“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” – H. P. Lovecraft
My newest novel, Love & Lovecraft, will be released in November 2018… in the meantime, may I tell you a story, to set the scene and whet your appetite for more?
The Grim of Saint Dismas
by K. Bannerman
Long ago, many years before the Church of St. Dismas was built of stone, it was built of timber. The church sat precisely where it sits today, at the crossroads between the Mill Road and the Green Track, but the population of the county was much smaller then, and much more pious in their hearts, and a little wooden church was all the village of Dunham required.
But the threat of wild men from the North reached the villagers’ ears, and they grew afraid that their little wooden church, along with the rest of their homes and farms, might be burned to a crisp by the wild men’s torches. They heard rumors that Willowdale had been destroyed, and then Mickleton Green, and then the mighty fortress of Roodhouse, and when they heard that, the villagers grew very afraid indeed, for who could burn down such a mighty palisade? Surely the wild men from the North were a reckoning force, unstoppable and ferocious.
The priest of St. Dismas, an elderly man named Father Colin, was the most afraid of all, and he prayed for divine assistance. He prayed in the nave where the alter sits, he prayed in his study where the town history is kept, he prayed in his bed where he lay alone in the dark. But one night, as he prayed amongst the gravestones, he heard a whisper on the breeze.
“You have neither seen nor spoken to them, yet you fear the men of the North?” it said, deep and low.
Father Colin was a timorous man, and he trembled when he heard the voice, but to his credit, he did not flee and hide — although he very much wished to run.
Instead, he said, “I do.”
“And you wish for protection from them, is that true?”
And again he said, “I do.”
“I can offer to ease your fears, if you desire. Do you wish this?”
And Father Colin, without knowing to whom he spoke, said a third time, “I do.”
The night air swirled and coalesced, and grew firm and solid, until before him stood a dog, but like no dog he’d seen before. Its fur was as thick as rams wool, its muzzle as square as granite, its eyes as brilliant as candle flames. It stood as tall as a pony, with a tail like a war banner and paws like spades. Father Colin cried out in terror, but the phantom dog only smiled, showing four rows of wicked teeth.
“Do not fear me, ɸatīr,” it said, “For I am sworn to protect St. Dismas until the end of time. And I shall gladly ease your fears, too, for only a little surcharge.”
Now, Father Colin had heard stories of the Grim, but never had he thought to see it or speak to it, and his knees grew watery, and his head swam. “What do you demand?” he wheezed.
The Grim prowled through the tombstones, its head slung low, its footsteps silenced by the thick moss that covered the graves. “I want only a little thing, ɸatīr,” it said,”I am hungry for rabbit meat and crave it, as all dogs do, living or dead. Will you fetch me a rabbit, every day, until the threat has passed?”
Such a tiny price to pay! Father Colin agreed heartily, for the woods and fields around Dunham were thick with rabbits, and he knew this would be no difficult task!
“Then rest easy,ɸatīr, for St. Dismas and the village of Dunham are safe,” the Grim replied, and with a puff of wind, it disappeared.
Father Colin did not rest, but went straight to the home of Elizar the Cottager, and rapped upon his door. Elizar was the best hunter of all the county, a generous man with many children and a plump wife, and when Father Colin told him the deal he had made, Elizar promised to supply a rabbit every day until the threat had passed. At first, this was an easy task; rabbits were plenty, and each afternoon, the hunter delivered a rabbit, and each midnight, the Grim collected its tithe from Father Colin with a nod of thanks. But as the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months, rabbits became more and more difficult to find. Elizar travelled further and further to find his quarry, and the rabbits he found were skinnier, and sicker, and smaller. The hunter realized that soon there would be no more to be found, and the priest would be in danger of breaking his vow.
This he told the priest, who trembled at the thought. Father Colin wondered, when would this pact come to an end? He’d agreed to supply a rabbit every day until the threat had passed, but had the threat passed? Were they still in danger of the men of the wilds?
On the Ides of November, under a full moon, Father Colin went out into the graveyard with a skinny sparse rabbit carcass in hand, and called upon the Grim, and it came to him as it had before, manifesting out of the dark sky, with twin stars as its eyes.
“Have I not done a fine job?” said the Grim with pride.
“Surely, you have, for not a single wild man has been seen on our borders,” Father Colin said.
“Have you not felt safe?”
“We have, for no bad tiding has befallen us,” said the Father. Then relenting, he said, “Except, of course, all the events that would normally befall a village of our size… Jacob’s barn burned down, and Edward the Younger lost a calf to a wolf, and the harvest was not so bountiful as last year — but these you did not promise to remedy! Only the wild men, and they have not come.”
