There have always been stories… spoken and shared in hushed tones and whispers. Tales told behind locked doors and shuttered windows. They were meant to be warnings. Fables to capture the mind and put fear in the hearts of children. Always remember the offering, they said. A bit of bread and butter is all it took. But the bread must be made by your own hands, the butter by the sweat of your brow. They will know if you cheat. They will curse you and you will be lost. And should it appear to you… never… never ever… travel the Darkling path.
The night was not kind. The wind screamed in rage, driving a curtain of rain sideways. Alex watching out the wide window of his room, imagining knives of bitter cold water ripping and slicing the heat from his flesh. He shivered and sipped from the mug of warm tea trying to drive the chill thoughts from his brain. The trees swayed violently, illuminated by the incandescent crack of millions of volts arcing between unseen clouds.
His mind wandered. The violence of the storm was almost hypnotic. Rain blurred the faint light from the porch giving the world beyond the window an unreal, hazy feel. The shadowed reflection in the glass illuminated by the candle on the windowsill was no longer the chiseled features of youth. His beard, once the golden mane of a lion, now glinted silver even in the yellow glow of flame. His eyes were still clear but had faded from the vivid blue of summer sky to the dark blue gray of oncoming storms. He still marveled at the golden flecks that seemed to shimmer in their depths. People called him fae touched and when they thought he wasn’t listening spoke of the “fairy dust” in his eyes. Alex chuckled, whispering to the darkness and memories “you didn’t even know how right you were.”
It had been a night like this one. With a storm that seemed to want to extinguish all light from the world, save for its own. He had been a young man then. Strong and confident. Flushed with vigor and willing to take on any challenge. “What a fool I was then,” he thought. He had heard the tales growing up just like everyone else. He never believed them.
It was a little past midnight when he stopped the truck to grab a bite to eat. He had thought that it was raining so hard it was probably dangerous to be driving anyway. He smiled at his reflection, remembering the job. Moving cargo at night wasn’t a glamorous job… but driving quiet streets was peaceful and gave him time to enjoy the evening after he woke, before work. He had always liked the solitude of the night… till that night.
Alex closed his eyes, letting his memory take him back. The truck shook slightly from the wind even while parked, as he laid out his lunchtime bounty on the dash. Two sandwiches, a bag of salt and vinegar chips, and a steaming cup of coffee from the thermos. In his mind he saw his hand move as if in slow motion. Fear at what he knew would come next seeming to stretch the moment longer, to try and avoid the truth. His hand touched the sandwich… there was a flash of white in the headlights. His eyes focused through the rain clouded window. It was a girl… no, a lady, her white gown plastered to her body outlining the curves of a perfect figure. The black ringlets of her hair were sodden and clung to her shoulders hiding her face.
His first thought had been one of surprise, what the hell was a young lady doing walking in a storm like this? And in a nightgown, no less? He had immediately been worried for her safety. Rolling down the window the cold rain had stung his face as he leaned out to yell over the cacophony of the storm.
“Hey! You ok? You need a ride?”
No answer… she acted like she hadn’t heard him. She crossed out of the light walking slowly toward the trees at the edge of the field where he had parked. He had cursed softly as he opened the door, knowing he would be drenched in seconds. He had hopped down from the cab, his boots crunched on the wet gravel of the road. He remembered the sound vividly. The sound was etched into his memory as deeply as every other event of that night. He never should have gotten out of the truck. But he could not have known.
The rain had felt like slivers of ice that stung his face. He remembered running. If not for his concern for the lady it may have been almost exhilarating. The gray white of her gown had been a beacon drawing him forward as it wavered in and out of view through the darkness of the storm. He had caught up to her as she was approaching the forest edge. Trees, dark and foreboding, had loomed over them. Lightning had crashed somewhere in the clouds behind him, throwing his shadow for a split second out before him. He had not wanted to alarm the lady so he had slowed to a walk a respectful distance away.
“You’re going to freeze to death out here! I just want to help!” He had shouted trying to be heard above the howling wind and pounding water. She had still walked forward with the same uneasy gait, but now she turned and looked back over her shoulder. Even though the haze of rain and night he was struck by her beauty. A beauty marred by fear and hopelessness. Her eyes had been wide, her face wet from the rain twisted with sorrow as she mouthed the words “darkling… run… fool.”
He remembered the confusion, he didn’t understand. His hand had reached forward… he had only meant to stop her to find out what she had said. Alex shuddered as he watched the storm batter at the window, his hand unconsciously straying to finger the scar across his ribs below his heart. The pain had not been immediate, like some people claim. The first thing he noticed as his fingertips touched her shoulder was the jolting impact that stopped him in his tracks. The second was the two figures that were suddenly on either side of the lady. They had been there all along. How had he not noticed them? They had been dressed strangely, in long black coats that appeared to be velvet. He hadn’t noticed at the time… but thinking back… they had not a drop of water anywhere on them. Then the pain had come. Blazing, incendiary pain spread like molten silver from the blade lodged in his chest.
The figure on the right had hissed “FOOL! The glamor is broken! He will see us and remember!” The second figure, still holding the long knife had jerked the blade free. He remembered the blade. Glittering golden from hilt to tip. Not a drop of blood anywhere on it. He had screamed. Oh how he screamed, agony like he had never felt seared though him into his brain. With the scream came blood. Pouring from the wound and frothing on his lips. The lady had cried out as he fell. Struggling against the figure that held her. Trying to get to him even as she was dragged forward toward the trees. His memory was foggy due to the intense pain, but he remembered four things before sliding into darkness. The first was the knife. As he watched from the cold wet ground as the figure wielding it had tossed it into the air. And it had melted, coming apart into golden dust that seemed almost alive. The wind was howling, but neither the figure nor the dust seemed to be touched by it. The golden dust twisted like…