Rain made a rhythmic pitter-pattering against the window, filling the room with the sound of a thousand tiny drums. Flames burned softly in the fireplace, spreading warmth and light into every corner.
Thomas and his sister May were seated on a thick rug, looking up at their father who sat in a large armchair. Their mother sat beside the fire on the only other seat. Their father’s voice carried above the rain as he read from a weathered old book. The children listened, completely enraptured with his words while even their mother leaned in closer as her hands worked a sewing needle.
“…And so the valiant knight defeated the demon and soaked the trees in its blood. Its body was killed but the knight had no means to destroy its spirit. Shapeless, the demon took to wandering the forest, seeking what it had lost. The knight warned the locals not to heed any voices they may hear upon the wind and so the demon was unable to tempt any but the naughtiest of children.”
May looked terrified as the story came to a close. “But daddy, the demon can’t still roam the forest can he?”
Their father gave her a gentle smile. “Don’t worry about any monsters outside. You are safe here with us. Never forget that.”
Thomas snorted. “It’s all a load of rubbish. Demons aren’t real. It’s just a story to trick kids into doing as they’re told.”
“Which they should,” pointed out the father.
“If we only ever did what we were told then we would never grow,” Thomas argued. His father gave him a look but he continued. “How can I better myself and get rich if all I do in a day is muck out animals and help fix up the yard?”
“Thomas,” his father began. “The jobs you do are important to keep the farm going. We don’t have the money to hire extra help. If I didn’t have your help then the farm would fail and we would go hungry. It is out of necessity that I make you work. I only wish that you could see that. May and your mother work all day too.”
“You would only need to keep things afloat for a year. I could leave, make my fortune and be back to help everyone with the money,” Thomas tried.
His father shook his head. “If only it were so easy. If making money was as simple as you seem to think then everyone would be rich. No, for the time being, I need you. When you are older you can choose your own path but until then we all rely on you to keep food on the table. I am sorry.”
Thomas cast a desperate look at his mother but all she offered him was a sad smile before returning her attention to the tattered sock in her hand. Angry at his family, himself and the world in general, Thomas left the room and ran straight into the bedroom that he shared with his sister. With tears in his eyes he threw himself onto the bed and shoved his head into the pillow.
There was something hard beneath him which he grabbed and yanked free. It was a worn book entitled The World of Investments. Thomas lingered over the cover for a moment until a wave of hate rippled through him. He threw the book against the wall with an angry cry.
The door creaked open and May cautiously entered. “Are you okay?”
“Just leave me alone,” Thomas mumbled as he hid himself beneath the covers, his back facing her. He heard her sigh before climbing into her own bed and blowing the candle out. Darkness enveloped the room, suiting his feelings well.
Despite longing to lose himself in dreams, Thomas found that he was too restless to sleep. He tossed and turned but comfort eluded him. Laying on his back he forced himself to stay still. Calming his mind, he listened to the rain outside and the sounds of the wind passing through the leaves around them.
Just when his mind was finally beginning to slip into that blessed realm, a sharp tapping sound reeled him back to the waking world.
It was coming from the window but there were no trees outside close enough to touch the window and there was no ledge on which an animal could perch. He tried to push it to the back of his mind, rolling over and burrowing his head beneath the pillow.
The sound continued for a few moments more then stopped. Thomas sighed with relief and closed his eyes but a new sound caused them to snap open again. The wind seemed to be blowing in waves, sounding for all of the world like breathing from just the other side of the glass. Heavy, slow breaths like those of a man in anticipation.
It is just the wind, Thomas tried to convince himself. It is just the wind.
Thomas’ breath caught in his lungs. It is just the wind. Just the wind. Just the wind.
Not The Wind.
Thomas could not suppress a whimper. He curled up into a ball with his fingers stuffed into his ears.
Little Boy. I Can Hear Your Heart. It Calls To Me. I Have What You Want. I Can Give You The World. You Just Have To Let Me In.
The words soaked into Thomas’ mind no matter how hard he tried to ignore the voice. Fear bubbled in his chest and tingled through his limbs.
“Go away,” he whispered in quivering tones.
An Ironic Choice Of Words, Little Boy. That Is Your Wish, Is It Not? To Go Away? To Leave Here For Greatness?
