by Martin Bolton
I was raised by things I cannot see. Nourished by a faceless presence.
Here in the dark, where I was left alone as an infant to die, I have lingered. Those who left me must have seen something in me, something inhuman. Something diabolical.
I remember clearly the night I was abandoned, the dank odour of decay, the darkness and the bitter cold as I lay in the undergrowth, gazing at the distant stars. I remember the increasingly fevered, excited whispers, snickers and sibilant chattering all around me, as if the trees themselves had come alive. I remember, too, the feeling that I was home, that I belonged in that cursed place where the tortured branches and the oozing, creeping weeds are but an abhorrent mockery of nature. Where the gnarled grey trees curl away from the light of the sun, as if it burns them, and keep all beneath them in perpetual shadow. Nothing natural exists on the hill where I dwell. Only mangled apparitions. Vile, unholy facsimiles of life sustained, as am I, not by organic means, but by some insidious, malign influence.
Some thing I dared not consider, the thing whose face haunted the periphery of my mind. The face I could not, or would not, see. It lurked, just of out sight, in the deepest recesses of my subconscious, some part of me I could not grasp or understand. It showed itself to me in my dreams, taunting me, but when I woke my memory was hazy, or my glimpses of this vaguely demoniacal aspect too fleeting. I shuddered to think of it, torn between the desire to see it, to know it, and the fear of what that would do to my already fragile sanity.
Yet the world beyond the hill was more terrifying still, for I knew that world did not want me, I was banished from the light at birth and left on the hill. What my mother saw when she looked down at the thing she had given birth to must have horrified her, and to face a world that hated me was a terror I could never bear. My only refuge was the hill, with the familiar voices that chatter to me from unseen mouths deep in the blackness.
How many years I have spent swathed in darkness, soothed by the whispers, in the forest on the hill, I cannot say. For what seems like an eternity, I have hidden here, secure in my remoteness, safe in the shadows.
But a tiny part of me longed to emerge from this living tomb, to seek the light, to be alone no more, the part of me that was born of the living world and had now all but shrivelled and perished in the foul depths of that unearthly forest. That part of me was roused one night as I roamed the moonlit wood, muttering to myself and to the whispers that replied from the shadows.
I was captivated by the vision of a distant light, far away at the foot of the hill. The warmth of the flickering orange illumination seemed to evoke the longing that had laid dormant within me for an age, overpowered by my brooding despair. I knew not why, but I was drawn inexorably towards it and, ignoring the protests of my invisible but vocal companions, I made my way through the undergrowth as if possessed by a new and undeniable will. How I regret my foolish actions. How I wish I had remained hidden in the woods on the hill. How I wish I had embraced my precious solitude.
As I drew nearer to the warm, shimmering glow, I realised it was a fire. The flames reflected on the placid water of a lake, and there on either side of the fire sat two figures. Two living souls! My heart soared as I listened to their quiet conversation. I could not understand their words, for the only language I knew was the tongue of this cursed wood, but the sound made me jubilant. Some tiny, malnourished voice, forgotten deep in my psyche, cried out with such force that I too involuntarily uttered an inhuman howl. Possessed by a hitherto oppressed desire to reach out, I staggered from my hiding place in the trees.
I stumbled forward, my long, spindly arms held out towards the two figures silhouetted by the flames, my filthy, clawed feet dragging on the damp sand. I tried to articulate, to tell them how I yearned for company, but I had never spoken more than guttural grunts and mutterings, and my futile attempts to speak were wild growls and croaks. As I drew closer, I saw the figures more clearly, and the sight of them brought back glimpses of ancient memories, of the people I had seen briefly before I was taken and left on the hill. To my horror, they bore the same expressions.
As the two men fled, I cried out again, but it was futile. I sank to my knees, my primitive utterances reduced to a high-pitched keening. The two men had mounted horses and galloped away into the night, leaving me before the fire, the icy lake biting at my knees. I sank forward onto my hands and stared into the water.
What I saw there, in the gently rippling surface, was the hideous, demoniac face that haunted my dreams.