As we draw closer to the Witching Hour, perhaps I should tell you a story of an event that happened in the North West of England in the small and often overlooked town of Slayford. This is no urban legend, there are realms other than our own unremarkable twilit plane of existence and some days, should you press an ear too close to those gossamer walls you may hear their siren melody. Of course the idea of multiple hidden dimensions purring in rhythm with this one is not strange to those celebrated theologians and philosophers who have devoted centuries of study to such things. But even they, I fear, would balk and recoil at the suggestion of parallel hearts that blackly beat in abhorrent concordance. I shall grant you this much, such dreadful worlds are few. But the doors and pathways between are many.
And so it was that almost one year ago on a treacherous October 30th night, Jeff Sargent fetched up at the Speckled Hen public house. Driving conditions were poor and for the past hour his car radio had chanted a litany of weather warnings. Sargent thought it prudent to seek temporary refuge and allow the storm to abate before continuing his journey. There was nothing unique about the Speckled Hen though I should say it exhaled a certain rustic charm, all wide oaken beams and polished horse brasses. In addition, this establishment enticed a more mature clientele as was conveyed by the absence of a games table and jukebox. Sargent, conscious of mixing rain slickened roads with alcohol ordered himself a mere half pint of Old Smoothie ale and to accompany the beverage on its thermic descent, a baked potato. Then to pass the time before the arrival of his food he conducted a lazy head-count and numbered his fellow patrons at less than a dozen, all either chatting football, rustling an Evening News or forlornly searching for absolution in the dying foam of an empty beer glass.
Presently, his wandering attention came upon a wall flickering in the comforting glow of an open fireplace. There hung a collection of framed pictures capturing the local landscape from years never to pass our way again. Sargent worked at Manchester's Central Library where among his general administrative duties he conducted tours and delivered speeches to prospective benefactors and visitors alike. He was also in the midst of compiling a book on North West legends. Most of the pictures he knew well; the abandoned Picturedrome cinema, affectionately dubbed 'The Bug Hut' and wildly popular in the 1930's - 40's; an actual print of the infamous work house in Denbrook, the site of which is said to be haunted by the ghosts of neglected and exhausted child labourers to this day. I can tell you that it is, for I have seen the children myself. Some say to see them is a portent, a prelude to tragedy but I cannot verify the truth of this local superstition.
One picture, hitherto unseen stopped him: Woden's Den. A scratched and browning photograph, but undoubtedly authentic. Sargent had previously uncovered only an archaic etching of the place, indeed his research had uncovered very little save for the name, derived from the term 'wodarn' and the site's previous incarnation as Wodarnforde. Sargent's historical digging unearthed tales of a hermit and worse, coarse pagan rituals presided over by malign witches. Such delirium and speculation, yet he perceived a kernel of truth did slumber at the centre of those tales. He fumbled in the pocket of his nylon jacket and withdrew a mobile phone determined to record a reference using the integrated camera. Perhaps his gracious host and owner of the Speckled Hen knew of the picture's origin. Perhaps he would even care to broker a sale...
"Yer like 'em, ay?"
The man, seated at a table by the wall and directly at Sargent's side, did not remove his attention from a half drunk pint of ale.
"I do, very much so." Sargent took a photograph; the image appeared dark and lacking definition. He tried another, identical outcome and resolved to try manipulating the image on his personal computer once safely home. Sargent put the phone away then tapped the picture glass with his finger nail. "This one's a place called Woden's Den. I've never been up there, just a shame it's gone now."
"Gone?" The man still did not look up, an old man crumpled inside a grotty and disintegrating overcoat. A note of contempt crept into his phlegmy voice.
"Yeh, I believe it used to be a quarry. It's been filled in now and built on. Probably a bloody car park or something."
"Yer can't 'fill in' Woden's Den. Iz there. If yer lookin' fer Woden's Den you'll find it. Now go 'n eat yer jacket spud, 's ready..."
