Walking one day on the moor of misty Yarmouth...
Some day on a winter month, with about five weeks of the New Year celebrations gone by, two wanderers set off for Yarmouth where their business lay. They were Philip, and his elder brother Thom, and they had taken a shortcut.
It would cut out a days worth of walking, so Thom argued, but they would have to tackle a deadly obstacle - the famed wood of Chutly; a place renowned for dark deeds, and witchcraft.
The forest was dense and thick and full of brush; all the tree branches were white with a frost, for it was morning at its coldest hour; but worst of all was the mist which hung low upon the ground and covered all things beneath it and soon the road they had followed vanished into obscurity, and now they came to a standstill.
‘We can’t go on any further without a road,’ said Thom. Now he was regretting his decision to take the shortcut, and he pulled his coat about him all the more tighter, and Philip at his side knew that this was not just against the cold.
Now the mist steadily drew in, till very direction became as white as a cloud. ‘This mist a thorough nuisance!’ said Philip hoarsely, but within moments he was overcame by a great sleepiness. Philip fell down by the trunk of a great tree, and tried to call the name of his brother, but before long sleep had done its work, and wriggled his senses away, dragging him into dreams.
That sleep was cold and quiet and long… When he awoke his limbs ached and he felt cold with the dew.
The mist was slightly lessened as it were that, in a fashion, for now he could just see the way in front of him, as well as the various sinister forms and shapes of the trees.
The morrow had passed into the afternoon. The cold was no longer so penetrating, but it was not warm either, and the frost had fallen back into the earth - the dew gone into the skies.
Philip looked about himself, and finally realised the terrible predicament he was in in. Thom, his brother, was gone! Vanished!
At what time he had vanished, Philip did not know; but he discredited the thought that his brother had gone onto Yarmouth yonder without him.
He shouted the name of his brother for a long time. He had no response. He called and called, but nothing happened. ‘The blasted fellow!’ said Philip under his breath. ‘What is he up to?’
Philip wandered about for a bit. An hour into his wanderings he eventually fell into a glade and there saw a sight which surprised him.
It was Thom himself! And he was sat aright on a stone, but he did not move and his face was unpleasantly pale. But this was not the strangest part of it! for by his feet a wolf slept… "A wolf?" Philip thought. "But how? Surely I must be in a dream!"
By the wolf an old woman stood, dressed completely in black and she looked at nothing, save the grass.
‘Excuse me,’ said Philip to her, and he waved trying to get her attention. ‘What is happening here?’ Getting no repsonse from her he looked at his brother instead; ‘Thom?‘ he said, ‘are you alright?’
Thom did not speak - further more, he did not seem to recognise him.
‘Not far will that fellow be going this day,’ said the old women - but she looked at Thom as she spoke, and not at Philip. ‘But what does one expect when one walks in parts like these?’
Philip was deeply disturbed by all this. Dream or not, he couldn't take it no more. When he tried to walk closer the wolf lifted its silver head and glared with yellow eyes. The creature had a hungry look and Philip backed off. The old woman started to laugh.
Philip grit his teeth angrily. ‘What have you done to Thom!’ he shouted at her. 'Answer me, blast you!'
‘No!’ she suddenly replied, rearing on him with her black eyes; ‘I say instead - What have "you" done to him?’
‘Set him free!’ Philip cried, but the woman raised her hand and she said, ‘You are mine!’ Then the wolf raised itself and opened its jaws, and Philip, looking at the fearsome glare of the creature let sheer terror demolish his courage and ran for it!
Philip ran and ran till he was out of breath! but, whether through illusion, or madness and panic, the wood appeared to have no end. And then every time he tried to pause for breath, a singular silver wolf walked out from behind the trees and stood in front of him. Philip could never see the creature chasing him, but every time it stopped, it would appear again from some other direction.
Eventually Philip was so blasted by his exhaustion he could run no more and simply gave up. He fell to his knees in the crumpled leaves, and gave in to his doom. The wolf strode out from behind the shadow of a tall dark pine, its eyes white with pleasure. When only a foot lay between them, when they were close enough for Philip even to see his own reflection in the creatures gleaming eyes, the wolf lunged, and Philip fell down with horror - but that was all that happened! There was no rendering or pain.
The wolf had vanished!
Philip, exhausted and shaking with horror, collapsed and then all knowing thoughts passed from him till he awoke again on what appeared to be another typical winters morning. Another mist lay over the floor, thick as a cloud and cold as ice, but he was lying no more in the thick of a wood, as he had when he fell, but on a meadow of dewy grass. He had escaped, somehow. Escaped? But he had slept! He had not moved! Then he must have been dragged…
Philip was relieved when found a farmer who offered to drive him to Yarmouth, which lay on his road, and he sat back on the cart and reflected on events.
As the cart rolled over the old stones of a little country lain Philip couldn’t believe the strange events that saw him mysteriously separated from his brother. He also felt strange. He felt eye watching him, even though he was on his own, and the farmer was watching the road and whistling songs and pretty much wrapped up in his private affairs. It felt like someone else was with them, sat in the cart, and watching Philip intently, spying on him. He felt tired, even though he been sleeping for a whole day, for some reason he felt greatly drained. He felt oddly heavy as well, like he was carrying the weight of another person, and the very slightest movement on his own behalf left him feeling unnecessarily weary, and sometimes he began to pant for breath.
Once at Yarmouth Philip used half his travelling money to rent a room in one of the local inns - The Red Carpet.
The night that he spent there would prove to be a very disturbing one. From the moment he lay his head on his pillow he could hear shuffling and grunting noises. The sounds could be quite aggressive, and loud, and he wondered why no one in one of the adjacent rooms could hear it as well! The ferocious sounds emanated from door to his room, but strangely not from the outside, but actually on the inside, as though the culprit was inside the room with him!
