal parts dread and grief seized his stomach. He knew it would be hard to tell his father about Clayton’s death.
He took one last look at his brother’s house before he left, and out of nowhere a thought entered his mind: where are the dogs?
August 10 1937. Somewhere in Appalachia: The Beginning:
Mary Ann never recovered...she remained completely catatonic. Cecil had brought her to live with his family and it was quickly apparent that she was with child. It was a difficult birth, but she never screamed from the pain. She never reacted at all, the midwives felt as if they were delivering the child of a dead woman. In fact, she soon would be a dead woman, for she died shortly after the child’s birth, again in complete silence. Cecil felt as if her body was catching up. Like she died back in that house with Clayton.
As to the child? He was small and weak. His head was overlarge, but it was his face. His face was...wrong...it was too narrow for his head. And he had the slanted eyes of a chinaman - the child was a dwarf and a mongoloid. He was not expected to survive more than a day. However, Cecil named him. Everyone needs a name, even a mongoloid dwarf that is soon to die, so Cecil named him Rufus.
But Rufus survived. Not only survived, he even thrived. Oh yes, he was a dwarf. But he was not like most dwarves. He did not have the awkward gait, nor the twisted limbs that many of those unfortunates are cursed with. Rufus was proportioned like a small child. Even when he reached his thirteenth year, he looked like a lad of at most, six or seven.
And yes, he was a mongoloid. He had the pinched narrow face and the slanted oddly mauve coloured eyes of an earlier asiatic ancestor, but he was not retarded. No, not even simple. He was just quiet.
In fact, it was this unearthly appearance that earned him the name that most folks would come to call him: Gnome.
Gnome grew up with Cecil’s daughter Tessa, she was less than three years his senior. And during their childhood the two were inseparable. Cecil thought that his daughter was extremely protective of her cousin. Which was almost odd, Cecil felt. Because despite his malformities, to Cecil’s knowledge, no other child ever bullied Gnome. In fact, oddly enough, they seemed to fear him. And come to think of it, most adults seemed to be uneasy around him as well. But this paled compared to the animals. Farm animals, cats, dogs - they all feared Gnome and they stayed well away from him. Especially dogs. Even the friendliest hound or meanest cur would retreat from Gnome, their tails between their legs.
And this is how it was, until Gnome’s 13th year...
Many would consider Preacher Jeremiah Goode a bad man, even a cruel man...maybe this was true, but he was also a righteous man. A man of God. And Preacher Goode knew that evil existed, that wickedness existed, and that sin existed. He knew that in the mountains, high in the hidden passes, that is where the witches met, and they called forth the Devil and all his fallen angels and demonic servants. And he knew that the boy, the mongoloid, the freak, this Rufus...he knew that somehow he was born of the witch. And Preacher Jeremiah Goode knew that one day Rufus would work the Devil’s will. He felt it, in his heart, and in his bones. He saw it in his dreams. He knew that you must not suffer the witch to live!
But no one else outside of his small flock believed him. To everyone else, the boy Rufus was just an unfortunate child. But Preacher Goode knew that just as a boy matures to become a man, the evil that was inside Rufus would one day mature. He just needed to show everyone else, to convince them of this truth.
It was a Tuesday, and it was Rufus’ birthday - his 13th year, and both he and Tessa had traveled to town with the family - well with Pa and Ma at least, to get things from the store. This was a rare treat indeed. As Pa and Ma shopped, Tessa and Rufus hung out in front of the store. Laughing and joking. Well Tessa laughed and joked at least...Rufus had been quiet and moody for the last two weeks or so. And Tessa had heard him cry out in his sleep more than once…well scream was a better term than cry out, Tessa thought…as Gnome had suffered from terrible nightmares of late.
They continued on the same way for a good fifteen minutes, and as before it was mostly Tessa who laughed and joked, but neither teenager was paying attention as Jeremiah Goode and two of his followers, his wife and daughter, approached the store. All were dressed in black, as the Preacher’s followers were prone to do. It was the reason others in the town called the small and unpopular sect Goode’s blackbirds.
