In a place far beyond knowing there is a forest so dark, so impenetrable that it is the haunt of all the creatures that live in nightmares, the things that hide in the dark and snarl at the back of cupboards and under beds. The trees in this place twist into ghastly shapes their branches reaching in desperation for the pure air and light that they can sense but never see, high, high above them in the realms of truth and beauty.
Deep in the dripping, fetid depths of this place is a small house, the door is painted blood red and the windows turn their gazes inside, drinking the feeble light that seeps through the trees and locking it within.
A lone wanderer who may stray this way would first be aware of the change in temperature, the humid warmth of the forest slides away to chill the blood and prickle the skin and the very air is thinned, as though even oxygen is begrudged to the unwary visitor. Then he would sense the threat beneath the silence and if he values his life he will turn and make away with all speed, and he will throw a prayer to his God for safe passage and the salvation of his soul.
Who lives here in the dreadful place, who could exist in such surroundings. An old, old woman lies here, the lines and wrinkles of her face hidden by the grey tangle of brittle hair that rustles on the pillow as she moves. Her eyes are deep hidden under thick lashless lids, like twin coals they roam the room seeking spirits in the dark corners and searching out the sprites and goblins that crouch and perch and scutter.
Now look, she raises a skeletal hand, the bony finger points towards the corner.
“I see you now, I see you. Come forward, show yourself.”
Beside the chimney the air thickens, shifts and coils and there is a shadow, a shade, a shape.
“Is it time, tell me is it time?”
The old crone screeches into the quiet, her voice cracks from underuse.
“Yes, witch it is time.”
As it speaks the hideous shape moves forward, the long legs striding over filthy boards, the eyes are glowing embers, the body is hidden under a cloak of rough fur, huge fangs gleam wetly in the lamplight. Nearer it comes, now the animal stench of it fills her nostrils, she gags and chokes. She clears her throat, hawking a gobbet of phlegm into the pewter pot beside the bed.
“She is coming then, now she is coming?”
“Aye and I shall collect on my promise. Two hundred years witch, two hundred and now it is time.”
“Is there nothing I can say, no bargain we can make. She is young, she is innocent, it’s not her fault.”
“Fault, fault what do I know of fault. You made your bargain now you must keep it. Move woman, move and keep your word.”
“With a scream of terror and fury the old witch rolls from the bed to the floor, instantly the flesh falls from her bones to desiccate and join the dust of ages, the old skeletons crumbles and collapses and in an instant all sign of her is gone.
The beast throws back his head, the great jaws open and he assaults the night with a howl of pure desire. He throws himself across the noisome mattress, drags the squalid covers upwards and turns his face to the door which even now creaks open. The flash of red, the scent of flowers and the bright light of purity enter hell.
Read more: Short Story: Time To Pay | Shortbread