horror, scary

The New Settlements

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

Narrated by Dark Somnium: YouTube
Photo from Dark Somnium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 2nd, 1643

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 3rd, 1643

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, how’s the drink?

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

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

November 5, 1643

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 6, 1643

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 9th, 1643

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

horror

Magic Mortimer

Now a CreepyPasta. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you sure?” He worried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why’s that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What the actual—” She began.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classics, horror

The Yellow Wallpaper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s sister on the stairs!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

horror, scary

The First Settlement

Now a CreepyPasta. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 13, 1566

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 15, 1566,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 17, 1566

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 19, 1566

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

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

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

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

August 30, 1574

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halloween, scary

The Deadlands

Now a CreepyPasta 

Telling ghost stories around a campfire is a time honored tradition for those of us who love a scare. With each telling they spread further and evolve to fit their audiences. Eventually, they gain a life of their own, often becoming unrecognizable to the original author. Not knowing where the truth ends and fantasy begins pulls us farther from reality than we would otherwise tread. Succumbing to the desire to believe, if only for a moment… what if it is true?

In a town kept alive by retirees and tourists looking for a cheap scare, we knew a place hidden from their money was bad news. Plebes are paraded around in horse drawn carriages through the dead of night. If there’s a storm, all the better. In the dim glow of our gas street-lamps, we tell them stories, grinning each time a passenger shakes with fright. As long as they stay on the safe, paved streets of downtown, they’ve nothing to fear. If they knew what was really out there, beyond those city limits, they would jump in their fancy cars and never look back.

It’s when you drive past the city limits things become less… rehearsed. What use to be cotton fields far as the eye could see were now dried-up wastelands, unusable to the living. Over the years, our ancestors built further and further away, desperate for distance, but unable to leave entirely. A forest grew around the 300 acre area known as the Deadlands, but not even an insect crossed Mother Nature’s well drawn line.

The Deadlands were born in the Civil War aftermath. Losing did nothing to sway the opinions of ignorant Southerners who believed slaves were their God-given rights. In a world where tractors were not yet invented, farming seemed daunting. Cotton, ironically prickly, is painful to harvest. Days turned to weeks, and the sight of freed slaves settling into new lives taunted the rednecks relentlessly. In their world, White Supremacy and religion were one in the same, it was fact, unquestioned.

Five families, owned the majority of our state’s cotton supply. On their wealth, the town of Cotton Hills was founded, and on their heinous actions was it doomed. Where their property lines merged, each man donated 60 forested acres to the relocation of freed slaves. Thus the 300 acre plot of death was created.

The town formed a posse to deliver every black man, woman, and child. Guard towers were built, each connected by fences of barbed wire, and any who attempted escape were killed on sight. Eventually, some tried to carve out a life for their families. Primitive shelters were erected, men hunted, women homesteaded. They did okay at first, but as more people were thrown into what whispers already called the Deadlands, resources exhausted quickly. Friends who once worked side by side killed each other to feed their children.

After 20 years, the few who remained were so malnourished, so barbaric, they no longer appeared human. Few original guards remained, most replaced with younger, stronger sons. Sons with ambitions, and the desire to make their own names. One fateful night, while the old guards slept, those sons entered the Deadlands, intent to win their freedom with blood and fire. They set out to burn every acre, and kill any who crossed their path along the way. Fifteen men entered, but only one returned, smoke and flame billowing in his wake. He was spotted from a guard tower as he crawled from the tree-line, one leg missing below the knee. The remaining guards gathered, waiting to see how far the young man would make it.

When he was finally within ear-shot, David Grayson called to the man, who he now saw was the eldest son of the late Jake Abernathy. “What happened boy, tell us quickly.”

Abernathy moaned in pain but continued crawling until he was only a few feet away. A few men aimed their guns, ready to fire should he attempt to cross the boundary. With a knowing look of defeat, Abernathy dropped his elbows, and with his loudest cry yet, rolled to lie flat on his back. Coughing blood with each strained word, he managed to say, “We just… wanted out. To… to live normal lives… why… stay? We killed them… all. But the huts… there was crying… like a baby.” The old guards sat still and quiet through a longer coughing fit, too frightened to turn away, but all sharing the same thought. No way they could be having babies in there.

They all jumped when Abernathy resumed talking. “We killed… all of them… every… one… dead. So many… barely human… all dead. We were… leaving. All of us… they came from above… but we killed all… nothing left… what… what killed us?”

For several minutes, the only sound to be heard over the crackling flames were Abernathy’s wet, dying breaths, until finally, he fell silent. The old guards’ trance was soon broken by something large rustling through the flaming treetops, coming their way. They ran, hid until morning, and left the Deadlands forever. Whether a cowardly excuse to leave or the good of humanity, the men returned to their families, warning all to stay away. None doubted their words.

