horror, scary

The First Settlement

Now a CreepyPasta. 

Narrated by The Dark Somnium: YouTube, Podcast, & Spotify

For full effect, please wear something comfortable, and imagine yourself lost in a dark forest. I think you’ll find a cabin just ahead.

Welcome, friend. Come on in, it’s storming out there. We’ve lost power, but it’s dry and warm inside. Grab a blanket and join us by the fire before you freeze, we got plenty of room. It’s not safe to be wandering around in the dark. Not out here where the closest town is five miles away by foot. You won’t see any cell towers, I can promise you that. No WiFi out in these woods either. Folks in town like to call it a lake, but make no mistake, this here is all swampland. If you get lost, you’re likely to end up as gator bait… or worse.

Never you mind though, you’ll be safe here. Long as we have this fire, we can ride the storm out til morning. I’m Alex, and that pretty thing in the green sweater is my wife, Trish. Our nephew, Ethan, is the shy fella staring at his feet like he wasn’t raised with manners. Personally, I think he was dropped on his head before he had that wiry mop of curls to cushion his fall. Now, what did you say your name was?

Great, nice to meet ya. I won’t ask how you came to be out here all alone on a night like this. It’s none of my business, but I hope you won’t take offense to an old soul’s ramblings. I was just about to educate the young one on some local history when we heard your knock. I’m not embarrassed to say I nearly jumped out of my skin, but you’re not one of them. I could tell soon as I saw you.

Tell me, do you believe in ghosts? You know, spirits? Ah, that’s ok, what better time to learn? Nobody knows how it started. Before Columbus sailed across the ocean, the Indians already knew to stay away. Not even Braves ventured into these woods, afraid of Bad Medicine as they called it. The first white settlement – no, not Roanoke – the first settlement. Few people heard of it, no historians ever came, that’s for sure. Unlike Roanoke, there was no one to come looking for these folks. You know what? Let me start from the beginning, we have plenty of time.

The year was 1565, decades before Roanoke. Peasants weren’t allowed to hunt, all game was property of the Nobles. When times grew hard, desperate men – mostly outlaws and laborers – decided to take their chances on the ocean. They heard sailor’s tales of paradise where the land is open and fertile. A single, stolen ship carrying men, women, and children fled Europe in the dead of night, never to return.

The treacherous journey lasted 8 months, and many perished along the way. The dead were thrown overboard with little ceremony until food rations ran low. In the end, fifty-eight survivors made it to the New World. Desperate to be away from the smell of death, they went ashore as a group. The sandy beach was empty, and the surrounding woods were vast. Their leader was a large man named James Smith. He and First Mate Grant Cooke lead their people into the forest. They cleared land and built a settlement near the lake; it really was a lake back then. The water was clean and clear; not green and smelly like it is now.

Nothing strange happened in the first year, almost like something waited until they were trapped. Letting them get nice and cozy while they scrapped the boat for parts; while they built their homes and planted their crops. They had no need for law or politics, but James held the final word on all decisions. Until the 13th month, those usually amounted to where to plant this or build that. Then a little girl, Ester Jones, vanished. Her disappearance was the first of many terrors to befall the community. I can tell you their whole story, you see, Pappy Grant kept a journal.

June 13, 1566

As we sat to supper, loud, desperate knocking sounded at the door. I instructed Martha and the children to continue eating as I rose to greet our late visitor. Knowing only ill tidings come at such a time, I relinquished my meal to the hounds. Indeed, I was met with the despairing sobs of Widow Jones. Her girl, Ester, failed to return from picking berries. The young ones never ventured far, but even so, they always stayed together.

I made quick work of speaking with the children as James gathered men. We ventured into the forest with one hour of light remaining to us. Unable to burden the women with our true findings, we blamed wolves as the culprits. I will record our true findings here in case – God help us all – a true account is useful to future generations.

The children confirmed their location in the west woods, past old man Herbert’s farm. They departed together, but Ester returned alone to retrieve a lost ribbon. The dogs delivered us directly to the berry patches at which time they turned circles, whimpering. Ignoring all calls to heel, they tucked tails and ran home. Our best hunting dogs, known to challenge bears, behaved as if whipped!

It was then we felt the weight of the silence. No birds sang, no insects stirred, and no winds blew. From the safety of my home it seems foolish to say, but it felt as if we were being watched. James summoned our best tracker, William Reed, to determine Ester’s trail.

In minutes he discovered the lost ribbon, but as he retraced the child’s steps he became visibly distraught. After confirming his findings with the Owens brothers, he reported the following:

“The children came down the path, scattering in front of the bushes. Ester is the oldest among them, making hers easily discernible from the others. You can see where she turns back, and this is where she kneels to search. Here are markings left by her hands and knees, but that is where her trail ends. It is as if she is standing before us, invisible.” William waved his arm through the space as if to prove she truly was not there.

Joshua Owens confirmed the analysis adding, “There are those capable of disguising a trail, but it is impossible to erase one. Maybe a giant bird came and scooped her up.” He said the last in jest, but looked up as he spoke. “What… is… that?”

Following his line of sight, I became aware of a white and red object caught in a tangle of limbs above us. William set to work climbing, and in minutes was directly below it. He crossed himself, nearly falling when he released his grip to do so. We watched, breath held, as Reed untangled the item.

Once brought for further inspection we could not deny it was cloth torn from the child’s dress. More disturbing than its location was the dark crimson stain which covered the white material. If she climbed, footprints would lead to the tree, and its bark would show signs.

Suddenly William ran to the next tree, studying its branches. Understanding his logic, we searched high in surrounding treetops until Horace Wright discovered the child’s location. As he spoke, he stumbled forward, losing his supper in a violent reaction to the grotesque sight awaiting us.

There, tangled in the branches were the remains of little Ester. Out of respect to the deceased’s mother, I shall not describe the horrible manner in which she surely perished. I suspected large cats, for they often hide their prey in this manner, but Reed was quick to rule it out. Again, easily visible tracks would remain. I developed a terrible coldness in my bones that still has not left me. I fear it never will.

We debated how to proceed as the last light faded. Anything short of bringing the child home for proper burial would be a disgrace, yet for her poor mother to see this fate… how little remained… she has already lost so much. I found myself imploring the men to spare Mrs. Jones this additional pain, suggesting we bury the child beneath the very tree in which she was found. I truly believed it it kinder to carry home a tale of instant, painless death.

It took little convincing and was a relief to us all. Widow Jones is a kind, caring woman and our hearts ache for her loss. I am forever shamed to have failed her daughter in both life and death. With torches freshly lit, William climbed the tree easily as the first. Upon reaching the remains, a deep, guttural roar emanated from the darkness. It sounded like no beast I have heard before, causing every hair on my body to stand erect. James ordered William out of the tree at once.

Descending quickly, clutching Ester’s small, shredded shoe, Reed jumped the last four feet. Another roar followed, this time from above, closer and angrier. It was accompanied by the sound of branches cracking under the weight of something heavy. It required all my resilience to stand fast as we braced for the unknown terror to attack.

We held our torches high, but the light would not reach more than a foot away. Dancing flames should have illuminated the clearing, but the darkness was almost tangible. Even more strange was the temperature. The warm, summer night bit into us with a harsh, winter wind.

No man spoke, we merely huddled together, staring into the impenetrable darkness, waiting. How to describe the sound of that beast as it stole Ester from us a second time… alas, I cannot. I can only tell you of the shame we felt as we stood in place, for the monster went without haste, mocking our cowardice. It is my greatest shame, mortally wounding to my heart and pride.

When all fell silent once again, James commanded we return to the village at once. We eagerly agreed, ready to leave that horrid place. As we approached the path home, William surged to the front, insisting we were entering the wrong trail. I spoke harshly, anxious to be on our way, walking with my torch aloft to show no other path existed.

Reed led us to the place he believed our true path to be, but nothing was there. He walked between the two locations, listing the ways he could tell the difference. If he was correct, the path we walked daily was overgrown with weeds as if unused for years. It was a twisted root which several men recalled stumbling over that convinced us.

It was a slow journey as we struggled through the thickets, but we made it home safely thanks to Reed’s keen eyes and knowledge. I cannot stop wondering where the other trail would have taken us had he been less observant. Unfortunately, we were only able to return Ester’s shoe to Mrs. Jones. May she find comfort knowing the child is with her father in a better place.

Until tonight, our greatest fear was being discovered by outsiders. Should King Henry ever learn of our Paradise, he will surely want it for his own. We are prepared to defend ourselves to the last man should the occasion call for it. Alas, I believe we can rest easy in that regard. After what I have witnessed this night, I am certain whatever plagues us is no mortal man. We are resolved to explore the strange path in full tomorrow. I shall record my findings here upon our return.

What’s that, friend? Of course, the bathroom is down the hall, second door to the right. You go on ahead, we need to add a few logs to the fire anyhow. Oh, and if you hear a tapping at the window, just ignore it. Best not to pay them any attention, but whatever you do, don’t open the curtains.

…There, perfect timing! The fire is… oh my! Are you alright? I say, you are pale as all get out! Here, sit down, I think we’re in for a long night. I guess you peeked… I tried to warn you, but they say seeing is believing. There, there. I know it can be upsetting, but you really are safe in here. We don’t have a vehicle, but if you like, I can walk you to town come sunrise. Until then, maybe it’s best I continue the story.

June 15, 1566,

I write in the early morning hours, before the sun has yet risen. May God have mercy on my soul. By my hand James is dead. What have I done? It should have been me! I will never be half the man he was. Martha, if you or the children should one day read these words, I shudder to know what you will think of me, but I must keep going to ensure a record of what has happened here survives. Whatever evil is in these woods has made me murder my closest friend, I must do all I can to prevent others from the suffering similar fates.

At dawn we armed ourselves with every available weapon, intent to traverse the strange, new path. To our astonishment, the trail had vanished. The foliage was so dense, it would have taken several men most of the day to recreate what we saw the previous night. We explored where possible, venturing farther than ever before, but found nothing. Wishing to be well away before nightfall, we returned home to find the women gathered and waiting for us.

They were terribly panicked, all speaking at once. After learning what transpired, I cannot say I blame them. We have taken the safety of our homes for granted, we have forgotten these are strange lands of which we know nothing.

As instructed, the women remained in the village, keeping the children close at hand. Martha invited Mrs. Jones to join her in our home, not wishing her to be alone at such a time. It required much persuasion. Mrs. Jones preferred to grieve in solitude, but in the end, agreed for Martha’s sake.

Shortly after morning chores were complete, Nathaniel, our youngest, cried out. Martha discovered him by the staircase, pointing at Mrs. Jones. The woman was attempting to unlatch the door but panicked and clumsily. Martha tried to intervene, blocking her way, but was roughly pushed aside.

Mrs. Jones began screaming, “She’s out there! They lied to us, look, see for yourself! My girl is alive, move! We must go get her! She cannot swim!”

Martha regained her feet and ran to the window, unsure what to expect. At the same moment she laid eyes on the ghost of Ester Jones floating above the lake, Mrs. Jones freed the last lock. My wife was left to watch helplessly as Mrs. Jones ran to her daughter.

Martha called after her in vain, continuing to give chase even after Mrs. Jones disappeared beneath the water, never to emerge. I shall thank God each day she did not enter those murky depths herself. I have no doubt she would be lost as well.

Several others report strange tappings at the windows and voices calling from the forest, but no sightings upon investigation. Thankfully no one else was lost, for we now fear each incident as deadly. It was then James recalled the Gypsy ancestry of old man Herbert. None of us know his true name, but his knowledge has been invaluable since fleeing our homeland. What ever shame exists in his past are of no consequence here. Now, it seems, his knowledge may save us once again. We absorbed his every word, which in summation:

“If the legends are based in fact, I fear we may have something far worse than mere ghosts among us. You see, spirits are souls of the departed. They are what remain of those who perish but cannot pass to the other side. They can be a nuisance, but they cannot physically harm us. Malevolent ghosts may attempt trickery, such as what befell Mrs. Jones; but had she not run into the lake, she would still be among us now. As for the forest, I am certain we are dealing with something far more insidious than a spirit. It may even hold dominion over the ghouls, I do not know for certain. I do know what ever stalks those woods is something much worse… possibly a demon. Either way we do not possess the tools or skills to defeat it.”

The remaining light of day was spent fortifying our homes. We burned sage as the Gypsies do to combat evil spirits, but I have seen no evident results. Nothing else of note happened until nightfall, after we locked ourselves indoors. It was agreed no one would leave the safety of their home until morning, but that is the precaution which became our undoing.

Hours passed without incident until the shutters rattled violently as if someone were trying to gain entry. We first checked the children, finding them huddled together under the blankets. Without opening the curtains, I barred the window with the wardrobe. With the heavy oak furniture in place, the noises stopped at once, leaving a pause of silence before a devastating crash sounded from downstairs. I bade Martha to bar the door behind me as I ran toward the sound.

I descended the stairs with pistol drawn, foolish man that I am. Mr. Herbert warned our mortal weapons could do no harm to spirits and little if any to a demon of substance, but I was a weak coward. I thought only of protecting my family upstairs, disregarding all warnings of the spirit’s trickery.

My first sight upon reaching the bottom step was a ghastly image. A corpse reached through the glassless window, shutters torn asunder, attempting to unbar the door. He was pale white, but not transparent. His face and arm bore deep, wide gashes, the worst being across his throat. It caused his head to tilt at an odd angle as if it would fall off any moment. When the thing saw me, he abandoned his effort with the door in favor of clambering through the small opening. I did not think. I did not hesitate. I fired my one shot straight into his center.

I was surprised when the ghoul fell backwards, into the dirt. Fearing the injury as deception, I approached slowly, cautiously, wasting precious seconds as the best man I ever knew lay dying. The full weight of my folly crushed me as rushed to his side, but he would hear no words of apology. With his dying breath, he tried to absolve me of my crime, blaming his death upon the devil’s trickery. Let his last words serve as further warning, so others may avoid repeating our deadly mistake.

“I never looked outside until I heard the crash. I saw a dead man. His head nearly severed, standing before your open window. When he attempted entry, I shouted a warning, but feared you would not hear. I should have known better. Should have listened to the old man. It fooled us, my friend. I followed, thinking it the demon of substance due its actions, but I fear that was its intent all along. I lost sight of it only a moment, yet when I peered inside, I saw you lying on the stairs, unconscious. The monster no longer in sight, I feared the worst for Martha and the children. I am sorry my friend. I’m afraid I have failed you. No! You will not let the evil win by sewing doubt into your heart. Come sunrise, you must assume leadership. Tell them I died at the hands of malevolent forces beyond our control, nothing more. You must swear it.”

The fool was as stubborn in death as ever in life. I will honor his wishes as I must, but once our people are free of this curse, I shall insist another man be chosen to lead. I do not deserve the honor or respect, but I shall not break my word. Martha and the children were able to find sleep when nothing more occurred after my return. I feel as if I have seen too many horrors to ever enjoy sleep again. Sunrise is only an hour away, at which time the village will wake and I will be forced to feign shock and ignorance upon “discovering” our true leader’s corpse.

So, you see, friend, as long as you ignore them, you’re perfectly safe! I know it can be a lot to process, especially if you’ve spent your life believing this kind of stuff only happens in movies, but you’re handling it better than most. Why, I’ve seen people run right out the front door into death’s arms after hearing less! I knew I had a good feeling about you.

How many, you ask? Oh, don’t worry yourself with the minor details, I sure don’t. Who knows where my visitors come from or why? You shouldn’t be surprised if you find your own memories a little… fuzzy… while you’re here. I find it’s best not to force it, there’s still so much we don’t know about these strange woods. You just keep ignoring those sounds outside, nothing is really coming down the chimney, not with that fire roaring. They tend to get more desperate as dawn approaches, but they’re harmless long as you don’t pay them no mind.

Time can work a little differently here, especially on a stormy night like this, but I think we have enough time to finish our story. You can tell this is where Pappy Grant starts losing his marbles a little bit, but you really can’t blame the man.

June 17, 1566

It has been days since I last wrote of the events which plague us. When we fled our homeland, never did we dream it possible to find ourselves in worse positions than we started. I rue the day I set sight upon these cursed shores. This is our last night sleeping on these hellish grounds, and I will never step foot upon its soil thereafter.

I made the burial of our dead the highest priority, refusing to discuss matters of business until all were at rest. James was not the only casualty of that horrid night – three women, two men, and one child met similarly violent ends. All were blamed on the demon of the forest, but I fear I am not the only man who succumbed to ghoulish trickery. I am mortified to find myself grateful James’ wife and child died before our voyage, for I know my facade would crumble before them. Oh how the people begged me to take his place! It sickens me how they mistook my reluctance for modesty! I am no man, I am as much monster as the things that stalk our nights.

For only after nightfall do we suffer their torments. Had Martha not seen the ghost of Ester Jones with her own eyes, I would discount the incident as a grieving woman’s delusion. Aside from the feeling of being watched, which I freely admit is possibly paranoia, there have been no occurrences in the daytime. Perhaps the sage held some effectiveness after all, but that is merely guesswork.

I took no chances in learning this. No, the moment burials were complete, I set about moving all the women and children into the church-house under guard of a dozen men. I told them if anyone tried to leave they were to be held by force if necessary. I was determined not another soul would be lost. It comes as no surprise I should fail that endeavor as well!

Old Herbert says these otherworldly beings are most often confined to the land on which they reside. He believes we have invaded something’s territory. Whether we woke something which slept or it lured us here we do not know; but if we leave, it should not follow. Many legends make note of natural boundaries, such as rivers or mountains. I conceived a plan! I would not battle the devil, that is a fool’s game, and I was done playing the fool! Let it have this piece of land, we hope to never see it again!

I commissioned William Reed and Joshua Owens to travel into the south forest with provisions for three nights. Their mission was to find new land, beyond the forest, past the river we have never crossed. They would be well past the river before nightfall, a position many envied. They should return tomorrow to lead us to our new encampment. We have salvaged all we can and are prepared to travel in the morning. How terrible it will be to tell Joshua his brother has died.

I was so sure of my ability to protect them, so cautious! All slept in the church-house that night, crammed together over every square inch. We slept in shifts, always keeping eight men on guard. I slept soundly as eight of our best men, Martin Owens among them, vanished silently into the night. We followed their tracks far as we dared, but knew them lost to the forest. I cannot fathom what false visions could lead eight men placidly to their demise, but find myself preferring ignorance.

Another day passed without incident as we continued dismantling our homes. We built wagons to increase our supply capacity, knowing there will be no chance to return later, but we only have enough men to pull two. With Reed and Owens away, forty souls remained under my care. None openly blamed me for our losses, for none wished to wear the burden of leadership, but I could feel their disappointment as another day slowly faded to night.

We decreased the number on guard to four, having each man tied to a man who slept. The hope was, if a man on guard became entranced by deceit, he would rouse the sleeping man in his attempt to leave. I was to take watch before sunrise, believing it to be the most dangerous. Instead, we all woke to smoke and flame engulfing the church-house.

The doors were barred from the outside. Panic ensued as men tried to break through to no avail. The dry wood burned like kindling as smoke filled our lungs. Mothers threw children through the small windows, but few were able to follow. Thankfully, Betty Davenport kept her wits about her. As others lay gasping and crying, she ran to the wagons, retrieving two axes and a mallet. Enlisting the help of Susan Collins and her son, Timothy, they were able to open one of the doors. It was too late for many, Herbert is dead and his knowledge with him, but twenty-two of us survived thanks to their bravery.

James’ ability to put our people wholly first in his heart was a defining trait of his leadership, but I found myself unable to meet the same standard. Amidst the chaos, I was consumed by worry for only my family, useless to the others. How much shame can one man carry?

We discovered a single, small set of footprints leading to the forest though we are unable to determine their owner. Many of the dead were burned beyond recognition, but knowing which hand the devil used to do his deed is irrelevant. Had we not needed to bury our dead we would have fled across the river this day. As it is, we are a broken people, but we keep moving for sake of the surviving children.

Mine is the only intact family, and I can feel the unspoken resentment brewing in my grief-stricken fellows. I do not blame them, but I fear it is not by luck we are spared. I fear I have become a special project for the evil in this place. Nothing I do will stop it. We will lose more tonight. They understand we mean to leave, and they want to keep us. If Reed and Owens do not return, I will take those who remain beyond the river anyway.

We have decided not to sleep this night. We have filled every available container with water and barricaded ourselves indoors, spread among the remaining houses. Hopefully we will be less dangerous to one another. At the very least we should not be taken by surprise.

June 19, 1566

This will be my final entry, damn these records. I write only to report William and Joshua returned. We were not alone in this New World. All this time a primitive tribe of dark-colored men lived just beyond our borders. The ten of us who survived the night were met with fear and reverence as if we were some otherworldly beings descending upon them. Imagine! Perhaps it for the best they fear us, for they speak not a word English. With great difficulty we attempt to understand each other by acting out charades. Whatever they think of us, they have fed us and provided shelter so I am grateful beyond words.

I have burned down every timber in that wretched village, but the flames died before reaching the demon’s forest. Martha and Elizabeth are dead. I was miserably accurate in my premonitions. Of course, the blame is solely and completely of mine alone for I fell asleep against all efforts. I woke to Martha strangling Nathaniel, Elizabeth already lost. She insisted the undead were risen, attacking the children. I tried to tear Nate from her grasp, but she had a grip of steel. I tried reason, but her eyes were rolled backward and I could see the life slipping from my son.

I killed her. I had to kill my wife. I revived Nathaniel just barely, though he will wear the marks on his neck for some weeks to come. Of course, that is nothing of the mental anguish he will suffer as a result of his father killing his mother as she tried to strangle him after murdering his sister. Perhaps his recovery would be best served by my absence.

I will destroy that evil place if it the last thing I do upon this earth. I believe answers lie beyond that missing trail, so that is where I shall go.

August 30, 1574

My name is Sly-Fox but it use to be Nathaniel Cooke, and today my tribe recognizes me as a man. I have received my father’s journal, which he left in the care of Chief Hawk-Eyes. My father returned to the Cursed Woods daily despite our tribe’s insistent warnings, and it proved to be his end.

That forest is full of Bad Medicines. All know death awaits those who seek its power. Father was determined to see them destroyed, but the place drove him mad. He left every dawn and returned every dusk for two weeks before he disappeared forever.

Chief Hawk-Eyes adopted me as a son, and I am happy traveling with the Cherokee. Maybe I will write of my life one day as father did, but now is the time to count coup and earn my place among the hunters.

Yep, those last dozen settled with the Cherokee and life went on. Sly-Fox grew to be a respected man of their tribe and had a family of his own. Over the decades as more white men came, he grew worrisome in his old age. He tasked his sons to return him and their people to that first place they fled beyond the river.

As the country grew, many tried to settle this area by the lake, but none stayed. With each new sacrifice, the land was poisoned, turning the soil infertile and the lake putrid. When survivors fled to Jamestown, they were welcomed without question. As wars for territory savaged the countryside around them, they remained just out of its reach, always in the grips of their own, private war.

So that’s how our little town was founded! I can even point to where they built the first house if you like. Though, let me tell you, it was over a century before they allowed a bridge across the river. They worried something terrible might decide to use it, but nothing has so far. Anyway, I think the storm is finally over if you’re ready to hit the trail…

You know, I was starting to think you weren’t going to ask why we live here instead of in town. Most people start wondering pretty early in the night, before they get a chance to know us. Not everyone is kind as you are, they don’t understand not all spirits are bad. Why, if it weren’t for the likes of us, there wouldn’t be so many to make it to Jamestown in the first place. Now come on, let’s get you out of here before the next rains come. I can’t cross the river with you, but I can see you to the bridge. I’ll show you some… huh? Are you sure? It be no trouble t’all. Well, alright then, if you insist.

