Estimated reading time — 5 minutes
In the sleepy town of Windarm,
a street where no one goes,
a child of wondrous prying
was deadened in crooked pose.
His name was Samuel Craven
a boy no older than ten,
sneaking out from the safety
of his home, a reluctant one then.
The breeze of the night engulfed him
as he ran free and clear to his doom.
To a place which never existed
but he’d found it, no less, in his room.
At night the shadows would scurry,
and paint pictures of streets on his wall,
as he’d lie in his bed and observe
a place where children stood tall.
Each night the pictures grew stronger,
as slivers of dark made the scene;
a street of cobble and houses,
glowing windows, thatched roofs, and oak beams.
On his wall, shadowed children would scamper,
playing late and loud as they pleased.
While Samuel lay there in envy,
of the place he so wanted to be.
For his parents seemed strict and distant,
far removed from the freedom he yearned.
And of course Samuel wished for an instance,
where the rules of grown-ups could be spurned.
Night upon night he was beckoned,
by the children playing tag on the wall,
and the rules of his parents rang harshly;
in his ears, in his soul, in him all.
On the fifth night the picture froze sharply,
and the shadows of children turned round
to face Samuel Craven, with wide grins in place,
made of dark, and of light, which was drowned.
“Come with us, dear Samuel”, they whispered.
“You can play with us now in our street,
and you never need worry about grown-ups again
for here parents and children shan’t meet”.
Young Samuel did not have to answer,
for he leapt from his bed with glee,
through the wall where empty eyes watched him,
open handed and whispering “be free”.
As the thin shadowed hands of the children
grabbed his own and pulled him within,
the world turned grey to poor Samuel
and his vision began to dim.
“Welcome home, my dear little boy”,
said a voice cracked with age, wheezed and thin.
And as his sight was encroached by the darkness,
Samuel saw what had spoken to him.
A figure stood at the end of the street,
something tall and spindly of limb,
wearing rags of grey, dirtied fabric,
and an absence of life there within.
Its eyes were putrid and glassy,
and its mouth gaped with rotten lament,
against those with joy and childhood
and of people, and of time misspent.
“Come closer, dear Samuel, do not be afraid,
for I am seeking little, nothing more.
Than to keep you away from the grown-ups,
of that world you have found such a bore.
Look at the children who stay here”,
said the figure with bony hands raised.
And as Samuel shuddered with a chill in the air,
he knew the grave choice he had made.
For the children played not, so to speak,
but were frozen in crooked positions.
Like scarecrows warding off the unwanted,
the figure’s prized acquisitions.
Mouths stitched tightly in place,
eyes pleaded and ears strained to listen,
as the shrouded vagabond figure
walked amongst the deadlocked children.
“They too once wished to run far away
from those who were old and stern.
And of course I granted that wish,
by making shadowed statues of them”.
The Vagabond moved ever closer,
and Samuel saw in its round opaque eyes,
there was nothing of love about them,
only pain and a well of demise.
As its rotten coughed upon garments
ruffled quickly in the bleak night air,
Samuel turned to face his bedroom,
running fast to the safety held there.
But his movements were quickly restricted
by the cracks and creaks all around
of the hands of petrified children,
shadowed fragments of life now death-bound.
Scared little Samuel struggled,
and cried out as loud as he could,
but quickly his screams were muffled
by fingers like rigid warped wood.
“Now is the time”, said the Vagabond,
showing his teeth, white and bled.
While slithered hands gripped the boy in place,
the figure held needle and thread.
Darting in front of small Samuel,
the needle glistened with delight,
and the children forced a smile on his face
with their hands, withered and slight.
As their fingers pulled at the corners
of his mouth and prodded inside,
Samuel cried in desperate terror,
tasting charcoal and rancid skinned hide.
The Vagabond now simply revelled,
as he pierced helpless Samuel’s top lip,
pulling needle through skin and followed by thread
before laughing and gargling on spit.
Coldness now took young Samuel,
as his skin began to fade.
Like the other children around him,
life and hope reneged.
“I will seal up your lips and take your light”,
said the Vagabond holding the needle.
“And add you to my own gaggle of souls,
filled with hate for those who are feeble”.
As the needle hovered and danced,
tears streamed down Samuel’s face;
to be back in his cosy bedroom,
find his steps and simple retrace.
That was all he could think of,
but now nothing more could be done,
for as his skin turned to shadow
and his eyes began to burn,
the Vagabond stared intently,
spit drooling from opened gaped lips.
And with one thrust forward, the needle drove straight,
to extinguish the child’s heart by eclipse.
Howls of pain and anguish
cut through the cold darkened street,
but it was not young Samuel who yelled in pain,
it was the Vagabond who had to retreat.
For standing shoulder to shoulder,
dragging the figure with all of their might,
were Samuel’s parents emboldened,
by their son’s cries for help in the night.
They pulled at the creature’s limbs,
knocking needle from sordid hand.
As the shadowed children creaked forward,
following their master’s commands.
“Take their light, now, my children”,
said the Vagabond seething with hate.
“These grown-ups must be punished,
stitch their lips and seal their fate”.
Samuel lay on the cobble,
crying and desperate for home,
as the Vagabond threw both his parents
to the ground, next to their son.
They cradled their boy’s head softly,
and whispered “don’t be afraid”,
as the shadowed children surrounded,
open eyed with fingers like blades.
But looking at young helpless Samuel,
something stirred in each shadowed face;
of memories, of home, and of love;
of a forgotten and once lived-in place.
The memory of family came flooding
like a tide of bitter regret,
of sleeping in darkness for centuries
and being snatched from warm comfy beds.
Slowly the children cracked onward,
as the Vagabond closed in tight.
Yet, not to assist their captor,
but to stop him with all of their might.
A sea of shadowed child fingers
pulled and clawed at the rags
of the vagabond, once their master,
who’d sewn each of their stitchings and gags.
Samuel’s parents did not need to ask
for one more second of time,
and grabbed their son as quick as they could,
fleeing the scene of the crime.
As the figure tore down his children,
each one their stitching pulled out,
he rasped and screeched with venom
at the family who’d caused such a rout.
His horde of children lay on the floor,
wide-eyed and mouths ripped open,
as he flung himself towards the three
who’d left his street empty and broken.
Panting and rushing and heaving,
Samuel’s parents flew to the edge
of where the street now ended
and bedroom made safety its pledge.
The Vagabond soon quickly followed
as the family leapt within,
to their house and the room they had chosen
for their son to play and sleep in.
As the figure drew ever closer,
a seething wretch of the night,
Samuel’s mother leapt to the corner
and simply turned on the light.
No shadows were there to be feared of,
no Vagabond, children or street.
Nothing which spoke of the danger,
which their boy had taken to meet.
The years moved on with Samuel,
though he would never forget his mistake:
running from those who loved him
to strangers who’d promises make.
And now young Samuel is grown-up,
his daughter asleep in her room,
as shadows and whispers spill over
from the street, the Vagabond’s tomb.
Credit To – Michael Whitehouse