Horla Fiction (June 2021)

 

THE TREYBRIDGE HORROR

by MICHAEL SUMMERLEIGH

WHEN the weather was fine, Mary Birks walked out along the Pratchett Road that ran sort of north-south a mile east of the village. She was one of the few residents at Restful Beeches who didn’t use a walker or a cane, and while she knew she would never break any land speed records for the mile or so she insisted on walking every day before lunch, she prided herself on her resolve. The four thousand or so steps it took her to do the half mile out and back again came with a price—her arthritis was an ever-present reminder of her seventy-eight years—but she refused to acknowledge the twinges in her hips and knees, and once she’d even written to the Bayer people to tell them how their two tablets a day kept her going strong.

With the coronavirus seemingly loosening its hold on the rest of the country, she was grateful not to be wearing those dreadful masks every time she left her tiny little two-room suite at the Beeches; that November had begun with some lovely Indian Summer temperatures well into the sixties had put a spring in her step, and on this particular morning she’d celebrated with a new scarf round her short-cropped grey hair and a light cardigan sweater rather than the woollen coat she wore once the weather turned towards winter.

The morning had begun bright with sunshine, but now, approaching noon, as Mary turned at the big willow tree at the halfway point of her walk, started back to Restful Beeches for an highly anticipated lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches, ripple potato chips and tomato soup with rice, some clouds had come along to dull the day. A wind started the treetops on either side of her to tossing back and forth in the breeze, made rustling sounds as if trying to speak without a voice. Mary shivered, and then she laughed.

“It was a dark and stormy day,” she said aloud, looking up at the clouds that had crowded into the sky. “Mary Birks headed for home…” 

She looked back along the low rise and fall of the roadbed back the way she had come, noticed something moving slowly towards her…stopping…

Mary Birks shivered again…thought she could see it crouching low to the ground… lifting up its head to sniff the air…

She never bothered with her prescription eyeglasses when she went walking, so whatever it was…a black and muddy white blur in the middle of the road…it was… unsettling…

And then it started moving towards her, and suddenly Mary was as terrified as she had ever been in her life. She turned. Started to run. Except walking steadfastly was all she could really manage. She tripped and fell and tried to get back on her feet but there was a sudden blood-curdling pain in her right hip and she could hear it coming closer and closer and then the pain in her hip became nothing compared to the teeth closing around her leg…the sound of her skin sizzling…and the tar-and-chip pavement scaling the flesh from her face as she was dragged into the woods.

 

                                     *                      *                        *   

 

 “…Mary never misses grill-cheese Fridays…”

Restful Beeches was the unlikeliest place on the planet for an uproar of any kind, but Mary Birks was well loved by everyone who lived there, simply because she refused to give in to the advancement of her own old age, and spent most of her waking hours being a booster for everyone else at Restful.

“When was the last time you saw her?”

“This morning…on her way out for her walk…”

 

                                                         TWO

 

Randy Higgins shook his head and climbe

d back into his truck. He knew from past experience that Scrambler would not be heading back in his direction for a good long while, but the dog’s collar had a tracker on it so he had just belted himself in and headed for the other side of the river, trying to parallel the track his dog had taken after haring off on the heels of a ten-point buck.

He crossed the highway, ran north and then turned left onto the swamp road running east-west just south of the village. Half a mile in he got a signal from Scrambler’s collar and started to crawl along the roadbed…pulled over and charged on foot down into one of the newly-cleared entries to a half dozen lots of riverfront property. 

He heard the dog belling from half a mile south of him…could hear him in the stag’s wake if he stopped long enough to listen…

And then Scrambler howled, an endless agonised wailing that echoed through the cold stillness of the afternoon sunshine, writhing its way through the new-made skeletons of the trees, crawling over the broken shadows on the leaf-strewn forest floor.

