The Woodcutter’s Son

BookBWCandle2

British folklore has more than its fair share of arcane sylvan entities. From the Apple Tree Man, guardian of the harvest in Somerset, to the Poldies of the Wirral Peninsula, diminutive and mischievous faeries that dwell within the woods, the very islands themselves seem to have a deep connection with rustic spirits.

Considering how much the world has changed in recent times, is it possible that these spirits linger on even today?

An usual occurrence in a parish located in the county of Kent suggests that this maybe the case.

MapChilham2

27th December 2009

Sarah Chatterley is a sober, serious individual. Pushing fifty, she is a well-respected solicitor, specialising in commercial law. She comes across as someone not prone to tall tales or flights of fancy.

Which is what makes what she has to say even more surprising.

We meet a couple of days after Christmas in a quiet café in Richmond. Over coffee and a plate of baked goods named something I cannot pronounce, Ms Chatterley recounts her story:

“The family ‘pile’, if you will, was a big place in Chilham. It’s a large house, with a long garden that backs on to some woods. My brothers and I used to have a great time bumbling about in the afternoons. Halcyon days, let me tell you.”

“Now, when I was young, I was absolutely terrified of thunderstorms. Scared to death of them, and we seemed to get a lot when I was a child. I used to run into my mother and father’s room and beg to sleep with them. After a few times, they asked me not to do this, as I invariably woke them as I climbed under the covers. So I switched tactics and started just sneaking into their room with a blanket and curling up on the floor beside their bed. I suppose it made me feel safe just to know that they were close.”

She takes a sip of her alarmingly expensive coffee before continuing.

“I believe it was the late summer of ‘68, as I would’ve been about six or seven, and it was one of those really humid, muggy nights that we get on occasion in the South East.”

“The storm was the worst one that I can recall, and it broke late that night. I remember gathering my blanket and sneaking into the corridor to head to my parent’s room. In the hallway, stood outside their door, I saw it.”

It?

“It was about the same size as me, maybe a little shorter. It’s body and limbs were thin and it’s head was large and triangular, shaped a bit like a shield. At first I thought it was wearing a mask, but as I looked closer, I could see that that was its face. It had these weird black eyes and a little mouth full of sharp teeth. And it looked to be made of some kind of pale wood.”

I press for further details.

“It had a sort of grain pattern running all over it. Absolutely terrifying, let me tell you.”

“It took a few steps towards me, and when it moved its motion was odd… stilted even. Like it was something out of a Ray Harryhausen film. Do you remember those? Then it bared its teeth and opened its mouth, I can only assume to speak. I’m not too proud to admit that I turned on my heels and ran back into my room. I spent the rest of the night under my blanket with my eyes on the door, scared rigid. I could hear it moving about in the hallway, but I suppose I must have fallen asleep at some point.”

“Come morning, I told my parents, but they thought it was just my overactive imagination. My brothers only laughed at me. By the afternoon, I’d managed to convince myself it was nothing but a bad dream, and I certainly never saw it again. Eventually, it must’ve just faded from my mind. But I’ll tell you this, Dr Gotobed: never again did I leave my room during a thunderstorm at night.”

“And it never came into my thoughts again. Not until a few years ago, anyway.” 

All this can be easily chalked up to a childhood nightmare, or possibly a case of sleep paralysis. After all, the developing brain is a complex organism, much of which is still a mystery.

But that only makes what happened thirty six years later all the more intriguing.

ForestNBW2

The following is an old fable, native to the local area, taken from the 1896 edition of Taylor’s Folklore of The British Isles* (I have taken the liberty of updating some of the more ‘archaic’ terms):

In a little village, over one hill but before the next, there lived a woodcutter and his wife.

The woodcutter was strong, and his wife hearty. They were happy, for they wanted for naught but one thing: a child, with lips to speak, and a heart to beat.

But try as they might, the woodcutter’s wife could not bear her husband neither son nor daughter, and as the years passed, her smile began to fade.

The woodcutter’s desire to see his wife happy eventually went they way such things do, and turned to desperation.

And desperate men do desperate things.

One dark and wretched night, driven deep into the forest by despair, the woodcutter fell to his knees and begged the ancient spirits of the woods for help. 

For they provided him with his living, he reasoned, could they not provide a child as well?

