Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Alone in the Rayne

"Alone in the Rayne" was written at some point when I was in college, I think. I'm actually not completely sure when, but I think around 2004, maybe.

Also, for those of you who don't know, this will be my last short story post until the Blogject is finished. Next Wednesday's post-- Jan. 6, 2010-- will be the prologue for the novel I will be posting chapter-by-chapter. The plan is to post a chapter every week, and calculating the number of chapters I have planned, the project will take me all the way until mid-December 2010 to complete it. In order to make things go a bit faster, I'm hoping that when I have some shorter chapters, I'll post two in a week, probably on Monday and Thursday, but we'll see.

See you next week for the beginning of the Blogject!


Alone in the Rayne

The farm was a flurry of activity. Every member of the four living generations of the Herda family was busy gathering things and loading them onto the few wagons and carts they owned. Everyone from frighteningly bald Carl with his walking stick to little toddler Missy was carrying something or out gathering the flock. The wagons were almost completely loaded, and many of the men and strong young boys were loading themselves with all they could carry, and even some of the women and older girls were doing the same. They had been packing for only an hour, and though almost none of the family members had ever traveled beyond the nearest town (and certainly none had ever gone further than twenty miles from home!) they all seemed eager to be away.

Elana, middle-aged mother of nine and self-proclaimed coordinator of the loading and traveling, strode swiftly through the rooms of the big farmhouse, making certain that nothing of great value or need on the road was being left behind. Satisfied, she herded everyone out to the wagons to wait for the younger boys who were bringing the flock.

They did not have to wait long. Over the hill that led to the pasture soon came the heads of the sheep, along with the six sweaty boys who tended them together: Hadwin, Kaden, Miki, Lorenzo, Rayne, and Gray. Lorenzo and Hadwin led the flock, the other four followed, making sure none of the sheep strayed too far. Of the boys, two– Miki and Rayne– were Elana’s own. The rest were nephews or cousins, but all were between seven and ten years old.

The stubborn old wheels of the wagons and carts began to turn as the donkeys and the two horses owned by the Herda family began to pull, led by some of the loaded-down teenagers.

Few members of the family rode in the carts. The youngest children did, obviously, as well as the heavily-pregnant Devora and the invalid old Piers. A number of women had infants in their arms as they walked alongside the wagons, and a rather brave and stubborn boy, Nye, carried his younger sister on his back atop the bundle of blankets and cloaks that had been strapped to him.

Elana walked nearest the wagon that held Devora. She was due to have her baby any day now, and though it was not good for her to travel in her current condition, it was either travel and live or remain at the farm and perish.

“Where do we go, Elana?” Devora asked, her voice shaking from the jostling of the wagon on the uneven dirt road.

“Where can we go but to Little Hillridge? If we must go further, we can at least stop there.”

“But will we be safe in Little Hillridge?”

“Let us worry about getting there first.”

Thio, Elana’s husband, drifted backwards from his position at the front of the procession to Elana and Devora. “How long before they attack the farm, do you think?”

“An hour, perhaps more. Please, Thio. I don’t wish to think about it.”

As if to deny her that privilege, there were suddenly the raucous sounds of a mob not more than two miles down the road, where the farm they had so recently vacated lay. At first, only the sounds of yelling reached them, but soon, the smell of wood burning drifted to their noses. Looking back, a thick column of dark smoke rose from the farmhouse like a sickening balloon. The entire Herda family stared back as their home was destroyed. Somewhere along the line of travelers, an infant began to howl. The cry was taken up by many of the other infants and even some of the younger children.

“Hush now! Do you wish to call the Ripgloves down on our heads?” Almost immediately, mothers, sisters and aunts began attempting to soothe the criers.

Elana pushed roughly at Thio’s shoulder. “Get the front wagon moving again. We cannot dawdle here any longer.”

The little procession of carts, wagons, people, and sheep moved on along the dry, cracked road. There hadn’t been any rain for weeks. The crops were doing poorly, but that mattered no more. The fields were probably being burned along with the house. The Ripgloves were not known for their mercy.

