It is a dark and cold night; as dark and cold as death itself, one might say. A frightened young man staggers through a primeval forest, amid a thick soft carpet of decaying vegetation. He seems fatigued and rather a desperate fellow. His clothing is ragged and his sharp features marked by scores of cuts and abrasions, with steam rising from his face and shaven head. It is unclear whether some prison once held the man captive, or perhaps several scuffles were lost with giant red thorn bushes, known to grow unabated in this wretched place.
Off in the distance, the baying of a single hound reflects terror in the young man’s face, while a hush falls over the forest’s inhabitants. The fellow sits beneath a giant cedar, with its enormous bole shooting upwards until one can barely discern where it throws out its side branches. Exhausted, it is here, William Strafford awaits his fate.
Led by a large Tibetan wolfhound, a man approaches. He is thirty-five years of age more or less, wears a black bristled beard, and appears rather inquisitive, with kind but questioning eyes. He sits comfortably, as comfortably as one possibly could, on the trunk of a recently fallen tree, while his noble hound lies obediently at his feet.
“My dear William——”
“——we all stand on the web of death, and I assure you, far sooner than later for some poor souls, one of its threads will lead to where the deadly creature is lurking.”
“Of course, sir, but——”
“But what, Mister Strafford?”
“Come, come, now, dear man, get on with it——but what?”
“There was a young woman at the far end of the village who was acting very, very strange, sir.”
“Strange, you say, how so?”
“Well, she appeared to be hiding in the shadows of a flickering light, that of a street lamp, for one.
“Interesting——you followed her, I gather?”
“Get a good look at the madam, did you?”
“Well, it was awful dark, sir, and a terrible fog had rolled in a half hour prior.”
“And this young woman you trailed, she disappeared within it, this fog of yours?”
“Yes sir——and a minute or so later, there was a noise, sir——and a terrible noise it was.”
“What sort of noise was it, Mr. Strafford?”
“A scream——the horrible scream of a woman in deep peril, I would think.”
“So you went to investigate, yes?”
“Of course, sir, but found nothing.”
“It is your second year as a member of the Knights of Solomon, is it not, Mr. Strafford?”
“It is, sir.”
“I would think that you would be well aware that the mist of fog will exaggerate sound, immeasurably.
“Well, yes but——”
“Yes, go on.”
“Well, it was then that I saw them.”
“Who, Mr. Strafford, who was it you saw?”
“Oh, all manner of ghastly creatures, sir——goblins, zombies, witches and ghouls——the immortals, sir; name them what you will.”
“So you fled here, to this rather dark and dreary place, did you?”
“As fast as my legs could carry me, sir, for those immortals, they were the most evil looking kind I’d ever laid eyes upon, they were.”
“Indeed, Mr. Strafford, indeed. However, the beings you witnessed were not ghastly creatures; although, I suppose an exasperated parent may rather disagree, having named one as such, a time or two. No Mr. Strafford, not immortals, they were simply children dressed in elaborate costume. It seems to be something of a strange rite celebrated in the village on the 31st of every October.”