The Unknown Monster
"How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily- how calmly I can tell you the whole story."
-Edgar Allan Poe, "The Tell-Tale Heart"
First Age 503, the citadel at Amon Ereb
It is chasing me. I wish more than anything that I might know what it is, but I cannot even stop running for but the moment it will take to turn about and look upon that which is my pursuer. I do not know when it took up my trail, nor wherefore, but I know it is after me for a reason. And I know I can only run for so long.
The path of my flight, I realize, is taking me through the streets of Tirion. These wide avenues should be crowded and bustling, full of noise and life, were it daytime, but now they are empty. The only sounds are those of my bare feet lightly slapping the marble road and the heavy breathing of the creature behind me.
It is night in Aman, and some voice within me remarks how that explains the eerie tranquility of the busy city, but I know with some unusual intuition that the creature and I are the only living souls in Tirion, and all of Valinor.
I do not have time to stop and contemplate why; I must keep on running. If I stop, I will die. How do I know this? I wish I knew. It is so dark around me, especially now that I note our hasty passing beneath the shadows of the business district's loftiest structures. There is light ahead, though, which I have not before noticed: pale moonlight bouncing argent off the white streets and towers of the elven city- but why does Isil shine here?
One particular shaft cuts into a narrow gap of darkness between two closely-built rooftops, illuminating pallid under the mansions' eaves an at first not particularly alarming sight: two néri lying on the ground.
As the beast and I draw near, I recognize them. How could I not? They are my brothers-in-law, two of them at any rate, Makalaurë and Curufinwë; I would know them anywhere! Within the walls of this very city, I watched them grow up, and, now, as I run toward them and away from this predator, I watch them sleeping out of doors, as it seems.
Beholding this strange spectacle, I make as to call out to them; my lips form the words, "Curvo, Makalaurë, what are you doing out here?" But no sound escapes me. I clear my throat and open my mouth to attempt it again, but any words that would have come out fall dead on my tongue as I closer approach them, for I realize that they are not sleeping.
Complexions vaguely sallow, eyes glassy, dried blood dripping from their mouths: I see that slumber would be the happier fate for them. They are dead.
Suddenly, for a split second, a black blur crosses my line of sight, nearly causing me to stumble. It quickly passes in front of me, though; I follow it with my eyes and see it land beside the corpses of my brothers-in-law.
I see now clearly what it is: a massive raven, the likes of which I have never seen in waking life. It folds its great wings- they must span five feet- and the moonlight reflects off of its ebony feathers. Silently, it hops nigh to Curufin, bends down its black head to his, and pecks. It bites out one chunk of flesh, then another and another, devouring his face.
I want to scream, but I cannot. I want to run to the bird and shoo it away from its profane banquet, but I must continue to flee. The most I can do is avert my eyes from the harrowing scene and fix them ahead. I have to focus on saving myself; I have no time to waste on rotting bodies or carrion-fowl. If I stop, I die.
Already the creature's steady breathing can be heard closer behind me after the slight slowing of my pace. I pick up my feet and run more quickly through the lifeless streets, ever ahead to some unknown destination whose anthem is safety and banner is peace. But It is gaining on me, and though I move faster now, I can tell I am at last beginning to tire.
At some point, I realize, I am going to have to turn around and face it. I cannot run forever, and if the beast does not kill me, physical exhaustion surely will. Which fate is worse? I wonder.
Weaving down white lanes and byways, in, out, and around, just when I begin to doubt that the city's roads will ever have an end, we turn a corner, and there I behold a welcome sight: the city's gates. I breathe a quiet prayer of thanks to whichever Vala whose domain is freedom and open doors. I am hoping I can lose the creature outside of the city.
I dash through the gates, vaguely noting the abnormality of their being open at night, and find myself running along the white sand of a vacant beach. I remember no beach so near to Tirion, but my race is far too urgent for a respite of contemplation.
I run and run but find myself involuntarily slowing once more. My chest is heaving; my torso burns from the prolonged exertion of its muscles; I am gasping for breath and parched. The unstable sand is far more difficult to move quickly upon than the pavement of the city streets. I know I cannot keep this up for much longer, but, nonetheless, I try.
