Dying Light

The light died slowly. Behind me the frozen forest was already in shadow, temperature falling fast. Shaking off the cold, I stepped out into the centre of the bridge, the last place in the valley still in the sun, breath haloing about me . I wanted to pray but wasn’t sure how or who to pray to. The sun was perfectly reflected in the swollen river as if there were two orbs in the west and I positioned myself at the focal point of their rays. “Why worry about anything anymore,” I thought, enjoying the fleeting warmth.

I tried to remember what the Medicine Lady had told me and reaching down, cupped my hands to the river. The spate of the flood was still sufficient that I could reach it from the bridge. The mountains surrounding the valley were once an ancient seabed, stratified layers of sediment giving the river that flowed through the Zone the saline content that made it ideal for this sort of cleansing. Kneeling at the apex of the narrowing triangle of light I repeated the timeless ritual I had learned in Afghanistan – the remembrance of God. Remembering to wash behind my ears, I tried to pray for my enemies as Lady Lu asked. I tried to pray they too might find peace. Peace and happiness. For everyone. For all time.

Breach – the window of the Maison Bethany the morning after the attack.

I hadn’t left the Zone in more than two years now. I didn’t know anything any more, I didn’t care and it didn’t matter. I closed my eyes, allowing the dying light to dance between my lashes like silent, burning butterflies, fading to nothing as the sun dipped below the tree line and the chill of night came in. From somewhere behind me I heard the clamour of a dog. It was eventide and the valley’s residents were on their way home, completing the daily round of small chores that made up their world within the cradle of the mountains.

Brother Pyke was already on the far side of Pech Cardou, singing and grumbling to himself as he drove and JC had headed for the hot springs with one of the hippies, a fresh faced blow-in named Alba who seemed tolerant of his ways. It was an ideal opportunity to fix a meal before moonrise and meditate on the day. I got unsteadily to my feet and started back towards the house, the shadowy hump of the Maison Bethany, the gothic manse where I had taken refuge from the apocalypse rising from the darkening river bank behind me. The former Dernarnaud family property had a strange, blighted history. Like all things on the Devil’s Chessboard, it came with a body count but for now, in the midst of this madness, it was the closest thing I had to a home.

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I rubbed my hands, wishing I’d brought my mittens. As with any sane person in this crazy world, I hate getting old. I hate the way the cold gets into your joints and how it takes a few nanoseconds longer each day to get one’s ass out of bed. I hate the attrition of fighting skills, the loss of dexterity and blurring of vision, the slow dulling of sensuality and perception.

Even Doozy was off duty tonight, which seemed odd given she’s such a stomach driven cat. Flicking on the central heating, I retired to the tower, picking up my research into Lovecraft’s ultradimensional ‘Old Ones’, notably the continuing conundrum as to how the names of these supposedly fictional deities ended up on a hand drawn chart of the Zone produced in the late 19th century, long years before any of the key stories in the so-called ‘Cthulhu mythos’ saw publication. I was just coming off a long distance call with a fellow Lovecraftian, paving the way for a on- line interview, when I heard a loud crash from downstairs.

Believing either JC or the cat had come back and somehow gotten into trouble, I started down the narrow, wooden steps to the kitchen only to freeze in my tracks.

There was a stranger standing at the head of the table, a young man in camo fatigues, his back turned towards me. His dark, shoulder-length hair was tied neatly in a tail, belying the suggestion he might have any connection with the French military, despite his dress code.

The fuck are you?” I managed, feeling a pang of uncertainty.

The figure made no effort to acknowledge my presence, the moment seeming frozen as if somehow abstracted from time.

Hey!” I took a half step closer, uncertainty metastasizing into fear. “Can you hear me? Peux-tu m’entendre?

The intruder turned, slow as a planet and I realised he was vaguely familiar, a kid barely out of his teens whom I’d seen a couple of times before on the bridge. I think I’d even spoken to him two seasons back, just enough to wish him a nice day. I didn’t have a name to put to the face, not yet – but I could see at once there was something wrong with him. His moon-like face was pale as unglazed porcelain, eyes utterly empty, no more human than holes in a mask. I couldn’t tell if he was looking at me or through and past me.

What are you doing here? Que fais-tu ici?
The young man shook his head slowly. The words when they came were thick and slurred. “I don’t know. Je ne sais pas.”
Behind him I saw broken glass on the floor, the remains of the kitchen window. It was going to cost a pretty penny to replace that double glazing, I dimly noted as the intruder lurched forward, coming between me and the door. The front door was wide open and I caught a glimpse of the moon hanging in the sky, the Bone Moon, full and bright as the eye of a lunatic.
Je ne sais pas.” For a instant I caught a hint of expressivity to the kid’s doughy face, the shadow of a smile about the lips. I sniffed, wondering if he was drunk but couldn’t smell any alcohol.
What do you want? Qu’est-ce que tu veux?
You.” The kid’s smile broadened as if he were about to laugh out loud. “Your life…

This didn’t come as much of a surprise. I figured they’d send someone sooner or later. I just didn’t expect somebody this young. He looked barely old enough to shave.

