I’m here for two reasons; first I have a new… let’s call it a mini-series – to announce, and second, I have a true life story to tell you like in the good old days. If you aren’t a fan of the dark and mysterious – scroll past the link to begin a good, old-fashioned blog post!
It’s just a short tale with a bit of a lesson. I think it may benefit some to understand what caller ID spoofing is and how dangerous it can be to throw accusations at strangers through random phone numbers. But first – the series.
Swamp Dweller, and I will be researching true missing person’s cases, and the first video is already uploaded! We’re not trying to say we solved anything, we’ve simply collected the facts and prevailing theories in order to pass them along to you in podcast form!
And more are on the way!
So, the blog post. This actually happened to me last year, but I recently discussed it with a friend and thought it would be nice to share.
First, I want to begin by explaining caller ID spoofing. You see, many years ago, telemarketers would call with 1-800 numbers or some off the wall area codes most people didn’t recognize.
It didn’t take long at all for people to catch on, and they stopped answering completely. Then, came the age of ID-spoofing. This means they can make any number show up on your phone. It’s usually one with your own area-code so you think it’s a legitimate call.
Obviously, this presents its own problems. If you receive one of these calls but don’t answer – you’ll see the number they spoofed on your missed calls. Then, when you return the call, you’re going to reach the actual person it belongs to. This inevitably leads to:
“Hey, I had a missed call from this number…”
“Umm… no you didn’t.”
“Uh, yes I did!”
Both people are telling the truth so you have two strangers getting aggravated as hell because they think the other person is messing with them.
For this reason alone – I stopped answering all unknown numbers and it worked wonderfully… until Martha.
One evening, I got a call from a number only a few digits off from my own and ignored it. It called back-to-back 3x in a row. On the last call, I blocked the number.
Then I received a text from another number that explained why these calls were coming. A woman we’ll call Martha used her husband’s phone to say she knew I was Amber (I’m totally not Amber) and she was – very bluntly – calling me out for trying to scam her. She wanted to let me know it didn’t work, she knew it was me, and she would make sure everyone had my new number.
Guys, if you’ve read my blogs at all, you know I don’t handle strangers well, but I actually started off in a good mood so I tried to be nice. I understood by the grammatically accurate text that I was dealing with an elderly lady who didn’t understand spoofing. I explained it to her in nice, easy to understand language much like I did here… then she called bullshit.
I didn’t particularly care; I blocked the number and went on about my business. Twenty minutes later, I receive an email through text that included a ridiculously long explanation detailing how she was able to email me even though I had the number blocked. At that point, I became annoyed.
Her email had her first and last name in it; I knew she was from my hometown because of her area code. It took less than sixty seconds to find her Facebook and know exactly who she was.
Now, maybe if I were a little more mature I would have contacted her that way to prove I wasn’t Amber… but then other numbers started texting “Amber” — like if I were this person, I would be stupid enough to fall for answering another number right away… The whole thing really got under my skin.
I replied to her email stating she should have at least googled caller ID spoofing (as originally advised) before continuing to harass a complete stranger. I then explained how incredibly dangerous it was to give said random stranger all of your personal information and recommended she set her Facebook to private. Then, I blocked her email along with the new numbers (which were still appearing).
Obviously, I would never actually do anything to harm someone – it was legitimate advice. Anyway, she started using her husband’s email, and… I don’t know who Amber is or why Martha thought she would do her hair… But I’m willing to bet Amber had some legitimate reasons… I fully lost my temper on this woman.
After an extremely rude reply I’m a little ashamed of now – I then proceeded to Google every gag-gift shop site I could find (there’s some magical stuff out there) and made special inquiries on Martha’s behalf. Each were roughly as follows:
I’m searching for a women’s plus size full-body cat suit, but I need it to be an exact match to my Princess Cutie-Booty. Would you be able to help me?
Which – as I said earlier – if I were more mature, maybe I could have kept blocking her and let it go… Alas, I’m not.
I’m not sure if she finally googled spoofing or if she ran out of ways to communicate, but I never heard from Martha again.
On a very real note – you never know who will do what with your information. Never trust an unknown number, please never give strangers personal information, and above all – please never click on random links. It doesn’t matter what they look like or how normal they seem – just don’t. Especially when “Amazon” or “UPS” texts you.
That’s it guys. Thanks for hanging out! I have another classic publishing soon and I’ll be starting special Halloween commissions next week, but they won’t publish until next month, so my schedule will be sporadic to say the least. The usual scripts will still be coming though!
Today is Thursday, June 16, 2022, and I don’t know where I am. I’m parked on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, and I’m not even sure this is still Louisiana. I haven’t had a bar of service all day, I’ve been driving for nine hours, and the only thing I want to do is sleep, but I’m afraid to close my eyes. Staring at this screen is only making it worse, but I need the distraction; none of this makes sense.
My house is a thirty minute drive to town if you take the highway, but in any other direction – you can ride the backroads for hours; most aren’t even on the map. When I was younger, Mom would take me riding on summer evenings, and we always found new routes to explore. That’s also how I learned to drive, and after getting my license, I started going more often. Sometimes, I would bring friends, but for the most part it’s something I enjoy doing alone – especially after Mom died; she was killed by a drunk driver six years ago.
I’ve never seen a house or more than a handful of other vehicles out here; it’s perfect for camping. I’ve stayed overnight more times than I can count and always felt perfectly safe; it’s almost like being the only person in the world. The only difference with this trip was that damn tunnel.
Life has been hard lately, and only having one job on the books doesn’t help. There was nothing on this wedding’s menu that could be cooked the day before, so, instead of doing anything productive – I convinced myself to go for a drive… which was clearly a mistake.
There’s a beautiful, crystal-clear pond that became my go-to place for quick trips or days I brought someone along. It’s not very far, and I know every road in between… or thought I did…
Leaving the pond, there should only be two ways to go – back home or further into nowhere – but then I saw a third option! While turning the truck around, I found myself staring at a paved road hidden behind the tree-line. While it’s understandable to miss when driving past – I’ve been to that pond a thousand times and always turn around in the same place; this shouldn’t have been my first time seeing it, but I was too excited to think more of it.
A closer look revealed only shrubs and weeds blocking the way, so I decided to drive straight through. A new path so close to home was too big of a deal to pass up; of course, that feels incredibly ignorant to say now…
I got through the brush easily, and after a mile it cleared up again, but six miles after that – I knew it was time to turn back. That’s when I finally saw the end of the road. Ahead was an overpass with what looked like old train tracks, and what I thought was a dead-end was actually a tunnel running beneath it.
At first, it looked too small to drive through. I only wanted to get my headlights close enough to see inside, but then the road did keep going; I could see daylight at the other end. The tunnel itself was damp, and the air smelled musty, but it was completely empty. When I came out of the other side, the road stretched ahead for miles with occasional turns-off’s on both sides.
It should have been impossible to get lost by going straight; I should have been able to turn around at any point and drive directly back to the pond. I still don’t understand why that isn’t the case…
I had hoped to find a landmark to use on the next visit, but after an hour of nothing but random cut-offs – I realized how late it was and finally turned back. Everything looked exactly the same as far as I could tell; I have no clue where I went wrong, but an hour and a half later I was still cruising with no sign of that tunnel. If anything, I was driving even faster than before; it doesn’t make any damn sense! I drove for another thirty minutes before stopping completely. I had to pee and needed time to think without wondering if I was headed even further away from home.
If I had made even a single turn – I could believe being lost, but the idea of turning back after driving in a straight line felt… unnatural. It would mean hours of retracing my steps only to turn around again when that didn’t work. How many hours would be wasted covering the same ground? But then, there’s no choice because something is obviously wrong! It’s maddening!
I’m still stuck in that hellish thought-loop, but I couldn’t just stay on the side of the road. In the end, I turned around once again – this time going much, much slower. The only way I could imagine getting lost was if the road had split somewhere when I wasn’t paying attention.
I came to a rolling stop at every turn-off and even got out a few times, but there was absolutely no chance I merged off any of them. By the time I made it back to my original stopping point – the sun was starting to set, and my brain fed me whatever I needed to hear to avoid turning back a third time. I figured Mom and I had only been able to spend so much time on the backroads because we took the small, curvy trails that never really led anywhere; now, I was traveling in a straight line – it had to lead somewhere.
All I needed to do was make it to the next town – or maybe not even that far if I could find a spot with cell service – but now it’s almost midnight, and I stopped because the road suddenly ended… or, at least the pavement did. There’s nothing but a long, dusty trail left, and there’s no chance of finding a signal that way; I need to wait for morning and check out some of the cut-offs. Nothing about this—
I wonder if I’ve been reported as missing… I’m sure I have; how could I not be? Surely, the backroads are the first place they’ll look, right? I’m sure it is… Sweet fire-shits, I thought I was going to die last night.
I was lying across the backseat, writing, when I heard something moving around in the forest. I assumed it was an animal until it broke through the tree-line, and the unmistakable sound of a shoes scraping against concrete made me drop the phone.
There was a half-second of euphoric relief as I imagined myself being rescued by a kindly, old farmer before my body went numb with dread. People volunteering with search parties didn’t wander through the woods alone at night – without flashlights! This person hadn’t driven there, either; I would have heard an engine.
I didn’t know what the hell to do; my first instinct was to jump in the driver’s seat and run for it, but then I imagined bullets flying through the windows… It seemed reasonable to think a person skulking through a dark forest would be armed. I wanted my pistol from the glove compartment more than anything, but my arms refused to obey. The footsteps were moving slowly like someone was checking out my truck, and when they turned to walk along the passenger side – my body finally moved.
Without the phone’s light it was too dark to see anything, but as I slowly inched forward – the footsteps paused next to the front, passenger door, and my heart stopped along with them. I hesitated with my hand on the glove compartment’s handle wondering if the light would come on when I realized something that shot chills down my spine. I hadn’t locked the doors after using the bathroom…
Instead of fumbling for the controls, I felt for the knob and gently pushed it down. At the same instant, the dull thud of a locked handle being pulled broke the night’s silence like a gunshot, and there was no further caution in my movements. I ripped open the glove compartment, grabbed my gun and racked one into the chamber as the sound of several footsteps fled back into the forest.
There had been nothing to indicate multiple people were outside, but there was no mistaking it, now; feet were skidding across the pavement as others were already tearing through the thick brush, and I threw myself into the driver’s seat. The headlights came on just in time to reveal the last two figures vanished into the darkness.
I was in tears with relief over the fact I had turned around before parking, and it wasn’t because of forethought but fear; just looking at that long, dirt road made my stomach clench. As for the group of crazies… I don’t know, it might be time to entertain the possibility that I’m the one who’s crazy…
I only caught a quick glimpse as I sped away, but thosepeople resembled terminal cancer patients with animalistic movements. They were sickly thin and hunched over like gorillas but moved with deceptive speed. Thanks to the adrenaline, I was wide-awake and traveling faster than I should have been, but I wanted as much distance between myself and those… people… as possible.
After driving a few miles, my brain slowly began formulating coherent thoughts again. I think it’s safe to say my new friends don’t have motorized transportation, but I drove for almost an hour before stopping. If I didn’t close my eyes, I was going to fall asleep at the wheel, and – if I wreck – I’m dead. There were three hours before dawn, so I set an alarm, passed out, and was somehow still alive when it sounded.
I woke to a foggy morning, and the long road ahead served as a bleak reminder of my situation. Mother Nature called, and I was starving, but luckily there were a few basic supplies in the truck. After eating two power bars, I somehow managed to stick with water instead of downing the bottle of whiskey – and thank goodness, or I wouldn’t have it now!
The shit I’ve seen today is enough to make that gun look mighty appetizing. All goddamn day I kept on driving straight down that same road – the way I should have been going in the first place. I didn’t care if it took twelve hours to find the next town – I wasn’t going to start turning down a bunch of random roads that could take me in circles.
By 9:00, I had seen nothing but trees and grassy clearings. My stomach was growling louder than my music, and I was barely containing my anger when a familiar beeping sent me soaring over the edge. When I finally regained a modicum of control – my throat was raw and my face looked as red as it felt; the gaslight was on, and the possibility of dying out here became very real, very fast.
When I came around the next curve, I thought I was hallucinating. A small gas station suddenly appeared in the distance, but there was no way I had driven farther than yesterday, and I definitely hadn’t passed it without noticing. As I came closer, my heart sank when I realized it was abandoned. There were no other cars, lights, or signs – just old pumps and a dark store.
I parked anyway – just to think for a minute – and continued to be surprised. The building looked like it hadn’t been touched in twenty years, yet the pumps looked as if they were installed last week. I got out to stretch my legs, and the one next to me turned on – including its tv!
It shouldn’t have been possible, but that hardly matters in this place. Whether I was hallucinating or not, I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity. Even more astonishing than the fact it worked was the woman on tv. She was giving a local news and weather report like what you would see at a normal gas station.
“It’s a beautiful, sunny day on the Paved Backroads! The last of the morning’s fog will be clearing up shortly, and we’ll have a high of 98 this afternoon. Those transitioning to Dirt Roads should show due caution as we’ve had significant rise in Stranded sightings. Thank you for choosing Last Stop Station; until next time – safe travels!”
I didn’t understand half of what she said, and there was plenty more I can’t remember. If I find another one, I’m going to have my phone ready to record; thank goodness I have a car charger or I wouldn’t even have that by now.
After refueling I decided to take a look at the store; I was completely out of food and on my last bottle of water. I would have taken anything that wasn’t poisonous, but I was shocked to find water, soups, and canned fruit – simply there for the taking. While those were fully stocked – there were no snack foods, soft drinks, or random accessories. If the can’s sell-by dates weren’t so recent, I would think that stuff had sat there for years.
There was nowhere to cook the soup, no phone and no cash register, either. Everything about that store was just… off, but as strange as it was – I didn’t want to leave; it was nice to finally stretch my legs and to be out of the truck longer than a bathroom break. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to waste time hanging out in an abandoned gas station. In the end, I compromised by staying long enough to eat. I tried not to pin my hopes on someone else stopping by, but I found myself watching the road more than I care to admit.
My original idea was to find a makeshift pot and build a fire, but then I remembered some of my camping gear was still in the truck! With my hot-plate – the only hard part was opening the cans with a dull pocket knife.
As expected, no one came, but I couldn’t waste any more time there. At that point, I expected to spend the rest of the day on the road and convinced myself to take some supplies; before I knew it, I’d robbed the place blind, and I hope the police come looking! They won’t, but I can dream.
I felt better with a full meal on my stomach and a truck full of free supplies, but it’s hard to keep a cool head when you’re coming up on your second night of being lost in the middle of nowhere. I eventually drove straight into the sunset until once again being forced into a sudden stop when the pavement ended. The way forward was yet another long, dusty trail, and this one inspired the same cold dread as the last.
Logic told me the weird, pale people couldn’t be way out there, too, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I turned back and drove for another hour before stopping for the night. After eating a can of peaches, I started writing, and now, I can’t stop thinking about that lady on that little tv. She was talking about these roads like they were their own town or something, and I want to hear that part about being stranded again; maybe I’m not the only one who’s had this happen.
Either way, I’ve had enough for one day; I need more than a few hours of sleep. Staying on this road isn’t an option anymore; tomorrow, I’ll need to choose one of the cut-offs.
There’s no question – I’m not in Louisiana anymore; I’m not even in the real world. I met someone this afternoon. I don’t think he’s real; he’s either a hallucination or a demon – I’m just not sure which. I had essentially chosen a cut-off at random when I couldn’t find the gas station again, and twenty miles later there was a man walking along the shoulder.
I was almost too afraid to stop, but he got on his knees in the middle of the road – begging. In the end, I needed someone to talk to more than I cared about the possibility of being murdered. He claims to know a little about what’s going on here, and though his story is completely unbelievable – I can’t come up with an alternative.
He doesn’t know how or why things are the way they are, but he got here by driving through a tunnel just like I did, except he was in Pennsylvania. If he hadn’t told his story first, I wouldn’t have believed him; it sounds too much like my own. The only difference is what happened after he ran out of gas. Since he started a quarter tank – he had no idea anything was wrong yet.
A service station appeared around the next curve – exactly as it had for me – and based on his description it sounds like the same one. The pump’s tv came on, and after a brief weather report, there was another confusing public service announcement.
“…And don’t forget to stock up for tomorrow. As usual, our Stations will be closed for Sunday – no exceptions. Please ensure all persons are cleared from the premises by no later than 11:59PM, and thank you for choosing Last Stop Station; until next time – safe travels!”
After filling his tank, he went inside to find a nearly empty store and only then realized there were no other cars or people in sight. Since the pump worked, he reasoned the store must be open, and worried something may have happened to the clerk. Rob went outside to search for a signal, and when he was unsuccessful – he noticed the store was at the bottom of a steep rise.
There was no trail, but he was able to make it up fairly easily; unfortunately, he still couldn’t get reception. Determined to drive back to town, he made his way down the slope only to find the store and his car gone! He swears he walked in a straight line and found the road easily, but it was empty. If it weren’t for my own experiences these last few days – I couldn’t have believed it, but now I definitely do… Assuming Rob is actually real, of course.
He had no choice but to start walking, and he headed in the direction he believed would take him to town. Several hours later, he still hadn’t seen another car or store, and the sun was beginning to set. That’s when he ran into Bonnie and Clyde… at least, that’s what they called themselves. They were stopped at their own gas station, and Rob ran straight inside to tell his story, but the couple didn’t want to hear it.
Clyde held Rob at gunpoint while Bonnie loaded their van; the couple wouldn’t give him a ride, but the man was willing to answer a few questions while he waited. Based on what this guy told Rob, there are three stages to the Backroads – each more dangerous than the last. The Paved Streets are the outskirts and make up Stage 1. The Dirt Roads are Stage 2 and lead deeper into the maze – while Stage 3 is tire tracks in the grass, and the heart of the maze. The entrance can be found almost anywhere in the world if you venture deep enough into nowhere, but the exit can only be found in Stage 3.
Gas Stations only appear when a vehicle is low on fuel, and they disappear the moment you leave. Had Rob climbed the hill before filling his tank – he would still have a car. Thank goodness I have the camping gear, or I would have made the same mistake when trying to heat my soup.
The only exception to this rule is Sunday; if you run out of fuel while the store is closed – you’ll have to sit there until it reopens. Anything that was inside when it disappeared will still be there except for people. We don’t know what happens to them, but Clyde said there used to be four people in their group. The other two decided to see where the place went when it disappeared, but when it came back – only their bags and clothes were left behind.
The stores supposedly have beer and junk food in Stage 2, and that alone has me interested. I finished my whisky last night, and I don’t think I can handle this place sober. I would already be on my way now if it wasn’t past midnight.
Compared to the last two stages, the Paved Streets are fairly safe until the transition to dirt; that’s where the Stranded like to lurk and what Rob was on his way to becoming before I found him. The ones who lose their vehicles can’t make gas stations appear and eventually turn to the forest for shelter; they hide deep in the dark woods during the day, and only come out at night. The lucky are able to join an existing group or form their own. They need enough members to ambush travelers, but not too many to feed. Those who are rejected get eaten, and those who try to survive alone – starve. Eventually, they begin to look like the ones I saw, and had I been asleep with my doors unlocked – I would have become their dinner.
As for Stage 2 itself, Rob only knows that something hunts the roads at night, and when he asked Clyde about the final Stage, the man went white as a sheet and refused to answer any more questions. As the couple got back into their vehicle, they apologized for their drastic behavior stating they simply couldn’t risk taking on a stranger. Rob is bitter about it, but I don’t blame them. If I hadn’t been alone and desperate, I would never have stopped.
From what it sounds like, people try to find the exit in Stage 3 and the ones who survive the failure resolve to a life on the Paved Streets. I’ve been thinking about it all evening, and I would rather die than live the rest of my life out here. The fact I don’t want to spend six days a week inside a gas station upset Rob pretty bad. We argued for three solid hours until I pretended to agree with him. He repeated his same argument with slightly different wording like I was simply too stupid to understand; I was sick of it, but more importantly, I was starting to suspect Rob would crack me over the head and steal the truck if he didn’t get his way.
Since the Stations will be closed tomorrow, I made sure to run out of gas this evening. I told Rob three times to let me get my phone ready before he got out, but the bastard didn’t listen. Before I could put the truck into park, he jumped out and rushed into the store. I heard the tv start the second his door was open, but he was completely oblivious. I panicked and missed whatever it was saying while fumbling with my phone. The only part I got recorded was the, “…until next time, safe travels” bullshit.
I’m grateful for the information Rob has shared, but I’ve decided to go ahead alone. I wish I would have thought to leave him at the Station this evening, but I can’t waste another day waiting for them to reopen; I don’t feel safe sleeping while he’s around. Tomorrow morning, when he uses the bathroom, I’ll just… drive away… I don’t know what else to do.
For now, he’s either asleep in the backseat or really good at fake snoring. My instincts are screaming for me to stay awake, but I feel like someone poured salt into my eyes, and staring at this screen is only making them worse. I need to find another way to keep myself up.
Rob is dead; I was right about that bastard. Have you ever noticed how crazy ideas sound less crazy in the dark? I kept imagining Rob in the backseat – awake and waiting for me to fall asleep; then, he would sit up, put his belt around my neck, and pull. It bothered me so much, I decided to retrieve my gun. I kept it beneath my leg until dawn and tucked it into my waistband when it was finally time for breakfast.
Rob snored the entire night; as I entered the forest to relieve myself, I was feeling fairly foolish. ‘No shit the man is afraid of going deeper into this hellhole! If I’m this terrified – how must he feel after what he’s been through? I’m the monster – walking around with a gun and planning to leave a man for dead just because he disagreed with me!’
I was fully convinced to abandon my cruel plan until I returned to see Rob in the driver’s seat. The passenger window was down so I had a perfect view of him from the tree-line; he was frantically searching for the keys which were tucked securely into my pocket. I didn’t know what he might do if confronted, so I made plenty of noise coming through the last of the brush.
When I made it to the truck, he was opening a can of fruit like he hadn’t just been trying to leave me behind. I made soup, but avoided taking anything vital out of the truck. I planned to leave him some food and water, but I was ready to take off as soon as he stepped away… Only, he didn’t go; we were both waiting for the other to let down their guard, but Rob lost patience.
He revealed the crowbar he’d stashed nearby and calmly explained I would be staying behind since, “I’m determined to kill myself anyway.” My mind went blank; it’s one thing to imagine it, but it’s nothing like reality. I was calm and steady as I told him to take the truck; I even threw the keys to him. There was no thought behind it – only instinct. When he turned to walk away, I drew my weapon and fired without warning. The first shot went into the center of his back, and he made a horrible sound as he fell.
I hurried closer but hesitated before making the final shot. Part of me wanted him to fully understand what happened. When he began coughing out blood, I ended his suffering with one more to the head. At least he won’t become one of the Stranded now…
I thought it would feel different – like it would change me – but this place had already done that. I don’t care that Rob is dead; I only did what was necessary to survive. The funny thing is – he was right. We should have stayed on the nice, Paved Streets where it was safe; there’s much worse things out here than death.
After leaving Rob’s corpse behind, it took five hours to find the next Dirt Road. It was a long, miserable day, but – just to be safe – I turned back to waste some gas. My heart was set on getting into a Station with beer at midnight.
I didn’t know what kind of trouble I was going into, and honestly, I didn’t care. At 12:03, I drove onto the Dirt Road, and my high beams revealed a horde of Stranded behind the tree-line; I didn’t slow down, and they didn’t come out. They only want easy targets. Unfortunately, I miscalculated how quickly the gas light would turn on.
Less than twenty minutes later, I was still going when a loud roar rattled my windows followed by the shrill cry of captured prey. Reality began to set in as I realized how foolish my plan had been. Moments later, a low rumble of thunder sounded, and only when it was joined by the violent cracks of breaking limbs did I understand it wasn’t thunder after all. Whatever hunts these roads at night found me.
I heard it break through the tree-line but couldn’t force myself to look in the mirror; I knew it would be game over if I did. The roads are much smaller in Stage 2, meaning I had to drive slower. My full focus was on navigating the curvy roads as quickly as possible without losing control; I didn’t even hear the low fuel light, but when that bright, beautiful gas station appeared around the next bend – I almost crashed into the pump.
