It is said the glowing folk of Heksen Hill only come down and show themselves after tragedy has occurred. More often than not, death. It was no surprise then, that in the rain swept night of the last day in October, when five men filling their lungs with soot and dust for meager pay lost their lives in the mines, that the lights appeared on the hill’s broad side overlooking the village. In the darkness of the storm they flickered menacingly, all the way from the border post of old farmer Ferguson’s land, down towards the peat bogs and marshes where the air is cool and stifling, and where devils will whisk you away for trespassing.
It was not long after the mourning bells tolled in the middle of the village square, at this most unusual of times, that my initial anxiety turned into sorrow and regret. Towns clerk Peters, holding a big black umbrella that could narrowly withstand the sweeping winds, came over and told me of the unfortunate fate that had befallen my father. He told me that he was sorry for my loss, and that he would stop by soon to make proper arrangements. He avoided the topic of the obvious omen that lit its way along the town, just past the backyard of Mr. and Mrs. Dekkers’ home. He wished me a good night, all things considered, and left me there standing in front of my door. Sodden and alone, unclear how to move on from the fact my father had been buried alive, his bones crushed beneath debris and rock, his life slowly fading away from his body and off to kingdom come.
I never really have been a pious man. Oh, I went to church yes, and Lord knows I believe. But I never asked much from religion. Not unlike him, not unlike father. But that night I prayed. My knees had gone red from kneeling on the broken wooden floor panels besides my bed, and I felt sickly and weak due to the lack of sleep. But prayed I did. Prayed that my father would find his way towards forgiveness, would be allowed to enter the gates of Heaven and reunite with my mother, whom I also missed so dearly. The rest of the night felt like a fever dream. I had constantly been drifting in and out of sleep. Often, I would be awoken suddenly by such mundane occurrences like the rapping of the tree branches by the wind against the roof of my house. Other times I woke due to more unsettling events. Bad dreams had been a constant for me ever since I was a young lad. Now after all those years, they had started to turn into some sort of waking nightmare.
I opened my eyes only to feel a presence in the room with me and a growing pressure surmounting on my chest. Through the cracks of the walls in my humble abode I swore I could see feint lights blinking. Blinking they did, in and out of existence until ever closer they came. That is, until they blinked no more and I felt free as to breathe easy again. Nothing evil lurked in the dark here, I thought. Just mice and the dreary rains of autumn.
Rap tap tap, the branches went again, now against the stained-glass window above my front door. Just as I sank back into that turbulent uneasy sleep once again, a little voice inside my head reminded me that there were no trees near my front porch.
The great mining tragedy of 1891, they had called it. It was only the next day, and the paper boy had shouted it all across the market square as if the entire ordeal had only been a terrible distant dream, instead of the grim reality that I, and many other good townsfolk, had faced only hours before.
As I had suspected, the day had mostly consisted of neighbors and distant family gathering out in front of my house all day, waiting for tea and biscuits in order to chat me up for five minutes to tell me how sorry they were for my loss and how my father was such a good man. I was having none of it, to be fair. I did not even get time to properly mourn, for no funeral arrangements could me be made yet until the next shift of miners went down nearly two-and-a-half thousand feet into that black abyss in order to attempt to free the remains of my father and his fallen comrades. I let the chattering of my well-wishers continue as their meaningless words, preached only to keep their own prestige and petty reputations in town intact, flew in and out of my head within seconds. My mind wandered off as they cackled on.
For in the clear light of the sun, so rarely seen in the orange haze of this October country, I saw something shine down from the half-way point of the hill. It had been so bright it had blinded me temporarily. Only due to the incessant inquiries of my visitors, who had seen my face turn white and the beads of sweat drip down my forehead so unusually for the time of year, I managed to snap out of whatever spell had taken me in its grasp that sudden moment. I waved away their faux concerns for my wellbeing and requested to be left alone to my own devices and sorrows for the rest of the day. And alone I was, save for a brief visit by Peters informing me that the attempt to uncover my father’s remains had, as of yet, proven unsuccessful. Alone I was, until night fell, and I once again made a feeble attempt at comfortable sleep.
In my dreams I was wading through the back bogs and fens that stretched out across the northern side of Heksen Hill. It was night, but somehow, I could see clearly and very far into the distance. I remember standing on the edge of the reeds, staring in disbelief as I saw the golden shimmering apparitions wandering along the outskirts of the wood. It was right near the border towards the next county over and several of the glowing ones seemingly loitered around a particular border post beneath a large willow tree. It was the largest in the region in fact, I somehow knew, and its ancient bark was still revered today long after the last ritual fires of the hill had extinguished so many years ago. I remember my feet being planted deep into the soil, yet somehow my body floated closer and closer towards the frightening manifestations. Upon the moment they spotted me, they all turned around in unison and the cold, shadowy hand of fear grasped around my neck as I saw each of the glowing men wearing the face of my late father.
“’Tis a damned shame. An injustice!” I heard one of them wail. The words were like acid splashing in my eyes and ears. Gurgling and hot. “No rest, no rest until all rights have been wronged,” another howled.
