The following is a short story I wrote in the early part of the new millennium, beginning in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and completing it in Belleville, New Jersey. It takes place in a Gothic Fairy Tale universe inhabited by characters I created for my Gothilocks series, but does not concern the main protagonists of said series. In this tale, young Amos, a boy in his late teens, becomes disillusioned with life and decides to steal his father’s gun and run off to the local forest to kill himself. Once in the forest, he hesitates and begins to cry, which disturbs the rest of a forest spirit who sends him on a quest to learn the truth of what it means to take one’s own life.
Oddly enough, several years later, I met a young man who fits the physical as well as personal description of Amos almost to a tee, from his musical taste and personal woes to the way he styles and colors his hair. With his permission, I recently added some personal events from his own life to flesh out the character, then gave him a copy of the story, which he enjoyed. At my request, he did a pencil illustration for it, which I have scanned and may be seen below. Amo’s shirt is different, but everything else is like the story. Note the noose in the title and the shadows of the 3 ghosts in the foreground.
Illustration for “Felo-de se” by Ben de Luca. (Circa 2010)
So, without further ado, “Felo de se”…
There once was a boy named Amos, who wanted nothing more of this life, but to leave it. He was weary of the world and its inhabitants, and just wanted out.
“I hate people,” he would say, “but only because I love them, and they always disappoint me.”
He believed that he was not appreciated, and felt that no one really cared what he did, or how he felt. Nobody understood him at all, it seemed, and life was an inexhaustive tableau of moral turpitude and mortal suffering.
Late, one autumn day, he stole away with a revolver and one bullet from his father’s not-so-well-hidden cabinet, where he kept his private papers and magazines, and ran off as fast as he could into the forest. When he could run no more, he sat down on a fallen tree in a clearing, and, after catching his breath, began to cry. He was afraid to die you see, but the alternative—living, was even more daunting a prospect to him.
After a while, he stopped crying and vented his frustration with his family and friends to the forest.
“It’s not fair,” he said, “I’ve always been a good person, and all I ever get in return for my kindness is contempt! Well, I’ll show them, they’ll be sorry when I’m dead!”
“Well, I sure won’t be sorry,” cried a voice from the thicket, “At least then I won’t have to hear your whining! All I want is a little peace and quiet, is that too much to ask for?”
“Who spoke? Where are you?” Squalled the boy, as he spun around, frightened by the acerbity of the disembodied voice.
“Never mind that my fine fey friend; I believe the proper question here is who the Hell are you? I am Aremaapwe, the spirit that lives in this particular spot of the wood, which you have intruded on, and you are disturbing my rest!”
The boy looked in the direction of the voice with a sorry bloodhound brow, and after a brief twitch in the left-hand corner of his mouth, and an expeditionary tear to his right, resumed his gushing. The voice, resignedly sighing, came closer to him and this time was accompanied by the sound of trodden leaves. The weight shifted on the log as the elemental sidled up beside the boy, and materialized as a swart, diminutive man with long dark hair, a full beard and piercing eyes. He dressed in what looked like woodsman’s garb from times past and carried a satchel at his side.
“Look son, I know that life is hard, and sometimes it can be terribly unfair. Look at me, for instance, I may have magickal powers, and an extended life span, but I am restricted to the confines of this forest, and must spend my days doing nothing, which does not concern the up-keep and conservation of the sylvan equilibrium. You, on the other hand, may go wherever you please, purse providing, and become whatever your heart desires and your ambitions make you. To top this off, as a human, your time allotment is much briefer than mine, so why cut it any shorter than it already is, when you should take advantage of your innate “free will” and see the world, and become whatever you were sent here to be?”
Agitated, the young fellow screamed at the spirit, “What, don’t you people understand, that I’m trying to tell you? I have no interest in traveling, or “fulfilling my personal potential”; I just don’t want to live anymore!”
Realizing that he was not reaching the boy, and wishing him gone, without actually “passing on”, he got an idea, which might get the younker out of his hair, and onto the right path.
