Footprints – Part VIII

by Gaston Prereth

The body lay on its back, its arms spread across the uneven floor like discarded cables. A thick black pool spread out from the dead man’s head, following the contours of the body like a noon shadow. The moonlight drifted in from a cracked window, illuminating the body in a thin column of silver, giving the lifeless figure a spectral glow.

On a low table, that ran along the wall parallel to the fallen man, was a litter of wire and tools. Various strange contraptions made out of a mixture of metal and natural materials loomed over the detritus of the workbench.  They varied in size from foot high crab like structures to smaller, longer creatures with hundreds of tiny legs.  Not one of them was identical to any of the others, and all of them showed signs of continual tinkering and improvements.

Everything was still. Nothing disturbed the air.

A knock on the metal door sent a ripple of motion into the room.  A piece of paper fluttered from another square table that was stacked high with scribblings and annotated sketches.  One of the larger models on the desk collapsed onto its side, one of it’s many legs broken.  Then all was silent again.

After a second knock, the door was pushed open with delicate care.  Frederick poked his head round the door and, seeing no one inside, pushed it the rest of the way open and stepped into the room.  Ruben followed him, blinking his eyes in the gloom, trying to make out shapes from the thousands of shadows.

They both stood for a moment, letting their eyes adjust to the comparative darkness.  There was a smell in the air, like damp laundry or a week old forgotten food capsule. Frederick was reminded of the peach tree in his cloister after it had dropped its fruit.  A similar sweet smell that caught at the back of the throat and left a bitter after taste in the mouth. It was much stronger here, much more corrosive to the senses. He could feel his eyes starting to water as the atmosphere pressed in upon him.

Frederick took another step into the room, holding his hand up to his nose.  His tried to take shallow breaths, but this only seemed to quicken his heart rate and increase the levels of unease that were building inside of him. It wasn’t until he reached the middle of the room that he looked down.

“Lord, forgive me for my breath. Forgive me for my weak body and protect me from my own disorder.  Lord, have mercy on those who have broken the sanctity of thy kingdom, and help us be delivered into thy mechanical spirit.” His voice was hushed as he rattled through the seventh prayer of the cycle.  He squeezed his eyes shut as he felt his body quiver with nausea. “Ruben, he’s… Brother Douglas…”

“I can see.” Said Ruben, putting a hand on Frederick’s shoulder and pulling him back half a step.  Ruben knelt down next to Brother Douglas’ corpse and checked for a pulse.  It was something he had seen a medic do once, when he was a small boy, and he didn’t know what he was looking for, but it didn’t matter.  It was obvious Brother Douglas was dead.

“It looks like something hit his forehead.” Said Ruben after squinting at the body for a moment. “There’s a deep purple bruise on his temple, but I think it was the fall that killed him.” Frederick didn’t reply.  He was still muttering a prayer under his breath and holding one arm clamped to the side of his body, while the other covered his mouth and nose.  “I can’t really see much in this light, but I don’t think it matters.  It looks like he’s been dead for awhile.”

Ruben stood up, his hands on his hips as he looked down at the body.  The moon’s glow allowed him to see the man’s face well enough to see the poor monk’s final expression. It was placid, almost uncaring, but not peaceful. He hadn’t known that death was waiting for him.  It hadn’t been something he expected or had fought against.

There was a shadow cutting across Brother Douglas’ face, and another jagged dark mark that fractured the silver glow across his body.  Ruben follow the line of the moonlight to the window.  The pane was shattered like a it had been struck by a spiders web and, in the centre, was a hole the size of a fist.  Ruben walked up to it and stroked a cautious hand across the glass, being careful not to touch the edge of the puncture.

“It looks like something came through here. Let’s have a look around, see if we can find whatever it was.”  He turned back to his companion, only to see Frederick bolt for the door.  Seconds later he heard the monk heaving outside.

Frederick was sat on the ground about ten metres away from the cabin when Ruben eventually joined him.  There was a slight smell of sick coming from somewhere near the monk but, compared to the pungent aromas of the cabin, it smelt as fresh as air from a conditioning unit.  Frederick was staring back towards the dim lights of the village as Ruben sat down next to him.  He seemed calmer now, but he held his hands in his lap so tightly that the knuckles were a pale white.

“I found a stone with some of Brother Douglas’ blood on it. I think it was that which knocked him down.  It had bounced under one of his tables. Frederick, you wouldn’t believe some of the things Brother Douglas has been doing in there.”

“Stones don’t just fly around the world by themselves.” said Frederick, almost under his breath. “Someone must have thrown it.  Someone killed him.”

“Probably, but Frederick, there is nothing we can do about that.  You need to come and have a look at what is in his shack.  He’s got these machines, like spiders, they’re amazing.”

“Who would want to kill him?  He’s not had any contact with the village for years, decades even.  Not since he was banished out here. Why would someone kill him?”

“I don’t know.  We can’t know, but that doesn’t matter now.”

“Doesn’t matter?” Said Frederick, for the first time turning towards his companion, his eyes were wide and unblinking.  “He’s dead Ruben.  The poor guy is dead, and you say it doesn’t matter?”   Ruben stood up and looked around them.  The light of the village looked so far away.  It looked so peaceful, so unaware of the world around it.  Behind them the tall shadowy spears of the fields rustled, like a thousand whispers telling him of the world that lay beyond their tiny village. Tempting him away from the safe harbour of the familiar.

“Look, Frederick, I’m not saying Brother Douglas’ death isn’t important, but there are things in there that you need to see.  Things you won’t believe if I tell you.  You need to see them.”  Frederick didn’t move, but turned his gaze back upon the village.

“I want to go home.”

“Frederick.  We owe it to Brother Douglas. He’s been working ever since the village abandoned him.  Working on those theories that the world condemned him for.  If we leave now and let someone else, someone like Cristden or the Deacon get to it before us, then all his work will be lost. His life will be wasted. Please, if not for me, then for Brother Douglas. Please come and take a look.”

continued in Part IX

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2 Responses to “Footprints – Part VIII”

  1. Aghhh you can’t leave it there Gaston…… 🙂

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