He had stopped at the original entrance of the park, where a fence and metal gate had stood, long since stolen and melted down. With nowhere to tie his horse, the stranger just left it standing. The animal was exhausted in any case: old and ill-kept. Steam rose from its flanks as it flared its nostrils. Without recourse to the whip, the poor animal wasn’t going anywhere.
Reaching into the trap, the stranger took out a cylindrical bundle wrapped up like a carpet. It was almost as long as he was, and he struggled with the weight. Heaving and straining, he dragged it towards the park, first over the cobblestones and then over the bare earth that had replaced the former layer of grass. No one had bothered to clean away the dust from the mysterious storm, so that his footsteps and the parcel left a trail over the white surface, and puffy clouds fizzed around his ankles.
Despite the weight and his obvious discomfort, the stranger did not leave the bundle at the park’s edge. He pulled it further and further into the wasteland of stone, glass fragments, bits of broken pottery, rags and bones. Soon he was far from the road and his horse, unseen and alone.
Though he knew he should not, must not do it, the stranger could resist the temptation no more. Struggling with the bonds around the package, he tried to undo them. The task was made more difficult by a series of involuntary jerks that shook his whole body, and made his skin tingle and burn. In his fingerless gloves his knuckles were swollen, tearing the material, but finally he managed to pull the roll off the bundle, to reveal the contents inside. Smooth as porcelain, the grey face of the Lady Daye’s cabin boy stared up at him, glassy eyes as yet unclosed.
The stranger felt his stomach lurch. The muscles of his back began to twitch. One eye blinked, the other, the left, opened wide. Without being aware of it, he knew his body was releasing the same tell-tale stench into the air. It brought the bile to the back of his throat. Though he longed to go back, he had gone too far. The smell of death overcame him, and now the urge became all-consuming.
Here in Lirara! In the very midst of the city! The stranger wished he would walk away, but the suffering inside him was too great. With a series of ripping noises, patches of his skin were opening up. A sound of squirming creatures rose from his body, from him, the host. The parasites were taking over his mind, growing, feeding off his fear. The transformation had reached its final phase. Closing his eyes, he rocked on the balls of his toes. It was everything he could do to stop from crying out. As the last vestiges of his human mind sunk into the darkness, he heard his horse finally fleeing, forcing its tired legs to pull the trap away, away from the Orss Park. The odds were even that the beast would not go far, and would soon find its way to some knacker’s yard where coin was ready and no questions were asked.
None of that mattered to the stranger now. All he wanted was to feed, if only for a little while. Lost and damned, the stranger bent to his gruesome task. Once he had been Grindlestone, first mate of the Lady Daye, but at that moment, even his own name would not come into his mind.
(c) Alastair Savage, 2014