© Charles Vess Chapter Twenty-Four Exhausted, Janet brought the Vincent to a stop and cut the motor. Instantly, she was aware of the dreadful silence of the land that surrounded her, only the whistling of the wind past the red brick towers above her could be heard. She reached up to wipe the sweat from her brow and looked again at the immense wall that stretched endlessly before her.“Bloody hell. How can I even try to rescue them if I can’t get inside this damned castle?” Without warning a hand in a shining black leather glove clasped her shoulder and a sibilant voice spoke in her ear, “Perhaps my lady, I may escort you within?” Terrified, she jerked away, to see The Huntsman, his face split with a smile of awful satisfaction. Janet desperately twisted the gas throttle to start the motorcycle. But before the engine could turn over, she and the machine were thrown to the ground, her right leg trapped under the weight of the cycle. Crouched above her, taloned paws putting its full weight on the machine and spitting down into Janet’s face was one of The Huntsman’s beasts. Its mouth was so close that she can smell the rotting meat that clung to its long, razor-sharp teeth. Casually, the elegant leather-clad figure looked down at Janet. “It is a good day for hunting, for now all my birds are caught at last.” Leaning close to her haggard face, The Huntsman whispered, “There is no need to struggle, for I will certainly gift you with your heart’s desire. Your lover… and your mother as well, await the pleasure of your company within my master’s house. “Come, I will take you to them.” ************ Seated on his great throne of teeth and bone, The Dark Lord was more
Notes from the Studio
© 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.
© 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