Yet when he turned the lights on the sounds died off abruptly, and there was nothing abnormal to be seen in any section of his room!
Eventually, the noises were so loud and disturbing that Philip, deeming the room to be either cursed or badly haunted, got up from bed, dressed and prepared to leave. When he closed the door to the room he shook his head and was still amazed no one else could hear the aggressive sounds! They had been so loud, and so wild!
As he went downstairs he noted the barroom to his side, where the lights were full on and yet there were no sounds. He entered the room and saw a sight that would leave his soul ruined for life! Bodies! Yes! human bodies were scattered everywhere! The other in habitants of the inn ripped from limb to limb. Blood was everywhere. And the killings looked fresh as well, as if they had been done very recently. By the way they had been killed, for it seemed to be done in such a savage manner, one would guess that they had been ravaged unexpectedly by some wild creature. And then Philip thought about the wild noises in his darkened room, and new the events here, in the room below, and his own room above, had to be connected!
Wasting on more time Philip grabbed his coat and made for the door. The sign, The Red Carpet, hung peacefully on its rusty hinges, with no allusions to the horrors that lay within. Philip stopped outside the door and looked at it, and thought for awhile about what he should do and where he should go.
He couldn’t go home… not without Thom. He had to somehow find him again. He remembered his face the last time he saw him, and though he looked ill, he wasn’t dead. And then he remembered the old woman, and the wolf - and then a thought almost made his heart stop in its beat. What if all these strange events, and the dreadful killings inside the Inn, what if they were all connected to regretful journey into the dark bowers of Chutly Wood?
Philip began to shake, as an evil thought sent a painful tremble down his spine. It seemed impossible, but yet it was very likely, and then there appeared no other explanation - he had been cursed!
He would have chucked himself into a river and killed himself, to save other lives from being enrolled with his doom, but then a name, trusted and familiar, sparkled in his head like the bright moon leaning out of the clouds and lighting a previously darkened road.
There had been a lot of talk, in recent days, of a certain respected professor, Sir Rutger Heartly. Knighted by her majesties hand, apparently, for solving the mysterious case of a vanished royal relative - Rutger Heartly was a professor and investigator of all things strange… and other things unnatural…
Philip knew what had happened to him and his brother in Chutly Wood was both strange and unnatural, as was the deaths of the lodgers at the Red Carpet which proceeded Philips daring journey into the wood.
So, after much thought, Philip finally knew what he had to do. Rutger Heartly had to be found! Only he could help him.
And Philip found in Gloucester the Professor of the Supernatural, Sir Rutger Heartly…
With the help of directions Philip easily found the house where the Professor lived; a dark and brooding dwelling, a building you would most likely avoid if it lay beside a country walk.
Those people whoever passed the place did so very reluctantly. Philip felt like he was the only person left alive in the world when he passed through the iron gates that led into the grounds of the dilapidated building. A little path of tiny stones led between thick green grass and to the front door of the house where the professor lived. On either side the road, beech trees grew with branches thick and dark with leafs.
When he stood on the stone porch, Philips nervous hand hesitated as it reached out to touch the great iron door knocker, which was shaped out of steel, rusted and old, into a head with gaping jaws where rested an iron ring.
Twice he knocked, before the door opened, and there he was…
He was a professor of his art. A genius he was also. It was his imagination, as opposed to his education, that was the true genius in him. There were rumours that told of the infamous professor as being an eccentric recluse, and these rumours were entirely true of course, and Rutger would never let his life be led in other direction than the road that led to the shadows.
He was proud of his solitary existence, yes, entirely proud of it. He was the sailor of his own ship, the tailor of his own destiny. His was the life of work, of learning, of exercising the brain with new impossible theories concerning the habits and customs of vampires and linichrions and hrinbanches and hofflgytes. It was an interesting job, and certainly not for everybody!
He was someone who had been so entirely and so completely subjected to the paranormal and the merely abnormal that it would take a considerable level of abnormal activity to strike even a single cord of fear in him; horror would have to undergo excruciating exertion on its own behalf if it ever wanted to make an impression on the said professor.
There was also this sort of glow of angel like innocence about him, reinforced by an overbearing child-like enthusiasm for his work, and it was his relationship with total priestly purity that served as his main shield against the vast forces of evil. Rutger was completely with god and for this reason evil had no hold over him.
Sir Rutger Heartly was not young by any means, but there was some strength to him; not strength of pure muscle but strength of appearance and presence. His hair was snowy white, his face was placid and rather gentle but wizened with wisdom and poetry. He wore about his shoulders a tweed cloak and underneath he was dressed in a smart tweed waistcoat with a silver watch and chain in his one upper pocket. Smart brown shoes and tweed trousers completed his costume. Very smart and gentlemanly was this fellow, he had the look of someone you could trust.
‘Let me guess your name,’ was the first thing he said. ‘You have the look of a - ah! Let me guess - Philip! Am I not right in my guessing?’
‘Very much right,’ said Philip, and at once all feelings of fear left him and he turned almost to laughter!
‘You have a matter you wish me to deal with?’ said Rutger. ‘I am interested already! Speak of it. But where are my manners? Excuse me for not inviting you within.’ He waved his arm, and soon the door was closed and Philip was inside that old musty house where the professor lived.
He was invited into a great chair beside a hearthstone, but the professor did not sit. He stood, often still like a statue, but every now and then he was prone to striding about the place, and at times this made Philip feel very uncomfortable.
The oddest thing about the whole, very odd, meeting was that Rutger behaved almost as if he had been expecting Philip!
‘Speak freely!’ said the professor, in a brisk, concise form of speech; he did not dither about with his words. ‘It interests me that you should consider to come so far. Your accent deceives you! You far from Devonshire, presumably?’
