The shovel lying across his shoulders was heavy, a hand grabbing the long wooden handle to keep it balanced there. The small bag on his back bounced each time his foot made contact with the ground, crunching the piles of dead leaves that had gathered there throughout the fall.
His gaze didn’t waver as he came round a small bend of the path he walked through the lot of trees, bright moonlight bouncing off the iron gates, his destination, that stood imposingly at the end of the path, the dirt quickly giving way into trodden grass.
Graveyards were his favourite by far. Never much in the way of loot or reward compared to a tomb or mausoleum, but the oppressiveness of their silent rock headstones standing in lines, some cared for and others forgotten, along with the macabre closeness with those kept there sent his heart pounding and blood churning. What he did was not normal work, not for the weak of will or heart, but it was work, impractical as it was.
Each foray into the resting places of the dead was a chance for Richard to find items and trinkets to sell for profit. Usually it was more than enough for him to buy food and a few nights worth of rest at an inn, but occasionally he would stumble upon something of far greater value. Something he knew would fetch an fabulous price and make his pocket that much deeper.
Stepping through the gates of this particular graveyard was no different than normal. It was quiet and calm, his only company being those resting beneath the ground he walked on.
Stopping just a few steps in, Richard fished the somewhat torn piece of newspaper from a pocket and squinted, double checking the name that was listed in the obituary. He had to scan the list a few times over in the low light, finally finding the name he wanted. It was surprising for a small town to have such a collection of burials in a short span of time. Usually he wouldn’t bother coming to a place like this, but the opportunity was too good to pass up.
Of course, he would never bother with the grave of a commoner. Gold coins, maybe a small trinket like a necklace, but hardly anything else beyond that. Not enough to make a living. That is why Richard had not gone to the community burial ground, instead foraging out in the middle of the night, when it was darkest, to find the private graveyard of the family that lorded over the surrounding towns.
One Sir Edward H. Robertson, aged sixty-three, had allegedly died from complications surrounding a hunting accident the week prior, and was buried in the Robertson burial plot, just a short distance away from the large manor that overlooked the nearby town of Drumhill. A great opportunity for sure.
Shoving the paper back in his pocket, Richard began to make his way towards the back left end of the plot, passing a handful of small headstones etched with sadly short times between dates of birth and death. Those were the few he would never touch; sure, he was a graverobber, but even then he had some morals left. The other marble and stone monuments were thankfully less saddening, Richard even smirking when he passed a collection of stones sitting beneath a statue of a dog, the Robertson family obviously caring for the pets they once had.
Stalking past a particularly large grave marker, Richard caught sight of the reason why he had come in the first place. Not the largest stone, but it still had been carefully crafted and laid into the ground, the earth beneath still having yet to settle properly, a small collection of flowers scattered around it.
Shrugging off his bag and setting it down, Richard moved the flowers away so he could begin his work, peeling back the freshly laid grass and thrusting his shovel into the loose dirt.
At the same time, as soon as his spade broke through the earth, a distant baying of a dog rang out a great distance away, echoing faintly in Richard’s ears, bringing him pause. Raising the shovel again and bringing it down, he was forced to pause at the continued howling of the dog, which carried throughout the otherwise silent night.
Ignoring the sound, Richard focused on his digging, obscuring the baying with the scraping of his shovel as he dug further and further into the grave.
Even though he had committed the act many times, the work was still as backbreaking as it ever was, Richard taking a small handful of breaks to both rest and keep lookout. Of course, the continued howling proved that to be a little more difficult than usual, the man silently cursing whatever dog it was that was responsible.
Soon, however, Richard’s spade struck something far harder than the soft dirt. With part of the wooden casket now exposed, he took his time to completely clear the grave of the loose dirt before setting the shovel aside and moving to open the casket.
Even though the moon was bright, Richard was forced to fetch the box of matches he carried in his breast pocket and light one, using the brief light source to find just where exactly he could pull open the wooden box. Discarding the match, Richard grabbed hold of where he found the lid to be, heaving it open and keeping it propped open with a leg.
Grabbing another match, he lit it and peered into the casket. Ignoring the pale face of the man lying beneath him, he took a quick look over of the casket, finding it disappointingly empty. Usually, noteable members of successful families would be buried with a substantial amount of loot, as was custom for the people of this land.
Sighing and tossing the now used match away, he kneeled down onto the edge of the casket and lit another match, hoping against hope that the man had been buried with at least a few things on his body, enough to pay for a few meals or a night of rest. Sleeping in a forest was not fun.
Patting down the corpse’s body, the only worthwhile item he could find was a pair of cufflinks that he had been buried with, Richard quickly pocketing them and continuing his search.
Coming to the man’s neck, Richard felt his fingers brush past something obviously metallic, a small smile growing on his lips. With another lit match, he pulled the necklace free from beneath the man’s suit, smiling growing again as the gold shimmered in the flickering of the small flame.
The howling was still continuing, louder than it was before, as Richard studied the necklace, coming to grab the large trinket that was fastened onto it. It was some sort of locket, which, despite not being fastened closed in any way, Richard was unable to open, the man fumbling with slightly as he cursed under his breath.
