The evening came again and the old man sat and watched the end of the day as he had for the many encumbered years. Somewhere he heard the sound of children over the hillside, though if the sound was real or residual, or of things of the past and vanished, he knew not for certain. He had once been a jack of the green; a young and pure fool, and had roved the hills himself with companions now long gone. Even as a young man he had loved profoundly the magic intervals of dusk and had chased the fireflies through the valley until the night would at last put him in a warm bed after a good glass of skullcap tea made by his good olde mum. For a moment, the wind stirred, and he almost thought he heard his childhood Collie dog, abound in the green hillside afar….But of the actual night-time itself, he was overcome by certain passions that ran softly, yet mad like fretless fiddles of the wild wood and made the restless phantasms to which he had become sweetly haunted. For without a good warm glass of fresh herbs cut from the hills to calm his wanderlust, great horrors and fruits of life were alike, and often ran together. He would surely lie awake or be subject to the nightmares of the unconscious realms. Sometimes, he would go a few days without a nightcap of roots and dark liquor, just to test his will, and would often walk in the gibbous moonlit woods that surrounded his home, until the panic would pass, and he would fall into a weary wanderer's sleep.
He thought often of his old friends, and the special times when gathered to his home. Whether in cold winters spent sipping the hot tonic or in the blue of the summer night when it was made chilled, they had always met for the better. It had become almost as a sort of an after hours club, in which the five of the elderly gentlemen sat at the table and had these certain refreshments, and talked for hours about things selective to themselves and their own experiences. Often in the late hours they could be found there, asleep in the living parlour; a place of otherworldly dreamers and of dreams . It was a special circle; wrought from the very hillside itself… Old Olly was somewhat of a poet, often reading passages of rhyme of literature that he wrote himself at the gatherings, sometimes unscripted and at the very moment. He was a deeply emotional man, and had a love for things that grew in the valley and meadows. He had died years ago of a weak heart. Thomas Brambly was a farmer, and lived nearby in the hillside. He first started coming by horse ferry for the warmth of a good tale in the company of the friends to which he would be cemented in time. He would bring dark beer or root liquor on his horse as an accompaniment sometimes to a good kettle of the earthly tonic. Thomas had died of ill health many years ago and was buried beside his wife in a thorny cemetery in the valley below, where a lively stream ran. He had caught many fish from the waters below in his youth. Now, Sam Curl was a big man; strong and forged by the woods, yet a gentle philanthropist who would often sport a wide brimmed hat. He would come in and often sit in the sessions, listening to the others and often adding his own stories of haunts and the spook lights that were rumored to chase travelers who walked the old roads late at night outside the peats. He would revisit his own account with the ghostly foxfires sometimes, always with a straight face and at low breath. He had once been ran out of the old Booley Peats by the lights when he was but a young lad. He would widow his wife months ago, not long after he first fell into dementia some years back. And the old man thought of the elderly Dale Reeds; a great thinker and countryman who had served in times of war in his younger days. He had been a schoolteacher of science for many seasons. He knew of folklore and things forgotten by modern science, and had always sought to tell long winded stories of his past. He would attempt to explain the more obscure matters, such as Sam Curl's spook lights in a logical, reasonable manner, and admitting the failures of science to reproduce such phenomena in the laboratory or under the lights of the very electric lamps in which they were akin. "Let's have a nightcap, men" He would say, and sip slowly on the tonic for hours. He too had died soon after a dangerous and inoperable tumor that was found on his brain. The old man wished he could hear his great cavernous laugher, or smell the scent of his pipe tobacco for one last time as the moon rose above the tree line along the hills like a familiar stranger. But no such sounds resonated as he stared into the night, and he found it exceptionally hard to will away the sorrow and long shadows that crowded over him now......
