The answer to the age old question, “what the hell is wrong with you?”
Author: Dubbed Emotions
Now on Twitter: @DubbedEmotions
Hello readers! I started off writing about my crazy because life is a dark comedy, but I also enjoy submitting CreepyPastas.
I translate classics into modern English - I find them immensely more enjoyable to read this way and hope others will too.
W. Somerset Maugham, first published May 1924; translated to modern English, otherwise left exactly the same.
In August of 1917, I was required to travel from New York to Petrograd for work, and I was told to go through Vladivostok for safer traveling. I arrived in the morning and passed a dull day as best I could; the Trans-Siberian train was scheduled to depart at 9:00 that evening. I ate alone at the station restaurant, but it was crowded so I shared a small table with a funny-looking man. He was a tall, stout Russian, and his pudgy stomach forced him to sit a ways back from the table. His small hands were buried in rolls of fat, and his long, dark, thinning hair was brushed across his bald forehead while his sickly, clean-shaven face and double chin made him look naked. His nose was a funny little button on a mass of flesh, and his black, shining eyes were too small, but his big mouth was red and sensual. His black suit was shabby; it looked as if it had never been cleaned or pressed.
Our service was bad; it was almost impossible to get the waiter’s attention, so the Russian and I started talking. He spoke with an accent, but it wasn’t heavy, and his English was fluent. He asked several questions about me and – since my job required a certain level of caution – my answers were true but vague. I said I was a journalist, and he asked if I wrote fiction. When I answered, “only in my free time,” he began talking about Russian novelists. He was clearly an intelligent and educated man.
By now, we had finally gotten our cabbage soup, and my companion offered to share the small bottle of vodka he removed from his pocket. I do not know whether it was the liquor or the talkative nature of his race that made him share these things, but – without prompting – he told me a good deal about himself. He was noble-born, a lawyer, and a radical. Some trouble with the police had made it necessary for him to spend much of his time abroad, but now he was on his way home. Business had detained him at Vladivostok, but he expected to leave for Moscow in a week, and he would be charmed to see me if I were ever in the area.
“Are you married?” He asked.
I did not think it was any of his business, but I said yes, and he sighed a little. “I am a widower. My wife was Swiss – from Geneva – and a very cultivated woman. She spoke perfect English, German, and Italian; of course, her native language was French. Her Russian was above average, and she only had a slight accent.” He said.
He called to a passing waiter and asked how much longer until the next course. The waiter replied in a reassuring tone, hurried on, and my friend sighed again. “Since the revolution, the wait time in restaurants has been terrible.”
He lit his twentieth cigarette, and I looked at my watch – wondering if I should have a real meal before smoking.
“My wife was a very remarkable woman,” he continued. “She taught languages to the daughters of noblemen at one of the best schools in Petrograd. For a good many years, we lived together on perfectly friendly terms, but she had a jealous temperament; unfortunately, her love became a distraction.”
It was difficult for me to keep a straight face. He was one of the ugliest men I had ever seen. Sometimes, there is a certain charm in fat, red-faced, jolly men, but this gloomy obesity was repulsive.
“I do not pretend that I was faithful to her; she was not young when we married, and we were together for ten years. She was small, thin, and had a bad complexion with a bitter tongue. She was a passionately jealous woman and could not bear for me to be attracted to anyone else. She was not only jealous of other women but also of my friends, my cat and my books. Once, when I was out, she gave away my favorite coat – but I can be just as petty. I will not deny that she was boring, but I accepted her bitter personality as an act of God; I gave no more thought to rebelling against it than I would against bad weather or a head-cold. I denied her accusations as long as possible, and when it became impossible – I shrugged my shoulders and smoked a cigarette.
“The scenes she constantly made did not affect me very much; I led my own life. Sometimes, I wondered if it was passionate love or passionate hate she felt for me. There seems to be a very fine line between love and hate.
“We might still be together now if a very curious thing had not happened. One night, I awoke startled by my wife’s piercing scream and asked her what was the matter.
“She had a frightening nightmare in which I tried to kill her. We lived at the top of a large house, and the spiral stairs left a wide, open space in the center. In her dream – just as we arrived on our floor – I grabbed her and tried to throw her over the railing. It was a six-story fall to the stone floor below and meant certain death.
“She was very shaken. I did my best to soothe her, but for the next few days, she continued bringing it up, and despite my laughter, I could tell she was bothered by it. I could not help thinking of it, either; this dream showed me something I had never suspected. She thought I hated her – that I would be glad to get rid of her; she knew she was insufferable, and eventually, it occurred to her that I was capable of murder. Men’s thoughts are unpredictable; we think of ideas we would be ashamed to confess. Sometimes, I wished she would run away with a lover, and other times – for a sudden, painless death, but never – not ever had I thought to intentionally rid myself of an intolerable burden.
“The dream made an extraordinary impression on us both. It frightened my wife – making her more tolerant and a little less bitter – but when I walked upstairs, it was impossible not to see the railings and think of how easy it would be to make her dream come true. The rails were dangerously low; one quick push, and it would be done. It was hard to put the thought out of my mind. Then, months later, my wife woke me one night. I was very tired and exasperated.
“She was white and trembling from having the dream again. She burst into tears and asked me if I hated her. I swore by all the saints of the Russian calendar that I loved her, and she finally went back to sleep. It was more than I could do – I was left lying awake. I kept seeing her fall over the stair-rails and hearing her shriek before slamming against the stone floor; it made me shiver.”
The Russian stopped, and beads of sweat stood out on his forehead. He told the story well, and I listened closely. He poured the last of his vodka, and swallowed it in a single gulp.
“And how did your wife eventually die?” I asked after a pause.
He took out a dirty handkerchief and wiped his forehead. “By an extraordinary coincidence. Late one night, she was found at the bottom of the stairs with her neck broken.”
“Who found her?”
“She was found by one of the other tenants who came in shortly after the accident.”
“And where were you?” I cannot describe the cunning, malicious look he gave me; his little, black eyes sparkled.
“I was spending the evening with a friend. I did not come home until an hour later.”
At that moment, the waiter brought us the meat we ordered, and the Russian began shoveling enormous bites into his mouth. I was surprised; had he genuinely just admitted to murdering his wife? That obese and sluggish man did not look like a murderer; I could not believe he would have the courage. Perhaps he was making a joke at my expense…
In a few minutes, it was time to catch my train. I left and have not seen the man since, but I have never been able to make up my mind whether he was serious or not.
This is a Swamp Dweller exclusive; he owns all rights to this story and it cannot be used in any way/shape/form. Be sure to enjoy the full experience with his wonderful narration - available on YouTube or Podcast. If you haven’t heard his work, I highly recommend checking him out! He uploads so often that new viewers will be hard pressed to run out of content!
My friends call me Ray, but I’m changing the names of everyone else involved. We lived in Texas until last year when we moved to Alaska. There isn’t much I can say about my job without giving away the company, but – needless to say – my time is spent outdoors. Two years ago, my wife (Hailey) was involved in a car accident, and we fell on some fairly hard times. We also have two kids, so when it seemed like we were being offered an opportunity to get back on track – I could hardly say no. While we didn’t expect to love it out here, we thought it would be bearable long enough to pay off some debts… but no amount of research could have prepared us for this place…
It took over a year for my wife to physically recover, but she still suffers from PTSD. Working from home and not traveling on interstates fit into our new lifestyle nicely, though there are plenty of downsides. The fact that an ocean now separates us from the rest of our family is what bothers me the most. The kids didn’t want to leave their friends, but luckily they haven’t hit their teen years yet, or the resistance would have been much worse; Jason is only ten and Jenny is seven. Surprisingly, they’ve adjusted better than we could have dreamed.
The strange day and night cycles aren’t split into six month cycles like we had always heard; there’s a couple of occasions where it’s one or the other, but it’s mostly just long summer days and winter nights. The kids were happy to discover what a novelty it all was to everyone back home; during the first two weeks, they practically lived on FaceTime. It made us feel like everything would be ok – which was a big deal considering how poorly Hailey and I were coping.
The overall stress was unbelievable; moving to a new city is a major undertaking, but this was a different league entirely. We failed to appreciate the fact that Alaska is very cold; obviously, we knew it was something to prepare for in terms of buying the necessary supplies, but those who have never experienced a true winter simply can’t grasp how drastically it changes your daily life. We couldn’t afford four entirely new wardrobes on top of new tires and the countless other items we didn’t consider. Thankfully, our families were able to help; I don’t know what we would have done without them.
Our house is far nicer than what we had in Texas which was another plus for the kids if not slightly ironic. Normally, it’s more expensive to live in the city than in the country, but that’s not true here. We got a great deal on our house thanks to my company, but everything else is nearly double the price. We almost sold our vehicles rather than pay to have them brought over, but thank goodness we didn’t. Had we understood my drastically higher salary was to cover basic living expenses – I’m not sure we would have moved.
Our only neighbor (Odette) lives across the road; she and her husband bought their home over forty years ago, but sadly, he passed away last spring. She doesn’t get out often, but she’s very kind. The day we moved in, she came over with a delicious casserole; there’s nothing like a free meal after a long, hard day – especially when that day involved your first glimpse at the grocery store’s outrageous pricing.
Odette accepted our invitation to stay for dinner; she may be in her late sixties, but she can keep up with the best of us. She has a thousand stories, and the kids would have listened all night if we let them. Once they were finally in bed, the rest of us had coffee in the den… That’s when Odette’s stories started to get a little weird.
The light-hearted tone in her voice suddenly turned very grave, and her gaze dropped to the floor. “When you bought this house, did Allan tell you about any of the local legends we have around here?” Her words ran together as she blurted them out.
“Uh… nope; none that I can remember.” I was certain because there had been almost no contact with the actual owner; I looked to Hailey for confirmation, and she was also shaking her head. The drastic change in our neighbor’s demeanor made us feel like she was about to deliver terrible news – like one of the previous owners slaughtered his family or a serial killer was loose in the area – something dangerous.
“I had a feeling…” she sipped her coffee and took a deep breath before continuing. “Did you know Alaska has its very own Bermuda Triangle?”
We most certainly had not – but she told us all about it. Something like five out of every thousand people go missing around here, and most of them happen in that area. I was surprised but not necessarily frightened. A vast amount of the state is uninhabited; it wasn’t a stretch to assume people might go out, lose their way, and succumb to wildlife or the elements.
It was like Odette could hear the thought forming; that’s when she explained the Kushtaka legends. Apparently, Kushtaka are Otter-men. I remember hearing a few Bigfoot stories in the past, but nothing we dreamed could be real. Even as we listened to her describe the eight-foot-tall shapeshifters, I couldn’t create a serious mental image of a giant, man-like otter walking around on two legs – at least, not in a malicious way.
Our neighbor went on to describe how they would sometimes take the appearance of a loved one to lure their victims into the woods. There’s no shortage of people willing to give firsthand accounts of their own experience, though witness testimony doesn’t mean much to me. It seemed like the Kushkata were Alaska’s version of cow-tipping; just because something is impossible doesn’t stop everyone and their brother from saying it happened.
Even though these creatures usually lure victims to their doom – Odette claimed they sometimes appear in human form to approach those who are lost or injured. They pretend to offer the victim aid, but in reality, they intend to lead them deeper into the forest where they will turn the human into one of their own. I’m still unclear as to what that process entails, but I admittedly didn’t try very hard to learn. Even now it’s difficult for me to wrap my head around this.
When I asked Odette why she was telling us these things, she said it was because several years ago, her son (Cam) hired a Kentucky boy to work on his crew. From day one, they warned Kyle of the various dangers, but he thought they were “hazing the newbie”. When his aggravation began affecting his job performance, Odette invited the whole crew to a barbecue in hopes the boy would take her words more seriously… Unfortunately, he chose not to attend.
Then, at roughly 3:00pm the following Tuesday, Kyle signaled a bathroom break to his supervisor and stepped away; he was never seen again. No one expected him to actually vanish in the middle of a shift, but concerns grew rapidly when twenty minutes passed without his return. Initially, they hoped he was only trying to scare them for revenge; Cam and three others searched for him while the rest continued working. Formal searches were conducted over the following weeks, but there was simply no trace.
There’s nothing Odette could have done, but she clearly feels a deep remorse for his loss. Our hearts ached for the poor woman; Hailey and I found ourselves “believing” in the Kushtaka purely to ease her mind, but after she left, we began discussing it between ourselves. As someone who wasn’t raised with Otter-man lore, it was extremely difficult to take seriously, so what did we do? We turned to YouTube, and we discovered Alaska is known for many creepy cryptids, and Kushtaka stories are definitely among them.
The History channel has a great show called Missing in Alaska, and episode ten has what we were looking for. It told of a writer who came down to research the legend for a book, but he vanished, too! That’s insane! I won’t go through the whole video, but while it was enjoyable – it didn’t convince us Otter-men existed. We believed the locals truly believed in them, and that was good enough – we decided to humor the legend as a show of respect. Honestly, it encourages safer practices in the wilderness, and that can only be a good thing.
Overall, our strategy worked well, though I was admittedly nervous starting the new job when I learned some of our work would take us through the Triangle. My coworkers’ stories didn’t help, but after the first month passed without incident – things got easier. The days began to bleed together as life moved on in a beautifully mundane blur, and eventually, I forgot about the legends completely… until late February.
The job should have been simple; clear some land, do some digging, and get home before something gets frostbite. It was the same routine as any other day except for one thing – Jason’s birthday. He was disappointed I had to work and didn’t want to open his presents without me. We FaceTimed long enough for him to rip some paper, but the signal dropped. Luckily, Hailey had the foresight to give him the iPad first, and I felt less guilty about his decision to wait for the rest.
I worked like a machine; I didn’t even stop for lunch. My mind was laser focused on getting the job done and making it home. That evening, in the gray light of dusk, we packed up and made the short hike back to our trucks. It had been a long day, and no one lingered to chat. I was 5-10 minutes down the road when I realized my phone was back at the site. I had propped it up in a tree when talking to Jason and forgot to grab it when my hands were free again. If it had been anything else, I would have left it for the next day, but not my phone.
No thoughts of danger entered my mind; why would it? I was just going back to a place I knew well, and it would only take a moment to walk in, get my phone, and be back on the road. I drove as close to the site as safely possible and found myself running the rest of the way; I don’t understand why I felt so rushed. There was no doubt Jason had been fully engrossed in his new tablet all day – his other presents weren’t going anywhere – yet there I was – running through the wilderness like a total fool.
It was almost completely dark when I reached my phone. I hadn’t thought to grab a light so I’m not sure what I would have done if it had gotten dark first. As I stood there trying to turn on the phone’s flashlight, I heard what sounded like a fox crying out. A friend had recently found one trapped in an old hunter’s snare, and I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving if the same thing happened again.
I rushed off with my light pointed at the ground ahead. It made me nervous to leave the trail, but the cries sounded close by. I continued straight for twenty yards without seeing any sign of the fox. No matter how far I walked, it always seemed like it would be past the next shrub, but it never appeared. I must have walked 50-60 yards when the noise was immediately cut off – like someone pressed stop – and it suddenly began to snow. The weather out here is completely unpredictable, but that instance was strange even by Alaskan standards.
The howling wind was the only sound in the forest, and I had to move quickly. It doesn’t take long for flurries to become full-on snowstorms, and I didn’t want to think about what that could mean for me. I turned back the way I came as the snowfall increased, and the light began reflecting back into my eyes. The temperature was dropping rapidly, and my truck was the only shelter for miles. I opened the phone’s compass to ensure I maintained a straight line, but no matter which direction I pointed – it wouldn’t spin.
Hoping to use GPS, I hunched down against a tree and turned off the light while trying to open Google Maps, but there was no signal – not even to send a text. To make matters worse, I only had 48% battery remaining, and I was now surrounded by solid, white walls of snow. It’s a miracle I didn’t lay down to die on the spot; if I weren’t a father, things might have gone differently… I don’t know. Forcing myself to leave the tree’s illusion of safety was extremely difficult; I was practically crawling when I continued my desperate search for the path.
The wind tore into me from the right; my beanie doubled as a face-mask, and thankfully, I developed a habit of putting my gloves in a coat pocket, or they’d be in the truck with my boots and earmuffs. The body loses the most heat through its ears and feet. The added layer of my coat’s thick hood helped protect my head, but I feared the worst for my numb toes. No expense is spared when it comes to the boots we wear out here. They’re knee-high, insulated, and clunky as hell – perfect for the job, but awful for the roads. Like most of the guys – I change into something lighter at the end of the day, and that’s why I was out there in a pair of regular Red Wings.
Even though my feet were too cold to feel it, I knew each step forward was filling my boots with more snow as their rims dipped beneath the surface. If nothing else, the sheer weight increase was enough to be sure. My mind was overrun with daydreams of a life on disability after losing my feet; I would become an alcoholic, Hailey would leave me, the kids would hate me, and I would move in with my parents. It was as clear as the air was white as I realized my hands were also going numb from clawing myself forward against the worst gusts of wind. I would have cried, but I’m fairly certain my tear ducts were frozen shut. My… ‘snow-balls’… were lodged somewhere between my lungs, but I’m trying to keep this PG.
I was on the verge of digging a hole behind the next tree I stumbled into when I froze in place at the sound of a familiar voice calling my name. It was faint over the storm – I thought I imagined it, but then I heard it again, slightly louder. It was my boss, Brian. I screamed so loud, my raw throat felt like it was cracking open, but I wasn’t going to waste my chance at survival.
My heart swelled with overwhelming relief when he answered my cries, and I pulled myself upright while impatiently waiting for rescue. The wind calmed slightly, allowing me to hear his footsteps; the sound was both beautiful and terrifying. He was approaching from my left – that meant I had been going the wrong way. My sense of relief was tainted with horror as my brain entertained several what if’s in the short seconds it took for Brian to come into view. A fierce gust of wind stopped him roughly thirty feet away, and he shouted, “follow me” before turning to lead us back.
The thought of reaching my truck – mostly the heater – pushed away the flood of worst-case-scenarios; there would be plenty of nightmares and therapy bills for those later. Staying low, I hurried forward to close the gap between myself and Brian, but he was picking up speed as well. That was fine with me, the faster we got out the better, but I was so focused on trying to catch up that I failed to notice we still hadn’t reached the path. Even worse, I was moving at a dangerous speed with only a dim light pointed ahead of my feet. Any misstep could have easily twisted my ankle or worse.
Eventually, common sense took control over mindless panic. “Brian, wait!” I shouted as loudly as my raw throat would allow, but he didn’t seem to hear me. I tried again and again as we continued to speed through denser foliage. My feet were getting tangled in vines, thorny branches were tearing my coat, and I knew something was wrong… I should have known much sooner. Finally, I stopped dead in my tracks, turned around, and resumed moving as fast as I dared – fully aware I would not survive a fall.
My encounter with the… figure I called Brian played through my mind in a split-screen fashion alongside Odette’s warnings of Kushtaka taking on the appearance of friends to lure victims deeper into the forest. The only thing capable of pulling me from those thoughts was the horrifying sound of Brian’s voice calling out. “What are you doing? That’s the wrong way!”
I know it’s always a mistake to look back, but that’s exactly what I did. On the first glance I only saw an enormous, black shape dart past a tree and vanish from sight. My heart skipped at least three beats before I could force myself to move; the shape I saw was a minimum eight feet high, and there was a dark undertone in the voice that yelled, “come back, we’re trying to help you!”
It sounded so close when it spoke that I stumbled and couldn’t help casting a quick glance to my right. I didn’t think it was possible to feel more frightened than I already was, but the image of a giant, hairy, disfigured face was seared into my mind as I struggled to regain my footing. It was poking its enormous head from behind a tree; I can still see it clearly now, and there is little to no hope of forgetting in the future.
I’m not sure how long I ran, but it felt like an eternity. All I can say for certain is that I kept putting one foot in front of the other, and, eventually, I heard several voices calling my name from multiple directions in the distance. To say I was skeptical would be a vast understatement, but I didn’t know what to do. Every move felt fatal. What if they’re Kushtaka – or one of the several other cryptids I’ve heard about? What if they’re real people, but I run away? What if the first monster catches up while I’m standing here?
Hoping it was reasonable to assume monsters wouldn’t have flashlights – I decided to shout a tentative cry for help and run towards the first light I saw. Unfortunately, that cry turned into the high-pitched squeal of a teenage girl when a branch snapped directly behind me – in complete darkness. I surged forward – not sure if the snag at the bottom of my coat was real or imagined – and a dozen shouts rang out in reply. In seconds, spotlights were pointed in my direction, and the sound of weapons being prepared to fire was sweet, sweet music to my ears. I screamed, “it’s behind me” several times before collapsing, but I didn’t need to say more; everyone understood my meaning perfectly.
I was later told the Kushtaka probably left when it heard all the other people. As I thought, Hailey called Brian when I didn’t come home, and he took care of the rest. They all raced back to search for me; apparently there’s no point in wasting time with police in those weather conditions, and I’m grateful they didn’t. There’s no doubt I was close to the end.
