Classics Translated

A Warning to the Curious

M.R. James, first published in 1925; translated to modern English, otherwise exactly the same.

The story you are about to hear take’s place in the east coast town of Seaburgh. It has not changed much since my childhood. There were marshlands to the south, and the flat fields in the north merged with acres of heath trees and fir woods further inland. Between the long sea-front and street was a spacious, flint church with a large western tower and six bells. I remember how they sounded on a hot Sunday in August as our group walked up the steep, dusty hill towards the church. They rang with a flat, clacking sound when it was hot, but when the air was cooler they were softer.

The railway ran to a small terminal farther along the same road. Identical bright, white windmills could be found all over town; one was right before the station, another was near the beach, and the rest were on higher ground to the north. There were red, brick cottages with slate roofs— but why do I bother you with these boring details? Honestly, I can’t seem to help myself when it comes to writing about Seaburgh; I like to ensure the right words make it onto the paper, and I have not quite finished painting the scene yet.

If you walked past the station – away from the town and the sea – and take a right turn, you would reach a sandy road parallel to the railway. It stretches uphill with heath trees to the west, and a thicket of wind-beaten fir trees at the top – facing the sea. There is also a line of these fir trees running towards the sea atop my little hill; they crown the well-shaped mound surrounded by flat, grassy fields. It’s a fine place to sit on a hot, spring day and look at the blue sea, the white windmills, the red cottages, the green grass, and the distant martello tower to the south.

I said I knew Seaburgh from my childhood, but it has been many years since then. I am still quite fond of the town, and I enjoy any news of it I might hear. One story came to me by accident in a place very far from Seaburgh; I helped the man who shared it with me, and I have recorded it below.


I used to golf in Seaburgh pretty regularly in the spring. I usually stayed at the Bear Hotel with my friend, Henry Long… You might have known him… We used to enjoy talking together in the lounge, but – since he died – I haven’t wanted to go back, and I don’t think I will after what happened last time.

We were there on April 19th, and there were not many guests in the hotel. The public areas were practically empty, and, after dinner, we were surprised when a young man – Paxton was his name – stuck his head into our room. He was pale and rabbit-faced with light hair and eyes, but he wasn’t ugly. “Is this a private room?” He asked.

“No; please, join us.” We invited him in, and he seemed relieved. It was obvious he wanted company, and since he wasn’t the sort to dump his whole family history on you – we urged him to make himself at home. “You would find the other rooms rather dull, anyway.” I added.

“Thank you; yes, I already did.” He confirmed, and – once the pleasantries were finished – he began reading a book while Long played cards, and I worked on my writing. Within a few minutes, it became obvious that our visitor was quite nervous, so I put away my work and began a conversation.

After the initial remarks, he became oddly secretive and said we would think him crazy if he shared his concerns. I recommended a drink for courage, and we all had one; though, when the waiter entered, Paxton seemed very jumpy.

He didn’t know anyone in the hotel, but we shared a common acquaintance in town, and he was hoping for some advice. Of course, we agreed, and Long put his cards away as we settled down to hear the young man’s story.

“It started over a week ago when I biked the 5-6 miles to Froston…” He began. “Just to see the church; I’m fascinated by architecture, and it’s got one of those pretty porches with beams and gables. I took a picture of it, and an old man who was cleaning the churchyard asked if I wanted to look inside… So, I said yes, and he pulled out a key to let me in. There wasn’t much in there, but the caretaker liked to keep it clean, and I pointed to the porch, saying it was my favorite part.”

“Ah, it is a nice porch, but do you know what that coat-of-arms means?” The caretaker asked, indicating the one with three crowns.

While Paxton was no expert, he thought it belonged to East Anglia. “That’s right, sir, and do you know the meaning of those three crowns?” The caretaker pressed, but the young man did not know.

“Well, then, I can tell the scholar something he doesn’t know! They’re the three holy crowns that were buried near the coast to keep the Germans from landing… I can see you don’t believe that, but if it hadn’t been those crowns – the German ships would of landed here over and over, and they would have killed men, women, and children! That’s the truth, and if you don’t believe me, you can ask the cleric— Here he comes, you go ahead and ask.”

A nice-looking, older man was coming up the path, and before Paxton could assure the excited caretaker that he did believe him – the cleric spoke first. “What’s going on, John? And good day, sir. Have you been looking at our little church?”‘

John calmed down during the conversation that followed, and the cleric tried asking him once more what was wrong. “Oh, nothing… I was only telling this gentleman he should ask you about the holy crowns.”

‘”Ah, yes, of course,” the cleric said. “That’s an intriguing matter, isn’t it? But I don’t know if the gentleman is interested in our old stories, eh?”

“Oh, he’ll be interested fast enough, and he’ll believe what you tell him, sir! You knew William Ager personally – the father and son!” John said.

“I would like to hear about it.” Paxton said, and the cleric led him down the village street to the rectory – occasionally stopping to speak with a parishioner.

Then, they went into his study where he was happy to share the legend. “The locals have always believed in the three holy crowns. The old people say they were buried in different places near the coast to keep the foreigners away; one was removed a long time ago, another has disappeared beneath the rising sea, and the last is still keeping invaders at bay. If you have read our history, you may remember that in 1687, the crown of Redwald – King of the East Angles – was dug up in Rendlesham and tragically melted down before it could be properly described or drawn; it had been buried farther inland. The second crown was buried to the south where a Saxon royal palace used to be, but it’s at the bottom of the sea now. Finally, the third crown lies beyond those two.”

“Do they know where it is?” Paxton asked, unable to believe such a story had not been made into a book.

“Yes, but they won’t tell.” The cleric answered, and his manner discouraged the young man from asking why.

Instead, he waited a moment before asking, “what did the old man mean when he said you knew William Ager like it had something to do with the crowns?”

“That’s another strange story.” The cleric began. “Ager is a very old name in these parts, but I can’t find proof they were ever high-class people, or that their ancestors were the last crown’s guardians. Nathaniel Ager was the first one I knew; I was born and raised nearby, and he was camping there for the duration of the Franco-Prussian War. His son, William, did the same during the South African War, and his recently deceased grandson, young William, lived in the cottage closest to the place it’s buried. He was deathly ill, and the last of his line; I have no doubt that knowledge quickened his death. He was devastated to know there would be no one else to keep watch, but he couldn’t do anything about it; his relatives were all far away, in the colonies. I wrote letters to them on his behalf – begging them to come for a visit and discuss important family matters – but there hasn’t been a reply. If the last of the holy crowns is really there – it has no guardian now.”

“I found the cleric’s story fascinating. When I left, the only thing I could think about was finding that crown, but I wish I’d left it alone.” Paxton began. “The whole thing seemed like fate; as I biked back past the churchyard wall, my eye caught a fairly new gravestone bearing the name William Ager. I had to stop for a closer look, and it said he died in Seaburgh at age 28. With that information, I thought I could at least ask about cottages in the area, but I wasn’t sure where to start. Then, fate struck again; it took me to a curio-shop, and I found some old books – one of which was a fancy prayer-book from 1740– Wait one moment while I get it from my room.”

He left us somewhat speechless, but we hardly had time to exchange any remarks before he was back. Panting, he handed us the book opened to someone’s scraggly hand-writing; it said:

Nathaniel Ager is my name, and England is my nation; Seaburgh is my home, and Christ is my salvation. When I am in my grave, and all my bones are rotten – I hope the Lord will think of me when I am quite forgotten.

The poem was dated 1754, and there were many more entries of Agers, Nathaniel, Frederick, and so on, until eventually ending with William.

“You see,” he said, “anybody would think it was luck. I did at first, but not anymore. I asked the shop clerk about William Ager, and he remembered the man died in a cottage on the North Field. This told me exactly which one it must be: there’s only one big enough to live in. The next thing was to make friends with the locals, and a dog helped me get started; he came at me so fiercely, people had to come out and run him off. When they apologized, I only had to mention Ager’s name and pretend I knew something about him. Then, a woman saddened by his untimely demise said it happened because he slept outside during the winter. I asked if he went out to sea at night, but she said he stayed on the hill with all the trees – so that’s where I went.

“I know how to dig into those mounds; I’ve opened plenty of them in the country, but that was with owner’s permission and during the day with men helping. I had to think very carefully before I began; I couldn’t dig across the mound, and I knew those old firs trees would have awkward roots in the way. The soil was light and sandy, and I turned a rabbit hole into the start of a tunnel. Coming and going to the hotel at odd hours was going to be the hard part. When I decided how to dig, I told everyone I was called away for the night and spent it out there. I made my tunnel, but I won’t bore you with how I supported it and filled it in afterwards; the important thing is that I got the crown.” Paxton finished.

Naturally, we were both shocked and full of interest. I had already known someone found the crown at Rendlesham and often grieved over its fate. No one had ever seen the Anglo-Saxon crown – at least, not until he dug it up…

The young man’s gaze was filled with sorrow. “The worst part is – I don’t know how to put it back.”

“Put it back?” We cried out. “But you’ve made one of the most exciting finds ever heard of in this country. It should go to the Jewel House at the Tower. What’s troubling you? If you’re worried about the land owner, we can certainly help you. Nobody’s going to make a fuss about technicalities in a case like this.”

We probably said more, but he only dropped his face into his hands, muttering, “I don’t know how to put it back.”

Finally, Long said, “I hope you’ll forgive me if I sound rude, but… Are you sure you’ve found it?”

I had wanted to ask the same question; the story did sound like a madman’s fantasy, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to hurt the poor man’s feelings. However, he took it rather calmly.

“Oh, yes, there’s no doubt; it’s in my room – locked in my bag. You can come look if you like, but I won’t offer to bring it here.” He said, sitting up.

