Tell A Tale — Gothic Fiction

The Being Within By Michael Swift

It all started barely six months' ago. In that dreamy moment between deep slumber and wakefulness he came to me. Just the merest hint of movement in one shadowed corner of the room and I sat up, wide-eyed, staring into the inky blackness. It was a man, but unlike any man I had seen before: tall stove-pipe hat, long straggly hair, scarf wound tightly around his neck and a floor-length black cloak.

'Fear not. I will help you and me to achieve the renown we so richly deserve.'

With that, he climbed, although slithered would be a more-appropriate description, onto the bed and I felt a shudder pass through my body as his being was absorbed into mine. I slept no more that night but, in the morning, felt more-invigorated than I had ever done before. Any thoughts of the strange incident were forgotten. I ate a hearty breakfast and stepped into the street determined to make this a day to remember. It was Halloween: come evening, young children knocking excitedly at doors begging for sweets; adults dressed as zombies, ghouls and other manifestations of the night; white pan-caked faces with black-rimmed and staring eyes; hollowed pumpkins with glowing candle-lit interiors in every garden. The strange being within me could not wait.

Evening came and, with it, a gentle knock at the front door. The neighbour's children seeking to dip greedy little fingers into my supply of sweets, no doubt? I opened the door and there she stood; I estimated her to be about seven years of age. Delicately-applied make up, sparkling top and matching skirt in crimson-sequined material and a hat, a witch's hat, which adorned her head. Fleetingly, I saw her through his eyes; a wizened old hag accused of dabbling in the black arts. His voice, not mine, invited her into the hall where he made me seize her and, clamping one hand over her mouth, I was compelled to drag her into the cellar. Dark and dusty corners where the smell of decay hung in the air. The noose waited, dangling from a beam. Why did he make me do it? I watched as her lifeless body swung gently to and fro driven by the draught from the stairwell. I was sat thus when the police came for me.

Now I sit and stare at the grey walls which surround me. Night after sleepless night with the cries of fellow prisoners echoing along the corridors. Every day and at the same hour I am summoned by the harsh voice of the prison warder:

'Come on, Matthew Hopkins, time for your daily exercise.'

Why did I have the misfortune to share a name with that other Matthew Hopkins, known to all who knew and feared him as The Witch-Finder General?'

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