Parking as close to the door as possible, I threw myself from the truck without even turning off the engine. I was inside and under the counter for a solid ten minutes before realizing everything had gone quiet. Very carefully, I crawled to a window and peered outside. It looked like several Stranded had been fused together to form this thing. Only its head was visible in the Station lights; the rest was thankfully concealed in a sea of darkness. Its shape was far smaller than expected after hearing the sounds it made, but its face was the most grotesque thing I’ve ever seen; its mouth was lost beneath masses of pasty, white skin that looked like pure scar tissue, and I can’t get the look of its single, glassy eye out of my mind. There was only a gaping, black hole left where the other used to be. Apparently the Stations work as safe zones; I knew it saw me, but it didn’t come any closer.
After vomiting, I worked up the courage to test my theory and stepped outside to turn off the truck; the figure still didn’t move. That made me feel safe enough to finally look around the store. I helped myself to a six-pack of Coors and Cheetos and tore through the junk food like a death-row inmate; I’m not ashamed to admit I’m fairly drunk.
I wonder if it’s possible to fill up with just enough gas to be on empty before nightfall… That may be my only chance to make it to Stage 3; there’s no way I could have outran that thing all night. Hell, that’s a brilliant idea! If it works – I could use that strategy the whole way home; it would give me an entire week to search before the store is closed again! Holy shit! I finally see a light at the end of this miserable tunnel; I’m going to get a very good night’s sleep and hit the road at first light!
I guess I dropped the ball on keeping a record of my time in the Backroads, but… too bad. No one will ever see this anyway, and this has been the worst week of my life. The things I’ve had to do to survive are unspeakable; I only opened this to say I’m quitting. If someone finds this one day, great; if not, I don’t really care.
My plan to only fill half the tank worked great, but it took three days to find a grass trail; once I did – I never dreamed I would survive long enough to find another store, but now that I have – I’m not leaving; the creatures in this stage don’t give a damn if it’s night or day – they’re hungry. I would rather face the devil himself than walk out that door again; there are things out here that make the one-eyed monster look like a kitten – I’m done!
Today is Saturday, and it’s almost midnight; I’m going to hit upload even though I know it won’t work, but – just in case – my name iswas Jesse Palmer. Fuck the Backroads.
Ambrose Bierce, first published in 1891; translated to modern English, otherwise left exactly the same.
Hi there readers! This one is really dark. A young boy is lost in the forest during the aftermath of a Civil War battle. I simply want to give fair warning to any who may wish to avoid gore and child endangerment. If either of these topics bother you, please Google a quick description this story before proceeding. Otherwise, thanks for being here, and I hope you know how amazing you are!
One sunny, autumn afternoon, a child strayed away from its home and entered the forest unnoticed. The boy came from a long line of adventurers and conquerors; he was happy for the chance to explore. From their earliest generations, his ancestors made their way over two continents, across the great sea, and into a third; war was their heritage.
The child was six-years-old and the son of a poor farmer. His father had been a soldier when he was a younger man; he fought against naked savages and followed his country’s flag south into civilized cities. He loved military books and still possessed a warrior’s spirit. The boy understood enough to make himself a wooden sword that he carried proudly – even if it was hardly identifiable to others. He often practiced with it in a sunny clearing while defeating invisible enemies, and this day, he found himself on the edge of a wide, shallow stream. The rapid waters blocked his advance against a foe that somehow flew across with ease, but the inspiring warrior would not be defeated. Instead, he found a place where the boulders were grouped close enough to jump across; then, he was finally able to defeat the enemy. With the battle won, protocol demanded returning to base, but like many great conquerors, he could not deny his lust for war.
Continuing from the creek, he suddenly found himself facing an even stronger enemy. A rabbit appeared on the path; it sat upright with its ears at attention, causing the child to scream and flee in an unknown direction. He yelled for his mother – crying and stumbling as his tender skin was torn by the cruel foliage. His little heart raced in terror; he was breathless, blind with tears, and lost in the forest! For more than an hour, he wandered through the tangled undergrowth until he was too tired to continue. A few yards from the stream, he laid down in a narrow space between two rocks and sobbed himself to sleep while still grasping his toy sword; it was no longer a weapon, but a companion. The birds sang merrily above his head, the squirrels ran from tree to tree, and somewhere far away was the sound of strange, muffled thunder. Back at the little plantation, men were hastily searching the fields, and a mother’s heart was breaking for her missing child.
Hours later, the boy woke at dusk and rose to his feet. He felt the evening chill in his bones, and he was frightened but no longer cried. After struggling through the undergrowth, he came to a more open area; on his right was the creek, and on his left was a gentle slope decorated with sporadic trees. A thin, ghostly mist spread along the water, and it scared him away. Instead of crossing back over the stream, he ran toward the dark, gloomy forest.
Suddenly, he saw a strange object moving ahead of him and mistook it for a large animal; he was not sure what kind, but thought it might be a bear. He had only seen pictures of them, and – being unaware of how dangerous they are – he vaguely wished to meet one. Then, something in the object’s shape or the way it moved told him it was not a bear after all, and his curiosity turned into fear. The boy remained still as it slowly came closer, and he grew braver when he saw the thing did not have long, menacing, rabbit ears. It is possible his mind was half-conscious of something familiar in the way it struggled along awkwardly, but before it was close enough to positively identify – he saw that others were following it.
There were many more approaching from both sides; the whole area was covered with them – all heading toward the stream. They were men, and they were crawling; some only used their hands as they dragged their legs along, and some only used their knees as their arms hung limply at their sides. Some tried to stand but fell back down; they did nothing the normal way, and the only thing they did have in common was the direction they traveled.
Some were alone while others were in pairs or small groups; they came through the gloom – occasionally pausing while others crept past. They came by the hundreds from as far as he could see, and the infinite forest was black behind them; the very ground seemed to be moving toward the creek. Occasionally, some men that paused would die, and some made strange hand gestures, grabbed their heads, or raised their palms to the sky like men do in church.
The child did not notice all of this, but it is what an adult would have observed; the boy only saw men crawling like babies. He was not frightened of them, but they were dressed in strange clothes. He walked among them freely, going from one to another and looking into their faces with childish curiosity. Each one was remarkably white, and many were streaked with red. Their color – and perhaps their disturbing behavior – reminded him of a clown he saw at the circus last summer, and he laughed as he watched them. These maimed and bleeding men crept along as ignorant of him as he was to their ghastly situation. To the boy, it was a merry spectacle. He had seen his father’s slaves do similar things while pretending to be horses for his amusement. Next, he approached one of the crawling men from behind, and jumped on his back.
The man fell flat to the ground, struggled to rise, and violently threw the small child to the ground. Then, he turned to show the boy his missing lower jaw; there was a great, red gap fringed with hanging shreds of flesh and splintered bone between his upper teeth and throat. His unnaturally shaped nose, absent chin, and fierce eyes made this man resemble a vulture covered in the blood of its food. He rose to his knees and shook his fist at the boy; terrified at last, the child ran to a nearby tree, climbed up, and looked at the situation more seriously. As he watched, the mass continued forward like a swarm of black beetles – dragging themselves slowly and painfully down the slope in absolute silence.
The haunted landscape began to brighten. Beyond the stream, a strange red light was shining, but the trees blocked out the view of its source. The eerie glow gave the creeping men monstrous shadows that imitated their movements on the grass, made the metal in their clothing sparkle, and tinted their faces with a red hue that highlighted their horrible injuries. The child instinctively turned toward the growing spectacle and moved down the slope with his mangled companions. He easily passed them in just a few moments, and – wooden sword still in hand – positioned himself in the lead where he solemnly directed the march; slowing to match their pace, he occasionally turned to ensure his soldiers did not fall behind. Surely, such a leader has never before had such followers.
As they marched closer to the water, they began to see various items scattered on the ground, but the boy did not think they were important. There were tightly rolled blankets bound with string, heavy knapsacks, broken rifles, and other things retreating troops often leave behind. The lowlands near the creek were trampled into mud by men and horses, and an older, more observant person would have noticed these footprints pointed in both directions; the ground had been passed over twice.
A few hours before – thousands of these desperate, wounded men and their more fortunate comrades had charged into the forest. They divided into battalions and swarmed past the sleeping child on every side; some had almost ran him over, but their loud noises did not wake him. They fought a battle very close to where he lay, yet he never heard the roar of their muskets or the captain shouting commands. He slept through it all, holding his little, wooden sword tight, but he was completely ignorant of the great struggle happening around him as countless sacrificed themselves for victory.
The fire beyond the tree-line on the other side of the creek was spreading, and the ground beneath its canopy of smoke glowed eerily. It turned the thin line of mist over the stream into golden vapors while the boulders gleamed with streaks of blood; those with less serious injuries had stained them when previously crossing, and the child crossed them eagerly as he continued toward the fire.
Standing on the opposite bank, he turned around to look at his marching companions. The stronger ones were already swimming across – pushing themselves to the limit with their faces plunged into the water. Three or four lay motionless and appeared to be headless; the boy’s eyes widened in wonder – even his naive ignorance could not accept such a situation. In reality, they had drowned; after drinking their fill – the men did not have enough strength to lift their heads out of the stream. Behind those, the open areas of the forest showed the child as many figures in his grim army as he started with, but not nearly as many were moving. He waved his cap for encouragement, and smiling, he pointed his weapon at a pillar of fire’s guiding light.
Confident of his forces, the boy entered the tree-line, easily passed through the red light, climbed a fence, and ran across a field – occasionally turning back to check his soldiers’ progress as he approached the burning ruins of a house. Everything was destroyed! Not one living thing could be seen, but he did not care about that. He enjoyed the spectacle and happily danced along with the wavering flames. He ran around collecting fuel, but every object was too heavy for him to throw, and the heat prevented him from getting closer. Frustrated, he flung his sword into the fire as an act of surrender to nature’s superior forces; his military career was finished.
When he turned away, he saw some buildings that looked oddly familiar – as if he had seen them in a dream. He was staring at them in wonder when the entire plantation and surrounding forest seemed to pivot. His little world spun, and he recognized the burning building as his own home!
For a moment, he stood frozen in shock at the realization, then he ran stumbling halfway around the ruin. There, easily seen by the light of the fire, was a dead woman; her white face was turned upward, her hands were clutching fistfuls of grass, her clothes were torn, and her long, dark hair was tangled with clotted blood. Most of her forehead was torn away, and her gray brain was protruding from a jagged hole in her temple that overflowed with frothy, crimson bubbles; it was the work of a shell.
The child moved his little hands in wild, uncertain gestures. He uttered a series of gibberish and indescribable cries that sounded like a cross between a chattering ape and a gobbling turkey; it was a startling, unholy sound. The boy, who was a deaf mute, stood motionless – his lips quivering as he looked down at the wreckage.
[upset] I knew it! I knew you’d come today of all days. Damnit, we gotta get you out of this forest!
… … One day a year – one! And it’s the day you show up! I knew it, I tell ya! Ugh, it’s too late… we’d never make it to the bridge; hurry up – come inside. [door slams/locks]
… … … What do you mean you have no clue how you got here?! You have your pack and everything!
… … … I’m not sure I understand how you could be compelled to pick it up, but we don’t have time to chat. There’s a horde of evil outside, and more are on the way. We don’t even know what half of those things are anymore. Based on what we do know – ignorance is probably a blessing, but we can speculate later.
[Trish] We need to open the floor, it’s our only chance.
… You’re right; there’ll be nowhere left to hide once it begins. We could make a hole under the bed… Once our friend is behind the barrier, it’ll be like every other year.
… … [walking to bedroom] We’ll have to explain later, but I’m sure you remember my telling you about converting the basement, yes?
… Good. Long story short – there’s also a few magical protections around it. We couldn’t have survived without them.
… … [defensive] I’ve been brutally honest about how dangerous this place is, I’m not sure why you look surprised.
… … It’s amazing yet frightening how many questions you have in the face of certain death. Stand back, please. Come on, Ethan, help me move this thing.
… … [bed slides across floor] You’re gonna be just fine, friend, we’ll get through this together. I’m surprised they haven’t smelled you, but maybe they’re too preoccupied… or lulling us into a false sense of security…
… … [wood creaking] I’m only planning for every possibility, but those guys aren’t exactly known for their patience. If they knew you were here – we wouldn’t be considered much of a threat. It’s more likely they’re too busy to notice. These rituals have been happening for centuries; they probably can’t remember the last time one was interrupted—
[wood cracking] Whoa, hold on, boy! Just because the bed will be covering it doesn’t mean we can rip the boards in half! It would be nice to lay them back in place afterwards. Once our pal is safely hidden, we’ll make it look like this room hasn’t been touched since those kids with the tie-dye van.
[Ethan] The ones who thought we were all acid hallucinations?
… Yep, but this time – we stay quiet and lay low; there shouldn’t be any problems. I bet we can even manage a few stories to help pass the time; how’s that sound?
… … Hah, I thought that part would be well received. [board set aside] Alright, it’s time.
… … Don’t worry, friend, Ethan will lower you nice and slow; he’s stronger than he looks. You’ll be on the ground and taking the grand tour before you know it.
… … … … [shout/echo] See? No problem at all. You two go ahead; we’ll get this mess cleaned up and be with you in a few.
… … [distant/fading voice] See, Trish? I told you it was best to keep the height a surprise.
Great news, family! We’re officially bunkered down, and the ritual has begun. Only something fairly extreme could stop them now, and we aren’t giving them anything but distance; tonight, we don’t exist!
… … Thank you, friend, I’m glad you like it! This is my real library; the original journals, every book, and all our downloaded entertainment are right here. I often worry they aren’t safe enough, but I fear no amount of precautions would make me feel differently.
… … … Oh my! I was so worried about the ritual I’ve been a terrible host! I’m ashamed of myself, truly I am. You haven’t had a chance to say more than two words since you got here; hell, I didn’t even ask how you’ve been since your last visit!
… … …Well, “gracious host” is probably a stretch, but it’s kind of you to say so – I do try – but no more about me; what’s the big news? You’re grinning ear-to-ear, and the curiosity is killing me.
… … You… I mean… I know you said you were going to email Mr. Somnium, but… Are you trying to tell me he actually responded? As in he read it?
… … … He wants to narrate it? For his actual channel? When?!
… … It’s already done?! Are you screwing with me, friend? Because this is a cruel joke to play on an old man no matter how long ago his heart stopped—
… … … [whisper] Sweet cricket… okay… don’t sugarcoat it; what did people think?
… … … Shut up! I’m not crying! You’re crying! Holy, sweet mother of all crickets… You even took pictures of the comments? You, my friend, hold the special power of restoring one’s faith in humanity.
… … … Shush, everyone; of course I want to hear it, but we need to be quiet – no unnecessary risks, remember?… But don’t worry, friend – you’ll be across that bridge before you know it!
… … Hell yea, I’m positive! And – once you’re home – would you have time to pass along a message to our Dark Family? It should be heart-felt, yet stoic – humble but not desperate; maybe I should draft a few key points. First impressions are every—
[Trish] You’re doing it again, dear.
… Oops… umm, enough of all that; we’re in for a long night. What would you like to hear about next? The Mountain Settlement, maybe? How about the Civil War or the Revolution?
… … … [disappointed] Really? Firsthand accounts of America’s entire history are at your disposal, but you want to know how Trish and I got here? You’re one strange cookie, my friend, but that’s the main reason we like you so much. Alrighty then, I aim to please! Hang tight while I find the right journal; we’ll need to go back to a couple weeks before we died.
… … … [shuffling books] Oh, yea, those are the Weapons; Those have been down here since the ordeal with the outlaws. It’s kinda nice not having anyone else to meddle in what we do with our own family heirlooms.
Ah, here we are, [wipes off dust] I only hope you aren’t too disappointed. When you get bored we’ll switch to a different journal; until then – sit back, relax, and try to ignore any strange noises. Now that the Ritual has begun, they can’t leave the circle… Well, they could, but they’d be forced to start over which would be extremely inconvenient.
April 5, 1696
It has been a hard day – the kind that makes me long for the years I could work without pain in my back. If not for the grandchildren, my fields would be empty this season. It seems like only yesterday I was teaching their fathers how to plant and plow, yet now, I ramble incessantly like the old men we mocked in our youth. Even when there is actual news to speak of, I somehow default to writing the same, dull drivel as always.
Bill Sanderson returned from a business trip two days ago, and today, his entire family is ill. The doctors were only notified when his children failed to attend class for a second morning; Ms. Harvard sent one of the students to the Sanderson home, and the lad went for help upon finding the family confined to their beds.
No one dares speak the words we all know to be true, but— [woman’s scream]
… … [exasperated] Damn, that one was loud.
… … [hesitant] Well, um… it sounds like they’ve brought out a sacrifice…
… … … I can understand why you might be upset, but we didn’t see a reason to worry you when there’s nothing we can do to help that poor soul.
… … I know it’s hard to hear; in the beginning, we wanted to help, too, but you gotta trust us. Our first time hearing it, we rushed into the middle of them like fools; they had some poor girl – must have been between 17-20 – and she—
[Trish] Maybe skip that part, dear.
… Right. The point is – they almost ate us, and if you go running out there, I’m not sure we could save you at all, but we’d try. The one thing I am certain of is that we would be consumed either way. [whining] Please don’t get us eaten before I can hear Mr. Somnium read Pappy Grant’s journal! Please!
… … Yes, exactly! The demon himself is smack in the middle of it all and growing more powerful as we speak! He’s surrounded by every evil thing this place has to offer; We can’t help them in the same way you can’t walk on the ceiling.
… … … [whining] Aw, why aren’t you understanding this, friend? Yes – killing the demon would mean an end to the sacrifices, and this place would finally stop attracting new monsters, but—
… … … [sigh] Yes; it would make it possible to deal with other creepies and crawlies as well, but—
… … … Because we can’t! Even if the demon wasn’t surrounded by his minions – we wouldn’t stand a chance!
… … … Tell me you did not just point to the Weapons. [louder] No, better yet – tell me what we did to make you hate us? Why are you trying to re-kill us?
[Trish] Volume, dear.
… … [softer] It’s a moot point, anyway. The girl is dead by now, let’s not dwell on what we can’t change. I’m sorry, but if y’all don’t mind, I’d like to continue read— [man screams]
… … [annoyed] Oh, Jiminy-friggin-Cricket! Yes, I heard it! [throws down journal]
… … [exasperated] Yes, I know it was a man that time.
… … I don’t know how many more.
… … I swear, I don’t know; they don’t hunt for a specific type or number of sacrifices, but if an opportunity presents itself in the months leading up to the ritual…
… … Yea, I’m afraid so; they’ll use as many as they find. There’s no maximum limit, and the more lives they take – the more powerful the ritual becomes.
… No, please! Don’t touch the Weapons!
[Ethan] Actually, I have an idea.
… An idea on how to calm our friend down?
[Ethan] Sort of!
… Nope; sit down and zip it.
… Sit! [clap] Zip! [clap] We are survivors! Do you understand what that means? It means we survive! We keep going; we record the story! Just now – finally – that story is making it to the outside world. We can’t let it end here. If we can get the rest of it out there, real help will come! People who know what they’re doing – hell, maybe someone with a YouTube channel—
… Right. The point is – someone who isn’t us! We have two choices. We can go out there – become dinner – and let the world forget about that one random story, or we can be strategic; we can forfeit the battle to win the war and enjoy victory together – as a family. Then, when it’s time to deal with the other unfriendly inhabitants, maybe some of those Paranormal Investigators will visit! I don’t think I’d be comfortable with Ghost Hunters; I know you said it’s not the same kind of hunter but—
… Right, sorry. Can we please just go back to reading? If they had another— [man screams]
Well, that was obviously the same one as before— Wait a second, friend! You do realize those Weapons are useless in our hands, right? They wouldn’t work even if we could land a hit; that means you would have one shot with only a dagger to fall back on!
[Ethan] Seriously, I have a plan.
… Please, boy, I’m serious, too.
[Trish] It’s a good plan, dear.
… [heartbroken] Aw… you too? But… how do you already know what it is? Why are none of you concerned with—
… Fine, fine, fine; go ahead, Ethan. Take your time and explain in as much detail as possible.
[Ethan] Since the entire horde of bad guys are confined to the ritual circle – no one is guarding the Demon’s Path. Those egg sacs have been incubating for ages; tonight will probably be enough to put a few more monsters into the world. Unless something happens to them…
… Ok, since we’re completely ignoring my strategic plan for victory – let’s hear it. How do you propose we bypass the fact they’ll smell our flesh-and-blood pal the moment we stick our heads out of the hole? You know – the one we hid under the bed that happens to be the only exit for someone incapable of passing through solid objects?
[Ethan] Um, actually only two of us need to go. Technically, they could burst the sacs with a regular crossbow. The only reason I never have before is because the demon would know it was one of us, and we never had a way to fight back until now. Don’t you see? This is why our friendwas brought here! It’s fate! We could make a real difference! The demon will feel what happened and rush over in a blind rage; he’ll pass straight by the lake! Someone on the roof could probably get a clear shot…
… … Oh, and our friend is suddenly an archer now, eh? Hell, let’s pretend that part is true – you realize the demon won’t simply be strolling by, don’t you? Even our eyes can barely keep track! That’s a vital detail since a miss would mean we all suffer fates worse than second deaths! Dying the first time was bad enough, thank you very much!
[Ethan] I could do the aiming, and I remember the demon’s name well. You know I can make that shot; let me have revenge… Imagine if Jamestown could really expand; how long do you think it would be before they brought in some electric poles? Surely WiFi wouldn’t be far behind…
… Damn you, boy. Taunt me with sweet dreams all you want, but none of those things would matter if we weren’t around to enjoy them.
[Trish] We can destroy the eggs much faster than the demon can break their circle; we could be back before they need to shoot. If the worst happens – one of us will get our friend to bridge while the others stay behind… We can pack the journals now as well – then, our story will live on, and your plan will still work. What do you think?
… I think it’s horrible! It doesn’t change a thing about how it will end. Besides, have you noticed how long it’s been since— [woman screams] Oh, come on!
[Ethan] Please, we don’t have much time; you know full well they’ve barely gotten started. This has gone too far! Once the demon is dead, we’ll be the last thing on anyone’s mind. Most of them will run scared back to their dens, and some will move on to darker pastures entirely. While that’s happening, Trish can get our friend back to safety, and we’ll go after the hostages!
… I don’t like it.
[Trish] That’s a shame dear… Based on what mother saw, I could have used your help. Oh well, sit tight – we’ll return as quickly as possible; try not to worry.
… [grumble] You can be a cruel woman sometimes… Ethan, listen to me very carefully; don’t extend a single hair beyond the protection barrier until we’re finished, you got that? Then it’s straight into position; do not overestimate the amount of time it will take him to break the ritual’s circle! We’ll clear the path for you on the way out.
[Ethan] You got it, uncle!
… Alright, let’s get it over with. If it’s the last thing I do – I’ll fit in some “told you so’s” before going loudly into that dark, eternal night.
[Trish] We’ll stay underground as long as we can and come up by the path’s entrance.
… Are you going to explain what happened with Gale? I didn’t want to worry our friend anymore than you two already have, but she clearly saw something that shook you up.
[Trish] Last week, she was having a good day and said this year wasn’t like the others. The demon was angrier after the French settlement than we realized. In our grief over lost friends and enchanted arrows, we failed to realize that several of the sacs were destroyed as well. Rather than replacing them – he poured everything into what was left—
… We should be close, let’s go up… And they’re supposed to hatch tonight? Is that what you were saying?
[Trish] You’re right; we’re here… But no – those eggs hatched ages ago. However, the results were so promising – he tried something new. This time he divided everything equally between two sacs. They’re already massive, and when the 24 sacrifices are dead – there will be two more extremely dangerous monsters loose in our forest.
… Twenty-four? How? It’s never been more than a dozen!.. And wow, this place really has gotten dismal. I remember when it was impossible to see more than a few yards into the tree-line, but now there’s hardly any green left in the forest!
