Throughout his childhood, he heard all the tales of The Witch of Black Glen. His sisters’ nursemaid, Nell, would tell them horrible stories not fit for grown men’s ears, let alone those of small children. He never believed the stories, of course, they only ever told those tales to children to frighten them into behaving, didn’t they?
“Eat your peas or The Witch will have YOU for dinner!” Nell would hiss at them, fashioning her fingers into fangs and chasing them around the dinner table until they screamed.
“That’s ENOUGH!” their mother would chide her, “You’ll give them nightmares, and everyone knows those are just old wives tales.” Mother would always give Nell a hard, angry glance as she walked the girls away from the table.
The girls would giggle and scream, especially Nan. She wasn’t ever actually frightened, though. Gerty on the other hand, who was only six at the time, would get so scared that sometimes she would cry and turn this awful shade of pale gray. It would take their mother an hour of singing to her in the rocker by the fireplace, for her to finally calm down and drift off to sleep. Neville, however, remained stoic whenever Nell would start her teasing. After all, he was the man of the house and had to act the part.
For him, those years were all a fading memory now. His sisters, Nan and Gerty, had grown and married and his mother had become old and frail. The nursemaid Nell stayed on for a few years after he and his sisters moved away, but with no children to attend to, her services were no longer needed. He heard, through letters from his mother that she moved to her own cottage a few miles from where they lived at the edge of the Glen.
It was a few years before his sisters left home that Neville had been called to His Majesty’s service in the war. Like most young men of his time, he was proud to serve his Country and King. But War was a funny thing. Young men left their homes walking brave and tall, and if they were lucky enough to return home, they were often jaded and broken.
It wasn’t long after his return that he received an urgent letter from his mother. Gerty had left her husband and children in the city to come for a visit. She and her mother had enjoyed several days reminiscing and laughing about all of the wonderful times they had growing up.
But then, quite abruptly one evening, Gerty left her mother’s house and went wandering off into the Glen mumbling to herself about “having to get home, right away”. Although she thought it strange, her mother dismissed it as nothing more than homesickness getting the best of her.
A few days later Gerty’s husband William showed up at their mother’s door. Apparently, Gerty never made it home to the city. He was worried that she’d been gone longer than planned and she had sent no word; so he came to check on her.
After spending several hours wandering around the woods with no sign of her, a search party was assembled. Several men from the surrounding area volunteered themselves and their hounds for the search, but there was no trace of Gerty.
By the time Neville finally arrived, they had all but given up the search. He looked at his mother, her eyes were sunken in and she looked older than he remembered her. There was a deep sadness evident in her eyes. Losing a loved one to death or old age, there was at least a sense of finality to it. But this, the not knowing, not being able to get closure, this was so much worse.
“I’ll find her, I know she’s out there…somewhere. I can feel it in my bones”, he said as if trying to reassure himself as well. He placed a hand on her shoulder and met her gaze. “I WILL find her, mother.”
She didn’t speak, she only looked up at him and placed her hand on his and nodded. He could tell she was worried about something more, but of what she would not say. It was early the next morning, before the first light of day that he set out to find her. Making his way to the path behind their cottage that led deeper into the Glen, he stood for a moment gazing into the uncertainty ahead.
The chill in the air cut straight through to his bones, making its way between layers of loosely fitting woolen clothing like a thousand ethereal fingers. An odor of decay lingered here; the dank scent of moldering litterfall assaulting his olfactory senses. It was as if the light of the sun had never reached the forest floor in this place. The damp mist that clung to the landscape stretched in every direction; obscuring the way ahead and behind as if it were following him. It seemed to close in around him as he tried to press forward. And, though the road through the woods before him was a well cut and obvious path, he doubted a single living foot had ever walked here.
It was just then, in the deep silence of the morning that he heard it. A soft voice on the wind beckoned him forward. It was a voice he knew well. He walked faster now, trying to gain a sense of the direction from which the voice seemed to be coming.
“Neville…” the voice lilted, “Turn back, you can’t help me….” At this, he began to move faster, and with more purpose.
“No….do not follow…you can’t help me now…turn back while you still can!”
His jaw set in determination now, he resolved to move faster still, deeper into the darkness.
“No, Neville…you can’t save me, turn back and save yourself she’s……coming…..”
The voice seemed to float on the air all around him, he could no longer tell which direction it was coming from. He spun around in place, searching for some indication of direction but the turning only served to further disorient him.
“Neville…please…before it’s too late. You can’t……NO!” with a last plea, then the voice suddenly stopped. For a few moments, Neville looked around in delirious silence, trying to get his bearings.
Silence, except for the wind. He listened harder for the voice, for any indication of which direction to go.
Many long moments passed and then, off ahead of him he heard a rustling in the underbrush. He could not see but the noise grew louder as it closed in on him.
“Gerty, is that you?” he called in the direction of the sound.
Just then he heard her voice one last time, a whisper and a scream all at once. “She’s HERE. It’s too late. RUN!”