Where would she go? Where could she go? They were going to wake soon, they would come for her soon. They would smell her here, hear her breathe, they would come for her. Esper sat on top of the muddied cloth, both her and it were soaked through. What would she do? The thought came to her relentlessly, repeating itself over and over.
There were no safe houses in the Burrow and even if there were, it was too late, she wouldn’t get there before they got to her. The trees were no good, she knew that. She knew that. The night people could climb. The thoughts looped through her head over and over, repeating themselves, as if some new secret would be unveiled if she repeated them often enough. Some world changing revelation.
The spell wouldn’t work out here on the path, it had barely worked in the house the night before. Every etch she drew in the mud washed away in an instant, the downpour seemingly growing stronger with every attempt. She soon gave in. Esper's knees were pulled to her chest, her head held down forwards by her frail hands, tearing through her soaked and knotted hair. It was dark, they would come soon.
Rain poured down relentlessly, the trees nearby buckling and swaying under the torrential downpour. Water collected on the cliff-side and ran down over the already narrow path, streaming with collected rock and sediment deep into the abyss below. She had never seen so much rain before. Never like this. That it would come now of all times, that it would come so suddenly. It couldn’t be an accident. This was punishment. She knew it.
There was barely anything left to see. There was some time left, but not enough to do anything. Not enough. Esper shivered, the wet now having sunk into her bones through the tight skin that clung to her emaciated body. If she only had the strength to fly away. Fly away like the bird.
She thought of saying the funny word once more, but didn’t have the desire now. Esper pulled out her necklace to fumble with it, and for the first time was not pleased with its icy touch as her muddy fingers ran over the sleek metal. “Not even far,” she thought, as she played with the trinket, just across. If she could just fly across the gap, then she would walk the rest of the way happily. “Just across,” she repeated to herself. Just across, it wasn’t that far.
Across. The word came to her again. Her head rose up and she looked over the great chasm, towards the other side, at least as far as the permeating darkness would let her and she knew what she had to do. The starving child pulled her legs out from under herself, sinking her knees into the muddy cloth below and began tearing at the knots that she had made with such urgency just before, cursing herself for having done such a good job.
Her weak, frail fingers barely managed to slip through the mud soaked knots, let alone undo their bindings which she had put great strength into pulling so tightly shut. Several times her hands slipped down the rope, so often that the skin on her palms began to burn and sting as the layer was rubbed off by the crude rope, fresh mud sinking into her new cuts. Thunder accompanied her as she worked, bouts and bouts of it ringing out through the chasm, loud enough to wake the dead. Again and again the process repeated, however soon the first knot began to loosen.
Quickly she grasped it and tore the first end of the rope free. Time was growing shorter by the minute, if the other knot offered as much resistance then she wouldn’t make it in time. Using her good arm she tore the pouch from her belt with violent force, the cloth ripped and sent the stone knife flying out into the mud. The girl screamed to herself with her mouth clenched shut and crawled out into the darkness, into the goo, sinking her hands deep into the murk to find the blade as rain poured around her.
Water and mud shifted, as the ground became over-saturated with wet, she could feel the soil beneath her loosen and give way, as her weight pressed through it. Where? Where was it? Frantically her fingers worked their way through the fresh mire, until her hand felt a sharp, slicing heat. Her injured arm burned intensely, as she put her weight down onto it.
It hurt, something had cut her deeply. But there was no time to worry about that, she couldn’t afford to let it go. Grasping tightly, she winced as the blade cut deeper into her palm. Espers arm released from the mud beneath her with a wet ‘schlock’. With the stone knife firmly in muddy hand, the bloodied and mud-soaked girl crawled back to the construct.
Esper placed a leg on the cloth and held the rope taught with her bad hand. Closing her fingers so tightly was excruciating. Her face and body were covered with a coagulation of snot, blood, dirt and rain. The blade began slicing furiously on the still attached end of the rope, the now sleek handle of the knife slipping several times from her grasp, causing the blade to run into her fingers several times and once with a large gash across her leg. Yet each time again and again she let loose a muffled scream and tried again, hoping that papa would forgive her for breaking his rope.
