by Lillian Phillips
Your grandfather tells you about the men in the ancient woodland near his house. He tells you about the figures he glimpses crossing the pathways by night. You look back and see the gate, the rusted spikes where you climb over. The sun is almost setting and its wide face blinds you; your students shield their eyes as you lay out the plan. You watch the trees as you talk.
You are taken to your grandfather’s house when he falls ill and he tells you about the men. His gaze never leaves the ceiling as he speaks and your mother cleans downstairs. His features are palest white as he takes your hand. He recites words you do not understand until much later into your research. You recite some of them now and your students are eager to set off. Some of them take notes. It is time for the sun to go down; its edge meets the horizon and its rays split across the fields like lines of fire.
Your grandfather describes the One and its place in the centre. He gestures to the drawings pinned to the wall above his bureau. They are hideous and you stand staring at them until your mother takes you home. He draws them on the heath, he tells you, in the centre of the woods where the ground climbs to a peak and the heather grows wild. It is dark beneath the trees; your students whisper and their footsteps spread out around you.
Georgina Wilkes is your grandfather’s housekeeper for a while; you remember the phone call you make and the crying voice at the end of the line. Your grandfather would come back from walks at night, she tells you, all shook up but with a horrible look in his eyes. She says he would go to his room and she would catch his conversations through the door. Though he has gone she has never forgotten the names he hisses: names of demons from the Good Book and others she has never heard of. Abaddon and Yidhra, Ipos and Nyarlathotep. She remembers the way his body is hunched in the corner of his bedroom as he speaks to them. You do not ever tell your students about me, says Ms Wilkes.
Your grandfather tells you that the heath is the centre. Follow the men in the woods and look for the light, he says. You make efforts to follow the men. With your students you take the paths in the gloom and walk behind the pale shapes that lope and call out to each other. Their forms are tall and emit the faintest of light. In time they slip away and you are left alone.
Your grandfather is dying and he tells you about the men for the final time. It is bitter black by the time you reach the heath. You feel the air as it throbs and changes; it does not feel like the wind. You whisper to those of your students who still remain. You see a dark flash and you are writhing in the night, in the cold air on the heath. You see the white hands of your grandfather for only an instant.
You get to your feet. You tilt your head to catch the music; there is piping in the distance and you see two students lying nearby on the grass. They are screaming in silence. The others have fled the heath.
You sense a throne out there in the night. The sitter fills time. The sitter fills the void. He is there at the gates and over the rusted spikes; he is behind the curve of the setting sun; he is the master of the men in the woods; he is there with you at your grandfather’s side, at the centre of his infinite years. You chant the sitter’s name and the sitter grows.
The One is at the centre and joins with the dark air. You see its tendrils, you hear its blasphemous piping. The One is at the centre as you walk up onto the heath. You see your grandfather and he tells you about the men in the woods. You are broken up and you are with the One. The trees around the heath move without wind. Your grandfather dies and is buried when you are still a child. Your mother takes you home from the heath and as you walk you watch for the men in the woods.