The following is a flash fiction piece I wrote last year for the ‘Creatures of the Night’-themed October edition of a now-defunct online magazine.
Moonlight shone between the clouds as they began to part, dropping their last few flurries upon the town below. The snowflakes drifted down to join a thick layer already blanketing the steep-roofed buildings, which huddled together inside a wooden palisade nestled into the side of a hill. Below, the river meandered past.
A dark shape flitted through the sky, blotting out the moon.
A man laid upon the bed in the corner of the room. Death had not taken him quietly. A twisted grimace marred his face, his back arched off the bed, and his hands clenched at the blanket. Two more men stepped inside. One wore a tabard with the crest of the local lord; the other wore furs and carried a staff. A chisel hung at his belt. “Here is the third, magiker. Ansgar Gylfirsson the weaver,” said the guard.
Arnar Rasmussen shook his head. “He was a dreamseer, a fortune teller. The aendesmagiker know of him. Knew. When was he killed?”
“The night after the second, who died two nights after the first.”
Rasmussen frowned. “I must think over the possibilities. You will find me at the lodge.”
Rasmussen looked into the generous tankard of ale before him. He raised it to the lodgekeeper in thanks.
His staff leaned against the table next to him, and he regarded the runes inscribed upon it as he thought. The dead bore all the marks of attack by spirits, but why? Neither moon was full. A dreamseer didn’t deal with spirits powerful enough to kill a man, even a sleeping man—a man at his weakest. No malevolent spirit which could take a life would limit itself to one a day.
Now, if Gylfirsson the weaver were a dreamweaver, Rasmussen thought, that was an idea with more promise. A dreamweaver could have delved into things beyond his ken. If he came across a nightmare spirit just a shade cleverer than the norm, it might have convinced him to make a deal. He could not have paid a dream-eater’s price. First, it came for those whose dreams he had rewritten. Once it had consumed them, filling their minds with unspeakable terrors, it turned back toward Gylfirsson.
If that was so, Rasmussen had less time than he thought. He took his staff and made for the door.
The still air had a crispness to it which might have been pleasant on another night. Tonight, Arnar Rasmussen could almost feel it crackling with magical energy. A dream-eater which had feasted upon the spirits of three living things was not far from becoming a danger to the waking and sleeping alike. It would be hunting tonight.
So would Rasmussen. He was an aendesmagiker, and spirits—the breath of the world—were his domain, whether it be harnessing them or destroying them. He stopped at the door to Ansgar Gylfirsson’s house, rapping on the door with the end of his staff. Nobody answered, so he pushed it open and went inside. With no lamps burning, it was pitch-dark, but Rasmussen saw by the spirit-light. He looked past their teeming multitudes and spotted his target: a black tendril, filling the room with the stench of terror. It wound around the bed and stretched toward the door, oozing out into the street. Rasmussen followed it.
It led him on a roundabout path through narrow streets, which ended at another house, larger than the last. The nightmare coiled around it. Rasmussen rattled the door in its frame with his staff. A few moments later, a tall man pulled it open.
Rasmussen barred the way out with his staff. “Gylfirsson the weaver. You knew he was a weaver of dreams?”
“I don’t know what—”
“Your lives are in grave danger.” Rasmussen glanced over his shoulder. “I am a magiker. Go inside now. Gather your family. Stay inside and stay awake. Don’t come out until I come in. Do you understand?”
Rasmussen pulled the door closed and took his chisel from his belt, inscribing a row of runes—words of warding—into the wood. From behind him came a scream.
He turned, and the shade reached into his mind. It showed him itself made manifest—gnarled, vast and terrible, ancient beyond comprehension.
Rasmussen stepped back before the assault, head bowed. Seconds passed before he looked up, fire in his eyes, and laughed. The shade flinched. Rasmussen raised his staff, roared in defiance, and charged into battle.
These two fifty-word microfiction pieces were first seen in the same magazine. If you’re a long-time reader with a better memory than me, you’ll recall I posted a somewhat longer piece in the same vein as the latter in September, 2012.
“School in the morning. Sleep tight,” her mother chirped, turning off the lights and closing the door.
Silver moonlight, leaking between the curtains, replaced the lamp’s warm glow. On her windowsill, her dolls stood, throwing dancing jagged shadows against the bedroom wall. “Yes,” they said together, singsong. “Good night.”
The man sprawled on the ground, unconscious but stirring. Two groaning figures, their flesh rotting away, shambled around the corner and approached him. One crouched and sniffed the air over him.
“I daresay this man’s been attacked!” He straightened his tattered uniform and stood. “Constable Lurch, call the Inspector.”