Abandoning the idea to open the locket at that time, he carefully undid the necklace from around the man’s neck, pausing for a few moments as the night suddenly went quiet, the distant baying of the dog vanishing completely.
Pushing those thoughts to the back of his mind, Richard hastily closed the casket and tossed his shovel back up to the surface, pocketing his loot and clambering up as well.
A chill ran through him as he studied the graveyard around him, now covered in a small layer of fog that hung just above the grass and flowed around the tombstones. Grabbing hold of his shovel, Richard quickly began to pile the earth back into the grave, his work hasty, disturbed by the sudden eerie changes going on about him.
A few pats to flatten the dirt, rolling the grass back into place, and returning the flowers to their original place, Richard shouldered his bag and began to trace his steps back through the graveyard, something ominous, something heavy weighing on his mind.
Coming round one of the larger monuments, Richard’s heart nearly stopped beating as he caught sight of a woman facing away from him, kneeling in front of a grave with her hand resting against the stone face.
Praying that she hadn’t noticed him, he took a tentative step back, being careful not to step on any dead leaves that littered the ground.
This proved to be futile, as at his step, the woman rose to her feet and turned around, hands clasped tightly together as her black dress swayed slightly in the wind.
Richard froze in place, shock stunning him still and fright coursing through his veins.
The woman in black was headless, an unending blackness in place of where her neck and head should be. And yet she moved, taking a small step towards him, hands still clasped in front of her.
Not believing his eyes, Richard raised his shovel in front of him to use it as a weapon, trying to keep as much distance between himself and the impossible woman stalking towards him. Steeling his resolve, he lashed out with his shovel, hitting the woman straight in the chest.
But instead of striking her, the world in front of Richard exploded in a brilliant flash of light and heat, driving the man to flinch and stumble backwards, falling onto his back as he tried to scurry away. The ground in front of him was scorched, the grass still smoldering in the wake of the explosion in which the headless woman had disappeared and left smoke in her wake.
Readjusting himself, Richard shakily rose to his knees and shuffled forward, poking at the charred dirt with a foot, bewildered by what had just transpired.
A single, drawn out howl rang out through the night.
And Richard ran, the necklace still in his pocket.
Navigating through the bustle of the town, Richard fiddled with the necklace in his pocket, fingers running over the smooth golden portion of the locket. It had been two days since he had obtained it, and despite all efforts to fiddle and pry at it, the locket had refused to open at all.
Which was why he found himself in the port town of Kingsport, heading towards the one place he knew that he could both get it opened, and get it sold. Connections were important in his line of work, even more so if you could gain the trust of those you interacted with and with people who didn’t ask too many questions.
Taking a left and diving through a shady alleyway, Richard picked up his pace, a restlessness settling in him. He wanted to get rid of the necklace, the events of the night he had obtained it still weighing heavy on his mind. He still was unsure about what he had seen, not trying to give much thought to what exactly had transpired and the figure he had seen.
Regardless, he pushed the thoughts to the back of his mind as he stepped into the sunlight and began his way down the street.
This part of the town tended to be less busy than usual, most people getting their “fine” shopping out of the way earlier on in the day. Tailors, artisans, artists and the like are who called this district home, their shops lining the streets in careful tidiness and elegance, as if the storefronts were holding themselves to a higher standard.
Catching sight of his desired destination, Richard palmed his pocket to once again check that the item was still there, shrugging his shoulders in unease as he trotted up the few stone steps of his friend’s jewelry store.
The door gave way easily, Richard opening it without effort and entering the store, noticing the light to be dim thanks to the drawn curtains blocking out the front windows. The emptiness of the place was not unusual, but what was unusual was the fact that the owner of the store wasn’t hunched over behind the counter, the older Mr. Edwards being nowhere in sight.
Walking up to the front counter, Richard rapped on the wooden countertop a few times and snatched the item from his pocket, keeping it wrapped in its cloth when setting it down. It took a few moments for Mr. Edwards to appear, but when he did, the atmosphere of the store brightened considerably.
Dull light shining off the bald head of the jeweler, Mr. Edwards strode through the doorframe that led into the back of the shop, smiling widely. “Richard!” The older man exclaimed, reaching over to clasp a hand onto his shoulder and shake his hand. “Good to see you again! What brings you in here this time?”
Returning the handshake and sliding the obscured locket forward, Richard took the moment to clear his voice to respond. “I… have an item that I need fixed and appraised.” Was all he said, the two men having learned to keep things short and simple in this matter of business.
“Ah, well, let’s take a look at it in the back, then.” Mr. Edwards replied, grabbing the cloth and pushing away from the counter. “The door, if you will.”
Nodding, Richard walked back to the front door of the shop and latched the lock, flipping the sign to “Closed” and pulling down the shade. Circling around the end of the counter, he followed through the door that Edwards had disappeared through, taking a moment to close and lock that door behind him as well.
“So.” Edwards began in his usual serious tone, sitting down on a stool along the far wall of the back room, which shelves and counters were full of jewelers instruments and tools. The disarray wasn’t unusual, and the room was actually in better shape than in most of Richard’s visits, but he had to wonder just how the old man kept track of everything in the shop. “This appears to be some sort of locket necklace, then?”
