© Charles Vess 2019 Chapter Twenty-Three Janet clenched her teeth as the Vincent jolted across a vast plain of withered grass and dead, twisted trees, leaving a burning trail of smoke and ash in the bike’s wake. There was nothing living to be seen. No creatures. No birds or beasts. Nothing. Above her was only an endless twilight strewn with glistening stars. Damn, where are they? Janet floored the powerful bike, hoping to catch up to The Huntsman and his captives. But, hours later, when dead black mountains rose up all around, Janet was still utterly alone in that vast landscape. Time in The Land of Summer’s Twilight was always strangely mutable. And so, it could be just hours that passed, but it might also be long days lapsed before the last of those dark crags disappeared behind her. The air around her grew increasingly dense, until billowing clouds of thick black smoke blotted out the stars that tumbled through the sky above. And before her, sprawled across an endless, pitted plain, was a forbidding castle of brick and stone. Fuck, I’m guessing that’s where The Huntsman was taking them… Bringing the Vincent to a stop, Janet looked up at the decaying brick walls, misshapen and ill built, reared high above her. The castle was huge beyond anything she had ever imagined, and yet, just as the vast landscape she passed through, it seemed deserted of any life. The windows in every turret and parapet and madly-shaped tower stared back at her like empty black eyes. After navigating alongside the wall for what again seemed like hours, Janet grew certain that there was no entrance, only an endless brick parapet that disappeared into the dim twilight that cloaked the far horizon. And her gas gage was running ominously low.
Notes from the Studio
© Charles Vess 2019 Chapter Twenty-Two With a hard, satisfied smile, The Huntsman clutched Mairi’s arm as she screamed and screamed again, her worst nightmare come true. With his other hand, he cast a hunting-net over the heads of both Janet and Thomas. Lunging forward, Tom pulled it away before it had settled on the mortal girl but was himself immediately caught in the fine mesh of its weaving. Struggling, he cried out, “Janet. Run!” She hesitated, though. “Mother! Tom! I can’t leave you both!” The Huntsman laughed, “No, stay with us, I will have all those that I seek this time.” At his command, the foul beasts stalked toward Janet. Desperately, Thomas tipped his tightly-bound body in front of the creatures, tangling himself and the net in their legs, slowing their charge. He shouted once more, “If he binds us all, we are truly lost!” “I’m not going to bloody run away, again!” But four, red-eyed beasts, mouths full of enormous, razor-sharp teeth continued to move toward her, offering no alternative. Jumping back into the hall, she slammed the door and wedged a nearby chair under its handle. Adding her weight against it, she screamed, “Security! Help!” Returning with Mairi Ravenscroft’s medications, the nurse was shocked at the sharp howls that vibrated through the door and echoed down the hall. Terrified, she still grabbed at the chair trying to pull it away. She cried at Janet, “I have to get to my patient.” Then the door shuddered from the impact of more than one heavy body. Followed almost immediately by the awful sound of something sharp and very determined tearing at its hard surface. “What in God’s name is in there?” Janet hissed back, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you! But we need help! Now!” Abruptly, the door
© Charles Vess 2019 Chapter Twenty-One An hour’s drive from Inverness, on the southern shore of the Beauly Firth, there was a sprawling, single-story building with extensive grounds enclosed by high hedge of yew. A discreet sign just off the motorway, at the entrance to a small parking lot, informed Janet that she and Tom had arrived at their destination: “Greenhaven, a rest for those weary of the world”. Thomas cut the engine, and they sat quietly for a moment. Janet breathed in and out, trying to calm her nerves, preparing for whatever she would find inside the institution. The air around them was fragrant with the nearby sea, and the sky above was thick with heavy clouds that threatened an early afternoon rain. Just before she climbed off the bike, Tom put a gentle hand on her arm before speaking. “Janet, I do not know what will happen within this place…” “You mean in what condition I’ll find my mother?” “I hope she will be responsive to you. But even if she is not, we must get both herself and you back within the protection of your father’s estate as soon as possible. You are in great danger outside its protective walls. If the Huntsman has survived, he will find us wherever we are.” Janet’s hold on his shoulder tightened. “And you think he survived, don’t you?” “Almost certainly.” “Then I promise I’ll be as careful as possible.” Suddenly, a quick grin lit up her features. “And I do have you with me, don’t I?” “Yes.” “Then let’s go.” An earlier phone call from her father had already cleared the way for the visit, so at top of a short flight of stairs, a pleasant-looking woman wearing a trim fitted suit greeted them. Their guide led them through the