After I collapsed, they zipped me into a sleeping bag Tommy had the foresight to bring from his truck, and basically carried me out of there like it was a body bag. I wasn’t too far off in the direction I was traveling, but I wouldn’t have found the trail. Even without the possible Kushtaka encounter or psychotic break – whichever you choose to believe – there’s no doubt I would have died out there if they hadn’t found me.
I had to spend a little time in the hospital because of the frostbite. It’s a very difficult healing process, but, miraculously, I’ve gotten to keep all my fingers and toes! I’m mostly ok now – but my sense of touch isn’t quite what it used to be in the worst places. There’s absolutely no circumstance that will ever get me to step foot into the wilderness alone again. In our original budget, we planned to live here for 4-5 years, but that increased with the unexpected living costs. I’m not sure if I can last that long…
Hailey and I have decided to call our families tomorrow in order to discuss possible options. If we could find jobs beforehand and arrange a place to stay while we look for a new house – it may be possible to leave sooner. We don’t plan to tell them about the Triangle – they would be deeply concerned for our mental health. We’re extremely unhappy, and I regularly work near dangerous wildlife; those are facts. I’m sure there are more, but those are enough.
I’m ashamed of how stupid it was to put myself in that situation at all, and it must be obvious to others. I can guarantee every person in our tiny town heard what happened that same day, but not one has questioned me about it. I don’t think I could say all of this if they did – not face-to-face – and I’m sure they know that, too, but writing it out like this… I don’t know, I kinda do feel a little better.
Well, that’s really all I have to say besides – thanks for doing what you do. Even if you don’t use this for your channel, I just appreciate that you took the time to read it. If I wasn’t trying to move away from this frozen wasteland, I would definitely be supporting you with more than likes and shares. Keep up the great work, and best wishes to you and your family!
Robert Louis Stephenson, first published 1884; translated to modern English, otherwise left exactly the same.
Every night, the undertaker, the landlord, Fettes, and myself went to the George Tavern in Debenham. Sometimes, more came, but – rain or snow – the four of us would be in our usual arm-chairs. Fettes was an old Scotsman; he was educated and owned a fair amount of property since he did not spend money on many things. He came to Debenham years ago when he was still young and was eventually accepted as a local. He developed a reputation for being an alcoholic and was well-known for spending his time at the George instead of church. Every evening, he would drink five glasses of rum and loudly rant vague, radical opinions while slapping the table for emphasis. The greatest portion of his visits were spent drunk and depressed with a glass in his right hand. We called him the Doctor because he was supposed to have some medical knowledge and had been known to set a fracture or reduce a dislocation in a pinch, but beyond these minor details, we did not know anything about his character or background.
On this dark, winter night it was past 9:00 when the landlord arrived. There was a sick man in the tavern – a respected business owner suddenly collapsed from a stroke on his way to Parliament, and the man’s even more respected London doctor came as soon as he received the telegraph. It was the first time such a thing happened in Debenham; the new railway had only just opened, and we were all moved by the event.
“He’s here.” the landlord said after filling and lighting his pipe.
“He who?” I asked. “It’s not the doctor, is it?”
“It is.” Our host replied.
“What’s his name?”
“Doctor Macfarlane.” The landlord said.
Fettes was far past his third drink and fairly intoxicated. He was staring around dumbly and nodding off until hearing Macfarlane’s name. He repeated it to himself softly, and then said it aloud with much more emotion.
“Yes, that’s his name – Doctor Wolfe Macfarlane.” The landlord said.
Fettes instantly sobered and became very serious. His eyes widened, and his words were loud and clear. We were all stunned by the sudden change; it was like seeing a man rise from the grave.
“My apologies,” he said. “I’m afraid I have not been paying attention to your conversation. Who is Wolfe Macfarlane?”
Then, after the landlord answered him, he said, “it cannot be – it can’t… but I would like to see him face-to-face.”
The undertaker gasped. “Do you know him?”
“I hope not!” Fettes replied. “But he has a strange name; it’s too fancy. Tell me, landlord, is he old?”
“Well, he’s not a young man, that’s for sure; his hair is white, but he looks younger than you.” Our host answered.
“He is actually three years older, but,” Fettes slapped the table, “rum and sin are what aged my face. Perhaps Macfarlane has an easy-going conscience and good digestion. Conscience! Listen to me – talking like I’m a good, decent Christian! But no, I’m not; I never spoke poorly of him, though Voltaire might have if he’d been in my shoes.”
“I assume you do not share the landlord’s good opinion of the doctor.” I remarked after a somewhat awful pause.
Fettes paid no attention to me.
“Yes,” he said, suddenly, “I must see him face-to-face.”
After another pause, a door on the first floor was slammed and footsteps could be heard coming up the stairs. “That’s the doctor; you can catch him if you hurry!” The landlord exclaimed.
The door to the old George Inn was only two steps away from the tavern. The wide, oak staircase almost ended in the street; there was room for a Turkish rug between the threshold and last step but nothing more. This small space was lit up brilliantly by the light on the stairway, the porch-lamp, and the warm radiance of the bar-room window; the George advertised itself brightly to passers-by in the cold street. We trailed slightly behind and watched Fettes meet Macfarlane face-to-face. The doctor was alert and vigorous; his white hair set off his pale features, and he was richly dressed in fine fabrics. He wore a gold, jewel-covered pocket-watch and a broad, lilac-speckled tie but carried his fur coat over his arm. His appearance left no doubt of his social status, and it was surprising to see our bald, dirty, pimpled bar-fly confront him at the bottom of the stairs.
“Macfarlane!” He said somewhat loudly.
The great doctor stopped short of the fourth step; he seemed surprised – if not slightly insulted – to be addressed in such a way.
“Toddy Macfarlane!” Fettes repeated.
The London doctor almost staggered. He stared at the dirty man for a brief second – shot a frightened glance behind him – and then whispered, “Fettes! It’s You!”
“Aye, it’s me! Did you think I was dead, too? It’s not so easy to forget our history.” Fettes said.
“Hush, hush!” The doctor exclaimed. “This is so unexpected; you look terrible – I hardly recognized you at first! I am overjoyed to see you, but we must say goodbye for now; my carriage is waiting, and I cannot be late for the train. Give me your address, and I will get in touch soon; we must do something for you, Fettes. I fear you are in a bad way, but we’ll figure it out like the good old days.
“Money!” Fettes cried. “Money from you?! The money I got from you is lying in the rain where I left it!”
Dr. Macfarlane had felt superior and confident, but this adamant refusal confused him all over again. A horrible, ugly look flashed across his face. “My dear man,” he said, “do as you please; it was not my intention to offend you. I will leave you my address, however—”
“I don’t want it – I don’t want to know where you live.” Fettes interrupted. “I heard your name and feared it might be you; I wanted to know if there was a God after all, and now, I’m sure there isn’t. Begone!” He remained standing between the stairs and doorway – forcing the doctor to walk around him.
Macfarlane hesitated at the thought of being humiliated, but there was a dangerous glimmer in his eyes. He noticed the carriage driver was watching the unusual scene from the street, and then he caught a glimpse of our little group huddled by the bar. The presence of so many witnesses convinced him to flee; he tried to squeeze by Fettes – brushing against the wall as he darted towards the door like a snake – but the Scotsman grabbed his arm. “Have you seen it again?” Even though he whispered, his words were painfully clear.
The rich, London doctor cried out sharply as he pulled away and ran out with his hands covering his head. Before any of us thought to make a move – the carriage was already rattling toward the station. The episode was over like a dream, but it had left proof of its existence. Later, a servant found Wolfe’s fine, gold glasses broken on the doorstep, and that very night – we all stood by the window with a sober Fettes looking pale and determined.
“God save us, Mr. Fettes! What in the world is going on? You have been saying strange things.” The landlord was the first to regain his senses.
Fettes turned to look us each in the face. “See if you can hold your tongues. Macfarlane is not a safe man to cross; those who did have already come to regret it.” Then he said goodnight and left into the black night without even finishing his third drink.
The three of us returned to our usual places by the big, red fire and four, clear candles. As we discussed what happened, our initial shock soon changed into curiosity. We stayed in the old George later than ever, and before leaving, each man had his own theory he was determined to prove. Suddenly, our worlds revolved around digging through our condemned friend’s past in order to discover his secret. It is nothing to brag about, but my theory was better than the others; I am probably the only man alive who could tell you this unnatural chain of events.
In his younger days, Fettes studied medicine in Edinburgh and was a quick learner. He was always polite and courteous in the presence of his teachers, and they quickly recognized him as an intelligent student who listened closely. As strange as it sounded when first hearing it – he was quite popular and pleased with his appearance in those days. At that time, there was an anatomy professor whom I will refer to by the letter K since his name is well known. He skulked through Edinburgh’s streets in disguise while the mob from that serial killer’s execution screamed for his partner’s blood; he was partly known for his own professional career, and partly because of a rival college professor. The students used his name as a swear, and many believed Fettes was on the road to success when he became one of the man’s favorites. Mr. K enjoyed a social lifestyle as an accomplished teacher; he liked a sly illusion as much as careful preparation, and Fettes deserved recognition in both regards – by his second year, he was a semi-regular teacher’s assistant.
Being in charge of the theater and lecture-hall were his main duties; he was responsible for making sure they were clean, keeping the other students in line, and handling the corpses they received. This last part was a very delicate ordeal. Mr. K housed him in the same building as the dissecting-rooms; after a night of turbulent pleasures – while his hands still shook and his sight was still blurry – he would crawl out of bed in the black hours before dawn to deal with the dirty, desperate thugs who supplied the bodies. He would open the door for the men who are now infamous throughout the land and help them with their tragic burdens; he paid their sordid prices, and stayed with the dead after they were gone. Then, he would sleep for another couple of hours to refresh himself for the next day.
The young man was completely unaware of those outside his small world. He was incapable of caring about another’s fate or misfortune, and he constantly fell victim to his own low ambitions. Though he was often cold and selfish – he had just enough self-control to stop himself from becoming a drunk or getting into legal trouble. Most of that motivation stemmed from how highly he valued the opinion of his professor and classmates; he had no desire to fail and enjoyed success with his studies. Everyday, he performed magnificently for Mr. K and rewarded himself with nights of loud parties.
The shortage of bodies was as troubling to him as it was to his teacher. The large class kept running out, and it was necessary to replace them no matter how unpleasant or dangerous the consequences were. Mr. K’s policy was to never ask questions; he told his assistants it was for the sake of their consciences. He used to say, “they bring the bodies, and we pay the price.” The professor did not allow himself to understand they were murder victims; he would have been horrified if those actual words were ever spoken aloud, but the casual way he discussed such a dark matter was offensive in itself.
Fettes often noticed the bodies were unusually fresh, and the thugs delivering them always wore ugly, threatening looks. He began putting things together in his mind but did not want to believe it. He only had three duties – taking what was brought, paying the price, and averting his eyes from any crime evidence.
One November morning, his silence was put to the test. He had been up all night with a throbbing toothache – pacing his room like a caged animal or throwing fits on his bed. Not long after he finally fell into an uneasy slumber, he was forced to receive a new delivery. The moon was bright, the wind was bitter cold, and the town still slept, but the day would soon begin. The thugs arrived later than usual, and they seemed more eager to leave than ever. Fettes led them upstairs, and their grumbling, Irish voices sounded like a dream; he leaned against the wall, dozing, as they removed the body from its sack. He had to shake himself awake to find the men’s money, and that was when he saw the dead face. With a slight gasp, he took two steps closer and raised his candle.
“God Almighty! That’s Jane Galbraith!” He cried.
The men said nothing, but they moved closer to the door.
I’m telling you, I know her,” he continued. “She was alive and healthy yesterday. It’s impossible for her to be dead; you should have gotten this body fairly.”
“Sir, you’re completely mistaken.” One of the men said – but the other glared at Fettes menacingly, and demanded the money immediately.
It was impossible to misunderstand the threat or exaggerate the danger. The young man’s heart failed him; he stuttered some excuses, counted out their pay, and watched his hateful visitors leave. As soon as they were gone, he hurried back to confirm his doubts, and there were a dozen unmistakable features he could use to identify the girl; they had been joking together only the day before, and now she had wounds that were clear signs of violence. He panicked and ran to his room where he seriously considered the weight of Mr. K’s instructions and the danger to himself; in the end, he was still sorely confused and decided to wait for advice from the older class assistant.
This was a young doctor, Wolfe Macfarlane; he was clever and dishonest – all of the reckless students favored him. He had traveled to study abroad, and his manners were agreeable but a little forward. He was a master on the stage and equally skilled with ice-skates or golf-clubs; his fine clothes were bold, and he rode a strong trotting-horse to complete his glorious appearance. The positions he and Fettes held required them to work closely together, and they became friends as a result. When bodies were scarce, they would drive Macfarlane’s wagon to a country cemetery where they could desecrate some lonely graves and deliver their prize to the dissecting-room before dawn.
On that particular morning, Macfarlane arrived earlier than usual; Fettes met him on the stairs, told him the story, and showed him the previous night’s delivery.
Macfarlane examined the marks on her body. “Yes,” he said with a nod; “it looks fishy.”
“Well, what should I do?” Fettes asked.
“Do? Do you want to do anything? I would think the less that’s said, the better.”
“Someone else might recognize her,” Fettes objected. “Everyone knows who she is.”
“Let’s hope not,” Macfarlane said. “If anybody does – you’ll simply say you didn’t, and that will be the end of it. This has been going on too long. If you say something now, you’ll get K into horrible trouble, and the two of us will be in the same boat. How would any of us look? What would we say for ourselves? We know one thing for certain – that all of these bodies have been murdered.”
“Macfarlane!” Fettes cried.
“Come on! You’ve surely suspected it yourself!” Macfarlane sneered.
“Suspecting is one thing—”
“—And proof is another. Yes, I know; and I’m as sorry as you are about this,” Macfarlane said, tapping the body with his cane. “The best thing for me is not to recognize it, and I don’t.” He added coolly. “You can, if you want; I won’t tell you not to. I think most well-traveled men would make the same decision, and I believe that is what K would expect from us. Why do you think he chose us for his assistants? It’s because he didn’t want old wives.”
His tone was effective, and Fettes agreed to do as Macfarlane said. The unfortunate girl’s body was promptly dissected, and no one seemed to recognize her.
One afternoon after work, Fettes went to a popular tavern and saw Macfarlane sitting with a stranger. He was small, dark, and very pale with coal-black eyes. Though he looked like a refined, intelligent man – he proved to be vulgar and stupid. While his control over Macfarlane was remarkable; he barked orders like a Colonel, became enraged over minor inconveniences, and insulted the people serving him. This very offensive person was named Gray, and he took an immediate liking to Fettes; he bought him drinks and praised him with unusual compliments. If a tenth of what he claimed was true – he was a loathsome scoundrel, but the young Scotsman’s pride was tickled by the experienced man’s attention.
“I’m a pretty bad fellow myself, but Macfarlane is, too; I call him Toddy.” Gray remarked, “Toddy, order your friend another glass and shut the door. Toddy hates me. Oh yes, Toddy, you do!”
“Don’t call me that ridiculous name.” Macfarlane growled.
“Listen to him! Did you ever see boys play the knife game? He would like to do that over my entire body.” Gray said.
“We doctors have a better way than that,” Fettes said. “When we dislike a dead friend, we dissect him.”
Macfarlane looked up sharply, unimpressed with the joke.
The afternoon passed, and Gray invited Fettes to join them for dinner. He ordered a feast so delicious that the whole tavern took notice, and afterwards, he forced Wolfe to pay the bill. It was late when they left; Gray was very drunk, Macfarlane was sobered by his anger, and Fettes went home with his worries temporarily replaced by the various liquors singing in his head.
The next day Macfarlane did not come to class, and Fettes smiled – imagining that he was still suffering in Gray’s company. As soon as class ended, Fettes went searching for his companions but returned to his room and went to bed early when he could not find them.
At 4:00AM he woke to the well-known signal indicating a body delivery. At the door, he was shocked to find Macfarlane with one of those long, ghastly packages he knew so well. “What? Have you been out alone? How did you manage?” He cried.
Macfarlane roughly silenced him – insisting they get to work. When they got the body onto the table upstairs, Macfarlane started to leave but hesitated. “You better look at the face,” he said in a strained tone. “You just better…” He repeated as Fettes only stared at him in wonder.
“But where did you get it… and how?” Fettes cried.
“Look at the face,” was his only answer.
Fettes was filled with many strange doubts. He looked from the young doctor to the body, and back again until – at last – he did as he was told. He had almost expected to see this, yet the shock was cruel. To see the lively man he left at a warm tavern the night before now lying naked and rigid on that table bothered even his conscience. A Latin phrasemeaning ‘it’s my turn to die today – yours is tomorrow’, echoed in his mind; two people he knew had ended up on those icy tables, but they were only secondary concerns. Wolfe was his priority; he was completely unprepared for such a thing and could not face his friend. He was absolutely speechless and dared not look into his eyes.
Macfarlane was the one to speak first. He quietly approached from behind and laid his hand gently but firmly on Fettes’ shoulder. “Richardson can have the head.” He said.
Richardson was a student who had been anxious for a head to dissect. When there was no answer, the murderer continued. “Speaking of business, you must pay me; the books must be balanced.”
Fettes found the ghost of his own voice. “Pay you!” He cried. “Pay you for that?!”
“Yes, of course – you must. You dare not take it for nothing; it would put us both at risk. This is another situation like Jane Galbraith’s. The more things that are wrong – the more lies we must tell to hide them. Where does old K keep his money?” Macfarlane replied.
“There.” Fettes answered hoarsely, pointing to a cupboard in the corner.
“Then give me the key.” Macfarlane said calmly, holding out his hand.
There was a moment’s hesitation, and then it was done. Macfarlane could not suppress a nervous twitch of immense relief as he felt the key between his fingers. He opened the cupboard and retrieved the pen, ink, and paper-book to pay himself.
“Look here,” he said, “there is the payment – proof of your good faith, and the first step to your security. Now, you only have to keep it. Enter the payment in your book, and then your part is done.”
The next few seconds were agony for Fettes, but in weighing his fears it was the easiest to endure. Anything seemed preferable to an argument with Macfarlane at that moment. After setting down his candle, he entered the date, description, and transaction amount with a steady hand.
“And now, it’s only fair that you should keep the money. I’ve had my share already. By the way, I’m ashamed to speak of it, but there’s a rule of conduct in this case. When a man has a few extra coins in his pocket – there should be no splurging, no buying expensive text-books, and no paying off old debts; borrow – don’t lend.” Wolfe said.
“Macfarlane,” Fettes began hoarsely, “I have put my neck in a noose to help you.”
“To help me?” Wolfe cried. “Oh, come on! As far as I can see, you did what you had to in self-defense. Suppose I got into trouble – where would you be? This matter of Mr. Gray is clearly related to the case of Miss Galbraith. You can’t start something like that and then stop; you must keep going, and that’s the truth. No rest for the wicked.”
The unhappy student’s soul sank into a horrible pit of despair at fate’s treachery. “My God! What have I done? When did I start? I only wanted to be made a class assistant – where’s the harm in that? There were others who wanted the position; would they be where I am now?” He cried.
“My dear man,” Macfarlane said, “you are such a child! What harm has come to you? What harm can come as long as you stay quiet? Do you know what this life is? There are two kinds of people – the lions and the lambs. If you’re a lamb, you’ll eventually be lying on one of these tables like Gray or Jane Galbraith; if you’re a lion, you’ll live and drive a horse like K and myself – and like every man with any wit or courage. It’s hard at first, but look at K! You’re clever, you have spunk; K and I like you. You were born to lead the hunt, and three days from now you’ll be laughing at all this anxiety.”
With that, Wolfe left to get home before daylight, and Fettes was left alone with his regrets. He understood the miserable danger of his situation, and he was dismayed to find there was no limit to his weakness; each concession had pushed him closer to becoming Macfarlane’s helpless accomplice. He would have given the world to be a little braver, but he did not realize there was still time to be brave; Jane Galbraith’s name in the record-book kept him quiet.
Hours passed; the class began to arrive, and pieces of Gray were handed out to students without remark. Richardson was happy with the head, and before class ended, Fettes trembled with relief to see how close they were to safety.
For two days he watched the evidence disappear with increasing joy. On the third day, Macfarlane appeared. He said he had been sick, but he was filled with energy when he instructed the students. He gave particularly detailed advice to Richardson who was very encouraged by the praise.
Before the week’s end, Macfarlane’s prophecy had been fulfilled – Fettes got over his fears. He arranged a story in his mind that built his courage and allowed him to look back on the events with an unhealthy pride. He saw little of his accomplice; they met in class and received their orders from Mr. K together. Sometimes, they spoke a few words in private, and Wolfe was always very kind and jolly – but it was obvious he avoided any reference of their shared secret. Even when Fettes whispered that he had become a lion and left the lambs, Macfarlane only smiled and signaled for him to hold his tongue.
Eventually, Mr. K ran low on bodies yet again, and the pair were forced to work together. They were getting anxious; this teacher expected to always be well supplied. That is when they heard of a burial in the Glencorse graveyard. The place has not changed much over the years; it is located on a crossroad – far from the residential areas and buried deep in the foliage of cedar trees. The only sounds that disturbed the silence around the rural church were the neighboring sheep, two small streams on either side, wind blowing through huge, flowering chestnuts, and a bell that rang every Sunday.