He smiled at the fact Edwards had completely skipped over the questions as to where it had come from, instead focusing in on the important parts. “It is, and it seems to be jammed shut. I fiddled with the damn thing for a good while, but no luck so far.” Richard replied, moving to lean on the counter next to the jeweler, who had already began to pry at the necklace himself.
A few huffs and gruffs later, and Edwards had set the locket down again, bringing the large, free-standing magnifying glass down to let him have a closer look. “It is quite stuck, which is odd since it’s in good condition and has no actual lock, just a small latch. The etchings on it are quite interesting too…”
Richard, bored by his older man’s musings, turned his attention to one of the windows the lined the walls, staring up over the roofs of the neighbouring buildings and into the sky, which had began to turn a light orangish-pink with the setting of the sun. His mind turned to thoughts about the next few coming hours and days. He obviously needed to find a place for lodging for the night, but beyond that, he hadn’t a clue.
His attention was grabbed away from his thinking when Edwards sighed and pushed his magnifying glass away, setting the necklace down. “You’ll have to give at least the night to toy around with it.” He said, leaning back slightly on the stool to make eye contact with Richard. “I could just buy it off you now, but I can’t do that in good faith without the both of us knowing what’s actually inside the locket, and I don’t want to keep you around all night.”
“How much were you thinking?” Richard asked, untroubled by the man’s revelation and focusing on the important part of their relationship. Sure, he was intrigued by what the locket contained, but money was still the priority.
“I’ll give you one-hundred for it. It’s in wonderful shape and the gold is in fact actual gold.” Mr. Edwards said, flicking off the lamp beside him and wrapping the necklace back up. “I doubt there’s anything in it besides a picture, but I’ve made quite a few discoveries in these sorts of things in my days, so that might change.”
Richard nodded, holding out his hand to the man who grasped it in a firm handshake, the men agreeing to the terms. “I’ll come back in the morning then, hopefully you’ll have figured it out.”
Together, the men exited the back room and left the necklace behind, the memory of it being pushed to the recesses of Richard’s mind as he bid Mr. Edwards goodbye and stepped out onto the street, hands in his pockets as he looked around.
It was as a good a time as ever to hit up an inn for the night, Richard beginning his way down towards the town’s harbour where the cheapest of the sorts were located. Absentmindedly admiring the nicer shops he passed by, he happened to chance a look down one of the narrow alleyways that led to nowhere in particular.
A white cat stared back at him, sitting patiently atop of a barrel near the entrance of the back street with its tail flicking idly behind it. Stopping with a smile growing on his face, Richard took a few steps towards the possible stray and held out a hand, palm-up.
The white cat, with its peculiar red eyes, sniffed at his fingertips for a few moments, pulling back and returning to its original pose, leaving him with a small frown as the cat sprung off its perch and in the direction Richard had just came from.
He watched it go for a few moments, posture faltering slightly as the tiredness from the last few days began to hit him.
A bed in an inn sounded nice, even if it smelled of piss.
The bed creaked in annoyance when Richard sat up from it, rubbing his face to try and wake him up. The others in the neighbouring rooms of the inn had done nothing but yell, shout, and bang for the past hour or so, keeping him wide awake and irritated by the disturbance. Thankfully they had begun to taper off, but occasionally a shout that traveled through the thin walls would jolt him awake, driving his annoyance only higher.
He studied the room of the inn, which was small and dingy, illuminated by only the moonlight that fell in through the window, its drapes tied off to keep them open. Off to the side, he saw his jacket and clothes discarded on the only other furnishings in the room, a small chair and table that sat beneath the window, the rather harsh light of the moon also doing its best to keep the man awake.
Annoyed by both the audacity of his neighbours and the moon, Richard stood up and shuffled across the floorboards to the window, untying one side of the drapes and reaching over to another.
A shadow passing in front of the window spooked him slightly, bringing him pause before he pulled the curtains shut, double-checking the lock. He tried to rationalize the occurrence in his mind, realizing that his first-floor room backed onto an alleyway, so it wasn’t all too surprising for someone to pass through it.
Crawling back into the warm embrace of the bed, Richard began to fall back into sleep facing away from the problematic window, content with the fact that the yelling from before had died off, letting him rest easy.
But it wasn’t long before a shrill baying of a dog pierced through the night, stealing his breath away as he sat up and gazed towards the window, the howling as clear as day despite the window being closed.
Taking a moment to catch his breath, Richard once again slid off his bed and walked towards his window reaching out with a hand to part the curtains slightly to gaze outside. Squinting his eyes and pressing his face up against the murky glass, Richard struggled to look beyond just a few feet, the darkness of the alleyway untouched by the fluorescent moon and marred by the dirt and smudges on the window.
Sudden movement at the mouth of the alleyway caught his attention, prodding him to lean even harder against the window.
A great weight slammed against the window from the outside, the grass cracking at the impact and driving Richard to stumble backwards in fright, heel catching the foot of the chair and sending him hard onto the wooden floor.
Staring in disbelief at the window, a warm light flickered hazily in through the swaying curtains as more thumps and hits rang out on the pane, each one causing him to flinch away.
In a hurry, he donned his clothing and snatched the bag from the table, rushing towards the door and stealing one final glance towards the window. Hand on the knob, Richard flinched as the glass broke and showered onto the floor below, a strange, flickering light casting shadows across the room.