Sargent retired to a table on the other side of the room, stealing glances at the unmoving old man in the unravelling woollen hat. Of course he might correctly guess the emerging food would be bound for the pub's most recent arrival, may even have overheard the order given. That his bold pronouncement was delivered a full five seconds before Sargent's meal departed the kitchen defied the tethers of reasonable explanation. In fact, so unspooled by the incident, Sargent left the Speckled Hen behind forgetting to ask his courteous host about the extraordinary picture and never did return to correct this oversight. As for the oldster, he did not mark Sargent's exit into the failing storm. But then, why should he?
The following day at the magnificent domed Central Library standing sentry over St. Peter's Square, Sargent delved into the archive department's vast array of building and development plans. He soon found the bothersome site, situated in the vicinity of Slayford Quayside. The documents were several years old and indeed depicted Woden's Den as a car park, plus adjoining business units. Proof if any were needed that Woden's Den no longer existed (though there was a Woden Street in memorium), despite the words of the resident pub sage.
But still the haggard gentleman's assertion rebounded, a persistent gnawing at his mind, that confident yet subsequently errant guarantee. So strong did the old man's fragrance assail Sargent then that he turned quickly expecting to see him standing at his shoulder. No one there, only books. Odd, how the pungent air of 'wet dog' had not been apparent in the Speckled Hen, only now as a form of aromatic echo. Desperately, he tried to attend to his duties but the maddening contradiction destroyed any last vestige of concentration. As he was already considering an appendices section for his tome covering sites that were no longer present, Sargent saw an opportunity to down two pigeons with a single shot and announced his intention to claim a couple of hours time owed.
And so, after a light meal at Label in the city centre, map in hand he set off along the Bridgewater canal on this fine October day, the last of the month, the sun low in a clear vapour trail sky. In half an hour, with the company of late afternoon joggers and cyclists long gone, Sargent stood before a high wall as a brightly coloured narrow boat lit with sparkling fairy lights chugged by on the water behind him. The legend, too, high and mighty - spelled out as a mosaic by raised individual shaded bricks, red on cream: WODEN'S DEN. He thought, at least there's an acknowledgement of the area's esoteric past and not just a street renamed.
Sargent drew out his phone and snapped a photograph, nice with the swathe of violet bleeding from the sunset. Then he looked for a way up. Twenty yards along he found a steep grassy slope worn bare in places by a scourge of danger addicted scooter riders. As his hands gripped the rusted and skewed railing fence he could hear car horns in the distance, the sirens of an emergency call out, the dull boom of a firework going off in somebody's recycling bin and the persistent whooping barks of an anxious dog. After hauling himself up the crumbling incline, a bump-ridden and meandering path awaited him at the top. He followed its tapering course back to the wall where the path disappeared in a proliferation of dead scrub. Sargent got down on his hands and knees, hissing expletives and carefully lowered himself down, dropping the last six feet to the ground. Though he had only landed the other side of the wall, Manchester's noisy, reassuring aural backdrop drifted to the very edge of earshot. Sargent paused, shaking his head and frowning, both at the puzzling dip in volume and the area spread out before him. Then he walked on a short way.
The concrete was cracked and overgrown, Japanese knot weed and buddleia, stinging nettles and dandelion. He stopped again, withdrew and unfolded the photocopy of the development plans; built on, unequivocal in black, blue and white - car park, the Blue Abyss aquatics centre, Whitehead Tools... Sargent planted his feet and established his bearings. On the city outskirts rose the vertiginous Hilton tower. Nearer, the Cornbrook tram station and he slowly turned, simultaneously tracking the path of the Eccles line with his finger on the sheet. All the landmarks corresponded with the plans; he was on the site, a site developed years ago. Sargent glanced up as a tram rattled over the swing-bridge into Slayford, like some kind of segmented firefly, luminous windows shining into the growing dusk. As an explanation, he believed the only one with a modicum of potential saw the plans mis-archived and stamped 'COMPLETED' instead of 'APPROVED.' Reasonable to assume there had been an eleventh hour cessation, enough to throw the records department into confusion anyway. Perhaps due to the discovery of a geological fault, after all was this not the site of a one-time quarry, not to mention the network of antiquarian and structurally unsound tunnels beneath the city. Yes, that was it, the site required further survey before work could commence.