Before Tessa and Rufus realized it the trio was upon them. Preacher Goode stared daggers at Rufus, and then said aloud: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” To which his wife and daughter replied in unison: “abominate the witch. Sunder the witch!”
Rufus stood there, it was almost as if he were confused, and did not know where he was. Tessa looked at Rufus and grew worried. Something was wrong. “Gnome?” She asked with concern in her voice. When he did not answer, Tessa became angry and rounded on the Goodes. “He’s not a witch! You wicked old Blackbirds! Why don’t you stop bothering people!” She screamed.
Preacher Goode’s wife stepped forward and backhanded Tessa - hard. So hard that Tessa fell to the ground.
That was when something broke in Rufus. Something came forward from the back of his being and it started riding him.
What was once Rufus stared at the two women, and then down at Tessa on the ground, and them back to the
two women. Both mother and daughter sneered back at him, just as both looked like crows. Ugly, plain black dresses, flat black hair in tight black buns, and sour, sneering beak-like faces. He saw the growing welt on the side of Tessa’s left cheek where the Preacher’s wife, Mildred Goode had struck her.
Preacher Goode shouted his “benedictions” and ravings at the boy, “get ye behind me Satan! Devil spawn! Ye bastard son of a witch whore!” As he shook his bible at the boy.
Rufus slowly turned his gaze upon Preacher Goode, his eyes narrowed. He spoke with an echoing hollow voice - a voice that was his, yet not his at the same time, “I suppose now is as good a time as any to begin…and you are as good a person as any to begin with.” With that Jeremiah Goode was slowly lifted off the ground, his arms being pulled to his side and his head tilted forcibly to the left by irresistible, invisible hands. In an obvious mockery of the Crucifixion.
Preacher Goode whined in terror, as both his daughter and wife screamed aloud and fell to their knees. “What is wrong with you holy man? Are you not the way?” At that Rufus started laughing, yet it was not the laughter of a child - nor was it the laughter of only one voice. As multiple deep-throated guffaws warred with each other for the boy's mouth. As the laughter faded, Rufus snapped his head to the two women on their knees. Mildred Goode’s screams changed tone, as blood trickled from her nose and eyes, as well as pouring from her screaming mouth “You are a vile, twisted woman”. Rufus said to her. “Your husband victimized his own daughter, YOUR child. And you did nothing. You said nothing. You acted like it was right, his right. But do not fear, for all your failures as a mo
ther, I will still grant you the gift of motherhood once more. And what a beautiful child it is that will crawl from your womb. A child from realms far beyond these bland fields.” And with that two gray skinned, six fingered, and clawed hands burst from the woman’s abdomen, palms away from each other, both hands pushed in opposite directions, tearing a hole in the dying woman from which some thing crawled out.
It was a blasphemy, long-limbed and gaunt, nude and sexless, with a mottled gray hide, that resembled worn and weathered leather. It stood at most seven feet tall, but seemed far, far larger. But it was the face, the face of the blasphemy that was the worst. A multi-eyed visage complete with a drooling worm-fanged circular hole for a mouth.
Edna, the Goode’s daughter, began to shriek in near madness. At this Rufus turned to her and smirked, “oh, I have not forgotten you bitch.” And with that Edna’s insides switched places with her outsides, with a nauseating pop. Within seconds something began to form in her innards, something that grew fast, into a gorilla sized abomination, a multi-legged horror, equal parts insect (or perhaps crustacean?), and equal parts octopoid, with multiple tentacle-like appendages seemingly formed from the young woman’s intestines. The creature had no discernable head, but each tentacle had a myriad number of snake-like, blinking orbs growing from it.
