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Rebecca L Fearnley

The Howling Mare: A Nowhere Chronicles Short Story (Ebook)

The Howling Mare: A Nowhere Chronicles Short Story (Ebook)

Released May 5th. Preorder now!

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In the forests of Nowhere, shadows stalk the night …

When Annie is confronted with one of the most terrifying creatures of Nowhere, she is relieved to have survived the encounter and has no wish to meet the beasts again.

But when her best friend spots a creature in distress, the pair know there’s only one way to rescue it.

They must seek out the monstrous beasts that almost devoured them, and pray that this time, they survive.

The Howling Mare is a vivid and dark short story, set in the world of Nowhere. Before The Shadow and the Scream, find out how Annie and Sheb survive in the strange forests of this world, and if they can overcome the darkest creature of them all!

Get The Howling Mare to gallop into Nowhere today!

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Read the first chapter!

I’m hunting for wandercaps when I hear it. That low, rumbling howl that sounds halfway between a dying scream and a feral snarl. I press my back to a tree, flick a throwing knife into my hand. The trees are thick, clustered close. I reckon I see shadows prowling between them. I strain my ears, but I’m close to the river and its gurgling masks other sinister sounds.

Still …

“That sounded close,” I murmur.

At my feet, the leaf litter stirs. A small, black snake—no longer than my arm, slithers over my feet. I shudder at its touch, but don’t flinch back. The snake flicks its green tongue, opens a pair of vestigial, blood-red wings. Something crackles in my skull. A voice—hissing and vicious—bypasses my ears and goes straight to my brain.

Not even dark yet, it says. They’re out early.

The voice belongs to the snake. Though he ain’t really a snake. His shape is something I keep under tight control because, if I don’t, he becomes the most dangerous thing in this forest. A creature I fear and loathe more than any foul night predator these woods can throw at me. Because he is me. A monster, made of my rage, and summoned by it. For now, he’s small, harmless, and annoying.

I’ve called him Wriggler.

I scowl at him. “You could sound a lot less happy about it,” I snipe.

Wriggler chuckles in my head. I’ll be off, then, he says. You know what to do if you need me.

I kick him off my feet. “I won’t be doing that,” I growl.

Wriggler flicks his tail. You’re funeral, he says, and disappears into the undergrowth. I’m on my own.

The rumbling howl sounds again, closer this time. However much I hate to admit it, Wriggler’s right. It’s still daylight. The sun is bright in the red-and-indigo skies of Nowhere. The twin moons haven’t even risen.

I grip my knife, peer through the multi-colored foliage. There’s something moving. Black mist, thick as smoke, seeps between the branches. I lift my neckerchief and cover my mouth. Don’t want to breathe that stuff in.

There’s a deep, threatening snarl. Hoof beats shake the ground. There comes the sound of something very, very big breathing. I feel it pressing against my mind, do the only thing I know is a half-decent defense.

I stop thinking. Clear my head, imagine I’m nothing more than the bark on this tree, or the ground beneath my feet. Because if that thing senses I’m here, I’m dead.

Worse than dead.


The deep snarl sounds again, answered by a second, then a third. Holy Oak, the whole bloody herd’s here! My body screams at me to run. Bolt for the incline, away from the river, towards home.

I need to warn Sheb.

But if I move, they’ll sense me. And nothing outruns a howler horse.

The black mist thickens, knocking out my sight. I grip my throwing knife tighter, hear the grunts and nickers of the horses as they draw closer. The growls of predators cornering their prey.

I need to get out of here. I need to get to Sheb. I squint through the black murk, thinking I see a way through …

And that’s a problem. Because I thought.

I hear the horses pause, feel their senses prick as they detect my mind moving. Then there comes a low, guttural laugh, and the hoof beats move towards me. The world is dark with their mist, now. I can’t see anything. It’s blotted out the sun. The rest of the forest is silent. Glowing yellow eyes appear in the gloom. They lock with mine, and I can’t tear my gaze away. My body stiffens, held in place by the howlers’ power. They inch towards me, drinking the shadows as they go. Lapping up the darkness. A shudder of sickness bolts through me. I double over like I’ve been punched. One of the beasts has taken a bite from my shadow!

My vision blurs. I stagger sideways. A long, snarling head appears from the mist. It’s vaguely horse-like, but covered in shaggy, black fur, and with powerful jaw muscles. Ragged, serrated teeth jut from its jaw. It’s eyes glow with an eerie yellow light, tinged with blood red. Its ears swivel towards me. The head tosses, its pair of long horns knocking against tree branches.

