The cold marble of the stone slab seemed to throb against Martin’s hands, like the heartbeat of some great beast dug into the earth. He had been unable to resist the urge to return to this spot, despite the warnings he had received about venturing off into the old forest alone. He knew he should have listened to his father, he normally did, but since he had discovered his place it had been all that he could think of.
Martin had come upon it by chance; he and the other boys from the village had been playing a game of Bandits and Knights in the woods. He had been the last remaining bandit, and if he could just keep the other children from catching him and stealing the handkerchief that served as their treasure, they would win. He had turned briefly to glance over his shoulder, and in doing so had tripped over an upturned root and fallen, almost directly into the stone slab, hidden by years of dead leaves and vines.
The other children had caught him, and he had failed to win the game, but deep down Martin knew that what he had found that day was more important that a group of boys playing pretend. He had come back each day for the following fortnight, exploring around the stone slab, removing the vines and forest detritus until he had uncovered a series of several stone slabs and a low ring of rough stone surrounding them. The first one he had found has turned out to be dug into the ground, a long smooth pillar half buried. He had sought to return to this place at every available moment. Sometimes, when the sun was setting and he sat quietly facing it, he could hear voices.
On this day, he had snuck off from his home after dinner. Food and home held no interest for him. He had been sitting at the table, looking out the lone window of their home, toward the forest, his stew forgotten and cold before him. His mother had fussed, wondering why he refused to eat. His father had spoken of idle hands and time, and promise to put him to work in the morning so hard that he would devour any food laid before him the following day. He no longer spoke to them about the forest, about the stones, not since the first night, when his father had all but roared at him in anger, warning him from the place. But what could be so wrong about it?
Martin had waited until his parents had put him to bed, and then longer until he heard them close their door, and saw the fire from the hearth die to embers. On quiet feet, he had snuck from the house and into the woods, intent on visiting one more time, before his father made good on his promise to put him to work. With his hand against the stone, Martin laid down, pressing himself against the cool stone surface. In the dark, he listened to the low murmur of voiced, rising up around his ears, and closed his eyes. He matched his breathing to the pulse beneath him, felt the chill as it pressed in on every side. If he listened just a little harder, he was certain that he could hear his name, being called out from within the stone.