It was at this moment that Cecil and his wife, Virginia ran out of the store. Into a scene from hell, Virginia screamed as she saw the horrors, Rufus, and her daughter lying on the ground, her eyes widened in horror and her mouth open in a silent scream. Virginia reached for her daughter, but Rufus whirled on her. “NO! She is mine! She stays with me!” Rufus screamed like a petulant child. Yet no child had a voice like his. As loud as a lion’s roar and even more hollow and alien than it was mere moments ago. “Gnome?” Cecil asked in shock and horror. Over the boy’s shoulder Cecil saw pools of blackness form in mid-air, like shadows in twilight. Then he saw things step from the floating pools. Things similar, yet different, from the monstrosities standing outside the store with Gnome. Though some were even more alien, more wrong, more horrific. The things began to attack the surrounding townsfolk, and Cecil heard the cracks of rifles and the blasts of shotguns in the distance.
“You must leave now! Take the others and leave this place. It is the only mercy I will give.” Rufus shouted and with a wave of his hand Cecil and Virginia were gone. Sent back home.
“Now where were we?” The thing that had been Rufus asked jovially. “Ah yes, you shaman. What to do with you?”
“God Damn you! God Damn you to the fires of hell!” Preacher Goode screamed.
“Oh, I am sure your God has, shaman. But it looks like he has damned you as well. But fear not, I will not summon something through you. Oh no. I will send you to them. I will send you there!” And with another wave of the child’s hand, Preacher Goode was sent screaming through one of the pools of darkness. To whatever fate awaited him in that godforsaken place.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------August 10 1937. Somewhere in Appalachia later that day: The Mysterious Stranger:
Cecil’s hands trembled so badly that he dropped the shotgun shells on the ground. He was attempting to put them in a sack along with the extra rounds for the pistol, but he could not stop trembling. The things, the monsters that Gnome had…had what? Had called forth? Had conjured? Had created? Their horror was more than he could bear.
And Gnome, Gnome had sent them home with a wave of his hand! With some kind of witchcraft! How is this even possible? They were just standing in front of their porch. His mind swam with the horror of today’s events.
But Gnome had taken Tessa! And Cecil could not abandon any of his children, especially not his baby girl…so he took a deep breath to steady his shattered nerves and bent down to pick up the shells. That is when he caught movement in the woods. Cecil’s heart nearly stopped, as he expected more monstrosities, but what he saw baffled him almost as much. “Dogs?” Cecil said aloud.
Dozens of dogs, many he recognised, others he didn’t. He saw his neighbor’s dogs, and many others from the local homesteads. It was like every hound in the county was here…but as he looked at the canine horde he noticed coyotes and even a few wolves! “What in the name of the Lord is going on?” Cecil asked, his earlier horror nearly forgotten at this bizarre sight.
He was not prepared for what happened next. A man walked from the woods and this man was unlike any other man Cecil had encountered before. He was a huge man, tall and broad shouldered. With long golden blonde hair, braided running down to the center of his back, with the sides of his head shaved and tattooed with jet black symbols and runes. He was bearded and immaculately dressed, with a dark suit, complete with a silken waistcoat, and a white shirt. Over this was a finely made overcoat.
The dogs, coyotes and wolves parted to let him past. “They feel it. The evil, the alieness, the...wrongness, that is here. They have gathered to oppose it. To guard the mother.” The man spoke, and his voice was strong and heavily accented.
“Who are you mister? Where are you from? Are you a german?” Cecil asked. His nerves were shot and he spoke quickly.
“No, I am not german. I am from where you would call Norway. My name is Otrygg.” He answered steadily. “And before you ask, I am here to stop the one who has committed these atrocities.”
“It was my nephew. Gnome...Rufus…he called forth these monsters, these demons…” Cecil admitted, his hands shaking.
“And I see you are going somewhere with your gun...where might that be?” Otrygg asked, his eyes burned like icy-blue coals and they bored into Cecil.
“He took my girl...my Tessa. I need to go fetch her.” Cecil responded. It was as if just being around this man...this Otrygg, was calming.