It’s been a pleasure, y’all come back now, ya here!

horror

The Infinity Game

To my regular readers: I know you must be wondering where my normal posts are, and I am sorry for that. The scary stories make money and I’m dirt poor so I will be doing this for a hot minute. I will eventually do more normal posts as soon as I have time, but the holidays are a very busy time for us. Thank you for your understanding. 

Has anyone ever played the Infinity Game? The one with the mirrors? Most people don’t know it’s a game, they just think it’s a cool visual effect. Maybe it’s different for me, being raised by witches. Not Halloween witches, but the ones who practice Wicca. You can Google it if you really want to learn about them, but I’m here to talk about the game.

Most people don’t understand what it’s capable of. They have no idea they’re standing at a locked door or what’s on the other side. It’s almost like Wizard of Oz. If you can find your way to the Mirror Master, you’ll be rewarded with a wish; but getting there is not an easy journey… and you want to choose your words carefully.

To play, you need at least one other person, two standing mirrors, five black candles, a stick of chalk, warm clothing, and a red armband. The red band is the most important thing to remember. It’s not required to get in, but you shouldn’t leave without it.

While in the Mirror World, you must be wary of your reflection. Its only goal is to take your place in the real world – meaning you will be trapped forever. It cannot kill you, instead it will attempt to trick you. Never, ever speak to it. It will be dressed like you, except its armband will be on the left. Whoever you have waiting in the real world will be responsible for ensuring it doesn’t get out. Choose someone you trust.

Only your reflection can take your place, but everything else you meet will try to kill you from sheer spite. If you die in there, your soul will be trapped, and the mirror through which you entered will shatter. Make sure your friend is aware a shattered mirror indicates they should immediately destroy the other one as well. Though unlikely, there are a few entities powerful enough to use this situation to their advantage. To be safe… make sure the friend isn’t easily manipulated.

Now that you have all the supplies, draw a pentagram on the floor with space for the mirrors in the center. Then put the lit candles on each point of the star. When everything is in place, the reflection will appear as a never-ending hallway.

Stand between the mirrors and focus only on the infinite corridor. Soon you will notice a shadow far behind your reflection. Focus on that, letting the world around you fade. Do not look away or blink. Slowly begin to inch forward, but do not be afraid of bumping into the glass. Think of it as platform nine-and-three-quarters: you must know it’s going to work. When you feel a drastic temperature drop, you can look at your surroundings. You are officially inside the Mirror World’s lobby… though, I suppose it’s more like a bridge. It’s what connects the two places, but my family calls it the lobby.

This is where you must proceed with extreme caution. The Mirror World is a backwards replica of ours. Not only does that mean left is right; it also means beautiful, thriving cities are dead and crumbling. If you are unable to enter, do not leave the game unattended. Remove the mirrors immediately. The things that live there can’t be described as “alive”, but they are desperate.

My mother was supposedly the only person to successfully return after seeing the Mirror Master. Growing up, I was told no one has ever met him; but when Mom (Ellen) died two months ago, I found her diary. My amazement grew with each passage as she described her own experience with the Infinity Game. Her first entry is from six months after having her first-born, John. He was sickly and doctors said he wouldn’t live to see his first birthday. She was aware of the game’s dangers, but she didn’t care, not if it could save her son.

I will copy the relevant entry here. Let it serve as warning to any who wish to play – even the winners lose.

From the Diary of Elle Pierce:

I hoped to never open this diary again. I purchased a new book for the start of our new lives, but instead of writing on crisp, clean pages, I continue here. The tear-stained memorial to the darkest six months of my life was to be buried under decades of beautiful memories, yet here I am.

I won the stupid game; we should be far away from this place, beginning anew, not… here. There is only hate and pain left in my heart. Everyone told me not to go, but I didn’t have a choice. Each time someone said, “you can always have more children” my heart ached with fury.

I was prepared to risk my own life, but not for this. Not to feel the joy of knowing my son would survive, only to have it ripped away again. I thought I would be different, but now I write this only to warn others. I hope that vile creature never wins another soul.

I entered easily, feeling the temperature drop as if exiting a heated room into an Arctic tundra. I always imagined a chill in the air, but this was cold enough to see my breath. Behind me was a mirror, and in it I saw Thomas. He appeared to be in shock; his mouth hung open, as he waved. It would have been funny under different circumstances.

I think the strange hallway is an in-between place. Both sides are lined with identical, white doors, and I didn’t know which to choose. I couldn’t see the end of the hall, it still appeared infinite. I tried the closest doors, but they were locked. There were no keyholes, just solid, knobs.

I walked down the corridor, feeling more nervous each time I looked back to see Thomas farther away. There was no way to track the passage of time; electronics won’t work there. I don’t know how long I walked before I heard the soft click of a door opening, but I no longer saw home when I turned around; instead, I saw my reflection. She was wearing her armband on the left, just as the legend said.

I know I should have been afraid, but I found it comforting. It meant the stories were true, that John had a real chance at surviving. I would have gladly traded my own life for his, but that’s not how the game works.

My reflection called to me, “Are you lost? You need to go this way.” She indicated the open door where she emerged. I knew not to respond. I remained silent as she tried again. “Hello? What’s wrong, are you deaf or just rude? … Fine, I don’t care if you want to spend eternity trying to open locked doors.” She shrugged and began walking in Thomas’ direction.

I could not follow, I had to trust my husband to tell the difference. She would return when she failed to deceive him. I couldn’t go the way she recommended but wanted to look inside. I walked back to the open door, keeping a healthy distance. Standing in the center of the hall I tried to peer inside, but it was too dark to see anything.

I wasn’t even outside yet, and I was already cracking under the pressure. Were the other doors all really locked? How long before something worse found me? It was then I realized, why do they call this a game? “Game” implies there’s a way to move forward, clues to follow…

That’s when I understood how literal the stories were. If everything is the backwards, shouldn’t I go to the door opposite the one indicated by my reflection? I reached for the other doorknob, holding my breath as I felt it turn beneath my hand. It opened effortlessly though I know it was locked before.

It opened to reveal our kitchen, where Thomas and I chose to set the mirrors. The light was dim, everything was reversed, but it was also filthy. Worse – instead of finding my husband, I found a horrifying, twisted, old man. His back was hunched, his teeth and nails were yellow, and his red face contorted in hatred.

I was frozen with fear as his icy gaze bore into my soul. “What the hell do you think you’re doing here?!” He screamed, spit flying from his mouth.

In my terror, I couldn’t remember if it was against the rules to talk to anyone besides your reflection, but I didn’t want to risk it. I took a few steps to my left, hoping to get to the door before he could block my exit.

“Don’t you dare ignore me, tramp!” The old man croaked in a raspy, hoarse voice. He reached under the table, retrieving a long, metal cane. Thankfully he was slow as he looked.

I ran around him, through the swinging door to the den. He was still cursing me as I continued out the front door. At the end of the driveway, I noticed my surroundings. The neighborhood was in ruins; the yards were dead, and the houses were all abandoned.

It was my neighborhood, but it looked like a ghost town. None of the cars worked; each one had busted windows, popped hoods, or slashed tires. It was midnight back home; it should have been noon there, but it looked like dusk. I understand why our reflections are so desperate to trade places.

For some reason I felt confident the old man wouldn’t follow me outside. Something gave me the idea his part of the game was to guard that kitchen door for when I needed to get home. I didn’t stay to test the theory, but now I’m pretty sure I was correct.

I was never told where to go once I made it this far; the stories were all vague in that regard. The only thing I knew for certain was that it would get worse before it was over. That’s when I realized how desperately I needed a working vehicle, for speed and protection.

I resigned myself to look for a bicycle when I remembered the mechanic who lives three houses down. Every weekend, his garage door is open, and he can be seen working on an old car. It was hardly more than a body and wheels last time I saw it. If everything is opposite… wouldn’t that car be in working condition here? Yes! It was. The damn thing made me truly believe I could do it.

Hope is dangerous. If something is too good to be true, it probably is. I was so excited by the sight of the pristine, red car, I forgot to be wary of danger. A strange creature I almost mistook for a dog stood between me and victory. It was of similar size and color to a German Shepard, but its mouth opened sideways to reveal extra rows of teeth. I don’t know if its eyes were located elsewhere or it just didn’t have any, but the ears looked hard, almost like rounded horns. I couldn’t discern a nose either, but I’m sure it had one; I could hear it sniffing my scent.

It gave me a headache to look too closely, like my brain was rejecting the very sight of it. My eyes frantically searched for anything to use as a weapon, but there was nothing nearby. My heart sank as I realized it would come down to a race I held no chance of winning. Stealing a quick glance at my surroundings, I saw the only chance was to run for the door and hope it’s unlocked. Otherwise, I would be eaten by a dog monster.

I tried to mentally prepare myself when a long, high-pitched whistle turned the creature’s growls to whimpers. It wasn’t pleasant to my ears either, but I enjoyed seeing its effect. The noise continued until the dog-thing ran out of sight. I didn’t see the source of the sound at first, but I didn’t have to wait long.

My reflection walked into view, smiling proudly. She stopped several feet away but remained silent. I was confused until I almost asked why! My mouth opened wide, froze, then slowly closed. She hoped I would talk without thinking. Plus, if I die this quick, she can’t escape. In her own way, she’s more terrifying than the monsters.

“Uh-oh, almost had you that time, haha! You might want to find yourself a weapon before you run into anything else. Hey, do you even know which way to go?” She spoke like we were best friends.

I was too afraid to shake my head or shrug; it seemed like the kind of place that thrived on loopholes. Instead, I stared at her feet, willing her to say a direction so I could go the opposite way.

“You look lost, do you need a map? I could draw one for you… come on, just nod or something; I’m trying to help!” She stomped her foot in frustration.

To me, that was confirmation about the loopholes… or maybe she could read my mind. Either way, I wasn’t trying it.

“Be that way! I don’t care if you want to live or not, but it’s a shame the kid has to die just because you won’t ask for help.” She shrugged and began walking away.

Those words hit me like a freight train at the time, but now that the words carry the added weight of truth, I feel as if they will crush me. Controlling my temper as she left was one of the most difficult parts of that nightmare. So many times, I wondered if punching her counted as communication, but John’s life was not worth the risk. That is when I vowed to break every mirror I saw for the rest of my life. A vow I have thus far made good on.

When she was well out of sight, I discovered my next obstacle would be to find keys. The car was locked, but the house was not. Knowing something would be inside, I took a large crowbar from the garage. I crept in the back door, staying low. I was in an empty kitchen, hoping for a nice key-hook by the door, but couldn’t be so fortunate.

The room smelled of the rotten food on every counter and flies were swarming something that looked like raw meat. I choked down the vomit threatening to erupt and focused on John. This experience was nothing compared to the idea of losing him.

I made my way into a den with a broken tv and rough-looking leather furniture. From where I stood, a recliner was directly in front of me with a couch on either side, all angled toward the television in the center. Small, dirty tables sat on each end of the couches, and my heart skipped a beat when I saw car keys atop one by the recliner.

Forgetting my fear, I reached down quickly, only to scream myself hoarse when a cold, skeletal hand shot out from the chair, grasping my wrist. It had a grip of steel; for a moment I thought it would break my arm. I lashed out desperately with the crowbar, making contact with whatever was on the other side of that recliner. The instant its grip released, my hand closed around the keys, and I ran for the car.

It was pure luck the dog-monster hadn’t returned, because I didn’t stop to check before flying outside. As soon as the car door closed, I hit the lock button three times and performed a thorough inspection of the back seat. Satisfied there were no unexpected passengers, I was ready to go. There was a horrific moment of fear the car still wouldn’t start as I inserted the key, but it roared to life like it was brand new. Hell, it probably was.

It really is just like King’s Quest. Find a clue, find an item, solve a puzzle, escape danger, advance, repeat to the boss fight. Careful Elle, your nerd is showing. Look at me, I made a joke. Never thought that would happen again.

I went to the end of the driveway and hit the brakes, realizing I didn’t know which way to go. In a game, when there’s multiple paths, they usually all come out to the same place… or one is a deadly trap with no escape. Of course, you usually know your destination…

That’s when it hit me! If I’m playing a game where the goal is to cure a sick boy, where would the boss fight take place? A hospital! You would want the best doctor with the best equipment! I turned left, toward the best hospital in the state. When John was born, we moved three hours away from our hometown to be near it. Fifteen minutes away was the closest residence we could find, and it seemed good at the time, but now it felt like hours.

I didn’t know what the roads would be like, but I knew it wouldn’t be good. I could have never imagined the level of destruction as I saw that day. Our normally smooth, paved streets were filled with large potholes, some big enough to get stuck in if I wasn’t careful. The buildings were in various stages of demolition; none looked to be inhabited, but I’m sure they were. The beautiful plants and trees that once lined the medians were brown and dead.

I kept careful watch on my surroundings, worried something would come charging from a dark alley as I slowly steered around potholes. Luckily, it only happened once, close to the halfway point. I was preparing for another tight squeeze when I heard a scraping sound from behind. In the rear-view mirror, I saw another deformed-looking man. This one was younger with long, greasy hair and burned skin. The sound was from the steel bat he was dragging, and one of those weird dog-monsters tagged along like his pet.

If the roads were decent, I could outrun them easily, but I knew they would catch me if I drove into the middle of that bad patch. I slowed down even more, letting them get a little closer to the decent section of the road. I don’t think they are capable of intelligent thought; they did not hesitate when I began reversing, nor did they make any attempt to move when I ran them down. I aimed for the man, considering him the main threat, but the beast was only stunned.

There was a moment I thought it was over when the car stalled on top of the corpse, but the wheels found traction when the beast collided with the rear-end. I’m not sure how he avoided going under the wheels as I flew backwards, but it wasn’t touched. I shifted into drive and punched the gas, trying once more for the dog-monster but still missing.

Going fast as I dared, I ran over the man once more… just to be sure… before coming to a cautious stop. I hated not knowing what the dog-thing was doing but felt fairly certain it ran away to lick its wounded pride. I didn’t doubt I would see it again, but that was a problem for later.

I made it to the hospital without further attacks, parking in front of the main entrance. The sight of it did not inspire confidence. It was in worse condition than anything I had seen yet. That’s when I realized I made a terrible mistake. Everything is opposite… the best hospital would be the worst. I needed our world’s worst hospital.

I jumped back into the car, making my way to the free clinic on 3rd. If my theory was right, it would probably hold the cure for cancer. A flock of zombie birds attacked the car at one point, but they didn’t cause much damage.

I knew I’d made the right decision the moment I entered the bad side of town… well our world’s bad side. In this world, it was full of lavish manors; the clinic was immaculate and double its normal size. I parked on the curb and ran for the entrance. It was starting to get darker, but I didn’t understand how. There should have been hours of daylight left. Then, once again, as if reading my mind, the Bitch was back.

“Gosh, are you just now getting here? You better hurry; time is running out fast.” She teased.

I had never heard of a time limit. I ached to taunt her with the obvious failures to deceive Thomas. If she was still there, it meant she couldn’t fool him; the thought filled me with strength. I turned my back on her and walked inside, but she followed.

“You know that right? That when it gets dark – the hourglass stands empty? Well, not literally, but I like the expression. Anyway, I just wanted to check, because it seems like most people from your world are ignorant to that detail.” She said nonchalantly.

The more I considered it, the more it made sense. Most games do have time limits… and being in this place after dark does have a sort of “game over” vibe. Unfortunately, I couldn’t ask questions and I had to keep moving. I thought she would leave again, but she continued to follow at a careful distance.

“Don’t mind me, I just want to see the big climax. Your sweetie was too smart, there’s no point chatting with him anymore.”

I didn’t give her the satisfaction of looking back. Seeing a map of the hospital, I stopped to study the layout. Of course, I needed to the top floor. It couldn’t be right here on the ground floor, no, heaven forbid. I walked to the elevator, but noticed my reflection was gone. The doors chimed and slid open, I put one foot inside, but pulled it out quickly.

Did I really want to walk into a metal box in a bizarro world where there’s no one to help if I get trapped inside? I looked around and saw a nice, open stairway. The empty elevator closed behind me as I made my way to the stairs. I held onto the rail all the way up – losing because of a fall so late in the game would be too insulting to live with. I’m glad I did too, because my reflection jumped out screaming, “boo” the moment I reached the top.

I wonder if anyone has tried to murder their reflection… I’ll have to look into that one day. I held my crowbar at the ready as I passed her, it felt glued to my hand after so much time. My reflection was tailing me a little closer, getting desperate, I’m sure. When I reached the reception desk for the children’s ward, she took a seat in the waiting area.

She grinned when she saw me watching, giving me two thumbs up and a wink. “You go girl! I’m rooting for you!”

More confused than ever, I went through the double-doors in search of the doctor… or Mirror Master I guess… terrible name. They had no imagination back in the day. I would have named him the Greedy Gremlin… okay maybe that’s not much better, but it is better.

He wasn’t hard to find. I stood in a dark hallway and bright lights shone under the swinging doors ahead. I’d come too far to stop then. I could feel my heart thumping in my ears with every step. When I walked into the light, it was so bright I had to shield my eyes. Then, with the snap of someone’s fingers, they faded to normal indoor lighting.

The only person in the room was the doctor I see on tv… the one on the ridiculous commercial with that annoyingly catchy tune. I can’t remember his name… you know, the really fat, bald guy with glasses? It’s not important, it wasn’t how he… she… it looked anyway. It threw me off though, and the surprise must have shown on my face.

“Ahh not what you were expecting? Me either. Who is this anyway?” The doctor asked, examining his own appearance.

“You… you don’t know who you are?” I stammered.

“Ugh, of course I know who I am, girl! I appear however one’s mind is comfortable seeing me… but it’s usually not… this.” He cringed.

“What, wait… how could…” I tried to ask.

“No, you aren’t here for magic lessons, and I don’t give them anyway. You came here because you want something desperately enough to risk your life for it. I find that utterly delicious, so tell me, what do you want.”

“You mean… I just tell you… and you, do it? I don’t have to… I don’t know, solve a riddle or kill a monster?” I couldn’t believe it could be so simple.

“Oh! I’m sorry! Was finding me too easy for you? Were my pets not vicious enough, my dear? Well, worry not! For next is the best part yet. The longer you are here, the darker it gets. The darker it becomes, the more of my pets you’re likely to see. Most of them are nocturnal, but they’ll be awake and ready for breakfast any moment now.” He was a lively talker; his voice was booming with pride and his hand gestures were all over the place.

I could only stand there, horrified and speechless.

“Come now, what’s your wish? Weren’t you listening? You should probably pick up the pace.” He grinned, and his teeth were no longer the normal teeth of the tv doctor, but sharp, brown fangs.

“My son is dying. I want you to cure him.” I tried to keep my voice steady.

“My, that’s a tricky one. Money, love, fame, – those things are easy; murder is the easiest, but life? That is very tricky indeed. It disrupts the natural order.” He was enjoying himself.

“Please, I’ll do anything.” I begged.

“Well… there is this one way it could work… if, you’re sure; there is no turning back.” He paused, stretching the suspense until I vigorously shook my head in agreement.

“Very good then.” With a snap of his fingers, a scroll appeared in one hand and a pen in the other. It was the kind of pen you dip into ink, but I never saw one before that moment. “Sign here, please.” One flick of the wrist and the long scroll opened, falling to the floor between us.

I picked up the bottom end, eyes scrolling over the millions of tiny, printed words jammed together on the paper. At the very end was a “sign here” line.

“If I sign this, it’ll cure my baby? He will be in – and stay in – perfect health?” I would not see my son cured of one sickness only to fall ill the following week.

“Absolutely! In fact, with this contract, your boy will be immune to all disease.” He assured.

My heart sang at the words, and if the cost of saving John happened to be my own life – as I suspected – it was a price I’d happily pay. I reached for the pen, and with a stab too fast for my eyes to see, the doctor pricked my finger. A large drop of blood fell onto the paper, and with another snap, the contract vanished.

“It’s been a pleasure doing business! By the way, to cure your son, I had to borrow half his father’s remaining lifespan. Tootles.” The doctor disappeared with a final wink. I hope I never see his wretched face again.

His words made my blood run cold, but I couldn’t stop to do math right then. Terrified of what would be chasing me, I ran back to the waiting room area. My reflection was waiting for me at the doors to the waiting room, smiling. I shoved on the doors with all my strength, but she had me locked in. I used my adrenaline to smash the glass door to the reception counter with my crowbar.

My arms and legs were cut getting through, but I didn’t have time to worry about blood loss. I flew over the counter, ignoring the shocked look of my reflection. As I made my way down the stairs, I saw several more zombie-looking people coming out of various rooms. I almost didn’t make it back to the ground floor when a kid with no legs managed to grab my ankle. The only thing that saved me was the crowbar catching the rail I tumbled.

When I finally made it to the entrance, I saw the car was turned onto its side and several more zombie and dog-things were waiting close by. Remembering the hospital map, I decided to take a chance on the ambulance bay. I was betting they would have owned at least one junked out ambulance that would run in this world. If they didn’t, I would likely have died there. Not even someone with machine guns could survive on the streets now.

I cried when I saw it. There was one ambulance that appeared in working condition and I was lucky enough for the keys to be inside. I still checked in the back to make sure it was empty, but that almost got me killed too. I slammed the back doors just in time to avoid one of the dogs jumping in. The ambulance rocked side to side from things trying to get in as I strapped myself into the driver’s seat.

It was my first time driving anything bigger than a car; I think it would have been a bumpy ride under normal conditions. There were several times I thought the ambulance would tip over. The worst was close to the end. I was almost back in my neighborhood when I heard the roar of another engine right before it crashed into my bumper. I went off the road, missing a huge crater by inches, before regaining control.

The truck driven by my reflection reversed to follow. I did something desperate. I waited for her to get right behind me, almost touching, and accelerated. As I hoped, she too sped up, trying to position herself to force me into a fishtail. At the last possible second, I closed my eyes and swerved away, once again becoming dangerously close to flipping over.

Behind me, the Bitch couldn’t react in time. The truck she found was pointed nose down in a deep crater, its back end hanging out at a steep angle.

My house was surrounded by hideous creatures. Most didn’t appear human or animal. I couldn’t tell what the warped things were supposed to be. Some of them had several limbs… or appendages… some had none. One looked like a huge floating eyeball, and another looked like a snake with two heads. I didn’t see a way inside; I couldn’t believe I came all this way just to lose here. At the very least, I wanted to kill as many as possible before I died. That’s when a plan occurred to me.

I reversed to position myself for a straight shot through our den. The house was now termite infested anyway; even if we didn’t have the huge windows, I’m sure the walls would have been weak enough to drive through. I felt like I was operating a tank as two of the creatures fell beneath the wheels. It was a strange sight as the walls crumbled around me, and the sound was terrible, but I didn’t stop to enjoy the view.

When the ambulance couldn’t go any farther, I climbed out the passenger window and dove through the kitchen door without looking to see what followed. The moment I saw the kitchen, my eyes searched for the old man, but he saw me first. Pain blossomed behind my eyes as something struck me over the head. I fell to the ground, dazed, but managed to keep a grip on the crowbar. I feigned unconsciousness until the old man grabbed one of my ankles. I sat up, swinging wildly, and enjoyed the wet smack of contact. His black blood sprayed, and I wasted no time getting to my feet.

As I made it to the exit, more creatures burst into the room. I rushed through the door, hoping it locked behind me. I held my breath as the door shook furiously, but nothing was able to follow. I breathed a sigh of relief and began feeling my injuries in earnest. I had several deep gashes on my arms and legs, my head was bleeding badly, and my wrist was swelling.

Grateful to still have the armband, I began making my way to the mirror entrance. I only made it a few steps when I heard the soft click of another door behind me.

