Jacob's Ladder
Author: Justin Carr

Chapter 1

Thunder shook the small shack like an earthquake. The inconsistent droplets of rain beat sporatically against the roof, sometimes heavy and strong, sometimes weak and distant. Some of the kids in the village had said that the rain helps them fall asleep, but it did the opposite for Jacob. His stomach tightened as the wind raged against his home, fearing that the next gust might just be enough to blow him and his entire family away into the unforgiving night. The night was the only thing scarier than rain.
It'd started a couple weeks ago, the horror that kept him awake every night. The hardest part of it was that no one would believe him. Sometimes, late at night, Jacob would wake up to find a woman staring at him through his bedroom window. The first time he'd screamed, and told his father what happened. He remembered going outside, holding the lantern for his father who circled the house with his sword ready... but they didn't see anyone. The next night was the same exact thing. By the third time Jacob saw the woman, his father had all but given up. He'd held a lamp to the window, and shrugged, saying he didn't see anything.
His Mother had told him that it was a “Walking Dream”, when you wake up, but your mind is still in the otherworld. Tonight was different. With sleep seeming unattainable, he slank down beneath his window, a candle in one hand and the knife he used for skinning rabbits in the other. He would catch her tonight, and if he had to, kill her. Jacob had always been timid, but if you push someone long enough... far enough, something's going to happen.

His eyes opened wearily, taking time to adjust to the darkness. His candle was out, his knife lying on the floor next to his open hand. Suddenly he jolted awake, realzing that he was still perched beneath his window. He hadn't meant to fall asleep, but of course he had. The question was, “for how long?”. That was when he heard the breathing. A shallow, rapid series of inhalations that sounded from above him. At first he thought it to be the rain sliding off his roof, but this was different.
He felt as though she already had her hand gripped around his heart. Taking the knife in his hand, Jacob said a prayer to the gods. Then, with every ounce of courage, he jumped up and looked out the window. At nothing. The only things visible was the pigs, sleeping comfortably under the makeshift roof they had dangling over their pen.
Then, she spoke “Tomorrow.” Jacob twirled around, trying to scream, but in such terror that his lungs only formed a weak, hoarse noise. He was looking at death. Her skin sat in folds and wrinkles, like not even the oldest person in the village. Her eyes were pale gray, as if she were blind. Her head cocked to one side ever so slightly, she sat pleasently on Jacob's bed.
“To-tomorr-ow?” Jacob croaked, no louder than a whisper.
“You're going to die tomorrow. Your heart will be pulled out of you, still beating. And then crushed.”
Jacob sank to his knees, his eyes wide in shock. The witch cackled so loudly, surely his family heard it. Surely, his father would bust in any minute, and slice her from head to toe. The old Woman stood up, her decrepit figure shuffling slowly towards him, her back hunched. She stopped just before him, she too, kneeling.
“They're going to feast upon your soul in hell, Jacob” She whispered into his ear. Then, unexpectedly, she moved forward and kissed Jacob on the lips. Her lips were dry, and seemed to bubble and squirm as they met his. She drew back and smiled. “You're marked, my child. Your fate is sealed. Tomorrow, you fight or you die.” She laughed again, showing a row of nonexistant teeth. “Find Brill, or die.” And, then, Jacob passed out.

In the morning, Jacob woke up, his clothes were glued to him with sweat. It was all a dream. His mother was right, the sun was shining, in the other room he could hear his family laughing. But there was blood. His sheets were soaked with it. Jacobs eyes went wide, searching for the source. He found it. Carved into his forearm with a crude skinning knife, was a single word. “Brill.”


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