Drink. This was how my days started, and how they ended. Of course, the days of looking eye to eye with the bottle were never my proudest, but of course, who was to blame? Myself? Circumstances that were outside of my control? Who knew? I sat upon the leather chair, feeling the grooves of the handle with a shaking hand, slowly but steadily reassuring that what I felt was in fact, real.

It called to me. The blood-red swill swirling in circles inside the glass, a mesmerising whirlpool of ruby nectar whispering my name. Dionysus, Bacchus, it whispered. Lose yourself, come to me. I tried to resist, to break free of the soft whisper – the evil snake that invaded and perused the very fibre of my being, but to no avail. Her face would always prove to be at the forefront of my mind. Blue eyes that sparkled with a fire that superseded St. Elmo’s, a voice soft-spoken, yet spoke with the authority and clarity that could rival a general. And her lips! Twin fruits, redder than the reddest pomegranate-

No more.

I silenced the liquid siren’s call and drank the wine. It scalded my throat, the fire trickling slowly, ever so slowly down like liquid magma, before settling warm within my stomach. I sighed, content. Perhaps, tonight my demons would flee, and the horrors would fade. Staring into the roaring fireplace, I watched the flames flicker and dance wildly, an exotic tango of shadows and fire being performed before me.

I sighed, and with a flourish downed the remainder of my wine. I savoured the warmth it gave me, craving the blissful blanket of dullness that covered my senses. I sauntered from the chair towards the window and helped myself to another glass of wine. Frowning, I looked out towards the courtyard, watching how the garden seemed to pulse in the moonlight. Perhaps with such a sight the nightmares would end.

Frowning, I squinted at the distance beyond the courtyard. Standing upon the hill of the land behind me stood a small, decrypt tree. The leaves had long withered from the branches, and yet it still stood. Perhaps it was just the alcohol, but I could have sworn that there was a flicker of movement near the trunk. With a hiccup and a pull of my coat, I set myself for the hill.

The walk to the tree was an excruciating one – as I struggled for breath, I noticed the finger my wedding ring was on had turned a slight blue. Swearing profusely, I took the final steps up the hill to face the intruder. Up close it was grotesque. The bark stank of damp and rot, the branches gnarled and twisted. Heaving, I realised that the tree would have to be removed, and soon. Turning away to leave, I paused to see a crow flutter to a halt on the tree. Darker than the night itself, the only way the crow was detected by my eyes was by the pale reflection of the moon within its eye, and the sharp clack of its beak. The very air around the bird seemed to be heavy, and the where it perched seemed to darker than the rest of the tree.

“Don’t get too comfortable there, my friend,” I said. “That thing is going down as soon as I get the chance to cut it.”

Caw! The bird answered sharply, and dived from the branch, claws extended towards my face. I swore, and lashed out at the crow. Its claws raked my skin, leaving deep bloody furrows in my forearm.

“You bloody nuisance, wait until I get the-” my words cut short as I lost my balance and the world spun. My head cracked against the ground, and spots danced in front of my eyes. I gasped as the pain in my arm throbbed, once, twice, thrice, as the crow began to peck at the trails it had left in my arm. The pain was simply too much, and I succumbed to the darkness.

 

Pain. My arm throbbed, and my chest ached. I groaned, opening my eyes to find myself surrounded by trees. Thin moonbeams peeked through the thick tangle of branches – thin enough to let me see through the darkness, and yet they were of no help. With my heart pounding and sweat trickling slowly down my brow, I inspected my surroundings even closer. Above the pounding of my heart a faint rustling could be heard within the trees.

“Hello?” I called out, mouth dry. There had to be someone nearby to explain this madness. The rustling continued, and the sharp crack of twigs snapping, as the sound got closer and closer. “Show yourself, this isn’t funny anymore.” My breath was laboured, arm still throbbing in time with my heart.

This was when a girl, no older than ten, stepped out from behind the trees. Dressed in a simple white gown, feet bare and caked with mud, she stopped and regarded me with a curious – yet cautionary interest. Her green eyes shone like a cat’s in the low light, showing nothing but wariness as she slowly circled around me. She never moved closer, but watched me as a lion may stalk its prey.

“Hello little girl,” I said. Trying to smile, I made my voice as soothing as possible. There had to be some explanation to this madness. “Can you help me find my way back home?”

She giggled, a high pitched eruption that seemed to bubble from deep down within her chest. She nodded, and held out her hand. Perhaps I would be saved from this nightmare after all. I took her hand and gasped. Her hand was like ice! It would not do to have her in the cold. As soon as we found our way out I would have words with her parents.

“Why are you out so late? Won’t your parents be worried?” I asked, baffled at her actions. Instead, she simply regarded me with a cool look, and tilted her head as we continued to walk through the forest. Ahead, I could see the light beaming through the forest, and I knew that she had found the exit. Curiously, I found that my arm ached no longer, although the wounds were deep trails in my arm. I felt a tug on the sleeve of my coat, and looked down. The girl looked at me with huge, expectant eyes and pointed to the distance. I followed her gaze and saw a beaten down house, an exhausted shack that paint was peeled and the stench of rotting wood could be smelled from where I was standing.

“Is that where you live?” I said, lip curling at the sorry-looking carcass of a house.

She nodded.

“Well, let’s get going.” And with that declaration, we set off towards the house.

Inside. The house was a sea of cobwebs and dust, and the wooden floorboards creaked with my every step. I took the child’s hand closely into mine, and held tighter. The air of the house was thick with musk, and it seemed harder to breathe with each step I took. The child squeezed my hand, and pointed. A flight of wooden stairs curled upwards to the next floor.

“Are your parents up there?” I said, eyeing the rickety stairs. My hair had stood up on my arms, my stomach churning. Something wasn’t right. A sense of unease crept through me as I stalked up the stairs, hearing the groan of the steps. The girl was right behind me, a tiny creak to the huge groan of my step. The room was empty, no doors but simply a cluster of mirrors placed upon the walls. I could see myself from one, two, three different angles and yet-

Within the mirror I beheld a horrible vision! The child I was with was no longer a child, but a creature in white tattered rags and covered in dirt. Its eyes were swarming with maggots and hair was teeming with spiders. I yelled, and looked at the child. She furrowed her brow, confused. Heart pounding, I grabbed her hand and ran towards the stairs – until a hand grabbed my coat, jerking me to a stop. I looked back, and saw that the hand protruded from the mirror and was dragging me closer. The girl giggled softly, and pointed above. I looked up and couldn’t believe my eyes.

“Lutesse?” My heart pounded. With hair darker than the crow’s feathers and eyes as red as blood lay my wife, spread-eagled on the ceiling, a picture of demonic grace. She stared at me with blank, sightless eyes as slowly she raised her hand and pointed to her wedding ring.

“To death do us part” she rasped. She spoke with a tenderness that stilled my beating heart.

I felt the sharp tug of my coat again, and saw the girl giggle. The creature in the mirror pulled and pulled, the girl giggled and pointed, Lutesse whispered. My limbs were like ice, my blood frozen in my veins as I beheld the horror unfolding. The little girl prised my jaw open, and as she did I saw her throat convulse, and a spider crawled out of her maw. Taking it in a delicate hand, she pushed it towards my open jaw. I thrashed and screamed, but the creature in the mirror and the girl had a grip of iron. She pushed the spider into my jaw and-

I started, spilling my wine in the process. I was back in my study, the fire had died down. Heart pounding, I pulled my sleeve and ran my fingers along my arm. No claw marks, no wounds. Collapsing back into my chair, I sighed. No more drinking – at least for a while. It was only when my eyes closed, I felt my throat pulse.

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