“Your bravery does you credit. However, you have seen what has happened here. I think I am probably better suited for this task. If possible I shall save your daughter. But your nephew? I am afraid that the Norns have already determined his fate.”
“You are going to kill him?” Cecil asked.
“He is dead already, the thing, or things, that have turned him into their puppet are not kind masters. They will have used him up, or at least will soon do so. But tell me, tell me everything that has happened. And spare me no details.” Otrygg again regarded Cecil with his burning orbs. When Cecil had finished relating this day's dark events, Otrygg turned to go.
“But mister, you aint armed! At least take my shotgun!” Cecil insisted.
The man stopped briefly and looked over his left shoulder before responding. “Where I am going your shotgun will do me little good. Again, If I can save your daughter, I will do so. Stay here and they will protect you.” He nodded to the assorted canines and walked into the woods.
Otrygg walked through the forest with a steady pace. This incursion burned like a raging inferno in his wyrdsight. Though almost every immortal called it a different thing, it was the same thing. The mystical senses that they used to perceive the world around them. And as horrific as they were in the flesh, in his wyrdsight these creatures were far more monstrous. Because they existed only partially in this reality, they were mere echoes of their true horrific forms. Soon, he would have to battle them. So he mentally prepared himself for violence.
Tessa had become trapped in a prison of fear. The things that Rufus had called forth were almost beyond description. They were rippling and horrid beings that gibbered and snarled or barked and cried in all too human voices. Some resembled vast crab-mantis hybrids but of garish and nauseating hues, others were reptilian with octopus tentacles and a multitude of cat-like orbs spread across their faces and bodies, others her eyes could see, but her young mind could not comprehend, such was their monstrosity. It was as if her subconscious mind simply refused such wrongness. However, the worst? By far the worst were the ones that resembled human-beings. Tessa suspected these were actually called forth from the corpses of the slain menfolk. Their basic forms were still human, but filled with multiple limbs and ever shifting shapes and colors. They were just human enough, and even looking upon them filled Tessa with dread and pain. Yes, actual physical pain. “Demons.” Tessa said aloud. “These things are demons”. An ancient word, that until now was something confined to half-remembered Sunday morning church services.
Rufus sat in the center of this, like a diminutive king in his nightmare court. Tessa was curled up in a fetal position on the earthen floor to his left. Sometimes the horror of the things she had witnessed caused her to shut down, but these times were all too brief.
Suddenly the sounds of the demonic horde stopped and they all turned to look outward. Tessa stared at Rufus as he stood from the stump he was using as his throne, his attention was in the same direction as his horrid subjects. Tessa followed Rufus’ stare and then she saw him - a man. But this man was unlike any other man she had seen before. He was a huge man. Probably the biggest man Tessa had ever encountered. He was tall and muscular with golden blonde hair, worn in multiple braids and meeting in one single braid running down to the center of his back, with the sides of his head shaved and tattooed with jet black writing, the likes of which Tessa had never seen before. His heavy beard was well groomed and he was immaculately dressed, he wore a dark gray suit, complete with a silken waistcoat, and a dark colored tie. Over this was a fine dark overcoat with a deep purple lining that Tessa could see flashes of which as he walked forward. Tessa remembered later, and felt very silly for thinking it, that he was not wearing a hat. He should be wearing a hat, a gentleman was not properly dressed without a hat.
Rufus addressed the Big Man with his echoing hollow voice, “you do not belong here! This is our place now! You should leave...leave before it is too late…” The Big Man did not answer, but he brought down his right hand in a chopping motion and out of nowhere a large sword that burned with a white fire filled that hand, and from behind him emerged two large figures - wolves, wolves that were larger than any bull or horse Tessa had ever seen. The one to the man’s left was silver-gray and the one to his right was midnight black.
Upon seeing the great wolves - as well the burning sword - Rufus shrieked to his horrific minions: “Kill him! Kill him now!” At which the unearthly horde surged forward, a virtual tide of deviant horror charging forward in a horrendous cacophony of shrieks and howls.
