With a sigh he snapped shut the unavailing book he was reading with more force than he had intended, causing dust to fly from its pages and cascade around him. Balanced precariously on a haphazard stack of old, battered books; the candle by which he was reading spluttered and almost died causing deep shadows to dance across the dark, empty reading room. A shiver ran across his skin and a sense of unease trickled down his spine as he realised it was long gone dusk and he had not seen or heard another person move around in the large, maze-like library for hours. He was completely alone.
The candle flared back into life and the stacks of books surrounding him again became lit with a flickering, yellow-orange glow. The grandfather clock ticked ominously; each echoing click sent by its perpetually moving hands seemed to reverberant around the spacious room for an eternity, bouncing between the full bookshelves encircling the room before the ancient clock hands reached a new notch sending a fresh peel of sound ringing through the room. Smouldering coals lay in the fire grate, emanating the last vestiges of warmth from a fire abandoned hours ago. He took a deep breath and the musty smell of aged, decaying books filled his nose.
His nervousness abated slowly, leaving him only with the simmering feeling of annoyance which was his constant companion of late. He took another - slightly shaky - breath, chastising himself for letting his frustration again engulf him. Yet, he still couldn’t shake the persistent nagging feeling which had plagued him for weeks and was the reason he was here still; obsessing over his long since concluded manuscript into the early hours of the morning.
He had slaved away for months at this manuscript; his final dissertation, the crowning work that would define his career. He had put his soul, his experience from years of study and what was left of his menial savings into this book. Hours had been spent painstakingly the depths of the academy to tease out all of its facts, its wisdom, and its long-forgotten secrets. He thought of the hours spent in the dusty depths of the grand library; poring over ancient, disused volumes. He thought of his wearisome journeys all over the country, searching out anyone who could further his research. This book was his passion, his life’s work, he had explored every possible avenue to complete it. Despite this, one thought prevailed in his mind.
It wasn’t finished.
With another prolonged sigh he pulled the manuscript back towards him and slowly flicked through the worn pages.
Of creatures which we do not speak
Throughout the years there have been many creatures of which there exists no formal documentation. Yet every man, woman and child has heard of their existence. They are creatures who live in the shadows, who sneak and creep and hide. They are creatures who exist in whispered conversations, in children's rhymes and their nightmares. They are creatures of which stories are told in crowded taverns where farmers, traders and craftsmen alike gather around the beguiling bard to lose themselves in a world of fantasy and intrigue for the night before returning to their ordinary lives where the creatures who crawl and hunt in the darkness are but a figment of the imagination. In this volume I aim to categorise, to describe and to rationalise in the written word the legends which we all have heard and have dismissed as folklore but, yet, are all afraid to speak.
He flicked through chapters on the grindylow, the werefolk, and the fae, as well as many more legendary creatures. He has thoroughly researched all of the legends which he could find. He had travelled to all corners of the land - from the northernmost tip of the stretch of snow-covered mountains where the selkies were said to reside to the fair skies and sand white cliffs of the south where sea monster have oft been sighted- to get first-hand accounts. He has pored over book after book in this, the most expansive library known to have existed, to correlate and expand his findings. He was content - and when he allowed himself to feel conceited, quite a bit proud - with what he had achieved in documenting the folklore surrounding these mythical creatures; all except one. Continuing to turn the pages, he came to his final chapter; the passage that was causing him his current grief.
And finally, I come to those creatures which may be the most feared, the most terrible, but yet are the least well documented. Of course, I talk here about those creatures of which none dare to speak their name; for to speak of them is said to bring damned luck on oneself and one’s family. They have many names throughout the land; in my research, I have most commonly come across the Nameless, the Scythers, the Bearers of Darkness. However, I believe that none of these are the true names of these terrible beasts.
