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 Random, unedited story... just because
Posted: Mar 11 2012, 07:38 AM


Group: Balladeers
Posts: 38
Member No.: 345
Joined: 10-May 10

Kind of unedited short story, just because I felt like it... take it or leave it as you feel.
I covered my face with the broad, silky sleeve of my tunic to squelch a loud sneeze, and kill it before its birth. With a nervous, winded glance about me, I hurried onward. The dense, impenetrable fog was beginning to roll in about us, signaling our arrival in the misty valley. Trying to cover as much as possible of my uniform surroundings as I could with my two eyes, I continuously scanned the area about us, deep inside hoping to see nothing but the rolling dunes of evaporated water that were constantly changing position and shape all around us. Here and there, a minor rocky outcrop or two broke up the boring monotony of the land, but they mostly served to keep my thinned nerves on an edge. I was feeling sure the watchers were already somewhere out there, keeping a keen eye out on us with their seemingly supernatural ability to see through this godless fog. A sharp bird’s cry, hoarse and highly audible in the complete silence that was broken only by the muffled shuffling of our feet, suddenly rang clearly out in the fog. I quickly looked up, startled at the penetrating sound, and saw a particularly large hooded crow flap away above me, immediately disappearing into the fog as was the bird only a faint mirage in this unnerving valley. Unwillingly, a strange chant from my childhood came to mind, and the imagined sound of it got stuck inside my head until it seemed its source was indeed somewhere next to me.

… Heave and ho,
The hooded crow,
Will watch your steps, wherever you go…

I began throwing even more frantic looks to the sides and above me, somehow expecting the crow to come right at me with its sharp beak, tearing and shredding my sorry body to pieces. Shaking my head in an attempt to gather my nervous thoughts, I decided to concentrate on the feet of the one walking in front of me, struggling to keep my eyes from darting about the frightening fog. Soon, it began to feel as if the air itself was trying to suffocate me with its watery thickness, and even breathing slowly became an effort. I suddenly noticed we were walking up a slight increase in the land, and the reasonable part of my brain decided to put this geographical difference to fault of my difficult breathing. A sudden change in the monotone appearance of the valley made me snap back to attention in a moment, as I saw a young man kneeling down some steps next to the row of walking people, apparently checking the ground in front of him for something. Without further consideration, I hurried to his side and pulled him to his feet, ignoring his protests, loud though muffled by the heavy mist.
“What are you doing? There’s silver there, you know! All over the place!”, he hissed angrily in a strange mix of a shout and a whisper, apparently not sure whether he should loudly blame me for interrupting his business, and thereby risk calling the whole convoy to attention, or not.
“You fool, there’s nothing of value in this valley. At least nothing you’ll get out with alive! Believe me, they won’t let you out of here with your valuable silver!”, I replied in the same tone, maintaining a hard grip around his arm to prevent him from simply running off. Our discussion was beginning to attract curious looks and whispered comments from those walking past us. And, I reasoned, most likely from somebody else, too. Somebody out there in the fog, who didn’t like it when trespassers stayed for too long. Maybe this young lad didn’t believe the old stories about this place, but I sure did, and so was the best way to go, I thought. So for the sake of the whole caravan, I let go of him, and returned to my place among the by passers with a sad shake of my head, feeling as if his whole mistake was somehow my fault. Taking a single look back, I found out I was the last one in the row now, which didn’t help any to ease me. The would-be rich man was already lost in the fog behind me, and I felt sure he would soon be even further away from me. While considering backtracking and forcing him with me, I heard the faint sound of a startled cry behind me, which was abruptly followed by an even deeper silence. An immense feeling of nausea came over me as my confused, tired mind couldn’t help but picture the ugly scene that must have happened back there. I took a few running steps to catch up with the others, and went on with my head bowed in sadness and fear. Nobody else seemed to have noticed the fact that one of us was gone, but after all it was probably just better for them that way. Not that I felt very good being the only witness to what must just have passed, but there was nothing to help it now. It had been his own decision, and we all have to make those from time to time. Or had it? What if the strange fog of this cursed place snaked itself all the way into our minds, changing our ways of thinking and making us do mistakes like the young man’s.