Night fell, and the Herda family halted their traveling. They built a small fire and ate what fresh fruit they had managed to carry with them. Nervously, wondering if the Ripgloves would come upon them in the night and slaughter them all, much of the family fell into a disturbed slumber, leaving a few men and older boys to keep watch.

Everyone woke early the next morning, and they were on their way again even before everyone was completely alert. A few of the children stumbled wearily along the road, kept moving only by gentle prods (and some by more harsh shoves) from their mothers or older sisters.

It was still midmorning when Devora gave a cry that fell over the whole family.

“Mama! Aunt Devora is about to have her baby!”

Elana hurriedly put down the still-half-asleep Brylie and rushed to Devora’s wagon. It was no lie; Devora was going to have her baby today. Probably within the hour. She must have been hiding the pain for some time.

“Devora, I need you to push when I tell you! STOP THE WAGONS!”

The wagons slowed to a stop, and the family gathered around the outside of the wagon, waiting to hear the cries of Devora’s newborn.

“Push, Devora! PUSH!”

Elana’s coaching and Devora’s screams were suddenly covered by the thudding footfalls of hundreds of people... no...

“Ripgloves! Move! Move!”

The thuds of the feet of the Herda family soon joined the Ripgloves’ footsteps, and the wagons lurched forward. Devora’s screams pierced the air, shrill and pained.

She was still screaming when the Ripgloves reached the back of the flock. The hulking forms concealed completely in midnight blue cloaks seemed to appear in the midst of the four boys who ran behind the flock, unnoticed until that moment. The flock immediately scattered as the boys began to scream in terror and ran for the front of the flock. A huge, black, cruelly twisted hand emerged from one of the deep blue cloaks and swiped at a sheep, making deep gashes in the poor creature’s side and sending it flying across the flock. In a matter of seconds, the entire flock was under attack, with the sheep bleating uncontrollably in panic as thirty Ripgloves tore through them one by one.

The wagons raced forward, rocking and shaking dangerously on the uneven road as the donkeys and horses were whipped to go as fast as possible. It appeared that the Ripgloves were happy decimating the flock for the moment, so the Herda family tried to put as much space as possible between themselves and the monsters.

The grueling pace was kept up for the better part of two hours, until the Ripgloves were well out of sight and the entire family was nearly collapsing from overexertion. As they slowed to a stop, a new sound was suddenly noticed: the crying of a newborn.


Elana emerged carefully from the wagon, a tiny babe wrapped in a soft blanket lay crying in her arms. She spent a moment showing her off to the family before taking her back to her exhausted mother.

The six shepherd boys suddenly became the center of attention as mothers and
sisters rushed to check and make sure none of them had been harmed by the Ripgloves.
Thio was one of the first to get to Miki and Rayne, and he quickly checked both boys for injuries. Satisfied that they only suffered fright and the effort of the running, he began to listen to what the boys were saying through their tears.

“Papa, we lost the flock...”

“They just appeared... I’m sorry...”

Thio hugged his youngest sons close, muttering words of encouragement and telling them that compared to their safety, the safety of the flock was practically worthless.

Night fell, and a tension settled over the Herda family’s wagons. Few managed to sleep, afraid that the Ripgloves would return to kill them all. But it did not happen, and a weary family continued down the road the next morning. Mile after mile passed down the dry, dusty road, and no sign of the Ripgloves was seen.

Night fell again, and the tension of the previous night lightened a bit. Hours passed with still no sign of the Ripgloves. Two, perhaps three more days would see the train at Little Hillridge. With a renewed outlook and energy, the family pushed forward again, ready to reach at least temporary safety at the little town.

The day passed again without incident, taking them a great deal closer to their destination. They made their little camp and slept again, knowing that even if they didn’t reach the town tomorrow, they would at least be able to see it by sundown.

But the Ripgloves came in the night. One wagon was suddenly overturned and almost immediately set on fire. Children were grabbed and carried away, screaming in the deformed, black, clawed hands of the monsters. Men and boys who took up small daggers or knives to fight back were slashed and pushed back.

Rayne took up a walking stick and beat at a Ripglove trying to make off with one of the two horses. A twisted hand swiped at him, making deep triplet gashes across his face. The nine-year-old’s blood began to stain the ground, but he still swung wildly at the beast in a vain attempt to save the horse.