[Trish] The bulk of the sacrifices are boy scouts; they weren’t camping here – their bus broke down. The repairs were going to take a few hours, so their troop leader suggested bringing the restless kids for a hike. The worst part is – they never told anyone what happened; no one knows they came here. When the repairs were complete, those who stayed with the bus drove down to retrieve the others; they had no clue what they were driving into… Of course, there are probably a few other sacrifices mixed in; surely they aren’t all with the scouts.
… [pouty] I just wanna go home and listen to my story… Geez, the ground is so hard and black it feels like concrete…
[Trish] If we can end the reign of terror, you’ll have eternity to enjoy all the stories you want, dear. Now, move your ass; my baby is practically alone back there. Is your crossbow ready? I think I see the first one ahead – look up and to the right. Mother said these were bright yellow instead of orange – that has to be one of them.
… Yea, that’s it; the other is on the ground to the left, do you see it? We should stand back; that gunk inside could still hurt us… Or we could turn around and go home now – no harm done.
[Trish] Wow, they really are massive!.. Wait – did you mean ‘no harm done’ aside from tonight’s 24 sacrifices?
… [sigh] Are you ready? We shoot on three… One… I love you… Two… Three! [both shoot, sacs burst with liquid explosion]
… [ground shakes and rumbles with guttural roar] Go!
… [panicked] Can you feel that? The air is heavier; it’s like walking through deep water.
[Trish] Yes, and we need to go faster.
… No, darling; just me.
[Trish] What’s in that vial? Did you try brewing potions again?
… It’s just something I’ve been saving for an emergency. Don’t worry, if the worst happens, the enchantment will weaken overnight; you’ll be able to free yourself by morning. [cork pops]
[Trish] Alex, no; we don’t have time to argue; you don’t— [Trish sucked in/Alex corks bottle]
… It’s ok to be mad; I can handle that, but not losing you. I’m sure you’re frustrated that I can’t hear what you’re saying, but if it’s any consolation – I can feel your displeasure loud and clear. Hopefully, I’ll be back for you— [frightened] Oh no; the air is getting even heavier… [sweeps leaves aside] Ok, ok… Ok, hun, you’ll be safe here, and I’ll be right back… [covers bottle with the leaves]
[speeds away, muttering to self] Alright, ole boy, – she’s safe – totally, completely safe, yessir. Now, you’re gonna bottle up that loud-mouthed nephew and hope to hell the demon is satisfied with only one savory morsel… And that our friend skews towards flight rather than fight…
[gasp] There they are – thank Jiminy! They’re on the roof; all I need to do is drag— [earth shakes and rumbles with a roar like thunder] No, please no, not when I’m this close!
[Ethan] This is it! Remember – just like we practiced; don’t panic… keep your eyes closed… body relaxed… mind clear… and—
[confused] Hey, why is uncle— Shit! [shoots arrow] No!
[everyone screams, demon screeches, arrow thuds into tree]
… … [panicked] I’m not gonna make it… Oh, no! No, no, no! It only scratched the bastard!… Holy mother, he’s looking right at them! The arrow! It’s so close; I have get to it… [pulls arrow from trunk]
… [screaming] Oi! Hey, look at me, asshole! Yoo-hoo! [whistles]
… Crap, he’s really coming!Even uglier than I remember… Looks like a tall Quasimodo caught leprosy and went into the final stages of liver failure… Oof! My throat… Jiminy, he’s a big mother… lucky I don’t need to… breathe… just need… arm… free… legs are already gone…
… [strained] Boy! Catch! [arrow whizzes through air, thuds into roof]
[mutters to self] Thank goodness, it got through… Wow, everything is going all wonky… sorry, fam—
[Ethan] Bastard! He’s absorbing Alex! We have to shoot before there’s nothing left! [pulls arrow free, Alex groans in the distance] Hold on, we’re coming! [bow-string tightens]
[Ethan whispers] Are you ready?… Now! [fires arrow] Say it!
[demon screeches in agony, drowning out all other voices]
[Ethan, yelling over the demon’s wails] Alex! Uncle!… Why isn’t he reforming?! Stay here, I need to get down there!
… ……[voice confused, disembodied] Is it over?… Is this where the dead go when they die?… Or is this a black void unique to the demon’s victims? Maybe I’m being stored away until needed… At least Trish is safe, and I think— yes! Before everything went dark, that bastard took an arrow in the neck! I remember hearing the start of his name before the sound was cut off by screaming. It’s too late for me, but surely my boy got our friend away from this place. The demon is still dangerous even in this condition. [Ethan calling in the distance]
… … … [voice slightly more focused] Was that Ethan calling for me? No, it was too close; maybe I’m hallucinating after all… [woosh]
[Ethan yelling over demon’s continued screams] Uncle, if you can hear me – I found your dirty bottle trick lying next to what was left of you. Hopefully, I got all of you, but… umm… it looks like I’m stuck… Alex, I can’t move my legs… [whimper] He’s… g-ot me… I g-guess this guy r-really doesn’t want to die… I’m gonna throw you while I can still move my arms— [shocked gasp, dagger stabs into demon’s foot]
[demon roars in guttural agony as the ground rumbles with the force of an earthquake]
[Ethan] Holy shit! You stabbed him! No; don’t pull it out! We need to go; get on my back! [leaves rustle in the wind as the group flees] Alex, where’s Trish— Oh, right, he can’t answer…
… … … [angry and frustrated] I can answer; you just can’t hear me! What the hell is happening out there?! I can’t see or sense anything! We better be headed away from the demon with our friend in tow, or I swear before the sweet cricket I will find a way to tan your hide! [bangs loudly on the bottle walls] Ugh, you best find a way to hear me, boy! Hello?!
[Ethan continues speaking] —Yes, I’m positive Alex is in this bottle; here, you can hang onto it. Oh, wait! [hears light tapping on glass] Do you hear that? This is fantastic; I must have gotten all of him! Hey, Uncle – tap once for yes and twice for no; do you understand? [single tap] Is Trish safe? [single tap] Whew, thank goodness. Uncle! You won’t believe it! Our friend came out of nowhere and stabbed that bastard in the foot, haha! I think this is really it! He was falling apart as we fled! I’m trying to get us to the bridge – then we can find a way to get you out of that bottle.
… … … What do you mean ‘find a way’? Open it!—Wait, what are you two saying out there? No, no, no! [frantically bangs on glass] No way, friend! You are not staying one second longer! We can check on the sacrifice hostages after you’re safe! Ethan, don’t you dare listen to that nonsense! Get your ass to the bridge! And open the damn bottle! [continues banging on glass]
[Ethan] Sorry, friend, but I can’t take you to the ritual circle; Alex would kill me. Just listen to him in there – he’s going nuts!… Whoa, what are you doing?! Sit still or we’re gonna— [everyone falls to the ground, glass bottle breaks]
… … … Holy Cricket, that’s better! Now – we were all human once – let’s talk about this like reasonable folk.
[ground shakes with loudest roar yet]
… …. [disbelief] It really happened… He’s gone… Even after everything… I just didn’t believe it… But, damn, can you feel it, too? The air is normal again! The looming sense of dread is— actually… it’s stronger than ever… Let’s get Trish before we do anything else…
… … [hysteric] How?! How is it empty?! It shouldn’t have weakened that fast! How is she gone?! [sobs/smashes bottle]
[Ethan] Wait… Calm down and focus for a second… Do you feel that? There’s another fight happening, and she’s definitely part of it… [demanding] I’m going now! Are you coming, friend? Or do you want to stay here and argue with Alex?… Great, let’s go!
… No, umm… [defeated] ugh, wait up. Damnit, Trish! Why’d she have to go over there alone!
… … I know, friend, you don’t need to remind me. I’m clearly surrounded with ‘kind souls’ but, you see, we are a family of survivors, and avoiding danger is the key to being a survivor. This expedition is in direct conflict with our mission statement; she’s breaking the prime directive – that’s not ok!
[Ethan, patronizing] There, there, uncle; we can have a court martial after we help her. For now, we need to hurry! We should find a vantage point before showing ourselves. If it looks too dangerous, one of us will rush our friend to the bridge while the other helps Trish. Fair enough?
… … It’s not like I have any choice in the matter! You three have been forcing my hand all night anyway, so come on! Let’s go before it’s too late!
… … [shock] Are… are you two seeing this? It’s absolute chaos down there… [children shouting war cries] and it looks like… is Trish leading a platoon of boy scouts?
[Ethan] Hell yea, she is! Look! Everyone must have fled; only the Walker is left! Geez, where did they get all those weapons? It’s been ages since I’ve seen a mob like that – some of them are actually carrying pitchforks!
… … Don’t stand there gawking, boy! That Walker isn’t going to wait by idly while they fill it with holes! Why would she do this?!
… … Friend, if we survive this ordeal – remind me to explain the definition of a rhetorical question.
[Ethan] It won’t fight outnumbered either; I think it’s waiting for— [hostages screaming in the distance]
… … … Yep, you saw it right, friend. It waited for one to come within reach and fled with him. It’s safe for you to come down with us now; [leaves crunch beneath feet] we need to get everyone back to the cabin and calmed down so we can discuss what story you’ll tell the police.
… … Well, of course I mean you; who else is gonna take them? Their last chaperone was just carried off by the Walker and none of us can cross the bridge. We can’t send a group of traumatized kids off on their own.
… … I have no clue what you’re supposed to tell them – we haven’t discussed it yet!
[Ethan, yells over chaos of frightened boy scouts] Trish! Over here!
[Trish] You’re all here! I’m so relieved! When I was able to free myself, you three were fleeing towards the bridge – so I came straight here.
… … [muttering] How considerate of you…
[Trish] What was that, husband? Did you say something?
… … [perky] I love you, and I’m delighted you’re safe…
[Trish] You’re such a dear. [whispers] Don’t let the children know we’re ghosts; I don’t think their fragile minds could handle it.
… … Fair enough; I suppose we’ll take the long way home, then.
[Trish] Actually, I’ve had a rather long night, and so has our friend. I think it’s best if we go ahead while you and Ethan bring the boys along behind us. We’ll make sure your path is clear, of course.
… … [monotone] Of course… Come on, Ethan, you heard the lady. Round ‘em up…
[Trish] —I can’t believe the demon was finally defeated! So, you went right up to the monster and stabbed him in the foot?!… You really are amazing, my friend, and I know you’ll understand why we had to make this little detour… We need to get any demon goop left behind into this jar. [unscrews lid] We’ll burn it in the fireplace, and then you can take the ashes with you… [closes lid] There, that’s all of it; we better get moving.
[Trish, nonchalant] Oh, you don’t remember what my brother-in-law learned from the Mountain Settlement? The ashes must be spread over salt water – never fresh. Do you see any salt water in our territory? Alex doesn’t want to think about it yet, but you and I know better than to wait, don’t we?… I knew I could count on you! I can never repay you for saving my boys, [cabin door creaks open] but you’ll always have a home with us. Although, I’m sure you’ll be hearing those words in abundance over the coming months. Those children are probably assumed dead; the news crews will be rolling in before lunch – I guarantee it! [distant chatter] Oh, shh, they’re almost here! I’ll put this in the fire and get the ashes into your bag discreetly. Once you’re safely across the bridge – I’ll let the boys know we have everything under control.
… … … [several pairs of footsteps file across the wood floor] That’s right, this way fella’s; y’all are safe now. You’ll be home with your families in no time. We’re just gonna have a little chat to make sure everyone is on the same page while we wait for the sun to rise; then, our friend is going to take you all to see some nice policemen! How does that sound?
… … [exasperated] Come on, guys. We’ve been at this for over an hour; I don’t think you understand what’s waiting for you on the other side of that bridge. Do you know what it means to be national news?
… … I didn’t think so; it means you can say goodbye to your privacy for a long time, my little friends. You boys have had multiple agencies searching for you across multiple states; you’re already national news, but with our story – people will leave you alone when the next tragedy strikes. With the truth – your names will be synonymous with this event for the rest of your lives. The story for this place is older and darker than you can fathom, and I promise – you boys don’t want this shadow looming over you forever… So, what’s it gonna be, kids? Were you lost and found? Or kidnapped and rescued?
… … That’s a great choice, guys! I knew you looked like a reasonable bunch; I got a sixth sense about these things. Now – how many people found you?
… … That’s right! Only our friend! You boys are gonna be just fine – chins up, now! Remember – you’re all traumatized children; don’t be afraid to cry if they ask uncomfortable questions. As for your chaperones – you got separated; how should you know what happened? They’ll come down here to poke around and look for the bodies, but it won’t trouble us any. There’s nothing left to find, and we’ll be settled in with our new stories!
… … [sarcastic] Haha; yuck it up. Yes, I only want to listen to my story; is that so much to ask?! I’m sure they’re desperate to go home, too!
[Ethan] He’s right guys, and look – there’s a hint of sunlight out there! How about it? Are you ready to finally get out of here?
… … See! I told you they were reasonable chaps. My friend, I eagerly await your next visit when we’ll have time to thank you properly. Until then, we wish you the safest travels, and don’t forget – you deserve every reward they give you!
[Ethan opens creaking door] Hey, everyone, come take a look at this… What the hell is that?!
… … [door softly clicks shut] Umm… ok, on second thought – let’s go ahead and wait for the sun to fully rise… Anyone up for a quick game of charades?
My wonderful friend, Nightmare’s Edge has narrated this with a few extra dark additions you won’t find the written posts - I like to call it the Nightmare Cut! Here’s the link to it on YouTube, don’t forget to subscribe!
⚠️TRIGGER WARNING⚠️ This story involves strong implications of sexual assault.
Did you know April Fools dates back to the 1500’s? Its origins revolve around France switching to the Gregorian calendar. People who were slow to learn of the change still celebrated New Years according to the Julian calendar – meaning April 1st – which resulted in their mockery. In the 1800’s, it spread through Britain, and before you know it, here we are.
Those statements are true, but the French switching calendars has nothing to do with our April Fool’s day. It just sounds better than the truth – especially for a fun-filled holiday enjoyed by millions. Historians will never say different; look what happened to the guy who ruined Pluto. That being said, I think the CreepyPasta community would appreciate knowing what actually happened.
Approximately 10-20 years before France changed calendars, a small mountain village was suffering an especially cold, brutal winter. The only road leading in or out was impassable during the snowy months, and the closest city was several day’s journey. If they didn’t find a new food source, they would all starve before the ice melted. A meeting was called, and no suggestion was too outlandish, yet they adjourned with little hope.
The first to exit stopped suddenly, noticing a stringless marionette on the stoop. It wore a black, hooded robe; the face bore a cruel expression, and a tightly wound scroll in its lap. Upon closer inspection, they saw the note was tied with hair, and the writing was a deep crimson. The message itself:
I am the Chaos in Darkness and Commander of the Dead. On the First of every April, you will bring a boy aged between six and eight to the North Peak cave. The child will enter alone. Harvests will be bountiful, and winters comfortable. A wagon of wheat and corn waits in the stables. Payment must not be late. Failure to comply will incite my Wrath.
Obviously, no one believed it until they saw the food, and even then, most remained skeptical. “But how would anyone bring a wagon up the pass?” Believers argued.
“It was already here!” Skeptics shouted. Regardless, their hunger left little choice.
“There’s not one of us who isn’t half starved, no one could conceal this much for so long!” Believers insisted.
“Does it matter? That cave is a maze of dark tunnels and dangerous drops! What child do you propose we sacrifice?” Skeptics exclaimed. Despite a few noticeable hesitations, all agreed it simply could not be done, and life moved on.
The snow melted, spring came, crops were planted, and fish were caught. April 1st passed with little notice; a few doomsayers were anxious, but – as a whole – most had forgotten about the strange letter until the morning of the 2nd. A quarter of every farmer’s crops were destroyed, torn from the ground and trampled by something which left enormous, clawed footprints.
The villagers argued until the sun set and rose again, but were no closer to agreement. Farmers guarded their fields through the night, and on the morning of the 3rd, not one more crop was lost. Instead, half the river’s fish were dead, floating downstream, and the winds carried their rotten stench through the town square; still, no concessions were made.
The believers wouldn’t have a majority vote until fifteen of their new cattle were found slaughtered on the morning of the 4th. An angry mob hiked the treacherous path to the North Peak Cave; twenty feet beyond the entrance was a narrow tunnel, forcing them to advance single-file. At a cautious pace, they proceeded another thirty feet before reaching a sharp turn. Suddenly, the lead-man fell back, violently pushing past his fellows; as others saw around the corner, they too, screamed for retreat.
Once the regretful heroes returned, they described a humanoid, skeletal figure with the head of a horse and a sickle for an arm. An eerie orange glow illuminated the creature and the monstrous stone face it stood beneath. The carving’s mouth was ajar and producing the same strange light, but none dared cross the great chasm to investigate.
That’s when they suggested an orphan, and even the skeptics held their tongues. Thanks to the previous famine, many children were left homeless. Soon, a seven-year-old was discovered begging at a bakery; one man earned his trust by claiming to be an uncle, and the desperate boy gladly followed his new guardian. At the cave entrance, the little one was sent inside to wait while his “new uncle and friends gathered wood.”
As the men fled, a loud, gut-wrenching scream shook their resolve, but not enough to save the boy. His wails turned to muffled sobs and faded into the distance as the frightened villagers ran. Upon their return, no questions were asked, and no answers were offered; again, life moved on.
Each person doubled their efforts to conserve. Jars of preserves filled cellars, new crops were planted, and no more disasters befell the secluded mountain village. Men who traveled to the city for summer work returned with half their wages in grain, and in fall, special care was taken with the harvest.
Despite having more food than ever before, many were still traumatized by the previous winter. Those with the means to do so left town before the first snowfall, but most had nowhere to go. Each morning they feared disaster would strike, yet each night they slept in warm beds with full bellies.
“It must be the Demon’s promise!” They rejoiced; yet, as weeks turned to months, their happiness began to fade. Dreading another April sacrifice, many felt disappointed by the fair weather and prayed for misfortune – for any excuse to refuse the creature’s demands – but by February’s end, it was clear their prayers would go unanswered.
Every parent held their children a little closer at night. The torturous “what if’s” were endless; no mother could sleep – no father could rest – until the next child was chosen. They needed to see him, to know he was real and the burden would not fall on their own; if no boy met the age requirement, who would take his place? Someone would – of that there was no doubt; none were foolish enough to believe differently.
On March 3rd, the search began; every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother and sister were looking for a boy between 6-8 to ensure their own family never saw the inside of North Peak cave. By the fifth day, tensions were running high. Children were hidden away, changing their appearance, and lying about age. Word had spread to every villager’s ear – even the homeless knew to flee, but the children had no way off the mountain.
It was March 10th when a suitable boy was found in the woods. He understood why they took him and tried to escape many times over the following weeks. Even so, tempers cooled with the relief, and lives mostly returned to normal until the morning of April 1st.
The sacrifice was thrown into the cave upon refusing to enter. His cry grew sharper with the soft thud of impact, and the guards listened closely at the entrance. Scuffling steps were heard, followed by a sharp gasp and shrill cry. At that sound, they knew it was safe to leave.
Filled with the knowledge their crops would flourish, farmers expanded their fields, and ranchers increased their livestock. A bustling summer led to an astonishingly successful harvest, and all openly praised the Dark Savior. Winter was now a time for rest and relaxation, not fighting for survival. When the roads filled with snow, life moved happily along.
Spoiled by their new way of life, the search for the next boy began immediately; no one wished to revisit the previous year’s panic. When January came and still no child was had, talks of searching the city began. Many were uneasy about involving the outside world; if authorities intervened, what might the captured man – or men – say? One doesn’t need to believe in demons to believe others believe. No matter how favorable the chances – comfortable winters were too valuable to risk.
On February 1st, a manhunt was organized to search the mountainside; villagers checked behind every tree and under every rock, but no child was compatible. After weeks of heated argument, the inevitable was finally accepted. A child from the lowest class would give their life for a greater cause; the few who spoke out were easily silenced and the law no longer applied to enemies of the Dark Savior.
In total, six children were thrown into North Peak cave. The seventh was meant to be a young boy named Vincent. His parents died that January, and his last relative was an ailing grandfather. Though the elderly man was small and frail, his mind remained sharp; his grandson turned six only the month before, and those were the days when each child’s birth was carefully documented. Their circumstance was dire, and they had neither the strength or resources to flee.
The grandfather made a desperate attempt to save the last of his family line. On April 1st, a small figure presented himself at the mountain’s base, and the Honor Guards escorted him to the top. It was no longer a treacherous climb but a proper trail – cleared and raked for easier travel. So long as the sacrifice walked willingly, there was no reason to crowd or hassle the doomed soul.
The seventh year was perhaps the easiest trek of all; the small procession journeyed at a slow but steady pace, and not once did the sacrifice attempt to run – which could almost be considered tradition. The guards could hardly believe when he entered the cave without so much as a look back. Their shock was likely the reason they lingered slightly longer than usual; they’d only begun to turn away when a furious shout echoed inside. “How dare you! I know your face, Felix Felonious!”
Hearing the wildly unpopular man’s name, those outside began to creep further. Next was the old man’s cry for help, and the men recognized it immediately; understanding what geezer attempted, they rushed forward, hoping rectify their mistake. Truly no fate could be worse than ending the generous agreement.
Except, when the Honor Guards entered, the only thing they saw was the village idiot bashing in the old man’s brains – no demon. Two men cautiously crossed the chasm – a risk they were happy to take under the circumstance. What few questions remained were answered with a grotesque figure crafted from human and animal remains; string and adhesive held it together, but barely. Though it was falling apart with age, the witness descriptions were a perfect match.
The guards holding Felix at the entrance had no trouble detaining him; the challenge was keeping him alive as they processed the true depths of his actions, and – as a result – their own. The village was in an uproar when they returned – even the women and children screamed for blood. The boy’s grandfather was dead, but his sacrifice was not in vain.
No more children were lost; although natural disasters and hard winters would come, the people were better prepared. They would never see a year quite so dire as the one permanently etched into their memories. They tried to hide the horrible secret, but – as it always does – word slowly spread to the city and beyond. The yearly tradition of embarrassing one another with elaborate pranks spread far and wide as each country adopted the fun-filled holiday.
The poor villager’s only solace for years of manipulation, was the horrible torture Felix endured after a full confession. It wasn’t hard to fool him; his worst fear had come to fruition, and he was desperate to see a way out. They could not change what was done, but they could damn sure learn from it.
Felix – more than anything – was a sick opportunist; a very lucky – yet disturbed – opportunist. His childhood was spent playing alone in the woods. By entering the forest from his backyard and mapping game trails, he eventually discovered a way down the mountain; it was purely by chance, and his own special secret. The path involved many narrow ledges and steep drops; he worried its use would be forbidden if his parents knew.
As Felix grew and became more adept at traversing the difficult terrain, he began climbing the mountain as well. At 16, he found a second way into the North Peak cave; it bypassed the dangerous dead-drop of the main entrance and allowed access to the spacious caverns beyond. Soon, he knew its tunnels as well as the forest.
When the village hovered on the brink of starvation, Felix almost revealed the way down, but if only a small amount of food were found – a deadly confrontation would ensue. The frozen trail was even more treacherous than normal; each step was tested before shifting his weight, and the caution paid off when he finally reached the bottom.
It was late, and the sun was setting. While preparing a fire, he noticed a figure approaching from the distance. It was two men with a wagon; when they were close enough to hail, Felix raised a hand in greeting and recognized his neighbor’s son. Luca began a city apprenticeship the previous summer, but was worried for his parents. Food donations were collected, and he swore to deliver every grain if he had to carry them up the mountain by hand; Luis, a fellow apprentice, offered to assist.
Felix happily shared village news while filling himself with corn but quickly realized his mistake. If he led Luca and Luis up the mountain, all would learn of his secret trail. He truly appreciated the young men, but not enough to spare their lives. After convincing them the wagon must be left behind, it was agreed three men could carry the sacks if they formed a chain up the steep slopes.
Not wanting the horses to suffer when their masters failed to return – Felix offered to tie them near the river, when in reality, he set them loose. Hiking up the mountain was far more difficult than coming down, but separating Luca from his friend proved little challenge.