Now, we future generations are warned as children, raised with proper fear and respect. Maybe we hate our ancestors for their crimes against humanity more than we fear a legend, but the result is the same. It’s not a place kids dare each other to go, no clubs enter for initiation, no ghost hunters investigate, no Christians pray for it. No one has tried to enter for over 100 years now, but occasionally, something tries to escape. The evil merely resides within, sleeping, hungry, always waiting. Unfortunately for Todd and Linda, they knew none of this.

“I think this vacation is exactly what you need while you’re getting better. I checked this place out, and we couldn’t have found a quieter town. It has one of the lowest populations in the country and only old people and ghost hunters go there.” Linda sat in the passenger seat, reading from her phone as she and Todd entered the last stretch of a long drive.

“Yea, sounds great.” Todd knew Linda was trying to be supportive, but he hated how she said getting better. He couldn’t stand being coddled, why couldn’t she just say addiction? Was that so hard? It wasn’t his fault he got hurt at work, he didn’t know what the pain pills were doing to him until it was too late. He went to rehab, horrible as that was, and he was still consumed by the siren’s call every waking moment of his miserable existence. That’s not the point. He learned to live with that, he can resist the urges now, but what he can’t live with, is Linda’s desire to talk about it incessantly.

“I don’t think we’ll do the ghost tours, there’s no reason to put you through unnecessary stress, but they have tons of hiking trails. It says one leads to abandoned train tracks with a real antique caboose! Now, doesn’t that sound quaint! Oh Honey, do you think we could do that one first?” Linda turned her phone to Todd, showing him the pictures.

With a short glance Todd turned back to the road, trying to force a smile lest Linda notice his annoyance. What 30 year old says ‘quaint’ anyway? “I’ll look when we get to the hotel, sounds great though.” Using all his willpower, he forced a smirk on his face, and Linda sat back, placated.

Shortly after 6pm they reached their Holiday Inn, exhausted from a 12 hour drive. “How about we order some pizza and watch a movie tonight? I want you well rested for another early start!” Linda cooed, already googling the local pizza options.

Todd knew with sickening certainty the moment where he snapped on Linda would come, but he was beginning to worry he would enjoy it. “I think I’ll be just fine tomorrow regardless,” he replied through gritted teeth, forcing himself to add cheerfully, “but you read my mind, movie and pizza sound great.”

Linda’s hurt look faded as quickly as it appeared, leaving Todd to wonder if he’d really seen it in the first place. Most of Todd’s patience was born from guilt. He put Linda through hell with his mood swings and temper tantrums. He never hit her, and he thanked the god he pretended to believe in for that mercy, but he had wanted to. At his worst, he wanted to grab her head, force her mouth shut, and keep it that way, but he didn’t. That’s what mattered. He still got the shakes when he thought of that all-consuming rage. In the end, it was the reason he agreed to rehab.

Logically, Todd knew he and Linda had a happy marriage. They never fought before the accident. The addiction was to blame, they were its victims, both trying to cope however they could, grasping at straws to find the way back to their old lives. Linda was only trying to help. Keeping that thought firmly at the forefront of his mind, he sat next to her, wrapping his arm around her waist.

“Let’s see what we got.” Todd leaned over the screen Linda was currently studying. “Oh, you want to get P’zones? We’ll find an old movie and pretend we’re back in college.”

When Linda met his gaze, her eyes gleamed. “That sounds like the best idea ever! A zillion times, yes! Please!”

Todd felt his first genuine smile in longer than he could remember. Linda’s silly use of her old catch phrase, once used to accept his marriage proposal, and now specially reserved only for him, made him feel, a zillion times, yes, like things might be okay one day. After a magical evening that truly had felt like old times, they lay in each other’s arms and slept soundly through the night.

The alarm rang at 7:00, and they pried theirselves apart to prepare for the day ahead. Both walking on eggshells to preserve the previous night’s magic, they spoke in soothing tones through breakfast. As they exited the elevator in full hiking gear at 8:30, they bumped into an older gentleman who resembled Yosemite Sam. His name tag identified him as Richard Davenport, Manager. “Ah, G’morning folks.” He greeted them, also sounding like Sam, with a tip of his cowboy hat. “I say, lovely weather for a hike! Which trail have you chosen? Might I suggest Buffalo Bill’s Bluff? You begin just east of the river, but it takes you to a clearing on the bluff that makes a beautiful place to picnic.” Mr. Davenport waved a chubby hand over his head, as if painting the scene.