To his surprise, the spirits answered.

The ageless things that lived in the forest told the woodcutter to find a white tree of blasted oak. Chop it down, said the spirits, take the trunk, fashion yourself a child, and we will grant it life.

A child with lips to speak, and a heart to beat.

The woodcutter did as he was told. Finding the tree, he took his axe to it, and felled the blasted oak. He dragged the trunk home, and for three nights he hewed and carved, shaping the wood into a small boy.

On the fourth night, the spirits of the forest did as they promised, and breathed life into the boy.

Wooden lips to speak, a wooden heart to beat.

The woodcutter showed his wife what he had made, hoping that she would finally be happy.

But the small wooden boy, animated by the forest’s magic, filled the wife with dread, and she ran to the village. When the people found out what the woodcutter had done, they held a meeting and humm’d and ha’d over what should be done with this accursed boy. 

For wooden lips should not speak, wooden hearts should not beat.

With the rising of the sun and the casting of the die, the villagers came for the woodcutter and took him for the noose, his boy for the fire.

The trunk of the white oak was found, the earth around it salted. And the spirits of the forest, angered at the refusal of their gift, fell silent, never to speak to man again.

ForestNBW

Ms Chatterley continues:

“About five years ago, my parents held a barbecue for the family. It was a lovely day, and all my brothers were in attendance with their own children in tow. Most of my nieces and nephews were surly teenagers at that point, and so they amused themselves with their phones and what-have you. But Rosie, my brother Simon’s youngest daughter, she was only eight years old and, being a city girl, she was quite happy to run around my parent’s big house and garden. We didn’t see her for most of the day.”

“As it began to get dark, Rosie came out of the house with a big smile on her face. I casually asked her where she’d been and what was amusing her so much. Her answer made a shiver run down my spine.”

“She said she’d been inside, playing with ‘the little wooden boy’.”

Rosie was asked to draw a picture of her new friend. I have the original and will include it in this file. Ms Chatterley confirms it to be the same thing she saw during that terrible thunderstorm in 1968.

Drawing2

The eldest members of the Chatterley family have since moved from that particular residence. I have spoken with the new owners, and they are yet to experience anything unusual.

I have left my details with them should that change.

HouseBW

My first thought was that the young Rosie had overheard a member of the family mention Sarah’s encounter that stormy night. Having spoken to all the members of the Chatterley family, I can confirm this was not the case. Indeed, none of them even had any idea what I was talking about, such was the trivial nature of their relative’s experience all those years ago to them.

I am reluctant to dismiss all this as the product of mere coincidence and childhood delusion. After all, Sarah Chatterley makes a most convincing witness, and for young Rosie to see the exact same thing as her Aunt saw some thirty-odd years later suggests that something unusual has been loitering around that large house in Kent.

It is also interesting to note that, whatever it was, it chose to reveal itself only to children.

Unless the ‘little wooden boy’ decides to make a further appearance, I am afraid it’s identity and motivation will remain unclear.

Perhaps the spirits of the forest wish to be heard once more.

Dr Thomas Gotobed

* If anyone has a copy of this book, could they please get in touch? All I can dig up is a few vague references on Wikipedia and funny looks from the staff at my local Waterstones – C.R.

 

The Last of the Star Whales

MuseumBW1

Marcel Griaule was a French anthropologist born at the end of the Nineteenth century. Beginning in 1931, he spent several years in the Mopti region of Mali in West Africa, studying the indigenous Dogon people.

The Dogon are renowned for their adherence to their old ways, ways that have been surprisingly resistant to change over the millennia. Their traditions offer a rare glimpse in to life as it was a long, long time ago.

In 1946, Griaule spent a month in the company of a man named Ogotemmeli, a blind hunter who divulged the astronomical beliefs of his people, beliefs that amazed the French anthropologist. According to Ogotemmeli, the Dogon had knowledge of the star Sirius B, a white dwarf that is invisible to the naked eye, as well as the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter, alongside other cosmic information that is apparently inherent to their views of the Universe and their place within it.

In later years, various authors would jump on the work of Griaule and use it as proof of the ‘Ancient Astronaut’ theory, a line of thought postulating that early man was visited by beings from other worlds. According to this theory, those beings guided humanity to build such wonders as the pyramids of Giza and the stone heads of Easter Island, as well as introducing us to art, literature and other facets of high culture.