‘I am indeed,’ said Philip pleased by the old fellows observations and Rutger smiled in return.
‘This matter must be important to you and us all,’ said the professor. Never did those eyes of his address you as a person as he spoke to you. It wasn’t like he was looking at a human, but some other creature, like a badger or fox had just strode into his house. Philip could see that the gentlemen had a brain that existed on a plain far higher than the normal levels of human thought. He was not normal, indeed you could say that he was mad, but the professor exuded an heir of absolute wisdom, as if there was no knowledge on earth that was hidden from his glorious brain.
‘It began when my brother and I ventured into Chutly Wood, a little known region of land some mile or so off Yarmouth itself. My brother and I, Thom is his name, were travelling south to attend business matters but all went wrong during our journey through the wood.’ Philip began to shake with the very memory of it. ‘We shouldn’t have gone in,’ he said. ‘I knew we should not have done so, but we did Professor! We did! Curses on our stupidity.’
‘Be calm, my son,’ said Rutger, and a steady hand rested on the young mans shoulder to help ease him. Rutger left the room and swiftly returned with a glass tumbler filled with a clear stimulant. Philip drank it gratefully, even though he never asked what the tumbler contained, and then he spoke on with his strange tale. Rutger Heartly stood by the fire and listened…and he listened yes! He listened ever so well to all of Philips words and was as quiet as the Cotswold Stone of which his house had been built out of!
‘He vanished in the woods,’ spoke on Philip, nerves more steady, speech a little clearer. ‘Then there was the old women that we saw, and then the wolf!
‘When I escaped Chutly Wood I lodged for a brief while in a quant little inn on the edge of Yarmouth called the Red Carpet.’
‘I know of it,’ said Rutger tapping his chin in thought with a white finger. It was the first time he interrupted his patient, but Philip spoke on with his intriguing matter, and Rutger listened on as intent a listener as any the world could provide.
‘I heard noises all night,’ he said, and he began to quiver again. ‘Snuffling noises. Grunting - like some wild animal! And in the morning, all that had been in that building, save me, were dead! I saw them all, mutilated as if some beast had savaged them during the night! Throats had been bitten out…’ he shuddered as he spoke. ‘There was blood everywhere, Rutger…’
Philip took a deep breath and sighed. ‘And that is my tale,’ and he was finished.
Rutger continued to stand. At first he gazed at the hearthstone fire, and then he shifted his gaze onto Philip, and starred at him for awhile, but Philip said nothing. He felt like he could not speak anymore, not a single word not even if the professor had bidden him to. So, as the strange gentlemen he shared the room with, Philip remained quiet.
Finally Rutger curled his lip in what looked like the beginning of a smile, then he said in a deep voice, ‘I know what troubles you! Vehnacatalious! You know what that means? It is the Old Speech which I have dedicated most my life in studying. It means, possession. My dear friend, when you passed through Chutly Wood I believed you were possessed by some spirit.’
‘No! This cant be!’ cried Philip, terror ran through his voice. He gripped the arms of his chair and fear had him quivering on the spot.
‘I intend to prove it as well, this very day,’ said Rutger. ‘Do not be afraid, Philip. You did the best thing possible in the end. You came to me! Now we shall sort this little problem out - but first! You will accompany me to a certain place in this house. We are going to have a little experiment…’
Rutger took the rather tense Philip down into the cellar of the house. Deep and dark was that underground vault, but the candle lights did help to light things up, but only somewhat.
At the end of the journey was a singular room. It was small and confined, and there was a constant dripping noise above. And there was little to see except the table and over it was resting some of the professors home-made contraptions.
‘Stand in front of this box,’ said the professor. He had what appeared to be a camera poisoned squarely on the table. Operating the devise with a leaver he took a picture of Philip, just one, and he removed the film and placed it into a silver tray. Then he moved to a shelf where was stacked a series of labelled jars. He took one large jar in particular, and the colourless contents within he poured into the tray, till, the tray was full. With prongs he pushed the film about, making sure that it was thoroughly dampened and then he removed it with his fingers and put it out on a hanging piece of string to dry.
‘Wait a few minutes, my friend,’ said the professor. ‘I put the film into a toxin I call Sello Resin. It is processed from the juices of the fruit bat and when correctly applied it can show things the eye cannot sometimes see.’ he paused, and then with a gasp he cried, ‘Ah! I think it has finished its work. Let us go upstairs where it is a little lighter and have a proper look at it.’
Rutger was holding a plain piece of paper on which was transferred the image he had taken with his photo box. The image had been processed in Sello Resin.
The photo that Rutger had devised looked almost normal, but only almost!
There was the cellar room where the experiment had been conducted, and there was Philip, of course, standing by the wall in front of the box as he had been told to do. But… Philip was not standing by himself in the picture as he should have been! Something was stood by him. A wolf! It was lying on its four pours beside his feet.
The image of the wolf was neither spectral, nor faded. It was as clear, solid and as real looking as Philip was, like the wolf had been there all along.
Philip had to sit down. His face was pale. He could not talk.
Rutger however was quite different. In fact he was laughing and then chuckling, the picture had got him quite excited. ‘Most fascinating,’ he said. He did his best to revive his friend from his sudden tranquillity, but he could do nothing - not even offer him a drink, for Philip, with a quivering had, refused any liquid to pass his lips. He fell into a dead and dilapidated state. But Rutger was intent on breaking him out of it!
‘On the morrow, Philip,’ he said, ‘You shall take me to Chutly Wood!’ Philip gazed at him for awhile, then nodded, and went to sleep on the chair. Rutger, meanwhile, retired to his room, to think, to plot, to rest.
Of the disturbing night in the Professors House…
Rutger had been thinking all night and at the hour of two in the morning retired to sleep atop his bed fully dressed. His hands were rested on his chest, finger under the chain of his silver watch, and his face was one of composed harmony.