“I hope you didn’t expect to be rid of me that easily.” Her voice no longer sounded like mine. It was deeper, distorted.

I turned to see she now had the same ghoulish-zombie appearance as those other things. Did she always look that way? Did I only see me because that’s what I expected? Like the doctor? I hope someone solves the mysteries of that place one day. There are still so many unanswered questions.

I ran for my life, focused on Thomas and John. I heard her footsteps gaining as she screamed at me. “Have you figured it out yet? Wait up, I’ll explain it to you! If you divide the lifespan in half, it means they have the same amount of time to live! Do you get it? Wait up!” She cackled an evil, dark, laugh. It sounded unnatural in her garbled voice. Humans should not be able to make the sounds her laughter made.

I was so focused on the light at the end of the corridor, I didn’t understand what she was telling me. I heard her footsteps closer with every step but couldn’t look back. Her howling laughter followed me all the way home. When Thomas saw me, his eyes lit up with relief, then fear and anger as he saw my appearance and that of the thing chasing me. I saw him step away from the mirror, allowing me to exit.

I went through the mirror like an Olympic diver. The second I was out, I turned to see Monster-Me collide into the glass, bouncing off like rubber. Now that I was back, the doorway was closed for her. Before she could rise, Thomas shattered the glass. He shattered the second one just to be safe, but for the record, could have simply blown out the candles and erased the pentagram.

It wasn’t until several hours later, after I explained everything to my husband, that we understood what she was trying to tell us. If they had the same amount of time to live; they would die at the same time. I was devastated. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle losing both at once. We are so young… I thought we would still have many years… I never dreamed… I couldn’t believe…

Thomas and John passed away two weeks later. John was crying in the night; Thomas felt badly for my lack of sleep… so he took the baby for a drive. It calmed John… and it was only a few times around the block… but this time a drunk driver ran a stop sign.

See? It was all for nothing.

My mother met my father four years later. It took a while for her to have a normal life again, but I always felt like we were a happy family. She was a terrific mom; I had no idea such terrible things were in her past. Dad didn’t know the full story either; only that she had a husband and baby killed in a wreck before he met her. I can’t blame her for not wanting to tell me, she knows how much I love a challenge.

While no, I don’t think I’ll visit the Mirror World anytime soon, it would be nice to learn more about it. Like she says, there’s still so much we don’t know, and personally, I have a long list of questions. Besides, it sounds fine if you don’t make a wish, right? I’ll just leave this here for now in case anyone else knows anything.

horror, scary

The New Settlements

Part 2 of The First Settlement. Once more, you find yourself lost in a dark forest, but fear not - a familiar cabin is just ahead. 

Narrated by Dark Somnium: YouTube
Photo from Dark Somnium

Looky here! Trish! Ethan! Our friend is back!

Shame it had to be another cold, stormy night like this. Just once I’d like to enjoy some company under the warm sun, but I guess that’s not how this place works. … Goodness, where are my manners? Come on in here before something catches your scent. I’ll let you get settled while we fetch the firewood.

… So, tell me, what brings you back to our humble neck-of-the-woods? Curiosity got the better of you is my guess. You probably want to hear more about this place, am I right?

… Ahh, no. Sly-Fox had little patience for writing. What you heard was his only entry in Pappy Grant’s journal, but don’t be disappointed. We have more to read thanks to one of his grandsons.

Sly-Fox died in 1611, and his sixth grandson, Wise-Owl, was born in 1617. Jamestown was a growing village, and while a majority were Cherokee, the population grew more diverse with every failed attempt to settle the Cursed Woods. After experiencing so much grief and terror, they had no concerns for trivial matters of skin color or culture. Shared loss brought shared acceptance.

As Wise-Owl grew, he began to travel, yearning to see the world. With his lighter skin, he found himself accepted in most white settlements if he dressed differently and used the name Samuel Cooke. At the age of twenty, he married his wife, Sarah, and started a family.

His father died six years later, and the eldest son, Striking-Snake, became Chief. The brothers were opposites, but mostly worked well together. The older prided himself on brute strength and speed, while the younger was known for intelligence and resourcefulness.

Samuel began writing when his brother decided to master the Cursed Woods. They tried to discourage the stubborn man, but he was all antsy to prove himself. I think you’ll enjoy the story, though. At the very least, it’ll answer a few of the questions rattling around in that skull of yours.

November 2nd, 1643

It is a good thing I continue this journal. Its knowledge must not be trusted to oral history alone. If only it were possible to duplicate these words for more to read; all people should know these texts and heed their warning. I often wonder how many cursed places exist in the world but fear I would not like the answer.

I care deeply for my brother, but the man is a fool! Since the first settlement in 1565, two more attempts have been made to inhabit that cursed place across the river. All met violent ends; it is as if the evil grows stronger with each life it takes. I do not understand why Snake believes he is destined to conquer the abominations. He thinks he will build a bridge to expand Jamestown after the land is cleansed; it is lunacy.

My brother has taken five of his best men into those woods this day. I have a cold dread in my gut that not all will return. One of the men is a highly respected Shaman. If he returns from this I’ll-conceived venture, I hope he will allow me to record some of his knowledge here. He may be able to provide useful insight into what those things are.

One-hundred and three Spaniards built the second village in 1612, but only fourteen survived to see Jamestown. My father warned them to no avail until they threatened his life. Nothing happened for three months, but then two children disappeared, and the search party was never seen again. A few came to us after that. Most believed the monster could be killed, but survivors eventually fled with attitudes properly adjusted.

In 1635, a British colony of ninety-one souls arrived. I accompanied my father on his visit, bearing gifts, seeking friendship to earn their trust. We hoped to be taken in earnest when we begged them to build elsewhere. We offered the help of our people to ease the burden of relocation, but they would not hear it. They called us superstitious savages and bid us a rude farewell.

They lasted almost a year before the final nineteen came to Jamestown. The men shared their horrors in great detail, and over the next few days, I will leave record of it here. Perhaps, together with my great grandfather’s accounts, these words will not be taken so lightly. I only hope my brother’s tale will not end the same. Some think I am foolish to waste my time with these endeavors, but I shall prove them wrong.

November 3rd, 1643

My brother’s group returned intact. I am grateful for their safety but fear a lucky venture has filled them with unfounded confidence. This morning, he departed with ten men. Their intentions are to stay until the demon is vanquished. I shall be restless with worry. First, I must tell of my conversation with the Shaman, Kawani. I stole him away upon their return and believe his knowledge vital. I began by showing him the passage of old man Herbert’s words from so long ago. He was able to expand upon the information more than I dared hope.

The statements regarding the spirits of the deceased are accurate enough, though there are exceptions. While one alone cannot cause physical harm, they grow stronger under certain circumstances – such as gathering in groups or feeding on a demon’s energy. Kawani is certain the entity of the Cursed Woods is a demon, for the spiritual activity surrounding the area suggests it is very old and powerful. He says he can destroy it if he is able to see its face and learn its name.

His confidence was unwavering. I asked if the demon were killed, would the ghosts be gone as well, but the answer was less encouraging. Perhaps some would finally be able to pass on, but each spirit would be a unique case. Plus, there will still be the matter of the thing in the lake. The demon is the most vile and deadly entity; therefore, it must be destroyed first. If it remains, more sinister creatures will be drawn by its power. Kawani was called away before we could speak further. I hope he survives long enough to learn more.

One day I hope to record details of the second settlement, but for now I will begin where memories are freshest. The third colony named the area Mallard Lake, though it is now known as Dirge Lake. Perhaps our warnings instilled some caution, for they lived six months without incident. The survivor I speak to most often, Peter Evans, says they rarely found need to enter the Cursed Woods. Instead, their trouble began in the lake.

On a cloudy, summer day, three boats of six people rowed to the center of the lake and began fishing as usual. They waited quietly, hooks in the water, until there was a loud thwack as something collided with the middle boat. Its passengers gripped their seats, rocking from the impact as water splashed over the sides. One man shouted, jumping to his feet, when something slimy touched his hand.

“It was only a fish, sit down before you put us all in the water.” Peter shouted.

At the same instant, the boat was struck again, and the man fell overboard. He came to the surface sputtering, yelling something about his leg, but the words were cut off as he was suddenly pulled under.

The man’s brother, who was in the lead boat, dove into the water. The others watched with bated breath as seconds ticked by. Finally, the second man broke the surface, gasping and pleading for help. Others reached to him as he desperately swam for safety. They pulled him up, and a pasty, gray-blue tentacle slapped the side of the boat, barely missing its target.

“Get to shore!” Several screamed in unison. Fishing gear was left to fall where it may as they scrambled to rowing position. The lead boat was hit hard before the first paddle touched water. The resulting waves spread across the lake as three more sickly, pale tentacles came out of the water to wrap around the boat. The monster pulled it apart easily as a child’s toy. Two men were pulled under as the rest were rescued.

The remaining fifteen made it safely ashore. Survivors from the lead boat claimed they saw more than tentacles. They say the monster had a large, round head, several beady eyes, teeth like a saw, and a long, thick body; it’s as if a snake with octopus tentacles had a spider’s head. To the men’s credit, they did not try to hunt it, they merely stopped using the lake.

Nothing more happened for several weeks. Just as life resumed a sense of normalcy, disaster struck in the night.

Blast, Sarah calls for me. I must end this here for tonight.

… Of course, this is a fine spot to take a break. We’ll stoke the fire, and I’m sure you remember where the bathroom is. Don’t forget to leave those curtains closed!

… Well, judging by how loud they are now, I take it you ignored them just fine! Great job, you’re a natural! I tell ya, I have always been an excellent judge of people, and you, my friend, are damn good people. Oh! I just remembered!

Trish, where are the supplies those hikers left behind last week? … Excellent, Ethan, why don’t you be polite and pour our guest a drink? Good lad!

I hope you like wine. We can’t partake ourselves, but it looks like a fine year. I believe the owner intended to propose judging by the fancy ring hidden in his socks. Baby, show our friend that beautiful rock on your finger. Yep, you have no idea how hard it is to get nice things out here.

So, how’s the drink?

… Wonderful! You’re welcome to keep the bottle; someone should enjoy it.

… Anyway, if you’re ready, we’ll continue our story. Things are about to get interesting, much more interesting than all these questions about hikers.

November 5, 1643

I did not have a chance to write yesterday for I went to Dirge Lake myself and only returned this afternoon. I could not withstand another moment wondering. I arrived before the sun reached its highest point, finding Tom and Little-Hawk at their temporary camp. I was relieved to see it set beyond the forest borders but could not rest easy so close to a demon’s lair.

Unwilling to go further, I waited for Snake’s return. His face was full of disappointment when they came for the noon meal. I noted only seven were present but did not have to wait for explanation. They lost Echo the night before, which explained the silence of Tom and Little-Hawk.

At dusk, they discovered a path believed to be the very one searched for by our great grandfather. Kawani believes the demon itself waits at the end, in the Heart of the forest. They entered the trail single file with Echo at the rear. After forty meters, a thick fog seeped through the forest and wound between each man, restricting their sight even further.

The Shaman stood at the lead with Snake and called a halt to the procession. Though I have yet to learn the exact methods of his technique, Kawani performed some kind of ritual involving the burning of certain herbs as offering to kinder spirits. The fog cleared, leaving only blood splatters where Echo once stood. He died without a sound. Knowing the path would not be there in the light of day, they left colorful markings before retreating to camp.

Both Tom and Little Hawk refused to enter the woods again. They returned to Jamestown with me earlier today. I do not think it will be long before the others realize they should have followed. The eight who remain plan to traverse the trail while tied together. I think it will only serve as a greater hindrance, but they will not listen to reason.

I was only able to speak with Kawani briefly, but he informed me he’s had disturbing dreams since entering the Cursed Woods. He believes the demon is seeking a vessel so it may travel beyond its territory. He is certain that land is more prison than home. I do not know if I find this information comforting or terrifying, for I see no way humanity could survive such a thing roaming about freely.

The Shaman is still unable to identify the creature in the lake. His inability to label it seems to trouble him deeply, but the demon remains priority. He believes once he has seen its face, he will be able to call upon his ancestors to learn its name.

I shall write about the third settlement before I retire for the evening. It seems I was about to tell of the night Peter Evans’ wife, Judith, perished. Life has a way of carrying on that makes us forget our past traumas. The incident at the lake was buried in the back of their mind, nearly forgotten as Peter lay in bed with his wife all those years ago.

Peter and Judith were almost asleep when a loud creak sounded in the hallway. Thinking it one of the children, Peter walked quietly to the door, opening it suddenly to catch the sneak red-handed, but no one was there. The hall stood empty, and no sounds of retreat betrayed a child’s escape.

Puzzled, he returned to bed. The moment his feet left the floor, two loud knocks banged against the door. Judith let out a short gasp of surprise. Peter ripped it open in anger, but once again, the hall stood empty. Furious, he donned his robe and marched downstairs. Each child slept, doors and window were locked, and the home was once again silent. More confused than ever, he returned to the bedroom.

He saw Judith crouched in the corner, pointing at the closet and muttering of something inside. Peter approached it with caution, stomach churning with venomous butterflies. As he reached for the knob, the door rattled on its hinges, and his heart tried to flee his chest.

He only hesitated a moment; he ran from the room but was back in seconds. He turned the knob slowly, standing to the side with the mallet raised over his head. The door swung open, hinges creaking loudly, scaring Peter enough to swing the weapon. The weight carried him through the hanging clothes and into the closest floor. After a few moments of flailing in panic, he realized the closest was empty.

Judith rose to her feet, leaning on the wall for support as her shaky legs carried her to the closet. She paused by the window, gripping its ledge for support. “What’s happening, Peter? Are these the ghosts those primitive people warned us of?” Her voice quivered with fright. She turned, looking out the window, and screamed loud enough to wake their neighbors. She ran from the room, terrified.

Peter only saw a glimpse of the corpse in the window before she disappeared. He says it was a child, soaked as if fallen into a lake. Her long, black hair draped over her face, and the dark bruises of large hands were prominent on her neck. He only stood frozen an instant but was returned to reality when Judith’s screams were cut off with a sickening series of dull thuds.

Swallowing the hard lump forming in his throat, Peter forced his legs to carry him downstairs. Judith lay in the floor, neck broken. In her haste to flee, she tripped on the steps. The children were woken by her screams and discovered the sight moments behind their father.

I fear that is all I can withstand this night. Writing of such morbid things is giving me unpleasant dreams. It does not help I must live each moment wondering of my brother’s fate.

November 6, 1643

Two more of Snake’s expedition returned this afternoon. I am pleased report my brother still lived at the time of their departure, but three more are dead. Now only Snake and Kawani remain to slay a demon older than recorded history. Bear-Trapper has reported all he can, but it is not much. To learn more, I must once again go myself. I have not yet found the courage to inform Sarah.

The seven men returned to the area with the mysterious path, but none of their markings remained. They could not distinguish where the trail once existed. Forced to wait for dusk when the path is revealed, Kawani prepared himself with incense and incantations. When they later embarked on the hidden trail, they used a length of rope to ensure none could be separated.

As I predicted, it only served to cost more men their lives. Had they not been lashed together; two additional men would not have been carried through the tree-tops by a ravenous demon. They were lucky the fourth man was able to cut the rope before more were lost.

Snake and Kawani wanted to press forward, but the other two refused. In the end, all returned to camp, though Snake would not come home. He insists he and the Shaman are still capable of killing the demon. The man has never been able to concede defeat. For our mother’s sake, I must try to save him. Regarding the third settlement, I will finish their tale this night, for I do not know if I will live past tomorrow.

There were some who believed Peter murdered Judith, for no similar deaths occurred immediately after, but nothing could be proven. Roughly two weeks later, Reverend Michael delivered an unusual Sunday sermon regarding the book of Revelations. The calm in his voice accented the horror of his words as he explained the end times were upon us. The congregation listened in stunned silence as the speech finally concluded; at which point he merrily announced the afternoon picnic behind the church.

Normally, everyone would attend, enjoying the chance to socialize, but not that week. Many felt disturbed by the Reverend’s words and simply wished to go home. Though it started on a sour note, it soon turned into a lovely afternoon. The clouds covered the sun, and a cool breeze blew as families ate and laughed.

After eating, when the tables stood empty and punch bowls were drained, children played while adults gossiped. The children were the first to get sick. The only two doctors fell sick shortly after. The Reverend poisoned himself as well as his congregation, leaving the survivors no way to seek justice for the fifty-six lives taken.

With less than thirty people remaining, chaos ensued as several men argued to be heard. Many did not wish to settle in a “village of heathens” as they called us, but others only wished to bury their dead before fleeing. By working together on the shared goal, the unpleasant digging was completed before nightfall. Those who wished to stay ignored any words of caution, believing the only monster to be lying dead in an unmarked grave.

Those who wished to come to Jamestown locked themselves indoors, waiting for sunrise. Most accounts of this final night are similar in detail. Peter’s is the only unique experience, for he lost his children at the picnic. Suicidal and drunk, he fell unconscious early in the night and did not rise until morning. He says he considered living a fate worse than anything they could have inflicted at that point.

Harold Jenkins was twelve when this night transpired. He lived alone with his father after the poisoning of his mother and sister. They barricaded the bedroom door and window, but as the hours passed, they grew tired and began to doze. Harold remembers dreams of walking corpses breaking into their house, killing his parents. He tried to protect his sister as they huddled together behind his bed.

Harold only had his father’s rifle and little ammo. His sister begged him to shoot her before the monsters could take her. Even though he is no longer a child, it is still unnerving to hear him speak of her urgency. He only describes it as a dream now, as an adult; at the time, he insisted the vision was real. He claimed to feel hot tears fall onto his arm as she pulled at the gun to prevent him from wasting more ammunition.

Finally, as the undead closed in and skeletal hands reached for his sister, he shot her in the chest. She was blown backwards, slamming into the floor. He tried to turn the gun on himself when a pair of hands wrapped around the barrel, pulling it away. Before he could react, a sharp, intense pain bloomed across his face. When his vision refocused, the hoard of undead were gone. Only a rifle and Harold’s father, mortally wounded, remained. He died begging the boy to stay awake at any cost.

Others lost loved ones to the forest, such as the Kingston family. They were one of few remaining couples, and two of their four children still lived. The two older children attended the picnic with friends, but the others returned home due a sick baby. After putting the children to sleep, Ethel and Bill stayed awake in the den.

Late into the night, Ethel was stirred from snoozing by the sound of light footsteps. Seeing Bill fast asleep, she granted him a swift kick on her way to check the children. She met the four-year-old in the hallway, just outside her door. When she questioned the child’s actions there was no answer. Lifting the child into her arms, Mrs. Kingston returned her to bed, making sure the baby still slept before leaving.

Entering the den, she saw Bill’s empty chair. Assuming he woke, she began to explain the happenings with their daughter. When the also empty room was in her full view, she called for her husband; again, there was no answer. She continued searching but was overcome with a dreadful certainty upon discovering the front door ajar. She saw his bare footprints leading away from the house. She prepared to follow but stopped at the sight of her daughter once again in the hallway.

Ethel spent the remainder of the night holding her daughter with one eye always on the baby. Bill Kingston was never seen again, but his wife and daughters survived the night.

When the sun rose on the next day, nineteen people emerged from their homes with sleepless, drooping eyes. Carrying little more than the clothes on their backs, they crossed the river to Jamestown. They were welcomed without question, free to speak in their own time. Eventually, they all talk, for keeping such darkness inside is poison to soul. If nothing else, they speak to hear others confirm they are not crazy, to know they are not alone.

That concludes the story of the third settlement. I must sleep now, for tomorrow feels as if it will be a long, trying day.

… I agree, friend! I think ole Sammy is begging for trouble! That wine sure has loosened you up; if I didn’t know better, I’d think you was having fun.

… Aw, come on Trish, I’m just messing around. Maybe the alcohol is contagious. It makes sense, don’t it? We can feed— er, I mean, feel, yea that’s the word — their emotions, can’t we? So why can’t that include a good buzz?!

… Hold on a second, friend, it isn’t like that at all. Not feed like ‘taking in for sustenance’ more like ‘emphatically influences our emotions in a very literal way’, can you see the difference? Don’t get inside your head about it, we can’t help it any more than you can help converting oxygen to carbon dioxide, but we don’t go judging you. We aren’t like those guys who go around blaming their heinous actions on the victim’s fear and anger, nope, not this family.

… That’s okay, we know you didn’t mean nothing by it, it’s just a sensitive issue for us. Now, let’s forget about all the technical mumbo jumbo and get back to that Shaman fella. I think we have just enough time for one more journal entry.

November 9th, 1643

I write this to record of what transpired in the Cursed Woods on the evening of November seventh through the early morning hours of November eighth. I have much work to do as the new Chief and will no longer have time for these personal indulgences. It is no matter; I have lost all passion for the written word anyhow. The only reason I bother with this conclusion at all is to detail the last knowledge imparted by Kawani.

I traveled alone, for others believed Snake already dead. I knew I would not be able to live with myself if I did not try to bring him home. I left in the early morning hours, but the closer I came to my destination, the more intensely I felt eyes upon me. I told myself it was imagination. I felt as if I were being watched because I expected to feel it. It is a common complaint through the journal.

I was surprised to find both men in camp, sharpening spears. Brother said he was expecting me, but I should dash any hope of swaying his decision. He was confident his warrior’s prowess combined with Kawani’s medicine would triumph now that the ‘distractions’ were gone. We have known those dead mean since childhood, it boiled my blood to hear them labeled as distractions. Not that it matters now.

Snake excused himself for meditation before I could give him a piece of my mind. Finding myself alone with Kawani, I implored the Shaman to share all he learned. He was eager to do so, for his dreams had grown worse since we last spoke. He too tried every effort to convince my brother to abandon his quest, but the man will not hear it.

Kawani believed the demon’s possession of Striking-Snake to be unavoidable. In fact, it had likely already begun. His dreams showed the demon wearing my brother’s skin as it returned to Jamestown in his place. Our little village would not satisfy it, nothing would. The Shaman has seen its bottomless pit of hunger, and it would consume the world.

Most importantly, he wants us to know there are Shaman stronger than he in the great mountains far to the west. The dreams also showed him the demon’s true appearance. He believes another Shaman may be able to tell us its name. I did not have the heart to tell him there would be no others foolish enough to attempt such a quest, but I will record the description all the same.

The demon is two meters tall, with a drastically humped back. Its skin has a sickly yellow tint with oozing pockmarks. The head is elongated, the eyes are bulbous and glowing, taking up half its nose-less face. Its mouth is the width of its head, appearing as if its jaw would fall off if not for the jagged sinew stretching between its lips, connecting the sides of its gaping, black, vortex-like mouth. Its elbows bend the wrong way, and it has the long feet of a hound.

Only love for my brother held me there after hearing this description. I still shudder at the image and look forward to immediately forgetting it upon closing this journal for the last time. We talked of what I must do if the worse were to happen. I would be Jamestown’s last hope should the Kawani fail in his duties. What kind of world do we live in where a man is driven to hope a Shaman kills his brother, so he does not have to?

Snake did not return until just before dusk. I entered the Cursed Woods with them, agreeing to go as far as the demon’s path but not one step upon it. The air was thick with tension, and I felt suffocated by the silence. As often as I imagined the quiet described during the search for Ester Jones, never had I come close to understanding the totality of it. I know it sounds an odd phrase, but the silence was deafening. That is the only way to convey the sensation. It instills a deep unease, as if activating a primal alert system within us.

The feeling of being watched was no longer a mere sensation one could pass off as paranoia. It became indisputable fact the longer we walked beneath the canopy of trees. I could feel those giant, glowing eyes boring into me, prodding at my soul the way one does a pig before slaughter. The scrutiny reached a climax as we came into view of the demon’s path. My brother did not even pause to say goodbye. Kawani barely spared a glance back, maintaining his focus on Snake.

