Everything in those few days still gives me nightmares. So many years ago, and yet that incident still haunts me. I’ve decided to write about it, but forgive my handwriting, for my hand shakes as I write this. I am Charlie, and I will tell you the story. ‘What story?’ you may ask. Let’s just say that by the end of this tale, you’ll never look at a certain beast the same way again.
When I was only nine years old, I lived in a log cabin that stood at the center of a pine forest. I lived here with my three older siblings, and no one else but the livestock. We had the usual problems. Winters were cold, and summers were hot. Even so, Spring and Autumn would allow us to harvest plenty of food for the year, and a nearby well gave us all the water we needed. Our life was a little hard at times, but we got by.
One early morning, I followed my usual routine. I brushed out my frizzy blonde hair, threw on my blue dress and black boots, then ran downstairs and into the kitchen. My sister was preparing breakfast, while one of my brothers waited at the table. Elizabeth, my sister, was the eldest of us all. She was seventeen years old. She was a very social person, and loved to talk to the few visitors that came by. All the townspeople loved her. My only problem is that her social life made her extremely talkative, which got annoying very fast. I still looked up to her, though. I admired her confidence and bravery when walking into town and speaking to anyone she pleased. Unlike me, who just kept to myself and shyly sulked about the village.
Then there was Simon, who just sat at the table while drawing in his journal. He was very quiet and shy, even more so than me, and preferred the company of his animals over anyone else. Nightshade, his black bunny, laid on the table while he drew.
“Thou art up early,” Elizabeth remarked, as she poached a few eggs over the fire. “I haven’t finished making breakfast, yet.”
“I could not catch but a wink of sleep,” I spoke to Elizabeth. “I hadst a nightmare.”
“Since thee be awake, now,” said Elizabeth, “could thou go fetch John?”
“Aye, sister,” I replied. That being said, I opened the door and went outside. The final days of autumn were here. The sky was already coated in storm clouds, and there was a chill in the air. Winter was not always too much of a problem. The Autumn harvest gave us plenty of food to get us through, so long as we rationed what we ate. The glade where we lived stood before me. The fields where our crops grew were to the left of the cabin, and stretched for a while. To the right was the barn and pastures where our livestock grazed. Since it was John’s chore to feed the animals (even though Simon often did it anyways), I figured that he would be in the barn. I began running toward the large gray barn, where we kept the horses. To reach it, I had to scale a wooden fence, and continue past the herd of sheep and goats. I could have used the gate, but it was so far out of my way that I didn’t bother. I found John inside the barn, feeding an apple to a white and brown mare.
John was less like any of us, and was a very mischievous boy. He was a hunter-at-heart. Almost any animal he comes across is considered ‘dinner’ to him. He often used my father’s old hunting rifle to do the work, which made me scared, because he always carried it with him. Elizabeth and I were always concerned that he would accidently set it off in the town, or in the house.
“John,” I spoke, “Elizabeth wants thee to join us for breakfast.”
“I shall be there in a moment,” John replied.
“Come, now,” I teased. “A little one like you needeth his sustenance.”
John groaned and tried to ignore me. It was natural for us to tease him like this. Though he was two years older than me, we all teased him that he was the youngest one of us. This was because he looked like he was six, because of his height and childish face. John flipped his hat back on his curly brown hair, then ran out of the barn. One of the horses whinnied and pawed at the ground with massive hooves.
“Hush, Beast,” I scolded. The black stallion only stared at me blankly. I simply ran back across the sheep’s pasture and back inside the cabin. Elizabeth had just finished preparing breakfast for us. John was already eating like he had become one of the pigs. Elizabeth had placed down a plate for me and herself. I sat down with the others and began eating.
“This be the fifth nightmare that yee’ve had,” Elizabeth told me, as she tied her blonde hair back.
“I know,” I replied. “It be annoying, indeed.”
“Perhaps thou art coming down with the flu?” John suggested.
“But I don’t feel sick,” I said. “If it were the flu, then I’d be coughing.”
“They might go away after a few more days,” said Elizabeth. “We best be patient.”
I nodded in response and continued to eat. Then I noticed that Simon was now writing words instead of drawing. The black-haired boy was off in his own world, again.
“Is something wrong, Simon?” Elizabeth asked him. “Thou hasn’t touched thy food.”
“I amn’t hungry,” Simon responded in a quiet, solemn voice. He gave a piece of carrot to Nightshade, who gladly accepted it.
