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A Ghost Story

        The lights of the Merry Rose seemed to be dimmer than usual the night 
     Luther stood up to tell his tale. He hoped no one noticed that the mug 
     of ale in his hand shook slightly as he raised it for a final swallow 
     before beginning.
        He walked up to the hearth and turned to face the people. The fire 
     at his back seemed to give him comfort, but, at same time, he noticed 
     that his shadow completely consumed all that were gathered. He felt 
     the hairs on his neck stand as he began.
        "This is a story seldom told."  His voice was almost a gruff 
     whisper. People quieted and drew closer.
     "It's seldom told because, in the world, there are a few evils drawn to 
     those that speak of them." The room was quiet now. In the corner of his 
     eye, he saw a few women cross themselves. 
        "I was deer hunting at one of my favorite spots, last Autumn. It 
     was just before dusk. I was in a perch that overlooked a small stream 
     not far away from a deep forest road." Luther smoothed his beard and 
     secretly wiped the sweat from his palm on his tunic. "The shadows were 
     getting longer from what little light filtered through the 
     many-colored canopy above. The colors of the clothes I wore kept me 
     hidden in the tree where I stood with arrow ready."
        "Sometimes, as expected, a traveler would pass by on the forest 
     road. It was odd to see someone this late, this far in. But that 
     night, a lone rider moved slowly along the road. It was apparent that 
     he had no idea how far he was from the next village."
        "His horse was skittish and something was making him afraid..." 
        Luther stepped up onto the raised hearth, his deep voice getting 
     louder, more intense. "As I sat in my perch, I saw what the rider did 
     not see, until it was too late. To my shame, in my own fear, I did not 
     call out to him a warning."
        "The shadows seemed to gather together, just beneath the surface of 
     the bed of dry leaves. The darkness pooled like blood under the carpet 
     of the forest floor..." Luther's eyes were wide as he relived the 
        "Just before the rider had reached the stream, the shadows struck. 
     The darkness tore him from the saddle, with bone-breaking power, as he 
     screamed. The struggling man was dragged beneath the leaves. For a 
     moment, it looked like two cats fighting under a blanket..."
        "Gradually the forest floor smoothed and returned to normal. The 
     woods quieted; the horse had run away. Then, suddenly, a gaping maw in 
     the forest floor opened and spat out something small. It landed on the 
     side of the road. I didn't have the courage to leave that tree till 
     the sun was high in the sky the next day."
        Luther stepped down and went in search of yet another pot of ale, 
     knowing no matter how much he drank, sleep would evade him.
        "Wait!" a small voice said to Luther's back, stopping him in his 
     tracks. "What did it spit out?" A nervous laugh drifted through the 
        "It was a single shoe..." Luther said, looking over his shoulder, 
     catching his breath, his tone calmed and lowered again. "The next time 
     you are on the road, any road, and happen to see a single discarded 
     shoe, beware of the shadows; they may be hungry."
     Luther of Stierbach - Luther@infodata.com