“I’ll tell you what you can do. Why don’t you have a talk with some of the fellows down by the old crossroads? They’re a little more experienced in these matters than I. Just go down this pathway until you reach the main road, then follow the trail of blood…oh wait, you won’t be able to see anything with your physical eyes, so you must shed your corporeity.”
And, with that, he put his left finger up to the boy’s right temple, causing him to utter a sharp cry and collapse to the ground. For a moment, Amos was disoriented; then, remembering the recent offense to his person, he sat up on his elbows to glare at the perpetrator of said deed. Just as he raised an accusatory digit to berate the spirit, he was dumfounded to notice that he was sitting in someone. Looking around himself he saw…well, himself! Then returning his stupefied gaze to Aremaapwe, he screamed.
“What did you just do to me?”
“I separated your soul from your corporeal husk, now you shall be able to walk among the shadows and communicate with them as well. You have only till dawn to do this, however, and by then you must return to your body, or you shall truly be dead. Mind you, whether you dally or are distracted is no affair of mine; it is solely your responsibility to get back in time. If you fail in this, it will be your fault, and you shall be considered a suicide, condemned to wander the twilight between the world of the living and the domain of the dead, and you shall find no peace. Your fate is in your hands, now go!”
And so, the bewildered shade of our young hero wafted through the surrounding brush and onto the path of the crossroads. As instructed, he followed the sanguinary trail, which was marked by bloody footprints.
After he made sure the boy took the moribund path, the wood spirit, Aremaapwe, picked up the pistol, which Amos had dropped, when he was divided. He contemplated the piece for a moment, with a look of disdain, and then gripped it tightly as his hand expanded and enveloped it completely. When his hand went back to its normal shape and size, it had just the wooden stock of the pistol, and a puddle of metal, both of which were quickly absorbed into his corpus. “I’ll save those for later.” He said
* * *
Eventually, our boy came upon the designated spot. It was nightfall by then, and the scene was feebly lit by a crescent moon, which shown like a luminous harvester’s sickle, poised to crash down from the blackness, as if it were surreptitiously whipped out from the folds within the robes of the Grim Reaper.
The first thing he discerned under this limited light was a stout figure standing in front of a road sign which pointed in several directions. He seemed to be agitated and he kept muttering about the “blasted arrows”. The boy cautiously approached the man, who was clothed in a frock coat, knickers, and a powdered wig—all of which had seen better days. Upon closer inspection, he saw that about the man’s neck was a filthy bandage, and the front of his shirt was all covered in, what appeared to be the crusty residual stains from a dark russet sputum.
Gingerly approaching the old fellow, he cleared his throat, startling the man and causing his jowls to quiver, and his eyes to pop.
“Halloa there,” he shouted in surprise, “and who might you be, a-wandering thro’ these parts at this ungodly hour?”
“I am Amos,” answered the boy, “and I was sent here by a wood spirit to find someone at the crossroads.”
“Well, whatever for, my boy?”
“To talk about suicide.”
“Ah, the less said the better on that one.”
“But I was told someone could help me, and that there’d be more than one person to talk to as well.” said the boy, with the slightest choke of a sob in his throat.
“Quite right master Amos,” sighed the old fellow, “quite right indeed. The name is Quirk,”
Then, looking over to a mound of purposefully piled stones along the roadside, he pointed and exclaimed: “and that is where lies my corse, resting till the Day of Judgment, kept down by yon stones so that it may not rise to vex the living.”
“Your corse; what’s a corse?” questioned Amos.
“Why a corse is a corpse, of course.”
“Which is to say I’m dead.”
“As I am a-feared you must be as well, if you can see me and not tremble. As for others, under our feet there is Mumbles, who is pinned to the ground with a stake through his heart, but he hasn’t bothered to let his spirit wander for some time now. He was weary of trying to decide which path to take into town, and figured that even if he arrived, he would never be able to grasp anything nor anyone in his spirit form. After his loved ones passed on, he decided it was not worth going back any way.
