The Betrayal of Ang Jangbu

Time for a new confession. A new revelation, if you will.

We were in the Himalayas for several months while trying to flee the Tree Walker, for the better part of 1998, if memory serves. We had employed one of the local Sherpa as a guide, but he knew nothing of the Tree Walker. His name was Ang Jangbu and for all the months we spent in the Himalays, he made sure we never starved or froze. On one occasion when I fractured my shin, he carried me for several days, even when it would have been more advantageous to leave me behind. He was a true companion, truer even than Benjamin or Winston, at times.

But the bond between Benjamin, Winston and I was not a bond of brotherhood. It was a bond of blood. And so when the time came to make a sacrifice, it was Ang who got the short end of the stick.

About six months into our trek, we were scaling a cliff to reach the next leg of our journey. I was the third to climb the cliff, with Ang behind me. As I was approaching the edge, I saw Benjamin whisper something into Winston’s ear, then heard Winston yell out. I looked down to see what he had been yelling about, a sudden burst of laughter from Benjamin punctuating the moment. Far below us, the Tree Walker was standing, shadowy tendrils spilling from him like blood. Ang, who had been shouting at me for looking down, saw the look of terror on my face and turned to look himself. Both of us were frozen with fear for a few moments until Ang started screaming in terror. His screams woke me up and I pulled myself up the last few feet to reach the cliff. Winston caught me under the arms and hoisted me up. Then, Benjamin took out a knife and started giggling again. He kneeled down and cradled the rope like Mary holding Christ’s body, then started hacking at it with the knife. Ang started screaming, but it wasn’t the monster below him that scared him; it was the monsters above.

It only took a few good slashes for Benjamin to send Ang hurtling to his death. Winston and I averted our eyes but Benjamin watched with a morbid fascination as the Tree Walker…eviscerated him. We eventually pulled Benjamin away and continued on our journey, hoping that our sacrifice would sate the Tree Walker’s hunger for a little longer.

When I look back at this memory, a lot of things strike me; the way the Tree Walker’s tendrils seemed to fall out of his body, Winston’s icy calmness, the rich peals of Benjamin’s mad laughter. But one thing always stands out over all others. In fact, sometimes I still hear it in my dreams. Ang’s screams, from when he first saw the Tree Walker, to his terror as Benjamin hacked at his rope, to that final, horrible moment when he fell to his death.

These screams have never left me because, through each and every moment of fear, Ang screamed only one thing; my name. He called out for me to help him, to save him, and I turned him away. As he plunged to his doom, he reached out for me to save him and I did nothing. I wish I’d stopped then. I wish I’d walked away from Benjamin and Winston, even if it meant walking into the Tree Walker’s waiting arms. Anything would have been preferable to the madness that came next. Anything.

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An Error Corrected, or Aniseed

Okay, I know you expect pretentious upper-class twit from me but I need a moment here.

Fucking. Aniseed. Balls.

I’ve been eating them all day. They are, quite simply, the most delicious sweets on the planet but Hannah always does her best to keep them out of my reach, since I’m allergic to aniseed (a fairly rare condition). I probably shouldn’t be eating these but, honestly, most of the flavour is artifical, I’m just getting itchy lips.

On the topic of Hannah, I have to take a minute here to rectify something I said earlier which wasn’t fair to her. She doesn’t visit me for an hour every day. She is paid to visit me for an hour every day. She spends much longer here, talking to me, making me tea, what have you. She is, as the Irish like to say, a dote. I’d be a madman today if not for her companionship. I just wanted to clarify that. Give her role in my life a bit of justice.

The Shopkeeper’s Car

Hannah, my nurse, tried to come in today but I made her stay at home and gave her next week off. Poor thing just lost her father, she doesn’t need to be checking up on a cranky old cripple like me. Her family need her more.

Laura was pregnant when she died. We were going to start a family. Had her death not been so violent, the baby might even have survived but…no, it died on impact. She died on impact. We were going to have a baby girl.

You’ll notice a lot of my regrets will involve Laura. Unsurprising really, she’d be alive and happy if not for me. I regret every moment I spent with her if only because she’d have never gotten entangled with the Tree Walker if not for me.