Near the summit – light fading – they formed their final chain with Luis at the bottom. Luca was positioned at the top, and while his back was turned, Felix reached for the next sack; in the brief moment both held it, Felix pushed forward. Luis fell back with a panicked cry, and went silent when his head connected with the ground. Luca – unsuspecting of foul play – rushed to his friend’s side; as he knelt to help Luis, Felix snapped his neck from behind.
He worked well into the night – hauling each sack into his cellar one by one. When the food was safely stowed – Felix returned for the bodies. Once loaded onto a sled, they were hauled to the caverns. Too exhausted for the return hike home, he slept through the afternoon. Upon waking, he saw the bodies were preserved by the cold and filled his stomach. After packing enough for dinner, what remained was buried for later.
Upon finally returning home, three men stood at his door. They were talking amongst themselves, and one pointed to the stables; the others nodded and began walking in its direction. Quickening his pace, Felix called out a greeting. To his great relief, the gentlemen stopped, but when they turned – he recognized Luca’s father and uncle. The third was a farmer and friend of their family’s.
Baffled by their presence, Felix simply asked, “How did you know?”
Taking Felix’s unsocial reputation into consideration, the boy’s father thought he was referring to the town meeting; Francis – months away from learning of his son’s disappearance – replied “We happened to be in town when it was announced.”
There was an awkward silence as Felix carefully processed those words. If it was already announced to the village, killing his visitors wouldn’t help. His only hope was to dispute their claim, but first, he needed to know what that claim was. “Then why don’t you tell me?” He stated dryly.
Annoyed with his rude neighbor, Francis informed Felix he could attend tomorrow’s meeting at noon or stay home, and that most preferred the latter.
Finally understanding his mistake, Felix was flooded with noticeable relief. “I will most assuredly be in attendance; thank you gentlemen kindly for the visit!” He replied with a gleeful tip of the hat.
Mouths agape at the sudden change of character, Francis and company returned the gesture with slight nods before departing in silent confusion.
After tending to his own food stores, Felix loaded an old wagon with what remained. The idea to pretend it was a demon’s gift came in stages. He genuinely wanted to share it with the village – it would disrupt his daily life if they all starved – but he needed a way to do so without assuming any risk. Eventually, Francis would learn of Luca’s disappearance, and that it occurred while attempting to deliver a wagon of food.
Claiming it came from a demon simply amused him, but then he thought of the young boy in his stables’ loft. Had he returned only a few minutes later, he would be chained in a dungeon! Had the child been alive and called out upon hearing their voices, what then? How would he explain? He couldn’t… not those remarks from a child; not paired with those wounds. The thought alone was enough to turn Felix’s stomach.
It was the first time he had a boy in the village, but that year’s winter yielded so many orphans – he simply couldn’t resist. He’d been without company since a city-trip in June, and despite knowing he should at least use the cavern – his house was much closer. Normally, Felix couldn’t risk being with anyone for longer than a single night, but the comfort of his secluded home offered tempting scenarios. The warmth of another body in his own bed was a pleasure he’d never known and could not easily forget. To honor his lost companion, a shrine was built over his grave – deep in the caverns.
That’s when he realized the “demon” should be paid for its service, and cut an incision into his upper thigh. Using the blood as ink, he wrote a letter to the villagers explaining the terms; next, he exhumed a horse that was eaten the previous week, and – after making a few alterations to an old marionette – he was ready to prepare the cavern. With the horse’s skull, he began the hiked up the mountain yet again.
It only took a skeleton, sickle, string, adhesive, candles, and a few pieces of orange glass to create his demonic lair. He installed the animal’s head onto the human skeleton and placed his creation beneath the giant stone face he had slowly carved over the years. He never expected anyone else to see it, but the idea gave Felix immense satisfaction.
He delivered the food in the dead of night, and ensured he was last to arrive at the meeting. Placing the letter would carry the most risk, and he couldn’t fully relax until it was finished. There was still some concern the wagon would be discovered early, but when that didn’t happen, Felix began to feel invincible. He sat smiling quietly until the first battle between skeptic and believer began.
To maintain his normal character, he silently and indifferently listened from the back. When they finally located the food, Felix lined up with the rest, behaving as if his starvation hadn’t ended the night before; no one suspected a thing – at least – not from him. He was disappointed no one inspected the cave, but he left his creation up; knowing they’d check eventually, he performed regular maintenance as it continued to decompose. The look it created combined with the rotting stench only made it more convincing.
In his best estimations, Felix thought he might get one or two boys at most. He knew weather and harvests were beyond his control, but he felt his chances for the first were fair – if he could pull off a few destructive feats. Anticipating their reluctance to sacrifice a child, he chose April to allow extra time for preparation.
He was almost afraid to employ his smithing skills lest it cast suspicion, but the idea was too tempting to resist. Soon, a heavy pair of iron, monster-shaped shoes were strapped to his feet. They were tested only once before use – around the cave’s north entrance – but the rain washed them away overnight.
The hope was for their sight among the destroyed crops to prevent the need for further action. Felix understood his urges were wrong – he didn’t enjoy causing pain; he didn’t want to poison the river or slaughter those cattle, but they didn’t give him a choice. There were times in the past when fish were found floating; no one drank the water then, and he was confident they wouldn’t now.
The cattle were the easiest trick to manage, but the most difficult for his conscience. As a man who has known hunger, it was sacrilege to waste so much meat, but it was necessary to maintain every facet of the illusion. If prime cuts of beef were removed from even one carcass, suspicions would shift to the motives of man. Thankfully, it ended there, and he wasn’t forced to burn the silo.
When his fellows finally found the courage to suggest an orphan – as all knew they eventually must – Felix dared hope he could choose his favorite. It’s true there was no shortage since the famine, but only a handful were the right age. Three to be exact, and he preferred the red-head often found begging at the baker’s; his heart and stomach throbbed in unison as he led the others to him.
When little Edward went willingly with the men, Felix could hardly maintain the expected mournful disposition. He forced himself to walk home before beginning a hurried trek up the mountain, and arrived only seconds before the boy. There was no time for the black robe he acquired specially; instead, he approached quietly while the boy’s eyes were still adjusting to darkness.
In a state of disbelief, he placed a long, cold hand atop Edward’s shoulder, eliciting a shrill cry of terror from the boy and a warm shiver of anticipation from himself . Frightened the villagers would suffer a change-of-heart, Felix quickly clamped his hand over the boy’s mouth, and only muffled sobs could be heard.
It wasn’t his intention to frighten the boy; he genuinely hoped they would become friends. Pulling Edward into a hug, he whispered in his ear, “It is only me, Felix, the iron-worker; you remember me, don’t you? I bought you bread once.”
At that, the child eased his struggles, and turned to see the familiar face. Edward asked for his uncle, but upon learning the truth – hot, fresh tears flowed freely. Felix held him as the boy’s body convulsed with violent, and his own convulsed for entirely different reasons. He vowed to be all the child would ever need – a father, brother, friend… and more – so convincingly he even fooled himself.
He’d often fantasized about that first meeting, but when the moment came he lost all words and the truth – as Felix had come to see it, anyway – spilled from his mouth. “Single men are not allowed to adopt, but I fooled the villagers.” He proudly boasted to the now beaming child.
Infused with confidence, he held little Eddie close and carried him across the dangerous chasm with practiced ease. The boy giggled in delight at the fake Demon and excitedly agreed to never leave the caves. “Just for now.” Felix promised; “Besides, it’ll take you a few weeks to learn your way around the tunnels and to your cave.” He added nonchalantly, hands roaming freely.
He was patient at first; the boy’s mere presence was exciting, and – once past the admittedly poor introduction – their conversations were fulfilling in a way he never knew was missing. Felix was unshakable in his conviction; ‘Edward would never be like the poor boy from his stables’, he thought. ‘He could control himself now’, he decided and this child was likely his last chance for a special friend. Kidnapping was too risky, and when the upcoming winter was filled with hardship, there would be no more sacrifices.
The 16th century man could never fathom how basic psychology would aid in his plan, but it was the reason for his success. Due to the paranoia created during that first, deadly winter, and the appearance of a “demon”, villagers essentially created a self-fulfilling prophecy by taking extra care in everyday life.
Felix dared not hope for his luck to hold, but the more people came to believe in the Demon, the more he caught himself fantasizing a world of ‘what if’s’. For instance, what if they greeted new arrivals as a family? They would share the same story, and elicit a good scream for the growing legend; it would be the children’s parting gift to the cold world that shunned them so cruelly. Then, they could drink and be merry; the nights would be for play and the days for resting!
Felix could see it no other way. Thus every year, a new boy joined their merry band; even those ripped from parents arms decided to stay. Great fun was shared, and their love for one another was second only to their Father’s. That’s what Felix believed, and you can too, if you’d prefer a happy ending.
If you want the truth – the only thing those boys saw in that cave was a wild, naked man surrounded by the dead little children who came before – their bodies bruised and broken, but their faces carved into wide, eternal smiles; then life moved on.
It’s about time! Where have you been? Get inside, you can explain by the fire. Trish! Ethan! Look who’s still breathing!
… … Of course we knew you didn’t die here – we’dhave heard about that immediately – but it’s a dangerous world out there…
… … … Hey, that’s not true! Those YouTube downloads were the last thingson my mind… if you didn’t have time or something – it’s no big deal…
… … … … Sure, you can dump them right here on the table – let me clear a spot!
… … … … Sweet Cricket, you filled them all? What?!… That Dark Somnium fella has over 800 videos?!
… … I’m beyond words.
… … Oh, please, no; don’t apologize, I was only having a little fun! We know you have a life out there, and we wouldn’t want you missing a minute on our account. We’re happy for any time we have together, and I mean – look at this – another one of them big battery things too? You spoil us!
… … … At least winter is almost over; storms are one thing, but I think I’ve had enough snow for this season.
… … Maybe you’re right, Trish. I probably am just bitter about that thing with the snowman.
… … … … Nothing, friend, it was just a stupid ordeal with a horse and some pumpkins, nevermind all that.
… … … Anywho, we best get to business before the night starts slipping away. Last time, we read Nicky’s entries from 1752 – and eventually, I would like to show you his writings from the War – but for now, we’ll jump to 1801.
… … … Because those don’t take place here; I thought you wanted to learn about ghosts and the Demon.
… … Alright then – tonight, we read about the seventh bunch that tried to hang their hats in our humble abode. Even though the war ended in ‘83 – the aftermath weighed heavily on the country. You’d be hard pressed to find a family who didn’t lose someonein the Revolution.
Travelers passed through often; most could be steered around the Cursed Woods with warnings of bandits, but the occasional fool would disappear. In 1801, a French colony passed through Jamestown, but there was a language barrier in communications. They managed a few trades but failed to understand the warnings about Dirge Lake. To make a long story short – they settled right in once they found the houses.
The best account of their brief stay is in Joshua’s journal. He’s Nicky’s son; the man was smart – like his father – but he didn’t take to school quite the same way.
… That’s really all you need to know for now; let’s get started.
March 30, 1801
These people will bring disaster upon us, that is certain. While I find it difficult to imagine the horrors of which Father spoke – he was the most intelligent, level-headed man I ever knew. If further proof is necessary – there are the lovely homes which stood untouched for decades! For such things to go unused – there is no doubt something must be horribly amiss. Yet, these people have moved in as if all were built for their use!
Our predecessors should have burned every last one to the ground. Now that I am the Sheriff – it is my responsibility, but I cannot act alone. Leah wishes for me to deputize her brother… though, he is more likely to shoot friend than foe; Larry has less sense than a headless goat…
I intend to deputize men, but I shall decide who after speaking with Mark. A perk of being the Mayor’s cousin is knowing which issues to press. If he helps to disperse the settlers – he will have the people’s good graces by default!
Today, I traveled alone to avoid an inconvenient misconception, though it seems to be unavoidable. They feigned complete ignorance at my words, yet understood we wished them gone. Clearly, our reasons were misjudged… but I cannot express “Demons will eat thee” in French… I can barely manage it in English! Even so, they would think me a madman; such matters require personal experience to appreciate.
Their mayor – or whatever their term for the position – made earnest attempts at bribery, but I dared not reinforce the skewed context of our unwelcome. There is a preacher among them… it may be beneficial to include Father Caleb in our next venture. He might yet convince them we harbor no malicious intent; that alone would be considerable progress.
One cannot help but pity the small, desperate bunch. They have clearly faced much adversity and wish to live in peace… but that is not the place to do so. The war has left too many ghost towns across the country. Instead of approaching such a place with due caution, they assume it was abandoned during battle. If only they understood our language… perhaps then…
Alas, such thoughts will drive me mad in earnest. It was a long day, and tomorrow will likely be longer. Nothing more can be done this night; it is time I retire.
March 31, 1801
Wallace has taken ill again; the doctor is on the way. My pacing drives poor Leah to the brink of insanity; this journal may be the only thing capable of keeping me still. Tomorrow, my son’s eighth birthday will be his third spent sick in bed. My heart breaks anew with each inquiry as to why he must suffer these spells; he is unaware that I, too, have screamed that very question to the skies.
I must not dwell on sorrows or I may falter in my duties. For my family and town – I must trust Doctor Eli to his profession and focus upon my own. If a settler succumbs to the Demon – more than one child’s life will be at stake.
Our family buried the Shaman’s special weapons when the war began. The location is known to few, and it requires much effort to access, but Mark and I have done so. Each item was individually wrapped with great care and mesmerizing to behold. Even the arrows are decorated with intricate carvings and seem to exude a faint glow. It is no wonder such precautions were taken in their concealment.
Afterwards, we asked John Baker, Melvin Barclay, and Douglas Smith to serve as deputies while Dirge Lake remains inhabited. Together, the five of us – along with Father Caleb – paid our new neighbors a visit. If not for the sparse livestock roaming about, we might have believed the place already abandoned; instead, it appeared as if they hid at first sight of our approach. Under closer inspection – stirring movements could be seen behind curtains as they watched from the shadows.
We offered gifts – I fed a curious dog – but no one would speak with us. The hike would be a simple matter if not for the river, but without a bridge, it is terribly inconvenient. When we could wait not one minute closer to nightfall, we resigned to leave a message among the gifts. If they are able to translate our words – they will know themselves welcome among us. For now, that is all we can do.
Damn, where is that Doctor? What else is there to write?… Ah!
I was rather surprised by the land itself; I expected the ‘beautifully gloomy’ forest as described by Father, but it was not so. The trees – though impossibly large – were long dead, and the lake was simply putrid… it would be shocking to find life in those waters. Then there was that smell – so terrible our clothes required burning! How desperately I wish to convey that stench through ink and paper! Like rotten eggs and molded cheese cooked in a chamber pot!
Finally! The Doctor has arrived!
… One minute, friend; let Trish fix you a drink while I find the next relevant entry.
… … … We’ve come across new supplies since your last visit; don’t be shy – go have a look. You’re welcome to anything that strikes your fancy.
… … … … …
… Excellent timing; I’m glad you found refreshments; we’re ready to continue when you are.
… … … Yea, Wallace was a sad story. They’d probably know what to do for him nowadays, but nobody had a clue back then. Sometimes the kid was fine; sometimes he was sick for weeks. Josh and Leah took him to the best doctors in the country – which was hard as hell – but the kid didn’t make it to sixteen…
… … … Unfortunately, his story was common for those times… but for the years he did live – he lived well.
… … … Funny you should ask; that’s what we’re about to find out! When Josh and those boys were standing around holding their wankers, I was screaming some sense into them. More than a handful of those assholes understood English just fine, but they thought they were being set-up to pay protection money.
… … Sure did – they used another word for it, but that’s what it boiled down to. If only they would have listened for a minute…
… … … Well, we couldn’t understand most of what they said. Being a ghost doesn’t make you multilingual… but they were frightened. There were only a few dozen of them and most of those were women and children.
… … Settle down – you have more questions than a virgin on prom night – and less patience too!
April 8, 1801
It has finally happened. Tensions grew thicker each day until we were suffocating under the weight of wonder and speculation. A pathetic excuse of a man wandered into town this afternoon. If not for his wife and children – he may have been turned away; that’s how great our fury was at the sound of his English words. The previously feigned ignorance served to avoid unpleasant conversation; though, I fear they are paying an unexpectedly high price.
Lucien and his family fled without telling a soul; surely they are assumed dead. If his words can be believed – life has been unkind to our neighbors. Food is scarce; no vegetation grows, the lake is too toxic to support life, and the wells have run dry. Hunting provides their only resources, but soon, that too will be exhausted. Even more troubling – as their desperation increases, they will travel deeper into the Cursed Woods.
I cannot fathom how one experiences the horrors of last night and abandons his fellows, but when discussing plans to cross the river at dawn – Lucien made clear his refusal to accompany us! Instead of filling these pages with my disgust for cowards, I will detail the events which caused our new friend to flee. I am unsure as to the accuracy of his claims, but I will record the account as he relayed it.
The family moved into a secluded farmhouse while the others clustered around the lake. Lucien planned to fill the outlying homes with his children and thereby retain ownership of all future crops; unfortunately, it also ensured no one would hear them scream.
They were on edge for some days before fleeing; heavy footsteps traversed the porch at all hours, yet no one was there when checked. On multiple occasions, the children saw grotesque figures looking into the windows only to disappear when approached. Last night – after a bit too much to drink – the eldest sons were sent to investigate a sighting with rifles; moments later, the first cry was heard.
The following wails of terror blended together with gunshots in a concert of chaos. Lucien and another son – Lucas – rushed to lend aid. Pausing on the porch, they saw one of the boys being dragged into the brush. He screamed until his head disappeared – at which point he was abruptly silenced…
Lucas hurried forward, but seeing no sign of the other son, Lucien dragged him back. Barring the door over his family’s protests, the man knew both boys were lost. For the remainder of the night, the family stayed awake, weeping and waiting for dawn.
Only after they were safely away did Lucien turn back to inspect the place he last saw his eldest child. Following a trail of blood, he saw shredded clothing and skin littered across the forest floor. He felt compelled to continue despite the trees rapidly closing in around him; with each step, the foliage grew denser, and his feet tangled deeper into the weeds. Finally, the sight of something hanging from a low branch stole his attention.
When only a few, short feet remained between Lucien and the object – his stomach violently purged itself. If there was any suspicion of the culprit being a wild animal – such delusions were shattered at the sight of the young lad’s head swinging in the breeze. Why anyone – monster or otherwise – would do such a heinous thing is beyond my understanding.
It is unknown how long the father stood there, but when he attempted to leave, his feet were held in place. Weeds wound tightly around his ankles, and thorns bit into his skin as they continued to grow! Lucien had no desire to see more. A blade made quick work of the issue, but without the knife, things may have ended poorly.
Once released from the woodland’s clutches, Lucien followed the bloody trail back to freedom but not without difficulty. He felt as if a thousand eyes were watching – relishing his anguish. Overcome with a dark certainty it would mean death – he never turned back. He ignored temptation by concentrating on the cold, wet sweat drenching his clothes.
I was raised with knowledge of the Cursed Woods and how – one day – brave warriors would defeat the Demon with tools acquired by our ancestors. I never wished to count myself among their numbers, but I fear the matter is beyond my control. This train of events was set in motion long ago, and there is little I can do to alter its track.
This evening, we gathered for a town meeting; we cannot ignore what is happening across the river. Too many lives are at risk to ‘sit back and wait’ as so many before us chose to do. The cycle must stop! Tomorrow we will finalize our strategies and make necessary preparations; Friday, we shall return to Dirge Lake.
April 9, 1801
Everything is prepared for our departure at first light; In the event I fail to return, I wish to leave a detailed record of our intentions. Those of us who will cross the river were given the Demon’s true name. Though I cannot commit it to paper, I can confirm my predecessors did not exaggerate its complexity. Our alphabet simply does not contain letters capable of producing the necessary sounds.
Lucien has agreed to join us… I will not dwell on the man’s aversion to common decency, but instead, on the possibility of his brethren’s assistance. The meeting began at noon and ended almost five hours later; I could fill these pages with the protests alone if time permitted. When we adjourned – it was with a total of seven volunteers. I was personally disheartened, but Father Caleb insists it is a holy number and sign from God.
Most men have taken comfort in those words, so I do not speak out… but they are meaningless. We are mere mortals embarking on a fool’s quest to slay a Demon; although it sounds like a fanciful theater play, it is a deadly serious matter! I would not be put at ease by 100 men, but seven are too few to even make the attempt!
Mark, Lucien, Father Caleb, and my three deputies enjoyed dinner with their families while I attempted to do the same. Afterwards, we met here to refine tomorrow’s plan – which was surprisingly straightforward compared to the circus of our previous gathering.
We read of our ancestor’s mistakes, hoping for guidance toward success, or rather, away from total failure. Part of me fears my body will refuse to rise from bed; the dread I feel is almost unbearable. We are hopeful more men will join us upon reaching the lake, but we cannot depend on uncertainties – especially where Lucien is involved.
We held a mock archery contest to determine who would carry the bow, and sadly, the “honor” is thine own. Mark cannot wield the dagger for his hands shook violently at the mere suggestion. Douglas shall carry it in his stead, and the others will form a perimeter while I loose the arrows.
In theory, it does not sound terribly difficult – but once face-to-face with the Demon – within a dark forest – our true mettle will be weighed. Personally, I expect each man to promptly wet his underclothes – myself included. The most difficult part will be living long enough to make the shot; time for a second round would cost dearly. When Timothy Cooke hit the creature, two men were killed before his arrow could fly… and the demon is sure to be stronger all these years later!
My deepest regret is the pain this causes Leah; I detest seeing my family sick with worry. If someone were capable of taking my place, I would gladly allow it, but there is no alternative. In case the worst should happen – I have prepared a series of letters; with luck, I anticipate burning them upon my return.
It is odd to think these few, short paragraphs are capable of sharing my sentiments long after I am gone from this world… it sounds absurd, does it not? I long to know how far into the future these words might speak, to know who’s ears they might reach, or on whose tongue they might dance.
Perhaps I should retire now, before my mind cracks from philosophical strain; I will need every moment’s rest for tomorrow’s endeavors.
… … How ya doing over there, friend? Need anything before the next part? You won’t want to stop after this, trust me!
… … … There really isn’t time to tell you about the snowman thing.
… … … Shush, Ethan! You watch yourself or I’ll have you back to kicking potatoes!
… Haha, nothing, just an old ghost joke. Way back – potatoes grew all over this place; when we were learning our spooky ways, we used ‘em for practice. You know… by kicking them. We made a game out of it – fun times.
… … … You never fail to impress, friend! Those are good instincts warning you about Lucien; his story did sound fishy, didn’t it? Almost as if some important bits were left out…
… … … Well, if you’re ready to proceed, maybe you’ll find out, eh?
… … … Okey dokey, then, here we go!
April 11, 1801
As I sit with quill poised, I cannot decide how to begin. So much has happened… it seems strange to sit calmly, writing at my desk after watching good men perish. It has left me feeling that I, too, was meant to die; what right have I to survive?!
Yes, believing we stood any chance against a Demon was idiocy, but believing we would receive help from the settlers was utter lunacy. They remained hidden until Lucien made himself known; then we were promptly greeted by an angry mob.
They did not assume the family dead – in fact, they were unaware of any absence. A day without Lucien’s presence was considered a blessing, but many mourned the loss of his boys; I can only assume they did not inherit their father’s character. Our hearts broke for the elder son’s fiancé; I regret she could not learn of the news in a more delicate setting.
We were taken into the church where our plans were discussed at length, but none volunteered to assist. The gathering was not a total failure; we did learn our friend’s true reasons for returning and of the settlers’ recent struggles.
Lucien wished to return to his people and live in a house near the lake; he never intended to venture into the forest – only to acquire safe passage home. Had he received the expected welcome – his immediate desertion would have followed; he is clearly despised by all. Having nowhere to go, he was forced to stay in our company.
Pierre DuPont attended University in New York and speaks English fluently; it was he who spoke for his people when they shared their own tribulations. Most suffer from horrible nightmares, but were too embarrassed to come forth until prompted. It is possible the disappearing livestock and work accidents were natural occurrences, but when considered with other matters – one tends to wonder.
People of all ages were displaying unusual behavior; some were withdrawn and sullen while others were loud and violent. Knowing the possible dangers they faced – we shared all we know. At mention of Mister Long, a portly woman rushed forward with a small child.
