Read Warden Online

Authors: Kevin Hardman

Tags: #Teen & Young Adult, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Horror, #Coming of Age, #Myths & Legends, #Greek & Roman, #Paranormal & Urban

Warden (6 page)

BOOK: Warden
8.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

He lifted his right hand, palm up.  It started to glow with power as a small spark - much like the one that had hit the revenant earlier - began to form.

Gale nodded in understanding as the spark and light around Errol’s hand faded. “Well, if you aren’t going to blast it, what
are
you going to do?”

Errol had been wondering that himself. The obvious solution lay in the answer to another question: What would Tom do?

Bulking up his courage, Errol shouted to get the revenant’s attention.  “Hey!  Over here!”

The revenant turned towards him. “Death!  Revenge!”

“Yes,” Errol answered. “I know you were wronged, but you’re harming innocents.”

“Death!  Revenge!”

“I understand that, but–”

“Death!  Revenge!”

Errol sighed. Revenants were perversely single-minded in their quests for vengeance; it was essentially the only thought they knew, the only thing that drove them, and this particular specimen was a clear adherent to the rule. Errol decided on a different tack.

“Who has harmed you?”

The creature had seemingly been on the verge of uttering its full two-word vocabulary again, but then froze, mouth open.

“Who has harmed you?” Errol asked again.

The creature’s brow furrowed, and its jaw worked in silence, as if mining for words that would not come out.

“Who do you seek revenge on?”

“Ma-ma-magician!” the revenant finally blurted out.  “Eeeeee-vil magician!”

“Well, there’s no magician here,” Errol stated, sweeping his arm to take in the entire farm. “Your vengeance lies elsewhere. You need to leave this region.”

“You-you would hinder?” the thing said with a snarl.

“No,” Errol quickly interjected.  Revenants often arose with weird powers, and the last thing he wanted was to get on this one’s bad side.  “But your presence here is a disturbance.  You need to move on.”

“Yes,” Gale spoke up, “so if there’s anything we can do…”

“You will help?” it asked, almost in surprise.

“Of course!  We both will,” Gale answered before Errol could stop her. However, she immediately realized she had done something wrong when her response was met with a sharp intake of breath by Errol, who turned to her with a look that managed to convey a plethora of emotions, including shock, fright, amazement, and - most of all - fury.

“So be it,” the revenant said.  It closed its eyes, and the eldritch light covering it began to fade.  At the same time, its body turned pale, ashen.  Then it began to crumble as the clothes it wore, in similar manner, began to wither away.  Within a few moments, nothing was left but a mound of dust.

Errol was about to speak when the revenant’s remains began to move. The dust twitched, then crumbled as something rose up from beneath it. It was the creature’s silver bracelet. It floated towards them and then came to a halt right in front of Errol, who took it reluctantly. He looked at the gemstone, which glistened brightly in the lamplight, then shoved it into his pocket.  Then he turned on Gale.

“You stupid, stupid idiot!” he screamed. “What did you do that for?!”

Gale, getting a taste of her own medicine for once, was taken aback.  “What do you mean?”

“You
never
make a deal with a spirit - especially one like a revenant, which you obviously know nothing about!”

“What deal? I just told it that we’d help it if we could.”

“No, you actually agreed to help it, with no conditions.”

“So, what does that mean?”

“It means that we have to help it get its revenge.”

“What happens if we don’t or can’t?”

“I’m guessing the revenant would consider that a kind of betrayal.  It’ll kill us.”

 

Chapter 10

 

Errol spent the night with the Beverlys, sleeping out in their barn. He slept fitfully, his dreams preoccupied with visions of Tom dead, and himself killed by a revenant. Even worse, Gale somehow managed to escape death in his dreams - something that would have been a just reward for her idiotic behavior in the real world - which made the nightmare all the worse.

He was packed and ready to go early. In his opinion, the problem in their fields was resolved, and he had informed Dennis Beverly of this the previous night when he and Gale had returned from their excursion.  Although he had mentioned the revenant and its disappearance, he had left out the part about Gale’s promise of help (for which she silently mouthed “Thank you” as Errol told his tale).

The family had seemed impressed with the job he’d done. Even Dennis’ wife had, for the first time Errol could recall, gone an entire quarter-hour the night before without saying anything negative after he finished telling what had happened. She had even politely asked to see the revenant’s bracelet. Errol didn’t know how he would deal with the revenant itself, but the important thing now was to get back out into the Badlands and find Tom.

Unfortunately, the Beverlys would not let him leave without having breakfast. It was a delicious meal of bacon and eggs, which he washed down with water.  Most of the family ate with him, but he couldn’t help but notice that Gale was not among them. It astonished him that he would be bothered (and disappointed) by this, especially after her boneheaded antics in the field.

