Nicholas Ruxton read the message, hand delivered by an out of breath courier moments before, and then he read it again. Despite being raised from birth by his fathers oldest brother, Nicholas had never grown accustomed to his Uncle Hezekiahs strange habits and unusual beliefs. That was the primary reason Nicholas had left his uncles home as soon as he was able.
Hed only stayed in this rustic river town because he stood to inherit his uncles considerable estate, once he finally had the decency to die.
Meanwhile, Nicholas again found himself at a loss to determine whether his uncle was being sincere or merely having some fun at his expense. Finally, he decided there was nothing for it but to go. Best to protect his investment by humoring the old man.
Pity Hezekiah had chosen All Hallows Eve for his mysterious summons. There were far more entertaining ways an energetic, handsome twenty-one year old man could spend this night than sitting in the mouldy study of his aged uncle.
Hezekiah Ruxton lived alone in a sprawling manse overlooking the Ohio River. He had never married, choosing for himself the solitary life of an eccentric bachelor. He was seldom seen by the citizens of Bryceville, Ohio, a town named, as so many are, for the first man of European descent to make tomahawk improvements on the local trees some fifty years earlier. When a neighbor did happen to spy Hezekiah, it was always within the sturdy wrought iron fence that surrounded his three acres of land on the bluff overlooking the river. Necessities were delivered to the house each Saturday. Hezekiahs only other visitor was his attorney, Eleazar Trumbull, Esq., a close friend since Hezekiahs childhood. Mr. Trumbull was entrusted with the management of Hezekiahs considerable investments, which provided for all of Hezekiahs needs and a small allowance for Nicholas besides.
The afternoon was well along when Nicholas received the message, so he made up his mind to proceed to his uncles home without delay. Perhaps he could satisfy his uncle quickly enough that some of the evening would still remain for the traditional entertainments of All Hallows Eve.
Hezekiah Ruxtons home was a three-story structure built in late colonial times by his grandfather, James Francis Ruxton, a surveyor and soldier in one of the Pennsylvania infantry regiments during the Revolution. A few pockmarked bricks in the front wall of the home attested to the resistance offered by the natives to the incursion of white settlers this far into the Ohio River Valley in the 1780s. That time was past, however, and the heavy wooden shutters of those days, so necessary for defense, had long since been replaced with more attractive window covers. The glory of the formidable home was long past, too, and the sagging shutters and peeling paint attested to an owner more concerned with matters inside his head than with his physical surroundings.
The orange glow of dusk was beginning to fade as Nicholas Ruxton approached his uncles door. The heavy brass knocker on the door resonated with an impressive, hollow sound that seemed to reverberate interminably through the hallways within. After a time, Nicholas heard a slow, measured step on the hardwood floor inside, and at last the heavy wooden door creaked open.
Nicholas? Is that you? Uncle Hezekiah stood blinking into the dimming light, a wrinkled, disheveled old man in an oversized dressing gown, his wispy white hair radiating outward from his head like the tuft of a dandelion gone to seed. A twinge of guilt stabbed at Nicholas as he realized he had not seen his uncle for a number of months, and he was shocked at how much more frail and helpless the old man suddenly seemed.
Yes, uncle, Nicholas said. I received your message and came straight away.
Good, good, Hezekiah said, opening the door fully to allow Nicholas to enter. God bless you, boy, its been too long.
An odour of mildew assaulted Nicholas as he entered the decaying structure. His uncle, grunting with exertion, closed and bolted the door behind them. Nicholas paused for a moment in the of the entry hall to allow his eyes to adjust to the dreary gloom. It seemed to Nicholas that the house had not been cleaned since the day he left sixteen months before.
How are you getting along, my boy? Hezekiah asked as he led Nicholas down the center hall to his study.
Well enough, uncle, thanks to you, Nicholas said. His allowance, though not extravagant, was sufficient to pay for room and board while Nicholas completed his studies in the law. A position as clerk with Eleazar Trumbull had been promised him, but Nicholas yearned to see the lights and bustle of the Eastern cities. He had not told his uncle of his plan to sell the old house for whatever he was offered when it came to him, and start a new life in Philadelphia or Baltimore with his inheritance.
Sit down, Nicholas, his uncle said, offering a dusty wingback chair near a stone fireplace. A well-tended fire crackled in the hearth, but somehow it managed to offer little in the way of warmth and cheer. Perhaps, Nicholas mused, it knew the date, and was determined to contribute to the eerie mood of the day.
With a groan, his uncle settled into a matching chair on the opposite side of the fireplace. Closing his eyes, he relaxed for some moments, sitting quietly until Nicholas cleared his throat to remind his uncle that he was still there.
Hezekiah opened his eyes and smiled weakly at his nephew. You are wondering, no doubt, why I sent such a cryptic note to you today.
Nicholas merely nodded.