He didn’t see the Slaughterwing until it was almost on top of him. The great dark bird the size of a pony swooped down and seized his shoulders in its razor-sharp talons, picking him up and flying over the rest of the wagon train. Rayne kicked his legs and beat at the Slaughterwing as well as he could with the stick, but it did him little good. He dropped the stick.

In a last desperate act, Rayne turned his head and bit the scaly foot of the Slaughterwing that carried him. An all-too-human scream came out of the great bird’s mouth, and it released its hold on the boy. Rayne plummeted to the ground, landing amidst the tall grasses of the plain perhaps a mile from where he had been picked up. Exhausted, bleeding, and dizzy from the battle, the flight, and the fall, Rayne passed out in the grass.

He woke with a headache and the taste of blood in his mouth. The sun had risen ans was almost halfway to its peak as Rayne picked himself up and began to trudge back towards the road. He was dizzy, and his throat was dry. Dried blood covered his cheek where the Ripglove had torn his face, and there were dark, stiff spots on his clothing where the Slaughterwing’s talons had dug into him. But he was alive, and that was saying something.

When Rayne reached the road and saw what was left after the battle, he fell to his knees and began to weep. The shredded corpses of the donkeys and horses littered the road by the charred remains of the carts and the family’s belongings. Thankfully, though, there were no remains of people. They might still be alive somewhere.

A shrill crying sound reached his ears, and he got shakily to his feet and stumbled towards the sound. One of the wagons hadn’t been completely destroyed– only about half of this one was burnt. Pulling back the rear flap that covered the wagon, Rayne saw the three-day-old baby, Karia, covered in blankets and screaming at the top of her lungs. He gently reached in and extracted the bundle of baby and blankets from the back of the wagon.

“Karia, I’m going to get us to Little Hillridge. I promise.”

Even though his legs felt made of rubber, and moments before, he had been ready to give up and lay in the street until the Ripgloves came back, Rayne began to walk towards Little Hillridge. The baby’s screaming continued, shrill and unpleasant, until Rayne began to sing to her... badly. Somehow, his out-of-tune voice put the little baby to sleep, and he walked on, talking softly to her.

“I know you’re hungry, Karia. I am, too. But I’m not stopping until we get to town, and then we can find someone who will feed us. I’ll take care of you, I promise.”

He wearily forced his feet to keep moving along the road, dreaming of a tall glass of water, of goat’s milk, of a bowl of stew, of lambchops and corn. Dozens of meals played in his head, each one more tantalizing than the last. He didn’t notice the sun set, nor did he notice the dim silhouette of town on the horizon. He trudged down the road, half-asleep even as he pushed himself forward. It was Karia’s waking and crying that pulled him from his daze when he was no more than a hundred paces from the town.

“Karia! We made it!”

Rayne meant to scream and take off running for the town, but his voice barely managed a hoarse whisper, and his legs felt wobbly beneath him, so his run was more of a walk. It was well after sundown when he finally reached the first building in Little Hillridge. All the lights were out.

Exhausted, he walked on until he found the only inn in the town, the Hawk and Cat. There was light from only one lantern glowing inside, and the front door was closed. Groaning from exhaustion, Rayne managed to lift one hand and knocked as hard as he could on the door, which ended up being only a light tap.

There was no answer.

Rayne knocked again, forcing his hand to hit the door harder. He still didn’t manage much sound. But it must have been enough, because he heard footsteps. He heard the sound of a latch being lifted, and the door opened a crack, revealing the face of a man of middle years. Wavy dark brown hair dangled before brown eyes that scrutinized Rayne and the crying bundle he held.

“Please, sir, we need food and rest. We were attacked by Ripgloves, and... and...” The stress of the last few days all came bubbling to the surface, and tears began to fall down his face.

“We’re closed for the night,” the man said roughly. He was about to close the door when a woman’s voice broke in.

“Cainsley! You know we don’t turn anyone away at our door! And did I hear something about Ripgloves?”

The door opened wide, and a delicate-framed woman with thick, braided strawberry-blonde hair stood in the opening. Her small aquamarine eyes didn’t take but a moment to look over Rayne and his gurgling bundle before she ushered him inside and had him in a chair.

