Avalon 1.1: Out of the Darkness

            “It was a good thing the bokarus left you alone after that.”  Boston had a good imagination and could not get the image of the horribly burned man out of her mind.

            “It was my daughter,” Atonis said softly.  “Not Hespah, but my little one, Iris.  She was only seven.  She stood up in the face of that great wind and yelled as loud as her little lungs could yell.  “Bokarus!”  That is how we know the name.  “No!  Go away!  You do not belong here!”  The spirit had just thrown Mumbai into the fire and it stopped to face my daughter.  I was very afraid for her, but then Iris reached for the ghost and it raced away before she could touch it.  It never came back, until now.

            Boston said no more so Atonis said no more.  But Boston did take Lockhart’s arm the way Alexis held Lincoln’s arm, and Lockhart did not push her away.

            The sun went down while the moon came up bright in the sky, though it looked to be a waning moon.  From a distance, the camp appeared to be a well ordered community with a half-dozen tent-like structures in a circle around a central fire.  It was up on the highest hill in the middle of nowhere.  The nearest little woods were some distance, but there appeared to be plenty of deadwood stacked around the camp like a barrier against the wild.

            Captain Decker and Lieutenant Harper got out their night vision binoculars and passed them around.  They had to get close to the camp before they heard the shouting and screaming.  They started to run when two dark but human looking figures rose up before them.  They paused, but Captain Decker had put on his night goggles and he opened fire without waiting for the order.  Both figures fell.

            Roland touched Lockhart’s shoulder before Lockhart could yell.  He got all their feet moving with one word.  “Ghouls.”

            Alexis got out the wand she had been working on and managed a light, like a golden spotlight on their path to the camp.  It helped, until a darkness responded.  It came out from the camp, put out the light that it followed like a dog might follow a trail and with a snap it knocked Alexis back on her rump.

            Captain Decker fired in the direction from which the darkness came, and this time Lockhart yelled.  “Decker.  There are people here!”

            They pushed through the firewood that circled the camp and broke into the center space by the fire.  Men had spears and women threw stones, but the ghouls did not appear to be bothered by it all.  Captain Decker, Lieutenant Harper and Lincoln all opened fire as soon as they had a clear shot.  Three ghouls went down.  Another was mauled by Lockhart’s shotgun, and if not yet dead, it soon would be.

            Mingus appeared to be counting, but came alert as a ghoul grabbed Boston by the back of her collar.  He sent a fireball into the Ghoul’s face which made it let go.  Boston fell and spun and unloaded six bullets into the creature’s chest. 

            Lieutenant Harper and Alexis were already checking the men, women and children who appeared to be dead.  Captain Decker with his night goggles caught another attempting to flee the camp.  Then Lincoln heard a scream from one of the tents.  Girls were screaming and it sounded like Atonis responded “Aaii-ii”

            Lincoln ran and arrived at the same time as Atonis.  They saw a ghoul with a woman in one hand.  She was limp and lifted completely off the ground, and the ghoul tossed her away like so much dead meat.  There were two young girls in the corner, screaming and scared senseless.  That was about all Lincoln could see in the second he had to glimpse the action.  He opened fire and did not stop firing until the ghoul was laid out flat. 

            Lincoln watched Atonis run to his children.  The ghoul, one of the big ones at about eight feet in height, shriveled up like a beach ball with an air leak.  It began to compress until it was no bigger than a hand, and then it melted into the soil and left only a sickly green smudge where it had been.

            “Alexis.  Lockhart.”  Lincoln called, and they came to the door.  Lockhart helped Atonis carry his dead wife out into the open where she was put with the others.  Alexis and Lincoln brought the children who looked like they might never stop crying.  As they walked past, Lockhart heard Mingus utter two words:  “only nine.”

            The survivors slept outside by the fire that night to be near their loved ones one last time.  There was never a moment in the night when crying could not be heard.  The travelers stayed with them out in the open and left their tents packed away.  Over supper,  Boston read from her database for any who cared to listen.

            “Ghouls, a type of lesser spirit of the family of Djin.  They feed off the fear and terror they induce in their victims and in the end suck out the life force.  It is said, where there is one, there are ten and where there are ten, there are a hundred.”  She looked up at Roland before she turned her eyes to Lockhart.  “So there may be more of them out there.”

            “I think maybe one more,” Mingus said.  “I think these are the ten who followed us through a number of time zones before we lost them.”

            Alexis apologized.  “I’m sorry.  I did not think they came this far or I would have mentioned them.”  She looked at her father and wondered why he did not mention them either.

            “Probably still looking for you and your father,” Lincoln said.

            “The family of Djin?”  Lieutenant Harper interrupted.

            “Genies,” Roland and Boston spoke together.

            “Tell me about these ghouls,” Lockhart said and he looked at Mingus.

            “They can play with the mind,” Roland said  “They can make you see things that aren’t there.”

            “I may have mentioned that glamours are hard to cast on others,” Mingus spoke openly.  “It would be hard for Procter, Roland Alexis and I to make everyone here look African to blend in with the locals.  But Ghouls can easily cast illusions over others and over things to make you see and hear all sorts of things and literally frighten you to death.  We caught these by surprise and unprepared, but there is likely one still out there.”

            “So we need to set up a watch in the night,” Captain Decker concluded.

            “A single ghoul can only affect one or two minds at a time,” Mingus added.  “What do you think, Procter?”  He looked over, but Doctor Procter was sound asleep.  He did not appear to be adversely affected by all the death around him.  Mingus just shook his head.

            “We will help to watch in the night,” Atonis volunteered the survivors in the camp and Lockhart nodded while Alexis spoke.

            “You don’t mind?”

            Atonis looked back at his people.  Six had died, but there were eighteen survivors.  “We will not sleep well in any case,” he said and turned again to look at Alexis.  “And without your help we would all be dead.”

            Iris came up to Boston and knelt beside her.  Her older sister, Hespah kept back just a little, but Iris came right up close  “Boston?”  When Boston turned her head, Iris cried all over her.  What could Boston do but hold the young girl, pat her back and say, “hush” and comfort the girl.

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