18 May The Hag
“The Hag”Written by Mick Dark Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 13 minutes
I am going to tell you a story. This isn’t a pleasant tale yet it does contain elements of happiness and love. However, it is mostly and most unfortunately permeated with an abundance of terror and hopelessness. I do hope that you are not faint-hearted or easily shocked. The story begins in the German state of Hesse. Hesse is a central German state close to Frankfurt and its capital Wiesbaden. Hesse is most famously notorious for its forests. Forests in Hesse abound with many unnatural things. Wisps of this and that in your peripheral vision, the most peculiar sounds in the breeze that move from here and there and, of course, unpredictable weather that occasionally seem to coincide with the disappearance of those within it.
In the town of Hessen, Germany there lived a very old husband and wife, named Walter and Anna. Walter and Anna worked together in an auto manufacturing plant and had met there in 1948 shortly after the Second World War and had been married ever since. She was a receptionist and he was an engine technician. In 1965, they were forcibly retired as the auto plant was shutting down and moving to Berlin. They received just enough retirement compensation as to provide them a decent enough living in a small house on the edge of the town. Anna kept busy making crafts and selling them to the local neighborhood stores and shops. They were beautiful patchwork quilts that the community enjoyed. It was almost fashionable to own one of Anna Müller’s exquisite blankets. She rode around the town on her bicycle delivering them to happy faces. This was a much-needed boost to the household budget. Walter just sat at home, watching Bundesliga on the television, drinking heavy German beer and eating terribly greasy German food.
During the autumn of 1998, Anna was delivering her knitted blankets to one of the shops far on the other side of the town. By October, her quilts were in high demand as the evenings grew much colder and by Christmas, she could not keep up with demand. She folded up her delivery on the little makeshift metal basket on the back of her bicycle that Walter had welded onto it for this purpose. They were folded and wrapped up, neatly, on the back of her bicycle. The weather was cold and the roads were slippery as there had been a little mist leading to slight droplets in the air. It took her quite some time but as the rain progressed, it became nearly impossible to see ahead of her. She kept cycling, her knitted hat become saturated with freezing rain and her bike slipped around into various directions until she was no longer certain where she was going. She had never encountered a rain so hard and opaque. She heard a loud sound ahead of her but then the rain muted it and it was gone. She did notice, however, that the road had turned to mud. The concrete road that she always traveled on, now, without any warning, turned to mud. Her old body was fatigued now and due to this rain, she had no idea which way to go. She couldn’t get off of her bike because she would be in the same predicament, except slower. Suddenly, she began to see vague shapes and outlines in the rain. Like groups of people, which was very perplexing and somewhat frightening. They seemed to be lined up on either side of the road standing till but she couldn’t see very well and the rain was drenching her eyes so the slightest of squints was the best she could manage. She wiped them carefully while riding and opened them and they were gone. Perhaps trees, she thought. Bushes or hedges. She was a 70-year-old woman and could not continue as she was shivering and soaking wet and very tired. She was concerned for her health and when the rain stopped, it was nearly immediate. There were no more figures around her so she felt that she must have been seeing signs or small trees or something else. The rain was maddening. She had not experienced rain this heavy before.
What was most bizarre of all is that, when the rain stopped, it ceased abruptly all at once, and then she was lost. She had no idea where she was. She looked behind her and only saw a dirt path surrounded by trees. Surely, she could not have biked into the forest unaware. How is this possible? She pulled the center blanket from the pile on her bike and dried herself off. Then, she walked her bike back from the only direction that she was not facing. It led to a steep hill. Now, there was no possible way that she could have biked up this incline without knowing it. She would not have been, physically, able to accomplish this. Especially in the mud and rain. No, no. What was happening? She was surrounded by forest and standing at the top of this steep incline on the path, she gazed out towards a stunning sight. Behind her, as far as one could see, was forest. Her eyes were not terrible so her sight showed what looked like a hundred kilometers or more of forest. Ahead of her the forest path narrowed into darkness. She was petrified. Shaking and sobbing, she forgot about where she was or how she had gotten there.