“Down the road a stretch is the spirit of a man, who murdered a lass because she would not give him her heart. He vowed that if he could not have it, no other man would, so he clove her asunder and stole it from her breast, like a bloodthirsty lycanthrope! Well, when her men folk discovered his dastardly deed they swore vengeance. The cutthroat, coward that he was, reserved a pistol shot for himself. The family, cheated out of retribution, demanded he be placed in a gibbet and hung along the roadside so that he might never find rest in the hereafter. He tends to keep to his part of the road, and we don’t mind a bit, do we Mumbles?”
At the prompt, there was a barely audible grunt of affirmation rising from the ground beneath their feet. Wide-eyed and with mouth agape, the boy jumped up moving his legs in a piston-like motion, which rather resembled a pantomime’s jog.
“What was that?”
“That was Mumbles. He doesn’t come out anymore; he just stays in his grave. He occasionally likes to comment on things, however, but there’s few that can discern a single word he says—hence the moniker—because he speaks from behind still lips and a spadeful of earth!
“I don’t understand why he’d want to stay in his husk all these years, at least two hundred, but, there it is, that’s old Mumbles for you.”
“How did he come to be buried here, in this way?”
“Well, what I gather from all these years mumbling, it seems he was very devoted to his wife, whom he lost to consumption. He was so mad with grief that he took an overdose of laudanum to reunite with her as quickly as possible. What he didn’t realize, at the time, was that by taking his own life, he forfeited his only chance to join her.”
“That explains the suicide, but why the stake through his heart?”
“We cannot be seen by mortals, except after the witching hour, and even then only around our burial grounds. Likewise, we cannot grasp any matter, nor can we be felt, save for as a chill when in one’s immediate vicinity; all this changes around the night of All Hallow’s Eve. On this night the veil between the world of the living and the dead is thinnest; all spirits are made tangible, and can be seen, heard and felt. On such a night, old Mumbles, here, tried to move his body to the churchyard so he could bury himself nearer to his beloved. Upon reaching the gate, he was stopped by the sentinel spirit of the last person to be interred there…”
“Buried my boy; buried!
“Anyway, he spent the whole night arguing with the spirit, who would not let him in. By morning, he had lost his ability to carry his coil, and his grip faltered. He was found by the grave digger the following morning, who took him by the roadside here, put him back in his grave, and drove a stake through his heart, as one would a vampire, to keep him from ever getting up again.
“His family had heard about the whole ordeal, and came, secretly, to his grave to mourn him and lament this egregious act of vandalism, as his disinterment seemed to them to be. He heard their grief at his passing and learned that the loss of his love and guidance around his household was a pain and a burthen to his loved ones. He then realized the selfishness of his act, and how it hurt those whom survived him. He tried to console them, but they could not really see, hear, feel, nor sense his presence in any way; this compounded his own feelings of sadness, loss, and even guilt. After a while, they stopped coming around and, eventually, he surmised that they had followed his dear wife into the hereafter. That is when he decided to just lie in that ditch, perpetually pinned, like a specimen in a collector’s box, until the Great Day. Can you imagine what it is like to have a stake stuck through one’s heart for over two centuries?”
“Please, I dated Gothilocks for about two months; so believe you me, I know a thing or two about heartache!”
“I see…well, be that as it may, it is still rather an unpleasant predicament to find oneself in, to say the least.”
“Mmmm, and you, did you kill yourself for love?”
“What, I? Heavens, no! I am an enlightened man; I do not bother myself with such trivialities. No, master Amos, I did not die for love, but for an infinitely more practical cause: money! I had invested all of my funds, as well as the savings of various acquaintances, in a ship, which was intended to start trade between the newly liberated colonies and Europe. Unfortunately, as ships sailing from the United States of America were no longer under the protection of King George, they fell prey to pirates. I lost everything; my creditors were not sympathetic and my partners even less so. Everyone came after me at once, and I was threatened with an interminable internment in gaol, as well as bodily harm. I chose the easy way out, and changed my status from debtor to felon-de-se, a suicide, which in England was a felony, and all of whatever remained of my holdings would have been forfeited to the crown. As an American, however, it all went to my surviving next of kin; including my debts. Unfortunately, I had not foreseen that when in my fright I committed that horrific act. It all happened one morning, whilst shaving, I was so preoccupied with my troubles that I accidentally nicked myself badly and, when I saw the blood, was overwhelmed with a panic and decided to just dig in deeper and cut my own throat. What a painful, bloody mess that was. It took me forever to succumb as I choked on my own blood and gasped for air, until I finally bled to death. Never cut your own throat my boy, ghastly business that.
