And late again, although this time, due to the Memorial Day holiday, I spent most of today thinking it was Tuesday until my son informed me otherwise. One of these days, I’ll figure out that I should prepare the chapters ahead of time.
This is the fifth installment of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony. I’m putting up a new chapter of the book for free each Wednesday, and after another eighteen weeks, you’ll 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.
Clouds hung around her, blocking her views of the other peaks. She looked out over an abyss from her perch on the edge of the plateau. Behind her, she knew, stood the monolith. She didn’t have to turn around to know it was there. She could feel its energy reaching for her, beckoning her to come closer.
She knew she would give in, eventually, but she would put it off as long as she could. She’d seen this vision a hundred times. She knew how it ended.
But she felt something different. Another presence. An arm around her waist.
She looked to her left, and found Mendleson standing next to her, content, a smile on his face that held no hint of sadness.
She, too, felt content. This was how things should be.
He turned to look at her. His sun-darkened face gave her hope for the first time.
Something was wrong, though. She knew what was coming. Why was he so happy? Didn’t he know?
She opened her mouth to tell him, but she couldn’t. The words wouldn’t leave her lips.
He leaned forward, taking her partly open mouth as an invitation, and kissed her. It was the first time. Her heart exploded in her chest.
And she started to cry. She knew it would be the last time.
She tried to push him away, but he held her tight, and in truth, she didn’t want it to end. She wanted the kiss to last forever. She felt connected to him, a part of him.
No! Stop! Run away!
She felt them before she saw them. Wraiths. They had come for her.
She pushed Mendleson away and ran for the Monolith.
The wraiths appeared from the mist surrounding the mountain top. They circled around her and the monolith. The circle closed on her.
She was ready—and sad.
Mendleson stood, raced toward the wraiths. He swung a sword among them, knocking them down.
The wraiths turned away from her to deal with the threat. They converged on him, ignoring the sword. There were so many, she couldn’t see him through their black cloaks.
They came away from him, and returned to circle her. Through the cracks in the circle, she could see him where he lay, prone, not breathing. Dead.
“Noooo!” Henrietta shouted, waking herself from the vision. Her heart beat rapidly in her chest, and her muscles were tense, ready to fight. Ready to fight for him.
“Are you alright?”
His voice comforted her. He was still with her, still alive. She looked to where she knew he had been sleeping. The moonlight pouring through the window showed he had propped himself up with an arm, and the blanket that was draped over him had slipped down to expose his chest. She had a fleeting desire to climb out of bed and put her fingertips on his chest. After the kiss… Could it really be like that?
She wanted to find out, but resisted. It would only make it harder to do what she knew she had to do.
“A bad dream,” she said. “Go back to sleep.”
“Right,” he said, and continued to look at her for a bit, before resting his head on the blanket he had rolled up into a pillow.
In the dark, she couldn’t see his eyes, but she imagined them looking at her like he had in the vision. She wanted him to look at her that way. Wanted to feel his lips on hers.
But the vision seemed clear. He would die if she remained with him. She couldn’t let him continue on with her.
But how to make him go? How do I escape him?
They’d driven the coach hard through the night, taking turns resting. It hadn’t been nearly as good as a real sleep, but it kept them going.
It was near morning when they reached the town. They had argued again when she told him he should leave. He refused, again arguing that they were nowhere near the mountain she saw in her vision, so there was little danger for him.
Once she had given up arguing with him, they decided to continue on through the day and get as far as they could from the wraith. He suggested it might look for her in the next town. She thought it might not matter where she was, but didn’t push it. Distance might help.
So they continued on through the day, passing through a couple smaller coastal towns until they came to a significantly larger town that had more than one inn.
The only money they had on them was hers, and it wasn’t a lot. They decided to share a room to conserve her money, and when they entered the room, he immediately took two blankets and made a place for himself to sleep on the floor.
Where his breath had now slipped back into an even, quiet rhythm.
She waited a bit longer, making sure he had fallen asleep. While she waited, her thoughts drifted back to the vision, and how it had changed since she’d first had it as a little girl.
It had frightened her, then. It brought her awake, crying. But back then, it was only her, surrounded by the wraiths. She didn’t even remember the monolith appearing in that early vision.
She had talked with her grandmother about it. Her grandmother had seemed both joyous and sad at the same time, and Henrietta had picked up on it.
“Why are you both happy and sad, Gran?” Henrietta had asked.
“Ah, Henrietta, so perceptive. I am happy because you are like me, a Seer. You will know the ways of things before they come to pass.”
“But why are you sad?”
