Wicker pg. 5 - The Marshes Claim a Victim

Henry’s breathing had evened in rhythm, and I was staring up into the darkness, restlessly considering the question of anything other than the crickets and the wicker being within the marshes.  I experimented with closing my eyes, which produced eerily little difference in visibility.

Ethan whispered my name, and I answered.  I was glad to be free of my own mind, and hoped that a light-hearted conversation would see us to dawn.

“Are you frightened?” asked he.

“Aye, these marshes frighten me.  The wicker, shrouded in fog, adopts the forms of ghosts and visions.”

“I have also found it so.  Zachary, did you enter the marshes without fear?”

“Without reason to fear.  Being frightened in the marshes I entered without reason to fear, I am doubly uneasy.”

“No sins which God as not forgiven?”

“Not behind this breast.  Have you?”

“No,” he answered.  “Of late, I have been slothful of mind.  It is a personal sin.  Not the sort the witches will notice.”

“Witches!  Ethan, I took you for an enlightened man.  Would you not be surprised to meet a witch?”

“Of course.  That which transforms the wicker into creatures also brings witches to my mind.”

“Do you mean the fog?”

“Yes,” he said, “the fog, and the entire atmosphere.  It corresponds with the legend.  Perhaps your great-grandfathers also explored the marshes.”

“They, or their fathers, may well have,” I said.

“Would you be surprised to meet a witch, Zachary?”

“Though the marshes have defied my expectations at every turn, yet if we chance to find a witch, I should likely fall down unconscious with surprise.”

When Ethan resumed the conversation, I could no longer hear him clearly.  He was proposing confusing courses of action in the event we did happen on a witch, which quickly lapsed into unintelligibility.

On opening my eyes from one of my visibility experiments, I found my surroundings brighter than I remembered them.  My vision was blurred, and a cold sweat stood on my forehead.  Something indistinct in my field of vision moved.  I then realized I was merely staring into the shifting mists.  I sat up abruptly.  Ethan was asleep, his back to me.  The extinguished lamp stood guard in the center of our camp-site.  I crawled toward the place where Henry was sleeping, to find him gone!  I thought that the fool had undertaken to return to Hannah’s Rock alone, until I encountered his scimitar.  That I might have a more comprehensive view of the area, I stood, bumping my head against a wicker formation.

“Henry!” I hissed into the fog around me.  After a few uncertain steps, I turned back to the formation I had bumped against and, comparing its shape to my mind’s image of my brother, came to a horrible conclusion.  I sliced open the cocoon and extricated the body of young Henry.  Some hairs remained caught in the wicker shell.  Though physically unharmed, the body was quite lifeless.

“Ethan!” I cried.  “Rouse yourself, man!”  I jerked the sack from under him.  “My brother is murdered!”

“Henry?” said Ethan, not comprehending.

“Dead!  See there!  Mummified!”

“Impossible,” my companion murmured.

“This was to have been his sarcophagus, ere I cut him free!”  With the scimitar, I wreaked vengeance on the husk.  “Rouse yourself!”

“It might have been you.  Or myself.  To Hannah’s Rock!”  Ethan pulled himself to his feet.

“Nay!  Be there witches, I shall find them out!  Be there not, I will see the other side of these marshes, and they will feel the cut of Indian steel, to the marrow!”

“Zachary, let us quit these marshes.  Our friends will presume us dead.”

“And they shall be a third correct.  Are you with me or no?”

“I am with you,” he said.

Accordingly, I delved on, shattering my enemy’s wicker bones beneath the blade.  I paused only to wipe tears and fog from my eyes.  I slashed now leftward, now rightward, as I had seen Henry do.  There was a rhythm to hewing through the wicker that I had not noticed the day before.  As I cut now leftward, now rightward, I discovered that the rhythm could be timed to coincide with the crickets, and it fixed itself in my head.  Snatches of verse floated to the surface of my mind, which I set to the meter and muttered to myself.  “… the thickest wicker thickets in the wicked wicker marshes ringing with the witches’ weaving to the crickets’ tortured singing in the dim and wicked thickets which subsist on hair and sin … the wicked wicker thickets ringing with the sound of singing and of witches weaving wicker, living, heaving, sighing wicker, breathing, tortured, dying wicker, into chairs amid the thickets to the sound of crickets singing for our sins to be forgiven….”

The End

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