When I was a child, I lived in Radnorshire, one of seven children and the youngest of six girls. As my parents had six other girls and an infant boy to take care of, they left me to myself, and I ran about like a wild thing. Not that they didn’t love me, but they had other things to do.
I was about five when I began to see the Bwystfel. It roamed about the farm, slipping in the shadows, and the only way to see it was to look for the shapes that were darker than the spaces between stars. Its mad eyes were like coal sparks, it laughed like a goat in pain, and it was always angry. I watched it from a distance: one spring, I saw it kill a nest of sparrows – closing its hands about the nest until the little naked birds smothered on its flesh — one summer, it poisoned the sheep, biting the ewes’ legs until rot and infection ate into their flesh that no about of doctoring could fix. Later, it skulked into the shed and sliced the handyman’s chest open, then danced his blood up the walls and over the rafters. My parents said it was an accident, but knew better. “The Bwystfel did it,” I told my father, and he boxed my ears for being a liar. No one believed me at all. . . except the Bwystfel itself.
It grew angrier. At night, it crept into my room, giggling and ripping the blankets away and pinching me. I shared a bed with two of my sisters – we didn’t all have separate rooms like you do – and when the Bwystfel came, we shivered together, too afraid to move until morning. We were very little girls, and nobody trusted us with a candle, so we had no way to drive the thing away. It tormented us in whispers, calling us names and telling us we were bad children, because our prayers that it would leave us be weren’t answered. My sisters refused to speak a word of it, and they wore the Bwystfel-inflicted bruises like jewellery – saying they’d fallen over or been bitten by the cat.
I decided I would have to find the Bwystfel myself and scare it away. I took the statuette of Florence Nightingale that my mother gave us to hold when we were sick and a stone with a hole in it, both for luck. As it turned out, I would need the luck.
I walked for ages, got lost, and eventually stumbled into a small wooded copse where I had never been before. Under the trees it was cold air, and pine needles and dried leaves lay thick upon the patchy grass. I clutch Florence. . . and then I saw the bones.
Bleached and ancient, they lay scattered in a circle: small bones, large bones, bones half buried in the loam, bones with scraps of dried flesh still clinging to them. A sheep skeleton hung suspended in the tangle of a blackberry bush, and canes had grown through the eye sockets of birds. I started to cry – I knew I’d found the den of the Bwystfel.