A Terror to Behold
Night birds called in the dark chill of the winter woods, candles
burned weak in the narrow windows of the town, and all feared the
walking dead. All heard the scratchings and scrapings around their
doors and windows after dark, all had seen the earth dug up around the
church graveyard, and many a young man had disappeared walking old
Duddly Road at night. Some said it was the ghost of an unnamed child,
abandoned at birth. Some said it was a werewolf from deep in the
wilderness. There were even those that claimed that the town was
haunted by a demon of the old world, where violence reigned alone, but
all prayed each day that the sun stay in the sky but a few hours more,
for there was no hope in the night.
Crows flew from the hanged body to the post to which it was strung as
the rider passed. The horseman tilted his wide-brimmed hat to see the
sign strung across its neck. "Thief," it read. The rider put his
eyes to the road. The town was just ahead, Gofeng, haunted hamlet
of the wooded hills. A cold gust of wind blew open the rider's cloak.
Inside could be seen a long sword, a book of prayers and all manner
of magic totems. The man quickly threw his cloak over the items and
looked up to see the hanged man's single eye staring into space. The
rider called out and urged his horse on. As he passed onward the
crows resumed their grisly work.
"What is your name stranger?" asked the stable master. "We don't get
many strangers around here anymore."
"Why is that?" asked the rider, a gold tooth flashing from his
sinister smile. The stable master's mouth went slack.
"Forgive me," said the stranger. "I am Albert Zordas, Slayer of
"Homer Suds," said the stable master and took his hand in the weakest
of handshakes. Suds proceeded to show Albert around town, naming
buildings without comment. Here is the tavern. There is the church.
The townsfolk began to gather around. All marveled at the strangers
flashy clothes and strange manner of speech. Of all of them, Albert
found his eyes drawn to one, a particular girl. Her hair was the
color of country straw, her eyes as blue as the boundless sea.
"Who is that one?" Albert asked out of corner of his mouth.
"That," said Suds, shoving his elbow into Albert's ribs, "is Lady
Dandelion, daughter of the mayor, and soon to be married!"
With a defiant smirk, Albert leapt onto the stairs of the church and tore off his hat, releasing a mane of black hair. He looked across
the awestruck faces. There was the mayor, there, the high priest, and
there, next to sweet Dandelion, was his competition. The young man
was fine cut for a townie, maybe the seventh son of a noble, banished
to this dirt hole. He looked back to Dandelion and winked.
"I have heard of your troubles," Albert announced, "and have come to
deliver you from evil!"
How hard can it be? It was probably just an adolescent vampire,
thought Albert. Werewolves don't stray this far from Evil Mountain,
but with his luck it would be a demon of the Underworld, or the spirit
form of some ancient monster. He put on his happy face and descended
into the cheering crowd. Shaking hands, he made his way toward
Dandelion. She was even more intoxicating up close. Her smell was
that of a hundred wildflowers, her body as radiant as her bright
"My Dandelion," he said.
"You know my name?" she asked, blushing.
"It is my job to know these things," said Albert.
Somewhere in the crowd, Suds rolled his eyes. Albert took the girl's
hand in his. Her fiancée was clearly enraged. Sensing trouble, the
mayor shouldered his way through the crowd to where the knave stood,
holding his daughter. He took Albert and spun him around. Staring
into the stranger's snarling face, the mayor saw he had the pupils of
"Just how do you," stammered the mayor, "plan to hunt this monster?"
"Ghosts and phantoms are not like you and I," said Albert. "They are
driven by overpowering passions. Without fail they are drawn to the
scene of their crimes, there to act out the ghastly drama again and
"You anger the spirits," said the priest. "It is best to keep to our
homes and pray."
"It takes more than whispered words to defeat what haunts you," replied Albert.
"We will see how you fare against Short Neck Jack!" said Dandelion's fiancée.
"Who is this... man?" hissed Albert.
"He is Joey Sana, my daughter Dandelion to wed," began the mayor, but
he was cut short by the tolling of the church bell. The sun was
sinking beneath the trees and shadows fell across the land. Albert
broke from the crowd and wandered away into the street. The townsfolk
looked confused for a moment then broke off and hurried to their
dwellings, none willing to stay out after dark, their doors hung with
all variety of wards, and painted with magic symbols.