I’m frozen. My muscles locked by the beast’s power. The mist closes in, seeping into my mouth and nose, pressing against my ears, dulling all sound.

The horse steps closer, lifts its snout. Its mouth opens, teeth inches from my face.

I’m going to die here. Now.

And there’s an explosion of red light. The horse rears, screaming as it stabs its hooves against some unknown enemy. I gasp, my muscles suddenly free, and dive sideways as another horse ploughs from the mist, trampling the ground where I’d stood a second before.

A third beast appears from the darkness, shrieking its displeasure. It joins the first two, charging at something I can’t see.

I realize there’s red light reflecting through the mist. I touch my face, find it blisteringly hot. My eyes are glowing.

A bolt of scarlet lightning blasts from the darkness, narrowly missing my head as it crashes into a tree. The tree explodes.

The mist roils, and poisonous green clouds appear through it. A voice hollers in my mind.

Run, Annie!

A nightmare appears. Vast coils of green-black scales, a serpentine head with vicious teeth and a crown of horns. Blood-red wings spread wide, beating the black mist back.

Lightning shoots off its scales. Green vapor boils off its back.

Bloody run! The voice says again.

I give the monstrous thing one last, grateful glance. I might hate Wriggler, but there’s no denying he’s useful against a herd of howler horses. When I’m angry or scared, this is what he becomes. And, even now, I’m holding back some of his power.

Still, he’s got enough that he head butts one of the horses aside and zaps another with lightning.

Howlers ain’t easily subdued though. The horses shake themselves, recovering in moments, and return for a second attack. Their black mist thickens around Wriggler as they try to lock him in place like they did to me.

But Wriggler ain’t a simple creature of Nowhere. He’s a monster. Energy conjured from the folds between worlds, or somewhere like it, answering my rage and giving it shape. His mind is a labyrinth of magic and darkness that not even a howler horse can break into.

He’ll be fine.

I leave him and run. Bolt uphill, pumping my legs as hard as they’ll go. I flail my hands, trying to clear the mist. Trees loom from the dark. I dodge them, stumbling over roots, cursing as branches snatch my hair. The trees lean down, excited by my fear. Their vines grab at me. I slash them away with my knife, but they’re persistent.

I burst into a clearing in a whirlwind of mist, screams, and flailing knives.

“Sheb!” I yell.

There’s an answering shriek from the trees. I glance up to see a fluffy purple shape winging in wild circles around the clearing. Bartok, the owl-squirrel. His tawny eyes fix on me. He shrieks again, swooping away. At least he’s safe in the air. One less thing to worry about.

“Sheb!” I yell again. I lean against the huge tree in the center of the clearing to catch my breath. It reaches down its vines, caressing my face. Unlike the others, I don’t bat it away. This tree ain’t a threat. It’s a Soother Tree, deeply protective of whatever creatures make their homes in or around it. And that includes me and Sheb. We live in the cave beneath its roots.

I stroke its bark. “Where is he?” I demand.

The tree pulls urgently at my arm, trying to usher me through the opening between its massive roots. This time, I shove it off. “No, I can’t!” I say. “I have to find—”

“Annie?” comes a voice from behind the tree. I blink, swatting at the black mist again. Why is the howler mist so thick here? I left them down at the river, fighting Wriggler. Their power shouldn’t reach this far.

“Sheb?” I say again, answering the voice that called my name.

I edge around the tree, gripping my knife tight.

“No, Annie!” the voice says. “Get into the cave! Don’t come here!”

My gut tightens. That’s the voice of my best friend. Three and a bit years ago, when I landed in this strange forest after murdering my daddy (long story, don’t ask), I met this grubby, grinning man-boy. Sheb. Sheb who makes me see myself clearly. Sheb, who helped me tackle the monster that is now Wriggler. Sheb, whose voice now tremors like he’s very, very scared.

I rush round the tree, despite its vines grabbing at me, and skid to a halt.

“Oh,” I say. “Shit.”

My best friend is stood with both his hands raised, his weapon—a barbed harpoon he carries everywhere—tossed a meter or so away in the leaf litter. He’s half-crouched, his grey eyes wide.

“Don’t,” he says quietly. “Don’t move.”

I can’t anyway. I’m frozen. Whether in shock, or from howler power, I don’t know. Because there’s one of the bloody horses right in front of us. A huge, powerful mare, pawing the ground with a sharp hoof, tossing her wild head. Black steam snorts from her nostrils. Mist oozes off her fur. Her yellow-and-red eyes lock with mine. She takes a very determined step closer.

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