He crawled into the crevice on his stomach, the dampness of the earth clinging to him, and something else, a smell of rotting decaying flesh filled his nostrils. He didn't stop, he couldn't. Those who sought him are near, he can almost smell their sweat as they search for him. He pushed back as far as he could against the rock wall. The tunnel was narrow but this crevice even more so. He felt his breath catch in his throat as he heard their footsteps in the tunnel, close, so close.
There was no sky here in the inner bowels of the earth. Just earth and stone and light from the thousands of flickering candles encased in the crevices along the tunnel walls. He alone bore the brunt of their anger, he alone would pay the price for the mistake. In truth, it wasn't his mistake but that of another. It made no difference for truth did not exist here, only power and cunning and strength. One cannot change the nature of things and those who claimed the power, preferred the deceivers. Honor was always bestowed upon the Tale Weavers, glory given to those that followed in the footsteps of the Father of Deceit.
It hadn't always been this way. There was a time in the beginning when power was earned not bargained, bought, and stolen. The years, the ways of the soulless, and the misuse of their powers had changed everything, Things that are done, cannot be undone even here is the darkness. Hundreds of years previously their world had started to implode, to collapse almost upon itself. There was much inner fighting, bickering and bloodshed. Powers roared out of control, decisions were made. The decisions included the forbidding of certain arts from being practiced. The Sealing occurred at that time. No one talked about The Sealing, it was forbidden.
Many, many years before The Sealing there was The Beginning. In The Beginning there was darkness, a cocoon of safety, floating in the silky warmth of the earth. Then the light brought forth life yet there were still those that craved the darkness, those over which the web of evil could not be broken. He was there then. He existed, had always existed, almost since the beginning of time. He who some called "Ha-ne-go-ate-geh", or Evil Minded. Others called him other things, other names, yet none truly knew him. His essence defied their knowing. All of that was to change now. He would be no more.
Inside himself, at his core, he roared in frustration and he hungered for the forbidden powers. The tentacles of those desires, slipped silently throughout his being, comforting him with their seductive ways. He longed to unleash the truth of his being, his authentic self, the transformation would bring about the undoing of all things known to The Others. In truth his powers were greater than any knew, having been forgotten through the years, none knew that he was, had always been, one of The Founders. People had not forgotten The Founders, only that he was one, the last one of his kind.
None of that mattered now as he lay like a trapped animal deep inside the wall of the tunnel. He had no choice but to hide yet his escape seemed unlikely. He pushed back so far into the crevice that he felt the earth move, crumbling in around him, he thought of death, of suffocation, being buried alive. He had existed almost since the beginning of time so these thoughts seemed foreign to him, though he knew of others who had ceased to exist. His hand scraped against a tree root as more dirt shifted and covered him with a thin layer of musky silt. He wondered if the dirt was falling onto the tunnel floor. If so it was only a matter of moments before they found him. His eyes had been clamped shut against the cascading earth but now he opened them.
Above him, about four hundred feet up, inside the tree roots he saw a strange flickering. Calling to him, it caressed his turbulent mind and calmed him. It was different somehow from the candle light he knew so well. Brighter than a thousand candles, it shimmered above him. He grabbed a root and begin to climb. As he climbed he had to pause and claw at the dirt around the thick roots. Slithering along, making himself as small as possible, he inched his way upward.
For some reason the earth clung to the roots, not falling down the narrow chute into the crevice and the tunnel itself. This saved him, for if The Others had found the damp, dark dirt on the floor they would have sent the ones that crawl on their bellies after him. Once they had fallen upon him they would have drug him shrieking back into the darkness of the world he had always known. He climbed toward the distant light not once stopping to ponder what it might be. To exist was all that mattered and if propelling himself into the earth offered the chance to exist then that is what he would do.
Soon he came to the end of the roots, and where he found himself was puzzling. He was inside a vertical tunnel but the sides weren't stone. They were rough and woody and scratched at him. They reminded him of roots but what root is so large in size as to be almost a tunnel. He felt with his hands and the rough bark of the inside of the tree crumbled in his hands. Where he had touched was an opening. He scraped with his claw like hands and soon he could see the light. He closed his eyes. It hurt as it streamed into his hiding place. Paying no mind, he pushed out through the slit in the tree and stepped into another world, foreign to him, full of green leaves and trees and grass under his feet instead of a stone path.