“How? How do you know that?” Thomas asked. He was curious now. He had straightened himself into a sitting position and his hands rested on his lap. All of his attention was directed at the curtain-veiled window.
I Know All. Open The Window And I Will Make You Rich. Richer Than You Could Ever Imagine. You Could Be A King Among Men.
Thomas glanced to where his sister slept. She was still deep in slumber. He looked back to the window. He was drawn to it, pulled closer by an unknown force. He only realised that he was drifting toward it when his hand reached out and brushed the white cotton of the curtains.
His hand lingered there, unsure whether it should follow his heart or heed the warnings of his head. The strange breathing continued, swelling with each breath until it seemed to fill the world. The beating of his heart grew louder until it pounded in Thomas’ ears. Unable to take it all he braced himself and pulled the curtains open.
He was expecting to see any number of things as the cloth parted to reveal the glowing moon. The sky was clear, stars shone and the moon was full and bright. The forest filled out the background as far as his eyes could see. Nothing else was visible. No ghost or monster, no man or beast, only a faint breeze through the leaves.
Maybe it had all been some kind of weird waking dream.
Or Maybe It Had Not.
Thomas blinked and took a nervous step back.
“Where are you?”
Open The Latch.
Do You Want To Succeed? Without Me You Will Muck Out Pigs Your Entire Life. This Is Your Last Chance. Open The Latch.
Thomas did want to succeed. The voice scared him but the thought of living and dying surrounded by nothing but pigs scared him more. He resolved himself and placed a hand upon the latch. He flicked it open. A sharp click echoed through the house.
Something stirred behind him but he was committed now. His fingers closed around the handle.
“Tommy!” came a squeal at his back. “Don’t do it!”
He could hear May scrambling to reach him in time. “I want to succeed. For everyone,” he whispered before throwing the window open.
A sudden gale blew through the room. It seemed to laugh as doors banged and cloths flapped, thunderous sounds of glee shaking the house’s very foundations. Thomas covered his ears and shouted in terror. The world was growing fuzzy. His vision blurred and darkened. Light abandoned him, closely followed by consciousness.
* * *
Light filtered through the darkness. Thomas opened his eyes to find himself wrapped up in bed. Memories floated into place disjointedly. Had it all really been a dream? He looked around. May too was tucked up in her covers. Everything would have been perfectly normal if not for the billowing curtains that were caught in the breeze of the open window.
He slammed the window shut, startling May. He scanned the room nervously, desperately trying to sort out dream from reality.
“What’s wrong, Tommy?” May asked.
“What do you remember about last night?” She gave him a blank look so he asked again, pressing her for an answer.
“You got all angry again and stormed off to bed. I came in but you didn’t want to talk so I went to sleep.”
“I mean after that.” Thomas snapped.
May looked confused. “After? I was asleep until just now,” she protested.
“Then why was the window open?”
“I don’t know. It wasn’t me, I swear.”
Thomas tried to calm himself down. “So you honestly can’t remember anything?” May shook her head. “Maybe it really was just a dream then.”
Feeling happier, Thomas headed into the living room where his parents were already seated. They smiled at him as he entered.
“Good morning, Thomas,” greeted his father. “How are you feeling today?”
“Fine,” Thomas answered slowly. He was not use to such cheeriness after one of their disagreements. His mother handed him a small plate of bread and cheese.
“Good, good,” his father continued. He placed his hand upon Thomas’ shoulder. “I have been thinking, son. I feel that you may be right. I am not too proud a man to admit that. You should be able to forge your own destiny. I could never live with myself knowing that I held you back from your dreams.”
Thomas was stunned. He had argued for months to try and convince his father to let him go but to no avail. The fact that he had finally reconsidered was almost too good to be true.
“Really? You mean it?”
“Of course. Who wouldn’t want their child to succeed?” his father said with a wink.
These words sounded wrong. They were too cheerful, too flowery. The country accent sounded faded. And why the wink? Thomas looked hard over of the man. Everything looked just as it always had so why was this feeling of wrongness eating away at him.
Then his eyes met with his father’s. Thomas blinked. Had his father’s eyes always looked so…hollow? The gentle brown orbs looked somehow glazed as though a translucent sheen had been placed upon them. It was almost unnoticeable but it was definitely there.
