horror

The Infinity Game

To my regular readers: I know you must be wondering where my normal posts are, and I am sorry for that. The scary stories make money and I’m dirt poor so I will be doing this for a hot minute. I will eventually do more normal posts as soon as I have time, but the holidays are a very busy time for us. Thank you for your understanding. 

Has anyone ever played the Infinity Game? The one with the mirrors? Most people don’t know it’s a game, they just think it’s a cool visual effect. Maybe it’s different for me, being raised by witches. Not Halloween witches, but the ones who practice Wicca. You can Google it if you really want to learn about them, but I’m here to talk about the game.

Most people don’t understand what it’s capable of. They have no idea they’re standing at a locked door or what’s on the other side. It’s almost like Wizard of Oz. If you can find your way to the Mirror Master, you’ll be rewarded with a wish; but getting there is not an easy journey… and you want to choose your words carefully.

To play, you need at least one other person, two standing mirrors, five black candles, a stick of chalk, warm clothing, and a red armband. The red band is the most important thing to remember. It’s not required to get in, but you shouldn’t leave without it.

While in the Mirror World, you must be wary of your reflection. Its only goal is to take your place in the real world – meaning you will be trapped forever. It cannot kill you, instead it will attempt to trick you. Never, ever speak to it. It will be dressed like you, except its armband will be on the left. Whoever you have waiting in the real world will be responsible for ensuring it doesn’t get out. Choose someone you trust.

Only your reflection can take your place, but everything else you meet will try to kill you from sheer spite. If you die in there, your soul will be trapped, and the mirror through which you entered will shatter. Make sure your friend is aware a shattered mirror indicates they should immediately destroy the other one as well. Though unlikely, there are a few entities powerful enough to use this situation to their advantage. To be safe… make sure the friend isn’t easily manipulated.

Now that you have all the supplies, draw a pentagram on the floor with space for the mirrors in the center. Then put the lit candles on each point of the star. When everything is in place, the reflection will appear as a never-ending hallway.

Stand between the mirrors and focus only on the infinite corridor. Soon you will notice a shadow far behind your reflection. Focus on that, letting the world around you fade. Do not look away or blink. Slowly begin to inch forward, but do not be afraid of bumping into the glass. Think of it as platform nine-and-three-quarters: you must know it’s going to work. When you feel a drastic temperature drop, you can look at your surroundings. You are officially inside the Mirror World’s lobby… though, I suppose it’s more like a bridge. It’s what connects the two places, but my family calls it the lobby.

This is where you must proceed with extreme caution. The Mirror World is a backwards replica of ours. Not only does that mean left is right; it also means beautiful, thriving cities are dead and crumbling. If you are unable to enter, do not leave the game unattended. Remove the mirrors immediately. The things that live there can’t be described as “alive”, but they are desperate.

My mother was supposedly the only person to successfully return after seeing the Mirror Master. Growing up, I was told no one has ever met him; but when Mom (Ellen) died two months ago, I found her diary. My amazement grew with each passage as she described her own experience with the Infinity Game. Her first entry is from six months after having her first-born, John. He was sickly and doctors said he wouldn’t live to see his first birthday. She was aware of the game’s dangers, but she didn’t care, not if it could save her son.

I will copy the relevant entry here. Let it serve as warning to any who wish to play – even the winners lose.

From the Diary of Elle Pierce:

I hoped to never open this diary again. I purchased a new book for the start of our new lives, but instead of writing on crisp, clean pages, I continue here. The tear-stained memorial to the darkest six months of my life was to be buried under decades of beautiful memories, yet here I am.

I won the stupid game; we should be far away from this place, beginning anew, not… here. There is only hate and pain left in my heart. Everyone told me not to go, but I didn’t have a choice. Each time someone said, “you can always have more children” my heart ached with fury.

I was prepared to risk my own life, but not for this. Not to feel the joy of knowing my son would survive, only to have it ripped away again. I thought I would be different, but now I write this only to warn others. I hope that vile creature never wins another soul.

I entered easily, feeling the temperature drop as if exiting a heated room into an Arctic tundra. I always imagined a chill in the air, but this was cold enough to see my breath. Behind me was a mirror, and in it I saw Thomas. He appeared to be in shock; his mouth hung open, as he waved. It would have been funny under different circumstances.

I think the strange hallway is an in-between place. Both sides are lined with identical, white doors, and I didn’t know which to choose. I couldn’t see the end of the hall, it still appeared infinite. I tried the closest doors, but they were locked. There were no keyholes, just solid, knobs.

I walked down the corridor, feeling more nervous each time I looked back to see Thomas farther away. There was no way to track the passage of time; electronics won’t work there. I don’t know how long I walked before I heard the soft click of a door opening, but I no longer saw home when I turned around; instead, I saw my reflection. She was wearing her armband on the left, just as the legend said.

I know I should have been afraid, but I found it comforting. It meant the stories were true, that John had a real chance at surviving. I would have gladly traded my own life for his, but that’s not how the game works.

My reflection called to me, “Are you lost? You need to go this way.” She indicated the open door where she emerged. I knew not to respond. I remained silent as she tried again. “Hello? What’s wrong, are you deaf or just rude? … Fine, I don’t care if you want to spend eternity trying to open locked doors.” She shrugged and began walking in Thomas’ direction.

I could not follow, I had to trust my husband to tell the difference. She would return when she failed to deceive him. I couldn’t go the way she recommended but wanted to look inside. I walked back to the open door, keeping a healthy distance. Standing in the center of the hall I tried to peer inside, but it was too dark to see anything.

I wasn’t even outside yet, and I was already cracking under the pressure. Were the other doors all really locked? How long before something worse found me? It was then I realized, why do they call this a game? “Game” implies there’s a way to move forward, clues to follow…

That’s when I understood how literal the stories were. If everything is the backwards, shouldn’t I go to the door opposite the one indicated by my reflection? I reached for the other doorknob, holding my breath as I felt it turn beneath my hand. It opened effortlessly though I know it was locked before.

It opened to reveal our kitchen, where Thomas and I chose to set the mirrors. The light was dim, everything was reversed, but it was also filthy. Worse – instead of finding my husband, I found a horrifying, twisted, old man. His back was hunched, his teeth and nails were yellow, and his red face contorted in hatred.

I was frozen with fear as his icy gaze bore into my soul. “What the hell do you think you’re doing here?!” He screamed, spit flying from his mouth.

In my terror, I couldn’t remember if it was against the rules to talk to anyone besides your reflection, but I didn’t want to risk it. I took a few steps to my left, hoping to get to the door before he could block my exit.

“Don’t you dare ignore me, tramp!” The old man croaked in a raspy, hoarse voice. He reached under the table, retrieving a long, metal cane. Thankfully he was slow as he looked.