“That sounds lovely!” Linda replied, turning to Todd, “Let’s do that one tomorrow, Hun! Can we?” Without waiting for his answer she faced Mr. Davenport once more. “But today, we’re going on this one. With the train caboose.” Linda showed him her phone, the trail’s website loaded to her favorite pictures. She watched the manager’s face turn from bright pink to deathly pale.

“You okay, sir?” Todd asked, concerned how quickly the man drained of color. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost. We didn’t end up in one of them haunted hotels did we?”

“Ha. No, my goodness, no. I chose a Holiday Inn to separate myself from that part of the town.” Mr. Davenport stammered, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket to mop the sweat from his brow. “No, you’ll find no ghosts here, folks. But that trail is a different story, people get lost, it’s not safe. Please, choose anywhere else. They’re a dime a dozen here, all safe, public property maintained by the city. All except that one.” He pointed to Linda’s phone, pictures still displayed. “It’s privately owned by a family that moved here last year. They set that train to attract tourists, but they don’t know what they’re doing!”

“Really? But it doesn’t say anything about being haunted on the…” Linda began pressing buttons on her phone, ready to enter a full blown debate, but Todd cut her off.

“It’s okay Hun, we can check into it some other time. We better get going or we won’t have time for breakfast.” Having already eaten, he hoped Linda took the hint to play along. She did.

Once safely in the parking lot where they couldn’t be overheard, Todd explained. “That’s how these small towns operate, by sticking together. They probably hate the idea of outsiders horning in on their local legends. Look around, these people don’t have much else. I haven’t even seen a Walmart since we crossed the state line.”

Linda noticeably relaxed. “You really think so? I didn’t want to admit it, but he kinda creeped me out.”

“I promise. Think of it this way. In a town known for hauntings, don’t you think these people would plaster their website with ghost stories if it was part of their gimmick? But they didn’t, did they? In fact, that old man didn’t say anything about haunted until I made it clear we weren’t here for that.” Todd, seeing Linda’s perk completely restored, was pleased with himself.

“Hey! You’re right! They don’t, and he didn’t!” For only a second did Linda allow herself to think but what if it’s not be a gimmick. Then imagining the photos she would post on Facebook after the hike banished the thoughts completely. “Wow, we’re never telling anyone I almost fell for a redneck ghost story.” The young couple shared a laugh as they passed a sign informing they were now leaving the city limits.

As they drove, the GPS instructed Todd to turn left off the highway. The road they followed turned from a black top, to gravel, to dirt in the span of 20 miles. “Wow, we must really be out in the sticks now.” Todd noted, driving slower to appreciate the scenery around them. “We don’t have anything like this in the city, I don’t think I’ve seen so many trees in my life, not in one stretch.”

“I know, it’s so beautiful! I think I could live here.” Linda said, rolling her window down to breathe the fresh air. “You smell that, Hun? That’s clean air!”

The road ended in a large clearing with a parking sign in the center. Beyond that loomed a small, wooden shack with “Welcome” painted above a glass window. To the right, a brightly painted post marked the trail entrance, and a matching post to the left marked where they would exit. After gathering their equipment, the couple headed to the shack first.

“Huh, it looks empty.” Todd announced, face pressed to the glass as he peered inside.

“I’m sure it is, there’s no other cars here and look, they have a donation box. Do we have any cash?” Linda asked, knowing they didn’t but feeling guilty.

“Uhh, not in the last 5 years.” Todd laughed, shaking his head. “Oh well, I’m glad we have the place to ourselves. Does the website say how long the trail is?”

“It’s supposed to be four hours. No tricky terrain, just watch for snakes. Hey, we might have time for the bluff today after all.” Linda answered excitedly, skipping toward the entrance.

“Wait for me!” Todd called, running to catch up.

In the first hour, they walked without a break. Linda took pictures by the dozen, but having no signal for Facebook, resigned to save that pleasure for later. Todd walked slowly, enjoying the scenery and not thinking about pills for a change. As he felt his throat going dry, he noticed a fallen tree that looked perfect for a quick rest.

“Hey Lin, you wanna stop for a water break? This looks like a good place to sit for a few minutes.” Todd was already digging through his pack.

“Sure, I could go for a power bar.” Linda settled next to Todd, laying her head on his shoulder as he drank deeply. “I just love it here, we should go to places like this more often. Just listen to all those birds, it’s like nature’s music.”

“Definitely! I guess being raised in a city, I never gave this kinda stuff much thought, but yea. I dig this, we should make hiking our new thing. I wouldn’t want…” Todd’s words were cut off as they heard a shrill cry to their right.

