“I thought you British ate small breakfasts.” Hungry as he was, Ed wasn’t sure if he could finish the heaping plate full of eggs, bacon, sausage, some type of hash brown or potato cake and other assorted food-stuff. He looked closely at one of the objects. Tomatoes? For breakfast? And mushrooms? He wasn’t sure about the black thing.
“Now where on Earth did you ever get that idea? Every good day begins with a good breakfast. Eat up. It looks like you haven’t had a proper meal in days.”
Ed shrugged and started in on the huge meal. He had to admit that it was very good.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Pulman, that we haven’t been properly introduced,” the woman said. “I’m Elisabeth Smyth, but you can call me Liza. And before you ask, yes, the good Dr. Smyth was my Bob’s younger brother. Marv has been keeping an eye on me since I lost poor Bob. Not that he needs to. Sometimes I feel Marv needs more looking after than I do, but what do I know?”
Ed, mouth full of toast, nodded.
“I talked to Mr. Brown yesterday and heard all about you and your quest. This part of the country is just made for quests, you know? We’re famous for them. In fact, I think we invented the quest, what, with Arthur and his gang running around the place some fifteen hundred years ago.”
Ed nodded again in the short pause.
“Now you seem to have yourself quite a mystery. Begging your pardon, I did go through some of your papers and looked at the map and the old ruined tower. I will admit that I had a chill up the old spine looking at the drawing. So familiar! But I never saw it. I do, however, think I know where to look. Mr. Brown, for all of his pretensions and his reputation, doesn’t know what he is talking about. Anyway, are you curious?”
Ed had a mouthful off eggs. He reached for his coffee so he could try to stick a word in, but Liza began talking again before he could take even the smallest sip to clear his mouth.
“As I was saying, Mr. Brown and his history books…” Ed had often seen the word “Hrumph” written out, but for the first time he actually heard it sounded out. “History has nothing to do with this place. I know the lore, you see. I’m an initiate. I know the magical spots, the places where the lines of Earth’s energy connect, making a local bright spot, as it were. Well, simplifying it for you, you know? One place shines even more than any other. And I think your tower once was there.”
Ed felt the hair on his head stand up and his scalp seemed to crawl on his skull.
“Uhm, where…” he began.
“You want to know where?” Liza asked. “Well that’s simple. Look at this.”
She reached back and grabbed on old paper map.
“You see, the little falls where you fell is here.” She pointed to a spot on the map that had a blue line running through it. “What you are looking for is right here.” The map was just solid white around the spot she pointed out. Eliza beamed triumphantly.
“Are there any trails?” The words were rushed, as Ed wanted to make sure they were all out before his host began again.
“Anything marking the location?”
“Of course not. It is a secret spot only known to us. If we marked it, it wouldn’t be a secret any more, now would it?”
“Look, I will drop you off at the side of the road and point you in the right direction. Don’t worry, you’ll find it. You can’t miss. It was meant to be. The dreams…”
“Dreams?” Ed didn’t remember telling anyone about his dreams.
“Yes. We all have them, don’t we? Only some of us have special dreams. I can tell that you are one of us. You’ll find it.”
“OK.” The creeping feeling across his skull returned. He wasn’t as sure about finding the special place as she appeared to be.
“How did I ever get talked into this?” Ed asked himself.
He had spent the previous hour bushwhacking through what seemed to him a vast, trackless plain. Sure, he was surrounded by low hills, but he didn’t seem to get any closer to them as he walked.
Ed stopped and looked around. He felt he was at the bottom of a giant bowl. There was nothing that he could see to let him know where he was.
How was he going to return? He had no idea which way he needed to go. And if he found the street, then what? Liza never said anything about picking him up.
“Man, how in the freaking world did I ever get talked…” He let his voice trail off, feeling silly for repeating himself.
Ed closed his eyes and slowly turned around. At one point he felt his scalp crawl on his skull, the strange itchy feel that seemed to come from someplace deep inside out instead of outside in.
The feeling faded as he passed it in his turn. He stopped and tried to move even slower back. The feeling returned. He stopped when it was the most intense.
Ed opened his eyes. He was facing the direction he thought he had been following for the past hour.
Still feeling a slight tingle, Ed continued to trudge on.
Walking wasn’t really all that difficult, when you came right to it. The sun was out and pleasant. The land was relatively flat. It wasn’t like he was wading in waist high weeds or anything. In fact, after a few minutes he began to actually enjoy it.
Until he wasn’t.
The world changed.
A voice in the air called a name that was just beyond his hearing.
Ed stopped and closed his eyes again.
He could almost make out the name.
But there was more.
With his eyes closed he still say the surrounding moorland. But he noticed a shadow.
The shadow resolved itself into a tower. His tower.
Ed’s eyes snapped open. For a brief moment he still saw the tower, and then it was gone, as was the voice.
He walked to where he thought the base of the tower must be. He could see something on the ground, right at the spot.
As he grew closer, the creepy-crawly feeling became stronger. He felt something was watching him. The object on the ground was watching him.
When he was right on top of it, the object came into sharp focus.
A skull, point right at him, it’s empty eye sockets seeming to stare at him.
“A cow? Sheep?” Ed whispered to himself. “Horse? Perhaps a deer?”
Nothing sounded right.
The skull was too angular, too long. It seemed unnatural.
And then he noticed the teeth, each one longer than his forefinger. Sharp. Pointy.
Ripping his eyes away from the skull, Ed realized that the sun had disappeared behind thick, fast moving clouds. The world became monochrome.
He looked at the skull that was still watching him. He closed his eyes and saw a monster. A dragon?
Without thinking, Ed turned and rapidly walked away. After a few moments his walk became a slow jog.
It grew into a fast jog.
He soon found himself at a pace closer to a trot.
Without thinking he started to sprint.
It only took a few moments for Ed’s lungs to catch fire. He was not used to this type of exercise.
He slowed down to a jog, then down to a walk. A moment later he came to a stop to catch his breath.
It was sunny again, but the moorland behind him was still under a towering dark cloud.
For a brief moment he imagined the cloud tower as his tower, only immensely larger. But then it shifted and appeared to be the beast he had seen, but raising to 40,000 feet into the stratosphere, wings spread over miles of moorland.
Shivering, despite the return of light and heat, he walked on, away from the thunderhead.
He found himself back at the road long before he expected to find it. Did he run that far?
A car pulled over.
“There you are. I was expecting you,” Liza said. “Hop on in and we’ll go home.”
Ed silently got into what his mind told him must be the driver’s seat, only the steering wheel was on the other side.
“So, dearie, how was your walk?”
Ed just stared at his companion.
His scalp began to crawl again.
Part 6 was just posted! See it here.
— — —
Note – the prompt was “Bone”, but for some reason I thought it was “Skull”. Oh well, too late to change once I discovered my mistake.