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The Devil of Winter Wood

Happy Halloween, folks! To celebrate the most glorious of all holidays, here is a blast from the past: a very short story (flash style) written as a supplement for the incredible RPG by Clint Krause called Don't Walk in Winter Wood, which has translations in both Italian and German! Check out this spooky tale, and be wary where you walk tonight while out trick or treating . . . there are Devils afoot!

Don’t go near the cursed place of Ol’ Grandfather Hughes!

It was one of those irredeemable autumn twilights when young Mr. Sydney Tedlock decided to take a privy stroll into Winter Wood. Ol’ Grandfather Hughes had warned him, bellowing through purple, toothless gums: “Don’ be lally-gag’n ‘round yonder wood back there now! Tis wild country ou’ there! Liable tu git yerself inna heap o’ trouble!” Young Sydney was lackadaisical, innocently oblivious to caution. Grabbing his favorite stick by the old shed, he took flight down the hill and into the wood.

Young Sydney swiped a path through the thick brush with his trustworthy oak rod, forging his own path through the suffocating growth of nature. The moon was rising slyly through spaces between the trees. He sang an old victory song, a battle-chant from many wars ago: “I pounce the stately wicked…to break the evil thicket…of conquering marauders…that spit on God the Father…I know I’ll be in heaven…when I kill seventy-seven…” He continued to roar his triumph until he was interrupted by a subtle sonance deep in the woods. He paused to inquire, the sound rose gradually in volume, like deep tubas wailing underwater. Soon, the entire area was filled with such hoarse baritones that Sydney felt goose bumps rise on his neck.

Then, it stopped. Before young Sydney had a chance to excuse the occurrence as his imagination gone awry, he heard his name called.

“Mr. Tedlock, what brings such a fine selection of gaiety to my neck of the woods?”

The man was barely over half of Sydney’s size. His resplendent grin was outlined by an intricately curled mustache and charcoal lips. His top hat and coat were made of maroon suede, with gold trim. Like a stately aristocrat, he was propped against a walking stick resembling a candy cane. Young Sydney licked his lips at the overwhelming scent of peppermint. He would have carried on the conversation had he not noticed small flashes of movement catching the corner of his eye. He whipped around to find only empty brush; it seemed as if there were unseen things scurrying all around him.

“I asked you a question, Mr. Tedlock,” the little man grew impatient by the boy’s inability to focus. “I do expect an answer! Am I being just, or just plain rude! I will give you my name…..Mr. Buglesuede, it is!”

“I’m sorry, sir,” young Sydney began. “I…I haven’t been out here before. I didn’t know anyone lived out here. I thought Grandfather Hughes owned all the land.”

“So one thinks,” Buglesuede threw his hands in the air. “Always forget I’m hiding in the weeds to spoil the crop, do they? But this is our business! There is a tax to pay, Mr. Tedlock, for crossing paths on my territory!”

“But…but I have no money to pay a tax, Mr. Buglesuede!”

“I am no dictator, for Saturn’s sake,” Mr. Buglesuede hissed. “I just want what’s mine, like anyone else! And you, boy, take note: Young Tedlock, age of 10 years, 10 months, 5 days, and a few hours, is cited for Involuntary Trespassing: tree bark fudge and pollen cakes!” He tapped his cane twice on a slab of rock. In a magically swift motion, followed by a trail of nauseous pollen, Mr. Buglesuede drew a roll of parchment from his maroon sleeve and unraveled it before the daunted young Sydney.

Young Sydney began to read it:

Young Sydney’s jaw dropped, “Wait . . . I’ve already signed this?”

“My, my,” Mr. Buglesuede peered curiously over young Syndey’s shoulder. “It appears you have! How eager of you!”

“Oh dear,” poor young Sydney wailed. “What am I to tell Grandfather? He’ll rightly be furious with me this time! I’m sure to be getting another beating . . . for giving up my soul of all things!”

With a snap of his fingers, the parchment rolled itself up and slid into Mr. Buglesuede’s coat sleeve. “Now, young Mr. Tedlock, the contract merely states a soul. Yours specifically does not need to adhere to the said regulations. You could . . . steal somebody else’s, if need be.”

Young Sydney speculated about the many ins and outs of such a conundrum: if Grandfather Hughes were to know that young Syndey had fallen into this quagmire, surely he would be beaten once again. If, however, he were to give up another soul in place of his, he could do as his Mum used to say before she died: plow two fields with one horse!

“You have until tomorrow evening, my young sprout,” Mr. Buglesuede bowed a deep and gentlemanly bow. He lifted his head, and with a wink vanished as soon as blink. Just like that, he was gone.

It was the next day when young Sydney Tedlock had come into the village to report the passing of Ol’ Grandfather Hughes to the proper authorities. The coroner had determined the cause of young Sydney Tedlock’s elder passing was (he coined nervously) “unnatural.” Young Sydney was too young to live alone on the farm and was sent away to a distant aunt. It is said he grew dismal and wretched in the coming years and eventually became retarded in his intelligence. “Possessed of devils,” the reverends say. To this day nobody dare goes to Ol’ Grandfather Hughes’ farm, which sits desolate and dilapidated. Its fields are depreciated, parched, and wrought with famine. It’s only neighbor . . . the dark and somber trees of Winter Wood.

The End . . . ?

Don't forget to buy Don't Walk in Winter Wood today!

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