We couldn’t miss such a chance; obviously, we went with him. His room was only a few doors over, and he was shaking more than ever as we hurried inside. He turned on the light, carefully shut the door, unlocked his bag, and produced something wrapped in a handkerchief. He opened it on the bed, and I can now say I have seen an actual Anglo-Saxon crown. It was silver – like the one from Rendlesham – and it was decorated with antique gems, but it was also plain and roughly made. It was like the crowns you see on coins and in manuscripts; I saw no reason to think it was later than the ninth century.

I was extremely interested, and I wanted to hold it in my hands, but Paxton wouldn’t let me. “Don’t touch it; I’ll do that.” He said with a dreadful sigh as he lifted and turned it to show us every side. “Seen enough?” He finally asked. We nodded as he returned it to his bag and stared dumbly at us.

“Come back to our room, and tell us what the problem is.” Long said.

“Thank you… But, could you check to see if— if the coast is clear?” His response was confusing since our actions hadn’t been particularly suspicious, and the hotel was practically empty… but we were beginning to feel… Well, we’re not sure what we felt, but nerves are infectious so we did check first.

We peeked out as we opened the door, and we both thought a silent shadow – or maybe more than a shadow – passed by as we entered the hall. “It’s clear,” we whispered and returned to our room. I was ecstatic to discuss what we had seen, but when I looked at Paxton – I saw my excitement would be terribly out of place, and I let him speak first.

“What can we do?” He said.

Long thought it best to be vague. “Why not find out who the owner of the land is, and tell him—”

“Oh, no! Absolutely not!” Paxton interrupted impatiently, “I’m sorry: you’ve been very kind, but you don’t understand; it must go back. I dare not go at night, and it’s impossible to go during the day… I haven’t been alone since touching it.”

I started to make some random comment but stopped when Long caught my eye and said, “I think I do see, but wouldn’t you feel better if you explained a little more?”

Then, he told us everything… Paxton looked over his shoulder and motioned for us to come closer. He spoke in a low voice, and we listened intently – knowing we would compare notes afterwards. I wrote down our recollections, so I am confident I have his story almost word for word.

“It began when I was first prospecting, and it happened again and again. A man was always standing by one of the fir trees, and this was in broad daylight. He was never in front of me; I only saw him from the corners of my eye, and he was always gone when I turned to get a better look. I would lie down for long periods of time and watch carefully to make sure no one was there… But when I returned to prospecting – there he was. Then, he started giving me hints; no matter where I left that prayer-book – when I came back – it would be on my table, opened to the list of names with one of my razors on top to hold it in place. In the end, I had to start locking it up. He must not be able to open my bag, or something more would have happened. He’s small and weak, but I dare not face him. It was even worse when I was making the tunnel, and if I hadn’t been so determined, I would have dropped everything and ran. It felt like someone was scratching at my back the whole time; at first, I thought it was only dirt falling on me, but as I got closer to the crown… It was unmistakable.

“When I actually pulled it out, there was some kind of horrible, desolate cry behind me; I can’t express how threatening it felt. It instantly ruined all of the excitement over my discovery, and if I weren’t such a wretched fool – I would have put it back right then… But I didn’t, and the rest of the adventure was just as awful; I had to wait hours before returning to the hotel. First, I filled the tunnel and covered my tracks, but the man was trying to thwart me the whole time. Sometimes, you see him – sometimes you don’t, and I think that’s what he intends. He’s always there, but he has power over what you see. It was almost sunrise when I left, and I still had to catch the train back to Seaburgh. There were hedges and fences along the road, and I was not easily seen. Then, when I began meeting people headed to work, they would stare behind me with strange expressions; it’s possible they were surprised to see someone so early, but I don’t think that’s the reason. They didn’t look at me directly, and neither did the train’s porter or guard. The guard even held open the door after I entered the carriage – like there was somebody else coming… You can be certain it’s not my imagination.” He gave a dull laugh before finishing. “Even if I do put it back, he won’t forgive me; I can tell… I was so happy two weeks ago.” He dropped into a chair and began to cry.

We didn’t know what to say, but we wanted to do something… So, we said if he was determined to put the crown back, we would help him, and he welcomed our offer. After hearing his story, it seemed like the right thing to do. If these horrible events happened to this poor man, couldn’t there be some truth to the legends? Could the crown have some curious power to guard the coast? At least, that was how I felt at the time, and I think Long felt that way, too.


It was almost 10:30; we looked out of the window to see a brilliant, full moon. We were regulars at the hotel, and the servants considered us to be good tippers; they arranged for a cab to take us to the beach and wait to watch over us, but we left before realizing how far away we would be going.

Paxton had the crown hidden in a large coat placed over his arm. “The shortest route is up the hill and through the churchyard,” he said as we stood in front of the hotel, looking each way; there was nobody around. Seaburgh is a quiet place in the off season. “We can’t follow the ditch by the cottage because of the dog.” He added when I pointed to the shorter way across two fields. It was a good enough reason.

We went up the road, and turned at the churchyard gate. I worried someone who knew of our intentions might be waiting there, but if they were – we saw no sign of them. Even so, we felt like we were being watched – especially when we entered a narrow path with high hedges. We hurried through and out into the open fields. Then, we traveled along the hedges, over a gate or two, turned left, climbed the ridge, and we were on the mound.

As we got closer, Long and I felt like there was some kind of dim presence waiting for us, and a much more real one already with us. I cannot adequately describe Paxton’s disposition; he was breathing like a hunted animal, and we could not bear to look at his face. We hadn’t bothered to think of how he would manage once we arrived; he seemed so sure it would be easy… which it was. I never saw anything like it; he flung himself at the side of the mound, and began digging furiously. In only a few minutes, most of his body was already out of sight. I admit, we were terrified as we stood by holding the bundle and looking all around us.

There was nothing to be seen. A line of dark fir trees stood behind us and trailed for half a mile to our right – ending by the church tower. To the left were cottages and a distant windmill, and in front was a calm sea beneath the full moon. Only a dog by a gleaming creek stood between us and it. Yet, in the silence, there was an intensely sharp awareness of something hostile very close by – like a hound on a leash that might be let go at any moment.

Paxton pulled himself out of the hole and reached a hand back. “Unwrap it, and give it to me,” he whispered. The moonlight illuminated the crown for a brief second before he snatched it away.

We didn’t touch it ourselves, and I think we are fortunate for that. Paxton was soon out of the hole again, and he immediately began shoveling the dirt back in with hands that were already bleeding. He wouldn’t let us help, and making the ground appear undisturbed was the longest part of the job. I don’t know how, but he managed it wonderfully. When he was finally satisfied, we turned back.

We were roughly two-hundred yards from the hill when Long suddenly looked back and said, “you’ve left your coat there. That won’t do.” He was right, but Paxton never slowed; he only shook his head and held up the coat on his arm.

When we re-joined him, he explained, “that wasn’t my coat.” We looked back again, and the dark thing was gone.

We made it onto the road, and hurried back. It was well before midnight when we got in, and we tried to play it off in front of the door-man by saying it was a lovely night for a walk. He gave another look around before locking the front door, and said, “you didn’t meet many people out there, did you, sir?”

“No, not a soul.” I said, and Paxton looked at me rather strangely.

“I thought I saw someone turn onto the station road after you gentlemen, but since you three were together, I don’t suppose he meant any mischief.” The door-man said. I didn’t know what to say; Long merely said goodnight, and we went upstairs – promising to turn out the lights before going to bed.

Back in our room, we tried to cheer up Paxton. “The crown is back safe, and though it’s likely you’d have done better by not touching it – no real harm was done, and we’ll never tell anyone else of its location.” We said.

“I don’t mind admitting that I also felt like we were being followed on the way there, but coming back wasn’t like that at all, was it?” I said, but it was no use.

“You have nothing to worry about, but I haven’t been forgiven. I still have to pay for that miserable sacrilege. I know what you are going to say, and yes, the Church might help, but it’s the body that must suffer. It’s true… he’s waiting outside for me just now, but—” Paxton stopped suddenly and began thanking us.

We delayed him as long as we could; we encouraged him to spend the night in our room and said we would be happy to take him golfing with us the next day, but he didn’t think it would matter. Then, we recommended he stay anyway and remain inside while we played. He was very submissive – he would have done just about anything we suggested – but he knew he couldn’t avoid what was coming. You probably wonder why we didn’t escort him home – or to the safety of some brother’s care… The fact was, he didn’t have any.

He used to have an apartment in town, but he decided to move to Sweden; his possessions had been shipped off weeks before. Anyway, we couldn’t think of anything better to do than sleep on it… Or – in my case – not sleep.


Long and I felt very different the next morning. It was a beautiful April day, and Paxton also looked very different when we saw him at breakfast. “That was the best night’s sleep I ever had.” He said, and he decided to stay in our room as we had suggested. Long and I met some others for golf and had an early lunch so we could return sooner… But death still claimed its prize. I don’t know if it could have been prevented… I think he would have died no matter what we did, but – either way – this is what happened.

We went straight to our room, where Paxton was reading quietly. “Will you be ready to come out with us in half an hour?” Long asked.

He agreed, and I said we would need to clean ourselves up first. I bathed and napped for ten minutes; then, Long and I met in the sitting-room, but only Paxton’s book remained; he wasn’t in his room or downstairs, so we shouted for him. A servant appeared and said, “The other gentleman and I thought you left already. He heard you calling from the path over there, and he hurried out. I looked out of the coffee-room window, but I didn’t see you. Anyway, he went down towards the beach.”

Without a word we ran that way, too – in the opposite direction of last night’s expedition. It was almost 4:00, and the weather was fair. There was really no reason to worry; with so many people around, surely a man couldn’t come to much harm… The looks on our faces must have frightened the servant; she came out onto the steps, pointed, and said, “yes, that’s the way he went!”