“Uh-huh. Say, you mentioned Halloween; that wasn’t really recognized in your time, how do you know about that?”
“I know quite a bit about your world, Master Amos! You forget that I have existed since my original lifetime, and have spoken with many spirits who have walked down these lonely roads—particularly on All Hallow’s Eve. I know of your horseless carriages, your electric torches, and so on. There is one thing from your modern world, however, which confounds me; so unnatural it seems as if it were the very handiwork of Old Scratch himself.”
“Oh, and what might that be?”
“And you, dear boy, why would you seek to cut short the thread of your young life from Clotho’s loom?”
“I am sick to death of this life with all of its misery and suffering. No-one understands me, least of all my family, and everyone I open up to either spurns me, or takes advantage of my emotional nakedness.”
“Do your parents beat you?”
“No, but a harsh word can sometimes hurt just as much as a belt.”
“Have they ever shut you out of their home or denied you food or clothing?”
“Well…sort of; they sent me packing when I turned 18 because they couldn’t deal with my alternative lifestyle. They always gave me static about the clothes that I wear, or the style of my hair, or even the things that I like to read or listen to. They complain about my piercings and my tattoos all of the time, and they don’t like my friends. Basically they think my soul is lost and that I’ve been corrupted by the evils of rock & roll and b-movie culture.”
Quirk, puzzled, looked at the boy in wonder.
“Pierced and tattooed? Blast me, my boy! Only savages and seamen tattoo themselves, and where are these piercings of which you speak? Your earrings?”
“Ummm, yeah, those, my snake bites,” and here he grabbed his bottom lip, to show two small ringlets on either end of his mouth “and then one…” and here he looked down at his trousers but quickly decided it best not to go there, “anyway, they always give me a hard time, and we argue constantly. Besides that, I want to stop all of the pain.”
Quirk stared at the boy with a quizzical look on his face, with his brow all furrowed, eyes squinting, and his mouth turned into a slight frown.
“And what pain might that be, pray?”
Amos, almost glad for his audience, exposed his darkness with the pride of a parent debuting a newborn child, reciting his litany of dolor with dramaturgic zest.
“The pain of living, which pierces my heart; exposing the black maw, that swallows up my soul’s calls for love and understanding, which, in turn, fall into the unfathomable abyss of despair that resides at my very core. That same despair which scowls back at me as my ego pines for acceptance and recognition from my family and peers.”
“I see,” said the spirit with a quiet and pensive tone. How does one react to such a statement? He must not lose this boy. He knew that whatever he said now must carry the proper import to make him see that this was not theatre or some penny blood romance but, rather, this was the gravest of issues he was toying with. The fate of his very soul lay in the balance, and it was incumbent upon Quirk to get the boy to understand this completely. He looked at Amos with a thoughtful expression, and with his thumbs stuck in his vest pocket, he began to respond.