Elizabeth released an irritated sigh. “Thou need to eat, fool, or yee’ll grow weak and get sick.”
“He’s probably upset because Henry and the Smith boys tried to stone him,” said John.
“What?!” Elizabeth exclaimed. “Simon, is this true?!”
Simon mumbled a few inaudible words, and readjusted his spectacles. Elizabeth continued to rant, but I stopped listening.
Honestly, Simon did look like a witch trying to write about his next unholy spell. He was pale as snow, and always wore creepy black garb. The others constantly accused him of practicing witchcraft, but we knew it was false. Simon did not like to create spells and hexes. He liked to draw pictures and write impressive poetry. Even so, he received glares from the townsfolk and was banned from the church. It was not fair, but Simon just ignored them.
After breakfast, I went back outside and began playing with my skipping rope before Elizabeth caught me slacking off. I was about to beat my record. One-hundred and fifteen consecutive jumps, and I was now at ninety-nine.
“Ninety-four,” I spoke as I jumped. “Ninety-five, ninety-six…”
Simon’s voice had startled me, and made me lose focus. The rope hit my ankle, and broke the score. I grew irritated at this.
“Simon, thou hast ruined my score!” I ranted.
“Sorry,” Simon apologized. “I wanteth thee to come with me. It shan’t take long.”
I cocked my head with confusion. “Why? Would that not worry Elizabeth?”
“It shall only take a few moments,” Simon explained. “Follow me.”
Even though I found this strange, I dropped my skipping rope and began to follow Simon. This mystery only grew more odd. He was leading me away from our land, and into the pine forest. It was not even the trail that led to town. It was a part of the forest that Elizabeth usually restricted us from entering. Even so, I trusted my brother and continued to follow him. The forest was surprisingly calm, but the air was still frigid.
What is Simon doing? I thought to myself. I don’t understand this one bit.
“Simon, where art thou taking me?” I asked.
“Has thee noticed that I sometimes disappear?” Simon replied. “It be because I travel to yonder clearing, which I found many a’year ago. I go here to escape. Deer, rabbits, and other creatures keepeth me company, but I mainly come here to talk to one special friend.”
“Friend?” I said. “I do not mean to offend, but since when does thee have friends?”
“Not the friends thou art most likely thinking of,” said Simon. “He be like what Snowstorm be to you.”
Now I was still a little confused, but I did begin understanding a little more. Snowstorm was my own best friend, but she was one of the horses we owned. Simon never did have any friends, and yet he seemed to be speaking the truth. This is what surprised me, since neither me or Simon were very social.
Finally, the trees thinned, and revealed a small clearing. There was a pool of crystal water, and a few orchids that were beginning to wither, probably because of the first signs of winter. What surprised me most was what stood just across the way.
“I want thou to meeteth my friend,” Simon explained.
Simon’s ‘friend’ was one of the most extravagant and amazing, but scariest things I had ever seen. A beast with unnatural, but beautiful colors. Its body and head were a porcelain blue, and a crest of the same blue feathers stuck out of the top of its head. The wings that were folded to its side were striped with black and white, and a very long emerald tail stretched for a few feet behind it. I had no idea what it was. I did not know if I should’ve been scared or amazed. At that point, I was a mixture of both.
“What is it?” I asked in a quiet voice, being careful not to provoke the beast.
“It be a peacock,” Simon answered. “A bird. It be hardly any different from the jays in the branches.”
The bird extended its long neck, while cocking its head so that its dark brown eye was looking at me. The eye itself was bleak, and almost dead. I began to step closer. After two steps, the bird did something that startled me to the brink of death. Its long tail of emerald feather stretched up, and fanned out. Now the beast looked like it had its own throne, proclaiming itself the king of the pines.
“Just what we needeth,” Simon remarked.
There was one thing about this bird’s throne that threw me off. Splattered here and there, at the edge of feathers, were black spots that were surrounded by a ring of golden-brown. These black spots were strange, and shone eerily as the faint sunlight hit them. As I stared into them, they stared straight back. It was the strangest thing I had ever witnessed. Simon seemed to take notice of my nervous quivering.
“‘Do not be afraid, Charlie,” he spoke. “He really is a gentle being, as well as a miracle of nature.”
Even though that is what Simon told me, the black spots still left me unsettled. The deadness of the peacock’s brown eye made me shudder. It glared at me, while I trembled at the black dots that watched me.
