There are places I may not linger, for they draw me back to the cusp of madness, tempting my soul with whispers of evil, long-forgotten tales and memories best left buried. Yet in that sable twilight that is my solace, I cannot deny the allure of those shadowed sanctuaries; places of age-old oaths, broken vows, and whispered prayers to gods no longer known, no longer welcomed amongst the righteous and the pure.
I never expected to find myself drawn to such godforsaken places; rather, I believed that I might defy the darkness, overpower it, and in so doing attain some measure of redemption for the sins of my family. Their dismal failures seemed but testament to the infirmity of their spirits, the poverty of their ambitions.
In truth, I never knew them well. My father was a pale spectre, seldom seen amongst the living, though his money was ever at work in secret dealings with beings whose very existence would be considered..dubious. My mother was naught but a baleful shadow, the silent echo of a once fair woman, slain by fever some years after my birth.
The village itself was but a mournful cluster of darkling hovels and crumbling cottages that clung like lichen to the edge of an ancient forest, long since given over to creatures that peer into one’s very soul with eyes that are black and unblinking. This unholy wood encircled a cemetery of such magnitude that it seemed to rival even the oldest sections of London’s Highgate in size and scope. The graves were arrayed haphazardly across rolling hills and sprawling meadows where strange flowers bloomed in hues that would turn the stomach. The wood itself had encroached ever inward upon itself, shrouding the necropolis from view by all but the most intrepid explorers.
I am not ashamed to admit that I frequently sought solace amongst the bones of the dead. It was in such quiet recesses that I could escape the clamor of my own thoughts, the ever-pressing weight of my existence. To some, it might seem a morbid fascination, but my feelings towards the cemetery were those of a lost soul that has found at long last some measure of peace; in truth, I found the company of the dead preferable to that of the living.
It was on one such day, when the sky hung low and pregnant with malignant cloud, that I wandered far from the confines of my ancestral home and into those forgotten depths where even others of my ilk would hesitate to tread. It was, in retrospect, a foolish journey; what I had hoped to find in that distant place is now beyond my grasp.
Gathering my courage, I took leave of my residence, crossed the wood, and entered the cemetery. The smell of damp earth clung to the air, heavy and pervasive; even now, I cannot fully shake it from my nostrils. Such an indelible record is perhaps fitting; had I but known what awaited me there, I would have turned back.
As I walked amongst the graves, I was overtaken by a profound sense of dread. A deep silence hung over the place, broken only by my footfalls and the distant cawing of unseen ravens. The wind had fallen still; even the grass swayed no more under an unseen caress. One would think that the very earth held its breath.
A cold sweat began to bead on my brow as I came upon a clearing obscured by a thick vein of ancient trees. There, at its center, lay a withered oak, gnarled branches twisting like the brittle limbs of a corpse long denied its rest.
As I neared the oak, something caught my eye. A weathered stone lay half hidden beneath a shroud of decaying leaves. Curiosity compelled me to approach, and as I cleared the debris, I felt my heart quicken with a sudden trepidation; the stone bore a deep carving, blackened with age – my family crest.
What ill-fated affair had ever guided my hand to that spot, that cursed clearing, that bitter and unyielding shore upon which the tide of madness pounds without end? It was a question that I could not answer. The only certainty was that my life would never again be the same.
For beneath the crest, worn with age and veined with a web of thin cracks, were the words, “tread not upon these accursed grounds. Whosoever dares disturb this place is lost.”
As the words sank in, I became aware of an otherworldly presence, a malevolence that churned beneath the very soil. Panic seized me, and with a cry of despair, I fled back toward civilization, my heart a hammering drum within my breast.