Here, in the tranquil darkness of the new moon, I shall endeavor to give my testimony, whatever it may be worth.
As a young and promising bachelor, I made a fine living delivering cargo to the villages scattered along the edge of our county. One trip took longer than I expected.
After the sun sank behind the far horizon, the full moon threw light on a spot by the side of the road. Making a quick camp, it was my plan to set out again the first thing in the morning.
Through I scrambled for firewood, I had enough keep a small, happy fire glowing through the night. Truly, though, the weather was warm and the moon was bright. I merely kept the fire for its company.
My mood was dark nonetheless. My age, though still young, was surpassing the age by which most of the men in my town had already wed. I was sure that the beautiful Eloise, who invited me to her debutante ball, would have chosen me from all her suitors.
I had much prospects. I am not a bad looking man. My business set apart from the others. And Eloise was always very sweet to me when we spoke.
But this had come to naught, much to my humiliation. And to add further insult to my injury, my beloved Eloise selected my rival Eric. Surely, my shame was complete.
In the moonlight, I pondered my future. From my unhappy perspective, all of life seemed to be a cruel, meaningless facade. Behind it, I felt the void of nothing, no reward for my labors, no justice to set the wrongs of life right.
There, I believe, is the thought that rips it all to shreds. The simplest words open up the gates of unending horror.
How was I to know she was listening to my thoughts?
The horses began to neigh restlessly. Even as I moved to calm them, they began to stamp. I stopped to let them wear it out, cursing the dark line of thoughts I believed they had caught wind of.
For such thoughts are too foul for any good man to have, even for the ones he calls enemies. I was almost compelled to ask for forgiveness, but why must I do so if it is truly who I am?
The horses were fearful at their tethers. I heard a rustle in the brush at the campsite's edge.
With a stick, I pounded the ground and battered the hedges. I stood for some time hearing only silence.
Leaning forward, I drew aside a large round bush and found myself staring into two hideous, yellow eyes.
These were the eyes of neither beast nor man.
My left hand had brushed against its wiry fur. It snarled and snapped at my limb before wheeling and loping off into the night.
After bandaging the wound left by its fangs, I stood vigil, guarding the horses, until the sun had risen.
So it began.
By the time I reached the town, I was burning with a fever. It was all I could do to put the horses in the stable and crawl into bed. For the next few days I lay there helplessly, lingering between unconsciousness and delirium. What I can remember of those nightmares was painful and terrifying.
Jim, my neighbor, took it upon himself to look after me. My state clearly disturbed him, but he visited me frequently with soup and bread.
In the miserable moments when I was alone and awake, my thoughts would dwell on the nature of his concern. At first, I only grew confused, but in time things became apparent.
I knew that he expected me to die. I wanted to believe that he was worried for me, simply that he valued a human life. Still, though his words were always soothing, he stared at me with a sick fascination.
Perhaps, I told myself, he was intrigued owing to his own advanced age. It would be noble for him to be affected by the possible passing of a younger man before himself. Yet, in his eyes, there was a hint of the smile that his lips hid well.
One night, at the height of my malady, the world was still and quiet. I listened to the silence and began to notice that I could hear the faintest sounds.
I heard the scrabbling of a mouse in the other room. I heard the wind rustling the grass in my yard. As I focused on this heightened sense, I learned to searched around with it.
When my ears reached my neighbor's house, I heard something. At first, it was only a mumbling, murmuring voice. As I concentrated, I began to make it out. It was Jim. I thought he was praying or talking in his sleep.
“Poor man,” he said, “he'll probably be dead by tomorrow. Such a waste, with decades left to live...”
By this I was touched, but then he continued and what I heard made Hell run through me.
“Still,” he chuckled, “better him than me. And if Death takes one so young, with so much time left, perhaps he'll have no need to take me.”
And there another name was added to my list of enemies. To his credit, he brought me food and that may have helped me to survive. He came when the rest of the stinking vermin in this wretched town would have left me there to die alone.
All the same, it sickened me to realize that he came in the guise of care to gawk at my misfortune. I was enraged to understand that he would have gladly swapped my life to have a few more years for his own.
Until then, I also thought that I would die. But, then and there, I resolved to survive just to spite him. As I fell asleep, something made me smile.
Something told me he'd not see another year go by.
As I slowly recovered, the dark mood which had consumed me gradually relaxed its hold. It was as if some strange force had been irritating and provoking me, though I could not define it then.
At any rate, I was becoming something of myself again.
But this was to the point. There follows a question that I dared not ask at that time.
If I was not myself, then who, or what, was I?
Though I laughed the thought away, there was no denying that I had changed in certain ways.
When I finally escaped from my sickbed, it was a ravenous hunger that drove me. A diet of bread and soup had left me nearly starved, and initially I paid no mind to the large meals I prepared.
I even joked that I might not mind if I put on some weight.
At first, I devoured it all with equal enthusiasm. Everything was so delicious, with each bite tasting like an old favorite. My tastes, however, began to change.
Soon, many of the things I loved struck my palette offensively. I found myself retching on the fresh vegetables I had labored so patiently to grow. The flesh of plants was not what my cravings were for.
Marvelous cuts of meat became my mainstay and kept me sated, but only for a time. They, too, lost their flavor becoming dull and stale. I was driven to eat, but nothing was satisfying.
And the meals I made felt skimpy despite their gluttonous size. I emptied my pantry in short order.
The thought of going to the market gripped me with a sudden and inexplicable fear.
As I looked toward the thoroughfare that was my horizon, the familiar sights were dreadful, even alien, to my eyes. The straight lines of the buildings rose unnaturally, hellish wisps of smoke curled foully into the sky. It was a nest where the world was infested by an army of things cruel and vile.
My growling stomach expressed not only hunger, but a contempt for my cowardice as well. Shamed but determined, I stepped outside for the first time in weeks.
The sun shined warmly, the air was fresh and touched by notes I had never noticed before. I chuckled at my trepidation and walked to the stables.
Young Charles, as always, had done an excellent job as a stable hand. The horses were in fine condition. I had resolved to reward him with a bonus as I moved toward the stallion with a bridle.
The horse stood stiffly, staring with his enormous eyes. The instant I touched him, he reared and lashed out with both hooves. His iron shoe struck with terrible force upon my brow.
I heard the cracking of bone as my skull shattered like an eggshell. I was unconscious before I hit the ground. By all rights, I should have been killed by that kick.
I came to my senses as I staggered back to the house in the early morning hours.