“Thou likes to believe in lore, right?” Simon remarked. “Mum used to tell me an old folktale about these birds. She said that if thou show the beast respect, then look into its eyes, it shall grant thee good luck.”
It was true that I always had been a believer in legends and myths. Before she died, my mother used to tell many tales of heroes, demons, and odd creatures that haunted the night. Each had their own story, and I would believe the story, even if it really was a lie. The peacock continued to stand there, showing its status with the crest- a crown upon its head, and the throne that stood behind it. I bowed before this king of the pines. In response, its throne began to sink back into the long tail that stretched behind it.
“I took thou here,” said Simon, “because I thought thain nightmares would end, if he could grant you luck.”
The peacock seemed to grow bored of mine and Simon’s company. It turned around, strutting in a kingly manner, back to the depths of the forest.
“Looks like our company be past due,” Simon spoke, adjusting his spectacles. “We should get back to the cabin before Elizabeth finds out about this.”
While I followed Simon back through the forest, away from the royal clearing, that encounter with the peacock haunted my mind. Not in a bad way, though. The image of its throne was stuck inside my brain, and made me feel happy. Nothing, not even the thought of a nightmare, made me worry.
“I must ask thee,” said Simon. “Please don’t tell John or Elizabeth about my friend. Elizabeth be afraid of birds, and would surely despise one like him. As for John. . .well, you know how he can act toward wild animals. He inherited pa’s hunting spirit.”
“I won’t tell,” I assured him. “I promise.”
That’s when the folklore came to life. From that moment on, the day passed a little too well. I broke my record with the skipping rope, with one-hundred and twenty consecutive jumps. Elizabeth had not fussed once, and she even made my favorite meal for dinner. What I was most ecstatic about was what happened while I was unconscious. Once I fell asleep, I had not woken until the next morning. I had slept through an entire night, and without one nightmare to disturb me. I contemplated over what had happened after I woke up. I sat on the edge of my bed, still a mess from sleep, and thought about the peacock. Whether it was the time I found a rabbit’s foot in town, or accidentally breaking a mirror, Elizabeth had told me several times that there was no such thing as good or bad luck. Simon and I both argued with this statement, but Elizabeth seemed confident that her own opinion outruled ours. After I finished thinking, I changed out of my nightgown, then went downstairs. Elizabeth and John were already eating. Nightshade was happily munching on a few herbs and carrots that were set for her on the floor, but Simon was nowhere in sight.
“Sleep well?” Asked Elizabeth.
“Yes, I did!” I replied.
“See?” She remarked. “I told thee that we only hads’t to be patient.”
“Now you can actually chip in on the work,” said John, “instead of slacking off like you did yesterday.”
I looked around the kitchen, and at the adjacent set of stairs that led to the other two bedrooms. This made me a little curious.
“Where is Simon?” I inquired.
“Good question,” Elizabeth remarked, also looking around the room. “I haven’t seen him.”
“I think he went into town for something,” John explained. “I saw him putting a saddle on Beast.”
“Ah, right,” said Elizabeth. “He did sayeth something about being low on ink.”
While Elizabeth and John conversed, I sat down and began eating the breakfast that was laid out for me. Once I had finished, I went out to the pasture to let the sheep out of their barn, and then to feed the pigs. For the rest of the day, I followed the usual routine, but then Elizabeth decided to send me into town to buy a present for John, since it would be his birthday soon. I saddled up Snowstorm, and rode into town.
Snowstorm was my favorite of the five horses. She was a gray and white mare with a black mane and tail. I had found her abandoned when she was only a philly. Elizabeth said that we had enough horses, and John just wanted to use her for the slaughterhouse. After Simon and I convinced Elizabeth to keep her, I was the one who constantly cared for her. She was the only friend I had. John had his friend in the town, and Elizabeth could talk to whoever she liked and immediately make them friends. Even Simon had both Nightshade and his peacock. I only had Snowstorm, though.
She carried me along the path of the pine forest, going at a decently fast pace, until we reached the entrance of the town. I dismounted Snowstorm, leading her through the town. I found a store that was loaded with guns, and decided to get John a scope for his hunting rifle. I remember John saying that he had been wanting a scope for awhile, now. With the purchased scope in hand, I began making my way back toward the trail that led back to our land. For some reason, I felt like I was being watched. This made the thought of the peacock come to mind. The way the black dots stared at me in such a strange way. The countless eyes that watched over the king’s land, and granted luck to the people who find it.