We ran to the top of the bank and stopped. We could either go past the houses on the sea-front, along the sand at the bottom of the beach, or we could stay in the middle and have a view of both. We chose the sand because it was the most secluded, and someone could get hurt without being seen.

The idea of Paxton running off was dreadful; we feared the thing he was following might suddenly stop and turn on him… I wondered what face it would show – half-seen in the thickening mist – and I continued to run, wondering how the poor wretch could have mistaken that thing for us. I remembered him saying it had some kind of power over your eyes, and I wondered what the end would be like for him; I had lost all hope of saving him, and— Well, there is no need to voice the horrible thoughts that raced through my mind as we ran into the mist.

The sun was still bright in the sky, yet we could see nothing. We only knew we were past the houses – somewhere in the gap between them and the old martello tower. Past the tower, there is nothing but rocky seashore for a long way – not a house or human – only a bit of land with the river on your right and the sea on your left.

Just before that, right by the martello tower, there were old blocks of concrete by the sea, leftover from some ruin – but, now, only a few are left… The rest were washed away. When we got there, we climbed to the top of this wall as quickly as we could, and we looked out over the shore hoping to somehow see through the mist, but we also needed a moment’s rest after running at least a mile. Nothing was visible, and we began turning back when we heard what I can only call a laugh… It was a breathless, lungless laugh; it came from below and was lost in the mist. We leaned back over the wall, and Paxton was suddenly at the bottom.

You don’t need to be told he was dead. His tracks ran alongside the wall and made a sharp turn around the corner; There is little doubt he must have run straight into the open arms of someone lying in wait. His mouth was full of sand and stones, and his jaw and teeth were broken to bits… I only glanced at his face once.

Then, as we were scrambling down to the body, we heard someone shout and saw a man running towards us from the martello tower. It was the caretaker, and his keen, old eyes managed to see something was wrong even through the mist. He saw Paxton fall and saw us appear a moment after. This was fortunate, because surely, people would have suspected us of being involved – given the circumstances. We asked if he saw anybody attack our friend, but he could not be sure.

He went for help, and we stayed with Paxton until he could be carried away. That is when we back-tracked the way he came along the narrow strip of sand under the wall. It was impossible to determine where the assailant went.

What were we to say at the hearing? We felt it was our duty to keep the crown a secret. I don’t know how much you would have revealed, but we decided to say we only met Paxton the day before, and he was anxious about a man called William Ager. We also mentioned there were other tracks besides Paxton’s when we followed him along the beach. Of course, by that time, everything was washed away.

Long said he saw Paxton far ahead – running and waving his stick, as if signaling to people ahead of him. I couldn’t be sure because of the mist, but someone was there; we also saw tracks from someone running in shoes and someone barefoot. Of course, I only have my word as proof. Long is dead, now, and we had no way to make sketches or take casts before the tide erased them. All we could do was notice them as we hurried on, but they were everywhere, and we knew what we saw was made by a bare foot – one that showed more bones than flesh.

No one had any knowledge of William Ager living in the area. The man at the martello tower freed us from all suspicion, and authorities reached a verdict of wilful murder by some unknown person or persons. Paxton was so totally without connections that all inquiries ended without much fanfare, and I have never been to Seaburgh or even near it, since.

Horror Fiction

The Backroad’s Maintenance Tunnels (Pt. 2)

Part 2 of The Backroads. 

Part 1

Hey again…

Since that last post actually went through, I should probably let everyone know what happened. Consider it a public service; if you find yourselves getting lost on any backroads – just stop and GPS your way home before it’s too late. You get nothing from that place… except PTSD.

Fuck’s sake where do I even start? Well, with the Station, I suppose. You know you’re a lost cause when you start thinking of a shitty convenience store as home… Though, to be fair, getting drunk everyday was a big help… I freely admit I was half belligerent writing that last post, and I understand that what I’m about to tell you sounds crazy – but this is what happened.

I don’t think I mentioned it before – I didn’t mention a lot of things – but that last store constantly played some weird radio station over the speakers, and I couldn’t figure out how to shut it off. The music was unsettling… there was never any singing, just instrumentals… The tunes were slow – almost soothing in the mornings, and then, they would become more upbeat in the afternoons, but at night, they would play dark, bone-chilling symphonies… Those were far beyond simple elevator music… Those sounded like Satan’s personal orchestra.

I was usually relieved when the woman came on to talk – she was the same one from the gas pumps. A monitor hanging in the back corner would turn on to show her reports, but I couldn’t change the channel or get it to turn on any other time. She usually doesn’t appear after the evening news, but I guess it makes sense there would be a final call… Though, the haunting rendition of Breakfast at Tiffany’s was almost more than my fragile heart could bear until it was interrupted by an Emergency Broadcast; then, Olivia O’Neal was back with another special announcement.

Greetings Grass Grovers; thank you for choosing Last Stop Station. The store will be closing in ten minutes. Please gather your final purchases and calmly proceed to the exit in single-file. There is no need to shove or shout. The Cleaners will not arrive until 12:01 AM. Sirus be with you.

It was hard to focus on what she said; I was too busy looking at her eyes. I could have been hallucinating, but it looked like they had turned black. I don’t know what color they used to be, but they were definitely normal eyes all the other times I saw her— not pitch-black orbs.

I was hoping it would end quickly – like a shot to the head – there one second and gone the next… Hell, the only time I tried to eat a bullet, I couldn’t pull the trigger; I kept talking myself out of it and ended up stashing the gun under the counter. I couldn’t get rid of it, but I didn’t want to look at it anymore, either…

At 11:59, I was racing the clock to drink myself unconscious and thought I had succeeded when everything suddenly went dark, but it only lasted for a second. Just as quickly, a silent, red siren descended from the ceiling, and the strobing light made me so dizzy, I puked all over my shoes.

I glanced at the clock in time to watch the last five seconds tick down, and – at the stroke of midnight – the siren receded into the ceiling. The lights came back brighter than ever, and while spots were still dancing in my vision – the automatic doors slid open; I almost puked again as several white, blurry blobs entered the Station and split off in every direction.

Seeing them file in was a sobering moment, but I was too far gone to articulate sensible speech while panicking. I tried to ask who they were – what they wanted – but there’s no telling what I actually said, and they were never going to talk, regardless.

They advanced, and I retreated; when I backed into the counter, I went over and continued crawling for as much distance as possible. My vision was finally clearing, and I felt a slight relief upon realizing the intruders were only humans wearing some kind of hazmat suits and not Stranded. I’m not sure why, but I’ve named the one who came at me, Al.

He was the only one to acknowledge my existence; none of the others even glanced my way. Some were restocking shelves while others were cleaning, and that’s when I remembered the thing about “Cleaners” arriving at 12:01.

Have you ever seen a movie where they check for radiation with little machines that click and beep. Well, these guys had some that looked like they were from the 50’s. I thought they were little radios at first; they had handles sticking out of the top with a few dials on either side, and there was a detachment that looked like a microphone without the mouthpiece.

I couldn’t help but let out a slight yelp when Al finally had me cornered. I begged him not to hurt me, and it took several seconds to realize – he wasn’t; he was scanning me. After his machine failed to detect whatever it was looking for, he put it away and reached towards me. Not in a fast or threatening manner – but casual – and placed both hands on my hips…

When I felt his fingers close… I just… I thought— Ugh, it’s not important what I thought, but I screamed for real that time. Every head in the Station turned to stare; they didn’t seem angry – only creepy. All the machines were turned off by this point, so there was complete silence when Al replaced his hands on my hips, and – in one, smooth motion – pulled my shirt over my head. I’m not sure why I lifted my arms… I guess it was a reflex…

After dropping my shirt onto the ground, Al tried to unbutton my pants. I was outnumbered more than 10 to 1, and there was no question those people meant to have their way. I salvaged what little dignity remained by throwing my own pants to the ground; it was my only choice.

I think I would have been ok if it had ended there, but I found new depths of unexplored terror when my pants were added to the pile yet Al was still coming back for more. More?! All I had left were socks, shoes, and boxers! Even my gun and bag were being added to the pile.

I threw my socks and shoes at their feet in a desperate attempt to keep my boxers and began walking towards the exit, but I barely made it three steps before being detained. Two men took hold of my arms while a third stripped away my last shred of humanity…

I was scanned and cleared once more before being pushed outside. It hadn’t felt like I went anywhere, but the Station was suddenly in a warehouse with enough lighting to imitate the sun. The surrounding metal walls were a perfect fit – as if they were built after the Station was placed there. It felt like being on the set of a movie studio.

My car was still parked next to the pump, and a team of Cleaners were busy going through it. I was considering a way to get one of them alone – finding clothes was my top priority even if it was one of those weird suits. That’s when I noticed what was beyond the parking lot – a wide, concrete path… I could follow it to the right or to the left. There were no doors, just trimmed openings in the walls, and – when standing on the path – I could see for miles in either direction with no end in sight.


I didn’t know what to do, but thankfully I didn’t have to wonder for too long. As I looked to the left once more – what I thought to be a solid wall opened up into a doorway. It scared me at first, and I was prepared to run in the other direction when a man suddenly stepped out and waved me over. It was comforting to see he wasn’t dressed like a Cleaner, but that’s not what made me trust him; I trusted him because he wore the same look of terror I imagined wearing myself.

His eyes searched the tunnels like something could appear any second, and I wasn’t ready to learn what put that terror on his face. When I was close enough, he pulled me through the door and slammed it shut.

