A small excerpt from my novel “Call of the Crow”

Seeing as my last post was about my very first novel, I thought I would share with you the first chapter of it, to give a taste of what it’s like, my writing etc.
Keep in mind though that this is just a first draft, an “alpha build” if you will (for all my fellow gamer nerds out there) so a lot can happen before it’s complete.

Enjoy!

Chapter 1

Erharts eyes hurt as he slowly opened them. A tree towered above him, dead and twisted, small drops of water gently hit his face as they fell from its naked branches. Around him and on his body lay it’s fallen leaves; and amongst them crawled countless beetles, maggots, and other critters. The ground underneath was cold and damp, and some of the dirt covered him in place. Overhead, an overcast sky loomed, dark and ominous, only slight rays of pale sunlight breaking through the clouds.

He tried to get up; his whole body ached as he started moving and the metal plates of his brigandine cuirass didn’t make it any easier. As he got on his hands and knees he felt sick, his head was light and it was as if something was lodged in his throat; he started violently coughing, the back of his throat aching until he regurgitated a pool of a dark, bile-like substance on the ground, and in it, a small insect of some kind was squirming.

He sat himself up on his knees, his head aching. He ran his hands through his light brown hair, it was greasy and unkept, and although he was only in his mid thirties, it had already begun to go grey. His beard was the same, although a bit longer, covering a rough face and pale skin.

His clothes were all black, or at least they had been at some point, now worn and the colour faded and covered in dirt. In even poorer condition was the long black coat he wore over his armour; reaching his knees in length, it was of military design, but had been repaired many times. The sleeves of it had been crudely modified to be detachable and a hood, most likely from some other garment, had been roughly sewn on. A long, slender sword hang from a wrap-around leather belt, its grips leather wrapping was worn and the blade had spots of rust on it.

Leaning back, he noticed a crow, perched upon one of the twisted limbs of the tree, with deep black feathers and deep black eyes, staring at him, unblinking. He felt a chill as it watched him, but couldn’t take his eyes off it.

Without being aware of it himself, his hand had started playing with something hanging around his left wrist: two fine silver chains, something he hadn’t noticed before. Breaking his trance, he looked at them and found two names inscribed on plates, connected to the chains: “Anneke” and “Ayla”. He ran his fingers softly over the plates, caressing the names. Those names meant something to him, they were important to him, and yet he couldn’t remember why. He could remember many other things, so why not this? Were they even his?

He slowly rose to his feet. A feat that took a greater amount of effort than he would have thought, his legs weak, as if it was the first time he had tried to walk in his life. He stretched body, bones creaking as he did so.

As he looked around, he saw that the grass around the tree, and the spot where he had lain, looked brown, pale and dead, spreading out almost like a perfect circle, presenting a stark contrast to the muted green of the grass and foliage that filled the rest of the immediate area. The tree also seemed to be the only one in this decayed condition, the rest crowned with leaves, although sparsely.

The world around him seemed awfully quiet, no leaves rustling, no sound of wings fluttering or birds chirping. Not even the sound of wind; just a lot of cold, silent nothing. There was a soft mist hanging over the place, creeping across the forest floor, amongst the trees, only adding to the ghostly atmosphere. As far as he could see, through the eerie mist, there were nothing but trees, no indication of buildings or any sign of life, except for his. And the crow, still sitting there. Silent and staring.

He looked to the bracelets on his arm again, trying hard to remember the faces that the names belonged to, but they just seemed to drift father away the more he tried. He had an immense feeling of longing and sadness when he ran the names through his head; and yet, a feeling of happiness as well. There were so many questions, so many things unknown to him; it was as if he had woken up in a different world.

He started walking in a random direction, at first struggling to find his footing on the uneven ground, the muscles in his legs giving slightly under his weight, but little by little they found their strength. He wrapped his coat tightly around him, it’s hood pulled over his head to at least give him a bit of warmth. The few rays of sunlight that broke through the top of the trees gave the mist an ethereal glow, it was like walking through a dreamscape, as if the forest would go on forever. In a way, it even felt alive in a way, who knew what was hiding in the mist? Unseen phantoms watching him perhaps?