She had gotten a terrible headache during this rain. She felt her whole body aching but her head was in terrible pain. This subsided soon after. She now considered how to get home. She was a somewhat fragile old lady and was afraid. The sun seemed low in the sky and she could only begin to walk back from where she came, down the hill. If she were wrong, there was no way she would have the strength to turn back up the hill. She first shouted out to the forest.
“Hello!? Hello?! Is someone here? Can anyone hear me?”
There was no answer. She repeated a few more times, more and more loudly. Yet nothing. In fact, no sound at all. Not from the forest. No wind, no birds, no insects, nothing. It was dead silent. Creepy. Chilling. She knew not what to do with the pressing, immediate situation of being lost and the sun descending. The additional element of silence made the situation even more tense. If there were any silver lining, it was that she would have four warm quilts with her that she had made by hand. Knowing her predicament was inevitable, she walked her bike to the side of the wet mud path under a particularly large tree that had a fairly thick canopy that provided some dry space for her. She laid down the blankets, with two below here and two on top, and tried to get comfortable. All the while, lightly sobbing. Anna was afraid. She knew that help would come at some point. She would have become a missing person for her husband and Walter would force the police to find her. After all, a little old lady would be lost. They never purchased one of these new cellular phones that their grandkids had that may have come in useful now. They were too old for technology and it would be doubtful to achieve any connection wherever this god-awful place was anyway, she felt.
Getting as cozy, as possible, into her quilts, she laid next to her bike. She had no food. Why would she? She wasn’t too hungry. She never ate much. A frail lady of her age had little appetite. She laid on the forest floor, in her blankets, lightly humming old German lullabies that her mother used to sing to her to keep her comforted. She laid and adjusted herself. She was thirsty. Despite the amount of rain that had come down, there was none to drink. Her trip was meant to be a back and forth, deliver the quilts and collect her payment and come home in time for dinner. She shivered and maintained her silence in order to sleep. It was now pitch dark. Not even the moon was visible, perhaps beyond the trees but no moonlight of any kind. Just complete blackness. Her bicycle had a light but it was activated by the pedals. It was made for cycling in the night so when she pedaled and the wheels turned, the light shone ahead of her. That was no good now and with this deafening solid silence, she’d not need light. She would be able to hear anything, quite clearly, contrasted against the emptiness. As she closed her eyes, she thought of Walter worrying about her. She needed to stop being sad. This was not helping the current predicament.
Anna was nearly asleep. Despite the occasional, violent shaking from the chill in her bones, she was drifting. She had only been asleep for a few minutes when she heard something. Her sleep was light and the silence was so intense that the contrast of this sound was sharp and alarming. She awoke but was hard to define what the sound was but she remembered it as a laugh. This terrified her. How could it be a laugh out here in the wilderness? Then, she heard it again and it confirmed her fears. It was a cackle, a dry, cynical cackle. It was light. Difficult to hear. Also, difficult to determine what direction. She lay on the ground, eyes stretched open as wide as possible. Continuing to listen and stay quiet. If it was a person out here, she would yell for assistance but this was wrong. She knew she couldn’t do this. She was far too frightened. This was something bad, not potential help. Her old heart was beating fast. She could hear her heartbeat through the quiet and pounding in her chest like a jackhammer. She wished it was an insect, even a fox. Anything, but please not a person. She was too old to defend herself and already tired, cold, thirsty, now hungry.
She could not sleep. It was almost painful, the alertness. Then, the sound of branches being moved and the crackle of footsteps on the forest floor. She could do nothing but remain quiet. For the following ten hours she drifted in and out of consciousness but far too stressed to really sleep. When the sun came up, she was exhausted. She had to try to get out of this place. She packed up her blankets and she moved further down the path to make every attempt at escaping this situation. The path was nearly dry now and she walked her bike down the path and when she reached the bottom of the hill, she drove her bike. Bike light flickering as she rode. She continued down the forest path, hungry but mostly thirsty. She kept her eyes open for a stream nearby. She listened for any trickle of water. Her thirst was maddening. She rode and rode along the only, single path that existed. Not even a break in the forest that allowed a splintered-off path. She didn’t know this forest and she felt a malevolence or supernatural force existing that could have brought her here. As mad as it may have been a consideration, Anna and Walter were religious and she felt that perhaps she was carried by some force. How else could she explain her existing, suddenly, in a forest that she never knew? How could she have been transported through the pouring rain, instantly onto an alien path into this unknown wilderness?