He didn't think about where he was. His only goal was to exist, to escape, and so with his eyes squeezed shut he ran, using his searching senses which were weakened from disuse he weaved in between the trees. He felt the tangled vines and bushes, grabbing him, scratching his legs but he ignored them in his flight. They were nothing in comparison to those that looked for him. Existence was a primal urge. Nothing else mattered.
He has no conscious memory of how long he ran. He ran until his powerful legs ached and his body was covered in a thick layer of sweat. He ran until his lungs hurt and his eyes streamed tears down his face. Not from sadness but from the brilliance of the light that he could feel on his closed lids.. He ran until he could run no more. Then he collapsed under a fallen tree where the dead branches and dried leaves shaded him from the brilliant light. Before doing so though, he looked up. He saw the source of the light, a ball of fire hanging in the sky.
He woke up to the blessed darkness of night. The fire ball was gone, replaced by a pale ball in the sky that shimmered and beckoned and appeared harmless. Peering out from under the tumble of branches, he listened to the rustling night sounds, crickets, small animals, insects. They produced a melody that he had never heard before. He wondered at their existence and if the darkness had created them as it had he.
He knew with certainty that his existence would create ripples in this brave new world. Nothing else could happen when two worlds collide, overlapping each other, a world of darkness and one of light, each struggle to become the dominate force. It had happened in The Beginning, oh but on a much grander scale. This was but a speck in comparison but over time his existence would become know, and when that time arrived he would be hunted. Worlds do not take kindly to invasion, even if the invader had no other choice.
He existed. That was all that mattered. His ancient instincts told him that in this new place, this new world there was no other like him. In this place the rules must be learned. He cared nothing for rules but one must know what they are in order to exist. If he was to be, if he hoped to exist at all for very long then knowing the rules that governed this place was paramount. That was his first self-directive, know the rules.
As the days go by....
This world collided with his senses, confused his thoughts and tore into him with its painful brilliance. He ached for the darkness. He craved to be once more inside the damp earth, cradled in the arms of the world he had always known. In the first few days he felt drawn back into the earth, he thought of climbing back into the birthing tree and making his way into the deep tunnels of his own domain. Yet he knew that there was no place for him there now. It was done. One cannot crawl back into the womb after being born.
There was a hunger inside him like none he had felt before. He hunted the strange prey in the woods but it did little to sooth him. The essence of their beings was so little in comparison to all he had known before. Slowly over the matter of a few months, the creatures fled the woods, skittering here and there, anywhere but near him. They could smell him, his odor pungent in their noses. Even the birds took flight and left. He was reduced to digging for grubs, which quite frankly were more familiar to him than the other creatures of the woods. Over time he moved on, away from the tree which had birthed him into this world. His scent still clung to the shrubs, trees and grass, saturating the area with its musky aroma, carried on the breeze it repelled the other creatures and they still avoided the area long after he had departed.
He was alone, always alone. That is when he started practicing the forbidden arts of his world. It gave him comfort to master the old ways. As his talents grew, he soon realized that his power in this world was mighty compared to what The Law allowed in the old. He didn't belong here but he existed and that was all that mattered.
It took months for the others to discover his hiding place and emerge just as he had, scorched by the light, confused and yet mesmerized. The first to emerge was Mitche-hant, the name given to him by the people of this world when they encountered him as creator of the water famine. It simply means "evil one." It is a fitting name for one so heartless. Many thought he died when the yellow birch fell on him but it isn't so. He simply returned to the darkness from which he had originally sprung. All of this occurred before The Sealing but he still exists and he is the first to come looking for him, the one who has escaped.
Mitche-hant, is not alone. Baykok climbs from the gaping hole in the tree with his thin translucent skin stretched tightly over bones. Two red glowing eyes are buried in his skeleton head. His shrill cries echo through the woods but there are no creatures here to flee from him because they have left the woods long ago when the birthing first occurred. The two, an unlikely pair, have come into this world again to find the wayward one, the one who must be punished. Thinking about it makes them swell with a greedy hunger. They seek but do not find.
Many would seek him through the years. Most came for their own glory but some because they were pulled by the lure of this world. There was something about the energy of the light that danced through them and called to them. It is not they that made the choice so many years ago, to stay in the darkness. It was before their time and so they are confused by this yearning.