For many years, his uncle continued, I have harbored a secret. A grave secret, you might say. He chuckled at his private joke, and then his quiet laughter dissolved into a spasm of coughing. He did not sound at all well.
Can I help you? Is there something I can do? Nicholas began to rise but was waved back into his seat by his uncle.
I...will be...fine, Hezekiah wheezed. It will pass. He sat still, eyes closed, breathing heavily for a few moments. Finally, he opened his eyes and focused again on his impatient nephew.
A secret, Nicholas said. What kind of secret? His investments? Sensitive business dealings?
Many years ago, Hezekiah said, settling into a more comfortable position, Long before the Pilgrims first landed upon these shores, the land on which this manor rests was a place of some renown among the tribes who lived along the Ohio. He stopped and reached for a glass of water resting on a table next to his chair. After a sip to wet his irritated throat, he continued.
The natives knew that this point, this bluff commanding the river valley, was of strategic value. Many bloody battles were fought between the tribes for control of this section of the river. Perhaps that is why things are as they are. Hezekiahs voice trailed off and he stared over Nicholas head, his eyes fixed on some invisible point in the distance.
Nicholas sat silently, wondering how this might relate to his uncles summons.
I am terribly sorry it has come to this, Hezekiah said at last, his voice quivering with emotion.
Nicholas blinked in surprise. I beg your pardon?
His uncle took a moment to gather himself. I had thought to spare you this burden, my boy, he said at last. Until today, in fact, I thought another would assume this heavy load. But it is not to be.
The walls of the room seemed to press in on Nicholas as he waited for his uncle to continue. Ancient books, charts, and papers, archives of arcane legends and histories, filled the shelves that reached from floor to ceiling along every inch of the walls not devoted to fireplace and door. Nicholas felt the stacks towering over him, leaning in and pressing down, as though preparing to bury him beneath the weight of thousands of years of accumulated wisdom.
He resolved to sell or burn the collection as soon as it was his.
Shifting again in his chair, Hezekiah steepled his fingers and asked, Do you remember our lessons on the book of Genesis?
Frowning, Nicholas replied, Well, of course, but I...
Raising his hand, Hezekiah continued. You will see in due course why this is relevant. Smiling, he added, I am not so old that I have forgotten how tedious it can be to listen to one much older than oneself. Time passes so much more slowly for youth. But patience! I will be as brief as I can be. Hezekiah reached again for his glass of water before pressing on.
This land was the site of many battles, he said. Shawnee, Delaware, Iroquois, Huron, Ottawa, Kickapoo, Wyandots, Potawatomi, Wea, and Piankashaw. All of them traversed and fought over this ground at one time or another. Hezekiah leaned forward in his chair to emphasize his words. But before themlong beforeanother people walked this ground. A people great and terrible, reckoned giants by the ancient forefathers of the tribes. It was many years and many, many lives before the giants were driven from the land.
Nicholas sighed. Another of Uncle Hezekiahs fanciful tales of long ago. They generally lasted much longer than Nicholas had cared to spend with his uncle this night. What does this have to do with the book of Genesis? he asked.
There were giants in the earth in those days, Hezekiah answered, And also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
The passage was familiar to Nicholas. Genesis, chapter six, he said. I fail to see...
There is more, Hezekiah interrupted. And they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells: Who consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind.
That is not from the Bible, Nicholas said.
No, Hezekiah agreed. The First Book of Enoch.
And what does that have to do with your urgent summons?
Patience, Nicholas, patience, his uncle said. The text of First Enoch goes on to explain that the souls of these terrible giantsthe nephilim, the product of unnatural unions between fallen angels and mortal womenwere barred from heaven, and condemned to wander the Earth until the Judgment.
Fairy tales told by the ancient Hebrews.
Ah, many think so, Hezekiah said. But Enoch was quoted as scripture by the Apostles.
In the New Testament, Second Peter and the Epistle of Jude, Hezekiah said. Peter and Jude quoted from the First Book of Enoch. They believed the account of Enoch to be true. Since they learned at the feet of our Lord, I hold that they know better than I what to believe.
Nicholas folded his hands in his lap and tried to rein in his frustration. Uncle, he said, You did not call me here to entertain me with fanciful tales of giants and ghosts.
Not fanciful, Nicholas, Hezekiah answered slowly. I have seen them.
His uncle had surely lost command of his faculties. Nicholas resolved to research the legal grounds he might have to commit his uncle to a sanitarium. And to determine how that would affect his inheritance, of course.
Did you hear me, Nicholas? Hezekiah asked. I said, I have seen them.
And so shall you.
Uncle, Nicholas said, rising from his chair, I have other engagements this evening. So if you will excuse
Sit down, Hezekiah commanded, his voice suddenly stern. We are not finished.
I will not be delayed any longer by what I perceive to be a prank better served to frighten superstitious children, Nicholas said. Good night, uncle.