Randy Higgins realised he was listening to his dog die…

 

                           *                                  *                                  *

 

“…He’s been gone for almost three hours. He took off after one of the dogs but that was in daylight and he’s not answering his phone and…”

Mandy Higgins looked at the cell phone in her trembling hand…tried to remember the name of the constable who’d answered her call…tried not to make inarticulate sounds to express the measure of unease crawling up and down her spine.

“He’s not like that,” she said, now trying not to sound hysterical. “He doesn’t just not answer his phone. Not since the baby. Please…”    

“Ma’am I don’t want to sound like your concerns aren’t important, but three hours… y’know…any number of normal stuff could be the reason…”

“No you don’t understand,” she said, and now she couldn’t keep herself from sobbing out loud. “Randy would never do this…” 

 

                                                       THREE

 

Chasseur toyed with his mug of coffee and watched the small army of his people through the ancient diamond panes of the taproom in Treybridge House. The village had stood beside the banks of the river for over three centuries, and the inn had been around for most of them. The glass had melted with time, so the uniformed men and women who mobilised outside on the high street seemed like caricatures of themselves, bottom-heavy clay creatures stumping about in the first scatterings of snowfall. Chasseur shook his head, knowing the sudden rapid advance of winter would only make his job that much more difficult, slow the investigation down enough to make for yet one more “black mark” in his dossier.  He heard the door to the street open and close, the crackle of a shoulder-com, felt the rush of the cold air from outside swirl around his feet.

Lieutenant…?

Oui,” said, responding in kind to the French pronunciation. “Qu’est-ce que c’est…?”

Corinne Blanchefleur stood to a casual attention before him, her head to one side still half-listening to updates on the progress of the operation. Though little more than half his age, she was his second-in-command, no doubt only a few years at most from taking his place in the investigative unit.   

“The air support should be here in about half an hour,” she said quietly. “We’ll be moving out in a few minutes to keep up with them once they get here.”

She was less than tall, round-faced, dark-haired and dark-eyed in her late twenties, and somewhat more “solid” than his personal preference in women…but it was her proven fearlessness and utter reliability that he found most attractive, and her competence was such that her preferred Amerind status in the RCMP hierarchy…that made her the threat to his own…was something he found himself working hard to overlook more often than not. 

“All five teams are ready?”

“Yes, sir,” she said, nodding. “You and I will be leading two of them.  Marchand, Chen and Bailey will head the other three.”

Chasseur nodded, looked down at his coffee and decided to leave it where it was rather than piss it away in the woods an hour from now. He got out of his chair, slipped into the light parka lying on the one beside it.

Lieutenant,” she said again. He turned back to her, silently cursing at the stab of  annoyance he always felt when she somehow managed to remind him that his rank was not commensurate with the almost thirty years he’d put in. “Do we know what we’re looking for, sir?”

“Three people and five animals have gone missing in this area in the last two weeks,” he snapped.

“I meant the cause for them gone missing, sir.”

“Then I have no idea.”

He zipped up his parka and moved towards the door, realised she was still standing beside the table.

“Is there anything else, Blanchefleur?”

The tone in his voice made her hesitate, but only for a moment.

“I just thought if you did know it would be important for all of us to know as well.”

He realised she was asking with the safety of their people in mind, annoyed once again because it had not occurred to him to ask the same question when he had received the order to deploy north to investigate the disappearances.

“I’m sorry,” he replied, “but I’m as much in the dark as anyone else.”    

“Isn’t it strange, though.”

“Isn’t what strange?”

“That they all have disappeared without a trace.”

“Yes, that is so.”

He could see she had more on her mind than that one question, met her gaze and waited.

“There are almost four dozen of us here, sir…and the air support.”

He nodded slowly. “Ca, c’est aussi très étrange. That, Blanchefleur, also is very strange…”

 

                                                       FOUR

 

The truck found just off the road on the edge of the swamp had held no answers, no clue as to what had happened to Randy Higgins or his hunting dog.  Faint footprints frozen into the ground indicated he had gone into the swamp, but that was all.

