table of contents
table of contents — stories


Fierec had come to this remote, undistinguished town thinking his darkness, his taciturnity, his self-containedness had sufficed to evade his pursuers, but soon there were signs that it was not so — he caught sight of the shadows of those who were observing or following him out of the corner of his eye, he felt them about, and he trusted the intuitions which had kept him alive. He knew the people who had set him on this path could not and would not help him now — indeed, they were mostly dispersed, even no longer in the world. In any case they had paid him and his future was his business.

In the evening, once it was fully dark, he moved across town to a small, unremarkable house out on the edge of things whose residents would be away for at least a few days (as he estimated from careful previous observations), got the lock open with a small piece of metal he carried for the purpose, and went in. Inside it was also unremarkable, a laborer's house, flimsy but decent. A small light had been left on in the front room, and Fierec didn't disturb it. He went to the back where a porch or deck had been converted into an extra room. It had two small windows and a curtained door made mostly of glass slats facing an empty back yard. Fierec did not like the door, which looked weak, but on the other hand it would offer escape should someone come to the front. The small room was suitably dim, although a little light came in from a streetlight outside. Fierec could make out a chair, a small table, a thin couch with a blanket thrown over it, an old cabinet. There was a dry musty smell of disuse. Fierec sat on the couch and listened for awhile.

Tentative drops of rain struck the windows and the roof, but otherwise, there was nothing to see and nothing to hear. Respite for at least a night, thought Fierec. He stretched out on the couch, pulled the thin blanket over himself, and went almost immediately into a dreamless sleep.

Some timee later, Fierec suddenly awoke: someone or something was working the back door open. He silently rolled off the couch and into the dark corner next to it. In the dark, the invader seemed at once to be a man, a woman, a horse, a serpent; to be large and small; to be fast and slow. It might have held some sort of weapon. It approached the couch, preparing to attack, apparently thinking that the bunched blanket there was Fierec.

Fierec waited until the right moment and struck from the side. The pursuer proved heavy and hard to move, but whatever weapon it had been holding clattered to the floor, and Fierec thought he had a chance. For a long time they grappled silently, Fierec seeking some vulnerability, the eye, the throat. Every now and then the grip of one or the other failed and there was a flurry as new grips were established. During one of these flurries Fierec's hand fell upon the dropped weapon, a sort of metal club, and he slipped out of his opponent's grasp and swung the weapon with all the force he could muster. It connected solidly, and the creature fell; it lay on its back, apparently unable to move beyond rolling slightly from side to side, breathing raggedly.

Fierec quickly moved to take advantage, but the fight seemed to have gone out of his enemy. Perhaps it was paralyzed. Fierec got one knee on its chest. He paused, and then he lowered his other knee onto his opponent's throat. The wind had risen a bit outside, the leaves of the trees shifted, and a beam from a distant streetlight briefly shone through one of the windows and onto the creature's face. Indeed, it was a human face, but long and equine; the skin seemed to be a dark gray; it large eyes rolled wildly, and the mouth worked, as it gasped roughly. Fierec raised his weight slightly and came down hard with his knee on the creature's throat. He felt structures break. The large eyes turned up, the mouth fell open, some black fluids seemed to emerge, the ragged breathing stopped. The fight was over.

Fierec stood up and waited a few minutes, catching his breath, but his opponent was finished. He carefully opened the back door and dragged the body outside with some difficulty. He dropped it there to the side of the door. It would have to be disposed of. Out in the yard, other than the dim beams of the distant streetlight and the uncertain gusts of the wind, all was darkness and silence.

Fierec's throat and head ached; he could barely move. He pulled out cigarettes from a jacket pocket and smoked one slowly, waiting. Nothing.

Then, turning to go back inside, he saw someone or something moving around in the dark room. He went silently up to the glass door and stared in, through the reflected image of his own face, dark, ambiguous, equine, to the figure of the one who had entered; he saw the both at once, one inside the other. Then he knew who was the pursuer and who the pursued and what struggle awaited him. He thought about going in and coming to meet his fate at last, and making an end of it; but instead he turned again and, looking off into the darkness of the town, where a few distant lights glimmered, walked away.