I have no time for this theory. I believe it is a mistake to belittle early man by ascribing his great works to extra-terrestrial sources. Besides, prior research suggests that it was Griaule himself who introduced the idea of Sirius B to the Dogon people.

But all this is but background noise.

In 1948, one Germaine Dieterlain, a student of Griaule’s who had accompanied him on his trips, was preparing to leave Mali and return to France. On the day she left, a Dogon elder handed her a series of stone tablets, tablets that were inscribed with a strange writing the likes of which Dieterlain had never seen before. The elder explained that even he could not read the words on the tablets, but local legend had it that these words detailed a creation myth that was even older than his people’s. Indeed, the tablets were considered ancient even when the Dogon themselves were young.

Unable to find anyone capable of translating these tablets, Dieterlain donated them to the Université de Paris, where they elicited no more than uninterested grumblings. They remained there until 1976, when they found their way into the hands of the British Museum in London, gathering dust in a vault for fifteen years.

In 1991, they were stumbled upon by one Paul Cortez, a linguistics expert working on a hypothetical universal translation system. To test his creation, Cortez required a document in an unknown language that had never been deciphered.

At this point considered untranslatable, the Dieterlain tablets were just that document.

A decade of hard work later, Cortez believed he had cracked the code inscribed upon the ancient stone. In 2001, he published his findings in the academic journal British Historical Review*.

Here is his translation:

 Star Whale BW

In the beginning, there were only two things: the Darkness and the Silence.

The Darkness was so deep that it went beyond even forever, and the Silence so quiet that even if there were things to speak, they would not have dared to utter a sound.

Then the Star Whales came, great herds of majestic beasts that roamed through the voids of space. And their call echoed throughout the Universe, a chorus of love and hope. The Darkness retreated and the Silence surrendered, and the stars and the planets took their places in the heavens.

Life was born to that sound, the song of the Star Whales.

The cycles came and went, and the people of the young races began to prosper under the sound, a song that would warm even the coldest of souls. These young races gave names to the voices in the chorus, adding the new calves as they were born, and celebrating the elder whales as they moved on, into the Great Ever After.

The young races passed this practice on to their children, and their children did the same; on and on, down through the generations. First with sounds, then with symbols, and finally with the written word. 

As is the way, the customs of the old eventually became the traditions of the new, and many an infant on many a land sat up at night listening to the great concert in the heavens. 

As time passed, and civilisations rose up and crashed down like so many waves on the shore, the chorus of the Star Whales grew weaker, as one by one they moved into the Great Ever After. No more calves were born, and the song of love and hope that once echoed through the heavens began to grow silent, until only one voice remained. A quiet voice, unlike the others.

And the song grew sad.

The wisest of the wise men amongst the young races named the whale to whom this voice belonged: ‘Akhtumara Shem, the Lonely One, for whom time is Short’. After all, the laws of survival as understood at the time declared that one being, all alone, cannot possibly live for long.

But the Universe is a strange place, and sometimes it cares not for the laws of those that reside within it. And so the lonely whale sang on.

The young races grew old, ancient even, and eventually they began to leave the Universe, taking their ways with them, and new races appeared, spreading out across the lands. Tales of the great chorus lingered, an imprint on the collective memory of all life that ever was or ever will be.

Still the lonesome whale sang. And even now, it is said that if you can find a deserted plane and stand atop its highest mountain on a quiet night, you will hear it. The song  of Akhtumara Shem, the Lonely One, for whom time was not short.

Akhtumara Shem, the last of the Star Whales. 

Files BW

The translation was roundly mocked by the stuffed shirts of historical academia. After all, there are no other documents that speak of anything even vaguely like such a creation myth in any other culture on Earth.

This fact was considered enough to brand Cortez’s universal translation system, at best, a grandiose folly, and at worst, a description I have no desire to repeat here.

Unable to gain further funding, Paul Cortez died of pneumonia in 2003, discredited and penniless.

The tablets themselves were returned to the vault in the depths of the British Museum, no doubt to gather dust once more.

Cortez’s daughter has kindly donated her father’s work to me. I have forwarded it to a colleague of mine based at the University of Cairo, an old friend who is an expert in the translation of long dead languages.

