I stood in the forest paralyzed, just outside of the fairy ring, clutching Ms. Cleary’s hand, as the thing revealed itself, and stepped out from the rip in space.
His hand had been the first thing that I saw, all knotted and hairy, skin cracking around the knuckles. The fingers were long, spider-like, and colored a muddy-brown, but tinged with a sickening yellow that reminded me of vomit. Then he stuck his head through the widening hole. It was big and hairy, shaped much like that of a dog, or a bear. He wore a wolfish grin on his face that stretched up to his pointed ears, and his eyes were a blazing yellow, with small black pupils, that looked like two little bumblebees on his face.
Owd Hob stepped through the tear. His legs were long and spindly, but his feet were surprisingly large, the scraggly toenails sticking out well past where they should, and curving down so they resembled claws. The ends of them looked as if they were chewed on periodically, and were jagged and torn.
When he had stepped fully out, the gray world from which he had come from was lost, as the two edges were drawn back together, as if sewn shut. Owd Hob was long and tall, and his body was covered in a brownish, yellow fur that was short and matted. Everything about him was long, too long, and he towered over me, easily nine feet high, but I was guessing closer to ten, if you counted the points of his long ears, which stretched straight up in the air.
He sucked in a lungful of air, taking in as much as he could before letting it out again, in a deep sigh of contentment. He looked down at me and Ms. Cleary, and gave another wide, wolfish grin.
“Who so summons Owd Hob to this world?” he said. I heard his voice twice, through my ears, and speaking in my head. He spoke in a deep baritone, that was as smooth and clear as river water, and the last kind of sound I expected coming out of him. Listening to it was beautiful and entrancing, and his words were all that I could hear, or concentrate on.
My arm shook, as Ms. Cleary snapped me out of my thoughts with a squeeze of her hand. Then she spoke. “I did. One of yours has overstayed his welcome here, and I’d like you kindly to remove him. I don’t care what else is done to him, other than he begone.”
Owd Hob listened as she spoke, and then bent his long legs, and crouched down, with his arms dangling, resting on his knees. He leaned his big head forward, so that it was right in front of us. His eyes flicked over to look at me, and I pulled Ms. Cleary’s arm over my face to hide. I could feel his hot breath ruffle my hair as he exhaled. Then he chuckled.
“What about the boy?” he asked. “He is fresh, and full of fear.” I felt him addressing me then. “Aren’t you?” he asked. “You don’t want to be afraid anymore, do you?”
His voice tugged, and pulled at me, and I shook my head. He was right. I did not want to be afraid, ever again, and wouldn’t it be easier to just forget all of that fear now, and just let go? To be free from fear, and pain, and to simply disappear in darkness and rest. It would be as easy as going to sleep.
Ms. Cleary held fast to my hand, and kept me from pulling away. I blinked, realized I had been trying to free myself from her grasp.
“You stop,” she said, and her voice was steel on flint. “He’s not for you, and neither is anyone but the one who forced himself here in the first place. Take him, and do what you want with him. I brought you here, and I can send you right back.” Her voice faltered there, at the end, as if she was unsure of herself.
Owd Hob laughed, a deep, booming rumble that matched the rolling thunder that was now all around us.
“Do not overestimate your control over me, woman. I do what I please.” Then a pause, as he sized her up. “But yes, it is true, you brought me here. For that I am grateful, and will take the worm away for you. He will make an appetizing morsel.” He stood up, and raised his head to sniff the air, his long muzzle bobbing about. “I smell him,” he said, and stepped out of the fairy ring, taking long, loping strides. He soon disappeared through the trees, slipping in between them, and hardly making any sound at all.
Ms. Cleary waited, and then let go of my hand, and released a long breath of air. She ran a hand down her face. She looked her age then, whatever it was. I was sure that it was far older than anyone I had ever met before. Her face looked tired, and drawn, like she had just physically exerted herself well past her limit. She sat down on the grass.
I sat down next to her. “What happens now?” I asked.
Ms. Cleary let out another sigh. “Now, we wait. And hope that he keeps to his word. There is nothing else to do.” Her eyes stared out into space, just over the ring of stones.
“But what if he doesn’t?” I said. “What if he makes things even worse? What then?”
She turned to me and smiled, a sad smile. “Oh, don’t you worry your head about such things,” she said. “I still have one or two tricks up my sleeves.” And she winked at me. Then she stood, pushing herself up with her hands on her knees. “Well, suppose we should keep an eye on him then, make sure he’s not getting up to no good.”
I made to stand up, and follow her, but she stopped me with a raised hand.
“No,” she said. “Be best if you stayed here. I’ll go, and see that things are taken care of.” Then she reached again into the monstrous tote bag on her shoulder. She brought out a long, flat oval mirror, with no handle, and handed it to me. “So that you can watch,” she said. “Just think of who you want to see, and it’ll be just like you’re there.” Then, without another word, she turned, and marched swiftly away.
I sat there in the grass, and watched Ms. Cleary leave me. Once again, I was alone at the fairy ring, where this had all started. I held the mirror in both of my hands, and looked at its surface. It was not a mirror, not really, and did not even look to be made of glass. It looked more like a mirror of polished marble, a wavering, blurred white, with streaks of gray that seemed to sway and shimmer, almost like water.
With the firm image of my mother in mind, the surface of the mirror shifted and warbled, until I was looking in on her in the kitchen. She was scrubbing the counter furiously. She always cleaned whenever her mind was on something, and she didn’t want to think. I could hear my uncle’s voice in the other room, shouting something. My mother turned, and the camera of the mirror followed her out onto the porch, and her face held a look of terror, as she screamed.
I could not tell what was happening, so switched my perspective, and thought of my uncle instead.
He was in the yard, and looking down toward the fence at the end of the lane. His eyes held pure terror, and recognition in them. The camera followed his line of sight, and I was able to see Owd Hob there, climbing spider-like down from the fence. He only needed to lift one long leg up, and used his hands to crawl over the top. Then he was striding toward the house, and his eyes were fixed on my uncle, the boggart. He smiled a toothy, wolf-like grin.
My uncle was frozen to the spot, and did not move, could not move a single muscle, I suspected, out of sheer terror.
Owd Hob stepped over the line of salt, and bent over my uncle, still smiling.
“My,” he said. “How you’ve grown since coming to this place. And look, the little life you’ve made here.” He turned to look at my mother, screaming on the porch. He clucked his tongue, and shook his head. “All for nought.”
Then Owd Hob reached a hand out, and my uncle’s body began to convulse, and thrash back and forth, as if invisible puppet strings were yanking him about, by a Parkinson’s puppeteer. His eyes rolled back into his head, and his body raised up off the ground. Then, a thin tendril of black smoke escaped his mouth, and was drawn to Owd Hob’s outstretched hand. He twisted his fingers around the black smoke, and gave a sharp tug. My uncle let out a feral scream, one that sliced through the air and was not of this world. The scream changed, as more of the black substance poured out of my uncle, until it lowered in pitch and intensity, and became the human scream of my uncle. It was him now, I could tell, and his face was in pain, as if he had just been stabbed in the gut.
Owd Hob took the wispy black stream in his hand, lifted it, and thrust it into his mouth, smacking his lips, and licking the last of what remained from his long, spider fingers. Then he turned his gaze onto my uncle, who was on his knees staring at him, and smiled.