The Parched Dead ~ DJ Tyrer

“It is time to move on,” the elders had proclaimed when the last of the grass and bushes near the village were gone and the sand flowed over land that had once been fertile.

It was the same story that had been replayed over millennia of time. As the land grew parched, the people would move on, lead their goats and cattle to new pastures. Over time, they would graze their new lands to extinction, until only sun-baked earth remained, and then they would abandon their homes once more and move on, repeating the cycle. Again and again, until their ancestral marshy home was long forgotten and hidden deep below sand.

Forgotten and long buried, too, were their eldest ancestors, the first to herd the cattle on reed-fringed islands and defend them from the depredations of crocodiles and lions. Left behind, their existence had faded from memory until even myth no longer remembered them. Somewhere beneath the desert sands, their bones yet lay, untended and unrecalled.

He was the poorest of his people, the last to leave and the least travelled, settling upon the arid desert border in a poorly-built hut with a couple of scrawny goats, an embodiment of their decline. The nearest of his people to the sands, it was to him that the ancestors first came.

They crawled weakly out of the desert, parched leathery skin and bones like brittle twigs. From beneath and across the baking sands they had pulled themselves, following the trail of desiccation that their descendants had left over the millennia as they wandered south. Just as their descendants had, they sought life beyond the unwatered lands of sand and bare rock which had once been their home.

It was to him they came.

The ancestors came in the darkness, angered by their kin’s abandonment of them and the lack of care for the land in which they had lived. They came crawling on their hands and knees, too weak to stand, driven only by rage and desire.

He was awakened by the sound of something moving in his hut. Fumbling, he found his old oil lamp and lit it. He screamed when the weak, flickering flame revealed what was crawling across the hard-packed earth towards where he lay. It was like a bundle of twigs tied within a sheet of leather grotesquely undulating across the floor. Then, one end rose and he found himself gazing deep into the eyeless pits of a skull, the fragmentary skin taut against the bone.

As he stumbled to his feet, his mind groggy with sleep and startled by fear, he saw a second and a third such leathery, undulating mass upon the floor of his home, and a taloned hand grasped his ankle. He screamed again, terrified, wrenching his foot from the weak grip, only for a second talon to seize his other leg, causing him to stumble and fall.

Vainly, he called out to the ancestors to save him, but could they when these were the very eldest of their kind?

Shrieking and sobbing, he could do nothing as they clamped long-dead jaws down upon him and tore at his flesh in search of blood and bile, plucking out his eyes with bony fingers to suck upon their liquid. Gleefully, they feasted upon the moisture of his body, relishing every drop, before retreating to the desert sands to bury themselves, to hide away from the burning light of day.

Come the morning, one of his fellows, having heard his cries in the night, would come to investigate and would discover his body, a drained and desiccated husk. They would marvel at what had befallen him, but would not understand. They could not know what had caused this, nor could they know that he would be but the first of many. Eventually, the entire village would be drained dry to fulfil the insatiable needs of their long-forgotten ancestors, even as they continued to drain dry the very land.

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DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines in the UK, USA and elsewhere, including A Grimoire of Eldritch Inquests, Volume I (Emby Press), State of Horror: Illinois (Charon Coin Press), Steam punk Cthulhu (Chaosium), Tales of the Dark Arts (Hazardous Press), Ill-considered Expeditions (April Moon Books), and Sorcery & Sanctity: A Homage to Arthur Machen (Hieroglyphics Press), and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor).

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