Grave Robbers could not be deterred by the sanctities of church; it was their job to desecrate the old tombs. They preferred country neighborhoods – where love is more tenacious, and entire parishes are related – for their ease and safety. It takes time to dig up a grave with only a haunting lamp-light to see by. The coffin must be forced open, the outer wrappings torn off, the clothing removed, and then comes the hours of rattling around in a wagon on moonless backroads.
Fettes and Macfarlane were planning to go after the grave in that quiet, green resting-place like two vultures swooping down on a dying lamb. At midnight, a farmer’s sixty-year-old wife – who had only been known for good butter and great conversation – would be carried to the city; her place in the family plot would be empty forever, and the most intimate parts of her body would be exposed to every curious student.
Late one afternoon, the pair set out on their mission; they wrapped themselves up in cloaks and took along a large bottle of liquor. The cold, dense, lashing rain was non-stop, and sometimes, the wind would blow, but the sheets of falling water blocked most of it. Even with the bottle it was a sad and silent drive to Penicuik where they planned to spend the evening. They stopped to hide their tools in a bush near the churchyard, and again at the Fisher’s Tryst to sit by the fire and balance their nips of whisky with a glass of ale. When they were finished, the wagon was put away, the horse was fed, and the two young doctors sat in a private room having the best dinner and wine the house offered. The bright lights, the warm fire, and the rain beating on the window made the meal even more enjoyable. With every drink, the men grew friendlier to one another, and soon, Macfarlane handed a little pile of gold to his partner.
“A thank you; having a friend along will make our time here pass quickly.” He said.
Fettes pocketed the money and applauded the sentiment. “You are a philosopher,” he cried. “I was an ass until I met you. Between you and K – by the Lord Harry – you’ll make a man of me yet!”
“Of course we will,” Macfarlane happily agreed. “I tell you, it took a man to back me up the other morning. There are some big, brawling, forty-year-old cowards who would have turned sick, but you kept your head – I watched you.”
“Well, why not? It didn’t concern me. There was nothing to gain on the one side but, on the other I could count on your gratitude, you see?” Fettes boasted, slapping his pocket so the gold pieces rang.
Macfarlane felt a touch of alarm at these unpleasant words. He may have regretted teaching his young friend so well, but he had no time to interrupt as Fettes continued his rant.
“The great thing is not being afraid. Between you and me – I don’t want to hang – that’s only practical. Hell, God, Devil, right, wrong, sin, crime – these are all curiosities that may frighten boys, but men – like you and me – despise them. Here’s to the memory of Gray!”
By now, it was growing late. As requested, the wagon was brought around with both lamps shining brightly, and the young men paid their bill before setting off. They announced they were heading for Peebles and drove in that direction until they were past the last houses; then, they extinguished the lamps before turning down a backroad toward Glencorse. The only sound was that of their own passage and the relentless, pouring rain. It was pitch-black; occasionally, a white gate or stone would guide them for a short distance, but mostly they advanced one, slow step at a time as they stumbled to their isolated destination. In the sunken woods that traverse the graveyard – the last glimmer of light failed them, and it became necessary to re-light one of the wagon’s lanterns. Under the dripping trees and surrounded by huge, moving shadows – they arrived at the scene of their unholy labors.
They were both experienced at their job and proficient with the shovel; they were hardly at it for twenty minutes when they were rewarded by a dull rattle on the coffin lid. At the same moment, Macfarlane hurt his hand on a stone, and carelessly threw it over his head. The grave they stood in was close to the edge of a steep bank above a stream, and the lamp had been propped against a nearby tree to help brighten the area. Purely by chance, the stone’s aim proved true; there was a crash of broken glass, and everything went dark as the lantern bounced loudly down the bank – occasionally colliding with trees. A few stones were hit along the way and rattled behind it until they were all stopped by the stream. Then, all was silent once again. They listened for any hint of sound, but there was only rain to be heard; it was now fully at the wind’s mercy and falling steadily over miles of open country.
They were so close to the end of their miserable task, they decided it was best to finish in the dark. The coffin was broken open, and the body was placed in the sack and carried to the wagon; one man also got in with it to hold it in place, and the other led the horse by groping along walls and bushes until they reached the wider road by Fisher’s Tryst. They rejoiced over the faint glow there like it was daylight, and after getting the horse to a good pace – they merrily continued towards town.
They were both soaked to the skin, and as the wagon jumped among the deep ruts, the body that sat propped between them fell onto the men. Each time the horrid thing made contact with one – he instinctively pushed it away, and the process began to anger both parties. Macfarlane made a rude joke about the farmer’s wife, but it came out hollow and was dropped in silence. Still their unnatural passenger bumped from side-to-side, and the head would lay on their shoulders while the drenched sack flapped coldly on their faces. A creeping chill began to possess Fettes’ soul. He stared at the bundle, and it somehow seemed larger. All over the country-side, the farm dogs greeted them with tragic howls, and his mind was filled with a paranoia that some kind of unnatural miracle had occurred – that the dead body had undergone some kind of change.
“For God’s sake,” he said, making a great effort to speak. “For God’s sake, we need a light!”
Macfarlane seemed equally affected; though he did not reply, he stopped the horse, got down, and proceeded to light the remaining lamp. They had gone no farther than the crossroad to Auchenclinny. The rain still poured, and it was difficult to make a light in dark, wet conditions. When the flickering blue flame was finally transferred to the wick, a wide circle of misty brightness surrounded the wagon, and the two young men could see the thing they brought along with them. The rain conformed the rough sack to the body’s outline underneath; the head and shoulders were distinct, yet something almost spectral caught their eyes.
For some time, Macfarlane stood motionless, holding up the lamp. The body looked like it was wrapped in a wet sheet, and Fettes’ face went white with an impossible fear flooding his brain. Another minute passed, but his partner spoke first.
“That is not a woman.” Macfarlane said in a hushed voice.
“It was a woman when we put her in.” Fettes whispered.
“Hold that lamp, I must see her face.” Macfarlane said.
As Fettes took the lamp, Wolfe untied the sack and pulled it down. The light fell onto the dark features and smooth-shaven cheeks of a very familiar face – one often seen in both of these young men’s dreams. A wild yell rang into the night as each leapt into the road. The lamp fell to the ground with a crash, and the horse bounded off toward Edinburgh at a gallop – terrified by the commotion. The wagon’s sole occupant was the long dead and dissected Mr. Gray.
Welcome to the Sweet Mercy Web Auction! I hope everyone is having a wonderful night – or day, pending your time zone. Thank you for joining us! Please, do not be alarmed by our costumes – it’s important to conceal our identities in order to continue helping good people like yourselves. Here, at Sweet Mercy, we know you’ve been through hell, and I won’t waste your time by beating around the bush; our Product is killers. Our goal is to provide a semblance of closure to families who have suffered the ultimate tragedy. When a murderer is released on a technicality or police drop the ball – that’s where we come in. Once our investigators confirm the accused is guilty – our extraction team transports them to one of our secure facilities.
We eliminate the risk of unanswered questions by ensuring full, legitimate confessions are made beforehand, but don’t take my word for it – the complete series of interrogations is available for download at no cost to our special Guests. They make fantastic therapy aids!
Now, let me give you a quick rundown on site navigation. Obviously, our main video feed is in the center; the row of blue boxes beneath are you – our Guests – and the green row above it features an equal number of our returning Benefactors. On the right-hand side of your screen is where the bidding history will appear, and on the left you’ll see tonight’s Product along with his background information; he can see and hear us, too, haha. We find many Guests wish to confront them directly.
We understand most of you are unable to afford the auction, but we believe the victim’s families have a right to be here. Not only will each of you have free access to the winning Benefactor’s live-feed Saturday night – one lucky family will even be allowed to participate!
Ahh, that got you sitting a little straighter! You will each have a chance to tell us your story, and at the end there will be a short break while the Benefactors choose who they wish to sponsor; if your Benefactor has the highest bid – you get to visit our operation in person! Pun absolutely intended!
Tonight, we have thirty-four-year-old Carl Anthony Bateman. He was born in Boston, had an abusive childhood until leaving home at seventeen, and has been a burden on society ever since.
Between June and December of 2019, he brutally attacked four women. Tonight – two of those four women have families here to confront their killer, and our third Guest actually survived her terrifying ordeal!
Bateman’s first victim was Julie Edwards; she had just finished her Sophomore year of college. Benefactors, let’s hear what her parents have to say! Helen, Lawrence – you may begin when ready.
Umm, h-hello; I won’t pretend to understand any of this “dark web” mumbo… It took us four hours just to get this weird browser working. Last month, if someone had told me I’d be sittin’ on this thing bawling my story out to people wearing tribal masks – well… shit. Just listen to that sentence… But it’s worth every second to see that sorry som-bitch get his. Looks like he’s had a rough go of it, and we thank ya for that…
We thought your invitation was a scam – it sounds like the plot of some twisted movie, but I wouldn’t know how to tell one way or another. It certainly looks real, and right now maybe that’s enough… so long as you aren’t asking for money… I don’t think Helen is up to saying very much, but I can speak for the both of us when it comes to seein’ that bastard pay.
I’m glad he’s watching. Do you have anything to say, Bateman?!… No?… I didn’t think so… Hell, I wanted you taken alive so I could say something to you in court, but this is even better. Late at night, when we wish we had died with our baby – your suffering is what will lull us to sleep, and I’d love to be the one making you pay.
We’re from Tennessee; Julie was in Boston for college. We wanted her to come home for the summer, but she wanted to work and rent an apartment with one of her friends. Her roommate, Erin, was with her for part of that last night… June 14, 2019 was a Friday; they had gone to some bar with a few other girls… Apparently, they went there pretty often – their Instant Gram things were full o’ the place.
As the night went on, Julie’s so-called-friends left with various boys, and no one felt the need to make sure my daughter got home safely. I suppose that’s where this shitbag saw her—
I’m sorry to interrupt, sir, but according to our interrogations, you were misinformed on that detail. By Mr. Bateman’s own admission, he first saw Ms. Julie leaving campus two weeks prior to the night in question.
Guess I shouldn’t be surprised; those detectives certainly weren’t right about much. They couldn’t even collect the god-damn evidence without contaminating our only chance of finding the bastard. I imagine we’ve been told plenty of easy answers; why should police work for the truth when it’s usually the same story anyway? They don’t care what really happened – they only care what time they go home at night. I’m sorry if that ruffles any feathers; I know there’s good ones out there, but none of ‘em were working Julie’s case – that much is certain.
It was past midnight when cameras showed Jules leaving the bar. She preferred walking – her apartment was only a few blocks away… though, I suppose that part doesn’t matter if he already knew where she lived. The police said there was no forced entry… do you know how he got inside, sir?
He was able to make a copy of her key; Bateman entered the apartment shortly after their departure and hid inside the coat closet. It was his third time doing so, but Ms. Edwards wasn’t alone when she returned on the previous occasions. Once everyone was asleep, he was able to leave undetected.
How can you be sure he was tellin’ the truth ?
Oh, he started with plenty of lies – they all do. Most information gathered during torture is false, but we’ve perfected our technique. While yes, our Guests enjoy seeing them suffer – it also breaks their spirit so they’re easier to manipulate when the real interrogations begin. We spare no expense to create a believable environment for the Product to think— Well, I’m not allowed to say that part…
You’ve probably seen a version of “truth serum” on tv, but real life is a little different; very specific conditions must be met for reliable results. We have a wonderful team of Psychologists and Physicians who explain it much more elegantly in the full video, and – at the end – they present you with a full, factual report. I assure you Mr. Edwards – I would never repeat anything that was less than 100% certain.
I think I understood most of that; so far you’ve been more reliable than the police, anyway. I’m sure we’ll be watching that video as soon as this is over… but as for what happened next… I, umm… whew, I don’t know if I can, uh… Julie was just such a sweet girl…
Why her? Huh, bastard – why her?! The autopsy report paints a detailed picture, but I’m starting to realize I didn’t know as much as I thought. I’m not sure if I can handle more, but I owe it to my baby to listen. She didn’t deserve this, and she sure as shit didn’t deserve to die alone. I want everyone to know what this pile of human waste did to get his rocks off; if it were up to me, I would make him feel exactly what his victims felt – step by step – stopping just before it killed him so I could do it over and over. Yea… I like the sound of that…
It wasn’t enough you blindsided her and tied her up – no, you had to go the extra mile! She wasn’t going to wear that costume voluntarily – certainly not for you! We were eventually told she was dressed like a character from a kid’s show called Sailor Moon. For some reason I felt compelled to look it up, and it left me even more confused. Apparently, it’s common to sexualize cartoon characters; what the hell is wrong with people?! I saw something titled SpongeBob Squirt Pants! I don’t care what consenting adults do to get their jollies, but you can’t tell me kids don’t see that stuff!
He strangled her when it was over; the bonds on her wrists and ankles tore her skin as she struggled to— when he was—
I-I’m sorry, I can’t… Can you… since you know more than us anyway, can you please just tell us what really happened that night?
Yessir, I can…
Minutes after she returned home, a call from Erin was placed on speaker while Julie stood only feet from the coat closet where Bateman was hiding. He would have figured it out anyway, but their conversation confirmed your daughter would be alone for the night.
Approximately thirty minutes later, the strip of light beneath the door went dark, and Bateman waited a few moments longer before quietly emerging from the closet. The apartment was dark except for a soft, yellow glow at the end of a hallway, and music could be heard playing over the sound of running water.
Julie didn’t hear the bathroom door open, and she didn’t see the shadow growing on the shower curtain; she only noticed Bateman’s presence when the curtain was violently ripped away. He left her no chance to react; as she opened her mouth to scream, he stepped forward, punching her across the jaw. Her head snapped backwards – impacting the tiles as she fell and leaving her unconscious.
Bateman moved her to the bed where he quickly dressed her as Sailor Moon before binding her hands and feet. The costume was purchased specifically for this occasion, and he took the time to style Julie’s long, blonde hair in the character’s likeness. She regained consciousness before his work was done, but she was unable to move due to the restraints. He ignored her cries until finished – then he gave her the same two options he would later present to his future victims; ‘play along and live, or try to escape and die.’ Julie was unfamiliar with Sailor Moon, but – seeing it as her only chance of survival, she chose to play along.
In the first scene, Bateman chose the role of Prince Demando for himself as—
Wait! I don’t know if we can hear that part right now… I— we can’t… After that… the autopsy listed her cause of death as asphyxiation… is that accurate? Did he force her to live through all of those horrible things only to choke her in the end?
Yes, I’m afraid so. Ms. Edwards was subjected to various role-playing scenarios for several hours before being strangled during the final… act.
I want to make that monster bleed; every single night, I dream of doing hideous, unspeakable things to him, and I’m disgusted by what he’s turned me into. You people have already given us more than we dared hope for; I don’t know what these other folks have been through, but even if we don’t get to be there in person – what you’ve done for us is more than enough. From the bottom of our broken and battered hearts, thank you.
Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Edwards; we know it isn’t easy to hear these things – especially from strangers – but you’re among people who understand this pain all too well. Each and every member of our team has been affected in a similar way; we take this work very seriously, and our main goal is to provide some semblance of comfort during these difficult times. Whether you find peace in knowing this man will never hurt another soul or simply in his harsh punishment makes no difference; we all grieve differently and heal at our own pace.
Benefactors! Are you ready to hear from our second Guest?
After committing his first murder, Bateman was overcome with paranoia, but when no detectives appeared at his door over the following weeks – that paranoia slowly turned into confidence. Then, on October 2nd, 2019, he decided to do it again. This time his victim was nineteen-year-old Natalie Laird. Tonight, her father and two brothers are here with us; Mr. Laird, you may begin when ready.
Uh, hey everyone, I’m Jason, this is my brother Tony, and I don’t think Dad is as ready as he thought… Is it alright if I ask a question instead?
Thanks. I want to believe this is real, but how do we know that’s a live feed on Bateman? Or that you guys even have him? He hasn’t reacted to anything that’s been said; I want to see him hold up four fingers… without any “camera glitches”.
Mr. Bateman! We warned you about this! The young man is speaking to you!
Have it your way; Frank – one second contact, please.
My apologies, Mr. Laird. Carl’s microphone is muted, but the person you see entering the room is our head of security, and the device in his hand is a cattle prod; I’m sure Mr. Bateman will be more amenable to your request momentarily—
Ah, yes, four fingers. Is that satisfactory, or would you like him to sit up and look at the camera? Please, don’t hesitate to ask; we understand your skepticism completely, and we’re happy to oblige any reasonable requests to put your mind at ease.
N-no sir, I think that does it… thank you…
So… you’re saying if we talk about what happened to Nat – one of those rich people might decide to bid on our behalf?
Yea… I think I can see what you’re doing, but everything else aside – our concern is knowing he can’t hurt anyone else. Beyond that, he deserves whatever he gets.
Natalie was a private person, though; she wouldn’t want everyone knowing what that bastard put her through… I know the details are all on the download anyway, but we haven’t decided if we’re going to watch it… or which parts we’ll watch if we do… We would appreciate it if you didn’t recount Nat’s final moments here as well… I’ll live with what I saw for the rest of my life, and despite how they feel right now – I don’t want my father or brother to be plagued by the same images.
Absolutely, sir, that is entirely at your discretion… Though, you must never blame yourselves for the actions of a monster! You’re a very bright, well-spoken young man, and I’m sure you have great things ahead. Thank you for your time.
With reports of a second murder, warnings of The Cosplay Killer flooded local news networks, but his identity remained a mystery. Then, on the morning of November 4th, Vanessa Jordan’s body was discovered by her boyfriend after failing to appear for a breakfast date. Andrew spoke to CNN saying he wasn’t yet aware of the recent killings, and struggled to process every aspect of the grueling scene. Though he did not recognize the popular Pokémon character, Misty, I’m sure it’s a likeness he won’t soon forget; his chilling call to 911 is included in our final report.
Benefactors, since there is no one here to speak on Vanessa’s behalf, we will move on to our third and final Guest. She is the only survivor of Mr. Bateman’s madness – please welcome Michelle Perkins.
Hey, you can call me Shelly; I didn’t think this would be real, either, but there he is. That’s a face I’ll never forget – even without the red jumpsuit…
Look at me, bastard!… No, don’t glance and turn away; I want you looking right at me for every word of this… I said look at me!
Frank; two-second contact, please… Excellent.
Mr. Bateman, next time it will be three seconds.
My apologies, Ms. Perkins; please, continue.
Oh, I don’t mind a bit; feel free to zap him anytime he looks away. If you people want a story in exchange for a chance to do it myself – fine by me. I’m glad the Laird’s don’t want to go, and I’m sorry to Mr. Edwards, but nobody deserves this more than I do.
The first time l saw Bateman was when he appeared outside of my sociology class… he got way too close just to compliment my shirt! I suppose the fact it had Inuyasha on it is relevant – that’s another anime— err, cartoon – like Sailor Moon and Pokémon. He said he noticed it before class – like it was normal to wait around for an hour just to compliment a stranger’s shirt! I tried to say thanks and walk away, but he followed me; I didn’t want him to know which dorm was mine so I walked to a coffee shop. Thankfully, a few friends from drama club were there, but when I tried to point out my stalker – he was gone. Thirty minutes later, we left as a group, and there was still no sign of the psycho. That was a Tuesday; by Friday, I forgot he existed entirely.
Midterms were over and everyone was ready to go home for Christmas break. They were all on edge because of the Cosplay Killer. If he had been attacking blondes or looking for a certain type – everyone would have dyed their hair and lived their lives, but no one knew who he’d choose next. Julie was blonde like Sailor Moon, Natalie’s hair was pink like Sakura’s, and Vanessa was a ginger like Misty. Apparently mine is black like Kagome’s… isn’t that right, Carl?
Oh – Kagome is one of the main characters from the Inuyasha cartoon – I’ll try to keep those parts simple. Even if it kills me to call it a cartoon – this isn’t the time for an anime lesson.
Anyway, I stayed in that night. Pretending to live alone was nice, and my dorm felt like a safe place… Most people didn’t even lock their door, but I always did.
I was up late watching YouTube when there was a soft knock at the door… It wasn’t uncommon; plenty of others were staying through the holiday, and college kids aren’t known for their love of grocery shopping. I thought one of the stoners was looking for snacks again…
The moment I saw that creep’s face, I knew I made a terrible mistake. I tried to slam the door, but he pushed back, and it hit me hard enough to blur my vision. The struggle was brief; I only remember flashes, but it ended with him beating my head against the hard floor, and everything going black. There were no dreams, only oblivion; when I did regain consciousness, it was like waking from a deep sleep until memories of the attack flooded back.
My head ached like it was being split in half; as I became more aware, I could hear Bateman moving around but didn’t want him to know I was awake. Still thinking we were in my dorm, I hoped to make a run for the door… I wish I had looked around first. As I tried to rise, I noticed several things at once.
We weren’t in my dorm; we were in a dingy basement. I was also dressed like a slutty school girl – which is the easiest way to describe Kagome’s costume – and around my ankle was a fuzzy handcuff attached to a metal bar anchored into the concrete floor. The chain was loud, and he heard my movement immediately.
He was wearing a red jumpsuit with a large beaded necklace like the Inuyasha character… I’ve had a hard life, but I’m a survivor! When I saw the sick look in his eyes and that disgusting grin, I made a decision to play along – no matter what. I had hoped my knowledge of the show would allow me to convince him the cuffs were unnecessary, but sadly serial killers are harder to manipulate than it looks in the movies…
But I didn’t give up! Oh, no! I “played-along” for the worst three hours of my existence as he systematically ruined my life and a beloved childhood memory at the same time. It’s no surprise this was the only way he could get a woman; he’s infinitely more disgusting naked. Thankfully, his whopping four inches didn’t do much tearing as he assaulted me – that made things a little easier. Then, it finally happened; if he wanted to act out one of the biggest scenes of the series – he had to uncuff me. By then, he was in such a hurry to unlock it – he dropped the key twice in the process.
It took every ounce of my restraint not to run right then; he was watching me for any sign of defiance, and I knew I would die before I let him get that cuff on me again. Another part of my soul withered as I swallowed my vomit and forced myself to play along for a few more minutes. We were standing with my back against the wall, and within arms reach – the liquor bottle was still right where I set it. I bit my lip until it bled to keep from gagging as I waited for him to get… lost in the moment, and I ran my fingers through his nasty, oily hair to position my hand as closely to the shelf as possible.
As his eyes began to roll back, I grabbed the bottle and brought it down on his head with all my strength; it didn’t break, and he didn’t fall to the floor like I imagined. He only groaned and staggered a few steps back as he looked at me with the blackest hatred I’ve ever seen. I knew how quickly he would catch me if I ran… instead, I charged at him like a bull and hit him over the head once more. The impact reverberated up my arm to my shoulder, but I hardly felt it; my sole focus was on Bateman. He was on the ground and bleeding, but whether he was really unconscious or faking it – I couldn’t be sure.
That’s when I noticed how close he had fallen to the handcuffs; my heart was beating in my throat as I approached, but somehow I got the cuff around his wrist. He began groaning again as it clicked shut, and I ran from the room without looking back. I didn’t notice or care that my only articles of clothing were a see-through blouse and a skimpy, green skirt with nothing underneath – my only thought was finding an exit.
Had I been thinking clearly, I would have bashed that psycho’s brains in until only a pile of mush was left. Unfortunately, that didn’t occur to me until Bateman was already screaming to be released. By then I had reached the top of the basement stairs which led to a dark kitchen; I couldn’t see anything. Using the wall as a guide, I began making my way through the strange house until my hand found an open doorway.
At the end of the hall, two windows let in just enough light to identify the front door. My hands were still shaking as I pulled it open and threw myself over the threshold. Once outside, my hopes were crushed yet again by the sound of footsteps racing up the basement stairs; I shut the door softly as I heard his first infuriated scream. There was just enough starlight to see I was on an abandoned house’s creaky porch. I had no clue where I was, and the few other houses also appeared empty. The only car on the street had to be the one Bateman drove, but it was locked.
I kept moving further away; I wanted to melt into the darkness and become one with the night. There was less than fifty yards between me and the murder house when a spotlight shined a few feet to my left; I dropped to my stomach and managed to roll behind a tree just as the beam passed by, but he wasn’t giving up. Bateman’s voice was dripping with malice as he alternated between threatening me with vile, disgusting things or promising to take me home. Any tenuous grip that man had on reality was long gone. He waved the light around in random, jerky motions, leaving me no time to move or check his position without the risk of being seen.
I focused on looking for the best direction to run, and that’s when I noticed space for a culvert had been dug alongside the road. It was nothing but an overgrown ditch now, but I laid flat and crawled through the tall grass; it was my only chance.
When the light passed back the other way, I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t know what lay at the end of that long, abandoned road, but there was no turning back. In the ditch, I felt like everything had to be ok; I’d come too far to die. Daydreams of returning to that house with police kept me going as my body burned from the itch of a thousand bug bites in places that already hurt too much to think about.
It felt like hours later when I realized the light was gone, but I was still too afraid to leave the ditch. Even at the end when there was nowhere else to crawl, I stayed in place to examine my surroundings. In front of me was a real road with painted lines, and a single light shone in the distance to my left; that’s where I headed.
Once out of view from that street, I felt safe enough to stand. Two cars passed by before I made it to those distant lights; I should have flagged them down for help, but I hid from both – convinced it was Bateman. When I finally did make it to the light source, I cried tears of joy to see it was a normal house, and several more were further down the street.
Unfortunately, I looked more frightening than the actual psycho… the first house wouldn’t even open the door, the next two slammed them in my face, and finally, the fourth was kind enough to listen to me through a closed window. She was a little old lady… I can’t blame her for being suspicious, but eventually, we were able to come to an agreement; she called 911 while I made myself as small as possible in a dark corner of her porch. Once help was on the way, she felt safe enough to let me inside.
It took almost forty minutes for help to arrive, but when it did – I made sure the police understood exactly which house I escaped from. In my terror, I had imagined Bateman was still out there looking for me, but he was gone. I met with a sketch artist, and finally, a week later, they found Bateman. He had no criminal record, but there was no doubt about his guilt; the bastard admitted to it immediately before requesting a lawyer, and you guys know the rest.
Yes… Mr. Bateman would have spent the remainder of his life in a comfortable institution had he not escaped. Clearly, the state of Massachusetts could not be trusted with his care, and fortunately, they now believe he’s dead.
Ms. Perkins, thank you for sharing your story with us; I know you’re all ready for the main event, so without further delay, please enjoy this short video while the Benefactors make their final decisions.
Alright, now that we have a break with our audience, let’s see how they feel about tonight’s Guests! It’s astounding how much more people will say when they think they’re speaking to a small, intimate group, but that Laird boy might be a little too smart for us, eh? I like him, but it’s a good thing you all are the ones actually deciding which Guest will get their private meeting!
Please turn your attention to the poll and cast your vote now! Who will have the taste of sweet revenge on Saturday? Will it be the grieving parents or the courageous heroine? I don’t often choose favorites, but it’s hard not to when we have a firecracker like Shelly!
While the votes are coming in – Benefactors! Are you ready to hold the auction?
For those joining us for the first time, we’ll replay the footage for the Guests who will think it’s happening live. This way, the audience always wins!
And, we’re back! Thank you, Guests, for your continued patience, and now – the moment you’ve all been waiting for!
Mr. and Mrs. Edwards, Benefactor #3 is a parent like yourself; they would be honored to bid on your behalf.
Laird family, Benefactor #1 saw a bit of their younger self in Jason. Since he has declined the prospect of seeing Mr. Bateman in person – you may potentially choose someone to go in your stead.
And last but certainly not least, Ms. Perkins. It’s no surprise Benefactor #2 – who once survived a similar attack – is overjoyed to be your sponsor.
My only question is – are you ready to start the bidding?!
[5 minutes later]
—going once! Going twice! Sold! For 3.5 million to Benefactor #2! Wow, what a rollercoaster! Ms. Perkins, pack your bags because we’ll be seeing you Saturday!
Well guys, that’s it for tonight, but before we go – don’t forget to download “The Crimesof the Cosplay Killer” for just $49.95! Or if you would like to pre-order “The Punishment of the Cosplay Killer” at the same time, you can add both to your Sweet Mercy collection for a mere $89.95! Those who reserve their copies today will also receive special behind-the-scene footage from Warehouse 66!
Hello, Shelly, it’s so nice to finally meet you in person! So, over the last few days, we’ve discussed what you’d like to see happen here, and I think you’ll be pleased with the work we’ve done.
Considering we do this full-time, we already owned most of the items you requested, but the gynecologist chair was a wonderful addition to our collection. We’ve named it Perkins; I think it’s going to be a fan— er, Guest favorite.
Oh, watch your step – one of the technicians hasn’t finished putting this one together yet; you strap the subject’s arm to that piece – then you turn the lever to twist.
Now that you’ve seen the theater, let’s go get Bateman; I thought you’d like to see his new forever home… And don’t worry about the other prisoners – they’re here for the same reason, but they’re completely harmless. Judging by our recent conversations, I assume you aren’t squeamish…
Ha, no you don’t have to worry about— Holy shit! Are his eyes gone? Whoa, there’s so many of them!
You seem surprised. Most people have the same idea – that it’s better to keep them alive. The only problem is – we can’t tell the future. What if something happens and they get away? Then we would be responsible for letting these dangerous animals lose into society! That’s why we remove their eyes and castrate them before they’re transported to Sweet Mercy Zoo. Even if they were to get out of their cells – they’d have no idea where to go next, haha.
Obviously, that doesn’t include Carl; we didn’t want to be presumptuous. You’ll find him exactly as you saw him on the livestream, but we have surgeons standing by in case you need assistance or the subject gets a little too close to death.
That’s brilliant; I can’t wait to get started!
I love your enthusiasm! You should consider a career with us. We’re always looking for people who truly understand the importance of our work, and the pay is marvelous!… Just something to think about…
Ah, here we are, Mr. Bateman, your date has arrived!
Ambrose Bierce, first published in 1891; translated to modern English, otherwise left exactly the same.
Hi there readers! This one is really dark. A young boy is lost in the forest during the aftermath of a Civil War battle. I simply want to give fair warning to any who may wish to avoid gore and child endangerment. If either of these topics bother you, please Google a quick description this story before proceeding. Otherwise, thanks for being here, and I hope you know how amazing you are!
One sunny, autumn afternoon, a child strayed away from its home and entered the forest unnoticed. The boy came from a long line of adventurers and conquerors; he was happy for the chance to explore. From their earliest generations, his ancestors made their way over two continents, across the great sea, and into a third; war was their heritage.
The child was six-years-old and the son of a poor farmer. His father had been a soldier when he was a younger man; he fought against naked savages and followed his country’s flag south into civilized cities. He loved military books and still possessed a warrior’s spirit. The boy understood enough to make himself a wooden sword that he carried proudly – even if it was hardly identifiable to others. He often practiced with it in a sunny clearing while defeating invisible enemies, and this day, he found himself on the edge of a wide, shallow stream. The rapid waters blocked his advance against a foe that somehow flew across with ease, but the inspiring warrior would not be defeated. Instead, he found a place where the boulders were grouped close enough to jump across; then, he was finally able to defeat the enemy. With the battle won, protocol demanded returning to base, but like many great conquerors, he could not deny his lust for war.
Continuing from the creek, he suddenly found himself facing an even stronger enemy. A rabbit appeared on the path; it sat upright with its ears at attention, causing the child to scream and flee in an unknown direction. He yelled for his mother – crying and stumbling as his tender skin was torn by the cruel foliage. His little heart raced in terror; he was breathless, blind with tears, and lost in the forest! For more than an hour, he wandered through the tangled undergrowth until he was too tired to continue. A few yards from the stream, he laid down in a narrow space between two rocks and sobbed himself to sleep while still grasping his toy sword; it was no longer a weapon, but a companion. The birds sang merrily above his head, the squirrels ran from tree to tree, and somewhere far away was the sound of strange, muffled thunder. Back at the little plantation, men were hastily searching the fields, and a mother’s heart was breaking for her missing child.
Hours later, the boy woke at dusk and rose to his feet. He felt the evening chill in his bones, and he was frightened but no longer cried. After struggling through the undergrowth, he came to a more open area; on his right was the creek, and on his left was a gentle slope decorated with sporadic trees. A thin, ghostly mist spread along the water, and it scared him away. Instead of crossing back over the stream, he ran toward the dark, gloomy forest.
Suddenly, he saw a strange object moving ahead of him and mistook it for a large animal; he was not sure what kind, but thought it might be a bear. He had only seen pictures of them, and – being unaware of how dangerous they are – he vaguely wished to meet one. Then, something in the object’s shape or the way it moved told him it was not a bear after all, and his curiosity turned into fear. The boy remained still as it slowly came closer, and he grew braver when he saw the thing did not have long, menacing, rabbit ears. It is possible his mind was half-conscious of something familiar in the way it struggled along awkwardly, but before it was close enough to positively identify – he saw that others were following it.
There were many more approaching from both sides; the whole area was covered with them – all heading toward the stream. They were men, and they were crawling; some only used their hands as they dragged their legs along, and some only used their knees as their arms hung limply at their sides. Some tried to stand but fell back down; they did nothing the normal way, and the only thing they did have in common was the direction they traveled.
Some were alone while others were in pairs or small groups; they came through the gloom – occasionally pausing while others crept past. They came by the hundreds from as far as he could see, and the infinite forest was black behind them; the very ground seemed to be moving toward the creek. Occasionally, some men that paused would die, and some made strange hand gestures, grabbed their heads, or raised their palms to the sky like men do in church.
The child did not notice all of this, but it is what an adult would have observed; the boy only saw men crawling like babies. He was not frightened of them, but they were dressed in strange clothes. He walked among them freely, going from one to another and looking into their faces with childish curiosity. Each one was remarkably white, and many were streaked with red. Their color – and perhaps their disturbing behavior – reminded him of a clown he saw at the circus last summer, and he laughed as he watched them. These maimed and bleeding men crept along as ignorant of him as he was to their ghastly situation. To the boy, it was a merry spectacle. He had seen his father’s slaves do similar things while pretending to be horses for his amusement. Next, he approached one of the crawling men from behind, and jumped on his back.
The man fell flat to the ground, struggled to rise, and violently threw the small child to the ground. Then, he turned to show the boy his missing lower jaw; there was a great, red gap fringed with hanging shreds of flesh and splintered bone between his upper teeth and throat. His unnaturally shaped nose, absent chin, and fierce eyes made this man resemble a vulture covered in the blood of its food. He rose to his knees and shook his fist at the boy; terrified at last, the child ran to a nearby tree, climbed up, and looked at the situation more seriously. As he watched, the mass continued forward like a swarm of black beetles – dragging themselves slowly and painfully down the slope in absolute silence.
The haunted landscape began to brighten. Beyond the stream, a strange red light was shining, but the trees blocked out the view of its source. The eerie glow gave the creeping men monstrous shadows that imitated their movements on the grass, made the metal in their clothing sparkle, and tinted their faces with a red hue that highlighted their horrible injuries. The child instinctively turned toward the growing spectacle and moved down the slope with his mangled companions. He easily passed them in just a few moments, and – wooden sword still in hand – positioned himself in the lead where he solemnly directed the march; slowing to match their pace, he occasionally turned to ensure his soldiers did not fall behind. Surely, such a leader has never before had such followers.
As they marched closer to the water, they began to see various items scattered on the ground, but the boy did not think they were important. There were tightly rolled blankets bound with string, heavy knapsacks, broken rifles, and other things retreating troops often leave behind. The lowlands near the creek were trampled into mud by men and horses, and an older, more observant person would have noticed these footprints pointed in both directions; the ground had been passed over twice.
A few hours before – thousands of these desperate, wounded men and their more fortunate comrades had charged into the forest. They divided into battalions and swarmed past the sleeping child on every side; some had almost ran him over, but their loud noises did not wake him. They fought a battle very close to where he lay, yet he never heard the roar of their muskets or the captain shouting commands. He slept through it all, holding his little, wooden sword tight, but he was completely ignorant of the great struggle happening around him as countless sacrificed themselves for victory.
The fire beyond the tree-line on the other side of the creek was spreading, and the ground beneath its canopy of smoke glowed eerily. It turned the thin line of mist over the stream into golden vapors while the boulders gleamed with streaks of blood; those with less serious injuries had stained them when previously crossing, and the child crossed them eagerly as he continued toward the fire.
Standing on the opposite bank, he turned around to look at his marching companions. The stronger ones were already swimming across – pushing themselves to the limit with their faces plunged into the water. Three or four lay motionless and appeared to be headless; the boy’s eyes widened in wonder – even his naive ignorance could not accept such a situation. In reality, they had drowned; after drinking their fill – the men did not have enough strength to lift their heads out of the stream. Behind those, the open areas of the forest showed the child as many figures in his grim army as he started with, but not nearly as many were moving. He waved his cap for encouragement, and smiling, he pointed his weapon at a pillar of fire’s guiding light.
Confident of his forces, the boy entered the tree-line, easily passed through the red light, climbed a fence, and ran across a field – occasionally turning back to check his soldiers’ progress as he approached the burning ruins of a house. Everything was destroyed! Not one living thing could be seen, but he did not care about that. He enjoyed the spectacle and happily danced along with the wavering flames. He ran around collecting fuel, but every object was too heavy for him to throw, and the heat prevented him from getting closer. Frustrated, he flung his sword into the fire as an act of surrender to nature’s superior forces; his military career was finished.
When he turned away, he saw some buildings that looked oddly familiar – as if he had seen them in a dream. He was staring at them in wonder when the entire plantation and surrounding forest seemed to pivot. His little world spun, and he recognized the burning building as his own home!
For a moment, he stood frozen in shock at the realization, then he ran stumbling halfway around the ruin. There, easily seen by the light of the fire, was a dead woman; her white face was turned upward, her hands were clutching fistfuls of grass, her clothes were torn, and her long, dark hair was tangled with clotted blood. Most of her forehead was torn away, and her gray brain was protruding from a jagged hole in her temple that overflowed with frothy, crimson bubbles; it was the work of a shell.
The child moved his little hands in wild, uncertain gestures. He uttered a series of gibberish and indescribable cries that sounded like a cross between a chattering ape and a gobbling turkey; it was a startling, unholy sound. The boy, who was a deaf mute, stood motionless – his lips quivering as he looked down at the wreckage.
H.P. Lovecraft, first published in the November 1919 edition of The Vagrant; translated into modern English, otherwise exactly the same.
Considering I will die tonight – I am writing this under significant distress. I am broke and at the end of my drug supply; it is the only thing that makes life bearable. I cannot stand this torture any longer; I will jump out of this attic window and into the dirty street below. Do not think I am weak or a degenerate just because of my addiction to morphine. When you have read these hastily scrawled words, you might begin to see why my only options are to forget or to die, but you will never be able to fully understand.
Our cargo ship was attacked by a German sea-raider on one of the most secluded parts of the Pacific. It was at the beginning of the Great War, and the Hun’s naval forces were still at full strength. Our ship was a noteworthy prize, and the crew were treated with fairness and consideration as war prisoners. Our captors soon grew too comfortable, and five days later, I managed to escape in a small boat with enough food and water to last a good a while.
When I was finally free, I had no idea where I was; I have never been a good navigator. Based on the sun and stars, I guessed that I was somewhat south of the equator, but I did not know the longitude, and there was no island or coast in sight. The weather was fair, and I drifted aimlessly under the scorching sun for countless days while waiting to see land or a ship, but neither appeared. I became depressed as I floated alone across the endless, blue sea.
The change happened while I slept, but I will never know how; though my sleep was filled with troubled dreams, it was uninterrupted. When I finally woke, it was to find myself half-sucked into a slimy swampland of hellish, black sludge that extended as far as I could see, and my boat was grounded in the distance.
Though one might expect my first reaction to be shock at the extremely surprising change of scenery, I was actually more terrified than anything; there was a sinister quality in the air and putrid soil that chilled me to the very core. The ground was littered with rotting fish and indescribable things that stuck out from the nasty mud. Mere words cannot express the unspeakable horrors found in the absolute silence of vast, empty spaces. There was nothing to see or hear except for an endless sea of black slime, yet the landscape’s monotony and total stillness filled me with a nauseating fear.
The sun was blazing, and the cruel, cloudless sky was almost black – as if it were reflecting the inky ground. As I crawled into my stranded boat, I realized there was only one theory that could explain my situation. Through some kind of volcanic eruption, a portion of the ocean floor must have been thrown to the surface – exposing areas that had remained hidden for millions of years. The new land was so large that I could not hear the surging ocean no matter how hard I listened. There were no birds eating the dead things, either.
I sat in the boat thinking and sulking for several hours; now that it was laid on its side, the boat offered some shade from the sun. As the day progressed, the ground became less sticky and seemed like it would dry enough to travel for a short time. I slept little that night, and the next day, I packed my food and water in preparation for a journey; I planned to set out on foot in search of the missing sea and possible rescue.
On the third morning, the soil was dry enough to walk easily. The stench of the fish was maddening, but I had much bigger concerns and boldly continued my adventure. All day, I marched west using the highest mound on the rolling landscape as my guide. That night, I made camp, and the following day, I continued walking toward the mound; it hardly seemed any closer than on day one. By the fourth evening, I made it to the bottom and realized the mound was much taller than it appeared from a distance. Too exhausted to climb up – I slept in the hill’s shadow.
I do not know why my dreams were so wild that night, but I woke in a cold sweat when the half-full moon was high above the eastern plain. I decided to stay awake; the things I saw were too horrible to relive, and in the moon’s glow, I realized how unwise it had been to travel by day. Without the parching sun’s glare, my journey would have cost less energy; now, I felt quite able to make the climb that discouraged me at sunset. Retrieving my pack, I started up the mound.
I have said the unbroken monotony of the rolling plain was horrifying, but I was even more frightened when I reached the summit. Down the other side, I saw an immeasurable pit, but the moon was not yet high enough to light up its black crevices. It felt like I was on the edge of the world – looking over the rim and into an infinite chaos of eternal night. Mixed in with my terror were odd memories of Paradise Lost and Satan’s hideous climb through the realms of darkness.
