My lungs burned and my feet stung and my head reeled and my heart ached. The tall grass at least hid his shadow from us, and hopefully hid us from him as well. Julian kept pulling at me, forcing me to keep running even though my body at times felt ready to quit. Not that I wanted to die, I just wanted to stop and to make everything go away, make the whole world and everything in it—good bad natural unnatural—disappear.
The treasure pulsed with Julian’s heartbeat. Some treasure. Not rubies or diamonds or gold like in the books. A worthless piece of wood on a leather strap. He said there were things we couldn’t understand, and so I told myself that there must be more to it and I kept running even as the grass cut my face and the stones on the path cut into my feet.
The ground shook as though thunder had clapped here on the earth itself. It could have been the sound of a thousand cannons firing at once. It was the sound of Tantibus bellowing with rage. He had lost us, at least temporarily. I kept my head down and let Julian lead me further.
I didn’t expect him to stop so I crashed into him when did. The grass had stopped. The path didn’t lead all the way to town; it stopped on the edge of town. I should have remembered—the grass around the staithe was tall but not like this had been. We were in the open, and Tantibus bellowed again. I looked back over my shoulder and saw the monster.
Julian squeezed my hand hard and I turned to look at him, but he wasn’t looking at Tantibus at all. He was looking towards the river.
On the bank of the river there was a glow, or maybe it was better to call it the opposite of a glow. Black, so that the center appeared like a hole in the earth. It grew darker and darker in the center, and from the center two red circles appeared.
From the black mass a foot stepped, or rather a paw. And then another. I had met him here before, but he was different now. His human eyes glowed red, and I could see the saliva dripping off the row of white teeth as sharp as fangs. The dark mass stepped forward, now clearly the creature on the tapestries, the devil dog of Bungay. His center was solid black but his edges remained fuzzy, a black glow.
He growled and Julian and I took a step back. Tantibus behind us, Black Shuck in front of us, and all around a world that had stopped making any sense.
I held Julian’s hand, and felt another hand, much smaller, slip over both his and mine.
“Come with me,” a tiny voice said. “Come.”
It was Asa. He wrapped both his hands around ours now and tugged, leaning his whole body back. He made pathetic little grunting noises as he tried to pull us away.
“Asa!” I shouted at him. “You have to go! Run!”
He made a high-pitched little grunt that meant no.
“Run away, Asa, run!” Julian commanded. Asa grunted back at him just the same and continued to tug on us. The little boy had stayed the beast before but he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, do it now.
The devil dog advanced and I could feel his growl pass right through me like a powerful wind. For a moment I thought of my dream, the wind passing through my on a mountaintop.
Black Shuck stopped in front of us, his long teeth bared, and let out a sharp bark that drowned out all other sound. Julian and I both got between him and Asa, trying to push the little boy back. Julian, I noted, tried to get in front of me as well.
“Come!” Asa insisted and pulled again, this time enough to knock Julian off-balance. He caught himself on the way down and the momentum carried me with him off the path. Black Shuck didn’t follow. He walked through the spot where we had been, the hairs standing up on his neck. Tantibus now straddled the path, and we watched as he produced from nowhere a sword of fire. He brandished it at the dog, which barked again. Black Shuck gathered his strength in his haunches and Tantibus held his firesword in a ready position.
I looked down at Asa. His big brown eyes pleaded with intense sincerity, and their little flecks of green and gold shone fiercely. He pointed with one hand towards the town.
I took a deep breath and grabbed Asa’s hand, not letting go of Julian, and we took off towards the town. Black Shuck barked again and Tantibus roared, and I heard but didn’t see Black Shuck attack, and Tantibus fight him back.
We reached the town and Asa led us into the shadows of the buildings. He ran as fast as his legs would carry him, but he was small and his running was wobbly and he ran much slower than we did. We stopped in the shadow of the first house, with a clear view of the market square.
The mob had assembled here earlier and there was still evidence of what they had done. Knives, pitchforks, and torches, ones that had been deemed too old or broken for the attack, were littered on the floor. People were gathered, too, people who had either come too late to join the mob or who had only wanted to watch.
There was plenty to watch now. From the market we could clearly see Winston House, now roaring in flames. We could also see the mob running back down the path in a disorganized mess. Crows flew overhead, swooping down and attacking at will. The people in the mob screamed in pain. The path back to town was blocked by Tantibus and Black Shuck, and the mob was trapped and panicking.
The villagers who watched were panicking, too. From snippets of words that I heard, I think many thought that the war was underway, and that their friends were being attacked by the King’s men, who had come to defend us. It was difficult to understand.
“I can protect you,” Asa said. “Come.”
He took our hands and we darted across a street into the shadow of another building, and crept alongside it, away from the crowd, until we reached St. Mary’s. Asa pulled us down to his level and with his hands he smoothed Julian’s shirt. It had been torn earlier. I expected Asa to fix it with his magic but didn’t. Instead he reached for the necklace underneath. He didn’t take it out, he just smoothed the leather against Julian’s chest and tucked it behind the shirt. “Like that,” he said, when it was completely disappeared. “Now come. To the ship.”
Another great quake hit the town, and we all turned to see a great explosion and hear a chilling howl of pain fill the air. Whatever had happened, Black Shuck had lost. And Tantibus was coming for us again.
From where we stood we could see the staithe road. “We have to go there.” His tiny tongue pronounced it “dere.” He started to walk out into the square when I pulled him back. The people who had been milling around in the square had formed now into a new mob, one driven by panic instead of hate, and they were now surging across the square. I couldn’t tell if they were going to or running away from Tantibus, but I had no doubt that it was Tantibus that they were reacting to. From a rooftop across the way I heard a crow’s caw and saw that the other crows were flying overhead, looking for us.
The side entrance to St. Mary’s was open and I pointed at it. Asa tugged away from us but Julian and I were stronger and we went in, just as Tantibus’s thundering footsteps filled the sky again and the crowd let out a scream almost as loud.