Once we were at the town’s exit, I was about to mount Snowstorm, but then something stopped me. It was the exact opposite of good, though.
“Witch!” One of five kids chimed. This made me angry, but I stood my ground
“Does thou speaketh of thain mum?” I taunted.
This only made the ringleader of the group more angry. He was a lifelong enemy. Henry was his name, and he always tormented Simon and I. John and Elizabeth never received this kind of torment, but Simon and I got to deal with the harassment and humiliation. He was probably the one who tried to stone Simon, just the other day.
“I wish that I could talk about me mum,” Henry spat. “She was killed by pitiful witches. Then we were hexed, as well.”
“And thou blames us for that?” I asked.
“This land shall be a better place once disgusting witches like thou art gone for good!” One of the other kids chimed.
“Agreed,” said Henry. “You know what that means…”
This made me mount Snowstorm faster. Just as I did, Henry shouted three words that made me fear for my own life.
“Stone the witch!”
Small rocks began landed and rolling on the ground beside me. Snowstorm was already halfway there, but then she suddenly reared back, and threw me onto the hard earth. One of the stones had pelted her, and she was now fleeing into the forest.
“Even the horse agrees!” Henry chimed, laughing at me like I was a freak in the freakshow. Stones hit my legs, gut, and one even bounced off my head. I ran away, but without Snowstorm to help. To lose Henry, I had to veer off the trail and into the woods. However, I tripped over an overgrown root, and was sent tumbling down a small hill. I had lost the trail, and was now in a ditch. Henry’s voice was still echoing in the woods, which made me continue running. I was afraid. If Henry and his posse wouldn’t catch me, then a gang of wolves would. The voices of the posse grew more and more faint, and then were completely quiet. I began walking along what I could only hope was the right path.
For what seemed like an eternity, I wandered the woods. Just my luck, it began snowing, as well. The air was freezing, and every part of me was shivering. I wanted to escape, but there was not even a clearing that was in sight. It was like I was walking through a field of fire. My lungs were begging for air, and my legs felt like they were being burned alive. I was treading through hell, or so I thought. My vision was blurred, and I fell to my knees, beginning to shed a few tears.
I only wanted to get away from the hell. With each second, I wanted to look up and see someone. I wanted to see anyone. Any kind of life, as long as it was willing to spare me, and guide me home. My blurry vision was turning into lightheadedness. When I rubbed my head, I felt the bloody spot where one of the stones had hit me.
The afternoon changed to mid-evening. Hours had passed, but the day was just so cold. Snow was melting on my clothes and skin, which made me even more cold. Freezing to death on the outside, and burning alive on the inside. This sparked not more fear, but anger.
I fell to my knees. Such a drastic change from sorrow and fear, to anger and hate. I thought I had gone mad. Every shred of sorrow had burned into a scorching hate, and all the fear rotted away. My lust to see life turned into lust to destroy it. Even so, my subconscious still begged to find someone to help. My mind was being torn to shreds, and all of it fused into one migraine. Such a painful feeling of dread- I wanted it to go away. ‘Someone set me free!’ ‘Please, god, end this misery!’ No matter how hard I cried, it only got worse. My hands shook, and the veins in my wrists, neck, knees, and even the ones in my eyes bulged with my rapid heartbeat. I was being killed inside and out. This rage was beginning to spike my veins.
Get up, fool! Get up and go! You can’t stop here!
I rose to my feet, and pressed forward. My fists were clenched with anger, I breathed heavily, and there was a small flash of an instinct to kill. I was so angered that I wanted to go back to the village, hunt down Henry, and strangle him. He tormented me and my brother, and had separated me from Snowstorm. I wanted to place a real curse on him and his awful family. I wanted to kill anyone who dare call me a witch again. All of them, every last rotten, repulsive soul. I wanted them all to burn as they blindly looked down on me.
It didn’t stop! There was no more fear or sorrow. Just hate and anger. I was ready to kill anyone. My subconscious begged to stop, but I didn’t! I was at war with myself. Tearing apart my mind, and shattering my sanity. The memories became faint and began to rot. I just wanted to get out of hell. I wanted to escape. Somebody, make it stop!
