Alan was eight, and the demon which had stalked him from the age of three had grown up too. No longer a creeping terror whose presence filled the room as soon as his parents had "put him to bed", but a fiendish malevolent creature which waited until he was asleep before twisting into gaping black jaws ready to swallow him up. And he always woke with the scream stuck in his throat, sweat running down his temples and the silence of the room making his ears burn. He was terrified that he would wake one day upright in his bed with its race car duvet, face to face with the monster, a hideous beast who smiled like the man in the moon, a grin of someone who is hungry and is about to tuck into his meal. He would wake up facing the monster and he couldn't call for help because his voice was too frightened to leave his neck. Alan cried a lot, and sometimes he shook so viciously he would become tangled in his bed, sweat sticking to his body, writhing to get free of the sheets and run into the fields outside his window at the back of the house.
Although a genuinely pleasant little boy, he never seemed to smile, he had a pale face, and when many mothers would tell him he would break hearts when he was older, a fleeting whisper of a grin would cross his lips, but that was all. In fact, he was the image of his father, a tall, handsome man, a charmer whose face seemed to hide a tale or two. People he met nearly always noticed that he never talked as much as he could. He was a nice, kind man they said, but they always felt he was holding something back, it was like he knew some big secret but no one else was in on it. Alan's father married young (twenty), to a fair haired woman named Laura, and after many years of saving, they were able to move into a house that seemed to want them as much as they wanted it,
"Oh, Tom, its beautiful."
And it was. A large country cottage which used to be a farmhouse, it had servants quarters next to it which were knocked through making the house almost twice its original size. It would need a bit of decorating before the Griffiths' could call it home. For a start, the place had hardly been used since the 1930's The farmer sold it to finance a move to the city where he had planned to start a business fixing machinery. "The money's in industrial machinery these days," he had told anyone who'd cared to listen, "An' I want to make as much money as possible. Heh."
Of course the villagers had a different story to tell. As you know, every collective group of houses has its percentage of gossips, if it didn't, then you really couldn't call it a village. Apparently the farm wasn't doing as well as it had before the disappearances of the children in the nearby woods, disappearances which the farmer Miller got scared about. Scared because he couldn't find out what or who was causing these kids to wander into the fields and the woods, and because he couldn't actually find the kids. And sooner or later (sooner in this case) people would start asking questions about a childless middle aged farmer, uncomfortable questions which Miller didn't want to answer. Questions about his wife's death, about his past, even about his sexuality. He didn't realize that hiring strapping young lads to help about in the summer was such a crime, but then, he didn't want to hang around and find out, or so the story goes.
The farmhouse and the extra quarters were put up for sale in 1936 and became the foundations for many of the more frightening ghost stories that Gallseth Latch produced. The name of the village was born of a traveling farmhand's visit to the town of Raeseth Hill in 1733, whereupon he drunkenly made a bet he could stay alive in the thickest of the villages' woods for a week with nothing but the clothes on his back and the bottle of whisky in his bag. Needless to say the silly bugger stumbled out after three days malnourished and hallucinating after eating two burnt mushrooms and a pine cone. He was apparently shouting the words "gollseth lactch" after they appeared to him in a dream, telling him he was at some sort of gate and he couldn't open it because his mind "was full of questions." He became a folk hero of sorts after he left, and the townspeople, prone to superstition and the like, took the fellows words and named a section of their town in his honor. Parents would warn their children of the dangers of the Latch Woods, but all would remember fondly the simple man who had come along and named it for them.
There was an enormous field at the back of the cottage, below what was later to become Alan's bedroom. This field led to the densest woods Tom had ever seen, so large were the trees that Alan was not allowed within fifty yards of them. Not that he minded, not at first anyway. These were the Latch Woods were Nathaniel Stephenson had stumbled out of, crying his cryptic words of far more significant meaning than he, or anyone else could possibly understand. So to speak.
Three different doctors had diagnosed the "problem" with Alan's increasingly erratic and panicky behavior. He was forever looking behind himself. Sometimes his parents could see him out of the corner of their eyes, twisting sharply as if trying to catch his shadow. If they closed his closet door at night he would open it when they had gone, and he always denied doing this, saying it was some sort of monster or something. The doctors each simply put it in different ways, broken down it meant the same: "Nightmares, all kids have them, its just a phase. You know, the bogeyman, the thing-in-the-closet, and the all time classic, the-thing-under-the-bed. It'll pass soon enough. Always does." One even said, "If it don't, call the Ghostbusters," and laughed.
Tom had taken Alan for walks in the field for almost five years before Alan became obsessed with the trees which seemed to be as large as the cottage itself. They would walk through the long grass around the west side of the field and around and back to the back door of the cottage where Laura would be waiting for them with a tall glass of milk, or if he was lucky, coke. It wasn't a fixture, something that had to be done every Sunday after tea or anything, but before Alan started school at the age of five his dad would take him whenever he asked, or whenever Tom felt like it.
Sometimes at night Alan would stare at the woods for hours, there seemed to be a faint path waiting for the heavy feet of a rambler to come wandering along, to take them into the trees, but Alan never saw anyone come or go, and he watched like a hawk.
