That night I had a dream, although sadly it wasn’t of the Martin Luther King variety. I had decided to investigate the wood at the rear of the garden and was trying to plot the course of least resistance through the trees. The sound of my breath was loud in my ears and I could see it curling and dispersing in plumes on the night air. The trees grew steadily more impenetrable and the only light was provided by a sickly moon gilding the twisted tops of the trees. A branch grazed my face, bringing hot, wet blood which I tried to wipe away but couldn’t. It fell in a steady drip down onto my coat and I felt progressively weaker as though it was symbolic of something altogether more corrosive at work.
Then the dream shifted and I was being chased; my only hope was to reach the top of the hill. With implacable dream logic, although I didn’t know what awaited me at the summit I knew with a panicked surge of adrenalin that it was the only chance I had. The cold sucked on my bones and the ground became boggy and possessive of my shoes which I quickly lost. I didn’t have time to reclaim them, this place was redolent with the taint of something that had been waiting here for a long time.
Waiting for me.
I could feel its obscene excitement as it gained on me and ran faster, the trees inflicting hundreds of cuts on my face and body as more of my clothes got ripped away. The terrain abruptly cleared of trees and I toiled upwards eventually reaching a rocky outcrop where I knew I had to rest before I made the final push for the top.
But as I heaved myself wearily up the last few steps, I saw that what I had thought was rock was in fact the figure of an old woman. An queasy greenish glow surrounded her and she was slapping something repeatedly. My dream pursuer forgotten, I knew I had to find out what she was doing. An overwhelming feeling of dread paralysed my legs but something was driving me onwards whatever the cost and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
The old woman was tiny. Her deformed, arthritic fingers plunged rhythmically in and out of what appeared to be a pool of water. It looked rank and foul wafts of steam rose from it to escape into the clean air. She was washing something repeatedly in the fetid water and her head was held down so I couldn’t see her face.
“What are you doing?” my dream self asked despite every instinct I had screaming at me not to attract this creature’s attention. I wanted to run as fast as I could back the way I’d come, but it was as though I was trapped in a set script and that demanded to be played out and my traitorous limbs remained rooted to the spot.
The crone, for that was what she was, finally looked up and I tried to look away but was held in thrall to the power that pulsated around her. Her eyelids had been sewn together over empty sockets and it looked as though someone had hacked her lips from her face. She was filthy and the surface of her skin was crawling with hordes of tiny mites that made it seem as though her features ebbed and flowed as they went about their business.
“Come here child,” she said, without any movement of the raw skin where her lips should have been.
Compelled, I obeyed and walked closer to her. I stared down at what she was washing and saw that it was the red top I’d been wearing that evening, along with coat and hat. She held them between her fingers and trailed them in and out of the stinking pool with an almost voluptuous caressing motion. Then I saw a severed hand float to the surface of the pool and suddenly wasn’t green anymore; it was red and my clothes were covered in blood and other things and still the old woman swirled them around in the blood bath as though wrapping chocolate around some delicious confection.
“You know me child, don’t you?” she whispered in my mind.
And I did. She was the Bean Nighe, the Washerwoman: a premonition of violent death to whoever saw her. The unsuspecting victim always stumbled across her in a wild, lonely place while she washed their bloody clothes.
The scene shifted to me flying up the same hill. My dream self swooped up ravines and up and up and up into the heavens as though on invisible wings. It was an exhilarating ride until all too soon I was at the summit and walking towards the huge cairn that had been built there. Where I had flown, now I could barely walk and each step took all the strength I had. After an age I reached the cairn and saw that it wasn’t any such thing. It was a collection of skulls, some huge and vaguely canine and others human. Sitting on top of the skulls with wings folded was Luke, teeth bared, hair streaming out behind him in the wind. I heard a distressing gurgling sound and I realised he was laughing.
I turned and started to run back down the hill but he swooped after me talons reaching for my eyes. And then I fell; faster and faster down what was now a Mount Everest of skulls, my body bashing on jagged fragments of bone, losing little bits of me as I went. I screamed and cursed until I hit the ground with a bone-crunching thud at the bottom of the mountain where I died reviling the sorry, misbegotten fates that had led me there.