After a minute of work, the thinning rope snapped free from its binding. There was no time to lose. Hastily and messily, she rolled the coil together and slung it over her bad arm, the pain now washing together with all of the rest she felt. Taking the knife, she hastily threw it in to the torn pouch on her side and offered it little more than her hopes that it wouldn’t fall out on the way.
With the rope slung over her shoulder, she sprinted back down the muddied path. Beneath the trees it was almost too dark to see now. Running as fast as she could, Esper felt something snag her foot and she fell into the dirt again. Fresh intense pain, something new, now shone through her leg. She kicked wildly towards whatever was there, whatever unseen hand was reaching for her, grabbing her, no longer able to suppress her screams. Rising up, she immediately almost fell back down, as she put weight onto her leg. The world began to spin. Even with her eyes keen to the darkness and the way etched into her senses, it was not an easy trek back. Back to the tree where she had seen the bird.
Hobbling as fast as she could, accompanied by the hammering of the rain on the crowns of the trees above her and the symphony of thunder she lurched onward. There, the tree! It was before her now. She placed her arms onto its thick base and putting all of her strength into it, pulled herself up onto its branches. Every time she placed her leg somewhere she wanted to scream, every time her arm or sliced hands were made to work she wanted to scream.
Hugging the tree, she slowly worked her way around it to the far branch once again. The large, long branch hanging out alone over the chasm. She sat down on the base of the limb near the trunk and leaned forward, clambering to it with both of her arms and legs. She pulled herself forward, inching ever closer to the precipice. The branch swayed violently under the torrent from above and the weight of the girl on top of it. The winds rising from the dead-pit swirling in all directions like a swarm of furious hornets.
Further she crawled, the unspoken voice inside of her body screaming at her to get back. Stop! Get back to the ground! Put your feet on solid ground. She knew that if she opened her eyes now and looked down that there would be nothing but blackness from here till where the dead did sleep. Taking a deep breath and screaming aloud once more she wormed forward again, fearing the branch would break under her weight. Sliding her body outward over the rough bark of the branch further and further out into nothingness.
Holding onto the swaying limb with all the strength she could muster, her muscles in her arms and body locked and tense, she took a second to focus her mind and catch her breath. To try to regain control of her protesting body, which almost seemed to be ignoring her commands for it to move. If she dropped the rope it would be the end. She began unclasping her fingers from her left hand from the branch with some effort. It was as if the joints in her fingers had become rigid, so one after the other she had to focus on opening them.
The rope still hung heavily from her right arm, the weight of the lower end of the coil dangling over the precipice, swaying in the storm and threatening to unbalance her with every violent whip from side to side. She could feel the side of the rope with the tip of her fingers beneath the branch and stretched out as far as she could, waiting for a moment when the wind would bring it just an inch closer. There! The moment came quicker than she had expected and she almost fumbled it.
As soon as the rope touched her palm, her hand clamped shut again with a vice like grip, as her body clung on with desperation, producing strength from sources she couldn’t identify. Once it was in her grasp, her arms and legs still locked around the branch she arched her back upwards and slid the end of the rope through beneath her. Her body quivered with terror at the moment that she had to release her left arm's grip to slide the rope underneath her. As soon it was through, she quickly latched on tightly.
Once more, again, she looped the rope through the same motion and then once more again. Each pass a little quicker than the one before, but still just as frightening. She had to hurry thought Esper, as she dared to raise her eyes to the ever bleaker darkness above. Pulling the rope through one last time, she slid it beneath the three loops she had made and fastened it with a single knot, pulling it tight. As tight as she could, using everything she had in her, she pulled the knot tighter still, ignoring the burning in her hands and body.
