If this letter reaches you, it is from beyond the veil. Forgive my humor.
As you know, I was never a fan of the written word. Words set down gather power of their own, grow roots and spread far beyond their creator’s reach. Losing control like that is what frightens me the most.
Still, you asked me two questions that I wish to answer before stepping outside my door tonight. Downstairs awaits the Circle of the Veil.
One. You asked me when I first glimpsed through the Veil.
The answer lies deep within my childhood, a memory I have rarely visited since.
I came to this place as a small, scrawny child on a boat. To me, the boat was not only immense, but endless, the ocean itself. So big that, when I lost my mother, I thought she was merely hiding in a far-off corner, playing a long game of hide-and-seek. Only later did I realize I had been playing with ghosts.
Memories of the boat, or the land before the water, I have few. My mother’s long, blonde curls, her warm arms, the deep shadows beneath her eyes, fragments of a song. “Rest your head for now lil’ babe, I shall chase the Wolf away.”
The boat was dirty, pestilent. When I came off, I reeked and carried lice, dirt flaked off my skin, and I had nowhere to go. I waited in port night after night, and when the boat set sail again, I thought mother had decided to return home without me.
When the tall figure wrapped in a black shawl offered me a hand, I didn’t think twice about taking it.
The mist rolling off the bay enveloped the city, masking the tall buildings and the colorful shops. All I could see was the woman walking beside me, holding my hand, and the gray, uneven street. If other people walked the street beside us, either the fog hid them from my sight, or my memory erased them in the intervening years. In my mind, I am alone with her. Pale face, long, red nails and a small smile, and no language shared between us.
When a ghoul leaped in front of me, clothes torn, face splattered with blood, I screamed so loudly that my knees buckled and I met the ground. The woman’s sly smile turned into a sharp laugh, and she only said one word, one that I had never heard before. “Halloween.”
It’s been seventy years to the date, since I was brought to that first Circle. It was a beautiful room - I don’t remember the way now - and more women joined us. All clad in black, some burdened by heavy shawls, some with their faces covered. Light was provided by myriad candles burning wastefully together.
The women spoke, sometimes addressed me, but I could not understand them.
I was bathed and slathered in lotions smelling strongly of herbs. Mint, lavender, rosemary so powerful my head began to swim and throb. I hadn’t eaten in days.
They left me naked in the center of the room and formed three concentric circles around me. I was blindfolded with a see-through scarf and, though I fought to keep my eyes open, all I could spot were the shadows of the candles dancing around me.
Someone grabbed my hand and I startled, but then nothing was touching my skin. Another hand caressed my cheek and soon was gone. Many fingers traced my skin, but only fleetingly, so that I could not reach them.
Voices still murmured words I could not comprehend.
The hands touching me became stranger, colder, the nails longer, the skin rougher. Bumpier. A fist clenched around my wrist and pulled me forward. I thought the ritual was finally over, but then another force pulled me in the opposite direction.
I felt my hair becoming undone and flying in the wind of an inexistent storm. Now, the hands running all over my body were freezing cold and covered in thorns. I thought, for sure, I must be bleeding.
And then I could see and I could not see. My eyes were no longer blindfolded, and the shadows of the candles were gone. All around me was frozen darkness. The cold of the dead.
Whispers flew around my ears, whispers in my own tongue, heard from far across the ocean. I was there for a long time, an eternity the whispers spoke to me. Then I understood, but now I only recall fragments. Like a dream makes sense when you’re in it, but when you awake only pieces catch at your brain, stuck on a loop.
A traveler comes to us.
She cannot see us.
She is one of us. One of us.
I remember echoes.
In the darkness the travelers see. See what is gone, what is left, what is yet to be.
As my eyes, or mind, adjusted to the darkness, shapes began to form. Shadows started to move. Softly and far away, the blackness undulated. Waves, I thought. Through an invisible dawn, an ocean rose around me.
Water like slime, suffocating with its foul smell. Its foam carrying the remains of civilization, bobbing the unsinkable waste – up and down.
I knew behind me lay land. Land and ruin. I slowly turned on the spot, and, in the gray light of the sun that forgot to rise, I saw people. Pale and dressed in rags, they held onto each other, dragging themselves forward, stumbling. Falling. Around them great mountains of bricks crumbled to the ocean.
In the horizon, behind the toppling walls and rusted pillars, hovered shadows. Silhouettes of human shape, faces unseen, floated closer and closer. Claws of decay reached forward to cover this world in darkness again.
The whispers returned, scratching at my ears.
The Veil closes, traveler. Come to us. One of us. One of us.
I turned around to run, but all around me swelled and crashed waves of darkness. I knew that if the black water touched me, they would swallow me, and I would become darkness.
In the distance, a ship braved the waters of night. Its small, bright windows cast a soft light on the waves, as a fire in the hearth is reflected on the walls. I approached it.
One of us. One of us, came the chant behind me.
I had almost reached the boat, almost climbed onboard, when I heard the song behind me. “Rest your head for now lil’ babe, I shall chase the Wolf away,” ringing in the starless sky. The sweet voice I knew so well. There was nothing in this place dark or cold enough to keep me from that voice. But as I prepared to turn back and face the storm, something violently shook me.
My head hit something hard as my shoulders and chest were shaken again and again. I was inside the warm ship; I could sense the light. I had a blindfold again.
Someone took the scarf, the Veil, from my eyes, and I was in the room with the Circle again.
Two. You asked me what lays beyond the Veil.
Here my answers falter. With the Veil wrapped around my eyes, I have seen many visions chase each other. Some bright, most dark, others beyond comprehension. Unavoidable futures and impossible monsters. As I grew older, the images lost their clarity, and I became less certain of what I see. And search as I may, I never again heard my mother’s song. Before tonight.
But when I step into the darkness, the whispers always wait: One of us.
Dear daughter, I reach the part of my letter that I am most afraid to write.
When I finally learned the language of this land, I recounted my journey to the women of the Circle. None had had experiences as complex as I, most could not transcend the Veil at all. And only one had ever heard the voices chant, One of us. She never dared put on the Veil again.
Perhaps I would not have dared either, if I hadn’t heard my mother’s voice.
In any case, I would not allow any child of mine to follow in my footsteps into that forever night.
My dear, you must know, even as you remain always my daughter, you are not One of us. You are mine and not mine.
As this year’s Halloween approaches, the song has found its way into my dreams, “Rest your head for now lil’ babe, I shall chase the Wolf away.” After tonight’s Circle, I will have an answer to your question. But I will not return to tell you.
Even though answers cannot pass through the Veil at will, I promise you, my dear, love always will.