Sargent walked on, securing 30 seconds of video footage with his phone in camcorder mode. The berry bushes and nettles grew tangled and dense, he snatched his breath as the thorns determinedly picked him off at random. He continued gingerly forward, already turning his thoughts toward a chicken curry takeaway, his chosen direction on a Woden Street heading.
He came to a stony slope and scrambled down certain there would at the very least be a path leading out onto a road. Instead, Sargent found himself in a scooped out bowl. A sheer, reddish natural rock wall rose in front of him, an exquisite contrast against the green of the stunted pine trees. Once again he fumbled his phone into operation, more rolling footage for the sake of posterity, the ultramarine of the menu screen illuminating his eyes creating the magical illusion of free floating orbs in the gloom. Impossible - he was surely bewitched by a vision out of time! Filled in, you may recall, and the legendary cavern with it. The cavern - Woden's Den.
Upon the rock he saw painted symbols like primitive hieroglyphs - rows upon rows, what looked to be shields, swords or daggers and faces slashed with jagged mouths. In addition he noted crouching figures... were they praying? Were they in fact headless? Trees. Doors. Hands. Sargent lowered his phone, gazed up and around. No landmarks were visible now, not even the towering Hilton dagger. Only the darkling sky overhead. Intermittent sounds phased in and out of the ether, taunting him with the promise of sober, linear adventures should he resolve to abandon this fruitless quest and return to the land of the living.
"Got any spare change, pliz?"
Sargent jumped and dropped the phone, his heart thudding in his ears. Quickly, he retrieved the thankfully undamaged instrument and faced the raggedy gentleman shambling in his direction.
"Sorry, mate," he replied. He did have some loose coins but as a rule did not give money to tramps. They only spent it on cheap booze anyway. Sargent did not feel comfortable funding alcohol fuelled decay, regardless of how hopeless life was for those people on the streets. Poor man must live here, he concluded.
"Pliz, pal. I only want a cuppa. I'll accept American Express."
Full marks for a sense of humour. Sargent wondered how often he used that line to laugh a few extra bob from a tight pocket. "Got nothing to give you, mate, sorry. I'm just looking for the road..."
"Through there." The tramp gestured amiably. "Thass gotter be worth a quid."
Sargent peered at a shadowed slanted tear drop cut into the red rock.
"You're having a laugh aren't you? That's Woden's Den."
"Fuckin expect? Hangin fuckin gardens of Bab-lon?"
Sargent re-evaluated the man whose woolly hat was yanked down against the bitter cold, bundled and hunched within an extra-large overcoat. The malodorous pub sage had kept his face partly averted. Though Sargent could not swear with any surety to his true identity, this man carried a similar body language and build and also spoke with the same catarrh rattling voice. And was that not Au de Wet Dog parfum? He decided to call him out on the point in common.
"Was that you in the pub last night? In the Speckled Hen?"
"Does ah look like ah c'n afford a pub?" The man grimaced a smile. His gums appeared quite black. Somewhere, a faraway firework exploded.
"My mistake. You look like a bloke I met in the pub. I'm writing a book, would you happen to know any history about Woden's Den? Stuff like pagan rituals and ceremonies..."
"Ow should I know? I live 'ere. It's quiet. Ah got offered a nice motorway underpass, good view, en-suite toilet - but this is peaceful. Yer can't 'ear no traffic or nuffink. Give us a quid pliz, mate. Ah showed yer the way out."
Sargent grinned knowingly. "Come on. It's a cave. Woden's Den is a cave. That doesn't lead to the road."
