Greetings, Loyal Reader!
Below is the next section of my Jason Cosmo novelette-in-progress, Rainy Daze. Before you read this, you’ll want to back up to the previous post, and read Part 1. And before you do that, you should buy Hero Wanted, the first volume of the Jason Cosmo series. (Or get the Hero Wanted ebook at Smashwords.) This story is set between chapters of Hero Wanted, specifically after Chapter 6 and somewhere between the lines of the first paragraph of Chapter 7. It isn’t strictly necessary to read the first 6 chapters of the book before you read Rainy Daze, but it may help.
Who blazed this trail and where it went, I did not know. Mercury didn’t know either, but the wizard led the way with resolute confidence. The path was steep and narrow and made more treacherous by the unending flow of water around the fetlocks of our steeds. Every ridge, gully and channel tracing down from the heights was awash with swift-flowing runoff. The river passed from sight as we picked our way between the hilltops, but its great roar contended with that of the storm.
Wind howled around us, flapping our cloaks, bending the trees and slapping at our faces with flying leaves and stinging raindrops. Terrible peals of thunder shook the ground and spooked the unhappy horses. Fearsome clouds blotted out the last remnants of sunshine, leaving our way to be lit by blasts of lightning that shot across the sky like tongues of white flame.
Never had I beheld such a tempest as this. The rains of Darnk were dull and monotonous. But this was like something out of the old stories, the myths of long ago. Had the golden chariot of Great Whoosh, God of Wind and Sky, overturned, spilling its cargo of thunderbolts across the clouds? Had Thunderhoof and Skysplitter, the ornery goats tasked with pulling the chariot, broken out of their pen and partaken of the fermented pomegranate whiskey that Freshlord, God of Fruits and Vegetables, kept in a clay jug behind his sacred tool shed? Perhaps a massive cold front advancing through moist, warm air had triggered atmospheric instability leading to high intensity precipitation and an accumulation of charged particles released as a massive electric discharge that in turn superheated the air, resulting in the aerial shockwaves we perceived as thunder? I didn’t know. Yet whatever its causes, this was a downpour of legendary proportions. It could only portend ill.
I grew more uneasy with every step away from the river road. Darnkites were not by nature travelers. My homeland was so isolated from the rest of the Eleven Kingdoms that it didn’t even share a border with its nearest neighbor, Brythalia. Between the two realms lay this unclaimed wilderness of rocky hills and scrubby forest that now we crossed. All manner of beasts roamed the area—bear, goat, deer, boar, hobcat, and various fowl, including the noisome stinkbird.
But that wasn’t all.
Darnkites delighted to tell one another tall tales about the dangers beyond our borders. When we gathered in our drafty taverns or around the smoking dung fires at night, we spoke of the many fearsome creatures said to dwell in these strange hills beyond our stony pastures and familiar turnip fields. Gruffasaurs and grumpsnorts. The pearly-eyed horngrim and the irritable stumpthrower. Rock toads the size of small boulders. Bully beetles that would bore a hole in your skull while you slept and lay eggs in your brain. Bands of vicious goblins, brutal hobgoblins, and pretentious snobgoblins. The hairless boggins, who stole buttons in the night, and their magical cousins the frownies, who would gruntingly relieve themselves in any pair of boots carelessly left by the doorstep when the moon was full.
Nor were the supernatural terrors of the region limited to such third-class fairy folk. There were slithy troves here. Ghosts who drank blood. Scare hags. Phantom creepers. Free-range enchanted kettles that would cook anyone unwary enough to climb inside them. And the terrible, terrible Jib-Jab Man. Having heard these stories all my life, I had every reason to fear venturing cross country. Yes, it was possible that the monsters rumored to stalk these hills did not exist outside the alcohol-addled imagination of my countrymen. But maybe they did.
Maybe they did.
“What is that sound?” said Rubis.
“All is hear is wind and rain,” I said.
Night was near. Though we could not see the setting sun, the wet gloom grew gloomier.
“No, there is something more,” said Sapphrina. “There! Do you hear it?”
I did. Cutting through the storm came a distinct wailing cry. It rose and fell, then was gone. The sound was distant, but not distant enough.
“A raccoon,” I said.
“Raccoon?” said Rubis.
“That was no raccoon!” said Sapphrina.
“Could have been,” I insisted. “A scared raccoon stuck in a tree.”
“Are you serious?” said Sapphrina. “It sounded more like a lost soul.”
“Like the wail of the shanbee,” said Rubis, nodding.
“That’s it!” said Sapphrina. “The dreadful spirit whose mournful keening is heard when someone is about to die. How does the verse go?”
“Beware the shanbee, ye who shan’t be,” quoted Rubis.
“Do you think so?” I said. I had not considered the possibility of encountering a shanbee.
“Much more likely than a raccoon,” said Sapphrina.
“Might be a lamia,” said Rubis. “Half-woman, half-beast. Devourer of men.”
“Only men?” I said.
Seeing the stricken look on my face, the twins laughed.
“Oh, Jason, we shan’t let the lamia have you!” said Sapphrina.
“We’re hardly done with your ourselves,” said Rubis. She licked her lips.
“But a shanbee could give us trouble,” said Sapphrina. She turned serious. “You don’t think it is one really, do you?”
“It is neither shanbee nor lamia,” said Mercury.
“How do you know?” I asked.
“Because I’ve heard both and that is neither. Now, hush, all of you!”
The cry came again through the wind. It was distinctly louder.
Merc frowned. “We need to find a defensible position, and fast.”
“Whatever is out there—it’s hunting us.”
TO BE CONTINUED … AT SMASHWORDS.COM
I think I’ll leave you with that cliffhanger for now. I haven’t quite finished writing this tale, but plan to do so in the coming days. When I finish, I will release it as a multi-format ebook at Smashwords. In the meantime, you can pop over there and read my two Jack Scarlet tales and my 2008 Halloween story, Beginner’s Luck, as well as the full text of Hero Wanted. By the way, if you enjoy any of those stories, please 1) recommend them to a friend and 2) post a review at Smashwords. (And if you hate the stories, please warn your friends … but give them the link, so they’ll know exactly what to avoid!)