Year’s Walk

Abide in darkness all the day before.
Take care to cast eye upon no open flame.
No food or drink, nor spoken word
must pass lips that would later prophesy.

An evening’s stroll for prognostication —
chill the weather, fat snow-flakes falling,
barren wind & wolves’ howl haunting
waiting night. What will be encountered
as this Year dies, as moon’s dim light
permeates unclean, restless clouds — as
ice thickens & boreal vapors rise?
To show any sign of fright will foil one’s
quest; to laugh or even smile, to exchange
word, or take any along beside you. If
you meet another on your way, together
may you proceed, but should either speak —
dire reprisals must you equally reap.

Crisp crunch of snow underfoot: faint
things scuttle at edges of vision, trees
girt with mail of adamant white. Weird
winds gust about, animating flakes into
spectral forms: to these one must pay no
heed. A steady step, heart beating even —
resist wayward urge to whistle as mists
of cloying cold coil about in ghostly
cloister. Things howl in near-distance that
no one can name — deeper, deeper
into that primal wood, far from any fair
fire or companion, where the hoar-cold
is bitterest, there to walk & witness the
pale auguries as they parade on past.

A funeral carriage, drawn by headless
horses: the body inside is well-known.
A death omen, to be borne back to
town & somberly conferred. Onwards,
towards the too-distant churchyard of
St. Stephens: will-o’-wisps pulse in dull
array, away over frozen swampland where
no life stirs. What does stir — abyssal
spirits from days of old, Winter geists
& brook-horses stretched long as
Midgard’s serpent, bearing trains of
wailing children to grisly drowning ends.
One’s step must not falter, whatever
horrible visage leers from the trees:
huldra-nymphs wracked with lust &
hunger, looking for meal or mate to steal.

Further on, & fresh visions arise —
a fertile harvest, yes, a bountiful year
unmarked by famine, plague, or war.
A good year, save for those who will die —
but, a good year to die in. One runs risk
of seeing oneself drawn along in phantasmal
hearse: hasten to the sought churchyard,
ignoring half-icy streams that run blood-
red with wine. Fruity scent of faerie vintage
tingles the nose as grave-stones hove into sight:
absurdity tempts too, trio of flatulent mice
drawing a square-wheeled wain, owl droppings
plopping on shoulders, tempting laugh
or curse. Once on church grounds, fresh
graves are seen dug amid the snow: stones
spell out names of five more dead.
Psalms chant up from each coffin-bed,
soil roiled by mortal sinners disinterred —
from the church comes a noisome stirring,
something profane taking place in the nave.

Three quick circuits, counter-clockwise. An
eye to the keyhole, & blow — what horror
or wonder is then beheld! More than one walker
returns sans an eye: others are struck blind,
dumb, or mad. Some vanish, provender
or partner for wily wood-wives; some wander
lost into icy mires, lured by puckish lights.
To reach that keyhole & peer through at the
Old Year writhing on Christ’s altar, sacrifice
to pitiless Time, bane & master of all gods:
dead masses gathered in throng to witness
& worship, phantom limbs upraised in praise.

Alas, what auguries come during the awful
Year’s Walk! As sun dawns the seer stumbles
back home to waiting kin, ripened with oracles,
haunted & harrowed, oft evermore queer.

[Scott J. Couturier is a poet & prose writer of the Weird, liminal, & darkly fantastic. His work has appeared in numerous venues, including The Audient Void, S. T. Joshi’s Spectral Realms, Eternal Haunted Summer, The Dark Corner Zine, Space and Time Magazine, & Weirdbook. Currently, he works as a copy & content editor for Mission Point Press, living an obscure reverie in the wilds of northern Michigan with his partner/live-in editor & two cats. His collection of autumnal and folk horror poetry, I Awaken In October, is forthcoming in 2022 from Jackanapes Press.]