The pain was excruciating as the churl ran the bayonet through Galen's chest. As Galen looked up he could see right into his attacker’s dull eyes—his teeth bared in a feral grin as the muscles of his neck were pulled taut. The man standing over Galen let out a whooping scream, spraying spittle into his victim’s face. As Galen fell to his right side, the hillbilly used the leverage of the gun to lead his Galen’s body on his back.
Quickly, Galen’s vision grew dark as the man above him appeared only as a silhouette against the dim tree canopy. Suddenly Galen felt his body rising from the ground—but only a couple of inches, as the hillbilly was withdrawing the bayonet from his chest to spear him a second time, this time in the stomach. Every nerve ending in his body felt as if it had been struck by lightning. Galen lay there, unable to summon his brain to will his arms to fight back or his legs to get up and run away. He was powerless to do anything as the hillbilly twisted the blade inside his guts.
And as the light dimmed in his eyes, Galen Altos tumbled headfirst into the infinite night and left this world behind.
Dunburton had gone to relieve himself, leaving Cyril alone in the study. As he waited for the major’s return, Cyril’s feet grew antsy and he soon found himself wandering around the room, examining books on Dunburton’s shelves. He stopped at the glass case holding the shrunken head and gazed upon the peculiar specimen from South America. Suddenly he was overcome with a bizarre sensation, first in his chest and then in his entire body—a sensation that felt as if something inside his very soul was being ripped away. The feeling was strange, as if someone were pulling his insides out of his body. Cyril stood clutching his stomach, before finally finding himself doubled over in complete agony. He could take it no more; as quick as his feet could carry him, Cyril made his way down the hall and through the great foyer, on his way outside. As soon as he smelled the fresh air, his stomach roiled and vomited onto the ground, barely making it off of the front stoop. The purge came in several waves, until Cyril felt there was nothing more possibly left inside him. The next pang made him fear he would expel not just his bile, but his internal organs as well. Doubled over in immense pain, he closed his eyes and let the sick come from his gut and out of his mouth. Afterwards he wiped the ropey strands of mucous from his lips and waited for the world around him to stop spinning.
Cyril's eyes caught sight of the puddle he'd left on the ground. In it were tinges of crimson. He checked the back of his hand where he had wiped his mouth. On it, as well, were obvious streaks of blood. He touched his fingers to his lips to find the same.
What is happening to me? Cyril wondered. It felt like he was dying.
His body suffered from his tireless pursuit. It had been a chore he'd been tasked with during a forgotten period of his existence, a part of his world he had long reckoned over and done: his life as relegated to the same grim duty faced by every simple man—that of filling whatever indeterminate time was left before the sunset with just enough to keep him from going insane. Cyril had managed that quite well since the end of the war. The infantry had, at least until recently, treated him well, or at least enjoyably busily. It was there that he planned to spend the rest of his days until he was called to his final reward—one he figured he had truly earned.
But now to hear Altos was still alive meant the pursuit would begin again. The counter of his service, the coin which he had thought would buy his way to his final peace, had just been reset to zero.
His mind rocked with a sudden burst of anger and, as if struck, Cyril felt a charge shoot through his body. The pain behind his eyes felt like a fire raging between his temples. Cyril brought his fists up to his face and clenched his jaw; the sensation intensified. He let out a scream, and the world around him disappeared in a flash of light.
As Cyril looked up from his pile of sick, he was taken back; he was now in a dense forest, bracing himself against a tall tree. He could feel the rough bark against his hand, and it was this—the tree underneath his touch—that allowed Cyril to realize he had faded back more than 150 years, to the moment that changed everything.
There on the ground—not far from him, as it had first been all that time ago—was the lump of black fur, its paws splayed to the side, its shorn and shattered skull turned at a grotesque angle.
“Don’t touch it!” William Lawton shouted, about to poke the dead beast with the barrel of his musket.
“Nice shot, William,” Lucius said to him, still looking quite stunned—much like the others.
A fourth man examined the animal. “What is it?” he inquired.
“A wolf,” William said. “We must have surprised it.”
And as the words left William’s mouth, Cyril noticed the severed human leg on the ground much—as he had the first time.