I found myself in what I can only describe as an Amazon warehouse; it was like the mother of all Sam’s Clubs, and we were surrounded by shelves of trash bags and paper towels. I didn’t know what to say, so I opted for standing silently with my hands awkwardly covering my junk.

“Here, man. Use this for now, and I’ll take you to grab some clothes before we split. I’m Doug, by the way.” He ripped open a box of industrial-sized trash bags and tossed one over.

I wrapped it around my waist and introduced myself as he led us through endless aisles of random supplies. Occasionally, he paused to put something into his bag, but we never stopped for more than a few seconds. He was thin and a few inches taller than me with long hair pulled back into a man-bun, and he wore an orange shirt with white and blue flower-print board-shorts; I’d think he were my age, but his deep voice made him sound older. His pack was the kind campers take on week-long excursions, and it looked like it couldn’t fit one more item without bursting a seam.

I had countless questions but no clue where— or how – to begin. Finally, I settled for, “where are we?”

“That’s a pretty loaded question, my friend. If you’re here, you must have stayed in a Station past the midnight countdown – which means the Cleaners came and took your clothes away. That was the worst part for me, but it doesn’t look like you fought back – smart man. Check this out.” He lifted his shirt to reveal a nasty, circular, burn scar slightly larger than a quarter.

When a Cleaner reached for his pants, Doug punched him in the head; this resulted in a second Cleaner producing what appeared to be a police baton – but it was actually something closer to a cattle-prod. Doug described the sensation as being electrocuted with a branding iron, and it instantly rendered him unconscious. When he woke, he was lying in a concrete pathway just beyond the Station’s parking lot, and his entire body felt like it was on fire; knowing he couldn’t stay there – he began crawling through the tunnel.

“Exactly how long have you been here?” The realization he had been trapped there long enough for that wound to heal added a new layer of fear to the situation.

“No telling; it’s too easy to lose track of time around here. You’ll try to count the Sundays for a while, but it’s impossible. There’s no windows to know if it’s day or night, and if you get a new watch or phone – you’ll find they’re useless in most places. Watches don’t work at all, and phones seem to change at random pending your location.”

It was difficult to appreciate the magnitude of his words; a sea of clothes racks were just ahead, and walking through a store naked can be terribly distracting. “Are we alone here? Are there more Cleaners? What about the Stranded?! Please tell me those other things—”

“We’re alone for now.” He cut me off before I could talk about the real monsters. “All the Cleaners are out prepping the Stations for another week of service, and we’ll be long gone before the first groups return. I only come here once a week to restock supplies, and – sometimes – I pick up bits of information along the way. On this occasion, I heard there was another Quitter in the Tunnels and decided to see if I could catch your eye. I wouldn’t have come out or shouted to you, though; nothing personal – I just can’t take those kinds of risks… Anyway, put on some clothes, and don’t leave this spot; I’ll be back in sixty seconds.”

“Wait, no—.” I didn’t have a clue what he was doing; I thought he was leaving me, but I had to get dressed before chasing after him. There was no telling when – or if – I would have another opportunity. I grabbed the first of everything I saw in my size and dressed as quickly as possible. In the end, I had an electric blue version of Doug’s Station shirt, a gray and red version of his shorts, and black flip-flops. I still can’t believe there wasn’t a single pair of jeans. It all looked typical of what you expect to find in the gas stations off busy interstates that sell unusual souvenirs to travelers.

I was debating on what to do about Doug when I saw him headed back with an extra bag slung over his shoulder. “Here – pack some extra clothes.” He tossed me the pack before continuing. “Sundays are the only day it’s safe to enter the Hub; essentially, this is where the Cleaners live, and if you’re caught in their home – they’ll put you on the shelves, too. I promise, you don’t want that…” He cringed just thinking about it, and I didn’t press the issue.

“But how do we get out? I’ve been away from home for too long; my family must think I’m dead!”

“Sorry, man; you may want to say goodbye to your old life. It’s easier that way; some people even choose a new name, but we all grieve differently. Just do what feels right for you.”

“But what is this place?! It doesn’t make any sense? Where are we?!” I didn’t care if my voice was cracking – I needed real answers.

Doug checked his watch for the hundredth time and let out a long, deep sigh. “I’ll tell you what I’ve heard, but it’s up to you whether or not to believe it… Plus, we’re almost out of time, so keep moving or get left behind.”

That was fine; after everything I had experienced – I thought I was ready to believe anything

“Have you ever heard any of the Game legends? The ones where you do something incredibly dangerous for a chance to win something from the devil? It’s usually a wish or some kind of fortune, but there’s a ton of them; the Infinity Game and Midnight Game are fairly popular, for example.”

“Like Bloody Mary or Candyman?” I did not like where this was going.

“Well, sort of… you’re on the right track, but those are fake and only for a scare. The ones I’m talking about are all too real. The first thing you need to accept is that demons exist; they come in all shapes and sizes, but there’s a group of elite that are uncontested in power – almost god-like. Souls are the currency, nourishment, and fuel that sustain their powers, but collecting them can get a little tricky. A demon can’t simply take a soul by force – it must be freely given, and even the humans who don’t believe in souls tend to get protective when asked point-blank to part with one. So, what do they do? They create a situation that makes you want to give it away. You follow me?”

“Uh, sort of… you mean it’s like the Devil’s Crossroads or the thing with the golden fiddle?”

He considered that for a moment. “Closer… but they haven’t done things that way for decades. Business was slow – people weren’t buying into it anymore. You know what they say about things too good to be true… But if you add an element of challenge – something to balance the effort with the reward – then, people believe it.”

“So, somewhere in this maze of madness – you’re saying there’s a demon who will send me home in exchange for my soul?!” It was a shitty deal, but one I was prepared to take; that’s how badly I missed my family.

“Pft, hell no, man. This game isn’t active; it’s just a relic of the past no one bothered to shut down. There was no rhyme or reason to getting here – it was practically based on chance; the asshole running it made himself a new game where suckers alternate turning left and right in order to play. I don’t know what happens after that, but it’s clearly more lucrative than this place. Now, we’re just stuck here while everything essentially runs on auto-pilot.”

It took me a few minutes to respond… It’s not that I didn’t believe him; no other explanation fit the scenario. I was just shocked. “…Does that mean the Cleaners are the only danger down here?”

I knew it was too good to be true when I said it, but… I don’t know – what else do you say at a time like that? He could have simply said no; he didn’t have to laugh…

“Ha, I wish! This place wouldn’t be half bad if—” He stopped suddenly and reversed, pulling me with him; the sound of footsteps could be heard in the distance, and they were getting louder. The aisle we were on contained packs of bottled water lined beneath the bottom shelf, and Doug rushed to clear a space among them. I helped as soon as I understood his intent, but I never thought we would actually fit; thank goodness I was wrong.

There was a four-foot space behind the stack, and it ran the full length of the aisles we were sandwiched between. Once we crawled under the shelf, we pulled the water back in to cover our entrance and waited in silence as the Cleaners continued to draw closer. That’s when we realized there was another sound mixed in with the footsteps – one we couldn’t quite identify until it was only a few yards away… It was the sound of something wet and sticky being dragged across the floor, but nothing was distinguishable between the small cracks of our hiding place.

Doug already knew what it was; I could tell by the look on his face – but he only shook his head at my curious stare. We waited until they were well out of our vicinity before crawling out, and the thick blood streaks confirmed the fear I wouldn’t acknowledge.

“Why didn’t they just kill me right away if this is the endgame?” I didn’t expect to get an answer, but there actually was one.

“Because they weren’t programmed to kill humans collected from Stations – they’re meant to strip us for conversion. When the game was still active, it was crawling with low-level demons who would take the humans away once they were naked; nobody knows exactly what was done to them, but when they came back – they were Cleaners. They don’t speak; they just do as they’re programmed – no exceptions.”

“Then why did they kill whoever this was?! There’s no way someone survived that much blood loss…”

“That person must have been in here – getting supplies like we are… every Tunnel connects to this place; it’s the Supply Hub. In here, Cleaners are only programmed to re-stock loose items, and, as far as they can tell – humans are basically livestock, so they’re taken to meat processing…”

With each shocking revelation, I became slightly more numb to the panic. I had already reached that very point less than 24 hours before, but when I survived the countdown – it restored a sliver of hope. Then, I saw people in hazmat suits like some kind of officials, and – for the briefest moment – I thought they were there to help.

I wanted to crush that sliver of hope when my clothes were taken, but Doug appeared, and the damn thing grew; it took a minute for everything he said to really sink in and snuff the hope out at its roots. Part of me just wanted to assess the easiest way to die and get it over with. “How big is this place? What else is out there?”

“It’s endless; don’t you get it? We aren’t on earth – we aren’t even in the same universe! We’re basically in limbo; you can look behind every door, but you’re never going to find a way out. No matter what kind of room you stumble across, you’re still in the Tunnels – never forget that.” He showed a little emotion with the last sentence, and I realized he had probably been an entirely different man before that place.

We turned down an aisle of garden supplies, and there was an EXIT sign above a rusty door on the back wall. Doug took one last look around and handed me a pair of shears before removing a large hunting knife that had been concealed beneath his shirt. “Sorry we didn’t have time for a real weapon, but this is better than nothing.”

“Are guns the only thing they don’t stock in this place? Or are you just really good with that thing?” I nodded towards his knife while trying to find a comfortable way to wield my shears.

“Oh, there’s plenty of guns and ammo… But you don’t want to use it. Some of the low-level demons stayed behind to play Alpha. If they hear a gunshot, they call for backup, and everyone comes running… We’ve lost a lot of good people that way, and now, we avoid firearms completely. Never forget – they don’t have the power to grant big wishes, but that won’t stop them from saying they do—.”

