The peal of the village church bells just managed to catch Phoebe’s hearing. She paused on the rough track as she heard them, counting out the rings for five in the afternoon. She had one foot still in the sunlight, one just inside the shadow of the forest. She waited as the pealing faintly permeated throughout the valley — bouncing off the stone walls, echoing off the sheep, before being absorbed whole into the massive oaks that made up the forest. They sucked up the ringing, forced it down into the soil, and gave none of it back. Phoebe looked up at the nearest tree, watching it for the slightest sign that it recognised the calling out of the church below. It stood, guarding the entrance to the forest, impassive to the world. It failed to stir.
Month: June 2019
Sally always hated the winter bonfire.
She kissed his head a thousand times but he did not stir from his deep, adolescent sleep. The mother in her wanted to shake him awake and make sure he understood every possible thing. But somehow, she managed to stand back and more like a guardian angel, trust that her love would flow into his dreams.
“Here in the Manangadang Valley we value tradition and authenticity above all else. Our methods and ingredients date back hundreds of years – well our ingredients don’t. They come up on a truck every Tuesday and Saturday from Bellingary. But the way we deal with them draws on ancient methods, honed by generations from all over the Valley and still standing up to scrutiny today.
“What in the name of all that is unholy is that thing?”
Kobal’s leathery chest puffed out with pride.
“This year’s hellhound, master. I stitched it together myself.”
“It’s an abomination.”
“Thank you, master. I’m also quite pleased with this year’s creation.”
Vilstrax closed her eyes and thought happy thoughts while she counted to ten — spit roasted unicorn, the pleasant aroma of brimstone, over boiled Jerusalem artichokes on toast — before again regarding the creature that Kobal had brought before her.
“And what, prey tell, did you stitch this years effort out of?”
“Ah, master,” replied Kobal, giving one of the hellhounds three heads a scratch under the chin. “After reviewing what went wrong last year, and the issues with the year before that, I went with a much more stable breed this year.”
Vilstrax thought back to the year before last. Kobal had stitched together the hellhound from two cocker spaniels and a dachshund. It had not been a creature that inspired fear in the general population. Indeed, one of the smaller humans tried to adopt it. Last year’s hellhound, Vilstrax had to admit, had potential. Kobal had stitched it together out of three kelpies. It was fast, liked to chase and bite its prey, and lasted about four minutes until it tried to chase five rabbits at once. Even as a demon responsible for the unspeakable torment of humans, Vilstrax still internally winced at the memory of that mess. She couldn’t blame Kobal for playing it safe this year, but still, Hell has standards.
“Kobal, what did you use?”
“Labradoodles, master. Quite popular and very intelligent. Hypo-allergenic, too.“ Kobal gave the hellhound a good scratching under the ears. ”Aren’t you a smart girls, yes you are.”
Vilstrax regarded the brick at her feet. Perhaps using Kobal as a baseline, then yes, the hellhound was a smart girls. This was going to be a long ritual, fortunately it was a long night. Best to get on with it.
“Kobal, release the hellhound!”
Kobal squatted down as best as his skeletal frame would allow. He whispered something into each of the hellhounds ears, their eyes lighting up a dull glowing orange as they received their instructions. Finishing, Kobal stood and gave the hellhound room as it began to sniff the air, its three majestically curly heads working in unison as it triangulated an elusive scent. It wasn’t long before the three heads were in agreement and this year’s hellhound took off in pursuit of its quarry.
Kobal and Vilstrax took off after the hellhound. She wasn’t sure what it was hunting other than a human of questionable quality, but the hellhound had locked onto something. It made its way down the small street that ran through the small village that they had selected for this years ritual, sniffing the ground and the air and the bit in between as it went, following the invisible trail that had been left behind. Eventually the hellhound slowed and began following a path up to one of the houses. Vilstrax and Kobal followed it at watched as it began pawing at the door, determined to go in. Vilstrax grinned a grin of too many needle-like teeth as she unsheathed her sword. Kobal pulled the hellhound back from the door as Vilstrax strode up to it, her sword lighting up in flames as she did so. She barely broke her stride as she kicked the door clear off its hinges.
The hellhound rushed into the house, snagging a jacket on on of its heads as it did so. It bounded up the stairs in a clatter as it dragged the coat rack, four coats, and an umbrella as it homed in on its prey. Vilstrax and Kobal followed, the light from Vilstrax’s sword illuminating the way. At the top of the stairs, they found the hellhound scratching away at a door and again, the door flew inwards as Vilstrax barged through.
The hellhound bounded onto the bed within and began nudging and slobbering on the sleeping occupant who awoke to a three headed hound and a face with more teeth than necessary grinning at him. Before he could scream, Vilstrax had the suddenly awake human by the throat and lifted him up until his hair brushed the ceiling. The hellhound began chewing his pillow.
“Kobal, what is this human most foul guilty of?”
Kobal sniffed the human. “Murder, master.” A quick lick of the humans leg, “The murder of millions, master. The worst of the murderers in this village.”
Vilstrax regarded the human in her grasp. It didn’t look like a warrior, a slayer of millions. She looked around the bedroom. She’d been in the bedrooms of those who had slayed millions. This was not one of those. Plus, surely if there had been a murderer of millions up here, she’d still be stuck down below sorting through the immigration paperwork.
“What, praytell, is this human the murderer of millions of?”
With a fingernail the length of a breadknife, Kobal poked the human. “Yesterday he committed genocide, master. He stamped poke and he squished poke and he poisoned poke until there were no poke more poke left poke.”
Decapitated teddy bears, an ice cream van at a playground on a hot day that had no ice cream left but continued to play that damn music in to eternity. Vilstrax was rapidly running out of happy thoughts.
“Kobal, what did this human murder?”
“Those little tiny black creatures, master. That scurry across the earth. He poke murdered them.”
Vilstrax closed her eyes. When she opened them, the fire in them had gone out. She flicked her sword and the fire on that went out as well. She took in the havoc that the hellhound had caused in the bedroom, the pillows were destroyed and it had somehow tangled itself up in the doona. Its purpose finished, it was snoozing happily on most of the bed. She gently lowered the human back onto the bed beside the snoring hellhound, apologising profusely for disturbing his slumber and offering the hellhound as compensation.
Vilstrax threw Kobal through the window just as the sun crested the horizon. He was dust before he the hit the ground. The sunlight shone on the curtains as a breeze gently billowed them, allowing fingers of light to play over Kilstrax’s form as it began to crumble.