Tales From Grimshaw - Prologue

(This is the prologue to a series of short stories I'm working on. It's a little moody and very Gothic later on, there are some Victorian elements to the setting as well as dark fantasy and a few other things I find interesting. There may or may not be vampires as well...just a warning.)

The tavern was filled with smoke, warm people and warmer food served by wide women with old smiles plastered across their faces. All was merry. Ale, cider, mulled wine and grog for the poorer men was on each and every table. Some were new and thick with foam resting on their tops, others were little more than puddles of amber and red liquid hidden at the bottom of their cups. Many a drunk was seen and many a working man as well, both drank as well as they could and tried not to disturb the other. Though, here and there they would glance at one another as their conversations got a bit interesting or someone broke out in a fit of rage or fell down on a table, sleeping like the dead.
    Neither of them however looked behind them, to the man they were all worried about. The man that sat alone and without a drink in the shadows of the corner. The patrons looked away, the waitresses only came to him if he called them and that barely ever happened. It was only the boasting guards who even glanced his way, and only a little, after a few cups. If it wasn’t for this man, this odd sober man among so many drunks, the night would have been a good one, maybe even a great one. But with him sitting in shadow and cold below the eaves like a man afraid of the light, there was something wrong in the air. A thing everyone noticed but tried only to drink away.
    No one knew who, or what, that man was. No one had seen him before, not even the oldest of the old men that spend their days drinking mulled wine and playing chess till midday. Yet for some reason people had the idea that he had always been there, watching them...with contempt.
    “Came in just this day,” said old Bart Goodman the owner, when a certain patron had asked. “Said he needed a bit of sour loaf and took the seat he’s still in. Didn’t say nothing else. Didn’t ask neither.” His voice had a sense of curiosity to it. Curiosity and foreboding. Since then no one had asked about the man. Everyone tried not to think of it. Yet still there was something that gnawed at the back of their minds. Like an itch you couldn’t scratch no matter how hard you tried. It was the feeling that there was something both interesting and horrible about this strange man. Something no one knew and pretended not to care. They chose to drink and eat instead.
    Pretending, it seems, wasn’t enough for some people. For one of the guards rose—a little unsure at first—from his seat and shambled over towards the corner. His friends watched him...as did everyone else. The guard walked slowly towards the man, hand on his dagger, poised to strike even in his drunken state. The man sat comfortable and undisturbed. “Hey,” said the guard a few steps away from the man’s shadowed table. “Hey, don’t drink huh?”
    The man was silent.
    “What's your name, then?"
    Silence. Utter silence.
    The tavern was all wrapped up in this exchange now. Every eye was fixed upon the young guard and the man in the shadows. Fixed as if by glue or nail. Some were too afraid to breath yet too bound by the hypnotism of what they were seeing to look away or help. They had to know what happened next.
    The guard took another step towards the table, hand still on his dagger. He could hear the wood creak beneath his boots and the pounding in his chest wasn’t half as hard as the drum circle going on in his head. His hair stood on end and his mouth went dry as he tried to speak again, he forced the words out as if his teeth were coated in molasses.
    “Who are you?”
    The man smiled in the darkness and stood. He was ten feet tall or higher; his arms were long, too long and his frame was as thin as paper. He lifted a hand to his mouth which was hidden in a cowl and laughed. His voice was pure ice in the air. Unknowable terrors began to churn up in the pits of the watchers stomachs yet still they could not look away. They would die if they tried, some felt, others felt anguish, most felt nothing.
    A puff of smoke formed in front of the man’s face. It looked like a plume of breath in the cold but the man did not breath; the smoke simply came, as if by magic. Another laugh escaped the man’s concealed lips and yet another thick cloud of smoke. In that instant, the guard charged the man, reckless and filled with a fear no one ever knew before him. In that instant, the laugh ceased.
    The fire went out.

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