Winter’s Grip

I heard a baleful note of terror
on a mid-Winter’s night:
Peering up I saw the sky
suffused with a spectral light.
Sharp horn-blasts smote my ears,
a baying of many hounds:
turning, I began madly to run
towards a scope of sacral mounds.

Here were many warriors inhumed:
Here elves were said to stealthy lurk.
Crouching down I concealed myself
amid midnight’s deep & riming murk.
Above, the sky grew brighter yet:
I heard a thunder, as of horses.
The hoary moon was then outshone
by a spirit-throng in their courses.

A multitude eclipsed the sky:
gibbering, wailing, stampeding dead!
Fae nipped noxiously at their heels
& a horned hunter rode at their head.
Some goaded pale & faceless steeds:
others rode men, but were not men.
Crying out, I cast my face to earth
& strove to preserve my mortal ken.

Yet – I say it was not to be.
These silver hairs? I earned them well!
For holes yawned ope upon the mound
to spew forth hunters forsworn of Hel.
Clattering joints that were not mine
reached my horribly attuned ear:
corpses thrust up from the loam,
bones worm-flensed & winter-sere.

I felt a touch on my trembling palm – 
the ice-brand of a dead man’s grip
fumbled to clasp me, to draw me nigh:
with a wail I gnawed my nether lip. 
The welling of hot & living blood
occluded the summons from the sky:
the touch withdrew, the hunters rode on,
leaving me alive yet yearning to die.

I know not how I survived that night:
does any fool know aught who has seen
Wotan masterly in black command
surge ‘cross Yuletide’s starry screen?
Nevermore do I venture near the mounds
when Winter’s grip lies on the land:
lest I should hear a baying of hounds,
or the dead wrest anew my pining hand.

[Scott J. Couturier hails from the far frigid lands of Northern Michigan. A novelist, poet, rock-n-roll archivist, & editor, his work has recently appeared in such venues as The Audient Void, Spectral Realms, Weirdbook, & the anthology series Test Patterns. In 2017 he released The Curse of Roc-Thalian, third volume in his ongoing dark fantasy series The Magistricide. ]