Fiction Fantasy

The sound of hammer on anvil rang harsh in Samuel’s ears, as he stood in the muddy street. The steady rhythm like a heartbeat for the small town, each blow breaking time into moments. He looked around, tavern, clang, store, clang, apothecary, clang, alley, clang, shadow, clang, shadow, clang, shadow.

He turned more quickly now, eyes darting left and right, heart racing. They were on both sides, spreading out, behind posts, in doorways, ragged, hunched, dark. Just the glint of eyes; eyes following him. His bag slipped from his shoulder. He pulled a knife from the sheath at his hip, it looked pitifully small, the blade flashed catching the last rays of sun. He had never seen so many before, one or two in the distance, slinking between buildings, just out of sight. But never this many, never a dozen, maybe more, it was impossible to tell, not until they stepped out, until they came for him.

The street had been quiet when he jumped off the back of the cart, just a few tired folk hurrying home. It was deserted now, as if the people of this town had faded with the dying of the sun. The snick of a lock sliding home, then the bang of shutters, repeated up and down the street, then silence. Even the anvil had ceased its steady beat. The only sound, his heartbeat thrumming in his ears. He swapped the knife in his hands, wiping his palms on his jacket. Sweat trickled down his brow, he scrubbed it away with his forearm as he slowly turned in a circle.

They hadn’t moved, still there, still watching; maybe it was different here, maybe he could… They fanned out, as the sun dipped below the hills, crossing the street, cutting him off. They moved smoothly, like mist flowing over the ground, darkness given form, all except their eyes, staring out from the recesses of their hoods, never leaving him.

Samuel, knew it was hopeless, they would take him, just like the others. The only thing left, was how many he could take with him. He closed his eyes, tried to slow his breathing. There was a dry rasping laugh from in front of him, and he moved, his knife flashed out and met nothing, the shadows effortlessly flowing around his blade. Ducking and weaving, he slashed again and again, each time meeting nothing more substantial than smoke. Then his knife caught, slicing through the worn fabric, striking deep within the folds. There was a piercing scream, it collapsed, ripping the knife from his hand, he leapt over it and ran. They kept pace, hemming him in on both sides, cutting him off from the world.

There was nowhere left to run, the solid doors of the forge stood closed. The rough, weathered building offering no refuge. The smell of burning coal cut through the air, the doors hot, against his back, as he faced his attackers. Tears pricked at his eyes, this was the end, he bunched his fists and held them up in front, as if this feeble display could somehow hold them off, save his life.

The door behind him gave inwards, a rough, calloused hand hit his shoulder as he stumbled backwards, dragging him into the darkness. The door closed, a huge beam crashed into place, locking out the world. Howls rose outside, battering rocked the door, the beam rattling in its keeps. Samuel scooted back across the floor of the forge, squeezing into a gap between benches.

“English Oak,” came a voice in the darkness, “it’ll keep them out… For tonight at least.” The man was huge, outlined in the ruddy glow from the still hot forge. A match flared, the sudden light momentarily blinding. There was a scraping sound as a lamp was opened, the wick slowly coaxing to life, throwing its warm glow across the space. “Now, let’s ‘ave a look at you,” he said picking up the lamp.

Samuel lurched to his feet, eyes wide, he grabbed a hammer from the bench, holding it out in front of him, the heavy weight sagging in his grip.

The man laughed, the lamp shaking in his hand, “What’cha gonna do with that? Look at you, skinny as a pipe. Barely lift that, let alone swing it.”

“I’m stronger than I look,” Samuel spat out.

“I’m sure you are, young man, I’m sure you are.” He held the lamp up, his smiling face no longer in shadow. He had a thick, black beard, his hair pulled back in a pony tail. His huge muscled arms were bare, almost as battered and scarred as the leather apron he wore. “I’m Jacob, but most folks ‘round ‘ere jus’ call me Hoss,” he said, holding out his hand. “Now why don’t you put that down an’ we’ll ‘ave a cuppa. An’ you can tell me all abou’ it.”