It felt as if he had walked for hours and he wondered if he forest would go on forever, without end. He soon found relief as the trees became more scattered and he could see an end to this labyrinth of wood and fog. Suddenly, his boots sank into deep mud as he stepped on to a road going off into the mist on both sides; and beyond the road, in front of him, stretched barren fields. Finally he had found an end to the darkened forest, it had begun to feel like a prison, and he almost thought that the trees had moved closer, to smother him. He turned left down the road. Mud stuck to his boots, the road had perhaps once been well travelled, with the tracks of numerous carts still visible, but slowly nature was reclaiming it again. The silence was still there, no sound but the ones he made. As if life had all of a sudden been sucked out of the world.

He hadn’t walked long before he saw something coming out of the mist; structures, buildings of some kind, just off the road. Finally, a sign of civilisation, there was hope at last. As he came closer, it became clear that it was a small hamlet, consisting of only a dozen houses, with only a minor fence surrounding it, most likely these people were mainly farmers. He had come across several of these, scattered across the land, while he was on campaign, but something new, something different that didn’t belong there caught his eye: a tall wooden structure was erected just outside the entrance to the dwelling, shaped like a square pole with half of a spoked wheel on top. He knew instantly what it was: a symbol of the church. It had never been displayed like this before, usually they were only seen hanging from the necks of clerics, or in the houses of the very few devoted. A small piece of torn parchment was nailed to the wood, it had something written on it but it was impossible to read, the ink having long been worn away by the elements. When he inspected the construct closer, he found several names carved into the wood, they seemed to have been there for a long time, but he couldn’t decipher their intended meaning or purpose.

The houses of the hamlet were simple, small and made of wood but there was no light coming from any of them and not a soul to be seen outside. Even here the mist had crept in, and the relief Erhart had finally found was drained away from him. Several of the doors displayed the symbol once again, hastily painted in white and they seemed to be boarded up from the outside, along with the windows. The first thought that came to him, was that people had been locked in their homes. The thought brought to his mind, unwanted images of pleading men and women and crying children, locked in their homes as they were set ablaze. Though there were no trace of fire here.

As he stood and looked around, he saw a human figure in the mist, some distance away from him. He moved towards it, calling out with a weak, coarse voice, but the figure disappeared back into the mist. Erhart increased his pace trying to catch up, but there was no sign of whoever he had just seen and he began to wonder, if it had been his mind and the mist playing tricks on him. Not far from where he stood, however, was a house, it’s door unmarked and slightly open.

There was no light coming from inside the house and there seemed to be no movement of any sort. He approached the door and weakly knocked on the frame as he gently pushed the door open.
A low “Hello?” passed his lips. No answer came, nor any sound from within at all. He gently pushed the door open to reveal a simple home; wooden floor, a fireplace for warmth, but were it not for the soot blackening the stone it would be hard to believe that a fire had ever burned there. The furniture was sparse and of simple, yet robust design and a layer of dust covered every surface. Across from the door stood a desk and over it slumped a human figure, unmoving.

As he drew nearer, he saw the body to be that of a grown man, holding a pistol in his hand. On the right side of his head was a thick layer of black gunpowder and on the other side, a large hole surrounded by long since dried blood. “Such a poor soul,” he thought to himself, the idea of dying alone and forgotten like this was horrifying. And to do it by ones own hand, even more so. He gently removed the pistol from the mans cold grip, inspecting it keenly. It was of a slightly older design, its handle and structure well sculpted, made of some form of exotic hardwood and with ivory inlays, clearly a masterly crafted piece, and it seemed almost out of place in such a humble setting. Next to it on the table was a couple of lead balls and a gunpowder horn. With no small amount of guilt, he pocketed the lead shots and hung the horn from his belt. “No reason to let it go to waste.”

The man might have been a soldier, having been unable to live with the horrors he had seen, or the things he had done. Death, may have seemed the only option. This was something Erhart himself knew intimately, and couldn’t help but wonder how many nights this man may have woken up, screaming and sweating, horrible images branded onto his eyes.