Let’s try a Laura-less regret, shall we? It was the day we came out of the Black Forest. I remember that day particularly well because of the sheer volume of snow that the area was buried under. We walked for miles before we came across a small but modern village. We were talking to a shopkeeper, trying to get a bearing on where we were so we could get away from the Forest and, more importantly, the Tree Walker. Of course, that’s when we saw him.

At first I thought it was a snow-filled tree, but, unfortunately, it was him. Or maybe it was both. One then the other. He’s probably not a tree but he’s very good at impersonating them. Suddenly becoming them or suddenly not being there. At any rate, we saw him. The thing that had followed us through that forest for so long, until Hans was dead at our feet…

We were frozen with fear. Then Benjamin thawed and started threatening the shopkeeper. I can still remember his exact words, because it was only the second time I had heard Benjamin’s voice laced with such fear. “Give me the keys to your car, you Nazi bastard, give me the fucking keys! Refuse and I’ll kill you on the fucking spot, do you hear? On the fucking spot!” The man handed over the keys and Benjamin, Winston and I ran out, jumped in the car and hit the gas pedal. I remember we swerved in the snow as we were going around the corner and the rear of the car swung towards the curb, until my window was just inches away from him. That was the first time I saw him so closely. It’s not a suit from what I could see. It was more like bark covered in black moss.

I still feel bad for stealing that car. The man we stole it from obviously wasn’t exactly rolling in Deutsche Mark and it was a nice car, so he’d obviously been saving for it for years. We shouldn’t have stolen it, there was no immediate danger. And then we ended up torching it in Naples to try and cover our tracks. What a waste. So many things go wasted. Too many things.

Walking With A Dead Man’s Cane

I received a phone call from Winston today. Apparently my nurse had to attend a funeral and he just wanted to check up on me. Very kind of him.

I told him about this blog. He couldn’t fathom why I’d want to draw such attention to myself. Not that I would expect any more or less from Winston; he’s very much a…how do I put this? A bit of a Rick Blaine, if any of you have seen Casablanca. “I stick my neck out for nobody!” is practically the Ramsey family motto. The only difference is that I don’t see love redeeming Winston Ramsey in the foreseeable future.

He was kind enough to give me an update on Benjamin. He won’t talk to me anymore, so I have to get all the latest news second hand from Winston. Apparently Benjamin is turning into a bit of a local myth himself. You know the kind of thing, children see a creepy house and tell other children that the resident is an ancient wizard and dare each other to knock on the door and other such nonsense. They call him Der Mann mit dem Gehstock – the Man with the Cane – because he goes out walking in the Black Forest every day with a rather ornate-looking cane. It used to belong to Hans, before he was killed. Ever since that day, I’ve wondered why Benjamin kept it. Does he see it as a trophy, a prize piece, a relic of his greatest excursion? Does he attach some signifiance to it, sentimental, symbolic or otherwise? Does he think it can protect him from the Tree Walker? Winston doesn’t know, or says he doesn’t, at least.

I wonder though. I really do wonder.

Narcissus’s Folly, or Strike

Right, time to step up the to the plate. I started this thing to confess my mistakes and air out my head and I’ve been putting it off ever since. I’ve been too much of a coward to enter the forest of my own mind but I realise I’ve been looking at it the wrong way. This task is a mountain I have to conquer but I’m not going to conquer it by taking a helicopter half-way up and jumping out, hoping I’ll get a grip. The only way to conquer it is to put one metaphorical foot in front of the other and get it over with.

I hit my wife once. A few months before she died, the Tree Walker, whom I had seen neither hide nor hair of for over two years, suddenly returned, as if he couldn’t stand that, in his absence, I had begun to rebuild my life, and wanted to tear it all down again. Maybe he had even been planning for it; allowing me to become the happiest man in the world just so he could punt me back down to the bottom of the pile. Several months into this renewed reign of terror, mere weeks before my wife’s death, my wife walked in on me sitting in the living room of our house, staring out the window at the Tree Walker, lurking just on the edge of the treeline. I hadn’t told her about the Tree Walker; I never wanted her to feel the terror and anger that I did. Perhaps ironically, if not for the secret that I kept from her, she might not have.

She was only worried about me. She only wanted to see if I was okay. But I hadn’t slept properly in days; the Tree Walker was everywhere I looked and I was closer to the edge of madness than I’d ever been before. I was in no condition to interpret her love and kindness as it was. In my mind, her concern was twisted by paranoia to a condescencion; in my mind, she thought I was going mad, which I was, of course, but a madman never thinks of himself as one. I snapped at her, telling her to leave me be. She put her hand on my shoulder to calm me.