As she rode forward, she listened for any sound of salvation; a city, campers, even a highway. Nothing. There was no sound at all. One thing was odd, however. As she rode, the trees became more overhanging until the path became increasingly darkened by this canopy. The light of her bike shouldn’t be needed at what was probably nine o’clock in the morning but she’s glad that she had it. The space that she now inhabited, moving down the trail, began to appear to be more interior than being outdoors. The trees now made a complete canopy that was like a natural ceiling and after they created a cover of branches, it became worse as they started to be denser which turned the forest into near black, blocking out the sun almost entirely. Her bike light provided the uneven sparkle of light in the darkness. It created a macabre setting. The light made the surrounding trees creepy. She must be exiting this soon enough. She would have to persevere and then once she left the canopy, she should have a good 5 hours left to get back into the town. At least somewhere.
As she rode, she was stunned to look up and notice that the trees had no longer covered the path. How long had she been riding? How long had the trees not created the darkness and why, most pertinently, was it pitch dark again? It should be, by her accounts, somewhere between 11 am and 12 noon….definitely not 1 pm yet. Why, when she exited the trees, was it now night? This was terrifying. She was going mad. The thirst and hunger and cold and fatigue. It was getting to her. That must be it. She must have stopped to sleep and didn’t remember it. She would have remembered this, though, under any circumstance. She stopped the bike, against her better judgment. The light immediately shut off. Then she was enveloped in blackness. Anna was distraught, panic-stricken, and felt that she could pass out from the stress at any time.
She had no way of finding a place to rest in the dark. She could see nothing. The old lady got onto her bike and starting driving slowly – enough to force the light on and with the light on, she saw a figure in the flickering, dim light ahead of her in the forest. She fell to the ground, off the bike, lights out. She was panting. She was becoming hysterical. She couldn’t breathe. She saw someone or something standing ahead of her. She was certain of it. It was the figure of a bent-over old lady. Old, like her but clearly much older. This is what she gleaned from the sudden image. She whispered:
“Hello? Please, is someone there? If someone is there, please tell me. I’m a bit scared.”
Nothing. She picked up her bike with the only molecule of courage she could muster and once the light illuminated the path, she began driving. She was cycling in the dark, no moon, no sound except for the whirring of the light, the wheels and the pedals, and, of course, Anna’s heavy breathing. She needed to make some distance from that place. She was absolutely certain she saw a creepy old woman, staring at her from the forest line. She needed to make up some distance, despite her weakness and suffering through the cold, thirst and hunger. When she had cycled for 20 minutes, she was tired but she must have traveled at least a couple of kilometers. That should be enough. She couldn’t go on any further. She drove in a tight circle on the patch for the light to uncover the area around her so that she may find a place to rest. She found a fallen log with a thick bed of leaves and somewhat dry. She once again took her quilts off the bike and placed them down. She then tried to sleep. She was convinced that because of her weakness, she may not make it through the night. It was unbearably cold and she needed food and something to drink. As she slept, she dreamed of cooking dinner in her kitchen and sipping on apple cider, while Walter watched his football team win another match while he cheered them on. Then Walter turned off the TV and there was silence. She peered into the living room and saw Walter trying to shout to Anna and wave his hands, frantically, as if to warn her of something but there was no sound. He moved towards her and then Anna awoke. She was still in the blackness of the forest and accompanying the silence was a cackle. Another cackle. Her faint heartbeat pounded and pounded and she reached for the pedal of her bike and turned it.