Esper’s head turned to the right, gazing out over the abyss, she squinted her eyes towards where she knew the landing before the road to the Burrow was. There was nothing to see in the dark, not with her eyes, save for something white shifting in the distant darkness. There wasn’t much time left, they were waking.
The other end of the rope now dangled down into the abyss below and she hoisted it up quickly with her left arm and once more arched her back, throwing the rope over her shoulder before clamping back down on the branch in fear. Taking her hurt arm, she took the end of the rope now and pushed it through the gap between her and the branch. Sliding it beneath her waist, she then looped it around again once more. Fastening herself to it.
A foul smell, too thick and heavy to be washed away by the rain, came to her senses. The rank odor of wet meat and vinegar caused her nostrils to burn. There was no time left. She had to do it now. Screaming again with her mouth closed, she clamped on as tight as she could with her legs and let her grasp loose with her arms.
Esper sat back upright on the branch and before she could think about it, grabbed the rope bound around her waist and began making a knot on her front. She wasn’t even sure if it was a real knot, she just tore the rope through in whichever fashion was the quickest. There was no time, her fingers having gone numb at this point, she continued her frenzied work, daring only for a second to turn her head to glance behind her. They were there. Already having found her.
Over a dozen of the white robed figures and one without a cloth stood at the edge of the precipice, divided around the base of the tree and stared at her. None of them showed any signs of movement, save for the stormbound winds tossing their matted, wet hair over their glassy, unblinking eyes. Their white mud and grime stained sheets soaked and sticking to their skin, revealing the grisly wounds some bore beneath. Others, long since dead, with faces emaciated and worn away. “Go away!” she screamed at them, her fingers furiously tearing at the rope.
The very last glimmers of light were now leaving. The witching hour had come. Esper’s eyes were wide and fearful, staring at the collection of soulless, hungry eyes standing behind her, all staring at her with want. It only took a moment, but the shift came and daylight died out and gave way to the night. Everything went black as if the sun itself had been obscured by the silhouette of a god.
Thunder clapped on, followed by a strike of lightning which lit up the darkness for only a second. In that single instant, she could see that they had come onto the tree. Haphazardly lumbering and lurching over it, their motions clumsy and heavy, yet with an odd fluidity, as if they were overzealous in their compensation, none of their eyes having left her for a moment, causing their heads to stick at wildly incompatible angles with their bodies. Blackness came once more. “Get away!”
She could feel the branch shake as a new weight had been added to it and she crawled back instinctively, knowing it was almost before her now. Not only the smell of the creatures, but now the smell of their breath rose to her. The branch shook as it came closer, crawling further out towards her. Something before her in the immediate darkness let out a high pitched moan, like the mourning cry of a banshee. Lighting came now first, then followed by thunder.
Hollow sockets with long since rotted out eyes met hers in that second. The mummified skin that remained on the woman’s body taught and pulled over her once witchy face. Her once beautiful smile, now broken and jaggedly shattered, was visible beneath her missing lips. What was left of her long, curly, unruly hair was knotted and torn from the patches of bare skull revealing themselves in other places. A dirt caked silver necklace hanging from her neck. Esper screamed and jumped off of the branch, falling down towards the looming chasm below.
Support "Oratoria: Bury the Dead"
- Floor 69 of the metaphorical-dungeon
- Novice Writer
Socially awkward witches, sad hugs, dramatic adventures, spooky stuff, and comfy dungeons: My name is D.M. Rhodes, but I love to write about those things under the moniker 'Razzmatazz'. (Hopefully full-time, one day soon!) I’m a hobby occultist and, more boringly, I’m an XR expert, as well as a government-trained media and information specialist.
The main genres that I write in are litRPG-fantasy, action, adventure, romance, tragedy, horror, and slice-of-life. I seriously vibe with religious and occult overtones mixed in with super obscure story concepts. °( ~ )°
Thanks for taking an interest! Because of supportive readers like yourself, I can keep following my socially unacceptable dream! (I'm going to become the wizard-king.)
– Always open for feedback!