“Now you build a fire. Nice and warm, Cainsley. And see if you can find some of that chicken for him. And some milk, too.”

The man, Cainsley, limped to the fireplace and after a few moments, had a fire crackling happily. Then he limped off into the kitchens.

The woman pulled Rayne’s chair closer to the fireplace and wrapped a blanket around his shoulders. Taking one look at his face, she fetched a bowl of warm water and a cloth and began to wash the blood from his face. The whole time, tears still fell from his eyes, and his body shook with sobs.

He was clean and the sobs had slowed by the time Cainsley returned with a plate of warm chicken and some milk. Rayne was hesitant to relinquish his hold on Karia to eat, but the woman, Madynn, reached out with gentle arms and carefully relieved him of the tiny burden. Satisfied that she wasn’t going to take the baby anywhere, he began to eat, and the chicken was hardly half gone when the warmth and his exhaustion took him, and he fell asleep in the chair.


Rayne woke in a soft feather bed and almost immediately panicked, looking around for his baby cousin. In a moment, he remembered where he was, and he got out of the bed, nearly falling over on his overworked legs. He left the room he was in and stumbled down the hall, supporting himself on th wall. He heard soft melodic singing coming from down the hall.. He found the sitting room, where Madynn was walking around, straightening chairs and the like with one hand while holding a cooing Karia in her other arm. Breathing a sigh of relief, Rayne entered the room and approached Madynn.

“Thank you, for giving us a place to sleep.” He reached for his cousin.

“You don’t need to thank me, son,” she said, setting Karia into his arms. “But why were you out there all by yourself? I heard you muttering something about Ripgloves?”

Rayne nodded and told her about leaving the farm, the attack on the flock, the attack on the wagons, and his journey alone with his cousin. By the end, he was almost in tears again, and Madynn was just as close to crying.

Without warning, a shadow fell across the doorway, and a figure cloaked all in dark midnight blue stood there.

“It’s a Ripglove!”

Rayne rushed to the back of the room, as far from the door as possible, holding Karia as close to him as he could. Madynn picked up a wooden chair and held it in front of her for defense. “Stay behind me, Rayne.”

The Ripglove entered the room, followed by three more, all cloaked in the deep blue that obscured everything.


A rather exhausted voice came from under one of the cloaks. One of the cloaked figured sank into a chair.

“I know that voice...” Rayne tentatively stepped towards the cloaked form that the voice had come from. “Papa?”

A hand appeared from under the cloak– not the black, beastly hand that belonged to the Ripgloves, but a hand, calloused and worn from years of farming. The cloak fell off the form, revealing a very bruised and filthy Thio.

“Papa!” Rayne ran to Thio and threw one arm around him.

The other three cloaks were removed, revealing two of Thio’s brothers and Hadwin, one of Rayne’s cousins and fellow shepherds. The tears that had almost escaped Rayne’s eyes when he told his story began to fall as he hugged his cousin and uncles so tightly he was almost afraid they would crush Karia. But the little baby wasn’t about to let that happen. She began to wail, as if to make her presence known.

“Rayne, you have Karia!”

Rayne nodded. Thio reached for her, but Rayne hesitated to give her to him.

“Papa, why were you dressed as in a Ripglove cloak?”

“Oh, Rayne, we tried to fight them off, but some of the beasts ran off, dragging your mother and a lot of the others with them. We went after them, of course, and attacked them with whatever we could find. Sticks, mostly, but we had one of our pitchforks, and Burlin had some shears on him. We took the cloaks of the ones we killed in hopes they wouldn’t attack us again.”

“What do they really look like, Papa?”

Thio shook his head. “That’s not something you want to know, Rayne.”

Rayne furrowed his eyebrows but dropped the subject.


The people of Little Hillridge helped Rayne and what was left of his family build a little house for them to live in while they stayed for the next few months. Thio and his brothers managed to find work with some of the nearby farms, and Rayne and Hadwin did errands for townspeople to keep food on the table.

The parched summer turned to a rather windy autumn. The memories of the attack began to slowly fade from Rayne’s memory, but the cuts and gashes from the Ripglove and Slaughterwing seemed relictant to heal. The triplet slashes that adorned his cheek appeared as fresh as the day he had received them, and though the pain had faded with his memories, he still had to be careful, lest the scabs broke open and began to spill his blood again.