"Fuckin 'ell. Was you born floatin' down the Irwell on yer mother's pian-er?" Exasperation was plainly evident in his voice. "It's bin knocked through, ant it. There's an old tunnel an' that goes to the street. 2007 this, pal."
He did not fancy retracing his steps through nettles in full dark. Civilisation, if one could call the Slayford ruffian contingent civilised, lay only a short five-minute walk beyond the borders of the miraculous quarry. This'll be interesting..., he thought and dug a couple of £1 coins out of his pocket. The tramp was most grateful.
"Thanks, pal, thank you. They use-ter wash these in vinegar up the road to stop the spread of plague from town to town..."
"Yeh, no problem, mate," Sargent said, hurrying toward the unwelcoming cut in the rock face, keen not to have his ear ensnared by a loquacious one-sided commentary. Although to be fair, the homeless gentleman did refer to the historic Gorse stone on the road into Denbrook, another of Sargent's research projects and under other circumstances worth his staying awhile in case he was able to tease out an anecdote so far unuttered.
"Do me fer next year, this...," the tramp then added cryptically, fingering the coins.
Sargent cast over his shoulder a perplexed glance, partly dismissing the comment as more deviating tramp-talk yet strangely convinced it was the one piece of information he most needed to pay attention to. But the need to get away, get home, seek solace in a Styrofoam tray of an incendiary curry won out. He kept walking, the dark so complete his physical presence appeared to be swallowed by a corrupt, viscous liquid. Why had no temporary work lights been strung about in this blighted hole? Then, as his eyes grew accustomed there came a lambent shine.
Candles. They were wedged into cracks at regular intervals, all one had to do was follow the wax. The shadows leapt and capered on the permeable limestone walls around him, the rock urged into a solid relief of fungoid structures. The powdery floor was uneven but worn as if many feet had trod the serpentine path now taken by Sargent. Looking up, he saw malformed stalactites, some merged to create twin twisting and ringed horns. They appeared not to be of water-formed calcite but consist of an unidentifiable treacle-like deposit. He became aware of a steady ticking, a drip in another chamber somewhere and the sound of rushing water. The air hung torpid, infused with an unnatural warmth and a slightly acidic smell stung his nose to the point of sneezing.
Eventually, after five to ten minutes of wonder the cavern ended at an abrupt egress. Through he stepped into a tunnel of neo-classical design, probably dating from the mid to late 1700's. The smoothly fashioned arched stonework had been meticulously crafted by hand, its majesty now ravaged with the accumulated years of seeping damp.
"Errrm...," Sargent wondered loudly, just to hear another voice though the flat echo bouncing back to him was anything except reassuring. A smaller tunnel offshoot emitted a discouraging breath of sewage. Thankfully, the candles did not light that way but curved in what he suspected was a city centre direction. He presumed he would find another tunnel doubling back into Slayford. There came the sudden rumble overhead of passing traffic, a familiar sound to spur him on.
Sargent walked through crumbling masonry and puddles of stinking century-old ooze for perhaps half a mile when the air changed imperceptibly and he sensed the coming of the outside. The tunnel, he saw, was once a dead end but the wall had been knocked through to leave a rough star-shaped opening. He stepped through and into a basement area lined with rooms hidden behind closed doors. There were no candles but an ill-begotten gleam bled into an open shaft halfway along the corridor. The general disrepair was there for all to see; paint flaked from the once-white brickwork, bare overhead pipes were clotted with unnameable filth, the low wooden slatted ceiling was splintering and everywhere hung the spider empire's silken draperies.