He turned his attention onto his mother. She too bore the dead eyes that filled Thomas with dread.
“What is wrong, son?” asked his father. “You are not having second thoughts now are you?”
“Good. You may leave now,” his father said as he handed Thomas a bag filled with food and clothes.
“What, this moment?” spluttered Thomas. He was completely at a loss as to what was going on. This all had to be another dream. Maybe it was part of the same dream and he had never actually woken up. That had to be the answer. He tried to will himself awake but despite his best efforts nothing changed.
At that moment, May entered the room. She slowed as she took in the situation.
“What is going on?” she asked.
Their father smiled at her. “Your brother is going away to make his fortune. I decided that having one less mouth to feed would make our lives easier.” Their mother nodded her head at that without looking up from the book she was reading.
“What? You are just kicking him out?”
“We are giving him what he wanted,” their father insisted.
May looked stunned. Resolution grow upon her face. “Then I want to go too.”
Their father laughed. “No. We need a little more time with you.”
Thomas again thought this an unusual choice of words. The certainty that the prior night’s activity had not been a dream was beginning to dawn on him. But what could he do?
He did not have time to think before his father was ushering him out of the house. His mother waved him goodbye but did not stand to see him off. May was left standing in the centre of the room dazed.
The door was opened. It was bitterly cold outside and a fierce wind blew through the trees. Everything seemed to be tinged with grey.
The numbness was beginning to give way to a wave of panic. “I-it’s you isn’t it? The demon from the story.”
“You always did have you’re head in the clouds. I am your father. Now go, make your fortune. I have my own goals to achieve,” the man said before moving to close the door.
Thomas wedged his foot in the gap. “What did you do to my parents? Tell me!”
His father opened the door just wide enough for those glazed eyes to stare out at Thomas. “What did I do? It was all you, little boy. You let me in for your own gain. You knew not to trust the words of the wind but you still obeyed. Your reward is you freedom to do as you please in the world. What you leave behind is no longer your concern. Now go. Make your millions.”
The door shut in Thomas’ face. He was left standing alone, not knowing what to do or where to go. He could leave now and pursue his dreams but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something evil had taken hold of his home.
He could not stay here but he could not leave his family in the thrall of the demon. Tears built up in his eyes. This wasn’t what he had wanted. Thomas reluctantly turned his back on the house and decided to make the two hour journey to the local village. He was cold and confused and spent the entire walk deep in thought.
Before he arrived the rain began again. The forest offered him some protection but by the time he entered the tiny cluster of buildings he was soaked and shivering.
He had no money so he took shelter in the stables, huddling into the hay to cry. He sat there for a long time feeling sorry for himself until the sound of the door opening drew his attention. Shifting deeper into the pile, he watched as the old ostler entered with a pitchfork in his hands.
“Who’s in here? I know somebody is. I heard yer. Come on out now before I start poking’ holes in yer,” the elderly man called out. He spoke in a strong country accent and his voice was strong despite his age.
Thomas shuffled his way out into the open. The ostler pointed his pitchfork in the direction of the noise but lowered it upon seeing Thomas.
“Why, if it isn’t young Thomas. Now why would yer be here whimperin’ in my stable? Is yer father around? It’s rare to see ‘im when it isn’t market day.”
Thomas knew the old man. He had often helped him with the horses whenever his father had been trading with the other vendors. He felt safe in the man’s company.
“No he isn’t.” Thomas answered quietly. “He…I left home. I hid in here to avoid the rain.”
The ostler pulled up a stood and seated himself. He motioned for Thomas to sit on the railing beside him. The man stared at Thomas in silence for a short while. Thomas’ eyes were downcast and did what they could to avoid the man’s gaze.
“I won’t go askin’ questions if yer don’t want to answer. Just know that if yer needin’ a place to rest, regain yer wits and whatnot, there is always room in here for yer.”
“Thank you,” Thomas replied. He still could not meet the man’s eyes though.
They sat in silence once again. Thomas was still dwelling on his problems but he was pulled from his dark thoughts by a quiet whistling from the ostler. It was a familiar tune that Thomas recognised from his times tending the horses, listening to the man’s songs and stories.
Stories. The word throbbed inside of Thomas’ head. An idea struck him, rekindling the hope that he had thought lost.
