Rumbling movement deep within the bowels of his bowels tossed Albey against a tree and held him there. What he left at the base of that tree was horrible, truly wretched, and no amount of burnwood needles nor tree bark nor rocks nor fallen wood Albey piled atop the mess could remove the sight from his mind’s eye, the scent from his nose… but he could dry the tears on his cheeks, and so he did.
“I should be grateful,” Albey groaned, clutching his stomach and feeling slightly violated, “that there was no blood.”
With the intent of driving himself Mad Albey scoured the endless archives of his mind to find something negative about this ordeal he went through, anything at all, but came up empty.
“There was no blood,” the Mad Poet repeated. He chuckled. “There was no blood.”
The feelings of violation slowly slipped away as he continued walking. One brave denizen out of the many who followed him that morning went to investigate the mess the ‘man left at the foot of that tree; it died after the first sniff and was carried off immediately by a diving bird of prey who flew too fast to notice the stink. Such is the way of the woodlands.
Oblivious to the entourage behind him, Albey came at last to the river. He knelt down and dipped his hands into the current, scrubbed them together furiously, then brought them out and waited a fair amount of time for the water’s flow to carry away what he washed off. He smelled his hands during this interim, and they smelled fine enough, but he dared not taste of the water which coated them. He would wash again two more times before allowing himself to drink from his cupped hands, and when he finally drank, the water was fine. No indication of soil, neither of dirt nor of ‘man.
“I should eat again,” he mumbled, looking at the fish. A shudder. “Mayhap there’s something in the cabin… I’m not sure I could take the digestion, let alone the taste. My senses – and internal plumbing – have been abused enough this morning.”
But yet like the sun he did not rise, not quite yet, merely sat there at the bank of the river waiting for time to pass. Albey was completely exhausted. He could have returned to the cabin then, but it would have been a miserable walk. It would be miserable no matter when he went, but mayhap if he closed his eyes and allowed his body to rest for a moment, to process the water flowing through his voided pipes, mayhap it wouldn’t be quite as miserable.
Albey rested his hands on his knees and closed his eyes. Breathed slowly, deeply in through his nose, out through his mouth. Listened to the forest as it slowly began to wake: the humming insects, the chattering rodents, the chirping birds and the flapping of their wings. It occurred to Albey that the endless wood of The Hillside Commons did not feel quite so endless anymore, despite his being in an acre so unfamiliar. He sat and breathed now in the very same wood where The Lodge stan–… once stood, before it was burned shortly after the daemonic Gobon came knocking. That fiend certainly had something to do with Albey’s waking up here, he must have, he… well, he’s long gone now. If Gobon were here he’d have made himself present at this point; this would be the third day of Albey’s tenure in the burnwood forest.
The thoughts. Dreadful, intrusive thoughts. Too many thoughts clouded his mind, his meditation was being ruined. Albey stopped up the spout. They drifted away one by one. The calm settled in.
Breathe in, hold.
Breathe out, breathe in.
Hold, breathe out.
The wheel of ka spiraled forever forward.
Breathe in, hold.
Breathe out, breathe in.
Hold, breathe out.
Everything was as it should have been.
Breathe in, hold.
Breathe out, breathe in.
It came to him in slow motion; from deep within his mind the Mad Poet heard first the dry and brittle bark breaking apart, then the deaded wood beginning to give underneath, then the snapping and shattering of every individual fibre within the branch as the weight descended upon it and cleaved it messily in two. A vision came to Albey during the previous day’s meditation atop the falls, a vision which seemed to pull his soul from his body and take it on a voyage to somewhere else, somewhere else entirely, but on this day Albey’s being sat firmly grounded in his body. On this day he was able to hear the denizen approaching from behind him, and on this day he would not be pushed into the water.
On this day, the Mad Poet would be pushed no longer.
Using his hands to add lift, Albey sprung himself up into the air and spun around, putting the river to his back before landing. His brow was furrowed, teeth bared, hands balled into fists and ready to swing on who- or whatever his assailant might be, but when Albey landed on his feet this all fell off like a mask when the string breaks. There in the misty dawn of the burnwood forest Albey locked his brown eyes with the blood red rubies of a lone gray wolf.
The beast did not charge at him, did not lower to the ground as if to pounce, did not snarl out a threat nor howl to summon the rest of its pack. It merely stood there staring at Albey, and Albey stared right back. Neither of them blinked for a short time, then the wolf faltered. Albey took a step back but the wolf did not move. Were Albey not meditating only a moment ago he might have lost his cool and acted foolishly, might have screamed out and backpeddaled right into the cold river. He was calm, though. Alert. Attentive to the blowing of the wind through the trees.