Wait, Hezekiah said, raising his hand. Wait, Nicholas, please. Just a few more minutes, I pray. And then all will be clear.
Nicholas pondered a moment, and then reluctantly sat down.
Thank you, my boy. Taking a handkerchief from the pocket of his robe, his uncle dabbed at his forehead and then replaced the folded cloth in his pocket.
I will endeavour to be brief, Hezekiah said. The giants were real. Their remains are being discovered throughout Ohio, Virginia, and Kentucky. Skeletal remains of men eight and nine feet tall.
I have a complete set in the attic, purchased from a farmer who discovered them in a burial mound not twenty miles from here, Hezekiah said. The man measured no less than eight feet, nine inches in height.
Nicholas stared. His uncle was eccentric, but he was not simple. Are they genuine?
Of course. I have had them examined by several physicians who have signed affadavits attesting to that.
This is fantastic! You must publish this find! This will change all that we know about
It will change nothing, Hezekiah interrupted. The Bible tells us they existed, and yet in the mindless quest for scientific knowledge, very few believe. Even the men who examined the bones have dismissed them as the remains of a freak, nothing more. Hezekiah sat for a moment, staring quietly at the slowly dying fire. But the Indians knew.
Rousing himself from his brief reverie, Hezekiah looked again into the face of his nephew. Have you heard of the wendigo?
It is a creature spoken of by the tribal elders, Hezekiah said. A creature driven by an overpowering hunger for human flesh. A creature of immense size and strength, nearly impossible to kill.
More tales to scare children.
No! Hezekiahs eyes gleamed with the fires reflection in the dimness, giving him an unearthly appearance. To Nicholas, the effect was extremely unsettling. I have studied the legends of the tribes and the writings of the ancient Jews for many years. There is only one explanation that makes sense: The wendigo were one and the same with the biblical nephilim. Most are now dead, although I have heard tales from beyond the great river to the west that a few survive. No matter. They do not concern us. It is the vengeful and hate-filled souls of the nephilim that we must face. You would know them by another name, of course.
What name is that, uncle?
Nicholas was nearly certain now that his uncle had crossed the fine line that separates eccentricity and madness. How to proceed? One thing was certainhe could do nothing more at this moment. Tomorrow, in the light of day, he would begin the proceedings to have his uncle committed.
Yes, fine, Nicholas said. And now I must
You cannot, Hezekiah said. You see, for whatever reasonthe blood spilt through the years on this land, some strange and unexplainable convergence of the physical and spiritual realms, or perhaps some effect of resurrecting the ancient Druidic rites of Samhain on this daythe spirits of the nephilim are drawn here. They seek to satisfy their unholy lust for human flesh, and they must be contained each year on All Hallows Eve. We must be prepared to meet them. Here, tonight.
Have you never wondered, my boy, why I sent you away to cousins each year at All Hallows Eve? Far away, where you would not be exposed to the horrors of these demons before you were ready?
Uncle, Nicholas said, You are either working especially hard to have your jest, or you have lost your mind.
No, my boy, Hezekiah said softly. I do not know why it happens here, but it does. Your grandfather knew it, and he fulfilled his duty. Your father, God rest his soul, did not believe. His unbelief was what cost your parents their lives.
Nicholas gritted his teeth. That was an accident. The horses bolted and father lost control of the carriage.
No, Hezekiah said. He came here on All Hallows Eve with your mother. I tried to warn them away, but they laughed at my foolish superstition. I can only surmise that one of the wandering souls found him as they left. The horses? I suspect that animals are more sensitive to intrusions by the spirits into our world, and in their panic to escape the demon in the carriage, they took themselves and your parents to their deaths. Hezekiah stopped, unable to speak. His eyes glistened with tears as he remembered that terrible day. That was, of course, when you were born, as your mother lay dying of her injuries. I was too late to save your parents, but I would not let them have you.
Enough! Nicholas jumped to his feet. I have heard enough, uncle. I still do not know why you have called me here, but I know that I will not stay any longer. I owe you a debt of gratitude for raising me as your own, but I do not owe you another minute to listen to this nonsense.
Do you not yet understand? Hezekiah asked softly. My boy, I am old and frail. The fasting I have endured to prepare for this night has taken its toll. I will not be able to do this again. There is no other to whom I can turn. As much as it grieves me, this burden I have borne for so many years now falls to you. You must contain the souls of the nephilim.
Good night, uncle, Nicholas said. I am leaving.
No, you mustnt, Hezekiah protested. We have so little...
But Nicholas heard no more. He left the gloomy study and started down the dingy hall. He pulled the heavy bolt on the oaken entry door and was grateful for the scent of dried, fallen leaves on the evening breeze as the door swung open. Anything was better than the stifling, musty odour of his uncles claustrophic abode.
