This is the third installment of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony. Every Wednesday, I am putting up a new chapter of the book for free. Eventually, after another twenty weeks, you will be able to read the entire book for free.
If you need to start at the beginning, you can find the first chapter here. If you just can’t wait to read the rest, there are links to purchase the book in many different formats at the end of each chapter.
The next day, Mendleson made sure the work he did on his farm kept him in sight of Henrietta’s house. He felt sure she was still there. He couldn’t explain it, even to himself.
He also couldn’t explain why, of a sudden, he felt so obsessed with her. They hadn’t spoken a word to each other before the festival. The way she left their conversation, and her complete absence since, certainly seemed to indicate she had little desire to speak to him again.
“It’s only because I want to apologize,” he said to himself as he dug at a particularly persistent weed. The weed somehow seemed a metaphor for his obsession with the Seer.
He pulled on the weed, putting his weight behind it. After a brief struggle, the root of the weed finally gave up and pulled free, depositing Mendleson on his back.
“Great,” he said, then sat up and tossed the weed into the waiting cart.
He looked across the way again. Henrietta’s home hadn’t changed since the last time he looked.
“One thing I can thank you for,” he said. “I haven’t dreamed of the fire the last two nights.”
No. Instead, I’ve got this other dream. He thought back to night of sleep he’d had, again interrupted by a dream of something dark coming for her. He couldn’t shake the feeling Henrietta was in danger.
What really irked him was that the Justice seemed to think there was little amiss. There weren’t any signs of distress in her house. There was nothing to indicate she hadn’t just gone somewhere for the day, other than the message from her to the grocer, and the Justice dismissed that.
Whatever help she needed, and Mendleson felt sure she needed help, he decided he would be the one that would have to give it to her. He was not about to let Henrietta’s house burn with her inside it.
As evening approached, he was growing tired of watching. He still refused to stop, but he was beginning to think that maybe she had left for good without the coach she had requested.
He stabled the horse and went inside to make his evening meal. Some bread and a vegetable stew. He didn’t even heat the stew that long. He wanted to get back to his watch.
He dug out the center of the bread, forming a bowl, and poured in the stew. He grabbed a spoon and took the whole thing out to his front steps to sit and eat.
Dusk had come while he prepared the meal. He dipped the excess bread into the stew and took a bite. It wasn’t all that warm, but he didn’t care.
A lone tree in her garden blocked his view of her door, but he could see the window.
At first, he couldn’t place what was different about the window. In the near dark, it was hard to discern details.
But after a moment, he figured it out. Her shades are closed. The Justice had opened them when they went into the house. Were they closed all day? Or just now? He thought back over the day, but didn’t remember. He thought maybe they had been shut all day, but he somehow hadn’t noticed until now.
Or she came home and shut them while I was cooking.
It didn’t matter really when it happened. What it mean was that she was still around.
He set his meal down on the step and stood up. I’m just going over there to apologize. But in his heart, he knew there was more. He wanted to make sure she was alright, that she wasn’t in danger.
As he started walking, he caught a dim light that flickered behind the shades. She’s home. He picked up his pace.
As he approached the road, a cold breeze came from the north, carrying an almost wintery chill. He shivered. The breeze carried a sound with it. Horses.
Mendleson stopped and crouched down behind a large stone that had marked his property for as long as he could remember. No man or horse could move it.
He had no idea why he hid. The breeze, the sound of the horses. It didn’t feel right, and he heeded his feelings.
Moments later, a quartet of horses rode down the lane pulling a coach behind them. The coach, painted black, seemed over-large and sinister. Lamps on either side of the driver’s bench illuminated the area around it. The driver seemed a big black shape, a shadow.
Something about it frightened Mendleson, and he wished for it to pass on by. But he knew it wouldn’t.
It pulled to a stop in front of Henrietta’s home in a rush of noise and scattering dust blown by the breeze.
The driver climbed down, took a step toward Henrietta’s home, then stopped and turned to look back at Mendleson.
It knows I’m here. He ducked behind the rock. I’m not here, I’m not here.
Tense moments passed while he imagined it coming for him, imagined it reaching out and grasping his forehead and crushing it.