“What the hell was that?! Was that a person?!” Linda’s nails dug into his arm, her eyes frantically searching for the scream’s source.

“No. No, it wasn’t a person.” Todd cleared his throat and tried to sound less terrified. “I think it was a deer. The doe are suppose to sound like humans or something. Danny told me that after one of his hunting trips. Whatever it was, I think it’s finished now. Come on, let’s go see that train.”

They hiked another hour before coming to the caboose, strange cry nearly forgotten. “I should have known they’d put it in the middle, those crafty devils, that’s one way to make sure people do the whole trail!” Linda took pictures from every angle. The selfies took 15 minutes followed by another 20 posing Todd every way she could think of. “Ok, that should do! I cannot wait to go through these tonight!”

“You sure you got enough, Hun? You only took a few hundred.” Todd teased, slightly flinching at Linda’s playful punches. The woman wore rings, if she caught you just right, those puppies could sting.

“You’re just a mean old bully.” Linda joked in a mocking child’s voice, but their flirting came to an abrupt end with the sound of a large animal barreling through the trees.

Both stood frozen, holding each other tightly as the sound drew closer, louder. The trees, thick around them, blocked their view. Mentally tracking its location by sound alone, they flinched when the animal should have burst through the clearing, but nothing came. The noise stopped as suddenly as it began. Only silence followed.

“I’m starting to think Mr. Davenport wasn’t so crazy after all.” Linda whined, voice thick with fear.

“No, that’s silly, there’s no such thing. He got in our heads is all.” Despite the hammering of his own heart, Todd tried to be brave. At least one of them needed to keep a cool head. “Everything is fine, I promise. Look, we’re at the halfway point. We’ll walk to the exit without any more breaks, and this will all make a great story for Facebook, whaddya say?”

“I say yes, a zillion times, hell yes!” Quickly, they once again donned their packs, and continued on their way.

Only minutes after resuming the trail, trees grew denser than ever. The path appeared to shrink, becoming darker, twisting and turning to restrict their lines of sight. The couple clasped hands, neither willing to admit the feeling of being watched, but they felt it intensely. They progressed from a steady pace to almost jogging without noticing until Linda fell to the ground, screaming.

Todd, unsure if her high-pitched wails resulted from agony or terror, kneeled next to her. “What was it? Are you okay? Talk to me, please! What happened?!”

Linda sat up, pulled her legs to her chest, and scanned the ground around her. “Where’d it go? What was it? Did you see? Did you see? Someone grabbed my ankle. Where’d it go!?”

Her words struck new fear into his heart. Someone… grabbed? “Hold on, grabbed you? Like a hand? You’re sure you didn’t just trip, I mean we were moving pretty fast?”

“Yes! A hand grabbed me!” She quickly shot her hand out and grasped Todd’s ankle in a vice-like grip. “See! Do you think you could mistake this feeling?”

“I believe you, I was just… hoping… that’s all. Do you need a second? We shouldn’t have let ourselves get so worked up, we need to be more careful.” Todd stood, offering his arm to Linda.

Taking hold, she pulled herself up, but collapsed once more upon standing. “I think it’s broken, I… I can’t walk on it. Why is this happening to us.” Linda sobbed, dropping her face into her hands.

“It’s going to be fine, here, let’s take a look.” Linda winced as he removed her shoe, but it had to be done. “It’s dark under these trees, can you shine your light? The shadows are playing tricks with my eyes.” He stared, unable to accept what he was seeing, but when the flashlight illuminated the purple bruise on his wife’s ankle, he gasped in shock.”

Terrified, Linda sat forward and instantly regretted it. Wrapped around her now swollen ankle was a perfect handprint. Well… perfect if your fingers were skinny as knife blades and your thumb was twice as long. She inhaled deeply, preparing for another scream, but Todd clamped one hand over her mouth, and the other over the light. “Eeem! Mmm! Grmm!” She hummed, staring daggers into her husband.

“Shhh! Please! I know, but if something is out here, maybe we shouldn’t draw more attention with loud noises.” He whispered close to her ear, relieved to remove his hand when he felt her struggles cease.

Carefully, Linda turned the light off, and returned  the otherwise useless phone to her pocket. “What are we gonna do?” Her voice was barely audible.

“We’re going to get back to our car, drive to our hotel, lock ourselves in, and order take out. Because I am starving. You’re going to lean on me, and we’ll hop out of here if we have to, but we are getting out.”

Linda collected herself, dried her tears, and prepared to stand. After a dozen attempts, they conceded it was a poor plan. “I’m sorry, I just can’t! What are we going to do?”

