His car floated down the narrow country lane, noiseless, like a phantom, the tarmac strip winding through hillsides as though a great black worm had crawled through the countryside and died, leaving its corpse behind to help travellers find their way through the endlessly sweeping sea of grass and trees with rolling wavelike mountains. Adrian felt like he was in a terrestrial storm, frozen in time for his eyes only. He looked out through his side window and saw that the sky ahead had been smothered in grey. Sighing, he wound the window back up and picked up his map, spotted his position along the pencil-line he'd scrawled to display his route, and tossed it back onto the worn, leather passenger seat.
The air was still, but it was bitterly cold, which he combated with a thick duster jacket on top of his brown suit. He was dreading the greyness ahead, knowing it'd be colder, probably raining, and his old Triumph, with its leaky fabric roof, wouldn't serve him all too well. But he didn't complain; it was either deal with the cold and the rain and the complete misery that went with driving alone, or go back to his life; and he knew he'd much rather venture into the deep, dark fog that was now encroaching, along with the equally dark sky, than go back to what he once had. He knew he couldn't go back, even if he wanted to; and so without any hesitation or thought of what lay beyond, or inside, the fog he pressed onward into the gloom, leaving behind him the lush, grassy tempest.
As soon as he broke into the fog the cold air seeped in through the door and window seals. He slowed down, unable to see further than six feet ahead of the front of the car, and tried to suppress a shiver. At least it wasn't raining.
He drove, checking his watch periodically, for three hours, wondering if there was an end to this fog or countryside – if, indeed, he was still in the country, or even on the same road as before. He was itching to stop and wait for the haze to subside, and after a while finally pulled over, cutting off the engine. As soon as he had done so a black shape, half the size of his car, whizzed past at an ungodly speed, making the most monstrous noise and rocking the car violently; then, as quickly as it came, it disappeared into the fog.
Adrian sat in shock, having been terrified beyond belief, and relieved that he'd pulled over when he did – he daren't even imagine what would have happened if he hadn't. He stared at the dashboard for a time, not daring to pull out again in case something else would come. Eventually, fed up with just sitting in that damnably cold metal box, he shifted from his side to the passengers and opened the door.
He stepped out and immediately found the air damp, colder than he'd thought, and far more oppressive than it seemed from inside the car. The whole atmosphere seemed alive, breathing, drifting around on an undetectable breeze and so incredibly silent it was as though he'd been covering his own ears. The silence unnerved him, as it would anyone, and to ease his anxiety he began to sing to himself a song by Frank Sinatra – he'd forgotten the name – and leaned against the car, stuffing his hands into his trouser pockets. He'd gotten through two verses and a chorus before hearing the first noise not made by himself since switching off the engine.
It was laughter. Just like the object from a few minutes ago it was there, then gone again. Adrian froze, silent, afraid to even breathe lest he miss the noise, should it occur again. Minutes passed, with no other noise to break through the dense curtain of repressive miasma. Adrian opened the passenger door, reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a torch, the light of which could not penetrate even the slightest bit of grey. He called out, hoping that whoever may be out there would answer him; but after calling out for a third time there was little doubt that his voice wasn't going very far, that nobody could hear him even if they were ten feet away from him.
Suddenly the air was filled with a terrible, inhuman screaming. Adrian started as it got closer and a long, orange light thundered past. It was taller than him, roughly seven or eight feet high, and at least forty feet long. It cut through the fog, dispersing it, and for a few fleeting seconds he caught a glimpse of his surroundings, which hadn't changed much from when he entered the haze; but most importantly he saw a light, separate from the massive orange behemoth that had now disappeared, that seemed to belong to a house. It was a little ways down the road, at the end of a pathway that split off from it. Before the murky curtain could settle again Adrian hurried down the side of the road, his muscles tense with cold, and was almost halfway there before the opening closed once more.
Never before had he been so disappointed at having to stop running, and shifted down to a slow walk, positive that if he concentrated hard enough he'd be able to tell where the path jutted out. He walked for a while, discovering that no matter how hard he concentrated he could not see the path; in fact he could barely see the grass curled over the tarmacs edge, like millions of tiny fingers holding down the black surface, which was itself difficult to discern.
It wasn't long before Adrian began to regret not only leaving his car, but, also, coming out to this ridiculously barren place, which was the worst idea he'd had for some time. Once again he took up singing to both pass the time and soothe himself; the air refused to carry his voice, so it was like singing in a cupboard, but it served his purpose and took his mind off things, albeit temporarily.
He'd finished the song when he realised that he must either be close to the path, or had passed it already; then he heard it again, the merry laughter of partygoers, this time it came from directly to his left and without hesitation or thinking he hurried off the road towards the sounds. His feet immediately slipped from underneath him.
Sliding down a muddy embankment, his foot caught a stone lodged in the wet earth and he was sent tumbling, face-first, downwards. He hit the bottom hard, despite the inches of soft mud, rolled onto his back and clutched his chest, having landed on yet another stone, this one the size of a tennis ball, and wheezed; gulping down air as though he'd just been choked he slowly found his feet and, after he'd wiped the mud from his face and eyes, looked around. Behind him was the hill, atop that was the road, and at his sides was nothing but mist; directly ahead of him, however, was laughter and, now, music.