I ran around him, through the swinging door to the den. He was still cursing me as I continued out the front door. At the end of the driveway, I noticed my surroundings. The neighborhood was in ruins; the yards were dead, and the houses were all abandoned.

It was my neighborhood, but it looked like a ghost town. None of the cars worked; each one had busted windows, popped hoods, or slashed tires. It was midnight back home; it should have been noon there, but it looked like dusk. I understand why our reflections are so desperate to trade places.

For some reason I felt confident the old man wouldn’t follow me outside. Something gave me the idea his part of the game was to guard that kitchen door for when I needed to get home. I didn’t stay to test the theory, but now I’m pretty sure I was correct.

I was never told where to go once I made it this far; the stories were all vague in that regard. The only thing I knew for certain was that it would get worse before it was over. That’s when I realized how desperately I needed a working vehicle, for speed and protection.

I resigned myself to look for a bicycle when I remembered the mechanic who lives three houses down. Every weekend, his garage door is open, and he can be seen working on an old car. It was hardly more than a body and wheels last time I saw it. If everything is opposite… wouldn’t that car be in working condition here? Yes! It was. The damn thing made me truly believe I could do it.

Hope is dangerous. If something is too good to be true, it probably is. I was so excited by the sight of the pristine, red car, I forgot to be wary of danger. A strange creature I almost mistook for a dog stood between me and victory. It was of similar size and color to a German Shepard, but its mouth opened sideways to reveal extra rows of teeth. I don’t know if its eyes were located elsewhere or it just didn’t have any, but the ears looked hard, almost like rounded horns. I couldn’t discern a nose either, but I’m sure it had one; I could hear it sniffing my scent.

It gave me a headache to look too closely, like my brain was rejecting the very sight of it. My eyes frantically searched for anything to use as a weapon, but there was nothing nearby. My heart sank as I realized it would come down to a race I held no chance of winning. Stealing a quick glance at my surroundings, I saw the only chance was to run for the door and hope it’s unlocked. Otherwise, I would be eaten by a dog monster.

I tried to mentally prepare myself when a long, high-pitched whistle turned the creature’s growls to whimpers. It wasn’t pleasant to my ears either, but I enjoyed seeing its effect. The noise continued until the dog-thing ran out of sight. I didn’t see the source of the sound at first, but I didn’t have to wait long.

My reflection walked into view, smiling proudly. She stopped several feet away but remained silent. I was confused until I almost asked why! My mouth opened wide, froze, then slowly closed. She hoped I would talk without thinking. Plus, if I die this quick, she can’t escape. In her own way, she’s more terrifying than the monsters.

“Uh-oh, almost had you that time, haha! You might want to find yourself a weapon before you run into anything else. Hey, do you even know which way to go?” She spoke like we were best friends.

I was too afraid to shake my head or shrug; it seemed like the kind of place that thrived on loopholes. Instead, I stared at her feet, willing her to say a direction so I could go the opposite way.

“You look lost, do you need a map? I could draw one for you… come on, just nod or something; I’m trying to help!” She stomped her foot in frustration.

To me, that was confirmation about the loopholes… or maybe she could read my mind. Either way, I wasn’t trying it.

“Be that way! I don’t care if you want to live or not, but it’s a shame the kid has to die just because you won’t ask for help.” She shrugged and began walking away.

Those words hit me like a freight train at the time, but now that the words carry the added weight of truth, I feel as if they will crush me. Controlling my temper as she left was one of the most difficult parts of that nightmare. So many times, I wondered if punching her counted as communication, but John’s life was not worth the risk. That is when I vowed to break every mirror I saw for the rest of my life. A vow I have thus far made good on.

When she was well out of sight, I discovered my next obstacle would be to find keys. The car was locked, but the house was not. Knowing something would be inside, I took a large crowbar from the garage. I crept in the back door, staying low. I was in an empty kitchen, hoping for a nice key-hook by the door, but couldn’t be so fortunate.

The room smelled of the rotten food on every counter and flies were swarming something that looked like raw meat. I choked down the vomit threatening to erupt and focused on John. This experience was nothing compared to the idea of losing him.

I made my way into a den with a broken tv and rough-looking leather furniture. From where I stood, a recliner was directly in front of me with a couch on either side, all angled toward the television in the center. Small, dirty tables sat on each end of the couches, and my heart skipped a beat when I saw car keys atop one by the recliner.

Forgetting my fear, I reached down quickly, only to scream myself hoarse when a cold, skeletal hand shot out from the chair, grasping my wrist. It had a grip of steel; for a moment I thought it would break my arm. I lashed out desperately with the crowbar, making contact with whatever was on the other side of that recliner. The instant its grip released, my hand closed around the keys, and I ran for the car.

It was pure luck the dog-monster hadn’t returned, because I didn’t stop to check before flying outside. As soon as the car door closed, I hit the lock button three times and performed a thorough inspection of the back seat. Satisfied there were no unexpected passengers, I was ready to go. There was a horrific moment of fear the car still wouldn’t start as I inserted the key, but it roared to life like it was brand new. Hell, it probably was.

It really is just like King’s Quest. Find a clue, find an item, solve a puzzle, escape danger, advance, repeat to the boss fight. Careful Elle, your nerd is showing. Look at me, I made a joke. Never thought that would happen again.

I went to the end of the driveway and hit the brakes, realizing I didn’t know which way to go. In a game, when there’s multiple paths, they usually all come out to the same place… or one is a deadly trap with no escape. Of course, you usually know your destination…

That’s when it hit me! If I’m playing a game where the goal is to cure a sick boy, where would the boss fight take place? A hospital! You would want the best doctor with the best equipment! I turned left, toward the best hospital in the state. When John was born, we moved three hours away from our hometown to be near it. Fifteen minutes away was the closest residence we could find, and it seemed good at the time, but now it felt like hours.

I didn’t know what the roads would be like, but I knew it wouldn’t be good. I could have never imagined the level of destruction as I saw that day. Our normally smooth, paved streets were filled with large potholes, some big enough to get stuck in if I wasn’t careful. The buildings were in various stages of demolition; none looked to be inhabited, but I’m sure they were. The beautiful plants and trees that once lined the medians were brown and dead.

I kept careful watch on my surroundings, worried something would come charging from a dark alley as I slowly steered around potholes. Luckily, it only happened once, close to the halfway point. I was preparing for another tight squeeze when I heard a scraping sound from behind. In the rear-view mirror, I saw another deformed-looking man. This one was younger with long, greasy hair and burned skin. The sound was from the steel bat he was dragging, and one of those weird dog-monsters tagged along like his pet.

If the roads were decent, I could outrun them easily, but I knew they would catch me if I drove into the middle of that bad patch. I slowed down even more, letting them get a little closer to the decent section of the road. I don’t think they are capable of intelligent thought; they did not hesitate when I began reversing, nor did they make any attempt to move when I ran them down. I aimed for the man, considering him the main threat, but the beast was only stunned.

There was a moment I thought it was over when the car stalled on top of the corpse, but the wheels found traction when the beast collided with the rear-end. I’m not sure how he avoided going under the wheels as I flew backwards, but it wasn’t touched. I shifted into drive and punched the gas, trying once more for the dog-monster but still missing.

Going fast as I dared, I ran over the man once more… just to be sure… before coming to a cautious stop. I hated not knowing what the dog-thing was doing but felt fairly certain it ran away to lick its wounded pride. I didn’t doubt I would see it again, but that was a problem for later.

I made it to the hospital without further attacks, parking in front of the main entrance. The sight of it did not inspire confidence. It was in worse condition than anything I had seen yet. That’s when I realized I made a terrible mistake. Everything is opposite… the best hospital would be the worst. I needed our world’s worst hospital.

I jumped back into the car, making my way to the free clinic on 3rd. If my theory was right, it would probably hold the cure for cancer. A flock of zombie birds attacked the car at one point, but they didn’t cause much damage.

I knew I’d made the right decision the moment I entered the bad side of town… well our world’s bad side. In this world, it was full of lavish manors; the clinic was immaculate and double its normal size. I parked on the curb and ran for the entrance. It was starting to get darker, but I didn’t understand how. There should have been hours of daylight left. Then, once again, as if reading my mind, the Bitch was back.

“Gosh, are you just now getting here? You better hurry; time is running out fast.” She teased.

I had never heard of a time limit. I ached to taunt her with the obvious failures to deceive Thomas. If she was still there, it meant she couldn’t fool him; the thought filled me with strength. I turned my back on her and walked inside, but she followed.

“You know that right? That when it gets dark – the hourglass stands empty? Well, not literally, but I like the expression. Anyway, I just wanted to check, because it seems like most people from your world are ignorant to that detail.” She said nonchalantly.

The more I considered it, the more it made sense. Most games do have time limits… and being in this place after dark does have a sort of “game over” vibe. Unfortunately, I couldn’t ask questions and I had to keep moving. I thought she would leave again, but she continued to follow at a careful distance.

“Don’t mind me, I just want to see the big climax. Your sweetie was too smart, there’s no point chatting with him anymore.”

I didn’t give her the satisfaction of looking back. Seeing a map of the hospital, I stopped to study the layout. Of course, I needed to the top floor. It couldn’t be right here on the ground floor, no, heaven forbid. I walked to the elevator, but noticed my reflection was gone. The doors chimed and slid open, I put one foot inside, but pulled it out quickly.

Did I really want to walk into a metal box in a bizarro world where there’s no one to help if I get trapped inside? I looked around and saw a nice, open stairway. The empty elevator closed behind me as I made my way to the stairs. I held onto the rail all the way up – losing because of a fall so late in the game would be too insulting to live with. I’m glad I did too, because my reflection jumped out screaming, “boo” the moment I reached the top.

I wonder if anyone has tried to murder their reflection… I’ll have to look into that one day. I held my crowbar at the ready as I passed her, it felt glued to my hand after so much time. My reflection was tailing me a little closer, getting desperate, I’m sure. When I reached the reception desk for the children’s ward, she took a seat in the waiting area.

She grinned when she saw me watching, giving me two thumbs up and a wink. “You go girl! I’m rooting for you!”

More confused than ever, I went through the double-doors in search of the doctor… or Mirror Master I guess… terrible name. They had no imagination back in the day. I would have named him the Greedy Gremlin… okay maybe that’s not much better, but it is better.

He wasn’t hard to find. I stood in a dark hallway and bright lights shone under the swinging doors ahead. I’d come too far to stop then. I could feel my heart thumping in my ears with every step. When I walked into the light, it was so bright I had to shield my eyes. Then, with the snap of someone’s fingers, they faded to normal indoor lighting.

The only person in the room was the doctor I see on tv… the one on the ridiculous commercial with that annoyingly catchy tune. I can’t remember his name… you know, the really fat, bald guy with glasses? It’s not important, it wasn’t how he… she… it looked anyway. It threw me off though, and the surprise must have shown on my face.

“Ahh not what you were expecting? Me either. Who is this anyway?” The doctor asked, examining his own appearance.

“You… you don’t know who you are?” I stammered.

“Ugh, of course I know who I am, girl! I appear however one’s mind is comfortable seeing me… but it’s usually not… this.” He cringed.

“What, wait… how could…” I tried to ask.

“No, you aren’t here for magic lessons, and I don’t give them anyway. You came here because you want something desperately enough to risk your life for it. I find that utterly delicious, so tell me, what do you want.”

“You mean… I just tell you… and you, do it? I don’t have to… I don’t know, solve a riddle or kill a monster?” I couldn’t believe it could be so simple.

“Oh! I’m sorry! Was finding me too easy for you? Were my pets not vicious enough, my dear? Well, worry not! For next is the best part yet. The longer you are here, the darker it gets. The darker it becomes, the more of my pets you’re likely to see. Most of them are nocturnal, but they’ll be awake and ready for breakfast any moment now.” He was a lively talker; his voice was booming with pride and his hand gestures were all over the place.

I could only stand there, horrified and speechless.

“Come now, what’s your wish? Weren’t you listening? You should probably pick up the pace.” He grinned, and his teeth were no longer the normal teeth of the tv doctor, but sharp, brown fangs.

“My son is dying. I want you to cure him.” I tried to keep my voice steady.

“My, that’s a tricky one. Money, love, fame, – those things are easy; murder is the easiest, but life? That is very tricky indeed. It disrupts the natural order.” He was enjoying himself.

“Please, I’ll do anything.” I begged.

“Well… there is this one way it could work… if, you’re sure; there is no turning back.” He paused, stretching the suspense until I vigorously shook my head in agreement.

“Very good then.” With a snap of his fingers, a scroll appeared in one hand and a pen in the other. It was the kind of pen you dip into ink, but I never saw one before that moment. “Sign here, please.” One flick of the wrist and the long scroll opened, falling to the floor between us.

I picked up the bottom end, eyes scrolling over the millions of tiny, printed words jammed together on the paper. At the very end was a “sign here” line.

“If I sign this, it’ll cure my baby? He will be in – and stay in – perfect health?” I would not see my son cured of one sickness only to fall ill the following week.

“Absolutely! In fact, with this contract, your boy will be immune to all disease.” He assured.

My heart sang at the words, and if the cost of saving John happened to be my own life – as I suspected – it was a price I’d happily pay. I reached for the pen, and with a stab too fast for my eyes to see, the doctor pricked my finger. A large drop of blood fell onto the paper, and with another snap, the contract vanished.

