The tale of Old Knock would have been forgotten if not for that one, curious child. Some villages would say it was fortunate that it happened, that many more would have been lost to it otherwise. Of course, the others didn’t see it that way. With a deep fear in their hearts, they averted their gaze from the forest at all times. Of course, their forced ignorance could not make them forget Old Knock, nor would they want to, lest they make the same mistake.
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Such horror is better remembered.
A young boy, poor, but happy, wanted to play more than anything else. He craved attention but received none. Having only a mother, who was occupied day and night, the boy went out to find attention. He spoke to villagers, who only smiled and went about their business. He tried playing with animals, but after one scratched him, he stopped that too.
With few options, the boy saw the forest and decided to find adventure.
Only one man saw the boy venture forth towards the forest. Paying it no mind, the man went about his business, but a faint memory of some tale he heard as a child bothered him. Unable to recall, but still anxious, the man gave the boy a second glance. He watched the child disappear among the trees, but nothing else. Pushing it out of his mind, this time for good, he went on with his day.
The forest was by no means scary, it was wonderful. The boy wore a smile as he walked between the trees, admiring the small animals jumping from branch to branch. The soft grass and lovely flowers only served to enchant him further. The child had no idea how far he strayed from safer paths until it was too late.
He entered a small clearing and at its centre was a peculiar house with peeling paint. Vines had slowly crawled up the walls and years of rain and storm had pressured the roof to slope inwards. Yet, to the child, it looked like an opportunity to explore an ancient ruined castle, to discover many incredible secrets and perhaps even treasure.
With an incredible sense of imagination, the child approached the house, although, to him, it stood much taller, with stone turrets and flags waving atop their peaks. Placing his imaginary helmet on his head, the knight approached the castle and placed his hand on the entrance. To the knight’s surprise, the door swung inwards, so suddenly, revealing a dark, dusty interior, laden with crumbling furniture and cobwebs.
For a moment, the knight’s courage faltered and the child returned. With anxious steps, the child walked into the home of Old Knock and Old Knock made himself known.
The door closed behind the child, but what concerned him most was the sound of snickering from above. From a wood beam above the child, Old Knock descended and landed on a nearby table. A short, stubbly grey creature, seeming more like an old man, but certainly not human. What startled the child more than the wrinkly, grey skin and impish build, was Old Knock’s eyes.
Tiny beads, as white as snow, examined the child with similar curiosity to the child.
“Knock, Old Knock,” the creature introduced itself, a hand extending towards the child.
The child did not dare shake the creature’s hand, which only made Old Knock smile cruelly. His teeth were thorns, twisted and black as onyx. With incredible agility, Old Knock sprang from the table, doing flips through the air and landing in front of the child. From there, Old Knock began to stand to his full height, which was barely taller than the child.
The child backed away, but Old Knock didn’t follow. Instead, he broke eye contact with the child and leaned against the support beam casually. Thoughtfully, he scratched his patchy, white hair and shook his head, as if the problem he was pondering was too impossible to consider solving.
“No, no...maybe…” Old Knock murmured just loud enough for the child to hear.
Old Knock withdrew a small candy from the air and tossed it up, catching it in his mouth easily. Old Knock crunched the hard candy and continued to pace thoughtfully, munching more candies as he thought. With each sight of the warm butterscotch coloured candy, the child grew less nervous around the strange creature.
“What’s the problem?” the child asked.
Old Knock seemed to ignore the child, continuing his thoughtful pacing.
“No, no, I shouldn’t bother you,” Old Knock crunched. “You know...maybe...Nah, better if you just do nothing.”
The child stepped closer, growing more curious with each candy the monster munched until he was begging Old Knock to tell him the problem. Eventually, Old Knock sighed and jumped back onto the table, looking at the child nervously.
“Do you have any...younger...brothers or sisters?” Old Knock asked.
“Yes, a little brother.”
Old Knock’s eyes widened as much as they could and he smiled in excitement. With each passing moment, the child felt less threatened by Old Knock. Seeing the joy in the creature’s eyes only served to ease his worries further.
“What about my little brother? Can he help?”
“Well, let me explain,” Old Knock told the child, standing tall and looking as professional as he could. “I like these candies, these wonderful butterscotch candies, have you had one?”
“They are my favourite!”
“Your favourite! Mine too!” Old Knock laughed a small chuckle before his face shifted to one of sadness. The creature began to cry softly. “I use magic to make these candies, but my magic is running out. I need your little brother’s help to return my magic, and in return, I will give you many candies!”
Hearing this, the child’s hopes for sweets were assured.
“You want to come to my house and see him?” the child asked happily.
“Oh, I wish I could, friend,” Old Knock smiled. “But I can’t leave this forest. Fairies are not allowed to go beyond the trees, so here I stay, in my humble home.”