That being the case, he was quite surprised when, as he climbed up on his horse, she came out of the barn with her own steed saddled and ready to go.

“I’m coming with you,” she stated in a matter-of-fact tone.  He was about to protest when she continued.  “If Tom’s injured, you may need help getting him back.  I can assist with that, as well as with other things.”

He opened his mouth to say something - to tell her “No” - but the words wouldn’t come out.  He knew that this was, at least in part, an attempt to make up for the debacle with the revenant.  He also remembered times when he himself had sought opportunities with Tom to make up for stupid mistakes.

“Suit yourself,” he said, and then urged his horse on. He ignored the slight smile on Gale’s face as her horse fell into step beside his.

 

**********

 

The first part of their trip was fairly uneventful.  Errol pushed the pace, but not to the extent that it would wear the horses out.  He was concerned about his brother, but after this much time he knew that Tom would either be okay, or…

Gale, like most of the farmers, had never really gone any great distance into the Badlands.  It would be an eye-opening trip for her, Errol knew - and hopefully one she’d live to tell about. Even experienced people like Wardens weren’t assured of coming back unscathed from any trip into the Badlands - or even coming back at all.

They stopped for lunch around midday. Gale’s mother had packed an ample supply of food, for which they were both grateful, since the length of this excursion was currently indefinite.

Reflecting on Gale’s mother, Errol suddenly remembered that he had forgotten to retrieve the revenant’s bracelet from her. Therefore, he was rather shocked to find it in his pack as he was putting things away after lunch.

“Holy…” he said, startled.

“What is it?” Gale asked with concern.

Errol held up the bracelet. “I could have sworn that I’d left this with your mother.”

“Maybe she packed it up for you.”

Errol shook his head. “No, I’ve had my pack with me constantly since we left. I think…” His voice trailed off and he stared into the distance, thinking furiously.

“What?” Gale asked after a few moments.

“I think we’re tagged,” he said. “The revenant’s marked us. This bracelet…we can’t lose it. I think it’s a soulgate, with the essence of the revenant inside. It’s bonded to us, marks us like familiars. It’ll be with us wherever we go - until we find the revenant’s killer, or
it
kills
us
.”

As Gale took a moment to absorb this, Errol angrily shoved the bracelet into his pack. Unfortunately, one of its silver links caught on the pack’s buckle and with the force of the push from his hand the links parted, falling onto the ground. Errol was left holding only the gemstone that was the centerpiece of the bracelet.  Groaning in frustration, he thrust the gemstone into his pack, then methodically picked up the links and put them in his pocket. He didn’t know what this meant with respect to the revenant, but he was sure they would find out.  They finished packing and resumed their journey.

 

**********

 

Towards the end of the first day, the dense undergrowth of the forest gave way to lush grass as Errol and Gale found themselves at the top of a hill.  From that vantage point, they could see miles in almost all directions.

“It’s beautiful,” Gale said, watching the wind whip the tall grass back and forth.

“Dangerous is a better description,” Errol corrected. “Remember, we’re deep into the Badlands here.  Anything can happen.”

He looked off into the direction where they were headed, and saw small dots circling in the sky, like gnats buzzing around a discarded piece of fruit. The sight made Errol’s stomach flip.

“That’s where we’re headed,” he said, pointing, trying desperately to keep the emotion out of his voice.  “It’ll be dark soon so we’ll set up camp now.  We should get there sometime tomorrow.”

Gale squinted in the direction he was pointing.  “What are those things in the sky?”

“Carrion birds.”

 

Chapter 11

 

For once in his life, morning couldn’t come fast enough for Errol. He had carefully warded their campsite the night before, then had a quick dinner and tried to get some shuteye. However, with the carrion birds occupying a great deal of his thoughts, sleep had been hard to come by.  There would be some kind of body where those birds were congregated, and when he finally did fall asleep, his dreams had been filled with scenes of vultures and crows rabidly pecking at Tom’s corpse.

Gale seemed more refreshed by her night’s slumber and - as Errol had to admit - was ready to travel even before he was.  This was as much time as he’d spent in her presence and he was surprised to find her to actually be pleasant company.  Talking with her kept him from thinking about what they were likely to find when they reached the location of the carrion birds.

 

**********

 

It was shortly after midday when they arrived at their destination.  Even without the birds flying above, it would have been hard to miss.  First of all, there was a boisterous commotion as they drew near - an utterly disharmonious blend of sound from not just a variety of birds but also other scavengers on the ground.

In addition, there was also the smell. Gale wrinkled her nose as the scent of rot and decay - negligible at first - grew stronger as they travelled.  By the time they actually came into sight of the place where they were headed, the smell was pervasive but, thankfully, not overpowering. What was staggering, however, was the scene in front of them.