“It’s been a pleasure doing business! By the way, to cure your son, I had to borrow half his father’s remaining lifespan. Tootles.” The doctor disappeared with a final wink. I hope I never see his wretched face again.

His words made my blood run cold, but I couldn’t stop to do math right then. Terrified of what would be chasing me, I ran back to the waiting room area. My reflection was waiting for me at the doors to the waiting room, smiling. I shoved on the doors with all my strength, but she had me locked in. I used my adrenaline to smash the glass door to the reception counter with my crowbar.

My arms and legs were cut getting through, but I didn’t have time to worry about blood loss. I flew over the counter, ignoring the shocked look of my reflection. As I made my way down the stairs, I saw several more zombie-looking people coming out of various rooms. I almost didn’t make it back to the ground floor when a kid with no legs managed to grab my ankle. The only thing that saved me was the crowbar catching the rail I tumbled.

When I finally made it to the entrance, I saw the car was turned onto its side and several more zombie and dog-things were waiting close by. Remembering the hospital map, I decided to take a chance on the ambulance bay. I was betting they would have owned at least one junked out ambulance that would run in this world. If they didn’t, I would likely have died there. Not even someone with machine guns could survive on the streets now.

I cried when I saw it. There was one ambulance that appeared in working condition and I was lucky enough for the keys to be inside. I still checked in the back to make sure it was empty, but that almost got me killed too. I slammed the back doors just in time to avoid one of the dogs jumping in. The ambulance rocked side to side from things trying to get in as I strapped myself into the driver’s seat.

It was my first time driving anything bigger than a car; I think it would have been a bumpy ride under normal conditions. There were several times I thought the ambulance would tip over. The worst was close to the end. I was almost back in my neighborhood when I heard the roar of another engine right before it crashed into my bumper. I went off the road, missing a huge crater by inches, before regaining control.

The truck driven by my reflection reversed to follow. I did something desperate. I waited for her to get right behind me, almost touching, and accelerated. As I hoped, she too sped up, trying to position herself to force me into a fishtail. At the last possible second, I closed my eyes and swerved away, once again becoming dangerously close to flipping over.

Behind me, the Bitch couldn’t react in time. The truck she found was pointed nose down in a deep crater, its back end hanging out at a steep angle.

My house was surrounded by hideous creatures. Most didn’t appear human or animal. I couldn’t tell what the warped things were supposed to be. Some of them had several limbs… or appendages… some had none. One looked like a huge floating eyeball, and another looked like a snake with two heads. I didn’t see a way inside; I couldn’t believe I came all this way just to lose here. At the very least, I wanted to kill as many as possible before I died. That’s when a plan occurred to me.

I reversed to position myself for a straight shot through our den. The house was now termite infested anyway; even if we didn’t have the huge windows, I’m sure the walls would have been weak enough to drive through. I felt like I was operating a tank as two of the creatures fell beneath the wheels. It was a strange sight as the walls crumbled around me, and the sound was terrible, but I didn’t stop to enjoy the view.

When the ambulance couldn’t go any farther, I climbed out the passenger window and dove through the kitchen door without looking to see what followed. The moment I saw the kitchen, my eyes searched for the old man, but he saw me first. Pain blossomed behind my eyes as something struck me over the head. I fell to the ground, dazed, but managed to keep a grip on the crowbar. I feigned unconsciousness until the old man grabbed one of my ankles. I sat up, swinging wildly, and enjoyed the wet smack of contact. His black blood sprayed, and I wasted no time getting to my feet.

As I made it to the exit, more creatures burst into the room. I rushed through the door, hoping it locked behind me. I held my breath as the door shook furiously, but nothing was able to follow. I breathed a sigh of relief and began feeling my injuries in earnest. I had several deep gashes on my arms and legs, my head was bleeding badly, and my wrist was swelling.

Grateful to still have the armband, I began making my way to the mirror entrance. I only made it a few steps when I heard the soft click of another door behind me.

“I hope you didn’t expect to be rid of me that easily.” Her voice no longer sounded like mine. It was deeper, distorted.

I turned to see she now had the same ghoulish-zombie appearance as those other things. Did she always look that way? Did I only see me because that’s what I expected? Like the doctor? I hope someone solves the mysteries of that place one day. There are still so many unanswered questions.

I ran for my life, focused on Thomas and John. I heard her footsteps gaining as she screamed at me. “Have you figured it out yet? Wait up, I’ll explain it to you! If you divide the lifespan in half, it means they have the same amount of time to live! Do you get it? Wait up!” She cackled an evil, dark, laugh. It sounded unnatural in her garbled voice. Humans should not be able to make the sounds her laughter made.

I was so focused on the light at the end of the corridor, I didn’t understand what she was telling me. I heard her footsteps closer with every step but couldn’t look back. Her howling laughter followed me all the way home. When Thomas saw me, his eyes lit up with relief, then fear and anger as he saw my appearance and that of the thing chasing me. I saw him step away from the mirror, allowing me to exit.

I went through the mirror like an Olympic diver. The second I was out, I turned to see Monster-Me collide into the glass, bouncing off like rubber. Now that I was back, the doorway was closed for her. Before she could rise, Thomas shattered the glass. He shattered the second one just to be safe, but for the record, could have simply blown out the candles and erased the pentagram.

It wasn’t until several hours later, after I explained everything to my husband, that we understood what she was trying to tell us. If they had the same amount of time to live; they would die at the same time. I was devastated. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle losing both at once. We are so young… I thought we would still have many years… I never dreamed… I couldn’t believe…

Thomas and John passed away two weeks later. John was crying in the night; Thomas felt badly for my lack of sleep… so he took the baby for a drive. It calmed John… and it was only a few times around the block… but this time a drunk driver ran a stop sign.

See? It was all for nothing.

My mother met my father four years later. It took a while for her to have a normal life again, but I always felt like we were a happy family. She was a terrific mom; I had no idea such terrible things were in her past. Dad didn’t know the full story either; only that she had a husband and baby killed in a wreck before he met her. I can’t blame her for not wanting to tell me, she knows how much I love a challenge.

While no, I don’t think I’ll visit the Mirror World anytime soon, it would be nice to learn more about it. Like she says, there’s still so much we don’t know, and personally, I have a long list of questions. Besides, it sounds fine if you don’t make a wish, right? I’ll just leave this here for now in case anyone else knows anything.

horror, scary

The New Settlements

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

Narrated by Dark Somnium: YouTube
Photo from Dark Somnium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 2nd, 1643

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 3rd, 1643

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, how’s the drink?

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

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

November 5, 1643

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 6, 1643

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 9th, 1643

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classics, horror

The Yellow Wallpaper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s sister on the stairs!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classics, horror

The Monkey’s Paw

W.W. Jacobs, first published September 1902. Translated into modern English, otherwise exactly the same. Chapters separated by page breaks. 