Maria Dubois is six and began speaking to her imaginary friend on her third night in the home. At first, he was kind, and they played innocent children’s games. As things progressed, the girl’s parents noticed increasingly peculiar activities; on several occasions, their daughter was discovered muttering gibberish while standing in the corner of her room. When asked, she said it was a game; she repeated every word Mister Long said , exactly as he said it. The poor child believed she was learning Latin.
Two nights ago, Maria murdered her father in his sleep, and she has not spoken a word since. Mrs. Dubois woke to see her husband gasp his last breath and her daughter holding a blood-stained knife. There was no time for thought; she was forced to process the scene in an instant as the child moved closer – blade raised to strike.
Mrs. Dubois acted quickly and decisively – I genuinely admire the woman. She subdued Maria by throwing a quilt over the child’s head and using a pillow for a shield! The girl was tied in a soft bundle until morning; once released, she remained in the stupefied state we were currently witnessing. I may suffer a naturally cynical perspective, but Mrs. Dubois was hopelessly blinded by her motherly perspective.
Behind Maria’s gleaming, brown eyes, there was an old soul. When all attention returned to our group, the facade slipped from her face. The lost, frightened girl was gone, and what remained could hardly be described as human. For a short instant, her eyes were yellow and askew – paired with the sudden paleness of her complexion, it was enough to render me speechless.
How does a man stand before his peers to proclaim a six-year-old possessed? I would appear mad – pointing, screaming, “Monster” at a small girl! Perhaps that was its hope – to provoke a hasty response. Moreover, the mask of innocence was restored as quickly as it vanished, and there was little chance it would slip again.
Nine people were lost in the forest before further search attempts were forbidden, and a child was recently dragged into the water. Earlier sightings of the lake monster describe it as gray in color, yet now several witnesses claim its tentacles were distinctly purple. Was it always so? Or is there more than one? Perhaps the same beast changed colors over the years; we cannot be certain.
It is hard to believe so much has happened in so few days. I felt compelled to ask why they stayed after surviving such horrific circumstances; they simply have nowhere else to go. After two years of roaming the countryside and falling victim to the perils of such a life – they simply wished to stop. They attempted to settle other lands, but were forced to leave in each instance.
The hour grows late, and my eyes struggle to remain open, but I dare not leave this account untold; death stalks in every shadow – of that you can be certain. Even my own home no longer feels safe; I see danger in every face, hear deceit in every voice – where does it end? Will life ever feel normal again?
I was speaking aloud again… Leah woke and came to calm me; Now, it is time to finish this account and hurry to bed; I must rise with the sun once again.
Conversing with the Frenchmen lasted longer than expected; it was almost 2:00 when we entered the forest. We seven men were a pitiful sight amongst the vast expanse of wilderness. The twisted, giant trees towered over us with bark as hard as stone; it seems death did nothing to still their growth. The further we hiked, the denser they grew – many wrapped tightly beneath sharp, thorn-infested vines – but we pushed forward.
We wandered with little direction until locating signs of a recent struggle. Blood stained the bark of two trees, and the surrounding brush was trampled. I personally lack tracking skills, but Mr. Baker is a marvel to behold. He believes three men fought a beast of immense size. The tracks it left behind are breathtaking; it walks on two legs and the footprints resemble that of a wolf… only they are far too large. A cold breeze chilled us to the core as we stood in awe of the sight.
John also found a discarded rifle; the barrel was bent upwards almost ninety degrees… I cannot imagine the force such an act required. It was apparent two men fled in separate directions, but – unwilling to divide our own force – we chose the path with better visibility.
The trail told the story of a man consumed with panic; he ran through the forest with little regard for direction and fell often as a result. Smears of blood stained the ground where his worst spills occurred, and scraps of clothing were tangled among the brambles. Eventually, we found a shoe with the owner’s foot still inside.
I imagined several reasons to suggest turning back, but – in each instance – I held my tongue. Did everyone know our true destination? Did they each fear it in the back of their minds, too frightened to voice the thought aloud? Or was it only myself? With each furtive glance to the sun’s position, I knew with growing certainty we awaited the Demon’s path; where we ventured before made little difference.
We knew it the moment we saw it. The temperature suddenly dropped, and all sounds of the forest ceased in an instant. A strong, cold wind blew, yet no leaves rustled; all remained still and silent despite the prominent gusts. It created a wholly unnatural effect I shall not soon forget.
I notched my first arrow, but each shot must be taken with consideration to ammunition retrieval; it is unlikely we will receive more. The right opportunity is worth a loss, but unless reasonably certain of a favorable outcome, I must refrain from action.
It is impossible to say how long we stood without speaking, merely staring at that cursed path, but eventually we forced ourselves to act. We traversed the trail in a single-file line with Father Caleb in the lead. He recited prayers for the majority of our hike and continued to do so even as the Demon carried him into the night.
After roughly twenty paces, a tall, dark mass leapt across the path and into the trees. We halted in place, rifles raised, and the Father continued praying, bible raised to the sky in defiance. When the black shadow suddenly descended upon us, several shots were fired; over it all, Caleb’s words grew louder, bolder, but they did not save him. Before he was carried out of sight, a final bullet ended his suffering. As the beast disappeared over the horizon, we were driven to our knees from an ear-splitting roar of fury. I suppose it prefers fresh meat…
Then there were six.
It shames me to admit my first thought was to discredit the Father’s “holy number” theory, but I held my tongue. There was no doubt the Demon would return; meanwhile, it was vital to cover maximum distance. Night came faster than expected; one moment the light began to fade, and the next it was pitch black. We lit torches without pausing, afraid to lose even those seconds. Walking in two lines of three, we could hardly illuminate the ground before us, but we could not turn back or all we lost would be in vain.
I do not know how long we continued that way – hunched forward, squinting into the darkness – but soon we were frozen in place by the sound of heavy footfalls. I did not realize my breath was held until my lungs begged for air; by then, the creature was coming to a stop just above us. My gaze was fixed onto the ground, but Melvin dared to look into the face of evil. The guttural sound to escape his throat was the sad, pitiful cry of a dying babe; the tension alone was enough to drive a man insane. Even before he ran, I knew he would be the next to die. Mr. Barclay was not granted the sweet escape of a quick death; instead, he died screaming in agony.
Then there were five.
Only after the death wails subsided was I consumed with guilt for my inaction. What short distance was between us when it crouched motionless above our heads? How long did it remain so before taking yet another life?
Blame is a dangerous path to tread; it led me down a rabbit hole of madness wherein I cursed every ancestor that walked blithely away – leaving that nightmare to grow stronger for others to fight in their stead! The distraction cost yet another man his life as I failed to see Mark straying from the path. He drifted closer to the tree-line until something dropped onto his head with inhuman speed.
It took a moment for my eyes to accept the sight, but eventually I understood it was a hand. An impossibly long arm was reaching out of the darkness, and its disproportionately sized hand was grabbing the top of Mark’s head. The world froze in that moment; were I an artist, I could paint the scene to the last detail. I lived a lifetime in that split-second – envisioning ways to save my cousin. While most ideas were immediately dismissed, there was one, small hope available.
I raised the bow, but before my shot could align with the oddly yellow-tinted arm, it happened. With a quick twist of the wrist, Mark’s head was plucked from his shoulders like a petal from its flower. There was a horrifying moment where his body remained upright, and just as it began to fall, a second hand caught it. In lieu of screams, we were serenaded with the crunching of bones as the Demon ate on the run.
Then there were four.
We had no choice but to hurry onward. I expected to find strange trees and a stone altar – as previously described – though, reality was different than imagined. Moments after losing Mark, a bright, orange glow became visible in the distance; one could argue that dying beforehand was a kindness.
Every man was warned on multiple occasions – “do not touch the trees” – but human nature will forever be ingrained with the desire to do the opposite of what they are told. As we drew closer, the lights grew brighter; at their source, it was like day again. Perhaps those monstrous, sac-like things were once the size of melons – long ago – but now they are the size of pigs, possibly larger!
They pulsated, and a thick, white ooze seeped from each one, creating an acidic moat around the clearing. The only way in or out was the path upon which we tread. Douglas’ face went slack as he approached the nearest tree; I reached for him, but it was too late. The thing burst at the first hint of contact, and Mr. Smith was consumed by the foul slime. A pungent odor permeated our senses as we strained to guard our ears from his final cries.
Then there were three.
We thought the dagger disintegrated, but we found it nearby, undamaged; John took it up as we continued toward the circle’s center. The altar was no longer made of stone but iron, and it was decorated with pear-inlay carvings; we believe something is written in a foreign alphabet. Fearing Lucien would cause irreparable damage with his moronic actions, we bade him to stand back and keep a watchful eye upon the path.
John and I studied the altar – discussing how best to proceed – and thought if brute force failed to destroy the sturdy structure, we might deface the special characters. No sooner than the words passed my lips did a soft thud draw our attention; Lucien was on the ground, and a foul, black substance – I could not tell if it was liquid or gas – was forcing itself into his mouth. His face turned purple and his throat bulged into grotesque lumps as his jaw was stretched far past its breaking point.
As the last of it vanished down our cowardly friend’s throat, he rose to his feet in disturbing, spasmodic movements. When he faced us, his head turned sideways ninety degrees with a reverberating pop. Instead of falling dead, he continued forward!
What does one call a corpse capable of walking? I would hope need for such a term never arose… but I will say the Not-Dead, or better yet, the Undead – yes, that has a ring. Alas, we lost our last chance to defeat the Demon; now that it possessed a body, we could only hope to kill the man.
Black sludge dribbled from his gaping maw as he drew closer. John shouted a primal battle cry as he charged with the dagger, and it broke the spell of paralysis holding me in place. Whether that spell was real or imagined, we may never know, but my aim was true; I knew the moment my fingers released the string.
John froze three yards away as the arrow whizzed past and pierced its target’s chest, but I did not stop; the second sunk deep into Lucien’s gut as he fell to his knees, and I held the third ready to fire. Foul, black blood seeped into the ground as deep, maniacal laughter echoed around us. In a forest, it should not be possible for sound to carry in such a way, but many impossible things occur in those woods.
I did not intend to leave until Lucien’s empty husk lay upon the ground, but the acidic substance in the moat began churning like angry ocean tides – bubbling and splashing over the sides. We watched with growing horror as it began to flood the clearing. We would be trapped if we did not make haste.
Then there were two.
By some miracle we made it out of that damn forest, but two arrows were lost. Now I, too, will leave it for the next generation; let them spite me as I did those before! I do not care; no force will entice me back to those woods!
We found the settlers ready to depart. Moving so many across the river was no small feat, but with that task – we were able to find much assistance from our brethren…
Unfortunately, the nightmare was not yet finished. The Elders spoke with each person before allowing them to enter our township… and aye, an imposter was found. I fail to grasp these otherworldly concepts with the same ease as others, but – to put it simply – a seven-year-old boy, Nathan Bishop, bore no reflection!
It was just as Father wrote of Aunt Florence so long ago. The Bishop’s refused to believe their son was gone, and a rather violent altercation ensued as parents were separated from child. After his vehement denials failed, the boy’s true nature came to light. Helpless as the babe he pretended to be, his face contorted into a grimace of pure hatred, and he spat vile curses until his last breath.
The Elders wished to stress it was not merely a case of possession; an evil spirit assumed the identity of young Nathan. It is unclear what fate the real child met, but the parents recalled an odd incident from days prior.
Moments after seeing the boy in bed, Nathan walked through the front door. Mrs. Bishop hurried to discover who occupied her son’s room, but found it empty; unable to explain the event – it was dismissed. It is fortunate he was revealed before more lives were lost; I have seen enough death to last a lifetime.
Though… it is only now that I remember the other child, Maria… I wonder what has become of her. Surely the Elders have taken appropriate action; I will make inquiries tomorrow.
This is the most I have ever written; my hand aches with cramps and I am glad to be finished. Now, I will sleep for a week!
Close your jaw there, friend; I bet you didn’t expect the man to write through the night, did ya? Well, he surely did, and he didn’t write again for damn near three weeks because of it. I know the writing cramps he referred to, but I don’t know why he’s complaining; it’s a wonderfully satisfying sensation!
… … I can’t swear by it because I wasn’t there, but the Demon doesn’t typically jump in skin suits willy-nilly; I think he did something to prime Lucien up while he was stuck out there in the woods.
… … … You bet your britches those folks moved! They were ready to tuck tail beforethe posse arrived, but then Lucien showed up – getting everyone all hot and bothered talking that Demon Slayer nonsense! They assumed they could stay put if someone cleared out the unwanted neighbors; ain’t that a hoot?
… … … Maria actually did make it to Jamestown, but I’ll have to tell you about her another day. If you want all the bells and whistles there’s no time for it tonight.
… … … Folks mostly did fine once they got to know each other; they weren’t a bad bunch. You got to remember, hard times breed hard people. Most fall in line once they settle in enough to develop a routine.
… … … Sure, routines are great! They provide structure and order to an otherwise chaotic world.
… … … Unfortunately, Josh developed a taste for alcohol after this encounter, and later – when they lost Wallace – he succumbed to it entirely. Leah grew to hate his company and moved to Pennsylvania to be with their daughter.
… … … Well, that’s what you get with real life; every ending can’t be a fairytale. Unless… would you like it to be? I could—
… … Ok, I was only kidding; I’ll read it as I see it, scout’s honor.
… … … I suppose it’s that time again; you be safe out there. We’ll be here, watching all these wonderful downloads! Thanks again by the way – you just… wow, you have no idea.
… … … … Absolutely, I hope you come back soon; next time we’re gonna be reading about the last settlement!
… … … Haha, well, calling it a settlement is a stretch… it’s actually a desperate band of outlaws, but they made one hell of a final stand.
… … … There you go again with twenty questions; we can get to all that next time, I promise.
Hullo! Looks like these flurries will be another blizzard soon. Come on, let’s get you to the cabin before you freeze over. When this storm blew in, I knew you must be on the way. We’re thrilled to have you back with us so close to Christmas!
… It’s no trouble at all; the neighbors have been restless the last couple days. Figured I ought to play it safe, so I grabbed an umbrella and hit the trail. I’m glad you made good time; thanks to those thunderheads it’s gonna be full dark out here soon.
… … … …. Brrr! We’re home, family!
… … Here ya go, Ethan! Good job with the fire, you earned yourself first use of our newfangled portable battery. It’s the dawn of a new day with this long-lasting puppy!
… … Thanks again, friend! You discovered something that actually motivates the boy; we never thought we’d see the day. Here’s the one you left with us last time. So, is the person who invented these things super famous?
… … How can you not even know their name?!
… … … Alright… Trish is right, we better get started. I can’t keep talking through sun-up. Get yourself settled while I set the scene. If you wanna hear the daily drivels of Jamestown life, we can go back when we finish the good stuff. For now, I suspect you’d prefer to hear the juicy bits.
… … What can I say, stories are my sixth… well… seventh sense? Besides, it’s adorable how you breathers are fascinated by death. You got all the time in the world to be dead later – go out there and live! Visit a library, get hot water from a faucet, buy food for weeks at a time; the possibilities are endless!
… … Whoops got excited again, sorry… anyway! We’re going to skip all the way to 1752 tonight. Such a long time passed; our descendants stopped believing in the boogiemen. With each generation, the population increased, and more land was needed. Eventually, the stories came to be known as tales concocted to prevent children from playing near the river.
… … Yep, you guessed it! Our genius legacies decided to expand to Dirge Lake. They built a bridge and everything.
… … No, their bridge was later destroyed. The one there today was built in the early 1900’s by the government. Locals fought it every step of the way, but you know how it is with infrastructure.
… … Ethan, if you don’t want to hear it, put in your headphones.
… Sorry, he’s just touchy because he was one of the geniuses. To be fair, it wasn’t his fault; his father was to blame. The boy is descended from James, but great nephew is a mouthful. He was only eighteen when that mess happened; he didn’t know any better. It’s harder to accept this… lifestyle at that age.
… It’s kind of you to be concerned, but don’t worry; look, he’s already lost in Spider-Man.
… Haha! No, the boy is far too lazy to write. We’ll be reading my own great grandson’s journal. Nicky was a chip off the ole block; that boy done me right proud… you know – once he got over his skepticism. He was only twenty-one himself, but he was lucky enough to make it out alive.
… … The weird part is, me and Trish had a front row seat for the whole ride.
… Believe me, we tried our best to stop them, but there’s only so much we could do. Sometimes, kids gotta learn the hard way.
… … You don’t just die and pop up the next second as we are now! Goodness no, it took almost twenty years just to poke stuff. I don’t think anyone could hear us for nearly a century – even then it was barely above a whisper. Appear in human form? With substance? Converse for extended periods? Psh, you’re talking more than two hundred for this swagger.
… … Well, if we had gotten mixed up with the demon and its blood sacrifices, sure, we probably coulda sped things up a bit – but being dead is no reason to drag other people down.
… … Hmm… maybe you’re right… I think laziness does run in the family!
… … We had the hang of things well enough to help a few, but even now we don’t go near the demon’s nest.
… … We’re drifting to the mumbos and jumbos again; all that will come out in the story natural-like. I’ll fill in some missing blanks as we go, but Nicholas did a fine job, especially for a young-un!
Now, you’d think so much time passed that it would take a minute for things to kick off – but nope! They were being watched from the first tree down to the last person out, you better believe that!
April 12, 1752
After nearly a year, we are finally moved to our new homes. I cannot help but laugh at how this space was avoided for silly superstition! Though, I do wonder if the water was once genuinely clear… it would be fascinating to discover the true cause of such a transformation. Regardless, it is teeming with fish; you can hear them splashing about at all hours.
As for reports of the land’s deterioration – it is honestly not so bad. The soil is more suited to farming across the river, but that hardly means it is uninhabitable. With a little extra care and irrigation, our crops will grow. Since the removal of dead trees and shrubbery, Dirge Lake is uniquely picturesque; very unlike that of traditional scenery.
We are surrounded by a forest of large, twisted trees whose branches reach out in strange curvatures, bending at odd angles. I have never seen their like. Thick, gray moss hangs down in sheets, accenting the greenery in a somehow beautiful, gloomy way.
I cannot express how wonderful it feels to sit in my own home, writing my own memoirs. Silence is a glorious thing I have rarely experienced in such entirety. When I am ready to start a family, I must add additional rooms to retain a private space.
Hopefully, by that time, these strange notions will cease; I believe the old stories have affected me in a small way. The moment I began this entry, an odd sensation overcame me. It is as if someone stands looking over my shoulder. I expected the feeling to fade, but it grows worse. There is a tickle at the back of my neck, and a chill down my spine.
At least I have the comfort of knowing I am not alone in my paranoia; Ethan thought he heard a man call from the forest, and my sister claimed to see a disfigured face in the window. Father would enjoy a hearty laugh if he read these words, but it is worth noting how easily the power of suggestion can manipulate one’s senses. I am sure others follow our example but keep the matters private.
If dangerous wildlife is nearby, it will not take long to dispatch; the farmhouse is no longer secluded from neighbors. In case of attack, help is not far away, but I do not believe such an event will truly take place. Much time was spent in the area during preparations, and nothing was seen to justify such concerns.—
Damn! Clumsy oaf! One careless slip, and now there is a strike across the page!
Alas, that is enough foolishness for one night; I am eager to retire. Tomorrow will be a long, hard day. The Hampton’s crop restorations begin at sunrise. I volunteered because farming is vital for the community, and not at all for reason to be near Kenneth’s lovely daughter… although, if I were ready to begin courting, she would make me a lucky man indeed.
April 13, 1752
It was a mistake to indulge such nonsense last night. These wild ideas of monsters and demons have taken root in my brain, and now they blossom into pure madness! I’ll not have it; there are no such things as ghosts or spirits! Do you hear the insanity of those words?
One must take stock and look at the situation as a whole – outside one’s single, small-minded existence. Which is more likely? That a silly wives tale rings true? Or that – being aware of such tales – my mind warps situations to fit the narrative? Any who chooses the former clearly has no respect for science. We are no longer in the dark ages; one must adapt to the modern world, or it will leave them behind.
I digress, I should not become flustered over such trivial mishaps. If nothing else, these anecdotes may amuse my grandchildren some day; I must admit, from the comfort of home, the situation does seem humorous. Even the boys at the lake had a scare when placing the fish traps, but their incident is easily explained; in the process of stealing supper, alligators destroyed their nets. My experience was more confounding.
Alice fetched us from the field when lunch was ready. She and her mother prepared enough food to feed the volunteers, and tables were set outside to accommodate our large number. While preparing my plate, I heard Mrs. Hampton calling for her youngest, Florence. The child was assumed to be in her room, and as a gentleman, I offered my assistance.
After ascending the stairs, I turned right and followed the long hallway to the open door on the left. Florence’s room was brightly decorated with flowers, and the child stood at her window, seeming not to notice my presence. She turned when I spoke and came a few steps closer. When I relayed her mother’s message, she inched forward a little more.
Thinking it a game – I extended my arm, asking if I might escort her as a proper lady, but she did not find the offer charming as envisioned. No matter what I tried, there was no further reaction; she merely stood there, expressionless.
My stomach begged for the delicious smells wafting through the open window. Losing patience in my hunger, I resigned to the knowledge she would soon grow bored and follow. Upon returning, I informed Alice of my less than successful efforts, but she appeared confused and gestured toward the stables. I nearly choked when I saw Florence riding atop her father’s shoulders.
I believe, if nothing else, my fellows would describe me as a sane, reasonable, man; one who is not easily shaken or deceived. Yet… I cannot explain how this happened, and no matter how I replay the scene – I do not understand where I am mistaken. You must picture it precisely as I state, for I wish others to appreciate the magnitude of this riddle.
From leaving the child’s room to seeing her at the stables, few minutes passed. We dined in clear view of the home; never was it out of sight. The barn was at my back, with forty yards of open field between structures. I would have considered it an impossible task to move from one to the other without my seeing – yet it happened.
I am simply baffled. Even more that the child played her part so well; that alone is a worthy feat, but the sheer logistics behind getting her to the stables are on another level entirely. Florence did not act alone! The plotting was Kenneth’s doing – of that, I am sure.
It is not that I am a poor sport. The illusion was artfully done and masterfully executed; there is no denying that; I simply wish to know how – but they will not reveal their methods. In fact, they will not admit to trickery at all! They insist I saw a different child; the notion is absurd! Even if multiple ten-year-olds were roaming about – one could hardly mistake her golden curls and blue eyes!
Damn if this is not my own doing for showing interest in the details. Had I remained aloof, their bragging would be endless; now it is more fun to leave me in ignorance. Perhaps sleep will bring clarity: it is a theory worth testing.
Whew, and I thought I was long winded! I forgot how philosophical that kid used to be. Anyhow, no matter; I just wanted to make a quick notation for the sake of accuracy. Do you know what a doppelgänger is?
… … I had a feeling. There’re quite a few misconceptions about them, but just keep in mind they are not in any way, a ghost. They’re two completely different breeds.
… … Eh, think of them as low-level demons. They used to be human, but when passing to the other side – they landed in the unpleasant place. On rare occasions – one finds its way home but needs a new “identity” to be free. Okay, back to it.
… … Sigh… see Trish, give one little tidbit and now it’s twenty questions. Settle down, friend, we got all night.
April 14, 1752
It was another day of strange occurrences. If tomorrow is not better, we may have to reevaluate our position. While I do not relish the notion, I must admit the necessity. Ken Hampton may be a crafty devil, but I cannot believe he would force the stresses of this night upon his family by choice… honestly, I no longer know what to believe.
At dusk, all others departed, but I dallied in the stables. Florence’s soft voice startled me from thought as she extended her family’s invitation to supper. I accepted gratefully if not suspiciously, but is that surprising after the ruckus of last night?
It was not likely I would fall for the same trick twice! I kept the child in sight, watching for any sign of co-conspirators. As we left the barn, someone hiding in the trees shouted a gargled cry for help, but unwilling to traipse through the forest, I quickened our pace.