Get out. Now. Or I’m calling the cops.” I gestured at him with the handset. “Comprendes-fuckin’-vous?

The kid drew himself up to his full height as I dropped into a defensive stance, still clutching the telephone. I wished I had a baseball bat or even a short sword but at present the phone was the only thing resembling a weapon. This seemed to connect on some level. The kid’s eyes focussed on the handset and I could tell from the fear in them that he’d been in trouble before.
In hell. Your blood.” The smile was gone now. He sounded almost apologetic. “Les enfers.
Va!” I pointed with my chin. The kid took a step back and I advanced on him. The handset bestowed power and I brandished it like a crucifix. “Out of my house. Immédiatement!
NON!” he yelled abruptly, snatching up a chair from the head of the table and making as if to strike me. “In hell. Your blood in hell. I take your life.
Steeling myself, I took another step and the intruder continued to back away, chair wavering. The thought occurred to me, not for the first time, that he was in a trance, quite possibly psychedelically induced.
Your life!
We were on the threshold now and I looked past him, towards the moon.
C’est beau,” I murmured and the kid turned, following my gaze as I backed him out of the house. “La lune.

Making my move, I slammed the door hard, jamming my shoulder to the panelling. Realising he’d been tricked, the kid rounded on the portal, squealing like a demon. Splintering the chair into matchwood, he vented his frustration against the exterior of the building, shrieking and giggling. He took a series of flying kicks, splitting the door and hurting himself a little which only made him more enraged. I mouthed a silent prayer to Cardea, the Roman Goddess of hinges that the rivets would hold.

For a while our heads were only inches apart, separated by a thin layer of bulging panelling as I held the door in place and I was grateful my French was too poor to comprehend the stream of invective aimed towards me My attacker sounded, for want of a better word – possessed. The hinges were fully sprung from their sockets and it was only sheer force of will keeping the door in its frame by the time the volley of blows petered off. I heard distant voices, a hippie couple walking by outside. They must have known the assailant because they stopped to ask if he was okay. Offering some half baked reassurance, the kid took off towards the village, giggling as he ran.

There was something familiar about that laugh. I took a breath, appraising the damage, taking a moment to realise that the intruder had reminded me of the Hyena- Swine – or at least the kid who played him, the late Daniel Rigney in the 1996 ‘ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU’.

Alone among the Beast People”, I sighed, settling myself at the table and trying to puzzle out the emergency number for the gendarmerie – which turned out to be 17. Doozy nudged her way in through the broken cat flap, brushing against my ankle as I dialled. “Where the hell were you when I needed you?” I hissed but the cat was typically silent. The cops proved equally unhelpful – at least my French wasn’t up to the job and the sullen late night officer on duty hung up on me before I could adequately explain my address or circumstances. I tried calling JC, brother Pyke and the Guardians but it was long after midnight and their cells were sensibly switched off.

I managed to shutter the broken windows but the door was too badly damaged to offer any security. Fetching my laptop and a short sword, I decided to fix myself a coffee and keep watch until sunrise. I was too adrenalised to sleep and there were too many questions running through my head. It was hard to imagine the young psycho had chosen my house entirely at random and even he had seemed confused by his actions. But who had sent him? And why?

It hadn’t escaped me that this whole nightmare started this way, with another intrusion into my home on the full moon of October 1 2020. We had laughed about it at the time, saying it was like being in a real-life European ‘giallo’, even gave it a joke title ‘Seven Toads for an October Moon’ and imagined what the Morricone score might sound like. But it wasn’t funny any more. It had stopped being funny a long time ago.

Given that no-one was answering my calls, I figured the only thing to do was start blogging.

I’m sitting here now at my keyboard in the middle of the night in this weird old house at the centre of the so-called ‘Devil’s Pentagram’, waiting for the day.

river tree image

Thank you for reading the Richard Stanley blog, Tales from the Zone, a journal that will give outsiders some small insight into our day to day lives in the valleys of French Occitania. Please NOTE these entries are meant to be experienced in order. If you only just found this blog, you can begin reading from the start: Halloween. You can also find Richard Stanley on Twitter, and Facebook. However, Tales from the Zone are only published here.

If you want to support Tales from the Zone by Richard Stanley, you can do say via PayPal donations.

2 thoughts on “Dying Light”

  1. Friend, just remember lessons from Mexico. Tap into Ed Calderon’s social media chronicles on Instagram where he posts the most.

    If someone really does come for you, there would be no talking beforehand.

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