“Wait – ‘we’? So, you’re with a group? How many? We could probably take down the Cleaners without guns! If we can take over the Hub—”

“Don’t talk that way – it’s suicide; you think it hasn’t been tried? You think you’re the first person desperate to get home? There were seven people in the group that found us, but today – there’s five – and not one of them are the same! Within the first year, each of the original seven died – along with quite a few others – and most of it can’t even be blamed on demons!” He was whispering, and I could barely make out his words over the creaking door, but there was no mistaking that tone.

We crept out, and we were in an identical tunnel as before – endless in each direction. “I’m sorry about your friends…” I didn’t know what else to say.

“Listen, I’m going to tell you the most important rule to survival; never let them see you. They won’t tolerate humans running loose in their deranged kingdom. Once they know you exist – the entire pack won’t rest until they’ve hunted you down, and – Jesse – they don’t need to sleep…”

That struck some life back into my terror. “So what else is down here?! Where are we supposed to hide when we can’t be in the Hub?”

“The other rooms; I’m going to show you how to find them. Look at where we just came from – do you see the door’s outline? Your eyes will get used to spotting the straight lines faster than you think. You’ll want to pick something close to a Hub entrance, but never stay in one place too long… And if you ever see a thick, black, slimy residue or smell rotten meat – leave the area as quickly and quietly as possible; that means a demon is nearby.”

That time, his choice of words was unmistakable; I wasn’t being invited to join the group. I’m not a particularly sensitive or petty man, but the prospect of being alone in those tunnels… I couldn’t process it. “Oh, I get it… I guess I didn’t make the cut for your exclusive club, huh?”

The face he made in return was raw and powerful; I almost wanted to apologize, but it was hard to feel sympathetic under the circumstances. Then, his words cut me to the bone. “No disrespect – you seem like a nice guy, but I don’t trust strangers anymore. All I have left is my wife, and no other man is ever going near her again. Ok? Whether you understand it yet or not – you’re fucking lucky to be alone!”

It didn’t take a detective to put those pieces together, and it was an impossible point to argue; I wouldn’t have trusted him, either. There was only one thing left to say… “Got any more tips?”

“Play the odds; the Tunnels are endless. We don’t know how many demons are out there, but as long as you keep moving, you probably won’t run into one. If you bunker down in one place – something will eventually stumble across you. When we change locations, we walk six hours before looking for the next Hub entrance; then, we check the doors closest to it for a place to rest until the next Station Clean. And be very careful about who you trust. New people show up every week, and even good people can do horrible things when they’re desperate.” His words brought back memories of Rob, but I pushed them down deep where they belong.

“Wait… But how do I keep track of the days… And when we first met… you said you heard there was a new Quitter… What did that mean? Who did you hear it from?” We were walking side by side with our heads close together – whispering in hushed tones, but I had to restrain myself from shouting at the end. I was being expected to process too much too quickly, and the threat of a full-blown panic attack was looming ever closer.

“Every room plays the same radio channel you heard in the Station; I’m not sure why it doesn’t work in the Hub, but I guess the Cleaners don’t need it… And we are Quitters; we stayed in the Station because we wanted to quit playing without making it through the final level. It’s practically a Game Over screen… As for who told me about you… Well, there are a few people who want to put the Cleaners out of their misery, and they don’t care if they die in the process; they tend to take extreme risks like stealing Cleaner uniforms and infiltrating their ranks… If one ever approaches you with both hands palms up – that’s the signal. Try to help them if you can; they’re doing good work. I know I would want to be put down if it were me.”

I was trying to commit each word to memory, but I could only think of walking those dim Tunnels alone; so much so that I nearly missed the fine, door-shaped cracks next to where Doug had stopped. “I guess this is where we go our separate ways… Thanks for everything, really. I’d already be dead without you. Do you mind demonstrating how these things open before I go?” My voice came out less steady than I hoped.

“Just push.” The wall opened like a swinging door with the slightest effort, and he gave me one last warning. “Don’t forget about the sludge; if you need to escape – run through the closest door and immediately find a different exit. Then, find another door and another exit. Do it at least 4-5 times. All the Tunnels are straight; the only way to change direction is by cutting through a room… And good luck.”

We shook hands before he disappeared into what looked like a 90’s hotel lobby, and I caught a glimpse of his wife as the door closed. She had a jagged scar across her throat, and that’s when I knew Doug had been right; I was lucky to be alone.


I wandered the endless Tunnel for hours hoping I’d have the willpower to resist running away when I finally crossed paths with a demon. I wasn’t interested in living out the rest of my life in a monster’s playground, but I was still terrified of dying. Since I wouldn’t be able to hang or shoot myself, I hoped a demon could take the matter out of my hands…

Never underestimate your survival instincts, folks. I continued walking under the dim, blinking lights, and the first time they went completely dark – I thought something was coming; all my big talk vanished as I began throwing myself into the wall, searching for a door. In that moment, there was no remembering ‘but this is what I wanted.’ I was in a full panic – running off pure instinct and fighting to survive with everything I had.

Then, the lights suddenly flickered back to life, and there was nothing in sight. As it turns out – this was a fairly common occurrence in the Tunnels. I wasn’t too worried about failing my first test though – after all, what chance did I stand out there alone? I didn’t expect to make it another day – let alone weeks! Though, it seemed like a lot longer… It was Thursday, June 16th, when I got lost on the Backroads, and I came home yesterday, August 11th. That’s just under a month, but it felt like years.

Those rooms really could be anything, and they were completely random. The first night, I stayed in a rundown bowling alley, but they had things from the past and present – fantasy and reality – nothing was off limits. I’ve slept in the Millennium Falcon, and I’ve slept on benches in bus stations; when you have no one to share the good things with – stuff like that loses all meaning fast.

I was leaving the White House yesterday when I noticed clumps of black sludge staining the walls ahead and dripping from the ceiling. The first spots were only twenty to thirty feet away, and they extended at least that much further. The lights near it were going out, and the ones still lit were dimming by the second, but at the very edge of the darkness, I could just make out a tall, humanoid shape…

I threw myself into the closest room – which happened to be an old rubber factory – wound my way through broken machinery, and found the other exit. The new Tunnel was clean, but I went through a bank, airport, and carnival, too; when I entered the third clean Tunnel – I walked ahead a few yards and chose one more door… I had no clue if the shape I saw really was a demon or if it saw me, but the fresh terror I felt at the prospect erased any lingering notions of running into one on purpose.

Though, with the way things turned out, I should probably be thanking the damn thing; that last door led outside! It wasn’t like the Station or airport where the small, outdoor areas were still under a roof – there was an actual sky, and it looked exactly like the Paved Streets of the Backroads! The fresh air was absolutely delicious, and I took my time searching for the exit; in fact, I was still searching two hours later. At one point, I even let myself believe I was actually out of the Tunnels, but that hope was squashed when I reached the crossroads.

Dark clouds rolled across the sky, and it grew darker by the second as I advanced; I knew it was different from the Backroads then, and I knew I should turn back, but I couldn’t. The door was gone and there was nothing but miles of deserted highway behind me.

A bright flash of lightning revealed a dark figure in the center of the crossroads. There was something about the way it stood – facing me – that made it seem like it was waiting to speak. The one in the Tunnel had been hunched over like a rabid beast – waiting to strike out for its next meal… Or maybe that’s what the new one wanted me to think… Either way, I walked right up to him because I was fairly certain he only wanted to talk… because of how he was standing… Damn, that sounds really bad when I hear it out loud…

… Sorry, I’m getting pretty tired; I’ve been at this a while, now… It’s hard to describe, but I drew a picture… It was like looking into a human-shaped black-hole. Where its face should be was only a vortex of even blacker swirls, and looking at it was like falling into a bottomless pit. Yet, somehow, it kinda sounded like Samuel L. Jackson when it spoke…

It said it was the original game owner and still preferred to operate in the old ways when possible. It wanted to know if I’d be interested in trading my soul for being with my family again, and boy – was I interested! All it took was a simple prick of the finger, a few drops of blood on a dotted line, and we were good to go!

With a wave of its hand the sky cleared, and a new door suddenly appeared behind us. It opened onto my front yard, and I ran through it without another glance at the demon. Everything looked and smelled exactly how it should, and my wife’s car was in the driveway. She knew there was more to my story than getting lost, but she gave me time with the kids before making me explain, and I appreciated that. I also appreciate the fact she doesn’t know about my Reddit account…

I did my best to tell her what happened, but now, she wants me to see a psychologist. She’s been on the phone all day trying to schedule one around the police visit; an officer was supposed to stop by to speak with us so we can officially close the missing person’s report, but I guess he’s running late. I’m not complaining, though, I never want to leave this house again. Call it PTSD or whatever you want – I just have this overwhelming sense of dread that something awful will happen the second we try to go somewhere…

This whole thing really messed up my dad, too; he didn’t sound like himself, and even my mother-in-law seems shaken by the ordeal. I feel horrible for the trouble I caused everyone, but— Shit, I gotta go; there’s another problem. My wife called the police station and they’re saying the cop already came by, but nobody answered the door! Can you believe this crap? Then, the call dropped in the middle of their conversation, and now the lines are busy! What a joke!

True Stories

The Dark Side of Rockstar Games

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Did you know even Rockstar Games has a Dark Side? Don’t forget to subscribe while you’re there!

If you prefer Podcast or Spotify, you can follow these links, and don’t forget to check out the other episodes while you’re there – they all came our wonderfully!

Hey guys,

This week’s Dark Side of Gaming episode is an inside look to the shadier dealings of Rockstar games, and – as always – I hope you enjoy! The Dark Side of YouTube will be out with a new episode in just a few days as well so be sure to keep an eye open!

