A Dr. Eldritch Adventure
A NaNoWriMo Novel Entry by Evan M. Nichols
In an ancient midnight forest, a slight breeze pushed ribbons of clouds across the glowing moon. The trees shifted sleepily, rustling gently in the cool night. A tiny, unseen creature scampered across the ground, leaving the rustle of leaves in its wake. For a time the woods sat in comfortable darkness, and just as an obscuring cloud slid across the moon, something moved. Barely seen, hardly more than a ripple of shadow within shadow, a black shape slipped between two pools of darkness. The gentle sounds of the night woods faded, as if the quiet glade held its breath, striving to see who had broken the arboreal solitude.
For a moment, the gauzy clouds thinned, and pale moonlight shone upon a man, motionless at the edge of the trees, but only briefly. As softly as a silken scarf sliding to the floor, he sank to his knees, and once again vanished into the shadows. Crouched in the dark, he scanned his surroundings with practiced eyes and ears for any sign of his quarry.
The solitary figure knelt by a bare patch of earth in the dark forest, silently. Moonlight filtered through the gauzy cloud layer, like a wandering wisp of silk before a dim lamp, throwing the figure into even deeper darkness. Motionless, he faded into the rippled shadows of the midnight woods, until the faintest of sounds brought him to his feet.
He strained to hear another sound, but the black forest was again silent. But this time, it was a quiet of tense waiting. There was something else in the woods, and it knew he was there. The dark did not reveal the tiny smile that played across his lips, nor his hand finding the handle of the blade at his belt. He slowly pivoted, starting the disciplined movements that allowed silent footsteps in the woods, when another soft noise came. From a different direction.
Like a ghost he slid back under the sheltering shadows of the trees, still listening. He held his breath, hoping to catch another of the tiny sounds that could reveal the nature of his stalkers. Heart thudding in his chest, almost drowning out another noise, this time to his left. There was not merely another being in the trees; he was outnumbered.
Shifting his weight ever so slowly, he stepped deeper into the shadow. Rocking from one foot to the other, he moved away from the noises. And then he saw something move.
Across the small clearing the trees cut the moonlight into a jagged jumble of opalescent light and inky shadows. The motion was the smallest change of black to deep gray and back, but it was the unmistakable effect of another figure moving stealthily toward him through the dark.
Sacrificing absolute quiet, he moved faster. Even the gentle footsteps of a dexterous woodsman sounded loud in the midnight silence, but he took a step, and another. The next step was as smoothly executed, but brought a crackle of some twig as it snapped beneath his boot, and it instantly brought sound and movement across the clearing.
Abandoning stealth, he turned and fled. His footsteps thudded quickly as he strode through the night, dodging branches and uneven terrain as best he could in the dark. Behind him he could hear sounds of pursuit; several beings tracked him now. His pace quickened yet again.
Through the trees ahead flickered a dim light, like a faint beacon of hope across a dark sea of danger. His pace quickened to an awkward trot, heading toward the light. The footsteps behind him now were louder, but still almost drowned out by his thudding heart and ragged gasps for air. Were they closer? Did he hear a chuckle, as if his pursuers enjoyed the fear that clutched at him?
He broke from the covering layer of trees just as the silver moon slid from behind its gossamer mask, allowing him to make a lumbering run across the clearing to the tiny fire that was the source of the light. No other people were there, but he dashed to the source of illumination, and turned to face his pursers.
It was not long before they appeared. Three dark figures moved from the shadows like wraiths from a crypt. Where he had gasped for breath, they seemed hardly winded by the chase. They approached, and he could see their faces in the moonlight; wild and leering. It may have been a trick of the light that made their eyes appear to have a faint glow, or perhaps that was merely the effect of a terrorized imagination as the three moved closer to their prey.
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