They had just crested a modest hill, and saw below them a small enclosed plain comprising several acres. In the center of it stood a dilapidated wooden cabin. Throughout the acreage around the cabin, however, were numerous clumps of scavengers - some birds, some animals - attacking what had to be bodies.  And there were, apparently, a lot of them.

“Oh my!” Gale gasped.

“Come on,” Errol said, edging his horse forward.  He gripped his warding wand in the same hand that held the reins, and had his crossbow cocked and loaded in the other.

They went forward slowly, headed towards the cabin, knowing that something was wickedly wrong here.  As they came near one of the places where the feeding frenzy was occurring, the animals and birds scattered.  Looking at what they had been devouring, Errol was shocked to see a dismembered leg.

However, his surprise was compounded when a second group of scavengers fled at their approach, revealing that they had been gnawing on another limb - this time an arm.  A sudden realization dawned on both Errol and Gale at the same time as they looked around at the other packs of animals busy eating.

“I think,” Gale began, barely able to catch her breath, “I think they’re all…they’re all body parts.”

Errol just nodded as they continued forward.  However, the closer they got to the cabin, the more skittish the horses became. The big animals began neighing in distress, their large eyes rolling around in fear.  Finally, about thirty feet from the cabin, they refused to go any farther and even reared up in revolt.

“Something in that cabin has them spooked,” Errol said.

“Yeah, well, it’s got me spooked, too,” Gale commented.

It was clear that the horses were going to bolt once they let go of the reins, and there was no place to tie them up.  That being the case, Errol held out his warding wand and put an impulse on them to stay put until he and Gale returned.

That done, they warily approached the cabin with Errol in the lead. There was a window facing the direction they were coming from, but any glass it had once held had long ago been knocked out. The door to the place was closed.

“Hello?” Errol called out as they approached. In response, he thought he heard a distorted voice and a muffled knock.

When he got close enough, he knocked on the door and called out another greeting.

“Hello? Anybody home?” he asked.

The door swung open as he rapped, and the stench of death and decay wafted out. They had thought the smell outside was bad, but the inside - being an enclosed area - was ten times worse.

And despite the smell, despite what they had witnessed outside, they were still not fully prepared for what they saw when they stepped into the cabin’s interior.  The place was a charnel house; there were body parts in various stages of decay strewn all around. An arm here, a head there, a torso…blood and gore were all over the floor and walls. Flies and various insects buzzed incessantly, and one bloated carcass constantly writhed with maggots crawling underneath the skin.
And this is just the first room
, Errol thought.

Gale placed a hand over her mouth, then ran outside and retched. Simultaneous with the sound of her stomach emptying its contents, Errol again heard a muffled cry, coming from what appeared to be an adjoining room.

Gale was still outside, recovering, as he stepped into the next room - trying unsuccessfully to avoid stepping in blood - and saw something he was never likely to forget. The room was empty, save for a gigantic pot in the center. It was at least five feet high, about eight feet in diameter, and covered with a massive lid. The muffled sound was coming from inside the pot, and this time was accompanied by a slight knocking.

The creak of a floorboard behind him made Errol jump. He spun, aiming the crossbow - and would have killed Gale had he pulled the trigger.

“Easy,” she said, holding her hands up defensively.  “It’s just me.”

Before he could respond, a sound - almost a whimpering - came from inside the pot again. Errol couldn’t make out words, but he was pretty sure that there was a human being inside. Anxious that it might be Tom, he set his crossbow down on the floor and tucked his wand through his belt.

“Here,” he said, moving around to the other side of the pot.  “Help me get this lid off.”

Now on opposite sides of the pot, he and Gale struggled to lift the lid for several minutes. Their efforts, however, were futile. Moreover, it sounded like the person inside the pot was starting to cry.

“Let’s try something else,” Gale finally said in an exhausted tone.  “Let’s get on the same side and see if we can angle it just enough for whoever’s in there to get out.”

Errol came around to Gale’s side, and together they pushed up on the lid. At first it seemed stuck, but then it slowly rose. As it cleared the top edge of the pot, they pushed it over to one side so that it tilted in towards the pot’s interior. It wasn’t completely off, but it was tilted enough that someone inside could probably squeeze out - provided they were of moderate girth.

Unsurprisingly, the smell coming from inside the pot was worse than anything they had thus encountered.  They didn’t have to look inside to know that it was filled with body parts.

“Help me!” a desperate voice wheezed from inside the pot, and a skinny hand came up over the edge.  Errol grabbed it and pulled, heedless of the smell (and the nauseous fluids coating it). As he pulled, he saw that the hand was attached to a scrawny little man with a scraggly beard and a crazy gleam in his eye. Moreover, he was indeed crying as he came out of the pot.

