Every year on Halloween, Rebecca waits at the window. As the morning mist parts, the mysterious warrior she’s seen every year since her birth emerges to march across the field and share a brief glance with her, a look that promises more than it ever delivers…
The mist parted. Into the lonely field stepped a man clad in sheepskins and roughly patched armour. At his side swung a sword, pitted and notched, and on his head rode a battered helmet. He glared about the vast open space, smelling the strange sharp tang that permeated the mist surrounding him.
‘Petrol.’ He growled and sniffed again. ‘Wrong sodding world.’ He stepped backwards and the mist rolled around him. The next moment, he was gone.
In another field, far from the first yet only a stone’s throw away, the mist parted and the same, grizzled warrior strode forth. He carried himself with more confidence this time. His confidence came from the familiar sight of the farmhouse, perched on the edge of the field like a hopeful child at the edge of the group, longing to join the game but lacking the words to ask.
The warrior grunted and stomped across the field, oblivious to the clods of thick mud that clung to his hide boots. As he neared the dwelling, his eyes were drawn inexorably to the top window. It was a tiny window, barely large enough to let light into the room beyond, but the perfect size to show the tiny face peering out at him.
He raised one hand and the face disappeared a moment, before reappearing, wide smile plastered across it. The warrior grunted again. If he was pleased by the sight of her, he didn’t show it. A watcher might have surmised at this point that the warrior showed very little of what he felt, and they would have been right.
Since the crime and ensuing curse, the warrior’s heart had been encased in ice and very little managed to crack it. Although, the sight of Rebecca’s face always sent hairline fractures through it. It wouldn’t be long before those fractures did for his heart what nothing else had.
Rebecca – not Becky, mother hated Becky. All the girls at school called her Becky, but they were warned to revert to her original name when they came over – sat up in bed and stared at her attic roof. She glanced down at her old nightgown and scowled. There were many things mother didn’t like, sleeping naked foremost amongst them. Rebecca hated wearing a nightgown. It was hot, scratchy, and she’d often wake from a nightmare, tangled and fighting some imaginary beast that turned out to be her left sleeve.
She slipped from her bed and tore her gown off, then stretched properly, enjoying those few moments of glorious freedom before the day began.
Today was a special day. Not to mother, obviously, but to other people, it was special. Halloween. It was an American holiday of course, the main reason for mother’s contempt, but there was also no reason to celebrate. Nothing had happened on Halloween. There were no saints created, nor anyone mercilessly murdered for the sake of it. Nothing special, really.
Rebecca sidled to the window and took a deep breath. Halloween was special for lots of people, but for her, it was the most important day of the year. She twitched the curtains aside and stared across the field. The mist was thick, which meant he was coming.
She took a deep breath and waited. And waited. She checked her watch. Half six. Early yet, then, though it felt like she’d waited forever already. The mists swirled and her breath caught in her throat. This was it. He was coming. The damp air twitched and caught, like a wind swirled across the field.
Then it parted. She’d seen the same thing ever year of her life, yet still she couldn’t find a better way to describe it. It wasn’t like it truly parted. Mist wasn’t curtains that could be pulled apart. But that’s what happened. From out of the mist he stepped. Her hero.
She wished she knew his name. She wished she knew where he came from and where he went, when he plunged back into the fog. But she didn’t. He came from the mist and now she stared as he stomped across the damp soil towards her.
He had a gait, a way of walking, that entranced her. It spoke of a man well used to walking. She imagined his feet were huge callouses, and when he left her world, he went to another, and another, never stopping or resting. Maybe he did. Some part of her knew she would never know, though she wished it could be otherwise.
He reached the point where the field ended and the track began, and stopped. She knew what came next, but still she held her breath until their eyes met. He nodded, a brief sign of something shared, and raised one rough hand.
