Run, child. Run from the darkness that creeps like bindweed across the forest floor, its spindly tendrils reaching for your ankles. Run from the noises in the canopy above your head, the cackle of magpies and the call of a carrion crow. Run from the wind that rustles the leaves like something large and unseen racing through the undergrowth. Tell yourself there’s nothing there because that’s what Mummy and Daddy would tell you. There’s no such thing as monsters, they’d say, it’s just a blackbird foraging for worms, or a weasel or a shrew. And maybe there weren’t any monsters back home in your bedroom, in the warm glow of your nightlight, your Peppa Pig quilt and soft toys stuffed under your bed. But you’re not in your bedroom anymore, are you child? You don’t know where you are, not since Mummy and Daddy drove you into the heart of the forest and evicted you from your booster seat.
Are you afraid of witches, child? Do you fear the deceitful hags who whisper strange prophecies in your ear and read your soul like the stars? Are you worried they’ll hang you upside-down and feed you unknown morsels while their potions boil and bubble in rust-bucket cauldrons? Does it bother you that they’ll stitch their little dolls until your body isn’t yours anymore? Or that they’ll pin you and prick you and use your freshly spilled blood to summon demons from the darkness?
Are you afraid of the wolf? Do you fear the lycanthrope, whose tormented howl can be heard in every corner of this forest, whose broken spirit can only be eased by your suffering, whose fearsome appetite can only be sated by your flesh? How do you hide from something that can smell your fear and track your scent as easily as footprints in the snow? What hope do you have against a creature that’s stronger and faster than you, with teeth as big as razor blades and every bit as sharp? Even if it doesn’t kill you, you’ll never be the same again.
Or are you afraid of the wraiths? Do you fear the cold, cantankerous shades of the ones who came before you, whose crimes against humanity meant they suffered and died before their time? Are you worried they’ll surround you and suffocate you, chill you to the bone with stories of their passing? Nobody knows the hallways of death like those who’ve walked them and returned. And there are other things that linger in those hallways, as you’ll soon find out.
So ask yourself, child, what are the witches, wolves and wraiths afraid of? Is there a monster to scare the monsters? Could such a creature, if it exists, be on your side? Or would it be something too wicked and terrible for even your untempered imagination to conjure?
I am that monster. I was born a man but I am beyond that now. I even had children of my own once, but they left me so I arranged their little bones to make sure they never know peace. They say there’s no creature as cruel as man and it’s true, you only have to look in his eyes to know there is darkness in his soul. I am all darkness now. I am the enemy of mercy, the death of decency and I am right behind you so you’d better run. Did you hear me? I said—
What are you doing?
What is that?
Why did your parents leave you?
What are you?