Now Chasseur cursed under his breath, softly so there was no chance anyone would hear him.  He could feel his legs slowly going numb from the knees down as he slogged through the morass, high-stepping to avoid tripping over unseen branches and tree-roots. The hip-waders kept him dry but did nothing for warmth. Though still on the morning side of noon, the day was full-fledged grey sliding into winter, a heavy cloud cover moving in from the north on a bone-chilling wind that promised garbage weather in the near future. The forecasts had not been promising either; depending on how hard the wind decided to blow, they could expect serious snowfall in the next three days. 

There were a handful of his people within hailing distance as they quartered their search area. He could hear them, mentally keeping tabs on their positions flanking him as they waded through thickening skims of ice broken by the upthrust limbs of downed trees and the leafless skeletons of the upright dead and dying, all creaking agony as the wind tore at them, battered them in a monochrome nightmare of failing light that felt more like a plunge into nightfall than high noon. The earphone on his com sputtered, brought Blanchefleur’s fragmented report from a mile away. She sounded badly shaken.

“…something, Lieutenant…it might be the Birks woman, though there’s precious fucking little left of her…not pretty at all…”

Chasseur shook his head, still not quite comfortable with official communications that verged on inappropriate. Privately he was as bad as anyone when it came to off-duty, but Blanchefleur seemed oblivious to a great many measures of discretion and protocol, somehow seemed to intuit that he valued her service more than he demanded strict adherence to political correctness.

“Is there enough for our lab people?” he asked, tilting his head towards the mic on his right shoulder. 

“Yes, sir,” came the staticky reply.  “….Bagging the remains now…shall I get a ‘copter in for an aerial pick-up…?”

Immediatement, Corinne. It’s all we have so far,” he said, using her given name without thinking. There was an uncomfortable silence and he swore again, silently this time, and wondered where the familiarity had come from.

Bon travail, Blanchefleur,” he said quickly. “Good work. We’ve got at least three more hours out here; maybe our forensics will have something for us by the time we get back to someplace warm.”

“One can hope,” came her reply…and then the static was gone.

 

                                                       FIVE

 

Word from the lab in Ottawa didn’t arrive until well past dinner. Most of the task force were spending the night in accommodations in nearby Aylsbury, and all over the surrounding county, but Chasseur and his four crew-leaders had rooms at Treybridge House. All of them were in the taproom, nursing one last drink before turning in for the night, when a uniformed courier Chasseur had never laid eyes on appeared beside him with a sealed envelope. Conversation ceased as he broke the seal. Four pairs of eyes looked on as he read the report slowly…read it a second time, then walked to the fireplace and pitched it into the flames. For a moment he stood before the fire, glanced once at Blanchefleur and motioned for all of them to sit at his table by the windows.

“I don’t know why that lab report was meant for my eyes only,” he began, “but this morning one of you asked if I had any idea what we were looking for. I did not have an answer then, and I have no real answer now, but all of you should know what was in the report, so you have at least a vague notion of what we are hunting. Unless you or  members of your respective teams are threatened or endangered, this information should not be shared or discussed with anyone other than the five of us. Comprenez vous? Is that understood…?

Corinne, Chen, Marchand and Bailey nodded. He signed to the man tending the bar for another round of drinks, sat quietly contemplating the last swallow of his brandy until they arrived. He emptied his first glass and half of the next before setting the snifter down before him, waited a moment to make sure all of them were paying attention. Though they were the only ones in the common room, his voice dropped to whisper.

“What Blanchefleur found this morning was indeed all that was left of the Birks woman.

At first glance our techs assumed she was the victim of a large predator…a bear or a wolf, perhaps. Within a few hours they were disabused of that assumption.

“DNA and dental records confirmed the woman’s identity as Mary Birks. It seems things became interesting once the remains were examined more closely–in the report the damage was described as catastrophic…to bones as well as soft tissue…the former in many instances actually splintered or missing altogether. Whatever attacked and killed Mary Birks was very strong and savagely destructive.”

“And hungry, from the sound of it,” offered Bailey.