“Thankyouthankyouthankyou!” the man shouted fervently, gripping Errol’s hand like a vise and trying to kiss it.

Errol freed his hand with more than a little effort.  The little man then moved towards Gale, arms open in an apparent attempt to give her a hug. Errol, however, grabbed the man’s shirt, which was absolutely disgusting.

“Don’t worry about thanking her,” he said. “You thanked me enough for us both.”

The man looked confused, like he didn’t understand what Errol had just said.

“Can you tell us what happened here?” Gale asked.

The man suddenly screeched, going bug-eyed and putting his fist in his mouth.

“Oh! Oh! Oh!” he finally said. “We have to go!  Quickly!  Before
it
gets back!” He scrambled towards the door - and into the first room - in a mad dash, and then outside, with Errol and Gale close behind him. Once outdoors, he put his hands up to his eyes, blinking madly in the bright sunlight.

“How long have you been in that pot?” Errol asked.

The man didn’t answer.  He just kept his hand up to block the sun and started mumbling to himself.  Errol asked a few more questions, but could get no response other than an occasional word about needing to leave.

Finally, Gale interjected. “Errol, he’s terrified.  You’re not going to be able to get anything out of him while he’s like this. Maybe if we get him away from here - away from whoever put him in that pot…”

The words hit Errol like a lightning bolt.  Something had put this man in the pot! Something that ripped people apart!  Something that
ate
them!

“Quick, to the horses!” Errol shouted.

Gale grabbed the man’s hand and began dragging him; Errol was right behind them when he remembered his crossbow. He shouted to Gale that he needed a minute as he ran back inside to get it.

With Gale’s words still in his head, he stealthily walked into the second room. His crossbow was still on the floor where he had left it. He picked it up, glad to see that their hasty exit had not damaged it. Then he did the other thing he needed to do: he peeked over the edge of the pot.

Using his wand for light, he looked at the multitude of bodies and body parts stuffed inside.  With a sigh of relief, he drew back a few moments later. He knew that in death people could take on an appearance quite different than what they had exhibited in life. Still, he was sure that nobody in the pot was Tom.  (Plus, none of the body parts, to the extent they were clothed, were wearing any piece of a Warden’s uniform.)

As he prepared to leave, he looked around the room for what seemed like the first time, and noticed that there was actually a window that faced the area behind the cabin. Overtaken by curiosity, he went over to it and peeked out.

He saw a sight that was already etched in his brain: scavengers picking over human remains.  He sighed despondently and looked down at the ground right outside - and saw a couple of doors set in a wooden frame that appeared to lead under the house. More importantly, he saw something else that immediately made almost everything else he’d seen since coming across the cabin secondary. He raced back through the front room and out of the cabin. He heard Gale call to him, but he ignored her, running full steam to the back of the structure.

When he got there, he checked the doors closely to make sure he was right. This was obviously the entrance to some kind of storage or root cellar.  However, clearly standing out on one of the doors was what he had come back here to see: a bloody bootprint.  Tom’s, in fact.

Tom had been here, without a doubt. Almost without hesitation, Errol tried the cellar doors and found them unlocked. He pulled them both open, revealing a rickety set of wooden stairs leading down into darkness. Again using the light from his wand, Errol went down the stairs.

There was still a stench here, but not as bad as the pot. The cellar seemed to consist of one large chamber that was surprisingly chilly; as expected, there was blood and body parts here as well, although most of the limbs had been picked clean of flesh, and the blood was less prevalent.

Thankfully, none of the bodies here were Tom.  Having assured himself of that fact, Errol was so anxious to leave that he almost missed it.

He had turned to leave when the light from his wand fell over an ugly, misshapen section of wall.  Lying on the floor next to it was an object he recognized. It had spots of blood on it, but without a doubt he knew what it was: Tom’s pack.  He raced over and picked it up. He was so excited that he almost opened it then and there, except something else caught his attention: the wall moved.

It was only a slight up-and-down motion, but it was enough to send Errol stumbling backwards. Looking carefully now, he saw that what he had mistaken for a part of the wall was actually some monstrosity. It was lying on its side, apparently asleep, facing the true wall of the cellar; the movement Errol had witnessed was actually the expansion of its chest and diaphragm as it breathed.

BOOK: Warden
8.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Cowpokes and Desperadoes by Gary Paulsen
Seis aciertos y un cadáver by Francesc Montaner
The Profiler by Chris Taylor
Two Thin Dimes by Caleb Alexander
Waking Up Gray by R. E. Bradshaw
Breathless by Kelly Martin
You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein