Robert Bloch, first published in 1946; translated to modern English, otherwise exactly the same.
This story has been added to our Classics in the Rain collection! Listen to Danie Dreadful’s magnificent narration here for the full experience!
It always starts the same way. First, there’s the feeling… Have you ever felt the tread of little feet walking across your skull? Back and forth, back and forth? It starts like that. You can’t see who it is – after all, it’s on top of your head. If you’re smart, you wait for a chance and suddenly brush a hand through your hair, but you can’t catch the walker that way. He knows. Even if you clamp both hands flat to your head, he manages to wriggle through, somehow.
He’s terribly swift and can’t be ignored. If the footsteps don’t bother you, he wriggles down the back of your neck to whisper in your ear. You can feel his body – cold and tiny – pressed tightly against the base of your brain. It doesn’t hurt; there must be something in his claws to numb the pain… Although, later, you’ll find little scratches on your neck bleeding profusely, and that cold, tiny something will still be there – pressing and whispering. That’s when you try to fight him: you try not to hear what he says, because when you listen – you’re lost, and you must obey him.
Oh, he’s wicked and wise! If you dare to resist, he knows how to threaten you into submission, but I seldom try anymore; it’s better to listen and obey. As long as I’m willing to listen, things don’t seem so bad. He can also be soothing, persuasive, and tempting. He has promised me great things in that silken whisper, and he keeps his word!
Folks think I’m poor because I never have money and live in this old shack at the edge of the swamp, but he has given me riches. After I do what he wants, he takes me away – out of myself – for days. There are other places besides this world – places where I’m a king.
The people in town laugh at me and the girls call me ‘Scarecrow’. Yet sometimes – after I’ve done his bidding – he brings queens for my bed. Only dreams? I don’t think so; it’s the other life – the one in the shack – that’s a dream… That part doesn’t seem real anymore… Not even the killing…
Yes, I kill people; that’s what Enoch wants. That’s what he whispers about, but I don’t like it. I used to fight against it… I told you that, didn’t I? But I can’t anymore. I can’t see or catch him; I can only feel and hear him… and obey.
Sometimes he leaves me alone for days. Then, suddenly, I feel him there – scratching away at the roof of my brain. I hear his whisper, and he tells me about someone who is coming through the swamp.
I don’t know how he knows about them… He couldn’t have seen them, yet he describes them perfectly. “There’s a bum walking down Aylesworthy Road – a short, fat man with a bald head; his name is Mike. He’s wearing a brown sweater and blue overalls. He’s going to turn into the swamp in about ten minutes when the sun goes down. He’ll stop under the big tree next to the dump. You should hide behind the tree, and wait until he starts looking for firewood. Then, you know what to do. Get the hatchet. Hurry.”
Sometimes, I ask Enoch what he’ll give me, but, usually, I just trust him. I’m going to have to do it, anyway, so I’d rather get it over with. Enoch is never wrong, and he keeps me out of trouble. Well… except for last time.
One night, I was at home eating supper when he told me about this girl. “She’s coming to visit you,” he whispered. “A beautiful girl, all in black. She has wonderfully fine bones in her head.”
At first, I thought he was telling me about one of my rewards, but Enoch was talking about a real person. “She will come to the door and ask you to help fix her car. She had planned to take the side road into town, but now, the car is well into the swamp, and one of the tires is flat.”
It sounded funny to hear Enoch talk about things like tires, but he knows about them; he knows everything. “You will go with her when she asks. Don’t take anything. She has a wrench in the car. Use that.”
This time I tried to fight him. I kept whimpering, “I won’t do it, I won’t do it.” He only laughed and told me what he’d do if I refused. He told me over and over again.
“It’s better if I do it to her instead of you,” Enoch reminded me. “Or would you rather I—”
“No!” I said. “No… I’ll do it.”
“After all,” Enoch whispered, “I can’t help it. I must be fed every so often in order to stay alive – to stay strong – so I can give you things; that is why you must obey me. If not, I’ll simply stay right here and—”
“No!” I said. “I’ll do it.” And I did… She knocked on my door a few minutes later, and it was just as Enoch had said. She was a pretty girl with blond hair… I like blond hair. I was glad I didn’t have to damage it; I hit her behind the neck with the wrench.
Enoch told me what to do, step by step. After using the hatchet, I put the body into quicksand. Enoch was there, and he warned me about footprints, so I got rid of them. I was worried about the car, but he showed me how to use the end of a rotten log to pitch it in as well. I wasn’t sure it would sink, but it did – and much faster than I would have believed.
It was a relief to see the car go; I threw the wrench in after it, and Enoch told me to go home. Immediately, I felt the dreamy feeling come over me. Enoch promised something extra special for this one, and I sank into a deep sleep. I could barely feel the pressure in my head dissipate as Enoch left – scampering back into the swamp for his reward.
I don’t know how long I slept, but it must have been a long time. I only remember knowing Enoch was back and feeling that something was wrong… Then I heard the banging on my door. I waited for Enoch to tell me what to do, but he was asleep; he always sleeps afterwards. Nothing wakes him for days on end, and I usually enjoy the freedom, but not while I needed his help.
The pounding grew louder, and I couldn’t wait any longer. I opened the door, and Old Sheriff Shelby came inside. “Come on, Seth,” he said. “I’m taking you to jail.”
I didn’t say anything. His little, beady, black eyes were peering everywhere in my shack. When he looked at me, I felt so scared, I wanted to hide. He couldn’t see Enoch, of course. Nobody can… But Enoch was there; I felt him resting very lightly on top of my skull, burrowed down under a blanket of hair, clinging to my curls and sleeping like a baby.
“Emily Robbins’ parents said she was planning to cut through the swamp,” the Sheriff said. “We followed the tire tracks up to the old quicksand.” Enoch had forgotten about the tracks.
“Anything you say can be used against you,” Sheriff Shelby said. “Come on, Seth.”
I went with him; there was no other choice. We went into town, and a mob tried to rush the car. There were even women in the crowd! They kept yelling for the men to get me, but Sheriff Shelby held them off, and I was finally tucked away safe and sound in the jailhouse. He locked me up in the middle cell, and the two on each side of mine were vacant. I was all alone except for Enoch, and he slept through everything.
It was still pretty early, and Sheriff Shelby went out again with some other men. I guess he was going to try and get the body out of the quicksand. He didn’t ask any questions, and I wondered about that.
Charley Potter was different; he wanted to know everything. Sheriff Shelby left him in charge while he was away. After a while, he brought me breakfast and hung around to ask questions. I just kept still; I knew better than to talk to a fool like Charley Potter. He thought I was crazy – just like the mob outside. Most people in that town think I’m crazy because of my mother and the way I live alone out in the swamp.
What could I say to Charley Potter? If I told him about Enoch he’d never believe me, so I didn’t talk; I listened. Then, he told me about the search for Emily Robbins and how Sheriff Shelby started wondering about some other disappearances from a while back. He said there would be a big trial, and the District Attorney was coming down. He’d heard they were sending a doctor to see me right away.
Sure enough, just as I finished breakfast, the doctor came. Charley saw him drive up and let him in. He had to move fast to keep the mob from breaking in with him. They wanted to lynch me, but Dr. Silversmith got in all right; he’s a little man with one of those funny beards on his chin, and he made Potter go up front while he sat outside the cell and talked to me.
Up to this point- I hadn’t really felt anything. It had all happened so fast, I didn’t get a chance to think. It was like part of a dream – the Sheriff, the mob, the talk of a trial, and the body in the swamp… But somehow, the sight of Dr. Silversmith changed things.
He was real, all right. You could tell he wanted to send me to the Institution after they learned about my mother. That was one of the first things he asked— wanting to know what happened to my mother. He seemed to know quite a lot about me, and that made it easier to talk.
Pretty soon, I found myself telling him all sorts of things – like how we lived in the shack, and how my mother sold love potions… Then there was the big pot we gathered herbs in at night… And at night, I would hear strange noises from far away when she went off alone… I didn’t want to say much more, but he already knew they had called her a witch. He even knew how she died. One evening, Santo Dinorelli came to our door and stabbed her because his daughter ran away with a trapper after taking one of her potions.
He knew I lived in the swamp alone now, too, but he didn’t know Enoch was on top of my head – still sleeping – not knowing or caring what was happening to me…
Somehow, I was talking to Dr. Silversmith about Enoch. I wanted to explain that it wasn’t really me who killed this girl. I had to mention Enoch and the bargain my mother made in the woods. She hadn’t let me come with her – I was only twelve – but she took some of my blood in a little bottle. Then, when she came back, Enoch was with her; he was to be mine forever and always look after me.
