And the Darkness Drank Them In
by Richard A. Hebert
part 1 of 2
Fall 1923: some place in Wales
The sun shines brightly this afternoon as I sit on this decaying log gazing at the path leading into the Old Wood. But the intensity of the light does not dispel the gloom at the edges of my mind nor does the sun warm the chill in my bones as I reflect on the abysmal horror that lay along that path.
The old folk spoke in wide-eyed irreverence and subdued whispers of the ancient standing stones that can be found there, such that one might think the very mention of that old sore of the woods would conjure up some hell-spawned minion right there on the spot. They believed that a black, evil thing lurked in the stones, hiding and waiting to drag the hapless into its unreachable demesne.
For many years it had been something of an urban legend, and in my arrogant youth all fear of it passed into chortles and guffawing as we pulled from our tankards of ale, chasing away our dark doubts with merriment while the old folk cast knowing, contemptuous looks in our direction.
Even so, at the fireside tale-telling there was always a sense of foreboding about it all, but nothing they said could have prepared me for the sinking dread I felt at finally laying eyes on the place myself.
A few years ago, our hunting party of three brave or foolish lads delved into the deepest part of the wood, where no one went, intent of seeing the place the old folks spoke of.
Even as we drew near, a sense of dread clutched at our throats and chests, and the dogs would not go any farther and began baying woefully.
Determined that we would not be frightened off by mere tales and stories of frightened old folks, we left our youngest member holding the leashes as we pushed on through the ever-glooming glade to get a glimpse of it ourselves.
Despite our bravado we proceeded with tentative steps, and hackles raised up on our necks, and we barely kept our skittish feet in check.
The outward appearance of the place did not seem so ominous of itself. One could only see an outcropping of massive, greenish-gray, moss-consumed standing stones ancient and weathered beyond definition of their original purpose.
We could not quite put a finger on just what it was that vexed us about the place. It was not the odd and oblique architecture of the cyclopean stonework, nor was it the accumulation of eons upon them that choked our courage. Even the cool, damp breath of the forest was not to be given credit for the uncommon chill we felt. I can only say that dread clutched at us like an icy hand in the shadows of that place.
Inexplicably, a sudden wave of panic shattered our courage, and our bravado gave way to utter fear, and we fled that place like young children chased to their beds by some unnamable night terror.
Upon reaching the sunlit edge of the woods we breathlessly broke into laughter at our own humiliating fears, questioning the reason of our panic. But not one of us suggested returning any time soon.
Sitting here now, staring down that path with great unease, I do not question the reason for our fears now as I had done on that day those many years ago.
I will never forget that day just a short time ago I was sitting on this same log when my good friend Angus McNeal fled those woods from that same path.
As he flew past me I was stuck dumb by his face, contorted by unreasonable terror, his mouth agape with the peal of a silent scream and eyes wide straying maddeningly in all directions as if he were accosted by a host of invisible demonic forces.
He ran into the village, mindless of folks going about their daily tasks, and ended his flight in a headlong stumble finally crashing onto the cobble headfirst and lying there motionless.
Onlookers stood astonished, not knowing what to make of it all. I had been following, running behind him trying to catch up and came to a halt a couple yards away, astonished at the force of his dive onto the cobble.
Blood was welling from a huge gash in his forehead, and already folk were glaring at me with stern questioning looks as if I might be the reason for his flight!
Quickly pointing in the direction of the woods I blurted, “He came from the dark wood and ran past me and I followed...”
Being of decent repute among the townsfolk and a known friend of Angus, I was not questioned. Someone said, “Somebody, go and fetch Lisa,” whereby a young lass set out to do so.
There were the customary “what’s” and “why’s” which I had no answer for, when Jon Cornwell said, “Well let’s bring him into my house and lay him on the table before he bleeds to death here on the cobble.”
It took several of us to lift Angus up, stout as he was and carry him nearby into Cornwell’s house. We laid him on the table and Mrs. Cornwell administered to his wound.
In short order the door flew open and in ran Angus’s wife Lisa. Seeing him lying on the table amid blood-soaked rags and being treated by Mrs. Cornwell she broke into a brief sob until Mr. Cornwell said Angus would be all right but would have a blasted huge headache when he regained his wits.
Mrs. Cornwell had aptly stopped the bleeding and, drawing a needle and thread through the wound, was able to suture it closed at the worst part of the gape.
Occasional visitors poked in to ask the odd question or two or discuss the reason of his headlong flight for which none of us had an answer. I speculated that something must have happened in the old wood but said nothing about what I was thinking.
So there we were at least a half-dozen friends of Angus, Lisa his wife and the Cornwells, when we were all shaken by a sudden piercing scream and flailing of arms and legs as Angus found his wits.