For the second time in two nights, he ran.
Straightening the collar of his jacket, Richard sighed as he walked past one of the many vendor stalls that lined the street, trodding along slowly through the wharf of Kingsport as he made his way back to Edwards’ shop. The night before had been rough, very rough, having being spent in fitful sleeps in an alleyway that reeked of dead fish, his mind still plagued with thoughts of the events that had occurred.
He had reasoned that they were robbers as he ‘rested’ with his back against the stone wall and ass on the stone floor. The seedy inns of towns like this were always stocked with travellers, an easy target to be preyed upon. Not that there was much to steal from him in the first place, but Richard was still glad he was able to make his escape in time.
Unsurprisingly, he had rose early and snagged himself a breakfast with his meager amount of money before heading off, back towards the higher-end part of the town. Passing the outer gates of the large church that sat near the centre of Kingsport, Richard fiddled with his bag, thinking ahead to plans for the next few weeks. With winter approaching, buying a handful of thicker clothes was a good idea for sure, so he made a mental note to set aside some of the money he would make off the locket for them.
Rounding the corner of the street Edwards’ shop was located, Richard’s thoughts were snatched away from his brainstorming, the man slowing down as he studied the scene before him.
A crowd had gathered around the front of the burned out shell of the shop, a charred wooden door lying in the street some feet away from its original position. Grey smoke still rose from the embers as Richard jogged forward, catching sight of the elder Mr. Edwards himself sitting on his knees in the gutter that ran in front of the store, skin marked with black soot and ugly, red burns, particularly on his forearms.
Breaking through the crowd, Richard studied the remains of the building in disbelief, hurrying over to Edwards and kneeling beside him. “Edwards!” He spoke in a hurry, grabbing his shoulder as the man fiddled with a small metal box in his hands. “The shop! What happened?”
The metal box, a small handheld safe, broke open as Richard spoke, spilling some of its precious contents onto the street as Edwards bloodshot eyes focused on the man comforting him.
Richard recoiled at the man’s shout, falling back onto his ass as Edwards dug hastily through the safe, more gold and fine jewels falling onto the stone street. “LEAVE! TAKE YOUR GODDAMNED TRINKET AND LEAVE!”
Edwards hurled the golden necklace at Richard, which fell harmlessly a few feet short with the man’s pitiful throw. “Never come back here! Get rid of that wretched thing and never come back!” Edwards screamed, frightfully loud for a usually timid and calm man. “You’re messing with things beyond your understanding!”
Grabbing the locket as he stood, Richard took a step towards the man, hands outstretched. “Mr. Edwards, wha-”
Richard didn’t get to finish his sentence, having to duck as the metal box in Edwards’ hands was chucked at him, coming to rest in a clatter far behind him.
“Leave!” The enraged man shouted again, wrinkled face flushed bright red in anger. Teeth clenched, he grabbed hold of the collar of Richard’s jacket and shoved him away with a surprising amount of force. “Do not come back here! Never involve me again with your tampering of things beyond this world!”
Richard stumbled backwards, tripping over himself and stumbling hard onto the cobblestone, crawling away from the enraged Mr. Edwards who was jabbing at him with kicks and pushes.
At once Richard managed to rise back to his feet, still confused and astonished by the sudden change in the man’s demeanor, who was now being held back by two men who had emerged from the crowd.
“Leave this place and never come back! Do not bring this upon us!”
Mr. Edwards’ words rang in his ears as he stumbled backwards, straightening his bag and turning around in a hurry. As Richard stumbled away from the crowd and down the street, he stole a final glance towards the remains of the once elegant shop, eyes focusing on multiple series of claw marks on the still-standing wooden beams, nearby stones charred with flames. In stark contrast to the ash coloured skeleton of the building was a white-furred cat perched atop the charred sill of the front window, its striking red eyes boring into him as Richard turned away.
And as he left Kingsport and walked along the dirt paths that cut through the countryside, his thoughts wandered to just exactly what the old man had meant.
Richard rubbed his hands together and breathed into them for warmth, a small cloud of breath floating off into the cool fall night. Looking around through the window he was sticking his head out of, he startled at a rapping of the door of his room, pushing off the window and crossing the small room.
“The dinner’s ready, dear.” The small, somewhat portly woman greeted him when he opened the door, wrinkles creasing her face as she smiled. “You can come whenever you’re ready.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Elvington, I’ll be there in a moment” He replied, matching her smile and closing the door as the woman, who ran the quaint five-room inn along with her husband, walked away.
After spending the entire day on the road to try and put as much distance between him and Kingsport as possible, lest the crazed Mr. Edwards had babbled to the police, he had happened upon the small town of Drumhill, of which was was somewhat acquainted with from a few nights previous. The farming village was a popular stopover for travellers heading either north or south, populated with a handful of cheap inns and rest stops not much unlike this one, in which he had rented the room for the night.
The plan was to continue north for a handful of more towns, where he would eventually happen upon the city of Kettering, where he would rest for a few days and come up with a new plan.
Grabbing both the key to his room and the locket from the small desk beside the bed, Richard shoved the more valuable item into the breast pocket of his coat, keeping the key handy to lock the door.