Surprisingly the wolves did not charge to meet the advancing horde, but stayed at the Big Man’s side as he raised his left hand palm first and shouted in a language that Tessa could not begin to understand. Bursting from his hand was a vast treachery of ethereal black ravens, each the size of an eagle. The birds tore through the onrushing wave of profane flesh. Then circled back in an organized flock to strike again.
The Big Man stepped forward and used his great burning blade to decapitate a creature that was so alien, so wrong in it’s features and dimensions that even if Tessa wanted to describe it, she could not. He continued his march into the nightmare horde, with the pair of great wolves at his side as the horror’s corpse and head fell to the earth and melted into twin reeking piles of nauseating gray matter.
Many of the horrors ran toward the Big Man, only to be intercepted by the wolves or felled by deft strikes and jabs from the Big Man’s sword. But they did little to slow the Big Man’s progress. Tessa looked up at Rufus and he was floating in the air! Facing the Big Man, Rufus’ narrow almond shaped eyes burned with a nauseating mauve fire. And he began to exude a nimbus of dirty light. For years after, Tessa would try to name the light’s color, but she never could - she had never seen the like before, nor would she after.
Tessa turned toward Rufus and shouted over the din, “Rufus! Rufus! Gnome! Please stop! Please!” Rufus turned to her at the mention of “Gnome”, but the thing that looked at her from behind his eyes was monstrous. An intelligence of such sour, alien evil that Tessa’s mind began to close itself off, to diminish, until she heard a thunderous word: “STOP!” Which caused both Tessa and “Rufus” to abruptly look at the source - the Big Man. Tessa saw that his coat and suit had been mostly destroyed. His eyes glowed with a golden energy and he radiated a clean, soothing light.
Rufus began to scream. A horrible, inhuman wail. His mouth began to split and bleed, and he directed the scream at the Big Man - the cacophonous sound hit the Big Man with devastating force. He started to be driven back, however his eyes flared an even more intense gold and twin beams of light struck Rufus. Rufus emitted a horrible panic-filled shriek and was knocked from the air, landing a full twenty feet on the ground behind his makeshift court.
The Big Man then “forced” the light from him in a spherical burst. The light hit the things that Rufus had called forth and they all burst like bags of smoke and dissipated in an instant. As if they were never there. This light had also caused the two great wolves to leave along with the few remaining giant ravens.
Tessa lay on the ground, breathing hard. She tried to look away, to close her eyes, to forget the horrors this day had brought - but she could not. She felt compelled to witness this until the end. So she watched as the Big Man slowly walked to Rufus, who was lying on the ground - was he dead?
Otrygg advanced steadily, but cautiously toward the fallen child. He could see the boy’s life force in his wyrd sight, and it was a dying ember. Still he was cautious, he believed he had driven the thing from this child. But he was not sure it could not return. He stuck his sword tip first into the dirt next to him and then knelt down beside the boy.
The boy whimpered and looked up into Otrygg’s face. “Am I going to die?”
Otrygg stared at him for a long minute, the boy’s face was twisted. His almond shaped eyes were too close together and were of a unique mauve hue. Most would consider the boy a mongoloid due to inbreeding. Otrygg knew it was because whatever had ridden his father had corrupted the man’s seed. This had made it much easier for the thing from the outside to ride the child. Otrygg also saw how the sides of the boy’s mouth were torn and bleeding. This was caused when the thing inside of the boy had screamed its fury at him. Finally he answered. “Yes. I think that you are.”
“Was this...was this my fault?” The child asked with tears rolling down his cheeks.
“No. The Norns wove the threads of all our lives long before we were born. The thing that rode you, it was in your father before your birth. None of this was your doing.”
“Is it dead? The thing that made me do this?” The boy asked with dread in his weakening voice.
