For the second time in a week, I come over Shatter Hill at midnight and see fire at the crossroad below. Not an unusual event in itself, everyone knew it was the quickest way in and out of Hell. But the past two occasions had happened during Holy week, and everyone knew it was frowned on to travel when angels were about. Not that anyone had seen hide nor feather of the Blessed Folk in a long time, but that was another issue.
I pulled on the reigns and the mule whinnied before stubbornly stopping, we both sat there looking down as the last embers flickered and died, leaving a prone figure face down in the dust. The mule whinnied again, eager to be off, but the situation intrigued me and once intrigued I liked to see a thing through. A man who had no right travelling the night road at this particular time had dropped by, it was my duty to find out why. I clicked my tongue, the mule looked over its shoulder, a quizzical look on its face; and with a snort it jerked forwards.
The man was tall and lean, dressed in a uniform that was tattered and blackened in places. I knew a soldier when I saw one, I’d been one, still was. This one was different, his skin grey, mottled. His skull totally hairless, one hand was under his body, but the other was stretched out; the hand looked withered and only hand three fingers. The mule sniffed and then whinnied, stamping one hoof on the hard packed ground. I’d learned long ago to listen to the reactions of animals; they had a sense beyond the norm. But I was committed and swung myself off the seat and walked over to the man.
Kneeling beside the body there was a peculiar smell, sweet, cloying, like spoiled meat. It reminded me of the aftermath on a battle field; the dead piled high, carrion filling the sky. I reached out and pushed the body over, he was light as a feather. I stepped back and will admit I was surprised, not a bad trick as usually nothing catches me out. Stretched out looking up the man was stranger than I could have imagined. The head was misshapen, long, stretched almost. The features flattened; the nose just two slots between the eyes and mouth. The eyes were big, way too big for the head. It gave a groan, the mouth just a line, no lips and no teeth from what I could see.
“Hnnxshhuiio…” I didn’t understand what it was saying, which was strange?
“What you saying there fella?” The eyes flickered open, black pools, all pupil. I crouched down next to it, reached over and placed a hand on the chest, feeling around. I’d reached its abdomen before I got a rhythm. “You a long way from home?”
It opened its mouth, the eyes wavering around, trying to focus. “Where…”
“That’s better, got the beat of you now.” I took my hand off and sat back on my haunches. “You fell, not sure where from cos I not seen the like of you before.”
“Earth?” I looked up and down the length of it. “You ain’t like nothing that walks there.”
“Attacked…had to defend ourselv…” The eyes drooped and its head fell sideways. It was normal for any traveler coming through to be disorientated, but this was different. I suppose it not being of the Earth the reaction was different, thing is, if it’s not from there then how had it come to be here?
I looked back at the mule; it looked at me with those sad eyes then down at whatever our new friend was.
“Can we keep it?”
“It ain’t supposed to be here.”
The mule looked up into the eternal darkness above.
“What if more come?”
I smiled; what indeed. The crossroads were meant only for humans, but seemed someone had found a way to send something different through. What was their intention, to threaten us, to force us into a reaction? Who knows, it’s been so long I’d forgotten how humans think.
“We’ll have to take him in.” I looked back at the mule, he had the right of it; this would have to be reported.
“Aye, suppose you’re right.” I got up and headed to the back of the wagon and grabbed the edge of the tarpaulin. “He ain’t gonna like it though.”
I flung the tarp back; another body lay on the bed of the wagon. This was the one from a few days ago, he at least was human, but looking at him properly I realized I’d missed before that he too was in uniform, his too tattered and blackened. I looked past the mule at the prone figure and then back at the one in the wagon and whistled. I shook my head as I walked over and picked the figure up; walking back I looked the mule in the eye.
“If they’re fighting a war up there; there’ll be hell to pay.”
The mule brayed with laughter.
All Rights Reserved © Philip J Norris April 2013