I had hoped we would not need to speak of these things again. I tried to handle things on my own - I didn't want to drag any of you back into these dark tidings. But now I find myself in over my head, so to speak, and I am helpless. I come to plead your assistance one last time.
It happened on the last day of this year - a full year since you last mentioned your dreadful affairs. The wife and I were enjoying a quiet fire out on the brazier in our back yard. Our yuletide wreath had gone dry, and I suggested we burn it up as a way of marking the new year.
With foolhardy abandon - brought on by more than a little drink - I tossed the wreath into the fire. Instantly it flared a bright orange, then pure white, the flames roaring. My wife was frightened and went inside to fetch a bucket of water in case the fire left its container. I stayed to keep watch.
And out of those flames, I saw it.
I cannot - I dare not - try to describe in vivid detail what I saw, though the image is burned into my mind and I see it whenever I try to rest (O, to sleep peacefully again!). I will tell you only this: there were eyes, dreadful eyes; a tangle of flesh wrapped on warped bone; and an endless, gaping maw.
In a moment it was gone. When my wife returned, the flames had died down, but I could not banish the sight from my mind. What had been called forth from those flames? Why did I still feel its presence?
I contacted your acquaintance, Franz, as I knew of no one else who could help. He responded within minutes - odd, given the holiday - asking about the origin of the wreath. We got it as the same time as our tree, at one of those stands that seems to conjure from nowhere after Thanksgiving. It was small, only a handful of workmen there, and we spoke to man named Mikko. He was a Finn, tall and gangly, perhaps in his thirties but maybe much older, with a shock of yellow hair and a thick mustache. He was friendly enough, jovial and with a thick accent, and he gave us a good deal on a spruce. When I asked him where it was from (there are many such tree farms in the Carolina mountains), he leaned in close and said "On the banks of the Tuoni! But which bank? The near, or the far?" As he pulled away, I saw a crazed grin on his face and a queer twitch in his eye. Too much of the hard cider, I reckoned, and smiled politely. As his fellows loaded the tree onto my car, Mikko offered my wife a wreath since we were "such good customers." We threw the tree into the back and drove off.
I had thought nothing more of Mikko or his odd answer until Franz asked. I relayed the information to him and awaited his reply, the image of the fiery beast never far from my mind. A week went by, then two. Finally I had a reply from Franz, but a grim one at that. He said the wreath must have been made from the boughs of a tree grown near the River of the Dead, which the Finns called Tuovi. The "far bank," as Mikko put it, was that in the Realm of the Dead, called Tuonela by the Finnish. It goes by many names: the Greeks call the river Styx or Acheron, the Sumerians know the land as Irkalla, to the Hebrews it is Sheol. All the names mark the same place: beyond the dark river is lies the deep abyss where the dead dwell.
Franz believes the wreath was made from a tree that feeds from that evil water, and the branches must have held some dark being drawn from that place. By burning it - O foolish Suzod! - I released the spirit into the world. Even now, he surmised, it haunts my yard still, which explains the blood seeping from the trees and the black vines encircling my gazebo. As for a solution, Franz said he could not help, not even he would dare provoke this demon.
And so, my friends, I ask you: what shall I do? How can I exorcise this creature from my lawn? How shall I send it back across the Dead River into the Land of Darkness? When should I seed, and when should I feed?