I tried to reason with them. I’d ask what they wanted, why they had chosen me. But it was to no avail. I witnessed in silent horror as one by one the golden apparitions opened their mouths wide in agony and despair, letting out painful shrieks and mournful moans. One by one I saw them floating towards the heavens and witnessed their lights fading in the night sky until it was only myself and my own horror-stricken thoughts left shivering in the swamp.
I awoke again to the rapping and knocking on my walls and front door. Listening carefully for the wind as to find any evidence of another seasonal storm, I could not find any. Once again, I felt that strange presence creeping about in my quarters. Once again, I felt the pressure on my eyes and ears as my body and senses wanted to tell me that there was something not right in my house. Something that was looming just outside my peripheral vision, or perhaps simply just on the other side of the wall, outside. And again, as quick as it came, so it also disappeared. But something was different this time. It was only after I had flung off my covers and got ready to get up for a glass of water, that I stared down at my feet and saw the traces of fresh mud glistening between my toes and the dried sand curling around my ankles.
That morning I hurried across the town square. I tried my hardest to avoid Town Clerk Peters, even though I had gathered he was actively searching for me. I knew the only news he’d bring me was the kind that made me spiral further into depression and anguish.
Instead, I opted to pay my good friend Pierre a visit. A historian of sorts, Pierre knew the county like no other, and so he might shed some light on fearful things that had been happening to me. What Pierre told me was astounding. My still smoldering pipe nearly fell from my lips, almost scattering the ashes and embers onto the priceless Persian rug Pierre had procured, when he told me of the The Glowing.
These spirits, men made of fire with unsolved business or who met an unjustified end, would often been seen in the wake of tragedy, or simply on certain very dark nights when the conditions were just right for them to manifest. All this I knew, but it wasn’t until he had told me of a specific tale of a man turned into one of the Glowing after illegally moving a border post, that I felt shivers going down my spine. The Glowing had been cursed to wander aimlessly with the border post in hand, and would only be relieved and granted final death if he had set right what he had done, and place the post back in its rightful place. But the Glowing had forgotten where this place was, and so he wandered still to this day, every night.
It was this, Pierre reassured me, that would make the Glowing appear most often. The fact that wrongs had to be righted. If the Glowing descended Heksen Hill in the wake of tragedy, then there was no question about it, Pierre stated, someone among the deceased had been wronged. Pierre further inquired if there I needed any help pertaining to my father’s last wishes or anything of the sorts. He expressed concern over the paleness suddenly stricken across my visage. I assured him that I simply hadn’t had the best night’s sleep and made my leave.
Outside, I strode immediately home, ignored Peters’ jabbering about papers to sign and approve. There I closed the door behind me and waited until it was dark. This time, however, I did not lay down in my bed silently praying for dreamless sleep. Rather, after some preparations, I put on my best hiking boots and left for the slope of Heksen Hill about an hour or two after sundown.
It was a brief but treacherous venture into total darkness as I followed the steep path up the hill where, years ago, the witches that gave the hill their name held their intricate and ominous rituals and danced long into the black night. Perhaps the Glowing were also the result of some dastardly magic spell that had once been cast in one of the many stone circles that littered the hill. Then again, tales of woodland spirits, men of fire and will-o-wisps reached as far as the Peel lands way up north, so the truth can only be that the haunts are numerous and universal.
I arrived at the top of the hill. Almost immediately I noticed the now familiar feeling of dread and anxiety I had come to familiarize myself with over these past couple of nights. Beneath me, many boys and men toiled with blackened coal faces in the narrow shafts of the mine. The work never stopped. I knew, for I am one of them, normally. I had been granted a few days leave to deal with my grief, but in a few days’ time I too, would return to the mines. But it would’ve been too late for me. As expected, there in the middle of the night high atop Heksen Hill I came face to face with the Glowing, the Glowing that had taken my father’s face as my own.
It was silent throughout, but it’s eyes, pleading and sorrowful, pierced my soul nonetheless and right then I broke down crying. I told my father how sorry I was for the hurt I had caused him. I told him how it was my fault. I told him I had faked being ill so I wouldn’t have to go into the mines that night. I told him I never meant for him to take over my shift.
The shimmering apparition stared at me. It bent its head slightly to the right and for a split second my father’s face was gone, and there was nothing more than a blank, featureless sheet of skin where a face should normally be. I told the Glowing that I understood. I understood why they had come to me in my home at night. I told him that I came to right the wrongs I had wrought. The Glowing nodded and the face of my father disappeared. Behind it, several others appeared from behind the trunks of trees and jagged rocks. None of them had faces, yet from all of them I could sense that foreboding feeling of dread, of which I now knew was immense guilt, emanating.
I then screamed as my hands burned like hellfire. I looked down to see them engulfed in yellow and orange flame. I felt my flesh slowly melting away from my bones, yet my hands never blackened, nor did they even turn red or blistered. My whole body was swallowed by fire. But my eyes never turned away from those eerie glowing men that surrounded me. They reached out and I nodded again. I knew.
Beneath me, the ground rumbled. It was ready to relieve my body and soul of its mortal coil. To see justice done, and to see wrongs being righted.