While impressed with Florence’s feigned fright, I am almost certain it was Donald’s voice. Even if slurred speech concealed his identity; the girl’s brother was supposedly on a hunting venture and not expected to return for several days. A likely story indeed. If that were not enough, Mrs. Hampton shrieked an ear-splitting scream at the sight of us.
She was descending the steps with Mr. Hampton close at heel when we entered through the foyer. Penelope’s cry shook me, sewing doubts in my previous perceptions. Without speaking, the couple rushed upstairs. When they returned, I could see the loss of color from their pale faces… I cannot conceive how one fakes such emotional response.
Perhaps what began in jest—
Blast! How have I ruined yet another page! The damned pen has a mind of its own! No more of this; I have no opinion on the matters! I simply state the facts as they occurred; let others determine what lies in truth! Now, be gone whatever foul force foils my hard work!
The Hampton’s claimed to see Florence in her room only seconds before, but they could not argue with the sight of her before their eyes. The lost, confused looks they wore were admittedly familiar, but it is a hard concept to accept. At Kenneth’s suggestion, we all sat to dine, recounting each event in precise detail.
Mr. Hampton explained they were dressing for supper when Florence appeared in the doorway. She reported my acceptance of the evening invitation, and Penelope instructed her daughter to likewise prepare. She watched as the child ran into her own room. When the parents passed her door moments later, the girl was brushing her hair.
Not wishing her to dally, they paused in the hall. They insist they did not continue down the stairwell until Florence trailed behind; then, seconds later, they saw her in my own company. I have never been so utterly at loss for explanation; I feel as though all I once believed has been called into question.
Ethan continues facing challenges at the lake. Not only have they lost more nets, but a horse was taken. Its cries were heard through the village as it was dragged from shore. When the first men arrived, they saw the beast’s head disappear beneath the choppy waters. It seems as if our next priority will be hunting the alligators before a child is lost.
I grow increasingly wary as I ponder these circumstances. Once again it instills the sense I am not alone. Twice now I have glanced over my shoulder, expecting to find a visitor. It is overwhelming how strong the sensation grows. I believe I am at my limit; it is time to retire in preparation for another early start.
April 15, 1752
It was a somber day; good men have died. Late in the night, the Hampton’s woke to the sound of agonizing screams and frantic banging. Kenneth quickly recognized the familiar voice begging entry and rushed to unbar the door. He gasped at the bloody sight crumpled before him as he struggled to drag Judd Crawley inside.
Once across the threshold, the injured man fought assistance, demanding every entry point be secured. Ken humored Mr. Crawley, latching the door before further examination. A dark, crimson trail marked their passage through the home, but it was already too late.
With aid from Penelope and a newly lit fire, they were able to see the horrifying extent of Judd’s injuries. Had the man survived, it would have been without his left arm or leg, but he soon lapsed into unconsciousness, dying minutes later. His shoulder remained attached by only a few bundled nerves, his knee twisted at a nauseating angle, and puncture wounds bore deep into his thigh, exposing the muscle and tendons beneath.
Mr. Crawley never said what attacked him, and I am beyond speculation (lest another page be marred), but most assume a bear. Mrs. Hampton is terribly distraught Florence witnessed the gruesome sight. The curious child was caught spying from the balcony, poking her head between the bannisters. Alice ran to her sister, but the girl was already gone. My considerate, future wife found the little one pretending to sleep soundly in bed and considered her work finished.
Worried for Donald’s safety after multiple nights alone in the dangerous forest, we have formed a search party which will depart at first light. It is vital I rest soon, but there is more I must write while memory is fresh. Unfortunately, Judd’s was not the only death suffered.
This evening, I was told of the Johnson family’s tragedy. What they have endured these last days is unimaginable… even more so that it was kept secret. Not that I blame them; I myself had much the same instinct. Although, it is doubtful I have the fortitude to remain silent if faced with true adversity. Their tale is so unusual, I wish to record it precisely as told.
Edmund and Grace Johnson are a young couple with a frail six-year-old son. Benjamin has always been sickly and therefore does not play about with other children. As they have since been unable to conceive, the boy is without siblings and prone to loneliness. None were surprised when he developed an imaginary friend; it is a common enough thing. The parents were merely pleased at the sound of their son’s laughter.
The boy developed this “friendship” during the first night in his new home. By the next noonday meal, he was insisting a plate be prepared for Mister Long. At first the parents found it endearing and encouraged the boy’s imagination. They asked questions about his new companion, finding the answers odd but harmless.
Over the course of that day, they learned Mister Long is 842 years-old and wears a black dress which covers his feet. He is bald with stark, white skin, a crooked nose, and uneven, yellow eyes. The imagery is admittedly disturbing, but stranger still is what happened next.
After putting the child to bed, Edmund and Grace sat at the kitchen table, discussing the odd descriptions of Mister Long. During this conversation, Mr. Johnson stated the price of a dog worth distracting the boy from such hideous ideas. The moment those words were spoken, Benjamin’s shrill cry rang through the house.
The parents rushed to his aid, confused and terrified. As they burst through the door, a dark mass seemed to disappear through the wall, and items in the adjoining room could be heard crashing to the floor. Grace held her son as Edmund searched the home, but nothing was found.
They waited until the following morning to question the child. He was incapable of expressing what transpired but understood why. Somehow, Benjamin was aware of the dog jest. He repeated Edmund’s words verbatim, claiming Mister Long perceived it as a threat. I have personally been inside the Johnson home, and I can bear witness the rooms are situated far apart.
Their son relayed progressively sinister messages until the Johnson’s terror came to a climax just before dawn. Once again, they woke to the sound of Benjamin’s desperate screams. As they charged in, a solid, black form could be seen enveloping their son’s body, choking off his agonized wails.
The mortified parents lunged forward, but an invisible force propelled them backwards. They watched, paralyzed, as the malignant mass warped into an almost humanoid shape, and black, wispy tendrils forced Benjamin’s lips apart, opening his mouth far past its human limit. The snap of his jaw echoed in the small room, earning fresh shrieks of agony from the helpless parents.
As the form slowly forced itself into the boy, his throat tripled in size. In a last act of desperation, Edmund screamed into the cold darkness, offering his own body in exchange.
The black mass left the child like that of a snake leaving its den. Faster than human eyes could track, it flew across the room, forcing itself into Mr. Johnson. Grace watched in horror as her husband’s body turned into a purple, bulging nightmare.
With a sudden realization she was no longer held in place, the determined mother acted without hesitation. Returning with Edmund’s rifle, she pulled the trigger before the possessed man could rise to his feet. The stench of sulfur filled the room as Grace carried her son away from the carnage.
Mrs. Johnson has moved back to Jamestown Proper to be with her mother and says the boy has no memory of the tragic events – something she considers a blessing, no doubt. I do not pretend to know what plagued the small family; I only document the facts in hopes of one day reviewing these pages as a true man of science. Perhaps then I will understand what piece this puzzle misses. For now, all I can do is rest in preparation for tomorrow’s search.
It is definitely time for a break.
… … No way, Mister Long is not a doppelgänger or demon; we think he’s a strangely powerful ghost, but it’s hard to be sure. He was here long before the first settlement, and I doubt anyone ever finds a way to get rid of him. Who knows what kinda tricks he’s picked up since this story.
… … Haha, it’s not a dress, it’s a cloak. The kid didn’t know what to call it, and Nicky was a bit too shook up to think anything of the detail.
… … Actually, the advice came from yours truly; we felt really bad for that poor kid. We weren’t very good at communicating yet but putting all our energy into yelling instructions got the job done… sorta.
… … It was honestly the only way to save Benji, and it was still Ed and Grace’s decision. We only gave them ideas, the choice to act was all their own. Trust me, most parents would have done the same; I know we would.
… … … Hell, we also stalked the shit out of every man intent on searching the woods. You know well as us that Donald fella is long dead; there was no point watching more die on a hopeless mission. It’s surprising what you can do to someone’s food if you hover round the kitchen long enough.
… … Those answers will come in due time; you’ll find out more soon enough. So… umm… while we’re on a break anyway, I couldn’t help noticing the bulge in your pack there…
… … … … … Thank the cricket I don’t need to breathe; I think we’re about to find out if ghosts have tears. The Stand, IT, and Needful Things are my favorites! It’s like you knew!
… … … They did?! My family is the best!
… … Hey, that means you too, ya know! I’m speaking for all of us when I say you’re every bit a member! If you’ll have us, that is…
… … No wonder you were so eager to get back before Christmas! You sly thing!
… … Okay, I know, I know; I’m doing it again. Though, in my defense I think you only hindered the process by distracting me. I don’t know how you expect me to sit here reading this drivel while those babies are waiting.
… … That’s not my fault! You shoulda told me to mind my own damn business!
… Fine, at least let me hold them.
… Well, what are you waiting for? Sit your ass down so we can get to it.
April 16, 1752
I want nothing more to do with this vile place. I will need a few days for planning and preparations, but by this time next week I shall be far away from here. I woke an hour before dawn, feeling nauseated but determined to participate in the search for Alice’s brother. If the worst happened, she would need a reliable friend close by to ensure no dishonorable fiends try gaining advantage of her grievous state.
By some strange coincidence, four members of our search party also fell ill. In the end, only five of us entered the woods. To collect more men would only delay us longer, and if Donald lay injured, each passing hour further decreased his chance of survival. With all of us armed, our numbers should have been sufficient, but I never dreamed… in all my wildest imaginings… I could never have conceived such possibilities.
It was a clear, sunny day when we entered the forest, but an hour into our hike – dark, foreboding clouds rolled across the sky. Joe Harper and Travis Miller decided they would pursue a secondary trail to speed the search. I am as sure they are dead as I am of the cowards’ intent to return home, but they were never seen again.
Kenneth, Ethan, and I marched two miles deeper into the foreboding woods. I still do not understand how it could become so dark during the brightest part of day. Had I not known better, I would have believed it the middle of night!
While stopped to prepare our torches, a torrential downpour broke loose from the skies; not even the forest’s thick canopy could protect us from the rain. Finally, after much struggling, we managed to keep one flame lit under the protection of two men’s coats. Stumbling along awkwardly, we became lost, unable to tell which way was home with our limited vision.
We were not fools, we knew it better to stand in place than wander about aimlessly, and that is precisely what we did. For hours we searched our small area until finally, the torch-light reflected off a shiny, metal object tangled in the branches above. Ethan retrieved the item with great difficulty, and we were crestfallen to see it was unmistakably Donald’s pocket watch.
It was impossible not to connect his treasured keepsake’s location with that of the old stories. A tree-hopping demon seemed less of a drunkard’s ramblings as we failed to locate any signs of a climber upon the bark. Even if Donald found need to conceal himself, there were at least three nearby trees with limbs better suited to a man’s reach.
As we followed the new trail, rain continued to fall in sheets of cold, fat droplets, soaking every layer we wore and chilling us to the bone. We huddled together, seeking the warmth of our meager flame, but it felt as if ice formed on our very souls. That is when we heard something enormous barreling through the forest, approaching at inhuman speed.
I do not know how to describe the cacophony of noises as giant limbs snapped beneath a heavy weight, and thousands of leaves crackled in unison as they fell to paint the forest floor; all the while thunder boomed overhead as lightning illuminated our surroundings in brief flashes of eerie blue light. I did not see Kenneth die, but I heard his screams long enough to know it was not a quick death.
We ran blindly through the maze of trees until I tripped, falling hard into a tangle of roots and losing our only meager source of light. Ethan stopped to help me up, and we saw it was Donald’s mutilated corpse over which I fell. My cousin was quick to regain his composure, dragging me by the arm until I resumed independent function. I do not know if I could have stopped were the situation reversed, so complete was my terror; selfish bastard I am, I thought of nothing but survival.
I did not know where we were or if we ran in the right direction, I only thought to flee the sounds of pursuit that gained on us with every step. My brain could not accept when the giant beast sprung forward, blocking our escape entirely. I was frozen, mouth agape, struggling to take in the gruesome sight before me with the blessedly small light of day remaining.
That creature! It is exactly as described down to the last, disturbing detail. Lesser men may remove their own eyes at such a sight, but I cannot let Ethan’s sacrifice be in vain. I only live thanks to the bravery of my dear cousin – who without thought or care for his own life, threw me from the demon’s path as he advanced on the evil beast. Judging by the sickening squelch that sounded with the rifle blast, I can safely assume the brave man’s one shot aimed true.
My heart broke into pieces at the horrible noises to follow, but I could not look back, lest I be next. One moment I was crashing through the forest, drowning in misery, and the next – I was home, standing in bright, warm sunshine. Somehow, I found my way to the other side of Dirge Lake, near Jean Kirby’s home, and not a drop of rain had fallen. If I had not tripped, forcing us to waste precious time… Ethan would be here now.
I reported the horrible experience as we gathered in the Hampton home for the final time. I will never forget the look on Alice’s face as I broke the tragic news. Upon relaying the last, gruesome details, several others came forward with their own unexplained experiences.
Theresa Harper left her home to fetch a pail of water from the lake when a single, sharp cry rang out. Her husband followed her tracks to the water’s edge, but no prints existed to indicate where she next went. In the grand scheme of things, it is not surprising she was never found.
Bonnie McEntire complained her daughter talked to the empty corner of her bedroom on a nightly basis, and she was not the only one.
Simon Clovers, the man who witnessed the horse die at the lake, admitted to seeing tentacles wrapped around the animal’s head as it was pulled under.
As Dan Freeman recounted his experience of seeing a deer walk on its hind legs, Phillip Matthews said he too witnessed such a sight. Panic broke out as several people began talking in unison, but Uncle Nelson quickly remedied the chaos by reminding all that we stood in Mrs. Hampton’s den on the night she lost her husband and son.
Needless to say, we are ready to admit our folly, and will leave this place tomorrow. Personally, I will take great pleasure in watching the bridge burn once the last man is across. Then I shall make very serious considerations into the type of man I wish to be and do whatever necessary to become that vision. If I am lucky, perhaps I will have half Ethan’s bravery and integrity.
Aw, it’s ok, friend. Do you need a tissue? Look, if it makes you feel any better, Trish babies the absolute shit out of that boy. I know we like to joke, but honest, we’re all quite happy here together.
… … … Scout’s honor. I mean come on, just look at him! He’s so lost in whatever he’s watching, he doesn’t give a single fig about how he got here. Now perk up, it’s time for the last entry.
April 19, 1752
I refuse to let that place drive me mad! Now that survivors are safely back in Jamestown, I have decided to go east – to college, where I will become a man of science. When properly educated, I will unravel these mysteries; until then, I can only record the events in preparation of that later date. Perhaps by then, the elders will trust me enough to reveal the demon’s name. If the legends are true, I must admit there is no reason to divulge the information at present.
The day after I returned from the Cursed Woods, all of Jamestown assisted in our move. Our dead were transported so they may be buried with their families, and every wagon was overloaded with the children of desperate parents. Most could not afford to leave all possessions behind, but they could not take chances knowing what happened to the Johnson boy and now poor Florence.
Alice was in her room when she heard her mother’s pained scream. She discovered her sister wielding a kitchen knife with proficiency beyond that of a small child. I know she will likely never forgive herself, but her quick actions saved Penelope’s life. Her mother’s wounded shoulder bled freely but was not lethal.
Somehow, amidst the chaos, Alice noticed her sister had no reflection in a mirror. She describes her actions as help from a guardian angel, for she does not understand how she knew that to mean Florence was beyond saving. Grabbing a nearby fire poker, she put an end to the being posing as her sister, and now her mother will make a full recovery… physically speaking, of course.
I personally escorted the grieving women across the bridge to safety, but it will be a long road to recovery after their heavy losses. Throughout the days ahead, I came to learn more horrific tales of those lost due to our ignorance. Just as my forefathers warned, we slaughtered our own the moment we expressed our plans to escape. Part of me still suspects the events of the last week are a nightmare, but with each passing day, my hopes of waking fade.
Clyde Parker shot his wife and children in their sleep and witnesses report seeing him enter the forest, but he has not been seen since. Jim Williams lost his hand when Mrs. Williams woke him with a hatchet. He killed her as their children screamed, and he has not spoken a word since. If not for his eldest son, we would not know what transpired.
Each family now has a similar tale. All told, twenty-six souls were lost because we believed our intellect superior to those before us. The number would surely be higher had our neighbors not so graciously assisted our retreat. I believe my time away will be good for mind and soul; it is my greatest wish to return as a man who is capable of providing Alice with the life she deserves.
I know Nicky got off to a rough start, but none of us are half as smart as we think at twenty-one. Hell, he wised up faster than most, and he did go on to be quite the man of science.
… … … I’m glad you agree; people tend to forget how hard it is to believe this stuff when you weren’t raised with it.
… … Course he did! The Cooke men always win their lady’s heart! Hmph, as if you had to ask.
… … I tell you what, the hardest part of the whole ordeal was making him mess up the journal. Broke my heart to see those beautiful pages stained with stray ink, but it was for the greater good.
… … Hmm, I guess the info on doppelgängers was a little sparser than I remembered… must have confused it with the next part, my bad. It’s okay, we’ll get there.
… … … One more thing before you go, can I ask you something? I’ve seen it referenced in movies, but don’t quite understand… are you familiar with the YouTube? I think that’s how you say it… one of these phones has a picture—
… Oh, good, so you’ve heard of it!
… … … … … … … Well, that sounds neat as hell! Golly, I wish we could get internet here! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining! Our lives are infinitely more entertaining since you came along… but there’s so much we miss out on.
… … … Sure, we have plenty of extra phones we’ll never use, why? You need one? We have a wide assortment to choose from.
… Yea, most are new, but—
… … … … Ethan! Bring every phone, now! Our best friend is going to fill them with YouTube downloads! Move your ass!
… … … I don’t know… I… think… this is what it feels like to be speechless… what do you recommend?
… … … … … You mean… there’s entire channels dedicated to people reading scary stories?!
… That sounds a little too good to be true…
… … Who’s your favorite? You clearly have excellent taste.
… … Dark Somnium? Okay, he sounds like a winner. Did you know Somnium is Latin for dream? I like the clever ones, yes, load me up with all his best!
… … What do you mean it’s not just stories and sound effects?
… … How can it also be a community?
… … Dark Family? My, that does sound like a dream, doesn’t it?
… … Aww, but I won’t be able to talk with them… ah, well. Maybe someday. I’m just excited to hear new stories.
… … I know I said it last time but spare me one last sappy moment. I truly wish you the happiest of holidays, my own, special Dark Family. As always, we shall eagerly await your next visit.
Ooo weee, come in, come in! I’m glad you’re here early; it’s shaping up to be a bad one out there. The wind has a bite even I can feel. We might have a blizzard on our hands in a few hours. Make yourself comfortable, I’ve had a fire going each night since you left… although, if I had any sense I’d only bother when it stormed.
… I don’t rightly know why, but the weather has been that way ever since the last bunch tried to live here. It’s like… this place’s version of a welcome party.
… Gosh, hard to remember when the last settlement came… What was it, Trish? 1870’s? 80’s? It’s one of those, but I’d have to look to be sure. Don’t worry, we’ll get to them in due time. Tonight, we’re going to skip ahead a couple years so I can tell you about the fifth settlement and what my brother learned in the mountains.
… No, unfortunately he returned after the refugees arrived, but I think you’ll be pleased with the story. It should answer a few more of those technical questions you’re so fond of.
… Absolutely not; you don’t have to worry about Trish’s mom. Gale had a run-in with some campers a few days ago. She’ll be sleeping it off a while longer.
… Not sleep in the way you understand it, but close enough. Oh, before I forget, here’s your battery thing. I can’t thank you enough for the extra phone time.
… You brought us another one? You are the truest of friends! Well, if you’re all settled in, we can get started.
May 10, 1679
There is little I have written in the last two years that does not induce sleep, but now I find myself regretful of complaint. Often, I have resented the dull happenings here, as if new settlers would somehow justify my brother’s absence. Had I not been so consumed by desire to fill this journal with new information, he would be here now. Sometimes, I dream James returns safely, his journey successful; other times, his corpse returns, and the once confined evil spreads across the river to devour us all.
How long does one hold hope in their heart before it is time to move on? Should we risk more lives by sending another group in search of the first? It shames me to admit relief the decision does not rest on my shoulders, but the fact remains, something must be done.
This morning, a small group of weary travelers wandered into our village. They looked defeated; their clothes were torn, they carried no supplies, and had not eaten for days. As chance would have it, I was speaking with Tim when they arrived, and we were first to greet them.
We offered the starving men food to break their fast and heard their tale. Three weeks ago, their village was burned to the ground by a Comanche War Party. The survivors followed the river, searching for a safer location to rebuild. Yesterday, they discovered the abandoned settlement at Dirge Lake and thought it a gift from God. The men we met were searching the surrounding areas when they discovered our town.
My brother and I launched into desperate explanations as to why it unwise to remain there, but I fear we only succeeded in appearing as madmen. With the offering of food to carry to their people, they waited whilst I gathered supplies. As I collected any useful items we could spare, I implored others to greet the newcomers and share their own tales.
Unfortunately, I only worsened the situation, for they were gone upon my return. The moment they saw our darker-skinned residents, they called us fools, and left without further delay. Their parting sentiments expressed the desire we reap what we sow in trusting the devil’s own. I cannot help but appreciate the poetic irony of their words.
We should not blame the travelers for their fear. I cannot fathom what it must be like to watch your home burn as your people die around you… but if they do not heed our warnings, I fear they will be doomed to repeat the same fate.
Tim has ordered a wagon be filled with supplies, and at dawn, we will begin the difficult process of crossing the river. Doctor Gordon and Eric Newman will accompany us. Perhaps if wounds are treated and bellies are filled, they will be more amenable to conversation. With any luck, tomorrow’s entry will document our success.
May 11, 1679
I do not know why I hoped to appeal to desperate men with reason. They readily accepted our gifts but remained reluctant to speak with us. We congregated in the church where we could address the people as Doctor Gordon saw to the injured. The wounds were minor; those with serious injuries perished in the first few days of travel. Even so, the physician worked at a slow pace, providing us more time to explain the peril of their current situation.
The men who appeared to be the leaders remained for the duration of our visit, actively engaging in the debate. Others came and went in a constant rotation, never speaking. It quickly became apparent they wished to hide their true numbers from us. At first, it was argued we were ignorant to the danger from our own people, and we were invited to join them. We continued in that manner until all wounds were treated, but as we prepared to leave, we noticed a frail, young lad hiding in the corner. Several men shouted for the boy to go, but at our continued insistence, they allowed him to be examined.
While all suffered from early signs of starvation, the lad, Daniel, is naught but bones. It is clear he has been in this condition much longer than three weeks. After failing to answer the doctor’s questions, a gray-haired man by the name of Frederick Barnes explained the child to be a mute orphan in his care since the loss of his parents two years ago. He then offered the boy as payment for the wagon of goods, claiming him stronger than he appeared. Thankfully I managed to hold my tongue as Tim accepted this proposal without displaying disgust.
When it became clear neither party would bend to the other’s wish, we returned home, disheartened. Before departing, we made it known they remain welcome should their resolve falter, but our words fell on deaf ears. How long will it be before the killing resumes? How will we know when it does? It is clear they do not relish the idea of our friendship; we can only hope pride does not prevent their seeking help when it is needed. Although… after speaking with Daniel, I do not feel guilty in expressing my own wishes that certain men do not make it to Jamestown.
On the walk home, we shared our lunches with the lad. Aside from hoping to ease his fear, the doctor says it is urgent to increase his weight. Daniel eyed us suspiciously as he ate, but it was clear he understood our words and listened closely. Imagine our surprise when the boy we believed mute showed an aptitude for speech even I envy.
A sickness ravaged their village two years ago, when the boy was only eight, and his parents were among the first to perish. A cruel uncle took him in for a short time, which is where he learned it was better to be thought mute than risk words that incur beatings. Three months later, the uncle was killed by a man to whom he owed a large debt, and that is when the child began living in the woods. When desperate, he performed odd jobs in exchange for food, but he was not treated kindly.
The day the War Party came, Daniel was in a tree, hiding from an angry farmer. He saw the large group coming over the horizon, ignorant to who they were or what their purpose may be. As they drew closer, he became fascinated by their painted faces and how they moved without making a sound. When the men were almost visible to the village, they dropped to their bellies. Suddenly, nothing remained but a field of tall grass.
