The farmers of the borderlands have little time for frivolity. While their lives may be rich with fulfillment, the beauties of the wilds, and the awesome all-pervading presence of their gods, wresting a living from the marginal lands calls for sturdy self-reliance and hard work in plenty.
Still, there is time in the evenings, when the children are gathered about the fire and the days work is done, for the telling of tales.
Come close now to the crackling flames. Let them hold the fathomless darkness of the wild lands at bay, and here – where the light carves out a tiny bubble of comfort – drink a cup of tea and hear a tale of what can come to pass when the darkness enters in.
Young Ellendine, like so many youngsters who approach adulthood, dreamed of grander things – of handsome princes, of wealth and servants, of the luxuries that passing bards described – all the fancies spun of words and mist and the play of shadows cast upon a childish mind. Wise enough she was to withstand the crude blandishments of neighbors sons, and the temptation to “seek her fortune” in the city – yet she saw nothing to fear in dreams, little understanding that a net woven of dreams was the simplest of all snares – and the most dreadful of poisons.
At first her dreams, and the claims that they were sent to her, rather than being mere fancies, were but an excuse to refuse the suitors who seriously sought her hand. After all, sturdy farmers who wished little more than to establish their own farms offered her no more than a cottage, their affections, and the prospect of children to grow old among.
In clinging to those dreams of glamor… she left the gates of her mind ajar, and SOMETHING entered in.
The well near the house went deep, tapping the flow of an underground stream – and from that opening to the underworld, something rose, taking it’s form from fevered dreams and luxurious fancies. Ellendine’s dreams took form from the deep darkness that had never known light – and a nightmare of the lands below came to her wrapped in the fabric of her foolish hopes.
For three days in the dark of the moon that shadow walked, and passed within the walls as she, unknowingly, called to it and opened the way.
Her parents sheltered her when the results of her foolishness became apparent a few months later, in despite of her ravings about her dark prince. Many a young woman disgraced themselves so!
Better by far it would have been to drive her forth. When her time came upon her she bore the child her daemon lover had sired in blood and terror – a twisting, near-formless, monstrosity that used her hollowed-out body as a puppet and her mind as a mask – devouring her parents and siblings, body and soul, in a night of blood and agony – but not death, for death was denied to her and to her child’s victims.
A brother and a hireling, however, had been out tending the sheep – and escaped in part. While they lived to reach the neighbors, and to gasp out their tale of horror and the devouring darkness, their minds were broken – and their spirits were soon drawn back, leaving their soulless bodies to convulse and die…
When the worried neighbors came to investigate, eight fell to the horror and it’s victim-masks – but the house was set afire and the neighbors sealed the doors. If any of their friends yet lived within, burning to death could only be a mercy.
Most perished, their minds shattered, when a formless, betentacled, burning, thing crashed through a blazing wall and was momentarily outlined in flame as it wailed through the voices of it’s mother, relatives, and victims. Burning and assailed with scythes and pitchforks, it dragged itself to the well, and plunged into the icy depths…
Now the farm stands long-abandoned, the house a burned-out ruin – and the desolation spreads as, each month during the dark of the moon, the victims walk as masks for horror – and seek entry into other homes through the gates of foolish dreams!
And that, my dear niece, is why you should have listened to your parents – and settled for one of the young men that they picked out for you. For dreams can be an opening to nightmare, and I know the truth of this one… for I have been dead for twenty years.
You should not have opened the door.
And the old man’s body split apart as the thing inside emerged to feast once more.
Despite the occasional rumors of empty cottages, this particular tale remains popular with overworked farmer-parents who have forgotten what it was like at their kids age – and are pushing a bit… “Oh for the sake of the GODS! PICK ONE!”