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by J. Wade Harrell
Through the layered mist that oozed over the mire like slithering smoke, something weird stared. Its eyes glowed as did the agape maw with yellow-orange so oddly arranged that he first took it for a living being. The vines dangled like snakes from the nearly lifeless trees which seemed to grasp onto the stocky traveler as he drew his broadsword and approached the lights with caution. The boggy mud was sundered by the weaving road of orange-like cobbles, allowing one to cut through the marsh avoiding the maze of pools infested with venomous frogs and snakes that hopped and slithered about.
“Am I lost?” the traveler thought. “The road narrows and it doesn’t look well-traveled. The cadaverous trees seem so close to the road and their branches should surely be broken back but I have to fight them. It is too late to turn back thus I must keep moving.”
He thought the ground was shaking but after about five thumps he realized it was his heart beating against his broad ribcage. The silence of the mire was broken by the song of a hundred crickets or occasionally the quatrain of a red bullfrog. The moon over Siernod was shielded by the several membranes of mist causing only a faint glow in the western sky.
The eerie face loomed larger getting closer; it appeared now to be formed by windows which were illuminated by pale lights within their respective rooms. It seemed odd that there would be a house or a castle so far from any city or hamlet. The road made a turn to the left and the silvery glow from the obscured moon outlined the structure; the lights emanated from between the flowing wisps of mist. Up a steep hill he saw it was an old manor. The house was four stories high, and not too large in breadth, upon the pinnacle of the declivitous hill. It had a steep roof of scalloped shakes and was surrounded with an iron fence. To his chagrin, the road ended at the front gate of the bizarre manor staring down the heathery hill.
The air was broken by the sudden creak, as of rusty iron, and the gate swung outward with a gust of air that blew over the hill and beckoned him to enter. As odd as it seemed, he took it for coincidence. He had seen more bizarre things in his adventurous past.
He commenced walking staring at the old vine covered house. He thought he had seen shadows move inside the illuminated windows, covered by curtains of sheer material. There was no reason that should have been significant; because obviously if there was light, there had to be inhabitants.
His worn boots reached the end of the road and a smaller path overgrown with creeping shrubs beckoned him up to the front door. The moon showed its silver face and illuminated the features of the lone traveler. He was tall and thick-featured with copperish locks and a brushy beard over a ruddy face. His emerald eyes feasted upon the doors of the manor, still some twenty paces away. He wore a thick leathery tunic covered by a long dusty cloak drawn about him with his oversized calloused hands.
When the wind had subsided he heard harp music, faintly being played, and he stepped forward to the front door. He figured he might at least get directions to a nearby road or a pathway through the murky mire. His large fist with a leather-wrapped wrist grasped the tarnished knocker on one of the doors. Lightly he rapped the weathered-oak door a few times.
The music stopped and movement from inside was heard. He felt for his sword, to make sure it was still in its place.
A sliver of light appeared at first, but as the door slowly opened he was enveloped by the luminance which filtered outside, partially blinding him. He had stepped backward before he saw the outline of a woman standing in the door. As his eyes became accustomed to the light, he saw she was older, but yet she possessed a youthful figure, amplified by a bodice which narrowed her waist and lifted her bosom. The train of her gray dress lightly dragged across the floor. Her silver hair was tightly twisted into a pair of smooth buns on top of her head, leaving a few teasing strands dangling free. Her steely blue eyes peered directly into his mind as he waited for her address.
“Welcome, visitor,” she said with her soft firm voice. “What brings you out here so far and late in the night?”
“Hello, madam,” the traveler responded. “My name is Fist La’brau. I was traveling across this country when my horse was bitten by a snake yesterday and died. I thought I had found a shortcut toward my destination, and that is how I came here.”
“You are certainly not the first man to end up here having lost their way,” she said eerily. “Come inside and warm yourself. I was just sitting to eat with my sons, and there is enough for you, Mr. La’brau.”
Fist bowed respectfully and walked across the threshold into the foyer of the manor. There was a large arched doorway to either side of the entry, and a curved staircase which led upward. The house was old, but the trim and furnishings were crafted with the highest quality in its day. The once polished floor was worn and the rugs were of an expensive origin, but also faded and tattered.
“Come this way,” the lady requested.