Everyone shifted uncomfortably in their chairs, saying nothing. Chasseur paused a minute longer to let his words sink in. In the silence they could hear an almost gale-force wind whistling down along the high street, rattling the windows beside them, ice crystals and what-not else that had been carried aloft hammering at the glass. Chen emptied a steel can of Sapporo into his glass and said:

“Why are we here? If this is some crazed animal on a rampage, isn’t it something for the wildlife people, or maybe a crack team of politicians…?”

“You mean a team of politicians on crack?” Marchand dead-panned. 

Finally, everyone laughed, except Blanchefleur. She had seen the reality of the photographs he had thrown into the fire. Chasseur managed a thin smile.

“There were two things in this report that I feel you should know,” he continued. “The DNA testing also was applied to traces of an extremely acid-like fluid left in the tissue and on the fragmented bone. Our techs had not seen it before, could not identify it as belonging to anything indigenous to this area…or, in their knowledge, anything else in the world.”

Again, Chasseur paused, halved the remaining brandy in his glass as he looked for reaction in his subordinates. Their eyes widened, but suddenly no one was inclined to make jokes about the children masquerading as adult drug-addicts in Parliament.  Only Blanchefleur sensed there was more anomaly in the making, but she had been the one who had bagged what was left of the old woman. Their eyes met. Chasseur found an unbidden image in his head…undressing her.

She would bury me he thought, and it was so very philosophical of him to consider there were worse ways to die. Thirty years of Mary Birkses, the very worst Humanity had to offer. I’m too old for this crap. Too old for so much blood and death. Too old for her.

He drew a deep breath and brought forth the last of the revelations.

“Once that little mystery had been looked at from a dozen different angles with no rational explanation made evident, the assessment of the wounds themselves were addressed. The department head went on record saying that with what evidence was available, the bite marks that had been responsible for the scoring and removal of large portions of the woman’s skeleton most closely resembled those one might find in the aftermath of a prolonged shark attack…something one might encounter after a bad day on an Australian beach…or a Steven Spielberg movie.”

Marchand said, “A shark.” 

Chasseur nodded. “Oui, Claude. Un requin. A fucking shark…”  

 

                                                        SIX

 

The rest of them had gone upstairs. Chasseur looked at Blanchefleur and admitted to himself he was glad she had not gone with them.

“You were right,” he said. “Il se passe quelque chose de très étrange ici. There is definitely something very strange happening here.”

She looked at him, sipped at what he realised was a rum and Coke without the rum. She pulled a forked pin out of her hair and a yard’s-length of midnight black fell down over her shoulders and down her back.

She said, “I want to sleep with you. Make love to you…all night.”

Chasseur felt himself growing hard in his trousers.

“I’m old enough to be your grandfather.”

She smiled.

“I don’t see your point.”

Then…

“Actually I do…and I don’t care…”

“Corinne…”

“I don’t like what I think is coming, Edouard,” she said softly. “This is fucked up, what we’re doing here. There’s shit happening, and they’re trying to gaslight us without it being obvious…”

He nodded.                                      

Oui…tu as raison.  I don’t know what’s going on…only that it feels like they know more than they’re telling us.”

“Come to bed.”

“I will be a vast disappointment to you.”

“That’s for me to decide. Are you coming?”

Starting sometime well after midnight Chasseur slept the rest of the night through for the first time in a very long time. Blanchefleur held him. He dreamt that God had sent an angel to show him the way to a Heaven he had never believed in.

 

                                                      SEVEN

 

In the morning it began again, this time combining the search teams in order to focus on the swamp and the wooded area where Mary Birks had been found. As the rest of his crew checked and double-checked their firearms and gear, Chasseur found himself struggling to keep focused on the day ahead; Blanchefleur filled his thoughts, the smell of her on him filled his nostrils. As they left the inn he took her aside.

“Be careful, Corinne,” he said. 

She nodded, said, “Toi aussi,” using the familiar toi rather than the formal vous in her caution to him.  