As the moon rose higher, I began to see the valley’s slopes were not quite as perpendicular as I imagined. Ledges and rock protrusions provided fairly easy foot-holds for climbing down, and after a few hundred feet, the drop lessened gradually. Urged on by an impulse I cannot explain, I scrambled down the rocks and stood on the gentler slope beneath – gazing into the black depths where the light had yet to reach.
Suddenly, I noticed a huge object on the steep slope opposite of my position, and it gleamed white in the moon’s rays. I assured myself it was only a gigantic piece of stone, but I was aware that its shape and location were not Nature’s doing. A closer inspection filled me with sensations I cannot express. Despite its enormous size and the fact it sat at the bottom of the sea since the world was young – I knew without a doubt it was a statue; living and thinking creatures had worked on – and perhaps even worshiped – the massive object.
Though dazed and frightened, I still felt a certain thrill of scientific delight as I examined my surroundings more closely. The moon – now near its highest point – shined weirdly and vividly above the towering peaks surrounding the valley; it revealed a body of water flowing at the bottom – winding out of sight in both directions and almost lapping my feet on the slope. Across the chasm, the waves washed the base of the ancient statue, and I could see traces of inscriptions and crude sculptures. The hieroglyphics were unknown to me, and unlike anything I had ever seen in books; they mostly consisted of conventional aquatic symbols such as fish, eels, octopi, crustaceans, mollusks, and whales. Several characters obviously represented marine-life unknown to the modern world, but I witnessed many of their decomposing bodies along my journey.
Thanks to their enormous size, a group of statues were plainly visible on the other side of the valley. I think these things were meant to resemble men; the creatures appeared to be worshiping some kind of monolithic shrine that was also beneath the waves. I dare not speak of their features in detail; the mere thought of it makes me feel faint. They were more grotesque than even Poe could imagine; their general shapes were unquestionably human despite having webbed hands and feet, wide, flabby lips, bulging eyes, and other unpleasant features. They were also carved out of proportion with their background; one of the creatures was in the process of killing a whale that was only a little larger than himself.
After a moment’s thought, I decided they must be the imaginary gods of some primitive tribe – one whose last descendant died ages before the first Neanderthal was born. This unexpected glimpse into the past was far beyond what any anthropologist could dare to imagine. I stood there contemplating this while the moon cast strange reflections on the silent waters before me.
Then, I suddenly saw something giant and repulsive emerge from the dark waters. Only a slight ripple indicated its rise to the surface. The nightmarish monster darted to the monolith and flung its enormous, scaly arms around it while bowing its hideous head and crying; I think I went mad.
I do not remember much of my frantic climb up the slope or delirious journey back to the boat. I believe I sang a lot and laughed when I was unable to sing. I have partial memories of a big storm happening at some point after reaching the boat; I know I heard thunder and the other sounds seemed to also be from bad weather.
The next time I woke, I was in a San Francisco hospital; I had been brought there by the captain of an American ship that found my boat in the middle of the ocean. I said many things in my delirious state, but no one paid any attention to my words. The people who rescued me knew nothing about the landmass in the Pacific, and I decided not to bother them with it. Eventually, I asked a respected professor who specialized in ancient societies a few questions about the Philistine legend of Dagon, the Fish-God – but I gave up soon after his conservative beliefs became obvious.
At night, especially when the moon is half-full, I still see that thing. I tried morphine, but it only provides temporary relief, and it has turned me into a hopeless slave. Now that I have written a full account to inform or amuse my fellow man, I will end it all. I often ask myself if it could have been pure fantasy – a heat-stroke induced hallucination as I laid raving in the boat after my escape – but I always see the same hideously vivid vision in reply. I cannot think of the deep sea without shivering at the nameless things that may be crawling on its slimy bottom – worshiping their ancient stone idols and carving their own disgusting images on giant slabs of submerged granite. I dream of a day when they might rise above the waters to drag the puny remnants of mankind down in their horrible talons— of a day when the land will sink, and the dark ocean floor will rise among universal chaos.
The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as if some giant, slippery body is moving against it. It will not find me. God, that hand! The window! The window!
E.F. Benson, first published in 1912; translated into Modern English, otherwise exactly the same.
This story has been added to our Classics in the Rain collection! Hear Danie Dreadful’s magnificent narration here for the full experience!
It is probable that every lucid dreamer has had at least one dream come true. In my opinion, it would be more strange if it did not happen occasionally; our dreams involve people we know, places we are familiar with, and events that naturally occur anyway. It is true they might include impossible or absurd details, but – based purely on statistics – it is not unlikely for some to come true. For example, not long ago, one of my unremarkable dreams came true. I will tell you what happened.
A friend of mine who lives abroad is kind enough to write to me every couple of weeks. When that much time has passed, I know to expect a letter soon. One night last week, I dreamed that I was going upstairs to dress for dinner when the mailman knocked on the door; I went downstairs and among my other letters was one from my friend. After that is when the absurd part happened; when I opened it, there was an ace of diamonds inside and written on it was, “I am sending you this for safe keeping. You know it is risky to keep aces in Italy.”
The next evening – just as I was preparing to go upstairs and dress for dinner – I heard the mailman’s knock and did precisely as I had in my dream. Among the letters was one from my friend, but it did not contain the ace of diamonds. If it had, I would have been more impressed, but this was a perfectly ordinary coincidence. Obviously, I consciously or subconsciously expected a letter from him which is what influenced my dream in the first place. Also, the fact my friend had not written for two weeks influenced him to do so in the same way. Although, sometimes it is much harder to explain, and for the following story, I can find no explanation at all. It came out of the dark, and into the dark it has gone again.
All my life I have been a lucid dreamer; I spend my nights in a series of long, dazzling adventures. They are almost always pleasant, though most are trivial. The story I am about to share is a rare exception.
I was about sixteen the first time I had the dream. It started with me at the door of a big, red-brick house. The servant who greeted me said tea was being served in the garden, and he led me through a low, dark hall with a large fireplace to a cheerful green lawn with flower beds. A small gathering was grouped around the tea-table, but I only knew one person; he was an old classmate named Jack Stone, and his father owned the house. He introduced me to his parents and two sisters, and I was somewhat surprised. I hardly knew the boy and rather disliked what little I did know; plus, he quit school the previous year. The afternoon was stifling hot, and the yard was bordered by a red-brick wall with an iron gate in the center, and a walnut tree beyond it. We sat in the house’s shadow across from a row of windows, and inside, I could see a table glimmering with glass and silver. The front of the house was very long, and at one end was a three-story tower that looked much older than the rest of the building.
Soon, Mrs. Stone – who had sat in absolute silence like everyone else – said, “Jack will show you to your room at the top of the tower.”
For some inexplicable reason, my heart sank at her words. It was like I had already known I would get that room, and there was something important yet dreadful about it. Jack got up instantly, and I knew I had to follow him. We passed through the hall in silence and went up a great oak staircase with many corners before arriving at a small two-door landing. He pushed one open and closed it behind me; then, I knew my suspicion was correct. Something awful was in the room, and my fear grew quickly until I woke in a fit of terror.
I experienced variations of that dream at random intervals for fifteen years, but it usually happened exactly as I said. After arriving, tea is served in the silent garden before that one, terrible sentence is spoken. Jack Stone always guides me through the horrifying tower, and the nightmare ends with some unseen terror in my room. Other times, it is a variation of the same thing. Occasionally, we would be eating in the dining-room, but it remained silent with the same suffocating dread no matter where we were. The silence would always be broken by Mrs. Stone saying, “Jack will show you to your room at the top of the tower.”
Then, I would follow him up the square staircase and enter the place I feared more and more each time I dreamed of it. Otherwise, I would find myself playing cards in the silent den lit with enormous, blinding chandeliers. I have no idea what the game was; I only remember feeling miserably anxious that Mrs. Stone would send me to the tower soon. The den was next to the brightly lit dining-room, but the rest of the house was dim and full of shadows. Despite the bright lights, I often had a hard time seeing the cards that were dealt to me. Their colors were strange; there were no red suits – only black – and some cards were completely black all over. I hated and dreaded those.
As this dream continued to recur, I became familiar with most of the house. Beyond the den, there was a smoking-room with a green door at the end of the hall. It was always very dark, and I would pass somebody I could not see as they were coming out. Over the years, characters in the dream aged as people might in real life. When I first saw Mrs. Stone, she had black-hair and moved briskly, but now, she was gray and feeble. Jack grew into a rather sickly young man with a brown mustache, and one of the sisters stopped appearing when she married.
Then, I did not have the dream for six months or more; I began to hope they were over with, but one night after this break, I found myself being escorted onto the lawn for tea once again. Mrs. Stone was not there, and the others were all dressed in black. I guessed the reason immediately, and my heart leapt at the thought that I would not have to sleep in the tower room. Though we normally sat in silence, the sense of relief made me talk and laugh as I never had before, but even then it was uncomfortable; no one else spoke – they only shared secret glances with each other. Soon, my foolish talk ran dry, and as the light slowly faded, I grew more anxious than on any previous visit.
Suddenly, a familiar voice broke the silence; it was Mrs. Stone saying, “Jack will show you to your room at the top of the tower.” It seemed to come from somewhere near the gate, and when I looked up, the yard was covered in gravestones. They glowed with a strange, grayish light, and the grave closest to me read, “In evil memory of Julia Stone.” As usual, I followed Jack through the hall and up the squared staircase. This time, it was darker than usual, and when I entered the room, I could only see the furniture. There was also a dreadful smell of decay, and I woke up screaming.
The dream continued to occur at random intervals for fifteen years. Sometimes, I would have it two or three nights in a row; aside from the six month break – it happened roughly once a month on average. It always ended with the same awful terror, and each experience frightened me as badly as the first. There was also a strange and dreadful consistency to it. The characters aged regularly, there were deaths and marriages in the silent family, and after Mrs. Stone died, I never saw her again – but it was still her voice that spoke to me. I could always see her gravestone just outside the iron gate. It was the same with the married daughter; usually, she was not present, but once or twice she returned with a man I thought to be her husband. He, too, was always silent, but due to the constant repetition of the dream, I stopped thinking that was significant. I never met Jack Stone again, nor did I ever see a dark house that resembled the one in my dream. Then, something happened.
This year, I was in London until the end of July. During the first week of August, I left to stay with a friend; he had rented a summer house in the Ashdown Forest district of Sussex. John Clinton planned to meet me at Forest Row Station, and we spent the day golfing before he drove us to his house at roughly 5:00 that evening. Since it was still so early, we waited to have tea at home instead of having it at the club house. The weather had been hot and wonderfully fresh that day, but it became stagnant and oppressive during our drive. I felt that indescribable sense of ominous anxiety that I get before a storm. John, however, did not share my concerns; he blamed my attitude on the fact that I lost both the matches. Regardless, I turned out to be right, but I do not think that night’s thunderstorm was the only cause of my depression.
Our road ran through a deep valley, and I fell asleep quickly; I only woke when the motor stopped. Partly frightened but mostly curious, I found myself standing in front of my dream house. I wondered if I was dreaming at that moment when we walked through a low, oak-paneled hall and out to the lawn. Tea was being served in the house’s shadow. It was surrounded by flower beds and a gated red-brick wall; beyond that was an area with rough grass and a walnut tree. The front of the house was very long, and one end had a three-story tower that was noticeably older than the rest.
It was no longer like the dream; there was no silent and terrible family. Instead, there was a large group of very cheerful people, and I knew them all. I did not feel frightened in real life like I normally did in the dream, but I was very curious about what would happen.
We drank tea, and before long Mrs. Clinton stood up. At that moment, I knew what she was going to say. She told me, “John will show you to your room in the tower.”
For half a second, the horror from my dreams consumed me again but quickly passed, and the intense curiosity returned; it did not take long to satisfy.
John turned to me. “It’s at the top of the house, but I think you’ll be comfortable; the other rooms are already taken. Would you like to see it now?” He looked up as he said this. “My goodness, I believe you’re right; there’s going to be a thunderstorm. It has gotten quite dark.” He added.
I rose and followed him as we passed through the hall and up the perfectly familiar staircase. I entered when he opened the door and was immediately struck with another wave of sheer terror. Suddenly, I remembered my fear of Mrs. Stone and her grave’s sinister inscription, “In evil memory.” I saw it often in my sleep – just past the lawn beneath my window. Then, once again, the fear passed, and I was left sane and sober inside the tower room – the very same one from my dream.
I looked around with a sense of familiarity and found that nothing had been changed from the dream version. The bed was angled along the wall to the left of the door; next to it was the fireplace and a small bookcase. Across from the door were two lattice-paned windows with a vanity between them. On the fourth wall was the washing-stand and a big cupboard. My luggage was already unpacked; my night clothes were laid neatly on the wash-stand, and my dinner clothes were spread out atop the bed. With a sudden jolt of dismay, I saw two things I had never seen in my dreams. One was a life-sized oil painting of Mrs. Stone hanging next to the bed, and the other was a black-and-white sketch of Jack Stone as he had appeared in my dreams a week before – a secretive, evil-looking man of about thirty. His picture hung between the windows, staring straight across the room at the other portrait. I also looked at it, and once again, I was filled with the horror from my nightmares.
It showed Mrs. Stone as I had last seen her in my dreams – old, withered, and white-haired. Despite her obviously feeble body, a dreadful vitality was beneath her fleshy shell – a malignant excitement radiated unimaginable evil from her narrow, leering eyes; it laughed with a demon-like mouth. Her face expressed an appalling humor, and her hands – clasped together on her knee – shook with joy. I also saw it was signed in the bottom left corner and wondered who the artist could be; looking closer, I read the inscription, “Julia Stone by Julia Stone.”
There was a knock at the door, and John Clinton entered. “Got everything you want?” he asked.
“Rather more than I want.” I said, pointing to the picture.
He laughed. “Hard-featured old lady. She was alone, too, I remember. Anyhow, she sure didn’t flatter herself much.”
“But don’t you see?” I said. “It’s hardly a human face at all. It’s the face of some witch or devil.”
He took a closer look. “Yes; it isn’t very pleasant. Especially not next to the bed, eh? Yes; I’d probably have a nightmare if I slept with that nearby. I’ll have it removed if you like.”
“I really wish you would.” I said.
He rang the bell, and a servant helped us remove the picture; it was taken out onto the landing and left facing the wall.
“My goodness, the old lady is heavy; I wonder if she had something on her mind.” John said, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
I had also noticed the picture’s extraordinary weight; I was about to reply when I saw a considerable amount of blood covering my palm. “I’ve cut myself somehow.” I said.
John was slightly startled. “Huh, I have too.” He said, cleaning the blood from his own hand with a handkerchief.
John and I returned to the tower room and washed the blood off, but neither of us had any trace of a scratch or cut. Once we realized this, we made an unspoken agreement not to mention it again. Then, something occurred to me that I did not want to think about. It was only a theory, but somehow, I knew John thought the same thing.
The air grew hotter and thicker after dinner; a storm was brewing, and most of us were sitting outside on the lawn where we had tea. The night was completely dark; no light from the stars or moon could penetrate the ominous clouds covering the sky. Our group slowly dispersed; the women went to bed, men retired to the smoking-room, and by 11:00, John and I were the only two left. All evening, I had thought there was something on his mind, and now that we were alone, he confirmed it.
“Did you notice the man who helped us with the picture also had blood on his hand? Just now, I asked him if he cut himself, and he supposed he had, but he could not find an actual wound. So, where did that blood come from?” He said.
Up to that point, I had succeeded in not thinking about it, and I especially did not want to be reminded of it at bedtime. “I don’t know, and I don’t really care as long as the picture of Mrs. Stone is gone.” I said.
He stood. “But it’s odd. Ha! Now you’ll see another odd thing.”
His Irish terrier came outside as we talked. The hall door was open behind us; its bright light shined across the yard and beyond the iron gate to the walnut tree. The dog’s hackles were raised, bristling with fear and rage; his lips were curled back as he growled, ready to pounce. He did not notice John or myself as he stiffly walked across the lawn to the gate. He stood there, growling and looking through the bars until he seemed to lose his nerve. With one long howl, he cowered and hurried back to the house.
“He does that half-a-dozen times a day. He sees something he both hates and fears.” John said.
I walked to the gate and looked over it. Something in the grass was moving, and there was a sound I could not immediately identify, but I soon realized it was only a purring cat. I lit a match and saw the big, blue Persian prancing around excitedly just outside the gate. Its tail was raised proudly, and its eyes shined brightly as it occasionally sniffed at the grass.
I laughed. “I’m afraid that’s the end of the mystery. Here’s a large cat having a party all alone.”
“Yes, that’s Darius; he spends half the day and all night there, but that’s not the end of the dog mystery. He and Toby are best friends – this is only the beginning of the cat mystery. What’s the cat doing there? Why is it that Darius is happy, but Toby is terrified?” John said.
At that moment, I remembered the horrible part of my dream where I see through the gate. The cat was standing exactly where the white tombstone with the sinister inscription is normally located. Before I could speak, it suddenly began raining like someone turned on a faucet. The big cat squeezed through the bars and ran into the house for shelter where it sat in the doorway, eagerly looking out into the darkness. When John pushed it back in order to close the door, it hissed and scratched at him.
With Julia Stone’s picture in the hallway, the tower room did not frighten me. Feeling very sleepy, I went to bed with only a mild interest in the strange occurrences of our bleeding hands and the pets’ behavior. The last thing I saw was the square, empty space where the portrait had been; there, the wallpaper was its original dark, red color, but it was faded everywhere else. After blowing out my candle, I fell asleep instantly.
My waking was equally instantaneous; I sat straight up thinking a bright light had been flashed in my face, but all was pitch black. I knew I was in the room from my terrifying dreams, but the fear I felt in those did not come close to the horror that now consumed me. Thunder cracked above the house immediately after the flash, but knowing it was probably lightning that woke me did not calm my racing heart. I knew something was in the room with me; instinctively, I reached for the wall with my right hand and touched the edge of a picture-frame.
I leapt out of bed, bumping the small table beside it, and I heard my watch, candle, and matches clatter to the floor. A blinding flash erupted from the clouds to show me the picture of Mrs. Stone was once again hanging on the wall, and the room instantly returned to blackness. In that flash, I also saw a figure leaning over the end of my bed – watching me. Its tight, white garment was spotted with mold, and its face matched the one from the portrait.
Overhead, the thunder roared, and when it stopped, all was deathly still. I heard a rustling as something moved closer, and even worse, there was a rotten stench of decay. That is when a hand was laid on the side of my neck, and I heard quick, eager breaths next to my ear. Even though this thing could be touched, smelled, seen, and heard, I knew it was not of this earth; it was something that left the body and had the power to manifest itself. Then, a familiar voice spoke.
“I knew you would come to the room in the tower; I have been waiting for a long time. At last, you have come. Tonight, I will feast, and soon, we will feast together.” It said as the quick breathing came close enough to feel on my neck.
The terror had temporarily paralyzed me, but now a wild instinct of self-preservation took control. I flailed both arms wildly while kicking my legs, and I heard a small animal-squeal as something soft dropped beside me with a thud. I took a few steps forward, nearly tripping over whatever lay there, and – by sheer luck – I found the exit. In another second, I ran out onto the landing and slammed the door behind me. At almost the same moment, another door opened somewhere below me, and John Clinton came running upstairs with a candle in hand.
“What is it?” He asked. “I sleep below you and heard a noise as if— Good heavens! There’s blood on your shoulder.”
Afterwards, he said I stood swaying from side to side – white as a sheet, with a bloody handprint stained on my shoulder. “She’s in there,” I said, pointing. “The portrait is hanging where we took it from, too.”
He laughed at that. “My dear fellow, it was only a nightmare.” He pushed by me and opened the door as I stood frozen in terror – unable to stop him or move.
“Phew! What an awful smell!” He said before falling silent as he entered the room. He returned almost immediately – as white as myself – and shut the door behind him.
“Yes, the portrait is there, and on the floor is a thing— a thing covered in dirt and wearing the garments people are buried in. Let’s get away, quick, let’s go!” He said.
I hardly know how I got downstairs. I was nauseous and shaking; multiple times, John had to place my feet on the steps, and he often looked back in terror, but eventually we came to his room on the floor below. There, I told him what I have described in these pages.
The end can be told quickly; some of my readers may have already guessed what it was if they remember the incident at the West Fawley churchyard from eight years ago. Three attempts were made to bury a woman who had committed suicide. Each time, the coffin was found sticking up from the ground a few days later. After the third attempt, the body was buried just outside the iron gate of this woman’s home. She had killed herself in the room at the top of the tower, and her name was Julia Stone.
The body was secretly dug up again, and the coffin was found full of blood.
[upset] I knew it! I knew you’d come today of all days. Damnit, we gotta get you out of this forest!
… … One day a year – one! And it’s the day you show up! I knew it, I tell ya! Ugh, it’s too late… we’d never make it to the bridge; hurry up – come inside. [door slams/locks]
… … … What do you mean you have no clue how you got here?! You have your pack and everything!