The stranger followed her into a hall that led to the dining room, which had a long wooden table set for supper. At the table three men were seated and before them, laid within a tarnished silver pan, was a large roasted duck with all manner of vegetables, blocks of cheese and loaves of bread. Each man bore a costume, at least so it seemed to the visitor. The first man was lanky and had a green tunic with a short brimmed cap adorned by one long eagle feather. Blond hair fell from under the cap as the man buttered his bread. Another man, stocky in build had darker hair and eyes. Unshaven, he wore a brown leather vest, studded with dark metal. He lopped off a piece of the bird and plopped it childishly onto his plate; while he stared angrily at the new visitor. Dressed in a dull gray robe was a scrawny man with short white hair. He possessed a giddy demeanor and clapped briefly until the other two men gave him an odd look, followed by him then staring down at his food.
“Mr. La’brau, this is Ely, Lum and Yuri,” The lady said introducing them in the order he had seen them. “And, my name is Cheska. Boys, say hello to Mr. Fist La’brau, whom will be our dining guest tonight.”
The three waved and said hello to him in near unison.
“Ma’am,” Fist said, “I really don’t want to impose. I only need directions and I will leave your family to be.”
“Nonsense,” Cheska said jubilantly. “You are our guest. We would not be pleased if you could not stay and perhaps tell us a tale or two while you enjoy supper with us.”
“Really, ma’am, I don’t want to impose . . .” his voice trailed off as she opened a silver container that enclosed a large cherry pie, his favorite dessert, and held it before him. The aroma of the steaming hot pie teased his nostrils while she smiled kindly.
“Well,” Fist said smiling. “If you have so much food – I would hate to see it go to waste.”
“Sit here,” she said, while pulling out a chair at the head of the table.
Uncomfortably, he sat upon the creaking high-backed chair at the head of the table, while the three seated men ate and glanced at him.
Fist watched as Cheska heaved huge portions of duck breast and vegetables onto his large plate. Fist had not seen such a meal in years, but his belly felt it could sure use one at this time. He picked up the dull knife and a fork and began to feast.
“Where are you from?” Ely asked in a voice that seemed a bit boyish for a man of his age.
“Originally, I hail from The Daggens, of late I come from Thuron,” he replied. “I used to work in the silver mines. But I have grown weary of the same old work and have decided to venture out and see the world before I die.”
Fist wondered if he was saying too much but he figured the simple folks in the mire could not be of much harm to him. He had begun to wonder about his friend Lyrum, whom parted ways with him a day ago, when his horse took ill from the snake venom. His friend had sought to find a nearby village and bring back another horse, before Fist had gotten lost in the marsh. He wondered where his young adventuring companion was or if he had wandered to the manor by chance. It was their luck that Fist’s horse was the one bitten and Lyrum’s horse wouldn’t allow two riders, without bucking wildly.
“Have you by chance seen another person here in the last day?” La’Brau questioned. “A young slender man, with darker features than my own?”
“No, Mr. La’brau,” Cheska replied. “Should we fear him?”
“No ma’am, he is my friend. We separated before I had gotten lost in the mire and wandered across this road.”
“Why do you travel in these parts?” Lum asked with his deep voice.
“We heard tale of a capsized ship in the seas to the south,” Fist responded, not being entirely truthful for a purpose. “We heard there were no survivors and there lay a treasure for the lucky finders.”
Lum nodded while grinding two mouthfuls of food at once between his bulging jaws.
Yuri chortled gleefully for a moment until the other two gave him a ridiculing stare.
“Boys,” Cheska said chiding them like younger men than they appeared, “allow Mr. La’brau to enjoy his supper.”
Fist had begun to get a strange feeling. The men seemed to be between thirty-five and fifty-five years of age, yet their exuded behavior was that of adolescence or younger. Fist continued to eat and down the portions with a mild wine that was sweeter than any he had ever tasted. A half hour later he was full and he had suddenly grown tired.
“I thank you,” Fist said to the unbelievably kind woman. “The food was delicious, but I should be going now.” Fist laid four silver coins on the table, one for each, in appreciation for their hospitality.
“Nonsense, Mr. La’brau. You have traveled long and you are very tired now. I have many extra rooms. The mire is dangerous at night. One misstep on the wrong critter and you will be dead by morning.”
Fist wanted to leave the strange house but her words struck truth. Although the dangers weren’t that big of a concern for a brave man as he, he was as tired as he ever remembered being. In fact, it appeared he had dozed for a second sitting at the table. Reluctantly he nodded and agreed to stay.
“Come to the sitting room for a little while, Mr. La’brau,” Cheska said kindly, but with a hint of seduction. “while the boys get to bed and I get your room prepared.”
