Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Hole of the Ravens

“Can you see the hundred thousandth part of what exists ? Take the wind for example, the most powerful force in nature. It blows men over, knocks houses over, uproots trees, raises the sea into mountainous waves, destroys cliffs and drives great ships onto reefs. It kills, whistles, moans, roars. Have you ever seen it ? Can you ever see it ? But it exists all the same...”
- Guy de Maupassant, 'the Horla'

( I )
North west of Montsegur the road snakes through a wild untenanted region cradled between domed hills and trackless thickets where weeds, briars and beds of scrub myrtle grow in unsettling abundance. In the cold winter light the tops of those oddly symmetrical crags look like the winged backs and stooped crowns of watchful daemons. Just before you reach the marching, leafless trunks of the forest of Belesta, a dense grove once consecrated to the all but forgotten Celtic-Iberian moon Goddess Belisenna, you come across an isolated crossroad guarded by the ruins of a small chateau whose name is now lost to us, its blind windows and gutted walls long since given over to the chilly caress of the wind and rain.

As above, so below: The house on the borderlands

If you take the right fork at the crossroads you will find the track curves away between the barren fields and sloping, rock strewn meadows towards a remote area still known on the map as 'Couquet', the site of a long abandoned settlement where in the late nineteenth century, the renowned shire archeologist Jean Tricoire uncovered the remains of three humanoid skeletons, dating in all likelihood to the late bronze age. The corpses seemed to comprise a symbolic family unit including the remains of a woman and a seemingly grotesquely overdeveloped male whose prodigious height, estimated at close to two meters, recalls the other suspiciously outsized artefacts previously unearthed in the region, including the so-called 'Giant of Stenay' and the enigmatic steatite talisman commonly referred to as the 'Hand of Morenci'. The third skeleton found by Tricoire was that of a child, still curled in a foetal position.

The 'Couquet' clan whose ancestors hail from this backwater remain one of the oldest surviving families in the area, an ancient lineage whose present day scion Madame Amie Couquet still runs the tenebrous auberge in the rustic hamlet of Montsegur where I first sojourned in the mid-nineties. Some thirty very odd years earlier Madame Couquet's late uncle, the former mayor of the village had set about blasting a road through these dark hills in order to connect Montsegur to the outside world, laying the foundations of the tarred highway ( route D9 ) that exists today. During this construction work a tunnel was apparently unearthed at the base of the pog containing a flight of stone steps leading deeper into the mountain. ( * see 'The Lost Caves of Montsegur' ) The former mayor was a bullish individual who hoped to be recalled in the annals of local history as the man who revitalized this tiny, time warped community. Above all he wanted to be remembered for 'his road'. He knew that if anyone found out about the tunnel they would be forced to call in the archaeologists and accordingly halt construction so he did as small town mayors tend to do the world over. Swearing his workmen to secrecy he ordered the entrance to the cavity to be sealed by an immovable concrete rampart. More than three decades have passed since then but the the wall erected by Madame's uncle at the base of the pog remains undisturbed.

Above: R.S. at the mouth of the blocked tunnel – Dec 25 2009

The outgoing mayor had every reason to want to safeguard his legacy. Madame's auberge had harboured the notorious German-Jewish Grail historian and future Ahnenerbe SS Obersturmfuhrer Otto Wilhelm Rahn during his tour of the Zone during the fall of 1932 and their family name has been further tarnished by dark rumours of collaboration with the Vichy regime during the second World War.

Above: Otto Skorzeny

Reports of SS-Colonel Otto Skorzeny's visit to the area with Germany's Special Forces in March 1944 are probably greatly exaggerated and little evidence exists to support the outlandish claims made by the retired Allied army surgeon, Colonel Howard A. Buechner ( 3rd BN, 157 Inf., 45th Inf. Div. ) and the countless other psuedo-historians that followed in his wake concerning Himmler's plans to secure the so-called 'treasure of the ages' although, I suppose, it doesn't hurt to speculate. There is certainly no doubt that the Nazis were active in this vicinity during the war, executing several locals in the town square in reprisal for alleged partisan activity and there are persistent rumours concerning excavations carried out by the Germans at a site further up the gorge of the Lasset at the base of the Tabor itself, in a place known as 'Reboule'.