“When this is over–“

“When this is over we will see, Edouard,” she said softly. “For today I’m happy, and we have work to do.”

He watched her walk away, watched her draw Bailey, Marchand and their teams up to join her own, conferring quietly before they checked their com links one last time and took off for the Pratchett Road site. She had offered to take over the swamp detail, but Chasseur had merely shaken his head No, knowing the while that he had declined the offer in order to spare her the slog and discomfort of freezing her ass off in the swamp. He shrugged off the fleeting thought that he had done her a disservice, slipped into his waders and zipped up his parka, shivering in the wind, smelling snow in the air.

Lovely he thought, and wondered how things would be when this was over. He let Chen do the pep and prep talk for their combined units, suddenly exhausted, fed up with everything, wanting nothing more than to be upstairs again, in bed with Blanchefleur, far away from the bullshit and the undercurrent of unease that had worked its way into what they were doing.

They were already halfway to their jump-off on the swamp road when his com crackled and the coordinating tech informed him that someone at the rest home had requested to see him.

“That Restful Beeches place?”

“Affirmative.”

“Who is it? What does he want?”

“One of the older residents. Someone named Arnold Schoenbrunn. The shift manager there said he’s a good six or seven years on the wrong side of a hundred years old.”

“What does he want with me? That’s out where Blanchefleur, Bailey and Marchand are starting their search. Can’t one of them go?”

“He specifically asked for you, sir, not by name, but as the ranking officer here.”

Chasseur sighed and hung on as their transport jounced over a pothole in the dirt road.  The windscreen showed pinpoints of moisture where the first tatters of snowfall were melting against the defrost going full blast inside the vehicle.

“Get back to them. Have them tell this old guy I’ll stop by tonight after we’ve finished today’s sweep.”

“Will do, sir. Happy hunting…”

When com went dead, Chasseur growled, “With a song in my heart…”

 

                                                        EIGHT

 

The day became a small nightmare. As Chasseur’s team broke from the end of the path where Higgins’ faint boot-prints had last been found, the wind heard them coming, ramped  up a notch, picked up the tatters of snow dusting down around them and shortened their horizon by half in the space of ten minutes. Chasseur briefly considered calling things off for the day, but realised the next day’s weather likely would be no better, and fanned them out in a dozen directions with himself in the centre. The cautious progress made the day before allowed most of them to quickly begin where they had left off, in spite of the worsening visibility.

Half an hour later he realised their com links were being seriously compromised by the burgeoning storm. He ordered all his personnel to regroup as they moved with a team-member to their left, but lost contact before any of them could confirm coordinating the order. 

The swamp closed in on him. Snow began to fall harder, further decreasing visibility until he felt like he was sloshing through a liquid ice-field, blind deaf and dumb, all his senses shutting down in a muffled fog of thick heavy snow. 

He felt the ground rising up under his feet before he heard what might have been gunfire, and voices shrilling in pain. He seemed to be standing on an island in the middle of some vast Arctic emptiness, his Reality narrowed down to a few square meters of frozen space surrounded by walls of blank whiteness that swirled and shrieked around him. For a moment the walls fell apart and a hundred metres away he saw the charred upthrust bones of an old house, black with time and the memory of flames. Gunfire and voices were gone, now only a bleak memory of ever having come through the storm at all.

He moved forward, cautiously, but not cautiously enough. The solid ground fell away beneath him and he pitched forward into the icy sludge, felt his waders filling with water, arms flailing for anything to break his fall into the slow numbing death of hypothermia.      

He swore out loud. Called out to anyone who might hear him, heard Death surging towards him as he fumbled for the Beretta snagged beneath the waist of his waders he could hear it now…heard the obscene hiss and snuffle of it coming for him…and a voice calling his name…

Ici! Ici! Corinne, mon Dieu, je suis ici!

The weapon came loose into his numbed fingers as it rose up in front of him he fired blindly felt the stink and spray of its breath on his face, and the burn as it began to eat into his flesh. He emptied the clip and sank slowly backwards into the cool welcome embrace of the water. 