His sleep was long and dreamless. By about five in the morning he was suddenly awoken by a terrible noise. So terrible that he leaped out of his sleep and right onto his feet.
Erect and confident he stood there, gazing at the door to his room. It was closed but the light of the moon was shining underneath it and over that light, severing it in several pieces, was a shadow. There was something outside his door, snuffing, grunting, groaning, snarling and gnashing. ‘Philip?’ said Rutger, but there was no human response, but there was indeed a low growl, the sort of noise made by a savage animal.
Rutger searched amid his draws and brought out the pistol that he always kept there (for a peaceful man he many enemies and firearms were always useful in dark times). He loaded it and then advanced upon the door. Just as his hand reached for the handle, his mind alerted him to a sudden mistake he had made on his own behalf. He was without his cross! So he returned to the table where he had set it to rest before going to sleep and he picked it up and held it out - then he crouched down and slid the little slender cross, which was made from a thin sheet of metal, under the slant of the door. The noises behind suddenly ceased. Rutger opened the door, turning the doorknob swiftly and without fear. As he suspected, there was nothing to see save the smooth carpet of silver moonlight, now unbroken, sliding along the landing and down the steps leading to the living room below. He crept downstairs to see Philip sleeping still in the chair before the hearthstone, where he had lain all night.
“Peculiar,” thought Rutger, “But very much expected.” He returned to his bed and got about an hour sleep. He rested contentedly, cross held to his chest. He knew that armed with that symbol, none of the unnatural powers lurking without could affect him.
To Yarmouth and to Chutly…
On the morrow Rutger ordered for himself and his companion a horse and cart, and away they went over the charming countryside of the southern counties and with a day or so before they found the road to Yarmouth before them.
They lodged for a night in a wonderful little inn could the Blue Bottle, and while Rutger slept in his room, he heard animal noises again beyond his door and when he opened the door, he found again that there was nothing peculiar beyond. He ventured then across the landing, and down the steps. The Inn at that hour was quite empty of folk, and all were in their beds and sleeping well.
But Rutger remembered Philips story of the Red Carpet, and so he did not sleep again that night and remained on patrol, a vigilant guardian against the malignant hosts of the night.
Philip was surprised to see, when morning arrived, Rutger up and dressed and wandering about the Inn as if he had never slept a wink. There was a twinkle in his eye and for a man that seemed never to require food or rest, he still emanated a glow of childlike energy.
‘Breakfast with haste! We proceed to Yarmouth,’ he said to his young apprentice.
‘Indeed,’ said Philip. Then Philip fell suddenly solemn and began to shiver and then he admitted something. ‘I fear going to Chutly Wood again,’ he said. ‘If I had any say in the matter I wouldn’t go.’
‘I sensed the fear in you the other day,’ said the professor, calmly. ‘But there are sinister forces following you, Philip. I have said nothing of it so far, but twice something strange and sinister lurked outside the door of my room. I do not know how to end your problem, as yet, but I am sure we will find answers in the Wood, and as you are the one infected, I need you to be with me on this matter all the way.’
‘Of course,’ said Philip, and so after breakfast the journey continued.
About evening, and it had been a chilly day with a world recovering from a hard set frost, Chutly Wood was finally before them.
Grim and unwholesome it looked, full of beech trees, their smooth bark bare of any leafs and their branches were long and lopped and laced among each other as if nature was tying them into knots like they were shoelaces. And as Philips memory of that place rekindled, he saw again that same cold mist lying all over the floor. A chill returned to him at the sight of the wood, but it was not a chill brought on by cold air.
Rutger strode to the eaves of that wood, and he stood still and he looked and he starred and did very little else for about an hour or so. Philip thought he had gone mad!
‘Yes there is something here, beyond the trees,’ said the professor. ‘Goodness knows what. I suppose we are going to have to go into it and find out!’
‘I advise against doing that,’ said Philip. ‘I was lucky to have escaped myself on my own. I would not wish to ensnare you in the same trap that took my brother, Thom.’
Rutger smiled. ‘There is little hope of the darkness taking me,’ he said, and into the wood he plunged. Philip, quite hesitant in his conduct, cold and pale of face, followed the illustrious professor into that place he feared most on earth.
Of what proceeded the journey into the Wood…
At first they found what appeared to be a normal wood of beech trees and there was very little that looked sinister.
When they had only stepped a yard or so into the wood Rutger stopped, and stood as still as the trees and he sniffed the air and then nodded is if something had satisfied him. ‘Yes indeed,’ he said aloud, and to no one but himself, ‘there is something about this place…onwards, I think!’
Rutger pressed on through with great confidence, beating aside the foliage with a long wooden cane he had the privilege of taking with him. He whacked the ferns aside and pressed on like some keen adventurer. Philip drank in a sense of trust and safety from being in the presence of the professor; his strange friend seemed to emanate fearlessness. Philip had never known such daring in any human being, and never before had he seen such bravery in one so composed and so laid back as Sir Rutger Heartly.
‘Do you have any idea where you are going?’ asked Philip, and Rutger turned and replied, ‘Do you?’
Philip shook his head of course, and Rutger smiled mischievously and replied, ‘Then you have successfully answered your own question.’
‘It is going to be getting dark here soon,’ said Philip, and he shivered in the cold.
‘I set out on our journey on the exact hours because I intended it to be dark when we arrived,’ said Rutger. ‘Strange things often happen when it is dark and I am hoping strange things will happen tonight.’
Finally a sense of weariness crept in Sir Rutger and he sat down and put his back against a beech tree and made for himself an uncomfortable resting position. He drew about himself a blanket he had been carrying with him in his travelling equipment and closed his eyes.