“Oh you don’t need to lock the door, dear.” Mrs. Elvington assured him as she set the communal dinner table, waving the dishcloth in her hand at him. “It’s only the three of us here tonight, your valuables will be fine.”
Richard grinned and chuckled at her fussing, turning the key anyways. “With all due respect, I’ve learned not to take any chances on these sorts of things.”
“Well don’t let the musings of an old lady like me stop you, I’m just voicing my reason.” She replied, still in her chipper tone as she walked towards the door to the small kitchen. “Take a seat, it’ll be out soon.”
Complying with the older woman’s demands, Richard pulled a chair out from the table and sat down, smiling when he caught sight of a glass of wine she had poured for him and taking a sip.
The moderately watered-down drink went down smoothly, Richard taking a few more sips when he heard thumping coming from the staircase that led to the second floor, where the Elvington’s had their own private area. Hobbling down the wooden stairs with a cane in one hand and the wooden guardrail in the other, Mr. Elvington came into view, sporting a small scowl as he and Richard made eye contact.
The thin-haired man soon sat at the head of the table, balancing his cane on the frame of the chair and pulling his wool shirt tighter around himself, stealing a glance towards the fire behind him, scowl growing once more. “Mathilda,” he said in his gruff, deep voice, turning back around. “Once you’re done with the food, could you throw more logs on the fire?” His gaze shifted towards Richard, the frown turning into a small smile. “We wouldn’t want our guest getting cold.”
“Do it yourself, Charles!” Mrs. Elvington responded as she carried a steaming pot out from the kitchen, placing it on the table. “He is our guest after all, not just mine.”
With a huff, Mr. Elvington rose from his chair, forgoing the use of his cane as he travelled to the fireplace to restock it.
“Here you are, Richard.” The woman said with a smile, spooning out a few generous portions of the stew from the pot and into the bowl before him. “Have as much as you’d like, there’s more than enough.”
Richard thanked her and hastily dug into the meal, having grown immensely hungry from the days’ traveling. He noted that he had made the right choice in where to rest for the night, the great food, kind hospitality, and well kept rooms all prompting him to make a mental note to stay here if he ever passed through again.
“So what brings you to our little town? Just stopping over?” Mr. Elvington asked as he sat again, the fire behind him roaring to life as it began to make work on the new wood.
“I’m afraid so. I’ll be heading off to Kettering in the morning.”
The older man smiled and whispered a “thank you” to his wife as she ladled out some stew for him as well, Mr. Elvington breaking apart some bread and dipping it into the bowl. “Fair enough, my son, not much to do here anyways!” He laughed hoarsely into a closed fist and leaned back in his chair, Richard chuckling along with him.
“We’re happy to have you regardless.” The missus interrupted over their laughs, sitting down in her seat as well, across the table from Richard. “Hopefully everything’s to your liking so far?”
“Of course, of course, everything’s been great.” Richard assured her, turning back to his food. “I’ll for sure stay here again if I ever find myself back in town.”
“Wonderful.” Was her only reply as she began to work on her own meal, the table settling into a silence only interrupted by the scraping of spoons and cracking of wood from the fire.
The sun had set long ago, and so candles had been lit around the common room of the inn to give the place a warm glow, the light from the fire only helping fuel that comfortable feeling.
“So what’re you heading up to Kettering for?” Mr. Elvington asked, politely spurring on the conversation.
Richard thought for a few moments, buying time to think by taking in another mouthful of soup. Of course he couldn’t tell the couple of why he had fled Kingsport, he didn’t even know the exact reason himself, but he knew that a few white lies wouldn’t hurt.
“Just business. I had something fall through in Kingsport, so I’ll be trying my luck in Kettering instead, hopefully goes better.”
“Hopefully it do-”
“You travel awfully light for a businessman, don’t you think?” Mrs. Evington spoke up, interrupting her husband and earning what seemed to be a common scowl from him.
Richard froze for a few moments, blindly searching for an answer “Um, I sell jewelry.” He suddenly spoke, reaching into his pocket to pull out the locket to prove his story. “I travel light for obvious reasons.”
“Ah, so that’s why you locked your door, then!” She exclaimed, none the wiser to Richard’s small lie, her eyes focused on the necklace. “That’s quite a beautiful piece!”
“It is, was quite the hassle getting it.”
“Let me see that, son.” Mr. Elvington suddenly commanded, holding out a hand and reaching into his pocket to pull out a pair of glasses, squinting as his eyes focused.
Richard complied warily, handing over the locket for the older man to turn it over in his hands, fingers gliding over the small engravings in the metal. Richard himself had never spent much time going over the necklace, more than happy to believe the appraisal set by Mr. Edwards and not investigate any further. Turning back to lasts of his stew, he reached for the ladle to spoon out more for himself, Mr. Evlington turning the locket over.
Mr. Elvington’s sudden serious tone caused him to pause, the man’s eyes focused intensly on the necklace
“Where did you get this?”
A silence hung in the air for a few moments as Richard processed the question. “Why… Do you ask?” He finally replied, sitting back down in his chair with a now full bowl.
“Mathilda, if you could leave us alone for a few moments. Maybe go make us tea?”
Mrs. Elvington eyed her husband suspiciously, also taken aback by his sudden seriousness. Smiling cautiously, she rose and escaped into the kitchen without a word, leaving the two men alone.