 

                                                        NINE

 

Three days later Blanchefleur collected him at the clinic in Aylsbury, sat quietly while he dressed, drove them back to Treybridge in silence, listening to the tires churning through fresh snowfall. She parked in the lot closest to the entrance to Restful Beeches. 

“I’ll wait for you here, Edouard,” she said quietly.

“Why did you come for me? How did you know?”

“I decided I wanted more than one night with you…and being on the other side of the village didn’t feel right.”

Chasseur only looked at her. She seemed less someone under his command than something Fate had sent to him to open his eyes and save his sorry ass from something well beyond and more horrible than anything he had ever known.   

“Keep the engine running,” he said. “I’ll try not to be too long. I want out of this place yesterday.”

She watched him move slowly up the shovelled walk, thinking to herself that suddenly he looked as though he belonged there; that he seemed to have grown so much older in the last three days, and somehow it only made her more fearful of losing him.

Chasseur checked in at the reception desk, distracted by movement and the clatter of tableware in what had to be the dining room set off to one side of the wide foyer. The white-clad orderly on duty listened carefully as he explained the reason for his visit, leafed through a folder on the desk and indicated that Arnold Schoenbrunn more often than not, because of his age and lack of mobility, took meals in his room rather than in the dining hall. He punched an internal code into the desk-phone, turned away briefly and then informed Chasseur that the person he was looking for had insisted on joining the other residents in the dinning room ever since the disappearance of Mary Birks.

“…He’s been asking for you,” said the orderly.

Chasseur grunted that he had been unable to come sooner.

“…Well…if you’ll follow me I’ll point him out to you…”

He followed dutifully, stood in the double-doorway as the orderly pointed to the far corner of the room, where a regal old fellow sat rather formally-dressed for breakfast, alone at a table, staring out across the unbroken expanse of newly-fallen snow that covered the surrounding lawns. Chasseur nodded his thanks and wound his way through the tables, staff delivering breakfast to the residents, mildly nauseated by the smell of bacon, sausages, and burnt coffee.  

Arnold Schoenbrunn looked pretty good for a hundred and seven.  He sat ramrod straight beside his table, hair as white as the snow outside, neatly-combed except for one errant lock that fell down over a broad forehead. When Chasseur introduced himself, the old man lifted up a surprisingly unlined face and levelled a pair of still-bright brown eyes up at him, accepted an apology for taking so long to get back to him with a brief nod, and then indicated Chasseur should join him.

“Would you like coffee, or breakfast, Lieutenant? I haff not been so hungry the last few weeks. Mary Birks vas a dear friend to me.”

Chasseur declined food or drink…waited…

“Thank you for coming to see me,” said Schoenbrunn. “I don’t know if vhat I am to tell will be helpful, but I thought I should tell someone…an old story…”

He leaned back in what Chasseur realised was a wheelchair, waved a staffer  away  and looked around for a moment to make sure they would not be disturbed.

“You do not wear a uniform,” he said, “but I remember the first time I saw your people here. I was seven years old, only a few days past my birthday. That was in 1921, not even a year I had been in this country.

“After the Great War my father brought us here,” he went on. “Germany was being buried by the Versailles treaty, and there were forces at work that made him uneasy. We were Jews in a place where the survivors of the war needed someone upon which to vent their frustration and desperation. They turned to Hitler, of course, but by then we were safe here.

“Treybridge has not changed so much. We have the Internet and cell phones now, but then it was a village not much smaller than it is today. My father was a carpenter, so we were accepted quickly, settled ourselves in and soon came to be part of the community. As a young boy my first winter here was filled with adventures and things I had never before imagined…local legends and stories of mystery, old traditions that came with all the other people who settled here before us.

“One of them was a family of recluses. Strange people who kept to themselves, and were forever the subject of conversation and speculation. It was said they came here from Massachusetts, soon after America had won its independence from Great Britain.  I don’t remember the family name exactly, but it was something like Whitley…no…it was Whatley…and they all lived in one house well away from the centre of the village.