The Backroads sequel will also be finished in the next day or so, but while we’re here – I would like to share something strange that happened last week. It’s been far too long since I shared life stuff with you guys, and while this one isn’t filled with drama – it’s seriously weird as hell. If you’re a cat person – please, read this and tell me if you’ve ever experienced a similar situation.

For those who may not be aware, we currently have 19 cats due to living in an area where people abandon them— which is a whole thing unto itself but not today’s focus.

Despite having cats my entire life – only recently did I learn about “interrupted labor.” Apparently cats are able to hit a pause button when giving birth if they need to relocate to a safer space or something to that effect.

I learned this because four months ago, Tsu gave birth to three kittens. Then, after a full day passed, she had one more. Needless to say, it was a surprise to find four in the nest that morning, but whatever. It happened.

Tsu never really lost pregnancy weight. We thought it was strange, but she was happy, seemed healthy, and we planned to ask the vet about it when we took her to get spayed. Of course, that kept getting put on the back burner due to a kitten with pneumonia and Romulus’ emergency surgery.

Now, that litter of kittens was four months old on July 23, 2022. Today, they are happy, healthy, hyperactive little girls, and this should be the end of the story… But it’s not. Because it never is.

I woke on the morning of August 3rd to find a (roughly) week old kitten in the middle of our living room floor. Tsu has NOT been outside since giving birth and EVERY male is neutered. There was a second kitten under the couch. Their eyes are open which makes me think they’re at least 1-2 weeks old.

They appear to be completely healthy, but all of this means they were in the womb for 6 months!! How is that possible?! It’s like the universe literally said, “holy crap no one has abandoned a cat here in months! We better do something drastic!” Has anyone else heard of a 4 month interrupted labor?!

Here they are! Missy (black) has a forever home as soon as she’s old enough to leave mommy, and Ezio has already dug his claws deep into my soul.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you all have a wonderful rest of your weeks!!


True Stories

Creepy Gaming Easter Eggs You Didn’t Know About

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Hey guys, it’s time for the next Dark Side of Gaming episode and a few updates!

Join this week’s host, TDN, as he rediscovers some of the creepiest Easter eggs gaming has to offer!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’re all enjoying the new true story videos, (more horrific murders coming soon) but if you prefer the Classics – no worries – one will be here by next weekend. The story I’ve been working on is one of the longest yet; it started off with over 11,000 words, and it’s finally almost finished! Once published, I’ll be able to get Classics out on a semi-regular schedule again.

I have commissions lined up for the next several weeks, but as soon as the shows I’m scripting go on break – I’ll be back to the usual routine. Along with The Dark Side of Gaming, I’m writing for two other shows which will be announced in the coming weeks. I’m very excited about both and can’t wait to share the news with you!

As far as my personal series – the next installment of Infinity Game and the Backroads sequel are my priorities, and hopefully, the extended edition of The Settlement Series (Book 1) will be ready for publishing in 2023! The first eight chapters will always remain available for free – the book version will simply include additional details throughout the adventure. Likewise – the chapters for Book 2 will be handled in the same way.

I’m enjoying these opportunities to just talk like the good ole days, so, since most of you have your own blogs and projects, I wanted to take a moment to tell you about the AI art apps I use – Nightcafe and Starryai. Maybe they can help some of you the way they’ve helped me.

For those who – like myself – may lack any and all ability to express yourselves through drawing – these programs are amazing! And most importantly – free. They have “pro” options available, but I’m poor and get by without paying a dime. If you use them – simply make sure to select “coherent” style on Nightcafe and “Orion” on Starryai – trust me; it’s a massive difference.

If anyone wants to see the bulk results – I started a Deviantart to store the keepers, but I’ll add an example of something from each. It doesn’t do so well with people, so I’ve struggled to make an avatar, but landscapes and monsters seem to do great. Honestly, even if you don’t need art for anything – it’s fun to use.

This is one of my favorites from Nightcafe and what I’ve been using as my profile picture everywhere, lol.
And this is a favorite from Starryai, but both can be hit or miss so don’t be discouraged if you get a few bad ones in a row.

I suppose that’s all the updates for now; thanks again, and stay safe out there! People are freaking nuts! Speaking of which – Black Phone was a fantastic movie – highly recommended!

Horror Fiction

The Backroads

The Dark Somnium has done another amazing job on this narration - please check it out for a phenomenal experience! 

Do you want to hear it in narrated in a female voice? Got you covered there, too. Lady Spookaria did a wonderful narration!


The CreepyPasta

Thursday

Today is Thursday, June 16, 2022, and I don’t know where I am. I’m parked on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, and I’m not even sure this is still Louisiana. I haven’t had a bar of service all day, I’ve been driving for nine hours, and the only thing I want to do is sleep, but I’m afraid to close my eyes. Staring at this screen is only making it worse, but I need the distraction; none of this makes sense.

My house is a thirty minute drive to town if you take the highway, but in any other direction – you can ride the backroads for hours; most aren’t even on the map. When I was younger, Mom would take me riding on summer evenings, and we always found new routes to explore. That’s also how I learned to drive, and after getting my license, I started going more often. Sometimes, I would bring friends, but for the most part it’s something I enjoy doing alone – especially after Mom died; she was killed by a drunk driver six years ago.

I’ve never seen a house or more than a handful of other vehicles out here; it’s perfect for camping. I’ve stayed overnight more times than I can count and always felt perfectly safe; it’s almost like being the only person in the world. The only difference with this trip was that damn tunnel.

Life has been hard lately, and only having one job on the books doesn’t help. There was nothing on this wedding’s menu that could be cooked the day before, so, instead of doing anything productive – I convinced myself to go for a drive… which was clearly a mistake.

There’s a beautiful, crystal-clear pond that became my go-to place for quick trips or days I brought someone along. It’s not very far, and I know every road in between… or thought I did…

Leaving the pond, there should only be two ways to go – back home or further into nowhere – but then I saw a third option! While turning the truck around, I found myself staring at a paved road hidden behind the tree-line. While it’s understandable to miss when driving past – I’ve been to that pond a thousand times and always turn around in the same place; this shouldn’t have been my first time seeing it, but I was too excited to think more of it.

A closer look revealed only shrubs and weeds blocking the way, so I decided to drive straight through. A new path so close to home was too big of a deal to pass up; of course, that feels incredibly ignorant to say now

I got through the brush easily, and after a mile it cleared up again, but six miles after that – I knew it was time to turn back. That’s when I finally saw the end of the road. Ahead was an overpass with what looked like old train tracks, and what I thought was a dead-end was actually a tunnel running beneath it.

At first, it looked too small to drive through. I only wanted to get my headlights close enough to see inside, but then the road did keep going; I could see daylight at the other end. The tunnel itself was damp, and the air smelled musty, but it was completely empty. When I came out of the other side, the road stretched ahead for miles with occasional turns-off’s on both sides.

It should have been impossible to get lost by going straight; I should have been able to turn around at any point and drive directly back to the pond. I still don’t understand why that isn’t the case…

I had hoped to find a landmark to use on the next visit, but after an hour of nothing but random cut-offs – I realized how late it was and finally turned back. Everything looked exactly the same as far as I could tell; I have no clue where I went wrong, but an hour and a half later I was still cruising with no sign of that tunnel. If anything, I was driving even faster than before; it doesn’t make any damn sense! I drove for another thirty minutes before stopping completely. I had to pee and needed time to think without wondering if I was headed even further away from home.

If I had made even a single turn – I could believe being lost, but the idea of turning back after driving in a straight line felt… unnatural. It would mean hours of retracing my steps only to turn around again when that didn’t work. How many hours would be wasted covering the same ground? But then, there’s no choice because something is obviously wrong! It’s maddening!

I’m still stuck in that hellish thought-loop, but I couldn’t just stay on the side of the road. In the end, I turned around once again – this time going much, much slower. The only way I could imagine getting lost was if the road had split somewhere when I wasn’t paying attention.

I came to a rolling stop at every turn-off and even got out a few times, but there was absolutely no chance I merged off any of them. By the time I made it back to my original stopping point – the sun was starting to set, and my brain fed me whatever I needed to hear to avoid turning back a third time. I figured Mom and I had only been able to spend so much time on the backroads because we took the small, curvy trails that never really led anywhere; now, I was traveling in a straight line – it had to lead somewhere.

All I needed to do was make it to the next town – or maybe not even that far if I could find a spot with cell service – but now it’s almost midnight, and I stopped because the road suddenly ended… or, at least the pavement did. There’s nothing but a long, dusty trail left, and there’s no chance of finding a signal that way; I need to wait for morning and check out some of the cut-offs. Nothing about this—


Friday

I wonder if I’ve been reported as missing… I’m sure I have; how could I not be? Surely, the backroads are the first place they’ll look, right? I’m sure it is… Sweet fire-shits, I thought I was going to die last night.

I was lying across the backseat, writing, when I heard something moving around in the forest. I assumed it was an animal until it broke through the tree-line, and the unmistakable sound of a shoes scraping against concrete made me drop the phone.

There was a half-second of euphoric relief as I imagined myself being rescued by a kindly, old farmer before my body went numb with dread. People volunteering with search parties didn’t wander through the woods alone at night – without flashlights! This person hadn’t driven there, either; I would have heard an engine.

I didn’t know what the hell to do; my first instinct was to jump in the driver’s seat and run for it, but then I imagined bullets flying through the windows… It seemed reasonable to think a person skulking through a dark forest would be armed. I wanted my pistol from the glove compartment more than anything, but my arms refused to obey. The footsteps were moving slowly like someone was checking out my truck, and when they turned to walk along the passenger side – my body finally moved.

Without the phone’s light it was too dark to see anything, but as I slowly inched forward – the footsteps paused next to the front, passenger door, and my heart stopped along with them. I hesitated with my hand on the glove compartment’s handle wondering if the light would come on when I realized something that shot chills down my spine. I hadn’t locked the doors after using the bathroom…

Instead of fumbling for the controls, I felt for the knob and gently pushed it down. At the same instant, the dull thud of a locked handle being pulled broke the night’s silence like a gunshot, and there was no further caution in my movements. I ripped open the glove compartment, grabbed my gun and racked one into the chamber as the sound of several footsteps fled back into the forest.

There had been nothing to indicate multiple people were outside, but there was no mistaking it, now; feet were skidding across the pavement as others were already tearing through the thick brush, and I threw myself into the driver’s seat. The headlights came on just in time to reveal the last two figures vanished into the darkness.

I was in tears with relief over the fact I had turned around before parking, and it wasn’t because of forethought but fear; just looking at that long, dirt road made my stomach clench. As for the group of crazies… I don’t know, it might be time to entertain the possibility that I’m the one who’s crazy…

I only caught a quick glimpse as I sped away, but those people resembled terminal cancer patients with animalistic movements. They were sickly thin and hunched over like gorillas but moved with deceptive speed. Thanks to the adrenaline, I was wide-awake and traveling faster than I should have been, but I wanted as much distance between myself and those… people… as possible.

After driving a few miles, my brain slowly began formulating coherent thoughts again. I think it’s safe to say my new friends don’t have motorized transportation, but I drove for almost an hour before stopping. If I didn’t close my eyes, I was going to fall asleep at the wheel, and – if I wreck – I’m dead. There were three hours before dawn, so I set an alarm, passed out, and was somehow still alive when it sounded.

I woke to a foggy morning, and the long road ahead served as a bleak reminder of my situation. Mother Nature called, and I was starving, but luckily there were a few basic supplies in the truck. After eating two power bars, I somehow managed to stick with water instead of downing the bottle of whiskey – and thank goodness, or I wouldn’t have it now!

The shit I’ve seen today is enough to make that gun look mighty appetizing. All goddamn day I kept on driving straight down that same road – the way I should have been going in the first place. I didn’t care if it took twelve hours to find the next town – I wasn’t going to start turning down a bunch of random roads that could take me in circles.

By 9:00, I had seen nothing but trees and grassy clearings. My stomach was growling louder than my music, and I was barely containing my anger when a familiar beeping sent me soaring over the edge. When I finally regained a modicum of control – my throat was raw and my face looked as red as it felt; the gaslight was on, and the possibility of dying out here became very real, very fast.

When I came around the next curve, I thought I was hallucinating. A small gas station suddenly appeared in the distance, but there was no way I had driven farther than yesterday, and I definitely hadn’t passed it without noticing. As I came closer, my heart sank when I realized it was abandoned. There were no other cars, lights, or signs – just old pumps and a dark store.

I parked anyway – just to think for a minute – and continued to be surprised. The building looked like it hadn’t been touched in twenty years, yet the pumps looked as if they were installed last week. I got out to stretch my legs, and the one next to me turned on – including its tv!

It shouldn’t have been possible, but that hardly matters in this place. Whether I was hallucinating or not, I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity. Even more astonishing than the fact it worked was the woman on tv. She was giving a local news and weather report like what you would see at a normal gas station.

“It’s a beautiful, sunny day on the Paved Backroads! The last of the morning’s fog will be clearing up shortly, and we’ll have a high of 98 this afternoon. Those transitioning to Dirt Roads should show due caution as we’ve had significant rise in Stranded sightings. Thank you for choosing Last Stop Station; until next time – safe travels!”

I didn’t understand half of what she said, and there was plenty more I can’t remember. If I find another one, I’m going to have my phone ready to record; thank goodness I have a car charger or I wouldn’t even have that by now.

After refueling I decided to take a look at the store; I was completely out of food and on my last bottle of water. I would have taken anything that wasn’t poisonous, but I was shocked to find water, soups, and canned fruit – simply there for the taking. While those were fully stocked – there were no snack foods, soft drinks, or random accessories. If the can’s sell-by dates weren’t so recent, I would think that stuff had sat there for years.

There was nowhere to cook the soup, no phone and no cash register, either. Everything about that store was just… off, but as strange as it was – I didn’t want to leave; it was nice to finally stretch my legs and to be out of the truck longer than a bathroom break. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to waste time hanging out in an abandoned gas station. In the end, I compromised by staying long enough to eat. I tried not to pin my hopes on someone else stopping by, but I found myself watching the road more than I care to admit.

My original idea was to find a makeshift pot and build a fire, but then I remembered some of my camping gear was still in the truck! With my hot-plate – the only hard part was opening the cans with a dull pocket knife.

As expected, no one came, but I couldn’t waste any more time there. At that point, I expected to spend the rest of the day on the road and convinced myself to take some supplies; before I knew it, I’d robbed the place blind, and I hope the police come looking! They won’t, but I can dream.

I felt better with a full meal on my stomach and a truck full of free supplies, but it’s hard to keep a cool head when you’re coming up on your second night of being lost in the middle of nowhere. I eventually drove straight into the sunset until once again being forced into a sudden stop when the pavement ended. The way forward was yet another long, dusty trail, and this one inspired the same cold dread as the last.

Logic told me the weird, pale people couldn’t be way out there, too, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I turned back and drove for another hour before stopping for the night. After eating a can of peaches, I started writing, and now, I can’t stop thinking about that lady on that little tv. She was talking about these roads like they were their own town or something, and I want to hear that part about being stranded again; maybe I’m not the only one who’s had this happen.

Either way, I’ve had enough for one day; I need more than a few hours of sleep. Staying on this road isn’t an option anymore; tomorrow, I’ll need to choose one of the cut-offs.


Saturday

There’s no question – I’m not in Louisiana anymore; I’m not even in the real world. I met someone this afternoon. I don’t think he’s real; he’s either a hallucination or a demon – I’m just not sure which. I had essentially chosen a cut-off at random when I couldn’t find the gas station again, and twenty miles later there was a man walking along the shoulder.

I was almost too afraid to stop, but he got on his knees in the middle of the road – begging. In the end, I needed someone to talk to more than I cared about the possibility of being murdered. He claims to know a little about what’s going on here, and though his story is completely unbelievable – I can’t come up with an alternative.

He doesn’t know how or why things are the way they are, but he got here by driving through a tunnel just like I did, except he was in Pennsylvania. If he hadn’t told his story first, I wouldn’t have believed him; it sounds too much like my own. The only difference is what happened after he ran out of gas. Since he started a quarter tank – he had no idea anything was wrong yet.

A service station appeared around the next curve – exactly as it had for me – and based on his description it sounds like the same one. The pump’s tv came on, and after a brief weather report, there was another confusing public service announcement.

“…And don’t forget to stock up for tomorrow. As usual, our Stations will be closed for Sunday – no exceptions. Please ensure all persons are cleared from the premises by no later than 11:59PM, and thank you for choosing Last Stop Station; until next time – safe travels!”

After filling his tank, he went inside to find a nearly empty store and only then realized there were no other cars or people in sight. Since the pump worked, he reasoned the store must be open, and worried something may have happened to the clerk. Rob went outside to search for a signal, and when he was unsuccessful – he noticed the store was at the bottom of a steep rise.

There was no trail, but he was able to make it up fairly easily; unfortunately, he still couldn’t get reception. Determined to drive back to town, he made his way down the slope only to find the store and his car gone! He swears he walked in a straight line and found the road easily, but it was empty. If it weren’t for my own experiences these last few days – I couldn’t have believed it, but now I definitely do… Assuming Rob is actually real, of course.

He had no choice but to start walking, and he headed in the direction he believed would take him to town. Several hours later, he still hadn’t seen another car or store, and the sun was beginning to set. That’s when he ran into Bonnie and Clyde… at least, that’s what they called themselves. They were stopped at their own gas station, and Rob ran straight inside to tell his story, but the couple didn’t want to hear it.

Clyde held Rob at gunpoint while Bonnie loaded their van; the couple wouldn’t give him a ride, but the man was willing to answer a few questions while he waited. Based on what this guy told Rob, there are three stages to the Backroads – each more dangerous than the last. The Paved Streets are the outskirts and make up Stage 1. The Dirt Roads are Stage 2 and lead deeper into the maze – while Stage 3 is tire tracks in the grass, and the heart of the maze. The entrance can be found almost anywhere in the world if you venture deep enough into nowhere, but the exit can only be found in Stage 3.

Gas Stations only appear when a vehicle is low on fuel, and they disappear the moment you leave. Had Rob climbed the hill before filling his tank – he would still have a car. Thank goodness I have the camping gear, or I would have made the same mistake when trying to heat my soup.

The only exception to this rule is Sunday; if you run out of fuel while the store is closed – you’ll have to sit there until it reopens. Anything that was inside when it disappeared will still be there except for people. We don’t know what happens to them, but Clyde said there used to be four people in their group. The other two decided to see where the place went when it disappeared, but when it came back – only their bags and clothes were left behind.

The stores supposedly have beer and junk food in Stage 2, and that alone has me interested. I finished my whisky last night, and I don’t think I can handle this place sober. I would already be on my way now if it wasn’t past midnight.

Compared to the last two stages, the Paved Streets are fairly safe until the transition to dirt; that’s where the Stranded like to lurk and what Rob was on his way to becoming before I found him. The ones who lose their vehicles can’t make gas stations appear and eventually turn to the forest for shelter; they hide deep in the dark woods during the day, and only come out at night. The lucky are able to join an existing group or form their own. They need enough members to ambush travelers, but not too many to feed. Those who are rejected get eaten, and those who try to survive alone – starve. Eventually, they begin to look like the ones I saw, and had I been asleep with my doors unlocked – I would have become their dinner.