“Richard.” He spoke again, clasping a hand down onto his forearm and glaring at him from over his glasses. “Where did you find this.”
“I bought it off a fri-”
“Don’t you bullshit me, son.”
Richard sat bolt upright and took a deep breath at the man’s tone, rapping his knuckles on the wooden table.
“This has the Robertson family crest engraved on the front,” He showed the frontside of the locket, tacing over the etched lines with a finger, before turning it over in his hands. “And this on the back.”
Holding out the pendant towards Richard, he leaned in and focused his eyes on the back engraving, the sight of a intricately carved beast on the back.
“A Hellhound.” Mr. Elvington spoke ominously, bringing the locket back in for closer inspection.
Richard eyed the man warily at the ‘revelation’, not understanding what he seemed so unsettled about. The carvings in the locket had meant nothing to him before, thinking them to be nothing more than simple decoration.
“We call it a Hellhound, or a Shuck.” The old man repeated again, setting the necklace back down on its cloth as he took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, looking towards Richard. “A beast that has roamed the countryside for countless generations, watching over graveyards and acting as a journeyman for lost souls.”
Richard took in a shaky breath as the man droned on about the supposed monster, eyes focusing on the golden locket that shimmered in the low light. “The size of a horse, the Hellhound protects the bodies of those who have been buried along with a marking,” he continued, eyes narrowing at the necklace. “Or an engraving on a locket.”
“It doesn’t always take its beastly form.” Mr. Elvington said. “It can shapeshift to travel unnoticed. A dog or a white cat, usually, I’ve even heard some stories of it taking the form of a headless woman.”
The man fell silent, his still striking blue eyes flicking to study Richard’s frightened expression. After a moment, he continued in his serious, hushed tone. “I’ve heard tales of the Shuck following those who have somehow come into possession of such a marking while still alive, attempting to get their treasure back, not resting until it returns to its rightful place. Not resting until…”
Richard paled at the revelation, reaching out with a shaky hand to grab his necklace. That could explain all the happening that had been going on ever since that night in the graveyard; the headless woman, the thing that tried breaking into his room, Edwards’ shop burning to the ground, all of it.
As Richard grabbed hold of the necklace, the old man’s tight grip on his wrist froze him in place. “My wife and I welcomed you into our home with open arms, and yet you bring this here.” He snarled, grasp tightening enough to cause Richard to grimace. “You will leave at once, and never, EVER come back.”
Mr. Elvington let go and sank back into his chair, holding his face in his hands. Taking his cue, Richard quickly thrust the locket back into his coat and made for the door of his room, gathering his lone bag and hurrying for the front door of the inn, panic caused by the man’s words beginning to set in.
Head bowed as he walked, he turned towards Mr. Elvington to speak up. “I’m terribly sorr-”
A shrill, shrieking howl of a dog cut into his apology and drowned him out, Mr. Elvington’s complexion turning pale at the sound.
The two men stared each other down for a moment, Richard standing awkwardly halfway to the door. The old man opened his mouth to speak. “Leav-”
A giant crash shook the inn, something impacting hard on the wall next to the furthest room, the bookcases, table, and beam rafters all shaking violently at the huge impact.
Richard bolted for the door as the thing crashed against the wall again, thrusting it open and not bothering to pull it closed behind as he ran into the dark night, stumbling blindly down the dirt road. It was here. The old man was not lying. The thing, the Shuck or the Hellhound or whatever the hell it was called, was the only explanation for what had been going on, and that giant, unholy crash had only confirmed that he was being stalked, his thoughts racing with sheer terror and fright. The woman in the graveyard, the howls that had followed him, the thing that had broke into his room, the white cat in the burned out shop, and now it was here.
The shadows cast by the trees in the waxing moonlight flew past as he ran on down the road, retracing the steps taken just a few days ago, all the while the howling continued in the distance, piercing Richard’s ears and drowning out his footfalls as he came up with a plan.
Heavy, thundering steps behind him caused Richard to peek over his shoulder as he ran, but the lack of light made it difficult to make out anything beyond a few yards ahead and behind as he ran through the night.
Adrenaline surging, he sprinted through a junction in the road, taking a hard left and stumbling on the loose dirt, falling to his knees and skidding a short distance. He stood as quickly as he could, trying to block out the pain caused by the fall and he continued to run again, now heading uphill and into the woods on the lesser worn path. Glancing over his shoulder once more towards the sound of thundering footsteps, he spied a dark shape following just off the trail in the trees with a handful of flickering lights about its form, fear surging through him.
He sprinted and stumbled up the trail he had walked just a few days ago, hoping that each bend would reveal the iron gates of the cemetery that he so badly needed to find again, to return the necklace and hopefully rid himself of the attention of this beast.
Chest heaving with effort, Richard caught a glimpse of the somewhat familiar gates through a break in the trees. Speeding up, he ran into the graveyard and headed for the back of the plot, the heavy footfalls of the thing following him dying out.
He fell to his knees and hurriedly fished the necklace from his pocket, casting it aside as he desperately clawed at the ground, displacing grass and dirt. In his panicked state, he hoped beyond hope that this was enough, that this would save him.