Towards the beginning of winter, Thio and his brothers began talking of moving on from Little Hillridge to find new farmland near some other farmers and begin a new flock. They decided to set out in the spring to find a new home.

Spring came, and with it came time for the remains of the Herda family to leave Little Hillridge. They had managed to purchase one wagon and an ox to start their farm, and the townspeople were generous enough to give them a few sheep and goats and food for the journey. There had been no sign of Ripgloves and no sighting of Slaughterwings for their entire stay in Little Hillridge; they were believed to have moved on to another part of the country.

On their second day traveling, the sky opened and began to pour down rain, slowing their progress over the muddy road to all but a stop. In trying to protect the handful of sheep and goats they had gotten, Rayne came down with chills and a fever. The wagon was stopped to wait out the duration of the storm and Rayne’s illness.

The rain lasted two days before it finally began to lighten, though a halfhearted drizzle continued to fall, doing nothing for the mood of the six people in the wagon. Karia wailed almost incessantly, and Rayne’s condition didn’t appear to be improving. He was pale and tired, despite the hours he spent sleeping. His forehead burned, and his torso froze. The three slashes across his cheek remained ruby red, giving his face an almost scary appearance.

The drizzle showed no sign of stopping, so Thio and his brothers decided it was best to continue on and look for shelter. Progress was slow– the wagon wheels kept sinking into the mud, and the ox was having trouble making his way through, as well. On one occasion, the wagon lurched terribly and the two front wheels sank into the nearly knee-deep mud and refused to move any more. Karia wailed, and a pained groan came from Rayne, who lay covered in blankets and the five Ripglove cloaks they had saved.

Pulling back the flap on the wagon cover, Thio saw that the cuts on Rayne’s face had broken open, and they were oozing not blood, but a thick black liquid that might have been blood at some point. The boy’s face was spotted with dark red, and he shivered violently. Thio pulled back the cloaks and blankets. The boy’s hands were clenched tightly and held close, his legs were tucked under him, and he shook with cold. Thio touched the boy’s arm. It was cold as ice. Even his arms and neck were pale and spotted with the dark red. He covered him up again with the blankets and cloaks and called to one of his brothers.

“Morse! Rayne is getting worse! I’m going to carry him back to Little Hillridge and see if there’s anyone there who can help him. I’ll be back as soon as I can!” He gingerly lifted the boy’s body. It felt much lighter than it should have. It almost made Thio want to cry. “Do what you can with the wagon. Once I can, I’ll come back to help.”

“Take care of yourselves, Thio.”

Thio began to squelch through the muddy road, heading back towards Little Hillridge. The drizzle didn’t give, nor did it show any signs of getting worse. Rayne felt like a lump of ice in Thio’s arms, shaking and shivering with what strength his little body could muster. It was hours before Thio was far enough down the road that he couldn’t see the wagon anymore. By then, it was nearly dark. He pressed on through the mud as the sun completely disappeared and the moon climbed sleepily into the sky. The light fall of rain continued through the night.

When morning came, the rain began to strengthen again. Drops that fell onto Rayne’s face did nothing to clean the cuts that still oozed the thick black liquid. The dark red spots that covered the boy’s face skin were beginning to grow even darker. Patches of the boy’s face, particularly around the triple cuts, were beginning to turn a sickly black. The boy’s nearly constant coughing was raspy and hoarse, and even his coughs were growing weaker. The sickness was sapping all the strength from the boy.

Thio tried desperately to go faster, but the thick mud that caked his legs made it hard going. More than once, he nearly fell forward as the mud refused to release its hold on one of his legs. By noon, the rain was a downpour again, and a particularly deep patch of mud in the road did make Thio fall, and he dropped Rayne into the mud in front of him. The blankets and cloaks that covered him began to blow away in the wind, quickly becoming even more soaked with salty rainwater than they had been.