He seemed to be clutched by some awful seizure, and his wail was piercing and pitiful beyond words to describe. It took all of us to restrain him lest he fall to the floor and reopen his gash.
Eyes bulging, Angus began babbling incoherently, spitting out his words in such a rushed way as to suggest that he had gone quite mad. It was quite evident that he was reliving a terrible memory and it was several long moments before he relaxed and slumped into a coma again.
We looked at each other with fright and concern. This was not the stalwart friend that we knew and I feared that his mind had been shattered.
We thought it best to get him home so while he was unconscious we wrapped him tightly in a blanket and strapped him with belts to restrain him for his own good and loaded him onto a cart and toted him back to his own home, where we laid him in his bedroom.
Some of us stayed for several hours sipping tea or drinking ale and engaging in quiet conversation. During this course of time Angus would float to within the brink of consciousness and wail or babble incoherently then succumb to the blessed peace of his coma again.
It was just after nightfall when word came to us that two lads had turned up missing, Tom McGowan and Edward Stokes. They had last been seen carrying shotguns and headed in the direction of the dark wood with Angus. People began to speculate that they did not make it back out.
But no search party would be gathered to go in there in the dark of the night. Plans were made and lots drawn to put together a team of searchers to set out at first light the following morning.
Lisa was unsettled and afraid; so Jenny Morgan. William Keene and I were keeping her company when we heard Angus’ plaintive voice calling, “Lisa... Lisa!!”
She ran to him, “I’m here my love, I’m right here...”
We followed, hoping Angus had come to himself. He stared at her pensively and then looked towards us. He was still shaken, but it seemed reason had returned to him at last, though his face was curled into an odd, pained expression. He began shaking his head, sobbing pitifully.
This was coming from a man not given to outbursts of emotion. Lisa poured a mug of ale for him and after he had calmed himself he sat upright in the bed and with hands shaking and a complexion as pallid as one who might have seen a ghost. He took a long pull of the ale.
After a bit of time Angus regained his right mind and calmed down to the point that he could speak sensibly.
It was then Lisa asked, “M’love, what happened today?”
Angus looked around at us all and then stared off into a dark corner for a long moment as if searching for words or maybe something he perceived hidden there in the dark.
Then slowly at first in a quavering voice he told us the most horrifying tale I had heard in my entire life. Not a soul among us made a sound as he spoke.
“Me, Tommy and Eddie decides to do a little huntin’ out back in them dark wood. So we grab our shotguns and head out.
“We was near to the place them old blokes talks about, with the stones, so Tom and Ed decides to go ’ave a look themselves and we was a bit o’ jittery there, I tell ya, but you know them boys. Tom and Ed don’t ’ave the wits of a jack mule, and they commenced to go poking around them old stones, but not me, ohhhh no... I was some kinda scared about bein’ there and didn’t get none too close.
“Well, nuthin’ happens right away and Tom was laffin’ at me fer bein’ such a nancy boy but I still didn’t go nowhere near them stones.
“Well, he went and set himself down right on one of them old stones and pulled off a boot to spill a rock from it that he had been whinin’ about all mornin’...
“Now, I didn’t see just what happened next ’cause I was turned away and relieving m’self but I felt the hairs on the back of my neck prickle up like an old cat’s might do when he’s got all skittish.”
“When I look back I seen Tom and Ed was slowly backing away from them old stones, and I seen a darkness a-wellin’ up, what look like a black fog or some kind of smoke sort of, but not quite like that. No, it was more like night itself but darker, and it was welling up and just sorta choking out the light.”
Angus paused for a few seconds, his face strained as if he were struggling to find words to describe the indescribable.
“I ain’t fer sure what it was... But next there was a crackin’ sound kinda like thunder, just not as loud, but it gave me a terrible start.
“I said, “’ello what’s this! And first-off I thought that one o’ them stones must ’a broke.”
Angus did not falter in his expressions and his sight was turned inward. I could see he was telling his tale from memory and that made it all the more terrible.
“And then a black hole opened up twixt them stones, I mean a black blacker than the pit o’ hell itself, and it just set there a bit, and I wanted to run, but it was like fear took hold and we was all rooted to the spot.
“I mean, it was like these waves of hate was pourin’ outta that hole. I could feel it grabbin’ at my heart wantin’ to crush it and was as if I had no will to run or do nothin’.
“Tom and Ed then began to scream bloody murder, but I couldn’t tell why cause they must ’a seen or felt somethin’. I didn’t, but in the next second...”
Angus began to tremble violently and his face twisted as he revisited his horror. He began to babble again and the only thing I could make of what he was saying were muffled cries, “Run!! Run, Tom!! RUN!!”
He quailed and trembled and it took several more minutes and several pulls from his mug before he was in control of himself again.
Copyright © 2013 by
Richard A. Hebert
a.k.a. Anthony R. Hebert