… … … I’m not sure I understand how you could be compelled to pick it up, but we don’t have time to chat. There’s a horde of evil outside, and more are on the way. We don’t even know what half of those things are anymore. Based on what we do know – ignorance is probably a blessing, but we can speculate later.
[Trish] We need to open the floor, it’s our only chance.
… You’re right; there’ll be nowhere left to hide once it begins. We could make a hole under the bed… Once our friend is behind the barrier, it’ll be like every other year.
… … [walking to bedroom] We’ll have to explain later, but I’m sure you remember my telling you about converting the basement, yes?
… Good. Long story short – there’s also a few magical protections around it. We couldn’t have survived without them.
… … [defensive] I’ve been brutally honest about how dangerous this place is, I’m not sure why you look surprised.
… … It’s amazing yet frightening how many questions you have in the face of certain death. Stand back, please. Come on, Ethan, help me move this thing.
… … [bed slides across floor] You’re gonna be just fine, friend, we’ll get through this together. I’m surprised they haven’t smelled you, but maybe they’re too preoccupied… or lulling us into a false sense of security…
… … [wood creaking] I’m only planning for every possibility, but those guys aren’t exactly known for their patience. If they knew you were here – we wouldn’t be considered much of a threat. It’s more likely they’re too busy to notice. These rituals have been happening for centuries; they probably can’t remember the last time one was interrupted—
[wood cracking] Whoa, hold on, boy! Just because the bed will be covering it doesn’t mean we can rip the boards in half! It would be nice to lay them back in place afterwards. Once our pal is safely hidden, we’ll make it look like this room hasn’t been touched since those kids with the tie-dye van.
[Ethan] The ones who thought we were all acid hallucinations?
… Yep, but this time – we stay quiet and lay low; there shouldn’t be any problems. I bet we can even manage a few stories to help pass the time; how’s that sound?
… … Hah, I thought that part would be well received. [board set aside] Alright, it’s time.
… … Don’t worry, friend, Ethan will lower you nice and slow; he’s stronger than he looks. You’ll be on the ground and taking the grand tour before you know it.
… … … … [shout/echo] See? No problem at all. You two go ahead; we’ll get this mess cleaned up and be with you in a few.
… … [distant/fading voice] See, Trish? I told you it was best to keep the height a surprise.
Great news, family! We’re officially bunkered down, and the ritual has begun. Only something fairly extreme could stop them now, and we aren’t giving them anything but distance; tonight, we don’t exist!
… … Thank you, friend, I’m glad you like it! This is my real library; the original journals, every book, and all our downloaded entertainment are right here. I often worry they aren’t safe enough, but I fear no amount of precautions would make me feel differently.
… … … Oh my! I was so worried about the ritual I’ve been a terrible host! I’m ashamed of myself, truly I am. You haven’t had a chance to say more than two words since you got here; hell, I didn’t even ask how you’ve been since your last visit!
… … …Well, “gracious host” is probably a stretch, but it’s kind of you to say so – I do try – but no more about me; what’s the big news? You’re grinning ear-to-ear, and the curiosity is killing me.
… … You… I mean… I know you said you were going to email Mr. Somnium, but… Are you trying to tell me he actually responded? As in he read it?
… … … He wants to narrate it? For his actual channel? When?!
… … It’s already done?! Are you screwing with me, friend? Because this is a cruel joke to play on an old man no matter how long ago his heart stopped—
… … … [whisper] Sweet cricket… okay… don’t sugarcoat it; what did people think?
… … … Shut up! I’m not crying! You’re crying! Holy, sweet mother of all crickets… You even took pictures of the comments? You, my friend, hold the special power of restoring one’s faith in humanity.
… … … Shush, everyone; of course I want to hear it, but we need to be quiet – no unnecessary risks, remember?… But don’t worry, friend – you’ll be across that bridge before you know it!
… … Hell yea, I’m positive! And – once you’re home – would you have time to pass along a message to our Dark Family? It should be heart-felt, yet stoic – humble but not desperate; maybe I should draft a few key points. First impressions are every—
[Trish] You’re doing it again, dear.
… Oops… umm, enough of all that; we’re in for a long night. What would you like to hear about next? The Mountain Settlement, maybe? How about the Civil War or the Revolution?
… … … [disappointed] Really? Firsthand accounts of America’s entire history are at your disposal, but you want to know how Trish and I got here? You’re one strange cookie, my friend, but that’s the main reason we like you so much. Alrighty then, I aim to please! Hang tight while I find the right journal; we’ll need to go back to a couple weeks before we died.
… … … [shuffling books] Oh, yea, those are the Weapons; Those have been down here since the ordeal with the outlaws. It’s kinda nice not having anyone else to meddle in what we do with our own family heirlooms.
Ah, here we are, [wipes off dust] I only hope you aren’t too disappointed. When you get bored we’ll switch to a different journal; until then – sit back, relax, and try to ignore any strange noises. Now that the Ritual has begun, they can’t leave the circle… Well, they could, but they’d be forced to start over which would be extremely inconvenient.
April 5, 1696
It has been a hard day – the kind that makes me long for the years I could work without pain in my back. If not for the grandchildren, my fields would be empty this season. It seems like only yesterday I was teaching their fathers how to plant and plow, yet now, I ramble incessantly like the old men we mocked in our youth. Even when there is actual news to speak of, I somehow default to writing the same, dull drivel as always.
Bill Sanderson returned from a business trip two days ago, and today, his entire family is ill. The doctors were only notified when his children failed to attend class for a second morning; Ms. Harvard sent one of the students to the Sanderson home, and the lad went for help upon finding the family confined to their beds.
No one dares speak the words we all know to be true, but— [woman’s scream]
… … [exasperated] Damn, that one was loud.
… … [hesitant] Well, um… it sounds like they’ve brought out a sacrifice…
… … … I can understand why you might be upset, but we didn’t see a reason to worry you when there’s nothing we can do to help that poor soul.
… … I know it’s hard to hear; in the beginning, we wanted to help, too, but you gotta trust us. Our first time hearing it, we rushed into the middle of them like fools; they had some poor girl – must have been between 17-20 – and she—
[Trish] Maybe skip that part, dear.
… Right. The point is – they almost ate us, and if you go running out there, I’m not sure we could save you at all, but we’d try. The one thing I am certain of is that we would be consumed either way. [whining] Please don’t get us eaten before I can hear Mr. Somnium read Pappy Grant’s journal! Please!
… … Yes, exactly! The demon himself is smack in the middle of it all and growing more powerful as we speak! He’s surrounded by every evil thing this place has to offer; We can’t help them in the same way you can’t walk on the ceiling.
… … … [whining] Aw, why aren’t you understanding this, friend? Yes – killing the demon would mean an end to the sacrifices, and this place would finally stop attracting new monsters, but—
… … … [sigh] Yes; it would make it possible to deal with other creepies and crawlies as well, but—
… … … Because we can’t! Even if the demon wasn’t surrounded by his minions – we wouldn’t stand a chance!
… … … Tell me you did not just point to the Weapons. [louder] No, better yet – tell me what we did to make you hate us? Why are you trying to re-kill us?
[Trish] Volume, dear.
… … [softer] It’s a moot point, anyway. The girl is dead by now, let’s not dwell on what we can’t change. I’m sorry, but if y’all don’t mind, I’d like to continue read— [man screams]
… … [annoyed] Oh, Jiminy-friggin-Cricket! Yes, I heard it! [throws down journal]
… … [exasperated] Yes, I know it was a man that time.
… … I don’t know how many more.
… … I swear, I don’t know; they don’t hunt for a specific type or number of sacrifices, but if an opportunity presents itself in the months leading up to the ritual…
… … Yea, I’m afraid so; they’ll use as many as they find. There’s no maximum limit, and the more lives they take – the more powerful the ritual becomes.
… No, please! Don’t touch the Weapons!
[Ethan] Actually, I have an idea.
… An idea on how to calm our friend down?
[Ethan] Sort of!
… Nope; sit down and zip it.
… Sit! [clap] Zip! [clap] We are survivors! Do you understand what that means? It means we survive! We keep going; we record the story! Just now – finally – that story is making it to the outside world. We can’t let it end here. If we can get the rest of it out there, real help will come! People who know what they’re doing – hell, maybe someone with a YouTube channel—
… Right. The point is – someone who isn’t us! We have two choices. We can go out there – become dinner – and let the world forget about that one random story, or we can be strategic; we can forfeit the battle to win the war and enjoy victory together – as a family. Then, when it’s time to deal with the other unfriendly inhabitants, maybe some of those Paranormal Investigators will visit! I don’t think I’d be comfortable with Ghost Hunters; I know you said it’s not the same kind of hunter but—
… Right, sorry. Can we please just go back to reading? If they had another— [man screams]
Well, that was obviously the same one as before— Wait a second, friend! You do realize those Weapons are useless in our hands, right? They wouldn’t work even if we could land a hit; that means you would have one shot with only a dagger to fall back on!
[Ethan] Seriously, I have a plan.
… Please, boy, I’m serious, too.
[Trish] It’s a good plan, dear.
… [heartbroken] Aw… you too? But… how do you already know what it is? Why are none of you concerned with—
… Fine, fine, fine; go ahead, Ethan. Take your time and explain in as much detail as possible.
[Ethan] Since the entire horde of bad guys are confined to the ritual circle – no one is guarding the Demon’s Path. Those egg sacs have been incubating for ages; tonight will probably be enough to put a few more monsters into the world. Unless something happens to them…
… Ok, since we’re completely ignoring my strategic plan for victory – let’s hear it. How do you propose we bypass the fact they’ll smell our flesh-and-blood pal the moment we stick our heads out of the hole? You know – the one we hid under the bed that happens to be the only exit for someone incapable of passing through solid objects?
[Ethan] Um, actually only two of us need to go. Technically, they could burst the sacs with a regular crossbow. The only reason I never have before is because the demon would know it was one of us, and we never had a way to fight back until now. Don’t you see? This is why our friendwas brought here! It’s fate! We could make a real difference! The demon will feel what happened and rush over in a blind rage; he’ll pass straight by the lake! Someone on the roof could probably get a clear shot…
… … Oh, and our friend is suddenly an archer now, eh? Hell, let’s pretend that part is true – you realize the demon won’t simply be strolling by, don’t you? Even our eyes can barely keep track! That’s a vital detail since a miss would mean we all suffer fates worse than second deaths! Dying the first time was bad enough, thank you very much!
[Ethan] I could do the aiming, and I remember the demon’s name well. You know I can make that shot; let me have revenge… Imagine if Jamestown could really expand; how long do you think it would be before they brought in some electric poles? Surely WiFi wouldn’t be far behind…
… Damn you, boy. Taunt me with sweet dreams all you want, but none of those things would matter if we weren’t around to enjoy them.
[Trish] We can destroy the eggs much faster than the demon can break their circle; we could be back before they need to shoot. If the worst happens – one of us will get our friend to bridge while the others stay behind… We can pack the journals now as well – then, our story will live on, and your plan will still work. What do you think?
… I think it’s horrible! It doesn’t change a thing about how it will end. Besides, have you noticed how long it’s been since— [woman screams] Oh, come on!
[Ethan] Please, we don’t have much time; you know full well they’ve barely gotten started. This has gone too far! Once the demon is dead, we’ll be the last thing on anyone’s mind. Most of them will run scared back to their dens, and some will move on to darker pastures entirely. While that’s happening, Trish can get our friend back to safety, and we’ll go after the hostages!
… I don’t like it.
[Trish] That’s a shame dear… Based on what mother saw, I could have used your help. Oh well, sit tight – we’ll return as quickly as possible; try not to worry.
… [grumble] You can be a cruel woman sometimes… Ethan, listen to me very carefully; don’t extend a single hair beyond the protection barrier until we’re finished, you got that? Then it’s straight into position; do not overestimate the amount of time it will take him to break the ritual’s circle! We’ll clear the path for you on the way out.
[Ethan] You got it, uncle!
… Alright, let’s get it over with. If it’s the last thing I do – I’ll fit in some “told you so’s” before going loudly into that dark, eternal night.
[Trish] We’ll stay underground as long as we can and come up by the path’s entrance.
… Are you going to explain what happened with Gale? I didn’t want to worry our friend anymore than you two already have, but she clearly saw something that shook you up.
[Trish] Last week, she was having a good day and said this year wasn’t like the others. The demon was angrier after the French settlement than we realized. In our grief over lost friends and enchanted arrows, we failed to realize that several of the sacs were destroyed as well. Rather than replacing them – he poured everything into what was left—
… We should be close, let’s go up… And they’re supposed to hatch tonight? Is that what you were saying?
[Trish] You’re right; we’re here… But no – those eggs hatched ages ago. However, the results were so promising – he tried something new. This time he divided everything equally between two sacs. They’re already massive, and when the 24 sacrifices are dead – there will be two more extremely dangerous monsters loose in our forest.
… Twenty-four? How? It’s never been more than a dozen!.. And wow, this place really has gotten dismal. I remember when it was impossible to see more than a few yards into the tree-line, but now there’s hardly any green left in the forest!
[Trish] The bulk of the sacrifices are boy scouts; they weren’t camping here – their bus broke down. The repairs were going to take a few hours, so their troop leader suggested bringing the restless kids for a hike. The worst part is – they never told anyone what happened; no one knows they came here. When the repairs were complete, those who stayed with the bus drove down to retrieve the others; they had no clue what they were driving into… Of course, there are probably a few other sacrifices mixed in; surely they aren’t all with the scouts.
… [pouty] I just wanna go home and listen to my story… Geez, the ground is so hard and black it feels like concrete…
[Trish] If we can end the reign of terror, you’ll have eternity to enjoy all the stories you want, dear. Now, move your ass; my baby is practically alone back there. Is your crossbow ready? I think I see the first one ahead – look up and to the right. Mother said these were bright yellow instead of orange – that has to be one of them.
… Yea, that’s it; the other is on the ground to the left, do you see it? We should stand back; that gunk inside could still hurt us… Or we could turn around and go home now – no harm done.
[Trish] Wow, they really are massive!.. Wait – did you mean ‘no harm done’ aside from tonight’s 24 sacrifices?
… [sigh] Are you ready? We shoot on three… One… I love you… Two… Three! [both shoot, sacs burst with liquid explosion]
… [ground shakes and rumbles with guttural roar] Go!
… [panicked] Can you feel that? The air is heavier; it’s like walking through deep water.
[Trish] Yes, and we need to go faster.
… No, darling; just me.
[Trish] What’s in that vial? Did you try brewing potions again?
… It’s just something I’ve been saving for an emergency. Don’t worry, if the worst happens, the enchantment will weaken overnight; you’ll be able to free yourself by morning. [cork pops]
[Trish] Alex, no; we don’t have time to argue; you don’t— [Trish sucked in/Alex corks bottle]
… It’s ok to be mad; I can handle that, but not losing you. I’m sure you’re frustrated that I can’t hear what you’re saying, but if it’s any consolation – I can feel your displeasure loud and clear. Hopefully, I’ll be back for you— [frightened] Oh no; the air is getting even heavier… [sweeps leaves aside] Ok, ok… Ok, hun, you’ll be safe here, and I’ll be right back… [covers bottle with the leaves]
[speeds away, muttering to self] Alright, ole boy, – she’s safe – totally, completely safe, yessir. Now, you’re gonna bottle up that loud-mouthed nephew and hope to hell the demon is satisfied with only one savory morsel… And that our friend skews towards flight rather than fight…
[gasp] There they are – thank Jiminy! They’re on the roof; all I need to do is drag— [earth shakes and rumbles with a roar like thunder] No, please no, not when I’m this close!
[Ethan] This is it! Remember – just like we practiced; don’t panic… keep your eyes closed… body relaxed… mind clear… and—
[confused] Hey, why is uncle— Shit! [shoots arrow] No!
[everyone screams, demon screeches, arrow thuds into tree]
… … [panicked] I’m not gonna make it… Oh, no! No, no, no! It only scratched the bastard!… Holy mother, he’s looking right at them! The arrow! It’s so close; I have get to it… [pulls arrow from trunk]
… [screaming] Oi! Hey, look at me, asshole! Yoo-hoo! [whistles]
… Crap, he’s really coming!Even uglier than I remember… Looks like a tall Quasimodo caught leprosy and went into the final stages of liver failure… Oof! My throat… Jiminy, he’s a big mother… lucky I don’t need to… breathe… just need… arm… free… legs are already gone…
… [strained] Boy! Catch! [arrow whizzes through air, thuds into roof]
[mutters to self] Thank goodness, it got through… Wow, everything is going all wonky… sorry, fam—
[Ethan] Bastard! He’s absorbing Alex! We have to shoot before there’s nothing left! [pulls arrow free, Alex groans in the distance] Hold on, we’re coming! [bow-string tightens]
[Ethan whispers] Are you ready?… Now! [fires arrow] Say it!
[demon screeches in agony, drowning out all other voices]
[Ethan, yelling over the demon’s wails] Alex! Uncle!… Why isn’t he reforming?! Stay here, I need to get down there!
… ……[voice confused, disembodied] Is it over?… Is this where the dead go when they die?… Or is this a black void unique to the demon’s victims? Maybe I’m being stored away until needed… At least Trish is safe, and I think— yes! Before everything went dark, that bastard took an arrow in the neck! I remember hearing the start of his name before the sound was cut off by screaming. It’s too late for me, but surely my boy got our friend away from this place. The demon is still dangerous even in this condition. [Ethan calling in the distance]
… … … [voice slightly more focused] Was that Ethan calling for me? No, it was too close; maybe I’m hallucinating after all… [woosh]
[Ethan yelling over demon’s continued screams] Uncle, if you can hear me – I found your dirty bottle trick lying next to what was left of you. Hopefully, I got all of you, but… umm… it looks like I’m stuck… Alex, I can’t move my legs… [whimper] He’s… g-ot me… I g-guess this guy r-really doesn’t want to die… I’m gonna throw you while I can still move my arms— [shocked gasp, dagger stabs into demon’s foot]
[demon roars in guttural agony as the ground rumbles with the force of an earthquake]
[Ethan] Holy shit! You stabbed him! No; don’t pull it out! We need to go; get on my back! [leaves rustle in the wind as the group flees] Alex, where’s Trish— Oh, right, he can’t answer…
… … … [angry and frustrated] I can answer; you just can’t hear me! What the hell is happening out there?! I can’t see or sense anything! We better be headed away from the demon with our friend in tow, or I swear before the sweet cricket I will find a way to tan your hide! [bangs loudly on the bottle walls] Ugh, you best find a way to hear me, boy! Hello?!
[Ethan continues speaking] —Yes, I’m positive Alex is in this bottle; here, you can hang onto it. Oh, wait! [hears light tapping on glass] Do you hear that? This is fantastic; I must have gotten all of him! Hey, Uncle – tap once for yes and twice for no; do you understand? [single tap] Is Trish safe? [single tap] Whew, thank goodness. Uncle! You won’t believe it! Our friend came out of nowhere and stabbed that bastard in the foot, haha! I think this is really it! He was falling apart as we fled! I’m trying to get us to the bridge – then we can find a way to get you out of that bottle.
… … … What do you mean ‘find a way’? Open it!—Wait, what are you two saying out there? No, no, no! [frantically bangs on glass] No way, friend! You are not staying one second longer! We can check on the sacrifice hostages after you’re safe! Ethan, don’t you dare listen to that nonsense! Get your ass to the bridge! And open the damn bottle! [continues banging on glass]
[Ethan] Sorry, friend, but I can’t take you to the ritual circle; Alex would kill me. Just listen to him in there – he’s going nuts!… Whoa, what are you doing?! Sit still or we’re gonna— [everyone falls to the ground, glass bottle breaks]
… … … Holy Cricket, that’s better! Now – we were all human once – let’s talk about this like reasonable folk.
[ground shakes with loudest roar yet]
… …. [disbelief] It really happened… He’s gone… Even after everything… I just didn’t believe it… But, damn, can you feel it, too? The air is normal again! The looming sense of dread is— actually… it’s stronger than ever… Let’s get Trish before we do anything else…
… … [hysteric] How?! How is it empty?! It shouldn’t have weakened that fast! How is she gone?! [sobs/smashes bottle]
[Ethan] Wait… Calm down and focus for a second… Do you feel that? There’s another fight happening, and she’s definitely part of it… [demanding] I’m going now! Are you coming, friend? Or do you want to stay here and argue with Alex?… Great, let’s go!
… No, umm… [defeated] ugh, wait up. Damnit, Trish! Why’d she have to go over there alone!
… … I know, friend, you don’t need to remind me. I’m clearly surrounded with ‘kind souls’ but, you see, we are a family of survivors, and avoiding danger is the key to being a survivor. This expedition is in direct conflict with our mission statement; she’s breaking the prime directive – that’s not ok!
[Ethan, patronizing] There, there, uncle; we can have a court martial after we help her. For now, we need to hurry! We should find a vantage point before showing ourselves. If it looks too dangerous, one of us will rush our friend to the bridge while the other helps Trish. Fair enough?
… … It’s not like I have any choice in the matter! You three have been forcing my hand all night anyway, so come on! Let’s go before it’s too late!
… … [shock] Are… are you two seeing this? It’s absolute chaos down there… [children shouting war cries] and it looks like… is Trish leading a platoon of boy scouts?
