But then, something wrenched them both against the mud of the ditch. Mary looked up. To her horror, one of them, the thickest one she had ever seen, had coiled around the trunk of the old oak.
She had never seen a tendril up close before. Mary had expected, what? Scales? Like a snake? But no, it was more like a great, black, pulsing earthworm. Ancient limbs cracked and snapped from the tree like twigs as it wound around the trunk and tightened. One of the limbs broke in half, hanging dangerously over Mary and Knute's heads, swinging in the wind, lit up red time and again in between stretches of darkness.
Mary cradled Knute's head against her shoulder, and tried to climb again, only to realize she was rising, and not by any effort of her own, just as she and Knute were covered by a rain of mud amidst a terrible roar of torn earth. The oak was being ripped from the ground, and she was still tied to it!
"There they are, Cahill!" It was Inga's voice, shouting over the din. "In the old ditch! Good gods, they're tied to the-"
"I can hear it, girl!" Cahill yelled back, "Take the axe! Can you reach them?"
"You idiots!" Mary screamed from under the rain of mud as she and Knute slowly rose, "What the hell are you doing?"
"Saving you, you mule! Inga! Can you reach them? Inga!"
"I..I don't...I can't."
"It's okay, girl, it's okay! Are they still touching the ground?"
"Quickly, girl! Are they still touching the ground?"
"Yes! They're still in the ditch!"
Mary gasped. "You old fool! You haven't done that in-"
"COVER THE BOY'S EARS, MARY! You too, Inga! NOW."
The thunder was tremendous, the roar of the wind and the rain was like fury, but it was nothing compared to what happened when old Cahill knelt and put his palm to the ground, the veins in his temples pulsing. It was like a bell tolling in Hell. It swept through the earth, into both Knute and Mary, chattering their teeth and vibrating their bones. They couldn't move.
The tendril dragging the tree from the ground paused, just a moment, as Cahill's tone traveled across the ground and up the roots and the trunk of the tree. It was like time stood still.
Old Caleb smiled, and snatched the axe from an astonished Inga, who stood like a statue. Caleb picked his way carefully toward the tree, and as confidently as though he could see it as clear as a summer's day, he brought the axe home on the rope and severed it in one swing.
Then the tone came back to him.
Cahill fell to the ground, hard. "Cahill!" Inga screamed, and ran toward him. The tree rose toward the clouds.
"Inga!" Cahill growled, coughing up blood, "Get...get Mary and the boy. Help them."
Inga nodded, and ran to the ditch, where Mary was struggling to drag herself out of the ditch, with near-hysterical Knute clinging to her back for dear life.
When they had cleared the ditch, Inga scolded Knute. "I told you never to go off by yourself in these storms again! Your mother needs you, foolish boy!"
He held the kitten out to her. It was sopping wet and mewling.
"I got him for you. It was up the tree. You...you were sad when your old cat went to sleep and didn't wake up, so I got him for you."
Inga stared in disbelief. "Knute..."
Mary raised her eyes to the sky and yelled, "Can we have this moment inside, children!" She shoved both of them back towards Cahill, shaking her head. They ran towards the old man.
Not fast enough.
Mary wondered then, and would wonder for years afterward, if he had known. If he had suspected that it was doing the kinds of things she and Cahill and others of their kind did - like his wife did - that attracted the red storms and the things within them, like bloodhounds.
Perhaps he counted on it. Perhaps that's why he sent Inga as far from him as possible at that last moment. Perhaps he wanted to be with Muriel again. Perhaps he was just tired of living in darkness.
Mary thought of all these things at once as she wrapped her arms around Inga and Knute so they didn't have to watch the thing take old Cahill up into the storm.
They didn't bury an empty coffin next to Muriel's. It was no longer the custom. Instead, Inga had the idea of planting two oak saplings near the spot where the old one once stood.
Mary got the village together, and they agreed to a lookout. A storm-watch, in shifts, for as long as the red storms lasted. They put up a watch-tower, the first of several. It didn't take much discussion on what would be the signal. Soon, a big, brass bell hung in the first tower, with no shortage of volunteers to fill shifts to ring it if red lightning was sighted on the horizon.
Cahill's Watch was born.
Mary thought of the name.
Home Sweet Home
The Abomination by Trevor Judd
Missed this one when it was new, but I'm glad I came back to it. Favourite thing is the magic system, the consequences inherent to it - the long-term ones too, but also (especially) that moment when Mary swallows Knute's pain.
This was such a ride. Nevermind the few rough edges, the tension and build of horror was superb. Red lightening.
I loved how the others arrived at just the right moment that I'd forgotten about them enough that I was genuinely worried how Mary and Knute would get out of there. Great dramatic timing. Also 'pain eater' is such an fantastic concept, and definitely not what I'd guessed from the outset. Cahill's magic, too, when the world suddenly dances to his tune for a final glorious moment. Then again, the horrifying thought that their magic summons the storms... (though while I love throwing that in there, it felt a little out of place in the flow at that moment perhaps? A bit of worldbuilding slightly larger than the piece?)
I'm also less convinced by the final line. I guess it's an ambiguous tense thing in 'thought of' which I read first as she was in that moment thinking about the name (i.e. recollecting it) rather than that she thought up the name (i.e. she chose it)? Also honestly not sure if adds anything for me; ending on 'Cahill's watch' fits fine.
Still, such amazing worldbuilding and character development in such an action packed scene. Masterfull stuff!
Also, I'm really curious what it was that happened last time Cahill used that word...
You leave such great thoughts. I appreciate that. And your critique is fair; there is no shortage of world building shoved into awkward places, nor of unpolished prose. Hell, I’m glad I finally got everyone’s names consistent before this got attention.
I loved it. I'd classify it as weird fiction horror blend of dark fantasy and postapocalyptic fiction.
There's in medias res, stakes raised high, believable emotions, tension, mystery, a powerful antagonist, plot twists and much more.
A captivating fast-paced story.