The Sight was always the same, as long as Albert could remember. At
dusk's final light his pupils grew until his eyes were solid black.
The Sight penetrated all things, through his eyelids, through his
clenched fists, and through the ground he knelt upon, but from the
eyes, no tears would come. Albert stood and looked back at the town.
He could see the bright auras of the people inside the shadowy
outlines of their houses. There was Dandelion, her light as white as
new fallen snow.
Albert scanned the rest of the houses for an evil soul. He looked for
the black aura of a murderer, someone blaming the killings on a ghost to hide his
misdeeds. Someone like me, he reminded himself, staring at his hand
framed in a ring of darkness. He dropped his arm to his side and
looked to the horizon, and to old Duddly Road.
Stepping onto the old dirt road, Albert could see that it was steeped
in magic. The very ground issued glowing vapors only Albert's eyes
could see. Like a hound on a scent, Albert trotted on, ever wary of
the forces that sought to break through the thin barrier between this
world and one of eternal darkness. Then he saw what he was looking
for, a flickering aura just ahead. Someone was dying, the body
bouncing up and down above the darkened ground. Albert crept as close
as he dared, his hand reaching toward the hilt of his sword.
Invisible to the naked eye, but to Albert as clear as if in daylight,
a huge creature walked, carrying the body of a young man over its
back. The monster was the shape of a naked man, hulking and pale. It
carried a long walking stick but wore no head on its shoulders. It
could only be Short Neck Jack. For more than an hour, Albert tailed
the monster, watching the victim's life slowly wane. The monster
turned abruptly and headed off into the wood.
This was clearly not an ordinary troll, perhaps the poor husband of a
powerful night hag. A broken wooden door set into the side of the mound
marked the entrance to Jack's lair. There the monster rested its
staff and went inside. A sting from his old wound brought Albert's
fingers to his neck. There was a price for hunting the creatures of
The boy's life slowly ebbed away. Albert could see through the dirt
wall as Short Neck Jack lumbered around the cave, searching for a
butcher's knife. Albert's fingers sought his own blade. The monster
was alone in the cave. He knew now it was a bloodthirsty ghost,
probably beheaded for a heinous crime. Pulling his sword a finger's
length from its sheath, Albert smiled with gold-toothed satisfaction.
It was well known that ghosts shrank from the presence of steel. He
stood and stepped before the door.
"Come forth, Jack," shouted Albert, "and harm no more young men."
Angered, the ghost burst through the door, knife in hand. When Albert
drew his sword the magic words engraved on it began to glow. The
ghost backed away as if doused with scalding water. Turning to the
side it snatched up its staff and hurled it at Albert, knocking the
sword from his hand. Short Neck Jack was on him in a second. Albert
gasped with surprise. The ghost was as strong as an ox, its arms as
hard as stone.
The ghost forced Albert to his knees, slowly driving the blade into
his chest. Albert's mind began to race. A charm, there must be a
charm. Quickly he chanted the Hymn of Rebirth. The knife point drove
deeper, drawing a ribbon of blood. He recited the dwarven Song of the
Forge Father, but stopped as he was thrown on his back, the ghost
rising up for the death stroke.
In a still, clear voice, Albert intoned the Elven Morning Song. The
ghost immediately dropped its knife and clamped its fingers around
Albert's throat. Albert smiled his toothy smile. It was too late.
Somewhere in the distance a cock crowed. The ghost released Albert
and hurried back to its den.
"You're too late, Jack," said Albert.
With an expert thrust, Albert pierced the ghost's back with his magic
sword. The ghost slumped to the ground and disappeared with the first
rays of sunlight. Pain shot through Albert's neck as his vision was
restored to reality. Nothing remained of Jack but the pain and
suffering he had caused. Fearing the worst, Albert made his way to
the door. He would not be disappointed.
The cave smelt of the slaughter house. The walls were carpeted with
skins, the origin of which Albert did not care to know. He saw the
boy laying across a table drenched with blood. Albert stepped over to
him, but could no longer see his aura. He knew the boy was dead. A
deep frustration came over him. Then he remembered the girl. The
quest was complete, and he would have his prize.
All the way along old Duddly Road, all Albert could think of was sweet
Dandelion. The mayor awaited him at the crossroads, his tall hat
drooping to the side. Some of the other men gathered around.