As above, so below: Deep in the woods – Dec 25 – 2009

The Nazis were said to have unearthed the remains of a ruined settlement and identified pictograms including crosses and strange markings resembling runes.

As above, so below: Vestiges of Reboule

At present it is impossible to tell who authorized their excavations and what, if anything, they may have found...

As above, so below: The Way through the woods

( ii )

Transcripts from the Zone – Xmas – 2009 – The Hole of the Ravens

It was surprisingly warm and sunny for December in the Pyrenees and the Christmas holidays had turned the village of Montsegur into a veritable ghost town. Gunning the Mark XII Interceptor we followed the curving road into the woods, passing over a couple of narrow, stone bridges before reaching the ruins of the abandoned chateau. Taking the left fork at the crossroads we followed the trail still higher into those verdant, oddly domed hills, feasting our eyes on a succession of fields and steeply walled valleys we never knew existed before.

We passed a late medieval stone cistern dug into the embankment at the side of the road, its vaulted stone roof shielding a deep, clear pool of fresh, icy water.

The track finally petered out a few hundred yards from the cistern in an isolated farmyard.

A steep, stony path wound upwards, leading further into the silent forest where patches of hoarfrost lay thick beneath the trees and beside it we spotted a signpost bearing the legend 'True des Corbeaux' – 'Hole of the Ravens – followed by the ominous word 'Gouffre' – betokening quite literally 'Gulf' or 'Abyss'.

The area was quite spectacular and at first it was hard to feel anything but grateful to be in such a remote place on a day like this. We followed the slippery stone path deeper into the woods, the shadows thickening steadily about us as we climbed, the profusion of trees assuming a watchful, half sentient animosity. Then through their trunks we caught sight of of a recently erected viewing platform, its gleaming outline looking so incongruous in the midst of this wild, verdant landscape as to appear somehow obscene. Beneath the steel gantry a chasm seemed to appear out of nowhere, a huge, malefic hole in the earth whose shadowy floor opened far below us into the maw of a gaping cavern that extended over one hundred meters into the living rock.

Back in the 1920's Jean Tricoire partly excavated the vast midden of bones that covers the floor of the shaft, concluding that the 'Hole of the Ravens', otherwise known as the 'Hole of the Hearts' has been used as a dumping ground for human and animal remains since time out of mind.

Extracts from the private weblog of Miss Scarlett

I stood back for a minute, drawing my coat more tightly about myself, the air seeming to grow palpably colder. I couldn't help noticing that the trees surrounding the mouth of the pit were twisted and malformed, eaten away by disease or in one case apparently even blasted by lighting, their fallen trunks clogging the verge of the ravine, dried out roots reaching vainly skyward. Curiosity drove me further and I joined my companions, peering over the metal railing.

The place was so dark it was as if the light could scarcely penetrate the dead trees, even in winter. I could smell death here, so thick on the air you could almost see it, half sensing the cries of pain and confusion of the things that had been pushed over the edge and left to die.

The abyss looked hungry as if it were waiting for more blood. I knew there were the remains of humans and animals down there. I tried desperately to block this out but something in the cave caught my attention and held it. I kept expecting whatever it was down there to reveal itself, to come shuffling out in to the broad daylight. I stared and stared, starting to feel a little faint. Then the spell was broken as the other members of the party began snapping photographs. I tried to shake off that vague sensation of dread, putting it down to over tiredness and the stress of the holiday season.

I was the first to start towards the car. Glancing back for one last look I spotted a carving on a large rock beside the metal landing. At first I thought that it was some sort of ornate N but on closer inspection it looked more like a cross between an N and the omega symbol. Richard joked that the carving was an N for Noel and another member of our party shot back with the quip that perhaps it was only visible on Christmas Day. We laughed about this as we walked back into the sun filled meadows beyond the wood, the afternoon light glowing golden off the winter vegetation.

As above, so below. Christmas day 2009

We drove back down to the grounds of the old chateau, to poke around a little in the ruins before we lost the light. The building must have had lovely gardens at one time and was surrounded by beautifully derelect rusting gates. I stopped to peek inside as a friend snapped a couple of shots on her digital camera. I heard her voice behind me, “That's funny. There's a white haze around your head in this picture, almost like a halo...”

