Too Creepy to Survive?

The strangest monster ever to fall off the Welsh cryptid map.

A veritable bestiary survives from Welsh myth and legends, from dragons, the Gwiber and Carrog, to the legion of races collected haphazardly under the umbrella (or should that be a cloak) of the Tylwyth Teg, with monstrous boars, basilisks and lake serpents along the way. Among the early Welsh good housekeeping tips you can hear how to keep on the good side of the fairies, gain some help around the house from the bwbach, or avoid being drowned by water horses, or led astray by the pwca. But there is one creature that seems to have fallen off the folkloric radar completely, and one that is every bit as deadly as a dragon, or as mischievous as the Will o’ the Wisp.

The idea of this creature is very creepy, very creepy indeed if you stop to think about it. The worst monsters are never to me the most monstrous, but rather those who appear most familiar; and how you treat with it depends entirely on where you encounter it.

Let us imagine, if you will, you are a young farm hand or maid. It is Candlemas and the fair is in the nearby town, and as luck would have it you have the day’s leave to attend, whether on the masters business or not, it matters not as it is still a day among the entertainments of the fair. And what a day it has been! You have met with old friends, made some new ones, you’ve bartered and bought and sold all day, you heart is light and your pockets are heavy. You ended the day at the tavern for some refreshment before you left, even in this you were measured and responsible, you had some but not too much before setting off before the sun had set for home.

As the last tincture of daylight, warm and red like wine, drained from the bowl of the sky, you were rising up the hillside road, the allt, an old familiar friend you have trodden day and night a thousand times before. The old allt holds no surprises for you, you could walk her blindfold, every step. A cold spring mist descends but again this is nothing new to you, you are Welsh afterall, weather is an inconstant companion. So on you tread up the allt.

As you crest the brow of the hill, onto the high moorland above the cold begins to bite a little harder. Mae’n gafael the locals say, it is grasping. You begin to lose yourself in your thoughts and memories of the day, as one foot falls in front of the other along old familiar pathways. You are in quite a reverie when a shape looms in the distance ahead, you are so much lost in thought that the sheer shock of its unexpectedness hits your heart like an ice hammer.

It takes you a moment to calm your heart and breathing enough to take in what you are seeing. The shape is… yes… no… you almost laugh out loud at your own foolishness. Why, it’s an old woman! Hunched over in front of you, she’s walking in the same direction as you so her face is turned away. The mist is not so thick yet that you cannot see a good quarter mile ahead and she is at the point just before she would disappear completely. No doubt she is a fellow fair goer and being old and slow left some time before you to make it home in the same direction over the moor.

Well, it would do you both good, no doubt to have some companionship on this journey over the hills. An old woman is no highwayman, no threat to you and she will surely see the same in you. You call out to her to wait, but strange, she is ignoring you or… of course, she is old, she cannot hear you! Well, no matter, she is old and slow and in some minutes you are sure to catch up with her and you may speak more directly then.

A few minutes pass and to your surprise you are no nearer the old woman, how strange! You haven’t taken your eyes from her the whole time, and she didn’t seem to speed up at all and yet… perhaps when she heard your cry she may have feared you were up to no good, an old woman alone on the road is ripe for any footpad or even a young lad desperate or drunk enough to chance his arm for a few coppers. You do not wish to scare the old woman, perhaps if you could catch her up and explain… You pick up your pace.

A few more minutes and the old woman seems to be a little closer now, but not as much as you expect. The night is growing particularly dark and unfamiliar sounds are rising from the mist, unsettling you. Suddenly you hear a cry of Wb-wb, hubbub. Before the telephone united us all in a universal hello, every local had its own greeting or cry; this is yours. As ahoy is to sailors or cooey to Australians, hubbub is your greeting and with this particular intontation, your cry of alarm. You hesitate for moment then your better instincts overtake you and you dash forward to help, within a few steps you feel wetness around your feet and before you can stop yourself you fall headlong into a marsh. The cold dark waters close over your head as your feet and push against the yielding, sucking bed. You hadn’t time to draw in breath so your chest is already bursting in agony, a few more moments and you will end up drawing the foul water into your lungs and that will be the end of you.

You suddenly feel much lighter as you lose grip on your sack and the heavy contents of your pockets disgorge themselves into the water. You’re just about able to pull your head above the surface of the brackish water, the lights behind your eyes flashing. Your right elbow finds a bit of purchase on a tuffet, it’s just about enough to for you to drag yourself back out again, and A marsh? How can this be? There are no marshes or anything like on your path home. The nearest is a mile away to the east of the road, and you would never follow that path at ni… That’s when you hear the laughter. You are lucky, you have met one of the Gwyllion and survived. You remember what your Nain told you and pull out your eating knife from your scrip, the moment the naked blade appears the laughing stops, and you feel alone for the first time, the absence of the presence is a shock. The metal blade has exorcized the creature, at least for now.

You drag your way back to the road, shivering in your cold wet clothes. The way is seems doubly long, especially as the weather worsens by degrees as you progress, soon there is a rainstorm brewing above you, but by the grace of God you finally reach your door a minute or two after, unfortunately not before, it breaks. Thankfully there are embers left in the grate from which you are able to draw a fire and remove your wet clothes. As you wrap yourself in a warm blanket by the hearth, listening to the storm outside you are thankful that your ordeal is over.

You are wrong.

There comes a quiet, almost regal, yet insistent knock at the door. Your very blood chills as you feel the presence once more. You reach for your knife once again, but not to draw it this time, to stow it away. You grab at knives, cleavers, anything that could be considered a blade and hide them swiftly. The creature has come to your home, and there are older rules, one could almost say holy writ, if they weren’t so ancient that holiness had no bearing over them. The come to your door, which means it is now your guest, and a guest must be treated accordingly or you will pay the price.

The knock comes again. You hesitate once more, but before a third knock can sound you unbar and open the door. You try not to look directly at the creature as it shuffles in from the rain, but you cannot help but smell it.

The lank hair drips its watery burden in a trail upon the floor as crosses to the fire. It settles in the warmest spot, leaving you a quiet stool in a far corner. You prepare a bowl of milk and some bread and cheese for the creature, and come as close as you dare… The musty wet smell, like a damp fleece, is ever present. The creature’s hair is thin and patchy, its back is bowed, and it’s skin sallow and spotted. You retreat quickly to your stool to wait for the hag to eat its fill and decide it has had enough of warmth and human comfort.

The hours move slowly accompanied by the low quiet sucking sound of the toothless thing eating. The hag never once speaks, the nearest thing to speech is the Wb-wb noise to indicate the empty bowl or the dying fire. You sit and sit and wait.

Suddenly it is morning and the sun streams in through the open, unbarred door. The haglike creature is gone and your ordeal is finally over. All that remains is to explain your haggard appearance, your extreme tiredness, an empty larder, and lack of clothes, goods and money following your trip to the fair to your employers. You had better hope they believe in the Gwyllion!

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Kath Webb
    Jan 28, 2015 @ 09:33:20

    This is really chilling and atmospheric, I love it!

    Reply

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