Needle in a Hay Golem

The sun had just disappeared completely from horizon as Joel hastily fiddled with his antique lantern, lighting the kerosene soaked wick with exquisite care not to spill any fuel. His father’s fields were over grown and parched, there was dried grass and bales of uncollected hay for as far as his eyes could see in the shadowy light cast by his lantern.

It was strange being home again. After all this time so much had changed in town. People used to look at him with happy, optimistic faces. But as he strolled through the deserted main street just hours before, he was met with only a couple of hollow stares. His town definitely remembered him, but it was as if he was a ghost barely in their realm of perception.

He gleaned from a couple of friends that were too poor to flee the drought that the wizard of the four winds had died just after he left. His tower had been found ruined by a fire that ground the granite walls into dust. They never found the body, but the old man claimed to be hundreds of years old. Everyone had assumed he simply burned in the fire, simply too old to escape the flames he had likely carelessly created.

Everyone had always been cautious of him and it seemed they were right in doing so. With his death he was told that the air became hot and brutal, an oppressive dusty thing that zapped the earth of life. It wasn’t long before the rains stopped completely. Grass withered, dried and ultimately died.

He had been gone little more than a year. The devastation wrought by this Wizard of the Winds was remarkable.

So lost was Joel in thought of the disaster that he did not notice the grass around him shivering in a nonexistent wind and coalescing around an especially large bundle of hay.

He had been told his parents had not been seen for several weeks. They were still young enough to maintain their family farm outside of town, but the disappearance was strange. Times had been especially rough recently and no one had the time to check on them. The walk was too far, the air too hot, and the chores at home too many

He suspected that his brash father had a falling out with his neighbors and they simply didn’t care that much. Joel had always been the white sheep of the family.

Secretly he hoped that was the case and nothing else had gone wrong. His grandfather had a weak heart when he died, his father likely did as well.

There was a faint grumbling from a bundle of hay, the iron strips that bound the tightly compacted grass together whined and snapped.

Joel spun around. His free hand instantly went to the bronze gladius he kept sheathed at his side.

“It’s Joel, dad. Stop messing around, I’m home!”

He swung the lantern out before him. Ghostly images materialized from just on the threshold of darkness. Bales of hay he had just past were shifting positions. The field around him seemed to be suddenly alive with movement and odd noises. The rustling of dry vegetation was pierced by the occasional loud CRRRAA-ACK of bindings giving out.

Turning, he began to sprint toward the farmhouse in the distance. The ancient structure was cold and quiet and not at all reassuring.

The field churned around him as if blasted by a tornado, but the air was still, heavy and incredibly hot. It was like being in an oven.

He ran until his lungs were burning and the sound around him grew into cacophony. Clearing the fields, face slicked with sweat he came to a sudden stop as the house suddenly materialized in front of him.

While the structure as a whole was left standing, the north facing wall had collapsed inward and was littered with hundreds of pounds of hay. His childhood home was in ruin.

There was a stale scent he recognized from his younger years. When he and his friends wandered through the halls of the ancient mausoleum in the hills. It was the smell of old death, an unattended and dry smell left to its own devices. It came from the interior of the ruined first floor. The lantern light played over smashed furniture and shredded books flecked with brown and red.

The ground shook behind him.

He turned slowly, gladius in one hand and lantern in the opposite.

Joel craned his neck upward not comprehending the sight before him.

He barely had enough time to gather his faculties before it swung its enormous arm.

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