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The old man sat in his chair.
The fire burned high.
The boys did skits, told jokes, and received awards.

When it was time, the counselors moved to their seats.
The old man rose.
The old man hobbled out in front of the fire.
Silence.

The old man spoke.

~~~~~

When I was just out of college, I took a holiday to my uncle's in England. We whiled away the nights with food and drink. My degree was in Ancient Cultures, and my uncle regaled me with many stories of the people who had lived in the area. Among them, there had been a seafaring folk that had worshiped a dark god of the wind. There was still a low stone wall in town that had been built by them, running along the shore.

Toward the end of my stay I visited this wall, following its length. It was a beautiful day: gulls wheeling in an unadorned blue sky, gentle waves crashing upon the beach. I'd brought a bit of early dinner, hoping to watch the sunset and enjoy the whispers of nature. Once I found a good spot I settled down to my bread and cheese, sipping at a small bottle of wine. Birds chattered away, and the leaves rustled. I noticed a part in the trees, overgrown but passable. It led to a small glen.

There I found a large stone amid the heather. Its flat surface stood a few inches above the earth, and it looked a bit oblong. Curious at its size, I took a stick and began poking it into the ground, probing the sides of this old man granite. The sides were surprisingly straight. On the side away from the shore, my stick continued through the rock. Digging out the recess revealed a small wind instrument. Plain, no carvings, about the size of my thumb. After turning it over in my hands a few times, I brought it to my lips and blew gently. It did not play. I blew again harder, but still no sound besides my breath: it didn't work.

Walking back to the beach, I noticed I had been at it for at least an hour. The sun was setting above a thick black cloud. I gathered my things and hurried back to town. The cloud swallowed the sun. As I picked my way back along the seawall, I thought I saw something move in the forest. It seemed to have been watching me. Lightning flashed in the distance.

By the time I reached my uncle's house, the wind was rushing in the trees and the first large drops were falling. I lit a lantern and retreated to my room to write and research my strange find. The storm raged as I looked through my books, but none of them offered any clues about the stone table or the bone whistle. The local people were said to have been remarkable sailors, navigating through storms that others cowered from. Growing weary, I put the whistle back in my pocket and closed my books.

Suddenly, the storm blew my window open and my lantern snuffed out. I rushed over and shut out the rain. Fumbling in my pocket for matches, I heard a soft shuffling. Then it knocked me to the floor. I was surrounded. I could feel my limbs held tightly as my head and body were battered. We rolled, upturning desk and chair as I struggled an arm free and tried to protect myself. I was aware I was screaming but heard no sounds.

Maybe hours passed, maybe minutes. I could feel a hand scrabbling over my body, searching. I managed to get my hands around something solid and twisted. I will never forget that wail; it was so utterly inhuman my blood ran cold. The battery increased, and something snaked around my neck. Thunder rolled.




And my uncle rushed into the room, holding a lantern aloft. The struggle ceased and I gasped for air. Looking about me, I was dumbstruck. "What the hell are you doing with that rigging and sailcloth?" he demanded.

A few broomsticks had fallen from the closet, and I was tangled and bruised. There was nothing else in the room. No explanation coming to mind, I sheepishly apologized to my my uncle, and he left me.

I cut the rope.
I broke the wood.
I tore the canvas.

I ran to the sea as lightning played the sky and the wind howled. Twice I slipped, hauling myself down the street. Once I saw movement in an alley. I raced along the pier, waves crashing about. When I reached the furthest dock I flung the whistle into the bay. It sailed out of sight and was swallowed by the angry water. I felt darkness behind me, and I turned.

Nothing there. I ran home. Nothing in my room, no pieces of rope, wood or canvas. I sat awake all night as the storm abated, and in the morning I left that village forever.

I gave up my studies and joined the Army, vowing to stay as far from the sea as possible.

~~~~~

The old man finished his story.
The fire crackled as the logs burned their way to being coals.
Silence.

As he hobbled back to his seat, a wind began to blow in off the lake.

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