“Magic, child, magic. There is magic in this forest, wonderful magic. Not a lot of magic, just enough to let me sleep, but never wake. It’s thanks to the sweetness of children that I can perform special...parties, parties that fill me with magic to stay awake and do special things. The younger, the more innocent, the greater the magic.”
“Can I see more magic?”
“Hmm, sure, but only a little,” Old Knock nodded energetically. “Look out the window!”
The child approached the window that Old Knock pointed to. Outside, he saw grass grow tall and taller. In a few seconds it grew so tall it covered the window, plunging him and Old Knock in darkness. Still, the child’s mouth hung open in wonder, delighted by what he saw.
“Real magic!” the child shouted. “It’s wonderful!”
“Yes, it is, but now I am tired,” Old Knock yawned. “Too much magic, I hope I will have enough when you come to visit tonight.”
“Tonight? I will go get him now!” the child began, but Old Knock shook his head furiously.
“No, no, not now, silly,” Old Knock growled before his voice shifted back to a purr. “He needs to be nice and sleepy. Tonight, you can bring him here, while everyone is sleeping. You’re not afraid of the dark?”
The child stared into Old Knock’s eyes and shook his head. Old Knock smiled once more and the door opened.
Later that night, the child took his little brother from the crib. The babe stared up at his brother and smiled a toothless smile. The giggle was so soft, so happy. The older brother didn’t think about his actions, only thinking about magical creatures and butterscotch candy.
The child had no difficulty in leaving the house as no adult was awake to see him go. Marching up the mountain, the child began telling the baby all about the wonderful things that were about to happen, that he would share his candy with the baby. The smile that his older brother wore excited the baby further, but that joy quickly vanished as the moonlight was blocked out by the canopy the forest trees created.
An ominous terror surrounded the brothers, but the oldest was unaffected. The baby began to cry, to shriek and the older brother could do nothing to calm the baby down. Slowly, the older brother grew angry.
“Behave, be nice, think about the candy!” the older brother yelled, but it only panicked the child more.
The baby began to struggle in his arms, so the older brother held him tighter and continued through the forest. It wasn’t long before they entered the clearing. Fear filled the babe and he pushed against the brother with all its might. The older brother grew impatient and eventually placed the baby on the grass.
The babe crawled back in the direction of home as if it could feel the evil that his brother seemed ignorant of, the evil radiating from the crumbling old house. The older brother watched his young brother, confused and worried. His younger brother was crying so sadly, that the older brother’s selfish thoughts were soon forgotten.
The child plucked his brother back up and began walking home,
At the edge of the clearing, the older brother heard a familiar creaking. Looking back, the child saw the door to the house had swung open and in the darkness, he could see glowing red eyes. The child knew it was Old Knock and with the spell broken, he felt the same fear that his little brother felt.
The child rushed off back into the forest, pursued by the cruel Old Knock.
As the child ran, the forest seemed to try and stop him. There were no clear paths to follow, trees lifted their roots and lowered their branches. Walls of nature formed to hinder him, the leaves rustled as if a cold, strong wind moved them, yet the children didn’t feel a breeze.
With great fortune, the edge of the forest neared, yet so did Old Knock. With all his strength, the older brother pushed to the edge. Old Knock clutched his ankle and the older brother fell forward, pushing his brother out the forest. The babe rolled down the hill gently, while his older brother shrieked in fear as Old Knock dragged him back into the forest.
The child’s screams could be heard by the whole village, all awoke and ran to the forest where they heard the screams coming from. Tens of people gathered, finding the babe sitting in the grass at the bottom of the hill, crying softly. All at once, the adults remembered the stories of Old Knock and they stared up at the forest in horror.
It must have been a scene so familiar to them, or perhaps the presence of Old Knock so close to the village let those memories surface.
Old Knock lived and with another stolen innocent, he would continue to live several lifetimes longer.
“That’s the story,” I told my daughter. “That’s how my brother was taken by Old Knock, to give him power. I never saw my brother again and Old Knock no doubt lives on with the power of my brother and many other victims who were foolish enough to explore that forest. That’s why you should never go near that place. There are many wonders in this world, but you won’t find any in that forest.”
My daughter, much older than I was when I first encountered Old Knock that night, stared at me in horror with a dash of scepticism. Yet, the seriousness of my words and the pain in my eyes was enough to get through her scepticism and I saw fear contort her face. It saddened me to see my daughter cry as she pictured all that I told her.
Yet, in my heart, I knew it was right. She needed to know what was in that forest, why it was never cut down, why all were kept from entering. Darkness lived therein, an evil being that survived thanks to cruel magic and trickery. Everyone knew Old Knock, nobody would forget and only dedicated fools tried to venture between those sinister trees, towards the crooked house and meet Old Knock himself.
Now, at least I know, my daughter won’t go anywhere near that place. I just hope that my story stays with her as it stays with me.