A Light in the Dark
by Brendan Burton
Brendan Burton is an HVAC technician by day and a wannabe writer by night. If you enjoyed his story, check out his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/thefightingwriter
More TTTV stories by Brendan Burton
Aaron examined a cloven hoofprint the size of a dinner plate in the white light of the full moon. The track was deep. Fresh. The demon’s close, he thought.
A tremor tickled the length of his spine. Gooseflesh rippled along his arms. Tonight, he thought, absolutely certain.
He reached up to caress a knotted scar running down his right cheek- a memento of another demon from another time. Kill it, bring back the head, and secure my membership in the Corp.
He ground his teeth. What form? Aaron wondered. A wolf, a tiger, or something… worse. His heart thundered. Legs trembled.
Get ahold of yourself! He patted his cheeks with his fingertips. Remember your training.
He closed his eyes and drew a deep breath. Stop. His heartbeat steadied. He released the air from his lungs and his frayed nerves smoothed.
Look. Aaron scanned the woods. Evergreens clustered thickly and their canopies clawed at the star choked heavens. Moon beams twinkled through the foliage above and a cabal of shadows waltzed along the ground.
Listen. His ears perked. A light breeze stirred the pines. Their trunks groaned. Needles rustled. But the absence of sound was more important. No owl hooted, no racoons or possums scurried through the brush, even the crickets were silent. A sure sign.
Smell. He sampled the air. Above the scent of resin and decayed leaves, a pungent musk dominated. The stink of a demon. So close.
Aaron’s heart jumped. There.
He unslung his yew longbow from its hip sheath and stalked forward. Bushes obstructed his path and roots sought his ankles, but he avoided the hazards with the unconscious ease of long practice. Beaver skin moccasins dampened his footsteps. He moved quite as a whisper.
Aaron slipped between a pair of small dogwoods and entered a glade filled with lush, knee-high shoots of saw grass. Thirty yards ahead, at the center of the field, a massive silhouette- black as pitch- stood basking in the lunar light.
He stopped; eyes wide. Big as a cave bear, he thought, and bit his bottom lip. Best take the shot now. Hit hard and fast while its back is turned.
He lifted his left arm behind him and slid an arrow from the quiver on his back. Aaron knocked the aspen shaft. The missile’s steel tip glinted in the moonlight. He drew his longbow’s string. His arms shook. Don’t miss. For the love of the gods, don’t miss. He took a step to widen his base.
Crack! His foot crushed a fallen branch. Aaron flinched. He released the bowstring. The projectile sailed wide and landed in the woods across the glade with a dull thump.
The monster stirred.
Aaron’s breath caught. He looked over his shoulder. His bloodless fingers fumbled in his quiver. Another arrow… before the beast kills me! He pulled a shaft loose, snapped his head around, and locked eyes with the fiend. Closed the distance in a heartbeat, he thought.
The demon bore the guise of a stag. Four slender legs, a sinuous body with sable fur, and a head crowned with three pairs of immense, snow-white antlers. Its silver eyes studied him. Pupilless orbs brimming with a faint, internal fire.
Beautiful, he thought with a shiver, lovely, and majestic, and wrong… dreadfully wrong. Everything he had learned at the academy- all he had seen with his own eyes- had proved demons to be predatory abominations. Rats, snakes, spiders, every horror from man’s nightmares, but not a deer … never something so wonderful.
He stood frozen for a moment. The buck watched him, silent and unmoving. Why doesn’t it charge? Aaron nocked arrow to longbow and drew the string to his cheek, but hesitated to fire.
The buck lifted its head. Its nostrils flared.
Aaron’s arms twitched. What’s it–
The beast opened its mouth and the light of the moon and stars were sucked down its maw like wisps of steam. Darkness washed over Aaron in a tide. He couldn’t move. His body floated without weight or direction and all his senses deadened.
What in the seven hells is this? His heart pounded in his chest and a scream welled in his throat that his lips could not give voice.
A point of searing illumination erupted against the void. He winced. Six antlers, the crowning horns of the stag, birthed an aura of brilliance that enveloped him. Gentle warmth caressed his skin, passed through him, and continued across the abyss beyond.
Incredible, he thought.
The light faded. Once more, he was left in the dark…but not completely. A flickering corona surrounded him. Where’s that coming from? Some feeling had returned to his body. His arms and legs would not obey, but his eyes could move and his head would turn.
Aaron peered down. An iridescent fire burned in his breast, each tongue of flame a new hue or shade in an infinity of color. He gasped. Mt body. The features were there- four limbs, clothes, bow and arrow- but they were translucent, ill-defined wisps like silver fog. I don’t understand…
Lesser pearl gleams began to kindle around him. First one, then a dozen, then hundreds of sparks hopped, skittered, and dashed in panoply of radiance. Alive, he realized, they’re alive!
A greater flame, larger than the specks, but smaller than his own, scurried past his foot. The ghost features of a rodent superimposed on the orb. A field mouse?
Fear and hunger burrowed into his thoughts. A consuming worry for squalling pups in a distant den. His vision shifted, shrank. A forest of grass stalks surrounded him on all sides. The scent of seed, pine, and man was sharp in the air. I am the mouse, Adrian thought with wonder. Marvel of marvels, I’m the –
The world changed again. His intellect morphed as a thousand, thousand experiences crammed into a heartbeat.
He was a racoon nursing her mewling kits in the hollow of an oak tree…an arboreal weaver reading the vibrations of her web strings…a red vixen stalking the undergrowth…the gray owl flying silently overhead, eyes scanning the glen for prey.
These lives, and many more, bled through him. Became his own.
Too much, Aaron thought as his mind split. It’s –
He searched for seeds under the twisting branches of a mulberry bush. Nearby twigs rustled. Horror twisted his guts. He tried to flee. Needle teeth pierced his flesh. He was lifted from the ground. Jerked back and forth. His spine snapped.
Not me, he thought with a grimace, wasn’t –
He swam amongst reeds and moss, dodging beams of moonlight lancing through the water. A long shadow moved to his right. Vacuum force sucked him back. Snap! All was dark. He thrashed, but was held in place, trapped. The air was gone, he could not breath. His body spasmed, weaker and weaker, until movement ceased.
No, no, no! Aaron attempted to build a barrier, to separate from the horrors that engulfed him, but his deaths continued. Blood oozed from his left nostril.
Please, he begged, stop!
A pillar of obsidian fire erupted in front of him. The power of the black inferno rushed forward, banishing all the other sparks of life and engulfing Aaron. An immense, alien mind intertwined with his own. Clashed with, and subjugated his will.
Another consciousness peered from behind his eyes. The veneer of reality unraveled. All the flames of the world swirled together in a holocaust without beginning or end.
I … understand, Aaron thought, gathering the last, splitting fragments of his essence. His body trembled. Please. Fingers slipped. No more … I don’t want to kill you.
The pull of the other souls drug him under. His hand dropped. The bowstring released. Arrow flew.
The vision collapsed in a cascade of shattered glass. Reality returned. The demon sprawled in the saw grass, an aspen shaft in its throat.
Aaron dropped his bow. His knees buckled. He curled into a ball, buried his face in his arms, and wept.