"Well?" asked the mayor. "Tell us of your adventures."
"Short Neck Jack is dead," said Albert, straightening his sleeves,
"and will trouble you no more."
"Tell us, great hero," beamed the mayor, "what shall be your reward?"
"I must rest for a time," said Albert, overtaken by a great tiredness.
He stumbled and the mayor snapped his fingers, calling a couple of
men to help him to the mayor's very mansion, where he would lay in
respite until he was whole again. Once he was alone, in bed, his
fingers found the wound on his neck. It was there he was bitten by a
walking corpse, the first demon he had put down, and the one that gave
him the curse of Sight. He used his curse as a gift, one to aid him
in his endless quest for vengeance against the undead.
"You have been asleep all day," came a sweet voice of loving care.
Before Albert's eyes was a beautiful angel surrounded by a field of
white light. He could only be dreaming, but what dream could feel as
real as this? Sweet Dandelion, at last you are mine. Her smile, so
perfect, he reached out his hand. She pushed his arm away and put a
finger on his cheek.
"What is wrong with your eyes?" she laughed.
It was night! He shot up from the bed, and scanned through the walls
with the Sight. Auras were running through the street. Panic gripped
the town. He was sure he had put the ghost down. This wasn't good.
He leaned up against the wall, letting his head rest against it with a
thud. Dandelion giggled.
Outside there was a bloodcurdling scream. Dandelion averted her gaze
as Albert gathered up his clothes and ran out the door. Joey Sana
met him at the front steps. Albert felt the crunch as Joey's knuckles
collided against his teeth. The next thing he knew, he was sprawled
across the steps, Joey and the mayor staring down at him.
"She will never have you, knave," shouted Joey. "Not while real men
live in Gofeng."
"I told you he would bring ruin upon us," said the priest.
"You have failed us Albert," said the mayor, "and because of your
lies, Suds is dead. There is a place for treacherous scum such as
yourself. I believe you passed it on your way here. The gallows."
The mayor adjusted his collar and continued, "You will rid us of this
supernatural problem, or it will be your hide strung out on a pole."
The posse left him to gather his senses. He coughed up blood and
spit out his golden tooth. Albert grimaced, making the pain worse.
They would pay for that. With effort, he lifted himself off the
steps, looking to see the people of Gofeng, locked away in their
houses, pretending that the murder they witnessed was just a dream.
After shaking the clouds from his head, Albert made his way to the
Blood spatter covered the wooden boards above Suds's dead body. The
stable master lay on the scattered hay, spread eagle, his head propped
up against a post. Albert turned the dead man's head to the left,
then to the right. There at last, were the fang marks, signature of a
vampire. Albert's hand went instinctively to his own neck.
A man stepped out from behind one of the stable doors. Startled,
Albert remembered himself. No aura. It was one of the angry dead.
Albert drew his sword, and the monster backed away. The moonlight
shone on a body, badly decomposed. The evil grin of its skull showed
through shredded lips. This was no vampire. It was a stomer, an evil
spirit that could take many shapes, shifting from body to body as it
saw fit, one of them no doubt the troll he slew before.
"Jack, I presume," said Albert.
The creature bowed with a mocking, unnatural movement. Once again the
two found themselves engaged in mortal combat. The stomer picked up a
shovel and charged forward with unnatural speed. Albert blocked blow
after blow, falling back as the creature pressed forward with
unstoppable force. Albert concentrated, trying to see through the
demon's skin, to find the heart of the stomer, without which, it would
The wall shook as the fighters collided with it. Jack closed his claw
around Albert's throat. Albert tried to cry out, but the choking grip held his voice back. Through his
clenched eyes he saw the cold stone that served as the monster's
heart. It lay in the center of its chest, a blatant show of contempt.
We will see about that, thought Albert. The slayer spun between the
monster's arms and drove the sword between its ribs. The runes on the
blade shone as it pierced the creature's heart.
The heart faded and melted into a thousand pieces, flowing through the
corpse's veins, then disappeared. Albert felt his bruised throat and
cursed his luck. A stomer was one of the hardest undead monsters to
eradicate, but perhaps he could use its power to his advantage.
Albert stumbled from the stable and cried out. A dozen colored lights
emerged from their dwellings and rushed to him.
"Build a pyre," shouted Albert. "The monster must be burned."