In his unpublished works, Borthwick talks about how the name of these creatures is already known, how it exists deep in the imaginations of all us but hidden from us by our conscious minds in a desperate bid to protect us from such evil. He claims that through much meditation and internal exploration he managed to reach that place in his subconscious mind where their identity hides However, due to his unfortunate untimely death before completion of his manuscript we will never know if he was correct in his hypothesis. Many scholars believe that prior to his early demise Borthwick had sunk into the realms of madness and many renounce the legitimacy of his later works.
There are many accounts of the destruction these creatures bring across the land. It is said that they come at a single mention of their name. There exist anecdotal records of suspicious and untimely deaths all associated with individuals who have supposedly, either purposefully or inadvertently, summoned these creatures by calling their name. Locals believe that an abandoned village on the eastern shore was destroyed after a child spoke the name, trying to impress the other children of the village. The sole surviving witness of this incident is left addled with fear and slowly drifting into insanity.
Despite arduous research into the matter I have been unable to obtain even so much as a description of these creatures. As the legend goes, none who encounter these evil beings lives to relay the story. However, it seems perhaps more likely that the legend of these beasts has sprung into life where natural disasters have created destitution and despair. Many of these stories may have come from fire, flood and plagues leaving households and villages ravaged and causing neighbours to speculate on what unearthly beings could have brought forth their wrath, unwilling to consider that we all constantly remain at the mercy of the elements.
And that was it. That was all he had managed to piece together after weeks of research focusing solely on the creatures which he had sardonically started to call by their “Nameless” nickname in his own head. He thought of the final and most hopeful journey he had made, his trip to the east to find the man who was rumoured to be the only surviving witness to an appearance of The Nameless.
Arriving at the man’s door, after a long and tedious journey, he had found a house in ruins and a man, called by the name of John, whose mind had long since become addled by the aftermath of the trauma he had suffered in his youth. John had been delirious and had called him “Father,” despite John being at least four decades his elder. He had introduced himself and John had seemed to understand briefly and to consent to talk to him, leading him to a sitting room - bare and decrepit with only a plain table and two crumbling seats adorning the plain room. Nonetheless, they had settled comfortably in front of the roaring fire. His questions had mostly fallen on deaf ears and he had found it impossible to get any cohesive answers out of John although he had rambled along happily enough. That was until he mentioned the Nameless. The moment he brought up the subject a look of such profound fear had crossed John’s face that a shiver ran down his spine and he paused halfway through his question. John had gone quiet after that and when he had attempted to push the question John had promptly ejected him from his house, pulling him to his feet and leading him out the door muttering, “time to go, time to go.”
Disheartened but determined not to give up just yet, he had stopped by the village John had grown up in after that, only a short horse-ride along the coast. But there was nothing to find. The village was abandoned, that was obvious to see. Nature had taken back its territory, thick grass and brambles grew over the crumbling walls and there were even some saplings shooting up through what used to be farmer’s homes. A sign which once has stood proud across the mantel of the local public house hung crooked - creeping moss obscuring its name. Any evidence of what had happened to cause the abandonment of this small village was long gone. There was no way to tell if it had been destroyed by supernatural being, natural disaster or whether its residents had just decided to pack up and move to a more hospitable location. He had returned home wearied and defeated.
His mind back in the present, he groaned out loud. This wasn’t getting him anywhere. He had no more leads. He had read through all the relevant books three times over already. Despite his interest in the subject, he didn’t really believe any of the creatures in his book actually existed. There was the odd occasion where a particularly intriguing story did grip him and he did wonder but he found that a healthy dose of scepticism never went amiss when investigating these things. He was fascinated by the origins and sometimes crumbs of truth behind the stories though. But on the subject of The Nameless, he had reached a dead end. If he just had a name, he mused. His work felt incomplete without their name. A name was important, it was powerful in its own way. But it seemed that the Nameless would have to stay just that, he could delve no deeper into their story and his work was due for submission the coming noon. Frustrated and exhausted, he laid his head in his hands. The dusky room fell into darkness as he felt his tired eyes begin to close.