Somewhere he heard a strange, faint sound that might have been inaudible to someone more fortunate than himself, a sort of small gasp like the last breath stolen of some poor creature, yet amplified to certain exaggerated degrees within own senses. A thick, banded snake was wrapped about a thin mouse of the field that had strayed from its labours to the overgrowth of a nearby brush. It's feet pedaled uselessly and violently on the ground. The small things eyes starred blackly, succumbing unto the very passage of being thrust into oblivion cruel and unknown to mammals and men, until at last met on their own terms. There was a certain creep of terror that rushed over him and crawled along his spine and then to his crown, where it cast ancient fears erupting subtly into his mind as he realized he could hear the very crushing nature of the small bones inside. How he could hear the actual sound of the insides of the organism as the weak frame buckled under the weight of terrible strangulation. The fire of life was now completely snuffed from its eyes and he felt himself die a little death along with the field mouse. He found it very hard to breathe for a moment, as if he had been strangled himself, and then outright turned away from the ghastly spectacle. Within nature there was housed both the growth and decay of cycles. He sighed. Soon the evening would throw back her mysterious spiral horned and starry headdress, and let her wild hair flow in the rouge winds. Both a maiden and a crone she was tonight. He turned and went in a lonely dirge towards the door of the house, where he would make his way to the hallway and then the door of the root cellar.
He descended the stone staircase as he had done countless nights. The scent of root and herb, both aged and new were familiar to him, and he felt his wanderlust ease as he was surrounded by the odor when he opened the stopper on the jar which contained the magical wonder of the hillsides and valleys. He leaned against the wall of the cellar, closing his eyes; he smiled as the atmosphere of the jar alone soothed his very being. On the shelf were other dark jars with other contents and several bottles of good wine. Elderberry, blackberry, wild cherry, and plum flavors were contained in age therein. His mind raced with elation and excite! He opened another jar at random and sat an extra moment treasuring the odor of mint leaves. The combinations of various weeds, grasses and roots; sweets, sours, musks, bitterly; earthy, and they ran, untamed through his thoughts-why the combinations and relations of such were endless, truly endless! He gathered the combinations needed for his nightcap and returned up the stairway surely feeling better than before. He then lit a lamp at the centre of the table in the kitchen where so once was filled with banquet and mirth. He brought a large pitchure of the purest spring water from the hollow stream and sat it on the woodstove in which he had prepared a fire of the sweetest scented apple wood and then began to prepare the table.
He set five plates and cups about in a circle; one for every guest he had once shared. He paused a moment wondering if he was perhaps being eccentric, then continued with his special ceremony. He set the pans, smearing them with butter to be heated with the finest nut-loaf bread in the land, and counted silverware unto the table. Big Sam Curl liked a country cup of cream to go with his tonic, in which he preferred darker rums, and a glass of dark beer. Sam Curl certainly was a dark man. Olly would most certainly want jam, and so he sat a container of seedy strawberry jam at his place. He took a leftover pouch of tobacco leaves he had saved and set them to fire and then smoke in an old tin, releasing the rich smell into the air. Honey from the nearby hollows would do well with the toasted bread and so he set this to the table as well. He took to the labours of preparing the meal which was to be accompanied by a platter of fresh fish he had received from the good neighbors below, in the fields. As the hours passed him, and the soft velvet under wings of midnight soothed his being, it was finally time for the spoils of his labours. He sat, laughing to himself, eating thickly cut toast spread with honey, butter, and jam, and had fish at his usual spot at the table. He drank his hot nightcap quickly, and helped himself to another in seconds. Ah, he felt peace envelope him like a warm blanket and sat, staring for many minutes at the chamber, high on things which had gone away, and things which had passed...
But the warm apple wood fire was to perish, and the night chill crept through the boards of the old house like a fugitive, reminding him of the emptiness of the chamber and of his insatiable appetites. He sat and drank another round, and his mood changed with the dimensions of the shadows waning. He listened for sounds and strained his eyes, looking for omens or signs of his companions. Surely, they had seen his lamp or could smell the toasted bread. Had the essence of their being survived the oblivion of death? Had not some mere part of them at least sustained on, past the animal dimensions of their mortality? But as the cold began to overtake the room, so it overtook his mood and demeanor, and he heard not the sound of horse hooves on the old road, nor the voices of his companions. He saw no ghosts or such images in the room and he was at once staring calmly into the dying lamp. He gave a long sigh which turned to deeply wept tears, and he indeed wept greatly at his own foolish designs. The old man then turned up the last of his cup and shuffled slowly towards his bed, hanging is head in a melancholy deep and dreary. He lay down on his cold bed, clutching his pillow and weeping himself into utter unconsciousness...
