Blessed are the dead, eyes forever shut to cold reality. They repose content in the womb of the earth as above autumns come and go, as men live, toil and suffer. In one bat of a maiden’s eyelashes, ages pass, nations rise and fall, pain is had, love goes unrequited, and agony is bestowed upon the unfortunate living…all while they sleep blissfully on unaware.
Damned are they, as I, that ride the night and moan to the moon, cast into dense thickets far from the sphere of men. We wretches roam the wild, shunned by even the most ill-tempered beasts, our faces wan and drawn, our eyes cold and hollow, our black hunger continually gnawing. We know not the comforts of home nor the love of mankind. We are hunted like feral dogs. Mothers tell their children to behave lest we come and take them away. Travelers keep one wary, superstitious eye on the forest when they pass at night, and then frighten each other with tales of us around warm inn fires. Children dress as our race in the harvest season, when the moon is full and the trees bare, and roam the chill countryside in ghastly light, snarling in ill will and confectioner’s lust, scaring babes and moaning for candy. Writers in Swiss villas take doses of laudanum and dream ghoulish visions of us. The righteous regard us as daemons sent forth to kill Christian children, and groups with guns and torches seek us and our demise.
We are cold, hollow creatures banished to hardscrabble limbo, damned to haunt midnight graveyards with large mouths and eyes. We know not the bewitching allure of evil, only the hot need that drives us to drag our icy brethren from the ground.
I once could not stand the sight of my own kinsmen. I yearned to be back among life, color, warmth, love and friendship. I would shun the creatures in the hills and wander alone, too frightened and ashamed to approach civilization. I would steal down from the primal peaks and craggy bluffs and perch on ridges overlooking clustered villages. My desperation eventually became too great, and I would fumble into fields and cow pastures on the edge of the world. I became bold over time, and began wandering the many roads that crisscross the country, my heart aching as I passed dark homes where happy families reposed in loving happiness. My despair would always drive me to an isolated spot where I would sit, sometimes for hours, and weep or brood.
One particular night, I was on the bank of a mighty river reflecting on my damnation. I had passed several travelers on the road, and had been given a taunting glimpse back into human life. I kept my head down, and was able to hear a bit of conversation as we passed.
A young man and woman who would be married soon. I don’t know why overhearing this so affected me, but soon I was consumed with black melancholy, a gnawing tempest so great that I contemplated throwing myself into the water and letting it fill my lungs.
I had just decided to go back to my horrid countrymen when my acute ears were tantalized by some sound that I at length recognized as the voice of a woman singing, warm, light and airy, like a summer breeze.
Captivated, the spirit of the song dragged me to my feet and goldenly beckoned me. I picked my way through the underbrush along the shore, my tread concealed by the soft, cold mud carpeting the riverbank.
Soon, through the tangles, a small speck of flickering light appeared. I followed it into, and found myself in a clearing near the river. A lantern hung from a twisted tree hunched over the water, and in its light I beheld a young maid in a dress and kerchief, collecting water in a bucket and lowly cooing to herself:
My love, my love, where are thee?
My knight, my knight, where could thou be?
Hath mine Lord set thy soul free?
She regressed to humming and dragged the bucket over the river’s still surface. She stood, and in the light I saw her slim, German beauty. Full pink lips, proud cheeks, and honey hair, a spill of which curled above her right eye. I watched longingly as she retrieved her lantern and began started away from the shore, humming the entire time.
“Your voice,” I was aghast to find myself rasping in a long disused voice, “it is beautiful.”
Without a sign of shock, as if she had known I was there the whole time, the girl stopped and turned to me, holding her lantern aloft.
She was too far away to cast any light upon me, but I fell back a step anyway.
“Thank you,” she said in an even, girlish tone.
“It is like that of an angel,” I gushed awkwardly, the words clumsy on my cold lips.
“I’ve been singing since I was a little girl,” she said, a smile in her voice. She took a step forward. “Who are you? What is your name?”
For a moment I believed I had forgotten. “Rudolph Goring.” The name was half-remembered, as though I had once heard it on the lips of a fleeting stranger.
“Like the poet,” she said with something like wonder.
“Yes,” I replied, “have you read him?”
“He is my favorite,” she beamed, “I own all of his works.”
“Even Outlaw Ballard’s?” I asked incredulously.
“Even, but I much prefer Spring Jubilee.”
She moved closer. “Come into the light so that I may see you.”
“No,” I almost gasped, a bit of fear creeping in. “I…I wish to remain in the dark.”
“But why?” she asked innocently, and came forward yet again.
I turned and ran then. To spare the angelic creature my putrescent sight, I fled through the woods, falling headlong over warped roots and slipping in mud.
Her voice, like the starry sky, followed me as I rushed back the way I had come. Hurt, like a bride watching her groom flee into the night, she called my name, the name of a poet long dead, the name of a monster.
© Joseph Rubas
Joseph Rubas is the author of more than 150 short stories and a novel. He currently resides in Virginia with his family. He can be reached on Facebook at Joseph Rubas: Horror Writer.