“T’was a dark and stormy night!” cried Adam, as he swept dramatically in blackest cape and all into the dining room. James sighed, dropping his forehead into his hand, leaning his elbows on his knees.
“It’s a dark and stormy morning, you mean,” muttered James, hissing slightly as Adam threw open the shutters to reveal the blackened sky outside. It was nine o’clock in the morning in the country, in the middle of Autumn. Adam wore a strange, maniacal grin, his eyes oddly bright. He was, James thought, perhaps the most eccentric and cheerful widower he had ever met.
“Indeed it is, friend James, sour James,” Adam teased, standing all imposing like, with his hands fastened to his hips and knees astride, as though he were conquering a mountain—a very small mountain, in the middle of his country cottage drawing room in pastoral England, but a mountain nonetheless. “And you know what I say to dark and stormy mornings? Bah!
As he exclaimed, he whirled around, his black cape billowing behind him like the night wind through an abbey. James rolled his eyes at his friend’s dramatics. He had been visiting Adam in his country cottage every Autumn for years, never staying longer than a month before heading back to the fumes of the city. Adam remained here in the country, doing Lord knows what, and James wasn’t all too sure he wanted to know. He was sure it was something altogether inappropriate and shocking, not at all acceptable to decent society—what else, save depravity and hedonism, gave such a bright grin this early on a morning with such poor weather?
“We are taking our daily walk should you like it or not.” Adam strode across the room, his big boots, reminiscent of pirating days and damsels in distress, clunking along with him, before he hauled a grumbling James to his feet. “You’ve been blessed with lovely weather thus far, and even though it seems to be Night-In-Day out there,” Adam paused to chuckle at his little joke, “It’s really just a little overcast, that’s all. Come on, out, your boots are by the door where you left them yesterday, and you may borrow my favourite hat if you’d like.”
“You’ve been reading too much Coleridge, I dare say, Adam,” but James was dragged with furrowed brow from the drawing room nonetheless. He really very much despised the daily walk, finding the countryside, too picturesque to be appreciated, much too dull to be beautiful. The sunlight dappled through the leaves, the brook meandering its way for miles, whispering silently to itself. It all seemed to be out of a poem, and James had never been one for poetry. If you asked him to work out the budget for one of the new factories springing up in London left right and centre, he’d be more than happy to. He left the poetry to Adam, who’d begun reading sonnets and odes after his beautiful young wife had passed away. Sighing slightly, he tuned out Adam’s nattering about meandering rivers and mazy motion while he struggled on his worn leather coat and stepped into his gentleman’s boots. He reached up to take one of the two tricorn hats, but was swatted away when he reached for the one on the left.
“Not the one with the feather!” cried Adam, snatching it away.
“But I thought you said I could wear your favourite hat?” James blew his fringe from his eyes exasperatedly.
“Well yes, I did. But they’re both my favourite and equally handsome, and besides, the feather does not suit your complexion in the least.”
Rolling his eyes, James followed his too cheery by half friend out the door, wondering just why he put up with him year after year (knowing, however, that the reason was simply true and easy friendship.)
They stepped outside, only to find that—
“Well, you were right,” whistled Adam in quiet awe. “It is a dark and stormy Night-In-Day.”
“You said that,” whispered James, never taking his eyes from the sky above them.
“So I did…”
The morning sky hung above them, as though the sky had bruised overnight, battling with the gods of the Greeks. The air seemed heavy, suffocating, and a hollow wind howled ‘round the house. Adam and James shuddered. The clouds above looked so blackened and menacing, as though they might fall at any moment. Worst of all was the Sun. It had long been said in myths and legends that the Sun chased the Moon day and night, separated lovers twirling round the earth. Overnight, it seemed, the Sun had caught up with her. The Sun was now crescent, like the Moon, emitting a dull and pale golden light, which cast no warmth, and no comfort upon the two gazing at the sky in horror. They barely noticed the angry gale, Adam’s cape whipping in the wind. They were struck by the silence of the world, beyond the wind. Everything seemed hollow, empty, dead. Life-In-Death.
Then Adam laughed.
James snapped his gaze to his friend, a friend he feared was now losing his sanity. Adam wore the same grin, the same twinkling eye, that he had whenever he was faced with the end of the world, the frail mortality of his own self.
“Adam! The world is folding in upon itself, and you’re giggling like you’ve just escaped from Bedlam! What is wrong with you, man?!” James stretched out his arm to grasp Adam and take him back inside, but his friend was too quick, dancing away as if on ice, stepping off the safety of the doorstep and into the suddenly demon world beyond.
“James, welcome to the English Countryside. Do enjoy your stay.” Adam gave a mock bow, before skipping off towards the path they had always taken, every morning upon Adam’s insistence. James stood, slack jawed, watching his laughing friend become alive in the otherworldly storm. “Are you coming or not? It’ll be a story to tell those mechanics who shield themselves from God inside their factories!” Hearing the words gust back to him, Adam about to dally into the much darker forest than usual, James shook his head, ceased to think, and stepped out into Hell with his friend.