The sky was dark; layer upon layer of thick clouds obscured the sun. Tho almost couldn’t see Rayne, even though the boy was barely three feet in front of him. The mud pulled at Thio, and he began to sink– up to his thighs, then to his waist. He tried to get purchase with his hands to pull himself out of the mudhole, but there was nothing to grab onto, and the mud beneath his feet was no help to getting him out of the hole.

A flash of lightning danced across the sky, lighting up the area for a moment. Through the rain, Thio saw several large, shadowy shapes emerging from... nowhere. The rain didn’t seem to touch he figures as they approached the unmoving Rayne. Lightning flashed again. The figures were gathered around him. Deep, guttural growls emerged from blue-cloaked forms in a sort of language. A twisted black hand reached out towards the boy. There were four Ripgloves around Rayne.

“No! Leave him alone! Haven’t you done enough damage already?!”

For a moment, lightning lit up the sky again, and thunder rumbled overhead. The four Ripgloves seemed to be looking at him from under their hoods. They turned back to Rayne, and the cruelly malformed hands reached for the unconscious boy.

“Leave him be!” Thio was sinking deeper into the mud. It was nearly up to his chest now.

The four Ripgloves picked up Rayne together, and they collectively settled him in the grip of the largest one. Another flash of lightning lit their way as the monsters left with the boy in tow.

Thio began to weep bitterly as the mud crawled up to the middle of his chest. The rain began to let up, almost instantly, and it finally stopped, allowing the evening sun to make an appearance. Night came and passed, cold and lonely for Thio, and the sun crept into the sky again, bright and warm, almost mockingly so. The blankets and midnight blue cloaks that had fallen off of Rayne still lay discarded in the road, muddy and drying, but now a few Ripglove footprints violated the blankets and the ground around where the boy had been. The rain had somehow not washed them away. The warm spring sun began to dry the mud that encased most of Thio’s body, and towards the late afternoon, he managed to get enough grip to pull himself out of the hole. He left the fallen blankets where they were and began to trudge dispirited back towards where the wagon was. There was nothing he could do for Rayne now.

The wagon wasn’t too far from where Thio had left it, and with the drying road making his walking easier, he reached his brothers by the next afternoon. His brothers didn’t need to ask to know what had happened. They could see it in his face.


Thio and his brothers built a farm just outside the village of Thornfield. They tried to put the horrors that had befallen their family behind them, but even in five years, the pain had not eased, despite the absence of Ripgloves.

Five-year-old Karia Herda strolled along the edge of one of the wheatfields, picking the wildflowers her uncles allowed to grow, as long as they didn’t intrude on the planted ground. Her uncles and cousin Hadwin were working on bringing in the wheat harvest now. The sheep bleated in their nearby pasture pen. It was a beautiful day.

Looking up from the little bouquet of flowers she was gathering, Karia saw a dark blue-clad shape at the edge of the Herda property. It moved slowly towards the field where she and her uncles and cousin were.

“Uncle Morse! Uncle Thio! Someone’s coming!”

The sweaty men straightened from their work, groaning as their backs protested. They turned and looked where Karia was pointing, and almost immediately, they dropped their tools and began to rush towards the house.

“They’re Ripgloves! Karia! Come on!” Thio called to his little niece.

Karia stayed where she was as the blue-cloaked figure approached. There were half a dozen others approaching, all concealed in midnight blue cloaks, so she couldn’t see hands, faces, or any parts of them.

The first Ripglove, the one she had first seen, was barely two feet from her in moments, but the little girl stared up at it, unafrais. The Ripglove seemed to stare right back.

“Karia! Run! Those things are dangerous!”

Karia looked up at the Ripglove. A twisted, black hand emerged, reaching for the little girl.

She looked at the hand, then squatted down and inched forward to peer under the cloak’s hood.

“I know you! You carried me!”

The black hand paused in its reaching. A moment passed, and the hand reached for the girl again.

“Uncle Thio told me stories about you. You’re my cousin! Rayne, right?”

The hand stopped again. A guttural moan escaped from the hood. The hand disappeared. The Ripglove slowly turned and began to walk away. The other Ripgloves followed suit. In moments, the cloaked forms seemed to disappear into the nothingness from which they appeared.

Karia waved. “Bye, Rayne! Thank you!”

The Herda family never had problems from Ripgloves again.

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