From The Black Talisman:

 

It was a dark night.

 

The clouds completely obscured the stars, and the full moon was prevented from shedding its light onto the needful earth far below. Around the edges of the Great Forest various creatures were engaged in their nocturnal pursuits. Foxes hunted, bats flew, field mice scampered, badgers rustled, hedgehogs crawled and owls hooted.

 

Towards the centre of the forest, though, the foliage became more dense. Even if the light from the moon and stars had been visible, it would not have been able to penetrate the canopy of tightly packed trees. Thick creepers, vines and thorny brambles covered the ground, and the soil was firm and hard.

 

Burrowing and hunting were difficult here. It meant that animals stayed away, with the resultant quietness being both unnerving and menacing.

 

A single, narrow dirt track was the only route through this unappealing location and it was almost never used. Being aware of the many myths and legends surrounding this place, and dark tales of evil deeds within its gloomy depths, the local people preferred to take the much longer journey round the edge of the forest rather than go through it. From time to time, a few souls had been brave enough, or foolish enough, to choose this shorter route, yet even they would only consider embarking on the journey during the daytime, having first taken into account the amount of daylight remaining. No one wanted to be in the centre of the Great Forest after nightfall.

 

In the centre of this foreboding, overgrown weald was a clearing. How it had come to be there, no one knew. Certainly, no one in the locality would ever have cut down any of the trees in this God-forsaken place, even if they had had reason to do so. Normally, the clearing would be empty and deserted, especially at night.

 

But this night was different.

 

Tonight, in the centre of the clearing, a large hole had been dug which had then been filled with an opaque, foul-smelling sludge. The only light came from a few lanterns atop wooden poles, held aloft by those in attendance.

 

The gathering, of about twenty or so, began to sway as the cloaked leader raised her hands and, in a low pitched voice with cracking tones, began to chant.

 

Anubin! Anubin!

Del vorna tha’ pertunadek!

Anubin! Anubin!

Feltano abrik tun.

 

The chant was repeated, over and over as, one by one, the other attendees gradually joined in. The volume rose as the chanters continued to sway from side to side. As they lifted their arms, and raised their voices, some of their cowls fell back, revealing hairless heads with diseased, discoloured skin, and wizened, deeply wrinkled faces. Bloodshot eyes rolled in their sockets. There were missing teeth, dry, cracked lips, pustules and boils, and gnarled joints.

The cacophony from this coven of crooked crones became steadily louder and more intense, as the repeated chant created a hypnotic, trance-like state. Then, eventually, and little by little, the words of the incantation became less distinct, gradually dissolving into a pulsating, wailing moan. As the volume slowly diminished, the leader lowered her arms and reached inside her cloak, removing a dirty black linen bag. As she opened it and held it up for all to see, there was a gasp of anticipation from the assembly, followed by a moment of hush as she held it above the pool of stinking slime. Then, slowly, she began to tip it. As the contents of the bag neared the edge, the chanting of the witches resumed.

 

Anubin! Anubin!

 

She gave the bag a sudden shake, and an assortment of limp entrails and offal tumbled and sploshed into the pit. The chanting was louder now.

 

Anubin! Anubin!

 

Another of the hooded hags came limping forward with a long wooden pole and began to stir the odorous mixture. The wailing chorus rose to a hideous shriek.

 

Anubiiiiiiiiiin! Anubiiiiiiiiin!

 

Voices screamed. Arms waved. Bodies swayed. The witch with the stirring pole released her grip, but the pole continued to move of its own accord, tracing a figure-of-8 pattern through the sludge. The volume reached an ear-splitting climax. Then, in an instant, silence fell, as all eyes turned to regard the surface of the pool once more. The pole continued to move, quietly, almost serenely. All those gathered there waited, expectantly.

More stirring.

 

More waiting - and then a sharp intake of breath from the watchers as, with a hissing sound, a small cloud of grey mist began to arise from the stench-ridden liquid. The cloud grew larger. The chanting began again...

 

(C)Richard Storry. All rights reserved

 

From Order of Merit:

 

Marcus watched as his father took control of the situation and felt a glow of pride. His dad glanced across to him and gave one of those little winks that Marcus had always liked. He smiled back, but then his eyes suddenly widened in horror.

 

"Dad, look out!"

 

But it was too late. That one moment of distraction was all it took.

 

The pistol, looking small in Luther's large hand, coughed just once, and Dave Hyde staggered, a look of surprise on his face, and grabbed the edge of the counter before slowly sliding to the floor. Customers screamed and dived under tables.

 

"NO!"

 

Marcus was out of his seat and racing towards Luther in a blind rage. He leapt onto the man’s back and landed several punches, which appeared to have no effect whatsoever. Luther roared and spun round, dislodging his assailant and delivering a well-placed roundhouse punch which sent Marcus sprawling to the floor in a daze. As he tried to regain his senses, he looked up to find himself staring straight into the muzzle of the pistol.

 

"Luther, don't do it, please don't. He's only a boy!" Bruce begged from behind the counter.

 

Luther didn't move. His hand was steady and his face was grim.

 

"Luther, please!"

 

Luther’s lip curled into another sneer, and Marcus saw the man’s knuckle whiten as he began to squeeze the trigger...

 

(C)Richard Storry. All rights reserved

 

From The Cryptic Lines:

 

The night it all began there was nothing foreboding to see - at first.

 

But the damp, clinging atmosphere was thick and heavy.

 

Had you been standing there trying, in vain, to see through the impenetrable darkness with lashing rain repeatedly stinging your face, the cold combined chills of uncertainty, fear and danger were unmistakable. As your torch light flickered and died you would have wrapped your cloak tightly about you as the wind howled, and peered as deeply as you could into the surrounding gloom and murk hoping that, somehow, you might glimpse a way by which you could leave this place with its unbearable sense of dread.

 

And, as you resigned yourself to a seemingly interminable wait for the blessed return of the sun's illuminating rays, the thick darkness would have been dispelled suddenly as a tumultuous thunder clap tore the heavens apart and a simultaneous flash of lightning broke through, revealing, for just a fleeting moment, the grey forbidding edifice of Heston Grange.

 

Through the maelstrom you would have seen, but only for a second, the crumbling edges of what had once been proud and well defined masonry. Gargoyles, almost shapeless now, staring with sightless eyes guarding what had once been a magnificent dwelling. The large, unwelcoming arched oak door, with a rarely used rusty bell-pull to one side, standing defiantly closed.

 

And, currently at quite some distance behind the house, when the screeching wind momentarily ceased its violent assault, you would have heard the churning and swirling of the huge oceanic waves crashing and tearing into the base of the cliffs, slowly but surely eroding the rock away and bringing Heston Grange inch by inch nearer to the edge.

 

(C)Richard Storry. All rights reserved

 

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