“Did you hear that?” asked the innkeeper, a look of fear sweeping his face as he turned his head as if straining to hear something.
Rattle, thud…the innkeeper sprinted for the door like an athlete not the portly middle aged man he was and dropped the heavy iron bar into its chocks to hold the door closed. Almost before it clunked into place others had doused the oil lights and only the dim glow of the embers in the fireplace provided any illumination. Where a moment before there had been the low rumble of several conversation punctuated by the occasional rap as a flagon of beer was set on the scrubbed white wooden tables, now it was eerily quiet as if everyone had frozen mid-sentence and had forgotten how to breathe.
Rattle, thud…it was getting louder, did that mean closer? What was it? Obviously the others knew enough to be afraid and looked like they would have hid if they could. He opened his mouth to ask what it was but before he could even form a word a hand had clamped itself firmly across his mouth. Now he also felt fear, not just fear of the noise outside, but of suffocating since the hand had also flattened his nose against his face preventing all but a trace of air from reaching his lungs. He struggled but there was no use the hand had a vice like grip as if its owner’s life depended on it.
Rattle, thud…the noise was much louder now almost right outside the door and there was something else, a hiss like steam escaping from a boiler. He tried to shake his head and sniff in some air and felt the hand loosen just a little on his nose as his heart pounded loudly in his ears from trying to pump his blood faster to cope with the reduced air supply. He was feeling dizzy but sucked the air in greedily through his nostrils and after a few breaths he began to feel better.
Rattle, thud…he felt the floor tremble. The few faces he could see had their eyes trained on the low wooden beams that held up the white plaster ceiling as if expecting them to shatter at any moment and crush them in the process. There was a smell, not the smell of stale beer spilt on clothes or of perspiration from a hard day’s work, no this was different it was the smell of fear and he imagined it was also coming from himself.
Rattle, thud…the floor trembled the same as last time; surely it must pass them by soon. He saw that one of the serving wenches had pulled up her apron and had stuffed it into her mouth, where she held it with both hands as if to make doubly sure that no cry of fear escaped while tears trickled steadily down her face.
Rattle, thud…it sounded further away, not right on top of them like the last two and he felt the hand clamped over his mouth relax though almost imperceptibly. He waited expecting a collective sigh of relief but it was too early for that. He tried to slow his breathing which had been short sharp breaths since his nostrils became his to use again; now he forced himself to breathe deeply and willed his heart to stop pounding on his ribs so hard.
Rattle, thud…definitely further away now. He could see the corners of some mouths twitching as if wanting to break into a smile, he didn’t understand why but he would have done the same except for the hand. A wild thought came into his mind; he could might the hand that would make him let go, but then again it might enrage him and he looked big enough to do far worse than stop him speaking.
Rattle, thud…schreeeeeeeech. The hand jerked almost snapping his neck and the eyes around him had a wild look of animals cornered searching somewhere, everywhere, anywhere for an escape. There were no more twitching mouths now but there was a new smell, the smell of bowels letting go, a primal reaction to discourage a predator from eating you. Suddenly he wished he didn’t have to breathe through his nostrils.
Rattle, thud…schreeeeeeeech. He was trembling now but he wasn’t sure if it was with fear or from the trembling of the hand on his face that seemed to be shaking uncontrollably. What would make a sound like that? Was it a banshee? He had heard tell that they screeched like that, though he had never met anyone who had actually heard one.