A sound insinuated itself upon him, a harmonised murmur, almost a hum that made his stomach roll queasily. As Sargent approached the brooding shaft he saw that it housed a pulley system, a thick chain and hook attached to a wide cage for shipping items to and from the street above. The cage wasn't quite empty. In fact, Sargent glimpsed distinct movement but averted his eyes, more mindful of the craterous floor around his feet than a likely sheet of flapping cardboard disturbed by wind. His mind, which I should say was no longer operating in GMT standard time, refused to register the visual information entering his periphery. Instead, his passage faltered beside a closed, peeling door. There had come a sound from inside the room, a shuffling, snuffling and Sargent veered away in a cold panic; not because he feared what was inside the room but because he felt an unaccountable desire to open the door, to go in! In his haste, the end of the corridor surprised him along with an alcove enclosing a stairway with smooth stone steps leading upward. He rapidly climbed three flights in total darkness, expecting each tight corner to conceal horror unimaginable but his groping hands encountered only air. Then he blundered upon a door fringed with a vile, fluctuating glow and allowed for a degree of relief, however short-lived. Sargent pushed through the fire exit into the street.
The sound, not a hum but very close to a moan sang all around, burrowing into the pit of his being. Recognisable as Manchester, certainly, but this was not the city he frequented, worked in. He had managed to alight on Jackson's Row. The atmosphere swirled with an eddying haze for many of the roof tops were lit with fires, whether as beacons or bonfires Sargent did not know, only that it was traditional for this time of year. He saw that the street was much too narrow and roughly cobbled and that the buildings were crushed together, looming over him in a collision of 21st Century and Elizabethan. Another irritating noise kept pace with him as he made his way toward Deansgate. He glanced around and behind to locate the source but could see nothing. Sargent then realised the noise was issuing from his own throat, the whimpering of a terrified mongrel.
Ahead, a figure loped around the corner and halted. The thing - though outwardly human the most fitting description must surely be a 'thing' - tensed at his approach and sidled deliberately out of his path. Barefoot, it wore a simple white shirt, unbuttoned, and dark trousers. Sargent tried to maintain his speedy flight to Deansgate but it seemed as if the thing radiated a magnetic field slowing his rate of progress. By the time he drew level with it his feet were virtually treading water.
Although there was four feet of space between them, more than enough to comfortably walk past without any chance of unwanted contact with the thing, Sargent tried to slide by. So hard did he press his back to the wall he scraped loose a considerable shower of mortar. You see, the human face was set in a silent scream, the shriek of one who can see their own horrific oncoming death, frozen for all eternity. The hum, or moan if you prefer - a cacophony, pitched too high to hear in singular but conjoined with a multitude and amplified by the air in a hellish chorus. The strength drained out of Sargent's legs, became almost boneless and his bladder let go. The bulge-eyed visage tracked him until he somehow tore himself around the corner and onto Deansgate. Then he began to run. The turmoil in his mind betrayed a foreign imprint, rolling another Manchester over the original, a skewed Manchester that was piece by piece becoming the only one he knew.
Sargent began to hammer on store fronts and rattle door handles. Across the road stood the gothic magnificence of the John Rylands building. The once beautiful buff coloured Cumbrian 'shawk' had been transformed into a glistening facade of dripping black tar, a malignant tumour replete with hideous gargoyles worming free of the ornamental guttering. Sargent dared not look for even its lurching shadow made him nauseous, surging over the kerb like an evil tide. His hand fell upon the entrance to The Shipwater Arms pub and he stumbled inside. The people were different from the thing on the street - normal, afraid. They shrank back from the door. The man nearest to him opened his mouth as if to speak but all that came forth was a ghastly feline mewling. Sargent put out his hands defensively; they were kin in a way but the mark of death was on them.
"Gonk. Gonk-cuss...," he implored. A painting full of Munch characters stared back at him. They were doomed here, he knew. When Rylands disgorged the nameless hordes, The Shipwater Arms would be no hiding place. He backed out onto the street sharply. Someone blocked his way.
