Lovelorn (a working title)

So this is part of what I’ve been working on for countless months. The story I formally referred to as ‘the Kelpie story’ and now known as Lovelorn.
It’s a messy tangled work in progress and this is the introduction. It’s very likely it will change by the time I’m finished. A lot will of changed as editing seems to be fast becoming my new best friend.  I thought I would share some of it though, my secret project that has slowly been taking over what spare time I have.
Lovelorn is about two strangers that get lost in a wood, losing their way and being beseeched by faerie folk as they each try to search for something taken from them. I hope you enjoy this taster!

The smell was overwhelming and every man that stood on the sloping bank of the river covered their chapped mouths with old stained scraps of cloth, their flat patched work-hats or their dry rough hands, anything to stop the hairs in their nostrils from burning. The water churned as two brave and well-set men from the nearby stables plunged long poles into the murk, forcing the tangled rotting mush up to the surface. The sounds of their gagging and grunting filled the chill air, wind whipping around the work-men tauntingly. Dark clouds shifted above their heads as a faint patter of rain began to fall, the bank becoming damp. Their boots sank, their old shirts and patched overalls becoming wet. It was as if the weather herself wanted to keep the source hidden, deep within the depths of the river only to be pushed onwards, to the next town when the stench became too grand. Men are stubborn fools though, resisting, retaliating and despite the rain and surrounding empty fields, a few others grew courage fit to bursting and stumbled into the water. More wooden poles were pushed into the mud, the leaves floating in the disturbed water and more than a few creatures swam away to safety. The others on the bank tried to give encouragement but it sounded brittle and fake upon the wind; even the men, beating the river bed with poles longed to leave and forget. As the rain became heavy, beating the backs and shoulders of the farmers, there was a great whoosh and up rose the source of the smell that had danced through the fields these past two weeks.

The silence was broken by a gaggle of cries as hands scrambled for purchase, as bodies pulled themselves from the water in fear. Flat caps covered eyes, some men fled valuing their sanity over their brave reputation and more than a few vomited, thick yellow stews from the night gone onto the wavering grass. Everyone remaining took time to gather themselves, pray, wet their glistening mouths or stare up at the seemingly laughing sky.

With empty stomachs and hearts filled with dread, they inched closer to the bank, forgotten sticks floating next to the rotting carcases. Three horses, their limbs snapped and tangled together so they made a garish garland. Grey and purple flesh slipping off to reveal yellow bones beneath, bellies bloated to huge proportions as what remained of their manes, only wisps of dirty locks, now swayed contently in the water. Their muzzles were broken, jaws hanging slack and thick red tongues lolling out as if trying to drink the river water. White eyes wriggled in their sockets, tiny fish having made them their homes there, and ribbons of intestines trailed from their rear ends.

“What be that?” one man gasped, pointing with a shaking finger at the dozens of shapes carved into their flesh.

Lines that crossed and flicked, shapes of eyes and cycles of the moon burst from the flesh, wounds swollen and pink. Runes. Fresh fear swept through the group as their eyes darted around their surroundings, hoping for the glimpse of the red ribboned bells, the protection they hung around the perimeter of their farming lands. Alas this land belonged to no one and they were completely unguarded from the woods. One man, younger than all the others with a maddening scatter of freckles across his brow pulled a charm from his pocket, holding it to his chest as the bells chimed softly, tangled knots of ribbons blowing in the breeze. The others crowded around, their only protection that of tiny bell in his still soft hands.

“We should leave, let it rot here and protect our own land!” one shouted, his deep voice hoarse and panicked.

“But what of our children? What if they stumble upon here? It must be burned!” another spoke up, though he too stood far from the bank.

Mumbles and curses arose in the group as they franticly decided what to do with the cursed corpses. Although none liked the decision that was made, they knew it to be the right one, it would be hauled onto the land and burned. Some claimed a pyre would only anger the woods but others secretly delighted in doing so. Either way, their children walked these paths, their livestock drank from this river and to leave it would be foolish. They worked together, gathering the poles and slowly pushed the tangled mass toward the bank, men cursing as they where forced to stand in the water to get better leverage. The young man held the charm gripped in his cracked teeth, spit dribbling down his chin only to be lost in his sodden shirt. The rain beat thicker, creating curtains of millions of tiny water drops around them as they worked. The bank was slippery, hooves sinking in mud as the bodies undulated alarmingly, masses of green flesh being left discarded in the water. The men where forced to put their hands upon the clammy cold skin, fingers slipping into supple giving meat as the smell assaulted their nostrils and the backs of their throats. Two mares were on the shore now, necks bent, tangled limbs in the air and bodies rippling together like a grotesque statue. As they lifted the third, bones creaking, the young man noticed a slit appearing on the bloated stomach, a thick tear slowly descending downward and before he had time to call to the others, to stop them heaving the legs, it burst with an almighty pop. His screams were downed in the mass of organs, filth and gore that exploded upon him, throwing him backwards into and under the water.

In his shock, the charm slipped down his open mouth, swallowed down with rot and muddy river water. His arms flailed, wide eyes clouded in the murk of green sludge and his fingers gripped a form, solid and lifeless within the water. With a strangled gasp he was pulled upwards, hands gripping his armpits and him holding the former, horror having stilled his brain. He was pulled onto the opposite bank before anyone registered what it was he gripped in his shaking arms and before he had come round to his surroundings, he heard shouts of dismay. He glances down, mouth still gaping and the sound that erupted from it was genderless, so high and panicked it spread through the surrounding fields like a fog, choking those closest. His eyes rolled as he screamed, teeth bared, the taste of rotten flesh still coating his tongue and the charm lodged in his gut.

He cradled the lifeless form of a child barely grown, still curled within itself, features unformed, gender ambiguous. Its skin was mottled grey and blue, brittle hairs bristling down its exposed spine which ended in a bump not unlike a tail. Fingers like claws, fists clenched and its cream eyes tinged with pink. Two ears protruded from the top of its skull, equine in appearance and its bent misshapen legs ended in soft pale hooves.

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