Grabbing the necklace again, he thrusted it into the shallow hole he had made on top of the grave, shoveling the dirt back in and patting it flat.
With eyes closed, Richard stayed still and silent, listening into the night.
It was silent. No footsteps, no howling, no wind.
He smiled, sitting back on his haunches. It had been enough, he had returned the treasure back to its home and surely placated the Shuck.
Chuckling to himself, Richard turned around and stood, dusting his hands off in his knees before standing back upright.
Piercing red eyes cutting through the night froze Richard in place, the gentle dancing of flames around them casting a warm glow through the night, heat wafting through the air.
Standing easily two, if not three heads taller than Richard was the beast, but it was not at all similar to the dog-like etching on the necklace. Its beautifully feminine face adorned with a frightening grin gave it a far more human look, but it remained terrifying all the same. Skin almost as black as the night around them, the flames around its eyes continued to surge and flicker brightly as it stared him down, a pair of wolf-like ears on its head pointing straight backwards in a sign of intimidation, canines bared.
The rest of the woman-like beast was as equally monstrous, coal black fur covered her arms that ended in massive paws, sporting large, sharp claws, her legs similar. A tuft of warmly coloured fur that sat on her collarbone flowed down in between a pair of large, slightly sagging breasts, adorned with nipples even darker than her skin and placed at Richard’s eye-level, the womanly form of the beast tempting him.
Her chest heaved as she drew in a deep breath through her nose, grin widening as she took a step towards Richard.
“Hello…” She drawled as Richard backed away, doing his best to keep distance from the beast. “I believe you have something of mine.” Her voice was rough and husky, dangerously seductive in the way she spoke.
Richard found himself pressing back against the tombstone, now trapped as this woman, this Hellhound that the old man had spoken of, strutted up to him. He curled in a fist and managed to keep eyes on her as she approached, the man deciding that if he couldn’t flee, he would at least put up a fight.
“There’s something you have that I want.” She said, stopping and leaning in towards Richard’s face. Hot breath washed over him and filled his nostrils with the harsh smell of smoke, the Hellhound’s glowing eyes seeming to peer into his very soul as she smiled. “Do you know what I’m talking about?”
Her large, clawed paw flew through the air and crashed into the stone behind him from over his shoulder, causing Richard to flinch and close his eyes, a chill running through him despite the oppressive heat coming off the woman’s body. “I-I-I…” He stuttered, breath hitching and not letting him get his words out.
A sharp sensation on his jaw caused him to open his eyes, the Hellhound using one of her claws to drag Richard’s gaze back towards her grinning visage, now only inches away. From this close, the flames that erupted from her eyes caused him to flinch each time the flared up brighter, her shaggy black hair partially obscuring her eyes. “I asked you a question.” She said in a much less jovial tone, her voice becoming serious as her patience wore thin.
“Th-The neckl-l-lace.” He sputtered out finally, the large thumb of the Hellhound coming to press against his lips to seal them shut.
Before he could react, the Hellhound’s paw seized at his throat and squeezed down on him gently, pulling him away from the tombstone with great care. In an instant, Richard found himself pushed onto the ground with her paw still clasped rather carefully around his throat, the beastwoman using it to hold him down instead of choking him out.
Struggling against her, Richard’s hands grabbed hold of her forearm, finding that under the soft, reddish-brown fur that she was in fact as strong as she looked, her muscles being like cords of iron that he had no chance in overpowering.
And yet she gripped on him softly, or at least as softly as she could while she sat down on his torso, his thrashing beneath her going unnoticed as her grin grew once again.
The flames on her eyes flared up and danced in the air as she leaned down, pressing her full weight onto him to keep him pinned. “The answer is…” She whispered, her hips grinding into his with serious pressure, large breasts pushing against Richard’s chest as she brought her face close to his again, her breath washing over him with a hint of brimstone.
“I want you.”
Her paw squeezed a little harder on his throat as she sat back up, her hips now mashing heavily into Richard’s as he continued to struggle, fear surging through his veins at her words. “There’s no use in struggling now, human.” She continued, her one free paw coming to his coat and causing him to flinch as her claws tore through not only it, but his shirt as well. “You’re mine now, I’ll make sure to take care of you…”
She did the same to his pants, leaning backwards and tearing them free of his body with ease, Richard gasping as his member, now stiff from the Hellhound’s grinding, was exposed, intense heat washing over him.
Richard groaned as she pressed her hips into him again, the Hellhound on top of him smiling at the sound. She didn’t say a word as she hunched over him, her frame so large that instead of their eyes lining up, Richard found himself being smothered by her voluptuous breasts, their pillowy softness hot against his skin, just like the rest of her was.
An unfamiliar sensation began to creep into Richard’s brain as the Hellhound, with her grinding hips and suffocating weight stayed upon him. He felt as if even though the situation was borderline terrifying, that her grip, her weight, her presence meant that no harm would come to him, that as long as she was here with him, he would be safe.
These thoughts were banished in an instant when his length was suddenly enveloped by an overwhelming hotness and slickness, the Hellhound violently crashing her hips down to spear herself on him, his cock plunging into her molten depths. Richard gasped and moaned at the sudden change in sensation, struggling beneath the beastwoman who continued to throw herself upon the man again and again, not caring for his crying out for it was only in pleasure, not pain.
