“I’d been chasin’ a stag an’ somehow got lost. I’d never been in that part of the woods before. Oi didn’t think anythin’ of it an’ kept pursuin’ the stag when Oi stumbled upon the castle’s remains. I looked ‘round for a minute an’ realized there was not a sound ‘round me. Oi heard no crickets, no birds chirpin’, not even the rustlin’ of the leaves. Nothin’ moved, not even the wind. Oi started gittin’ chills all over. Oi knew it wasn’t normal.
“For a moment, Oi thought me eyes were playin’ games on me, but Oi could see a silhouettes of strange beings approachin’. To me horror, they started encirclin’ me, engulfin’ me completely with their darkness. Oi could barely breathe. Oi didn’t know what to do. Oi couldn’t escape ‘em. Oi threw arrows at ‘em, tried to fight me way out, but couldn’t.” He took a drink of his ale.
All three men stared in disbelief. “How did ye escape?” asked Thomas.
“That’s the part Oi couldn’t understand meself,” he said. “All Oi do know is when the sun finally came up the shadows disappeared. Oi got out of there as soon as Oi could an’ never looked back.”
“Oi wouldn’t be surprised,” George said. “Our father has warned us ‘bout huntin’ there. Told us to never go there durin’ dusk or when it gets dark.”
“He always made us mind our surroundin’s,” Thomas added. “But, it happens when we stumble upon somethin’ dangerous durin’ our chase. Oi can agree we have seen things ourselves.”
“Aye, people murmur, but they are afraid to speak up,” said the third man.
“They are afraid to speak up because they are afraid to believe it’s true,” George noted.
“Oi wouldn’t have admitted it meself, but Oi dread this time of year,” the fourth man told his companions.
“Oi agree,” said George. “Especially with what happened to that schoolmaster, Mr. Crabb.”
They didn’t seem too happy with the situation, but then again, Walter had never seen the Sullivan brothers smile or in good spirits. Most hunters were austere and took their craft seriously. Glancing about the room, Walter realized that every hunter had the same solemn expression as the brothers. Something occupied the hunter’s minds.
“These are dangerous times, mark me words,” George said. “We must be careful.”
“Oi hear some of the men are goin’ to be huntin’ in pairs for safety,” said the fourth man.
“Aye, as we should too,” agreed George.
The men sat there drinking their ale for the rest of the afternoon before they eventually left.
The hunters seemed to know something, Walter thought. What have they seen in those woods? Probably things they thought only happened in the Black Forest. Walter recalled how the Sullivan brothers had been braver than most men when they went hunting for the crocotta. They were not cowards and people knew not to hassle the brothers.
Two days later, Walter was doing errands in town for his Uncle Obel. He had already visited Mr. Athill, the bread maker. Mildred only baked pies.
“Bread takes too long,” she would say. “Oi would be baking bread all day an’ would never be able to make me delicious pies.”
Then he went to the candle maker, Mr. O’Brien, a kind, elderly man with rosy cheeks and white hair who was perpetually hunched over. If he’s been able to stand upright, he would have towered over Walter.
Mr. O’Brien constantly made light of his physical appearance, saying things like, “I once found a silver coin as a child and ever since then, I’ve been obsessed at staring at the ground. Now my nose almost touches it.”
He was always in good spirits and had a few chores for Walter to do that Mr. O’Brien found it difficult to do.