I.

Outside, the night was cold and wet, but in the small living room of Laburnam Villa the blinds were closed and the fire burned brightly. Father and son played chess. The father knew radical strategies, and put his king into enough danger to earn comment from the white-haired old lady knitting peacefully by the fire.

“Listen to the wind,” Mr. White said, seeing a fatal mistake and wanting to prevent his son from noticing.

“I’m listening,” the son said, grimly surveying the board as he stretched out his hand. “Check.”

“I should hardly think he’d come tonight,” the father said, hand poised over the board.

“Mate,” the son replied.

“That’s the worst part about living so far out! Of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way places to live, this is the worst. Pathway’s a bog, and the road’s a disaster. I don’t know what people are thinking. I suppose because only two houses on the road are occupied, they think it doesn’t matter.” Mr. White yelled with sudden, unprovoked anger.

“Never mind, dear. Perhaps you’ll win the next one.” His wife soothed.

Mr. White looked up sharply, just in time to see a knowing glance between mother and son. The words died away on his lips, and he hid a guilty grin in his thin, grey beard.

“There he is.” The son said as the gate banged loudly, and heavy footsteps approached the door.

The old man rose to open the door with friendly haste and was heard sympathizing with the guest. The guest complained so much that Mrs. White said, “Tut, tut!” coughing gently as her husband entered with a tall, burly man, with beady eyes and a pink complexion.

“Sergeant-Major Morris!” he said, introducing him.

The sergeant-major shook hands, sat by the fire, and watched contentedly as his host poured whiskey and put a small, copper kettle on the fire.

With the third glass, his eyes got brighter, and he eagerly began telling a story about a visitor from distant lands. He squared his broad shoulders in the chair and spoke of wild events and brave deeds of wars, plagues, and strange people.

“Twenty-one years of it. When he went away, he was a thin youth in the warehouse. Now look at him.” Mr. White said, nodding at his wife and son.

“He don’t seem to have taken much harm.” Mrs. White said politely.

“I’d like to go to India myself, just to look around a bit, you know.” The old man said.

“Better off where you are.” The sergeant-major said, shaking his head. He put down the empty glass, sighing softly before shaking it again.

“I would like to see those old temples, mystics, and jugglers. What was it you started telling me the other day about a monkey’s paw or something, Morris?” The old man asked.

“Nothing. At least, nothing worth hearing.” The soldier replied hastily.

“Monkey’s paw?” Mrs. White asked curiously.

“Well, it’s just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps.” The sergeant-major said offhandedly.

His three listeners eagerly leaned forward. The soldier absent-mindedly put his empty glass to his lips, then set it down again. His host filled it for him.

“To look at, it’s just an ordinary little paw, dried as a mummy.” The sergeant-major said, fumbling in his pocket. He removed something and held it out. Mrs. White drew back with a grimace, but her son took it, examining it curiously.

“And what is special about it?” Mr. White inquired as he took it from his son. After examining it, he placed it on the table.

“An old mystic put a spell on it. A very holy man. He wanted to show fate ruled people’s lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it.” The sergeant-major explained.

His manner was so serious, the family became aware their light laughter bothered him somewhat.

“Well, why don’t you have three, sir?” The son joked.

The soldier regarded him in the way middle age tends to regard presumptuous youth. “I have.” He whispered, his blotchy face whitened.

“And did you really have the three wishes granted?” Mrs. White asked.

“I did.” The sergeant-major answered, and his glass tapped against his teeth.

“And has anybody else wished?” The old lady persisted.

“The first man had his three wishes, yes. I don’t know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That’s how I got the paw.” The soldier answered in tones so grave, a hush fell over the group.

“If you’ve had your three wishes, it’s no good to you anymore, Morris. What do you keep it for?” The old man finally asked.

The soldier shook his head. “Fancy, I suppose,” he said, slowly. “I did think of selling it, but I don’t think I will. It has caused enough mischief already. Besides, people won’t buy. Some think it’s a fairy tale; and those who do think anything of it want to try it first and pay me after.”

“If you could have another three wishes, would you use them?” The old man asked, eyeing him keenly.

“I don’t know,” said the soldier. “I don’t know.”

He took the paw, dangling it between his forefinger and thumb, and suddenly threw it into the fire. Mr. White, with a slight cry, stooped down and snatched it out.

“Better to let it burn.” The soldier said, solemnly.

“If you don’t want it, Morris, give it to me.” Mr. White said.

“I won’t. I threw it on the fire. If you keep it, don’t blame me for what happens. Throw it in the fire again like a sensible man.” The soldier said grimly.

Mr. White shook his head and examined his new possession closely. “How do you do it?” he asked.

“Hold it up in your right hand and say the wish out loud, but I warn you of the consequences.” The sergeant-major said.

“Sounds like the Arabian Nights. Do you think you might wish for four pairs of hands for me?” Mrs. White joked as she rose to set the supper.

Her husband drew the talisman from his pocket, and all three burst into laughter as the sergeant-major, looking alarmed, caught him by the arm. “If you must wish, wish for something sensible.” He said gruffly.

Mr. White dropped it back in his pocket, placed the chairs, and motioned his friend to the table. During supper, the talisman was partly forgotten. Afterward the three sat fascinated, listening to a second installment of the soldier’s adventures in India.

“If the tale about the monkey’s paw is as exaggerated as those he has been telling us, we won’t make much of it.” The son joked, closing the door behind their guest who had to catch the last train.

“Did you give him anything for it?” Mrs. White inquired, regarding her husband closely.

“A little. He didn’t want it, but I made him take it. He again urged me to throw away the paw.” The old man admitted, blushing slightly.

“Not likely! Why, we’re going to be rich, famous, and happy. Start by wishing to be an emperor, father; then you can’t be ordered around by mother.”

He darted around the table, chased by the angry Mrs. White who was armed with a rag.

Mr. White took the paw from his pocket and eyed it suspiciously. “I don’t know what to wish for, and that’s a fact,” he said, slowly. “It seems to me, I’ve got all I want.”

“If you only paid off the house, you’d be quite happy, wouldn’t you? Well, wish for two hundred pounds, then; that’ll just do it.” The son suggested, his hand on his father’s shoulder.

The father, smiling shamefully at his indulgence, held up the talisman. His son sat down at the piano and struck a few impressive chords, his face solemn as he winked at his mother.

“I wish for two hundred pounds.” The old man said clearly.

A fine crash from the piano greeted the words, interrupted by a shuddering cry from the old man. His wife and son ran toward him.

“It moved! As I wished, it twisted in my hand like a snake.” He cried, looking at the object on the floor with disgust.

“Well, I don’t see the money, and I bet I never shall.” His son said, picking it up and placing it on the table.

“It must have been your imagination.” His wife suggested, regarding him anxiously.