Head still spinning he ventured forward, slowly at first, but as his head ceased to throb he quickened his pace towards the musical haven. He was so happy to finally be making progress, focusing solely on the music that he didn't hear the deep, guttural snarling coming from between himself and the house. He continued, oblivious to the threat of the three dark beasts that watched every move he made towards them with black, hungry, glistening eyes. The middle animal bayed such a gut-wrenchingly dark noise it made Adrian freeze and in spite of the bitter air immediately break out into a sweat. Knowing he should run he instead stood, unable to move and barely able to breathe, watching as three large shapes stalked beyond the mist, staring him down. He now heard their breathing, and thought he could feel the heat. One foot involuntarily stepped backwards; detecting this the beasts, in a matter of a second, poised and launched themselves at him with the most disgustingly bloodthirsty noises he'd ever heard come from an animal.
They were dogs, wild in both nature and appearance. Adrian cried out, spun and tried to scramble up to the road; he heard one of them behind him and dived to his left just as the dog pounced. It landed next to him and slipped as he rolled away back down the hill. He got to his feet and began to run when the second dog slammed into his side, knocking the air from his body, causing him to stumble. The third attacked from the front and locked onto its victim's right forearm with vice-like jaws. Cutting through the mist like a blade, Adrian's scream was heard by nothing else save for those three monstrous creatures.
A beast of immeasurable strength, Adrian found it impossible to get the animal to let go, no matter how hard he fought back. He screamed again when the dog crunched and broke the bones of his forearm as easily as a man would break a breadstick in his mouth. Fighting through the pain Adrian took out his car keys and attacked the dog's left eye. As he did so a second dog attacked his left leg while the first yelped and released his broken arm. Its pause in attack was momentary, and it snapped at the hand that held his only weapon, leaving severe gashes and releasing the keys from his grip. It leapt, pushing its great paws against his chest, and he fell backwards. The third dog appeared and lunged for his throat, he gripped its throat and pushed with every ounce of fortitude he had to get those foul, yellow teeth away from him. The inside of its mouth was rotten; a black, wormlike tongue writhed spasmodically, flicking specks of maggoty white foam into Adrian's face; the animal smothered him in its hot, necrotic breath, stinging his eyes and causing him to gag.
Pain shot up his legs as the other dogs tore through cloth and flesh and his strength was about to fail him when a booming voice pulled the dogs away from him. Adrian lay in the mud, exhausted, broken and bloody, waiting to pass out or die – whichever came first.
The dogs circled him, panting hungrily, but not once making a move towards the stricken man, whose fading consciousness allowed him to only see dark shapes and hear muffled sounds from the gloomy ether that surrounded him. A wide figure loomed above and leaned down, picking him up with large, hairy arms.
Hours later Adrian awoke, and there was no music, no laughter and, perhaps best of all, no dogs. He blinked hard a few times, turning the blotchy and sickly world around him into shapes and colours less vague than before, though it did nothing for his crushing headache, a headache he promptly forgot about when he tried to move.
His mind was flooded with the screams of his nervous system as ripped flesh and broken bones tore at it relentlessly, which he made audible to everyone anywhere near him. He heard a door burst open, wood clattering against brick, and heavy footsteps made their way towards him across a wooden floor.
"It's okay," spoke a deep voice, "you're safe now." Adrian mumbled something incoherent and the voice chuckled. "Rest, I'll explain everything tomorrow."
There were no dreams to accompany Adrian through the night, and despite the pain he was in he slept soundly. The next morning he woke up, this time without the headache, and for the first time fully took in his surroundings.
The room was small, with walls of stone painted white; beams of bare wood crossing the ceiling, and a small wooden chair next to the bed on which he lay. His body was numb, pulsing with each violent thud of his heart; the room spun violently, forcing him to close his eyes, praying, that on top of everything else that'd happened, he wouldn't vomit. A low, weak, miserable moan escaped his throat, echoing off the cold walls; he almost immediately wished he was dead, having never felt so horribly ill before – that was until he heard her voice for the first time.
He didn't hear words, only the sweet timbre of her magnificent voice, which was alone enough to ease him of his misery. As much as he wanted to see her face, which he imagined was as beautiful as her voice, he was happy to merely imagine, through shut eyes, what she looked like: blonde, her hair draping graciously down over the thin shoulders that held up a silk dress which clung to the body of Aphrodite; eyes as bright as a sun-washed sky, that pierced everything with a childlike enthusiasm and wonder, but which also told the stories that made up her life. Perfect, Adrian thought, as perfect as the music with which she gifted his ears.
Paradise was shattered when the wooden door creaked open and those familiar heavy footsteps came between him and the angel beyond. Sighing, the injured opened his eyes to see a large, round man at the foot of his bed, carrying a tray. His red beard widened as the man smiled at him.
"How're you feeling today, friend?" The man's voice was rough, but kind.
Sighing, Adrian replied in a hoarse whisper "sick, until I heard the singing."
The man chuckled and placed the tray on the chair. "That'd be Connie. She's great, isn't she?"
'Great,' thought Adrian, 'is the grossest understatement I've heard for a long, long time'. She was more than great; if he were to actually make smaller the true breadth of quality of her singing he would call it nothing short of miraculous considering the limits of human ability. Though miraculous was a condescending word to use, it was a sight more apt than something so mediocre as 'amazing' or as insultingly boring as 'great'.
"I brought you some stew," said the bearded man, "it's lamb – you'll love it."
Adrian looked at the steaming bowl, sat between a chunk of bread and a glass of water, and his mouth began to salivate; it surprised him how hungry he actually was. The man gingerly helped him to sit up before placing the tray on his lap.
"I'm Jacob, by the way."
Adrian, without looking up, nodded and mumbled his own name before beginning his assault on the food before him. Jacob left him to his meal and went back to the room in which the angel sang a song fit for only the gods to hear.
(A/N: The layout's a bit weird, but future chapters will be better. Hope you enjoyed!)