Perhaps she can shed some light on the history of this ancient, yet unique, tale of a lonely astral cetacean.

Dr Thomas Gotobed

 * I have attempted to trawl through every copy of the British Historical Review  for 2001, but it is quite a dry publication for a layperson such as myself. I’ll endeavour to carry on, but I do have a life to live outside of fact checking the good doctor’s notes – C.R. 

A Thought-Form by the River Trent

TulpaSymbol3

Gunthorpe is a small village tucked away by the banks of the River Trent, on the outskirts of Nottinghamshire. It is typical of many such places scattered throughout the United Kingdom; quiet, sleepy almost, consisting of no more than a couple of pubs by the riverside, a high street and a patch of houses, all surrounded by a network of fields and criss-crossed by winding country roads.

In August of 1991, it was also the site of what initially appeared to be a curious case of bi-location, but soon became something far more sinister. All centred on one eighteen year old girl:

Karen Ogilvy.

 MapT1

6th April 1995

Joseph Colman is a personable young man, and only the dark circles that have taken up residence around his eyes betray the fact that he is nursing a rather severe hangover. Currently a student in his final year at Sheffield University, he was born and raised in the aforementioned village of Gunthorpe, and a friend of Miss Ogilvy’s.

We meet in the bar of the Corner Pin in Newhall on a cold, grey afternoon. Nestled by the fireplace, between pints of imported lager, Joseph tells me his recollections of the August of ’91:

“Yeah, I remember that summer. That’s the year we got our ‘A’ level results.”

“There were four of us who’d always knock about together. Me, my girlfriend Mia, and then Marcus and his missus Karen. We’d all gone to the same school, so we were all close. Not so much anymore. We’ve all kinda drifted apart.”

“It started off with a couple of little things, things that didn’t seem like a big deal at first. I saw Karen in the village, across the street, walking ahead of me. I shouted at her and she turned round. I waved hello and she just turned back and carried on, completely blanking me. And then she did the same to Mia a few hours later in the corner shop. Apparently Karen stared straight through her. Mia thought she must’ve been high or something.” 

“I wasn’t too bothered by this, perhaps she was just having a bad day? Shit happens. But Mia was pissed off. We asked Karen about it the next time we saw her, and she had no idea what we were talking about. She thought we were just pulling her leg.”

“But… that sorta shit, you just forget about it, right?” 

He gingerly sips his pint before continuing.  

“Well, a few days later, there’s a bunch of us having a drink in the Unicorn. When last orders came, we thought we’d pop up to one of the fields and have a… a smoke. You know what I mean?” 

I assure him that I do.

“Anyway, I’m driving ‘coz I’d only had a couple of pints. Mia’s got shotgun as she was, you know, my girl back then. Marcus and Karen are in the back. Karen asks if we can swing by her house first. She wants to pick up a bottle of vodka she’s got stashed away.”

“So we drive to hers and she jumps out, goes running inside. We’re sat there for, I don’t know, five minutes? Mia’s getting a bit impatient and tells Marcus to go and see what the hold-up is. They argue back and forth for a bit, but then Karen comes out. She walks over to the car, and she’s got this kinda blank expression on her face. Says she’s changed her mind and that she’s not actually feeling too well, that we should go on without her. Bit weird, right? But hey-ho, off we go, the three of us.”

“The next day, Marcus rings me. He says that he’s just spoken to Karen, and she wants to know why we ditched her.”

“I rang Karen myself. She reckons that she went inside, and whilst she’s taking her room apart looking for this bottle of booze, she said she hears us drive away. She goes outside and we’re gone. And she’s absolutely insisting that this is the truth. Almost crying about it.”

“That’s a bit fucked up, right? All three of us saw her, heard her speak. But she’s adamant that never happened.”

 Trent1

Bi-location is a curious phenomenon. It occurs when a person is present in two separate places at the same time.

In Marseilles, towards the end of the last century, a class of schoolchildren witnessed their young teacher writing on the blackboard in front of them as well as strolling through the schoolyard outside their window.

In 1906, the British Member of Parliament Sir Fredrick Carne Rasch was seen attending a debate at the House of Lords, when it was a well-known fact that he was tucked up in bed at home at the time, tackling a nasty bout of influenza.

