Volume 2 Number 1
The porch was lit dimly from the kitchen blinds. The night breathed. Cautious leaves walked across the back lawn. The lowest branches scraped the gutters, swaying and trailing the eaves. An autumn moon ducked behind a gust of indigo fog. The slick earth held no sign of feet and no sound for footfalls. In the shadows, silent, behind a rusty wheelbarrow, he crouched.
The bowl and the sack were his focal points. On the gnarled old stump, 10 yards out, nothing moved. The chill bit deep, like icy teeth through his mufflered neck. The occasional draft of heath in the chimney smoke reminded him that he wanted a pipe. "Brandy and a bowl of Frogmorton would do nicely," he thought.
Even had he not been working, which was rare, he would have worn black. It made the fewest false statements, and wearing black was like embracing the darkness.
As a child, he had been afraid of the dark. Not the dark so much as the sense that it seethed with intelligence -- that it could linger a while even if one suddenly threw light upon it, as if to say "I am only blind, not toothless." He had lain awake at night thinking it through. "In the dark, it can see me." He began to walk down dark alleys, prowl into dark woods, and practice seeing without being sighted. This was equal footing. "It, too, can be prey." Whatever lived in the night would have more to fear from him than he from it.
Over the years, he came to realize that he was alone in the dark. He would not have been terrified now even if he‘d believed in the Gruagach. Nor could he fear meeting the wolf or wild dog he knew would explain the housekeeper‘s tribute. "It‘ll make a wonderful story. ‘The Gruagach of the Haunt,’ maybe--or ‘Night of the Gruagach.’ Would that it were a true one; my publisher would love me with a larger check."
He did not, at first, hear the small red legs or the black sniffing nose until two pointed ears perched above the bowl and prodded the sack. He smiled. "Looks like I‘ll be having that brandy in a moment." Sure enough, a tentative tongue, made bolder by the illusion of solitude, lapped at the cream.
He slipped around the front of the house, so not to disturb its meal. "A fox," he gloated to the housekeeper once he‘d had off his coat. "A little one, too. There‘s your Gruagach. No need for fairies when lamb and cream put the scent to any passing dog. But you go ahead -- keep feeding the poor thing. Looks like it could use the nourishment."
She was less than amused. Her mother‘s mother had fed it and never wanted for safety from any passing harm. Besides, her employer left perfectly good meat in the refrigerator to spoil. He should learn to pay his way with the "other folk"--or at least pay hers, since it was a three-mile walk from her house to his.
He poured himself an apricot brandy from the bottle he‘d left warming on the hearth. He lit a hefty freehand briar, nursing the bluish flame, tossed the matchstick into the fire, and settled into the leather chair near the heat. Lifting the notebook computer from the mahogany end table onto his lap, he clicked the icon for a new file and began to write.
Back of the house a hairy hand protruded from the night, closed around a poor creature‘s neck, and flung it into the woods with a furry squeal. Then two such hands took up the bowl and bag and loped off into the trees.
The other Black Asher stories can be read in our serial archives.
Asher's Haunt can be visited virtually, by going to asherblack.com and clicking on "The Haunt".