He stood and staggered behind her, to where she motioned him to sit in a highly ornamental, yet comfortable divan. There he reclined and looked around the room. Furnished with once expensive furniture, though, now faded and the many paintings and portrait sketches framed on the walls. Many of them seemed to contain the same man either solitaire or amidst a group; he was a young and vibrant fellow with dark hair and a trimmed beard. He strained to see the details as his vision begun to blur. There was an old pair of cracked leather gloves and boots near a chair in the corner, and an old slender sword stood against the wall, a rusted image of its once gloried past.
She brought him another glass of wine and without inhibition he sipped it heartily.
“I will be finished shortly, Mr. La’brau. I just have to find some clean linens.”
Fist nodded and responded with slightly slurred speech, “No hurry, Miss Cheska.”
Cheska walked away, smiling, while he stared at one of the paintings in front of him noticing the subject whose features seemed to alter themselves slightly and become a bit familiar. They became more chiseled and full with wavy hair and a thicker beard. Fist began to notice that the wine seemed to have such a strong effect for such small amounts. Nevertheless, he enjoyed the taste and continued to sip from the fine glass, but he could not remember his last drink by the time his head fell onto the back cushion of the divan.
Fist was awakened by something wet in his lap; he realized he had spilt some of the wine, which he noticed had a different color and odor. His vision was a little less blurred but the paintings on the wall began to disturb him. He heard laughter upstairs, as the three sons were preparing for bed acting like a bunch of imbeciles.
He stood up and his head began to swim, causing him to stagger and wobble into the wall. He braced himself and walked toward the door. “It is time to leave,” he told himself. “There is something too strange about this family.”
He reached down and gripped the door lever but it was stiff, not as if simply locked but as if welded in place. He bore down hard against the door with his superior strength, but it would not budge. He leaned heavily against the door but it was stout for such an old structure. It did not as much as creak or crack under his weight, like it was made of solid stone. He went to a window and the latches there were the same. He had the mind to throw a chair through the glass, but he did not want to make any noise as of yet. He saw a faint light coming from the hall and he decided to see what was inside the room behind the door, which was ajar. The light was dim and when he peeked through the crack he could see the back of Cheska’s dress and bodice as she leaned over a bench fiddling with some items he could not see. In his slightly tipsy condition, he allowed his foot to fall heavily on the floor causing a loud creak which immediately alerted the elderly lady with the youthful figure.
She turned instantly and promptly posted a gleeful smile on her concerned face, then glided as graceful as a swan to the door, where Fist stood trying to look innocent. He sensed something odd about her business in the room but he smiled cheerfully as she opened the door and stepped into the hall.
“Oh, Fist, I see you are awake again. I bet you would like another glass of wine while you relax. I had some business to attend to before I get your linens. Just relax in the sitting room while I go get your wine.”
Fist obliged her until she went into the kitchen to fetch another glass of wine, then he went back to the ajar door and peeked inside. He peered into the dimly illuminated room and saw something that seemed very odd. Cheska’s footsteps could be heard creaking around the corner and he knew she was coming back. There on a little bench was a rack that contained beakers and vials that stored many different colored liquids within them. There was one large beaker sitting above a small burner, which glowed with a blue flame, causing the liquid inside to gurgle and steam upward into a curling glass tube where it condensed and ran down the other side into another large beaker. The racks also contained small pots of various flowers and plants; in addition there was a wooden platter, a mortar and pestle set, and an herb grinder. Around them were several small piles of powdered and ground substances. On a table to the left was a large leather-bound book with aged pages and a pair of scrolls rolled neatly. The last item to catch his attention was a long shining dagger.
“An alchemist, perhaps?” Fist thought before pulling the door back a bit and stepping back down the hallway.
“Fist,” the voice of Cheska called before he could make it back to the sitting room. He feared he had been caught snooping, “what are you doing?” She seemed alarmed, if Fist was not paranoid yet she kept her pleasant style about her.
“I was just going back to the sitting room like you suggested, my lady,” Fist replied with an alluring smile.
Cheska smiled back and handed him the glass of wine. Fist wondered if she had added anything to his glass and he put it to his nose, as if savoring it before he took a sip.
Cheska smiled. “I will be with you shortly. A lady’s work is never done.”
He watched as she returned to the room, Fist suspected she might be looking to see that he drank his wine. Fist tilted the glass allowing the wine to run into his mouth. Cheska smiled and went into the room this time closing the door all the way.
Fist leaned over and spat the wine out behind the divan and poured the rest of the glass under a cushion and covered the stain.