I swiped at her. I never meant to hit her, just to brush her arm off. Instead, I smashed her face with my elbow. I instantly snapped out of my one-sided staring contest with the Tree Walker and rushed to her aid. I’d knocked out a tooth and both the inside and outside of her cheek were bleeding. When I tried to help her, she batted me away, screaming at me not to touch her. I tried to explain myself but failed and she told me she was going to stay in her apartment in Rutland. I should have stopped her but, in my despair and self-loathing, I did not. I was too self-absorbed to even consider the possibility she might come to the very harm I had been trying to keep her from.

That night, Laura saw the Tree Walker for the first time.

A Glass of Red Wine

A glass of red wine is an interesting thing. There’s something special about red wine, something you just can’t find in white or rosé. Certainly the others are delightful drinks but red wine…red wine is more than that. When you see white or rosé wine in an advertisement, you think, “Oh yes, that looks nice.”, but when you a glass of red wine…it’s striking. It catches the eye, somehow.

Maybe it’s the colour. Red wine is very close in colour to blood. Perhaps we feel a resonance with it, as if it’s merely un vaso de sangre that we’ve misplaced from our bodies; a little extra lifeblood to warm the heart. Is there a danger to it too, a thrill? Red wine on a white carpet spills so dramatically, like blood at a murder scene. Does it appeal to our inner animality? The blood of the feast! The red wine of the battlefield!

Did you know that red wine catches the light of a fire beautifully? Sometime, make some time to sit down by a roaring fire and raise a glass of red wine until it catches the light just so. Another harmony? A trinity even? Fire, wine and blood. The fire in the wine, the wine in the blood and the blood in the fire.

Perhaps it’s because they fulfill our three base desires; food, drink and destruction. Perhaps they represent something of man. Or perhaps it’s because fire, wine and blood are the three things that broken men try to bury their memories beneath.

My Wife’s Blood On My Lap

I had a nightmare last night. I’m not a chronic sufferer but I do get them, now and then. It’s hard to say you’re truly hunted until the hunter hunts you in your dreams. Until you can’t even escape in the world where the impossible is supposed to be possible.

In the dream, the four of us are together again. Benjamin, Winston, Hans and I. We’re just traipsing through the forest when we come across a clearing with a wooden pyre in the middle and my wife tied up in the middle of the pyre. Hans gestures grandly to the wooden tangle.

“In ancient times, this is where my ancestors burned witches. Observe.”

He snaps his fingers and the pyre goes up in flames, as is the nature of pyres. Soon the flames reach my wife and her screams are mingling with the smoke.

“Help me! Help me, Marcus, please! Please!”

To one side, there’s a bucket of water, so I tear past the others, knocking Benjamin to one side as I do, and lunge for the bucket. I throw the whole bucketful of water on the fire but it evaporates before it can even get close to my wife. I drop the bucket and get another, right where the other one was, but the same things happen. I must do this about fifty times before it’s too late and everything, the whole pyre and my wife’s body, has been burned to indiscriminately grey ash.

I fall to my knees to cry but before even a single tear can escape, I feel myself being picked up and thrown against an invisible obstacle. It’s the accident that crippled me happening all over again and I fall to the ground, my legs once again useless. I feel the weight of a boot on the back of my neck as my head is forced to the ground. Hans’ voice rings out from above, like a bell from a belfry.

“You would not walk through the flames, so now you will crawl through the ashes.”

And I do. I crawl, like an animal, through the dusty remains of wood and my wife. I am about halfway across before I see what I am crawling towards. The Tree Walker is standing at the other side, silent, sightless and stiller than any living thing should be. I don’t stop crawling when I see him. Rather, I crawl all the faster. The faster I get to him, the faster he can break me and my pain can end forever. The pain of knowing I’ve made mistakes and being powerless to change them. The pain of having my wife torn from my arms. The pain of knowing that the only feeling I will ever feel below my waist being the warmth of my wife’s blood on my lap as she dies before my eyes, and that even that feeling is just imagined.

I woke up to find I had fallen out of bed and crawled to my window. Or climbed out of bed and crawled. The sly bastard thinks he can trick me. He underestimates my commitment to never leaving this house. He underestimates me.