“Have I not given you peace of mind, ɸatīr, and eased your fears?”
“Yes, you have,” said the Father, “You have, indeed! And we have been happy to provide you with rabbits! But for how much longer?”
“Until the threat has passed, was I not clear?” said the Grim.
“So you said, yes, but… but… when will we know the threat has passed?”
The Grim gave a little shrug. “You are in just as great a danger now, as you were when you first appealed for my help,” it said, “You feared the wild men then, and you fear them now. Nothing has changed, as far as I can tell.”
“But… but… are they coming?”
The Grim shook his head. “I doubt they ever were, ɸatīr. Dunham has nothing of great value, except for peace and tranquility in full measure. If they wished to come here, it was only to live in happiness, as you do.But I promised to ease your fears, and that I have done, and will continue to do as long as you are afraid of the wild men.”
Father Colin knew that his heart was full of fear, and it would always be so, for he had never laid his eyes upon the wild men, nor did he wish to! He had heard such wicked rumors! Had they not burned down the Roodhouse? Had they not pillaged and destroyed all in their path? So he had heard!
“But… but here’s the thing…”
The Grim prowled closer with a growl in its throat. “Yes?”
“Well, we are running out of rabbits,” said Father Colin. His hands began to tremble, his words began to stutter. “What if we no longer have a rabbit to give you?”
“Simple,” said the Grim, “I will eat up all your children, one by one.”
Father Colin gasped.
“Are you not afraid of the wild men, ɸatīr?” it continued, “Of course you are. What a small price to pay for your security, don’t you think? Rabbits and children are very tiny, are they not? You’ll miss them not-at-all.”
And the Grim gave such a wicked and ravenous smile, Father Colin trembled and whimpered and, some say, he even wet his robes.
“You have three days to find me one last rabbit,ɸatīr, and then I shall leave you to your fate. Is that what you wish?”
“Yes,” said the Father. “Yes!”
And with a puff of air, the Grim was gone.
For three days, Elizar the Cottager and all his children hunted high and low, through every bramble bush and hawthorn hedge, but not a single rabbit could be found. Together they came to the church on the last day, as the sun was edging down below the west, and Elizar said to the Father with tears in his eyes, “There is not a single rabbit left in all of Dunham County.”
“What will happen to us?” said his children, gathering around.
Father Colin, heavy with guilt, could not say for sure.
And as the last light of day disappeared, they heard the soft step of a paw on the path.
“I have come for my rabbit,” said the Grim, “Where is it?”
The children whimpered and huddled together.
They heard the heavy breath at the church step. “I have come for my rabbit, where is it?” said the Grim again, this time with more ferocity.
“Father,” said Elizar, looking at his children, “Where is the village register? Where you record all the births and deaths in Dunham?”
“In my study,” said the Father, greatly confused.
They heard the scratch of claws upon the wooden door. “I have come for my rabbit, where is it?” said the Grim again.
Elizar the Cottager ran to the study. There, on the desk, sat the great leather-bound tome, where all the births and deaths from the beginning of Dunham were carefully recorded, line after line. He flipped open the register to a date, and searched for a name. Then he scrawled a few lines, and ran back to his children, and pressed a kiss to their crowns, and told them each he loved them.
Then he went to the door, and said, “You have come for your rabbit?”
“I have,” said the Grim, “And if you have no rabbit, then I will take your children, and be gone forever back to Hell.”
“Then you may have your rabbit,” said Elizar, and he flung open the door, and stepped outside.
There was such a screech and a howl, the very foundation of the church trembled, and cracks appeared in the plaster walls, and the timbers groaned and moaned. The children cried and cowered, and so too did Father Colin, until a vast and heavy silence descended upon the Church of St. Dismas, and the dark night fell thick like a blanket over their heads. Creeping like mice, Father Colin and the hunter’s children went outside to find the churchyard empty, and both the Grim and Elizar were gone.
So Father Colin hurried to his study, and found the register, and the page which Elizar had sought. And there was the birth registry from many years passed. And there was the name ‘Elizar’ scrawled halfway down the page in the hand of the old pastor. And there, in fresh ink under the column for surname, Elizar had added the title ‘Rabbit’.
And that was how the Rabbit family gained their name, and how a single word saved the village, not from the Grim — for he was only doing his sworn duty, to protect the church — but from the irrational fears and stubborn heart of silly old Father Colin.
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