Fist slipped past the strange apothecary room and went directly to the staircase and silently ascended the stairs. He went upstairs wondering where the rooms of the three sons were. He reached the first landing and all the rooms seemed vacant. He went up again to the third story and there was a light coming from beneath a door. He heard some talking inside and he listened for a moment. He could hear parts of the conversation and apparently the three men shared a single room. It was obvious, from their conversation, that they had the minds of boys for their talk consisted of mostly trivial matters. How the grown sons never matured and wore attire of men of the world seemed very odd.
Fist looked around and saw that the remainder of the rooms had but basic bedroom furnishings. He decided to climb another flight and there he saw a room with a faint glow that mildly pulsed. He pushed the half closed door open and looked inside, he saw a few more paintings of the man that he now realized vaguely resembled himself, though with darker hair. The glow was not of a lantern but some strange red crystal standing on a pedestal. The crystal was oval and smooth, deep inside it had what appeared to be a web of small wires or veins that seemed to be the source of the throbbing glow. The pedestal was made of some odd material, neither wood nor metal, which was melded into the wooden floor; it held the oval red gem with claws that pierced it near the bottom.
Also in the room was a large canopied-bed, with all manner of lace, and there were other pieces of furniture by which a master bedroom would be finely furnished. Fist saw a large white book on the dresser and he walked toward it and opened it. It was a diary. He could faintly make out the words. He flipped through the pages and found several horrifying passages. Cheska’s diary mentioned how she had found suitable vessels for her three sons. The next page mentioned an evil priest of Discord, from a distant city, who once stalked the mire searching for subjects to sacrifice to his evil gods.
“Mr. La’brau!” the voice of Cheska called loudly from below.
Fist’s heart thumped for three beats as he wondered what was going on. He closed the diary and left the room. He bounded down the staircase where he found her at the second story landing carrying a set of linens and a candlestick with a glittering flame.
Fist stopped when he met her gaze.
“I wondered where you were, Mr. La’brau. Where did you go?” There was coldness in her words as if she was perturbed, yet she still maintained her dignified manners.
Fist gestured over his shoulder with his thumb, stammered, and then managed an excuse. “I was, uh, looking for the privy, if you have one indoors? All that wine is going straight through me.”
She looked at him for a moment then answered with an enticing smile. “You must have missed it; it is the last door on the right.”
“I’ll be just a few moments while you deliver those linens,” Fist said.
She stared at him for a few heartbeats then went into one of the second story bedrooms.
Fist turned toward the privy but when she went into the bedroom, he walked back to the stairs and glided down to the first floor. He peered once more into the apothecary where he saw the two large beakers were no longer in sight. The scrolls were gone and so was the shiny dagger.
Never in his brave life had his heart thumped so many times, as it pounded against his breastbone. Something bizarre was going on and how it was connected to the three sons and the mysterious red jewel he did not comprehend; but if ever he smelled vile magics, now was the time.
“Fist?” the soft voice of Cheska called from above firmly. “Mr. La’brau, where are you?”
Fist ducked inside the apothecary and closed the door. He wasn’t afraid of the woman. Surely he could cleave her in half with a backhand stroke of his blade, but that was something that made him ill just to think about. He had to get out of the house, and soon.
He heard her footsteps coming down the hall and they stopped at the apothecary door. He stepped backward, hidden in shadows, behind a rack of smocks and aprons.
The door creaked and it opened. Cheska stepped inside cautiously then walked to the workbench. She opened a cupboard door and removed one of the missing beakers that now contained a purple liquid. She sat it on the workbench while she reached into a hidden pocket in her dress and pulled forth the shiny dagger; it had a very slender, almost needle-like blade. She wiped the existing paste off the blade, then unscrewed a cap off the pommel and poured some of the purple liquid into the opening. Quickly she screwed the pommel back onto the dagger and replaced the beaker in the cupboard. Cheska replaced the dagger into the secret pocket of her dress and left the room.
Fist knew the dagger was meant for him and not for her personal protection. He could not help but wonder what was inside the dagger and why its blade was so slender. It was as if the dagger was meant to inject some sort of poison or potion, rather than to slay by its own blade. Fist was no longer in a hurry to leave the bizarre house, as now his curiosity caused him desire to discover the weird mysteries it contained.
Fist stepped out from his hiding spot, but his heavy frame caused a board in the floor to splinter and break through. He looked down and noticed a soft glow coming from below the floor. He knelt and peered through the hole, he saw a basement with what appeared to be a casket in the center of the underground room. He tore away a few more boards and dropped down onto the hard earthen floor below.