“I do not know what to tell you dear boy. You seem to be well dressed,” and here he paused for a moment to take in Amos’s lanky frame with his snug black trousers tucked into his knee-high lace-up boots and his billowy black shirt, which looked like sails on a death ship to the Underworld. His hair was short around the sides, but with a sweep of black bangs, streaked through with a shock of red, which fell into a part on the left. His eyes were deep set and soulful and seemed to be lined in black cosmetics and…were his lips painted as well? At least he wore a pentacle pendant, which Quirk thought would protect him somewhat from lesser evils. Sighing again, he amended his previous statement. “…after a fashion; you are well spoken, relatively healthy, and with a passing knowledge of the gentle courtesies. Someone has evidently cared for your well-being and edification, which would imply some degree of love and devotion. Perhaps you are possessed of a saturnine humor and require more attention than those around you have the time, or the wherewith, to afford you. The fault for which cannot be justly assigned to anyone in particular; it is perhaps a whim of the Creator, a challenge for all of you, from which you can learn and grow in your understanding of one another. If not, perhaps there are others with whom you feel an affinity for and can help you. One’s “family” need not always be blood, you know. Either way, you must all learn to deal with this, but you especially dear boy. If you cannot…well, who am I to infringe upon your free will? Believe me, however, when I tell you that neither myself, nor Mumbles, here…” Again, as if on cue, there was another grunt of affirmation from under the earth as Quirk pointed to his companion’s unhappy resting place though he kept his gaze upon Amos so as not to lose his attention, as he continued, “…have found any peace or satisfaction from our own acts of self-annihilation. Please don’t throw your young life away for this!”
Then, pulling his thumbs out of his vest pockets, he grabbed at his ensanguined cravat and pulled down his collar enough to expose a nasty gash as he groaned with such misery as only a doomed spirit can muster. The boy’s eyes widened to almost double their usual size at this unexpected and horrific gesture. Then, old Quirk calmed down and looked at the boy with a profoundly sad countenance, when, just as if a light went on in his cadaverous head, he panicked and said,
“O dear, the Dunkel Schatten, I’ve forgotten to mention the Dunkel Schatten!”
“The pale, Master Amos, beware the pale!”
“The pale of spirits, so benighted, that to see them is to give up one’s soul to despair! They gather at the crossroads for the Wild Hunt, which is on this very night, and they follow their leader, Hecate, and her hellish hounds, as she leads them through the back roads and byways, searching for lost souls to carry back to Hades.
“They appear, at first, as a swift moving fog, absorbing all of the light in their path. Blacker than pitch, they sweep along until they are upon one; but by then, all hope is lost. If you see it coming, cover your eyes and throw yourself to the ground; recite the Lord’s Prayer until they have passed, and whatever you do, address not the Mistress of the Hunt, for your soul shall become forfeit to her whims.
“There was a Hessian soldier that passed through here once, and he spoke of it; ‘twas he that named it so, although I reckon it probably has numerous names given to it by the myriad souls whom have had the misfortune to witness its stygian upas. This Hessian had seen his comrade taken by it, and spake of it with such horror, in a raspy whisper. I believe that if his spectral eyes could muster them, they would have welled with tears. I can honestly say that is the only time in which I saw a dead man actually blanch whiter than he already was.”
“And this horrible thing, this ‘Dunkel-whatzitz’, can be stopped by a prayer?”
“The Lord’s Prayer; do you not know, the Pater Noster?”
“No, I don’t know. My family tried to shove that tripe down my throat when I was a boy because they thought I was possessed by the devil, then tried to exorcise me when I didn’t show any improvement. Have you ever seen that movie about that kid who thinks he’s a vampire and his own uncle stakes him? That was my life—minus the staking of course. ”
“Never mind that boy; say what you do know, and say it with conviction, for this Hadean retinue knows the difference and shall relish in mocking your empty words as they crimp your soul for their spectral ranks.”
“All right, I get the picture; I’ll think of something when the time comes, I’m sure. Look, I should get going, so I can talk to the other guy and get back to the forest before dawn.”
“Take this road on the left (or is it the right?), and beware, for he is a crafty blackguard and will no doubt try to corrupt or kill you, as he can. God speed master Amos, and remember well the lessons you have learnt here.”
“Thank you Mister Quirk, I won’t forget you or your stories any time soon, I can assure you.”
* * *
The wind swayed the trees as a little drizzle began to fall, then a little harder rain, but Amos took no notice of these things as he walked down the road in search of the last spirit. He knew his time was running short, and he could not afford to dawdle. After a short while, which seemed very long to him, the rain abated, leaving a chill dampness in the air. A forbidding rumble could still be heard overhead when he noticed a fetid smell in the air. The atmosphere grew dank and acrid, and a horripilating sensation rose up his spine from the small of his back to the nape of his neck.