They end up roaring in frustration for by traveling so far he has confused their searching senses and eluded their thoughts. He is more cunning than they thought and while hating him they also regard him with a great respect. He becomes the Great Mystery that is spoken about in the darkness around the fires that burn for eternity in the bowels of earth. He, who escaped, becomes a tale that is unlike any other, both hated and reveled.
All sorts came forth, seeking him, winged ones and those on four legs , those that slither on the leaf covered ground and those that walk on two legs, those that are higher in power and those that are lower. They all clamor to find him for their own self advancement.
Most stay only for a short time, returning to the region of darkness, slithering down through the tree. Some stay longer, tentatively moving farther and farther from the tree in ever increasing circles. As they move outward they realize their power here is strong, it shimmers in waves off them, glistening with the promise of the forgotten ways. In the end, they scatter across the face of the land, many regret it, others do not.
Much time has passed since he emerged from the womb of darkness and into the world of light, years upon years, but even today there are those that come forth to seek him. What happened to him is the Great Mystery, shrouded in secrecy and whispered in dark corners.
Present Time: Along the way:
I suppose that traveling alone does strange things to the mind because I found myself thinking about family, and history, and all the wonderful stories my mom had told me. I replayed some of them over and over again in my head as if in the repeating I would somehow discover some hidden message. People don't value family history much anymore because with the onset of the internet we are connected not just to our families but to the world. A few months ago I was reading an article about having a strong sense of intergenerational self. How this realization that we are part of something bigger is beneficial. So here I was feeling "lost" in this world; on some kind of mission I didn't even understand and I was building a family narrative.
I'd bought a journal at the Corn Palace and started writing in it whenever I had a few minutes. I felt this overwhelming urge to cram as much of my family history onto paper as I could. It made no sense. I wasted no time filling pages and pages of the journal with every thought, every detail I could remember from my childhood, my family, anything and everything. I doodled strange pictures and symbols, coloring them with a set of cheap markers that bled through the paper. It was exhausting and it made my head throb but I did it anyway. One of the stories was about my grandmother....and it flowed from my pen onto the paper.....
A Grandmother's Story:
Some stories are macabre, but surely not those that grandmothers tell. Yes some of the events that unfolded years ago on that small patch of ground were macabre but not all. No, not all, by any means. Some were simply "interesting." This one was both.
One such encounter was the story of the stone. It is a story that goes back even further in time; in the days when my mother was a young girl. It transpired not on the farm itself but in some adjacent woods that were about five miles from the Silent Woods themselves. Five miles as a crow flies. It was in those woods, covered in brambles, the ground hidden from the light of day by the dense branches hanging overhead, that my grandmother discovered the stone.
Grandmother enjoyed the solitude of the woods on most days but today she looked over her shoulder and felt that she was not alone. She had the oddest sensation that eyes followed her as she walked through the woods on this beautiful spring day. She was aware that the evening was disappearing and that night was fast approaching. She thought that she did not want to find herself in these woods at days end. Perhaps that is why she diverged from the paths she normally walked and found herself in an unfamiliar part of the forest. It was there she came upon the stone.
The stone was large and flat and smooth. Nestled there is the green moss of the spring woods it glistened and beckoned. "What a perfect stone for the flower bed." must have been what my grandmother thought as she gazed upon it. It was smoother than one would expect, in the deep woods, far from the river to the north. Again she had the oddest sensation of eyes peering at her from behind the trees. She shrugged it off and once again contemplated the large stone. It seemed to call to her.
With hands on hips she stood towering over it. It looked heavy and it was slightly buried in the damp soil, but grandmother was not one to be daunted by the need for muscle. Hard work was no stranger to her and so she stooped without a second thought and tugged at the stone. It did not break away from the ground easily but when it did, she gasped and stepped back quickly, covering her ears with her hands.
As she lifted the stone, the distant sounds of screaming voices reached her ears. Voices, she described later, that were like those one would imagine in the bowels of hell; with shrieking, and moaning, and gnashing of teeth. Cries of agony, begging for release echoed from the depths of the earth. They ripped into her soul and her mind reeled from their assault. The force is so strong and real that she quivers in telling the story.
In the woods that day, she shoved the stone securely back in place with shaking hands and moved quickly through the damp darkness of the woods. She was disoriented and deeply sad for some reason. She repeated the Lord's prayer as she walked briskly toward home. Evening was approaching and she wished even less to find herself in these woods at night then she had earlier.
Click HERE to read the next chapter.