Looking around he noticed four candles, which hung from the old floor above, in small lanterns. There was a stairway leading down, on the other side of the room, from behind the kitchen. The casket was made of varnished wood and studded and banded with silver and gold metal. There was a family crest on the lid that had as its main insignia, a black crow with a snake in its mouth.
He heard a sound from the stairs and the door opened. Fist ducked behind a smaller casket in the shadows, of which he saw there were three, and then he heard Cheska’s voice as she descended the stairs.
“Soon, father will be with us and we will be a family again. Mr. La’brau cannot leave the house as the last visitor did, for I have invoked the protection of Mythra. There is no way out for him.”
Chills went up Fist’s spine once again.
“Father is coming back?” Fist recognized the voice of Lum.
“Yes. Mythra loves us and our family has lived in her halls for thirteen centuries. She needs a man of the house to restore her, to her original glory, and we have found one. Soon, the soul of your father will have a new body, my precious children.”
Fist knew all that he needed to know now. He was ready to leave and he believed there had to be some way out.
A rat scurried in the darkness causing a small crate near him to fall.
“What was that?” emitted the jittery throat of Yuri.
“Probably a rat,” Ely said.
“You should check that out, son,” Cheska said.
Fist could hear the coming steps of one of the sons, and the unmistakable sound of a blade sliding from its leather scabbard. He flattened himself against one of the caskets hoping to remain concealed. Fist checked his sword, but the thought of slaying one of the simpletons was not something that would sit well with him.
Then Ely’s eyes fell upon him as he approached with his long curved knife. “Mother, what should I do? I found him.”
“Hold him there!” Cheska cried as they all ran toward him.
Cheska held the skinny dagger while Lum came with a heavy mace cocked to deliver a heavy blow and Yuri cowered behind.
Fist sprang upward, brandishing his heavy sword and yelled from the bottom of his chest, “Back, scoundrels.”
He had hoped it would scare them away, but only Yuri fled in terror. Lum charged, with the large mace ready to knock him over the head. Fist swung his sword in an arc, parrying the mace and knocked it from the stocky man’s grip. Ely skipped around jabbing the knife at him but from a cautious distance. Lum was a bit off-balanced, but he leaned into Fist pushing him against the wall with his weighty body and then he put his oversized hairy forearm to Fist’s throat.
Fist fought back with his knee to the man’s gut, which made him stoop with pain as he brought the pommel of his sword down on the back of his head giving him a good skull crack.
“That is my brother you devil!” Ely screamed, before lunging at Fist with his knife.
Instinctively Fist dealt the man a swift strike with his heavy blade; it served a fatal wound to the chest. Ely collapsed, crying, next to his unconscious brother. Before Fist could look up, something struck him on the temple and he stepped back and swung his blade blindly through the air. He was dazed as he saw Cheska flee up the stairs in despair.
Fist stumbled to the stairs and gave chase, but when he came to the top of the stairs she was nowhere to be seen. He made his way through the kitchen. He stepped quietly as possible and peeked around every corner and dark alcove. He wanted to make sure she was not lying in wait, to ambush him with the venomous dagger. The frame of the house shook with a gentle vibration as the ground beneath it seemed to move. Fist did not know what to think, as he checked every door of the house. The rooms were still locked as firmly as any new lock he had ever seen, though these were ironically ancient and rusty. He picked up a chair in the sitting room and flung it with great force at a window, but the panes were hard as stone. Even a smash from his sword could not so much as crack the glass.
Fist searched each floor and tried every window, but there was no way of escape and Cheska was nowhere to be seen.
A creak of the second story floorboard, behind him, warned of a stalker. He whirled and saw that it was only Yuri, who had rounded a corner and was cowering away.
Fist continued to the third floor and searched from room to room. His heart pounded, every dark chamber he entered he wondered if the shining dagger would come from the darkness and puncture his back. Every time he sensed something he wheeled around, but nothing was there.
There was crying. Coming from the fourth floor, was a continual sobbing, and he quietly ascended the treads of the final staircase one by one. The last tread creaked, and he shuddered as he came to the landing. He saw faint candlelight coming from the master bedroom. He walked softly past two rooms, careful of what might be waiting behind the shadowy doorways, and then he paused before peeking through the opening of the partially open master bedroom door.