Sargent did not scream when the touch came, the air expelled from his lungs in a long shuddering breath. He turned to see not his expected demise but a young man, a teenager with a hood drawn around his head hoping to be inconspicuous. The hooded top he wore was flecked with spatters of blood, evidently he had not arrived alone though his companions had since departed violently. A moment of recognition shot between them, not physical acquaintances but they had once existed in the same time and space in that other place.
"Can-stannin-eer," Sargent told him, grabbing his shoulder roughly. The teenager was in too much shock to resist, the last peg of his sanity soon to be uprooted from the ground and from there a one-way balloon up into stratospheric oblivion.
Sargent propelled them away from the pub but there were figures stalking Deansgate further on. They had to find a safe haven and for some reason an image of the Cathedral sprang into his mind. What did that mean? Didn't matter, only instinct mattered. He would try to get them there using side streets and alleyways (but there was a better way, wasn't there?). He had to hide until daylight, his remodelled mind told him. He turned into John Dalton Street still pulling the teenager along... His speed soon decreased when he realised the roadway was filled with a pulsing, transparent sac stretching the length of the street until it reached a heaving pinkish mass, difficult to tell what it was in the smoke and the sputtering gas light. And the sac was crammed with people. Amongst thickly throbbing innards, faces stared out beseeching him for help, he could hear their muffled keening. But another ten faltering steps saw the bodies begin to change, to degrade. Alive, now half alive yet painfully coherent, then dead - the flesh dissolving in a spill of internal organs, then nothing recognisable as human, a grey lumpy stew littered with bone fragments: The people were being digested.
The teenager began to screech; his balloon had set sail. Sargent took hold of the young man and reversed course back onto Deansgate, vaguely aware of faces in shop windows, some shaking their heads already declining to help should he approach. He ran under an archway, actually vomiting on the move and turned up Brasennose Street. More things with etched on dumb screams. Up ahead, Albert Square bristled with flaming bonfires. Hundreds of people were lashed to monstrous statues - not the benign gentlemen Oliver Heywood and John Bright as should be, but grievous stone creatures of diabolical origin. And looming over the square, the Town Hall, a once stately building now an angular vampiric castle adorned with cloud piercing turrets and triple lancet windows ablaze with a reflected maelstrom.
At the centre of Albert Square, the ornate memorial pavilion to Prince Albert did not exist. In its place, with hints of the former's gothic revival style, grew a series of bronzed interlocked jaws. From within, a creature burst forth. Human things were streaming toward it, shedding their clothes as they ran, leaping onto the uncoiling bulk en-masse in unbridled celebration. Once joined, each rigid countenance finally became animated in a search for prey. Realisation dawned on Sargent; the creature was made up of countless flailing bipeds, an immense growing body of insanely pivoting heads and snatching arms. Still the undulating monster swelled in size, pouring through the city streets in every direction like a boiling torrent, picking up more and more ravening bipeds. Hunting, hunting...
Suddenly, the teenager broke away from Sargent, cupping his hands to the sky.
"Woe-dan-shee! Woe-dan-shee!" He repeatedly shouted.
A score of leering heads turned to the sound. A bristling limb came whipping, corkscrewing between the trees of the pedestrianised street. He was plucked high into the air and in Sargent's view, completely obliterated in no more than a second. A red rope of intestines hit the pavement with a juicy 'splat.' A fine, crimson mist settled on Sargent's upturned face and something cracked in his psyche, flashed a fading message. It was an image of Woden's Den. The red rock is not natural after all, he knows. It is stained with the blood of sacrifice.
He clung to that afterimage of the other place, racing across Brasennose Street and through a ginnel, bypassing a pair of pale and frightened faces staring out of a shadowed archway. He came out on the corner of Albert Square and opposite a restaurant offering 'Live Food.' Closer now, he could see the victims were bound with barbed wire, most to metal spikes all the while taunted by the spinning, twisting legions of human piranha. Sargent looked away when that roiling sea of teeth began to nip, to bite, to clamp on and shake frenziedly as a dog would with a rag doll. He slipped into Southmill Street hoping to avoid detection but how could one evade a million glaring eyes? Sensing fresh quarry the beast despatched a fell limb in Sargent's direction.