I watched them traverse the path until the fog concealed them from me. I waited; eyes locked on the trail for any sign of their return. I have no way of knowing how much time passed, only that there was no moon that night. When the sun fell behind the horizon I was left in total darkness. It occurred to me then that Kawani may not have factored in dangers from other entities while the demon was occupied with him. There were moments I thought I would die of sheer fright, but although slowly, time continued moving forward.

I heard faint footsteps before I saw the soft glow of the torch. After what felt like hours later, Striking Snake’s face became visible as he drew closer. My heart found new life as it resumed its maximum speed. This would be the moment of truth. Without speaking, I followed him out of the Cursed Woods. Only once returned to the relative safety of the campfire did I dare speak.

Being casual as possible I asked if Mary and I could have the pleasure of hosting a celebration in his honor. He heartily agreed, showing signs of his old, boisterous self for the first time since father died. He clapped me on the back, nearly knocking me over in his excitement, and we began packing for home. He said there was no point waiting for morning now that the dangers were gone.

Though he expressed deep regret at the loss of Kawani, he would not go into further details, only that he died a hero. Before we could extinguish the fire, I realized my wedding band was no longer on my finger. Anxious to be on our way, we searched for it on hands and knees. Situating myself behind Snake, I steeled myself as I cut my brother’s dead throat with the Shaman’s ceremonial dagger.

Thick, black ooze poured onto the ground. The demon barked a dark, sinister laugh as its blood soaked into the earth. When I stepped back, it turned to face me with my brother’s glassy eyes until the husk fell to the ground, empty. I stared at his corpse well into the daylight hours, still unable to move. Eventually, thoughts of Sarah and the children spurred me into action. I do not have the luxury of wallowing in pain or pity, I have others I must care for. I must make sure no one ever gives the demon a chance to escape again.

… Nope, sorry. That’s really all he wrote. Wasn’t that enough? Besides it’s getting light out. It’s about time to hit the trail, trust me. If you spend too much time around here, you’ll start losing your marbles. I like ya far too much to see that happen. Tell ya what, next time you drop in, I’ll read ya my own journal, how’s that?

… Why sure I did! You don’t become a spirit without being alive at some point.

… Okay, you got me. Yes, Samuel was my father, I took up the pen in my thirty’s.

… Well, I can’t tell ya why without explaining a whole mess of other stuff first. If you want to hear this story proper-like, it’s gonna take a few visits. You can’t just cram centuries worth of history into a couple nights of storytelling.

… That’s right, you come back anytime. We aren’t going anywhere; I can promise you that much. Now, are you sure you’re sober enough to make it alone? It’s really no trouble, it would do the boy good to get out more.

… Alright, I won’t pester you about it, I’m no nag. You just be safe out there. Remember, sometimes they really are out to get ya.

Classics, thriller

The Most Dangerous Game

Richard Connell, first published January 19, 1924 in Collier’s. Translated into modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 

“There’s a large island off to the right somewhere. It’s a bit of a mystery…” Whitney said.

“What island is it?” Rainsford asked.

“The old charts call it Ship-Trap Island. A suggestive name, isn’t it? Sailors have a curious fear of the place. I don’t know why. Some superstition…” Whitney replied.

“Can’t see it.” Rainsford remarked, trying to see through the damp, tropical night. The night was palpable as it pressed its thick, warm blackness on the yacht.

“You have good eyes, and I’ve seen you shoot a moose moving through fall brush at four hundred yards, but even you can’t see four miles through a moonless, Caribbean night.” Whitney said with a laugh.

“Nor four yards, ugh! It’s like moist, black velvet.” Rainsford admitted.

“There will be plenty of light in Rio. We should be there in a few days. I hope the jaguar guns from Purdey’s arrived. We should have good hunting in the Amazon. Hunting is a great sport.” Whitney promised.

“The best sport in the world.” Rainsford agreed.

“For the hunter. Not for the jaguar.” Whitney corrected.

“Don’t talk nonsense, Whitney. You’re a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?” Rainsford asked.

“Perhaps the jaguar does.” Whitney observed.

“Bah! They don’t understand.” Rainsford said.

“Even so, I do think they understand one thing — fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death.” Whitney said.

“Nonsense! This hot weather is making you soft, Whitney. Be realistic. The world is made up of two classes — the hunters and the hunted. Luckily, we are hunters.” Rainsford laughed. “Do you think we’ve passed that island yet?”

“I can’t tell in the dark, but I hope so.”

“Why?”

“The place has a bad reputation.”

“Cannibals?” Rainsford guessed.

“Hardly. Even cannibals wouldn’t live in such a God-forsaken place. It has somehow become sailor’s lore. Didn’t you notice the crew’s nerves are jumpy today?”

“Now that you mention it, they were a little strange. Even Captain Nielsen…”

“Yes, even that stubborn, old Swede, who’d go to the devil himself to ask for a light. Those fishy blue eyes held a look I never saw there before. All he said was `This place has an evil name among seafaring men. Don’t you feel anything?’ — as if the air around us was poison. You can’t laugh when I tell you this, but I did feel a sudden chill. There was no wind, and the sea was flat as glass. We were getting near the island then. I felt a mental chill; a sort of sudden dread.”

“Pure imagination! One superstitious sailor can infect the whole crew with fear.” Rainsford said.

“Maybe, but sometimes I think sailors have a sixth sense that warns them of danger. I think evil is a physical thing — with wave lengths, like sound and light. An evil place can broadcast vibrations of evil. Anyhow, I’m glad we’re leaving this area. I think I’ll turn in now.”

“I’m not sleepy, I’m going to smoke another pipe on the back deck.” Rainsford said.

“Goodnight. See you at breakfast.”

“Right. Goodnight, Whitney.”

There was no sound except the engine’s muffled throb and the swish of the propeller. Rainsford sat in a lounge chair, lazily puffing his favorite pipe. A heavy sleepiness set in. “It’s so dark, I could sleep without closing my eyes; the night can be my eyelids—” He thought.

A sudden sound startled him. It came from the right, and his expert ears could not be wrong. Again and again he heard it. Somewhere, off in the darkness, a gun fired three times.

Rainsford jumped up, moving quickly to the rail, mystified. He squinted in the direction the shots came from, but it was like trying to see through a blanket. He leapt higher, onto the rail; his pipe hit a rope and fell from his mouth. He lunged for it, and a short, hoarse cry escaped his lips as he lost balance. The cry was cut short as the blood-warm waters closed over his head.

He struggled to the surface and tried to cry out. The waves from the speeding yacht slapped him in the face, and he choked on the salt water. Desperately, he chased the departing yacht but stopped before he went fifty feet. He became very calm; it was not his first time in a tight spot. There was a slim chance his cries could be heard by someone, but that chance grew slimmer as the yacht raced on. He wriggled out of his clothes and shouted with all his power. The lights of the yacht dimmed, then the night blotted them out entirely.

Rainsford remembered the shots and swam in their direction with slow, deliberate strokes, conserving his strength. For a seemingly endless time, he fought the sea and counted his strokes. He could maybe do a hundred more, but then…

The high, screaming sound of an animal in extreme pain and terror came from the darkness. He did not recognize what animal; he did not try to. With fresh energy, he swam toward the sound. He heard it again; then it was cut short by a separate, crisp noise.

“Pistol shot.” Rainsford muttered, swimming on.

After ten minutes of determined effort, he heard the most beautiful sound he ever heard — the growling of the sea breaking on a rocky shore. He was almost on the rocks before he saw them; on a night less calm he would have been shattered against them. With his remaining strength, he dragged himself out of the swirling waters. Jagged rocks shot up into the darkness, and he forced himself to climb, hand over hand. Gasping, hands raw, he reached a flat place at the top. Dense jungle came down to the cliff’s edge. Rainsford was not concerned with dangers from the tangle of trees and underbrush. He only knew he was safe from the sea and utterly tired. He dropped at the jungle’s edge and fell into the deepest sleep of his life.

When he woke, the sun’s position told him it was late afternoon. Sleep gave him new vigor, and he was very hungry. He looked around, almost cheerfully. “Where there are pistol shots, there are men. Where there are men, there is food.” He thought but wondered what kind of men would be in such a forbidden place. An unbroken stretch of snarled and ragged jungle outlined the shore.

He saw no sign of a trail through the tight web of weeds and trees. He found it easier to follow the shore and walk along the water. Not far from where he landed, he stopped. Evidence suggested a large, wounded animal had thrashed around in the underbrush. The weeds were crushed, the moss was cut, and one patch of weeds were stained crimson. A small, glittering object caught his eye. It was an empty cartridge.

“A twenty-two, that’s odd. It must have been a fairly large animal. The hunter had nerve to tackle it with a light gun. It’s clear the brute put up a fight. I suppose the first three shots were when the hunter flushed his prey and wounded it. The last shot was when he trailed it here and finished it.” He remarked.

He examined the ground closely and found what he hoped for — tracks of hunting boots. They pointed along the cliff, in the direction he was going. With night approaching, he hurried, slipping on rotten logs and loose stones but making progress.

Bleak darkness was blacking out the sea and jungle when Rainsford saw lights. He saw them as he turned a crook in the coast-line. There were so many lights, he thought he found a village at first. As he got closer, he was astonished to see the lights were in one enormous building — a lofty structure with pointed towers extending up into the gloom. He saw the shadowy outlines of a large residence sitting on a high bluff. Three sides sat on steep cliffs descending into sea and shadow.

“Mirage.” Rainsford thought, but it was no mirage when he opened the tall, spiked, iron gate. The stone steps, massive door, and leering gargoyle knocker were real; yet it all seemed unreal.

The knocker creaked stiffly, as if never used before, and its loud boom startled him. He thought he heard footsteps inside, but the door remained closed. He lifted the heavy knocker again and let it fall. The door opened suddenly, and Rainsford stood blinking in glaring, gold light.

He saw the largest man he’s ever seen — gigantic, solid, and black bearded to the waist. The man held a long-barreled gun pointed at Rainsford’s heart, two small eyes regarding him from the tangled beard.

“Don’t be alarmed, I’m no thief. I fell off a yacht. My name is Sanger Rainsford, I’m from New York City.” Rainsford said with a disarming smile.

The threatening stare did not change. The giant stood still as a statue, giving no sign he understood English. He was dressed in a black uniform with gray, fleece trim.

“I’m Sanger Rainsford from New York, I fell off a yacht. I’m hungry.”Rainsford began again.

The man raised the gun’s hammer, saluted, clicked his heels, and stood at attention. Someone was coming down the wide, marble steps – a tall, slender man in evening clothes. He approached Rainsford and held out his hand.

His cultivated voice and slight accent made his words sound precise and deliberate. “It is pleasure and honor to welcome Mr. Sanger Rainsford, the celebrated hunter, to my home.”

Rainsford automatically shook the man’s hand.

“I’ve read your book about hunting snow leopards in Tibet. I am General Zaroff.” The man explained.

First, Rainsford noticed the man was singularly handsome; second, there was an original, almost bizarre quality about the general’s face. He was tall, past middle age, and had vivid white hair. His thick eyebrows and pointed, military mustache were black as night. His eyes were also black and bright. He had high cheekbones, a sharp-cut nose, a dark, aristocratic face, and was accustomed to giving orders. The general signaled the uniformed giant who then put his pistol away, saluted, and withdrew.

“Ivan is incredibly strong but has the misfortune of being deaf and dumb. He’s a simple man, but like all his race, he’s also a bit savage.” The general remarked.

“Is he Russian?”

“He and I are Cossack.” The general’s smile showed red lips and pointed teeth.

“Come, we shouldn’t be chatting here. We can talk later. Now you want clothes, food, rest. You’ll have them. This is a most-restful spot.”

Ivan reappeared, and the general spoke with moving lips but no sound.

“Please follow Ivan, I was about to have my dinner when you came. I’ll wait for you. You’ll find my clothes will fit.” The general said.

Rainsford followed the silent giant to a huge bedroom with a canopied bed big enough for six men. Ivan laid out an evening suit from a London tailor who never worked for anyone below the rank of duke.

The dining room was remarkable in many ways. Its oak panels, high ceiling, and large dining tables gave it a medieval magnificence. It resembled a baron’s manor of feudal times. Around the walls were many mounted heads — lions, tigers, elephants, moose, and bears; Rainsford had never seen more perfect specimens.

The general was sitting alone. “You’ll have a cocktail?” He suggested. The cocktail was surprisingly good, and the linen, crystal, silver, and china were of the finest quality. They had borsch – the rich, red soup with whipped cream popular to Russian palates. “We do our best to be civilized here, but please forgive any oversights. We’re off the beaten track. Do you think the champagne suffered from its long ocean trip?” General Zaroff said, half apologetically.

“Not in the least!” Rainsford declared. He was finding the general a very thoughtful and friendly host, but there was one small trait that made him uncomfortable. Whenever he looked up from his plate, he found the general studying him, appraising him narrowly.

“Perhaps you were surprised I recognized your name. I read all books on hunting in English, French, and Russian. The hunt is my one life’s passion.” General Zaroff said.

“You have some wonderful trophies here. That Cape buffalo is the largest I ever saw.” Rainsford said as he ate a well-cooked filet mignon.

“Oh, yes, he was a monster.”

“Did he charge you?”

“Hurled me against a tree and fractured my skull, but I got the brute.” The general said.

“I’ve always thought the Cape buffalo is the most dangerous of all big game.” Rainsford said.

The general did not reply at first; he was smiling his curious, red-lipped smile. “No, the Cape buffalo is not the most dangerous big game.” He said slowly, sipping his wine. “Here on my preserve, I hunt more dangerous.”

Rainsford expressed surprise. “Is there big game on this island?”

The general nodded. “The biggest.”

“Really?”

“Oh, it isn’t here naturally, of course. I have to stock the island.”

“What have you imported, general? Tigers?”

The general smiled. “No, hunting tigers stopped interesting me years ago. I exhausted their possibilities. No thrill or real danger left. I live for danger.” The general took out a gold cigarette case and offered his guest a long, silver-tipped, black cigarette. It was perfumed and smelled like incense. “We will have some wonderful hunting together. I will be very glad to have your company.”

“But what game—” Rainsford began.

“I know you will be amused. I think I can modestly say I’ve done a rare thing. I’ve invented a new sensation. May I pour you another glass of champagne?”

“Thank you, general.”

The general filled both glasses before speaking. “God makes some men poets, some kings or beggars. He made me a hunter. My father said my hand was made for the trigger. He was a very rich, enthusiastic sportsman with a quarter million acres in the Crimea. When I was five, he gave me a custom-made gun to shoot sparrows with. When I shot some of his prize turkeys, he did not punish me, but complimented my marksmanship. I killed my first bear in the Caucasus at age ten. My life has been one prolonged hunt. As expected of a nobleman’s son, I joined the army and commanded a cavalry division, but my real interest was always hunting. I have hunted every game in every land; it would be impossible to say how many animals I have killed.”

He puffed his cigarette. “After the debacle in Russia, I left the country; it was careless for an officer to stay there. Many noble Russians lost everything. Luckily, I invested in American stocks, so I will never have to open a tearoom or drive a taxi. I continued to hunt — grizzlies in the Rockies, crocodiles in the Ganges, rhinos in East Africa. Africa is where the Cape buffalo laid me up for six months. Then I hunted jaguars in the Amazon after hearing they were unusually smart, but they weren’t.” The general sighed. “They were no match for intelligence and a high-powered rifle. I was bitterly disappointed. One night, I was lying in my tent with a splitting headache when I realized hunting was beginning to bore me! Remember, hunting is my life. I heard American businessmen often fall apart when they give up their life’s work.”

“Yes, that’s so.” said Rainsford.

The general smiled. “I had no wish to fall apart, I had to do something. I have an analytical mind, that is why I enjoy the puzzle of the chase.”

“No doubt, General Zaroff.”

“I asked myself why the hunt no longer fascinated me. You are much younger and have not hunted as much, but maybe you can guess the answer.” The general continued.

“What was it?”

“Hunting stopped being `sporting.’ It became too easy, I always got my prey. There is no greater bore than perfection.” The general lit a fresh cigarette. “No animal had a chance against me. I’m not bragging; it’s the truth. Animals have nothing but legs and instinct. Instinct is no match for reason. Realizing this was a tragic moment for me.”

Rainsford leaned forward, absorbed in his host’s words.

“An idea came to me, and I knew what I must do.” The general continued.

“And that was?”

The general smiled the quiet smile of one who has overcome an obstacle. “I had to invent a new animal to hunt.”

“A new animal? You’re joking.”

“I never joke about hunting. I needed a new animal; I found one. I bought this island, built this house, and do my hunting. The island is perfect for my purposes. There are jungles with a maze of trails, hills, swamps—”

“But the animal, General Zaroff?”

“Oh, it supplies me with the most exciting hunting in the world. Nothing else compares. Every day I hunt and never grow bored. I have a prey able to match my wits.” The general said.

Rainsford’s confusion showed in his face.

“I wanted the perfect animal, one with courage, cunning, and, above all, intelligence.” The general explained.

“But no animal can reason.” Rainsford objected.

“There’s one that can.” The general said.

“But you can’t mean—” Rainsford gasped.

“Why not?”

“I can’t believe you’re serious. This is a horrible joke.”

“Why should I not be serious? I’m talking about hunting.”

“Hunting? Good God, you’re talking about murder.”

The general laughed sportingly. He regarded Rainsford quizzically. “I refuse to believe a modern and civilized young man like yourself has romantic ideas about the value of human life. Surely your experiences in the war—”

“Did not make me condone cold-blooded murder.” Rainsford finished stiffly.

The general shook with laughter. “How extraordinarily unusual you are! Nowadays, one doesn’t expect to find an educated young man with such a naive point of view. It’s like finding a dip-jar in a limousine. Doubtless you had Puritan ancestors like many Americans. I bet you’ll forget those ideals when you go hunting with me. You’ve a genuine new thrill in store for you.”

“Thank you, but I’m a hunter, not a murderer.”

“There’s that unpleasant word again, but I think I can show you your morals are ill-founded.”

“Yes?”

“Life is to be lived by the strong, and – if needed – taken by the strong. The weak were put here to give the strong pleasure. I am strong. Why should I not use my gift? I hunt the scum of the earth: sailors from tramp ships, thieves of all races — a thoroughbred horse or hound is worth more than dozens of them.”

“But they are men.” Rainsford said hotly.

“Precisely, that’s why I use them. It gives me pleasure. They can think, so they are dangerous.”

“But where do you get them?”

The general winked. “This island is called Ship-Trap. Sometimes an angry god sends them. Sometimes, when fate is less kind, I help. Come to the window with me.”

Rainsford looked to the sea.

“Watch! Out there!” The general exclaimed, pointing into the night. Rainsford’s eyes saw only blackness. Then, with the push of a button, lights flashed at sea.

The general chuckled. “They indicate passage where there’s only giant, razor-sharp rocks like a sea monster’s jaws. They crush a ship as easily as I crush this nut.” He dropped a walnut on the hardwood floor and stepped on it. “Yes, I have electricity. We try to be civilized here.” He said casually.

“Civilized? And you shoot men down?”

The general’s black eyes held a trace of anger, but it was there only a second. “How righteous you are! I assure you it’s not what you suggest, that would be barbaric. I treat these visitors with every consideration. They get plenty of good food and exercise, and they’re in splendid physical condition. You’ll see tomorrow.”

“What do you mean?”

The general smiled.“We’ll visit my training school, it’s in the cellar. I have a dozen pupils there now. They’re from the Spanish ship, San Lucar, that had the bad luck to crash on the rocks. A very inferior group, I regret to say. Poor specimens and more accustomed to a ship than jungle.” He raised his hand, and Ivan brought thick, Turkish coffee. With effort, Rainsford held his tongue in check.

“It’s a game. I suggest to one of them that we go hunting. I give him food, an excellent hunting knife, and three hours head start. I follow armed with only a small, short-ranged, caliber pistol. If my prey eludes me for three days, he wins. If I find him, he loses.” The general smiled.

“Suppose he refuses to be hunted?”

“Oh, he doesn’t have to play if he doesn’t want to. If he doesn’t t want to hunt, I give him to Ivan. Ivan once had the honor of serving as official torturer for the Great White Czar, and has his own ideas of sport. They always choose the hunt.” The general said.

“And if they win?”

The smile on the general’s face widened. “I have never lost.” He said, then added hastily: “I don’t wish you to think I’m bragging. Many of them offered little challenge. Occasionally, I get lucky. One almost won; I eventually had to use the dogs.”

“The dogs?”

“This way, please. I’ll show you.”

The general steered Rainsford to a window. The lights sent a flickering illumination that made grotesque patterns on the courtyard below. Rainsford could see a dozen huge, black shapes moving around. As they turned toward him, their eyes glittered greenly.

“I think they’re a good lot. They’re let out at seven every night. If anyone tried to get in my house — or out — something extremely regrettable would happen.” He hummed a snatch of song from the Folies Bergere. “Now, I want to show you my new collection of heads. Will you come to the library?”

“I hope you will excuse me tonight. I’m really not feeling well.” Rainsford said.

“Ah, is that so? Well, I suppose that’s only natural after your long swim. You need a restful night’s sleep. Tomorrow you’ll feel like a new man; then we’ll hunt, yes? I’ve one promising prospect—” Rainsford hurried from the room. “Sorry you can’t go with me tonight, I expect a fine game. He looks resourceful. Well, goodnight; I hope you rest well.”

The bed was good, the pajamas were silk, and he was tired in every fiber of his being, but Rainsford could not quiet his brain with sleep. He lay, eyes wide open. Once he thought he heard stealthy steps in the hall outside his room. He tried to open the door, but it was locked. He went to the window, his room was high up in one of the towers. The lights of the chateau were out, leaving it dark and silent. By a fragment of the moon’s wan light, he could dimly see the courtyard.

Weaving in and out of the shadows were black, noiseless forms. The hounds heard him and looked expectantly with their green eyes. Rainsford went back to bed, trying to fall asleep. He achieved a doze just as morning began, then he heard a gunshot far off in the jungle.

General Zaroff did not appear until lunch. He was dressed perfectly in the clothes of a country squire. He was overly concerned about Rainsford’s health. “As for me, I do not feel so well. I am worried. Last night, I detected traces of my old complaint.” The general sighed.

To Rainsford’s confused look, the general said, “Ennui. Boredom.”

Taking a second helping of crepes, the general explained: “The hunting was not good last night, the man panicked. He made a straight trail that offered no problems at all. That’s the trouble with these sailors; they are dumb and don’t know how to move in the woods. They do excessively stupid and obvious things. It’s most annoying. Will you have another glass of Chablis?”

“General, I wish to leave at once.” Rainsford said firmly.

The general raised his thick eyebrows; he seemed hurt. “But, you’ve only just come. You’ve had no hunting—” The general protested.

“I wish to go, Rainsford said. He saw the dead, black eyes of the general, studying him. General Zaroff’s face suddenly brightened.

He filled Rainsford’s glass with aged Chablis from a dusty bottle.“Tonight, we will hunt.”

Rainsford shook his head. “No, I will not hunt.”

The general shrugged and delicately ate a grape. “As you wish. The choice is entirely yours, but I think you will find my idea of sport more fair than Ivan’s.”

He nodded toward the corner where the giant stood scowling, thick arms crossed on his hog’s chest.

“You don’t mean—” Rainsford cried.

“I told you, I always mean what I say about hunting. This is really an inspiration. I drink to a foe worthy of my skill — at last.” The general raised his glass, but Rainsford sat staring at him.

“You’ll find this game worth playing. Your brain, woodsman skills, strength and stamina against mine. Outdoor chess! Plus, the stake is not without value, eh?” The general said enthusiastically.

“And if I win—” Rainsford began huskily.