‘It is not safe for us to sleep out here in this wood,’ said Philip. ‘We shouldn’t even be here.’
‘Found yourself a blanket and a tree to sit next to,’ said Rutger rather peacefully, and he began to light a fire. ‘Do you really wish to have a murderous spirit trapped inside you for the rest of your life?’ he said. ‘No! Indeed you wouldn’t. Now sit down and be at ease. I am here with you this time.’
Philip did as he was told, but he was so uncomfortable and cold he hoped sleep would eventually save him, and cloud out all this misery. But sleep did not come. Instead he lay awake, starring about at the blackness that was now all over the wood and seemingly everywhere else he looked.
‘Are you awake, Rutger?’ said Philip, his voice sounding little and alone in the wide open empty.
‘He is,’ said the confident voice of his friend. How warming it was, to know that there was someone else there in that awful place with him.
‘I don’t like this,’ said Philip.
‘I know,’ said Ruter’s voice in the darkness.
For Rutger it was a disappointingly uneventful night, but Philip was personally relieved that nothing happened.
‘We shall go to town today and fetch supplies,’ said Rutger. He was his usual enthusiastic self. Spending a whole night in a freezing cold wood had not bothered his spirits. ‘Then we shall return here.’
‘But there is nothing to see. Rutger!’
‘There is plenty see my friend, but what there is to see our eyes are blinded to. No! I shall not surrender, not yet. I intend to embark on a journey into the very heart of this wood.’ He struck the floor of the wood with his cane to express his keenness for the task. ‘We shall get to the bottom of this, my friend. We certainly shall!’
Of the Journey into the deep and of the terror they unveil…
When Rutger arrived at Yarmouth he visited every book shop that there was, and spoke to every person that would listen to him, but whenever he looked for information on the question of Chutly Wood he could raise up not a single scrap of data. It was a despairing search and by the days end he had abandoned it.
With what money they had brought with them, Philip bought a number of days food and camping equipment for the cold nights, but he hoped that they would spend no more than one day in the Wood.
By evening, they were ready to begin their expedition, and although Philip tried to convince the good professor that it would be better to begin the expedition on the morrow (they are burned most of that day in the treasure hunt for information), Rutger would not be persuaded otherwise.
Now there was a stream that ran right through the wood, and that day an old man was camped by it fishing. He talked to Rutger for some while about an old legend and while they talked Philip looked at the wood as if his eyes had been drawn towards it by some mysterious power.
Rutger noticed at the last moment how his friends gaze had been drawn rather strangely to the wood, and he turned and looked at him and asked if anything was wrong.
‘I don’t believe it,’ said Philip. ‘He’s there!’ and he pointed.
‘Whose there?’ said Rutger, and he looked and looked hard, but he saw nothing safe the leafless winter trees.
‘Thom! Its Thom. Can you not see him Rutger? He is just standing there. I must go and see if he is alright.’
‘I advise against that,’ said Rutger, but he could not stop Philip who went bounding like some wild rabbit off into the trees.
Rutger did not call after his friend, he knew it would be pointless. Philip was not going to return. But Rutger knew that Thom was not there for if the boy had been he would have seen him.
‘Be careful of that wood,’ said the old fishermen, nodding the direction of the dark trees. Rutger noted how the fisherman had positioned his back purposely against the wood. ‘Strange things go on in there,’ he said, and his voice turned bitter like some foul memory had been revived. ‘Folk go in but don’t come out… I know that. I have lost friends in there before.’
When Rutger reached the wood he found Philip on the floor and on the verge of releasing tears. Rutger offered him a hand and helped the young fellow up. ‘What did you see?’ he asked him.
‘I saw nothing,’ said Philip and he shrugged. ‘He walked behind a tree and then I couldn’t find him again.’
‘Sit down and gather your senses, Philip,’ said the professor and he patted him on the shoulder. ‘We shall press on when you are ready.’
Philip rubbed his eyes and nodded. ‘I am ready,’ he said. He took his friends hand and stood up.
When they were ready, they walked on. Rutger hadn’t a clue about where he was going but he walked along as if he had been raised in the wood since his childhood days.
When he found the stream he paused and knelt beside it. ‘We follow this, I think,’ he said. ‘The fisherman told me, in his wild story telling banter, that the stream leads to the centre of the wood. I am eager to follow it and use it as a guide.’
‘Yes, well, you’re the leader, Rutger,’ said Philip. ‘Lead on and I shall follow!’
So they followed the stream, and the two companions noted how countryside around it never changed. Always it was wild and rambling and difficult to navigate. Finally they reached the spot where the great fir trees grew, where Philip had been chased by the wolf, and Philip had to pause to calm himself before he could go any further.
By the time it was dark and time to rest they had quite literally got nowhere at all. So they found a place in the thicket to settle down and they set up their camp. Philip retreated inside the tent, and slept under several blankets, but Rutger sat outside, by a little fire he had stocked up. He was feeding dry leafs into the flames when suddenly he heard a snap in the dark thicket somewhere.
Philip, who was inside the tent, said, ‘Did you hear that professor?’
‘I did,’ said he. ‘I would say that we have gone deep into the wood and according to the legends strange things happen in the middle parts around the river.’
Philip said nothing. All was quiet now. Then he plucked up the courage to break the silence to say, ‘You sound awfully cheerful, despite the circumstances, professor. Good grief, what are we doing here!’
‘Finding a remedy to your curse,’ said Rutger Heartly. ‘Now be silent and listen for things.’
‘The snapping could have been an animal,’ said Philip.
‘It could be,’ replied his friend. ‘But then again it could be not!’
‘You’re a great comfort,’ said Philip, then he rolled over and pulled the edge of his blankets over his head.
It was very early in the morning when they heard the wolf. It howled and howled and howled, even though there was no moon for it to howl to. But you heard it in the woods, in the darkness, howling away. It sounded very close.