My vision dims and grows hazy for a moment, the black sky and white sand blurring together, fusing to create a massive grey cloud before my eyes, and I fall into the soft embrace of the beach. I cannot get up- my body is far too exhausted for that- but I turn my head to glance behind me. My pursuer is upon me before I can analyze its appearance.
It flips me over so that I am face-up, staring into the hooded blackness that might serve for its face. It pins me to the ground, crouched over me with its arms extended and the ends of them resting on the sand above my shoulders. I am trapped.
The creature is robed all in black, with a black hood completely overshadowing its face and shrouding its head. What is it going to do to me? My heart is racing, and every fiber of instinct I possess screams to me, "Run! Fight! Do something!" My muscles refuse, though, leaving me paralyzed below this Thing, awaiting death.
And then its hood slides back. I gasp, awestruck and bewildered. Terror greater than any felt yet before on this strange night seizes my heart, for I look upon my husband.
His copper hair is loose, hanging in his face, and perspiration lines his brow. His grey eyes are vividly alert, darting to and fro as if unable to focus on any one part of me, restless.
"Rányë," he says, his voice earnest but somehow sad, "why did you run from me?"
I open my mouth to answer him, but then remember I cannot speak. How am I to explain it to him? I try to mouth a response, without success.
Suddenly, his visage contorts into a horrid and twisted image of fury, hate, and disgust. What did I do wrong? From somewhere within his cloak, he draws a naked dagger. Before I realize what has happened, he has driven it into my chest. I look down and see my blood spreading quickly to darken the grey cloth of my garment. The last thing I feel is searing pain, and then I open my eyes.
Awakened into the warm air of a spring night, I find that I am still panting. I simply lie there on the bed for a few minutes, inhaling and exhaling, calming myself with the tranquil sounds of nighttime. Somewhere outside, I can hear a cricket chirping, and to my left is Maitimo's sleeping form; both the rhythm of his breathing and of the insect's song relax me. I try to lie still, soaking in the precious and peaceful aura of reality.
But to my right, moonlight pours steadily onto the stone bedroom-floor between open white drapes. I do not like them, those drapes; I realize that I never have. That must explain why I am unable to sleep well here at Ereb.
How could I, with the eyes of those terrors upon me? Like great robed arms they are, ghostly in hue, poised as if ready to move. Suddenly, I feel the tension in the room; everything is still, perfectly still, waiting for those limbs to make their motion, embracing the world or pushing it away, cradling one or strangling one. And I realize I, too, am waiting.
Though I hate them, I fix my eyes upon those pale arms, hardly daring to breathe for the anticipation. When will they move? They cannot, will not, stay static forever, and a morbid curiosity within me craves the sight of their inevitable movement.
But they stay still. Hours and hours it seems that I bore my eyes into them, as the tension builds to a tangible density. Terrified am I to avert my gaze, for I know that the moment I do, they will move, and I want no secrets kept from me.
But stationary they remain, the stillness, the constant watching and waiting growing like to drive me mad. Almost I imagine that the right one is ascending, but I blink, and realize that it is only a trick of my blurring sight. I cannot keep awake much longer, but neither can I sleep with this dreadful anticipation.
I wish they would move already. Do they seek to mock me, taunting me with the frightening notion that they should move without my knowing it? They do, they do! And I am allowing them to beat me at this demented game.
I smirk, almost I want to remark to them of my cleverness, but I do not want to wake Maitimo as I rise from the bed to claim the victory in this contest of wills. Triumphantly, I walk to the window, and stretching up, up, up, as I high as I may, take in hand the curtain-rod and begin to remove the arms from their position of boasting. When I have done so, setting the rod on the floor, for I am not tall enough to replace it, I look at the curtains lying there beside it.
Much less of a menace they are, more like pieces of cloth than horrible arms, here upon the floor. I tread upon them, smiling as if to gloat over my victory. I have won, I decide, and slip back into bed.
My chapter titles are not my own, they come from the bridge/rap of/in my favourite song, Michael Jackson's "Threatened." This project has been in the works almost two years, and I'm nervous about posting it, to be honest. Open feedback of any sort is welcome. And an enormous thank-you to my betas Virodeil and Sauron Gorthaur!