I laughed and replied something to the effect that it would suit the mood of this place. The light was fading fast as we bundled ourselves into the interceptor and headed back towards Montsegur where the carcass of the Christmas turkey still rested beside the oven, fully dressed and waiting to be cooked. After placing the bird in the yawning stove I went to the cabinet above the microwave to pull out some plates. When I opened the cupboard door the plates came flying out at me seemingly on their own accord, shattering everywhere. I stood in stunned silence for a moment, wondering how it could have happened. The strangest thing was that I had had that exact same experience when I was a little girl many Christmases ago. It was not a pleasant memory. My family had been very poor at the time and I had been severely reprimanded for all that flying crockery. I mused over this darkly as I swept up the broken shards. Xmas never has been my favourite time of year...

Somewhere in the middle of the supper I began to feel ill, like maybe the champagne wasn't settling too well. The odour of food made me nauseous, especially the smell of the turkey and the gravy. There was no way I could stay at the table for one more bite. I quietly pulled back my chair, not wanting to cause a scene and went and sat on the couch, casually checking my messages on the laptop. I was starting to feel fuzzy as if the edges of my vision were in soft focus and I was becoming increasingly cold, my hands and feet turning icy. I shivered under the blanket I had pulled around me and wondered if I wasn't coming down with some strange sort of 'flu. My thoughts grew darker and more paranoid, quite unlike my normal self.
“F**k it”, I told myself and decided to call it a night.

I woke up in a dream, looking down on myself lying in a hospital bed, slowly bleeding to death. An eerie detailed re-enactment of an accident that had happened to me in my early twenties. My dark hair hung over the hospital bed as blood pooled onto the white tiled floors. In the corner of the room a child appeared, a boy maybe three or four years old, who was horribly mangled and misshapen as if most of his limbs had been broken. He was shuffling slowly across the floor towards the bed and I recognized him immediately as what I had sensed at the 'Hole of the Ravens', only now he had finally taken shape. He stopped shuffling across the floor, tilted head turning on his shattered neck to stare directly at me, not where I was on the hospital bed but above, where my disembodied presence seemed to be hover in the dream. I screamed and woke up in the dark, heart pounding furiously.

( iii )
Extracts from Richard Stanley's journal - Dec 26 2009

I couldn't help noticing that Miss Scarlett seemed a little off-colour. She scarcely touched her food and retired early. I thought little of it at the time, Xmas still being Xmas after all and stressful enough, even here in the remote Cathar enclave of Montsegur. A 'flu epidemic had been sweeping the Zone and Madame Couquet, complaining of 'fatigue', had gone to stay with her relatives in Foix leaving us to do the cooking and cleaning in her absence.

I saved back a portion of chocolate 'pog cake', figuring Miss Scarlett would sleep it off but the following day she seemed even paler than before. She avoided eye contact and later I came across her hiding behind a pile of film cans and cardboard boxes in the storeroom, her knees drawn up tight against her chest. She looked dazed and frightened, unable to make head or tail of anything I tried to say as if still in a dream, fobbing off my attempts at getting her to eat with a muttered excuse about not having slept properly the night before. It was only afterwards that I realized she had been looking past me all the while, staring at a spot on the tiled floor just inside the kitchen doorway where the pile of crockery had exploded the day before.

The festive visit to the 'Hole of the Ravens' had left a deeper impression on our collective psyches than I had readily anticipated, reminding me of nothing so much as the woodland pit that disgorges an endless slew of ravening swine things in William Hope Hodgeson's classic of cosmic horror, 'The House on the Borderlands'.