Both friends were now awake - it was not easy to sleep when that sound was around you. Rutger was still sat by the campfire, which burned on quite happily, and Philip was quivering with fear under his blankets.
Eventually the ominous howling stopped, but neither friend spoke of it till morning.
And morning arrived, eventually, grey and dim and full of winter gloom.
Philip crawled out of his tent, white and shivering; coughing and spluttering. Rutger had been boiling something in a tin pot over the fire and he made his friend drink it. ‘Should chase off the cold and its various symptoms,’ he said.
Philip drank it and felt better afterwards. Then they spoke of the previous night. ‘It was strange to hear a wolf,’ said the young man; the professor beside him nodded silently.
‘Did you see anything?’
The professor shook his head.
‘A strange night it was then,’ said Philip, speculatively. ‘I suppose we better get on and follow this stream of yours. I must admit, I’m glad we have this stream to follow. It’s like a lifeline. We can always follow it back out!’
‘Precisely,’ said the professor.
‘I think if we had just walked right into the middle of the wood we would have gotten ourselves lost, eventually, whether we came prepared or not.’
‘Nothing can prepare us for this place,’ said Rutger. ‘Its cursed. But never mind,’ and he slapped his knees and stood up. ‘Like you said, we better get moving and follow the river.’
The wood could not have covered a great deal of land, but Rutger and his companion followed that stream nearly all day! It was now evening, and they had been wandering and wandering, but nothing about their surroundings had changed again. Finally Philip was able to persuade the professor that it would be better to turn back, but still, they did not escape the wood before the darkness came.
After a frugal supper around the campfire, Philip retired to his blankets in the tent. Like the night before Rutger sat outside by the fire, hunched and strange he must have looked. But he was not afraid. He was gazing at something as well, but what it was exactly Philip was just far too tired to think about. It didn’t take him long to find sleep.
While the night proceeded, the brooding professor was disturbed by a muffled voice. It was the sound of a person crying! He stood up and walked just a small way down the stream to see standing there, most strangely indeed, a young child. White and frail it was, tears streaming from its eyes. Rutger saw it for but a few moments, and then the image vanished.
The professor rubbed his chin and thought about he had seen for awhile. The fisherman had told him a strange legend about the wood and now the adventurer reflected on it.
A long time ago, maybe three or four hundred years - when wild wolves actually did live in these parts, numerous and free, a little boy went into the woods one day and never came out. The mother of that child, frail and old though she was, went into the wood looking for her child but she never found him… later she died, as it is said, from a broken heart. Legend or not, Rutger was wise enough to know that most of these old stories stem from some truth. So he marked this position in the wood, scraping the trees with a stray stone, so that on the morrow he could make his way back to this particular position again. He wanted to investigate this area but with the aid of sunlight above him. He then scratched the place where the child had been standing with his foot, and afterwards retired to the tent.
While the professor was away, Philip was in a half sleep. He would have drifted into total sleep had something not shook the tent from outside. Philip sat up at once, as you would, jumping with fear. He cried the professors name and was thoroughly disenchanted when there was no response.
There was a shadow outside the tent, a shadow of a person, indeed - then he heard a voice say his name, quietly: ‘Philip, I am here…’ It was Thom who was talking!
Philip crawled out of the tent, but saw only Rutger, returning from his travels down the stream. ‘Are you alright, old boy?’ he said.
‘No,’ said Philip, and he withdrew back into the tent. Moments later, they heard the wolf howl. The rest of the morning was long and quiet.
When morning arrived Rutger was eager to investigate the area he had marked just down stream. When Philip had his breakfast, and the tent was packed away, the two ventured down to the spot where Rutger had heard the crying and seen the image of a child.
‘He was crying here,’ said Rutger. ‘I took the liberty to mark the position with my foot.’
‘So what will you do know?’ said Philip. ‘You could have been dreaming it all, you know.’
Rutger chuckled. ‘Very unlikely,’ he replied. Then he turned and said to his simple friend, ‘Would I have made these marks in a dream?’
Rutger knelt to his knees and at the spot where he knew the child had been crying the night before he began to dig away with his fingers. He dug and dug and dug at the tough old soil, and Philip, seeing the mess the professor was making of his fingers, forsook his idleness and crouched down and helped him to dig as well.
Then the professor found what he wanted to find, and what Philip was least expecting to find. A bone!
‘It is human,’ said Rutger. ‘I reckon there is a perfectly preserved skeleton down here beneath this patch of soil. And it belonged to a child!’
‘What do we do with it?’ said Philip, motioning his hand at the bone.
‘We dig up its companions, and bury the remains beside the child’s mother,’ said Rutger. ‘But we won’t do that not yet. No. We haven’t gotten to the bottom of your curse yet.’ The professor placed the bone back down and said to his friend, ‘We will proceed as we were the day before. We will follow the stream, that way we wont get lost. We wont give up till we find the centre of the wood. I think there is a powerful curse at work - and it is keeping us from reaching our objective!’
‘I don’t see how?’
‘Never judge the power of the supernatural, Philip,’ said Rutger, sombrely. ‘I have learned, from experience, that anything can happen in strange shadowy places like this. When we have solved your curse then we will retrace our steps along the stream and rebury the little child in its proper resting place.’ The professor got up and washed his muddy fingers in the stream water. ‘Now my friend!’ he said, enthusiastically, ‘We go on!’
‘You speak as though we will definitely solve this curse of mine, when it isn’t certain that we will.’
‘Have faith, my dear friend,’ said Rutger, patting him on the shoulder again. ‘We are in the heartland of the enemy, where else can the power that has cursed you hide if not in its own domain?’