Her grandmother had bent down then, and hugged her while whispering into her ear. “I am sad because you have seen the end of your days, as it is with all Seers. Do not tell others, as this vision is yours alone. Others will not understand.”
“Is it a long time away?” she had asked, suddenly more frightened than when she thought it was just a dream.
“I cannot tell you. Your time is your time, and it is given only to you to know.”
“Gran, do you know when you will die?” Henrietta had asked, then.
Gran had pulled away from her, and looked her in the eye. There were tears dripping down her weathered cheeks. “I do, child,” she had said. “I have known since I was about your age.”
Mendleson rolled over underneath his blankets and broke her out of her reverie. She had thought then that she would live as long as Gran, for her vision of herself had seemed so much older. She hadn’t understood, when she was six, how quickly time sped along.
Henrietta forced herself out of bed and put her feet to the floor as gently as she could. She didn’t want to wake him.
She looked at her trunk, which Mendleson had carried up the stairs on his own. There’s no way I’m carrying that back down. She’d have to leave most of her things here, but her time felt so close, she didn’t think she’d need them anymore.
She opened it, and one of the hinges squealed. She looked at Mendleson, fearing she’d wake him again, but he didn’t move. Thank the Fates.
She dug through the trunk and pulled out two sets of clothes. She also withdrew her purse. She removed enough money from the purse for Mendleson to pay for breakfast and a ride home, and put it next to the wash basin. He wouldn’t need any for the room. The proprietor of the inn had required them to pay for that up front.
She took the pillowcase off her pillow and stuffed one change of clothes into it. She changed into the other, a violet dress that fit her well, but was loose enough to allow her to run. The money purse, she stowed in one of the dress’ inner pockets.
She looked through the rest of her possessions, and could not think of another item that she must take with her. Then she looked at Mendleson.
A desire to kiss him for real flared up within her, but she tamped it down. She couldn’t afford to have him wake. She couldn’t afford to tie him to her further. It wasn’t fair to him.
She picked up the stuffed pillow case from the bed, turned one last time to Mendleson, and whispered, “Thank you.”
She opened the door, and stepped out into the hallway, closing the door behind her as gently as she could.
She shivered. The hallway felt cool, colder than she would have expected.
She turned down the hallway, took three steps, looked up, screamed.
* * *
Mendleson didn’t dream like he’d grown used to over the past four years. His dreams were blissfully free of the fire, of finding his wife and child crushed and burnt under the center beam. Neither did he dream of the dark thing coming to kill Henrietta.
Instead, he dreamed of Henrietta in his arms, he dreamed of holding her tight, caressing her hair. He dreamed he was the wall between her and a world that wanted to take her away from him.
Until she screamed and jolted him from his sleep.
“Are you all right?” he asked, turning to look at her. She was sitting up in the bed she had to herself.
He had thought about sharing the bed with her, when they first saw the room. It was large enough. But he decided against it. He hadn’t wanted to give her another reason to argue with him about whether he would stay or go.
“A bad dream,” she said. “Go back to sleep.”
“Right,” he said. He watched her for a moment, hoping she might say more. But when she didn’t say anything else, he put his head back down on the rolled up blanket that served as a pillow and tried to go back to sleep.
When sleep finally came again, his dreams had changed. The dream of the dark thing, the wraith, had come back. The wraith chased Henrietta, and Mendleson couldn’t catch it. He couldn’t stop it. He raced as hard as he could, but it was faster. He caught up with her, and Henrietta turned and screamed.
Mendleson woke again, breathing hard. He looked up at the bed, wanting to reassure himself that Henrietta was safe, but the bed was empty. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her trunk. It stood open.
He heard her scream again. Not a dream.
He jumped up and ran for the door, shedding the blankets as he went. He ripped open the door and looked down the hallway. A lamp at the end of the hall lit Henrietta and her attacker enough so that he could see the wraith.
It had Henrietta on her knees, its left hand about her throat. Its right hand hovered above her head, separated only by a couple inches and a ghostly light.
Mendleson didn’t stop to wonder what it was doing to her.
“Leave her alone!” he yelled, and launched himself at the wraith.
The wraith looked up just as Mendleson crashed into it, and the two of them fell to the floor. The wraith plunged its claws into his side. Mendleson could feel the fire of them, but he ignored the fire, and punched it in the face as best he could.
It felt like punching mud. Every strike sunk in, but didn’t seem to do much damage. The wraith struggled under him and tried to free itself. It disengaged its claws from his torso and tried to bring them up to his neck.
Mendleson caught them and pinned them to the floor before they could tear out his throat.