On the dimly lit road, leading into town, Amos thought he saw a glimmer of moonlight on metal. Moving closer, he saw what seemed to be a cage-like enclosure hanging from a wooden post. A flash of lightening, followed by a thunderclap, and then a ghastly figure appeared in what he now recognized as a gibbet.
It took a moment for the boy to discern a man who had the back of his head blown out like a fleshy blossom. He had black powder smudged on his gaunt white face and around his mouth. His eyes were two magnifying lenses, through which focused an infernal light, that beamed from what was left of his spattered cranium. This grim figure smiled a toothy smile, and snickered through clenched teeth. Then, with another thunderclap, there was naught but a skeleton in the gibbet with a shattered skull and shreds of what were once clothes.
Amos felt his blood chill and his rain-moistened hair rise as he suddenly heard the same snicker come from behind him. He dared not turn around, but something put a hand on his shoulder and helped him do so anyway. That was when young Master Amos came face-to-face with the murderous spirit of Sam Hill. The boy was dumb from fright. Mr. Quirk was sad and a bit disturbing to look at, but this fellow was downright nasty. He exuded bad vibes all over the place, and his appearance was dreadfully horrific. As if that weren’t enough, to add to the fiend’s frightful mien and aura of evil, he gave off a stench, which was positively mephitic.
“What’s the matter boy, like you not the face of old Sam? Pray, let me change it for another.” Here Sam passed a grisly hand over Amos’s eyes and, when the boy could see again, he saw that the spirit’s body looked whole, but the odor remained. He tried to keep his composure, and breathed as little as he could manage so as not to inhale so much of the stink.
“Now tell me,” demanded the bogey, “what brings you hither, on this forsaken road, so late at night? You have the semblance of a spirit, but something about you is not right. Speak to me now, ere I get the notion to quoit you into the abyss from whence comes the thunder of my Lord Belial!”
Amos, frightened and confused, responded in a quaver, recounting briefly his tale up to that moment. The spirit burst out in a loud and wicked laugh, pulled the boy up by his shirt collar and, piercing his heart with a gaze both direct and purposeful, said in a strained and threatening voice, “If you wish to die, then die you shall; you will be baptized in the banks of Lethe within the hour, and I shall usher you thence.”
Affrighted, a spasm jerked its way across the countenance of the boy, as he attempted to blow a tuft of red and black hair, which fell into his mouth as he protested his impending demise. He looked so pitiful that the offending spirit burst out in a derisory guffaw.
“Why, you piteous jackanapes! Look at you, with your eyes painted like a bleeding doxy! Would that my pipe still stood straight, for I would surely mount that girlish crupper of yours, and show you what sport is made of such fine and gentle fellows during revelry at my Master’s house! So you spoke to that old fart Quirk, eh? Did he tell you how I killed that strumpet? I’ll wager he didn’t tell you this, my dear Nancy Boy;” and here he leaned in closely to Amos, as if to share a confidence “once I had that bitches’ heart in my hand, and had squeezed its’ sweet nectar onto my tongue, I took yet another thing the wench had denied me in life; and for the favor, I repaid her with some oysters in her basket.”
At this point Amos, frightened to the point of nausea, began to tear again, for he really was not ready to die after all, at least not like this. Rather than cause pity in his tormentor, the lachrymal display only served to egg him on. As the boy pleaded, on his knees, for his life to be spared, the spirit seemed to start from his gloating and perk up his ears.
“Hark! I hear the hum of the Wild Hunt rolling along the highway; the thunderous clap of the atmosphere as their sulfur dust snaps when met with the spark of the dragging chains of the damned!”
Amos quailed as the wicked spirit leant down into his face and continued to harry him.
“Can you not hear them? The heavy hooves of sooty steeds, the phantom snarls of headless hounds, the cries of the midnight hunt, and the wailing of the doomed! They all are come hither, and they come for you!”
