Read an Excerpt! Nightfall, Chapter 1

 

nightfall cover

Early winter

 

In all my many years, I don’t believe I have ever been so disgusted.

It takes a particularly vile type of person to reach certain levels of evil. I’ve always vowed I would never be that kind of person, nor would I ever allow my life to be influenced by them in any way.

Is it perhaps possible that I myself am turning into what I hate?

In one of the rare moments of camaraderie between my brother and me, we encountered what is probably one of the most troubling scenes in the 24 decades since our deaths. Blood did not stain my hands, yet my stomach is still wringing itself in knots. I can’t shake the feeling that I have done something deplorable, but I know I am innocent. Is this a normal response to witnessing such a travesty?

Two young women died not even two hours ago. Their souls joined us well before their time. What cruel excuse for a person it must take to tear precious life away from someone brimming with possibilities, facing the starting line of their lives!

I am still shaking with rage as I write this, but I feel as though I must recount exactly what I saw. I am hoping not to entangle myself in this further. I don’t want to see their souls lost to history.

 

***

 

Not a single soul inhabiting these old streets dares to seek out the cemeteries. Very few are foolish enough to put so much at risk.

Personally, I have avoided the place since the war. I have no interest in reliving what happened to me before I came to settle in this in-between. It wouldn’t take much to reopen old wounds.

Unfortunately enough, it became impossible to ignore this black spot on the map when my brother came racing up the stairs, shouting my name.

“A young lady,” he had explained, the words pouring out of his mouth so rapidly seemed to tangle in the air. “I heard her screaming somewhere beyond the property line.”

I regret to admit that I hesitated before looking up from the open book I held in my lap. My brother has always had a liking for the dramatic, and it has definitely tried my patience more than once.

“It’s probably nothing. Perhaps another child’s party gone wild.”

My brother put a firm hand on my forearm, casting my book to the floor. “You don’t know that. You didn’t hear her.”

“Unhand me.”

“Help her.”

We were locked in a stalemate, his pale eyes burning into mine for what felt like a small eternity. The tension hanging in the air was so tangible, it was as though a heavy fog had frozen solid.

“I’m reading.”

My brother barked a bitter laugh. “What, Shakespeare again? What’s it now, the five-hundredth time?”

I glared at him, a steady feeling of irritation rising in my chest. “This particular play, only one-hundred-thirty-seven times.”

“You’ve got it memorized by now,” he accused, crossing his arms across his chest and tapping his fingers against his arm. “While outside, there may very well be a young lady dying. Surely she’s suffering.”

“I’ve not heard anything.”

“You never hear anything except the music in your head.”

I ignored the quip and instead replied, “The last time you thought you heard something out there, it was a cat.”

“It came from the cemetery.”

I felt my bloodless face pale. There is a reason few people have the courage to venture there.

“As you wish,” I conceded. I stood to my feet, grasping my hat and traveling cloak before sweeping down the stairs. My brother trailed after me, his eyes wide with worry. For a brief moment, I felt the familiar sting of anger. Nothing was amiss in here. Everything had been peaceful before his interruption.

Outside, however, I came to realize exactly how wrong I had been. The grounds, usually so pleasantly still, teemed with an energy I was unpleasantly familiar with.

Time was running out.

A sharp scream tore through the grounds, sending a terrible shiver down my spine. He had been right. The voice belonged to a young woman, clearly one who was terrified. In danger. Perhaps even hunted.

            And I had hesitated.

“You take the West path, I’ve got the East,” I ordered.

My brother nodded, tearing down the narrow dirt path winding out into the surrounding forests. My trail, however, led somewhere completely different.

Among the rows and rows of headstones, somewhere between the curtains of lichen and the soft moss, I realized we had made an incredibly grave mistake.

A soft voice whimpered in the dark, making a noise much like a wounded animal. But it wasn’t the sound of an injured deer or a frightened possum. Those creatures don’t make such heart wrenching, lost noises. My head swiveled as another scream pierced the chilly air from the opposite direction, sending my heart deeper into my stomach. It wasn’t just one frightened person we were pursuing, but two.

When at last my eyes found her in the dark, I lurched to a stop. What monster it must have taken to do that to her! Her clothes were tattered and bloodied, evidence of the worst sort of abuse plain in the way she held her broken body. The image of her draped across a familiar grave like a discarded ragdoll was seared into the backs of my eyes, burned into my brain. How I wish I could erase such horrors from my mind forever!

Her hair was a mess of red-brown locks, matted with blood. I could see, even from a distance, the way her green eyes shone in the moonlight. They shimmered like dew drops on evergreens. I shuddered at the thought of what could make her look so lost, so damaged. It hurt to see, but it must have hurt infinitely worse to feel.

Her soft voice brought me back to my senses. She groaned in pain and called out a name I did not catch. I am guessing it was likely the other voice we heard.

“Help,” she whimpered.

I was struck by an intense bout of indecision. I could not stand idly by any longer, yet there was nothing I could do to help. The pool of blood around her was so large, there was no way she’d make it out alive. Almost against my will, my feet carried me to her side.

She should not have been able to see me or feel me, but when I dropped to my knees and took her hand, I felt her squeeze. She turned those luminous green eyes to me, staring down into my very soul.

“Z-Zane?”

I shook my head and squeezed her hand back. “No. You don’t know me, love. I’m just here to help.”

Air came to her in ragged gasps, sounding more and more watery as blood pooled in her lungs. “It hurts,” she breathed. Her voice was sweet, scared. I was overwhelmed by the urge I felt to protect her.

“It will all be over soon,” I reassured her, gently brushing the hair out of her face. “I promise, it will be better soon.”

“You p-promise?”

“Yes.”

Her eyes drifted shut as she struggled to draw breath. Her next words caught me completely off guard.

“Are you some sort of angel?”

I had to force myself to swallow before I could reply. “I am whatever you need me to be, sweetheart.”

She sighed and nodded, squeezing my hand weakly. I clung to her as though my hand in hers could keep her alive. In life she would have so many opportunities, but death would steal everything away.

I pressed my lips to the back of her hand, feverishly willing away the pain. She was so delicate, so fragile. The feeling I felt then was unfamiliar, even uncomfortable. I wanted more than anything to keep her safe, though it was a futile wish for sure.

She breathed her last breath soon after, her grasp on my hand going slack. I did not know what to do. Such a beautiful young lady, so innocent and new, had just died all but in my arms. Not to mention, somewhere out there, my brother could have been experiencing exactly the same thing.

I couldn’t allow her to be left here in the place where darkness prowled, but to bring her back to my home would be madness. It was with a heavy heart and a fearful mind that I took her to the nearest tavern, begging for help from a longtime friend. She promised to take the girl in, to care for her. It was the best I could do.

I hope I have made the right decision.

As it is now, my candle is growing low. Soon, I must be up and ready to perform again. It is with great trepidation that I lay these final words on the page. Come morning, I shall discuss with my brother what became of the other lady. For now, though, I must attempt to set my mind at rest, knowing I did what I could.

 

-Master Winters

Like what you read? Nightfall is available for purchase at Amazon!

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