It was kind of funny that no one believed there was a monster in his closet. No one. But the door was always ajar in the mornings, well, either ajar or completely open. Always. Then one day on a hot summer afternoon, a thought dawned on the boy, it was kind of weird the way the boy could work some things out almost without thinking, but other times he would take hours trying to work out a simple puzzle. He got the feeling people sometimes get when they see the answer to an anagram, or when they remember a name of an old acquaintance. Alan finally pulled the words from the air that had been flickering light and dark in his mind for a few days now.
Why am I not allowed near the woods? Is it because there are monsters in the woods? But Daddy says that monsters don't exist, even though I know they do. The monster is in my closet not in the woods, so if I go to the woods I can be safe.
Surely one of the weakest arguments for leaving the safety of his room and heading towards the trees, but something inside his closet -- inside his head -- convinced the only person capable of stopping Alan going into the woods, Alan himself. If his father thought it was an extremely bad idea, something else at work -- or at play -- thought it was an extremely good idea. And, it did a far better job of winning the boy's vote. Alan was far from stupid, and he had never made a rash decision in his life regarding anything at all. Part of the deal with quiet people is they think first. But something had made his mind up for him, and now he was helpless to stop the inevitable flow of events which would carry him along like an empty raft on a river.
When Tom Griffiths was seven, he dreamed he saw his little brother run towards some black woods behind a farmhouse. He remembered the dream for the rest of his life because he didn't have a little brother. The only time he dreamed it again was the night Alan Griffiths died.
In the dream, no wind blew the trees, and no moon lit the sky when the little boy vanished into the trees like a mouse crawling into a bush. Through the first row of gangly, grinning tree-creatures and into the black gaping jaws of insanity.
The scream which ended the nightmare woke Tom and carried on; then silence. Laura was asleep, but he knew his son wasn't. He ran to Alan's room and was terrified, but not surprised, to find it empty. That empty helpless feeling of pure dread rose in his stomach like the acid-bile of a bad hangover. He didn't want to do this, yet some invisible force pushed him towards the window. He felt his heavy legs rise and fall. His head seemed to be floating away and was no longer a part of his body. His eyes became blurred; they partially cleared when he got to the window, but his field of vision was impaired by a frame of light smoke, like the cheap dream effects in the movies.
Alan looked up into the sky, and the moon which had guided his way thus far was gone, not behind some cloud or anything, just gone. Alan didn't care though. He was nearly there now. Whatever had wanted him to leave his room and come this way on this night was going to meet him in the woods and show him how to defeat the monster in his closet. Dressed in his duffle coat and wellies, panting, sweating, a sickly taste in his mouth, he felt something twinge inside, and for a split second he could hear his own mind cry out. "Stop," it said, "the reason that monsters are real and exist is because you can't get away, no one can. That's why they are monsters. You're not supposed to escape, because you're not supposed to be there in the first place." Then it was gone, and with it Alan's sane mind.
The black evil swept through the trees in a smoking mist. It entered the boy through the hole in his face: the open mouth of the screaming child. Alan understood right at the end. They always did. They got the chance to look into their own souls and saw what was buried in there, what was devoured by the evil.
The moon. The moon was his mind and the moon was the monsters and all three were the same. The evil fed on pure innocence, a simple and pure love found only in the heart and mind of a child. A place were there truly were no questions. The three forces were separated once, but not anymore. The problem with the mind being so young and inexperienced was that it was immature, therefore the moon too was immature, so were the monsters. And because they hadn't grown up fully either, they made a mess.
In 1967, a young fellow named Luke Russell, who lived at the back of the woods (you could say he lived at the end of the exit path), walked into the trees on the path from the bottom of his garden, it was a sunny Saturday afternoon when he found the blood-dried, decaying corpse of a dead child. Its face was mangled, but Luke thought he could see some sort of twisted grin. He couldn't really tell.
In 1998, Luke Russell stared out at the sky after waking from a nightmare, they came all the time now. The sky was moonless, but there was a glowing light coming from the woods. Luke ran downstairs, put his boots and overcoat on quickly and burst out of his house heading for the tall, black trees. A figure was approaching him, it was small. Luke screamed as the moon in the sky turned itself on and shone onto the little boy, brighter than ever.
The boys hair was white, he was laughing like a maniac, jumping up and down like some sort of insane goblin, he was ripping his own hair out as he ócreamed at Luke.
"Thu moon! You'll never see! You can't escape! ---- The monsters are real! That's why! ---- Monsters! No, you cannot see! You old of mind!"
The thing fell to the floor and clawed at its own face, cackling as the blood flowed down its cheeks from the patches on its head were the skin had come off. It dropped, slobbering to the floor, inhuman eyes darting everywhere. It howled, and then it was dead.
Luke looked up at the moon, he had led a simple life,
shut off from the world, he was still innocent in a way, he'd
lived in the house all his life. No parents. He was just like a big
kid. He saw the man in the moon, the man was laughing. He
knew his demons were waiting for him in the woods.
© 2001 Kevin Taylor, all rights reserved
appears here by permission
I'm mainly influenced by Stephen King and Michael Marshall Smith. This is my first piece of work that is not comedy, that being my preferred genre. I kept the dialogue sparse with thinly drawn characters whose lives are not empty, but something off kilter. I kept it short because a long winded story wouldn't have worked. I want to thank you for reading it at all. It means a lot to me, possibly more than you could imagine. I really appreciate feedback because my age group doesn't really give honest opinions of its peers' work. firstname.lastname@example.org.