“Hello,” Albey said, feeling foolish for speaking to an animal as though it were a creature such as ‘man. The wolf merely blinked at the Mad Poet. He could hear it breathing through its snout. “I mean you no harm, beast; I find your kind to be quite graceful, in fact. Were you to stand aside I would go my separate way, and you’d need not see me again.”
But the wolf did not move, only blinked. Only breathed. Only kept its ears pointed alertly to the sky.
Albey hazarded a step towards it then, and that’s when the wolf lowered its head and growled. Albey stepped back and the growling stopped, but the forest hound’s head stayed perched lowly above the needled floor.
“Where is your pack, I wonder?” Albey wondered aloud to the wolf. “It’s not often your kind walks alone.”
The gray wolf did not answer the Mad Poet, only stared at him watchfully like a sentry posted in a high tower may watch a foreign merchant approaching the fort.
“And how did you get on my island?” Albey continued to question, if only to make himself feel at ease. “Wolves do not often swim, the water soaks your fur and weighs you down. A slow wolf is one who gets left behind by its pack.”
Staring at him squarely, the wolf made not a noise.
“We cannot stand here into eternity, wolf,” Albey then challenged. “I mean you no harm, I want only to return to the clearing. Will you allow me to pass?”
Dark red eyes, a tortured soul brooding beneath the surface.
Albey, keeping his eyes on the wolf, took a step to the side. The wolf growled but did not move, and so Albey took another step. And another. And another. The wolf continued to growl and snarl, baring its teeth and stabbing the ground with its claws, but it did not close the distance between itself and the ashy ‘man. Nor did it pivot its body in tandem with Albey, and after his tenth pace, Albey learned why: the wolf had a dangling back right leg, the paw of which would not touch the ground.
“You’re hurt,” said Albey, taking a tentative step forward.
The wolf snarled viciously, spraying saliva unto the burnwood needles, but did not move. So Albey stepped closer, and closer, and closer yet, and then something remarkable happened. Though the wolf still barked its vicious bark, it refused to bite; the gray wolf began to retreat towards the river, hopping unsteadily on its back left leg.
“What in…?” But it must be. “You’re afraid of me.”
The gray wolf held its unblinking leer on the Mad Poet with its crimson red eyes, moving clumsily away.
“Your fur does not appear to be soaked,” Albey said, stopping his advancement. “You must have crossed through the river before the moon rose… but why?”
The wolf, leaning then against the trunk of a sturdy tree, stopped snarling. It let rip a long howl then stood straight, locking eyes with the ashy ‘man again.
“Why do you fear me, wolf?” asked the ashy ‘man.
I do not fear you, the wolf thought in feelings, for surely he knew this ashy ‘man would not harm him – were that the case it would have happened already – but still he did not wish to keep company with the ‘man. The lone wolf was separated from his pack by terrible creatures, furred things which wielded rocks and other tools, which had the form and movements of ‘man, but they were not ‘mans. They were evil, terrible, their faces the homely maws of fear itself, and it was they the gray wolf feared. It was they who slaughtered the wolf’s pack and broke his leg with a toss’ed stone as he escaped, it was they who WHOOPed and hollered in promise to finish their dirty work. No, it was not this ‘man whom the wolf feared but the coming of his own Death; a wolf exiled shall die alone with its wounds, blood or no blood spilled. It wished only for the ‘man to go away, but still the ashy thing came forward. I do not fear you, ashy ‘man. I wish only to not be seen.
The wolf turned and began to limp away, just as fast as it could. Albey stopped and watched it go. At the bank of the river it looked back over its shoulders, as if hoping the ashy ‘man would be gone so it would not have to cross back through the water to find the solitude it so sorely sought, but the ashy ‘man stood his ground, watching the wolf with questioning eyes. He heard the wolf whine to itself, then watched it dip into the river and swim gracefully across, moving much easier through the drink than it could on dry land. Water flew in a cyclone when the wolf shook its fur out; the beast did not look back as it hobbled away.
The Mad Poet, his mind clear and breath steady, did not look back as he returned to the cabin.
This has been the second subchapter of the sixth chapter of The Face of Fear, a novel about bigfoot written by the writer in Untitled Bigfoot Project. Here is everything you need to know about it:
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
The Hillside Commons has a Facebook page. Here’s that.
If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. From this day on, we move forever forward~