It wasn’t until they crawled past Daniel’s hiding place that he began to understand their intentions were nefarious. His fascination turned to fear as he watched the strangers disperse through the village, silent as shadows. Flaming arrows were shot into homes, and black smoke filled the air. He described the screams as animalistic, and while men died quickly, he is still too young to understand why the women suffered so much longer… or why the scalps were removed afterwards.
Even after witnessing the War Party’s departure, Daniel was too afraid to leave the tree. It wasn’t until the next morning, when other survivors emerged from the forest, that he descended. Little could be salvaged, and those without living family remained unburied when the villagers set out in search of new land. The boy followed at a distance for the first two days, afraid he would be abandoned if discovered. Instead, they put him to work and resumed his beatings. I did not share my suspicion that he was kept for more sinister intentions, but I am sure my companions thought much the same.
Gordon has adopted the boy, wishing to keep close watch over his health. The doctor’s own son did not survive infancy, and his wife never again conceived. It warms my heart to know they will make a fine family. At our return, many were angry upon learning the results of our failed venture. Some are advocating for drastic measures, arguing we should remove the newcomers by force if necessary; thanks to the lad, we now know they only number forty-six. I, however, believe that would only serve to reinforce their assumptions of our character. Even if it were a morally acceptable response, women and children are present. Tim would never allow such fiendish actions. It seems all we can do is wait.
I do not believe there were any arguments we could have used to change the newcomers’ minds, for they know they do not have the resources to build from scratch. To happen upon an empty village as they have, must truly feel like a blessing. I only hope they have time to recover from their journey before they must battle the evils of their new home. Perhaps when they experience the Cursed Woods firsthand, they will wish to reopen discussions regarding Jamestown.
I should retire for the night. This is the most I have written in years, but I should not press Trish’s patience. I have a feeling I shall soon spend many hours with this journal.
Hope you don’t mind a quick break, but we should tend the fire. I don’t think we’ve had a blizzard like this in fifty years! Good thing I stacked the logs in the kitchen, because that door ain’t opening til the sun is up.
… Yes indeed, we aren’t taking any chances after Gale’s little outburst. Besides, Christmas is just around the corner, and I don’t think I could face eternity knowing I let my best friend’s soul get sucked into a black existence of endless suffering. Talk about ruining the holidays, am-I-right?
… What was that? Hold on, I can’t hear you from the kitchen. I’ll be right back.
… … … One more second, friend. Ethan, get off your lazy ass, and grab some of these logs! Can’t you see my hands are full?! Here we are, centuries later, and he still has no manners. I shake my head in derision at you, boy, but you can’t see it because I’m carrying this damn stack of wood!
… … …. … … … Ah, let’s see, where were we?
…. … Yes, of course, the day we brought Daniel home. I hope you believe me when I say it is a kindness to fast forward a bit. Our time is best served by skipping to the next entry regarding the fifth settlement.
May 29, 1679
It has finally happened. This afternoon, a traumatized young woman stumbled into our village. How she crossed the river with an infant… in her state… I cannot imagine, but they are recovering at the Newman residence until permanent accommodations can be arranged.
It seems we exacerbated her fears in our frenzied welcome. Those present when she arrived rushed to her side, eager to hear news, but it did not appear so innocent from her perspective. The women were quick to remedy our folly, taking her into their inner folds and tending to the child. We men were left to wait out of doors as our wives learned her name and reasons for flight.
Our guest’s name is Rebecca Hughes, and her tale is enough to give me chills. It is one thing to read of events long past, but it is quite another to know these horrible things are happening as you sleep soundly in the neighboring village. Perhaps removing the settlers by force would not be the extreme measure I previously believed… but again, the decision does not rest with me.
Trish, knowing I would wish to record every detail, was kind enough to take notes as the girl recounted her daring escape. Since exhausting their limited provisions, her people have struggled for each meal. Even though the lake is green, it still holds many fish. Yesterday, at dawn, four men swam into the slimy waters with two large nets.
Those who have read these journals will know what came next as surely as I did when hearing those words. Rebecca and the other wives watched from the shore as their husbands divided into pairs and chose their positions. They caught several fish quickly, doing much to raise their spirits. As moods lightened, sounds of laughter filled the air.
It was Rebecca’s husband, Gilbert, who first yelped in pain, but he thought his leg cut by debris. Then his partner, Jameson, shrieked in surprise, dropping the net in his frantic flails. He spun in circles, kicking about wildly as he yelled claims of something slimy wrapping around his ankle.
Gilbert admonished him for the panic, insisting it was only seaweed which entangled him. The other pair began swimming toward the commotion, unsure if their fellows needed assistance. As they hurried across the lake, Jameson calmed his erratic movements. All seemed peaceful once again, and their friends were returning to original positions when Andrew Foster was pulled under.
He was gone instantly, and the resulting ripples disappeared as quickly as Mr. Foster himself. The remaining three stared at the empty space, dumbfounded for several minutes before the wails of Andrew’s wife spurred them to action. The men took turns diving into the murky depths until Jameson also failed to emerge.
Rebecca blames herself for Gilbert’s loss; she begged him to swim ashore when Jameson did not return. Her desperate pleas freed him of his terrified stupor; he lunged forward and screamed as he was roughly yanked beneath the surface. The last man, Terrance Fulton, was able to escape as the lake monster (for we know the truth) devoured Mr. Hughes. The incident compelled some to finally consider our warnings, but most believe a predatory fish at fault.
The information we find truly troubling are the conditions under which Rebecca was forced to flee. The Fultons also wished to depart, but Mr. Barnes forbade any from leaving. He deemed each person vital to their survival, and that to abandon the settlement would be akin to murder. The man’s methods of control are sickening. Rebecca left home in secret just before dawn, and it is a miracle she made it here.
Timothy has called for a meeting to discuss what actions, if any, should be taken in effort to assist those held against their will. We may outnumber them, but they are frightened, desperate people; few things are more dangerous.
My head throbs from weighing the choices in my mind. Perhaps a good night’s rest will lend clarity to the situation. Tomorrow, I will write of what has been decided.
May 30, 1679
We will not cross the river. I thought myself in favor of lending aid, but now I am certain Tim was right to refuse. I considered only the human obstacles we would face, failing to acknowledge the ghoulish deceit I have spent so many hours studying in that first, old journal. There would be no way to ensure we did not fight amongst ourselves as we struggled to free people who may ultimately decide they did not want our help. Would the Fultons still wish to join us if we were forced to harm their friends in the process?
There is simply too much at risk on both sides. All we can do is welcome any who make it this far and defend our homes against those who would seek to do harm. We think it is unlikely men of their nature have the courage to face us in real confrontation, but Tim has arranged night sentries for the foreseeable future. If they serve no other purpose, Trish tells me Rebecca is most comforted by their presence.
Our new friend is opening up to the women more now that she is rested and her grief for Gilbert has set in as reality. The poor girl is in good hands with Mrs. Newman; she can mourn in peace knowing she and her child are safely away from danger.
It is difficult not to dwell on thoughts of James as I write at this desk each night. Perhaps it would be wise to retire early; I desperately require the additional sleep.
May 31, 1679
I am fortunate for taking the extra rest; much has developed during the course of this day. We have new arrivals from the settlement who were able to tell us of events since Rebecca’s departure.
After discovering her missing, Frederick ordered everyone indoors while he and two men scoured the forest. It is unknown if they truly searched, for upon their return they reported discovering Mrs. Hughes body; or more accurately, what remained of it. He spun a tale that strongly implied any others who dare leave would likely meet the same fate.
I do not consider myself a man of violence, but I find myself plotting various ways of preventing Mr. Barnes from reaching Jamestown. If he survives a few more nights – rest assured dear, future reader – he will crawl on his knees before us, pleading for shelter; but for now, I must bide my time and relay what horrors next plagued the settlement.
A farmer moved his family into the old Brown residence, and it seems they fell victim to the same strange creature as the previous tenants. Once again, the elders refused to elaborate on their knowledge of this monster, but they are quick to correct any who refer to it as a demon.
George Miller and his wife, Bethany, moved into the farmhouse with their five children immediately upon arrival. They added additional rooms, and with help from neighbors, put much work into preparing the land for new crops. In that time, nothing thought to be unnatural occurred until last night.
After supper, as Bethany and her three daughters sat knitting, the boys prepared an evening fire. It was the eldest son, Jack, who was tasked with retrieving extra wood. When he did not return, they assumed he found need to chop more. When he still did not return, George sent his other son, Jonathan, to check the cause for delay.
The younger lad was gone mere seconds before he burst through the door, white as a sheet and breathing heavily. He spoke in a rush, reporting Jack to be calling for help from the forest. Mr. Miller leapt from his chair, retrieved two rifles, and thrusting one into Johnathan’s hands, they ran outside. Stopping to light the torches, George called to his other son but did not receive answer.
Bethany stood at the door with her daughters, watching nervously as her husband stalked the tree line, searching for signs to indicate Jack’s passage. Finally, they heard footsteps to their right. Instructing Jonathan to hold position, Mr. Miller cautiously made his way through the brush.
Moments later, the snap of a twig inches to his left made George drop his torch, and the fire extinguished with a loud hiss. In the same instant, he discharged his weapon, and the sound of his retreating footsteps could be heard. Jonathan called to his father, but before he could do more, the burly man emerged from the tree line. Without pause, Mr. Miller grabbed his remaining son and dragged him along in his desperate flight.
Once all were inside, George barred the door, ignoring his family’s frightened questions. He proceeded to latch the shutters while shouting for the others to follow suit. When no more could be done to secure their position, he reached for his pipe with trembling hands. After dropping it for the third time, he broke down into tears.
Unable to cope with another moment’s wait, Bethany slapped her husband’s face. When the man was finally able to communicate, his family crumpled at the news of Jack’s death. In the forest, when the twig snapped, George was able to take in one horrendous sight before the torch extinguished. He saw a creature so tall, its head was lost in the darkness above; its body was that of man, but covered in a thick, deer-like hide. It had two arms and legs as humans, but the arms were so long, its fingertips brushed the ground.
At such a description, I am not sorry to lack its facial features. What stuck clear in the grieving father’s mind, was the image of his son’s severed head. The creature held it aloft, as if offering Mr. Miller a gift. The family hugged as they cried but wails of grief quickly evolved to screams of terror as loud, heavy footsteps were heard outside.
All sounds in the home ceased as the steps seemed to pace across the porch. Bethany held her daughters close as George stood, motioning for Jonathan to follow. Careful to make no noise, they steadied their rifles, training them on the door. When the steps next passed, they halted at the entrance.
Loud bangs shook the door, bending it further inward with each strike. Hearts pounding, the terrified family waited with breaths held, expecting the wood to splinter any second. After several minutes of this, a distorted child-like voice of indistinguishable gender said, “help, dad” before retreating steps could finally be heard leaving the premises.
After two silent hours, Bethany put the girls to bed. She and George remained on guard, and Jonathan dozed near the fire. No one stirred as the creature crept alongside their home, and they were not sure if they truly heard the short but sharp crack of a shutter torn from its hinge; but chaos ensued when the loud shattering of glass and shrill screams pierced the night.
The screaming continued as all rushed to the girls, weapons at the ready. Two children sat huddled in a corner, pointing to the broken window. Bethany was first to notice Elizabeth’s absence. She forced her way past George, screaming for her youngest child. Glass forgotten, Mrs. Miller knelt, peering under the bed, but nothing was there. Bloody streaks trailed across the floor as she continued her desperate search. When she reached the corner where her remaining daughters cowered, she shook them violently, demanding answers.
The eldest, Laura, barely spoke above a whisper when she reported a giant deer-man reached through the window and carried her sister away. George, forced to drop the rifle, restrained his wife when she continued shaking the frightened child. He released her moments later when Bethany ceased struggling, but she knocked him to the ground at first opportunity.
Taking the gun on her way out, Mrs. Miller ran from the home, screaming for her lost children. Her husband gave chase, pleading for her return, but stopped short at the door, too frightened to continue. He thought it was so the children would not be orphans, but now he is unsure if that was his true motive. After a sleepless night, he and his surviving children fled at dawn with all they could carry. They did not tell anyone of their departure, knowing they would not be allowed to leave regardless of the reason.
I am glad those three children have an intelligent father, for there is no doubt they would be orphans… or worse… had he pursued his wife. Even more certain are the actions Mr. Barnes would have employed at the discovery of his intentions.
Goodness, the time! It seems I have fallen effortlessly into my old habits. Perhaps when these endeavors are finished, I will finally come around to writing that poem for my beautiful wife.
That was a mighty hectic three days! Next is the part where James finally comes home, so this is the last good place for a break if you’d like to stretch your legs a bit.
… That sounds mighty fine! Some good old-fashioned popcorn would be lovely. It’s been a coon’s age since I smelled that buttery goodness! Trish, could you be a dear fetch a pot?
… … Mmm mmm, the sound of them kernels popping sure does take me back. Tell you what I’d like to try – popcorn balls! We was watching a movie a few months back where some folks made ‘em. They looked like sweet, gooey balls of pure delight!
… Yes dear, you’re right.
Sorry, friend. Let myself get riled again. Anyway, I guess we should get back to our story; let’s focus on that instead of all that howling outside.
… Psh, nothing to worry about, probably just the wind… almost surely. You just relax and eat your snack; I got this.
June 1st, 1679
My brother has returned, and they lost only two men on the journey. Despite all the hardships we have endured, I am jubilant this night! James is well, and we now have new information that will certainly prove vital. I could hardly believe my eyes at the sight of his thin, bearded face. There was a fine celebration with a feast I will still feel the weight of come morning.
We received no new settlers this day, and I am almost grateful, for I have much to write. It is almost a shame to dampen such high spirits with talk of the wicked things James learned in the Great Mountains, but it is a task that should not be delayed. My brother, ever the wise man, kept a journal, documenting his experiences each night. He claims it was to free himself of my hassling upon his return, but I know he jests. He understood the importance of this journey and would not undertake even the smallest task without his very best efforts.
I must return his journal when I am finished, but I will transcribe his conversation with the Mountain Elders here; it is best if multiple copies of the knowledge exist.
Copied from the journal of James Cooke:
I thought the hardest part of our arduous journey behind us when we reached the Great Mountains, but the last several months spent proving ourselves to these strange people has been more difficult by far. Thankfully, our patience and efforts have finally been rewarded this day. They revealed to us a passage leading deep inside the mountain and showed us their true village.
When their ancestors first came to these parts centuries ago, they were pursued by a superior tribe. Crawling in the brush, desperate to lose their enemies, they stumbled upon a small opening in the mountain. Surprised to find a tunnel which opened into a large cavern, they quickly hid their people inside. As the years passed, they dug new pathways to expand their home. It was there, deep in the heart of the mountain, the Elders gave us the information we sought.
They sat in a round cave with only one entrance. Torches lined the walls, and a dozen people sat solemnly. When I attempted to relay the information given by the Shaman, Kawani, they surprised me further by already knowing his words. The frail woman who spoke sat in the center of the Elder’s circle, staring into space; noticing her strange, white eyes, I realized she was blind.
I only note the fact due to the number of times she claimed to “see” Kawani when they spoke. The Shaman was a descendant of their tribe, and therefore able to commune with them in death. Even with my experience in the unnatural, I found this concept difficult to accept; yet I must believe it true, for there is no other way she could possess such knowledge.
I know it will trouble my brother to learn we cannot express the demon’s name via written word. We are only able to communicate it verbally, and even then, only when absolutely necessary. The reason is still difficult to comprehend, but I will do my best to explain a concept of which I understand little. Even so, I fear it will not do justice to the long, elegantly delivered, account I received.
Normally, when we die, our souls pass on to the Spirit World to be at peace, but there are exceptions. Ghosts are the souls who, for a variety of reasons, cannot pass on to the Spirit World at all. Each individual’s circumstance is unique, making it impossible to fully document each possibility, but I am fairly certain Alexander already has information regarding this topic.
When a truly vile, evil person dies, their soul can never be at peace; instead, it is pulled to a different realm of the Spirit World, one where they remain in a state of pain and terror, always aware of their suffering. It is in this realm, demons are born. They are physical creatures, formed as a byproduct of Hate and Chaos. They devour the tormented souls, becoming more powerful with each consumption. They can never be destroyed, only banished, back from whence they came.
Long ago, a mortal performed a ritual to summon a demon to the Cursed Woods. Man, by nature, is fallible in his greedy desire for wealth and power. Even those with good intentions often fall prey to the belief they hold some unique quality that entitles him to stand above his fellows. It is exactly that trait upon which the beast will prey.
Demons are capable of influencing dreams of the weak minded, employing masterful manipulations to achieve their goals. They promise to fulfill their victim’s greatest desires, yet are somehow able to maintain the illusion of honesty… I do not understand how one can think such a creature would honor an agreement. The easiest way to banish the entity requires the summoner, therefore it will dispose of that person immediately.
Without aid from the one who brought the demon forth, we must use an alternative method. I was gifted with a beautifully carved bow, and three special arrows. The runes carved into the shafts reminded me of the ceremonial dagger our father passed down to Timothy. The Elders confirmed either would harm the demon, but the bow allows for attacking from a distance.
The creature can only be banished in its true form; if it has taken possession of a human, it will be forced from its shell, but not injured. Once it is truly wounded, the weapon must not be removed, and great effort should be made to avoid physical contact with the demon, even in that state. It should then be burned to ashes, which will be scattered into a body of salt water, never fresh.
I think what frightens me most, is knowing the demon does in fact continue to grow stronger with each victim it takes. I pray we can be rid of it before a fifth settlement comes to pass. It is unfortunate I cannot write its name down, for it is a difficult word. Our language does not possess all the sounds necessary to convey it correctly, but the Elders say it is still too risky. There are few things more powerful than a true name, especially when written.
Ink does not fade away as the sound of a voice; it remains, as would the power it infused within the demon. I must make sure to stress this point to my well-meaning brother, that he cannot for any reason, commit the name to paper. I should not even speak it more than once when I return.
My back screams in protest at the thought of the journey home. My desire to travel has been filled; I hope to never leave Jamestown again. What I have seen and learned here was worth the effort, but I miss my family dearly. I pity whoever will be charged with use of this fine bow. I greatly desire to keep it, but the price of ownership is far too high.
I envy James’ experience with the Elders; I yearn to see their mountains and caves, but I know I could not endure years away from Trish and the children. The demon’s name is indeed difficult, but even if I were allowed to write it, I do not know how I would spell such strange sounds.
My hand throbs from exertion, and I must wake with the sun. With this new information, it would be a monstrous act to abandon the victims at Dirge Lake. When the demon is gone, perhaps it will finally make a good place to settle. I would be remiss to behave as if this will be an easy undertaking, but I feel as if we have come too far to fail.
If I do not return tomorrow, dear family, know I cherished you more than life, and I do this to secure your futures; may our children never experience the horrors of the Cursed Woods.
June 2, 1679
In all my life, I have never experienced such horror as what we saw this day. We arrived at Dirge Lake, but there was not a soul in sight. We felt a dark presence watching as we knocked on several doors and peeked through windows. Finally, when no one came to greet us, we entered the church.
The stench was overwhelming; it penetrated anything we used in attempt to cover our faces, there was no escaping the smell of death. Mutilated bodies were posed all around us. Two young girls sat in the front row, hands severed at the wrists, but clasped together in their laps. Behind them, a man and woman sat together, their heads placed on the wrong bodies. Everywhere we looked was more of the same.
After confirming no survivors remained, we wished to leave quickly. The floor was slick with blood, and in my hurry, I fell to my knees. After seeing my hand rested on someone’s intestine, I proceeded to lose my breakfast. We knew we were too late; they were all dead, but we had to try anyway.
When we had a moment to collect ourselves, we searched every home for survivors, but only found more gruesome murders. The things done to the poor children were beyond horrendous… but knowing we could do no more for the dead, we discussed the larger issue at hand. Most wished to return home, reasoning there was no point facing the demon if none were left to save, but I could not be satisfied until I saw the corpse of Frederick Barnes.
The two men who were always with him were found dead in the church, their… members… removed and inserted into their mouths, but I needed to know their boss was also gone. I do not mind admitting that what little courage I possessed fled from me at the gruesome sights we beheld, and yes, I was willing to abandon plans of fighting the demon for as long as possible; but I would never sleep soundly again without knowing Mr. Barnes was deceased.
We found him outside, dead but animated as the demon’s new husk, watching us from tree line. When we saw him, he emerged with the most hauntingly sinister smile I have ever seen. He told us to get off his land, still pretending to be Frederick, but we stood our ground. We tried to position ourselves to obscure the demon’s view of Timothy, but he saw my brother ready an arrow and understood our intentions.
He moved with inhuman speed, but somehow, Michael Stephenson shielded Tim, buying valuable time. We rushed to aid Michael, but his skull was crushed instantly. As the demon turned to locate my brother once again, Henry Davenport leapt onto his back, securing the last moment we needed. Unfortunately, it came at a great cost, for the creature reached his arms back in a disturbingly unnatural way to break our friend’s neck effortlessly.
Suddenly, an arrow plunged deep into Frederick’s chest, knocking him to the ground. We descended upon him, watching as black ooze gushed from the wound. The creature laughed maniacally until only a hollow shell remained. When the last drop of the tar-like substance was soaked into the ground… or evaporated, I am not sure which, we wasted no time in leaving.
I have had enough adventure in my life. I hope no one enters those Cursed Woods again, but if they do, may it be long after I am gone. Trish made me promise I would not cross the river again, and I eagerly agreed. If it were not out of concern for my brother, I would not have put her through the worry of going today. The only thing I want now is to sleep for a few days.
Good grief, look at the time! The sun has been up for hours! See, this is what happens when you shut the world out. I don’t even remember hearing the storm stop… uh-oh.
… … Whew, thank goodness! Thought we might be snowed in, but you can crawl over that little mound no problem. I was worried we’d have to shoot you out the chimney for a second. Anyway, one day you should remind me to read James’ journal. That tribe in the mountains accidentally opened a cavern that still had something ancient living in there, and all sorts of shenanigans ensued; it sounded like quite a time.
… I’m starting to think you’re never going to be satisfied. No matter how much I read, you want to hear more. Well tough cookies, because we have barely scratched the surface. If you want to know more, we’ll pick up with the sixth settlement later, but we have to skip the rest of my journals to do that.
… Huh? What makes you think I died over here? Nah, the plague got us, but I couldn’t just leave my journals behind, could I?
… … Goodness, no. I didn’t bring them here… no, we can’t get into all that, you’ve stayed too long as it is. That part of the story isn’t even interesting, hell I’m not sure if it qualifies as anecdotal! Just set that brain of yours back to pondering the new stuff you did learn.
… I’m glad you enjoyed it! I hope we see you again before Christmas, but if we don’t, you have just the merriest one, ya hear. Now, go on, scoot.
Hello there! Look what the cat dragged… oh my! Are you alright?! Hurry, get inside!
… You need to get here earlier if you’re gonna pay regular visits! Just because you’re safe inside doesn’t mean you can be roaming around outside all willy-nilly. Judging by the mud on your clothes, am I right to assume those scratches are from a fall?
… Thank Jiminy! We won’t have to deal with another infection. Trish can help you get cleaned up. We find a surprising amount of first aid kits and have to keep everything. I can’t stand to let the forest get cluttered. Having a demon for a neighbor is no reason to neglect lawn care.
… That’s right, I did promise to read from my journal, didn’t I? I’m happy to oblige, but I warn you, there’s more than usual; we won’t be able to finish it tonight. Unlike my predecessors, I have a fondness for talking… as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Hush now, Ethan! I hear you snickering over there. You just enjoy that iPhone before it dies.
… Huh? No, he can’t use it in the traditional sense, but that one has a bunch of movies downloaded. We love movies! If we woulda seen one of those back in my day, there’d have been a witch hunt for the ages! Anyway, I can see you’re ready to get started, but let me catch you up first.
