A lot has happened over the past couple of days. I shall try to recall everything I can. The events are… somewhat traumatising, but I remain surprisingly calm. But if these two days are a harbinger of things to come, I cannot expect to stay that way, if only because death seems like a very real possibility.
The adventure takes place in our camp stationed in the Sambre. The Great War left us with little time to relax, but I had a couple of days free. I was chatting with a fellow by the name of Lt. Ras Deol Singh, when we spotted mysterious smoke coming from behind the hospital tent. We were both on a break and so decided to investigate. We saw a man burning some leather-bound tome, and whilst it wasn’t one of our textbooks, book burning is something that I cannot abide. But before we could stop him, he sprinted into the nearby town.
It turns out silently climbing over a collapsed wall is surprisingly difficult, so after brief negotiations we left the camp and headed towards the church. It was hit fairly hard by artillery and one of the double doors was replaced by rubble that extended to the belfry’s staircase. Paintings were miraculously intact, but not of particularly high quality and I do not recall the Bible stories they described. We continued on, moving up the staircase that once had a banister.
Near the top, we saw a cache of books and a figure wrapped in a blanket. Our professions teach us not to be shocked by the dead, but that was not the shocking thing about him. His arm was sliced cleanly, as if separated by some mathematical plane. Whatever caused this cut, the surgical implications are huge. I carefully wrapped it up in its blanket to bring to the hospital tent for further analysis. This body had to be reported to the superiors. So, we had to head back.
As we descended, we became increasingly aware of this thumping sound; a background heartbeat, omnipresent yet subtle, whose escalating tempo carved through the soul. As for what this sound was, I cannot say for certain; but what I do know is that Ras was gazing at a painting, stuck in some sort of trance, neither rapt in awe nor engulfed in terror. There was simply staring, followed by fainting. And then, this was followed by walking briskly back to camp.
The day was not over yet. Both of us were dragged into attending a fancy dinner to welcome a General Smith, whom neither of us knew. The meal was a nice change of pace from the constant barrage of gruel but I confess that I am not exactly a huge socialite. The evening was a drag but the General’s assistant cornered us and entrusted us with a task. Tomorrow, we were to head into town again, and track down a book entitled “The Ornithological Guide to Birds of the East”.
So, the next morning, we headed into town. We saw plenty of books in the church yesterday, so this was our first stop today. There were strange noises that could be heard in the distance, but no heartbeats this time; it sounded a bit like a wolf- at least, this is the easiest parallel to draw. To ensure we would not be ambushed we circled around to the back of the church, and saw a figure not unlike the one we saw earlier; arms cleanly sliced but intestines ravaged. Despite the howling, there was no immediate danger. We had a mission to perform. We went into the church.
It had changed. The paintings were no longer there, much to the relief of my partner, but something else had been here. And that something must have been searching, for books were flung haphazardly across the floor. But the one book that we needed- the Ornithological Guide to Birds of the East – we still very much intact and in a yellow-bound cover.
It was then that we saw it. As to what it was, I cannot say. But the howling was this beast’s, its form prowling and searching near the altar. Ras snuck to the exit with ease. I tried to follow suit. I tripped. Then I tripped again. But I was outside. Alive.
I thought the beast had ignored me. I thought I had made it outside. And I suppose this was true. It had ignored me and I was outside. But now I see why. For it to kill me would imply my corpse meant something. Its target was the book that was now snatched from my hands and embedded in its jaws. I had no time to react as it was snatched from me, but I did have time to react as it backed slowly away from us towards the forest. I pulled out my pistol. It barely flinched as I hit it.
Of course, my partner’s gun was about ten times more effective than mine and its skull was blasted into the stratosphere. In the meantime, I was still badly injured from tripping over rubble.
I am clearly not ready for what lies ahead. But it is useless to prepare, for what could have prepared me for the last couple of days? They say that it is a sign of wisdom to know that you know nothing. But I simply feel naïve and vulnerable, like a child wandering through tall grass, blissfully unaware of the snakes that reside within.