[Ethan] Hell yea, she is! Look! Everyone must have fled; only the Walker is left! Geez, where did they get all those weapons? It’s been ages since I’ve seen a mob like that – some of them are actually carrying pitchforks!
… … Don’t stand there gawking, boy! That Walker isn’t going to wait by idly while they fill it with holes! Why would she do this?!
… … Friend, if we survive this ordeal – remind me to explain the definition of a rhetorical question.
[Ethan] It won’t fight outnumbered either; I think it’s waiting for— [hostages screaming in the distance]
… … … Yep, you saw it right, friend. It waited for one to come within reach and fled with him. It’s safe for you to come down with us now; [leaves crunch beneath feet] we need to get everyone back to the cabin and calmed down so we can discuss what story you’ll tell the police.
… … Well, of course I mean you; who else is gonna take them? Their last chaperone was just carried off by the Walker and none of us can cross the bridge. We can’t send a group of traumatized kids off on their own.
… … I have no clue what you’re supposed to tell them – we haven’t discussed it yet!
[Ethan, yells over chaos of frightened boy scouts] Trish! Over here!
[Trish] You’re all here! I’m so relieved! When I was able to free myself, you three were fleeing towards the bridge – so I came straight here.
… … [muttering] How considerate of you…
[Trish] What was that, husband? Did you say something?
… … [perky] I love you, and I’m delighted you’re safe…
[Trish] You’re such a dear. [whispers] Don’t let the children know we’re ghosts; I don’t think their fragile minds could handle it.
… … Fair enough; I suppose we’ll take the long way home, then.
[Trish] Actually, I’ve had a rather long night, and so has our friend. I think it’s best if we go ahead while you and Ethan bring the boys along behind us. We’ll make sure your path is clear, of course.
… … [monotone] Of course… Come on, Ethan, you heard the lady. Round ‘em up…
[Trish] —I can’t believe the demon was finally defeated! So, you went right up to the monster and stabbed him in the foot?!… You really are amazing, my friend, and I know you’ll understand why we had to make this little detour… We need to get any demon goop left behind into this jar. [unscrews lid] We’ll burn it in the fireplace, and then you can take the ashes with you… [closes lid] There, that’s all of it; we better get moving.
[Trish, nonchalant] Oh, you don’t remember what my brother-in-law learned from the Mountain Settlement? The ashes must be spread over salt water – never fresh. Do you see any salt water in our territory? Alex doesn’t want to think about it yet, but you and I know better than to wait, don’t we?… I knew I could count on you! I can never repay you for saving my boys, [cabin door creaks open] but you’ll always have a home with us. Although, I’m sure you’ll be hearing those words in abundance over the coming months. Those children are probably assumed dead; the news crews will be rolling in before lunch – I guarantee it! [distant chatter] Oh, shh, they’re almost here! I’ll put this in the fire and get the ashes into your bag discreetly. Once you’re safely across the bridge – I’ll let the boys know we have everything under control.
… … … [several pairs of footsteps file across the wood floor] That’s right, this way fella’s; y’all are safe now. You’ll be home with your families in no time. We’re just gonna have a little chat to make sure everyone is on the same page while we wait for the sun to rise; then, our friend is going to take you all to see some nice policemen! How does that sound?
… … [exasperated] Come on, guys. We’ve been at this for over an hour; I don’t think you understand what’s waiting for you on the other side of that bridge. Do you know what it means to be national news?
… … I didn’t think so; it means you can say goodbye to your privacy for a long time, my little friends. You boys have had multiple agencies searching for you across multiple states; you’re already national news, but with our story – people will leave you alone when the next tragedy strikes. With the truth – your names will be synonymous with this event for the rest of your lives. The story for this place is older and darker than you can fathom, and I promise – you boys don’t want this shadow looming over you forever… So, what’s it gonna be, kids? Were you lost and found? Or kidnapped and rescued?
… … That’s a great choice, guys! I knew you looked like a reasonable bunch; I got a sixth sense about these things. Now – how many people found you?
… … That’s right! Only our friend! You boys are gonna be just fine – chins up, now! Remember – you’re all traumatized children; don’t be afraid to cry if they ask uncomfortable questions. As for your chaperones – you got separated; how should you know what happened? They’ll come down here to poke around and look for the bodies, but it won’t trouble us any. There’s nothing left to find, and we’ll be settled in with our new stories!
… … [sarcastic] Haha; yuck it up. Yes, I only want to listen to my story; is that so much to ask?! I’m sure they’re desperate to go home, too!
[Ethan] He’s right guys, and look – there’s a hint of sunlight out there! How about it? Are you ready to finally get out of here?
… … See! I told you they were reasonable chaps. My friend, I eagerly await your next visit when we’ll have time to thank you properly. Until then, we wish you the safest travels, and don’t forget – you deserve every reward they give you!
[Ethan opens creaking door] Hey, everyone, come take a look at this… What the hell is that?!
… … [door softly clicks shut] Umm… ok, on second thought – let’s go ahead and wait for the sun to fully rise… Anyone up for a quick game of charades?
🚨ATTENTION🚨 This is a Swamp Dweller exclusive; he owns all rights to this story and it cannot be used in any way/shape/form. Be sure to enjoy the full experience with his wonderful narration. If you haven’t heard his work, I highly recommend checking him out! He uploads so often that new viewers will be hard pressed to run out of content!
I hope this letter finds you well! It’s your friend from Washington again; I can’t thank you enough for reading my last letter. Seeing so many kind words of support and the requests for an update mean more than you can imagine. It gave me the courage to finally tell my wife everything, and while it was a difficult conversation, the relief that came with it made me feel twenty years younger. I’m sorry I can’t use real names, but where the internet is concerned – there’s really no such thing as too careful. Hopefully, I can make it up to the Swamp with some new information.
The first thing you should know is that Amy resigned; I miss her, but I’m glad she’s not in danger anymore. Do you remember how worried I was at the end of my last letter? For those who don’t – she had recurring nightmares where she was reliving her encounter with the creature; at first it was the same, but when the monster should have disappeared – it turned to face her. It even began walking towards her, getting a little closer each night until it was only a few feet away.
The nightmare she had next was so bad – her wife told Rick to trash anything left in her locker because no one was coming for it. There wasn’t much there – just some pictures and a few basics – but it felt wrong to throw them away.
I drove to Amy’s house after work – expecting to leave her box by the door – but when I got out of the car, her wife was waving to me. “Thanks for going to the trouble, can you stay for coffee?” She asked, already leading me inside.
The nightmare that finally made Amy quit gives me chills to write; this time, she was face-to-face with the creature – its mouth inches from her own – and it began whistling a sad, eerie tune she couldn’t identify. The sound made her feel safe and calm, but after waking – she realized it was more like hypnosis.
Is it an extension of the monster’s abilities, or the result of psychological trauma? Yes, she said the eyes looked the same as what we saw on camera, but I had also previously described the eye I saw; it’s easy for our minds to warp images into what we expect to see. I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time fixated on this, and I’m fairly comfortable with my personal conclusion; though, please keep in mind this is purely my theory.
The night she saw the creature standing over that little girl – her brain realized an important detail, and the nightmares were its way of relaying that information; now that it has – it’s finished. Those whistles seem to have a literal hypnotic effect, but if that’s true, who knows if it can hold sway over our dreams… I admit my judgment is biased. I hate thinking the creature could suddenly appear in my dreams – or that it could potentially regain control over my friend’s.
We didn’t have anyone to cover for Amy that first night, so Ranger Rick himself partnered with me for the shift. I don’t think he’s a bad guy; I was admittedly spiteful about the withheld information, but now that I understand more about what he does – it’s hard to blame him. He’s following orders, just like me; he needs a paycheck, just like me. The problems we have at night are also happening during the day; it’s not like they’re walking around in sunshine and daisies while we’re fighting monsters in the dark. The guests are also more active during their shift which makes it much harder to keep track of the people in your territory.
Apparently this kind of stuff has been happening for as long as anyone remembers, but never so blatantly as what we’ve been experiencing recently. The last few months specifically are making Rick’s mysterious bosses quite nervous, and frankly, the way he refers to them as “Management” makes me quite nervous… Ok, maybe it doesn’t sound as sinister when you read it, but it’s said with very Men in Black conspiratorial inflection.
Normally, there are entire decades where little to no activity happens – then, they’ll have a cluster of disappearances and accidents for a few months; the cycle was always the same… until now. This time, it’s not stopping, and no one knows what to do.
Even Rick isn’t sure if Management knows what the creature actually is, but the Rangers call it the Whistler; fair enough, I suppose. Most of the stories he shared were the same, but one was particularly chilling. This took place his rookie year, in the 90’s, when responding to reports of a black bear near the lodges. Back then, there were only a few cabins on each side of the lake; when this incident took place, one was occupied by a family of five, and a young couple was staying on the opposite bank.
The order came at the end of a dark, drizzly day, and the real storm was due to start any minute. There hadn’t been a Whistler sighting in eight years, and nothing about this report raised any flags when the senior Rangers passed it off to Rick. He drove a golf-cart to the lake and was greeted by the family waving from a window; they were afraid to come out. Rick joined them and listened with growing apprehension as the storm began in earnest.
It started with a large, black animal trying to open the metal trash cans; Mr. Gordon used his air-horn to scare the beast away, but instead of fleeing, it turned to face him – rising to its full height and glaring angrily. That’s when he saw it was no bear and yelled for his shotgun.
In the process of explaining how the creature fled before he could shoot, Mr. Gordon’s story was interrupted by frantic screaming outside. The young couple was racing towards them, waving their arms and begging for help; once safely indoors, they walked through each room, checking every window. When satisfied nothing had followed them – they were able to explain.
They had been eating dinner when the patio doors slid open, and they turned to see a hulking, black beast with bright, red eyes. The couple escaped through the front door and ran straight for the Park Ranger’s golf-cart. Both the family and the couple wanted to leave – Rick too, for that matter – but the weather made it easier said than done. The storm knocked out the phone line, and there was no response on the radio; even if everyone could somehow fit into the small cart it would be too dangerous to drive. The weather reports had only warned against heavy rain, but in a span of minutes it developed tree-bending gusts of wind; lightning streaked across the sky, cracks of thunder shook the walls, and there was a frightening threat of tornado activity as the temperature dropped drastically. Rick was out of his depth and terrified, but he couldn’t show it; he had to be In Charge.
In the 90’s, it wasn’t a big deal if a Ranger licensed to carry wanted to bring their handgun to work; Rick’s .38 and Gordon’s shotgun were the only real weapons the group had as they waited in the cabin’s living-room. They were trapped and had no clue where – or what – the creature was, but things weren’t exactly hopeless. The doors and shutters were locked, and soon, help would be sent to investigate why Rick didn’t check-in after the bear sighting.
At least, that’s what he told the others – leaving out the part where they might assume he was simply unable due to weather conditions. Regardless of rescue chances, they should be able to wait out the storm as long as nobody panicked; the larger a group is, the harder they are to control – especially for a single person. Rick asked the children to check the phone lines every few minutes as a distraction – quiet children make happy parents – but he knew it would be weeks until they were functional again.
The five adults were whispering amongst themselves for only a few minutes before the girls called out, “the phone is working!” Rick – assuming they were either mistaken or joking – simply said to make sure no one else used it.
The eight-year-old lifted the receiver once again – firmly stating, “you can’t be on this line”, and everyone fell into a stunned silence as a deep, menacing voice replied. No one is sure what it said, and the girl wouldn’t repeat it, but she dropped the phone, screaming while it was still talking. Rick rushed to hang it up – hoping he could use it after all – but the line was dead; after that, the girls were given coloring books, and the phone was unplugged.
An hour passed with no relief in sight; help wasn’t coming, but something else was. From the patio doors – beyond the nearly solid wall of rain – Mrs. Gordon was just able to make out a hulking, black figure. That’s when the whistling began; it was the warped Ring Around the Rosie tune, and it didn’t stop when the creature darted away. It was gone as quickly as it appeared – zipping between trees as it circled the cabin; they would catch glimpses of it – even closer – from a different window only to watch it vanish before their eyes yet again. All the while, they were moving as well, but they weren’t consciously aware of being herded. Finally – as they stood grouped near the sliding doors – the beast returned, face pressed to the glass.
For a brief but horrifying moment, no one moved; they were frozen in the face of an evil they didn’t know existed yesterday. Their paralysis was broken suddenly by the sound of shattering glass as the Whistler came inside and chaos erupted. Rick and Mr. Gordon tried taking aim, but the creature moved too fast in the crowded room; in seconds, the young woman was being carried through the shattered doors – out into the raging storm.
The poor girl’s boyfriend ran after her and leapt onto the Whistler‘s back with a proud – but ultimately useless – roar of angry defiance. With the couple in the way, no shots could be fired as the mortifying silhouette disappeared into the wall of rain. The parents could do nothing to shield their children from the screams that came next, but they ended quickly. The creature didn’t return, and when the storm finally passed three hours later – Rangers were sent to the occupied campgrounds to perform wellness checks.
When they found Rick, he and the family told them everything – all the way down to the Whistler’s red eyes, round, contracting mouth, and horrible smell – but the main point they stressed was the whistling. You’d think that would warrant an investigation right? Two people were dead, the creature they saw up-close clearly wasn’t human, but animals can’t whistle – especially not a song!
A big fuss was raised for the Gordons’ sake; they would be attending family therapy sessions for the next ten years because of that night. Management was terrified of the implications that might arise from the fact it all happened while a Park Ranger stood five feet away, but once those people left, that was the end of it. I don’t find that surprising – I would never want to think about that experience ever again!
Rick wasn’t willing to answer any of my questions. I’m not sure if he told me this story to warn me about the Whistler, Management, or secrecy, but I think it was intended as a friendly warning. Who knows what I could have learned if it would have taken longer to replace Amy. From that one night alone, I also heard a dozen examples of hikers being stalked on the trails and campers being tormented in the night. One story even sounded like the couple’s from Mississippi – the ones who basically played red light/green light with something invisible – but none of the other stories came close to that one on the lake.
Thankfully, I’ve only had one personal incident since my last letter; it happened to me and my new partner in that damn fog yesterday. Chris had to drop out of college to help care for his sick mother; he and his sister are doing their best, but he needs to get the hell away from the park before the choice is taken from him. It’s one thing for the older roughneck types like myself, but I hate seeing the young ones out there. I know that sounds hypocritical, but at least if I died, my family would mourn with a comfortable insurance payout; his family would have nothing but more debt on top of broken hearts.
I tried to warn Chris delicately at first, but nightmares and whistling didn’t phase him – nor did Tyler’s memorialized Facebook page. Nothing got through to this kid, so I decided to let nature take its course; most of us learned the hard way, but I didn’t expect him to get thrown straight into the deep end.
Five of our bigger lodges are rented out for a family reunion; they arrived over the weekend and planned to stay for ten days, but who knows what they’ll do now. After breakfast, a husband and wife left for a day of hiking, though they didn’t have a specific route or destination in mind; Jarred, the husband, simply told his brothers they would be back from exploring by dinner time. Both were experienced hikers who love to go camping and mountain climbing in their spare time; there was no doubt they were already dead.
When the sun had fully set and the couple’s food was hours cold, the family began to worry in earnest. As Chris and I passed by on patrol – all five cabins were lit up; in the windows, we saw multiple people pacing on their phones while teenagers hauled flashlights and various supplies out to a dozen men who were hunched over park maps.
Our radio crackled to life at the same time the family noticed us; we were told to wait with them at the lodges. Search & Rescue was on the way, and they didn’t want to lose anyone else – which is understandable, but difficult to manage. We stood in front of nearly forty people and said, “You can’t go looking for your family members because your scents will confuse the dogs.”
You know – because we couldn’t say, “They’re already dead, but we’d rather perform fake searches than admit the truth.”
Of course, that was far too easy for a night at the park; the whole bunch reluctantly agreed to stay near the cabins except for the ones who were already gone. Jarred’s two brothers set off fifteen minutes before we arrived, and now, three more wanted to bring those guys back. That didn’t leave much wiggle room for our options; we had to find those brothers or the other three would be sneaking off under our noses.
There are five trails in that area; four are very easy and used to navigate the park, and the other one is for people who specifically want the full hiking experience. Since the missing couple were avid hikers, the brothers chose to start there – which, yes, it was obviously the logical conclusion – but I couldn’t help feeling a strong resentment toward them as our flashlights illuminated the rocky, uneven terrain.
We set a fast pace – probably too fast – but I hoped the men were stopping periodically to search for tracks and call out the couple’s names; if they had, we would have found them relatively fast. Thirty minutes later, that theory was dead, and we were at a split path. Chris wanted to split up – rookies, am-I-right – but I shut that shit down fast. We took a closer look at the trail, and there were tracks on the left side that looked fresh – well, when compared to the other side; I’m not very good at that sort of thing, but I happened to be right on this occasion.
We walked for another five minutes before beginning to hear faint voices in the distance. Soon, we could understand their words – they were calling for Jarred and Emily; it was the brothers! We had been ready to collapse after the ridiculous pace we kept, but finding them gave us a second wind. I shouted their names as we ran, and I almost didn’t notice the wisps of fog at our feet. My heart dropped into my stomach like a lead weight, and I came to a dead stop – grabbing Chris as I did so. We fell to the ground in a tangle, but it didn’t matter – I ignored him and continued calling for the brothers while struggling back to my feet.
The rookie didn’t understand what was happening, but he followed me in silence as I crept around the next curve and saw huge clouds of pure white fog enveloping the trees. Roughly twenty feet ahead, the brothers were standing half-shrouded in it already. In my desperation to get them away, I said something horribly misleading. “We have very important news about your brother; please come with us!” I screamed so loud my voice cracked.
The shadowy figures turned their heads, and my eyes filled with tears of relief when they began walking towards us – away from that god-damn fog. Before they reached us, I began walking back. I had to keep us moving; we couldn’t stop to discuss anything while that stuff was spreading. I didn’t plan to stop at all until we were indoors, but not long after passing where the road split – the brothers didn’t leave me much of a choice; they refused to go any farther without an explanation.
No matter how desperate I was to get them away from there – I just couldn’t bring myself to get their hopes any higher. When “your mother needs you” didn’t work, I tried, “they were spotted near one of the mountain trails a few hours ago.” That one did the trick; they resumed walking, and I happily did the same.
Then Chris opened his mouth, and I’ve never wanted to punch someone so badly in my entire life. “You fellas go ahead, I’m gonna make sure Mrs. Robinson didn’t get lost in this fog.” He ran off, ignoring every word I said as he went.
‘Who the hell is Mrs. Robinson’, you ask? Oh, she’s the imaginary lady we need to check on when a particularly chatty guest doesn’t want to let us go. We don’t do it often, but you gotta remember we’re working night shifts; if someone is holding us for a random thirty minute conversation at 3am – you can bet it’s a freaking weird one. Hell some of them would probably fit in on this channel, but I’m not trying to drag you guys along on a tangent. The point is, I couldn’t let the fool run off alone, so I had to send the brothers ahead and chase after him.
One of the first things I ever said to you guys was ‘we’re just regular people” and that certainly hasn’t changed. I followed my partner because he was in danger, and I couldn’t leave him behind; that being said, I couldn’t walk into that fog, either. I stopped before reaching the low, wispy edges that fanned out from the wall, and I begged him to turn back; the last speck of his silhouette was fading, and I knew he was gone forever the moment it did. Then, there was a low, monstrous growl that felt like the sound itself was wind – blowing beneath my skin and through the bones.
Tears were already falling down my cheeks as I thought of his sick mother and how his sister would be all alone; the tiny speck left of Chris was magnified through my blurry vision, and even as it continued growing, I thought nothing of it until the screaming began. It wasn’t a death wail; it was the terrified scream of a man who saw something absolutely horrible, and it made me smile.
Soon, Chris was beyond the wall – still screaming – and the utter look of relief that crossed his face upon seeing me made him look six-years-old… however briefly. It was gone in the same instant, replaced by guilt and shame. He almost fell while trying to look back, and only then did I realize the big question – the one you guys probably asked immediately – ‘is something chasing him?!’
No, it wasn’t – not this time – but he might not be so lucky the next – or me either for that matter. We radioed the others that we were heading back, and Chris stared at his feet while trying to explain he would never have forgiven himself if they turned those brothers away, and it cost the hikers their lives. I already knew that – that’s why we all pull stupid stunts in the beginning – but I wanted to know what happened in the fog!
He only intended to walk straight for a few minutes, but it was less than sixty seconds when the ground suddenly disappeared along with everything below his knees. The fog was too thick to even see his outstretched hand, and that was enough to make him turn back, except – as he did – something heavy suddenly ran several steps towards him. Chris jumped, spinning around as he searched for the source, but there was only fog everywhere he looked; even worse – he lost his sense of direction; he had no clue which way he was originally facing.
Scared of going the wrong way, he stood in place and called to me, but I never heard him. While listening for a response, he took a few steps forward and noticed it was slightly easier to see; wanting to be out of the fog more than anything, he went a little further until the ground was visible again. That’s when he heard a crunching sound – like a dog with a bone – and the occasional meaty rip. Then he saw it – the Whistler sucked up an intestine like spaghetti, but the visible body parts weren’t gender specific; he doesn’t know if it was Jarred or Emily… and if this story ruins spaghetti for you, too – I sincerely apologize.