He shook his head. “Well, never mind. There’s no harm done, but it gave me a shock all the same.”

They sat down by the fire again while the two men finished their pipes. Outside, the wind was higher than ever, and the old man jumped nervously at the sound of a door banging upstairs. An unusual and depressing silence settled upon all three, lasting until the old couple retired for the night.

“I expect you’ll find the cash in a big bag on the middle of your bed, and something horrible squatting on top of the wardrobe, watching you pocket your ill-gotten gains.” The son joked as he said goodnight.

The old man sat alone in the darkness, gazing at the dying fire, and seeing faces in it. The last face was so horribly ape-like, he gazed at it in amazement. It got so vivid, he felt for a glass of water to throw over it. His hand grasped the monkey’s paw, and with a little shiver he wiped his hand on his coat and went to bed.

Classics, horror

The Call of Cthulhu

H.P. Lovecraft, first written in 1926; first published in Weird Tales magazine, 1928. Translated into modern English, but otherwise exactly the same. Chapters separated by page breaks. 

I.

The Horror in Clay.

I think the most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to connect all its contents. We live on a peaceful island of ignorance in the middle of an infinite black sea, and we were not meant to travel far. The sciences, each struggling in its own direction, have so far done us little harm; but some day, their discoveries will uncover terrifying vistas in our reality and reveal our fragile position in it. We will either go crazy from the deadly knowledge or flee into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

Theosophists have guessed at the awesome grandeur of the cosmic cycle where our world and the human race form short-lived events. They have hinted at strange survivals in terms that would freeze your blood if not disguised as bland optimism. Yet they were not the ones who brought a single glimpse of forbidden ages that chills me when I think of it and maddens me when I dream of it. That glimpse, like all dreaded glimpses of truth, came from an accidental piecing together of separate things – in this case an old newspaper article and the notes of a dead professor. I hope no one else will accomplish this realization; certainly, if I live, I will never knowingly supply a clue to such a hideous puzzle. I believe the professor also intended to remain silent regarding the part he knew, and that he would have destroyed his notes had he not died suddenly.

My knowledge of the thing began in the winter of 1926-27 with the death of my grand-uncle George Gammell Angell, Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. Professor Angell was widely known as an authority on ancient inscriptions and often advised heads of prominent museums; he was remembered by many when he passed at the age of ninety-two. Locally, interest was intensified due to the obscurity of the cause of death. The professor was struck when returning from the Newport boat; witnesses say he fell suddenly after a nautical looking black man bumped into him. The man came from one of the strange dark courts on the steep hillside that formed a short cut from the waterfront to the professor’s home on Williams Street. Doctors were unable to find any visible cause, but after perplexed debate concluded a lesion of the heart caused by the elderly man’s brisk climb up a steep hill was responsible for his death. At the time, I saw no reason to disagree with this conclusion, but now I am inclined to wonder – and more than wonder.

As my grand-uncle’s heir, for he died a childless widower, I was expected to go over his papers thoroughly; for that reason, I moved his entire set of files and boxes to my home in Boston. Many of the materials I put together will later be published in American Archeological Society, but there was one box I found exceedingly puzzling, and felt a strong aversion from showing it to others. It had been locked, and I did not find the key until I thought to examine the ring my uncle always carried in his pocket. Then I succeeded in opening it but was only confronted by a greater and more closely locked barrier. What could be the meaning of the odd clay sculpture and disconnected writings and articles I found? Had my uncle, in his later years, become gullible to the most superficial deceits? I decided to find the eccentric sculptor responsible for this apparent disturbance of the old man’s peace of mind.

The sculpture was a rough rectangle less than an inch thick and about five by six inches in area; obviously of modern origin. However, its designs were far from modern in atmosphere and suggestion; although there are many wild, unusual interlocking planes, they do not recreate that cryptic regularity found in prehistoric writing. The bulk of these designs certainly seemed to be writing; though despite much familiarity with my uncle’s papers, my memory failed to identify this species, or hint at its remotest affiliations.

Above these hieroglyphics was an illustrated figure of purpose, though its impressionistic finish prohibited a clear idea of its nature. It seemed to be a monster only a sick mind could conceive. If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination simultaneously produced pictures of an octopus, dragon, and human caricature, I would not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head sat atop a grotesque, scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it shockingly frightful. Behind the figure was a vague suggestion of a Cyclopean architectural background.

Aside from a stack of newspaper clippings, the papers that came with this oddity were in Professor Angell’s handwriting; they made no pretense to literary style. What seemed to be the main document was titled “CTHULHU CULT” in characters painstakingly printed to avoid the incorrect reading of a word so unheard of. The manuscript was divided into two sections, the first which was headed “1925 – Dream and Dream Work of H. A. Wilcox, 7 Thomas St., Providence, R.I.”, and the second, “Narrative of Inspector John R. Legrasse, 121 Bienville St., New Orleans, La. At 1908 A. A. S. Mtg. – Notes on Same, & Prof. Webb’s Acct.” The other manuscript papers were all brief notes, some were accounts of the strange dreams of different people, some were quotes from theosophical books and magazines (notably W. Scott-Elliot’s Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria). The rest comment on long-surviving secret societies and hidden cults, with references in mythological and anthropological source-books such as Frazer’s Golden Bough and Miss Murray’s Witch-Cult in Western Europe. The clippings mostly hint to weird mental illnesses and outbreaks of group mania in the spring of 1925.

The first half of the main manuscript told a very peculiar tale. On March 1st, 1925, a thin, dark young man of deranged and excited appearance came to Professor Angell carrying the clay sculpture, which was then very damp and fresh. His card read Henry Anthony Wilcox. My uncle recognized him as the youngest son of an excellent family he slightly knew, who had recently been studying sculpture at Rhode Island School of Design and living alone at the Fleur-de-Lys Building near the school. Wilcox was a precocious youth, his genius and eccentricity well known, and since childhood he had a habit of gaining attention through telling strange stories and odd dreams. He called himself “psychically hypersensitive”, but the serious-minded folk of the ancient commercial city dismissed him as merely “strange”. Never socializing much with his kind, he gradually dropped from the social eye, and was now known only to a small group of art enthusiasts from other towns. Even the Providence Art Club, anxious to preserve its conservatism, found him quite hopeless.

During the visit, the sculptor abruptly asked for uncle’s help in identifying the hieroglyphics on the sculpture. He spoke in a dreamy, strained manner, which made it difficult to sympathize with him; and my uncle’s reply was sharp because the clearly visible freshness of the tablet implied it was new. Wilcox’s reply impressed my uncle enough to make him write it verbatim, it was fantastically poetic and defined his whole conversation. I have since found it highly characteristic of him. He said, “It is new, indeed, for I made it last night in a dream of strange cities; and dreams are older than the brooding Tyre, or the contemplative Sphinx, or the garden-girdled Babylon.”