Still catching his breath, Todd was lost deeply in thought. He knew he couldn’t carry Linda the rest of the way, he would never lift more than 100 pounds again thanks to his accident and that idiot forklift operator. That only left one other option. Not brave enough to suggest it, he stalled. “I left my phone in the car, let me see yours.”

Linda glared again, hurt and impatient. “Don’t you think I’ve tried that?! There’s no service out here!”

“We have to try something, we can’t just sit here and hope someone comes along to help. I’ll climb a tree, maybe I can text 911 or something.” She didn’t budge. Todd took a deep breath, “Look… it’s either that or I have to leave you here while I go for help. Neither of us want that, can I please see your phone?” Todd held his hand out, waiting. 

Tears filled Linda’s eyes anew as she handed him the phone. “Please not that, I can’t be here alone, anything but that.”

Todd shook his head in agreement, and began searching for a signal. Linda dragged herself to the center of the path, propping her pack up as a back rest, staying alert for any movement in the dark forest. When Todd returned, it wasn’t with good news. “Ok, there’s no signal right here, but I know if I can get out from under all these trees I can at least get a text out. I saw a tall one I could climb easily just before we got to the train…”

Linda stopped him there. “No way, that’s back where that noise was! It’s too dangerous! And too far away, what if something happens?”

“Hun, we don’t have a choice, it’s this or walk ahead with no idea how far I’ll have to go. At least this way we know where I’m going.” He tried to sound confident, hoping to ease her worry.

Linda didn’t like it, but knew it was their only option. “Promise you’ll be careful and come back fast.”

“I promise. I love you.” Todd kissed her forehead, loaded his gear, and walked away. As he reached the curve that would hide Linda from his sight forever, he stopped for one final wave and kiss goodbye.

Todd jogged at a steady pace and returned to the train clearing in good time. Stopping at the tree-line to catch his breath, he felt his stomach lurch. Something seemed different, but what. Making his way across the clearing slowly, cautiously, he scanned the area for any sign of movement. It wasn’t until he passed the caboose, the spot with the little step ladder Linda made him pose on, that he understood what was wrong. His heart leapt into his throat, almost choking him as he remembered how the sun had glinted off the caboose, into his eyes. There was no sun.

It was gloomy under the thick tree tops where forest closed over the path, but this was wide, open skies. It was dark, nighttime without stars. If they were storm clouds, they were the blackest he’s ever seen. His mind raced, a storm like that would be on the news everywhere, and Linda checked the forecast at least 50x the night before. It should be a clear, sunny day. But, it can’t be dark already…

“No, it can’t be, we’ve only been here a few hours, this should be the brightest part of the day.” Todd muttered to himself, digging through his pockets. He dropped the phone between the tracks twice without managing to see the time, but even as he stared, mouth agape, at the brightly lit phone, he couldn’t believe it. The screen was technicolor and shattered.

Todd’s stomach lurched again and he thought about pills for the first time that day. So overwhelming was the craving, he momentarily forgot Linda. It wasn’t until the phone rang, that he realized the full extent of this new dilemma. He repeatedly swiped his finger across the bottom, hoping the phone’s other functions remained intact, but screamed in anguish when the ringing stopped. He sat on the ground, rocking, muttering. “What have I done, how long have I been gone? I’d do anything for a few pills. What will I say? How do I explain.”

A loud, piercing scream from Linda’s direction penetrated his skull. Phone forgotten, Todd leapt to his feet. “Linda?! Linda!” He screamed her name, not knowing if she could hear him, just wanting to stop his thoughts.

It was another deer, it wasn’t her. Is what he was trying to think.

It was her, and you know it. For that matter, you knew the first wasn’t a deer either, but you can’t ignore it this time. Don’t panic, after all, she’s going to scream every time a cricket chirps. Especially now that it’s dark… oh no. It’s dark! If I had pills, I’d crush some up right now and snort one big line. How long have I been gone? What must she think?! How can I explain this… or her phone? Is what he knew.

Moving fast as he dared in the dark and soaked in cold sweat, Todd focused every ounce of his willpower on returning to his wife. The longer he walked, the more anxious he became, and his junky monkey clawed his back furiously. He called to Linda, expecting to see her around each new curve. Unable to judge the passage of time, only when he reached a clearing with blackened remnants of tall wooden structures did he stop to assess his location. Taking a deep, steadying breath, he visualized his every step when leaving the train area.

“Was there more than one path? I didn’t walk toward the entrance, but I didn’t see Linda either. I’ve never seen this clearing, or I would have remembered these… what are these? Burned down deer stands? I want some pills so bad. Well if people hunted here, maybe a cabin with a phone is nearby. Maybe Linda fell asleep… I coulda passed right by her if she did.”