Her depths were unbelievably hot, his cock twitching with every wild crash of her hips as the Hellhound rode him relentlessly, not letting up for a single second. His hands found her muscular thighs, grabbing hold of the taut flesh to hold on for dear life, Richard having to grit his teeth every time she forced his cockhead to plunge as deeply as it could into her, hips bucking in feverish tandem with her riding on instinct.
The Hellhound suddenly leaned up and planted both her paws on either side of Richard’s head, claws digging into the ground with her heavy breasts dangling dangerously close to his face, continuing to mercilessly ride him and not letting up despite his crying out. He could just barely make out her maniacal grin from beneath her, the Hellhound obviously enjoying his plight as the moon shone brightly on the pair.
And even though to him it was indeed a plight, to be accosted like this and forced upon, he had stopped trying to resist her, that sensation, the one of a certain contentedness and safety, still lingering at the back of his mind.
Mesmerized by her swaying breasts, their dark nipples already erect and bouncing together with each impact, he reached up with a single hand towards her torso, but was stopped in a flash by one of her oversized paws latching onto his wrist, the Hellhound not slowing her movements at all. “Do not-” She began, snarling down at the man beneath her, but paused as she realized just what it was he was doing, her first instinct having been wrong.
She let go of his hand and allowed him to trace his fingers along her solid abdominals, Richard gritting his teeth and clenching his jaw as the Hellhound managed to speed up her riding, spurred on by his appreciation of her body. His hand continued upwards and traced over the incredible curves that led up towards her large breasts, in which his fingers sank directly into one with a timid squeeze, earning a small grunt from the woman for the first time.
Although she responded with an even harder buck of her hips and continued to grind mercilessly into him, Richard elected to continue to grope at her breast which easily overfilled his hand, her deep black nipple poking his hand as he squeezed. The Hellhound let out a heavy breath a few times and clenched her jaw as Richard palmed her supple flesh, his cock again and again being forced into her tight snatch, bringing them both closer to ecstacy.
Grabbing his forearm, the beastwoman pulled him away from her breast and pinned his arm above his head, grinning down at the man as the flames around her eyes roared up even brighter than before, her wolf ears flicking happily. “All… Mine…” She said happily through gritted teeth, tail wagging and her hips slamming into his with wild ferocity, the Hellhound doing her best to make him cum.
Richard’s back arched at a particularly rough thrust, his pleasure building up to a near breaking point, the Hellhound’s hot inner walls pulling on his length to spur him on and on. He knew the end was near for him, a familiar pressure building up within his loins as the Hellhound placed her paws on his chest, sitting almost upright as she bounced on him.
With the sound of slapping flesh and ragged breaths echoing in his ears, Richard managed to speak up, squeezing her thigh weakly. “I…” Was all he managed to get out, pleasure coursing through his veins and causing him to grunt, bringing a wicked smile to the Hellhound’s lips.
Her only reply was to speed her hips up again, Richard letting out a cry as his limit was breached and he erupted into her, each bounce causing him to yell out and clench up as he came. His love flowed into the Hellhound’s depths with unrelenting spurts, her muscles subconsciously contracting around him to help the man dispense of his load so that she could receive as much of him as possible.
The Hellhound threw her head back as she came as well, a frighteningly familiar howl ringing out through the night as she shuddered, Richard spilling forth into her hot walls. Her claws dug into his delicate flesh while her body tensed, long tail going rigid with her wolf-like ears perking up straight, pinpricks of red forming as his skin was torn from her clutching.
She leaned over and silenced both of their crying out with an impassioned kiss, her hips slowing down to match his spastic humps as his orgasm tapered out, the Hellhound attempting to draw it out for as long as she possibly could. Heat and the taste of smoke filled Richard’s mouth and lungs as they embraced, the Hellhound’s long, burning tongue invading past his lips in a show of passion and love with heat washing over his entire body all the while.
The bouncing didn’t stop as they pulled away from each other, Richard laying back on the grass and staring up at the woman still mounted on him, which was now being ridden tortuously slow. Her walls continued to pull and clench almost fitfully around his sensitive cock, the beastwoman riding the aftershocks of her own orgasm and milking the absolute most amount of cum from the man beneath her as possible.
She brought a claw up towards his cheek and stroked him with the smooth backside of it, smiling down towards him. “Wonderful.” She said with her gravelly voice, her long black tail thumping on his legs a few times to show her joy. “That was just wonderful.”
Richard didn’t reply as she pecked him briefly on the lips, her grinding keeping at a pace slow enough to keep him hard, but not too fast as to cause too much discomfort. Despite her careful humping, Richard still found the Hellhound’s embrace to be painfully pleasurable, his loins beyond sensitive from the orgasm her wildness had brought on just moments ago, his grunts and gasps at her continued teasings bringing a smile to her face.
“And to think that we’ll get to have so much more fun together…” She whispered into his ear, a small touch of pleasure etched in her voice.
“M-More?” Richard asked, having to suppress a moan when the Hellhound traced a few claws underneath his chin.
“Of course,” she replied, pressing her forehead to his, eye flames erupting brightly with passion. “You’re mine now. And that means I’m never letting you go.”