“Mister, do you remember the stories that you used to tell me?”
“Of course I do, lad. I never forget a tale.”
“What can you tell me about the demon in the forest?” Thomas asked.
The ostler thought for a moment. “The story goes that the demon was a tyrant who sought control over every soul on this fair planet. Many tried to kill him but none succeeded until the great knight of legend. The demon’s hateful spirit lived on though to haunt the forest and steal the souls of any creatures it could get its ghostly hands upon.”
Thomas already knew the story. He needed more specific information. “What happens to those who it takes?”
“Well, the oldest version of the story that I know mentions the inner flame of life, an old theory that when a child is born a fierce flame burns within their heart. As they grow the flame diminishes until it eventually burns out and ends their life. It was said that the demon fed upon these flames. It mostly fed on the elderly though since the flames of youth were too fierce for him to control. It would find a gap in the body away from the flame, feedin’ on it until its spirit filled the entire body,” the old man explained.
“So his victims don’t die right away?” Thomas asked, hope and excitement rising within him.
“No, not right away. It only takes a few days though,” said the old man. “Why the sudden interest anyway?”
The question took Thomas off guard. He floundered for a moment but quickly recovered. “I’m only curious. If I’m going to be travelling through the forest alone it makes sense to want to know how to protect myself.”
The old man chuckled softly to himself. “Ah, to be young again. When I was just a lad I was so terrified of the forest that I wouldn’t even go near the trees and I certainly didn’t leave the house after sundown.”
“If you were that scared, did you ever learn how to kill demons?”
“Not really,” said the ostler as he stretched out his arms. He took a flask from his side and started to drink from it. “Deal with the host and you can force it back into its spirit form but to kill it is beyond any man’s knowledge.”
Thomas’ face fell. Dejected, he stood, readying himself to venture further from home toward the distant city. The ostler stood too. Reaching into the inside pocket of his coat, the ostler took out a small pouch of black silk. He held it out to Thomas.
“Here. Take this,” he said as he handed it to the boy. “I overcame my fears when a travellin’ inquisitor visited the area. When he saw how scared I was he give me that bag. Inside is a cross that will ward off all evil. I am older now but I still kept it with me, for luck you understand. You are in more need of protection now than me.”
“Thank you,” Thomas managed. The rain had slowed so he offered his farewell to the ostler and left the building. He began to make his way toward the main road from the village when the old man shouted after him.
“If you are still worried, the church is always willing to give out holy water. It’s always useful to have a bottle of it at hand.”
Thomas nodded but continued down the path. This was all just too much for him he now realised. Who was he to think that he could beat the demon when none of the great heroes of old could. No. It was too late now. He could do nothing but leave and hope that he could live with the guilt.
With each step though, a niggling voice at the back of his head kept asking ‘What if you can help? It is your fault. Can you really leave your family to that monster without even trying to save them?’
Thomas battled with himself. His body wanted to keep going, to stay safe and to make its fortune. His heart could not turn away though. With a muffled curse he took off at a run back the way he had come.
The ostler’s words rang constantly within his head. After a brief stop back in the village church, Thomas retraced his steps home with a cautious determination. The forest that he had known all of his life seemed hostile now. The gnarled tree branches leaned in to him as though reaching out to claim his soul.
I See You, Little Boy.
Thomas froze. He calmed his breathing and forced himself to continue. His mind was set and he would not be scared away now.
Why Do You Come Back Here? I Gave You Freedom. I Can Easily Take It Back.
“I am not afraid of you,” Thomas shouted defiantly. Despite his words though, it was all that he could do to keep a quiver from his voice. “I want my family back!”
They Are My Family Now.
“That is what you think,” Thomas hissed under his breath. His grip tightened on the bag containing the ostler’s cross. Anger and fear coursed through him, fuelling his every footstep.
It was not long until the old farmhouse came into view. The pigs were all huddled in the far corner of their field and all of the curtains of the house were shut. The place felt too still. The only sound was that of the wind through the trees.
He approached the house slowly. His eyes jittered around their surroundings to check for anything unusual. At the door he paused and took a deep breath before trying the handle. It creaked open.
Inside was gloomy. Thomas could neither see or hear any signs of life within. His steps sounded unnaturally loud. Before him was the entrance into the living room. Thomas grabbed the handle and threw the door open without waiting before his courage could fail him.