Covering his eyes with his sleeve, Amos put his face onto the ground. He gasped between intermittent sobs, and tried very hard to remember something, which might repel anything that might wish to do him harm. Then he vaguely began to remember an old psalm he once heard recited by a girl in a Black Metal tune amidst a chaotic backdrop of distorted guitars and threatening vocalizations. This situation seemed somewhat analogous, and therefore, a perfect opportunity to repeat the psalm, if only he could remember it.
Oppressive darkness overtook the scene as the noise of the hunt, which Amos quickly recognized as the dunkel-schatten mister Quirk had warned him of, was indeed growing louder, even causing the ground to rumble as a massive coach, accompanied by the sound of hounds growling, hooves thumping, and an overall wash of wails and screams. He heard it come up the road and slow to a halt by the roadside, in front of his prostrate figure. Mixed in with the dampness of the night air and the stench of his haranguer, was the smell of sulfur the son of Belial had told him of.
Remembering what Quirk had told him, he refused to look up from his sleeve, which he had used to stop his mouth from utterances. His mind raced to remember the psalm. Which one was it? How did it go?
Then he heard something nasty, wheezing as it hobbled to the area Amos assumed was the side of the coach. There was a sound of a wooden door opening, and a trap falling; then the squeak of tension from wooden steps as someone alit from the cab. There were footsteps and, suddenly, in the darkness, there was light. Someone approached him with a flambeau, although he dared not look up at them.
He could hear the groans and grated whispers of disconsolate souls, mixed with the articulations of iniquitous beings, murmuring in the murk by the coach. The murderous spirit now leaned on his back, and caressing his shoulders in an unwelcome and familiar way, whispered in a slithery voice as noisome vapors trailed from his mouth as well as his very being.
“Look up my fine fair fellow, look upon the face of the Mistress of the Hunt. The Nameless One stands before you and demands to be recognized!”
Amos continued to try to recall the psalm as it was used in the song. The girl had a heavy accent, and a nasally voice, but it was mixed loudly. He could almost hear it in his mind’s ear. Not quite as well, however, as the other voice in his head. A cogent woman’s voice, bidding that he…
“Look up boy!” demanded the vile spirit.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…”
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures…”
“Listen to you, prating palaver, like some fucking blackcoat bastard!”
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me.”
“Devil take you-look!”
“I will fear no evil; I will fear no evil!”
Grabbing Amos by the hair, the spirit pulled up his face, causing him to catch a glimpse of the feet of the being before him, which were bristling with snakes. Shutting his eyes tightly, Amos screamed, “Nooooo!” as he turned, grabbed the spirit by his own hair, and felt the reality of his gruesome pate. Wincing, he felt to recoil, but instead pushed with all of his might on the crown of his attacker, and freed himself from the varlet’s grasp.
He ran down the highway, into the wood, and left the villain swearing a bloody streak, as the cab door slammed shut, and both Mistress and Hunt thundered away with seeming indifference.
“Go on, run you son of a whore! I may not get you myself,” shouted old Sam Hill, “but my master’s servants are legion, and their guises are many!”
* * *
Amos ran as fast as he could into the boscage, and wandered deep into the forest. He knew the spirit could not follow him, since he was bound, in essence, to the roadside. The boy was lost now, and could not tell which way to go to return to Aremaapwe’s part of the wood. The sky was turning a violet color, as the first hint of the proximate dawn began to bleed through the, until now, adumbrated firmament.
Would he get back in time to save himself? Could he? Just then, he noticed a light coming towards him. He hid for fear that it might be Hecate Herself come for him on foot, but soon discerned the figure of a young woman, holding aloft a lantern. She hummed to herself a tuneful lilt as she jauntily made her way towards the boy. He thought for a moment that he should hide anyway, but no matter which way he crept, she always seemed to turn in that direction. Eventually, he gave up and stood still, waiting for her to come upon him.
“Can you help me? I am lost, and need to find my way to a certain place in the forest.” asked Amos, once she arrived.
