Bang. Bang. Bang.
Three knocks on the cabin door. Loud knocks. Desperate knocks. Victor squinted through the dark of the cabin. It was early morning, the sun barely cresting over the mountaintops, casting great orange waves across the sky.
The door squeaked on its hinges as it opened. Cold air rushed into the cabin, and Victor shivered as a sudden chill gripped his body. Snow was ravaging the ground, coming down in thick clumps. A pale, gaunt man with high cheekbones stared anxiously from a few feet away, clutching at the body of a larger man unconscious on the ground. Fear was stained in his eyes. Palpable fear.
“I’m J-Joseph. My…my friend, Mark…he’s injured.” The man’s tone wavered as he spoke, like a crying child. “Please, he won’t last much longer. We need help.”
Victor raised his hand to his chin. There was a bloody trail stained into the snow leading up to the cabin, winding its way across the mountain like a snake. The wind was menacing in its intensity, ramming against the cabin as if it were trying to blow it off the mountain.
“You come from the village?” Victor responded; his head tilted upwards in uncertainty.
“We’re t-tourists. Our camp is a while away, past the village and left. We’ve been travelling on foot. Me and Mark – we were hiking, and there was-
“Enough,” Victor spoke, sticking his hand out suddenly. “Come inside, I’ll help you with your friend.”
Slumping Mark’s body over his shoulder, Victor stepped back inside the cabin.
Joseph rushed inside, pausing near the raging fireplace and rubbing his hands together. He sighed deeply, glancing out of the window with a worried glare. A small group of children were gathered below the mountain overlook, near the cabin.
Mark’s lips were bluish-pink, and his body was cold and heatless. Victor listened closely for a sign of a heartbeat but heard nothing.
“Neck injury. Looks quite serious. You’re lucky you got to me now. A few more minutes out there and he’d be gone,” Victor lied. Mark had been dead for minutes now.
Joseph turned suddenly, raising an eyebrow. Victor was pouring through a blocky manual-type book of sorts, having laid Mark on a large table in the centre of the room.
“Is it true, what they say?”
“What who says?”
“The villagers, down by the river below. They told us about you. A healer up in the mountains. We thought it was superstition, just a local legend.”
“The villagers say a lot of things. Tales of ghosts and demons and pixies and such. Easy to imagine why. All that time spent in the middle of nowhere, not much to do or say. No wonder there’s so many stories.”
“They said you’re a trickster, you know. A conman. They said you couldn't be trusted,” Joseph spoke.
“A bunch of ungrateful bastards is what they are. Always wandering about, getting injured, dragging themselves to the cabin, pathetic little tears in their eyes. Then walking out again without a word of thanks. If I refuse to help them, they threaten me with violence. They aren’t too agreeable with tourists, either, as I’m sure you’ve experienced.”
“That’s how Mark was injured. They turned on us. Acted friendly at first, then ambushed us as we were leaving and robbed us. One of the littler shits wedged a pickaxe in Mark’s neck.”
Victor laughed coldly.
A fist-sized rock smashed through the window, scattering glass on the cabin floor. Joseph jumped out of the way while Victor scowled and rushed to the new opening. Quiet cheers echoed upwards across the overlook. A small group of village children were jumping with joy from down below, pebbles clutched in their hands, parents cheering them on.
“You couldn’t’ve picked a worse place to be touring, my friend. These villagers are a blight on the land. Like little rats, they are. For all the years I’ve spent here I've never seen a more pitiful bunch of ingrates across all of Europe. They take and they take, and they never give back. Pure scum.”
Joseph leaned against the cabin wall tentatively, unsure of how to react.
“So… is it true or not? Can you really heal people like they say?”
Victor set down the manual on a large bookshelf, cracking a sly grin. There was a sudden flash of light as he began chanting some strange dialect that Joseph could not understand. The words echoed through the room as if it were a cave.
A final flash shot across the walls, and Joseph clamped his eyes shut. When he opened them again, he was stood outside the cabin, Mark and Victor by his side.
“You’re welcome,” Victor spoke as small wisps of snowfall landed on his face. “Mark’s gonna be fine, he’s just a little dazed right now. Side effect from the process. Give it a few minutes, and he’ll be perfectly fine.”
Mark mumbled quietly in confusion, blinking and scratching at his head.
“Thank you so much,” Joseph spoke, tears of happiness welled up in his eyes. “I would offer you money, but the villagers…”
“Do not worry about it, friend. Your kindness is payment enough. Oh, and Joseph…” Victor leaned in closer, his voice lowering to a whisper. “Your friend was dead. Try and take better care next time.”
“My god...I had no idea. At least it’s all sorted now, I suppose,” Joseph replied, shaken at Victor’s words. “But if I can just ask you one last favour…”
“And what would that be?”
“Don’t let the villagers get away with what they did. I don’t know what sort of crazy powers you have, but you must teach them a lesson. Please.”
Victor bit his lip, seemingly contemplating the offer.
“I think I know something that would do the trick.”
Joseph nodded, and with a hopeful smile, the pair set off down the snow-cast mountain.
Descending the peaks was not an easy task, and Joseph struggled to find his footing as he and Mark slid downwards. Mark pushed further towards the bottom while Joseph stopped, peeking at what had caught his eye below in the village.
“Go on ahead, Mark. I’ll there in a minute.”
Mark gave a shaky thumbs-up and skidded to the bottom of the slope, continuing across the mountain while Joseph approached the village apprehensively.
It was utter carnage. People were dashing madly along the streets, clutching their throats as they tripped over one another in a frantic daze. One by one, their panicked movements began to slow to a crawl, right up until they collapsed in the snow, a pool of blood forming around their bodies.
Mortified, Joseph ran to the nearest villager, an elderly man shaking violently on the ground.
“Can’t…breathe…” He spoke roughly, as if every syllable was causing him great pain.
“What's wrong? What do you need?!” Joseph asked the man, trying to hold his body steady.
“W-water…I need wa-
The man’s words were lost in a sea of coughs, and Joseph watched in horror as his milky eyes glassed over, his arms falling limply by his side. The skin on the man’s neck was peeling away on its own, layer by layer. Within moments, the wound had formed completely, stretching from the man’s chin to his collarbone. It was Mark’s exact gash, as if it had been copied and pasted onto the man’s neck. Yellowish pus leaked from the opening, staining the man’s clothes. Joseph retched, barely managing to contain the rising vomit in his throat.
Everywhere he looked, the gashes bloomed on people’s necks like a virus, always the same size and shape as Mark’s. Small children wheezed and choked by their parents’ corpses, the life draining from their bodies. Screaming mothers held dead babies in their arms, blood trickling down to their breast. Even the animals were suffering. Dogs moaned and whimpered from the houses, and birds flew skywards in fear, only to plummet back down to the ground, half-dead in the air. It was a circus of death, and Joseph was the audience. There was nothing he could do.
The last remaining villager stumbled drearily through the ocean of dead. The wind whistled eerily along the alleys as he hacked up globs of blood and mucus, depressingly aware of his fate. With clenched fists, he let out a ragged yell, collapsing forwards onto another body.
Snowfall was already slowly burying the corpses, covering their pale faces. Joseph sank to his knees, unable to speak or even move. Weeping, he questioned if what he saw was even real.
But what confirmed it was Victor standing proudly on the mountain overlook, that smug smile still plastered across his face in the sunlight.
Written by Cornconic