October and, uh, the beginning of November, is Horror Month here at the Ontological Geek! All of our pieces this month relate to horror in games, and we’ve got a bunch of great guest articles lined up for your enjoyment.
I follow the Huldra deeper into the forest. I hear only her voice humming through my ears, and the crunch of several inches of snow under my boots.
She is the guardian of the forest. The trees, plants and animals belong to her and bend to her will.
My guide warned me about her. She is an unreliable force filled with woe, and her relationship to humans is, at best, “complex.” Her glowing skin, flowing hair, and gentle voice can switch at any moment to expose her true horrific form. Few have survived that ineffable transformation. When she sings to me, she lures me deeper into the woods – into her home.
So I tread lightly, relying on my senses and instincts, and I hope to find answers.
Year walking is a gift and a curse. It’s a vision quest to see the future, an experience made possible after tremendous suffering. In preparation for their walk, year walkers are withheld food and drink on several significant occasions in the dead of winter, and must be kept in solitary confinement until the stroke of midnight on a New Year’s Eve. The success of a walk relies on a series of cruel meditations to test their faith, meditations which are not without their dangers. By this time, a year walker has embraced malnourishment and insanity, and eventually, a mysterious rift between time and space opens for them as an invitation to see their future. They discover if they’ll find true love, become wealthy, or be happy.
During my walk, I meet other creatures as treacherous as the Huldra and I am aware of the legends of their cruelty. At the lake lives the Brook Horse, who lures infants on his back and drowns them. He demands that I bring them to him, and I must drag their wretched little bodies to feed his waters. If I stare into the eyes of the Night Raven long enough, a disease will overcome my body and I’ll fall ill. He is a greedy, terrible bird that I must chase until I’m exhausted in order to retrieve a key. Once I finally achieve that, I meet the final guardian. The most dangerous of the creatures is the Church Grim, described often as a parasite, who meets me at a church to show me what I’m here for. He is a tall, caped goat known to feed on hopes and dreams who guards the energy of the church. Through touching his heart, I find my future.
There are elements of horror in this journey. I am alone, discovering dark caves of bloodied dolls and unsettling creatures who may decide to attack or murder me. I have no weapons to defend myself and can only progress through solving puzzles and unclear visual riddles. The sounds I hear in the dark are descriptions of misery, and the images I see clear as day are reproductions from my nightmares.
I recall something Martin Nilsson said after he completed his own walk: “Before I saw what happened next year, I lived among the stars. I lived there for many lifetimes it seemed. What do I care for next year? Time has already ended.” He was admitted to a mental hospital, and maybe I will be in one too after my journey comes to an end. Maybe the truth behind my exploration is that I have no more time left, and this will have been for nothing.
The beautiful terror of Year Walk is that in it, your deepest fears and anxieties are based on the truth. In a deranged twist of events, what I am experiencing is essentially a love story. The walk began when my beloved Stina had to choose between me and another man. I starved and stayed awake until the guardians of the forest opened their gates for me to discover if my lover was going to forever be mine, or if she was going to abandon me in these dark woods to the atrocities of nature. It’s tragic how far we would go for the ones we love and how much we will punish ourselves just to know if they will love us back, too.
My deepest fear is to have her eyes burn through mine and see her mouth the words, “I don’t love you anymore.”
At the end of the jump scares, ominous soundtracks, and haunting creatures, the fear of loss and betrayal is what lingers the longest in my Year Walk. We give ourselves entirely in seeking the truth and yearning for love to the point of a physical and emotional breakdown. Perhaps this journey is the most accurate description of love and heartbreak: a series of signs and symbols we have to decode, and we receive either the answers that provide us warmth, or remain lost in the freezing woods until we are freed to walk again. The Huldra who betrays, the Brook Horse who drowns the most vulnerable, the Night Raven who mocks and steals, and the Church Grim who blocks the path – they are all symbols of romantic partners and relationships into which we have poured and lost ourselves. In return, they have tortured and bled us dry, but maybe we will come out of this alive. Broken, but alive, and possibly even the hero of the story.