Above: 'The House on the Borderlands' (1908) - illustration by Phillipe Druillet

I sat down to try and input my report only to find myself unable to focus clearly on the work at hand. Several times I distinctly heard the dry fluttering of unseen wings which I initially assumed to be a large moth caught in the lampshade but my efforts to investigate the source of the sound proved utterly fruitless. The moment I settled myself once more at the keyboard the fluttering would resume and there were odd creaks and rustling sounds from the direction of the deserted storeroom. As the shadows lengthened and the afternoon shelved slowly but surely towards a premature dusk and another chilly, wind swept night so the irrational notion that I was sharing the room with some other, invisible presence became increasingly hard to disavow. The air seemed thick with poised presences, and my skin trembled with the subtlest of vibrations, not unlike the sort of feelings I have experienced on entering certain rooms in old houses, the dilapidated old chateau I shinned into the day before not withstanding. The others had been too spooked to follow me through the opening in the boarded up window and although I had taken due care to be perfectly polite to the chateau's unseen occupants, doffing my hat and wishing them 'bonne noel' it was beginning to seem increasingly obvious that we had inadvertently picked up an unwanted hitch hiker along the way.

I had seen the plates fly from the cupboard, although I'd assumed at the time they had simply been stacked the wrong way around after the last wash. Normally I would have forgotten the matter soon enough but over the last 24 hours there had been a host of other petty irritations. The lights in the storeroom seemed to be intent on switching themselves back on whenever I looked away and packs of cigarettes, glasses of booze, mugs of coffee, sausages and even whole platters of food were constantly disappearing only to turn up later, if at all, in the most unlikely destinations. The bread and pate laid out for this morning's breakfast, now that I thought of it, had proved to be no exception, vanishing for most of the day only to be found several hours afterwards inexplicably stashed between the wall and the microwave.

Finally, giving up any further attempts at work, I rummaged through the audio files on my computer, loading an English language translation of Guy de Maupassant's 'The Horla', read rather hammily by Ian Holm. I was badly in need of advice as to how to go about getting rid of our unwanted guest and was hoping for some perspective on my situation. Killing everyone else in the building before burning the house to the ground and taking my own life like de Maupassant's hysterical narrator however didn't seem quite the way to go.

Above: The Horla

Perhaps there was a simple psychological explanation to the whole affair after all. Possibly the shattering crockery had awakened some, dormant recollection of an earlier trauma, a memory amplified by our relative isolation and the potent aura of superstitious fear surrounding the pagan site we had visited earlier. Yet if Miss Scarlett was on the verge of cracking up then so was I, hysteria being contagious after all...

I sat in silence for a moment, considering my options. Then I heard what sounded like a low sigh from the bedroom door which stood ajar behind me. It may have been nothing more than the night wind gusting down from the icy heights of the Tabor but I found the hairs bristling on my arms and on the back of my neck. I sat waiting, breathing as shallowly as I could, ears straining against the silence. Five minutes passed. Ten. Then the sound came again. A soft, suppressed whimper of sadness or pain. I rose, hesitantly pushing open the door to find Miss Scarlett seated upright on the bed, staring wide eyed into the gloom. I followed her eyeline and for a beat it was as if I could almost see what she was looking at. A dim, smudgy outline at the foot of the bed that seemed to fade before I had a chance to fully focus on it.
“I think we brought something back”, muttered Miss Scarlett.
“From the ruined chateau or from the hole ?”
“From the hole. Can you see it too ?”
“ Like someone was standing there a moment ago ? When I first walked in ? Standing right next top the bed ? ”
“Could you tell who it was ?”
“I know this sounds crazy but it looked like a child. Like a little boy...”

( iv )
Extracts from Miss Scarlett's private weblog – Montsegur Dec 27 2009

I tried to sleep while Richard kept watch, setting his laptop up on a table in one corner of the room. I lay there for nearly twenty minutes, listening to the soft tap of his fingers on the keyboard. After a while my eyes started to close and I began the long dark slide into sleep.

I was awakened by the sound of the door handle turning. It was dark outside, very dark, and there was a rippling wind blowing down off the mountains. At first I thought it must have been Richard coming and going from the kitchen to fetch another coffee but then I realized he was still seated at the computer, his eyes fixed on the trembling handle. For a moment I wished I were still asleep or that it were already morning. More than anything I wished I were anyplace else but here in the middle of this black, breezy night, with the house stirring and shifting about us as if it had come to life.
“What the f**k is that ?”
Richard shook his head. “I dunno. You want me to let it in and find out ?”
“Probably just the wind...”
We both held our breath. Then we heard another sound. A slow, deliberate creak like something heavy pressing against the outside of the wooden panelling.
“Go away,” I tried to sound as commanding as possible but my voice was barely a whisper. “You're not welcome here...”
For a moment whatever it was outside seemed to fall silent. Then the handle quivered again.
“No. Go away ! Please go away..”
“This is ridiculous.” Getting to his feet Richard started towards the door, moving as if in slow motion. “If there's something out there we might as well just open the door and get it over with.”
“You think we should try talking to it ? Like in that M.Night Shamalamadingdong movie ?”
“Can't hurt, can it ?” Richard reached hesitantly for the trembling handle.
“I guess not.” I took a deep breath, gathering my strength. “Alright, then. You can come in...”

