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The Omen by Alexander Hays

God-fearing men avoided the place. They spoke of the devil, and of demons, strange events, and of wicked evil doings, stories passed down through time.

The Mound sat in the centre of a vast plain, a blemish on the landscape thrust up from the earth below, a verdant hillock on the coarse grassed moor.  The east side had slumped to form an entrance way.  A rough-hewn door sat askew on old forged hinges.   Sheep grazed its outer edges and the vast field around. But shepherds and their dogs ventured only close enough to herd their keep. It was said that an apparition stood sentinel at the door on the eve of the rise of each full moon.

A village of small thatched-roofed cottages, a church, and other outbuildings sat on the other side of a tumbling brook, a stony ford giving easy access to the surrounding heath. The bell of the church tolled 24 times one mournful morning, one for each year of the boy’s life.  He had been found dead not twenty feet from the mound, his sheep still grazing the surrounding flanks, silent in their knowing.  Shallow ruts in the wet grass showed that he had been dragged at least a hundred feet towards the door of the mound.  He had a hole in his chest where his heart once beat. Broken bone, torn skin, ripped muscle and sinews erupted forth, the blood now caked and dried. The heart nowhere to be seen. The skin on his body and face had been flayed, the muscles, tendons and nerves exposed red and raw. His eyes were empty sockets, no further witness to the macabre that must have been.

His elder brother wrapped the body in a shroud and carried him back to the village and to the church while the other townsfolk followed, a cortege of tears, wails, and of sorrow. Overhead, an ominous storm-driven Turner-esque sky of swirling clouds bore witness to the grief-stricken procession below. A lone raven, atop the mound, cawed a discordant funeral fugue.

“Aye, I will avenge me wee brother’s death, I say,” the townsman said as he raised his pint of ale while standing by the bar of the village pub. “How many more must die? Must I stand alone? Are we not strength in numbers? Who amongst us will avenge his wrongful death?”

The village menfolk raised their pints in support and marched in union out of the village pub.  They took their shovels and picks in arm, walked back across the brook, and onto the blood-stained moor.  The mound sat in a pre-dusk mist. No sound permeated the air.  Nature sat silent. The lone raven soared overhead, mute as it eyed the scene below.

The men began to dig and tear the mound apart, scattering the dirt, rocks and stones across the neighbouring perimeter of the site. The village priest stood guard just outside the centre of continued ruin, his lips moving in prayer, a cross held high in benediction to those who had already died, and to the men who toiled in the destruction of the mound. Incense perfumed the air.

The old oak door was ripped from its frame, and as the men tore into the sod and dirt, the mound’s dome collapsed.  As time wore on, and as night fell over the moor, the womenfolk brought candles and torches to light the work.  By mid-morning of the next day, the site was a rough flattened patch of earth, rock, and broken sod, the door lay discarded in its centre, thrown there as a sign of victory and the defeat of whatever cursed force had dwelled within.  As the last of the villagers left the moor, the sentinel raven flew down and came to rest on the old wooden door, its long, sorrowful caw breaking the silence of the now torn-asunder earthen landscape. 

By noon of that same day, the change in weather was the talk of the villagers: in doorways, on the village green, and in the pub. Though the morning had started peacefully, a rising sun, a pleasant breeze, by midday, lofty cumulus clouds appeared on the horizon, building in their density and height, and with them a strong wind blew out of the northwest.  By late afternoon the sky was black, the moor and village engulfed in midnight darkness. The wind, now firmly out of the north, blew at gale force strength. The villagers housed their livestock and retreated to their respective abodes, shuttered windows and battened down their belongings.

The wind tolled the bell in the belfry of the village church.

By nightfall, the temperature had plunged and a never before felt presence of cold descended on the village.  The cold was so dry that chimneys would not draw and fires in the hearths were extinguished, never again to be set ablaze. Family members were forced to huddle together under blankets to stay warm.  The wind continued to howl, ripping from their frames: shutters, latches, and doors.  Thatched roofs were sent skyward. Screams, cries and wails were lost to the whirling tempest.  The church bell rang for every man, woman and child, a dirge for the unforgiven. 

By morning, the wind had stopped and with the dawn of the new day the clouds dispersed, and in the east, the sun rose, a great crimson ball.  High above what used to be the village, the lone raven flew, its blackness shimmering blood red in the early morning light. It soared down to earth and came to rest on the edge of the church bell that now lay on its side in the middle of the village green.  Around it, nothing of the village was left, no soul breathed the birth of that new day. Bobbing its head, the raven cawed a dark and foreboding mantra, an omen to all mankind, “Evil dwells, evermore, evermore.”

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