Philip did not reply. The professor had a habit of retreating into the realms of fantasy and sometimes communicating with him under these conditions was very difficult. I suppose, Philip thought, living in a fantasy world shut off from reality was the only way the professor could cope with all the strange supernatural things he lived and worked among. It took a certain sort of person like Rutger Heartly to casually cope with this sort of work, and Philip did not envy him at all!
So the journey continued, and they followed the stream till it looked like it would never end. A little brown ribbon, twilling, twining through the great trunks of that untended wood.
And it would be some hours of wandering indeed before, at length, they found a very welcome change in the scenery. A rock, very large and easily recognisable, was standing their at crook in the stream; and on it was an arrow sign painted in red.
‘We shall follow the arrow,’ said the professor, but his accomplice looked him up and down in surprise and said, ‘Is that wise, Rutger?’
‘Most indeed,’ said he. ‘This is an unusual discovery. Quite unnatural, don‘t you agree. You know? I think this curse of ours is something quite different from what I first conceived it to be. Rather than a malicious spirit at work, manifesting and perverting human limbs, I think we are dealing with a messenger.’
‘From the other side. I think this messenger has lured us here to this place and has sent this sign for us to follow. We are following the path of destiny! But this is our destiny. Think of how many people have been through this wood before, and yet passed through unaffected? Yet here we are, we two, of all the people in the world. The spirits brought us here in particular, because they know that we are the only ones that can deal with them, in person.’
‘Or you are the only one,’ said Philip. ‘If it is a messenger we are dealing with, they sent me to bring you here. I am not needed in this matter. I am just a messenger of the messenger.’
‘And more important in this conduct than you think,’ said the professor, wisely. ‘You are carrying the spirit that sent us. You are then, in fact, THE messenger.’
‘Well then, let us proceed and see if your theory is correct.’
The professor smiled. ‘My young friend,’ he said, ‘If I am proven wrong in this matter I shall lay down my cane, my life of studying, and retire entirely from my researches into the paranormal.’
As Philip knew that Rutger Heartly would never retire, he assumed that the professor truly was confident in his theory of a MESSENGER from the other side. The more he thought of it, the more Philip began to realise that the passing events of that last few days were just too fantastical to be nothing more than obstacles of mere circumstance. They were, as Rutger put it, walking in the feet of destiny, and where destiny goes, he and his companion, not without challenge, would go as well.
There were further stones with signs to follow, and when they ended there were the many dark trees with arrow markers scratched onto them. They followed the signs without question or fear of where they might lead to.
After about an hour of walking, the fear and adrenalin of their present situation vanquishing all feelings of fatigue, they heard a voice from not far away. It cried out to them; it cried for help!
‘That’s Thom’s voice,’ said Philip. ‘I know it is him! He needs our help.’
‘If he has managed to survive this long in the wood without our help I don’t think he needs any help, not from our hands,’ said Rutger. ‘I think only God can help him now.’
‘We must follow the cries,’ said Philip in earnest, but Rutger would not be persuaded to divert from their current path.
‘We follow the signs,’ he said. ‘That voice, for some reason, is trying to pull us from this path, to lose us in this cursed wood. Then we would become trapped like Thom.’
‘I cant juts ignore his cries.’
‘We have no choice,’ said the professor, his grasped his friend and tried to shake some sense into him. ‘You must trust me on this one, Philip. Whatever that voice is, it is not Thom, or what Thom once was. Close it from your mind. He is not here!’
Philip closed his eyes and breathed deeply. ‘Lead, Professor.’
Rutger nodded and on then went. ‘Be strong,’ said the professor. ‘Do not let fear take you, for it will do, easily if you let it take the leash.’
To even Rutger Heartly’s relief they came upon a clearing, where few trees were growing, and there was a great cave in the centre of what was a very empty patch of land.
‘Profoundly strange,’ said the professor. ‘A natural cave,’ he observed. ‘I wonder how deep it runs under the ground.’ He walked ahead first, but Philip was to frightened to approach it. Instead he backed off. He saw Rutger walk right up to the mouth of the cave and peer in. ‘Not very deep,’ he shouted back, and he tapped the cave roof with his cane, as if to ensure it was stable, and not about to fall down.
‘I … cant…go near it,’ said Philip, and really, his feet were plastered to the spot! Some terrible feeling of dread was holding him back.
‘Yes,’ said Rutger, and he gazed about and struck the ground and the stone of the cave with his cane. ‘I understand how you are feeling. There is a very negative feeling here, in this place. Some tragedy has left it cursed and occupied by some spirit, or force. It does not want us here at all! I feel this strong feeling of hatred, directed at us - and it flows out of the cave. But still, I am going in.’
‘No, please Professor,’ said Philip, and then he did take a step forward, but stopped. ‘Don’t go in professor! We shouldn’t be here.’
‘I will not go back,’ said he, to his friend. ‘I cannot go home and rest easily knowing that I have left you, and this wood, cursed forever! There is a task to be done, Philip, but you need not accompany me on this road.’
And so Rutger went into the cave. Within the mouth there was a wide hall of stone, but there were no tunnels or there didn’t seem to be from a first glance.
There was, however, a table in the middle of the cave, and on it, much to the professors surprise, an adult skeleton in its complete form!
‘So you are the trouble maker,’ said the professor. ‘Now to put you to rest, I think.’
But by the side of the table, lying on the floor, was the body of a young man. Rutger had not noticed it at first and the body startled him. He walked right beside this new finding and studied him. His lips twitched into a smile when he learned that the young man was not dead, but yet he was not completely alive. He seemed to have been hypnotised.
‘He’s been cursed, like Philip, but yet the power has worked on him in a different way,’ mused the professor aloud.