He was running through lengthy corridors, towering walls looming over him. As he ran his surroundings began to swim more into focus. He realised that the walls were in fact lofty stacks of books. He seemed to be in the Grand Library but it was wrong, his surroundings seemed strangely distorted. But he continued to run, something within him was driving him forwards. He turned and turned again. He didn’t know where he going but, yet, he did. He couldn’t quite explain how he knew but he was heading for a destination. He was being pushed by his subconscious mind or, maybe, he was being pulled by an external force. He continued to run; passing stack upon stack of books. The force within him continued to drive him on. He felt desperate to find something… some vital information…a name? He ran and ran feeling that he was getting closer to his final destination. Closer and closer. He felt so close; he reached out his hand, almost there...
He woke with a start; a name still echoing from his lips.
He glanced around, panicked. His candle had blown out. The pitch blackness was broken only by the faintest glow from the still smouldering embers of the fire. He scrambled blindly across his desk, searching for the matches which he knew lay there. His fumbling hand knocked his inkwell sending a flood of cool liquid spilling across his arm and the desk, he smelt the bitter scent of expensive ink. He cursed; the sound seeming to shatter the pressing silence surrounding him. Groping across his stacks of papers, his hand finally landed on a match. He attempted to strike it, gripping it tightly with his trembling hand. Once and then twice; no spark. He cursed again. He angrily struck the match a third time and light flaring into being at his fingertips. He breathed a sigh of relief as he brought the match to his candlewick sending another flare of light across the room.
He tried to take some calming breaths. It was silly of him to let his imagination get the better of him, he thought. His heart rate began to ease as he slowly breathed in and out. It was cold now without the fire and shivers crawled down his arms. Abruptly, a creak echoed from beyond the reading room. Nerves on edge again, he froze. He listened with all his might, his focus solely on hearing as if by concentrating enough he could enhance his sense just by force of will. But there was nothing. All he could hear was the grandfather clock ticking away. Tick. Tick. Tick. And then a tick that seemed to echo forever. The tension in his muscles seemed to build as he waited for the clock to reach the next notch. But it never came. Instead, there was the definite creak of a footstep on old, rotting floorboards. To his inordinately alert ears, the sound seemed deafening. A cold chill that had nothing to do with the briskness of the room crept down his spine, crawling by degrees from his neck to his lower back as a cat stalks its prey.
Another creak. And another. Fear itself coursed through his veins as he sat, frozen, unable to even breathe. Shadows fell across the doorway. He could hear a shuffling sound now coming louder and louder. A sense of dread such that he had never felt before filled him from the top of his scalp to the tips of his toes. Every instinct he had was screaming at him to run, to get away. But his legs were frozen solid with fear. He could do nothing but wait, unmoving, as a hulking form filled the doorway.
His mouth formed a name but no sound ever came.
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This is a fantastic story! I was gripped all the way through! The tension built neatly - a little too forced in the first half but perfectly balanced in the second. I found myself holding my breath at points, which is quite the compliment. I would 100% read your protagonist’s book as well. A note on semicolons (though I have been known to abuse them in my time) - they can either be used in a list or to separate main clauses. Main clauses are those with subjects and verbs (ie those that make sense by themselves. ‘Belonging to the darkness...
Also - only going into critique as that’s what you’ve asked for in your bio. Hopefully this is helpful rather than annoying!
Yes, this is really helpful, thanks so much! And thanks, for the explanation about semicolons, that makes sense and I'll keep an eye on them in future. I'm really pleased you liked it :-)
The writing style and detailed descriptions in this are amazing! Love the story! I'm now really curious about what the creatures actually are lol, it was an interesting concept.
Thanks so much 😄 I'm not sure even I know what they are haha :-)
I read the story again. Beautiful writing. Very poignant! Loved the last line.
Thank you so much! That's really kind, I'm glad you liked it :-)