“I’ll cheerfully acknowledge defeat if I do not find you by midnight on the third day. My boat will place you on the mainland near a town.” The general knew what Rainsford was thinking. “Oh, you can trust me, I will give you my word as a gentleman and sportsman. Of course you, must agree to say nothing of your visit here.”

“I’ll agree to nothing of the kind,” said Rainsford.

“Oh, in that case — but why discuss it now? Three days hence we can discuss it over a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, unless—” The general sipped his wine.

Then, he became businesslike. “Ivan, will supply you with hunting clothes, food, and a knife. I suggest you wear moccasins, they leave less trail. Also, avoid the big swamp in the southeast corner of the island. We call it Death Swamp, there’s quicksand. One foolish man tried it. The worst part was that Lazarus followed him. You can imagine my feelings. I loved Lazarus; he was the finest hound in my pack. Well, I must beg you to excuse me now. I always take a nap after lunch. You’ll hardly have time for one. No doubt you’ll want to get started. I won’t follow until dusk. Hunting at night is so much more exciting than by day, don’t you think? Goodbye.” With a deep, courtly bow, General Zaroff left the room.

Ivan entered from another door. He carried khaki hunting clothes, a sack of food, and a long-bladed hunting knife in a leather sheath. His right hand rested on a cocked gun in the crimson sash around his waist.

Rainsford fought his way through brush for two hours. “I must keep my nerve. I must keep my nerve.” He said through gritted teeth.

He had not been entirely thinking straight when the gates snapped shut behind him. At first, his idea was to put distance between himself and General Zaroff. He had plunged along, forced on by the sharp prodding of something very like panic. Now he had a grip on himself and was taking stock of the situation. Running was pointless; it would eventually bring him to the sea. He could not get away.

“I’ll give him a trail to follow.” Rainsford muttered, leaving the small pathway for the trackless wilderness. He walked a series of intricate loops and doubled on his trail again and again, recalling all the dodges of the fox. Night found him exhausted, hands and face cut by branches, on a thickly wooded ridge. He knew it would be insane to stumble through the dark, even if he had the strength.

His need for rest was imperative. “I have played the fox, now I must play the cat.” A big tree with a thick trunk and outspread branches was near. He climbed into the branches, careful not to leave the slightest mark, and stretched out on a large limb. Rest brought him confidence and almost a feeling of security. He thought even an enthusiastic a hunter like General Zaroff could not track him there; only the devil could follow that complicated trail through the jungle after dark. Yet, perhaps the general was a devil…

An apprehensive night crawled by slowly as a wounded snake, and Rainsford could not sleep. The jungle was silent as a dead world. Toward morning, when the sky was dingy gray, the cry of startled birds focused his attention. Something was coming, slowly, carefully, by the same winding way he came. He flattened himself down, and through a screen of thick leaves, he watched. A man was approaching.

It was General Zaroff. He made his way along, eyes focused on the ground in utmost concentration. He paused, almost beneath the tree, dropped to his knees and studied the ground. Rainsford’s impulse was to jump down like a panther, but he saw the general held a small automatic pistol.

The hunter shook his head several times, as if puzzled. Then he straightened up and took out one of his black cigarettes. Its smelly, incense-like smoke floated up to Rainsford’s nostrils, and he held his breath.

The general’s eyes left the ground and traveled up the tree, inch by inch. Rainsford froze, every muscle tensed, but the hunter’s sharp eyes stopped before they reached him. A smile spread over his brown face. Very deliberately, he blew a smoke ring into the air; then turned his back on the tree and walked away carelessly. The swish of the underbrush against his hunting boots grew fainter and fainter.

Rainsford’s breath burst hotly from his lungs. His first thought made him feel sick and numb. The general could follow a trail through the woods at night, an extremely difficult trail; he must have uncanny powers. Only by the slimmest chance had he failed to see his prey.

Rainsford’s second thought was even more terrible. It sent a shudder of cold horror through his whole being. Why had the general smiled? Why had he turned back? He did not want to believe it, but the truth was as evident as the sun pushing through the morning mists. The general was playing with him, saving him for another day’s sport! The general was the cat; he was the mouse. Then Rainsford knew the full meaning of terror. “I will not lose my nerve. I will not.”

He left the tree and went into the woods. His face was set, and he forced his mind to function. Three hundred yards from his hiding place, he stopped where a huge, dead tree leaned on a smaller, living one. Throwing his sack of food down, Rainsford took his knife and began to work with all his energy.

When the job was finished, he hid behind a fallen log a hundred feet away. He did not have to wait long. The cat was coming to play with the mouse.

General Zaroff was following the trail with the sureness of a bloodhound. Nothing escaped those searching, black eyes – no crushed grass, bent twig, or mark, no matter how faint. He was so focused on his tracking, he noticed nothing else of his surroundings.

Rainsford could not see the general, nor could he see the pit. He lived a year in a minute. Then he felt an impulse to shout with joy when he heard the sharp crackle of breaking branches as the pit cover gave way. He heard the sharp scream of pain as the pointed stakes found their mark. He leapt from his hiding place, then cowered back. Three feet from the pit, a man was standing with a flashlight.

“You’ve done well. Your Burmese tiger pit claimed one of my best dogs. Again you score. I think I’ll see what you can do against my whole pack. I’m going home for a rest now. Thank you for a most amusing evening.”

Rainsford, lying near the swamp, woke at daybreak to a terrifying sound. It was distant, faint and wavering, but he knew it. It was the howling of hounds. He could do one of two things. He could stay, but that was suicide; or run, postponing the inevitable. For a moment he stood, thinking. An idea with a wild chance came to him, and he walked away from the swamp.

The sound of hounds drew closer, then still closer, closer, ever closer. On a ridge he climbed a tree. Down a watercourse, not a quarter mile away, he saw the bush moving. Squinting, he saw the lean figure of General Zaroff. Ahead of him was the giant Ivan, who seemed pulled forward by the pack’s leash.

They would be there any minute. His mind worked frantically. He thought of a native trick he learned in Uganda. He slid down the tree, caught hold of a springy, young sapling, and attached his knife, the blade pointing down the trail. With a wild grapevine, he tied back the sapling, and ran for his life. The hounds raised their voices as they hit the fresh scent.

Rainsford now knew how hunted animals felt. He had to catch his breath. The hounds’ howling stopped abruptly, and his heart stopped too. They must have reached the knife.

Excited, he climbed up a tree to look back. His pursuers stopped, but the hope in Rainsford’s brain died. In the shallow valley, he saw General Zaroff was still on his feet, but Ivan was not. The knife, driven by the recoil of the springing tree, was not a total failure. Rainsford fell to the ground hard when the hounds began howling again.

“Nerve, nerve, nerve!” he panted, as he ran. A blue gap showed between the trees ahead. The hounds drew closer. He forced himself toward the gap. He reached it. It was the sea shore. Across the cove, he could see the gloomy, gray stone of the chateau. Twenty feet below, the sea rumbled and hissed. He hesitated. He heard the hounds. Then he leaped far out into the sea…

When the general and his pack reached the place by the sea, they stopped. For several minutes, he stood regarding the blue-green water. Shrugging his shoulders, he sat, took a drink of brandy from a silver flask, lit a cigarette, and hummed Madame Butterfly.

General Zaroff had a very good dinner in his dining hall that evening. He had a bottle of Pol Roger and half a bottle of Chambertin. Two slight annoyances kept him from perfect enjoyment. One was how difficult it would be to replace Ivan; the other was his escaped prey. “The American hadn’t played the game.” The general thought as he tasted his liquor. In his library, he read from the works of Marcus Aurelius to soothe himself. At ten, he went up to his bedroom.

He was deliciously tired as he locked himself in. There was a little moonlight, so he went to the window looking down at the courtyard. “Better luck next time.” He called to the hounds. Then he switched on the light.

A man who hid in the bed curtains was standing there.

“Rainsford! How in God’s name did you get here?” The general screamed.

“Swam. I found it quicker than walking through the jungle.” Rainsford said.

The general sucked in his breath and smiled. “I congratulate you, you have won the game.”

Rainsford did not smile. “I am still a beast on the hunt. Get ready, General Zaroff.” He said in a low, hoarse voice.

The general gave a deep bow. “I see. Splendid! One of us is to supply a meal for the hounds. The other will sleep in this very excellent bed. On guard!”

Rainsford never slept in a better bed.

horror

Magic Mortimer

Now a CreepyPasta. 

I need help with my nephew, Nicky. The kid is eight, and he’s been doing magic tricks since he saw the Amazing Howard perform at his fifth birthday. It was cute at first, but it started to get a little annoying as the years passed. He wears his cape everywhere, and if you try to make him take it off, get ready for a tantrum. I won’t take him swimming anymore, it’s just too embarrassing.

His father, whoever the hell he is, has never been in the picture. My sister, Gina, is a single mother at her wits end working two jobs just to pay bills. I work from home doing tech support – meaning I babysit often – but I don’t know how to explain any of this to her.

When Nicky first started learning magic, it was all the basics. He separated interlocking rings, had a wand with flowers inside, he even tied his never-ending-tissues together for an impressive display. Until yesterday, he was pretty terrible. His small, clumsy hands couldn’t master the smooth motions needed for the more delicate stunts. Hell, poor kid could barely get those rings separated. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to vanish behind a couch, but I draw the line at being sawed in half.

I learned to stay vigilant with YouTube after I caught him trying to make my cat disappear in the microwave. I mean, no! He wasn’t trying to hurt her, and the cat is fine thankfully, but he didn’t have a rabbit. He thought she was a reasonable substitute as she’s roughly the same size. As for the microwave, it’s a “fancy box” capable of “fireworks”. Can you believe that little shit scamp put tinfoil in there? Luckily, I heard the hissing and arrived before he could get the door closed. I don’t think he’s going to repeat that mistake again, trust me.

I mean, I can’t complain too much. His magic obsession helped him forget Mortimer. What kid names their imaginary friend Mortimer?! Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me just start at the beginning.

I’ve always considered myself a good aunt. I love him like a son, he always comes first, but Halloween is sacred to me. When Gina learned she would be out of town this year, I knew Nicky would expect the traditional day of cartoons and candy his mother always provided – despite knowing I had my own important routines. That’s how kids work.

I knew if I took him to the haunted corn maze after trick-or-treating he might have a nightmare, but I thought it was a risk worth taking. It was my last chance to go, and no one else could babysit. I know the mazes are overrated, but sue me, I love cheesy.

Nicky the Magnificent would be performing on a sugar high that night and I wanted to treat myself first. Is that a crime? Seriously, I’m asking… because that kid came out of there all kinds of throwed. Plenty of kids his age went! It was a normal set up! Cheap decorations, costumed teenagers, you can’t get more basic.

Nicky is a sensitive kid, “stick with me” I said. “They won’t come close if you’re with an adult.” I promised.

“Are you sure?” He worried.

“Positive. If they get near you, I’ll give ‘em a mama-bear-glare that’ll have them pissing their pants.” I assured.

His high-pitched giggles meant the negotiations were won. Everything would have been fine if he listened, but no! I knew I should have put one of those leashes on him, I really did. When we finished trick-or-treating, I checked his candy so he could eat on the way to the cornfield. I thought if I kept him happy, I could enjoy the maze with minimal distraction. When there’s a kid involved, silence is never a good thing.

I took Nicky’s hand as we walked under the grim reaper’s scythe marking the maze’s entrance. He made a quiet sound, but it was more disgust than fear. How I played a part in raising a little boy who doesn’t like monsters, I’ll never understand.

We did fine for the first twenty minutes. Freddy, Jason, and Michael were cool enough to keep a respectable distance when I gave the universal “please no, my kid’s a crier” signal. Nicky even started to have fun when he discovered the dry ice. Smoke machines would never satisfy him again.

As I explained why he wasn’t allowed to touch the dry ice, a pair of hands covered my eyes, and I was almost knocked over by a sudden weight. “What the…”

“Guess who.” The voice playfully whispered into my ear.

Excited, I gave her a quick spin before she jumped off. “Emma! I thought you wouldn’t be back until tomorrow!”

“I know, I wanted to surprise you… and make sure you weren’t hanging out with any… unsavory characters.” She hugged me, utilizing her best puppy-eyes to radiate innocence.

“Yes, because I’ve spent the last year of my life convincing you to move in with me just so I can cheat on you the day before it finally happens.” I smiled, trying not to be annoyed she was still suspicious of my ex.

“I’m not worried about you, but… you never know what that bitch is going to do. Besides, I have enough competition with this magic-man!” She ended the conversation by engaging with Nicky. “Hey little man, did you miss me?”

“Aunt Emma, did you see?” He pulled her over to the dry ice, telling her everything I taught him moments before as if he’s known for years.

She indulged his every word. “I do! We should get some for tonight’s act!” All her paranoid insecurities paled in comparison to how good she was with the kid.

Well, to be fair, she isn’t completely paranoid. Emma’s ex cheated on her their entire relationship. I try to be patient, but how many years does it take to prove myself?

“Come on, kiddo. I’m ready for movie time.” I tried to shut it down right there. I was ready to walk away and never look back. Another few turns and we could have been at the exit, but no.

“Aw, but I wanna see more decorations!” Nicky whined, completing the brat cliche by suddenly enjoying that which he hated thirty minutes ago.

I opened my mouth to argue but Emma spoke first. “Oh come on, let’s just finish the tour.” She grabbed my hand, pulling me away from the exit.

Ten minutes later, we were examining a scarecrow display when a voice called from behind us. “Hey Nicky! I thought you didn’t like spooky stuff!”

Emma’s nails dug into my arm as Becky approached our small group. We couldn’t just leave when I wanted. Nicky abandoned the decor to hide behind me. Which is where I assumed he would stay.

“We were just leaving.” I said, trying for a quick escape.

“Oh. I thought you came this way on purpose. Didn’t you know the exit was a left after the jack-o-lanterns?” Becky slurred, confirming she was already three shots past tipsy.

“Geez, how long have you been following us, stalker?” Emma sneered.

“Don’t get your granny panties in a wad. If you really want to know, I was looking for my date.” Becky snapped.

“We haven’t seen anyone else, good luck.” I tried to walk away, but we were cornered. We couldn’t pass without physically bumping into Becky, and considering that’s what she wanted, I hoped to avoid it.

“You don’t have to be in such a rush. It’s pathetic how you let her control everything you do. Are you allowed to have any friends?” Becky was a world class tactician when it came to drama.

If I let the comment stand, Emma would be upset… or possibly kill her. Either way it would definitely ruin my night. I had to respond. “You being a toxic bitch has nothing to do with Emma!” I stood straight with my best poker face.

“I guess a slut like her has a lot of tricks to keep you in line, but don’t be surprised when you have no friends left. Have fun finding the dweeb.” Becky yelled, stomping toward the exit.

“I told you! It doesn’t take a genius to find you here!” Emma shook with fury.

I put my arm around her for comfort as Becky’s last words hit home. “What did she mean by…” I turned to check on Nicky and saw nothing but empty space. I looked around the small clearing, but he was gone.

“How could he… there’s nowhere to go. It’s just corn! Nicky?! Where are you?” Emma was equally confused.

“You know how he gets when people yell. He must have backed right in there. I didn’t even feel him let go of my shirt.” I examined the place he would have entered, trying not to panic as we continued calling his name. “It’s over now, buddy! The scary lady is gone!” We listened for a response.

“Let’s split up. He wouldn’t just wander through the corn, he must have cut through to another path.” Emma suggested confidently.

She went toward the exit while I retraced our steps through the maze. We stopped every employee along the way to inform them of a rogue eight-year-old magician who would wet his pants if they scared him. Several plain-clothed kids joined the search, but I became increasingly worried as five minutes turned to fifteen then thirty. We were on the phone with police when an employee reported he’d been found. Nicky was safe, waiting at the exit. Emma was there before me, but the family who found him were so upset they had already left.

A family of four were near the clown section when they heard voices. They couldn’t make out the words, but it sounded like children. The father stood on a haystack to see over the stalks, but they were at the maze’s end. Not knowing if kids were lost or goofing off, he called out to them.

The voices stopped suddenly, as if spooked. The father tried again, “you aren’t in trouble, we just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

There was no reply. Instead they heard the soft sobs of a small child. The father tried one last time, “are you hurt? Can you follow the sound of my voice?” But the weeping only grew louder.

Finally, the man walked into the corn. The moment he entered, the cries turned to screams and the corn began to shake wildly as if someone were running away. It only lasted a few seconds, then all fell silent. Moving on pure adrenaline, the man ran forward.

Almost thirty yards away, he found Nicky. The kid was alone, in the middle of all that corn. The man couldn’t coax him into speaking, but he was able to carry him out of there. After finding a staff member, the couple was understandably ready to get their own kids home.

Somehow, Nicky didn’t have a scratch, but his clothes were covered in filth. I wasn’t surprised he wouldn’t talk, he’s shy around strangers. After thanking everyone profusely I scooped him up and ran for it.

I talked the whole way home, but nothing earned a response. What surprised me more was his demeanor. If he were crying, angry, or frightened, I would understand. Those would be normal responses, but whatever this was… well. Before that moment, I would have bet my life he wasn’t capable of such… composure.

When we got home, he went straight to his room. “I’ve never seen him like this. It’s a little scary.” Emma shuddered.

“Me neither. That man said he heard voices and something big running away. Did someone try to snatch him?! Is that what happened?!” Being home made reality sink in, and I started to lose it.

“Don’t assume the worst, we don’t know what happened yet. All that matters is he’s safe and sound.” Emma steered me to the couch, turning the tv on to break the eerie silence. “Let’s give everyone a second to calm down. If he doesn’t come out, I’ll go ask to be tonight’s amazing assistant.”

“That’s why you’re the smart one.” I laid my head on her shoulder and tried not to dwell on how painful Gina would make my death.

We sat there for almost thirty minutes before our patience depleted. Emma went to Nicky’s room attempting to initiate conversation while I hid in the hallway.

“Hey Nick-knack, you forgot your candy… but if you don’t want it, I’ll just leave it here.” I could imagine her holding the bag out and placing it on the desk when he wouldn’t accept. There was a long pause before she tried again. “So, I haven’t seen a performance all week. I was hoping I could be your assistant tonight!”

After another stretch of silence, she came out. Her expression a mixture of sadness and confusion. I rose quietly to follow her back to the den. “He wouldn’t even look at me… he just stood there, staring out the window. He’s still wearing those filthy clothes, too.” Emma nervously twirled her thick, red hair through her fingers. “I think tonight’s performance is officially canceled to say the least.”

“Gina’s going to kill me, you can keep the house when I’m gone.” It’s strange the things you think when frightened.

“I don’t think we should worry her while she’s a thousand miles away. Let’s see how he feels tomorrow.” Emma reasoned.

“She’ll know the second she hears my voice…” I felt utterly defeated. My brain was incapable of formulating coherent thoughts.

“Give me your phone. I’ll send pictures from trick-or-treating with a message about how tired you are. When she calls, she’ll think you fell asleep.” Emma looped her arm through mine as she began texting.

I waited for her to press send. “It’s scary how good you are at lying.” I whispered.

“I’m not lying! I’m just going to omit a few scary facts that serve no purpose other than…” Emma’s words were cut off as she screamed into my ear.

“Holy…” I started as we both jumped to our feet.

I followed her shocked gaze to the hallway behind me. My heart skipped a beat when I saw Nicky standing in the dark shadows just outside his door. “I’m sorry bud, you surprised me! I didn’t hear you come out.” Emma’s face flushed to match her hair.

Nicky didn’t move or speak, he simply stood in the darkness, glaring at us. “Are you trying to scare me? If you are, you need to stop now… okay? This kind of fear is not fun, Nicolas. Do you hear me?” The stern parent voice wasn’t usually part of my cool-aunt routine, the words felt dirty on my tongue.

Never let them smell your fear. If they sense weakness, they will pounce. Gina’s first parenting lesson repeated in my mind. Drawing on its strength, I tried again. “You get out here right now!” I stomped my foot for added flair.

Nicky remained motionless. If looks could kill, I would not be alive to beg for help now. I was prepared to drag him out, but as I stepped forward, he returned to his room. He went calmly, without a care in the world. I intended to follow, but Emma held me back. “You better change out of those dirty clothes right now! Don’t you dare get mud on those sheets, young man!” I screamed at the closed door.

“Wait, maybe we should see what he does… he might go to sleep. If he’s not better by morning we can take him to a doctor.” She suggested.

“And say what?!” I snapped. “My nephew disappeared into a corn maze and now his vocal cords are broken? … I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to yell at you.” I sank into the couch, defeated.

After a slight hesitation she sat. “It’s okay, but for the record, I meant a psychologist. It might be good for him anyway… you know, just in general.”

I choked down the anger, keeping my voice level and soft. “I know you aren’t wrong. I just can’t shake this feeling of… dread. Like something terrible happened.”

“No matter what happens, all we can do right now is wait. Do you still want your horror movie marathon?” Emma flinched, and it made me feel terrible.

“I may have lost my taste for those.” I whispered.

Leaving the tv alone entirely, we held each other in silence until we ignored Gina’s call. She would already kill me for breaking her son – delaying her knowledge one more day would hardly make a difference. Emma and I fell asleep entangled on the couch and didn’t wake until 7am.

Emma rushed to prepare for work as I tip-toed to Nicky’s room. His filthy clothes were piled in the hallway. I cracked his door enough to see his sleeping form and quietly retreated.

After tossing his clothes into the wash, I updated Emma. “See, I bet he’s fine now!” She sighed with relief.

After she left for work, I busied myself with chores while waiting for Nicky to wake. I kept him home from school, not wanting kids to have another reason to label him as different if he wasn’t a hundred percent. It was close to nine when I heard the soft click of his door. I stayed in the kitchen, heart racing as I listened to his approach. He slowly walked to the table and took his usual seat. Once settled, he initiated a new staring contest.

Frustration, terror, and regret formed a heavy ball of lead in my stomach. “You’re still giving me the silent treatment?” I kept my voice neutral.

“I wish to eat. Please.” His voice came out eerily monotone, but the look of loathing was gone. Now his face was the picture of indifference.

I prepared a bowl of cereal while deciding what to say. “I know you’re upset, but if you don’t tell me what happened, I don’t know how to help.” Placing the bowl before him, I found myself holding my breath.

“I lost my way for a moment. I am sorry to have caused any inconvenience.” He answered in the same creepy monotone. Inflection aside, it was unsettling to hear the strange choice of words flow effortlessly from his mouth.

It was time for the moment I truly feared. “Did someone try to make you go with them last night? It’s really important you tell me the truth on this, bud. I promise, you aren’t in trouble.” My words were slow, it felt like I was speaking under water.

It was the longest pause of my life. I felt every heartbeat’s prominent thump in my throat as I waited. “A rude adolescent chased me, but Mortimer scared him away.”

The brief feeling of relief was violently ripped away as I understood what he was telling me. “Oh… so Mortimer is back, huh? That’s umm. That’s cool, bud. We haven’t seen him around in quite a while now!”

I watched him walk to the den. I knew I should follow, but I was frozen. Mortimer first came around when Nicky was in kindergarten, but he wasn’t a nice friend like kids usually invent. Mortimer was a defense mechanism against bullies and the reason we had to switch to a private school.

I decided to kill Mortimer with kindness. I joined Nicky on the couch, relieved to see he was enjoying one of the old David Copperfield recordings. “Do you want to practice a new act before Emma comes home? Maybe Mortimer can help.”

Just as I thought he wasn’t going to answer, he surprised me. “I don’t need to practice anymore.”

“Why’s that?”

“Mortimer can share his magic with me.” He explained as if I were the child.

“Right, silly me. Do you think you could give me a sneak peek?” I asked.