She reached out with her own, as though she could touch his. She imagined his skin, leathery and warm, gripping hers tight. She could imagine his voice, as rough as his hands, promising to look after her, to keep her safe. All the things her own father had never done. All the things her mother claimed to do but failed at so completely.
Tears pricked the corners of her eyes, the same as always. They stared at one another for another brief moment, before he turned and marched away. The next moment, the sun peeked over the horizon and the first yellow band of gold lanced across the field. It seemed to pierce the mist and for a second she thought she saw through it. She thought she saw other fields, other houses. Then he stepped into the fog and was gone.
Rebecca climbed back into bed, nightgown be damned, pulled her knees up to her chest, and wept.
A year passed. Things changed. Rebecca changed. She bled where she had never bled before and grew taller, her limbs no longer the squat, agile things she’d enjoyed as a girl.
But some things remained exactly the same. When she woke on Halloween morning, she tossed her gown on the floor and dashed to the window. He was coming. She’d been waiting weeks, months it felt like. She could hear mother pottering about downstairs, preparing the same breakfast they’d eaten every day for the last thirteen years, the thick porridge and cold toast she loathed.
The mist was thick today, already swirling. He would be early. Her heart hammered in her chest and her smile widened. This would be the day he wouldn’t stop at the road, she knew it. She just knew it.
He emerged and she drank in every step. She shuddered at his sheepskins, trying to imagine living in them. Would she be able to sleep? Would she be comfortable? Would it matter if she was no longer here? She shook her head, smile growing.
He reached the track and stopped. Her mouth opened and she reached out, but nothing emerged. He raised his head and, though seeing his eyes brought the same burst of excitement to her as it always did, something else was mingled with it. The purity of her joy was tainted with the realisation that he would never come closer. It mattered more, now, though she knew not why.
He raised his hand and she tried to raise hers, but managed only the faintest of waves.
Then he put his foot on the track. She gasped and bashed on the window, nodding and gesturing wildly at him. He didn’t look up. Soon he was out of sight beneath her. She heard the door open, then her mother’s voice.
‘I’m sorry, it’s rather earl—’
Her voice cut off, accompanied by the sound of something striking flesh. Her mother’s scream was weak, just as she had been her entire life. Rebecca – though possibly just Becky now – put her clenched fist in her mouth and bit down. Was it evil that she struggled to find remorse for what was happening beneath her?
She listened as something heavy struck the floor. Bile bit the back of her throat and she settled herself on the bed. She was naked, which was as it should be, when he came to her. She’d always imagined him as her father, before this year, but now she knew he was something quite different.
The stairs creaked. Her breath stopped and she had to thump her chest to get it going again.
The landing creaked and Becky groaned, deep in her chest. She covered her naked breasts and scooted further back on her bed, resisting the urge to yank the covers over herself.
The door opened and he stepped in. With him came the smell of earth, and animals, and cold. He smelt of a wild place, of a world Becky had dreamt of since she was born.
‘You’ve come.’ It wasn’t what she thought she’d say, but it was the best she could do. His face was as impassive as her mother’s, but his eyes said more than she could bear. Up close, he wasn’t as attractive as she’d thought, but there was a rugged handsomeness there, a look she hadn’t seen on any of the boys at school.
He stepped towards her and stretched out his hand, nodding. She reached out and took it and it was just as rough as she’d imagined. She smiled, but he shook his head and frowned. ‘What’s wron—’
Something entered her, something cold and hard, that pierced her chest then smashed through her ribs. She felt shattered bone drive into her heart, then he released her hand and she fell back onto the bed. The sheets were soon stained red, but neither mother, nor Becky, were alive to care.
He left the house and paused on the dirt track. The mist beckoned but he resisted its call, just for a moment. This one hurt more than the rest, though he didn’t know why. Maybe it was the hope in her eyes, or the skinny naked body that promised so much.
But then, that was where the trouble had started. That was where the curse had come from and, though he hated what it made him do, it was the least he deserved. The mists parted and the warrior marched out of one world and into the next.