The forest, previously so kind to them, with its dappled sunlight through leaves that James really thought ought to go back to the storybooks and poems they belonged in, was suddenly a strange, unfriendly world. The wind did not blow here, as they stepped beneath the canopies that provided them some shelter—though an oppressive, suffocating shelter. They were spared the horrifying sight of the sky about to cave in, but as such, were deprived of any pale light the sunmoon may have given them. It was dark, unbelievably dark, and the path (previously so smooth and well trodden by the friends) was knobbly, twisting, and had roots they knew hadn’t been there the morning before. It was as though the world had suddenly twisted inside out, and everything they knew had come undone.
Adam whistled as he walked. With a skip in his step, too. James felt his irritation rising, as he struggled not to catch his foot on any treacherous roots, and fall. He glared hard at Adam through the darkness, but he could barely see anything of his friend—save his gleaming eyes. James realised in that moment just how different they had become since his wife’s death. James knew numbers. Adam knew mortality. Adam loved Life-In-Death.
“Stop whistling,” James hissed, nearly stumbling on a rock that hadn’t been in the middle of the path before, catching himself on Adam’s shoulder. “I’m trying to concentrate, fool.”
“Concentrate on what? It’s too dark to see anything, you may as well let go, and well, skip,” Adam punctuated his ridiculous advice with a thin laugh. James ignored him.
One step. Feel for roots, nothing there. Very good, weight down.
Two steps. Sidestep the rock, don’t slip on the oozing mud, be steady and firm.
Three steps. Avoid the root, avoid the—
James fell sprawling on the ground, shutting his eyes in fear as the blackness of the forest rushed up to greet him. He cried out in pain as his hand flailed against a rock, sliced open by the jagged edge, his knees hitting the ground with a dull thud. He could feel mud seeping into his trousers, could feel the warm blood sliding down his wrist from his hand, could feel pale sun’s warmth on his cheeks.
His eyes snapped open. They were out of the forest, in a clearing he’d never seen before, next to an old, gnarled tree he didn’t recognise. The tree slanted sideways, hovering precariously over a hill, one could even call it a cliff that sloped rapidly downwards. Low over the horizon, the ghastly sunmoon hovered, faint warmth and pale uncaring light illuminating the strange dale, this new lookout. James scrambled up, hastily pulling himself to his knees, swiping the blood away from his wrist. After checking that he wasn’t seriously injured, he looked around for Adam.
He saw him staring, wide eyed and pale, down the hill the cracking tree balanced over.
“Adam, get away from the edge. We should go back into the forest, back down the path, though Lord knows something strange is going—”
With a single unwavering finger, Adam pointed down the slope, to something James could not see. He had never seen him look so serious, not for years, not since he had begun laughing off his wife’s death. James knew this was important. He knew this was dangerous. He knew this was life changing. He didn’t want to see.
“Come on Adam, we need to head back to the cottage, we need—”
That was the first time Adam had ever said please to James. Swallowing his fear, he edged slowly towards the precipice, carefully manoeuvring around the roots, terrified of tripping again and tumbling down the hill, sliced up by the jagged rocks that lined its edge. When he got to the edge and saw what Adam was pointing at, he gasped.
There, nestled far down the slope of the hill, against one of the rocks, was a baby.
It was undoubtedly a demon.
It was thin, skeletal and completely naked. Its eyes were dark and round, no whites, and the skin was pulled back taut over its scalp. James could not tell if it were male or female, but he knew, that this child with skin the colour of snow and cheeks gaunt and hollow, that it was not of this world. Its lips, though, were red as reddest apples, full and plump, and if James had seemed them on a French courtesan, he would have been tempted. But on the child, it simply seemed wrong. This was an abomination.
But when he tore his eyes away from the demonchild, he saw Adam’s expression, and it was nothing like his own. Adam’s eyes were full of compassion, worry and longing. James, without thinking, clutched at his friend’s wrist to find it slack and clammy.
“Leave it, Adam, leave it. That is not human.” He tried to tug his friend away, but he seemed distant, withdrawn, as though he could not hear or even feel James properly.
“My wife was to have a child. I never told anyone that. She was pregnant when she died.” His voice seemed flat, hollow, and it was almost as though he were not talking to James at all. As though he were talking to someone neither of them could see. “Now there is a child, and he is all alone.”
James grabbed his friend’s shoulders, trying to shake Adam to face him. Gone was the gleaming eyed laughing man he’d known. Instead stood before him a man who had faced great loss and survived, though gaunt and scarred. He could not tear Adam’s gaze from the demon child, no matter how hard he tugged. “Adam, that child, that thing, is not human! It is fae, it is otherly, I implore you, leave it, leave it to die and let us go back to the cottage!” The overlook was silent. They had left the wind behind at the house before the forest, but James still found himself yelling to be heard. Adam turned, slowly, to look James in the eye. There was none of his usual twinkle, but James saw an eternal sadness.
“James. Go back to the city and keep recording numbers. I must save this child.” His voice was sad, almost as though he regretted his choice. Almost, though. Not entirely.
“Adam, for Christ’s sake!” Adam regarded James quietly and calmly, even in the face of his curses and yelling. There was pity in his gaze, as he looked at his worldly friend.
“Until you have lost everything, James, you can understand nothing. I am sorry.”
He ripped his wrist from James’ grip, pulling away from his hold easily. His friend’s iron grasp had done nothing to deter a man empty and alone. And with James’ cries and shouts and pleas, and promises of sunlight dappled through the trees, ringing in his ears, Adam stepped over the hill, and tumbled down towards the demon child.