A crack of a floor board behind him caused him to whirl around; he saw a chair coming toward his face. The piece of furniture was met with Fist’s forearm as he kicked at the attacker with the heel of his boot. The chair cracked on his forearm, sending pain shooting up to his shoulder, whilst simultaneously knocking the stumbling assailant backward into the balcony railing. The railing splintered and the dark figure fell down to the hard foyer floor below. Fist looked over the balcony and saw the body of Yuri, lying in a pool of blood.
Fist turned back toward the room and peered inside. There he saw Cheska, in tears, cradling the portrait of who must have been her husband; the man bore a slight resemblance to Fist. She was leaning against the pedestal beneath the large red gem.
“We failed you, Ourbauk,” Cheska cried to the portrait. “We failed you, and now Ely is dead.”
As if she knew Fist was there all along, Cheska turned and met his gaze. Fist pushed the door wide open.
“Mr. La’brau, I am so sorry. I never meant to harm you. I merely wanted my Ourbauk.”
Fist nodded. “I must go now.”
Cheska nodded. “I hurt my ankle fleeing, can you help me up?”
Fist was skeptical, but he agreed, he walked toward her cautiously. Then there was a noise behind him, steps of a heavy lumbering man. Fist spun around drawing his sword and dove onto the bed. Lum charged and Fist narrowly escaped the crash of the large mace as it struck the floor, cracking the wood. Fist leapt off the bed and brought his sword crashing toward the stocky man’s skull. Lum’s speed was surprising. He swung the mace and parried Fist’s sword. They traded blows and parries, Fist was impressed by the man’s skill, but it only took four strokes to expose the man’s chest for a quick riposte to the heart. The man expired with a childish whine. Something about it disturbed Fist, but he had no choice.
Cheska! She was gone.
Fist whirled as Cheska dove from the darkness of the bedroom closet, the long dagger aimed at his chest. He extended his sword arm and she impaled herself on his blade before she could pierce the red-headed traveler. She died with a deafening screech as she landed on the floor; she turned immediately to gray dust and there was nothing temporal remaining except the dagger.
Fist sat on the bed for a moment getting back his breath, trying to regain his sanity. He felt horrible for what he had done, yet he knew it was nothing he could control. On one hand, he had murdered a family but on the other, he had defended his own life.
Fist watched as the red gem pulsed like the beating of a heart, in frustration he swung his sword at it; his blade sank in, like it was made of a thick gel. It nearly wrenched his sword from his hand; it was all he could do to yank it back.
“What in Siernod!” he cursed.
He smashed against the window for about thirty heartbeats but the window would not give. The house had begun to vibrate again but this time much stronger. Every lantern and candle in the house lit up on its own, there was a weird laughter coming from the basement. The house began to shift in different directions and the scenery outside was changing. Each time the mist cleared a little, there was a different landscape. He saw deserts, rolling green hills, majestic mountains and lava rolling down a black cone. The sky changed between blue, black, orange and gray; soaring through the sky were white birds and bizarre draconian beasts. There was a glowing golden sun and there was a dying purple sun. All of this passed before him within a minute or so.
The laughing continued and Fist reacted in a desperate notion. He picked the dagger up from the dust of Cheska, and he jabbed it into the red crystal. The laughter below turned to a hideous scream as the dagger pulsated in the gem and ejected the mysterious fluid into the heart of the red stone.
“Mythra?” cried the mysterious voice from below.
The house shifted violently to one side then careened to the other; like a ship wracked by a violent tempest in the outer seas. The windows began to fling themselves opened and closed, as the house splintered and cracked all around him. A gale blew through the house and he fled the room and bounded down the stairs. Then the house leapt to one side so violently that it caused him to be thrown over the banister. He caught a hold of it, with one hand, hanging three stories in the air. He swung back over the rail and continued downward until he came to the foyer. He launched his thick body at the front door and it splintered like paper under the force. He rolled down the steps all the way out the front gate, and propped himself to a sitting position.
The eerie silence was broken by the songs of the crickets and the quatrains of the poison bullfrogs, as he saw the silhouetted slender legs in front of him. He looked up and saw the familiar face of Lyrum holding a pair of reigns. At their bit ends were two mares.
“I see you fared well,” the youthful voice said. “Did these people serve you fine hospitality while I was gone?”
Fist turned and looked toward the house; it seemed to be grinning through the fog. The two upstairs windows and one large downstairs window illuminated as it stood as peaceful as when he first arrived.
“Let’s get on our way,” Fist said.
Fist mounted the fresh mare and rode off in a trot with Lyrum following close behind. Fist never brought mention of the house again.