As for Stage 2 itself, Rob only knows that something hunts the roads at night, and when he asked Clyde about the final Stage, the man went white as a sheet and refused to answer any more questions. As the couple got back into their vehicle, they apologized for their drastic behavior stating they simply couldn’t risk taking on a stranger. Rob is bitter about it, but I don’t blame them. If I hadn’t been alone and desperate, I would never have stopped.

From what it sounds like, people try to find the exit in Stage 3 and the ones who survive the failure resolve to a life on the Paved Streets. I’ve been thinking about it all evening, and I would rather die than live the rest of my life out here. The fact I don’t want to spend six days a week inside a gas station upset Rob pretty bad. We argued for three solid hours until I pretended to agree with him. He repeated his same argument with slightly different wording like I was simply too stupid to understand; I was sick of it, but more importantly, I was starting to suspect Rob would crack me over the head and steal the truck if he didn’t get his way.

Since the Stations will be closed tomorrow, I made sure to run out of gas this evening. I told Rob three times to let me get my phone ready before he got out, but the bastard didn’t listen. Before I could put the truck into park, he jumped out and rushed into the store. I heard the tv start the second his door was open, but he was completely oblivious. I panicked and missed whatever it was saying while fumbling with my phone. The only part I got recorded was the, “…until next time, safe travels” bullshit.

I’m grateful for the information Rob has shared, but I’ve decided to go ahead alone. I wish I would have thought to leave him at the Station this evening, but I can’t waste another day waiting for them to reopen; I don’t feel safe sleeping while he’s around. Tomorrow morning, when he uses the bathroom, I’ll just… drive away… I don’t know what else to do.

For now, he’s either asleep in the backseat or really good at fake snoring. My instincts are screaming for me to stay awake, but I feel like someone poured salt into my eyes, and staring at this screen is only making them worse. I need to find another way to keep myself up.


Sunday

Rob is dead; I was right about that bastard. Have you ever noticed how crazy ideas sound less crazy in the dark? I kept imagining Rob in the backseat – awake and waiting for me to fall asleep; then, he would sit up, put his belt around my neck, and pull. It bothered me so much, I decided to retrieve my gun. I kept it beneath my leg until dawn and tucked it into my waistband when it was finally time for breakfast.

Rob snored the entire night; as I entered the forest to relieve myself, I was feeling fairly foolish. ‘No shit the man is afraid of going deeper into this hellhole! If I’m this terrified – how must he feel after what he’s been through? I’m the monster – walking around with a gun and planning to leave a man for dead just because he disagreed with me!’

I was fully convinced to abandon my cruel plan until I returned to see Rob in the driver’s seat. The passenger window was down so I had a perfect view of him from the tree-line; he was frantically searching for the keys which were tucked securely into my pocket. I didn’t know what he might do if confronted, so I made plenty of noise coming through the last of the brush.

When I made it to the truck, he was opening a can of fruit like he hadn’t just been trying to leave me behind. I made soup, but avoided taking anything vital out of the truck. I planned to leave him some food and water, but I was ready to take off as soon as he stepped away… Only, he didn’t go; we were both waiting for the other to let down their guard, but Rob lost patience.

He revealed the crowbar he’d stashed nearby and calmly explained I would be staying behind since, “I’m determined to kill myself anyway.” My mind went blank; it’s one thing to imagine it, but it’s nothing like reality. I was calm and steady as I told him to take the truck; I even threw the keys to him. There was no thought behind it – only instinct. When he turned to walk away, I drew my weapon and fired without warning. The first shot went into the center of his back, and he made a horrible sound as he fell.

I hurried closer but hesitated before making the final shot. Part of me wanted him to fully understand what happened. When he began coughing out blood, I ended his suffering with one more to the head. At least he won’t become one of the Stranded now…

I thought it would feel different – like it would change me – but this place had already done that. I don’t care that Rob is dead; I only did what was necessary to survive. The funny thing is – he was right. We should have stayed on the nice, Paved Streets where it was safe; there’s much worse things out here than death.

After leaving Rob’s corpse behind, it took five hours to find the next Dirt Road. It was a long, miserable day, but – just to be safe – I turned back to waste some gas. My heart was set on getting into a Station with beer at midnight.

I didn’t know what kind of trouble I was going into, and honestly, I didn’t care. At 12:03, I drove onto the Dirt Road, and my high beams revealed a horde of Stranded behind the tree-line; I didn’t slow down, and they didn’t come out. They only want easy targets. Unfortunately, I miscalculated how quickly the gas light would turn on.

Less than twenty minutes later, I was still going when a loud roar rattled my windows followed by the shrill cry of captured prey. Reality began to set in as I realized how foolish my plan had been. Moments later, a low rumble of thunder sounded, and only when it was joined by the violent cracks of breaking limbs did I understand it wasn’t thunder after all. Whatever hunts these roads at night found me.

I heard it break through the tree-line but couldn’t force myself to look in the mirror; I knew it would be game over if I did. The roads are much smaller in Stage 2, meaning I had to drive slower. My full focus was on navigating the curvy roads as quickly as possible without losing control; I didn’t even hear the low fuel light, but when that bright, beautiful gas station appeared around the next bend – I almost crashed into the pump.

Parking as close to the door as possible, I threw myself from the truck without even turning off the engine. I was inside and under the counter for a solid ten minutes before realizing everything had gone quiet. Very carefully, I crawled to a window and peered outside. It looked like several Stranded had been fused together to form this thing. Only its head was visible in the Station lights; the rest was thankfully concealed in a sea of darkness. Its shape was far smaller than expected after hearing the sounds it made, but its face was the most grotesque thing I’ve ever seen; its mouth was lost beneath masses of pasty, white skin that looked like pure scar tissue, and I can’t get the look of its single, glassy eye out of my mind. There was only a gaping, black hole left where the other used to be. Apparently the Stations work as safe zones; I knew it saw me, but it didn’t come any closer.

After vomiting, I worked up the courage to test my theory and stepped outside to turn off the truck; the figure still didn’t move. That made me feel safe enough to finally look around the store. I helped myself to a six-pack of Coors and Cheetos and tore through the junk food like a death-row inmate; I’m not ashamed to admit I’m fairly drunk.

I wonder if it’s possible to fill up with just enough gas to be on empty before nightfall… That may be my only chance to make it to Stage 3; there’s no way I could have outran that thing all night. Hell, that’s a brilliant idea! If it works – I could use that strategy the whole way home; it would give me an entire week to search before the store is closed again! Holy shit! I finally see a light at the end of this miserable tunnel; I’m going to get a very good night’s sleep and hit the road at first light!


Next Saturday

I guess I dropped the ball on keeping a record of my time in the Backroads, but… too bad. No one will ever see this anyway, and this has been the worst week of my life. The things I’ve had to do to survive are unspeakable; I only opened this to say I’m quitting. If someone finds this one day, great; if not, I don’t really care.

My plan to only fill half the tank worked great, but it took three days to find a grass trail; once I did – I never dreamed I would survive long enough to find another store, but now that I have – I’m not leaving; the creatures in this stage don’t give a damn if it’s night or day – they’re hungry. I would rather face the devil himself than walk out that door again; there are things out here that make the one-eyed monster look like a kitten – I’m done!

Today is Saturday, and it’s almost midnight; I’m going to hit upload even though I know it won’t work, but – just in case – my name is was Jesse Palmer. Fuck the Backroads.


Part 2

Classics Translated

The Dream

W. Somerset Maugham, first published May 1924; translated to modern English, otherwise left exactly the same. 


This story has been added to our Classics in the Rain collection! Listen to Danie Dreadful’s magnificent narration here for the full experience!

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.

Classics Translated

The Body-Snatcher

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 phrase meaning ‘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.

Horror Fiction

Killers for Sale

🚧Trigger Warning for S. Assault🚧

If you prefer narrations, Nightmare’s Edge brought together a phenomenal cast for this one!!



The CreepyPasta

[Auctioneer]

Greetings!

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.


[Lawrence Edwards]

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—

[Auctioneer]

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.

[Lawrence Edwards]

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?

[Auctioneer]

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.

[Lawrence Edwards]

Sick piece-of-shit!…

How can you be sure he was tellin’ the truth ?

[Auctioneer]

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.

[Lawrence Edwards]

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?

[Auctioneer]

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—

[Lawrence Edwards]

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?

[Auctioneer]

Yes, I’m afraid so. Ms. Edwards was subjected to various role-playing scenarios for several hours before being strangled during the final… act.

[Lawrence Edwards]

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.

[Auctioneer]

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.

[Jason Laird]

… Dad?

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”.

Well?

[Auctioneer]

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.

[Jason Laird]

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.

[Auctioneer]

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.

[Shelly 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!

[Auctioneer]

Frank; two-second contact, please… Excellent.

Mr. Bateman, next time it will be three seconds.

My apologies, Ms. Perkins; please, continue.

[Shelly Perkins]

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.

[Auctioneer]

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 Crimes of 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!


[Saturday]

[Auctioneer]

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…

[Shelly Perkins]

Ha, no you don’t have to worry about— Holy shit! Are his eyes gone? Whoa, there’s so many of them!

[Auctioneer]

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.

[Shelly Perkins]

That’s brilliant; I can’t wait to get started!

[Auctioneer]

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!


Classics Translated

Dagon

H.P. Lovecraft, first published in the November 1919 edition of The Vagrant; translated into modern English, otherwise exactly the same.

This story has been added to our Classics in the Rain collection! Listen to Danie Dreadful’s magnificent narration here for the full experience!

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!

Classics Translated

The Room in the Tower

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.