The door exploded inwards before I had a chance to finish my sentence, almost knocking Richard from his feet. He tried to cry out, body bucking as if gripped by something unseen but unbelievably strong, one hand flailing at the frame as he tried in vain to stop himself from being wrenched straight out into the dark. I threw myself after him only to find myself grasped in a clammy, vice like hold. I lost balance, feeling myself being dragged inexorably from the lighted room and across the white, tiled floor towards the doorway of the storeroom and the place where the plates had fallen the day before. I screamed for it to stop, over and over again. Finally, gaining control of my right hand I slapped it hard against the tiling. “You will stop this NOW !!!” I shrieked only to wake up, finding myself back in bed, which I thought was shaking for a few disorienting seconds and Richard still seated obliviously at the keyboard, my pulse racing as it had the night before. Only this time I couldn't help wondering what in hell I had let in...

( V )
Extracts from Miss Scarlett's private journal - Montsegur Dec 28 2009

After a bitter night of tossing and turning with no sleep, I decided to head up to the castle to watch the sunrise and try and get my head screwed on a little tighter. There could be rational explanations for what had happened, some fractured part of my psyche that could have caused such an irrational, unexplainable depression and strange seemingly supernatural disturbances. But then again, we had both heard the sound of unseen wings overhead which we couldn’t explain away. Maybe that’s why that place was called the 'Hole of the Ravens'. Maybe it was some sort of sinister ancestral burial ground or slaughter house. These thoughts swirled around in my head but the day was turning out to be gloriously warm and I sat on the sun baked rocks just under the ramparts of the castle and picked up the book that I had been reading - “Darker Than You Think” by Jack Williamson. I slowly sipped coffee from my thermos and opened to the part where the psychiatrist character coolly rationalizes away all the psychic phenomena that had been happening to the lead character of the story. It caused a strange sense of déjà vu and I was laughing as I read it because it seemed oddly appropriate. I quit laughing as I read further on because the doctor was talking out of his hat and was a sinister part of the supernatural horror element all along. I had only picked up this book because I was interested in John Whiteside Parsons, better known as Jack Parsons, who was an American rocket propulsion researcher and co-founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and his work on the invention of solid fuel helped usher in the age of space travel.

Above: John 'Jack' Whiteside Parsons
Below: Parsons and fellow memembers of the Agape lodge

Jack was killed in 1952, at the age of thirty-eight, in an explosion at his home laboratory. He was a dedicated occultist and a disciple of Aleister Crowley (then head of the Ordo Templi Orientus or OTO) whom he referred to as his “most beloved Father”. Parsons devoted himself to the ritual of Babalon Working (along with magical partner L. Ron Hubbarb) to try and invoke a living goddess to change to destiny of mankind. The basic premise of the book is that there is an ancient evil that lies dormant within some people who have a genetic link towards a race of early ancestors that were witches (i.e. werewolves and all sorts of totem animal shapeshifters). These witches had been defeated by the race of men at some point but had been quietly gathering and breeding those with the latent gene’s carefully to bring about a new lycanthropic messiah that the book called a “child of the night”. This wasn’t quite what I had been expecting to read and it struck me how curiously close some of the material was to what was being discussed on the Terra Umbra forums.

Above: Darker than you think

Although fun to read there wasn’t anything that I could readily take on board. Just sitting in the presence of the castle was starting to lift my spirits and make me feel calmer. The tourists began to come and it was time to head back down to the village below. On the way down I resolved to go back to the 'Hole of the Ravens', to try and find some sort of closure. Whether I would be banishing an actual supernatural hitcher or some part of my psyche that had come bubbling to the surface due to the energy of that place remained to be seen. Either way I had to face whatever was going on and try and make it right somehow.