The light flickered weakly and was on and off as she tried to turn the pedal with her hands, as the bike lay on its side in the dirt. The reach was difficult and the position was awkward but she kept trying. The light flickered and there, no more than 25 feet away, was the old woman, bent over from age, white hair falling down the sides of her head, pale face, glaring at Anna with terribly evil and malevolent eyes. Anna’s arm began to cramp and stopped hand pedaling for a moment while she panted with fear. Then she pedaled again and the sputtering of light lit up the distance ahead of her. In the sputtering of light flash, the decrepit old hag was now in front of Anna, nearly eight feet, and with one last push of the pedal, stalling from petrified fear, there was enough burst of dim light to see that this witch of the woods was now smiling the most sinister, sickening smile you could ever imagine.
The hag then became animated and roared into a vicious cackle and reached out her bony arms and clawed fingers towards Anna as she lay. Anna, then, had no more power to continue the light pedaling and screamed at the top of her lungs. She lay, tired and wrapped in a blanket. She pulled her quilt over her head. The darkness that existed outside soon became blacker than black as she covered her old, grey head awaiting her fate. Then, for just a moment, the sound of a long tone. An unwavering, long, resonant tone, coming from somewhere in the blackness. Fading until it was gone and as Anna pulled the blanket from her slowly, she heard nothing. Saw, again, only blackness like an aquarium of ink. She felt no more cold. No hunger or thirst. Just a peaceful silence. Her movements made no sound. She just existed in this blackness. Her bicycle she could no longer feel nearby. Only herself and her quilts.
Upon advocacy from the physicians, this is when Walter, in tears, agreed to stop the machines and he said goodbye with a gentle kiss to her forehead and walked out of the emergency unit looking back at his dearest Anna one last time.
The following day the Hessen newspapers had told of a senior citizen losing control of her bike in the sudden heavy rain and swerving, without any notice, into an oncoming lorry. She was critically injured with head trauma and taken to the Hessen local hospital ICU where her husband was notified. She did not make it. She is survived by her husband Walter Müller and her daughter Greta, sons Michael and Alex, and six grandchildren. Anna Müller was fond of craft making and particularly making quilts for local shops and charities.
Walter, heartbroken and grief-stricken, was now alone. He only knew Anna as his pillar for 50 years. His best friend. She was now gone and the house was quiet. He had little patience for visitors and wanted only to be alone. His home, now even more saturated with photos of their past, leaning against lamps, lying on tables, filling the walls with new nails. He had no experience of being alone. His health was always worse with his eating habits and lack of exercise while she ate well and was always bicycling around town. The one that should have outlived him by many years. He would have preferred that arrangement. However, this was not to be. He hoped that she did not have any pain and that her passing was peaceful and beautiful.
No longer caring about his heart or health, in general, anymore….Walter sat in his armchair, watching a match between Monchengladbach and Frankfurt. Frankfurt was winning although this did little to cheer Walter up. He piled his greasy sausages and butter-saturated boiled potatoes into his mouth, forcing up belches, and then looked around the room. Anna, in photos everywhere. He had enough for the day and pulled himself up, left the dirty plate on the table next to him, and walked slowly to bed, where he lay alone. Nobody to have late-night chats with about the next day’s expectations. Walter laid alone, a tear streaming down his cheek. He switched off his light. He felt a pang of indigestion and heartburn and opening his eyes while reaching for his side table for a Maalox tablet, he noticed something strange. Darkness. No moonlight coming through the window. Just pure darkness. He felt around for his side table drawer. He pulled out an old WW2 zippo lighter that his father had given him. He gave it a flick.
In his window, just barely noticeable from the reflection of the lighter on the glass, a hideous bent-over old lady smiling.
“Hey, what is this?! What are you doing here!?” Walter yelled while clutching his chest.
The old ogress widened her grin to an unnatural size stretching her entire face wide and laughed loudly in a dry, bitter and painful cackle and pressed her claw-like hands, palm flat against the windowpane, and stared into his soul as Walter’s distress and awe made him drop the lighter. The flame disappeared as it hit the floor.
Blackness again. Only filled with the cackle of an old hag in the dark.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available