I told him this very carefully and explained why I couldn’t help myself now – because ever since my mother died, Enoch had guided me. Yes, all these years Enoch had protected me – just as mother planned. She knew I couldn’t survive alone… I admitted this to Dr. Silversmith because I thought he was a wise man who would understand.
I knew almost immediately that I had been wrong. Dr. Silversmith leaned forward – stroking his little beard and saying, “Yes, yes,” over and over; I could feel his eyes watching me. The same kind as the people in the mob. Mean, prying, untrusting eyes… Then, he began asking all sorts of ridiculous questions. About Enoch, at first— although, I knew he was only pretending to believe in Enoch.
He asked me how I could hear Enoch if I couldn’t see him and if I ever heard any other voices. He asked me how I felt when I killed Emily Robbins and whether I— No, I won’t even think about that question; he talked to me as if I were some kind of— of a crazy person!
He had only been pretending not to know about Enoch… He proved that by asking me how many other people I had killed – and then he wanted to know where their heads were! He couldn’t fool me any longer.
I just laughed at him and shut up tighter than a clam. After a while, he gave up and went away, shaking his head. I laughed at him because he wanted to know all of my mother’s secrets – mine and Enoch’s as well – but he didn’t; then, I went to sleep.
I slept most of the afternoon. When I woke, there was a new man standing in front of my cell. He had a big, fat, smiling face and nice eyes. “Hello, Seth,” he seemed very friendly. “Having a little snooze?”
I reached up to the top of my head. I couldn’t feel Enoch, but I knew he was there – still asleep. He moves fast even when he’s sleeping.
“Don’t be alarmed; I won’t hurt you.” The man said.
“Did that Doctor send you?” I asked.
The man laughed. “Of course not. My name’s Cassidy – Edwin Cassidy. I’m the District Attorney, and I’m in charge here. Do you suppose I could come in and sit down?” He asked.
“I’m locked in,” I said.
“I’ve got the keys from the Sheriff.” Mr. Cassidy said. He took them out, opened the cell, walked right in, and sat next to me on the bench.
“Aren’t you afraid? Don’t you know I’m supposed to be a murderer?” I asked.
“Why, Seth,” Mr. Cassidy laughed, “I’m not afraid of you. I know you didn’t mean to kill anybody.” He put his hand on my shoulder, and I didn’t draw away. It was a nice, fat, soft hand with a big, diamond ring that twinkled in the sunshine. “How’s Enoch?” he said.
I jumped. “Oh, that’s all right. That fool Doctor told me when I met him down the street. He doesn’t understand about Enoch, does he, Seth? But you and I do.”
“That Doctor thinks I’m crazy,” I whispered.
“Well, just between us, Seth, it did sound a little hard to believe at first, but I’ve just come from the swamp. Sheriff Shelby and some of his men are still working down there. “They found Emily Robbins’ body a little while ago, and there’s other bodies, too. A fat man, a small boy, and an Indian. The quicksand preserves them, you know.”
His eyes were still smiling, so I knew I could trust this man.
“If they keep going, they’ll find other bodies, too – won’t they, Seth?”
“But I didn’t wait any longer; I saw enough to understand you were telling the truth. Enoch must have made you do these things, didn’t he?”
I nodded again.
“Fine.” Mr. Cassidy said, pressing my shoulder. “See? We do understand each other; I won’t blame you for anything you tell me.”
“What do you want to know?” I asked.
“Oh, lots of things. I’m interested in Enoch, you see. How many people did he ask you to kill? All together, that is?”
“Nine,” I said.
“And they’re all buried in the quicksand?”
“Do you know their names?”
“Only a few.” I told him the names I knew. “Sometimes Enoch just describes them for me, and I go out to meet them,” I explained.
Mr. Cassidy sort of chuckled and took out a cigar; I frowned. “Don’t want me to smoke, eh?”
“Please— I don’t like it. My mother didn’t believe in smoking; she never let me.”
Mr. Cassidy laughed, but he put away the cigar and leaned forward. “You can be a big help to me, Seth,” he whispered. “I suppose you know what a District Attorney is.”
“Isn’t it a sort of lawyer… for trials and things?”