It felt strange hearing his voice break the silence, as if he were in a library, offending the other patrons. “Stop being stupid, there’s no one out here. You’re alone in Hicksville USA. You need to man up right now, find a phone, and get your woman to safety. Linda is out there, in a strange place, alone in the dark, depending on you. This is not the time to bitch out, son. Forget the damn pills!” Todd’s inner voice, became that of his father’s. A few slaps to the face helped him regain the illusion of control.

With his second wind coursing through him, Todd steeled himself, marching forward as if he could see farther than five feet ahead. He passed the ruined guard towers he mistook for deer stands and hair stood on the back of his neck. Continuing beyond the line of burned and rotted tree stumps from which an Abernathy once emerged, legless and dying, he began to shiver from a sudden temperature drop. Afraid to acknowledge the feeling of being watched had returned, stronger than ever, he desperately called for Linda until his legs shook and throat ached.

“Oh man, what am I doing? I’d sell my soul for a few pills. There’s nothing out here, everything’s dead, there’s not even grass.” He whimpered, teeth chattering as much with fear as cold. Todd tried desperately not to think of ghosts. If there’s one thing all ghost stories universally agree upon, it’s that cold inevitably precedes every encounter. “Nope, screw this. I’m going back the way I came, no way I’m finding a phone out here. There had to be another path, that hotel guy said people got lost here. I was so scared I ran off without the phone. I ran down the wrong path, hell, the paths are probably marked, this is for beginners! Yea, that’s it! I just have to get to the train, and then I’ll find Linda in no time.”

So relieved was he at the prospect of turning back, all fear of Linda’s anger evaporated. He would spend the rest of his life making it up to her. The moment he turned around, a bolt of lightning streaked across the sky, momentarily allowing Todd to see his surroundings clearly. His knees almost gave out, but somehow, he managed to stay up right. Due to their long feet and snout like mouths, his mind wanted to believe a pack of rabid coyotes were blocking his retreat, but couldn’t reconcile, how are they hairless…standing on two legs… and, were those… wings? Or really long arms bent the wrong way at the elbow? They were thin as these dead trees, what the hell are they? At the moment it didn’t matter. Neither did the rain that now soaked him to the bone. What mattered, was running.

He could only go forward. Running as he hadn’t since high school track, he couldn’t get their image out of his mind. Those eyes, they were red. If I looked back now, I would still see their eyes, glowing in the dark. I wish I could die high. Oh Lin, I’m so sorry. Another bolt of lightning lit the sky, and Todd saw a small hut only 15 feet ahead. Ignoring the stitch in his side, he ran with renewed vigor. Please be unlocked, please be unlocked, I don’t want to die. Lunging the last few feet, he collided with the door, and scrambled for the knob. Tears of joy spilled over when it turned easily under his grip.

He threw himself inside, risking a short glance into the darkness before slamming the door shut. “Holy…” he pressed his back to the door, slid to the ground, and dug his feet in for leverage as several creatures collided with the door. He almost lost his hold when the lights came on and the old man spoke.

“Here, move aside.” A deep, rattled voice of a lifetime smoker instructed, placing a thick, wooden beam across the door. “Don’t worry, that‘ll hold ‘em. Come sit and have some coffee, keep a lonely old man company won’tcha?”

Todd stared, stammering but unable to speak. The tall, old man shook his bald head as if disappointed, but not surprised. He poured two cups of coffee, and placed them at the table, waiting patiently. When no more creatures tried to break in, Todd found his voice. “What are they? My wife is out there, on the trail. I have to get to her.” He rose on trembling legs, body aching for the warm coffee despite everything else.

“On the trail you say? Ahh, she’ll be fine for now. It’s you who wandered away. Took a wrong turn at that train is my guess.” The old man let a hint of disappointment out when he said Linda would be okay, but Todd was too rattled to notice.

“How do you know that, who are you? Is this your trail, Mister?” Anger raced through him at the prospect.

“Oh my heavens, no! I’ve been here longer than you’ve been alive. No, I have nothing to do with it, but it’s brought me some visitors since it opened, so I can’t complain.” The old man mused, clearly enjoying himself.

“Then who are you? What the hell are those things out there?” Todd tried to keep his voice even, but couldn’t.

“I’m nobody anymore, I just stay in my cabin. Sleeping mostly, waiting. It’s them you gotta worry about.” The old man pointed his cane toward the door, indicating the creatures outside. “They’re hungry, it seems you’ve riled them up. They are Vetti. They’re normally solitary creatures, extremely rare, but special circumstances culminated to create this hoard.”