( vi )
Extracts from the journal of Richard Stanley – The Hole of the Ravens – Dec 30 2009

A full moon hung above the treetops like the eye of a madman, the narrow two lane blacktop curving away from us in the interceptor's headlights as we retraced the winding route we had taken into the hills on Christmas day. Neither of us were in much of a mood for words. Miss Scarlett was still trying to get her head around whether she was suffering from a nervous breakdown or incipient demonic possession and I was feeling a little cheesed off with the whole affair, my spirits further dampened by the news that my favourite Italian prog-rock band, 'GOBLIN', had finally and irrevocably broken up, cancelling all further tour dates. Turning up the volume on a remix of the 'Suspiria' score we took the left fork at the crossroads, barrelling up the road towards the 'Hole of the Ravens'.

I had decided to fight fire with fire by conjuring a daemon of my own to advise us on how to deal with the thing in the pit. Long term followers of this 'blog in its previous incarnations on MySpace and elsewhere will probably already be familiar with my benign , maleficent guardian, the daemon Moag who has bailed me out of any number of similar scrapes over the years. Almost all of us at least once in our lives, during a sleepless night or an illness, have heard a voice which, coming from nowhere, and, as it were, speaking silently, gives us advice. It is always, when we are in solitude and most often in moments of exaltation that this silent voice speaks. The Greeks called this being by the name of 'daimon', and the best-known of all, that which has been discussed at the greatest length by the philosophers, was the daimon of Socrates.

“The favour of the gods,” said Socrates, “has given me a marvelous gift, which has never left me since my childhood.” According to Maximus of Tyre the daemon was a sort of “inferior immortal, called gods of the second rank, placed between heaven and earth ”. Apuleius maintained, “They are intermediate powers of a divine order. They fashion dreams and inspire soothsayers.” Plato believed that a kind of spirit, which is separate from us, receives man at birth and follows him in life and after death. He called it “the daemon which has received us as its portionment.” This invisible helper seems, therefore to be analogous to the 'guardian angel' of the Christians.

My own guardian made his first appearance when I was a scant four years of age. After I had endured a life threatening illness I found myself entertained during my convalescence by a happy-go-lucky horned dude with glittering red eyes whom I rapidly surmised was utterly indetectable to either my parents or peers. He claimed that I was the first human he had been allowed to take onto his books. Apparently he had looked after various dogs before but had been assigned to my case by one of his superiors, a being he referred to only as his “awe full master.” I knew him initially as 'Moo Ug' because he resembled a cross between a cow or a goat and a primitive human being but in later years his name became gradually abbreviated to the somewhat more elegant appellation by which he is known today – 'Moag' pronounced with a sort of frog in the throat, the way a crow might say it. After serving as a teacher, confidante and all-round invisible playmate during my childhood years my relationship with my guardian inevitably deteriorated when I hit adolescence and began to suspect that he might be some sort of emergent splinter personality. Even if he was an independent entity as Moag insisted it simply wasn't cool to go on having conversations with invisible beings once I had hit a certain age and succumbed to peer pressure to conform to the generally accepted mores of so-called 'consensus reality'. It took the war in Afghanistan for me to get my priorities in order. There are, after all, no atheists in the fox hole and believe you me, when the chips were down and I finally saw combat I tried out every prayer, charm and mantra I could recall, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or otherwise but at the end of the day the only voice I knew I could trust was that of my childhood playmate who saw me safely through some of the hardest times I've ever known.

Like Guy de Maupassant's hapless protagonist in 'The Horla' I had no way of knowing for sure whether our Yuletide difficulties were of a psychological or metaphysical origin but it was perfectly clear that, either which way, some sort of exorcism was in order. Although I am an ordained priest I have never had to conduct a ritual of this nature and could think of no better personage to turn to for advice on a suitably non-denominational procedure.

So it was that Miss Scarlett and yours truly sat down to a light repast before saying a prayer and inviting our invisible guest to accompany us to the waiting car. The way through the woods seemed different in the dark and I did my best to ignore the smudgy, half imagined presence that seemed to hover in the rear view mirror as we drove. We parked up beside the ancient stone cistern, making our way silently past the lighted windows of the lone farmhouse at the end of the trail.

