Annis stood, still holding the gun, her young face puzzled, shaking her head.
“No. No, You must stop it. Jessica. You must.”
The Old Ones moved to a single command, an ancient voice from primordial times. The voice that had once summoned humanity to leave the ways of the gatherer and hunt for flesh. Dark and potent, it summoned now the myriad aspects of itself, the feasters on fear and the eaters of blood, drawing them back to the place where it would Be once more.
“No!” Annis cried aloud, her body being pulled out of shape as if by an unseen pressure.Her face changing, as if under the distorting brush of an artist.
“No,” Jessica heard her own voice, but it was not her own. It was more than a cry of desperation, it was a cold assertion of denial and as she spoke the single syllable, the world seemed to slow. Someone stepped out of her and then turned to face her, kirtle, belted at the waist and long hair braided. A mirror image. She picked up the ugly knife that lay on the stone and in her hand it gleamed silver, catching and reflecting the light above the throne and casting it into the shadows. Then she held it out on an open palm.
“I can’t do this, Jessica, it has to be you.”
The eyes, so familiar, held nothing but expectation.
Jessica reached out and took the blade.
In a single movement the other, had stepped back and lifted the sprawling body of Roald into her arms, her touch transforming him again from monster to man. His eyes flickered open and widened.
The woman shushed him as she might an infant, then looked back to Jessica.
“This is not my time, it is yours. Do what you must.”
Then both were gone and time reprised. It was like a dream within a dream was over and Jessica was plunged back into the nightmare, but this time alone. Annis screaming, the Old Ones creeping back to become once more the single malevolent, life-destroying, malice that they had been, which grew in strength and power with each moment as it flexed its presence and reached out, turning its focus upon the figure that stood at the confluence of every point of its progression.
The name shivered through the underworld like a curse.
Alone and vulnerable, defenceless. Feeling again the hard blows, the brutal, pounding body, the shrill and silent scream of panic, as bound and gagged, she was hurled from the car to roll on the rocks.
That is who you are. That broken, beaten and weak creature, Stand aside and I will spare what remains of you. Resist and you will relive that for eternity. I can trap you as I have trapped the others, locked in your own private nightmare, playing it through, forever.
The knife in her hand gleamed, it’s obsidian blade as sharp as any metal, carved from the congealed blood of the earth itself. Jessica stared at it, images of blood and fear and agony, twisting her thoughts. She could refuse and know that in neverending darkness, or shed her own blood and bind herself to oppose it.
And then she knew.
“No,” she said quietly, her voice simply determined.
She gripped the stone knife and raised her hand, then with a single blow she struck the blood-drenched stone and it shattered as if hit by a pile-driver.
Part 16 of Maybe will be here next week…