Tonight is my last night on Earth.
Tonight, I take my final chance. Tonight, I try to escape. Tonight, I try to kill it.
I hold no delusions of success. What I’m attempting tonight is the wildest of the wild cards. I don’t expect to win. But it doesn’t matter whether I win or not. My time on this mortal plane is over and I see no point in dragging it out. I have done almost everything I wanted to do with my life and those that I have not are impossible now. They have either been snatched from me by the malevolent beast against whom I ride tonight, destroyed in the madness he brings, or lost due to my own foolishness.
Tonight, I am going to die but I’m going to die at peace with myself. When I ride out tonight, I will ride out with no regrets. Gather around the campfire, children, Uncle Marcus has one last story to tell.
It was the fifth day of our expedition into the Black Forest. Until this point, we had not seen the Tree Walker. Hans, Winston and I were walking together; Benjamin had gone a ways on his own after seeing a rocky outcrop that he wanted to get a picture of. We had agreed to meet in a clearing some miles ahead that Hans referred to as a “fairy copse”. As it went, the three of us reached the copse first. While we were waiting for Benjamin, Hans told Winston and I of how, in ancient times, children were sacrificed to fairies such as the Tree Walker in copses such as the one we were sitting in. He couldn’t have timed it better; scarce seconds after he finished his tale, Winston saw it among the trees. Such fear as grabbed me then I had never known before and have never known since. Hans started muttering something in stilted and archaic German that was far beyond my limited abilities in the language. It may have been some sort of ancient prayer or spell of warding. It may have just been some very colourful cursing. It seems that even if I die with no regrets, I will still die with questions unanswered.
The Tree Walker started advancing towards slowly, as if considering what to do with us. Suddenly, tentacles erupted from its back and, just as suddenly, Winston had a fit of panic and opened fire on it with his rifle. I’ve always wondered whether that action was what sealed our fate; perhaps if Winston had remained calm, our lives wouldn’t have been left in ruin. Speculation serves me no purpose though. The only thing of which I am certain is that what seemed like simple curiousity on the Tree Walker’s part turned to open, palpable malevolence after Winston attacked it. Its tentacles melted into a thick fog that snaked along the ground until it reached Hans and started swirling around his feet, then legs, then chest and, soon enough, his entire body before finally seeping inside him. When he turned to Winston and I, we could both see that Hans was no longer in control of his actions, if he was even alive inside his own body anymore. He started advancing menacingly towards us and Winston raised his rifle to shoot him but Hans knocked it aside with his cane, sending it tumbling into the undergrowth. With a speed I hadn’t seen in him before, he lunged at the disarmed Winston and felled him like a tree. He then turned to attack me but, as fast as he was, I was faster. I dodged all but his final strike, which caught me across the chin and sent me tumbling to the ground, where I landed on my boney arse – right next to Winston’s rifle.
Hans was moving in for the kill. I swear to any deity that will hear my plea that I acted in self-defense. I grabbed the rifle, climbed to my feet and fired three bullets straight into his heart. The only thing Benjamin saw as he came within sight of the copse was the rifle in my hands and Hans falling to his knees. In his shock, he dropped his camera, which smashed on a rock, and then ran over, screaming at me, asking me what I had done. My only answer was to point at the Tree Walker, still standing, still watching. Benjamin fell silent and, for a single moment, he seemed to reach towards the monster, like a satyr beholding a god, but then his senses prevailed and he screamed for Winston and I to run before taking off himself, grabbing Hans’s cane as he went.
We ran for days. Any time we thought we’d managed to escape, the Tree Walker was there. In retrospect, I understand it was merely toying with us. It always gave us just enough time to rest. Enough time, in other words, to make the hunt interesting. We ran for the most of three days until we finally managed to escape – or rather, the Tree Walker allowed us to escape – into the snow of February, 1994. You know the story from there, more or less. I didn’t leave out anything important.
I had met Hans’s family before the expedition. They were good people. They deserved to hear the truth about the death of their father, husband, brother and son. It’s a truth I was too much of a coward to give them. In the moment that I pulled that trigger, I betrayed an innocent man. Years later, I watched that same betrayal play out a second time when I let Benjamin send Ang Jangbu plummeting to his death.
Laura died because of me. Every one of those people Benjamin had me kill died because of me. If there is a heaven, I deserve no place in it. I do not ask for forgiveness. I only ask for this final opportunity for redemption.
Tonight, I ride against the Tree Walker. An eternity ago, in May, I said that the only word you could trust from me is “Hello”. In the months since, I like to think that I’ve earned your trust, in so much as anyone can trust a man talking on the Internet about being stalked by a monster beyond the scope of the nightmares of most people. Thank you for your companionship in the past few months, however distant it has been. Thank you and goodbye.
I’m coming, my love.