He heard it turn, and take steps away from him.
He knew what it was. It was the thing in his dream, and it wasn’t here for him. It’s here for Henrietta.
* * *
When Henrietta closed her shades early in the morning, she knew she would be taking a risk, but it was less of a risk than having someone see her through her window. And she certainly didn’t want to remain stuck hiding in the cellar the whole day.
“Two days for a coach,” she said. “Unbelievable.”
But there was nothing for it. If she had to wait, she had to wait, and hide.
She spent the day going through her things a little more carefully than she had the day before. She had time.
She set the things she wanted to take out on the table. Figurines, little pieces of artwork, letters, books, clothes. Anything she couldn’t bear to part with. By mid-morning, the pile had begun to spill off the table, and she realized it wouldn’t do. She couldn’t take everything, even if she wanted to.
She went to the window and peeked through the shades. Mendleson was out working his farm, near the road. A little excitement flowed through her. She knew exactly what he was doing, and it made her happy enough for a moment that she smiled.
She scolded herself. “You know what will happen to him if you don’t get rid of him, Henrietta. Forget about him.”
But she couldn’t. It didn’t hurt that she liked to look at him. He was a strong man, kept his thick hair cropped short. The pain of his tragedy was written on his face, but she remembered when he smiled while talking to her at the festival. I can’t let him do that again, or I’ll never want him to leave.
“Henrietta, stop thinking about him. Get back to work.”
She forced herself to leave the window and go back to sorting what she would take with her.
She started with her needs. Clothes. Her tools she used to See. She didn’t really need those, she knew. They were mostly props, and not actually necessary to See. Where she was going, she didn’t think she would need them. But one never knows. Besides, the ball, eight inches round and pure crystal, had belonged to her grandmother. She couldn’t part with it.
Once those were in, she still had some room, so started adding her books and other things. A comb her mother had given her. A beautiful figurine of the sea goddess given to her by a woman she’d helped to avoid a terrible fate. Henrietta couldn’t remember what the fate was, but she adored the figurine.
She looked over her trunk, and then sat in a chair.
“Who am I fooling?” she asked herself. “I’ll be dead in a couple months. I won’t need any of this stuff.”
But she couldn’t part with it.
Her work was done. Now, all she had to do was wait for the coach, and then she could leave, and Mendleson would be safe from sharing her fate.
She went back to the window to watch him.
When she saw him, her heart caught again, like it seemed to do ever since their conversation. “I didn’t mean to put you in danger when I came here,” she said as if he could hear her. “I was only trying to escape my fate. I only wanted to live as long as my grandmother.”
“Of course, I should have realized I couldn’t escape it.”
She sighed, then went and sat in her reading chair. She stared at the trunk, and tried to decide where to have the coachman take her once he finally arrived. The only destination she could settle on, however, was away.
When she woke from her inadvertent nap, she realized it was almost evening. She cut the wick on a candle short, then lit it. She hoped the little bit of light wouldn’t leak through her shades too much.
Her stomach growled. She hadn’t eaten since morning. She went through the groceries, and pulled out some bread and some smoked pork. She couldn’t afford to cook and have the fire signal someone was home.
The pork tasted salty, more than she usually preferred. If she were staying, she’d have a talk with Hugh about it, but for now, she had little choice.
“I hope that coachman arrives in the morning. I don’t want to have to sit in here another whole…”
A knock at her door interrupted her monologue. She blew out the candle, hoping it wasn’t too late.
She went to the window and peered through it. On the side of the road, she saw a big, black coach, lit by some lamps. Her fear that Mendleson discovered her subsided. The coach had arrived early.
“Time to leave.”
She went to the trunk and shut it, then dragged it across the floor to the door.
She opened the door, and then stood, frozen. It was not a coachman at her door. What stood at the door was the stuff of her nightmares, the stuff of her visions.
Her fate stood, two heads taller than her, a black cowl hiding a face that wasn’t a face. It had no eyes. She thought she could make out a mouth among the shadows.
It’s lips moved. A sound came out. “It’s time,” it said.
“No,” she whispered.
