They were so faint at first, that if Charles hadn’t been busy picking his nose, he would have heard them. As it was, they grew louder and shriller, until Charles was forced to cease his activity and listen to them. It was true— the screams sounded from the Waddling Woods.
They rose like a haunting melody, forcing and weaving a way through Charles’ mind. The tune ensnared him in its depths, leaving him gasping for air when the screams stopped, as if surfacing from deep water after a very long while.
Long after the screams had subsided, Charles continued to sit atop the hill, staring listlessly at the distant village. He wondered if he should plug his ears with wads of cloth to prevent the screams from having the same effect on him again.
At the first sign of dawn, he stood stiffly, and trudged towards the village.
The gates rolled open just as he reached the bottom of the hill, and he walked the remaining yards into the village.
‘State yer business here.’ A stalwart guard barred his way just as he walked through the gates.
‘My business is adventure.’ Charles replied in an unwavering voice.
‘Then ye shall find none here.’ The guard made as if to shoo Charles out of the village with his spear.
‘I seek only to pass.’ Charles said defiantly.
The guard hesitated, and finally relented. ‘Take the nearest turn to the right, and ye will find the inn. Be warned though, thieving or any sort of crime is not tolerated ’ere.’
‘Thank you, kind sir.’ Charles answered.
The guard’s severe features softened. He was not used to being treated so politely. He glanced furtively around, before saying, ‘Do not wander outdoors in the night, it is not safe.’
With that, the guard lifted his spear, and so allowed entry into the village.
After a few wrong turns, Charles finally stepped into the inn. The inn was dark, although the sun shone brightly outside. Charles saw, to his extreme disconcertion, that the windows were barred, and candles were lit, forming yellow puddles of wax on the wooden floor, beneath the candlesticks that were set into the whitewashed walls.
‘Greetings. My name is Charles Middle Klyston, and I am looking for an adventure.’ He introduced himself.
‘Middle? What a funny middle name! Ha ha ha!’ The bartender laughed.
Charles allowed a small smile to grace his lips. ‘So I’ve been told. Can I have a drink?’
‘Here you go, boy.’ The bartender plunked a large mug in front of him, and held out his pudgy hand for money. Charles dropped a few gold coins into his hand.
The bartender looked askance at the coins, before pocketing them. ‘Not many can afford to pay so richly.’ He grunted.
Charles shrugged without comment. He refrained from mentioning the Waddling Woods. He brought his drink away from the counter and looked for a seat.
The entire bar was empty save for a hooded figure seated in the shadows. Charles trusted his instincts. They told him to stay away from the shadowed person. And stay away he did. Charles chose a seat nearest the exit, right on the opposite end of the mysterious, cloaked person.
The day passed as Charles nursed the same mug of drink, and watched as people drifted in and out. Everyone had a haggard, anxious expression that bespoke their fear for things unknown and worry for their lives. The hooded figure stayed in the same place.
Evening came, and Charles deemed it fit to retire for the night. He glanced surreptitiously at the cloaked figure, seeing that the person was still there.
He made lodgings, and made his way up the stairs. If he had thought to turn around and look, he would have seen the cloaked figure slip quietly away.
Night came, and Charles slept fitfully beneath his blankets, his back to the window, where the Waddling Woods was visible.
Midnight came, and along with it came a storm. Wind howled through the village, rattling window panes. Lightning flashed across the sky, illuminating the Waddling Woods. Sheets of rain fell and pattered loudly against the roofs and windows, and thunder boomed loudly and frighteningly.
Charles sat up in bed suddenly, clutching the sheets to himself. Lightning forked across the sky again, and Charles screamed.
Don’t be mistaken, though. The brave Charles was not afraid of lightning. The flash of white had illuminated a shadowed figure crouching by his bed side. His scream was so high- pitched, that Charles frightened himself and the hooded figure.
The person leaped like a cat that had touched water, but instead of leaping away, the figure leaped towards Charles. For the second time in his life, Charles let out a hair- raising shriek.
‘Will you shut up?’ The figure hissed. The cloaked person landed on Charles’ chest, knocking him backwards onto his bed.
‘Be warned, stranger, I am armed. I will not hesitate to use my sword, if you so much as move a—’ Charles panted for breath, his heart beating wildly, as he gripped the sword that he had placed under his bed.
‘So am I.’ The hooded figure cut across him. A dagger flashed in the moonlight, and he felt cold steel press against his neck. Charles gasped in surprise.
‘Who are you?’ He asked stupidly. Then, when he had somewhat regained control of his senses, he knocked the hood off the person’s head.
The hood slipped away to reveal the face of a young woman. She had elfin features, and her eyes were very dark, dark as night, and they were currently widened in surprise.
It was her turn to gasp. She fumbled for her hood, but it was too late.
‘What do you want?’ Charles asked angrily. He felt that he had the right to be angry. She had given him a shock of his life and had disrupted his sleep.
The woman raised an elegant eyebrow. ‘You shouldn’t be the one asking questions.’ She adjusted her grip on her dagger, so that it pressed harder into Charles’ neck, to emphasise her point.
‘Fine. Ask away, then.’ Charles mumbled, defeated.
‘Yes. First question. What’s your business here?’ She said sharply.
‘I am looking for an adventure. A quest, to prove my courage.’ Charles answered proudly, fear momentarily put aside.
In one deft movement, the women leaped off him. She pulled a chair over from the dresser, flopping into it. It was such that they looked ludicrously as if from a scene in a hospital.
‘Good.’ The women sighed in relief.
‘Why?’ Charles sat up, feeling his neck for damage.
‘You were spying on me, earlier on, in the bar.’ The women said accusingly.
‘You looked suspicious.’ Charles shrugged puzzledly. ‘If I may ask, what is your business here?’
‘I am on the run.’ The woman mumbled shamefacedly.
‘Never you mind.’ Was her quick retort.
‘What’s your name?’ Charles asked curiously.
The young woman gazed at him through unfathomable eyes, before saying, ‘Kaitlyn.’
‘Your real one, please.’ Charles said, quite impatiently.
She appeared startled, before shrugging one shoulder. ‘Destiny.’
‘Destiny? And people laugh at my middle name!’ Charles snorted with laughter.
‘What is your middle name?’ Destiny asked.
‘Middle.’ Charles sobered up immediately.
Destiny gave an unlady- like snort, but didn’t say anything. That reaction intrigued him. Everyone he had met had always laughed and made fun of his middle name.
‘I am Charles Middle Klyston.’ Charles offered his full name.
‘The name’s Destiny Walker.’ Destiny replied with a quirky grin.
‘Destiny, would you like to join me on my adventure?’ Charles asked suddenly, surprising himself with his own question.
‘That would be splendid.’ Destiny clapped her hands together. ‘So tell me, O brave one, where do you plan to go next?’
‘The Waddling Woods.’ Charles replied proudly.
An incredulous expression crossed Destiny’s features. ‘Are you being brave or stupid?’
‘Brave, I should prefer.’ Charles mumbled.
‘You are on a fool’s mission. During my travels across the lands, I’ve heard things, things that are not good repeating about the Waddling Woods.’ Destiny declared.
‘How do you know they are true? Have you been in the Waddling Woods?’ Charles asked defiantly.
‘Well, no. But I’ve travelled far longer than you have, and I have heard more.’ Destiny rebutted. ‘Do you know, screams can be heard—’
‘—from the Waddling Woods, in the darkest hour of the night. Yes, I’ve heard.’ Charles completed her sentence.
Right on cue, the screams howled eerily through the night, and Charles and Destiny paused, waiting for them to subside. Afraid of being ensnared by the screams, Charles stuffed his blankets up his ears. Destiny looked at him at laughed. She seemed quite unaffected by the screams.
‘What?’ He asked loudly, as he couldn’t hear his own voice.
‘If you think of other things, other happy memories, the screams will not affect you.’ Destiny grinned. ‘Oh, quit stuffing your ears. It’s over.’ She yanked Charles’ hands away from his ears.
‘What did you say just now?’ He asked. Destiny sighed irritably and repeated her sentence.
All of a sudden, scuffling boot sounds could be heard from outside their door. A gruff voice mumbled something indistinct, and another low voice replied. Charles glanced at Destiny. She had gone stiff and silent, and had acquired the deer- caught- in- the- headlights look.
‘Destiny, are you alright?’ Charles whispered. Destiny waved her hand down, gesturing for him to be silent.
‘They are after me.’ She whispered. She glanced about. Her eyes fell onto the window. ‘We have to go.’
‘What? Who are they? How do you know?’ Charles whispered back.
‘No time for questions. Do as I say.’ Destiny was suddenly harsh. Her dagger had already been slipped back up her sleeve. She rose in a fluid movement, placing a finger on her lips.
‘Be silent. Grab your things. We are leaving.’ Destiny said commandingly. As Charles hastily slung his bag over his shoulder and strapped on his sword, Destiny sidled over to the window. She examined its hinges.
‘It will make a loud sound as soon as I open it. We have to be quick.’ Destiny whispered frantically, as the gruff voices drifted nearer through their door. Charles’ heart beat abnormally fast, and he glanced fearfully out of the window. They were on the second storey.
With a quick, deft movement, Destiny swung the window open. There was a chorus of protests from the un- oiled hinges.
‘She’s in there! I heard something!’ One of the gruff voices called to his companion. The soft thumps of boots could be heard on the floorboard, coming closer and closer—
‘Hurry!’ Destiny cried to Charles. She was already out of the window, hanging by the ledge. Charles sat on the window sill, his legs dangling in the air, looking down at the oh- so- far- away ground.
‘Have I ever told you I am afraid of heights?’ Charles’ voice wavered, an octave higher than usual.
‘No you haven’t. You can tell me later. We jump, now!’ Destiny cried the last word as the door knob rattled, and pounding of fists could be heard. She yanked on Charles’ legs, and they both plummeted to the ground, into the gloomy darkness.
Ok, so here enters another character… How do you find her? Do you still think Charles is quite a moon- addled fool? 🙂 Where do you think they can go now, now that they have been forced out of the inn? 🙂
You might have realised that there are no more subsequent chapters, as before. The reason is that The Timeless City has been taken down for editing and re- editing, and re- Ok, you get the point. The things is, it’s going to get published! 🙂 Yep, I’m excited, and you can get the full version really soon! Good day, and happy reading!
You may check out a short story series I’m currently working on: The Eventful Life of Morgan Le Fay