“You’re crazy!” Todd interjected.

Making no effort to hide his amusement, the old man smiled wide, exposing his yellow, rotted teeth. “My dear boy! If I’m crazy, you’re absolutely mad! Those Vetti were humans once you know. Are you familiar with Harpies at all? No? Shame. You see, when humans suffer terrible anguish, when they’re tortured for years, and there’s no end in sight, most develop a seething hatred. An overwhelming desire for revenge, for inflicting their pain upon others. In the most extreme cases, after they die, their souls reek of that hatred and pain, it’s like catnip to the Harpies… and when they come for it… well, you get the point.

“No, I don’t, what happened here? You’re not making sense!” Todd rose to his feet quickly, getting a head rush and feeling dizzy. His hand pressed to his forehead as he fell to his seat. “I don’t feel so good. Please old man, just speak plainly, I’m begging you.”

“I’d love to sit around shooting the shit, I really would, but it looks like that coffee is kicking in. I’m afraid we’re out of time.”

The last thing Todd saw, was the old man rising from his chair, eyes glowing red. With a snap of his fingers, the brightly lit room returned to darkness. He unlocked the door, opening it wide, “Come brothers, it is time!” He announced, arms held high in victory. “Tell me, which of you will take this vessel and venture forth?”

From the darkness, one Vetti came to stand before the others, snout pointed high, wings stretched open, strutting. The two entered the cabin alone. Several bloody hours and ear-splitting screams later, Todd emerged from the cabin, eyes glowing red. The other Vetti, not yet possessing their own vocal cords to communicate with, were still able to speak to their brother telepathically. What will you do first? They eagerly inquired.

“Find Linda, of course.”

humor, spooky

Calling All Ghosts

This is just a Google image that conveniently matched the name I used. I think someone did great work though!

I think we love horror stories because we can fight monsters and psychos. We can’t fight old age or nature… at least not to the same effectiveness. We can’t run or hide, we’re essentially helpless. Sure, you can eat right, exercise, deny your unhealthy cravings, but time won’t stop. The clock keeps ticking, you keep aging, and before you know it, you’re the one with a bad back and bald patches. At least, that’s where my head is today.

I would like to do another fun Halloween thing. I’m in one of those moods where everything is bleh, best not poke the bear with aggravating memories. We are going to cover a hotel today. Do you remember my first boss, Feeny? Growing up, her parents owned and operated The Haunted Hotel. I know, give me a break, the name isn’t important, but that’s what it’s known for. It was built in 1927, but Feeny wasn’t born until the 50’s. I’ll let you know now, I’ve eaten at the hotel, but never stayed overnight. I can only relay Feeny’s experiences, but she had plenty to share.

Let’s start with the first time she told me about Haunted Hotel, “That’s right, Daddy owned it, and I lived there until I got married. The best part about living in a hotel?” Feeny smirked over her coffee, “You never run out of hot water.” She sighed, remembering.

It did sound really nice. “That’s so cool! Is it really haunted?!” Of course that was going to be my first question. I was almost 17 and a veteran ghost hunter. I use the term loosely, but I was game to sit almost anywhere overnight to see what happened. I still lived in the special, teenage bubble of invincibility, too naive to understand real danger lay with the living.

“Oh, it absolutely is. Never doubt that. No one has ever been hurt, it’s nothing evil. I think they’re just… sad. Maybe lonely.” She shrugged, indifferent. “You’re going to want to hear about them now, aren’t you?”

“Yes please, all of them. In chronological order if possible.” I confirmed, taking her outstretched coffee mug for a refill. A small price, I gladly paid.

“Alright, but just a quick one, we have a busy night ahead. I can tell you about the girl on the phone.” She sipped her coffee before beginning.

The Voice

If nothing else, I feel like these made dialing fun. I want one just for the sound it makes.

I know you aren’t familiar with Party Lines, but growing up, that’s all we had. It just means we had to share a phone line with other people. Hotel rooms didn’t have phones back then. If a guest needed to make a call, they went to the front desk. We had one for our residence, but it was the same line, and shared with others on our street.

Well, we had a ghost who liked to talk through the phones, but customers thought it was my sisters or I; like it was a tourist gimmick. I can promise it wasn’t, we also heard it. Sometimes, she talked a few times a day, other times nothing happened for several weeks. You never knew when it would start up, but it was always when you least suspect it. We tried talking to her a few times, but she never responded. We don’t know her name, but Daddy believed it was the daughter of a construction worker.