My father didn’t enjoy his title, but he was the head honcho for over twenty years. I never had the burden myself, thank the good cricket, but my brother, Timothy, did. The position wasn’t guaranteed through blood – that barely got your name in the hat. You had to be respected by the community, and that wasn’t earned lightly. When it became clear Uncle Snake’s sons wouldn’t fit the bill, Tim proved himself capable.
Dad taught us to read and write. My brothers hated it, but my sister and I wanted to read everything. There were precious few books in Jamestown back then. Paper and writing tools weren’t exactly common either, but I’d write in the dirt just to have something new to read.
… Sure, we had a school, but not like you think. Surviving was the most important thing to learn. What’s safe to eat and drink, hunting, farming, and the like.
… No, I never got bit by the travel bug. Too many people decided to go exploring and never came back. Who knows if they settled somewhere or died… either is likely. Plus, Trish was in Jamestown. I asked Ms. Patricia Mayfield to dance when she was sixteen and haven’t been able to calm my racing heart since!
… Hell’s bells, woman! I’m trying to be romantic! Can’t you let me set the mood for our friend? Atmosphere is a key component to good storytelling!
… As I was saying, my heart raced until the day we died. Now – obviously – the racing is metaphorical, but it’s there all the same. We were married next spring and started our own little family.
… Yes, thanks for getting me back on track. A few months after I was born, another group of settlers came looking for the third group! They’re the first thing I wrote about, in fact.
When father died in ‘77, I found a hidden stash of new journals. I don’t know where or when he collected them all, but I was so happy I could hardly stand it. They were better than gold, and I wanted to fill every one of them. Course I couldn’t, but I made sure they stayed in the family. Now we have journals full of our history, and I can’t tell ya how happy I am to have someone to share it with.
… Aww shucks, don’t thank me. Really, I should be thanking you! Well, I’ve probably wasted enough time rambling. I wrote my first entry the night I found the books so we should be ready to get started.
January 30, 1677
I cannot believe I am writing in my very own journal! There are only a few worn pages remaining in the one father continued, and the whole thing is ready to fall apart. It seems a better idea to begin my writings on crisp, new pages. A trunk full of books may be the most magnificent scent in all this world. If not for the burden of family, I would surely never leave my desk again.
I wish I could begin this book with an account of what happened to the second settlement, but sadly my knowledge lacks the ability to do it justice. It is most unfortunate that Father never found time to write of them, for now only their descendants remain. Eventually, I may be able to collect information from the relatives, but it will be difficult to confirm the accuracy.
For that reason, I believe it best to first document the fourth settlement. There are still survivors who can give me first-hand accounts, and no more time should be wasted in recording their story.
They came in 1645; this time only eighty people survived the voyage. The ship was attacked by pirates six weeks before they arrived. Twenty-nine people died in the fight, but the assailants retreated when they lost too many of their own.
When the travel-weary colonists found the third settlement abandoned, they sent scouting parties to search the surrounding areas. Our people were extremely uneasy when the new arrivals came into Jamestown. This was only two years after my uncle’s incident; the men lost to that venture had families who still grieved.
The scouts explained they were looking for the lost colony; many of the newcomers were their kin. Someone from the previous group was able to get a letter detailing how wonderful their new home was onto a merchant ship. Of all the times for correspondence to make it across the ocean… alas, as a result, more came to join them. Funding, travel, and many other factors culminated in a delayed arrival.
Father and those who had relatives in the new group accompanied the scouts back to Dirge Lake; it was hoped a fourth settlement could be prevented if the warnings came from their own. Father once told me he could see the difference in the lake from his previous visit. The green film now covered the water’s surface, and the grass grew in sparse patches. He tried to stress these facts in his warnings, but most decided to stay.
Peter Evans was too old for the hike, but his younger sister, Pamela, was the first family he had seen since the death of his children. Her husband was killed by the pirates, but her son and his family were well. Pamela returned with Peter that evening, citing herself too old and heartbroken to face the trials of resettling – demon or not. Her son would not be swayed.
Ethel Kingston was too frail to make the hike, but her eldest daughter, Sally, went in her stead. Ethel’s niece had died in childbirth, and her husband was killed by the pirates. The baby, having no other family, was given to Sally.
The only others to come to Jamestown that night were the newly widowed Emma Granger and her daughter, Anna. Mrs. Granger hoped to be taken in by her brother-in-law, but he was a victim of the lake monster.
There were no other family reunions; the remaining were given the bad news of their loved one’s demise. Once sure no others could be convinced, father got our people across the river before nightfall. They say everyone watched for their return in great anticipation, letting out a collective sigh of disappointment at the sight of the small group. The Grangers were taken in by the Richardson family until a home could be built. In preparation for the future arrivals, new land was cleared, and homes were built over the next several months.
It also served to keep minds occupied. They no longer feared solely for others. Now they also had to worry the demon would choose another escape tool. Meanwhile, the fourth settlement, excited to be on dry land, wasted no time in restoring the village.
My, how quickly the time flies as these pages fill! I should end this here. It would be unfortunate to have Patricia cross with me on my first night as a writer. Perhaps I shall try my hand at a love poem once I gain some confidence with the pen.
I swear to you, I remember the moment I wrote that line; I was thinking to myself, ‘I wish there was a way to convey a wink through the written word.’
… Ethan, I don’t care if the battery died, don’t interrupt story time! You should know better; we knew people who were hanged for less! Sorry bout that, friend; it’s almost torture having a drawer full of phone chargers but no electricity.
… Yes indeed, I did tell you the power was out on your first visit, and technically that’s the truth. It’s been out for three years since the ole generator went kaput.
… Why are you rifling through your bag? You looking for something?
… What’s a battery… brick?
… It does what?!
… You sure you don’t mind? Wow, Ethan! Thank our kind friend for restoring the movie magic!
… That should keep him nice and quiet.
January 31, 1677
I may not have long tonight. Trish was not pleased with my absence at the children’s bedtime nor my lateness to our own. If I do not want to bunk with the boys, I will need to retire much earlier. I thought of this journal all day, and how Father not only documented the events that happened but sought new information as well.
I have indulged fantasies of meeting the Shaman in the Great Mountains, but I do not dare make the journey myself. I could petition Tim to send a small party. It is truly the wisest strategy; sooner or later, the demon will escape, and when it does, we will likely be the first to fall. If not in our lifetime, our children’s.
Yes, I will go to him first thing in the morning. Now, back to the fourth colony. They had a fraction of the work previous settlements endured. The forest had less time to grow back, leaving smaller trees to clear, and many homes only needed repairs before they could be moved into and cleaned.
The earliest complaints were in the second month. In the dead of night, Matthew Brown and his wife, Harriet, woke to fast, heavy banging at the front door. Matthew dressed and rushed downstairs, nearly tripping on the steps in his haste. He could not fathom a reason someone would be so far out as his farm, but the knocking stopped as he reached the landing. A sick feeling in his stomach made him retrieve his rifle before slowly approaching a window.
Pressing his back against the wall, he turned his neck to peer outside. There was nothing near the door. Moving to the other side, he saw only darkness. Matthew maneuvered to the opposite window, stepping in front of it and almost losing his stomach when a face stared back. He screamed, and his reflection with him.
Harriet came to stand by the window, startling him anew. Feeling foolish, Matthew steeled himself and unbolted the door. Lantern held high, he stepped outside. They heard someone calling for help from the forest, but said it sounded “unnatural” as if a child who did not know our language were trying to use the word.
Unsure what to do, Matthew called out, asking what was wrong. The voice went silent for a moment, then in the same, odd cadence, replied “Hello” twice more. Harriet ran indoors, trying to pull her husband along, but he was rooted in place.
He called out again, asking their name. After another pause, the voice choked out, “help, hello, something wrong” while growing deeper with each word. Not waiting to hear more, Matthew joined his wife and locked the doors. Nothing else happened that night, and no one believed their tale in the morning.
Harriet says they believed the village was haunted by the ghosts of the dead. After she came to Jamestown, she shared her experiences with the elders. They believe, as Kawani had warned, another evil entity has been attracted to the demon’s power. They will not tell me what this new creature is; claiming to speak or write the name would only increase its strength. Whatever it is, they act as if they are familiar with its kind.
I hope to learn more on this matter. Though, I wonder how many of these abominations can coexist… is there no chance one might kill another?
Tarnation’s, the time! Damn my fool brain, I shall bunk with the boys yet!
February 1, 1677
Once again, I found myself thinking of this moment all day. I have fantastic news! Tim has agreed to my request! I am not comfortable with our brother, James, leading the expedition, but I know he stands the greatest chance of success. My conscience can rest easier knowing he chooses this dangerous path freely, with excitement.
They will leave as soon as the weather turns warm, and the journey will be long, difficult, and dangerous. I will not let myself dwell on possible negative outcomes, but the venture will take months with optimistic estimations, years at worst. If we are lucky, they may return with valuable information before a fifth colony tries to settle Dirge Lake.
Returning to matters of the fourth settlement, I spoke with Tim’s spiritual advisor regarding Harriet Brown’s claim. Like the elders, he became angry, refusing to speak on the matter. Whatever it is – he too, fears it more than the ghosts, lake monster, and demon combined. If these creatures came to the demon, drawn by it, does that mean they are not likewise confined? Perhaps I should desist further attempts to identify it.
Instead, I’ll continue with the colony’s next tragedy. It was a few weeks after the happenings at the farm when four hunters walked into the Cursed Woods, and none returned. When a search party was formed, they only found scraps of bloodied clothing.
The men were a heavy loss to the small community. Every person has a part to play, and storing food for the winter is a key element to survival. Desperate to find reason in the chaos, they blamed a bear for the deaths. Pamela Mayfield’s son was one of the deceased hunters. A single good thing I can write concerning this incident is that her daughter-in-law and grandchildren joined her in Jamestown.
The following month is when Matthew Brown disappeared. His wife said they had only begun letting down their guard when their new dog leapt from its blanket, barking savagely. Seconds later, loud, desperate banging shook the door in its frame. The farmer retrieved his rifle while Harriet soothed the dog. It continued to growl low in its throat, hair and tail standing erect.
“Who goes there?!” Matthew shouted. The knocking stopped, but there was no answer.
The hound let out a slight whimper but remained on guard. Harriet was trying to pull her husband away when a series of sharp bangs came from the kitchen. Matthew rushed through the house to see the shutters flapping wildly. After securing them in place, a crash, guttural scream, and more furious barking sounded simultaneously.
He returned to see the door standing open, his wife frozen in shock, and the dog missing. He ran outside, calling its name. This snapped Harriet from her stupor, and she begged Matthew to return. He refused, stating they could not afford to lose the expensive hound. Its future puppies would be too important to their livelihood.
She watched in horror as her husband ran into the forest, rifle in one hand, lantern in the other, calling for a dog that would turn out to be hiding in the bushes aside the house. Harriet discovered it whimpering after it was too late to recall Matthew. She and her pet were the last ones to escape before things became truly perilous.
The elders insisted on personally inspecting each new resident for signs of possession, but it was a small price to pay. Some have told me they would have traded their souls for shelter across the river if that were the price. Most expressed relief with their interrogations, finding comfort in how seriously the matter was considered.
I do not know much of the world outside, but I have learned enough to understand I would live nowhere else. Alas, I once again retire. I must wake with the dawn tomorrow. There are weeks remaining in winter, yet our own food stores run low. I will need to forage before another blizzard snows us in.
I tell ya, you can’t appreciate today’s luxuries without understanding what it was like having mouths to feed before grocery stores. Now that’s something, ain’t it? Grocery stores? Boy, would I love to go into one! Just for the experience. No, wait, better yet, fast food! That would be a treat!
… I know you’re ready to hear more, but I thought you might need a break. Besides, the fire has gotten a little low. The movies are spoiling that boy. If it gets any darker in here something really is liable to come down the chimney – and it won’t be Santa. Last time it took us weeks to get rid of the smell and stains.
… Well never mind all the how’s and what’s. Hold yer hopping horses while me and the potato sack throw some more logs on. Won’t take but a minute, then I just need to check a little something outside.
… … … There we are. Sorry about all the commotion out there. Got a little dicey for a second, but it’s fine now. Trish’s mother popped by – she’s having one of her spells again, but I don’t expect she’ll be back tonight.
… Oh, that’s too long of a story to get into tonight, but if you ever see a tall woman with wild, fire-red hair and a missing eye – run away. She has good days and bad, but you don’t want to get close enough to find out which she’s having. Here, let’s get back to the story.
February 3, 1677
I missed one night of writing, but it feels like weeks. Yesterday, I departed before the sun was fully risen. Game is scarce in the winter, but I could not return without meat. There is no greater shame for a man than failing to feed his family. I procured enough food to carry us safely through the last snows, but I had no energy remaining for the journal. I was barely able to remove my shoes before collapsing into slumber.
When I am finished telling of the fourth settlement, I do not know what I will have to write about. The everyday life in Jamestown is hardly of any interest. My eyes grow heavy at the mere thought of discussing crops or chronicling births and deaths, but what else is there?
After Harriet Brown fled, the small village remained quiet for nearly a week until the next occurrence. Shortly after nightfall, Ronald and Janice Burns knocked on every door in search of their missing daughter. A thorough inspection of the village revealed Julia’s last known whereabouts to be the stables, but it could not be determined where she next went. Puzzled over her disappearance, heated words were exchanged regarding the next course of action.
Her parents were adamant she would never stray far, especially alone, but the forest was the only place not yet searched. Many agreed to a morning search, but only Ronald’s two closest friends agreed to immediate action.
The three men ventured into the dense, dark woods. Thorny brambles tugged at their legs as they called for Julia. The torches were difficult to maneuver through the low hanging vines and limbs, but they refused to turn back. Hoping the young girl could not have traveled far, they planned to go only a little further before turning to circle the settlement’s perimeter.
They came to a sudden halt when the loud snap of a broken branch sounded to their left. Standing back-to-back, two men held their torches high while the third aimed his rifle in the direction of the noise. There was only silence as they waited. Ronald called for Julia, but no answer came. They walked a few yards more until the treetops overhead began to shake violently, despite the fact no wind blew.
Coming to another stop, they could only stare up in horror as a giant, black shadow moved from tree to tree above them, circling the three men. David Sullivan dropped his rifle to the ground and fled in terror. The thing in the trees stopped quickly, turning away to chase David like a cat with a mouse.
Greg Jones and Ronald stood frozen in terror; the trees following their friend’s trail shook as the beast chased him down. He was out of sight when David’s death wails were heard, but that did not make it easier to hear. After the screams fell silent, the two men woke from their trance.
No moon or stars could be seen from beneath the forest canopy, but they feared the torch would reveal their location. Light held low, hearts thudding, they retreated away from the place their friend was killed. They could see hardly a foot away, but they did not pause, focusing only on the next step ahead.
The sound of their heavy breaths broke the silence, adding another unsettling layer to the atmosphere. Greg has always claimed he felt the thing’s eyes before he heard it return. They were barely fifty yards from salvation when a shadow streaked by their right, then across their path.
Mr. Jones says its outline was visible for hardly a second, but he is certain it was almost seven feet tall, and its head and back were disproportionate to the rest of its body. The sight cost him a moment’s hesitation, but Ronald sprung forward. As it had with David, the beast shot through the trees, giving chase.
The screams were heard by all in the village. Greg escaped as his friend died in agony. Nothing more could be done for the dead; all efforts of a morning search were called off. Janice had to be physically restrained to prevent her from entering the forest. Her mind has never been quite right since, but considering the terrible events of the following morning, that should not come as surprise.
Damn, yet again I have stayed at this desk too long. The rest will have to wait.
Holy smokes folks, we got a live one! Assume positions!
… … … … … … Whew, Trish, it’s clear! You can bring our friend out now.
… I am terribly sorry for the rude interruption. It’s been a long time since my mother-in-law was so riled up. I think she’s just curious about you, but don’t worry, I don’t plan on doing any introductions.
… That’s kind of you to say, but I feel just awful about this mess. You went paler than a bucket of white paint when that door flew open. Most can’t get inside at all, but we tend to be persistent in this family. Don’t you worry though, I promise, this time I’m sure she won’t be back tonight… probably not for a while.
… Haha, you and your specific questions. Hey, it’s getting pretty late, we better get back to it or we won’t even have time to finish the next entry.
February 4, 1677
Today, I visited James to discuss his travel preparations. He believes they will be ready to leave a few days earlier than estimated if the weather continues to warm. I am both worried and excited about the upcoming expedition, but I fear for my brother’s life most. I cannot imagine how I will cope with the anxiety for such an extended period.
Last night, I had a frightfully vivid nightmare. Like my predecessors, I believe dwelling on these morbid topics are affecting my mind. It was so real; I can almost still smell the blood. In my dream, I was part of the fourth settlement. Three men and I were deep in the Cursed Woods, hunting. I have never seen them, yet I knew them in the moment. After a long day, we packed our meat and began the hike home.
We walked for hours as day faded to dusk, long after we should have returned. There was only one trail where we hunted, we could not understand how we became lost. Then an argument erupted; two wished to turn back in search of familiar surroundings, myself and the other were determined to continue forward. Eventually, exhausted and frustrated, we split up.
If I were truly in such circumstances, I have no doubt I would retrace my steps to familiar territory, yet in the dream, the idea was unthinkable. It grew darker by the minute, and we could not afford further delay. I thought of my family’s worry if I were forced to camp overnight and walked faster.
Eventually, we saw a soft, orange glow ahead. In my mind, I knew we should run away, but my feet carried me against my wishes. I assume the same was true for my companion; he walked alongside me, equally entranced by the mysterious lights growing brighter at our approach.
The path we walked opened into a small, dead clearing. Not one blade of grass grew within the circle; only a stone altar stood in the otherwise empty clearing. The source of the light seemed to be dozens of glowing… I do not know how to convey… orbs or sacs hanging in the surrounding trees. They were the size of watermelons, but soft, and oozing thick liquid. They writhed as if something moved inside; my innards tangled at the sight.
I saw my partner walk forward, hand outstretched, mouth open. I wanted to scream for him to stop, but I only watched. I still feel the bile that rose in the back of my throat when he touched one only for it to burst. A foul, yellow liquid covered the man, and I could hear the sizzle of his skin beneath his screams of agony. I covered my eyes but could not look away as the substance reduced him to a puddle. Long as I live, I may never lose the image of it.
There was a slight rustle in the tree directly above, and before I could move, it dropped from the branches, landing behind me. I felt the vibrations in the ground and heard the crunch of leaves as it landed. I willed my feet to flee but lost all control of bodily functions.
I was helpless as I felt hot, putrid breath on the back of my neck. A single claw lightly touched my head, traced down to my shoulders, and around my throat before stopping. With barely a pause, two rough, bony hands squeezed my head until I thought my skull would shatter. The pressure was so intense, my vision blacked out. The last thing I heard before waking, drenched with sweat, was “You are too weak.”
It seems foolish to be so disturbed by a mere dream, but I do not have it in me to write more this night. At least Trish should be pleased.
February 6, 1677
A short break is exactly what I needed. I feel refreshed and eager to write again. The morning after Ronald and David were killed, the village woke to a stable boy frantically ringing a bell, shouting for the doctor.
When the boy was calm enough to communicate, they learned the body of Janice Burns was in the loft, concealed beneath the hay. Two men were dead, and she never left the stables. Her clothes were ripped, and she bore the marks of being strangled, but she was not sexually violated. The already divided community became hostile, some trading blows amidst the arguments. I cannot imagine their position. In a place with so much evil, how is one to know when it is truly the work of man?
A few days later, Jeffery Morris returned home to find his wife missing. This time they left no stone unturned in the search. She was found in the church house, her body left lying on a pew in much the same condition as Janice. The only difference was the skin beneath her nails. Knowing the murderer was marked, each man was inspected.
When Marcus Dean’s arms bore deep, red scratches, he claimed it happened while clearing thorn bushes from his land. When his story fell apart, he wept, begging forgiveness, claiming evil spirits forced his hand. Several witnesses say the man showed no signs of remorse before caught, but even guilty, I do not know if he deserved his fate.
The man was already disliked in the community; he had no family and few he could call friend. The two factions of believers and non-believers were both crazed with fear and anger. It is difficult to get clear answers regarding how the decision was made – I believe all parties feel guilt for their actions – but it was decided Marcus would be the test to prove if monsters are real.
Fearing the lake monster least, as it is theoretically confined to the water, they tied Mr. Dean’s hands and feet. Putting him on a small raft, they gave him a makeshift paddle, stating he would go free if he made it to the other side.
No one spoke as the man awkwardly rowed. The only sound was the splash of his oar and a slight shuffle as repositioned himself. He could only row on one side for a few strokes before he began turning, and each time he changed sides, he almost lost the paddle.
He was near the center when something large splashed in the water behind him. His head snapped sharply to the side, looking for the source, but the water went still before anything more happened. Rowing faster, the raft rocked side to side with his clumsy, panicked movements.
In mid-stroke, Marcus’ paddle froze. He could be seen struggling to pull it from the water, but it appeared stuck. Another splash sounded as the oar was ripped from his grip. The resulting waves pushed Dean away, and the crowd gasped as pale, grayish-blue tentacles shot from the water, wrapping the screaming man and pulling him under. He never resurfaced. It was a long time before anyone moved, but when they did, they returned to their homes silently.
As my forefather once wrote, I do believe the demon understands when the people have decided to leave. They gathered in the morning and agreed they could be ready to go in two days. With Marcus deceased, they did not believe themselves to be in immediate danger so long as they avoided the lake and forest. That assumption cost them dearly. Like so many before them, brother was turned against sister, husband against wife, and no one was safe.
Helen Atkins smothered her baby before disappearing into the forest. John Newman was stabbed to death by his wife, and their son vanished in the chaos. Eric Smith, only seven at the time, hid in a closet as his father murdered his sister and mother before his footsteps could be heard leaving the house. Each survivor holds a similar tale.
When the sun rose on the second day, seventeen people lived. They did not pause to bury the dead; they left Dirge Lake with what possessions were already prepared and did not look back. When the wagons rode into Jamestown, they were welcomed and guided to the homes built in their anticipation. Some of our men returned for the livestock left behind, but since that day, no one has crossed the river.
There is no telling what may live there after so many years, but I hope James will return with new knowledge before we find out. Discovering how and why some are affected and some are not, is almost as vital as destroying the demon. Why do some seem to sleepwalk into the forest while others suffer from delusions? Some have experienced both. Is it the work of more than one creature? Or do the results depend on the victim? These questions burn within me, but I am helpless to discover the answers.
March 11, 1677
Finally, I can write something more interesting than the daily drivel! James and a small contingent of men have left for the Great Mountains! The long wait for his return officially begins! I already feel as if I will crawl out of my skin with worry, but it cannot be helped. If his expedition is successful, it could save countless lives in the future. I should not get my hopes up, but my imagination runs rampant, and I am at its mercy.
That entry babbles on a bit longer, but the relevant parts are over. Next time we can skip ahead to when the fifth group arrives. Boy, did those folks give me a run for my money! But we don’t have time to get into it now. The suns coming up and we shouldn’t press our luck any—
… Hold on there, friend! Let me clean my ears out before you repeat yourself. It sounded like you said you brought presents? Thank you gifts?
… Aw, shucks, you shouldn’t have! I noticed your pack was a little bulgy this time, but you know me – always respecting others’ privacy. Bless my oddly corporeal soul, I am on pins and needles! What is it?
… Oh my word! Those are Stephen King books! Real ones! Ones where the battery doesn’t die! Yes, please, let me give ‘em a good whiff!
… Really?! You bet! You feel free to bring me any books you were gonna donate. In fact, do you need cash? We have lots just sitting in a dresser. You could update your digital library and donate the old ones!
… That’s just silly, Trish. I’m not scaring our best friend. Look, that’s the face of… err… umm… hey, I know! Let’s get you on the trail! Can’t risk anything happening to you, can we pal? I Thank ya kindly and will anxiously await your next visit. Come back real soon, now! Real, real soon!
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 ill-conceived venture, I hope he will allow me to record some of his knowledge here. He may be able to provide useful insight into whatthose 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 yards, 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 windows 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 to 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 horde 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 to 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 the 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 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 tryto 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 men 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 almost seven feet 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 worst were to happen. I would be Jamestown’s last hope should 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 thirties.
… 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.