Now Rutger felt a terrible chill. ‘It was the only way of bringing you here,’ said a voice, and the voice came from a small heap of rags in the corner of the cave. Rutger, quite free from the normal humanly feelings of fear, approached the rags and searched among them and pulled back one great rug and finally found a face looking up at him. The face of an old women!
‘It was the only way to bring you here,’ she said. ‘You can do what I cannot do. Free us from him. He is the one that has cursed Chutly Wood, for five hundred years!’
Rutger looked at the skeleton on the table, and then back at the rags that were now, as well as the face, gone.
Now Rutger knew, more or less, what he had to do. He understood what he had been brought here for, and of what was expected of him.
As he approached the tablet a ghastly icy breeze swept into the hall. A deep laughter rose up from the ground, and then there was the wolf. It leaped over the table, teeth barred, it stood there in defiance of all who would go near the bones. The face of a monster that creature had; Rutger saw it, with red eyes and foaming teeth.
This was the challenge Rutger had been sent to confront. ‘I am unafraid,’ he said. Luckily, before setting out on his adventure he had brought his scarf with him! And this is how he conquered the grotesque dilemma that was now before him.
He wrapped his head so that his eyes were covered. Then he walked forward, right through the abominable creature, and in complete control of everything that he was doing the professor swept the bones from off of the table. He heard them scatter on the floor. An appalling wail reverberated from wall to wall and when he heard this the professor knew then that it was over. He untied the scarf and gazed up, but as he suspected there was nothing to see save scattered bones and an empty stone hall relieved of its unhappy spirit.
Philip suddenly appeared at the mouth of the cave, face white with fear. ‘Something has happened,’ said he. ‘The wood has suddenly begin to feel different. I moment ago I couldn’t even approach this cave! Now I am standing right in it! Ha!’ and now he laughed. ‘I feel like I have been freed!’
‘Yes. I’m not surprised. Here look! The problem of this wood is now here at our feet,’ said the professor and he gazed down and pointed. ‘The bones, Philip, see them? Help me to collect them all!’
So they took the bones and set them in a pile outside. Then the professor made a little fire with his matches and burned the bones to ash. As the bones burned, the professor allowed a satisfactory nod and smiled.
‘John Grey,’ he began to say, ‘A huntsmen who trained wolves as pets was he. The fisherman told me the story of him. He was a murderer who lived some time ago, but the villagers drove him into the woods and he starved to death in the cave. He has haunted place ever since. In days gone by many who have gone into the wood have completely vanished without trace as soon as they have gone into it, or have returned entirely mad. People would say that these mysterious goings on around the wood was John Grey at work.
‘There was one particularly grim story telling of one gentlemen who spent the day mushroom picking in the wood, but on the morrow that followed this work he awoke to find that his whole family had been slain - torn to pieces as if by some ravenous animal. He was accused of their murder and duly hung, but I believe that he was possessed by another wolf, as you were, Philip.
‘But it is all over now! We can all rest at ease, now that the cruse of Chutly Wood is ended. The soul of this restless murderer has now parted this world, and very much better we all will be without him.’
‘Indeed,’ said Philip, and he sighed, greatly relieved now the ordeal was over. ‘We need to find that child and bury it, as you said we would.’
‘We shall indeed, but there are other things that we must attend to first! With me into the cave, Philip. There is someone in there that needs our help, and I think he will be more glad to see your face than mine!’
‘I am with you,’ said Philip, and on and into the cave they ventured.
When Philip saw Thom, lying on the floor and still alive as well, he was overwhelmed with joy. ‘Is he unconscious?’ he asked the professor when he saw his friends sleeping state.
‘Presently,’ said Rutger, calmly. ‘But now the curse is over he will soon rise again.’
And Thom did soon awake, and Rutger offered him something to drink out of a silver flask, and as soon as the young fellow had drunk this his old wits were immediately revived. He was the old Thom again; like nothing had ever happened! He was still the old wily adventurer Philip had known all his life. ‘Good to have you back, Thom!’ said Philip.
‘Well Philip, I don’t know what has been going on, but I am sure you will presently fill us in. But there is plenty of time for that later, I think! Now I feel dreadfully hungry, I don’t suppose any of you carried anything to eat with you? I could eat anything. Honestly I could.’ It had been some days while Thom had been in his enchanted state…all those days without food! He was deservedly hungry, and would have to wait till they reached Yarmouth before food was brought to him as Rutger, and his accomplice, had eaten all that they had taken with them on the journey.
On their return to Yarmouth, the dead child was buried beside its mothers grave. Now the mystery of Chutly Wood was finally solved. The ghosts there were put to rest.
‘Well, thank you for all you have done, professor,’ said Philip when the hour came for the friends to go their separate ways, and to their old lives again.
Thom and Philip were bound for Devonshire, to their home and to their family. The professor was bound for Gloucester and to his little private estate in the secluded corners of the city, to carry out his reclusive but cheerful life.
‘I am merely doing my duty,’ said he courteously and he bowed with an air of charming grace. ‘You two go home now and be at peace!’
‘I owe you a great debt, professor,’ said Thom. ‘Philip told me all. Quite extraordinary stuff really. I shall be more careful in future. I will stay clear of Chutly Wood when travelling this way again.’
‘Believe me my friend, of all the places on earth, Chutly is now one of the safest and cleanest,’ said Rutger and he chuckled. ‘But a douse of caution never does any harm. Good luck to you, my dear friends!’
And they turned away to their homes. As the professor was about to board his carriage he looked back at the wood his skill and bravery had cleansed. He did not mean to look at the wood for he was content that the troubles there were fixed; but a strange feeling pulled his eyes in its direction. It was then that he saw the old women again, but she looked a little more content and in her arms there was a smiling child. They both waved to him, and faded until only trees were to be seen. Rutger smiled, knowing that he had done some good, and bade the carriage driver to begin the long journey back to Gloucester.
* * *