Three sets of eyes stared into his soul. A fire burned in the hearth but no warmth reached his skin. His mother and father were sat in their usual chairs while May was sat in front of the fire with her back facing it. All three were facing him, their dead eyes locked firmly with his.
“Release them,” Thomas demanded. He addressed the shell of his father as it was him who had seemed the most dominant after the demon’s appearance and so was likely to be the host.
“You have to fight it, Dad,” he begged, hoping that enough of his father remained to heed his words.
His father remained impassive as he spoke. “You must be mistaken, little boy. I have no son. I did have, once, but he died.”
Tears of anger stung in Thomas’ eyes. He turned to his sister. “Please, May. You were still yourself this morning. Snap out of it.”
May’s eyes were as dead as their parents. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I do not know who you are.”
Thomas felt his world falling away. The tears freely streamed down his face now. “I will get you all back. I promise you!”
His hand dove into his pocket and drew out the ostler’s pouch. As he fumbled to remove the cross, Thomas began to chant. “By the powers of the Lord I condemn thee to hell!”
His fingers closed around the cross. Pain unlike anything that he had ever felt in his life rippled through his body. He dropped the cross and clutched his hand in agony, his entire body shaking.
“Wh-what did you do?” Thomas managed between pained breaths.
What Did I Do? Nothing. It was all you.
Terrified, Thomas staggered out of the room and into the kitchen. The three members of his family followed silently. Stumbling into a counter his hands reached out desperately and grabbed a shining knife.
“Stay away from me, demon!” he screamed.
Thomas moved the knife closer to him in a defensive stance. As he did so he caught his own reflection in the blade. He dropped the weapon. It clattered to the floor. A second later, Thomas fell to his knees with his hands at either side of the knife. He looked directly down at the reflection in the metal and dead eyes stared back up at him.
“No. This isn’t right. It is a trick!”
You Have Finally Realised. Foolish Little Boy. You Let Me In, Both Into Your House And Into Your Heart. You Were The Host All Along. Those Lifeless Eyes That You Saw Were Just Reflections Of Your Own. You Are Mine.
Thomas was openly sobbing now. His family stood over him, watching wordlessly.
“No. No. No. No,” he repeated frantically to himself as he rocked back and forth on his knees. How could he have been such a fool? This was all his fault and now there was nothing that he could do.
Or was there?
He tugged at a vial in his pocket containing the holy water. The demon laughed inside his head.
Do You Plan To Drink It? It Will Do You No Good. Not In The Long-Term.
“I plan to kill you with it,” Thomas snarled.
Pray Tell How You Think To Succeed, Little Boy.
Thomas took a deep breath. “By killing the host!” he roared as he smashed the vial down upon the knife. The glass shattered and the holy water within splashed over the glistening metal. Thomas’ body lurched with the demon’s effort to take control but the boy had already lunched for the weapon. The demon screamed inside his head as the soaked blade plunged into Thomas’ chest, sliding between ribs to pierce his beating, black tainted heart.
Blood gushed from the wound with every spasm racked pulse of the organ. The holy water sizzled as it diluted itself in the flows of blood and soft tissue. The demon writhed within him and unbearable pain flooded his senses yet Thomas felt strangely at peace. He smiled as he collapsed the blood-slick floor.
“Tommy! Hold on Tommy!”
“Thomas! Quick, get the bandages. Lord save my boy.”
Thomas heard the voices of his family with relief. He felt them as they tried to stem the bleeding but his mind was clouding over. The last screams of the demon faded and he knew it to be dead. Truly destroyed this time.
The voices were growing more distant. Sleep crawled over him. He chuckled softly to himself. He would rest now and when he awoke he really would be famous. Thomas the great and powerful demon slayer. He laughed, blood spewing from his mouth, then consciousness abandoned him and all became dark.
This is a 2014 piece that I wrote for my Writing: Theory and Practice module at uni. This piece is what really taught me how to edit. It was originally twice the length but had to be cut down for a strict word count. As I writer, I tend to be quiet rambley and also added a lot of unnecessary descriptions. Before that module I had the passion and creativity but was lacking the discipline and editing skills required to write at a professional standard. I’d like to think that this piece reflects that.