Clusters of bells hung in every archway of an old stone city. At the center of each was the original bell and along both sides of its dark, weathered chain, smaller bells clung like uneven bunches of brass fruit.
I stood below one such cluster, listening to their small clappers shivering in the breeze. Bright purple ribbons festooned the cross chain, pops of color on this gray afternoon.
“What are you for?” I asked. People passing by in the narrow cobbled street looked at me oddly, but did not interrupt my conversation.
Atop the largest bell, the etched face of a god gazed down at me, but gave no reply.
I tried again. “Directive?”
The main bell pivoted on its shackle, sending up a cacophony of ringing from its neighbors. The street emptied of exactly everyone.
Beneath the continued shrill noise, a low moan rose. Hands snagged my upper arm, dragging me into a doorway as a hideous rush of wind tore up the street, blasting the skin from the back of my outflung hand. I gasped, snatching it against the safety of my chest. Hot, sticky blood ran down my wrist.
My rescuer bundled me inside and someone else slammed the door behind us. We all gasped for breath as two women with identical brown faces looked me over, one tutting about my bleeding hand, the other critical.
“The bells warn of the howlers,” said my rescuer. “Didn’t you read the notice at the gate?”
My mouth worked. I, in fact, had not. I inclined my head to her. “Thank you for saving me.”
They sent me on my way with a bandage around my skinned hand. Outside, I threw a glare toward the unforthcoming bells; it seemed I should have asked a person after all.
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