A few men started toward the stable but balked when they saw the
creature. The torn up body lay dead and lifeless, but in place of a
head was a bare skull armed with four long fangs. Albert snarled,
opening his black eyes, fierce, but empty.
"Now!" he shouted.
The people of Gofeng gathered wood for the fire, creating a pyre as
high as a shoulder's height. Albert looked on as they pulled the body
onto the wood pile. Dandelion watched, her bright light impossible to
ignore. At her side, Joey Sana stood, glowering with hatred. Albert
lifted his torch, opened his eyes and spoke.
"This will not be easy," said Albert, "for the demon is powerful. You
must take up arms. Whatever comes out of the flame, you must kill it,
and toss it back into the fire."
Albert put his torch to the pyre. The slayer folded his arms and
closed his eyes as the fire crept higher. He could see the magic
substance beginning to boil. He held his concentration. He must have
the heart, and with it, the stomer's power. A bird called out and
flew from the fire. Joey knocked it out of the sky with a shot from
his sling. A maiden ran to the bird, tossed it into the fire, and
All manner of vermin poured out of the fire. Men and women stomped upon
spiders and frogs. Albert watched as the spirit flowed, this way and
that, seeking to escape into the night. All the while he fought the
urge to turn his eyes to the girl's white light. There she stood,
watching him, blushing with excitement. Suddenly, sensing Albert's
distraction, the monster's energy congealed into a single point.
Albert saw this and snapped into action.
The black salamander squirmed through the underbrush. The fire burned
in the distance, the people still yelling and shouting. A hand
snatched up the amphibian. Albert dangled the creature before his
face, by the tail.
"Did you miss me, Jack?" asked Albert. "I did not miss you."
With a magic word, the salamander froze into crystal, and Albert
dropped it in his pocket. He felt his throat and broken tooth, and
was suddenly tired. He had to remind himself, he had won. As he
stumbled back into the light of the burning pyre, Dandelion ran to
"It is done," said Albert, spitting out blood.
"You are done," said Joey, pushing Dandelion aside. "It was you that
brought this curse upon us."
"This is true," said the mayor. "You may sleep the day away in the
stable, then be off if you value your neck."
Laying in the straw, Albert watched as the thin shafts of sunlight
moved slowly by. In his pocket, he fingered the magic totem. They
thought they had the final word. When the sun went down, he would be
the last to laugh. Dandelion would be his, and to the underworld with
this rat-bitten town. As the sun began to fade, a pair of townies
burst into the stable and dragged him to his feet.
The mayor met Albert outside the church graveyard. Joey Sana was with
him, grinning like a shark. Albert spit blood onto Joey's shoe, and
his smile vanished. Albert looked to the mansion window where the
mayor's daughter stood. She looked more beautiful in daylight. He
could see every detail of her figure.
"You'll not have her," screamed Joey. "I swear over my dead body!"
Cackling with glee, Albert was dragged out of town. The pair of
townies dropped him on his rump in the middle of the road, threw down
his sword, and quickly retreated back home. Folding his legs, Albert
waited in a tranquil pose. The sun sank below the trees and the power of
the Sight came rushing back. Albert withdrew the crystal salamander
from his pocket. It glowed with malevolent light. The monster was
near. Albert looked out at the town and its distant lights.
"I know you are here, Jack," said Albert.
"Indeed," came a hoarse voice.
Albert spun around to see the same pole, the ruined body of the thief
hanging from it. The ravaged head turned its eyeless face toward him.
"Will you give me the crystal?" asked the hanged corpse.
"And why would I be so foolish?" laughed Albert.
The body said nothing.
"I have a job for you," said Albert. "You are to go into town and
kill the man named Joey Sana. Do it quietly and fast. No one must
know he died by magic."
"This is the complete task?" asked the spirit.
"Yes, ghoul," shouted Albert, "that is what I demand of you!" The
salamander began to twist and turn in his hand.
"Then I must obey," said the dead man, its empty eye sockets seeming
to burn with new light.
His hand clamped tightly around the magic totem, Albert spun and cut
through the noose with a stroke of his sword. The monster faltered as
it hit the ground, unused to its new legs. Without another moment's
hesitation the stomer dashed, full speed, back to Gofeng. Albert
put the crystal back into his pocket and smiled. He knew that if he
dropped the demon heart now, it would be a disaster.
