Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Into Thornwood || Chapter Three

By Becca

Chapter Three

                   “Mr. Abney!” Dax called out. “I’m going home now, have a pleasant evening!”
He snatched his coat off the peg and set his cap on his aching head. When he tried to leave, the back door wouldn’t budge. These damp nights tend to do that; a swift kick is all it needed-
                  “Dax!” A stout man with graying hair stumbled out of the stock room “Wait! I have one last thing I need you to do.”
   Hand sliding from the doorknob, Dax turned slowly and glanced at the clock. “What would that be?” At this late hour? He finished that thought silently.
                  “I need you to make a delivery. I know it’s not you usual task, but you have driven the wagon before, haven’t you?” 
   Dax’s shoulders slumped. His dreams of hot tea by a crackling fire and soothing conversation doused.
                  “Couldn’t it wait until the morning Mr. Abney?”    
                  “No, no, it has to be today! It’s usually on Gilbert’s route, but he has pneumonia and it’s late- everyone else has gone on home.”
   Exactly what I was planning, Dax grumbled inwardly. He sighed; whatsoever ye do, do it hardily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.
                  “Alright Mr. Abney, where am I to go?”

                  The groceries leapt about in the wagon as the wheel struck another tree root.
                  “If this Mr. Eilert wants his groceries brought to his door, he really ought to do something about his driveway.” 
Dax peered ahead, the narrow dirt path barely lit by the lantern. Wild shadows leapt out of the forest as it swung madly on the pole. Certainly an eerie place; one would get nightmares living here. A chill trickled down his spine, and Dax pulled his collar up around his face. The forest filled with mist, as if the clouds left the heavens and slept here at night. Steadily the horse plodded on, even though the road had all but vanished in the fog.
                  “You can see the road, can’t you old girl?”
                  The chestnut mare pricked up her ears.
                  “I suppose you’ve taken this route many times before. ”
   She snorted, and bobbed her head- tugging at the reins.
                “Alright, are you Diamond?” His eyes searched the darkness behind, “I don’t see anything-“
               The wagon lurched forward as she broke into a gallop, and Dax understood her fear finally, when an unmistakable voice pierced the night.
                 “Wolves! Oh God, please help me!”
  He gripped the reins, trying desperately to steer the frantic animal. There were more of them now; their eyes reflecting the lantern’s glow. The path turned suddenly and oak tree appeared out of the haze. Dax yanked the reins and the wagon veered off, a low hanging branch slashed across his face. Diamond screamed. The wolves ran along side her and one leaped; jaws snapping at her hindquarters.
                “God, please! This cannot be the end. They’ll have no one left.” 
 A thought flashed across his panicked mind like an answer from Heaven.
 He took his jackknife from its pocket and whispered. “Sorry, old girl”. Rising precariously, he leaned out and sprung onto Diamond’s back. 
 He gripped tight to her halter, terrified as the rest of him slide off her sweaty hide. The ground snatched his foot and dragged it along in the dirt. Dax howled as teeth bit into his flesh. Agony tore through his leg. He kicked mercilessly with his free limb until the iron jaws released. Crying out, he pushed off the wolf’s head with his bloodied boot and swung his leg over Diamond’s back. Her muscles coursed beneath him as he drove his knees into her flanks. He flipped the blade open and set to severing the leather straps of the harness.
The first snapped, sending the cart far to the right, throwing Diamond off balance and running over a wolf. As the second strap broke, Diamond seemed to have sprouted wings. 
Dax prayed the month’s worth of groceries would satisfy those beasts, and that Mr. Eilert would understand.
The lantern melted into the fog as they fled into the darkness.  He eased Diamond to a trot and strained to hear any sounds of the wolves. The only noise was his rasping breath and throbbing heart.  
 He fell across Diamond’s neck, exhausted and trembling. It couldn’t be much farther. Diamond turned with the unseen path and there it was - shining like stars in the darkness. Dax smiled in spite of the pain. For the cheery glow of lit windows had never looked so beautiful. They approached the entrance, a massive gate of twisted iron. Amongst the arch of metal vines letters stood out, forming the word Thornwood. 
The outer wall was completely swallowed up by roses, the gatehouse looked abandoned, and beyond that the overgrown garden was desolate; no one in sight. 
                  “Is anyone there? I need to speak to Mr. Eilert.”  The complete silence was unnerving; surely someone lived in Thornwood… who had ordered the groceries each month?
 A screech fractured the stillness as the gate opened. Diamond calmly walked through into a shaft of light, illuminating the mossy stone path. Astonished, Dax watched as it closed behind them- all by itself. Then he turned and saw the grandest mansion ever built. It stood taller then any building he had seen in the city. Turrets rose from each corner, making it look more like a castle then a mansion. Two wings branched off from the main house, disappearing into the rich gardens. A stone staircase led up to the entrance, a veranda flanked with enormous white columns.
 With a grunt he eased himself to the ground, keeping one arm around Diamond as a crutch. Hobbling to the stair Dax grabbed the railing for support and steadied himself. Behind him Diamond had already began helping herself to the plentiful grass. Drops of crimson trailed behind as Dax climbed the weathered stones.
                  “I certainly hope Mr. Eilert will be kind enough to host a injured delivery boy for one night.”  