“It was never truly alive. But I cast it back to the outside from whence it came. I do not think it can return.” Otrygg tried to sound convincing...but failed.
“Will you stay with me? Please? I am scared.” And the boy reached his hand toward him.
Otrygg could see that the boy had mere moments and took the offered hand. “Yes. I will stay with you.” The boy’s breathing quickened and his eyes seemed to focus somewhere else. Finally he said aloud: “Was I a good boy?”
“Yes, you were a good boy. You were the very best boy.” Otrygg replied as he saw the light fade from the child’s body. And Otrygg Wyrdbreak, an immortal warrior from the frozen northlands. A man who was more than a thousand years old. A man who had battled monsters and demons, shed a single tear as he closed the boy’s lifeless eyes.
Tessa wept as she watched the big man stand back up, she knew that Gnome had died. Despite the horrors she had experienced, she had loved him. He was not merely her cousin, but he was closer to her than anyone else.
The Big Man turned toward her and regarded her with his ice blue eyes. “You are Tessa.” He said as a statement of fact.
“Yes...yes I am Tessa.” She replied wiping tears from eyes and face.
“How did you survive Tessa? Or for that matter, how are you sane, after what you have seen and experienced?” He asked her.
“I don’t...I don’t know...how. Who are you? How do you know my name?” She asked nervously.
“My name is Otrygg. I know your name because your father told me your name.”
“Daddy! He’s well? I thought he had died with the others!” Tessa exclaimed.
“No child. He lives. I left him in the valley. I stopped him from coming here…” Otrygg stopped mid-sentence and stared intently at Tessa.
“Why are you staring at me like that?” Tessa was nervous.
“I cannot believe I did not see it. It should have been obvious...You have...potential...girl. Power...this is the reason you survived. Why your mind did not break.” He said in an almost whisper.
“What does that mean?” Tessa was nervous, scared even. She had endured much, had seen much in the last few days. Things she could not hope to forget. However, there was something even more frightening in the way the Big Man regarded her now.
“Please try to understand. There is much evil in this world. The walls here in this land. They are thin. That is why these things happened here. I need someone to look after this land. My brothers and I, we cannot be everywhere. You can warn us if this ever happens again.” And with that Otrygg reached forward with his right index finger and touched the center of her forehead. It was as if a bomb of light and sound exploded inside of Tessa. She fell to her knees and Otrygg caught her and gently cradled her in his arms. The images and knowledge were overwhelming. It was as if all her life her eyes had been closed, and now they were open - painfully open. For she now saw the world as it truly was....and it was awe inspiring...and terrifying.
Ignorance was banished by a wave of knowledge...but not just knowledge, but perception...she could now perceive things she could not feel before. Places of power, beings of power, things of power. Her mind could not take the waves coming at it, and she mercifully blacked out.
Otrygg felt sickened by what he had just done. He had violated this child. Worse than a rape of the body, this was a rape of the soul. Exposing her to the real world in such a manner. However, he felt there was no choice. “Now is the time of the wolf.” He whispered aloud. He turned to go, to take the child Tessa back to her father. But turned one last time to the body of the dead boy. He whispered a word of power as he waved his left hand, palm down, and the body erupted with blue and purple flames. He watched as it was consumed until it was naught but ash and then waved his hand one more time and the flames abruptly ended. He then turned to go.
Otrygg hated this New World - he had ever since he had left Vinland with his jarl, all those centuries ago. It’s ghosts and daemons were alien and wrong.
Cecil was a nervous wreck. He paced back and forth. I should have gone. I should not have trusted that German, no matter what he had called himself. Cecil raged quietly.
But there was a power to the man. A charisma. He projected such a quiet strength. Which had made it so easy to trust him. And this horror...this nightmare...he wanted to save his girl...but could he face those things again? How did Gnome do this? But he knew...it was something to do with Clayton...that day. That horrible moment.
