Jess Bethel naturally cared for the woods and river as well as all the critters of the forest with unswerving felicity. He loved the sprites of the Valley too, especially Honeysuckle Sycamore. He even adored Grit, for he could see past the bitter hurt and distorted pain that made her continuously weep and gnash her teeth. He saw in her a soul bound by ropes of grief. To Jess, all manner of creation was part of the great miracle.
His gentle nature, though an inherent thing among most creatures, was imprinted on him more so by the kindness that was shown him during his earlier years, a kindness that began when he was a newborn child. His origins were unknown to the individual who eventually found him floating like a bible story hero upriver in a shoddy wicker basket. Brother Patricio Bethel was a very old man. He had outlived anyone that anybody in the valley had ever known. He was thinner than a cattail cane and his long robes hung from him like linens out on the line set to dry. The children of the valley found him particularly strange and could not help but stare on the odd occasion that they saw him. Brother Patricio walked on all fours. This was due to a bone disease he had developed in early life which had never been corrected. The truth is, however, he had never thought about it too much. It never seemed much of a malady to him. His soul had a greater purpose.
When the old monk found the lost baby floating among the reeds as quiet and calm as if the river itself were its mother, he at once took charge of the child. He cradled and fed it, and as the boy grew, taught him the ways of the valley. Young Jess Bethel was ever the dutiful son and was content in his world of the stone chapel with Brother Patricio. They made their bread and wine, they tended to the forest and its inhabitants, and they comforted the people of the valley when the people needed comforting. They never wandered too far from the chapel’s crumbling walls.
Even the Passions of the valley found the chapel a wonderful playground, and Brother Patricio always enjoyed watching his adopted son play among them. Jess seemed more inclined to the wonders of the sprites than the growing cynicism of the valley children.
Things continued blissfully until Jess Bethel was a young man. One day, while mixing dough for a wheat bread, the old monk fell over and died. It was as simple as that. There were no long illnesses or deathbed farewells. Jess buried Patricio beneath the roots of an oak tree near the chapel, and continued to look after the old place even when the valley folk had long since forgotten it was there. And so that is where he remained until that day when a curious sprite in mourning followed him home.
Peat Moss stared steadily into the dark of the cave. If there remained a brave soul left in the valley and they chanced past the opening, they would have seen the Passion hunched and as stoic as a statue, peering glassy-eyed at the cave wall. But Peat Moss saw something there no passer-by could have seen. His grief had overcome him. The ghost of Buford Longpost, the only being for which Peat Moss had ever felt any affection for, glared back at him. He was an unmoving spirit; as fixed to his spot as Peat Moss.
The Passion’s defeated eyes almost cried true tears. He almost wept bitterly at the memory of Buford’s demise. But then something transpired that prevented that. One by one, ghost by ghost, the whisper had spun through the afterworld that the angry Passion’s eyes were open and he could see spirits. Those beings that Peat Moss had massacred and murdered began to trickle slowly into the cave out of curiosity and a taste of vengeance. It was only a small stream of lost consciousness at first. But it soon became a deluge. It wasn’t long before the sprite saw around him the glaring, angry faces of everything he had ever killed. And they were not as quiet as the silent woodsman’s ghost. No, they were bitter and resentful, shouting and moaning. They tried their best to reach out from the eternal divider and drag him into their world so that they might each in their turn rip him asunder.
This cavalcade of anger brought Peat Moss back to himself. He felt the hate and ire that was his life’s purpose return to him. At once, he rose and clamored after the spirits, wanting to kill them all over again. But he could not reach into their world either. Yet, the angry calls of the ghosts still harassed him.
Exasperated, Peat Moss ran from the cave. He realized he could not defend himself from the calls of ghosts. But still, the victims of his malevolence followed him, torturing him through the woods; an army of the dead searching for bloody closure.
In his flight from the cave, Peat Moss had unknowingly exposed his whereabouts to an investigatory Grit. Still perturbed by the sense of unease that wrapped around her heart, she had gone wandering through the forest yet again. Her intent was to find the source of her mysterious restiveness and put an end to it. Though, how that was to happen was a mystery to her.
Grit heard the ruckus, and determinedly made her way in the direction of the cave. It took some doing. She fell more than once. But eventually she found it. And while Peat Moss was long gone, his mind slowly being chipped away by the voices of the dead, she felt his essence of hate. She ran her fingers over the cave walls, picking up his scent. It was then she realized what she had to do. She understood who this abhorrent creature was; what he meant to her. So, she walked from the cave and slowly felt her way back to the chapel.