The way the sun rose sluggishly that morning; the way the mist clung to the tree branches, refusing to let go; the way the birds wouldn’t roost or stop to eat at any of the feeders, restlessly flapping from place to place with no rest; the way the light turned from a pleasant dawnish yellow to an ugly violent violet; the way a slight breeze made the ancient tower of the ancient church sigh and moan; the way the shadows seemed to dance and move instead of lying peacefully on the ground; the way that bark of the dog thudded dully, swallowed by silence instead of sounding bright and coppery, echoing through the streets; all of these things and more told the people of the village that this was no ordinary day, that things were going to happen, perhaps unpleasant things.
Penelope rose, sniffed the air and went back to bed. She never did that; she was always the first to greet the day with a smile despite having nowhere to go and nobody with whom to share the day. William’s car wouldn’t start, no matter what, and so he was late to work for the first time in over 30 years. Bruce, who usually walked ever so boldly down the street, slunk with his head bowed down, casting frightened glances over his shoulder as if he thought a band of demons was on his tail. And perhaps there was.
Lisa got out of bed, dressed herself all in black, as usual, though nobody that she knew had died recently, and looked out of the window. Her mood, forever Halloween, her mind forever romanticizing a past that would in actuality horrify her with its distinct lack of indoor plumbing, she was just they type that on looking out on the day when the sun rose in that certain way, and shadows danced in the way that they did, actually smiled, her first smile in weeks. She knew that things were going to happen, perhaps unpleasant things, and it made her happy. Yes, there are girls, or perhaps I should say young ladies of 19, who are like this, just as there are boys, or perhaps young men of 19, who are like that in ways, but in some ways the exact opposite without a romantic bone in their bodies.
Johnny got out of bed and dressed in black, as always, as well. He looked out of his own window and smiled as well. Only there was nothing Romantic in his thoughts. The smile turned to a sneer.
“Ah, a bad day like today makes the pickings easier,” he said. “People are afraid of their shadows and I can usually make a killing. And a day like today is a day that I don’t actually mind taking it literally and killing if the rubes don’t cough up their loot, or, if a pretty young lady, her most precious possession. There will be blood today, mark my words.”
With six knives and three pistols hidden on his person, he left for work. He was, of course, self-employed and liked to work alone, the more alone he was when he discovered a new client, the better. He frowned at Bruce as he passed him, making the large man cower even more. He spit at William’s back as the gentleman got into his taxi, adding insult to the injury of the day. Johnny figured it would be a momentous day.
Lisa entered the old, battered church, and, ignoring all of the people trying to pray the Doomsday pall of the air that held sway over the village away, went directly to the old stone effigy that forever lay over the mortal remains of Sir Bob and bowed her head. The legend tells us that Sir Bob, who ever had a straying eye for the rich ladies, once ignored a peasant girl in distress. When the same marauders killed his own daughter as well, he vowed to defend the honor of all who needed his help, whether noble born, town-folk or peasant, it mattered not, all people, and in particular vulnerable young ladies, would forever be his charge. It was said he died protecting the five-year-old daughter of the poorest, meanest person in the region. His honor restored, he was given a place of respect in the local church.
Lisa laid a single rose on the lap of the valiant, if slightly inept, knight and said, “If only I were alive in the age of Chivalry! To have a brave knight defend my honor. What could be better? A joist, a tournament, where I would drop a silk scarf in the colors of my favorite. Ah, I can picture it! And the forever handsome Sir Bob, taking my favor as he rides out to defend the defenseless. If only I could have been there!” Yes, Lisa was young and innocent, but her heart was in the right place.
Lisa decided that it was a perfect day for a little pilgrimage to the ruins of Sir Bob’s manor. It wasn’t far outside of the village and was marvelously spooky when the fog hung in shreds in the trees and sky brooded in purple and black storm clouds. With a smile and whistling a romantic song about romantic heroes dying and meeting beyind the grave, she left the church and headed towards the village edge.
Penelope finally decided that it was time to get up. She hated to leave the comfortable warmth of her bed, but the day was growing old, and she needed to keep each day alive as she grew old as well, for she knew that there would be a day that she wouldn’t get up. She went to the window to get the worst out of the way and perhaps be able to actually enjoy the darkness that was called “day”. She noticed Lisa heading out of town.
“Going to those old ruins, I’ll warrant,” she said. “Never knew what that girl saw in those stones.”
She was about to leave the window when she caught a shadow moving. Was it a man? Was he following the girl on her romantic pilgrimage? She couldn’t tell, but there was something out there, and it wasn’t pleasant. A shiver went down her spine. The shadows danced in the wrong way, making the trees seem to be hanging with nooses and the boughs hold clubs. Something was up. She frowned. it wouldn’t do.
Penelope prepared an early lunch, as it was too late for breakfast, and, on a whim, called her decesed husband’s friend William at work. There wasn’t an answer, which was odd since William never missed a day and was never late. She shrugged and left a short message, “Don’t laugh, but I have a premonition today. Saw that Goth Girl heading to the ruins, I did, and somebody was following, a dark somebody, trying to stay out of sight. Have a good day.”
She started in on her late breakfast, or had she decided to call it an early lunch? No matter, although the premonition remained and the shivers still tingled her spine, everything else was soon forgotten.
Lisa roamed around the moss-covered stones. In her mind she saw the crumbled walls and old foundations as something romantic. There were ghosts of the past thick in the air, and on a day when the birds didn’t roost and the bark of the dogs thumped dully instead of sounding out like trumpets, they were much more real, just at the verge of perception. She could feel their presence. Was Sir Bob there as well? She called out to him and smiled.