I immediately stopped in my tracks. Standing before me, in all his glory, was the king of the pines. The crested crown of porcelain feathers stood on his head, and the throne of emeralds and black eyes was right behind his body. He thought he was making a statement by showing me his status, but all I saw was an arrogant, stupid beast. The eyes are what made me most angered. All of them, too many to count, were staring at me. The lore that I saw became twisted and dark. There was a darkness that seemed to surround us. The magic that granted luck was not magic. It was just the lure of a monster. It was a trick to make desperate souls happy, or to lure them into a trap. I was not going to fall for this trick. All I saw were countless eyes looking down on me. Countless eyes that glared at me with hate. An arrogant hate that I saw in not just this bird, but in Henry, the Smith boys, and everyone who tormented me. Another one of these enemies stood before me.
Primitive animal instinct consumed my mind. I rushed forward, releasing an anguished cry, and swung my fist at the large bird. I hit him straight in his dead, dark brown eye. The beast released a frightened caw, and his throne lowered. He fled from the scene at a fast, frightened pace. My anger was not yet soothed. Now it acted as a fuel. I pressed on.
More hours passed, and the faint darkening of the sky made it even colder. The snow was still falling, and the layer of powder on the ground was getting thicker and thicker. The rush from my anger was beginning to fade. All that was left of me was pure nothingness. I was not sad, angry, nor was I afraid. I was simply weak. I could not feel my legs, and I could not catch my breath. Each step was like running a mile. There was no sign of life. The only thing that could’ve helped me had fled.
No… it did not flee… it’s disappearance was my fault… I scared away the only hope I had…
I had given up. I fell onto my back, gazing at the cloud-infested sky. The branches of the trees made it harder to see. Even so, it was hopeless. My vision was a mess. Exhaustion made my eyelids heavy, and tears had blinded me.
Please… someone just kill me, already…
I was about to bite through my own tongue to end myself on the spot. It was better than slowly freezing to death, or so I thought. My teeth were already beginning to break through my tongue. I could feel and taste the bitter blood as it began to fill my mouth. However, my heart skipped a beat, and I stopped biting my tongue. I realized that some of the sky’s darkness wasn’t coming from storm clouds. It was smoke. It rang in my head that it was late enough for Elizabeth to begin preparing dinner. As a result, the smoke must’ve been coming from the chimney. Hope sparked in my mind once more. I had one last spike in my veins. Knowing that home was right there, I got up and trudged through the rising snow.
Almost there… so close…
Home was just beyond the trees. I was there. All I had to do was take a few more steps. Elizabeth, Simon, John, Nightshade, and I even held a shred of hope that Snowstorm found her way back. It was right there. With a feeling of overwhelming happiness, I ran the last few steps, and into the glade. My smile immediately faded.
The smoke was not coming from the chimney. It came from the entire house. All of it was ignited. The flames were slowly spreading to the crops, and had already lit up the barn. Hues of red and orange clouded the scene of my home. Ash blended with falling snow. Smoke was blocking out the sky. Embers turned the ground black. My body was numb, and my mind crashed. I began walking toward the house, though each step made the pain worse. When I passed the barn, I heard the frightened squeals and whines of the livestock. Beast, Spots, and everyone else we had worked so hard to take care of was burning. Even so, I kept walking.
Finally, I reached the cabin. I stood before the mess of fire and ash. Our mother and father had built this cabin ages ago. It was our home, because it was the one they built for us. A part of them, and all of us, were within this place. Now it was crumbling to dust. I then saw the thing that made me scream. Just outside the door, a pile of cinders and burning bones was present. I approached it, and picked up a pair of cracked spectacles. I fell to my knees and began sobbing. Elizabeth and John were missing. My friends were burning alive. My home was destroyed. My brother was dead.
I glanced behind me. The king of the pines had found me again. The hues of the flames made his throne seem ominous and deadly. Its emerald feathers were tinted red. Its black eyes looked like portals to hell. This was the throne of Satan. I was meeting with the devil himself, in this vision of hell.
Our eyes were locked on each other. He did not move. We stood there in silence. I clung tight to the spectacles in my hand, while he watched me cry over the loss of everything I had. Just like that, his throne lowered, and he walked away from the scene.
Everything made sense in that moment. I knew my mistake, and why this had happened. Simon told me the legend of the peacock; the king of the pines. Show respect, then look into its eyes, and it will bring good luck. What he didn’t tell me was what happened if you disrespected this beast. I had attacked the king in his own domain, while looking into its eyes. This was my punishment for attacking the king in such a primitive manner. The magic that brought good luck had been twisted by my rage. It not only punished me, but it punished my brothers and sister, as well. This was what happened when I looked into the eyes of both good and evil. What happened when I looked into the several eyes of the peacock.