The two of them were stuck there for a moment, neither having an advantage they could press. Mendleson stared into its face for a moment, but in the near dark, he could see little of its features.
He looked for Henrietta, hoping she might be able to help him, but he saw her shadow slumped on the floor.
Rage and loss overcame him. “Not again!” he yelled. He looked up, saw the blackness of the stairwell. He kicked himself over, pulling the wraith with him, and threw the wraith down the stairs in one motion. He followed it down as fast as he could, taking the steps three at a time in the near dark, and slamming into the wraith at the bottom.
He threw the wraith out into the common room, which was mercifully empty of patrons. Mendleson picked up a chair, and was about to swing it at the wraith when the wraith came at him in a rush of cloak and shadow.
It knocked him down, and he dropped the chair. It reached for his throat, but Mendleson kicked out again, throwing the thing off him.
How do I end this?
They both got to their feet, and Mendleson found himself circling the wraith.
“You won’t have her.”
It hissed at him. “You can’t thwart fate.”
Their circling brought the wraith in front of the fireplace. The low glow from the still hot coals gave the wraith an orange aura. It also gave Mendleson an idea.
“I can certainly try,” he said, then rushed the wraith.
It stuck its arms out, claws extended. Mendleson crashed into it, shoving it back. He ignored the arms and just kept pushing it backward, backward, and into the open fireplace.
Its cloak caught fire immediately, exploding in a huge burst, encasing the wraith in flame. It let out a high pitched wail that hurt Mendleson’s ears. It spun around, trying to put out the flames but it was already too late.
The wraith dropped to the ground and writhed in decreasing movements until all that was left was a burning mass.
A man rushed forward carrying a bucket of water, and in the orange light, Mendleson recognized the innkeeper.
The innkeeper doused the flaming mass with water, and the fire went out. He stamped on it with his foot, extinguishing the last of the flames, then turned to confront Mendleson.
“What in the Seven Hells was that?”
“It’s a…” He remembered Henrietta. “Henrietta!”
Mendleson pushed the innkeeper aside and rushed up the stairs.
Henrietta still lay slumped on the floor. He rolled her over so that she lay face up and saw that her chest still moved as she breathed. In the dim light, it was hard to tell, but her face looked pale.
He ran back to the room, found his shirt and put it on, ignoring the blood that dripped from the rents in his skin. He found the money she had left for him, and pocketed it. “You won’t be free of me that easily,” he said under his breath as he went back into the hall.
He bent down, and picked her up, slinging her over his shoulder. “I’m glad you’re not very heavy,” he said. He picked up the pillowcase that held her belongings and went down the stairs.
At the bottom, the innkeeper confronted him again.
“You owe me for the damage in there,” he said, pointing to the common room.
Mendleson dug into his pocket and selected a coin at random. He didn’t want to argue, and he needed information. He held the coin up. “Tell me where I can find a healer.”
The innkeeper looked at the coin for a second, then rose up on his toes. “That’s hardly enough.”
“We can stand here arguing about whether it’s enough, or you can tell me where a healer is and take the money. I don’t know if that thing has friends.”
The innkeeper looked at him for a moment before worry overcame him. His eye twitched, and he jerked his head to look at his common room, then back to look at the coin.
“Fine,” he said, and reached out for the coin.
Mendleson held it out of his reach. “The healer?” He wished he felt up to punching the man for wasting his time. As light as Henrietta was, he couldn’t carry her forever. Especially not with his blood leaking all over.
“Down the South road on the left. Her name is Gretta.”
“Thank you,” Mendleson said, and dropped the coin into the man’s outstretched hand.
He carried Henrietta out to the stable and found the horses, but they’d been unhitched from the coach.
He didn’t think he had time to get the coach ready to go, so he draped Henrietta over the back of one of the horses, then lead it out of the stable. He found the South road, and followed it. As he lead the horse, he grew more and more tired and a bit dizzy. He knew he was losing blood. He hoped he would manage to keep enough in him to find the healer.
A great deal of time passed, he thought, before he found the healer. His vision had grown blurry. He knocked on the door, then sat down to wait. He heard footsteps, and the door opened.
“Who’s there?” he heard a female voice say. “Oh, I see.”
She reached down and pulled him up. “You’ve been in some trouble,” she said.
Mendleson couldn’t respond. He was too tired.
“Brode! Brode! Come here, I need your help.” Then quieter, to him, “Come on in, and we’ll get you fixed right up.”
If you’ve read this far, and you just have to read the rest right now, you can get the eBook or a really awesome paperback from the following retailers.
Read Chapter Six of The Sacrifice of Mendleson Moony