Title: Dark Walks
Author: Sara Laipis
Rating: PG-13 for imagery
Archive: Gossamer and Amy's Halloween archive, yes. Anywhere else ask first.
Summary: An answer to the Halloween ghost challenge. Krycek is visited.
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement is intended and no money is being made from this story.
Acknowledgments: Thanks to Nonie for beta-reading.
The air was humming. He could almost feel the vibrations, as though a cloud of dark insects swirled around him, beetle legs scratching against his skin. He stood at the edge of the clearing, hunched over against the cold, breathless in the heavy, pulsing air. The thick grey light settling over the forest muffled all sound, except for the steady, dusky plop of the blood oozing from the bandaged stump where his elbow had been. Vision blurred from the dull agony centered below his left shoulder, his gaze crept sluggishly over the musty leaf floor of the clearing, toward the hut in the center. Hairy vines slithering through the open door and the gaping hole in the roof spoke of an abandoned dwelling, but remnants of caution filtered through the cloud in his brain and prickled across his scalp. He sniffed the raw, heavy air, searching for the scent of pursuers, but finding only the dark tang of his own blood. He thrust himself forward a step into the clearing and stood motionless, waiting.
The pulsing continued.
There was no movement, no sound from the hut. He forced his legs to heave themselves forward, treading leaden through leafy debris, toward the rotting frame of the doorway. His pulse beat roughly in his temples, in counterpoint to the vibrations in the air around him.
He stopped, swaying, clutching the doorframe. A fine shower of powdered wood trickled down the nape of his neck as the rotted beams trembled under his weight. He stared dully into the interior of the hut. The dim light that seeped through the jagged hole in the roof hung heavily in the outer room, weighing down the musty silence. More of the creeping vines sprouted obscenely through cracks in the flooring and groped at the legs of the rough wooden chairs thrust against the hearth. Moldy leaves were strewn among the ashes, mottled greys turning black and slick with grime. The air throbbed around him.
He lurched forward into the greyness, feeling the roof close over his head with a dull sense of relief. His hand brushed the cold, mildewed surface of a wooden table, and he stiffened abruptly.
There was a sound in the hut.
His skin squirmed and tightened. The sound drifted drily, scratchily, from the inner room and filtered through the heavy air like dust.
A baby was crying.
His mind recoiled. His eyes skittered over the decay around him, and flickered across the muted rectangle of the inner door. The wailing continued. His throat felt dead.
His legs were moving, dragging the numbs stumps of his feet toward the sound. Something squished and wriggled under his tread, but he was drawn forward. He trembled in the inner doorway, burning eyes searching the dank recesses of the room. On the floor a limp pallet sagged under two carcasses, once human, now tanned hides stretched tight over empty sockets and dry joints. Four sets of claws clenched together between the forms, dead fingernails gripping old leather. There was a faint scent of decay in the air, muffled by the smell of dead leaves. Near the pallet a cradle rested, the wood of one side beginning to flake away. The dry sobs rose from the dusty bed of the cradle.
His pulse thundered in his ears. The air throbbed against him, pressing into his lungs and choking off his breath. He stepped toward the cradle.
The infant was thin and grey, tiny fists balled helplessly as it wailed. Eyes squeezed shut, the parched mouth cracked to emit the thin, hopeless cry. As he stared numbly at the sharp ridges of rib curling under the skin, at the unhealthy pallor of the child, the eyes fluttered open. A hot black gaze seared his own. His mind screamed. Blackness was oozing from the eyes, from the nostrils, slithering down the hollow cheeks in squirming streams, welling up in the dry bed of the cradle and spilling to the floor, creeping toward him in a slimy trail...his body spasmed and a shriek tore from his throat.
The cradle was empty.