A Short Story
David didn’t resist Nancy pulling him through the forest but he was slow and stumbling. He had never been particularly energetic and the days spent in the forest without food had taken their toll. They followed Nukka and Amka at David’s shambling pace putting as much distance as possible between themselves and the creatures.
They remain in the valley, Nukka said.
What are they? What do they want? Can you tell yet? Nancy replied in mind-talk, not eager for David to hear what she asked. He would want to know the answer and perhaps it was not the time to tell him. Not yet.
They are sprits.
They seek the souls of unguided humans. David would feed them for many years.
Nancy’s horror formed a knot in her throat and she clung to a tree to steady herself. Okay, she thought, he’s a spoilt brat, but does that mean I can let a pack of animals feed off his soul? David threw himself to the ground his breath rasping in his throat. Amka circled above him.
But he’s safe now, right? I mean he has us, we’re guiding him.
If we can get him back to the passing-stones and into your world before they catch us then yes, he will be safe from them.
She dreaded the answer but had to ask, And if not?
Then only his own guide can protect him.
‘But he can’t even see her!’ she hissed out loud.
‘Can’t see who?’ who you talking to, sis?’ David gasped.
Nancy rounded on him. ‘I’ve told you not to call me that. I’m not your ‘sis’. And for your information was talking to Nukka about a pack of sprits, whose only goal in life it seems is to eat your soul, slowly.’
She took guilty pleasure in seeing his baby-blue eyes widen in horror.
‘You’re lying! Right?’
‘No. It seems if we can’t get you back to the passing-stone before they catch up, then your only hope is Amka, who, since you insulted and rejected her, you can no longer see.’
‘Get up and run.’
He did as he was told.
It seemed to Nancy to take forever for them to reach the edge of the forest. In all that time, there had been no sound of pursuit. She looked up to the place at the top of the hill where she had met Nukka that morning. It was close and hope swelled in her. They were going to make it. She grabbed David’s arm as he began to sink into the grass.
‘Oh, no you don’t. Come on run.’
David leaned over and retched. ‘I can’t,’ he gasped, ‘…need to breath, just for a minute.’
Nancy looked about her. The sun shone onto the open hillside. Amka circled in the warm still air above them. Nukka, a few paces ahead, looked back at them. Everything seemed peaceful.
‘Okay, you have ten seconds. Start breathing.’
Before David’s ten seconds were up, Nukka and Amka’s warning exploded in her head. She grabbed David’s arm and tried to yank him to his feet.
David’s breath rasped in his throat. ‘No Nancy, please, you said ten…’
A wild screeching echoed through the forest behind them.
She thumped him, hard. ‘David if you want to hang onto your miserable soul you had better run.’
He looked up at her, his stricken face was purple and slick with sweat. ‘Nancy, I can hear them. They’re coming; you’ve got to help me.’ His eyes were wide with terror.
‘Haven’t I told you? I can’t help you, Nukka can’t help you. Only Amka could have helped you. You have to get to the stone and get home, so run you lump of lard.’
Nancy tugged at his arm, David struggled to his feet but after a few stumbling steps he collapsed again, sobbing. ‘I can’t, Nancy, I can’t. I can’t run anymore.’
Nancy looked back at the forest. Countless small crouching figures crept from the shadow of the trees. Their shapeless bodies seemed to shift and change in the pall of dark smoke which hung about them. They were cautious now, looking up at the sun and back to the sobbing boy as if calculating their chances. Nukka and Amka put themselves between the creeping forms and David, but Nancy could see the sprits had no interest in the guides at all.
‘David if you don’t get up right this second then you are worse than dead. If you won’t do it for me then think of Posy. She’ll be upset, really, really upset, believe me I know.’
Sobbing, David crawled on his hands and knees toward the top of the hill. The sprits, however, saw where he was heading and spread out until they surrounded him; cutting him off from the crossing-stone. Cold swept through Nancy as the sprits closest to Nukka passed through his body as though he was no more solid that smoke.
‘Amka, you have to help.’ she yelled.
Amka landed close by and her voice dropped sharply into Nancy’s head.
I can’t help unless David accepts me; he has to embrace my guidance.
‘How can he? He can’t even see you, you damn stupid…’
‘Amka, Amka help me.’ David’s voice was shrill with fear.
‘Okay, that’s more like it,’ Nancy said. ‘She’s sat right here in front of me. Do you see her?’
The sprits were moving closer as if sensing their moment of victory might be slipping away.
‘David, I asked if you can see her.’
David reached toward the black and white bird. ‘Yes, yes, I see her.’
‘Then for heaven’s sake tell her you need her. If I can Change to go find you then you can admit you were wrong.’
Nancy was barely able to hear the whispered, ‘Amka, you were right and I need your guidance, help me, please.’
Shrieking, the sprits dived toward them, Nancy threw herself over David only to be tipped off him a second later when he swore and pushed her away. The sprits shrieks of triumph were turning into screams of rage as they dissolved in the warm air leaving trails of smoky vapour behind them. Nukka’s triumphant howl filled the hillside. Nancy dropped back onto the grass and flung her arms wide.
‘Damn, David, that was close.’ She sat up and glared at him. ‘Do you realize how close? Can you imagine what it would have been like if I had to go home without you? You have no idea how unbearable your mother has been these past few days. Can I just say, if you are going to be a member of this family you have got to promise you will never, ever disappear again. I don’t think I could stand…’
‘Nancy, get a grip.’ David was still engrossed in Amka, as if seeing her for the first time. Then not even sparing a glance in Nancy’s direction, he got shakily to his feet and tottered up the hill.’
‘Well, you ungrateful…’
‘And don’t ever try to hug me again.’
‘Hug you? Me?’
‘Are you coming or not, because you know, now I have Amka, you’re sort of redundant.’
Nancy gaped at him, ‘This isn’t over by a long chalk, David,’ she yelled after him, ‘you owe me. I saved your life.’
‘Amka saved me, not you.’
Nancy spluttered in disbelieve as she watched David’s retreating back. ‘Only so your mother can kill you when you get home,’ she shouted. Then getting to her feet she muttered, ‘With any luck.’