… Heave and ho,
The hooded crow,
Will watch your steps wherever you go…

As the old song showed its ugly face in my thoughts again, all the fear and confusion from earlier came back to me, and I hurriedly returned to scanning the area, this time very aware of my dangerous position in the silent convoy, constantly fearing the sudden feeling of something hitting me from behind. As a result, I often caught myself looking over my shoulder, each time expecting to see anything from a sneering wolf to a horrible demon coming up behind me. Every single screeching sound of my boots on the sandy rocks had the ring of a hooded crow’s cry to it, and I soon even began to see the dark, ominous birds behind every swirl of fog and every little rock. As I more and more frequently searched my surroundings with my weary, dripping eyes, almost hoping to see something else than the white eternity, I noticed I was alone. Everybody else were gone, lost somewhere in the fog in front of me. I listened for a moment, and then, hearing nothing at all, blunted ahead a few meters. When nothing but the usual fog showed itself, I stopped again, the slight amount of reason left in my rapidly panicking thoughts taking over for a short, but critical, while. Wasting your energy under these circumstances could easily mean death. Especially when they were probably all around me, watching every single step of this weak, decomposed human stumbling through their land. Alone. Alone, just like he who wanted the silver on the floor of the valley had been. An icy shiver went down my spine, and I froze in mid-step, suddenly realizing the horrifying danger I was in. what should prevent them from getting me now? I was lagging behind the group, greatly increasing the time they’d have to tolerate the presence of strangers in their domain. Almost too scared to move, I slowly put my foot down, and, taking a final look behind me while listening for some track of the caravan, I turned back and went to walk again. Just then, the moment my foot hit the hard ground with an almost inaudible thud, an eerie sound, spelling only death and decay to my ears, rang loudly out above me. I immediately spun about, staring wildly into the banks of fog above me, searching for the hooded crow I knew had to be there somewhere. I saw no dark bird soaring into the depths of the endless fog, but when my eyes returned to the ground, I froze in sheer terror. There, only a half a dozen feet away from me, stood a large, dark figure. Standing at least a foot above my head, I could not decipher if it was bird or man, but my numbed, shocked mind didn’t care. Not daring to move an inch, I simply stood there in what seemed like an eternity. Now they had me, I thought. This immensely evil appearance looked like it could and would kill me in one stroke. And then…

… Heave and ho,
The hooded crow,
Will watch your steps wherever you go…

Then, it would leave me to the crows. It surely would, leave me to rot and be torn apart by the grey and black birds. Although I couldn’t move my eyes from the frightening figure in front of me, some strange sixth sense seemed to show me the picture of the hooded crows circling above my head, ready to strike down at whatever this mysterious creature decided to leave for them. Then, snapping back to reality to stop my wandering thoughts, I noticed it had moved. Not much, but the formerly still figure now held one arm stretched out in the opposite direction of the one I had been walking. Or maybe it was a wing; something seemed to make my eyes watery and unstable. Maybe it was simply the wet air, but I couldn’t see the tall figure clearly. I blinked a few times, not understanding. The creature seemed to be pointing at something, although I could see nothing but the constantly changing fog. Then I realized. It was showing me the way. It didn’t occur to me that it could be the wrong direction; my feet just started walking as if steered by something else, something far greater and stronger than myself. Unconsciously, I passed by the still figure, seeing it give me what could be taken as a small nod of respect as I went by. When I finally bit my lip and slowly turned my head to look in its direction, it was gone. But I remembered the way it had shown me, and quickly moved on. I didn’t really notice the rolling fog around me anymore, nor did I see the surprisingly still, peaceful hooded crows that sat all along my route, their heads often tilted in a curious, better-knowing manner. If I had considered it at all, I had known that there was always one of them in sight. But I didn’t, I just walked along an apparently never ending line of dark birds. I woke back up to consciousness when a sharp, instantly recognizable bird’s cry made me look up from my feet. In front of me sat a last hooded crow. With another shrill cry, it took flight and disappeared in the fog. That was when I found out, that the ominous white mist was beginning to clear. A few steps later, the sun showed itself above me, and never had I been happier to see it, along with the first signs of actual vegetation. I saw nobody as I finally left the misty valley and returned to the outside, seemingly leaving a separate world inside this one. Turning to look at the wall of fog behind me a last time, I was sure I heard a hoarse, far away voice singing.

… Heave and ho,
The hooded crow,
Will watch your steps wherever you go…

Suddenly, the meaning of the old song took on a whole new dimension to me, and as I walked away on my own, I couldn’t help feeling that some part of me had been left under the greyish cover of the valley’s fog.
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