The hotel was built in the 20’s, they didn’t have safety codes or a worker’s union. Immigrants were cheap, easy labor, and often taken advantage of. One of the builders was a widower with a young girl, maybe 4-6, but they were homeless. He set up a camp near the river, but the child was too young to be left alone. A foreman took pity on the man and allowed the girl to stay in one of the completed rooms during the man’s shifts.

For weeks, the man fed his daughter, left her in a room with a lunch sack, and worked til dusk. For weeks, he retrieved her sleeping form, and carried her to the camp they called home; usually dreaming of the day he could provide a proper one. Until, one night, she wasn’t in there. At first, he thought she wandered out, maybe searching for an outhouse.

The foreman collected men for a search party, but no one could find her. They searched through the night, and more searched through the next day. She was so young, she couldn’t have wandered too far alone; they concluded she must have been kidnapped, but she was never seen again.

A few years later, the foreman was arrested for kidnapping a little girl. He never confessed taking the first, but people believed he hid her body in the basement, buried beneath the concrete foundation. Her father never left town, always hoping to find his daughter. When he learned of the foreman, he walked into the jailhouse with a shotgun. They say no one tried very hard to stop him until he turned the gun on himself, but he and the foreman died that night.

The first time I heard the voice, I was 10. I answered the phone while Momma cooked. It was my aunt, but the connection sounded fuzzier than normal. Almost like someone crumpled a candy wrapper in the receiver. Aunt’s voice was barely audible, but I distinctly heard “Help me.”

“What’s wrong, what happened?” I tried to ask.

“Help me…” Then the static spiked, and the next thing I heard was “daddy.”

“Daddy’s downstairs, hang on!” By then, Momma heard my panic and came to see what’s wrong. “It’s Aunt, she needs help!” I handed her the phone, ready to fetch Daddy, but she caught my arm to hold me in place.

“Wait first.” She said, putting the phone to her ear. “Hello… Hello?” She hung up, and said, “No ones there, it must have been the ghost.”

Until that day, I thought she was just a story. Less than an hour later, Aunt arrived. She thought I said, “Daddy needs help.” She tried to call back, but the operator said the call wouldn’t go through.

When I was a little older, Daddy would tell me when customers heard her. Some thought it was a trick, but people use to walk in off the street just to use the phone. The one I remember best was an older man, probably in his 50’s. I was 16, and watching the front desk. I did it all the time, but that night just before 9, there he was.

He was bald, incredibly tall, dressed in a black suit, and his ears looked plastic. He didn’t look human, he scared me a great deal. His nose was pointy, almost like a bird beak, and his top lip looked like he had corrective surgery in the past. Paired with his small, dark eyes an nonexistent chin, he appeared almost alien. I wish we had security cameras back then. “He…hello. Would you… like a room?” I could barely get the words out, that’s how deeply he shook me.

“No. I would like to use the telephone.” His voice, like his face, was void of emotion, almost robotic. “Please.” He added after a pause.

“Yessir.” My voice was barely audible as I slid the phone to him, but it didn’t matter. When he saw the phone, I ceased to exist.

He bent down, bringing the tip of his pointed nose just above the receiver. I heard him smell the phone, breathing it in as one would their favorite scent. I didn’t move or speak, I had a terrible feeling I shouldn’t. He kept pausing to turn his ear to the base, like he was listening for something. After smelling every part of the phone, he removed a handkerchief from his breast pocket. With great deference, he picked the receiver up, carefully inspecting every inch.

When satisfied, he placed the receiver on the desk while using the handkerchief to dial. I thought he was pressing buttons at random, he never spoke to the operator, and pressed enough numbers to call China twice. It shouldn’t have worked, but then he picked the receiver up again. Holding it a few inches from his ear, he said, “Hello… yes… no… 38GP … yes.” and with that, hung up. I know I heard… something… on the other end, but it was so distorted, I couldn’t tell if it was words or… something else.

He retrieved a small notepad from his pocket, unclipped the attached pencil, wrote for a moment, and left without another word. When I told Daddy, he asked staff members if they saw the man, but no one else had. We never saw him again, I don’t know if he was a ghost too, or just a man with a screw loose on vacation, but we stopped advertising the phone anomaly. We had incidents, but never fed the flames like before. Besides, we still had the lady in white. I’ll tell you about her next time.

And that, my friends is her story of a phone ghost. I will hopefully get around to the lady in white before Halloween, but the phone ghost is my favorite from that hotel. Aside from the lady in white being terribly cliche, the strange old man genuinely creeped us out. You could hear the truth in Feeny’s words by the chill bumps on her arm as she spoke of him. Plus, I don’t recall another story where a ghost is in the phone, I thought it at least a change of pace. Anyway, Happy Halloween everyone! Hurry up and get your creep on, we only have 24 days left!