Again, just as I thought I wouldn’t get a response, he surprised me. Rising to his feet, he extended both palms to show me their emptiness. One hand slowly reached up, and I felt a slight tickle as his fingers brushed my ear. He held the coin out for my inspection, face still completely blank. The trick was flawless, his first success at the “coin behind your ear”, but he looked as if it was the thousandth. I didn’t know which to be more surprised by, his ability or the reaction.

“That was amazing! I’m so proud!” I wanted to ask how he finally mastered it, but feared upsetting him. Last time someone contradicted Mortimer’s existence, a classmate got twelve stitches. Hence being forced to change schools. “Can I see another one?” I asked instead.

I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to describe the absolute horror I felt at his next stunt. I still shake at the thought.

Without standing, Nicky removed his top hat, wand waving. I forced myself to breathe as he reached deep inside, almost to his shoulder. When he withdrew his hand, he held a white, fluffy bunny. I leapt from my seat, stuttering nonsense.

Remaining infuriatingly silent, Nicky set the rabbit aside and turned his attention back to Copperfield. Realizing I came to rest in a squatting position, I slowly rose to peer over the couch arm. The bunny we did not own was still there, looking incredibly real and curiously well behaved.

I carefully reached out to pet it, jumping a little at the soft, smooth fur beneath my fingers. I sent a picture to Emma before picking it up. “I’m very impressed. I’m going to get our new friend some lettuce, I’ll be right back, okay?” My voice cracked, but I’m almost certain he didn’t notice.

I retreated from the eight-year-old with no shame. I set the bunny next to the fridge with a handful of lettuce while I found the Whiskers’ carrier. I didn’t know what else to do, but it seemed content. I tried to explain what happened over text, but Emma didn’t believe me. She thought I finally lost my mind, and I can’t blame her. Her only response was, “I’m coming home right now.”

Thirty minutes later she was inspecting the bunny for herself. “Magic isn’t real, babe. He must have found it somewhere. Maybe it’s the neighbor’s pet.” Emma guessed.

“You didn’t see him when he did it. He wasn’t proud or excited, he didn’t even smile! It was disturbing how… old… he seemed. Come on, you have to see.” I insisted.

“Hey Nick-knack, I missed you so much I had to leave work early.” She dropped onto the couch, putting her arm around him as she spoke.

“Welcome home, Auntie.” Nicky answered without looking at her.

“I heard you had some new tricks; can I see one?”

I found myself taking a few steps back, wanting more distance between myself and whatever else was in that hat. I had to fight an urge to pull Emma away from him, and I felt a guilty pang at my desire to see Gina return. Nicky reached deeply into the hat once again, but this time he found roses. Real ones.

The look on Emma’s face told me she was beginning to understand. “Thank you, that was so good! I’m going to put these in some water. Babe, can you help me find a vase?”

“Yea, no problem.” I answered, following her to the kitchen.

“What the actual—” She began.

“I know, that’s what I was trying to say.” I set the vase next to the bunny, grateful the roses would be easier to tend.

“What do we do? I don’t think I want to see anymore magic tricks for a while.”

“I don’t know. I’m afraid to talk about it when he might hear us. It’s lunch time. Let’s feed him and hope he won’t do any more tricks if we don’t ask.” It was the only idea I could think of, so that’s what we did. It worked well until 8:00.

We almost made it to his bedtime without incident, but Nicky had a sudden mood swing when the last Copperfield tape ended. As if someone flipped a switch, he leapt to his feet, taking a sweeping bow, hat in hand.

He used his performance voice like the last twenty-four hours never happened. “Attention, Attention! Tonight, Nicky the Magnificent and Mortimer the Malevolent will give you the thrill of a lifetime! But first, I’ll need a volunteer from the audience.

So many things went through my mind in that moment. My brain fought to believe the kid confused the words malevolent and marvelous but couldn’t quite pull it off. If I had time to think, I would have shut the whole thing down, but I didn’t. Emma was standing, prepared to volunteer as she had so many times before, but I couldn’t let her.

I instinctively pulled her back, rising to take her place. She sat down without argument but clearly confused. “Where do you want me?” My voice was surprisingly steady.

“Step right this way! Into the Amazing Closet of Curiosities!” Nicky lead me to the coat closet, and I had to acknowledge the humor in believing he would suddenly have a real disappearing cabinet as well.

He pushed the coats aside and gestured for me to enter. The door closed and I felt foolish at my sudden fear of the dark. “Now I will say the magic words, and my lovely assistant will vanish. After sixty seconds, I will say the return incantations, and she will reappear. Are you ready?”

The magic words sounded impressively like flawless Latin. I couldn’t repeat them here even if I were willing. When Nicky said the last words, all fell completely silent and I realized he was giving me time to hide. I felt in the darkness, looking for a coat to cover myself, but felt nothing around me.

There is a place beyond fear. A place so foreign you lose all ability to process the primal emotion. My theory is the brain enters a state where it doesn’t bother with fear due to the certainty its circumstances are fabricated. That was my experience as I felt the ice-cold concrete beneath me.

I used my phone’s flashlight to check my surroundings and immediately wished I waited the sixty seconds in darkness. It was a literal collection of curiosities. I was somehow standing in the most disturbing, macabre museum in history.

In front of me stood a large showcase filled with jars, all containing various organs. Human or otherwise, I have no idea. Everywhere I looked was isle after isle of similar displays and torture devices. The walls were covered in framed photographs of history’s darkest moments. I saw graphic images from every war, work of every serial killer, and worse, all displayed like famous artwork.

Then I heard loud, lumbering footsteps. I wanted to run, but my feet wouldn’t cooperate. I began counting, desperate to know how many seconds remained or if I would really return. The footsteps grew closer, louder, until finally I squeezed my eyes shut, too afraid to look. The sound died instantly and I pictured a a faceless monster standing before me.

“Tada!” Nicky yelled, throwing open the door. “I’m sorry you didn’t have time to meet Mortimer, do you want to try again?”

I opened my eyes to the bright lights of the den and the cold, insidious look in my nephew’s eyes. Emma rushed past him, her face full of concern. She pulled me to my feet and away from the closet. Before we made it to the safety of our bedroom, I already decided the thing would be sealed shut. There was nothing irreplaceable in there.

“Are you okay?! What the hell was that? You were gone!” I could barely make out her words as she cried into my shoulder.

I told her everything, unable to hold it in. She didn’t doubt my story this time. “Promise me you’ll never do one if his tricks again! I couldn’t live with myself if you had to go through that.” I gently turned her face to meet my eyes, needing her to understand my desperation. She nodded agreement, unable to speak.

Refusing to let me out of her sight, Emma followed me back to the den, but Nicky was no longer there. Instead, we found him in his room, sleeping… or pretending to sleep. Either way, we couldn’t help feeling a wave of relief. We locked ourselves in the bedroom to talk about what we should do. The police would think we’re crazy if we tried to report this; that’s when we decided to try the internet.

Emma fell asleep hours ago and I’m exhausted, but it’s worth it to have this finished. I’m going to upload this and try to get a few hours of sleep myself. I’ll be back to check this in the morning. Any advice would be most appreciated.

—Scared4Nephew post submitted November 2nd, 2021 3:03am—

I want to start by saying thank you for all the support. Most of you have been incredibly kind, and I appreciate your words of encouragement. Emma is at work and Nicky is in school, so I have time to address a few comments. Don’t worry, I told his teacher he’s grounded from magic, everyone should be perfectly safe.

The most popular theory seems to be that Nicky is possessed. Whether Mortimer was always real or something else is using his name, I have no idea. During breakfast, I researched the cornfield as advised. It seems a house was built there in 1913, but it burned down three years later.

It is believed the wife, Patty Johnson, suffered at the hands of her abusive husband. One night, after a particularly bad beating, Patty drugged Earl’s food. After he passed out, she burned the house to the ground with both of them inside. A few years later, farmers bought the land for corn, but no one has lived there since the Johnsons.

No one was familiar with the museum of nightmares, but a few of you suggested these were images put in my mind opposed to a physical place. If that is so, the hallucinations were impressive with full five sensory immersion. Since I never intend to go there again, I hope it won’t matter.

MythosMania2632 sent detailed instructions on how to perform an at-home exorcism. It sounds a little complicated, but I don’t see another choice. Gina will be home this evening, and I cannot let her see Nicky this way. If all goes well, I should be able to exorcise the kid after school and have him back to normal before Emma is home.

I just need to do a little shopping and prepare a space in the basement. I can’t believe how many specific-colored candles are required… or that the chalk I use to draw the incredibly complicated symbol must be black. I hope chicken blood from the butcher is okay, I’m not sure where else to get it. I guess I should hurry, it may take longer than expected to finish preparations.

—Scared4Nephew post submitted November 2nd, 9:27am—

I never made it inside the first store! The school called as I pulled into Sam’s Club. “Parents must pick their children up immediately.” One of Nicky’s classmates, Trent something, has disappeared! Police are investigating, more updates to come. When I arrived, Nicky’s teacher loaded him into the backseat before walking around to the driver’s window.

“I don’t understand how it happened! They were taking turns going to the bathroom, you know, a few at a time, but… but Trent never came back. The other boys said he was still in the restroom when they left.” She was hysterical, eyes puffy from crying, then she whispered, “Nicky was the last to see him, make sure you keep a special eye on him… the poor dear seems to be in a bit of shock.”

Can you guys believe that? She didn’t suspect him in the least, hell, she was worried about him! Desperate to escape I thanked her for the warning and drove forward as she continued talking. I waited until we were safely away before speaking to Nicky. “What the hell did you do?!” I yelled.

“Nothing! Mortimer…” He began, but I cut him off.

“Fine! What did Mortimer do?! Just tell me! Because your little ass is bringing that kid right back! Do you understand me? You will not leave a third grader in that nightmare, I don’t care what he did to deserve it.” As spit flew from my flushed face, it occurred to me I could be the crazy one. What if none of this were real?

“Mortimer didn’t like Trent, it’s too late for him… and you better watch how you talk to me, or next time you’ll stay gone.” Nicky said in a voice too deep for an eight-year-old.

Some involuntary reflex still reacted to the sight of his tiny form threatening me. Without meaning to, I slammed on the brakes, throwing us forward into our seatbelts. I drove home more carefully after that, but it seems the damage was done. The moment we stepped inside, his little hands grabbed me from behind, and I found myself back in that museum of nightmares.

Everything was exactly as I left it except for one difference. Now I could see who the footsteps belonged to. “Mortimer” was sickly yellow, at least six foot five, and stick-thin with a bald, pointy head. His toothless grin made me nauseas as his tongue licked at his lips. His eyes were full black, and his nose was missing, leaving a wide, triangular hole in the center of his face. He let out a low, guttural laugh at the sight of me.

I made no conscious plans or effort for my actions, but somehow, I was able to speak despite my fear. “Leave my nephew alone, you can’t have him!” I yelled.

“Why would I give up such a fine specimen? He agreed to be mine fair and square, so desperate he was for a friend!” The thing laughed again, louder than before.

“He’s just a kid, he’s nothing. Take me instead, I agree! Fair and square as it were.” Can you believe it? When I read the comments about offering a trade, I immediately discounted them. Anything that didn’t provide the traditional fairytale ending was simply not an option. Yet here I was, offering my body as vessel for some deranged monster.

Should I have been surprised he agreed? I was. Maybe that’s what he wanted all along. Maybe that’s how they get the adults, by preying on our young. I guess it doesn’t matter now, what’s done is done. I can feel him inside me, trying to influence my writing. He wants you all to come visit. He wants everyone to meet Mortimer the Malevolent, so you can all be part of our collection.

I’m afraid I need to go now, Emma is home. I can hear Nicky talking in hushed tones, I better go check on them. Thanks again for all your help, I couldn’t have done it without you.

Address listed below, no need to RSVP, bring your friends.

—Scared4Nephew post submitted November 2nd, 5:32pm—

Classics, horror

The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, first published January 1892 in The New England Magazine. Translated to modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 

It is rare for ordinary people like John and myself to secure a colonial mansion. A haunted house would pure, romantic bliss — but that is asking too much of fate!

Still, I’m proud to say there is something strange about it. Why else would it be so cheap? Why has it been empty so long? John laughs at me, but one expects that in marriage. John is extremely practical. He has no patience with faith, an intense horror of superstition, and openly scoffs at talk of the paranormal.

John is a doctor, and perhaps — (I would not say it to a living soul, but this is dead paper and a great relief to my mind) — perhaps that is one reason I do not recover faster.

He does not believe I am sick! What can I do if a respected physician and my own husband assures everyone there is nothing wrong except a temporary anxiety — a slight hysterical tendency?

My brother is also a respected doctor and says the same thing. So I take phosphates or phosphites — whichever it is, tonics, walks, air and exercise, and I am forbidden from “work” until I have recovered.

Personally, I disagree with their ideas. I believe enjoyable work combined with excitement and change would do me good, but what am I to do? I wrote for a while in spite of them; but it does greatly exhaust me. I have to be so sneaky, or I am met with heavy opposition.

Sometimes, I think if I had less restrictions and more socializing, my condition would — but John says the worst thing I can do is to think about my condition… and I admit it always makes me feel bad. So I will leave it alone and talk about the house.

It is the most beautiful place! It stands all alone, far back from the road, a full three miles from the village. It makes me think of English places you read about, because there are hedges, walls, gates that lock, and many separate little houses for gardeners and staff.

There is a delicious garden! I never saw such a garden — large, shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with long, grape-covered pergolas with benches beneath them. There were also greenhouses, but they are all broken now.

I believe there was some legal trouble about the heirs and coheirs; anyhow, the place has been empty for years. I’m afraid that spoils my haunted theory, but I don’t care. There is something strange about the house — I can feel it.

I told John one moonlit evening, but he said what I felt was a draft and closed the window. I get unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I’m sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is because of this anxiety, but John says if I feel that way, I will neglect proper self-control. I take pains to control myself — in front of him, at least, and it makes me very tired.

I don’t like our room at all. I wanted one downstairs that opened on the veranda, with roses all over the window and the old-fashioned, colorful hangings! But John would not hear of it. He said there was only one window, not enough room for two beds, and no room close by in case he wanted to use another. He is very careful and loving, hardly letting me move without special instruction.

I have a schedule that accounts for each hour in the day. He takes care of everything for me, so I feel deeply ungrateful not to value it more. He said we only came here for me, because I was to have perfect rest and air. “My dear, your exercise depends on strength, and your food depends on appetite; but you can breathe air all the time.” So we took the nursery at the top of the house.

It is a big, airy room, nearly the whole floor, with windows all around, and air and sunshine galore. I think it was a nursery first, then playroom and gymnasium; the windows are barred for little children, and there are rings in the walls. The paint and wallpaper look as if a boys’ school used it. The paper is stripped off in big, wide patches all around my headboard, and in a place lower down, on the other side of the room. I never saw worse wallpaper in my life. One of those long, flamboyant patterns committed every artistic sin.

It is dull enough to make it difficult to follow, yet noticeable enough to constantly annoy and draw attention. When you follow the lame, uncertain curves for a little ways, they suddenly commit suicide — plunging off at outrageous angles, destroying themselves in impossible contradictions.

The color is horrid, almost revolting; a smoldering, unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sunlight. It is a dull, yet vivid orange in some places, a sickly sulphur tint in others. No wonder the children hated it! I would hate it too if I had to live in this room long.

Here comes John, I must put this away, — he hates for me to write a word.

We have been here two weeks, and I haven’t felt like writing since that first day. I am in the hideous nursery now, sitting by the window, and there is nothing to stop me from writing as much as I want – except lack of strength.

John is away all day, and some nights when his cases are serious. I am glad my case is not serious, but these anxiety troubles are dreadfully depressing. John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer, and that satisfies him.

Of course it is only anxiety. I feel guilty for not performing wifely duties! I meant to be a big help to John, providing real rest and comfort, but instead I am a burden! Nobody would believe how hard it is to do what little I can — to dress, socialize, and clean. It is fortunate Mary is good with the baby. Such a dear baby! Yet I cannot be with him, it makes me so anxious. I suppose John was never nervous in his life.

He laughs at me so much about this wallpaper! At first he agreed to re-paper the room. Later he said I was letting it get the better of me, and that nothing was worse for an anxiety patient than enabling such whims. He said after the wallpaper it would be the heavy bed frame, then the barred windows, then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on.

“You know the place is doing you good, and really, dear, I don’t want to renovate the house just for a three month rental.” He said.

“Then let’s go downstairs, there are such pretty rooms there.” I said.

Then he took me in his arms, called me a blessed little goose, and said if I wished, he would go down to the cellar and white-wash it as well. Though, he is right about the beds, windows, and things.

It is an airy and comfortable room, and I will not be silly enough to make him uncomfortable just for a whim. I’m growing quite fond of the big room, except for that horrid paper. Out of one window, I can see the garden, the mysterious, deep-shaded pergolas, the wild, old-fashioned flowers, bushes and gnarly trees.

Out of another, I get a lovely view of the bay and a private wharf belonging to the estate. A beautiful, shaded lane leads there from the house. I always think I see people walking on these many paths, but John cautioned me not to indulge fantasy. He says with my imagination, an anxious disposition is sure to cause excited fantasies, and that I should control myself to keep them in check. So I try.

Sometimes, I think if I were well enough to write, it would relieve the flow of ideas and allow me to rest – but I get pretty tired when I try. It is so discouraging not to have any understanding about my work. When I really recover, John says we will ask Cousin Henry and Julia over for a long visit; but he says he would rather put fireworks in my pillowcase than let me have those stimulating people around now.

I wish I could recover faster, but I must not think about it. This wallpaper looks as if it knew what a vicious influence it had! There is a recurring spot where the pattern sags like a broken neck, and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down. I get positively angry with the disrespect of it. Up, down, and sideways they crawl, and those absurd, unblinking eyes are everywhere. There is one place where two sections don’t line up, and the eyes are a little uneven.

I never saw so much expression in an inanimate thing before, and we all know how much expression they have! As a child, I used to lie awake getting more entertainment and terror from blank walls and furniture than most children found in a toy store. I remember the kindly wink of the knobs on our old bureau, and one chair that always seemed like a strong friend. I used to think if any of the other things looked mean, I could hop into that chair and be safe.

The furniture in this room is only a little unpleasant, we had to bring it all from downstairs. I suppose when this was used as a playroom, they had to take the nursery things out, and no wonder! I never saw such messes as the children made here. As I said before, the wallpaper is torn off in spots, and it’s incredibly sticky — they must have had determination as well as hatred. Then the floor is scratched, gouged and splintered, and the plaster is dug out here and there. This great heavy bed looks as if it has been through the wars, but I don’t mind a bit — only the paper.

Here comes John’s sister. She is such a dear girl, so considerate of me! I must not let her find me writing. She is a perfect, enthusiastic housekeeper and wants no better profession. I truly believe she thinks it’s the writing that made me sick! When she is out, I can write next to the window and see her coming from a long way off. One overlooks the shaded, winding road and country. A lovely country, too, full of large elms and velvet meadows.

This wallpaper has a kind of sub-pattern in a different shade; a particularly irritating one that can only be seen in certain lights, and not clearly even then. In places where it isn’t faded, when the sun is just so — I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure that seems to skulk about behind that silly and obvious front design.

There’s sister on the stairs!

Well, the Fourth of July is over! The people are gone and I am exhausted. John thought it might do me good to have company, so we had mother, Nellie, and the children down for a week. Of course, I didn’t do a thing. Jennie sees to everything now, but it tired me all the same. John says if I don’t recover faster, he will send me to Weir Mitchell in the fall.

I don’t want to go there at all. I had a friend who was in his care, and she says he is just like John and my brother, only worse! Besides, it is such a hassle to go so far. I don’t think it would be worth going for anything, and I’m getting dreadfully anxious and upset. I cry most of the time and at nothing. Of course, I don’t when anyone is here, only when I am alone. I am alone a good deal now. John is very often kept in town by serious cases, and Jennie is good to leave me alone when I want her to.

I walk in the garden or down the lovely lane, sit on the porch under the roses, and lie down a good deal. I’m getting really fond of the room in spite of the wallpaper. Perhaps because of the wallpaper. I think about it so much! I lie here on this great immovable bed —it is nailed down — and follow that pattern around by the hour. It is good as exercise, I assure you.

I start at the bottom, down in the corner over there where it has not been touched, and determine for the thousandth time that I will follow that pointless pattern to some sort of a conclusion. I know a little about the principle of design, and know this was not arranged by any laws of radiation, alternation, repetition, symmetry, or anything else I ever heard of. It is repeated by sections, but not otherwise.

Looked at one way, each strip stands alone, the fat curves and flourishes waddling up and down in isolated columns of foolishness. But, on the other hand, they connect diagonally, and the sprawling outlines run off in great slanting waves of visual horror, like seaweeds caught in the waves.

The whole thing seems to go horizontally too, and I exhaust myself trying to distinguish where its going in that direction. They have used a horizontal strip for decoration that adds to the confusion wonderfully. There is one end of the room where it is almost intact, and when the candlelights dim, and the low sun shines directly upon it, I can almost see the pattern — the endless horrors seem to form around a common center and rush off to steep plunges of equal distraction.

It makes me tired to follow it. I guess I will take a nap. I don’t know why I should write this. I don’t want to. I don’t feel able. I know John would think it absurd, but I must somehow say what I think and feel — it is such a relief! Though, the effort is getting to be greater than the relief. Half the time I am awfully lazy and lie down a lot. John says I must not lose my strength, and has me take cod liver oil, lots of tonics, ale, wine, and rare meat.

Dear John! He loves me dearly and hates to have me sick. I tried to have an earnest, reasonable talk with him, telling him how I wished to visit Cousin Henry and Julia, but he said I wasn’t able to go. I did not make a very good case for myself, I was crying before I finished.

It is getting very hard to think straight. Just this anxious weakness I suppose. Dear John gathered me in his arms, carried me to bed, and sat reading to me until it tired my head. He said I was his darling, his comfort, all he had, and that I must take care of myself for his sake, and stay well.

He says only I can help myself out of it, that I must use willpower and self-control, and not let silly fantasies run away with me. There’s one comfort, the baby is well and happy, and does not have to stay in this nursery with the horrid wallpaper. If we had not used it, that blessed child would! What a fortunate escape! I wouldn’t have an impressionable, little child of mine live in such a room for all the world.

I never thought of it before, but it is lucky that John kept me here after all. I can stand it so much easier than a baby could. Of course, I am too smart to mention it to them anymore, but I keep watch of it all the same. There are things in that paper that nobody else knows or ever will. Behind that outside pattern, the dim shapes get clearer every day. It is always the same shape, only very many.

It is like a woman stooping down and creeping about behind that pattern. I don’t like it a bit. I began wishing John would take me away from here! It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so smart and loves me so much. I tried last night. The moon was out, shining all around just as the sun does. I hate to see it sometimes, it creeps so slowly, always coming in one window or another.

John was asleep and I hated to wake him, so I kept still and watched the moonlight on that wavy wallpaper until I felt creepy. The faint figure behind seemed to shake the pattern, as if she wanted to get out. I got up softly, wanting to feel it, to see if the paper did move, and when I came back John was awake.

“What is it, little girl? Don’t go walking about like that, you’ll get cold.” He said.

I though it was a good time to talk, so I told him I was not really improving here, and that I wished he would take me away.

“Why darling?! Our lease will be up in three weeks, and I can’t see how to leave before. The repairs are not done at home, and I cannot possibly leave town yet. If you were in any danger, I could and would, but you really are better whether you can see it or not. I am a doctor, and I know. You are gaining weight and color, your appetite is better. I feel much better about you, dear.”

“I don’t weigh a bit more; and my appetite may be better in the evening when you are here, but it is worse in the morning when you are away!” I said.