“That’s right. I’ll be at your trial, Seth. You don’t want to get up in front of all those people and tell them what happened, do you?”
“No, I don’t, Mr. Cassidy – not those mean town-people; they hate me.”
“Then here’s what you do; tell me all about it, and I’ll talk for you. That’s friendly enough, isn’t it?”
I wished Enoch was there to help me, but he was asleep. I looked at Mr. Cassidy and made up my own mind; I told him everything I knew. After a while he stopped chuckling, but only because he was getting so interested.
“One more thing,” he said. “We were able to identify several of the bodies from the swamp, but it would be easier if you could tell me where the heads are.”
I stood up and turned away. “I can’t tell you because I don’t know.” I said.
“I give them to Enoch,” I explained. “Don’t you understand? That’s why I have to kill people. Because he wants their heads.”
Mr. Cassidy looked puzzled.
“He always makes me cut off the heads and leave them behind,” I went on. “I put the bodies in the quicksand and go home. Then, He puts me to sleep and rewards me. After that, he goes away – back to the heads. They’re what he wants.”
“Why does he want them, Seth?”
“It wouldn’t do you any good to find them; you probably wouldn’t recognize anything.” I said.
Mr. Cassidy sat up and sighed. “But why do you let Enoch do these things?”
“If I don’t, he’ll do it to me; that’s what he always threatens. He needs them, so I obey.”
Mr. Cassidy watched me while I paced, but he didn’t say a word. He seemed to be very nervous all of a sudden, and when I came close, he leaned away. “You’ll explain all of that at the trial, won’t you? About Enoch and everything.”
He shook his head. “I’m not going to tell anyone about Enoch, and neither are you,” Mr. Cassidy said. “Nobody is even going to know Enoch exists.”
“I’m trying to help you, Seth. Don’t you know what people will say if you mention Enoch to them? They’ll say you’re crazy, and you don’t want that to happen.”
“No… But what can you do? How can you help me?”
Mr. Cassidy smiled. “You’re afraid of Enoch, aren’t you? Well, I was just thinking… Suppose you gave him to me?”
“Yea! Suppose you gave him to me? Let me take care of him during the trial. Then, he wouldn’t be yours, and you wouldn’t have to say anything about him. He probably doesn’t want people to know what he does, anyway.”
“That’s right,” I said. “Enoch would be very angry. He’s a secret, you know… But I hate to give him to you without asking, and he’s asleep.”
“Yes. On top of my skull. Only you can’t see him, of course.”
“Of course…” Mr. Cassidy gazed at my head and chuckled again. “Oh, I can explain everything when he wakes up. Once he knows it was for the best, I’m sure he’ll be happy.”
“Well… I guess it’s all right, but you must promise to take good care of him.” I sighed.
“Sure,” Mr. Cassidy said.
“And you’ll give him what he needs?”
“And you won’t tell a soul?”
“Not a soul.”
“You know what will happen if you refuse to give him what he wants, right? He’ll take it by force.” I warned Mr. Cassidy.
“Don’t you worry, Seth.”
I stood still for a minute because I could suddenly feel something move towards my ear. “Enoch,” I whispered. “Can you hear me?”
He heard; I explained how I was giving him to Mr. Cassidy, but Enoch didn’t say a word.
Mr. Cassidy didn’t say a word, either. He just sat there – grinning. I suppose it must have looked a little strange to see me talking to nothing…
“Go to Mr. Cassidy, now” I whispered, and Enoch went; I felt the weight lift from my head. That was all, but I knew he was gone. “Can you feel him, Mr. Cassidy?”
“What? Oh— sure!” He said, rising from his chair.
“Take good care of Enoch,” I said.
“Don’t put your hat on,” I warned. “He doesn’t like hats.”
“Oh, sorry… I forgot. Well, Seth, I’ll say goodbye, now. You’ve been a mighty great help, and – from now on – we can just forget about Enoch when it comes to telling anybody else. I’ll come back again and talk about the trial. Doctor Silversmith is going to tell folks you’re crazy; it would be best if you denied everything you told him… Now that I have Enoch, that is.”
That sounded like a fine idea; I knew Mr. Cassidy was a smart man. “Whatever you say. Just be good to Enoch, and he’ll be good to you.”
Mr. Cassidy shook my hand; then, he and Enoch left. I felt tired again; maybe it was the strain, or maybe I felt strange knowing Enoch was gone. Either way, I went back to sleep for a long time.
