Night time Visitors
Loreto Abbey Dalkey,
There are often things that you wouldn’t expect to see passing by your window. That is to be expected when in a position like your own. You’ve grown used to it. Every time these strange things cause problems, you promise yourself not to get involved. You are not cruel, far from it. But strange things happen far too often in your neck of the woods.
One such strange thing appears before you now, in the dead of night. A young person dressed in blue silk, is running down the beaten path beside your cottage. Another figure in red, chases after them, not fast enough to catch up, but keeping pace. At first, you wonder why the other figure looks so blurred, when they’re not moving at any great speed. You check that your window isn’t fogged up, which it is prone to. However, your window is perfectly clear. It’s the figure outside that is blurred. There is a blur floating outside your house. You carefully rub your eyes, but unfortunately, they’re both still there. Wonderful.
The sounds of frenzied footsteps on the path are so loud that you know there’s no chance of getting any sleep. However, this is where you, as a benevolent guardian of these woods, should step in. So, albeit slightly reluctantly, you step out of your nice warm hug of a cottage into the cold bitter slap of night. The door makes only the smallest of sounds as it opens, but the blur suspended in the air spins around, like a puppet on a demented devil’s string.
‘May I enquire about what is going on here?’ Unfortunately, instead of sounding authoritative as you hoped, you sound like someone who has just woken up on the wrong side of the bed. There is no reply from the blur, but that might be because they lack a mouth, unless the twisting ring of gnashing teeth around their torso counts as a mouth. In that case, they’re just rude.
The person in blue has brought their run to a slow jog. They’re staring at you. What language is it they speak around here? German, you think. That would explain why this person looks so shocked. It’s not every night an old woman, or something that looks like an old woman, starts speaking in the Old Tongues.
While you do speak the whisper of mountains, the song of birds, the rustle of trees, the chatter of streams, and the murmurs of the deep forgotten, you do not speak a word of German. However, that can be fixed. From your cloak, you produce a German dictionary. A small one. You have been planning on reading it for eons, never actually getting round to it. You still aren’t going to read it now. You don’t enjoy reading in the traditional way, and have a different approach.
Under your breath, you call out to the book. The binding of its spine begins to unwind. Though no else can see it, words are emerging from within its pages. They rip themselves from the sentences contained inside it, leaving the book blank.
You hear whispers from the book. It’s telling you all of the secrets it holds, urgently. There is no stone left unturned. You can feel under its cover the imprints of the people who read it before you. The words they underlined, the drawings in margins they left behind. Their thoughts echo throughout the pages, and it feels like a warning. Inside this book are secrets that should never be told, but it has held onto every secret it has heard. This book has been gathering a hoard full of secrets, tossing them into a mixing-pot of memories within its pages.
Though the readers before you are long gone by now, the book still remembers. The book holds onto every memory, every hope, every fear. You realize with a sense of dread that this is all that is left of their lives, sealed away in a German dictionary.
You throw the book down on the ground. Then you pick it up again. It was expensive.
On the bright side, you now know exactly two words of German.
‘Guten tag,’ You say, confidently.
They say something back, but it isn’t ‘guten tag’, so you don’t know what they said.
However, the blur says something in a language you do know: Screaming. In fact, you’re fluent in it.
‘This human has offered his soul in exchange for help. I’ve done as he asked, but he has refused to uphold his end of the deal. Creature of the woods, please come to my aid!’ The blur screams.
You’re pleasantly surprised that the blur is actually asking for your help with this. It doesn’t matter that you are not exactly the most reliable source of help. The blur doesn’t know that.
‘Hmm. Are you sure you did uphold your end of it?
‘Well,’ says the blur, a little sheepishly. ‘Not quite. He asked for his farmland to bear the finest of crops, to make his neighbours jealous. And I might have-‘They trail off.
‘What might you have done?’
‘I stole his neighbours’ crops, then planted them in his soil. It was the only way! He’s an awful farmer, I can’t materialize some crops out of thin air like a fairy.’
‘Then I’m not surprised he didn’t give you his soul.’
‘But I did as he asked! His neighbours were jealous. The crops just weren’t his.’
You shake your head, noticing as you do so that the subject of the conversation has gone.
‘Looks like the chance of you getting his soul just plummeted. He ran for it while we were screaming.’
‘Are you really going to try that on me?’
‘No, I’m serious. He’s upped and left.’
‘I know you’re helping him, wood witch!’
‘Why would I? He’s just some human. I’m not in desperate need of any souls.’
‘You know why! Farmers have the finest souls of them all!’
‘No. I did not know that.’
‘Oh. It’s because of all the agriculture, you see. Improves the soul quality.’
‘Right.’ Something clicks in your head. ‘Hold on. You said he was a farmer?’
‘That I did.’
‘Then why was he, a failing farmer, wearing silk? I may not have a great interest in fashion, but I’m certain they don’t give out clothes for free.’
‘Um. I don’t know for sure that was the farmer.’
I’m eyeless, as you can see. More teeth than I can count, but not an eye in sight. He ran off after our deal, so I went for the first person I heard screaming.’
You want to shake the blur by their shoulders and scream incoherently. You don’t, because you’re too tired and they don’t have any shoulders. However, you ask: ‘Should we chase after the other fellow? Maybe we can offer him something he can’t refuse, and you can get some kind of payment out of this ordeal.’
‘Not to dismiss your idea, but I’m not really feeling it. Thing is, if they’re not a farmer, it’s not the best use of my time. I’m going to conserve my energy for more worthwhile souls. Or a haunted object. I’d do anything for a haunted object. But they’re few and far between, and those who do find them never want to share! You wouldn’t happen to have any stored around, wood witch?’
‘As a matter of fact,’ you reach into your cloak for the German dictionary. ‘I do.’
The blur looks at you. At least, you assume they’re looking at you. Their teeth are juddering in their gums, and their limbs are twisting like fleshy ribbons in the wind. All in all, it’s not a pretty sight. You wonder if you should call the local
apothecary, when you realize that they are crying. Somehow. This isn’t just any run-of-the-mill type of tears. These are certified tears of 100% concentrated joy.
‘Thank you so much!’ They wail. ‘I never thought I’d see the day! Are you sure you don’t want it?’
You think about what you saw inside it. The voices of people who came before you, chanting their secrets over and over, doomed to repeat their mistakes and hold onto their grudges for as long as the book is intact.
‘Yup!’ You say. ‘It’s all yours!’ You throw the dictionary onto the ground, with a satisfying thud.
‘Is there anything I can do to repay you for this gift?’
‘No, I think I’ll be fine without any demonic influence in my life.’
‘Oh. Can I stop by sometimes?’
You don’t even need to think about how lonely you’ve become in your neck of the woods. A lifetime of solitude is boring, even more so when you’re unkillable.
Your new friend made of teeth smiles at you, and you smile back. Now, there may be one more strange thing passing by your window, but this time, you won’t mind the company.
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