The Portuguese friar and doctor St. Anthony of Padua was said to have appeared both preaching a sermon at one service and singing in the choir of another one balmy Easter Sunday in the 13th Century.

But bi-location appears to be a harmless, if unsettling event.

What happened in Gunthorpe that summer seemed to quickly escalate into something much more troubling.

Gunthorpe1

10th April 1995

Mia Cooper is a good-humoured individual, currently completing her teacher training in physical education at a Rushcliffe School, a local comprehensive in Nottingham. When I finally get the chance to meet her in person, I get the distinct impression that her job is akin to the herding of cats.

On her lunch break we sit in the staff room, and between bites of a sandwich and sips of burnt coffee she tells me of her experience of the events of the summer of ‘91. Her retelling is faithful to Joseph Colman’s, albeit with some minor, inconsequential differences.

Her words pick up where Mr Colman’s left off:

“We ribbed Karen a bit about that night, told her she had an evil twin knocking about that was trying to ruin her social life. She laughed it off a few times but I could tell she wasn’t amused.” 

“Then it happened again.” 

She shifts a little in her chair, leaning toward me.

“Late on the Saturday, Joe was driving the four of us out into the fields, for a puff or two…”

She mimes smoking something furtively.

“…Marcus was joshing him about making sure that everybody was in the car this time, but Karen seemed in good spirits. We all did. We were due to get our results in a few days, so I think we were all a bit nervous. I suppose we were just looking to unwind.”  

“So we’re going down past Allen’s farm, on one of those tiny country lanes… do you know the ones I mean? You can literally get one car and maybe a Rizla down ‘em. And once the sun’s gone? They’re pretty much pitch black.” 

“Anyway, we turn this one corner, not too quick, and there’s someone standing bang in the middle of the road, facing away from us, not moving. It’s a woman, and she’s kinda swaying. We just assumed she was another club casualty. Too many pills at the start of the night, yeah?” 

“Joe honked the horn a few times, and Marcus is getting all up in his ear, saying he should just nudge this crazy woman out of the way.”

“And then she turns ‘round. And I shit you not, it’s Karen.”

I remind her that she’s just said that Karen was in the car with her.

“She was. She was sat right next to me. And she looked terrified. The one beside me, anyway. The Karen in front of us was just staring at the car with this mad look in her eyes.”

“Until she ran at us.” 

Ran at you? I ask her to elaborate.

“Got down on all fours and just charged at us, running like an animal.”

“Joe slams the car into reverse, swerving backwards down this tight country lane. And this… this thing… this other Karen… she was keeping up with us. And everyone in the car’s just yelling. And then… and then she just disappeared.” 

Mia goes silent for a moment. I can see her hands are shaking.

“I know I saw all this. But I also know that I couldn’t have seen it, you know?”

I ask her what the four of them did next.

“Well we kept going in reverse for a bit. Then Joe stops the car, and we all got out. Karen’s screaming, saying she wants to go home. Marcus’ tries to calm her down but it didn’t help. So we drove her home and she ran inside, slamming the door.”

“We never saw her again.”

Gunthorpe2

The next day, The Ogilvy’s house is devoid of life. A few days later, a ‘for sale’ sign appears outside. As far as I can glean from local records, her parents emigrated, alarmingly quickly, to Canada, taking their only daughter with them.

I have been unable to track them, or Karen, down for comment.

The next day I was, however, able to speak with Marcus Howe, the other passenger in the vehicle that fateful night. A soldier in the British Army stationed somewhere in Bosnia, he manages to  relate his version of events to me over a crackling phone line.

He corroborates the accounts of Joseph Colman and Mia Cooper.

Book1

I believe it is fair to say that whatever took place in Gunthorpe that summer goes beyond mere bi-location. Indeed, the reference point I keep returning to is the Tibetan Book of the Dead and it’s mention of the Tulpa: a thought-form if you will, with a physical presence and a personality, created by mental power alone.

But it apparently takes an enormous amount of focus and decades of training to manifest such a thing.

Perhaps Karen Ogilvy possessed such power, but without knowing it. Perhaps she unwittingly willed a duplicate of herself into being, and that duplicate, without direction, proceeded to leave confusion and distress in its wake.

Without speaking to Miss Ogilvy, it is, unfortunately, impossible to know.

Dr Thomas Gotobed