Albert made his way slowly back to town. He carefully crept around
the side of the church. He could see the girl's window. She saw him
and waved. He beckoned her to the church graveyard. This was madness
and he knew it. The mayor and his lackeys could spot him any second,
and he could feel the stomer's eyes on him, lurking behind any
tombstone. Here she came at last, careful not to step on the
"I have come for you, Dandelion," said Albert. "Run away with me!"
"But, what about Joey?" asked the girl.
"He is a fool. Never mind him," said Albert.
The salamander squirmed so it seemed it would burst from his hand at
"What is that?" asked Dandelion.
Albert grimaced and pulled his shaking hand out of his pocket.
"Is it a present," gasped Dandelion, "for me?"
Unable to keep his fist closed, Albert released his fingers, revealing
a golden ring.
Dandelion let out an adolescent shriek. "I do! I do!"
Before he could react, she snatched it out of his hand. Thoughts raced
through Albert's head. He couldn't take the ring back. What could he
do? What could the girl do? The ghost was under her control now.
What was the worst that could happen?
"What's going on down there?" shouted a voice from above.
"I'll meet you later tonight on old Duddly Road," said Dandelion.
"Now run, before my father finds you!"
This was clearly ridiculous. Albert reached for his sword. He
wouldn't let these jokers make a fool of him a second time. A sudden
pain shot through his neck. He let his hand fall from his sword. Maybe it was best to flee. As he ran away, all doubt and fear left
his mind. He finally had made it, got the girl in the end. When he
reached the edge of town, he squatted by the road and whistled a merry
A knock came at the door. Dandelion was just packing the last of her
things. She came to the door and swung it open, opened it wide
expecting to see her love.
"Albert," she said, "you're not supposed to be here..."
Before her stood the savaged body of Joey Sana. It was pale and
abused, all torn up from head to toe. It opened its mouth to speak,
though its voice box was clearly ripped out.
"Will you invite me inside?" asked the ghost.
Dandelion shook her head, her eyes welling up with tears. The ghost
looked visibly disappointed. It couldn't be, thought Dandelion. She
was to wed Joey in a week. Then she looked down at her hand, and the
ring that sat upon her finger. Understanding finally donned upon her
"Who did this to you?" asked Dandelion.
"Joey Sana died at Albert Zordas's command," said the ghost, its
eyes steady on the girl. "I am yours to command now."
The coils of this tragedy were finally undone. Dandelion tore the
ring from her finger. She stepped forward and looked the ghost in its
"Leave this town forever," she said and threw the ring outside. "Do
with Albert what you will."
A young messenger made his way down the haunted road, known far and
wide for its ghostly murders. Bats flitted back and forth through the
thick trees. The boy thought he could see the lights of Gofeng
before him. The town was only a short dash away, but all knew that
fear drew the undead like a buzzard to rot. At last, he broke from
the trees. Something hung from a pole ahead. The boy knew it to be
the gallows but dared not stray from the road. The dead man's head
hung low, hidden from view behind a tangle of long black hair. Across
his chest read a wooden sign, "Witch." Drops of water
dripped from the dead man's face. The boy looked up to see no cloud
in the sky. No one would ever know that they were tears.
The story concerns itself primarily with night creatures. There are many possibilities. Night creatures can transform creatures into others of their kind or curse their victims with various afflictions. Though there might be benefits to these curses (such as being able to see "auras" and the signs of the passage of magical creatures), prolonged exposure will always lead inevitably to the downfall of the victim. Night creatures could re-enact historical events or be those returned from the dead to take revenge for various perceived wrongs. Certain behaviors could also anger local spirits.
Although some night creatures might be very difficult or even impossible to kill by physical means, even in these cases there will be either ways to hold them at bay or some weakness through which they can be defeated. The story mentioned wards and symbols on the doors/weapons, materials (steel in the story), magical songs, prayers to calm spirits, and weak spots (the heart of the stomer). There might be a ritual required to finally put down the creature, as with the burning of the body and capturing of the vermin. It was an open question in the story as to whether the captured salamander could even be destroyed (perhaps it would have been enough just to throw it back on the fire, as Albert instructed), but certainly either way should be possible.
As to the story's world of eternal darkness, it should be dangerous to walk alone at night. You never know what will happen.