Just then Cecil heard a sound and spun around, It was him...the Northman. He seemed the worst for wear, his fancy coat and suit a shambles. But Cecil did not even notice as he saw what he was carrying: “Tessa!” Cecil dropped his shotgun as he ran to his daughter.
“She is well.” The Northman stated. “However, she will awaken changed.”
“Changed? What do you mean?” Cecil asked as he took Tessa from the Northman’s arms.
Otrygg ignored the question. “The boy, the one you called Rufus is gone.”
“Dead? Was he possessed? Was it the Devil in him?” Cecil asked almost sheepishly.
“The thing from the outside that was riding him, it had no name. At least not one we could understand.” Otrygg Replied.
At the term riding him Cecil’s mind went back to that day on the porch. He heard his brother’s voice from across the years: It was riding me. It can ride me still, and it will ride me at any time. I cannot bear it. Nor can I risk it returning. Please understand.
At that the Northman turned to go until he heard Tessa’s voice: “thank you. Thank you for saving me. For freeing Gnome. And for opening my eyes.” She said weakly.
Otrygg turned slowly, his face grave. “Oh no child. It was no kindness I did you. I took away your ignorance. And with it your innocence. I hope one day, you can forgive me. For I will never forgive myself.” And with that Otrygg turned and walked away with the morning mist, and the vast pack of dogs turned as one with him.
Today. Somewhere in Appalachia. More Memories of an Old Woman:
"And that was the story of Rufus...and the horrors he brought. Gnome didn’t mean to be a monster. But he was born to it...I often wonder if his Daddy came home after the war, I mean right home like the others. If he hadn’t been ridden by the thing from the outside, what would Gnome have been like?"
"Well, I would have never gone on to meet the Big Man, And no, before you ask, I never saw the Big Man again. Well not yet at least. What do I mean by that? The Big Man is still alive. I can feel him. It is hard to explain, but I can feel things, sense them. I know when things are near or far. And believe me the Big Man is still here and so are others like him. Long lived ones. I think they defend us from those things from the outside."
"But I am getting tired now. And to be honest, remembering Gnome? That puts sadness on me. A great sadness. So I bid you a good day."
The future. Somewhere in Appalachia:
They are gathering downstairs. My grandchildren and great grandchildren, I have outlived my children. And that was hard, outliving my children. No Mama should outlive her babies. They know it will not be long. Bless them, some of them love me, but all are afraid of me. Such is my nature. I accepted it long ago.
I feel my end coming. This will be my last night. Am I afraid? Yes. I should not be, but I am. I know that this is not really the end. That my soul will continue into other realms. But I worry that much of what makes me who I am, what makes Me will be stripped away. That is when I feel Him.
“I am so glad you came, I wanted to see you again.” I told him. He steps out of the darkness. Otrygg, the Big Man. It has been just over 100 years. And he looks exactly the same. Except for the suit, he looks exactly the same. “Why did you never come to visit me?” I ask him.
“I could not. I have enemies. I never wanted them to follow me to you and your family.” He answers.
“You know, I never needed to forgive you. Ever. Because of you I saw many things, wonderful things. Horrible things, too. But wonderful things.”
He stares at me as the silence drags on. Looking through me with those ice-blue eyes. I finally spoke again: “As a young woman I wanted you to come back. To make me yours. Did you know that?” I say with a smile.
“No. I didn’t. Maybe I should have.” He replies, smiling sadly at me.
“It’s not long now. Will you stay with me? Please? I am scared.” I reach my hand out to him.
“Yes. That is why I came.” And takes my hand.
Otrygg could see that Tessa had mere moments. He sat on the bed next to her, her hand in his. As her eyes lost focus, she said to him: “I did everything you asked...I watched over this place. Didn’t I?”
“Yes. You did. I could not have asked for more.” He replied as the light left her body. And Otrygg Wyrdbreak, an immortal warrior from the frozen northlands. A man who was well over a thousand years old. A man who had battled monsters and demons, shed a single tear as he closed the old woman’s lifeless eyes.