He ran, but not far as recognition flared with the sighting of a street name: Jackson's Row. Sargent turned the corner on impulse and there he saw the fire exit, slightly ajar. As he crossed the threshold and pushed the door closed, the limb telescoped past reminding him of an octopi tentacle, only with faces for suckers. Down the steps he plunged, back into the dark, clipping the walls as he went and dislodging a snowstorm of loose plaster. He missed his footing and tumbled down the final flight, never noticing the loss of his phone in the process.
He gained his feet uninjured and lurched into the basement. There was a door open this time. The room was packed with people, jammed together like battery hens. Waiting. They regarded him balefully as he went by. Then, as he approached the winch shaft and the goods cage, that magnetic affliction stole over him again and his pace slowed to that of a man walking in great pain. With his head demurely inclined, Sargent dug into his pocket and dropped a few coins. He heard them tinkle on the broken floor and through peripheral vision saw the flattened crab-like humanoid scuttle excitedly. He did not look but kept walking, even when he heard claws on the metal mesh as the obscenity clambered out. It wouldn't come after him. It only wanted some spare change pliz.
A flickering trace memory led Sargent to the hole and the tunnel beyond. Though his mind was lost in the crossover the candles showed him the way, his legs cycling faster and faster. By the time he reached the cavern he was babbling and weeping uncontrollably, no longer astounded by stalactites and Prehistoric limestone.
He blundered out into the sharp October night and kept on running...
The hermit watched him go, surprised but unconcerned. One or two did come back now and again. But, he thought, it doesn't have to be this way.
I would like to tell you that Jeff Sargent regained his faculties and rejoined society a sane and competent man. Alas, he was taken into custody as a possible menace to the township and later identified by distraught family members. From custody he was transferred to the care of Thurlstone Hospital, a mental institution where he now resides a demented individual.
I visited the site of Woden's Den, both out of curiosity and a professional interest. Did I find the cave? No, I did not. As the development plans clearly state, a business park was built and has been present for several years. I purchased a warehouse unit out of which I operate a book emporium, also dealing with the import and export of rare literature. However, the business is something of a front. There is another reason.
You see, I have known Jeff for many years. I count him as a friend. You can't imagine how hard it is for me to see him this way, deranged and speaking an abstract, incomprehensible language. His phone number is still top of the 'contacts' list on my mobile. When my phone rang and I saw Jeff's number on the screen, I knew it could not be him for he was firmly incarcerated at the hospital. I answered anyway. In the silence, I knew I was listening to a silent scream too high for me to hear. I'm not afraid to say that I wet myself a little. Though I thumbed the 'end call' key, a mind-line stayed open and I was privy to the buried memories of ancient ancestors, a dimension plunging, aeon-spanning awareness. In this way, the hermit was drawn to me. I found him one day sitting on a bench by the wall partitioning Woden's Den. He is not aligned to any force. He exists to monitor the darker worlds and powers, to keep them in place and secure. My emergence allowed him to close the door in the old ways long forgotten in apathy. He no longer had to enchant the weaker minded into making the journey. As lore prescribed, mortal and immortal must act in unison and knowledge.
I have an extra store room, or basement if you will, accessible via a trapdoor. Here, I have re-established the ancient rites and rituals of witches and learned occultists. The Woden may only be appeased by sacrifice. Otherwise the door to that other side will open, not only on Hallowe'en but Walpurgis night also and so many disappear, hundreds, thousands... But this way, the hermit and I, we need sacrifice only a few. The gift of blood soaks through the basement floor and continues to stain the deep limestone. Just as our ancestors understood before the ceremonies fell into disuse. It is not murder, it is a fair price to pay and I do not enjoy it.
In the end, the door stays closed and you are safe.
Perhaps you think me a monster. Perhaps I am.