He was different. Not the scrawny stick of a lad who usually came. This one was older, probably in his twenties. 
He was late.
The deliveries had never come this late before. 
The delivery had not come at all. 
He heard the wolves, and a scream in the night. With the telescope, he saw a lantern blinking through the trees. He was surprised when the man road up to the gate, mostly in one piece from what he could see. 
A tall figure, well built, held his head high… odd for a delivery boy.  The look on his face when the gate opened- he chuckled. The other boy has stopped reacting like that months ago.  This man had a limp and was that blood on the stairs?  The man stepped out of sight when he reached the front door.  
The next window proved a better view. The man was tearing a wide strip of cloth from his shirt, and wound it around his leg. A sharp buzz sounded through the house as the man rang the doorbell.  He waited to see what the man would do. After a moment, the man opened the door.
It had been so long since anyone had come inside… 

                  “Hello?” Dax’s voice echoed mockingly in the cavernous hall. His boot squeaked as he limped across the marble floor, leaving scarlet footprints in his wake.
                  “Mr. Eilert? Is anyone here?”
                  He wandered into the dinning hall, lit by a crystal chandelier. There was a dust covered table recently set for dinner; with a plate heaped with steaming food and a wine glass filled with drink.
He approached slowly, the smell of roast beef reminding him of his empty stomach. Sensing he was not alone, he stiffened; soft foot falls approached. A blur of white leaped on the table, arranged itself comfortably and began devouring the meat. The tension vanished as Dax burst out laughing and the cat gave him a distrustful glare. He pushed it down and took some food from the plate.
                 “If Mr. Eilert lets his cat eat his dinner, he shouldn’t mind if I help myself as well.”
  He tossed the half eaten piece of meat to the cat, and sat down at the table. The food was delicious, but while he chewed the green beans an unsettling question resurfaced in his mind. Where was Mr. Eilert? No one, as fond as they may be of their cat, would set a plate for them at the table. Besides the table was set for one, but they obviously weren’t here. From the looks of the cat’s plump figure, it ate here often.      
Who set the table? Who even made the food? He had not seen a human since leaving the city. Who was the food intended for? Where were they? And why were they not eating it?
 He felt a bit light headed with all these odd circumstances and unanswerable questions…that or loss of blood.
A sip of wine did not help his churning stomach, but it did give him an idea. Taking one more bite of food, Dax rose unsteadily to his feet and peeked into the adjoining room. A fire cast an orange light upon the cozy space. The liquor should be in here… He circled the couch and saw a small cupboard beside the armchair. He knelt down with a wince, and opened it to see a row of glass decanters sitting on the shelf. Choosing one filled with golden amber, he removed the stopper and smelled. The sweet warm aroma was unmistakable; brandy. He stretched out his leg and unwound the bandage, exposing the gruesome fang marks. The decanter trembled in his hand, tipping slowly, reluctantly, over his leg. A trickle of liquid fire poured from the decanter, searing the open wound, and Dax’s howl ripped through the house. The mansion shivered. Vibrations traveled though the rafters like a telegraph line, leaving the chandelier tinkling softly.
                  The decanters clinked as Dax steadied himself on the cabinet and stood with a grimace, sucking in his breath. The bite of brandy lingered. He sank into an armchair by the fire and tried to ignore the burning. The cat stalked in and curled up by the hearth. Drooping lids sunk lower and lower over his eyes as he watched the dancing flames. It wasn’t easy to get around with this hurt leg, and this seemed as good of a place as any to stay the night. Besides what would he do if he wandered the house and found a bedroom? Certainly not sleep; wondering the entire night if Mr. Eilert would mysteriously appear and find him lying in his bed. 
Dax shuddered. 
All he could do now was wait for the morning light. He hoped the wolves would leave him alone then, full from the night’s feast and perhaps sleeping in their dens.  Mr. Abney would be upset when Dax tells him of the incident; the delivery was worth nearly 150 pounds…  Cecile always waited for him to come home from work, with a smile and a whistling teakettle. 
She will be worried.


  1. Very interesting twist having Dax go to the castle :)

  2. Whoa, great chapter! Your description of the wolf attack was so vivid! Wonderful. I love that the brother goes to the castle, instead of the father.


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