Perhaps you found an old road that once ran through the swamp? Their house was on that road, and all the children of the village would sneak out there to spy on them, and scare ourselves half to death in the bargain. We were children. We did not know fear so much as we knew our curiosity…but something happened here in that first winter, something that scared us all, enough that in many ways we became prisoners in our own homes…”

Chasseur felt a slow chill run up along his spine, shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

“One night just after the first snow fell, the sky over the swamp was lit up by flames that reached up hundreds of feet into the air, and the whole village turned out to see it.  We followed the flames rising up into the night, made our way down the old swamp road and watched the house of the Whatley’s burning to the ground. 

“I think what has been in the last month was the same as then, Lieutenant.”

Chasseur didn’t have to prompt the old man.

“Soon after the fire a young couple did not come home, then a child, then livestock from the farms…all gone…we never saw any of them again. Your RCMP came to investigate and then went away. No one ever told us what made the animals or our neighbours disappear.”

“But you know,” said Chasseur. The chill became a cold ribbon that froze him in his seat.

“I think so,” said Schoenbrunn. “The night of the fire I was with my parents, all of us watching.  We could hear voices from the house…shouting…screams…and other sounds that were too horrible to describe. But when the roof fell there was a great roar and sparks that went up into the sky and showered down like rain…and I thought I saw something, a big shadow that moved close to the ground as it crept away into the swamp. I have never been so afraid as I was in that moment, even after all this time. It did not walk away into the swamp…or crawl…but it moved…and it was obszön…obscene…and seeing it only for a moment made me sick in my stomach… gave me nightmares for many years.”

“What did you see, Mr Schoenbrunn?” Chasseur asked.

“I don’t know what it was,” said the old man, “but even though I was badly frightened, it also made me curious.”

He reached into an inner pocket of his jacket and laid a plastic sleeve on the table before Chasseur, a scrap of brittle age-darkened paper inside.

“That is a local newspaper article,” he explained. “It is dated from this time in 1821, and it tells of disappearances very similar to those we have known, and those that your own people knew of in 1921.

“I have often wondered what it was that I saw, and why, when it snowed all of the next day and everything froze almost overnight and for the rest of the winter, all of our strange disappearances stopped…until now…”

Chasseur read the article. Schoenbrunn waited patiently until he was finished.

“May I keep this, Mr Schoenbrunn?”

The old man nodded.

“You saw it, didn’t you?” he whispered, curiously, in a much smaller voice from a hundred years ago that was filled with terror. The bright ancient brown eyes seemed to beg for an answer before the terror begged for no answer at all. 

Chasseur only nodded, thanked him, and went back to Blanchefleur, who was waiting for him in the parking lot.

 

***

Michael Summerleigh currently lives  west of Kingston in rural Ontario. Canada. He says,’Years ago in my brief “heyday” in the 80’s I wrote fantasy & horror fiction…sold stories pseudonymously to a number of amateur and semi-pro fanzines, as well as professional anthologies edited by Charles Grant, Stephen Jones, Susan Schwartz and a few others. Donald M Grant published a short novel entitled The Black Wolf  in 1979. Prior to that I wrote Sunday features for the Montreal Star, as well as a Bookmans weekly article that became the  introduction to the Citadel Press edition of David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus

‘In the last six months I’ve placed stories online with cc&d magazine (Scars.tv), Scarlet Leaf ReviewLiterary Yard, and an excerpt from ‘Wind’ with Lamplit Undergound.

‘I’ve been a bookseller, done late-night public radio, CSR/dispute resolution for the telecom industry, engineered the 10th World Fantasy Convention in Ottawa in 1984,  and recently took a stab at some concert promotion (wherein I was never in any danger of turning a profit)…’

Title photo credit – Richard Loader on Unsplash

Horla standard disclaimer – image has no direct connection with the fiction