The Grey Wanderer
Mist hovered over the near empty fields. Stands of cedar and black pine broke the monotony of what many considered the endless boredom of the grass plains. Pastures and farmlands stretched as far as a man might walk in a day and beyond. Folks here kept to themselves and preferred others to do the same.
Spring was just beginning, and the early bloom of wild flowers peppered the ground beneath the roiling mists. Tombstones and other crude burial markers filled the small field outside of the village of Fent. Generations were buried within the field’s confines, though modernity demanded fresh bodies be burned atop a pyre so that their ashes might get to the next realm quicker than the slow rot the earth offered.
Still, the old ways, however antiquated, remained strong in many of the older generations still toiling. Their reward, that final rest, had yet to come, leaving them in the unenviable position of becoming the stewards of what once was. A gloomy task on the best of days. Not all the dead were given the flame. Many continued to be thrown into the long, cold sleep of the ground.
Dawn was breaking, the first thin tendrils of pale light stretched across the darkened skies. Roosters crowed. Farmers rose and readied for the long day. Had any been in the fields, they might have caught a glimpse of an old man, crooked and dressed in faded grey robes, stalking down the dirt road leading to the cemetery. He carried a small lantern that swung with every step. The Grey Wanderer some named him. Others simply chose a more apt name: The Soul Stealer.
Whistling as he went, the Grey Wanderer sniffed the air for the scent of those freshly dead. Some whispered he was once a king of men. Others suggested he had been a sorcerer of great power who’d made a deal with fell powers. Most didn’t care; they avoided all mention of him. Wherever the Grey Wanderer went, bad things followed.
He paused at the cemetery gates and raised his lantern high. A wash of light fell over the tombstones, showing him what he’d come to find. Fresh earth cast over the recently deceased. His smile was thin and insidious. The Grey Wanderer began to whistle. It was a ghastly sound, unfit for mortal ears. A cry to the ones in the deep beyond whose very existence threatened the sanity of the masses.
Once he finished his task, the Grey Wanderer lowered his lantern and continued walking. He avoided passing through the sleepy village, choosing instead to disappear back into the mists of time and space. His work here was finished.
Read the rest in The Children of Never by Christian Warren Freed.
My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.