He awoke, somehow, in the hours far beyond midnight, as restless as he had been before. He sat up on his bed and the moonlight lit his room from a nearby window. Something was different now. A small, husky shape sat on the windowsill, a black deeper than the darkness of the night. How long had it been there? Was it a large black cat? Perhaps belonging to the wild wood? The shape's head was long with two great lines more like antennae than horns that ran straight up in two long appointments like an Egyptian deity, and it was staring quietly, as if looking to the opposite direction. He stood up, and noticed he felt greater and more vibrant than he had in years! Why, it was as if the feast had brought years back to his life! He walked closer to the window, feeling light and non-corporal and noticed a strange scarlet light shone from the other side of the creature now, behind the thing, and when the head turned it looked at him with eyes that had the glow of the light, yet somehow tragic and ancient. The eyes were shaped like thin crescent moons with the horns pointing down and no pupils were within. They shone, yet were dim in a manner that defied logic. Suddenly he became afraid, and felt a horrible fear in his entire being. As this emotion beset him, the thing's head shook as if in laughter at his weakness- his fear! He was paralyzed- held to the room, which seemed so familiar yet, so vastly different now. He struggled and wrestled with the encumbrance and felt himself being pulled toward the dim red window which was now open and had not the view of the outside through it but instead a fiery vortex; a swirling portal in which bipedal forms seemed to wind in from afar! It was as if they were on strange wind streams above. He flung himself away from it, trying desperately to reach the door behind him to the hallway that led to the kitchen. It pulled at him; sucked his very essence towards it as if by some evil gravity. The thing on what was once the windowsill sat, as if unconcerned by him, and uninterested, it's head now turned away and towards the swirl outside. By God! What was it- it's purpose!? Was it some ancient night creature beyond this realm of existence?! The hallway behind him he fought for, and a great light of blinding blue-white shone from its end. He noticed his own body lying on the bed...How could this be!? Was he in an etheric state like the old books spoke of; the olde books he had borrowed from Olde Olly and never returned? The books on his shelves? Or had he somehow mistook the roots from their jars and ingested a deadly poison which had killed him? A lock of henbane or deadly nightshade?! He now saw forms outside the window, the forms of men; once fugitives and murderers that had lost their way in the hills. Some of them were somewhat familiar and others were not. The hillside he viewed had changed; it's appearance was ghostly and pale and one of them looked inside the window in the hallway, his eyes cold and dead like that of the fish he had had for supper. It stared at him, pressing its hand against the glass, which rippled like a thin film covered it. The man was coming in through the wall! He flung towards the bright hallway and passed the man, fighting to get somewhere far away from the swirling terrors. Then at his feet he saw something sitting, it's outline, spectral, against the light. It was a ghostly collie dog. It was the very collie dog from his youth!
"How are you olde boy-my God, HOW ARE YOU!?" He cried, embracing it at last. It turned its head, nodded, and motioned for him to follow, and he did, towards the end of the hallway where he saw other forms standing.
" Olde Olly! Is that you olde boy!?" He exclaimed in wonder.
"Sam?! Sam Curl?!" He cried..
"We've come for you, Elven." A voice spoke, for that was the old man's name.
"Yes, it's me...Come on." It said. Behind Big Sam Curl he looked into another spiral now, and another was in its heart and it was bleeding with earthly colors, only more vibrant, as if made by greater energy and vibration. The colors whirled around-Moss greens, russets, browns! It was like a great tree tunnel with an old faded road and beyond that it seemed to lead somewhere far off; somewhere he had always longed to go.
"The fish here are amazing and return back to the streams every day!" A voice cried. It was the voice of Thomas Brambly, and lo- behind him was his wife!
"Come on, Elven-quick!" He spoke.
"Quick, before the byways close, man! Quick!"
The old man stepped inside without hesitation, and was off, to the tunnel of trees that whirled within.