Samuel wrapped his fingers tightly around the chipped earthenware mug, its warmth slowly pushing back the chill. Even sat on stools, Hoss still towered above him. They sat in silence, sipping their steaming brews, Hoss patiently watching him. As colour slowly returned to Samuel, his hands began to tremble, rough hands closed around his.

“’Let me take that, lad, case you spill it.”

Samuel looked up through shining eyes, “T-thank you,” he managed.

“Now, why don’ you start by givin’ me your name.”

“S-Samuel… I-I’ve never seen so many.”

“Aye lad, we’ve got a lot, I’ll grant you. Not as many as the city, min’ you.”


“You first, lad. Where’s your Ma and Pa?”

“Gone… they’re gone,” tears now flowing freely. “I was on the neighbour’s farm, it got dark so I stayed over. In the morning— They came in the night.” He put his face in his hands. “The door was open, they took them all, Ma, Pa, my two sisters and the b-baby.”

“An’ you left, why come ‘ere, not back to your neighbour?”

“I did, but I couldn’t stay, I saw their faces everywhere, saw the pity in the eyes of everyone. So, I took money and left.” He looked up, “Oh Night, my bag, it’s all in there,” he ran for the door.

Hoss grabbed his arm, “You go out there an’ you won’t need money no more. They’re waiting, jus’ outside the door. Silent, still, be there ‘till morning.”


“No buts, we’ll go at first light. If it’s gone, I’ll ask ‘round for it, ask for it back. Folks ‘round ‘ere don’ like me asking twice.” They sat back by the forge, sipping their tea. “So why here?”

“I got a lift on a cart, it was getting dark, but he wasn’t stopping. Figured I’d spend the night and move on.”


“I— I don’t know.” He took a sip of tea, “Why are there so many here? With all these people, why not fight back? I took down one on my own.”

“No, no you didn’, lad, they don’ die. Least, don’ think they can be killed. Lot’s o’ folk here tried when they firs’ came, that’s why there’s so many now.” He paused scratching his beard, “So what’s your plan?”

“Don’t really have one, move on, head to the city, I guess, find work.” Samuel puffed out his chest and pulled back his shoulders. “On the farm I did all sorts, I’m strong and a fast learner, I’ll find something.”

Hoss chuckled, his eyes glinting, “I’m sure you are, lad. But not in the city, far worse there. A lotta folks are heading out, jus’ packin’ it all up and leavin’.” He looked at Samuel, a smile crooking the corner of his mouth, “I got work ‘ere. Hard work, min’ you. The days are long an’ the pay,” he laughed again, “well there’s pay, let’s leave it at that. But it’ll put a roof over your head, and food in your belly.”

Samuel looked at him, his eyes still wet with tears, a smile finally creeping onto his face. He stepped forward, hugging tight into Hoss’ huge chest. “Hey, there now lad. No need for that.” He put his hands on Samuel’s shoulders and looked him in the eye, “You can sleep in here tonight, an’ give me an answer over breakfast.”

“T-thank you, mister Hoss,” he dried his face on the back of his hand, “but no need to wait, I’ll start in the morning.”

September 22, 2022 07:15

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Mia N
03:49 Dec 11, 2022

Hi Ross, Great story! It's well-written. I could genuinely feel all of this man's movements as he interacted with the shadows and Hoss. The syntax and diction are absolute perfection. I particularly enjoyed the beginning of the story as I tried to guess whether the shadows were metaphorical shadows or actual people attackers. It turned out they were not quite either. This makes me wonder how depth can be added to the presence of these shadows (a tease perhaps?). The 'Oh Night' as a curse was a delightful detail! - Mireya, Critique Circle


Ross Dyter
12:02 Dec 11, 2022

Many thanks for your comments and taking the time to read my work. Feedback is always really helpful when trying to develop as a writer. I really like to leave the reader guessing slightly about aspects of the story and add in more detail as small reveals, but it is tricky in so few words, to get the balance right.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.