“Bless her little heart! She will be sick as she pleases! Now let’s improve the daytime hours by going to sleep and talk about it in the morning!” He said with a big hug.

“And you won’t leave?” I asked gloomily.

“Why, how can I, dear? It is only three more weeks, then we will take a nice trip for a few days while Jennie is getting the house ready. Really dear you are better!”

“Better in body perhaps —” I began, and stopped short. He sat up straight and looked at me with such a stern, reproachful look that I could not say another word.

“My darling, I beg of you, for my sake, our child’s, and your own, that you will never for one instant let that idea enter your mind! There is nothing so dangerous, so fascinating, to a temperament like yours. It is a false and foolish notion. Can you not trust me as a physician when I tell you so?”

Of course I said no more on the subject, and we went to sleep before long. He thought I was asleep first, but I wasn’t. I laid there for hours trying to decide whether the front and back patterns moved together or separately.

Viewing a pattern like this by day makes it appear disorderly and law-defying, a constant annoyance to a normal mind. The color is hideous, unreliable, and infuriating, but the pattern is torture. You think you have mastered it, but just as you start following it well, it turns a back-flip and there you are. It slaps you in the face, knocks you down, and tramples you. It is like a bad dream.

The outside pattern is an elaborate, flowing design, reminding me of a fungus. If you can imagine a toadstool in joints, an endless string of toadstools, budding and sprouting in endless complexities. That’s only sometimes!

There is one defining oddity about this paper, a thing nobody seems to notice but myself – that it changes with the light. When the sun shoots in through the east window — I always watch for that first long, straight ray — it changes so quickly I can never quite believe it. That is why I always watch.

By moonlight, I wouldn’t know it was the same paper. At night, in any kind of light – twilight, candlelight, lamplight, and worst of all, by moonlight – the outside pattern becomes bars! The woman behind it is real as can be. For a long time, I didn’t realize what the thing behind that dim sub-pattern was, but now I am quite sure it’s a woman. By day she is subdued, quiet. I believe it is the pattern that keeps her so still. It is puzzling, it keeps me quiet for hours.

I lie down so much now. John says it is good for me, and to sleep all I can. Indeed, he started the habit by making me lie down for an hour after each meal. I am convinced it is a very bad habit. I don’t sleep, and that breeds dishonesty because I don’t tell him I’m awake — Oh, no!

The fact is, I am getting a little afraid of John. He seems very odd sometimes, and even Jennie has an inexplicable look. Occasionally, it strikes me, just as a theory, — that perhaps it is the paper! I’ve watched John when he didn’t know I was looking, and suddenly entered the room on innocent excuses. I’ve caught him several times looking at the paper! Jennie too. I caught Jennie with her hand on it once.

She didn’t know I was in the room. I asked her in the most restrained manner possible, in a very quiet voice, what she was doing. She turned around looking quite angry, as if she had been caught stealing, and asked me why I would frighten her so! Then she said the paper stained everything it touched, that she found yellow smooches on all our clothes, and wished we would be more careful! Did that not sound innocent? I know she was studying that pattern, and I am determined that nobody will figure it out but myself!

Life is much more exciting now than it used to be. You see, I have something more to expect, to look forward to. I really do eat better, and am more quiet than I was. John is so happy to see me improve! He laughed the other day, and said I seemed to be flourishing in spite of my wallpaper.

I shrugged it off with a laugh. I had no intention of telling him it was because of the wallpaper — he would make fun of me. He might even want to take me away. I don’t want to leave until I have figured it out. There is one more week, and I think that will be enough. I’m feeling so much better! I don’t sleep much at night, it is too interesting to watch developments, but I sleep a good deal during the day.

Daytime it is tiresome and confusing. There are always new shoots on the fungus, and new shades of yellow all over it. I cannot keep count of them, though I have tried. That wallpaper is the strangest yellow! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw — not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old, foul, bad yellow things.

There is something else about that wallpaper — the smell! I noticed it the moment we came in the room, but with so much air and sun it was not bad. Now we’ve had a week of fog and rain, and whether the windows are open or not, the smell is here. It creeps all over the house. I find it hovering in the dining-room, skulking in the parlor, hiding in the hall, and lying in wait for me on the stairs. It gets into my hair. Even when I ride, if I turn my head suddenly — there is that smell!

Such a strange odor! I have spent hours trying to analyze it to find what it smelled like. It is not bad at first, very gentle, but quite subtle and the most enduring odor I ever met. In this damp weather it is awful, I wake up in the night and find it hanging over me. It used to disturb me at first. I seriously considered burning the house down to reach the smell, but now I am used to it. The only thing I can think of that is similar, is the color of the paper! A yellow smell.

There is a funny mark on this wall, low down, near the baseboard. A streak that runs around the room. The long, straight, even smooch goes behind every piece of furniture, except the bed, as if it was rubbed over and over.

I wonder how it was done, who did it, and why. Round and round and round — round and round and round — it makes me dizzy! I really have finally discovered something. Through watching so much when it changes at night, I have finally figured it out. The front pattern does move — and no wonder! The woman shakes it! Sometimes, I think there are a great many women behind it, and sometimes only one. She crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over.

In the bright spots she keeps still, and in the shady spots she takes hold of the bars, shaking them hard. She is always trying to climb through, but nobody could climb through that suffocating pattern. I think that’s why it has so many heads. They get through, then the pattern shuts them off, turning them upside down, and making their eyes white! If those heads were covered or removed, it would not be half as bad. I think that woman gets out in the daytime! Privately — I’ll tell you why. I’ve seen her!

I can see her out of every window! I know it is the same woman because she is always creeping, and most women do not creep during the day. I see her on that long road under the trees, creeping along, and she hides under the blackberry vines when a carriage comes.

I don’t blame her a bit. It must be very humiliating to be caught creeping in daylight! I always lock the door when I creep in daylight. I can’t do it at night, I know John would suspect something immediately. John is so strange now, I don’t want to irritate him. I wish he would take another room! Besides, I don’t want anybody to get that woman out at night but myself. I often wonder if I could see her out of all the windows at once, but turn as fast as I can, I only see out of one at a time.

Though I always see her, she might be able to creep faster than I can turn! I have watched her sometimes way off in the open country, creeping fast as a cloud’s shadow in high wind. If only that top pattern could be gotten off the other one! I mean to try it, little by little. I have found out another funny thing, but I won’t say it this time! It is not good to trust people too much.

There are only two more days to get this paper off, and I believe John is beginning to notice. I don’t like the look in his eyes. I heard him ask Jennie a lot of professional questions about me. She had a very good report to give. She said I slept a good deal in the daytime.

John knows I don’t sleep well at night, but I’m so quiet! He also asked me all sorts of questions, pretending to be loving and kind. As if I couldn’t see through him! Still, it’s no wonder he acts that way after sleeping under this wallpaper for three months. It only interests me, but I feel sure John and Jennie are secretly affected by it.

Hurray! This is the last day, but it is enough. John is staying in town overnight, and won’t be out until this evening. Jennie wanted to sleep with me — the sly thing! I told her I would definitely rest better alone. That was clever, when really I wasn’t alone at all! As soon as it was moonlight, that poor thing began to crawl and shake the pattern. I got up and ran to help her.

I pulled and she shook, I shook and she pulled, and before morning we peeled off yards of that paper. A strip about as high as my head and half around the room. Then, when the sun came and that awful pattern began to laugh at me, I declared I would finish it today!

We leave tomorrow, and they are moving the furniture back where it came from. Jennie looked at the wall in amazement, but I happily told her I did it out of pure spite of the vicious thing. She laughed and said she wouldn’t mind doing it herself, but I must not get tired. How she betrayed herself that time, but no one touches this paper but me — not alive!

She tried to get me out of the room — it was too obvious! I said it was so quiet, empty, and clean now that I would lie down and sleep all I could; and not to wake me even for dinner. I would call when I woke. Now she, the servants, and the things are gone, and there is nothing left but that nailed down bedstead. We shall sleep downstairs tonight, and take the boat home tomorrow. I quite enjoy the room, now that it is empty again.

How those children destroyed this room! This bedstead is fairly gnawed, but I must get to work. I have locked the door and thrown the key down into the front path. I don’t want to go out, and I don’t want anybody to come in until John. I want to astonish him. I’ve got a rope up here that even Jennie did not find.

If that woman does get out and tries to escape, I can tie her, but I forgot I cannot reach far without anything to stand on! This bed will not move! I tried to lift and push it until I was exhausted, then I got so angry I bit off a little piece at one corner — but it hurt my teeth. Then I peeled off all the paper I could reach standing on the floor. It sticks horribly, and the pattern enjoys it! All those strangled heads, bulbous eyes, and waddling fungi scream with mockery!

I am getting angry enough to do something desperate. To jump out of the window would be a deserving exercise, but the bars are too strong to try. Besides, I wouldn’t do it. Of course not. I know that would be improper and possibly misunderstood. I don’t even like to look out the windows — there are so many of those creeping women, and they creep so fast. I wonder if they all came out of the wallpaper like I did, but now I’m securely tied by my well-hidden rope — you won’t get me out there in the road!

I suppose I will have to get back behind the pattern when night comes, and that is hard! It is so pleasant to be out in this big room and creep around as I please! I don’t want to go outside. I won’t, even if Jennie asks me to. Outside, you have to creep on the ground, and everything is green instead of yellow. Here I can creep smoothly on the floor, and my shoulder just fits in that long smooch around the wall, so I cannot get lost. Why there’s John at the door! It is no use, young man, you can’t open it!

How he yells and pounds! Now he’s crying for an axe. It would be a shame to break down that beautiful door! “John dear! The key is down by the front steps, under a plantain leaf!” I said in the gentlest voice,

That silenced him for a few moments. Then he said — very quietly, “Open the door, my darling!”

“I can’t. The key is down by the front door under a plantain leaf!” Then I said it again, several times, very gently, slowly, so often that he had to go and see. He found it of course, and came in, stopping short by the door.

“What is the matter? For God’s sake, what are you doing?!” He cried.

I kept on creeping just the same, but I looked at him over my shoulder. “I’ve got out at last, in spite of you and Jennie. I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!” I said.

Now, why would that man have fainted? He did, right across my path by the wall, so that I had to creep over him every time!

humor, life

That is Not Adderall

A short rant before we begin. I was born in 1988, therefore, I’m quite fond of the number 88. Today, I learned that number is apparently a nazi thing? Fml, are you serious?! Screw that, it’s mine!

Time for another tale of terror from the time we rented the spliced together hoard house outside town. If you haven’t read Rain Showers, I suggest you go there first. You can’t appreciate the horror of this atmosphere without it. This will take place during our second month, before we lost water, but after we lost the dryer. You also need to remember Amy is Hubby’s sister and had a Xanax problem.

Memory Refresher

* I want to include a reminder. This story is almost a decade old, and Amy has not had a drug abuse problem in several years. We get along famously these days and I’m happy to consider her a sister. She has no memory of these events, but she’s a great sport about laughing at them. *

One day, I will get around to how Amy dumped Rob, but that drama can wait. Today, we’re going to talk about after they separated, when Amy’s electricity was cut off. Whether she forgot to pay the bill or used the money for drugs is irrelevant. The important part is that no one would take her in. We were the only family still speaking to her at that time, and we genuinely needed help making the house livable.

With great hesitation, we said she could stay the week if she helped out. To be fair, she did help a bit. As these things tend to, it started off well. She had food stamps and filled the house with groceries. Was it food we ate? Eh, not really, but we thought, well, at least she’s feeding herself. That will save some money.

Wrong! Let me tell you now, most of the groceries spoiled. Hubby worked during the day, I worked from home answering a phone. Every day, when I drove into town for whatever errands, Amy tagged along. Every day, without fail, she asked, “Can we stop at Fast Food? I haven’t eaten today.”

Of course, she only works the months around Christmas so she didn’t have money. She never volunteered the information, instead waiting until it was time to pay. I wouldn’t offer on principle, meaning we had to play out the same long, awkward silence until she asked for money. The worse part was how she counted the wasted groceries as “paying us back.”

Anyway, the point is, she offered us drugs to help cope with the pain. Our favorite pill has always been Adderall, but it’s extremely difficult for us to acquire. They were a rare treat. Imagine our glee when Amy announced, “You like those? I have a whole bottle. My friend has a prescription, but she hates them.”

“Amy, if you have a purse full of Adderall I need you to get it right now.” I said with the eyes of a starving wolf.

We tried to keep our hopes in check, it was Amy after all. Even as she removed the large bottle from her purse I thought it was too good to be true. Then she opened it, placing it on the table before us, and we stared at a mountain of pure white powder. That’s when I called bullshit.

“No, it really is, I swear! She just takes it out of the capsules so she can rip people off, but this is real stuff!” Amy insisted, spreading generous lines of the drug.

Hubby and I were dubious but had to admit it was a common practice. “You’ve done some already?” I asked.

“Yea, it’s fine, watch.” Amy snorted the first line, and when she didn’t have a seizure, we tried it.

It was Adderall! Can you believe it? We sure as hell couldn’t! I know, I know, ‘but what about your title’ right? Hold your britches, I’m getting there.

We had two extremely productive days thanks to the miracle powder. Everything went so well, we didn’t even mind Amy’s Xanax fits like when she asked the same question thirty times or talked through new episodes of Doctor Who. Everything was aces until we left her home alone for twenty minutes.

Hubby and I drove to the gas station and back, no big deal… or so we thought. Upon our return, we decided it was time for a pick-me-up. I retrieved our powder from its hiding place – it’s relevant to know it was hidden well on one of our many bookshelves. It wasn’t left out in a place for anyone to happen upon. I poured a nice healthy pile, and as I began to separate it into lines, I realized huh, why does it look so funny.

“Hey, come look at this… is. Is this salt?!” I asked Hubby in the opposite of an indoor voice.

(This is one of those times I’m going to reduce the cursing by 90%. It was so bad.)

“Because it is fraking salt! That bitch!” Hubby stormed off to find Amy while a monkey named Jonesy ruthlessly clawed my back for that Adderall.

I spent more hours than I want to admit separating the tiny specs with a flashlight and tweezers. I fully understood how pathetic it was, but I had to try. The worst part was, she didn’t have to do it. We weren’t being greedy, trust me she was like a blood-hound. Every time we pulled it out – no matter where we hid – she was there. She wouldn’t ask for it, no. She talked about how tired she was until Hubby offered.

That was fine. It was a huge bottle, and she didn’t get anything in return she wasn’t already getting. I didn’t understand why she felt the need to ruin the entire bottle to cover the fact she used more. My rage was also divided by the fact she thought salt was something to use for that purpose. I didn’t trust myself to speak when Hubby brought her to the kitchen.

I bit my tongue long as I could, but then she started talking. “I just came to see what happened, is there really salt in the Adderall?”

I glared at her, hoping to induce an aneurysm.

“Because Phoebe and that guy came over while you were gone. They just walked in the back door… and they were standing over there by that shelf when I walked in… they left after I told them you weren’t here.” After an incredibly long silence she continued, “So… I mean. I don’t know them, but could they like…”

Let’s entertain her story while we’re here. The notion of Phoebe and her boyfriend coming was ludicrous. She only walked over if they were fighting. When she did walk over, it was via the rock path to the front door, not the mud hole to the back. They didn’t know the drugs existed nor that I decided to hide something on that shelf for the first time ever.

“Do you understand what I would have done to you if I snorted salt?” There it went. The dam broke and all bets were off.

“I really didn’t…” Amy started.

“Please don’t. I’m begging you. If you’re going to do the deny, deny, deny thing, save it for later. Just get away from me for now, I don’t have it in me to pretend to believe you.” I couldn’t look at her, instead I looked at my tiny white specs and begged Jonsey to let me think.

Amy walked away but didn’t stop talking. She continued professing her innocence as she walked to the living room. My memory gets a little fuzzy here, but somehow I came to stand in the doorway, throat sore, staring at her, Hubby standing next to me.

“How about we go for a drive? It’s not like she can do more damage. I’ll help you sort what’s left when we get back.” He offered.

I suppose I agreed because we were no more than a few minutes away when I realized I left my purse behind. “Shit, we have to go back. I have cash in there.” I said angrily.

“Where did you leave it?” He asked.

“In our bedroom, under my nightstand.” I admitted, knowing what he would think.

“Okay, well it’s not like you left it in the open. She won’t go looking for it, she probably assumes you have it with you.” He tried to be reassuring.

“No, I already don’t like this. We gotta go back.” Money aside, I still had (have) only-child syndrome. I couldn’t accept she wouldn’t want to steal my prized possessions.

We turned around, gone for less than ten minutes when we returned. I almost let myself hope when she was sitting on the couch, exactly as we left her, but I knew I couldn’t breath easy until I saw the cash. I went straight to the purse and opened my wallet. It was empty. Can you guess who Amy blamed? Yes! It was Phoebe again! Wouldn’t you know we just missed those rascals!

I was done folks. I washed my hands of it. “You know what Amy? Forty bucks is a small price to pay to get rid of you. You’re going home first thing in the morning, best of luck with your electricity.” I walked away before I said anything truly harsh.

Hubby talked to her for a few minutes, but I had a monkey to feed. We resumed powder picking and saved more than expected, but it was a pittance of the whole.

The next morning I was gifted with Amy’s reasoning for destroying our white gold. She returned our money and a hefty pile of Adderall powder after waking. Apparently she wasn’t happy just doing the drugs, she wanted to sell some when she realized how much people like it. She was too ashamed to ask for it and thought salt would be the best way to hide her actions. She included, “I don’t remember any of it, but this was in my bag so I guess that’s what happened.” To help maintain a distance from true blame.

We took our possessions back and reassured her she was forgiven. “No hard feelings” as it were. Unfortunately she misunderstood forgiveness as “you can keep staying here”, but we were over our limit. You can only have so many angry, mentally disturbed people living under one roof before someone dies. Hell, we were already stretching that number before she came.

So yea, we dropped her off at her apartment. It was really dark in there, she didn’t have windows, but no one else would agree to take her. I really do feel terrible about how bad she sounds in this, but we all pull an Amy at some point in our lives. Whether you were drunk, high, or just plain nuts, you have at least one story where you star as the asshole. We all do, and we should all be the terrific sports about it she is.

Thanks for reading! I wanted to translate a non-horror classic next, but I seem unable to help myself. I want to have a variety of genres to select from, but I keep getting distracted, I’m sorry. The Yellow Wallpaper is coming soon because I’ve always wanted to read it but never had time. I’m going to try to take a few days off in order to clean a guest room out, but we’ll see how it goes.

Stay safe out there. Sometimes, they really are out to get you.

Poetry Disclaimer: The below poetry is horrible. Do not read it if you are serious about poetry. It is for amusement purposes only. For full poetry details see Sex, Drugs, & Robbery.

“Everyday Take Away”


28 hour days,
Time trickles, slowly fading away.
Lost, confused, in a daze,
Spinning, twirling, in a haze.

Eyes are the windows to the soul,
But mine is no longer whole.
Rotten, decayed, black as night,
Broken, defeated, screaming in fright.

Love is a useless word,
Spoken but never heard.
No give and all take,
A world engulfed in hate.
Whatever was meant to be,
Is long lost to eternity.


Classics, horror

The Monkey’s Paw

W.W. Jacobs, first published September 1902. Translated into modern English, otherwise exactly the same. Chapters separated by page breaks. 

I.

Outside, the night was cold and wet, but in the small living room of Laburnam Villa the blinds were closed and the fire burned brightly. Father and son played chess. The father knew radical strategies, and put his king into enough danger to earn comment from the white-haired old lady knitting peacefully by the fire.

“Listen to the wind,” Mr. White said, seeing a fatal mistake and wanting to prevent his son from noticing.

“I’m listening,” the son said, grimly surveying the board as he stretched out his hand. “Check.”

“I should hardly think he’d come tonight,” the father said, hand poised over the board.

“Mate,” the son replied.

“That’s the worst part about living so far out! Of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way places to live, this is the worst. Pathway’s a bog, and the road’s a disaster. I don’t know what people are thinking. I suppose because only two houses on the road are occupied, they think it doesn’t matter.” Mr. White yelled with sudden, unprovoked anger.

“Never mind, dear. Perhaps you’ll win the next one.” His wife soothed.

Mr. White looked up sharply, just in time to see a knowing glance between mother and son. The words died away on his lips, and he hid a guilty grin in his thin, grey beard.

“There he is.” The son said as the gate banged loudly, and heavy footsteps approached the door.

The old man rose to open the door with friendly haste and was heard sympathizing with the guest. The guest complained so much that Mrs. White said, “Tut, tut!” coughing gently as her husband entered with a tall, burly man, with beady eyes and a pink complexion.

“Sergeant-Major Morris!” he said, introducing him.

The sergeant-major shook hands, sat by the fire, and watched contentedly as his host poured whiskey and put a small, copper kettle on the fire.

With the third glass, his eyes got brighter, and he eagerly began telling a story about a visitor from distant lands. He squared his broad shoulders in the chair and spoke of wild events and brave deeds of wars, plagues, and strange people.

“Twenty-one years of it. When he went away, he was a thin youth in the warehouse. Now look at him.” Mr. White said, nodding at his wife and son.

“He don’t seem to have taken much harm.” Mrs. White said politely.

“I’d like to go to India myself, just to look around a bit, you know.” The old man said.

“Better off where you are.” The sergeant-major said, shaking his head. He put down the empty glass, sighing softly before shaking it again.

“I would like to see those old temples, mystics, and jugglers. What was it you started telling me the other day about a monkey’s paw or something, Morris?” The old man asked.

“Nothing. At least, nothing worth hearing.” The soldier replied hastily.

“Monkey’s paw?” Mrs. White asked curiously.

“Well, it’s just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps.” The sergeant-major said offhandedly.

His three listeners eagerly leaned forward. The soldier absent-mindedly put his empty glass to his lips, then set it down again. His host filled it for him.

“To look at, it’s just an ordinary little paw, dried as a mummy.” The sergeant-major said, fumbling in his pocket. He removed something and held it out. Mrs. White drew back with a grimace, but her son took it, examining it curiously.

“And what is special about it?” Mr. White inquired as he took it from his son. After examining it, he placed it on the table.

“An old mystic put a spell on it. A very holy man. He wanted to show fate ruled people’s lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it.” The sergeant-major explained.

His manner was so serious, the family became aware their light laughter bothered him somewhat.

“Well, why don’t you have three, sir?” The son joked.

The soldier regarded him in the way middle age tends to regard presumptuous youth. “I have.” He whispered, his blotchy face whitened.

“And did you really have the three wishes granted?” Mrs. White asked.

“I did.” The sergeant-major answered, and his glass tapped against his teeth.

“And has anybody else wished?” The old lady persisted.

“The first man had his three wishes, yes. I don’t know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That’s how I got the paw.” The soldier answered in tones so grave, a hush fell over the group.

“If you’ve had your three wishes, it’s no good to you anymore, Morris. What do you keep it for?” The old man finally asked.

The soldier shook his head. “Fancy, I suppose,” he said, slowly. “I did think of selling it, but I don’t think I will. It has caused enough mischief already. Besides, people won’t buy. Some think it’s a fairy tale; and those who do think anything of it want to try it first and pay me after.”

“If you could have another three wishes, would you use them?” The old man asked, eyeing him keenly.

“I don’t know,” said the soldier. “I don’t know.”

He took the paw, dangling it between his forefinger and thumb, and suddenly threw it into the fire. Mr. White, with a slight cry, stooped down and snatched it out.

“Better to let it burn.” The soldier said, solemnly.

“If you don’t want it, Morris, give it to me.” Mr. White said.

“I won’t. I threw it on the fire. If you keep it, don’t blame me for what happens. Throw it in the fire again like a sensible man.” The soldier said grimly.

