The smell is unmistakable.
I had found a good spot to bed down for the night when the wind shifted. Along with the smell of burning wood came the stench of rotting flesh.
It wasn’t new death I was smelling, but old and human, too.
A soft laugh trailed along with the odor and brought me to my feet. Putrescent meat I can stand. Someone close by, well, that’s a different animal altogether.
It didn’t take long to find where the sound was coming from, and the stench, too. A pair of pillars and a crossbeam stood in the forest, young trees growing up around it and the ground covered in coarse brush. I drew both Colts and left my rifle slung across my back.
I passed around the arch into the overgrown clearing and followed my nose. The scent became heavier, cloying. The laughter grew louder, and soon the laughter was replaced by singing.
I recognized the song, a bit of a nursery rhyme my mother had sung to me when I was a babe, long before she decided she needed to butcher me in the kitchen.
Easing the hammers back on the Colts, I reached a cleared section of land and came to a stop.
I lowered the Colts and looked on with disgust at the sight before me.
Intestines were strung through iron eyelets pounded into the ground, and limbs were bound in chains a dozen feet from a torso where the chest was splayed open. A pair of rats raced away at the sight of me, yet one large fellow remained.
He was perched on top of a head, meticulously cleaning himself while the head babbled and sang and laughed. The hair on the head was long and matted, the beard full and tangled.
I walked to it, kicked the rat off the head and squatted down. I peered down at a face ravaged by the weather and by time and looked upon myself.
The eyes blinked, and my opposite looked at me.
“Mad,” he whispered.
“Every day, Prometheus without relent,” he continued.
“I see it.”
“You’ll reap me, Brother?” he asked.
“Aye, I will.”
He sang as I gathered deadfall and tufts of grass.
When I finished, he sighed from beneath the pile, and I set the bonfire ablaze.
We sat in silence, for there was nothing for us to say.