The forest seemed deeper and even more distressingly sinister than it had in the daylight. A thin, cold mist hung between the gnarled trees and the owls were out in force, nor did it seem that we walked alone upon that winding path. There were other sounds, like distant cries or muted voices but, like Miss Scarlett, I did my level best to ignore them. On reaching the maw of the pit itself we carried out Moag's instructions to the tee, lighting a candle and casting a circle with salt water before making an offering to the 'beast' of 'flesh, food and wine'. Tipping the Christmas turkey along with all its trimmings, the remains of the chocolate 'pog' cake and the contents of a bottle of homemade dandelion wine into the abyss we asked the 'grande bete' to help the dead child on his way before sealing the portal with the 'Elder Sign'.

Of course this was supposed to have been engraved on a 'stone of Mnar' but having no such stone to hand we settled for drawing the sigil with a felt-tip marker on one of the only plates to have survived the fall from the cupboard, setting it beside the graven rock at the lip of the hole. Then, kindling our lanterns, we turned away.

The wind had dropped and the night seemed surprisingly warm for so late in the year. The waxing gibbous moon, a mere 24 hours shy of full, was already low in the western firmament but the stars were still diamond sharp and behind us the 'Hole of the Ravens' yawned black as pitch and very silent, like the heart of the unknown. Some day the trees that surrounded it might be felled and the hill itself bulldozered down, when greed has grown even greater than it is today and awe of nature even less, but for now it can still awaken an oddly primal sense of panic terror. I have never been too fond of so-called 'high magic', even though since moving to the Zone we've been knee deep in the stuff. Accordingly I had no idea whether what we had been through had any basis in reality or was purely a psychological double bluff but either which way I didn't breathe easily until we were safely back in the car and headed south.

That night, for the first time since Christmas eve, my sleep was dreamless and I did not awaken until dawn.

( vii )
We headed up to the castle just after the sun had set wanting a front row view of the lunar eclipse. The night was warm and the hike up seemed easier than usual.
The courtyard was obligingly empty of other humans. The moon was out but there were storm clouds gathering on the horizon. We climbed back to the keep and made our greetings and then retraced our steps to the courtyard. As the moon began to go into eclipse we set out a protective circle and then lit two candles giving our thanks to the spirits of the castle for being able to be with them on that night. The flames burned steadily and brightly for about five minutes in the silent darkness. Then the temperature began to drop rapidly.

“Richard, look at the moon”
“I don’t see it”
“That’s what I mean. It was there a second ago”

A sudden wind entered the courtyard and the flames of the candles struggled valiantly for a minute before being extinguished. There was a sound by the south door. First it sounded like a large scattering of dried leaves, then a watery sound, like a tide rushing up over the steps into the courtyard. For a moment I thought that something was being wheeled or propelled through the door the sound was so loud but the rest of the courtyard was eerily silent. We watched waiting for something visual to manifest but then it was gone as quickly as it had come. We quietly walked over to the north door marveling at the fact that the sky was completly obliterated by a heavy and dense fog that had settled in. There were darker low flying clouds that raced across the valleys looking for all the world just like knights on horseback. It was quite a sight to see and we watched for some time.

The temperature had turned icy and the skies were threatening to rain so we headed back down the path. Even without the moonlight the way seemed brighter than normal. We raced down laughing and jubilant as we made record time. Strange because even on the brightest of moonlit nights the path is treacherous in some places, but that night neither of us missed a beat or took a wrong step. We never once broke our stride. About halfway down it had started to rain and somehow we hadn’t noticed until we reached the Camp de Cremat and saw how wet the ground was and the water dripping off the monument. The funny thing was that we were perfectly dry. It wasn’t the New Year that we had expected but there had been something exhilarating and intrinsically spooky about it, so very different than all the misery that had clouded Christmas. Near midnight the fast moving storm had all but faded away. We watched the fireworks lighting up the skies over the village from Hannibal’s Point and welcomed in the New Year, safe and secure in the shadow of pog.

May the grace of the White Lady and the Sons and Daughters of Belisenna be with you this year of our Lord 2010.