As Nicholas set foot on the stone path outside the door, a blow of crushing force struck him in the solar plexus, driving him from his feet. He landed heavily among the dead, brittle leaves of the gnarled oak tree that shaded his uncles home, unable to fill his lungs and unable to locate the source of the blow.
His eyes watered and his chest burned as Nicholas struggled to remember how to breathe. And then it came into his field of vision.
As a boy, Nicholas had heard tales in Sunday school of the twisted, hideous creatures waiting below to torment the souls of unbelievers for eternity. As he grew, and his mind was exposed to the world of science, Nicholas discarded those tales as the fevered imaginings of medieval monks driven mad by loneliness and deprivation.
What stood before him now, however, was surely more horrible than any human mind had ever conceived.
And yet, even as he confronted this walking horror, Nicholas could not be sure that he was not the victim of a gruesome prank. One of his friends who followed him from town, perhaps, waiting for an opportunity to take advantage of the gloom of his uncles crumbling estate to subject Nicholas to a good-natured scare.
And then it approached.
The hideous thing stood no less than eight feet from ground to the top of its misshapen head. Its face was a mask of insatiable hunger superimposed onto ultimate cruelty. Hard, glittering black eyes peered out beneath a jutting brow. Sharp, unnaturally pointed teeth shone between lips as red as blood, and its breath, blistering and yet dank, carried the choking ftor of death.
The thing looked into Nicholas eyes for a moment while his victim struggled to inhale, to move, to comprehend what his eyes perceived to be. Slowly, the fiend reached forward with a gore-encrusted claw.
No! The monster turned and hissed at the intruder. Hezekiah Ruxton stood in the doorway of his home, no longer frail in appearance, but robust and strong, fired with a righteous fury, which he directed at the abomination that dared to desecrate his land.
You have no rights here! In the name of God Almighty, I say, begone!
The creature snarled and crouched, still within arms reach of the stunned Nicholas, who was just beginning to draw air again in small, painful gasps.
Go, I say! The white-haired figure in the doorway did not shrink or tremble before the gruesome apparition hovering over Nicholas. Hezekiah, his face highlighted by the meager illumination of a single candle in his hand, held in his other a simple cross of silver. This he raised and directed at the demon, which seemed to draw in upon itself under the weight of the symbols power.
A gust of wind suddenly extinguished the sputtering flame, leaving them in the darkness. Nicholas, observing the effect of his uncles cross on the monster before him, withdrew from his shirt a small cross that hung on a chain around his neck, a gift from his Uncle Hezekiah when he was a boy. With a yank, he broke the chain and held the small cross in front of him, perilously close to the creatures malevolent smile.
With a roar, the creature grabbed Nicholas by the arm. A spasm of excruciating pain flooded through the young mans body as the demon crushed the bones of his forearm with a sickening crack. Nicholas felt himself being dragged, and he heard his uncle yell, No! Take me, you spawn of Satan! It is I who have confounded you these many years! Take me!
Then the flood of pain overwhelmed Nicholas. He sank into the welcoming arms of darkness, and knew no more.
And that is how your arm was injured?
Nicholas Ruxton nodded at the young man sitting opposite him in the study, his legs crossed as he tried to find a comfortable position in the wingback chair before the fireplace, just as Nicholas himelf had done forty years ago to the day.
And you never saw your uncle again?
Did the authorities investigate? the young man asked.
Of course, Nicholas answered.
And he was never found?
An orderly mind, Nicholas mused, much like himself. Only the blood spilled near the front door, Nicholas said. In fact, I was the prime suspect in his disappearance for a time. But the sheriff was unable to believe that my frail, old uncle could have inflicted the massive trauma I suffered that day. Nor could he believe that I did away with Uncle Hezekiah and then inflicted such an injury upon myself. So, despite my description of the assailant, it was decided that a search should be made for an escaped lunatic. Of course, no arrest was ever made.
His young guest was silent for a moment, lost in thought. Finally, he asked, Why didnt the thing back away when you held up your cross?
Nicholas sipped his brandy, holding the glass in his good hand as he studied the young man in the flickering light of the fire. His guest, an enterprising young man employed by Nicholas as a clerk in his law office, seemed to possess the qualities he sought. He would know for certain soon enough.
It wasnt the cross the creature feared, Nicholas answered. It was my uncles faith in what it represented. The cross is meaningless if one has no faith.
The young man nodded. Nicholas saw by the uncertain expression on the young mans face that his story had not fully convinced his guest. No doubt the young man was here solely to protect his investment, his future with Trumbull, Ruxton & Associates, by humoring the old man.
Nicholas smiled thinly. Placing his brandy on the table next to his chair, he withdrew the pocket watch from his vest and noted the timenot quite seven oclock. Well, he thought, it was early yet. The young man would soon know the truth.
The darkness was rising. They would be here to meet it.