He then heard something, like a child’s voice but distorted, very quiet, coming from a room he hadn’t noticed when he first entered. He moved towards the door, pistol in hand and slowly opened the door. As he moved into the room it was revealed to be a small bedchamber and there on the bed, he saw something that made his blood run cold.

Upon the tattered, dirty sheets was what could only be described as shadow and smoke, in the shape of a small girl, laying on her side, coughing violently. Weeping. Her features were unclear, like looking at a person through a dirty window. The voice was like a low, soft echo, unnerving and unnatural, and she sobbed as she coughed up blood, like someone deadly ill and in pain. She then started choking, opening wide what could only be her eyes and then grew still: Life seemed to leave her. If it had in any way had any life in it at all to begin with. He stood there frozen by the sight, trying to make sense of what he had seen, and then, it started again from the beginning, coming back to life to repeat the cycle once more.

Terrified, he slowly backed out of the room, feeling cold looking at it but unable to avert his eyes. When he was fully out of the room he saw something out of the corner of his eyes, a figure, standing in the middle of the room, watching him. He turned to face it and its appearance was disturbing to behold.

It was a gaunt, naked figure of a man; his skin was a sickly colour, bruised and sat tight to the muscles and bones; ribcage clearly visible and his belly sunken. He looked like someone who hadn’t eaten for months, and on top of his head was nothing left but a few thin strands of hair. His posture was crooked, as if his spine was deformed, and his belly pulsed in and out, almost as if he was struggling to breathe. It’s face was perhaps the most disturbing of all his inhuman features. His mouth, with its cracked lips and dark, almost black discolouring, like a bad rash, hang open as it shallowly heaved, revealing yellow, rotting teeth and a black tongue. His ears gone, leaving just small holes. His nose had rotted away and above it, two holes where his eyes and lids had once been, now torn out, leaving only dark chasms from which the same dark discolouring was spreading.

Time seemed frozen as they stood there and watched each other, and even though the man lacked eyes, Erhart couldn’t help but feel him staring at him. That there was something in those deep, dark chasms in his face, looking back at him.

The man took a few short steps towards him, stumbling, almost like it was unwilling to move closer, but some unknown force was driving him forwards. His heaving started to increase in tempo making him seem more like a beast than man and Erhart gripped the pistol tighter. Then suddenly, it lunched at him.

In a panic, Erhart raised the empty pistol and frantically pulled at the already depressed trigger. The creature hammered into him, dropping him to the floor and forcing him down. long nails scratching at the floor on either side of him as it tried to bite at his face.

The pistol fell from his hand as he struggled to keep the monstrosity’s unnaturally long gaping mouth from biting his flesh, it’s rotten breath assaulting his nose as coarse, shallow groans came from it’s mouth.

He kicked with his legs while holding the thing at bay with his arms, but it was stronger than its frail looks would suggest.

Suddenly his hand found the barrel of the pistol and he swung its heavy wooden handle at the temple of the creature, knocking it off of him and unto the floor.

Without thought, he was on top of the creature, holding it down, frantically bashing the pistol against its head, breaking bones and covering the handle in thick, dark blood and brain matter. He kept striking until its face became unrecognisable as anything remotely human.

Panting, he dropped the pistol and crawled away from the twitching body and leaned against a wall; his heart pounding like it was about to break out of his chest. He sat there, looking at the malformed thing on the floor, the ruined body twitching with small spasms, making it seem even more haunting and unnatural.

The scene invoked memories and images in his head of bodies strewn across the ground, men, women and children, lifeless, their blood mixing with the mud. His breathing became heavier and laboured, his head felt light and his hands started shaking.

He felt a strong sense of panic overtake him and he knew he couldn’t stay there, he had to get out, had to get away.

He stumbled to his feet, legs shaking, his hands cold. He rushed towards the door, leaning against the wall to keep from falling, his heart pounding faster and faster.
As he walked through the door leading out to the street his vision had become blurred and his legs weak. He fell to his knees, his one hand on his forehead, eyes closed, desperately trying to quell the thoughts and images assaulting his mind.

He collapsed unto the ground, and the world became dark.

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