Mr. White shook his head and examined his new possession closely. “How do you do it?” he asked.

“Hold it up in your right hand and say the wish out loud, but I warn you of the consequences.” The sergeant-major said.

“Sounds like the Arabian Nights. Do you think you might wish for four pairs of hands for me?” Mrs. White joked as she rose to set the supper.

Her husband drew the talisman from his pocket, and all three burst into laughter as the sergeant-major, looking alarmed, caught him by the arm. “If you must wish, wish for something sensible.” He said gruffly.

Mr. White dropped it back in his pocket, placed the chairs, and motioned his friend to the table. During supper, the talisman was partly forgotten. Afterward the three sat fascinated, listening to a second installment of the soldier’s adventures in India.

“If the tale about the monkey’s paw is as exaggerated as those he has been telling us, we won’t make much of it.” The son joked, closing the door behind their guest who had to catch the last train.

“Did you give him anything for it?” Mrs. White inquired, regarding her husband closely.

“A little. He didn’t want it, but I made him take it. He again urged me to throw away the paw.” The old man admitted, blushing slightly.

“Not likely! Why, we’re going to be rich, famous, and happy. Start by wishing to be an emperor, father; then you can’t be ordered around by mother.”

He darted around the table, chased by the angry Mrs. White who was armed with a rag.

Mr. White took the paw from his pocket and eyed it suspiciously. “I don’t know what to wish for, and that’s a fact,” he said, slowly. “It seems to me, I’ve got all I want.”

“If you only paid off the house, you’d be quite happy, wouldn’t you? Well, wish for two hundred pounds, then; that’ll just do it.” The son suggested, his hand on his father’s shoulder.

The father, smiling shamefully at his indulgence, held up the talisman. His son sat down at the piano and struck a few impressive chords, his face solemn as he winked at his mother.

“I wish for two hundred pounds.” The old man said clearly.

A fine crash from the piano greeted the words, interrupted by a shuddering cry from the old man. His wife and son ran toward him.

“It moved! As I wished, it twisted in my hand like a snake.” He cried, looking at the object on the floor with disgust.

“Well, I don’t see the money, and I bet I never shall.” His son said, picking it up and placing it on the table.

“It must have been your imagination.” His wife suggested, regarding him anxiously.

He shook his head. “Well, never mind. There’s no harm done, but it gave me a shock all the same.”

They sat down by the fire again while the two men finished their pipes. Outside, the wind was higher than ever, and the old man jumped nervously at the sound of a door banging upstairs. An unusual and depressing silence settled upon all three, lasting until the old couple retired for the night.

“I expect you’ll find the cash in a big bag on the middle of your bed, and something horrible squatting on top of the wardrobe, watching you pocket your ill-gotten gains.” The son joked as he said goodnight.

The old man sat alone in the darkness, gazing at the dying fire, and seeing faces in it. The last face was so horribly ape-like, he gazed at it in amazement. It got so vivid, he felt for a glass of water to throw over it. His hand grasped the monkey’s paw, and with a little shiver he wiped his hand on his coat and went to bed.

humor, life

The Boy in Pink

I am excited to say I can now call myself a CreepyPasta author! They posted Deadlands on Wednesday, and I found it by accident yesterday. That’s not a complaint, it’s a happy surprise. It was surreal to see my story on the site I’ve visited almost daily for several years. After this post I would like to complete the next story I’m working on. If I can get a few noticed, maybe Bestie’s husband will take pity on me and help with my domain sooner. In the meantime, it’s back to business.

I had a lot of trouble deciding what to write about next in regards to my personal adversities. There’s still so many to choose from, like wetting my pants in Mom’s office at 12, or puking all over Bestie when I smelled tuna. Then the puke thing reminded me of getting puked on myself, and I thought, yea, that’ll do. It’s funny for two reasons because it coincides with my worst ‘mistaken for a boy’ experiences.

For this story we return to 6th grade, but first, I need to introduce Pumba (named for her amazing personality, not appearance. She’s actual super pretty). She came to our school in 5th grade, but because I was being raised to follow in our culture’s ignorant footsteps, we hated each other that first year. Now, she is the only friend I still have from high-school besides Thelma.

Was I confused to walk into the first day of 5th grade to see my first black kid? Sure I was, but I didn’t care. I didn’t speak to kids who weren’t Bestie, and I assumed she would be no different. I only wanted to sit quietly until class began, but she talked to me first. Before I relay our first interaction, let me remind you I had a the first of two boy’s bowl haircuts, boy clothes, and purple flower flip-flops. Mom told me I would regret he haircut, but I wouldn’t listen. As always, I would have to learn the hard way… except twice this time.

“Hi, why are you wearing girl’s shoes?” Pumba asked, curious.

I remained silent at first, but decided “because I’m a girl” was a safe enough answer. Fool.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were a boy.” Pumba replied. She spoke softly, she wasn’t trying to be heard by others… but she was.

As surrounding children stopped their own activities to laugh, a mixture of anger and humiliation radiated through me. It wasn’t the first time I was mistaken for a boy, but it was the worst (up to that point).

I identified with Naruto so hard purely because people looked at me the exact same way. I hung in there for every annoying “believe it!” catchphrase just to see someone else endure the same thing. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t able to become a ninja.

My little brain grasped for any comeback to turn the tide and settled on, “Why are you going to this school? Black kids go to the public schools!”

“I’m not black, I’m Indian.” She replied, completely unfazed by my ignorance.

I ran to class, too frightened to say “I thought they were all dead.” Clearly they weren’t, and I couldn’t afford to be wrong again. Later, Dad tried explaining the difference between India and the Indians I knew of, but it would be years before I understood countries beyond our own existed. The important thing is, Pumba and I were forced to spend several hours alone at the end of 5th grade and we became close friends as a result.

That’s why, in 6th grade, when our school rented a greyhound bus to shuttle us to a museum over two hours away, we sat next to each other. Two other friends, Maggie and Meg, sat behind us and we settled in for a long ride. Unfortunately, about thirty minutes into the drive, Pumba began to feel sick. We weren’t concerned, she never said it was a nauseas sick – if she had, I would have moved.

As it was, I turned in my seat to talk with Meg and Maggie while she rested quietly, head leaned against the window. I had all but forgotten her when I felt the light tap on my shoulder. I turned to see her sitting erect, eyes wide, one hand covering her mouth, the other pointing to the rear of the bus.

For 11yr old me, it was an almost comical sight. “Ha, what’s wrong, are you…” that’s how far I got before noticing there was something seeping between the fingers of the hand covering her mouth. Then time slowed as I saw she was actively vomiting.

I understood her request too late. As I fell backwards in desperate attempt to get out of her way, the dam broke. Violent jets of vomit threw her hand aside, spraying me as I lay fallen in the center aisle. Large brown chunks covered my torso and legs as I scrambled to roll clear of the chaos. When it was over, teachers rushed to Pumba’s aide, ignoring my primal screams and gags completely.

I ran into the small, smelly restroom to clean myself up. It was no easy task, but I managed to wipe my arms and legs clean. My shirt however, was ruined. I removed the… chunky bits, but the stains and stench remained.

When I came out, a chaperone approached me. “Well, it looks like you got most of it off… I’m sure you can get a t-shirt at the gift shop.” She smiled, lifting her hand as if she were going to pat me on the back, but dropped it awkwardly as she remembered my soiled status. I stared at her blankly until she returned to her seat.

I reluctantly returned to my own upon accepting no better option was available. Thankfully Pumba didn’t get sick again, but I couldn’t help be a little salty over her cleaner shirt. She had a line down the front, but minor drippings compared to the full drenching I received. I stared at my feet until arrival, finding it easier to ignore the looks of disgust as the stench overpowered any fragrance sprayed to combat it.

In my youthful naïveté, I believed they would take us to the gift shop first. You know, so we could buy those promised t-shirts? No. Gift shops were for the end of the tour. It took our first guide’s insistence for a teacher to compromise by going to the gift shop for us. Pumba didn’t bring money, but Teacher bought her a blue museum shirt I would have been pleased with.

With my $20, she purchased a hot pink nightmare with a picture of our state on the front, and list of state facts on the back. It was a size too big and as she handed it to me she said, “I had to cover the tax for you, but I thought you might like to have at least one pink shirt.” I think she expected a thank you, but I was frozen in a state of disbelief.

Instead of reaching for it I asked, “Can I take it back? I hate it so much.”

Obviously she said no. As we walked away to change, I heard the tour guide ask, “Why would you get the boy pink?” I quickened my pace before I could hear any more.

I was forced to change into the shirt, but as I followed Pumba into the girl’s restroom an employee stopped us. “Wait! You can’t go in there! That’s the women’s!”

A teacher had to intervene before I was allowed to enter. For once, other children were the least of my worries. They were terrible, but practically neutralized under public scrutiny. No, the big problem from that point became that special breed of adult who thinks they’re the most charmingly witty souls to ever walk the earth. Every employee who spoke to us and most passing patrons noticed me.

The most popular line was “Hey, it takes a real man to wear pink.” which was almost bearable if not for the playful punches to the arm.

A close second, especially once we made it to the outdoor trails and exhibits, was “I could spot y’all a mile away thanks to this young feller!”

Honorable mentions:

“Well starch my knickers! Never seen a fella love pink s’much!”

“Don’t feel bad, Boy. I had a nephew who was backwards, but he did ok later in life.”

“What’s wrong, Champ? Get dressed in the dark this morning? Looks like you grabbed your sisters shirt don’t it?”

“Scuse me, son. I was just reading your shirt there… sure is pretty.”

When the long day came to an end I was too angry to tell my parents, but I didn’t have to. Apparently my teacher asked Mom to be reimbursed for her tax money. I knew she found out about the shirt by the look on her face. When saw me wearing the monstrosity she yelled, “Is that why she’s wearing that hideous thing?!”

I got really smug. Mom was having an episode and I knew exactly what that teacher was in for. Mom was ushered into a classroom where we could no longer hear what was said, but I knew victory was at hand. The one thing she got really serious about with school was money. Dad wasn’t there to balance her fury, and by time she was done they reimbursed the $20, gave me a school shirt to wear home, and made the teacher keep the pink nightmare.

It was far from a total win. I still didn’t get to buy stuff I actually wanted from the gift shop and my original shirt was in a trashcan, but it ended better than I expected. If anything, finally accepting I couldn’t pull off that haircut no matter how I wore it was the true victory.

For the record, Pumba went on to be our graduating class’ success story. She got fancy enough to have a view of Bryant Park in New York for a time. These days she is settled down and happily married with two beautiful, little poodle dogs. Not literal poodles, but they have that look. The point is, we’re all super proud.

Thank you for reading! Life is going to be busy for a while as we have to travel home for a family gathering tomorrow, and next week I have to clean out a junk closet so Hubby can fix the ceiling. Apparently we had a roof leak that is beginning to grow mold, so. Fun. Aside from finishing my scary story, I hope to start my next classic soon. I’m not sure which to choose yet, but if anyone has suggestions I’m completely open to them. Eventually I would like to do Dracula, but I’m not quite ready to tackle a full length book yet. I think I need to get my domain up and organized before I take on a project that large.

Stay safe out there! Sometimes they really are out to get you.

Poetry Disclaimer: The below poetry is horrible. Do not read it if you are serious about poetry. It is for amusement purposes only. This was written by me as a crazed, suicidal teenager. PLEASE DO NOT HATE ME FOR IT. I have nothing but respect for ALL religions and one like this is rare, but my OCD will go insane if I skip one. For full poetry details see Sex, Drugs, & Robbery.

“Breathe Tonight”



Why is this so ridiculous?
Life is so utterly meticulous.
“Oh God, why me?”
Why say “oh God”?
God is nothing but a myth of a fraud.

People ask forgiveness in prayer,
Hoping life will be fair.
Life is a curse not fit living,
Thinking God is a gift that keeps giving.

God is a bedtime story,
To drown the screams in your head roaring.

The human soul, a myth or a role?
A story untold, waiting to unfold?

There is no salvation,
No hope of revelation.
Live each day, hoping not to suffer,
Lay low, and hope you recover.

No one cares,
There’s no one else,
There is no God, save yourself.
Classics, horror

The Call of Cthulhu

H.P. Lovecraft, first written in 1926; first published in Weird Tales magazine, 1928. Translated into modern English, but otherwise exactly the same. Chapters separated by page breaks. 

I.

The Horror in Clay.

I think the most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to connect all its contents. We live on a peaceful island of ignorance in the middle of an infinite black sea, and we were not meant to travel far. The sciences, each struggling in its own direction, have so far done us little harm; but some day, their discoveries will uncover terrifying vistas in our reality and reveal our fragile position in it. We will either go crazy from the deadly knowledge or flee into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

Theosophists have guessed at the awesome grandeur of the cosmic cycle where our world and the human race form short-lived events. They have hinted at strange survivals in terms that would freeze your blood if not disguised as bland optimism. Yet they were not the ones who brought a single glimpse of forbidden ages that chills me when I think of it and maddens me when I dream of it. That glimpse, like all dreaded glimpses of truth, came from an accidental piecing together of separate things – in this case an old newspaper article and the notes of a dead professor. I hope no one else will accomplish this realization; certainly, if I live, I will never knowingly supply a clue to such a hideous puzzle. I believe the professor also intended to remain silent regarding the part he knew, and that he would have destroyed his notes had he not died suddenly.

My knowledge of the thing began in the winter of 1926-27 with the death of my grand-uncle George Gammell Angell, Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. Professor Angell was widely known as an authority on ancient inscriptions and often advised heads of prominent museums; he was remembered by many when he passed at the age of ninety-two. Locally, interest was intensified due to the obscurity of the cause of death. The professor was struck when returning from the Newport boat; witnesses say he fell suddenly after a nautical looking black man bumped into him. The man came from one of the strange dark courts on the steep hillside that formed a short cut from the waterfront to the professor’s home on Williams Street. Doctors were unable to find any visible cause, but after perplexed debate concluded a lesion of the heart caused by the elderly man’s brisk climb up a steep hill was responsible for his death. At the time, I saw no reason to disagree with this conclusion, but now I am inclined to wonder – and more than wonder.

As my grand-uncle’s heir, for he died a childless widower, I was expected to go over his papers thoroughly; for that reason, I moved his entire set of files and boxes to my home in Boston. Many of the materials I put together will later be published in American Archeological Society, but there was one box I found exceedingly puzzling, and felt a strong aversion from showing it to others. It had been locked, and I did not find the key until I thought to examine the ring my uncle always carried in his pocket. Then I succeeded in opening it but was only confronted by a greater and more closely locked barrier. What could be the meaning of the odd clay sculpture and disconnected writings and articles I found? Had my uncle, in his later years, become gullible to the most superficial deceits? I decided to find the eccentric sculptor responsible for this apparent disturbance of the old man’s peace of mind.

The sculpture was a rough rectangle less than an inch thick and about five by six inches in area; obviously of modern origin. However, its designs were far from modern in atmosphere and suggestion; although there are many wild, unusual interlocking planes, they do not recreate that cryptic regularity found in prehistoric writing. The bulk of these designs certainly seemed to be writing; though despite much familiarity with my uncle’s papers, my memory failed to identify this species, or hint at its remotest affiliations.

Above these hieroglyphics was an illustrated figure of purpose, though its impressionistic finish prohibited a clear idea of its nature. It seemed to be a monster only a sick mind could conceive. If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination simultaneously produced pictures of an octopus, dragon, and human caricature, I would not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head sat atop a grotesque, scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it shockingly frightful. Behind the figure was a vague suggestion of a Cyclopean architectural background.

Aside from a stack of newspaper clippings, the papers that came with this oddity were in Professor Angell’s handwriting; they made no pretense to literary style. What seemed to be the main document was titled “CTHULHU CULT” in characters painstakingly printed to avoid the incorrect reading of a word so unheard of. The manuscript was divided into two sections, the first which was headed “1925 – Dream and Dream Work of H. A. Wilcox, 7 Thomas St., Providence, R.I.”, and the second, “Narrative of Inspector John R. Legrasse, 121 Bienville St., New Orleans, La. At 1908 A. A. S. Mtg. – Notes on Same, & Prof. Webb’s Acct.” The other manuscript papers were all brief notes, some were accounts of the strange dreams of different people, some were quotes from theosophical books and magazines (notably W. Scott-Elliot’s Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria). The rest comment on long-surviving secret societies and hidden cults, with references in mythological and anthropological source-books such as Frazer’s Golden Bough and Miss Murray’s Witch-Cult in Western Europe. The clippings mostly hint to weird mental illnesses and outbreaks of group mania in the spring of 1925.

The first half of the main manuscript told a very peculiar tale. On March 1st, 1925, a thin, dark young man of deranged and excited appearance came to Professor Angell carrying the clay sculpture, which was then very damp and fresh. His card read Henry Anthony Wilcox. My uncle recognized him as the youngest son of an excellent family he slightly knew, who had recently been studying sculpture at Rhode Island School of Design and living alone at the Fleur-de-Lys Building near the school. Wilcox was a precocious youth, his genius and eccentricity well known, and since childhood he had a habit of gaining attention through telling strange stories and odd dreams. He called himself “psychically hypersensitive”, but the serious-minded folk of the ancient commercial city dismissed him as merely “strange”. Never socializing much with his kind, he gradually dropped from the social eye, and was now known only to a small group of art enthusiasts from other towns. Even the Providence Art Club, anxious to preserve its conservatism, found him quite hopeless.

During the visit, the sculptor abruptly asked for uncle’s help in identifying the hieroglyphics on the sculpture. He spoke in a dreamy, strained manner, which made it difficult to sympathize with him; and my uncle’s reply was sharp because the clearly visible freshness of the tablet implied it was new. Wilcox’s reply impressed my uncle enough to make him write it verbatim, it was fantastically poetic and defined his whole conversation. I have since found it highly characteristic of him. He said, “It is new, indeed, for I made it last night in a dream of strange cities; and dreams are older than the brooding Tyre, or the contemplative Sphinx, or the garden-girdled Babylon.”

It was then he began telling a story that jogged a forgotten memory and uncle became interested. There had been a slight earthquake tremor the night before, the most considerable in New England for some years; and Wilcox’s imagination was greatly affected. Upon going to sleep, he had an unprecedented dream of great Cyclopean cities, titan blocks, and sky-high monoliths, all dripping with green ooze and sinister with dormant horror. Hieroglyphics covered the walls and pillars, and from some undetermined point below came a voice that was not a voice; a chaotic sensation that only imagination could translate into sound, but he attempted to pronounce the almost unpronounceable jumble of letters, “Cthulhu fhtagn”.

This verbal jumble was the key to remembering what excited and disturbed Professor Angell. That night, after waking suddenly, he questioned the sculptor at length. Chilled and still wearing his pajamas, he studied the sculpture with almost frantic intensity. Wilcox later said my uncle blamed his old age for his slowness in recognizing both hieroglyphics and pictures. Many of his questions seemed highly out-of-place to the youth, especially those trying to connect the designs with strange cults or societies; and Wilcox did not understand the repeated promise of silence in exchange for admitting he belonged to some widespread mythological religious group. When Professor Angell became convinced the sculptor was truly ignorant of any cult or cryptic lore, he besieged the youth with demands for reports of future dreams. This brought regular information. After this first interview, the manuscript tells of daily reports where the youth relates startling dream fragments, each containing some terrible Cyclopean vista of dark and dripping stone with a subterranean voice or intelligence shouting in gibberish. The two sounds repeated most often are those made by the letters “Cthulhu” and “R’lyeh”.

On March 23rd, Wilcox failed to appear; inquiries at his home revealed he developed an obscure fever and went to his family home on Waterman Street. He had cried out in the night, waking several other artists in the building, and has alternated between unconsciousness and delirium since. My uncle immediately telephoned the family and kept close watch over the case; often calling the Thayer Street office of Dr. Tobey, whom was in charge. The youth’s feverish mind was apparently dwelling on strange things; and the doctor shuddered as he spoke of them. They included not only a repetition of what he had dreamed before, but touched wildly on the gigantic thing “miles high” walking about. He never fully described this object, but occasional frantic words convinced the professor it must be identical with the nameless monstrosity he tried to depict in his dream-sculpture. Reference to this object always came before the young man’s collapse into lethargy. His temperature was not greatly above normal; but his condition as a whole suggested true fever rather than mental disorder.

On April 2nd, at 3 p.m. every trace of Wilcox’s sickness suddenly vanished. He sat upright in bed, astonished to find himself at home and completely ignorant of what happened in dream or reality since the night of March 22nd. Pronounced well by his doctor, he returned home in three days, but was of no further assistance to Professor Angell. All traces of strange dreaming vanished with his recovery, and my uncle kept no record of his dreams after a week of pointless accounts.

The first part of the manuscript ended here, but references to scattered notes gave me much to think on – so much, in fact, the only explanation for my continued distrust of the artist was the skepticism my belief system was made of at the time. The notes described dreams of various people during the same period as Wilcox’s strange dreams. My uncle instituted an impressive list of questions to nearly all the friends he could without being rude, asking for nightly reports of their dreams, and the dates of any notable visions for some time past. The reactions to his request varied; but he must have received more responses than any ordinary man could handle without a secretary. This original correspondence was not preserved, but his notes formed a thorough and significant account. Average people in society and business – New England’s traditional “salt of the earth” types – gave an almost completely negative result. Though scattered cases of uneasy but formless dreams appear here and there, always between March 23rd and April 2nd – the period of Wilcox’s delirium. Scientific men were little more affected, though four vaguely described cases suggesting glimpses of strange landscapes, and in one case a dread of something abnormal is mentioned.

The answers came from the artists and poets, and I know if they had been able to compare notes, panic would have ensued. Lacking their original letters, I half suspected my uncle asked leading questions or edited the correspondence to match what he was determined to see. That is why I continued to feel Wilcox, somehow aware of my uncle’s old data, had been fooling the veteran scientist. These responses from artists told a disturbing story. From February 28th to April 2nd, a large portion of them dreamed very bizarre things, the intensity growing immeasurably stronger during Wilcox’s delirium. Over a fourth of those who reported anything, reported scenes and half-sounds not unlike the ones Wilcox described; some confessed a sharp fear of the gigantic nameless thing at the end. One case, which the note describes with emphasis, was very sad. The subject, a widely known architect with inclinations toward theosophy and occultism, went violently insane on the date of Wilcox’s seizure, and he died several months later after incessant screaming to be saved from a demon escaped from hell. Had my uncle referred to these cases by name instead of number, I would have tried to personally investigate; as it was, I only found a few. All of these reviewed the notes in full. I have often wondered if all the professor’s subjects were as puzzled by his questions as these few were. It is good no explanation will ever reach them.

The newspaper clippings mention cases of panic, mania, and eccentricity during that time frame. Professor Angell must have used a paper cutter, for there was a tremendous number of articles from around the world. Here was a night suicide in London, where a lone sleeper jumped from a window after a shocking cry. A ranting letter to the editor of a paper in South America claimed a fanatic saw a horrible future in his dreams. A letter from California describes a theosophist colony as all wearing white robes for some “glorious fulfillment” that never arrives. Items from India speak cautiously of serious native unrest toward the end of March. Voodoo orgies multiply in Haiti, and African outposts report ominous whispers. American officers in the Philippians find certain tribes bothersome about this time, and New York policeman are mobbed by hysterical Levantines on the night of March 22-23. The west of Ireland is full of wild rumors, and a fantastic painter named Ardois-Bonnot hangs a blasphemous “Dream Landscape” in the Paris spring salon of 1926. There are numerous troubles in insane asylums, only a miracle could have stopped the medical community from noting strange similarities and coming to mystified conclusions. All told, it is a weird bunch of clippings. I can hardly imagine the callous rationalism that caused me to set them aside, but I was then convinced Wilcox knew the older matters mentioned by the professor.