Off the Path: The Protector

Off the Path: The Protector

In the depths of the Wheeler game preserve, a man moved with quiet confidence, almost without a sound. Night had fallen some time ago, but he had known these woods for the best part of eighty years and needed no artificial light and no guide, not even during a blizzard. He knew what he would find here on a regular night and what he would find this Halloween night.

Young voices floated through the darkness. Brom paused a moment, listening. He nodded in satisfaction and continued on his way. They had finished searching and would return to safety. As for him… he had something that he needed to sort out.

He found the right path and followed it to its destination – a destination that would not be here tomorrow. Pushing through the last few branches, he stepped into a cleared area. To his right and his left stood rows of white marble statues that almost glowed. Straight ahead, on a stone altar, sat a beautiful woman.

“You have returned,” she breathed.

Brom glanced at her and shrugged. “Seems you’ve been breaking our agreement.”

She rose to her feet and glided across the space between them. Brom stayed in the same place, letting her circle him and come to a halt at his right, looking not at him but at one of the marble men.

“I didn’t know if you were still alive.” She reached up and touched the statue’s outstretched hand. “I thought, perhaps…”

“You thought I’d come if you were misbehaving.” He chuckled under his breath. “You always had a soft spot for blonds.”

“Misbehaving is not how I would put it,” she chided. Her expression softened as she touched his hair, which under the spell of this strange place had reverted to its appearance in his younger years. “Perhaps, on the other matter, you have a point.”

“You’ll do no more harm here,” he ordered. “Not while I walk this earth.”

A smile curved her lips. “And after that?”

“I’ll find someone else to take up the task of watching you. I’ve got it all writ down and ready.”

The smile snapped off and the woman turned sharply. She seated herself once more on the altar and glared at Brom.

“Those who come here seek me,” she told him. “It is their fault if they are harmed. I only do what is natural for me to do.”

He shook his head. “You’ll do no more harm.”

“For now,” she conceded, glancing out into the forest. “The hour of my renewed captivity draws near. I don’t suppose that any other appropriate subjects will pass by before then.”

“Whether they do or they don’t, you’ll have no more victims tonight.”

“Victims!” At his glare she rolled her eyes. “Fine. I will not lure anyone else here tonight. As for the future…”

“Someone will always be watching,” he promised, then turned away to return to his own home. “I’ll make sure of it.”

Author’s notes: This is one of three snippets written for Monkey and Maeve’s Halloween Challenge for 2022. They are related, but can be read in any order. To meet the challenge, stories need to have their primary action happen in the Wheeler game preserve and take place, at least in part, on Halloween. Thanks for the inspiration, Monkey and Maeve!

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