It was night when I woke to Charley Potter banging on the cell door – bringing me supper. He jumped and backed away when I said hello.
“Murderer!” he yelled. “They got nine bodies out in the swamp, you crazy fiend!”
“Why, Charley, I always thought we were friends.”
“Loony! I’m gonna get out of here and leave you locked up for the night. The Sheriff will make sure nobody breaks in to lynch you, but I think he’s wasting his time.” Charley turned the lights out and left. I heard him put on the padlock, and then, I was all alone for the first time… It was strange… me… alone… without Enoch… I ran my fingers across the top of my head; it felt bare and strange.
The moon was shining through the window, and I stood there looking out at the empty street. Enoch always loved the moon; it made him lively, restless, and greedy. I wondered how he felt now, with Mr. Cassidy. I must have stood there for a long time; my legs were numb when I heard the fumbling at the door.
The lock clicked open, and Mr. Cassidy rushed inside. “Take him off me!” He yelled. “Take him away!”
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Enoch— that thing of yours! I thought you were crazy— maybe I’m crazy— but take him off!”
“Why, Mr. Cassidy? I told you what Enoch was like…”
“He’s crawling around up there now. I can feel him, and I can hear him! The things he whispers!”
“But I explained all that, Mr. Cassidy… Enoch wants something, doesn’t he? You know what it is, and you have to give it to him. You promised.”
“I can’t! I won’t kill for him! He can’t make me—”
“He can, and he will.”
Mr. Cassidy gripped the bars on the cell door. “Seth, you must help me. Call Enoch. Take him back. Make him come back to you. Hurry!”
“All right, Mr. Cassidy.” I called Enoch. He didn’t answer. I called again, but he still didn’t answer.
Mr. Cassidy started to cry. I was shocked at first, but then, I felt kind of sorry for him. He hadn’t understood, after all. I know what it’s like when Enoch whispers that way… He starts by coaxing you, then he pleads, and then he threatens…
“You’d better obey,” I told Mr. Cassidy. “Has he told you who to kill?” Mr. Cassidy didn’t pay me any attention. He kept crying, and then, he suddenly opened the cell next to mine, went inside, and locked the door.
“I won’t,” he sobbed. “I won’t, I won’t!”
“You won’t, what?” I asked.
“I won’t kill Doctor Silversmith at the hotel and give Enoch his head. I’ll stay here, in the cell, where I’m safe! Oh you fiend, you devil—” He slumped down sideways, and I could see him through the bars dividing our cells – hunched over and tearing at his hair.
“You’d better,” I called out. “Or Enoch will do something. Please, Mr. Cassidy! Hurry!”
Then, Mr. Cassidy moaned, and I guess he fainted; he didn’t say anything else, and he stopped clawing. I called him once more, but he wouldn’t answer. So what could I do? I sat in the dark corner of my cell and watched the moonlight. Moonlight always makes Enoch wild.
Then, Mr. Cassidy started to scream. Not loud, but deep down in his throat. He didn’t move – just screamed. I knew it was Enoch, taking what he wanted… What was the point of looking? I couldn’t have stopped him, and I had tried to warn Mr. Cassidy… No, I just sat there and held my hands to my ears until it was over.
When I turned back around, Mr. Cassidy was still slumped against the bars, and only one sound could be heard. A purring. The soft, far away purring of Enoch after he has eaten. Then, I heard a scratching – the scratching of Enoch’s claws when he’s frisky after being fed. The sounds came from inside Mr. Cassidy’s head; it was Enoch, all right, and he was happy now.
I was happy, too. I reached my hand through the bars, pulled the jail keys from Mr. Cassidy’s pocket, opened my cell door, and I was finally free. There was no need to stay with Mr. Cassidy gone, and Enoch wouldn’t be staying, either. I called to him. “Here, Enoch!”
That was the closest I’ve ever come to seeing Enoch – a white streak that came flashing out of the big, red hole he ate in the back of Mr. Cassidy’s skull – then, I felt the soft, cold, flabby weight landing on my own head, and I knew he was home.
I walked through the corridor, opened the outer jail door, and tiny feet began to patter on top of my brain. Together, we walked into the night. The moon was shining, everything was still, and I could hear Enoch’s happy chuckling in my ear.