It was then he began telling a story that jogged a forgotten memory and uncle became interested. There had been a slight earthquake tremor the night before, the most considerable in New England for some years; and Wilcox’s imagination was greatly affected. Upon going to sleep, he had an unprecedented dream of great Cyclopean cities, titan blocks, and sky-high monoliths, all dripping with green ooze and sinister with dormant horror. Hieroglyphics covered the walls and pillars, and from some undetermined point below came a voice that was not a voice; a chaotic sensation that only imagination could translate into sound, but he attempted to pronounce the almost unpronounceable jumble of letters, “Cthulhu fhtagn”.

This verbal jumble was the key to remembering what excited and disturbed Professor Angell. That night, after waking suddenly, he questioned the sculptor at length. Chilled and still wearing his pajamas, he studied the sculpture with almost frantic intensity. Wilcox later said my uncle blamed his old age for his slowness in recognizing both hieroglyphics and pictures. Many of his questions seemed highly out-of-place to the youth, especially those trying to connect the designs with strange cults or societies; and Wilcox did not understand the repeated promise of silence in exchange for admitting he belonged to some widespread mythological religious group. When Professor Angell became convinced the sculptor was truly ignorant of any cult or cryptic lore, he besieged the youth with demands for reports of future dreams. This brought regular information. After this first interview, the manuscript tells of daily reports where the youth relates startling dream fragments, each containing some terrible Cyclopean vista of dark and dripping stone with a subterranean voice or intelligence shouting in gibberish. The two sounds repeated most often are those made by the letters “Cthulhu” and “R’lyeh”.

On March 23rd, Wilcox failed to appear; inquiries at his home revealed he developed an obscure fever and went to his family home on Waterman Street. He had cried out in the night, waking several other artists in the building, and has alternated between unconsciousness and delirium since. My uncle immediately telephoned the family and kept close watch over the case; often calling the Thayer Street office of Dr. Tobey, whom was in charge. The youth’s feverish mind was apparently dwelling on strange things; and the doctor shuddered as he spoke of them. They included not only a repetition of what he had dreamed before, but touched wildly on the gigantic thing “miles high” walking about. He never fully described this object, but occasional frantic words convinced the professor it must be identical with the nameless monstrosity he tried to depict in his dream-sculpture. Reference to this object always came before the young man’s collapse into lethargy. His temperature was not greatly above normal; but his condition as a whole suggested true fever rather than mental disorder.

On April 2nd, at 3 p.m. every trace of Wilcox’s sickness suddenly vanished. He sat upright in bed, astonished to find himself at home and completely ignorant of what happened in dream or reality since the night of March 22nd. Pronounced well by his doctor, he returned home in three days, but was of no further assistance to Professor Angell. All traces of strange dreaming vanished with his recovery, and my uncle kept no record of his dreams after a week of pointless accounts.

The first part of the manuscript ended here, but references to scattered notes gave me much to think on – so much, in fact, the only explanation for my continued distrust of the artist was the skepticism my belief system was made of at the time. The notes described dreams of various people during the same period as Wilcox’s strange dreams. My uncle instituted an impressive list of questions to nearly all the friends he could without being rude, asking for nightly reports of their dreams, and the dates of any notable visions for some time past. The reactions to his request varied; but he must have received more responses than any ordinary man could handle without a secretary. This original correspondence was not preserved, but his notes formed a thorough and significant account. Average people in society and business – New England’s traditional “salt of the earth” types – gave an almost completely negative result. Though scattered cases of uneasy but formless dreams appear here and there, always between March 23rd and April 2nd – the period of Wilcox’s delirium. Scientific men were little more affected, though four vaguely described cases suggesting glimpses of strange landscapes, and in one case a dread of something abnormal is mentioned.

The answers came from the artists and poets, and I know if they had been able to compare notes, panic would have ensued. Lacking their original letters, I half suspected my uncle asked leading questions or edited the correspondence to match what he was determined to see. That is why I continued to feel Wilcox, somehow aware of my uncle’s old data, had been fooling the veteran scientist. These responses from artists told a disturbing story. From February 28th to April 2nd, a large portion of them dreamed very bizarre things, the intensity growing immeasurably stronger during Wilcox’s delirium. Over a fourth of those who reported anything, reported scenes and half-sounds not unlike the ones Wilcox described; some confessed a sharp fear of the gigantic nameless thing at the end. One case, which the note describes with emphasis, was very sad. The subject, a widely known architect with inclinations toward theosophy and occultism, went violently insane on the date of Wilcox’s seizure, and he died several months later after incessant screaming to be saved from a demon escaped from hell. Had my uncle referred to these cases by name instead of number, I would have tried to personally investigate; as it was, I only found a few. All of these reviewed the notes in full. I have often wondered if all the professor’s subjects were as puzzled by his questions as these few were. It is good no explanation will ever reach them.

The newspaper clippings mention cases of panic, mania, and eccentricity during that time frame. Professor Angell must have used a paper cutter, for there was a tremendous number of articles from around the world. Here was a night suicide in London, where a lone sleeper jumped from a window after a shocking cry. A ranting letter to the editor of a paper in South America claimed a fanatic saw a horrible future in his dreams. A letter from California describes a theosophist colony as all wearing white robes for some “glorious fulfillment” that never arrives. Items from India speak cautiously of serious native unrest toward the end of March. Voodoo orgies multiply in Haiti, and African outposts report ominous whispers. American officers in the Philippians find certain tribes bothersome about this time, and New York policeman are mobbed by hysterical Levantines on the night of March 22-23. The west of Ireland is full of wild rumors, and a fantastic painter named Ardois-Bonnot hangs a blasphemous “Dream Landscape” in the Paris spring salon of 1926. There are numerous troubles in insane asylums, only a miracle could have stopped the medical community from noting strange similarities and coming to mystified conclusions. All told, it is a weird bunch of clippings. I can hardly imagine the callous rationalism that caused me to set them aside, but I was then convinced Wilcox knew the older matters mentioned by the professor.

Classics, horror

The Masque of the Red Death

Edgar Allan Poe, 1842. Translated to modern English, otherwise exactly the same. 
Original illustration to the tale

The “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No plague had ever been so deadly or hideous. Blood’s redness and horror was its Avatar and seal. There were sharp pains, sudden dizziness, and excessive bleeding at the pores before death. The victim’s scarlet stained body and face outcast him from the sympathetic aid of others. The whole process, from infection to death, took 30 minutes.