Back at the camp, Cyril could not help but notice the unease among the other travelers. The journey across the ocean to the new world, to say the least, had not been easy, and now William Lawton had instructed the search party to keep quiet about what they had found in the woods. The body of the creature was stuck in Cyril’s mind—a stinking beast with matted fur and a shattered mouth full of teeth. It looked like nothing Cyril had ever seen before, living or dead, and William’s explanation that it was a wolf typical to these woods was seemed impossible and utterly terrifying.
With shaking hands, he was attempting to pour water from a cask into a tin cup when a voice came from behind him.
“Take a walk with me.”
Cyril turned to find a young man, Lucius, holding a rifle and looking quite uneasy. “There’s something I’d like to have a word about,” Lucius said quietly.
Beneath their heels, the crunching of twigs and dirt filled the silence between the two men as they walked. Together, they quietly ventured toward the forest surrounding their camp—out of both sight and earshot of the others.
“William asked that nobody else leave,” Cyril said.
“We’re not leaving,” Lucius responded, still appearing nervous. “We’re just checking the perimeter.”
Cyril noted Lucius’s tone was that which normally accompanied a lie. Cyril silently strode next to Lucius deeper into the woods, both men cradling muskets under the crooks of their arms.
“Did you hear that?” inquired Lucius, whipping his head around. “Do you think someone is following us?”
Cyril shook his head. “Perhaps its a roughed grouse.”
Lucius laughed nervously and ran a hand from his forehead to his chin, and then through his sandy brown hair. “That really would be something.”
“So, Lucius, tell me: what is so important to get me all the way out into the woods?”
“I have a grave worry about William Lawton,” Lucius spoke in a hushed and formal voice.
“Lucius, what in heaven’s name are you talking about?”
“Today, when he fired his gun at that thing, it was as if he knew there was something lurking there. It was as if he was,” Lucius hunted for the right word. “Prepared.”
“We found a man ripped apart,” Cyril said. “I, for one, am grateful that William Lawton was vigilant.”
“Do you remember young Anne Walsh?” asked Lucius.
“The woman who vanished from the Majestyk? It was presumed she must have fallen overboard.”
“Ay. Anne confided in me that she believed William Lawton was up to no good. And two morrows later she goes missing? Is that not suspicious to you?”
Cyril considered his friend’s words before answering. “Anne Walsh could have been struck by madness from the long journey. Perhaps she leapt overboard, or was washed over the rail by a wave.”
“Pffft,” Lucius sounded. “She told me that she overheard Lawton silently praying in a language she described as being ‘something other than human.’”
“Lucius, if William Lawton was praying silently, then how did she overhear him?” Cyril gave a coy smile.
“Then what do you make of this?” From his pocket Lucius withdrew a small swatch of black leather. Cyril took it and inspected the triangular piece.
“’Tis the patch belonging to that one-eyed guide Lawton chased away,” Lucius said. “You’re telling me that man left without it?”
Cyril looked up at Lucius, and then back at the patch, which appeared to be stained with blood. “Where did you find this?”
“When we were packing up to leave that morning. After Lawton told us the guide had left, I went into the skirt of the woods to relieve myself. And there, next to a tree, I spotted it. Those bloodstains were fresh and tacky when I picked it up.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” asked Cyril, emphasizing his exceptionalization.
“There are those among us in the party who believe the guide was telling the truth—that these woods are filled with evil. Cyril, I have seen things here—in the dark—which I cannot explain: eyes; movement. Consider Lawton’s insistence that we enter into this valley despite the strict warning of the very man who was hired to bring us here. These things cause me great concern.”
“We don’t have the luxury of wasted time getting to our new land. Winter is upon us.”
“I don’t believe a single one of us will survive until winter if we stay in these woods. A number of the men have asked me to talk to you.”
“What is it you want from me; my support? Because I—”
“No. Cyril, we wish for you to lead.”
“Cyril, you have a quality about you.”
“Lucius, I am far from being a leader.”
“I—we—beg to differ.”
“Why me? Why not you?”
“I am the son of a simple carpenter, not even respected at home. Who do you imagine will respect me here? Cyril, you run from responsibility, but if you chose to, you could lead this flock. You have a quality about you that I am not quite able to—”
And before he could finish, Lucius stopped—his eyes fixed over Cyril’s left shoulder, twenty yards away.
“Do not make a sound,” Lucius whispered.
“What is it?”
“They’re here,” Lucius’s voice chattered, for in the woods, coming toward them, were dozens of black forms on four legs, their yellow eyes fixed.