As soon as he saw her, Johnny instinctively slithered to a shadow. There was a fine target if there ever was one. The pretty girl lived alone and nobody would miss her. She was most likely going out of town in the idiotic way she usually did. No witnesses. Perhaps he could have his way with her before he slit her throat. Not that he wouldn’t do things to her if he had to kill her first, mind, but a living girl is more fun. Yeah, that would be nice, no? He smiled. Yes, he would have a great day.
Despite the easy target, he was still careful. Once he was certain that he knew where she was going, he went a different way. Even if someone saw him, he wasn’t following the girl. No, not him. he was innocent, see? He crept around to the other side of the village then bushwhacked across the fields, stalking his prey.
Lisa closed her eyes. For a moment she saw the old castle in its original form. The little vision started off as her idea dictated, bright white walls and bright blue witch-hat-topped towers. Flags flapping and snapping in the wind. Beautiful, enchanting.
But then a true vision came to her. The rough stone sweating moisture and mold, the cold drafts, the hunting hounds fighting over scraps and bones on the dirty floor, the itchy wool clothing, the smells, the… With a small shriek she suddenly saw it: no running water! Using chamber pots! No 30-minute showers in steaming hot water! In fact, pretty much no bathing during the winter unless you wanted to risk pneumonia. Dirty clothes against dirty body. Yuck.
And she saw Sir Bob. He was rumored to be a ladies’ man, but he was a bit on the homely side, wasn’t he? But still, if he was the protector of innocent forever, that would include now, wouldn’t it? She smiled. It was actually more fitting this way. Sir Bob was almost more honorable as the homely little man than the tall, handsome knight, no?
Lisa opened her eyes and took in the old stone. A little of the romantic veneer had rubbed off. But it was still peaceful to sit there and contemplate the Universe. She sighed. Yes lovely. There was no place that she would rather be, particularly when she was alone. Nobody at all around.
But wait, was there a movement over there? Is that a shadow of a man? What is he holding?
The voice on his cell phone was calm, but something bugged him. Perhaps it was the way the sun had risen that morning or the way the breeze had made the ancient tower of the ancient church moan and groan. Bruce shook his head and thought about the voice-mail.
“Hi Bruce, this is your neighbor, William. I had an odd message from my friend Penelope. She said she had a premonition about that Goth girl, Lisa. The girl was headed up towards the old ruins. I know this sounds silly, but I’m worried. It may just be the way the shadows seemed to dance and move this morning, but when Penelope says she has a premonition… Anyway, if you have a second, can you go up to the old ruins and check it out?”
Bruce thought about the man he saw on the street as he was headed to work and shivered. He was self-employed and worked alone and liked to be alone when he was with a customer, but he did feel part of the larger community.
Bruce walked boldly down the street, the “Closed” sign swinging in the window of his shop. He’d be back soon, he was sure.
Lisa stood up and walked away from the moving shadow. She went around a large stone, but kept looking back over her shoulder. Something, someone, was there.
“Sir Bob, if you ever really made that promise to protect the unprotected, please fulfill it now!” she said.
She walked backwards, looking at the spot where the shadow had been, but didn’t see the it any more. And yet, she felt something. She spun around.
Johnny stood above the girl, sneering. He held a knife in his hand. He would have this girl, he knew. Even if she didn’t have a penny, he could do as he pleased. It would be a marvelous day, a day that would see blood.
Johnny lunged and Lisa screamed.
A hunting hound came out of the ruins. It barked a sound of trumpet and drums. The brassy sound echoed off of the ruined walls of the ancient manor. The hound bayed loudly, sounding an alarm. The people in the village could hear it as it shattered the deathly vale of silence that had enveloped the town. “Arise, arise! Danger, danger!” The bark shook the trees, which dislodged the ragged ends of the mist, it shattered the sky so the storm clouds fled in fright leaving a bright blue, allowing the sun to come out and fix the shadows in place so they no longer danced their deadly dance. “Alert, Alert,” the barking said. The wind stopped moaning through the tower, but instead shook the bells so they rang out, their peeling echoing the peeling of the hound’s barks.
The people of the village stopped and looked up.
Bruce came up behind Johnny as the violent young man tried to fight the dog off with one of his daggers. Bruce grabbed the ruffian in his bare hands, lifted him above his head and flung him away. Johnny landed against a foundation stone with a sickening crack and didn’t move. His body was bent at an odd, unnatural angle.
Bruce found Lisa half conscious, one hand pressed tightly against her bleeding shoulder, blood oozing around her fingers as she tried to cover a wound where Johnny’s cruel knife had bitten into her skin, ripping the innocent flesh as the hoodlum had tried to cut her clothes off of her writhing, resisting body. Bruce immediately removed his jacked to use to stench the flow of blood.
The people of the village arrived just behind Bruce, having been risen out of their grey-day stuper by the baying of the hound and the ringing of the bells. They saw the little scene in horror, but soon moved to action, taking care of the injured girl and discovering the heavily armed dead man. Nobody had even given a thought to the hound as they worried about poor Lisa until it was realized that the dog had vanished as mysteriously as it had arrived.
Ever after Lisa considered Bruce a true hero, but deep down she knew that there were others that helped. She visited Penelope at least once a week and treated her like a second mother. She occasionally was able to talk William into playing hooky on a beautiful day and having a picnic with her and Bruce in the romantic ruins of the old manor.
Most of all, though she thanked one who nobody in the village believed had anything to do with her rescue.
Every day she walked down to the old church and laid her single red rose on Sir Bob’s stony lap, but she also daily left a little valentine card of thanks to the noble knight that she knew had honorably kept his promise and fought to preserve her life and her honor.
A little experiment with a POV that I normally don’t use but seemed appropriate for this little fable.
This was posted as part of Sue’s #writephoto challenge almost exactly 2 years ago (see the original from the 10th of January, 2019). I hope you enjoy this blast from the past!