Regardless, Prince Prospero was happy, fearless, and clever. When his kingdom’s population was reduced by half, he summoned a thousand healthy and light-hearted friends from the knights and women of his court. With them, he retreated to the seclusion of his towered abbey. It was a vast and magnificent place, a creation of the Prince’s eccentric yet respected taste. A strong, high wall with iron gates encircled it. The courtiers brought furnaces and massive hammers to weld the bolts. They were determined to close every exit against those who may later panic. The abbey was well stocked. With such precautions the courtiers might avoid the plague. The outside world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was foolish to grieve or think. The prince had provided all the instruments of pleasure. There were fools, poets, ballet-dancers, musicians, beauty, and wine. All these and safety were within. Out there was the “Red Death.”

It was toward the end of the 5-6th month of seclusion – while the plague raged across the country – that Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.

It was a shapely scene, but first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held. There were seven – an imperial suite. However, in many palaces, such suites form a long and straight view, while the folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either side. It allows the area to be viewed as a whole with minimal obstruction. Here the case was very different; as might have been expected from the duke’s love of the bizarre. The apartments were so unevenly placed, you could only see one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every 20-30 yards, each with a unique feature. To the right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked upon a closed corridor after each turn.

These windows were of stained glass with varying colors to match the decor of the chamber unto which it opened. For example, the eastern chamber was hung in blue – and its windows were vividly blue. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lit with orange – the fifth with white – the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries on the ceiling and walls, falling in heavy folds onto a matching carpet. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows did not match. The panes were scarlet – a deep blood color.

None of the seven apartments contained any lamp or candelabrum among the golden ornaments scattered everywhere or hanging from the roof. There was no light shining from lamp or candle inside the suite. But in the corridors outside the suite, opposite each window, there stood a heavy tripod holding a warm fire that projected its light through the tinted glass to illuminate the room. And thus a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances were produced. But in the black chamber the effect of the fire-light on the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes was ghastly and extreme. It produced so wild a look upon the faces of those who entered, that there were few bold enough to enter at all.

A gigantic clock of ebony stood against the western wall of the same apartment. Its pendulum swung back and forth with a dull, heavy, tedious clang; when the minute-hand made a full turn and the hour was to strike, its bold lungs made a sound which was clear, loud, deep, and exceedingly musical, but had such a peculiar sound that the orchestra would momentarily pause their performance to listen. Thus the dancers stopped twirling; and there was brief unease of the happy company; and, while the chimes continued to ring, the giddiest were seen growing pale. The older and calmer passed their hands over their brows as if confused or meditating. But when the echos had fully stopped, a light laughter immediately spread through the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled at their own nerves and foolishness, whispering vows that the next chiming will not cause such a reaction. Then, after sixty minutes (which is 3,600 seconds of the Time that flies,) there came another chime of the clock, and the same discomfort and quivering as before.

In spite of these things, it was a happy and magnificent party. The duke’s tastes were peculiar. He had a fine eye for color and decorations. He disregarded the decorum of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his ideas glowed with a barbaric shimmer. There are some who would have thought him crazy. His followers did not think so. It was necessary to hear, see, and touch him to be sure he was not.

He had directed, in great part, the portable decorations in the seven chambers for this great party; and it was his guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. There was much glare, glitter, spice, and phantasm – much of which has been seen in “Hernani.” There were ornamental figures with odd limbs and features. There were delirious fancies such as madman fashions. There were many of the beautiful, the wanton, the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have disgusted.

Back and forth in the seven chambers there stalked a multitude of dreams. These dreams writhed about, taking color from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as an echo of their steps. And soon strikes the ebony clock which stands in the velvet hall. For a moment, all else is still and silent. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But these echos of the chime die away – they lasted only an instant – and a light, half-subdued laughter follows them as they leave. Now again the music swells, the dreams live and writhe about more happily than ever, taking color from the many lit up, tinted windows. But to the black chamber, there are now none who enter; for the night is coming to an end; and there flows a dimmer light through the blood-colored panes; the blackness of the drapery is appalling; those whose feet step upon the black carpet hear the clock’s chime more emphatically than those in other apartments.

But the other apartments were densely crowded, and in them the heart of life beat feverishly. The party continued until the clock chimed midnight. Then, as I have told, the music stopped. The twirling of the dancers and all things stopped. But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps as more time passed and thoughts crept into the minds of party-goers. Before the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, many individuals became aware of a masked figure who had not been noticed before. The rumor spread around in whispers. There arose a unanimous buzz, or whisper, expressing disapproval and surprise – then, finally, terror, horror, and disgust.

In an assembly of phantasms such as I have described, it may be assumed that no ordinary appearance could have caused such a reaction. In truth, the night’s masquerade license was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the appearance of even the prince’s indefinite taste. The most reckless have chords in their hearts which cannot be touched without emotion. Even the utterly lost who view life and death as a joke have matters of which no joke can be made. Everyone now seemed to deeply feel the stranger inside that costume possessed neither wit nor propriety. He was tall, gaunt, and shrouded head to foot in the outfit of the grave. The mask concealing his face was made to resemble that of a stiffened corpse. It would be difficult to recognize as fake even with close scrutiny. And yet, all this may have been endured, if not approved by the mad masqueraders around. But the whisper had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His clothes, broad brow, and face were dabbled in blood. When Prince Prospero’s eyes fell upon this spectral image (which slowly and solemnly stalked among the dancers as if to better sustain its role) he was seen shuddering at first, in either terror or distaste; but then his brow reddened with rage.

“Who dares?” He demanded hoarsely of those standing near him – “who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and remove his mask – so we may know whom will hang at sunrise!”

It was in the blue room where the prince stood with a group of pale courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, this group made slight rushing movements toward the intruder, who was now also near, taking deliberate steps toward the prince. But not one of the whole party which the mad whispers inspired made an effort to stop him; he passed, unchallenged, within a yard of the prince. While the large assembly shrank back against the walls, he made his way with the same solemn and measured step which first distinguished him from the rest; through the previous six chambers, all without any effort made to stop him.

It was then Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and shame at his momentary cowardice, drew his dagger and rushed through the six chambers to within 3-4 feet of the retreating figure. None followed, all were frozen in deadly terror. The figure reached a dead-end, and turned to face his pursuer. There was a sharp cry as the dagger fell, gleaming, to the sable carpet. Instantly, Prince Prospero fell down, dead. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of party-goers threw themselves into the black apartments, seizing the stranger who stood erect and motionless in the shadow of the ebony clock. They gasped in indescribable horror at finding the grave clothes and corpse-like mask (which they handled with violence and rudeness) uninhabited by a physical form.

And now they acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one the party-goers dropped in the blood-covered halls of their party, each dying in the position they fell. The life of the ebony clock went out with the last one. The flames of the tripods expired. Darkness, Decay, and Red Death held unlimited dominion over all.

I did this purely for fun. I hope to do more in the future, but it won’t be a common occurrence. I find reading them this way easier and more enjoyable. It may not be for everyone, but it’s worth giving a chance. Thank you all and Happy Halloween!