Tuesday, 21 April 2020

The Mystical Valley

There was a place my family used to visit a lot on holiday. A cottage in North Wales owned by a family friend, who generously allowed us to use it very frequently and did so over a period of almost ten years. It was surrounded on all sides by a dozen miles of forest, and there was no entry or exit except for via a dozen mile dirt track built for loggers. Far from the bustle of the modern world I spent many weeks there. Playing in the forests or the fields. In the rivers and the lakes. Scouting the wilderness and finding new and wonderful things. As a child you can see so much more. Everything is unknown and as such you must stop to interpret everything you see. Sometimes you will interpret something in a way that is not conventionally agreed upon. Many things happened in that valley, but none I can say were true as a man of society. This is simply a catalogue of the things I experienced during my time in the valley of the Devil's Bridge.

The Water Demon

In our family we had a tradition of naming rivers and streams the name of he who first stepped foot into it. My river was a larger one in the valley floor, while my sister's was a fast running brook close by the cottage. My brother's was a small stream running up in a forest on the track to the stump (see below).

One day I went to follow his stream down the hill to find it's end. First through sparse pine the going was easy. Then wood then gave way to bracken taller than myself, through which I waded diligently, unafraid of the ticks that I had gotten before from doing such things. The stream did eventually join a larger stream, which headed down into a valley broad-leaved woodland. Then I found the waterfall. It can't have been enormous, maybe a dozen foot in height, but I remember the immense excitement of discovery I felt. The water looked clear as glass and inviting for a swim in the mild April weather, but thankfully I was a child brought up with a caution against death and as such didn't jump in. Instead I made my way to the bottom of the fall and peered into it. I saw there was a cavity behind the fall, and a possible route into it along the slippery rock. Looking at the clear water I pieced together a plan and a goal. I would get into the cave behind the fall and I would drink straight from the falling water, an act I assumed was customary since we always did it on family walks. My balance and grip are two of my strongest physical features and as such bouldering is a breeze. I scaled the slimy stone cliff and quickly got to my destination. The gap was far smaller than I had imagined and I was stuck in an awkward position between the rushing water and the wet rock. Leaning out I shoved my face into the water horizontally, hoping to get an angle of attack onto the water. A face full of water later and I had managed to get some into my mouth and swallowed. Not the glorious slurp I had hoped for but good enough. Then I slipped.

The world suddenly flipped and I was held airbourne in my mind for a long moment. One of those moments in which the world and your life flashes before your eyes. I felt in a space somewhere between the living and the dead world as I felt my mass sliding out from under me. A panic arose and then subsided. I saw him for just a moment. In the eternal torrent of water I saw a whiskered face of a dragon. A water demon and the true protector of the river. He appeared as a terrifying vision that relaxed me totally. His exact face I cannot exactly recall, but I have tried many times and he occasionally visits me in my sleep. He had six eyes, three sets of two atop each other, getting larger towards the top of his face. These were topped by two antlers, unfurling into a fern-like super-structure. Under his eyes where long whiskers spreading out an down, swirling and merging with the waterfall.

My depiction of the demon from decade old memories

I went under the waterfall and emerged from pool on the otherside, shaken but fine. I didn't really question what I had seen and just accepted it. It seemed very natural and almost not worth mentioning. I never returned to that waterfall.

The Great Tree

There have been multiple important trees in my life, as silly as that sounds, all symbolising a different part of my life and generally acting as an anchor point for me to return to. The dying pear tree I used to climb in my Grandfather's garden. The apple tree I fell from outside my first primary school. The oak that grew in the middle of my second primary school's playground. The beech tree I used to climb to write blog posts. There are many others. But the great tree of the valley was not one of solace or familiarity. It was one of terror.

The nights in the valley were dark. Totally dark. No light from man crept into it and the milky way would be bright as a match on clear nights. This wasn't a clear night. The clouds covered every inch of sky and the darkness was impenetrable, I stood out in front of the cottage, peering into the void. Another thing about the valley was it's silence. Nothing but faint nature could be heard. After a few minutes my eyes adjusted enough for me to make out the silhouette of the tops of the surrounding hills against the sky. I peered into the darkness further, too far. The wind suddenly picked up, making the trees woosh and creak. I saw the tops of the forests wave in silhouette, and then something that still scares me to this day happened. A tree started to move. I saw it above the line of the hills as it slowly but surely moved along the top. It was soon clear of the forest and was moving over otherwise barren ground. I was frozen as it silhouette grew taller, presumably climbing higher up the hill. As it reached the peak it paused and turned. I didn't see it turn but I knew it was now looking at me. I stared back in childish fright for a time. The tree did not move but it's presence pushed against mine, two beings that were never meant to interact and it was too much. I ducked and ran back into the house and straight into bed to sleep a restless night.

Many a time did I try to find that tree, never truly believing nor disbelieving what I saw. I climbed that hill and tried to find evidence of a tree in that area, but it lay bare and no evidence of anything but grass was in that field. I never did see the moving trees so vividly again, but I did on occasion glimpse their movement out of the corner of my eye.

The Stump

From the cottage you could see a way down the valley. The forests and plains and bracken and streams. Atop one hill was a stump. Not anything amazing but a small stick that was visible by eye from the house. It was one of the first things we noticed when we first came to the house, and it became something of a ritual to walk up to the stump hill as the first activity of every holiday. No paranormal event did ever happen here, but its power as a symbol of the holiday and as a pillar looking out across the valley has cemented it in our family's story. It stood fast for the duration of our frequenting, and it stood proud as a symbol of hope and determination; and, in a strange way, became my go to symbol for perseverance and hope. This one may be be the least amazing of the bunch, but conversely it is the strongest for me.

The Fern Faeries

Ferns have always scared me. Their biological structure and form is so alien from other plants that I don't understand them and it makes them kind of freakish. The way they are almost perfectly formed. Perfectly symmetrical and perfect fractals. I hate them. But they were so abundant in the valley that I grew to just ignore them. There was a large field of bracken and fern just behind the cottage, and it served as a great place to run through and get lost in. I played pretend with my siblings and on my own, fighting monsters and saving princesses. One time I even played with the faeries there.

It was a bizarre day. Mid February and the sun was scorching hot. My parents were lying in the garden soaking in this freak heat while my siblings were playing house or something. I escaped into my fern jungle with my trusty stick to go on an adventure. I soon got weary and made a clearing in the bracken enough for me to lie and rest. I must have fallen asleep and when I awoke I was chilled. I sat up with a groggy head and a sore back from the uneven ground. I felt awake but something was off. The sun seemed too bright and the green around me seemed to be luminous. It felt three dimensional. I really don't know how to explain it but it was almost like a bloom filter across the world. My hearing suddenly disappeared and my head began to sear in pain. I sat with my head in my hands as the world started to loom over me. Looking to the side I saw the ferns of bend toward me in a painful distortion of reality. They seemed to unfurl from their disgusting little shoots, their spores visible on the underside of the leaves. Stretching out toward me as I shrunk away. But I was surrounded. The pain suddenly peaked and I looked up and saw many orbs of light around me. Floating around between me and the ferns. They didn't have form but I thought they looked like beautiful girls. Soon they faded and the pain turned into a more usual grogginess. But I was captivated and kept trying to look at the faeries. I kept looking for several minutes until I finally let go and returned back to my normal life. I didn't do anymore playing that day, but instead lay on my bed for the rest of the afternoon, missing the heatwave.

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