Special thanks to K. M. Alexander and J. Rushing for helping me nail down a name I really like. If you want to know more about the title, shoot me a comment here or a question on Twitter. Extra special thanks to Drew Gerken and my wife Meri for all the proofing/editing help on short notice. I owe you all!
Writers: if you don’t have a writing support group as delightful as these fine people, then your writing will probably be worse than mine. Did I write that? Obviously no one proofed this intro.
If you are wondering: WHAT IS THIS SERIAL STORY THING? GAAAAHH! Please refer to Part 1. There, you will find a beginning. You may also wish to note: Part 2 is not the end. If you only enjoy stories if they end as soon as you read them, come back when Rue From Ruin is done. Without further ado…
Rue From Ruin – Part 2
I scrunch up my face. It’s a futile attempt to keep a single, dust-filled ray of sunlight from playing directly across my eyes. The air must be filled with pollen and particles. I can smell the hay. Out of reflex, I brace myself to stifle a non-existent sneeze, even though allergies no longer plague me as they once did. I open my eyes a crack to glare at the offending gap in the wall of whatever building I’m in.
Apparently a huge mistake. The sun is low on the horizon. It is waiting there to greet me, and I regret my decision instantly. I flop over, clamping my eyelids down again and feel the sharp poke of what can only be more miserable hay digging into my bare skin. Something gives way beneath me, and I fall a short distance with a thump. Dull pain begins to pulse through my shoulder and hip.
“Ow!” I say. I hear a nearby horse snort and immediately regret the noise I’ve made. If I know anything, I know being discovered naked on someone else’s property won’t win friends or influence people no matter what country you are in. Unless you are trying to influence them to bring out a pitchfork or a shotgun. I lie very still listening for anything and notice only the thumping of my own heart and the sound of birdsong somewhere outside. My ears are much keener than they once were, and they aren’t picking up much until an abrupt electrical buzz like a cattle prod startles me.
Time spent on Grandad’s farm quickly informs me that this is only the sound of a controller for a wired electrical fence. The device is cycling its pulses of power. I remember my older cousins taunting me into touching a live wire. The event spawned a deep appreciation for the way the device cycles so that grabbing hold didn’t cause my muscles to convulse, unable to let go as I slowly electrocuted.
I focus on breathing, forcing myself to relax, and open my eyes.
Immediately, I remember to check my neck, and I am relieved to find the leather strap and pouch containing the ingredients for my tincture are still there. Looking down at my unclothed form, I feel a pang of sadness and regret. There is blood covering my fingers and hands. It speckles my forearms, abdomen, and chest. No doubt my face is covered as well; as I focus, I feel it cracked and dry around my mouth and inhale the strong metallic scent. I grab some hay, trying without success to wipe the blood from my mouth. My senses reach out, frantic, searching for a trail of trauma and find it with ease. The body must be close.
Don’t lead to a farmer or a kid, or some other person, I thought. Let it be HIS blood. Just this once, let luck be on my side.
Cautiously, I follow the trail down the steps from the hayloft where I had been sleeping. I note the horse I heard a moment before in one of the stalls is a black Mérens stud. He rolls his eyes at me and shuffles in his stall but is otherwise quiet. I don’t smell death coming from the stalls and say a silent prayer that it isn’t coming from the house. I silently pad across the dirt floor to the building’s only exit. The few tiny pebbles on the ground don’t bother my feet as much as the clinging layer of filth sticking to their sweaty, calloused bottoms.
Once, I braved the dangers of a Lego-strewn floors with those feet; I would give anything to trip, cursing at the plastic caltrops of parental doom again. A tear finds its way out of my eye and courses down among the dried blood on my face as I remember why I’ll never be swearing at building blocks again.
The electrical fence controller buzzes again, but I’m expecting it now.
Peering out of the slightly ajar barn entrance – I again rely on my heightened senses. There doesn’t seem to be anyone nearby, and people are easy to pick out by smell. A sickly sweet scent is coming from the right of the door, away from the small french-styled rock cottage. I ease the door open and sprint to the edge of the barn, looking over my shoulder as I go. Hoping no one takes notice of the pale, naked, and blood-drenched man running through the barnyard, I dodge around the side of the large outbuilding. The scent of copper is stronger here, mixed with the foulness of something disemboweled. There, farther down the side of the weather-worn barn is the remains of something black and hairy, but not quite so large as a man. I think it’s… a goat?
I breathe a huge sigh; relieved Bordeaux did not pay too dearly for my decision last night. There must have been a reason I came here instead of returning to my clothes.
Right. Clothes… and a bath. Probably not in that order.
Those problems need to be sorted out before picking up the trail. I can’t delay or risk being run-in to a French jail on indécence charges. My window of time is brief. Losing the trail of the Professeur again is not an option.
Finally able to focus, I can see a sign of his passage. The hunt is on.
Continue the story in Rue From Ruin – Part 3.