The thing’s arm shot out and grabbed her by the throat. Sharp talons tipped its fingers and dug into her flesh. She could not move for fear of having her throat ripped out.
The wraith, for that’s what it had to be, brought its other arm up to her face and toward her eyes.
* * *
Without thinking about what he was doing, Mendleson reached down and dug a fairly large stone from the ground. When it came free, he hefted it a couple times and decided it would do. For a moment, he wished he had a real weapon, a sword or something. But the stone was all he had. I’m no swordsman, anyway.
He peeked out from his hiding place behind the monstrous rock. The shadow man moved with a measured gait toward Henrietta’s front door. It was not looking at him. The horses seemed calm and reserved.
I hope they stay that way.
He moved out from his hiding place. Making as little noise as possible, he snuck across the road while keeping the horses between him and the shadowy figure. The horses looked at him, but did not seem bothered by his presence.
He snuck around to the back of the coach and peeked around it. The shadow man had just passed Henrietta’s tree. Mendleson waited for it to move a little further along before stepping out from his hiding place.
He worked even harder at being quiet. He didn’t know why, but he had a feeling if the shadow man turned around on him, he might not live through the experience.
The cold breeze picked up a little as he moved, making him shiver.
The thing was almost at her door. I have to make it to the tree. Quiet, Mendleson. Quiet.
Step after step, he moved closer to the tree. It blocked his view of the window, but not his view of the shadow man. A couple more steps.
Then he was behind the tree, hidden from the shadow man. Maybe fifteen paces from Henrietta’s door. Close enough to help her, but far enough away to go unnoticed if she didn’t need his help.
The shadow man knocked at the door. Its rap, rap, rap sounded distant in the strange, unseasonably-cold breeze.
It waited. Mendleson waited, while watching from behind the tree. His muscles felt tight with anticipation. He hadn’t seen Henrietta in two days. He needed to see her, but he feared for her. He feared this man.
Why am I waiting? Why don’t I just rush him?
Because he might just be a coach driver arrived early.
His argument sounded hollow. But he couldn’t be sure.
The door opened, and he saw Henrietta, her face illuminated by a candle that she held. His heart thumped in his chest. The candle light somehow made her beauty even more manifest.
And for a moment, he thought everything would be alright. He thought that it was the coach driver, come to take her where she wanted to go, and his heart fell. He wouldn’t get the chance to see her again.
Then her eyes went wide, and the same look of horror that he’d seen at the festival crossed her face again.
Mendleson heard the shadow man speak, a hissing sort of voice. “It’s time,” he said.
He couldn’t hear Henrietta’s reply, but her lips seemed to say, “No.”
The man’s arm reached out and grabbed her throat.
Mendleson started running, holding the rock up high. I’m too late! He’s going to kill her before I get there!
But the shadow man didn’t seem to be choking her, not yet. It was just holding her in place. It brought its other arm up and moved it toward her face.
Mendleson raced as fast as he could, and just as he arrived at the shadow man, he brought the rock down with both hands, smashing it into the his skull. The skull seemed to cave in, almost as if it hadn’t been completely solid, and then Mendleson’s body collided with the shadow man, knocking them both sprawling.
The shadow man’s arm came free of Henrietta and started to grasp at Mendleson. It had sharp fingernails or something. Knives on the end of its fingers. They dug at his flesh, but Mendleson didn’t care. He brought the rock down again on the man’s head.
The claws dug deeper.
Again, he brought the rock down. The shadow man shuddered, and then relaxed its grip on him. The claws came loose.
Mendleson could feel drips of blood on his skin where the claws had penetrated. He paid them no mind.
Excitement rushed through him, the brief fight energizing him. He brought the rock down once again, just to be sure.
He pushed himself up, then stood over the shadow man. Its hood had come free, and for the first time, he saw one of the things hands.
It hadn’t been a man, not at all.
His chest felt tight, and it became harder to breathe. He backed away from it, stumbling over one of its outstretched legs.
He didn’t fall to the ground. A pair of arms caught him. Henrietta’s.
“What is that?” he asked, short of breath.
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Read Chapter Four