She spoke not a word, but just smiled and motioned for him to follow her. Amos reasoned with himself that the hour was drawing near that he had agreed to return to the guardian of the wood, and as following this waif was the only option, which had been presented to him, he took it. He attempted to describe the place where he had come from to the wood spirit, but she didn’t appear to pay him any mind. He watched her, as she glided through the forest, between the trees and brush without much thought or effort. It was difficult for him to keep up with this sprite, or whatever it was that she was.
She had long reddish-brown hair, a youthful figure, which Amos secretly took stock of, draped in a light-green dress, which hung straight down and was most likely homespun. She had happy, but distant, eyes, that gazed into somewhere other than their respective surroundings. Her general bearing reminded him of the demeanor of an autistic child he’d seen once; she was in a world of her own, and wore a constant smile. She had a wide mouth with full pink lips, fair skin, with a sparse sprinkle of freckles, and her hair, parted in the middle, hung down just past her shoulders.
In her hand was a globular lantern fashioned from green twigs, held together with spiders webs and lit by fireflies, which shown dimly in the brightening sky. Amos worried that they wouldn’t arrive in time. His guide was taking him through unbeaten paths, twisting through odd byroads. She reminded him of some of those cabbies in the city who take you through half an hour of side streets before you realize your destination was actually around the corner from your place of origin.
As if she had surmised his train of thought, she turned around at that precise moment and smiled what she must have intended to be a reassuring smile, but rather had the adverse effect on poor Amos’s frayed nerves; and would she never stop singing that damned song? All of his previous grievances seemed so miniscule and trivial in the light of all that he had been through this night. All he wanted to do was get through this all and go back to the security and comfort of his home.
Before he realized it, he found himself walking straight into some sort of pond, which wasn’t very large, but looked dark and deep and partially obscured by a layer of bright green duckweed. His guide had stopped her tune (mercifully), and carelessly dropped her lamp onto the forest floor, which broke apart, allowing the fireflies to break free. As it hit the ground the cloud of fireflies burst into the air like sparks from a smithy’s anvil. She then turned around to face him with outstretched arms staring at him with those empty eyes, and smiled pulling Amos to her bosom. She kissed his cheek, then, slowly moved towards his mouth. He felt himself prickle with anticipation as her lips brushed against his own. His heart began to pound as she held the back of his head with her right hand and wrapped the left one around his waist. For a moment, he was lost in pleasurable feelings and thoughts as he reciprocated in kind. Then she pulled away and he saw her lips were blue and her face puffy and discolored. Her hair was tangled, and riddled with pond scum. She smiled again, a dead soulless grin. Amos screamed, but she put up two waterlogged fingers with loosened fingernails, one on the verge of coming off, and playfully shushed him as if quieting a small child. The boy tried to disengage himself from her grasp, but found her grip to be firm and vise-like. She forced his head upon her shoulder and began to sing her cursed song again as she stepped backwards into the deep of the pond, dragging poor Amos along with her.
The poor boy was half mad by now, and as he saw the first rays of the morning sun breaking through the treetops, he thought of how foolish he had been for courting Death as he had done. All he wanted was to go back home. In a last fit of preservative adrenaline he pulled his head off of her shoulder and screamed to the wilderness,
“I don’t want to die; I want to live! I want to live!”
Believing his life lost, he surrendered to his lot, and began to cry again for ever having left his home and begun on this misadventure. As he did so, he felt a release of the corpse’s grip, and found that he was dry and on land again. He felt warm, now that the sun shone fully on his person, and felt complete, as he realized that he was back in his physical body. Looking up, he saw the face of the wood spirit, Aremaapwe. The spirit reached out to the boy, who instinctually recoiled, but the elemental just laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder, and smiling said to him,
“You have chosen well. Go to the edge of the forest and you shall find your people searching for you. They seek, for they are worried; they worry, because they love you. Be patient with them, for they are only human, and do not always act the way you would have them do. Be secure in the knowledge that you are loved and that even with all of its vicissitude and disappointment, it is always best to choose life.”
On that note, he helped the boy up, turned him towards his people, and sent him off on the right path after all.