Chris backed away slowly at first, but then a whimper escaped his throat, and the creature stopped eating; my incredibly lucky-to-be-alive partner screamed and ran away without looking back. It was nothing short of a miracle that he happened to run in the right direction. I don’t understand why we couldn’t hear each other’s screams in the beginning but we could at the end… Of course, I don’t understand most of this stuff, but some things make even less sense than usual.
Eventually we passed the Search & Rescue teams on their way to secure the fog with their fancy automatic rifles – rifles I bet the family didn’t see. The wall didn’t begin to disperse until dawn, and by then there wasn’t even blood left in the grass. The family extended their stay indefinitely while the search continues, but Chris and I are being moved as far away as possible so we won’t be tempted to answer any of the guests’ persistent questions. I’m not complaining – even if I tried to warn them, they wouldn’t believe me. People like that would go straight to my boss claiming I tried to scare them away or something equally ridiculous; it’s safer and easier to avoid the spotlight.
Well, that’s all I have for now, I’m sorry there isn’t more, but I didn’t want to wait any longer to send this. As much as I love writing to you, I won’t be heartbroken if things are slow for a while. It might be cool to research other past incidents – maybe I could map the events out on a timeline to see if any unusual patterns or connections emerge!
Anyway, thanks again, everyone; you guys have really made this whole situation bearable. Sometimes, I wonder how many other people had their sanity saved by this channel; one of the other stories described it as coming home to a big house full of your friends, and that’s exactly what it feels like for me, too!
Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1842; translated into Modern English, otherwise exactly the same.
(Narration coming soon)
I was sick to death of the agony; when they untied me, and I was allowed to sit, I felt like I was losing my mind. The dreaded death sentence was the last thing I heard. After that, the sound of the interrogating voices merged into one dreamy, unrecognizable hum. It infused my soul with the idea of revolution – perhaps due to the way it sounded like a mill-wheel – but I only heard it for a brief period. For a while, I saw terrible things! I saw the thin lips of the black-robed judges. They were whiter than the paper I write on and grotesquely thin; they all wore the firm expression of one who is absolutely certain of their beliefs, and they showed a stern contempt for torture. Their lips squirmed with deadly commands as they passed judgment over my Fate. I saw them form the syllables of my name and shuddered when no sound followed. For a moment, I also saw the soft and nearly invisible movement of the black curtains that wrapped the walls. Then, I saw the seven tall candles on the table. At first, they seemed like white, slender angels who would save me, but suddenly, I became very nauseous; every inch of my body felt like I had been electrocuted. The angels became meaningless ghosts with flaming heads, and I realized they would be no help. Next, I heard a rich, musical note and thought of how peacefully the dead must rest. The thought crept up gently and took a long time to complete, but just as I began to really consider it – the judges magically vanished. The tall candles sank into nothing, and the black darkness prevailed; all sensations were swallowed up in the mad, rushing fall into hell. Then, silence, stillness, and night were the only things left in the universe.
I felt faint but did not completely lose consciousness. I will not attempt to define or describe what little remained, but all was not lost. In the deepest slumber— no, in delirium— no, in death— no, even in the grave, all is not lost; otherwise, man cannot be immortal. When waking from a deep sleep, we break through the silky web of some dream, yet a second later – we forget what it was about. There are two stages to waking. First, is in the mental or spiritual sense; second, is in the physical sense. Once awake, we can usually recall impressions of the dream; these impressions are clear memories of the gulf beyond, and that gulf is— what? How can we tell its shadows apart from the ones we see in death? If the impressions from the first stage are not remembered immediately, they come to us spontaneously, and we wonder where they came from. A man who has never felt that madness will not see strange places and familiar faces in the embers of a fire or imagine sad visions floating in the air; he will not wonder about the smell of a random flower or grow confused over the meaning of a song.
Among frequent attempts at trying to remember any part of mine, there were moments I remembered dreaming of success; there were very brief periods where I imagined myself in the future, and that is how I knew it could not be real. These shadowy memories are of tall figures that dragged me down in silence— down, down, still further down, until I became horribly dizzy at the mere idea of continuing. My unnaturally still heart also warned of a vague horror. Then, everything suddenly stopped – as if my tormentors had reached their limit and needed a break. After this, I remember a flat, damp area, and the rest is a chaotic memory trying to hide forbidden things.
I woke to my heart beating loudly in my ears followed by a silent pause, and a tingling sensation spread through my body. For a long while, there were no thoughts – merely an awareness of my existence. Then, very suddenly, my thoughts returned, and I was consumed by terror as I tried to understand my situation. It resulted in a strong desire to fall back into oblivion, but was soon followed by a surge of motivation and a successful attempt at moving. Now, I remembered the trial, the judges, the black robes, the punishment, the sickness, and the delirium; with great, concentrated effort, I was able to vaguely recall what happened later that day.
So far, my eyes remained closed. I was untied and laying on my back; I reached out my hand, and it fell heavily onto something hard and damp. I struggled to keep it there for several minutes while trying to imagine what it could be. I dared not to look even though I wanted to; I dreaded seeing the objects around me. It was not that I feared looking at horrible things, but I feared there would be nothing to see. With a wild desperation, I opened my eyes quickly, and my worst fears were confirmed. The blackness of night surrounded me, and I struggled to breathe. The intensity of the darkness was crushing, and the air was unbearably dense. I continued to lay quietly and tried to think logically. I thought about the trial and attempted to discern my location. It seemed like a very long time had passed since my sentence was given, but I did not think myself dead for even a moment. Such an uncertain belief only happens in works of fiction, but where – and in what – condition was I? Those sentenced to death usually died at the inquisition burnings, and one of these had been held on the same night as my trial. Had I been returned to my dungeon to wait for the one that is several months away? I immediately knew that could not be. Victims were in immediate demand. Plus, my dungeon and all the condemned cells in Toledo had stone floors, and they were not pitch black.
A scary thought suddenly made my heart race, and for a brief time, I once more fell into a state of delirium. Upon recovering, I immediately rose to my feet – my entire body shaking. I reached my arms out blindly in all directions and felt nothing, yet I feared taking a step in case I found the walls of a tomb. Sweat ran from every pore and stood in big, cold drops on my forehead. The suspense was agonizing and grew to be unbearable; cautiously, I moved forward with my arms extended – straining my eyes in hopes of finding any faint ray of light. I continued for many paces, but everything was black and empty. I breathed easier; it was obvious that I had at least escaped the worst fates.
As I continued to step forward cautiously, I suddenly remembered a thousand vague rumors about the horrors of Toledo. Strange things have been said of its dungeons; I had always considered them to be myths – too ghastly to repeat above a whisper. Was I left to starve in this underground world of darkness? What even worse fate might await me? It would be a harsher death than the usual bitter executions they perform; I knew my judge’s character too well to doubt it. The how and when were the only thoughts that distracted me.
My outstretched hands finally found a smooth, stone wall. It was slimy and cold, but I followed it along, stepping carefully and wondering what brilliant idea made me try in the first place. This process did nothing to help determine the size of my dungeon; I made a complete lap back to where I started without being aware of it. Since there were no unique features, I looked for the knife that had been in my pocket, but it was gone, and my clothes had been exchanged for a coarse, woolen robe; I had wanted to use the blade to mark my starting point. There was an easy solution, but my initial panic made it seem impossible to do any other way. I tore part of the robe’s hem and placed the strip of fabric by the wall; I thought it would be impossible to miss while feeling my way around the cell, but I either underestimated the dungeon’s size or my own weakness. The ground was wet and slippery; I staggered forward for some time until I tripped and fell. I was too tired to get up and soon fell asleep.
When I woke and reached out my arm, there was a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water. I ate and drank greedily – too exhausted to care how it got there. Then, I resumed my lap around the prison, and finally returned the strip of cloth. I had counted 52 paces before falling, and I counted 48 more after. In total, that is 100 paces, and – assuming two paces equal one yard – I figured the dungeon to be 50 yards in circumference. However, I found many angles in the wall and could not guess the shape of the vault; I could not help thinking of it as a vault.
I had few clues and no hope of learning anything, but a vague curiosity prompted me to keep trying. Giving up on the wall, I decided to cross the dungeon’s floor. At first I went with extreme caution; although the floor seemed solid, it was covered with slime. Ultimately, I did not hesitate to step firmly as I struggled to cross in as straight a line as possible. I went 10-12 paces this way when the scrap of cloth became tangled between my legs; I tripped and fell hard on my face.
During the confusion after my fall, I laid on my back, not understanding what I saw. My chin rested on the prison’s floor, but not my lips or anything above them; my forehead was soaked in a clammy sweat, and I could smell the peculiar stench of rotten fungus. I reached forward and shuddered to find myself at the edge of a round pit; I had no way to determine its size. Feeling around the bricks at the edge, I was able to remove a small piece and drop it into the hole. For many seconds I listened to it bounce off the stone walls as it fell; finally, there was a sullen splash of water followed by loud echoes. At the same time, I heard the quick opening and closing of a door from above, and a faint beam of light suddenly flashed through the gloom and faded away.
It became clear what they had planned for me, and I congratulated myself for the timely accident that allowed me to avoid it. One step further, and it would have been the end. There was a choice between a physically horrible death or a mentally horrible death, and I had been marked for the latter. My nerves were a wreck from all the suffering I had endured; I trembled at the sound of my own voice and was now a perfect subject for the awaiting torture.
Shaking all over, I felt my way back to the wall; I decided to die there rather than risk the terror of the pit. My imagination created many horrors in the dungeon. If my mind were in a better state, I might have had the courage to end my misery immediately by jumping into the hole, but in that moment, I was the king of cowards. The fact that it was a slow death was the only thing I remembered reading about the pit.
My anger kept me awake for many hours, but eventually, I slept again. Upon waking, I found another loaf of bread and a pitcher of water nearby. I was consumed by a burning thirst and emptied the pitcher in a single drink. It must have been drugged; I hardly drank any before becoming unbearably tired and falling into a deep, death-like sleep. I do not know for how long, but when I woke, my surroundings were visible. Due to an unknown soft, yellow glow, I was able to see the full prison.
I had been greatly mistaken about its size; it was no more than eight feet wide. For several minutes this fact troubled me greatly. What could be less important than the size of my dungeon? My mind tends to focus on insignificant details, and I tried to discern how I misjudged the dimensions by so much. Then, I realized the truth; during my first attempt, I counted 52 paces before falling and must have been only a couple of steps away from the torn fabric. I had almost completed the lap when I fell asleep; considering my calculations were almost double the actual size, I must have walked back the way I came after waking. In my confusion, I failed to realize the wall was to my left when I started and to my right when I finished.
I was also fooled about its shape. I found many angles when feeling my way around and assumed something very unlikely; waking from a deep sleep in total darkness has a strong effect on one’s senses. The angles were only a few small, sporadic indentations; its actual shape was square. What I mistook for stone were huge plates of iron or a similar metal, and the indentations were where the plates connected. The metallic dungeon was filled with hideous and repulsive devices inspired by the superstitious monk’s burial chambers. The walls were covered with menacing skeletons and other frightening images. The shapes of these monstrosities were clear, but the colors were faded and blurry from the damp atmosphere. In the center of the stone floor was the round pit I had almost fallen into.
It was difficult to see these things due to my poor condition. I was now lying on my back, and a long strap held me in place atop a low, wooden platform. The bond wrapped around my limbs and body several times, and only my head and left arm were able to move; with great effort, I was able to feed myself when given food. To my horror, the water was gone, and I was consumed by an unbearable thirst. The food reeked of spices that would make me even more thirsty; removing the water was yet another method of torture.
Looking up, I inspected my prison’s ceiling. It was 30-40 feet high and built like the walls. My attention then focused on a single, painted panel; it showed the Grim Reaper, except – instead of a scythe – he held a picture of a huge pendulum like we see on antique clocks. There was something about the machine’s appearance that made me inspect it carefully. When I looked straight up at it – I realized it was moving. It moved in short, slow swings, and I watched it for several minutes – partly from fear, but mostly from curiosity. Finally, I grew tired of observing its dull movement and looked at the rest of my cell.
I heard a slight noise and looked down to see several enormous rats crossing the floor. They came out of the pit which I could see to my right. While I watched, dozens hurried out with ravenous eyes – attracted by the smell of meat. It required great effort to scare them away.
There was no way to track the time, but nearly an hour later, I looked up again. What I saw confused and amazed me. The pendulum was swinging nearly a yard wider at a greatly increased speed, but the fact that it had lowered was the most disturbing part. The end of the crescent-shaped glittering steel was roughly a foot long from point to point, and the bottom edge looked sharp as a razor. It seemed bulky and heavy, but higher up, it thinned and connected to a hefty brass rod that hissed as it swung through the air.
There were no more doubts that I faced the monk’s ingenious tortures. The inquisitors knew I discovered the pit – whose horrors are reserved for bold rebels such as myself; it is comparable to hell and regarded as the worst of all their punishments. Being trapped and ignorant of what is to come is an important part of the torture. I avoided falling into the hole by accident, and throwing me into the abyss would be no fun for the demons. Now, a different, milder death awaited me. Milder! I half-smiled at the word choice despite my agony.
For many long, long hours of indescribable horror, I counted the steel pendulum’s rushing swings. Inch by inch it slowly lowered – down and down it came! Days passed; it might have been many days – it swung so close, I could feel its pungent wind. The sharp steel’s smell forced itself into my nostrils, and I begged heaven for a quicker descent. I grew frantic with anger and struggled to force myself up – into the frightening blade’s path. Then, I suddenly calmed and lay smiling at the glittering blade – like a child smiles at a shiny object.
There was another brief period of delirium; upon waking, there was no noticeable descent in the pendulum, but it might have been longer. I knew the demons noticed my lapse of consciousness, and they could have easily stopped the blade. I felt indescribably sick and weak, as if I were starving. Even during the agony of that time, my body needed food. I painfully reached out as far as my bonds allowed and grabbed the small bit of food left by the rats. As I put it in my mouth, I realized something that made me happy – even hopeful. Yet what business did I have to hope? I felt joy and hope, but I also felt the happy thought vanish before it fully formed. I struggled in vain to remember it. My long suffering had nearly eliminated my ability to think clearly; I was an idiot.
The pendulum swung horizontally across my body – aimed to strike near my heart. First, it would slice into my robe, then, it would retreat and come back again… and again. Its swing now ranged thirty feet or more and would be strong enough to shred the iron walls, but the cutting of my robe would take several minutes. I paused at this thought – not daring to think of what would come next, but I considered it persistently as if that would stop the pendulum’s descent. I forced myself to think about the strange sensation and sound the blade would make as it passed across the robe; I thought about all these pointless things until my teeth were on edge.
It crept down steadily, and I took an erratic pleasure in comparing its descent with its velocity. To the right – to the left – far and wide – screaming at me like a cursed spirit with the stealthy pace of a tiger! I alternated between laughter and howling – depending which thought became my focus.
Down – unavoidably, relentlessly down! It swung within three inches of my chest! I struggled violently, furiously, to free my left arm; it was only loose from the elbow down. With great effort, I could reach the nearby plate and my mouth, but no farther. If I could have broken the bonds above my elbow, I would have attempted to stop the pendulum by catching it; I might as well have attempted to stop an avalanche!
Down still – consistently and inevitably down! I gasped, struggling and convulsing at every swing as my eyes followed it with a desperate eagerness; they reflexively closed at the descent, but death would have been a relief! Still, my whole body shook at the thought of how slight the descent would be that came before that first, glistening strike across my chest. Hope is what made my nerves quiver; the desperate kind that whispers to the condemned – even in the dungeons of the Inquisition.
In 10-12 more swings, the steel would connect with my robe. My soul was consumed with despair, but then, I realized the strap was the only thing holding me in place. The blade’s first strike would cut the bond – making it possible to free myself – though, the blade would be horrifically close. Any wrong movement would be deadly! Also, it seemed likely that the torturer’s minions had not considered or planned for the possibility! Was there a chance the strap was in the pendulum’s path? In my last, frustrated hope, I struggled to lift my head enough to see my chest. The strap wound tightly around my limbs and body in all directions except for where the blade would strike.
I dropped my head back, and an escape plan suddenly flashed through my mind. Earlier, I hinted that parts of one were beginning to form while I ate. Now, the plan was complete; it was weak, insane, and dangerous – but still complete. Though nervous and filled with doubt, I began immediately.
For many hours, the area around me had been swarming with rats. They were wild, brave, and starving; their red eyes glared at me as if they were only waiting for me to go still before attacking. “What food are they used to eating down here?” I thought.
Despite my greatest efforts to stop them, they ate almost all of my food. I was constantly waving my hand over the dish, but once they grew accustomed to the movement it stopped working; in their hunger, the vermin frequently bit my fingers. With the spices that remained, I thoroughly rubbed the strap wherever I could reach it; then, raising my hand away from the floor – I laid entirely still.
At first, the starving animals were startled and terrified at my sudden stillness. They retreated in alarm – many into the well – but only for a moment; I was right to depend on their hunger. Seeing that I remained motionless, a couple of the bravest jumped onto my platform and smelled the strap. This seemed to be the signal for the others to come forward. They rushed over in hordes – clinging to the wooden frame, and leaping onto me by the hundreds. The movement of the pendulum did not bother them at all; they avoided its swing as they focused on my tasty bonds. More and more swarmed over me in heaps, writhing on my throat, and their cold lips found my own. I was suffocating under their weight; the world has no word for the level of disgust that swelled within me, and my heart felt deeply chilled, almost clammy. Yet, I felt that the struggle would be over in a minute; the strap was noticeably loosened. It must have already been severed in multiple places. With inhuman determination, I continued laying still.
My calculations proved correct, and my efforts were not in vain. Finally, I was free; the shredded strap hung loosely from my body, but the pendulum’s swing had already cut into my chest. It had split the robe’s fabric and made two more passes – sending sharp shots of pain through every nerve – but it was time to escape. A wave of my hand scared the rats away; then, my movements were steady, cautious, and slow as I slid out of the straps and away from the blade. For the moment, I was free.
I was free from the blade but not from the Inquisition! I had barely stepped onto the prison’s stone floor when the hellish machine stopped moving, and some invisible force pulled it up into the ceiling. It was a lesson I took to heart; my every move was surely being watched. Free! I had only escaped one agonizing death to endure another – perhaps one even worse. At that thought, I nervously inspected the iron bars holding me prisoner and noticed something unusual – something I did not notice at first. For several minutes, I busied myself in vain with random assumptions, and – for the first time – realized where the yellow light was coming from. It came from a half-inch wide crack that extended around the entire cell at the bottom of the walls – which were completely separate from the floor. I struggled to look through the opening, but could not see anything.
As I rose from trying, I immediately understood the purpose of the chamber’s alterations. I saw the distinct outlines of figures, but their color was blurred and hard to describe. These colors were now intensely bright and gave them a menacing, ghoulish appearance that might have frightened someone with even stronger nerves than my own. Wild, ghastly, demonic eyes glared at me from a thousand directions, all gleaming with a fire I could not believe to be imaginary.
I could smell the vapors of heated iron, and the suffocating odor spread through the prison! A deeper glow settled into the eyes glaring at me, and I panted, gasping for breath; there was no doubt what my persistent, demonic tormentors planned now! I retreated to the center of the cell, away from the glowing metal. As I thought of the fiery end to come, I was relieved to remember the pit’s coldness. I rushed to its deadly edges and strained to see down below. The glare from the burning roof lit its darkest depths, but – for a wild moment – my eyes refused to understand what I saw. Finally, it wrestled its way into my soul until I could not deny logic any longer. Oh, what I would have given for a voice to speak! What horror! With a scream, I rushed away from the edge and buried my face in my hands, weeping bitterly.
The heat rose rapidly, and I looked up once again, shaking with fear. There had been a second change in the cell. Like before, I failed to understand what was happening at first, but I was not left wondering for long. The Inquisitor’s revenge had been rushed by my escape, and the King of Terrors would have no more delay. The room had been square; I saw that two of its iron angles were now small and the other two were large. The frightening difference quickly increased with a low, rumbling moan, and the room suddenly shifted into the shape of a diamond as the walls closed in. They did not stop there, and I did not want them to stop; I would have pulled those red walls to my chest like a blanket of eternal peace. “Death,” I said, “any death but the pit!” Fool! I should have known the burning walls’ purpose was to push me into the pit! Could I stand against its heat or pressure? The diamond grew flatter and flatter so fast that I had no time to think. The center fell just over the pit; I shrank back, but the closing walls pushed me forward. Finally, there was no foothold left on the prison floor for my burned and writhing body to stand. I stopped struggling, but the agony in my soul found comfort in one loud, long, and final scream of despair. I balanced on the edge and looked away—
There was a conflicting hum of human voices, a loud blast of trumpets, and a harsh grating like a thousand thunders! The fiery walls rushed back! An outstretched arm caught my own as I fell, fainting, into the abyss; it was General Lasalle. The French army had entered Toledo; the Inquisition was in the hands of its enemies.